Profile for Mr. John Manning > Reviews

Personal Profile

Content by Mr. John Manning
Top Reviewer Ranking: 12,498
Helpful Votes: 614

Learn more about Your Profile.

Reviews Written by
Mr. John Manning (Penarth, Vale of Glam Wales)
(REAL NAME)   

Show:  
Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9
pixel
Brahms: German Requiem
Brahms: German Requiem
Offered by langton_info_england
Price: £33.90

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Levine's gripping Brahms, 1 Mar 2011
This review is from: Brahms: German Requiem (Audio CD)
Recordings of live performances have the potential to capture the magic of the occasion, or to perpetuate flaws. Happily, the former applies to this disc. Levine has a firm grip on his forces and a secure grasp of Brahms' masterpiece. He draws out excellent singing from the Tanglewood chorus, who give their all. Entries and exits are cleanly executed, while diction and dynamics are excellent. Together with the Boston Symphony orchestra they respond unerringly to Levine's detailed direction.
Of the two soloists, Michael Volle impresses with his clarity, firmness of tone and expression. His timbre reminds me of Bryn Terfel in this work, which I consider to be a flattering comparison. Christine Schafer cannot match his clarity in the text, but otherwise complements him in vocal quality.
BSO seems to have chosen a naturalistic method of capturing this performance, eschewing close microphones to achieve an open sound with atmosphere. This risks recording audience noise, and I notice a few minor 'noises off' in the first part, but not enough to worry even an old fusspot like me. After the first few minutes I noticed no more. The frequency and dynamic range of the recording are large, and spatially it is wide and deep, the rear speakers adding ambience. Several things impress me; to name but two the organ pedal adding richness, and a stupendous crescendo at the end of part 3, "Lord, make me to know mine end" where the engineer captures the chorus valiantly giving their all for Levine.
I have two criticisms, one very minor and one more noticeable. The timpani are balanced (possibly naturally) rather close and are slightly boomy; and the violin tone sometimes sounds a little thin and wiry to my ears. Neither detract greatly from a very enjoyable performance, but I feel it fair to subtract one star.


Beethoven: Piano Concertos 4 & 5
Beethoven: Piano Concertos 4 & 5
Price: £13.46

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beethoven with polish, 26 Feb 2011
I eagerly anticipated Sudbin's foray into Beethoven's concertos for BIS, having been delighted with his interpretation of Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky, Medtner and Scriabin on the same label. It is enough to say that my expectations were exceeded; Sudbin adapts his style to meet Beethoven's demands with delicacy and brilliance. Osmo Vanska does not merely obtain an accompaniment from the Minnesota orchestra but has obviously taken great pains to display Beethoven's orchestration in the best light, without ostentation. In my opinion, he slightly softens the contrast between piano and strings in the slow movement of the fourth concerto - Barenboim's Euroarts blu-ray impresses me greatly here - but overall Vanska manages to bring out detail that catches my ear even in such familiar works. Accents and phrasing are beautifully judged, soloist and orchestra play as one to create a wholly satisfying interpretation.
Beethoven makes no huge demands here for the recording engineer - no bass drum for example that would require extra headroom - and in this 5.0 surround recording I do not feel the need to increase amplification above my normal setting, as I wish to for some other BIS recordings. That is not to underestimate the engineer's achievement; balance is excellent with pin-sharp lateral instrumental placement. Ambience is ideal, with a little unobtrusive help from the rear speakers. No doubt Vanska had something to do with the transparency of the orchestra too, as detail is very clear.
I assume the first three concertos will follow, and if they measure up to this SACD will complete a very collectable set.


Holst: Orchestral Works 2 (The Planets/ Japanese Suite/ Beni Mora)
Holst: Orchestral Works 2 (The Planets/ Japanese Suite/ Beni Mora)
Price: £14.73

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Worthy continuation, 5 Feb 2011
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Little needs to be added to Amazon's CD description of the music recorded here; it is a great shame that Richard Hickox's sad demise prevented him from conducting a new recording of Holst's best known work, The Planets, but Volume 1 on Chandos (also Elgar's symphonies - more fine SACD recordings) are a fitting testimonial to his talent.
Sir Andrew Davis has no need of gimmicks but obtains a well-played, 'middle of the road' interpretation of these works. I didn't find any significant new insights, but neither did I find anything to complain about.
The Planets - a 'suite for large orchestra' - is a challenge for the recording engineer, utilising a range of percussion (all clearly recorded) and an organ which is not only used for bass underpinning but has a startling glissando in Uranus. Chandos have opted for a natural-sounding recording which sets the orchestra in a good acoustic environment with a realistic frequency and dynamic range. In this case there is a noticeable distancing which creates somewhat more blurring than in a multi-miked recording, but is arguably a more accurate representation of a live concert hall sound. Rear speakers add reverberation which reinforces the impression of naturalness.
In common with Gardiner's SACD on DG, I find that I need more amplification than usual to produce the 'airy' result that I enjoy; climaxes here are then gloriously unrestrained. As a matter of personal taste I prefer Davis's faster tempo in Mars, but Gardiner's organ glissando is more impressive. I find much to enjoy in both discs.
Comment Comments (8) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 25, 2012 2:37 PM BST


Chopin: The Piano Concertos [Blu-ray] [2011] [Region Free]
Chopin: The Piano Concertos [Blu-ray] [2011] [Region Free]
Dvd ~ Evgeny Kissin
Price: £28.60

23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Contrasting Chopin, 2 Feb 2011
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This concert in celebration of Chopin's birthday caught my eye immediately; both concertos in a concert given in February 2010, on the superior medium of blu-ray, and with Kissin's name prominently displayed. The maturing wunderkind plays the concerto no. 2, while Nikolai Demidenko plays the first (although they may well have been composed in the reverse order). While Demidenko might not have as elevated a profile as Kissin, he is a pianist of rare talent, some of whose recordings on Hyperion occupy a respected place in my collection.
Let me firstly dispose of the excellent Warsaw Philharmonic under Antoni Wit, who must be extremely familiar with this music and play it not only with accuracy but also with affection.
Demidenko concentrates on projecting every note clearly, and to some ears may err towards caution rather than carefree abandon. Nevertheless the fast movements of the first concerto are impressive for their immaculate fingerwork, and the slow middle movement is idyllic. His encore, a mazurka, is less buttoned-down and allows more of Demidenko's obvious affinity with Chopin's music to shine through.
Kissin may be more mature now, but he always showed an understanding beyond his years, so there is for me no great surprise in his interpretation of the concerto no.2. His technique has always been phenomenal, and here he achieves pristine fingerwork to match Demidenko, but with less apparent effort. He also uses more dynamic contrast, in a masculine display of both technique and insight into the composer's mind. The first encore, the 'revolutionary' study, seems designed to upset all wannabee pianists like myself in its accuracy and abandon, and the posthumous waltz that follows varies between limpid delicacy and controlled fury. The faces of the listening orchestra tell it all; knowing smiles, then amazement at what they are hearing and seeing.
Pictures are excellent; the hall is tastefully lit and camera direction is good. Demidenko leans out of his key light occasionally, but that's all that caught my eye.
The surround sound tracks are as good as any recording of these works that I have heard. Chopin doesn't pose too many problems for the sound engineer, no bass drum to stomp on your subwoofer or cymbals to tickle your tweeters, so he has been able to achieve a believable balance that tends to favour the strings and keep the brass in check. Piano sound is only slightly forward, to my ears more so for Kissin (who seems more inclined to use fortissimos). The audience is not totally silent but doesn't intrude, except at the end of the second concerto where their enthusiasm for Kissin leads them to applaud before the final chords have died away.
Demidenko brought a smile to my face, Kissin a tear to my eye. They are both well worth a hearing in an excellent recording.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 7, 2012 10:21 PM GMT


Respighi: Roman Trilogy (Fontane Di Roma/ Pini Di Roma/ Feste Romane)
Respighi: Roman Trilogy (Fontane Di Roma/ Pini Di Roma/ Feste Romane)
Price: £14.07

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Atmospheric orchestration, 1 Nov 2010
Respighi's descriptive tributes to Rome are ideal subjects for the medium of SACD; atmospheric, exciting, and with orchestral writing that benefits from higher resolution.
The Fountains of Rome opens at a leisurely pace, and I was able to appreciate detail that I had not previously heard; Neschling and the Sao Paulo Symphony made me aware of water, flowing and dripping, and the grandeur of the sculptures.
Children playing get the Pines off to a brisk start with their high-pitched noises, and each tableau is faithfully communicated up to the overwhelming climax of the marching Roman soldiers.
The brutality of the circuses can be difficult to listen to if your imagination is active; Respighi pulls no punches in Roman Festivals. Happily the piece moves on to less bloodthirsty scenes, the imitation of a barrel organ being most effective.
BIS have continued their tried and tested method of recording, giving us a natural and spacious concert-hall sound. Dynamic level is very large, and I found that I needed to use more amplification than usual to maintain clarity in the quietest passages. This meant that those Roman soldiers raise the roof at the end of The Pines, which accurately reflects the huge orchestral forces. I have multi-miked recordings that maintain more detail during this very loud section, but fail to fully portray the huge crescendo captured here by BIS.
I feel that the recorded nightingale in the Pines of the Villa Borghese at night could have been given more atmosphere in the multi-channel recording; the possibility of floating it in the air is a tempting one, but I found it to come from the front speakers. Those Roman soldiers, however, do play their buccines from the rear speakers most effectively, and there is also brass from the rear in the opening of the Festivals.
I have waited for this first modern SACD of these works for some time, and am glad to be able to report that I am very satisfied.


Mahler;  Prokoviev: Lucerne Festival: Mahler: Symphony No. 1;  Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No.3) [Blu-ray] [2010] [NTSC]
Mahler; Prokoviev: Lucerne Festival: Mahler: Symphony No. 1; Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No.3) [Blu-ray] [2010] [NTSC]
Dvd ~ Yuja Wang (Piano)
Offered by Fulfillment Express
Price: £20.80

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars More delights from Lucerne, 31 Oct 2010
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Abbado and his hand-picked players continue their Mahler symphony series with a detailed and absorbing account of the first. The concert begins, however, with Prokofiev's 3rd piano concerto, here played by Yuja Wang. This is my first acquaintance with this artist, and I am left wondering why I have not heard her previously. On the evidence of this recording, she has a prodigious technique and a true insight into Prokofiev's music. She integrates splendidly with her accompaniment; Abbado spends much time looking over his shoulder at the soloist, and who could blame him. The spiky sections of the concerto trip effortlessly off Wang's fingers, and the broad melodic sections are suitably romantic. Orchestra and soloist bring the work to a breathtaking finish.
Abbado demands much from his orchestra in the Mahler, revealing its inner workings whilst creating an atmospheric experience. The faces of the players reveal how great is their determination to give of their best for Abbado, and he acknowledges their efforts during the applause.
Video quality and direction are of a high standard. Wang displays no histrionics but a half-smile shows when she is enjoying herself.
My first impression of the multi-channel audio is that it is slightly subdued, but louder passages open up gratifyingly to to give a convincing concert-hall effect. Dynamic range is high, and low frequency sounds are excellently reproduced - the bass drum is palpable. My impression is of being in a seat about half-way back in the hall; violins are smoothed out somewhat. Microphones are noticeable by their absence - I tried in vain to see where they were placed. The piano is not given artificial prominence, but is nevertheless clear. Audience noise is negligible. If forced to find fault, I would ask for a little more high frequency level, but that's being overly critical.
I have read elsewhere that the blu-ray of Mahler's second symphony in this series has problems with the multi-channel audio. If true, it would be a great pity as the three others that I have tried are excellent.


Brahms: Violin Sonatas - Anne-Sophie Mutter [Blu-ray] [2010] [Region Free]
Brahms: Violin Sonatas - Anne-Sophie Mutter [Blu-ray] [2010] [Region Free]
Dvd ~ Anne-Sophie/Lambert Orkis Mutter
Price: £15.99

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A close partnership, 9 Aug 2010
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Those who have seen and heard Anne-Sophie Mutter and Lambert Orkis's TV recordings of the Mozart violin sonatas will know that there is an increasingly close musical partnership between them that pays dividends for their audiences. Brahms demands much from both instrumentalists, and here Orkis has no qualms about letting his Steinway loose in true fortissimos, never putting a finger wrong. Mutter is never overwhelmed by the power of the piano, however. She obtains a gorgeously rich, smoothly controlled tone from her instrument, managing to avoid all the unmusical sounds that a violin in lesser hands can make.
The 3 Brahms sonatas are mature works, to my ears somewhat similar in overall, typically Brahmsian, feeling. Here they are played in order 2,1,3; the no.1 sonata is arguably the most popular, and from the outset we are given a reading of concentrated intensity, shorn of histrionics but nevertheless powerful when appropriate. The slow movement impresses me as improvisatory, both players musing together as one.
The well-known lullaby given as an encore is, after the sonatas, comparatively simple, but is treated with much care and affection. Mutter could well be gently crooning a child to sleep, with Orkis's restrained accompaniment.

The concert was recorded in the Bibliotheksaal Polling, (not a book in sight). Its elegantly painted walls and ceiling are tastefully lit and featured, with excellent direction that avoids lights/cameras in shot. There is visible, however, a cable strung across the balcony which I can only surmise has something to do with Mutter's microphone, which I cannot pick out. The piano has two obvious but not over-prominent stand mics near its open lid. Mutter herself is, as ever, timelessly elegant in a trademark strapless gown. Her expression is a little fierce and concentrated whilst playing, but her genuine smile lights up the room as she acknowledges applause. Orkis avoids any ostentation, just produces the music with an economy of physical effort.

The DTS-HD Master 5.0 sound is quite close, but entirely believable in a relatively small room. Frequency and dynamic range are beyond criticism; the rear channels are only noticeable during applause and the instruments stay front and centre. I personally would have preferred a little distancing and ambience, but what we have here is entirely appropriate to a chamber performance. PCM stereo is available as an option. There is no audience noise, just once or twice the faint sound of Orkis turning the page. If forced to find a point of criticism I believe I detected a slight hardening of the piano tone during a particularly loud passage, just once, and that could be my imagination.

I don't believe anyone will be disappointed with this issue, particularly considering the reasonable price at the time of my purchase.


Violin Concertos - Annar Folleso, Norwegian Radio Orch. (Blu-Ray)
Violin Concertos - Annar Folleso, Norwegian Radio Orch. (Blu-Ray)
Price: £18.63

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Virtuoso violin, 15 July 2010
As the title suggests, this issue consists of 2 violin concertos by Ole Bull, the Concerto in A major and the Concerto Fantastico. There are also 4 more descriptive works, Sæterjentens Søndag (the Herdgirl's Sunday); Et Sæterbesøg (a Mountain Vision); I Ensomme Stunde (la Melancolie) and La Verbena De San Juan. All of these call for a violin soloist of quality. Ole Bull himself had a prodigious talent, and influenced the young Grieg, among others.
The concertos display a facility for melody and rhythm more than for structure, but are unmistakeably his own, not to be confused with any other composer. Of the two I found the Concerto Fantastico more immediately appealing. Even more ear-catching are the characteristic pieces; La Verbena De San Juan's Spanish rhythms and percussion being most persuasive.
The Norwegian Radio Orchestra under Ole Kristian Rudd with soloist Anna Folleso leave nothing to be desired in a committed, virtuosic and affectionate performance.

2L have given us a choice of media; SACD hybrid and 'Pure Audio blu-ray' in three formats. In their booklet (available on the blu-ray disc in Adobe acrobat form) they explain the philosophy behind the recording technique most interestingly, with illustrations of the chamber-like orchestra's layout with microphone positioning. I was able to sample both discs for comparison on my Oppo BD-83 player and (blu-ray only) via a Popcorn Hour C-200 media player. In both formats, the recordings are ideal, clear yet with ambience, full in frequency and dynamic range, revealing yet sympathetic. On balance I found the SACD to be slightly more refined, possibly more extended in the high frequencies and more immediately revealing of the starting transients of percussion. Surround in both discs is handled expertly with the rear speakers adding greatly to the ambience.
This, my first audio-only blu-ray, I count as a great success. Whereas I would hesitate to rank Ole Bull amongst the world's most celebrated composers, his music is most listenable, presented here in an exceptionally fine fashion.


La Traviata, by Giuseppe Verdi (Teatro alla Scala, Milano 2008) [Blu-ray] [2010] [Region Free] [NTSC]
La Traviata, by Giuseppe Verdi (Teatro alla Scala, Milano 2008) [Blu-ray] [2010] [Region Free] [NTSC]
Dvd ~ Angela Gheorghiu
Price: £8.99

36 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An absolute bargain, 6 May 2010
When I saw the price of this disc I was suspicious that it might not be the complete opera; rest assured it is the whole work, with the bonus of tasters of other HD issues.
La Scala's production can be described as traditional and sumptuous - sets, costumes, lighting, makeup, direction etc. all first class. The two main principals, Angela Gheorghiu and Ramon Vargas need no introduction, while Roberto Frontali as Giorgio Germont has a fine voice, younger-sounding than is sometimes found in this part. Lorin Maazel holds everything together expertly and draws some fine playing from the La Scala orchestra.
Gheorghiu and Vargas are in fine voice, and sing their solos most affectingly. She acts her heart out, from flashing eyes to quivering bosom, while he moves well but does not always carry the part in his facial expression; he does show a little more emotion after a well-deserved slap from his stage father in the finale to act 2.
The minor solo parts, and the renowned La Scala chorus, are all excellent. The La Scala audience is generous in its appreciation and gets curtain calls after each act.
Picture quality is as good as I have seen, with just a little movement judder very occasionally from my Oppo player. Shots are well-chosen, vision control very good. I have seen criticism elsewhere of the audio balance between soloists and the rest, but I would disagree. I wish I could say that the sound of La Scala is faithfully reproduced, but since I haven't had the pleasure of being in the audience in Milan I can only say that the sound is natural and believable. Those used to having soloists individually miked may notice the difference here; the impression I have is of surround microphones located somewhere near the front edge of the stage, so that when soloists turn away from the audience the quality of their voices changes in a natural manner. Whereas they blend with the orchestra and chorus, they are neither over-prominent or submerged - Gheorghiu, of course, is well able to project her top notes so as to be always heard.
In general the audience is pretty quiet - there is nothing worse than coughing from the audience as well as Violetta in her death scene - and the most noticeable extraeneous noise is what I take to be air-conditioning just audible in quiet moments between the notes. My comments refer to the DTS-master 7.1 tracks which make good (but not obvious) use of the rear channels (except for the tambourines flourished by the female dancers in the finale to act 2, which wander about sonically).
Comparisons between this recording and the similarly traditional LA opera production on Decca blu-ray are interesting but too lengthy for this review. Suffice it to say that both are excellent; Decca's sound is a little more polished but Arthaus has the appearance of honesty; I'm glad to be able to say that I can enjoy both versions.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 14, 2010 6:47 AM BST


Dvorak: Requiem Op. 89, Symphony No. 8 Op. 88 (Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra / Mariss Jansons)
Dvorak: Requiem Op. 89, Symphony No. 8 Op. 88 (Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra / Mariss Jansons)
Price: £11.41

14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unmissable Dvorak, 1 May 2010
To my astonishment, this disc is my first encounter with Dvorak's Requiem Mass, and now I cannot imagine why I hadn't heard it before. It has all the hushed reverence and drama that the genre calls for, and with Dvorak's unmistakable signature. Jansons crafted a memorable performance, his orchestra, soloists and Wiener Singverein chorus all responding admirably. I ought not to make any particular comment, but the tenor Klaus Florian Vogt's ringing light tone especially catches my ear; but then Thomas Quasthoff's introduction to the Dies Irae is most memorable, and the tubular bells were an inspired idea..... forget it, just enjoy it all.

Dvorak's eighth symphony is more well-known, and I expected it to be an enjoyable filler - but it is much, much more. For those who assert that today's conductors do not have the total control over their orchestra that the 'great oldies' did, this proves them wrong. I used the word 'crafted' for the requiem, and the same description applies to the symphony. Time after time I noted Janson's points of detail that had previously escaped me; he achieves his magic without the result appearing stilted, although some might like the dancing third movement (Allegretto Graziozo) to flow more freely (but not me).

Some items from the notes - the requiem is split over 2 SACDs after the Hostias, and the timings are 76.37 and 60.09 (including the symphony). Whereas the requiem was recorded on 5th and 6th February 2009, the symphony recording was split over 5 dates in 2007 and 2008 (with no effect on the result that I can detect).

As for the 5.0 recording, the live audience is confined to applause only; how this was accomplished without close microphone placement I do not know. In both works the impression is of a naturally balanced and distanced sound, slight hall reverberation blurring the chorus just a little in the requiem. Everything is clearly heard; whereas the soloists are not artificially boosted, their words are clearer than the chorus and their position a little forward. Frequency and dynamic range are excellent; the rear speakers give just the right degree of ambience, and only draw attention to themselves during the applause. Listening in stereo, the resultant sound is slightly crisper, and as well balanced, without some of the atmosphere. There's precious little I care to criticise in both works.

I am delighted with this issue.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 2, 2014 4:57 PM GMT


Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9