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Mr. S. Greenbank

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Shostakovich: Symphony No.14 [Vasily Petrenko/ LPO] [Naxos: 8.573132]
Shostakovich: Symphony No.14 [Vasily Petrenko/ LPO] [Naxos: 8.573132]
Price: £7.73

2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Compelling, and ticks all the right boxes., 17 Aug. 2014
This symphony was completed by Shostakovich in 1969, and premiered that same year. Dedicated to his friend, fellow composer Benjamin Britten, it is unusually structured - eleven linked movements/settings of poems by four different authors. The themes of death, and the pain and suffering leading to death pervade the work. Another novel element is the actual scoring, for soprano, bass, a chamber-sized string orchestra and percussion.

This is the penultimate release in the ongoing cycle by Petrenko and his forces, and it maintains the highest possible standards set by the previous offerings. The conductor, who seems to live and breath these works brings a logical and intelligent approach to this not overly performed symphony. The desolation and isolation are, at times, shocking.

Of the two excellent soloists, it is Vinogradov who is exceptionally fine, delivering a dramatic performance, with a resonant and richly warm tone. Petrenko brings intelligent insights to his reading, with all involved contributing to a performance of shared purpose. The percussion section comprises of a range of instruments including castanets, xylophone, vibraphone and celeste, and all emerge vividly in this exceptionally fine-sounding recording. The engineers have done a sterling job in the balance between the percussion section, the strings and the soloists, it couldn't be bettered.

My only quibble is the parsimonious CD duration of 49 minutes. I am sure something could have been included as a filler. At budget price, this release in a gem. Booklet notes by Richard Whitehouse set the context. Included are full texts and translations. Don't hesitate!

The Pupils Of Tartini [rtomir ikovi, Luca Ferrini]  [Dynamic: CDS723]
The Pupils Of Tartini [rtomir ikovi, Luca Ferrini] [Dynamic: CDS723]
Price: £15.18

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unknown treasures., 2 Aug. 2013
Giuseppe Tartini (1692-1770) was an Italian baroque composer and violinist, born to an aristocratic Italian family in the town of Piran, Slovenia. He studied the violin assiduously and eventually became Maestro di Cappella at the Basilica di Sant'Antonio in Padua. Throughout his illustrious career, he gathered around himself many pupils. Thus, a famous international violin school grew up around him. His fledglings, not only cut their teeth on violin technique alone, but had a much broader schooling in composition also. The underlying principle of his teaching was the relationship between melody and harmony. Tartini was a multi-cultured man, and did not restrict his contacts to musicians alone. Those from the literary, scientific and political world also held a fascination for him.

His style greatly influenced his students, and witness to this are the works on offer here. Apart from Nardini, I have never heard of any of these composers. These sonatas is highly inventive, and each is imbued with grace and charm. They are ravishingly played, and thoughtfully nuanced. Siskovic has great affinity for this music.

Luca Ferrini accompanies on the harpsichord, which I felt was slightly too recessed. Each of these sonatas is a world premiere recording, and they deserve to be heard. Dynamic have done a sterling job in making these works available to the listening public. They definitely have the thumbs up from me.

Ernst: Erlkonig (Le Carnaval De Venise) (Josef Spacek, Gordon Back) (Naxos: 8572575)
Ernst: Erlkonig (Le Carnaval De Venise) (Josef Spacek, Gordon Back) (Naxos: 8572575)
Price: £9.19

5.0 out of 5 stars Fabulous violin mastery., 2 Aug. 2013
Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst the Czech violinist-composer was born probably in 1812. Despite being a formidable violin virtuoso and producing a considerable body of compositions for the instrument, his name is virtually unheard of today. His reputation falls under the enormous shadow cast by Nicolo Paganini (1782-1840). My only other encounter with his works has been through the recordings of that great virtuoso violinist Ruggiero Ricci. I love the wonderful recording of his Violin Concerto in f sharp minor, Op.14 by Ricci on a now rare 'One-Eleven' CD. Ernst also played the viola, and gave several performances of Berlioz's Harold in Italy, under the composer's direction.

The CD will be mainly of interest to violinists, as it showcases the vast technical spectrum that this instrument has to offer. Perhaps the final track of the CD `Le Carnival de Venise - Variations burlesques, Op. 18 is his most well known work. The theme is followed by a set of 25 variations, which display all the technical wizardry that was at the composer's disposal : double-stops, artificial harmonics, spiccato, and G string melodies. It is a stunning tour de force. Yet, the Feuillet d'Album Op.16 and the Elegie show the lyrical side to this composer, with a wealth of melodic invention.

Josef Spacek has a wonderful technical command and beautiful, rich tone. Gordon Back offers admirable support on the piano. Booklet notes set the context, and the Naxos sound is exemplary. All in all a warmly recommended disc.

Mahler: Kindertotenlieder | Berg: Altenberg Lieder [Marion Eckstein, Winfried Rademacher, Linos Ensemble]  [Capriccio: C5135]
Mahler: Kindertotenlieder | Berg: Altenberg Lieder [Marion Eckstein, Winfried Rademacher, Linos Ensemble] [Capriccio: C5135]
Price: £13.18

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Five star performances of Mahler and Berg., 23 July 2013
Mahler composed his Kindertotenlieder in 1901 and 1904. For his texts he selected five poems from the 428 Ruckert wrote in 1833-34 as a personal response to the death of his two children from scarlet fever. Mahler composed them in his late romantic idiom. Ironically, personal tragedy was enter his life also in 1908, when his own daughter died from scarlet fever.

The five songs are sung by the German mezzo Marion Eckstein and supported by the Linos ensemble, a small orchestral ensemble founded in 1977 by oboist Klaus Becker. Eckstein has a dark velvety tone, ideally suited to this music. She seems to have real affinity for this work and offers a captivating performance.

Death and tragedy also form a backdrop for the second work on the disc: the Berg Violin Concerto. Written as a memorial to the death of Manon Gropius, Alma Mahler's daughter who died in April 1935, in the event this also became Berg's own requiem. Structured in two parts, the second section incorporates Bach's death chorale. The soloist Winifried Rademacher plays with ravishing tone and has a real understanding of the structure of the piece. The concerto is well-paced, with excellent dynamic control. This is a performance of exquisite refinement and stands up there with the best.

Berg's Altenberg Lieder were composed 1911-12. Their subject is the stormy but beauty of the soul together with love and longing. Once again Eckstein gives a heartfelt performance.

This work was scored by Berg for a very large orchestra. Here, together with the other two works on the CD, we hear them in arrangements made by Schonberg and his collaborators, scaled down for a small ensemble for the Association of Private Musical Performances. This is very effective, allowing the complex instrumental textures to emerge with clarity and definition. The Linos Ensemble do a sterling job and play these works with great commitment.

Recorded in 1909, the acoustic of the Deutschlandfunk Kammermusiksaal, Koln is very sympathetic. Liner notes are in German and English. I would warmly recommend this release.

Muffat: Harpsichord Suites (Naoko Akutagawa) (Naxos: 8572610)
Muffat: Harpsichord Suites (Naoko Akutagawa) (Naxos: 8572610)
Price: £8.18

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Immensely rewarding , little-known repertoire, 4 Jun. 2013
The German composer Gottlieb Muffat was the youngest son of the composer Georg Muffat. He was born in 1690. He was the most celebrated and gifted of all Georg's musical offspring. He was noted for being a very fine harpsichordist as a child. He studied the art of composition with his father. He spent much of his life in the employment of the Imperial Court of Vienna.

Naoka Akutagawa has recorded several CDs on the Naxos label, this is the only one I have heard. What strikes one immediately is the strikingly beautiful, clear, bright sound of the harpsichord used here (by Henk van Schevikhoven, Helsinki).

This is compelling, cultivated and captivating playing. Muffat's harpsichord music is highly inventive and he employs a wonderful harmonic arsenal. It is also intensely expressive. Akutagawa teases out the harmonic textures and subtle inflections with exquisite refinement and a graceful simplicity. The effect is spell-binding. All the while, you get the feeling that it is all spontaneous with an improvisatory approach.

I was rather intrigued by the Compinimenti Musicali No. 7 MC A19 (Ciaconna con 38 Variazioni) which sounded very similar to Handel's G major Chaconne. I was intrigued to know which came first.

The recording is made in a very favorable acoustic, allowing the instrumental textures to emerge with clarity. Alison J. Dunlop's liner notes are very well researched and provide an extremely good background to the music. I would now like to investigate Akutagawa's other discs on Naxos.

W.F.Bach: Concerto For Two Harpsichords [Julia Brown, Barbara Baird]  [Naxos: 8573027]
W.F.Bach: Concerto For Two Harpsichords [Julia Brown, Barbara Baird] [Naxos: 8573027]
Price: £8.22

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Little-Known keyboard works from W.F. Bach, 12 May 2013
Having reviewed Vol. 3 of Naxos' excellent survey of the Keyboard Works of Wilhelm Friedmann Bach, I was delighted when volume 4 came along for review. This is the third volume which features the Brazilian harpsichordist Julia Brown. In this volume she plays three solo sonatas, and is joined by Barbara Baird for the Sonata for two harpsichords in F major. This is a work on a larger scale than the other compositions featured here and is sometimes referred to as a Concerto.

Hailing from the musically prolific Bach family, Wilhelm Friedmann was born in 1710, and was the eldest of Johann Sebastian's sons. Many consider him to be the most original of the sons, but his output was much smaller than that of Carl Philip Emmanuel. A keyboard soloist, the works here display great originality and a fluency in keyboard writing. His keyboard sonatas contributed to the development of a new keyboard sonata form between the Baroque and Classical periods. He died in 1784.

Brown plays with great distinction throughout, offering the listener compelling performances, in excellent, spacious sound. She shows great affinity for this music. The playing is well- focused, and is endowed with exquisite refinement. Articulation is marked with rhythmical incisiveness. Tempi and phrasing are well-judged. Brown and Baird have worked together before, and clearly integrate well together in the work for two harpsichords.

Liner notes are written by Julia Brown herself, and are excellent and informative. It is laudable of Naxos to make available these little-known works. Like the previous volumes in the survey, I would give this CD my thumbs-up. Another winner!

Moeran: Cello Concerto, Serenade, Lonely Waters, Whythorne's Shadow
Moeran: Cello Concerto, Serenade, Lonely Waters, Whythorne's Shadow
Price: £7.18

18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What a discovery!!, 9 April 2013
Ernest John Moeran was born in 1894, and brought up in Norfolk. He was of Anglo-Irish descent, the son of an Irish clergyman and English mother. He studied violin and piano as a child. Attending Uppingham public school, he later went to the Royal College of Music, where his studies were interrupted by the First World War. It was whilst serving on the Western Front that he received head injuries which were to affect him for the rest of his life., both physically and mentally. After the War, he studied privately with John Ireland, and developed a life-long friendship with the composer Philip Heseltine (Peter Warlock). He married the English cellist Piers Coetmore. He gradually lapsed into a life of drink and died in 1950, falling from a pier into water as a result of a cerebral haemorrhage and heart attack.

Being best known for his Symphony in G minor, the cello concerto was written in 1945. His cellist wife inspired both the composition of this work and the cello sonata. I came to this CD without having heard this cello concerto before, knowing only his wonderful symphony. So I do not have another recording of the work to compare it with, though I do know of at least two other recordings of the work. For those who have never heard this beautiful concerto, I would urge them to investigate. It is a very English sounding work, with traces and echos of Vaughan Williams, Walton and even Delius. There is a beautiful lyrical slow movement, which is akin to an elegy. Nostalgia and wistfulness pervade the first two movements. The third movement is an allegretto with an Irish folk spirit. I cannot understand the relative neglect of this work; it should be performed more often and become part of the cello mainstream repertoire.

Guy Johnston's performance is captivating, with a beautiful, rich cello tone. JoAnn Falleta and the Ulster Orchestra provide admirable support. The cd also includes the short orchestral rhapsody Lonely Waters, with an exquisite contribution from the soprano Rebekah Coffey, and Whythorne's Shadow, a fantasy based on an Elizabethan madrigal.

At only budget price, this is a must for all cello lovers.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 25, 2013 4:51 PM BST

Brahms: The Symphonies (1/ 2/ 3/ 4) (Paavo Berglund, Chamber Orchestra Of Europe) (Ondine: ODE 1229-2T)
Brahms: The Symphonies (1/ 2/ 3/ 4) (Paavo Berglund, Chamber Orchestra Of Europe) (Ondine: ODE 1229-2T)
Price: £15.75

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Brahms with smaller forces, 18 Mar. 2013
These recordings of the Brahms four symphonies were recorded live at the Baden-Baden Festival Hall in May 2000. Berglund uses a smaller orchestra than most concert-goers are traditionally used to and I, myself, was not accustomed to hearing performances where a chamber orchestra was utilized. I am aware that Sir Charles MacKerras uses similiar forces in his Telarc recording with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, but unfortunately I have not had the opportunity to listen to this set for comparison.

My initial apprehension at approaching this cycle was soon assuaged, and any doubts were immediately dispelled. Berglund's use of a smaller chamber orchestra allows him to rid these masterworks of the thick, congested textures that one sometimes hears with the big symphony orchestra performances. He is able to make these textures more transparent, highlighting instrumental lines. I definitely heard lines which I have never heard before. This is a lean approach to the symphonies. I really enjoyed them as an alternative to the more established view. Tempi are generally on the brisk side.

My reservations are few. I thought that the first movement of the first symphony seems a little jaunty which, to me, is a little out of character and misses the gravitas of the movement, making it sound flippant in parts. Some of the phrasing is mannered and quirky, with abrupt endings to some phrases. My other reservation is the overuse of accents in the first movement of symphony no. 3. The `plodding' accompaniment of the opening seems badly judged.

Overall the acoustic is very good. Booklet notes are excellent. It is a great pity that the two overtures or the St. Anthony Chorale Variations were not included, as the first two CDs are only just over forty minutes. That said, here is a set which presents these wonderful works in a new light, one worth exploring.

Gloria Coates: The String Quartets (Kreutzer Quartet) (Naxos: 8503240)
Gloria Coates: The String Quartets (Kreutzer Quartet) (Naxos: 8503240)
Price: £11.84

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not for the faint-hearted, 14 Mar. 2013
Gloria Coates was born in Wausau, Wiscontin and began her composing career at the age of nine. She counts among those who have encouraged and inspired her, the composer Alexander Tcherepnin. Since 1969, she has lived mainly in Munich and from there travelled the world lecturing on her music. As well as the nine string quartets featured here, she has composed fifteen symphonies. Her love of the effect of glissandi, drew her to the string quartet as a medium, as will be seen.

It has to be pointed out from the outset that these works do not provide an easy listen but, to those willing to persevere, they are rewarded with the wonderful experience of a completely new sound world. This implies that the listener has to work at these works and not dismiss them too quickly. The quartets are challenging works, technically complex, intense, but provide a stimulating experience. It is an atonal sound world of abstraction. There are dissonances, repetitions, tone clusters and the main feature - glissandi. The players are given the opportunity to use such things as tapping, high-pitched pizzicato, tremolos and harmonics. There were times when I asked myself, how can four instruments sound, in parts, like an orchestra? Coates' style is definitely very individual, almost intuitive.

Of all the works, I enjoyed the Lyric Suite for Piano Trio the most. It is, together with the Solo Violin Sonata, the most accessible work in the set. There are seven movements in all, each having a title gleaned from a phrase of an Emily Dickenson poem. The violin is tuned down a quarter tone and there are times when the piano plays stark repeated chords. Ostinatos are also a feature. The overall effect is very dramatic. Some have linked her sound world to that of Penderecki.

The Naxos sound is excellent throughout. I was quite surprised to find that some of the Quartets were recorded at the Church of St. John's, Loughton, Essex, a church I know very well. The Kreutzer Quartet meet the challenges of these compositions admirably. I would imagine they are extremely difficult to bring off successfully. Booklet notes are excellent. I would sum up by quoting the words of the quartet's violinist, Peter Sheppard Skaerved "once the floodgates are open, its extraordinary beauty is irresistible.

Cantatas (Max Emanuel Cencic/ Ornamente 99/ Karsten Erik Ose) (Capriccio: C7142)
Cantatas (Max Emanuel Cencic/ Ornamente 99/ Karsten Erik Ose) (Capriccio: C7142)
Price: £15.50

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful countertenor, 13 Mar. 2013
This set comprises 3 CDs, one each devoted to cantatas by Antonio Vivaldi, Domenico Scarlatti and Antonio Caldara and a DVD offering a portrait of the countertenor Max Emanuel Cencic. I would recommend watching the DVD first as it gives a wonderful background to the career of the singer. He was born in 1976 in Zagreb to a conductor father and opera singer mother. An early visit, as a child, to a performance of Mozart's Magic flute aroused a fascination with the coloratura aria of the Queen of the Night, and stirred an interest in singing. We are given short excerpts of filmed performances of him as a child performing in various concerts. He eventually became a child-star, taking part in opera and became a member of the famous Vienna Boy's Choir. Tours followed, and he particularly liked the reception he received in Japan. As he got older, he came to the realization that his voice would remain soprano, so he studied the countertenor repertoire. He toured Japan, Europe and America. In 1995 he performed the part of Amor in Gluck's Orfeo, in Vienna.

He is interviewed in what appears to be his flat, dressed in ostentatious attire, against a backdrop of his CD collection. He relates how he eventually suffered a crisis of identity and this resulted in depression, and he had to cancel a tour of Japan half-way through. The documentary then charts his efforts at a comeback and the rebuilding of his career. A performance in Basel in Monteverdi's L'Incoronazione di Poppea earned him `Best New Singer of the Year 2003' from German music critics. He refers to himself as a male mezzo-soprano.The DVD also shows him in performance. We get glimpses of him shopping, cooking and entertaining friends and family to dinner.

Cencic is accompanied on this CD by the baroque group Ornamente 99, under the direction of Karsten Erik Ose. The group provides excellent light rhythmical accompaniment throughout, never sounding heavy and tedious. In the Vivaldi aria `Ah, ch'infelice sempre' from the cantata Cessate, omai cessate for instance, they provide a beautiful pointed accompaniment. The cantatas from all three composers explore the full range of human emotions. Centric meets the challenges with brilliant technique and beauty of tone. His voice offers the listener a wide spectrum of colour. Here is a singer who is totally comfortable within his range. Note his range and virtuosity in the aria `Nell' orrido albergo' again from Cessata, omai cessate. I love the beautiful clear florid passages in Scarlatti's aria `Se mi dirai' from the Cantata Tinte a note di sangue. He has wonderful smooth legato in the aria `Non v'e pena' from the cantata of the same name by Caldara. Here, there is a wonderful interplay between the singer and instrumentalists.

Production is excellent. The acoustic is warm and bright allowing the textures of the music to emerge with clarity and definition. Booklet notes are informative. Full libretti are included. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed this set and would have no qualms in giving it a five-star recommendation.

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