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Musica Vita (Birmingham, UK)

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Handel:Messiah/Excerpts
Handel:Messiah/Excerpts
Offered by EliteDigital UK
Price: £12.95

5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent excerpts, 10 July 2012
This review is from: Handel:Messiah/Excerpts (Audio CD)
This disc has 14 excerpts from Mackerras' ground-breaking recording, which is now difficult to find. (Time for a re-issue, EMI.) It uses Basil Lam's edition, who re-examined Handel's score and helped sweep away a lot of the entrenched opinions about Messiah and how to perform it. Yet there are none of the excesses of some of today's "historically influenced" performances, and some of the tempi are quite leisurely in comparison. The chorus is of moderate size but with convincing weight, the orchestra likewise and it is all performed with expression and vitality and well recorded.

The full recording features the countertenor Paul Esswood in some of the arias but he does not appear on this disc. The four soloists here are first-class, and Elizabeth Harwood's singing of the 12/8 version of "Rejoice greatly" should not be missed, nor should Raimund Herincx's "Why do the nations". The real jewel, however is Janet Baker's "He was despised". I have never heard this famous aria sung better (and I have heard dozens of performances). The disc is worth the money for this alone.


Bach: Matthew Passion
Bach: Matthew Passion
Price: £16.90

6 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not so passionate, 27 Jun. 2012
This review is from: Bach: Matthew Passion (Audio CD)
The St Matthew Passion is a work I can listen to time and time again and not get tired of it, even though I am a sceptical agnostic. I also have the versions by Klemperer (vinyl!), Richter (1958 and 1980) and Harnoncourt (2000), and my own recording of the BBC broadcast of a performance in 2010 by Simon Rattle.

I bought this one as a download from Linn Records as the 24-bit 88.2 kHz "studio master" flac. Such versions need something better than the average computer sound-card and I listen through an At-Tunes SB+ "streamer". The improvement over standard CD quality is audible (I have no experience of SACD). Unfortunately it reveals a few shortcomings in this production: there is a slight problem with the musical balance. The singers are given too much amplification, or are too closely miked, so that they sometimes protrude from the overall texture or mask the instruments to some extent. Indeed this may be inevitable in a one-voice-to-a-part performance.

In fact, despite rave reviews elsewhere, I am not convinced by this mode of performance. The distinction between chorus and soloists is important to the drama of this work, and here it is difficult to tell them apart. The Dunedin Consort's playing is generally excellent, the singers are good but bring little interpretive depth, the overall effect is lightweight and in some places such as the "Blitzen und Donner" chorus, very lightweight. John Butt's tempi are generally sensible, although I find the bass aria "Gebt mir meinem Jesum wieder" hurried.

This is a musical, well integrated and very interesting performance. But to me it lacks one vital element: passion! If you want a period-instrument performance of this wonderful work, I suggest Nikolaus Harnoncourt's 2000 recording, which does have the necessary interpretive depth and drama. The same can be said for Karl Richter's 1980 recording on modern instruments and with outstanding soloists.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 2, 2012 7:52 PM BST


Elgar: The Dream of Gerontius - The Music Makers
Elgar: The Dream of Gerontius - The Music Makers
Price: £12.86

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential listening for lovers of Elgar's music, 30 April 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
"The Music Makers" is a setting of a poem by Arthur O'Shaughnessy. Elgar was clearly inspired by this second-rate poetry and with his music he made a first-rate work. (Maybe you disagree.) There are many allusions to his earlier works, and these may make you smile. For example, at the opening lines "...And we are the dreamers of dreams, Wandering by lone sea-breakers..." there is a quote from "Gerontius" followed by one from "Sea Pictures". There is extensive quotation from the Enigma Variations, and at "But on one man's soul it hath broken..." (Track 6) we hear "Nimrod" skilfully and beautifully divided between the soloist, chorus and orchestra. However the work is built on its own themes, treated symphonically and illuminated with subtle orchestration. Janet Baker as soloist is beyond reproach and the chorus, a very important part, sings with intelligence and commitment.

I have owned the vinyl LP of this work for many years, and in comparison this remastered CD brings out the diction of the chorus better, at the expense of some harshness in the higher register. (There is always a trade-off; do not set the volume control too high.)

I cannot add much to what has already been said in other reviews on Amazon about Barbirolli's Dream of Gerontius. I also have the Boult recording (on vinyl) and confirm that his is the more spiritual interpretation, with three very good soloists (but what a pity Helen Watts does not sing the top A in the last alleluia - it ought to be compulsory). In contrast Barbirolli brings out the dramatic aspects of this work, with a truly demonic demons' chorus, a convincing Gerontius in Richard Lewis and a sublime Angel in Janet Baker, who does not shun the more difficult alternatives.


Schubert - Duette, Terzette, Quartette
Schubert - Duette, Terzette, Quartette
Price: £10.12

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Rarely-heard Schubert in fine performances, 30 April 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
The trouble with duets is that one singer can get in the way of the other. However most of the duets in this collection feature first one then the other, so you do hear their individual voices. Even so, this is a collection of lesser-known works. I was particularly taken by Cronnan, a translation of a poem attributed to Ossian, the wordless "Sing-Übungen", and the duet setting of "Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt" (none but the lonely heart): Schubert at his best.

The trio "Die Advokaten" will bring an immediate smile to the face of anyone who has had dealings with lawyers. Of the rest, most repay repeated listening, and it is difficult to imagine a more distinguished cast of performers, although I did not previously know Horst Laubenthal, who only sings in the male trios. No texts are provided, but you can find them in that wonderful resource, the Lied, Art Song, and Choral Texts Archive.

These discs can be recommended to those who already know many Schubert Lieder and who want to hear something unusual. If you are new to the art-form, then go for almost any disc of solo songs by any of these artists, and you will not be disappointed.


Arie Amorose
Arie Amorose
Offered by EliteDigital UK
Price: £17.95

5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful performances of little-known songs, 7 April 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Arie Amorose (Audio CD)
You will not find "O sole mio" or other Neapolitan songs in this recital. They are mainly from the baroque period, with a few early classical arias. Very few of the composers' names are likely to be familiar (except perhaps Scarlatti and Pergolesi) but the songs are all very attractive and easy to listen to, ideal for relaxing. They seem have been chosen to represent the range of styles used in Italy in the 17th and 18th centuries, and certainly cover Love in both its sad and happy moods. The Academy play marvellously and it is interesting to hear the lute in some numbers. Janet Baker sings not only beautifully but with great sensitivity and I find myself listening time and time again.

The collection includes Martini's "Plaisir d'amour", a French song by a German composer who took an Italian name. Add to this cocktail these British musicians and you have a performance which will efface memories of lesser singers.


Philex SLx - 27867R Digital TV Signal Strength Meter
Philex SLx - 27867R Digital TV Signal Strength Meter
Offered by NowView
Price: £9.95

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Don't shoot the messenger, 13 Mar. 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This is a very handy device for setting up your TV aerial. I had poor reception on some channels and on first measuring my loft aerial it showed 60 on the LED display. After some adjustment of its position I succeeded in getting 80, and a much improved picture.

If it does not work for you, it is not the fault of the meter, it is telling you something about your installation!


Mendelssohn/Liszt/Schumann: Lieder
Mendelssohn/Liszt/Schumann: Lieder
Price: £13.62

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars More outstanding Lieder, 3 Mar. 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Firstly, a gripe: like many in the "Double Forte" series, this two-disc set comes without any texts of the songs. It is possible to find them on the internet, for example at the Lied, Art Song, and Choral Texts Archive, but that is quite time-consuming, especially if you want translations too. When EMI reissue these recordings, as surely they will soon (it will be Dame Janet's 80th birthday in 2013), let them provide full texts!

Mendelssohn's songs are not well-known and for some reason have often been regarded as second-rate. Well, this collection goes a long way to refute that. There is a wide variety of styles here, from the familiar melody of "Auf Flügeln des Gesanges", via the magical "Neue Liebe" (reminiscent of the fairies in the Midsummer Night's Dream music), the simple beauty of "Der Blumenkranz" to the exuberance of "Im Grünen". Maybe it has been a case of the songs simply needing the right singer to reveal their greatness: and here she is.

Liszt's songs are possibly even less well-known than Mendelssohn's. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Brigitte Fassbänder have each recorded a goodly number, but not many other singers have. Here we have twelve; one is in French, a poem of Victor Hugo, but the others are from the German mainstream and many poems will be familiar from other composers' works. The settings are generally expansive and have, as one might expect, elaborate accompaniments, in which Geoffrey Parsons has ample opportunity to show what he is capable of! I have to admit that I know very little of Liszt's music and was moved by these Lieder and Dame Janet's interpretations.

The Schumann Liederkreis Op 39 is astonishing. I have heard these songs many times, always sung by a man, and I also own Dietrich F-D's recording with Eschenbach, which is admirable. However there is nothing in these Eichendorff poems which says "men only" and hearing a female singer perform them reveals them in a new aspect. Much more than that, this performance is outstanding. Daniel Barenboim always brings some special insight, and together he and Dame Janet produce a spellbinding atmosphere from beginning to end. I cannot imagine a better performance than this.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 2, 2012 7:56 PM BST


Schubert: The Hyperion Schubert Edition, Vol. 01  Goethe & Schiller Settings
Schubert: The Hyperion Schubert Edition, Vol. 01 Goethe & Schiller Settings
Offered by Japan-Select
Price: £18.83

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unsurpassed, 16 Feb. 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This recording was made towards the end of Janet Baker's performing career, but she had lost none of her interpretative insight or vocal technique even if there was a slight loss of smoothness of voice. Her 'unashamed accompanist' is Graham Johnson. All the songs are by Goethe or Schiller, and putting a selection together as here is a very good basis for a successful recital, in which we can explore Schubert's contrasting reactions to the many facets of Germany's great dramatic poets. More important, these are wonderful interpretations. I normally hate such comparisons, but here venture the opinion that they are on a par with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau.

However I would hesitate to recommend this CD as an introduction to Schubert's Lieder for those who are not familiar with the art-form. Most of the songs are lesser-known works, and you will not find the most popular songs such as Heidenröslein or Kennst du das Land, which are available on other discs by Dame Janet. However Nähe des Geliebten and Der Fischer are here, and getting to know the others was a voyage of discovery for me.

My niggle is that the performers omit some of the stanzas. Johnson seems to be the instigator of that. The worst example for me is the omission of two stanzas from the beautiful An den Mond, D.296; those stanzas are essential to the meaning of the poem. To cap it all, the printed text omits yet another which is performed!

Despite these drawbacks, if you love either Schubert or Janet Baker, as I do both (musically speaking of course) this disc is a must.


Bach: Mass in B Minor
Bach: Mass in B Minor
Price: £12.24

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Genius from Jochum, 11 Feb. 2012
This review is from: Bach: Mass in B Minor (Audio CD)
Bach's music, of all composers, is robust enough to be performed in many different ways and still show its greatness. This recording illustrates that it is the musical genius of the director which is all-important in achieving a great performance, and not whether certain types or numbers of instruments and singers are used. The great German conductor Eugen Jochum clearly knows his Bach as do his orchestra and chorus. These sound to be moderately large, and the Bavarian Radio choir has the strength and skill to cope with Bach's difficult vocal writing, even in the six- and eight-part choruses, and not be swamped by the orchestra. The recording places the choir rather distantly, so not all the words are as clear as they might be, but the balance is otherwise very good and gives the feeling of a live performance.

Genius, and possibly love, is what Jochum brings to this. His tempi are ideal, never dragging, never rushed, and without 19th century mannerisms. Throughout he communicates a sense of happiness, even in the serious parts such as "Crucifixus". I was particularly taken by his marked slowing of the tempo at the words "et incarnatus est" towards the end of the duet "Et in unum Dominum", anticipating the following slow chorus. Real inspiration, even if the purists frown. The soloists are all admirable, and I especially liked Brigitte Fassbänder's "Agnus Dei"; there is something about this aria that brings out the best in singers. Highly recommended.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 4, 2012 12:39 PM GMT


Bach: Mass in B minor
Bach: Mass in B minor
Price: £21.33

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Academic and uninspiring, 10 Feb. 2012
This review is from: Bach: Mass in B minor (Audio CD)
I am glad I am not the only one to dislike this performance. I have read so many rave reviews and recommendations I was really looking forward to hearing it. What a disappointment. But praise where it is due. The singers of the Monteverdi Choir are splendid and excel themselves in the Sanctus and Osanna sections. The soloists are good but not outstanding in any way. The orchestra, well they are generally good but I agree with "AbsoluteClassical" in that there are some ugly sounds, mainly caused by the vibrato-less strings. Some - not all by any means - of Gardiner's tempi are simply too fast, the worst example being "Laudamus Te", which is an unseemly scramble. At an appropriate tempo this is one of Bach's most beautiful arias: is beauty a dirty word to the HIP brigade?

More generally there is a feeling of haste: the playing is matter-of-fact "let's get this over with" in manner, although less so in the slower numbers. Perhaps JEG has concentrated on musicological theory to the neglect of the emotional content. In any event it fails to move me and I shall not be playing it very often. I think I am being generous to give it three stars. If you want a period-instrument performance, Harnoncourt is miles better.


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