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drdanfee "music fan aka drdanfee" (Berkeley, CA USA)

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Prokofiev: Violin Concerto No. 2, Rachmaninoff: Symphonic Dances
Prokofiev: Violin Concerto No. 2, Rachmaninoff: Symphonic Dances
Price: £15.81

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sokhiev, Laurenceau, Toulouse: Prokofiev V Cto 2: Rachmaninoff Dances: Relaxed, refined readings,French clarity with Slavic soul, 6 Feb. 2011
Our conductor is Tugan Sokhiev, from Ossetia (think, Gergiev?). By all accounts he is someone to watch ... or even better, to whom we may now listen on a new classical disc. He is music director in Toulouse, following on the departure of long-time director Michel Plasson. Sokhiev did a first disc on the Naïve label that combined really stellar, compelling readings of the Mussorgsky-Ravel Pictures, and Tchaikovsky's fourth symphony.

On this disc Sokhiev and the Toulouse band are joined by fiddler Genevieve Laurenceau, who has a rather distinguished pedigree herself; though she has not yet appeared all that much in the USA classical catalogs. She studied and/or coached with violin pedagogues like Wolfgang Marschner and Zhakar Bron and Jean-Jacques Kantorow. She won a few fiddle competitions, one of which financed her recording of violin/piano music. She holds both violin concertos and chamber music in her active repertoire. She is guest professor in the UK where she also collaborates with Stephen Kovacevich. Since 2007, she has been concertmaster in Toulouse. She plays a Stradivarius fiddle, dated 1682.

By way of fair disclosure, let me say that I like the second Prokofiev fiddle concerto somewhat less than the first. But, I must say - this recording really puts it across, drenched in Slavic lyricism - pretty much no holds barred. All the modernish chromatics are there in intervals and harmonies and passages of busy elaboration or contrast; but the lasting, musical deep impression is a Hot Samovar-toned way with the fiddle's notes and phrases: the Stradivarius moved to constant Slavic song.

Tugan Sokhiev proves himself a most attuned musical partner to Laurenceau. He, too, lives, breaths, and moves forward in the flow and sweetness of Prokofiev's deep song. For listeners who earlier got to know him by way of the stunningly virtuosic previous disc of Mussorgsky-Ravel and Tchaikovsky, Sokhiev and the Toulouse players sound chastely restrained and refined by comparison. It is as if everybody is going to make up in tonal colors and melody, what this second disc in comparison to the earlier one, lacks in brilliance and sizzle. The concluding fast movement of the concerto moves along; but in retrospect still sounds in memory as all involved are more interested in revealing all manner of musical detail, though not at the expense of the last movement's big picture? The partnership is more intimate and flexible; less seeking for grandstand musical moments, than a sort of persistent musical duo, hand in hand in velvet gloves. The proto-Spanish flavors come through, subtly. Russia by way of France sounds nearer to Spain. Flamenco dance forms are not as far removed from the concerto as I may have assumed to date?

To wrap up this disc, we come to the Rachmaninoff Symphonic Dances, composed late in his career.

The Sokhiev way with the opening pages again emphasizes clarity, fluency, and tonal colors. Then the wider orchestra joins in, and we begin to get the customary energy we often hear in this work. But the vigor is not all collapsed into flash; colors remain pertinent, vivid. A sort of George Szell-like balance, an appreciative, clear-eyed involvement with the score, permeates all departments. Woodwinds have a sweet, musing way in the quiet interludes. Melodies sound genuinely Slavic, indigenous, folk-ish. Some inflections actually sound out in passing as hints of George Gershwin and similar. Who knew? Especially in Rachmaninoff?

My keeper shelf touchstones in the symphonic dances have been Petrenko/Liverpool, Eiji Oeu/Minnesota, and Ashkenazy/Amsterdam. Sokhiev makes a somewhat counterbalancing keeper shelf companion - though, like Ashkenazy, Sokhiev seems to have a sweet musical internalization of Slavic lyricism. So everything is not boiled down to contrasts.

Nevertheless, these symphonic dances probably sound less bombastic than many readings in the catalog. If Capriccio-Italien-Tchaikovsky flair has previously put you off this work, you may well find that Sokhiev and Toulouse restore and reveal its depths and loveliness without shorting the rhythmic vitality and dance-formed flow. All is songful, as in the preceding Prokofiev violin concerto; and the musical finesse sounds nearly bottomless.

Goodness, what will Sokhiev and Toulouse do next? I'm looking forward to hearing it. Stars.

Schubert: Impromptus
Schubert: Impromptus
Price: £14.29

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Andrea Lucchesini: Schubert Impromptus: Relaxed, varied, deceptively fluent sounding views of Schubert's keyboard genius ..., 19 Dec. 2010
This review is from: Schubert: Impromptus (Audio CD)
Several high lauded discs of the Schubert Impromptus are already available in our current catalogs - from the high likes of Krystian Zimmerman, Uchida, Brendel, Perahia, Andras Schiff, and Kempff. With smatterings of Impromptu playing from many other gifted and musical players. Radu Lupu sort of occupies a Schubert Impromptu peak all his very own, in the larger topography of ups and downs, valleys and all. You can even dig deeper and maybe come up with Lili Kraus on old Vanguard recordings of very winning Schubert.

Now arrives Andrea Lucchesini. He's taking on both of the two sets, D. 899, D. 935, Opus 90, Opus 142.

His tempos are relaxed, but sustained listening reveals how utterly unsoggy and attentive his playing is across what turns out to be a beautifully varied set of Schubertian lyrics, always touched with drama. Just when you think his technical fluency is going to reveal nothing but surfaces, Lucchesini digs in deeper, bringing out lights that are sometime fairly subtle, and other times showing communicative moments of big-boned passing drama. Song is never far off, no matter what the emphasis. Overall, flow and texture ebbs and gathers and starts and slows; so that in the end a full-bodied, imaginative picture of the composer comes across.

So Lucchesini goes to my keeper shelves; and probably he will also end up being among the holiday gifts I am only to happy to share with people who like piano music. One recalls Artur Schnabel's comment: After Beethoven, there is only next, Schubert.

Short of getting Arkady Volodos into the studio to do a full Impromptu set in super audio - which I predict would be matchless among all current Schubert players, so full of genius is Volodos' love and mastery in his single released album of sonatas - this Lucchesini set of eight Impromptus is entirely welcome. Not just a visitor, but among the Schubert companions.

Beethoven: Complete Piano Concertos (Paul Lewis)
Beethoven: Complete Piano Concertos (Paul Lewis)
Price: £19.87

99 of 106 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Paul Lewis, BBCSO, Belohlavek: Beethoven P Ctos: Very, very, very worthy readings, all five ..., 20 July 2010
Concerto 1 opens with a lean and lively touch, with special phrasing and lilt in the contrasting woodwinds parts. Since the opening is long-ish, this helps sets the stage for good things to come? Sure enough, when the piano finally enters, Paul Lewis is keeping up just fine. He takes a lighter way with phrasing, though articulation is dry and essentially Beethoven-ian in its speed and wit. By the second extended band passages, we are getting early Beethoven punch in the sforzandos, usually with the piano offering up fast-improvisatory runs and just so explorations of the harmonic framework. The whole first movement walks a fine, deft musical path in balance, appealing with song and shape in a sophisticated Mozart-ean way while still yet bringing out a sense of the composer thinking up things to do at the keyboard, all on the immediate fly. The slow middle movement is hypnotically, deeply beautiful, tinged with remarkable wit and playfulness to enhance, not disrupt, the magical Beethoven spell. Our concluding first concerto movement is exactly the happy romp it was written to be. Clearly more Beethoven in its frisky energies and fresh good humor, than anything else it could possibly be played to be.

The second concerto also gets a very successful reading. Lewis and company manage it without calling undue attention to its precedent sibling, also-ran possibilities. Nobody needs to downplay the backwards-seeming glances involved in this firstly written piano concerto - they are what they are. Instead, our performers bring out the music's witty piquant songfulforce and flavor, sounding more indebted in symphonic scope than not -to, say, the late London symphonies by Haydn? Lewis lets his piano out, full-steam athletic and lithe though not necessarily Romantic-heavy; so that his contributions have constant intellectual and emotional drive, whereas many readings of the first concerto are happy enough to let ease-full song and Mozart-ean repose be watchwords. Truth is, I've always found this (first concerto, published second) to sound inferior, put side by side on most single discs as the habit of producers and players is. Not this time around, though. Lewis and partners really convey the composer's youthful stature, not just his familiar and fond great models. Ah, the brilliant intellect of Beethoven's improvisations, bright lights all shining far and wide. Give Belohlavek credit for having his BBC players open up the enlarged scope of the band writing, far beyond even good accompaniment to the young Beethoven at the keyboard. Just listen to how the band begins the slow middle movement; instantly true in phrasing and implicit punch to Beethoven styles. Lewis' elaborates lyrically, as if improvising again. The rock bottom grip on harmony and gears changing is pure Beethoven. Nor is the concluding fast movement anti-climactic, adding oodles of ideas seeming to flood out, a culminating effect, brilliant yet substantial.

The third concerto's start is a stealth beginning, insofar as it initially sounds like a slightly expansive continuation of the first two concertos before overflowing and bursting its standing classical molds. Belohlavek and players have a palpably warm way with melody that does not neglect sforzando punch and forward motion. Tempos are not eccentric - nothing overly fast, nothing overly slow; but the inner sense of the flow, paragraph to paragraph to paragraph, is compelling. When Lewis does enter with his declamatory gestures, as well as laying out his thematic ideas, we have superseded the first two concertos by long, long miles. This reading joins my other three fav versions of the third concerto, along with Pollini under Karl Bohm, Brendel under Haitink, Charles Rosen with Wyn Morris.

Clearly, by the time a disc and a half have spun, we have lift off.

The fourth concerto deserves - and gets, here - a positively sublime reading. My own fantastical recollected benchmark is from a long-ago live concert with Clifford Curzon at the piano. Revelatory, I felt at the time; and far deeper, far more mesmerizing than even the Decca/London recording Curzon did with the Vienna Philharmonic, conducted by Knappertsbusch. Nobody on disc has so far quite equaled my memories of Curzon, live. Near to that height, the fav shelf holds Rubinstein (Leinsdorf), Russell Sherman (Vaclav Neumann, James Bolle at Monadnock), Moravec (Turnovsky), Perahia (Haitink), Hungerford, and Rosen (Morris).

One marker for the imperious Emperor concerto has been Rudolf Serkin with Bernstein leading the New York Philharmonic. Lewis and company chart their own high paths. The reading is not carved in granite like some others; it is ... what? Alert, compelling, and touched again and again with what seem like improvisatory flights of immediate fancy. What does ring familiar Serkin-Bernstein bells is that Belohlavek stays right with Lewis, all the way, first notes to last. The musical partnership of band and keyboard, conductor and band and pianist, is interactively alive, apt, able, and utterly carries the day. Though this reading exhibits great, great strength, it never oversteps into bombast, nor needs to break through into blimply inflations. One can vividly appreciate how this concerto perennially appealed to the great virtuoso Franz Liszt without actually having to have the music become Liszt.

These players did the five concertos together, live - at the summer Proms, 2010. Remarkably, these recordings were done in 2009-2010, before the series of live summer concerts. One could be forgiven for thinking it was the other way around, so intensely musical and intellectually-emotionally unified is the partnership among conductor, band, and pianist - so filled with alert give and take, and always humming along the Beethoven highways with an abundant sense of great power and great finesse and great enjoyment. Based on his leadership in all five concertos, a listener may suspect that Jiri Belohlavek could offer us a complete Beethoven symphony set to rival Paul Lewis' complete piano sonatas?

Okay, forget stars ... we're that far out into the cosmos of music, of Beethoven. Save up for Lewis' piano sonatas if you don't already have them on your birthday and holiday wish lists. Just listen, listen, listen, listen.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 4, 2010 5:53 PM GMT

Liszt - 12 Studi Trascendentali
Liszt - 12 Studi Trascendentali

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Franz Liszt: Transcendental Etudes Comp: Bertrand Chamayou: A Stunning, Tops Reading of Liszt Cycle ..., 5 Mar. 2010
So. Every now and then I deliberately dig a bit into the highways and byways of the existing online commercial recordings catalog - typically across Amazon (USA, UK) plus selected German and French sites. I'm looking for new/old performers in fav repertoire who fail to make it into the mainstream commercial USA classical music markets for this reason or that reason; a past-time combination of bargain hunter, treasure hound, and musical thrills freak. Come down hard on that last term, musical. In this way I have come across such lovely items as the Dvorak Cello Concerto with Suzanne Ramon playing on a richly tasked Andrea Guarnerius cello, 1690 (Arkes Records, France); a peripatetic, here-today-gone-tomorrow Russell Sherman reading of the same set of Liszt Etudes also on this current review disc; and, this current French Sony BMG disc from a lesser known light of the keyboard who deserves much more sustained audience and commercial attention than he has so far, gotten. USA listeners, lovers of Liszt at the piano in this terrific cycle: Take Notice.

Our pianist is Bertrand Chamayou. He hails from Toulouse, finished a first prize in piano at the Conservatory there, and went on to be an outer circle prize winner in various competitions. He's been coached by Maria Curcio in London, encouraged along the way by figures as familiar as Murray Perahia, Leon Fleischer, Aldo Ciccolini. He may not have grabbed first prizes in those several big piano competitions; but on the basis of this reading of the complete Liszt Transcendental Etudes, Chamayou is that still young artist (B. 1981) who has a charismatic-involving performance presence plus oodles of sheer-zippy, whiz-bang keyboard technique. Chamayou aims all of these not inconsiderable charms, right at the listener, full tilt. He immerses himself and the audience in the music at hand. Okay, pause for a Liszt-virtuoso breath, then ...

Let's mention touchstones in this challenging, iconic Romantic Era piano cycle.

Liszt was the famous piano virtuoso. I've even read people who opine that Liszt was the western cultural and musical prototype of today's big-big-big money rock stars, pop singers, or rap artists.

Contemporary accounts of Liszt recitals consistently report that he had mesmerizing-erotic effects on his women audience members, particularly; and if he had similar hidden impact on some men, nobody was talking back then. The hubris that calls pianists to approach this cycle of supremely difficult etudes is not just the daunting physical challenges to any player who aspires to play this cycle of twelve piano pieces, but also the immense task of surmounting the finger-hand-arm-shoulder-back athletics in ways which hit all the notes while serving up music, music, music, music. Some players rise high, yet not quite; some reach so high, so far, so intensely - we might fall in a willing Romantic Era swoon at the feet of the charlatan-poseur Master of the Piano Glass Bead Game whose reading will sorely tempt all those sorcerer's apprentices, past and present and future.

My own short list is: Russell Sherman, Vladimir Ovchinnikov (a French EMI collection), Kemal Gekic, Boris Berezovsky. I keep Gyorgy Cziffra, Leslie Howard, Jorge Bolet, Claudio Arrau, Jerome Rose, Jeno Jando, Freddy Kempf in super audio - all on hand for contrast and enrichment. Yes, I sometimes wonder what we would have gotten from Horowitz or Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli in this set of etudes, and what we still might in a complete reading of this cycle from, say, Arkady Volodos, Marc-Andre Hamelin, and/or Konstantin Scherbakov.

Some little things to note in this recital are: 1) our venue is Lyon's Salle Moliere. 2) Our piano is Steinway. 3) As if this cycle was not challenge enough in a recording studio, Chamayou and the producers-engineers have gone the extra mile or more up Mount Everest, by recording the entire cycle, Live In Concert. Okay, whew, another pause for breath?

The sound of the piano and the hall is just fine. Not too close up, not too far away. Audience noise is quite minimal, though if you are listening on headphones, you will hear some dim-quick hall noises typical of live audiences, not that intrusive or detracting. I generally on principle hate applause at the end of live concerts, and lamely try to put up with applause on repeat spins of those discs. If I've gotten involved in the music and the reading at hand, I don't need the applause. If I've not been able to get involved, no applause at the end of the recording is going to tempt me otherwise. In this case, who cares? I was that involved in Chamayou's piano spells.

Technically, Chamayou is a complete, real piano player deal. He can play loud, he can play soft. His tone shifts in volume and colors - thanks, Steinway. His abilities to phrase and articulate the notes, apparently at all possible speeds or tempos, high and low on the keyboard - is - simply fabulous? Chamayou generates sufficient piano athletic zing that people surely must be in awe, hearing him live. He's not much of a banger. Beyond somersaults, swings, kips, or doing impeccable iron crosses or Maltese Crosses, lifted and held in designed stillness-in-motion on the high rings, Chamayou gets deeply into this Lisztian music from first notes to last. He intensely draws a listener into the Lisztian Romantic Music Era, though admittedly from perspectives that sound touched with quite modern concerns for big picture musical matters. A listener swoons, if so, from Chamayou's finesse and clarity, not just his compelling sweep, scale, and glitter. A detractor might say that his obvious talents are undermined with ironic distances, too cool, too cerebral. Like Claudio Abbado or Erich Leinsdorf conducting Mahler, a listener may get swept away in the seas of August while still getting the contrary sense that Abbado or Leinsdorf or Chamayou is still lifted up higher, still magical master of the musical Tsunami flooding out. I'm not such a critic of cooler genius over hot genius. Chamayou inhabits musical ends and means in this terribly difficult Liszt cycle, rather like Volodos makes endlessly vital, beautiful music in his stunning Schubert sonatas disc.

Music first, technique later - but oh what piano technique.

Review space limits preclude describing all the felicities of each of these twelve parts to the Liszt cycle. Suffice it to say that, by the end of the cycle, what lingers in the mind and heart and ear still magicked in the listening room is the stunningly colored and phrased music of Paysage, Feux follets, Ricordanza, as well as the dash and vigor of Mazeppa, Eroica, Wilde Jagd. Chamayou consistently dives right into middle of the fists-full of notes on each, archetypically Liszt-ian page of these etudes. Starting with Preludio, Chamayou stands tall in command as a Liszt player who can sculpt an utterly convincing foreground-background, harmonic perspective to frame all the blazing-amazing Listzian virtuoso piano details. The Liszt we get in this cycle comes off as substantial and figural, akin to one of the famous Leonardo da Vinci paintings. Or even a da Vinci sketch, bursting with new vision and stunning drafting skill in the details? One gets the technical innovations, but even more the arts of the path-breaking, trail-blazing genius embodied in such work. In the big, muscular pieces, Chamayou hardly seems to be strained, reminding me of Ovchinnikov or Gekic. Thus, the musical drama connotes da Vinci, instead of (say) Michelangelo or ????

In retrospect, of course, an amazing feat is that Bertrand Chamayou is doing all of this, live. Live. In concert. The catalog also lists a Mendelssohn piano disc, so now that gets ordered. Meanwhile, let the chops and the music of this Liszt piano cycle sink in and flood out from your own speakers. Five. Stars.

Beethoven - Piano Concertos 3, 4 & 5 [Hybrid SACD]
Beethoven - Piano Concertos 3, 4 & 5 [Hybrid SACD]

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars SCO, Mackerras, Pizarro: Beethoven P Ctos 3, 4, 5: SACD Surround Sound Recreates Vital Beethoven, 26 Jun. 2009
At first glance by all rights, this pairing of big-toned pianist Artur Pizarro with the reduced band forces of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra ( led by Sir Charles Mackerras) should not work very well. The inherent potential contradictions between Pizarro's big singing tone, and the lively ensemble with a smaller number of players that a chamber orchestra typically indicates could reasonably be expected to sabotage the whole reading.

Truth is, that just doesn't happen on this set. All three piano concertos are high contenders. Three, Four, and Five (The Emperor).

Part of the thriving must be chalked up to the super audio surround sound which brings all the players to live so warmly, yet so clearly. The venue is the Perth Hall, UK. A quick glance at the set booklet reveals that the venerable James Mallinson was producer. If any producer should be able to get it right, Mallinson is surely on the A&R short lists. So. All in all, this set is a musical demo - not necessarily a flash and cannons demo - of what super audio surround sound can do for Beethoven well played. Recommended sound.

Pizarro does not try to shrink down his basic tone in these readings; that would be a musical mistake. What he does, is take very alert pains to vary his touch and phrasing so that his playing comes across in keeping with the overall warmth-plus-clarity-in-Beethoven that we are getting full tilt from the band. The gaps, between hearing a chamber band do Beethoven vigorously and hearing a big-handed player do the piano, never really materialize.

What does materialize in abundance is heart, singing tone, and a punch to drive home the intellectual and musical story. This Beethoven is a free thinking eighteenth century humanist, no doubt; but he has a genius that subsumes even his very high intellect, bringing it all together. The changing tonal shadings of Pizarro's playing are a constant delight without having to call undue attention to the basically luxurious sensuality embodied in Pizarro's touch. His tone is articulate as well as gorgeous, even when he stops pedaling and does all that music with his hands and arms and shoulders.

The consistent picture of Beethoven in this set is completely in keeping with the Beethoven view of the already released complete set of symphonies. The symphony set involved the SCO again led by Sir Charles Mackerras. That was captured in regular red book stereo; but the sound stage is similar, as are the attentive and involved readings of all nine symphonies.

Tempos are mainstream through all three piano concertos. The song and the intellect of the musical line is ever present; yet the ready, deep sense of musical development which communicates real Beethoven is never slighted either. A listener will hardly avoid the vivid impression that everybody involved had a tremendous time doing these three iconic piano concertos from one of our greatest western classical composers.

We have no shortage of well-played piano concertos. I've recently praised Irish pianist John O'Conor in his recently published complete set on Telarc, as well as the complete set emerging as released from Nadia Boulanger's protege, Idil Biret. Any number of other reading could be quickly added to the list.

And as it happens, add this set, too.

Some of my favorite single readings are not necessarily displaced by these. I continue to value Pollini and Karl Bohm in the third concerto. I really cherish Ivan Moravec with Turnovsky in the fourth. Serkin with Bernstein in the fifth. As I recall some comments, a few listeners may find these under characterized, as the reviewer's phrase goes. Strictly speaking, that's true. For all his gifts, Pizarro plays it pretty straight, as written. The old set that really comes to mind here is one with Charles Rosen doing piano and Wyn Morris leading the Symphonica of London. I haven't seen those discs around for quite a long time; but this emerging set reminds me of Rosen and Morris - just the full-tilt joys of playing right through, no fancy business. Just oodles of musicality. None of all my long appreciation for other readings I've heard keeps this set from winning my allegiance.

Could anybody who really likes the Beethoven piano concertos ignore such a fine combination of performance and sound? Recommended, all wide awake. Five stars.

Tchaikovsky - The Seasons; Grand Sonata in G Major
Tchaikovsky - The Seasons; Grand Sonata in G Major
Price: £15.19

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Vassily Primakov: Tchaikovsky Seasons + Grand Sonata G Major: A Labor Of Love, 17 Jun. 2009
Nearly everybody who has a collection of piano music discs, already has a favorite disc of Tchaikovsky's cycle of short piano works, called The Seasons - or, alternatively, The Months. Twelve occasional pieces of music, composed on commission by the composer for publication in a local St. Petersburg magazine; probably played more by piano students and amateurs, than by the big wig music professionals.

Nobody disputes the winsome charms of the grand piano in this cycle; yet Tchaikovsky himself waxed and waned about their value, as indeed he did with all or most of his symphonies. He never claimed to do more than dash off each piece to order; yet hardly anything in this cycle seems wrecked by haste, or by any failure of the musical ear or the musical imagination. Played competently, the music nearly always makes a positive impression. That's a sturdy success that provokes allegiance from many an average pianist. Played well, the music conveys a sense of revisiting Tchaikovsky's genius on a more intimate level - with passing reverberations of his fascinating ways, with a melody, with rhythms, with Russian folk music colors, and with European musical sophistication - all deftly miniaturized in retrospectively shimmering, jewel-like settings. Played very well, this music becomes an intimate window on the composer's own love of music, channeled through the instrument and the performer.

My own love affair with The Seasons probably began in college. I remember a two disc vinyl LP set - one disc had Svetlanov conducting an orchestrated version of the cycle, the other disc had a piano solo original version, played by Shura Cherkassky. If the solo cycle gets damned with faint praise, just imagine how cheesy a sideshow the orchestrated versions will seem to be? I ended up falling for both. So be forewarned, I guess my liking for both says a lot about me from certain angles of my being a Tchaikovsky fan.

Our pianist here is young Vassily Primakov. Born Moscow, 1979. He's making quite a splash in the world's concert halls. He attended Juilliard, and won prizes there. If you want to hear something of his special way with Chopin, you can get the piano concertos and some solo Chopin. The key to Primakov in Chopin is rubato - hard to describe or analyze, but when you hear Primakov's rubato, you will be stuck by his awesome wizardry, stealing time ever so fabulously above an utterly rock solid foundation. Primakov makes his rubato sound way out and eccentric, but he never, ever loses his rubato balance on an underlying foundation, tempo plus harmony, as written.

Add Primakov's name to that sleeper list of other excellent, but somewhat neglected, players - Konstantin Lifschitz, Sergey Schepkin? Primakov's magical rubato serves well in Chopin, but what about Tchaikovsky?

Not to worry. In The Seasons, Primakov adopts a much more direct manner, though he is still wide awake to delectable phrasing in all those luscious Tchaikovsky melodies. He finds a musical way to balance the keyboard harmony in each little piece, and etches the underlying tempo as well as the passing phrased rhythms, with winning vitality. He avoids triggering any weary sense of repetition that one risks by listening to twelve pieces in a row, all with the ABA form. The colors in all seasons flash and burn and sparkle and mist - a listener is charmed while being drawn into the virtual physicalities of the twelve-part cycle. By the time we got to December, I realized that this reading was one of the really good ones, so that what remained was that familiar, deep sense of Tchaikovsky being in love with music. Ineffably, Primakov's playing often reminds audiences of his own love affair with the piano. We can do a whole lot worse than hear a pianist in love with the instrument, as with music entire?

The disc fills out with a much less well known work, Tchaikovsky's Grand Sonata in G major, Opus 37. It is the third and last piano sonata by the composer, but who knew much of any of the piano sonatas? One rarely hears them played in live concerts. We do get them on discs. The other sonata that one hears is the second, with its familiar movement that the composer later adopted for use in his alluring first symphony, Winter Dreams. This third is like that second, but different. Again, Tchaikovsky liked it somewhat, then didn't like it all that much. Only a live performance at Tchaikovsky's home by famous friend and mentor, Anton Rubinstein, convinced the composer that something could be done by playing it in public, after all. Still. The closest we are going to get to public performance in either piano sonata is probably going to be through recordings, not concerts.

The sonata is keyboard savvy, sprawling, rich with musical ideas that do not catch fire for mysterious reasons of performance in most cases. Tchaikovsky's way with the sonata and the piano is reminiscent of Schumann in his piano sonatas, and we all know how often we hear those played in live concerts. Settle in for two large-boned and melodious, sonorous first movements (Moderato e risoluto, Andante), followed by a quick, short scherzo (giocoso), and concluded by a live, romantic allegro (vivace). Primakov's sense of grand gesture is big, but never harsh sounding. He voices those opening chords in the first movement with symphonic sweep, and you can heard where the chords are going. Then we get lots of shifting harmonies, and snatches of singing melody, through to the end, framed by the chord motif. What risks being empty Romantic piano note-spinning, instead conveys a sense of procession, drama martially framed and contrasted with personal song. The Lisztian manners in some of the drama are laid out well by Primakov, yet he never falls completely into flash for its own sake. Despite the toned down rubato, he captures a fine sense of breathing the music in paragraphs, building to a whole sense of each movement. His approach serves well in the slow movement, Andante. The composer gets quite a bit more philosophical than we might have expected, in this slow movement. Song passages evoke textured harmony in musing reflection. Repeated notes add touches of ostinato and insistence. The short scherzo is relaxed, upbeat, and touched deeply with balletic gracefulness. Although in sonata-form, the concluding movement Finale is more athletic than intellectual. It has moments of big-hearted song, declaiming. Faster passages wind up the relaxed energies of the scherzo, using new materials. The music ebbs and flows, building to a rhetorical climax, followed by a surprise, valedictory coda involving the main theme.

Primakov makes about as fine a musical case for the neglected third piano sonata as seems possible. His way with The Seasons is charming, and goes deeper than many. I cannot help thinking that this whole disc was a labor of love - Tchaikovsky's love for music, love for the piano, and thanks to the engineers, a hidden love for the recording arts that get out of the way and let the music shine through.

Five stars, by my ears. Watch out for Primakov. Check out his other discs.

Mussorgsky - Pictures at an Exhibition & Rimsky-Korsakov - Scheherazade
Mussorgsky - Pictures at an Exhibition & Rimsky-Korsakov - Scheherazade
Offered by BestSellerRecordshop
Price: £2.94

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rico Saccani, Budapest PO: Mussorgsky-Ravel Pictures & Rimsky-Korsakov Scheherazade: Recorded in live concert (with applause): W, 17 Jun. 2009
So far as I can tell, this disc is part of a larger effort, amounting to 22 discs or so, which are released in celebration of the Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra's 150th anniversary year. All of the discs in this series are led by Music Director, American Rico Saccani. Various soloists are featured, especially on piano where we get to hear the likes of Denis Matsuev on piano, and Adele Anthony on violin. As a document to announce that Budapest is alive and playing well, and, indeed, musically thriving - well this series has obvious merit. As music in a crowded catalog, at least some of these discs must be weighed as musically competitive (despite Budapest not quite rising into the stratosphere of orchestra rankings, yet?). What's more, many of the discs in this series are effective and enjoyable, heard solely on their own musical terms.

We start off here with the very famous Ravel orchestration of Mussorgsky's piano suite, based on a showing of his deceased friend's artist-architectural oeuvre. (See Viktor Hartmann) Serge Koussevitzsky commissioned the work from Ravel to celebrate the Boston Symphony's prowess in modern music. (1922) Koussevitzsky had exclusive performing rights to the Ravel version for a number of years, and released the first recording of the hybrid work in 1930.

This reading serves the band and its music director quite well, as a sort of calling card. The Ravel orchestration tends to show off the different band departments, allowing them many chances to show off tonal and virtuoso chops. Since the musical genius is such that nearly any good reading will make some sort of impact, this work is also an uncanny combination of a measuring stick and a whole lot of musical fun. One can hardly complain about the instrumental playing. Nobody sounds bad. Strings do not sound skimpy or underweight. Woodwinds are glowing, round, with great articulation and ensemble (even at faster speeds), and all the middle to upper woodwinds consistently manage a musical habits of alluring fill and float. Brass are able to blend or bray as needed. Various Ravel-ian percussion touches are clear, from the bottom bass drum to the cymbals, to the snare drum, to the tubular bells.

Ravel offers the band too many moments to describe in detail. The troubadour in front of the old castle is a fine combination of tonal and character-painting values. The tuba in Bydlo starts off soft and distant, grows louder, then recedes - just as the moment should go. Chirruping woodwinds stir up the Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks. Pompous lower brass and stuttering high trumpets bring plenty of the Jewish folks characters to life in Goldenberg and Schmuyle. Everybody manages muscle when witch Baba Yaga takes off on her Halloween flight. Less logistically obvious is the wise and canny way in which the band under Saccani move from one idea to another, holding it all together, and making sure that open-air risks involved in musical blend and balance are traversed seamlessly. This sort of ensemble work needs psychic and musical attune-ment among the players in sections, and across sections, as well as all the players being tuned into the conductor. When music comes off like this, it sounds easy, but ensemble playing at this level is not to be taken for granted.

The venue helps, not hinders. From hearing this disc, one must guess that the Hungarian Opera House has good acoustics. If not, the engineers pulled such a coup that you cannot hear any venue defects. The aural perspective is rather towards the middle of the hall, with a good sense of the room, and sufficient detail that the band departments are vivid.

So at age 150 years, we have to say that Budapest is playing well. The Cold War Era starvation diet which starved the band, and Budapest, and Hungary overall - did not kill off music-making of high caliber.

Catalog competition for the Mussorgsky is fierce, indeed. My own two favs are still shining bright, Loren Maazel in Cleveland on Telarc in Sound Stream super audio stereo; plus Sir Charles Mackerras leading the London New Philharmonia in super audio on Vanguard. Any number of other readings come to mind, and I probably have several of them, including the sleeper release, Tugan Sokhiev, leading Toulouse. Theodore Kuchar in Ukraine, also in super audio?

At the end of the Mussorgsky, the audience bursts into applause, no doubt well-deserved. Checking the CD booklet, a fine print note tells us that this reading was edited together from two live concerts in September, 1998. Oh, live, okay. That makes this disc even that much more outstanding as a sample of how well Budapest is doing these days. All that tone color, articulate playing across band departments, balance and muscle - played live. Those Budapest audiences are pretty lucky.

We're not done yet. This disc finishes off with Rimsky-Korsakov's glorious tone poem, expressed in an orchestra suit, Scheherazade. Judit Soltesz is our fiddle soloist, representing the mesmerizing voice of the great story-teller, Scheherazade herself. What held true for the Mussorgsky, holds true in Rimsky-Korsakov. The large orchestra is deployed warmly, brilliantly. All the exposed moments for solo playing, and mighty gestures from the whole band, are aptly conveyed.

When I hear a band outside the big ten, playing like this? I always recall Walter Legge, saying he could distinguish a conductor with whom he might want an EMI recording contract, because that leader would get a fourth-rate band to play like a second-rate band. I'm not sure of the exact rankings involved in applying Legge's maxim to Budapest; but surely we get the idea. Saccani is delivering the musical goods. I guess he did not win the von Karajan conducting competition in 1984, and so cap his seven-year apprentice training under Giuseppe Patane, all for nothing. Saccani left Budapest in 2005, but he left it playing much better than when he arrived.

Just as for the Mussorgsky, the catalog competition for the Rimsky is fierce. My own favs include (1)
Sir Thomas Beecham on EMI with the Royal Philharmonic (its concertmaster, Canadian Steven Staryk, playing with impeccable zing); (2) Gergiev leading Kirov in super audio; (3) Reiner with golden age Chicago in super audio, (4) Serebrier in London on Reference Recordings High Def. I also must confess a soft spot for Stokowski with Erich Gruenberg doing the solo violin, coupled with a neglected but entirely stunning reading of Rimsky's Russian Easter Overture as guest conductor in Chicago. Nor shall I neglect Jerzy Semkow in Saint Louis.

That said, the musical values that carried the day in Mussorgsky, also carry the day in Rimsky. Lots of musical muscle when needed - for a shipwreck? Lots of woodwinds whirl and sparkle. Pacing that holds the whole piece together while not shorting its sweep and drama. One must genuinely hope that Maestro Saccani and Budapest will each go on to even better musical things, regardless of their diverged paths in the professional woods.

Five stars, for Budapest being so involved, so committed in live concert to this music. I'm checking out other discs in the 150th anniversary series, and rather expect to be pleased with at least some of those. While in graduate school in Boston, I often enjoyed Harvard-Radcliffe's student band concerts as much or more than the venerable BSO. No automatic pilot. No ho-hum, glossy and expert, or otherwise. Immense joy in getting to play some of the west's greatest musical treasures. It's that sort of playing one hears on this disc from Budapest.
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Schumann;Symphonies 1 + 3
Schumann;Symphonies 1 + 3
Offered by Smaller World Future
Price: £51.62

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pt 2: Return of the King: Levine & Philadelphia do Schumann Symphonies, 18 Mar. 2009
When I suddenly bumped into the surprise re-release of the old recording of Schumann Syms 2 & 4 at one of my local stores, I was mightily pleased to snap it up right on the spot. First off, the sound of the famously rich-stringed Philadelphia Orchestra is captured very well in this set of recordings (don`t forget the creamy woodwind playing and the burnished sounds of the brass). The combination of James Levine's youthful ardor with Schumann's heroic-lyrical drama, all pure musical poetry as written, is simply not easily matched by the other available recordings.

Yes, a first USA CD gave us symphonies two and four, while one has to scrouge around to locate any copies of symphonies one and three. Originally, RCA-BMG released the whole set on vinyl. Yeah, I remember vinyl. My latest dream is that somebody who knows how to do a really good remastering will get the new Sony BMG rights to re-issue these performances, maybe all on one disc, SACD (compare with BIS re-releasing their Bach organ on SACD).

Schumann's four symphonies have often been dismissed with faint praise, or even with outright disdain. The orchestrations are frequently faulted, accused of more than a sniff of musical awkwardness or of amateurishness.

However, as original or period instrument performances led by Gardiner or Norrington or (my fav) Herreweghe have revealed only too well, the infamous problems of balance among strings, woodwinds, and brass in the orchestra are almost automatically solved by the naturally occurring tonal characteristics of period instruments when these symphonies are played on them. Another reference set that, to me, solves the balance problems and offers up a very musical reading is David Zinman's, leading what sounds like a reduced size Tonhalle Zurich. (Other reviewers disagreed with me on Zinman.)

Having said this, it is patently obvious that the Philadelphia Orchestra is NOT playing here on period or original instruments.

Yet, thanks to the innate performing genius of this renowned orchestra, as well as the leadership genius of conductor James Levine, you forget that there was ever a question about the abilities of dear old Robert Schumann to orchestrate, in the first place. Everything seems to sing right through and sing right out, cleanly and clearly, without muddiness or any impression of faulty balances.

Beyond such clarity, the musical narrative is by turns -- vigorous, or moody -- and always moving right along in these interpretations. Tempos are varied, as they should be, but the momentum is never compromised in favor of uber-pseudo-Romantic languishing or in favor of slick virtuoso rushing, when something more forthright and more lovely will do. Solo playing from the different first chair departments of the orchestra is exquisite in tonal beauty, while always being inflected or phrased just so. Some passages swing or sway with the gentlest of melody or texture, while others stomp and shake with the sturdiest purpose. Such beauty and strength may remind us that Schumann was above all a genius of song, and of so much more via these symphonies.

The 24 bit/96 Khz remastering is quite good. If your system tends towards brightness, you may find the Philadelphia strings with a bit more steel in their glitter than you would otherwise like. Perhaps this remasting signals that these gems of the BMG catalogue (inherited/swallowed up from American RCA vaults) will eventually make it to DVD-audio or to SACD, and the altogether wonderful possibilities of a high resolution carrier.
However that may be, don't hesitate to get these performances, now. The fact that their pricing is affordable only makes finding this lost treasure that much more rewarding.

These stellar interpretations (like their companions, the Levine/Chicago Brahms symphonies) have been absent too many years from the catalogue. Even if you haven't before been able to stay the course while listening to the Schumann symphonies, you may discover that this set of performances will do the trick, though others have failed you.

If you already love Schumann's symphonies, then these performances will simply remind you of how deep and wide that attachment can go, rekindling the fires of the heart and mind with which this music breathes so magically. Highly, highly recommended, then. Ten Stars.

La Mer; Mercure; Britten: Four Sea Interludes
La Mer; Mercure; Britten: Four Sea Interludes
Price: £19.18

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nezet-Seguin Leads OMGM: Debussy in Montreal: Stunning Finesse, Elegance, Intimacy, 29 Aug. 2008
I am slowly but surely becoming a dedicated fan of this young Canadian conductor. I am a fan, too, of this increasingly fabulous regional-city orchestra. The OMGM was founded only in 1981, by bringing together various graduates of the Quebec conservatories to play with faculty members.

I have already remarked favorably on the general rise in palpable musicality of so many regional bands around the world, not least the musical rewards reaped in the Braunschweig band recording led so well by Jonas Alber doing Strauss' Alpensinfonie in super audio on the Coviello label. (I have yet to be a fan of the Coviello's catalogue with the orchestra of Aachen under Marcus Bosch. Braunschweig catches high fire, and to my ears, Aachen is still a small regional band playing very competently.)

When it comes to French-speaking Canada, the regional bands rewards tally much better. We have been getting fine performances from OMGM under Nezet-Seguin, plus Yoav Talmi leading Debussy orchestrations with the OSQ (Orchestre Symphonique du Quebec). The latter disc is a super audio sleeper if there ever was one, and if you don't have it yet, well what are you waiting for?

So far as OMGM goes, the Saint-saens' Third Symphony in super audio is also an obvious winner. We also get the Bruckner Seventh Symphony in a youthful-sounding reading that I will take any day, over the likes of Seiji Ozawa and the Saito Kinen, or the likes of Yakov Kreizberg and the Vienna Symphony. So we come brightly to the disc at hand.

Starting with Debussy's trail-blazing La Mer, the band does some performance trail-blazing of its own. Captured in vivid multi-channel super audio - and in this regard, vivid does not mean, Loud - the OMGM under Nezet-Seguin simply does a stunning job. Now I have already praised the other recent and stunning La Mer given us on the BIS label with Lan Shui and the Singapore Symphony, but this La Mer must also go right to my keeper shelves. Whereas I was carried away by Singapore's color and sensualty, in this reading I am just as carried away by the musical finesse and elegance being devoted to the composer's musical purposes. Under Nezet-Seguin the band simply offers up a bottomless display of instrumental virtuosity and refinement. Nothing is played on automatic pilot, and every note, every phrase is considered anew.

Interpretatively, the whole of this La Mer is something other than the considerable sum of its elegant, refined parts. One garners a lasting impression of intimacy as if this orchestral work were the world's largest French chamber music, instead of being a symphony orchestra hard a work in a new French direction. Though passing touches of sea-salted air and Mediterranean sun and wind are present, the greater lessons are about music and modernity - as if Debussy's genius was an inevitable precursor to Ravel and Messiaen and Milhaud. The colors are all here, in this La Mer, but they serve almost twelve-tone-school purposes of clarity, brilliance, and structural strength. Nor an ordinary big band show in this La Mer, then.

Next the conductor and band give us Britten. Four interludes are taken from Britten's opera Peter Grimes. The same attention to detail that repositioned La Mer into more abstract music for its own sake, and not just a new way of going for Late Romantic tone painting, bring Britten's evocative seascapes into being more like character studies, equal to the opera's main protagonist Peter Grimes and the local townsfolk. It is not so much the sea we get in this reading of Britten's Interludes, as how the sea brings people and events into dramatic and tragic being as the opera plot unfolds.

Then we are handed over to a contemporary French Canadian composer, Pierre Mercure. His symphonic work is called, Kaleidoscope. A listener waits, skeptical. Can this rather unknown work stand being in the company of great modernists like Debussy and Britten?

Well, as it happens, Mercure can take the daring exposure. His style is as capable of color and clarity as his confreres on this disc. In addition, we get a generous helping of fun and jazzy frolic, with George Gershwin reminiscences joining Ravel and Milhaud. Mercure's style is cinematic and capable of a sort of Poulenc-flavored travelogue and happiness to be human - alive and on the move. Given all this in the Mercure work, one wishes that this conductor and orchestra would turn their attention for a good while in the near future to Darius Milhaud. These very gifts might help bring his genius further out of the shadows of the past century than might otherwise stay the case, on super audio recordings at least.

To wind up the disc, conductor and band turn back to Debussy. The final reading is that other Debussy trail-blazer, the famous orchestral Prelude, based on a Mallarme poem about an afternoon, and a faun's erotic, sensual daydreams of nymphs. The Ballet Russe and Nijinsky made yet another Parisian scandal of it at its dance debut. The work was an unprecedented musical first as well at its premier in 1894, and it remains, clearly a perihelion ray of genius and musical sunlight, in this reading by these artists. Aside from a Stokowski reading captured very late in that maestro's long recorded career, I can hardly recall such a breakthrough reading of this prelude. If anything, Debussy's uniqueness shines through in this prelude reading, even better than it does in the recording of La Mer.

Fair disclosure as a wrap up. I heard this disc while on Tylenol 3 tablets, treating some painful bruising that resulted from a bike accident that could have been much worse than it was. So maybe my perceptions were fired up by the drugs involved. But I think not, and recommend any listener who cares about super audio's musical potentials to give this disc a good whirl. I bet you will end up keeping it. Five elegant stars.

Lucky London, getting to hear Nezet Seguin live at the helm of the LPO as Guest Conductor.

Beethoven: Piano Concerto No.5
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No.5
Price: £16.51

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pletnev+RNO+Beethoven P Cto 5: A Rainbow Faberge Egg, All Improvisatory Genius, 15 Mar. 2008
If the Late Romantic Era struggled to perform the Emperor Concerto of Beethoven in order to fulfill its titular vision of being an Alexander The Great figure among the piano concertos, in the modern era we have heard a large struggle in two other directions. On the one hand many players have sought to rescue the work from the pushes and pulls of excessive or ersatz Romantic grandstanding, all in favor of a strong and serious enthrallment to the text, studied as closely as possible. Back to the Urtext, might be this motto. On the other hand, historical or period instrument performance practice has tried to recapture and recreate something that could sound out, big and clear, from the musical past.

Both movements in performance yielded changes a listener could hear.

The Urtext movement - exemplified by musician-composers like Mahler himself, along with Toscanini, Cantelli, Klemperer, Szell, Giulini and others - pledged us to consider that all we needed to know was written into the musical score - even taking into account the score's notational questions, ambiguities, and puzzles. By entering as deeply as possible into the musical score as written, performers sought a genuine (and genuinely visionary) encounter with the whole. The work went on for decades in our musical institutions. This effort cleaned off a lot of dust. It took a lot of western classical music - right out of the museum case or right off of the exhibit-pedastal displays - which some (sometimes worthy and sometimes inferior) Romantic manners had unwittingly used to try to hoist the audience evaluation of the music up, into even higher cultural appreciation realms.

The period performance movement also struck down, into a hidden musical mine field of secret precious metals. Rich veins of re-creation were found and followed. Our whole notion of the musical texture shifted, because in period instruments, the innate physical balances among gut strings, early woodwinds, and early brass were different from the modern orchestra with its changed modern instruments. As the sheer physical foundations of performance shifted, so, too, did the pertinent musical details. Tempos got quicker, faster speeds given. Transparency in musical textures revealed immense geological harmonic structures in the music to us, that often we had forgotten or begun to neglect. Phrasing was not just a pointed musical effect, expressing a particular performer's personal or mystical vision of what the music meant, but a basic musical building block. (Hence the composers' care to indicate phrasings, at least some of the time, especially from the classical era onwards.)

Okay, conceding my two background points: What about Pletnev in the fifth piano concerto?

Well, bravo. Bravo. (Note, recorded live at the Beethovenhalle, Bonn. And played on Leipzig's Bluthner piano.)

If you have heard something of Pletnev's Beethoven symphony cycle already released, your ears and musical attention will be tuned, to start appreciating this fifth piano concerto. Part of the composer's great renown in European musical circles in his own performing lifetime - a reputation and musical capacity with which we have largely lost touch in daily musical life with the western classics - was for improvisation. For this Pletnev outing with this piano concerto, the immense sense of improvisation is key to unlock the whys and wherefores of the magically renewed vitalities of Pletnev's performance approach.

Right from the opening flourish in the first movement, Pletnev simply inhabits a sense of improvisatory freedom and energy that is consistent and palpable.

His sheer genius is that he (and his band) are able to do their improvisatory thing without mauling the score. No pushing and pulling to build up fake musical dramas. No new effects for the simple youthful sake of upsetting the dowagers and gentlemen of the concert subscription boxes. (Thought, to tell the truth, Beethoven himself had a big streak of that perennial youthful impulse to knock sacred idols, down off their altars.) There is already so much variety and Olympian wit built into the work that all Pletnev and company seem to have to do is sit back securely while the concerto unfolds, brilliantly.

Pletnev and company still let a modicum of the old grandeur shine through, but this emperor is anything but your great grand-father's boat-sized Cadillac with room in the back seat for three generations of women wearing furs and jewelry disinterred from the family vaults. The concerto is a work of Beethoven's middle period, after all. It is not the last four string quartets or the last three piano sonatas. Or the ninth symphony. So, the vital embracing of life that the composer wrote into this utterly fecund and shining musical treasure lets the composer - and us the listeners implied - really Feel Our Oats.

The slow middle movement is taken at a period instrument pace. Flowing. Yet it does not sound rushed, mainly because Pletnev and orchestra under Christian Gansch do not try to dispute themselves or each other. Always the harmony is clear, moving, directional. The heartfelt simplicities of this Adagio un poco mosso are nowhere compromised or insulted by mixed musical feelings or mixed musical manners.

By the end of the third movement that wraps up this concerto, one is overwhelmingly impressed with the endless wit and intelligence of the composer's musical mind, so deep, so wide, all at the same time. A special transformational energy shoots right through it all - harmony, rhythm, themes and thematic play. The whole concerto is healthy and lean and athletic. One easily grasps in retrospect how this concerto could help give rise to the big, poetic gestures of the Romantic Era that would eventually follow in western music, without itself being in the least limited to what that era would prove possible in understanding its music.

Thanks, then. To all the great Urtext folks, who know who they are. To all the scholarly and creative period instrument folks, who know who they are. Without both of these traditions of more recent musical work, goodness knows that Pletnev would hardly sound so cogent, nor nearly so compelling. Thanks, of course, to Pletnev, Gansch, and the RNO - their Beethoven will provoke controversy, not least because it is so little indebted to the nineteenth century and because it is so deeply indebted to the twentieth century.

The main competition includes Yefim Bronfman. Gee, the Arte Nova set is so inexpensive, why not have both? Pletnev, RNO, Gansch - all recommended. Fear not.

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