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Sinfonie 9 D 944/Rosamund
Sinfonie 9 D 944/Rosamund

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars On Wings of Song, 10 May 2013
This remastered recording, which is a bargain here at English Amazon (even more so at German Amazon, where I bought it), could not even be found at the American site till mid-2014. Instead, one was charged a small fortune for a long out of print copy of an earlier release.

Still, this CD would be a bargain at almost any price. I own perhaps twenty recordings of D. 944, have heard at least twenty more, and have heard the symphony in concert on three or four occasions during the past fifty years. On this basis, thus, I experienced both surprise and confidence in concluding that Brüggen's recording ranked among the very greatest ever set down.

I had no idea whatsoever that I would react so positively to this performance. I have greatly enjoyed Brüggen's Haydn recordings but have found his Mozart and Beethoven rather more variable in quality. The sheer elan of the playing he gets from this orchestra, however, with whose members he shared a long and affectionate relationship, can only be hinted at, words being the inadequate things they are. No matter how heavy and dense the composer's orchestration, Brüggen (who passed away in August 2014) makes everything fly, as on the proverbial wings of song.

"Fly" is indeed the apt word. Never have I heard a first movement move with such speed and effortless grace, yet nowhere does one hear the driven, relentless quality that mars all the Toscanini recordings (the only ones I know, save for Marriner's, whose opening movement is virtually as fast) and many others besides. Tempi in the second and third movements are closer to established norms, but there, too, the absence of the sensation of either being rushed or restrained and the presence, where appropriate, of both weight and spring in the step are not just welcome but--given how rarely one encounters them--almost astonishing. Besides, in all four movements Brüggen gets a near ideal balance among winds and strings and brass, and he does so without leaving the listener feeling that the musicianly means are more important to him than the musical ends. Listen, if you will, to the natural, fresh, jubilant rush of the orchestra at the transition from the introduction to the Allegro proper or to the buoyant, spirited enunciation of the famous second theme of the finale, and see if you don't agree that this sounds like a musical voyage of discovery that arrives at a land of unimagined beauty and wealth.

For the record, Brüggen takes all of the now-standard repeats, save the utterly pointless ones in the reprise of the scherzo after the trio. No one else in my experience, however, makes them seem less of a waste of one's precious time.

All of the supplementary works are also superbly played, the Coriolan Overture especially enjoying a performance that proportions tension and lyricism as well as I have ever heard it done. These are worthy accompaniments to an outstanding main course.


Couperin: Leçons de ténèbres
Couperin: Leçons de ténèbres
Offered by EliteDigital UK
Price: £15.95

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beyond galanterie, 25 April 2011
The music of François Couperin is generally admired for its fancifulness, charm, profligacy of invention, and breadth of imagination. That he could be and was something rather more than a good-time Charlie is overlooked by many and unknown to others. The two so-called organ masses he composed--one for parish use, the other for the cloister--give an excellent picture of the other Couperin. Yet the three principal pieces of music on this CD--the Leçons de Ténèbres, written for performance by nuns of a convent near Paris on the Wednesday of Holy Week--are the most superb introduction imaginable to Couperin's sacred music. Many consider these three psalm settings Couperin's greatest music, even the greatest music of the entire French baroque. That the other two works on this CD are quite as fine is virtually all that needs saying about them. In addition, they demonstrate that Couperin's unmistakable musical language could image the joy of the Resurrection as successfully as the affliction, dolor, and penitence of Spy Wednesday.

The Leçons have been the subject of very many recordings, many of them very fine. Those led by William Christie and Christophe Rousset, especially, have received very wide praise, which I largely second. Despite their excellence, however, I think that the finest performance, the most beautifully sung and paced and the most liturgical-sounding performance, is the present one, in which the performers are Mieke van der Sluis, Guillemette Laurens, and the late Laurence Boulay. The edition I own comes with full texts and excellent notes by Mme. Boulay, who was a renowned scholar of this repertory. Whether this re-release has the same materials is unknown to me.

In closing, it is worth noting that this music has had enlightened advocacy for many, many decades and from several of the greatest artists of the twentieth century. Alfred Deller recorded the lessons twice [!], but as fine as they are, I recommend his recordings only to fellow Deller devotees. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau also recorded the first lesson (1963); his realization of the style is superb albeit somewhat dated (of course, changes in fashions in women's frocks are nothing to those in baroque performance practice). The true enjoyment-limiting factor in DFD's recording is the pedestrian clavecinist. Both men, however, are singing music written to be sung by nuns, and even though awareness of this fact need not determine an individual's response, it's hard to imagine anyone preferring male to female executants.
__________________

When I wrote this review, copies of this disc were priced astronomically by the few vendors willing to part with them. Only those for whom money was no object could venture to purchase one without first ensuring that the rent or mortgage had already been paid in full. Now (January 2015) I am pleased to see that a few vendors in the used-CD market have returned to earth, at least for the nonce, and so prospective buyers should consider striking while the iron is hot. (They should check the prices for the earlier edition, too; its contents are, as I say, identical to this CD's.) Should the present happy state turn out to be short lived, however, the above-mentioned alternatives (either or both) remain highly recommendable. Whatever their defects--and they are very minor indeed--those performances are far better than most of the others to be had.


Couperin: Lecons De Tenebres
Couperin: Lecons De Tenebres
Offered by EliteDigital UK
Price: £13.95

5.0 out of 5 stars Beyond galanterie, 25 April 2011
The music of François Couperin is generally admired for its fancifulness, charm, profligacy of invention, and breadth of imagination. That he could be and was something rather more than a good-time Charlie is overlooked by many and unknown to others. The two so-called organ masses he composed--one for parish use, the other for the cloister--give an excellent picture of the other Couperin. Yet the three principal pieces of music on this CD--the Leçons de Ténèbres, written for performance by nuns of a convent near Paris on the Wednesday of Holy Week--are the most superb introduction imaginable to Couperin's sacred music. Many consider these three psalm settings Couperin's greatest music, even the greatest music of the entire French baroque. That the other two works on this CD are quite as fine is virtually all that needs saying about them. In addition, they demonstrate that Couperin's unmistakable musical language could image the joy of the Resurrection as successfully as the affliction, dolor, and penitence of Spy Wednesday.

The Leçons have been the subject of very many recordings, many of them very fine. Those led by William Christie and Christophe Rousset, especially, have received very wide praise, which I largely second. Despite their excellence, however, I think that the finest performance, the most beautifully sung and paced and easily the most liturgical-sounding performance, is the present one: an Erato release with Mieke van der Sluis, Guillemette Laurens, and the late Laurence Boulay. This edition comes with full texts and excellent notes by Mme. Boulay, who was a renowned scholar of this repertory. Whether the Warner-Elektra re-release has the same materials is unknown to me.

In closing, it is worth noting that this music has had enlightened advocacy for many, many decades and from several of the greatest artists of the twentieth century. Alfred Deller recorded the lessons twice [!], but as fine as they are, I recommend his recordings only to fellow Deller devotees. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau also recorded the first lesson (1963); his realization of the style is superb albeit somewhat dated (of course, changes in fashions in women's frocks are nothing to those in baroque performance practice). The true enjoyment-limiting factor in DFD's recording is the pedestrian clavecinist. Both men, however, are singing music written to be sung by nuns, and even though awareness of this fact need not determine an individual's response, it's hard to imagine anyone preferring male to female executants.
_________________

When I wrote this review, copies of this out-of-print disc were priced astronomically by the few vendors willing to part with them. Only those for whom money was no object could venture to purchase one without first ensuring that the rent or mortgage had already been paid in full. Now (January 2015) I am pleased to see that the used-CD market has returned to earth, at least for the nonce, and so prospective buyers should consider striking while the iron is hot. Should the present happy state turn out to be short lived, however, the above-mentioned recordings (either or both) remain highly recommendable. Whatever their defects--and they are very minor indeed--those performances are far better than most of the others to be had.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 7, 2015 6:28 PM GMT


Clara Haskil Edition
Clara Haskil Edition
Price: £39.21

39 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A worthy tribute, 8 Jan. 2011
This review is from: Clara Haskil Edition (Audio CD)
These comments are less a proper review than a listing of this set's contents (perhaps someone else will be kind enough to transcribe all the recording dates). Not every performance is great, of course, but many are darn close to it, and none is poor. The level of Haskil's playing is very high throughout.

Among my especial favorites are the Mozart D minor concerto with Fricsay, the Kinderszenen, the second Waldszenen (CD 10; actually, all the solo Schumann is splendid, though to my taste she just misses communicating the profound weirdness of Vogel als Prophet), and all of CD 5. This last has a sparkling but tender performance of the seldom-recorded K. 415, a K. 466 that is a bit slower than the Fricsay-led performance but is none the worse for that, and a Nights in the Gardens of Spain in whose first movement Haskil and Markevitch unearth a vein of mystery that eludes even its otherwise greatest interpreter, de Larrocha, and her collaborators.

Both performances of the Beethoven C minor are taut and exciting, but the one conducted by Markevitch has just that extra degree of insight (he and Haskil were obviously in artistic sympathy). Both pairs of opus 31 sonatas also have terrific esprit (one thinks of Schnabel, especially in the brio of the finale of no. 3). I can't choose between them, though the brightness of the later recordings is hard to resist (indeed, it grabs you by the throat). The highly regarded performances of the Beethoven violin sonatas with Grumiaux have never sounded so good. I may be deceiving myself, but I hear an improvement in the balance between the instruments. All earlier releases, going back to the imported Philips stereo LPs, made the piano sound as if it were in the next room. Perhaps it was.

The Scarlatti sonatas are edgy and brilliant; Ralph Kirkpatrick played them similarly. Her way with the Ravel sonatine is reminiscent of Gieseking's in that she too, understanding that the surface glitter is a trap for the unwary, seeks out the music's sweetness and sentiment--its true gold.

Enough said, though I have only scratched the surface. If you admire this pianist and have the readies, this edition is a not-to-be-missed event. On to the details!
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

CD 1

W. A. Mozart
[1]-[3] Piano Concerto no. 9 in E-flat major, K271
Vienna Symphony / Paul Sacher

[4]-[6] Piano Concerto no. 20 in D minor, K466
[7] Concert Rondo in A major, K386
Vienna Symphony / Bernhard Paumgartner

CD 2

[1]-[3] Piano Concerto no. 20 in D minor, K466
[4]-[6] Piano Concerto no. 24 in C minor, K491
Orchestre des Concerts Lamoureux / Igor Markevitch

CD 3

[1]-[3] Piano Concerto no. 19 in F major, K459
Berlin Philharmonic / Ferenc Fricsay

[4]-[6] Piano Concerto no. 23 in A major, K488
Vienna Symphony / Paul Sacher

CD 4

[1]-[3] Piano Concerto no. 20 in D minor, K466
RIAS Symphony Orchestra / Ferenc Fricsay

[4]-[6] Piano Concerto no. 27 in B-flat major, K595
Bavarian State Orchestra / Ferenc Fricsay

CD 5

[1]-[3] Piano Concerto no. 13 in C major, K415
Lucerne Festival Strings / Rudolf Baumgartner

[4]-[6] Piano Concerto no. 20 in D minor, K466
Winterthur Symphony Orchestra / Henry Swoboda

Manuel de Falla
[7]-[9] Noches en los jardines de España
Orchestre des Concerts Lamoureux / Igor Markevitch

CD 6

Mozart
[1]-[3] Piano Concerto no. 19 in F major, K459

Ludwig van Beethoven
[4]-[6] Piano Concerto no. 3 in C minor, op. 37
Winterthur Symphony Orchestra / Henry Swoboda

CD 7

[1]-[3] Piano Concerto no. 3 in C minor, op. 37

Frédéric Chopin
[4]-[6] Piano Concerto no. 2 in F minor, op. 21
Orchestre des Concerts Lamoureux / Igor Markevitch

CD 8

Robert Schumann
[1]-[3] Piano Concerto in A minor, op. 54
Hague Philharmonic Orchestra / Willem van Otterloo

[4]-12] Waldszenen, op. 82

Beethoven
[13]-[15] Piano Concerto no. 4 in G major, op. 58
London Philharmonic Orchestra / Carlo Zecchi

CD 9

Domenico Scarlatti
[1] Sonata in E-flat major, K193
[2] Sonata in B minor, K87
[3] Sonata in F minor, K386

Mozart
[4] 9 Variations on a minuet by Jean-Pierre Duport, K573
[5]-[7] Sonata in C major, K330

Maurice Ravel
[8]-[10] Sonatine

Schumann
[11]-[18] Bunte Blätter, op. 99
[19] Variations on the name ABEGG, Op. 1

CD 10

[1]-[13] Kinderszenen, op. 15
[14]-[22] Waldszenen, op. 82

Beethoven
[23]-[25] Piano Sonata no. 17 in D minor, op. 31 no. 2 "Tempest"
[26]-[29] Piano Sonata no. 18 in E-flat major, op. 31 no. 3

CD 11

Franz Schubert
[1]-[4] Piano Sonata no. 21 in B-flat major, D960

Beethoven
[5-[7] Piano Sonata no. 17 in D minor, op. 31 no. 2 "Tempest"
[8]-[11] Piano Sonata no. 18 in E-flat major, op. 31 no. 3

CD 12

Scarlatti
[1] Sonata in C-sharp minor, K247
[2] Sonata in G major, K2
[3] Sonata in C major, K132
[4] Sonata in G minor, K35
[5] Sonata in E-flat major, K193
[6] Sonata in F minor, K386
[7] Sonata in F minor, K519
[8] Sonata in A major, K322
[9] Sonata in B minor, K87
[10] Sonata in C major, K515
[11] Sonata in F major, K437

Padre Antonio Soler
[12] Sonata in D major

Giovanni Battista Pescetti
[13] Sonata in C minor

Franz Josef Haydn
[14] Variations in F minor

Mozart
[15] 12 Variations in C major on "Ah, vous dirai-je Maman," K265
[16]-[18] Piano Sonata in F major, K280

CD 13

Beethoven: Violin Sonatas (Arthur Grumiaux, violin)
[1]-[3] Sonata no. 1 in D major, op. 12 no. 1
[4]-[6] Sonata no. 2 in A major, op. 12 no. 2
[7]-[9] Sonata no. 3 in E-flat major, op. 12 no. 3
[10]-[12] Sonata no. 4 in A minor, op. 23

CD 14

[1]-[4] Sonata no. 5 in F major, op. 24 "Spring"
[5]-[7] Sonata no. 6 in A major, op. 30 no. 1
[8]-[11] Sonata no. 7 in C minor, op. 30 no. 2

CD 15

[1]-[3] Sonata no. 8 in G major, op. 30 no. 3
[4]-[11] Sonata no. 9 in A major, op. 47 "Kreutzer"
[12]-[15] Sonata no. 10 in G major, op. 96

CD 16

Mozart: Sonatas for piano and violin (Arthur Grumiaux, violin)
[1]-[2] Sonata in G major, K301
[3]-[4] Sonata in E minor, K304
[5]-[7] Sonata in F major, K376
[8]-[10] Sonata in B-flat major, K378

CD 17

[1]-[3] Sonata in B-flat major, K454
[4]-[6] Sonata in A major, K526
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 27, 2013 3:38 PM BST


Handel: Messiah
Handel: Messiah
Offered by EliteDigital UK
Price: £68.95

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Eccentric but gripping, 18 Dec. 2010
This review is from: Handel: Messiah (Audio CD)
This reviewer has owned and listened to this performance for fifty years. Why it is almost always compared unfavorably with Scherchen's earlier mono recording is a mystery. The chorus--perhaps because it is Austrian rather than English and so lacked a history of performing the work--bridles far less at the conductor's manifold idiosyncrasies than does its London counterpart. In addition, some critics have exaggerated the extent to which one marks the choristers' German accent (critical exaggeration should surprise no one, since exaggeration of one sort or another is a hallmark of this performance). Indeed, most of the time no inappropriate accent can be heard, and even at worst it is never so bad as to arouse complaint, certainly not when one thinks of the American accents that have spoilt a great many Messiah accounts from the other side of the Atlantic. On the strongly plus side, the Vienna chorus, small and professional, sings with fully supported tone and astonishing virtuosity. Not even the Sixteen or the Dunedin Consort articulates the runs in "And he shall purify" with fewer aspirates. (Incidentally, even though this recording of Messiah runs 195 minutes--it is thus fully an hour longer than a number of lickety-split modern accounts--"And he shall purify" is one of several choruses that Scherchen conducts as fast as or faster than anyone else.)

It is not the chorus alone, however, that makes this performance arguably superior to Scherchen's previous one. Despite the fact that certain passages that should have been given retakes weren't--the inevitable budget and time constraints!--the Vienna instrumentalists are never less than the equal of the Londoners and on occasion their superior (the solo trumpet and solo violin are especially fine, though so too were their London counterparts). All in all, the later interpretation has a somewhat more settled feel to it. Yet "settled" ought not to be taken to mean that many of the extreme tempos of the earlier set have been banished. Far from it. The Amen, for example, is fully two minutes slower than before (roughly 8.5 minutes). If one can unlearn the listening habits of the past forty years, however, the experience of Scherchen's Amen chorus may spoil one for all others. (Herewith a parenthetic word of praise for the Dunedin Messiah performance, whose Amen chorus rivals this one in expressive depth while taking half the time.)

Comment on the soloists' performances begins by right with Léopold Simoneau. He stands at the windswept summit of Messiah tenors. None can match him for beauty of voice, control of breath, musicianship, musicality, subtlety, and expressive range. Simoneau, a French Canadian, spoke English without a trace of an accent (he never even sounded especially Canadian, thank the Lord). All of his vowels are truly native (no French nasality), and his consonants are pronounced in the true English fashion appropriate to this repertory (as opposed, that is, to the seemingly ever more inescapable American). Should one want to hear Messiah sung with truly conspicuous foreign accents, he need only go to the two Harnoncourt performances, both of which are admirable, albeit quite as singular and strange in their way as the present performance is. The unfortunate Marjana Lipovsek (in the first, Handel: Messiah) and the excellent Christine Schäfer (in the second, Handel: Messiah [Hybrid SACD]) would make a resuscitated Handel, who to the day of his death spoke heavily German-accented English, feel right at home.

Pierrette Alarie, in "If God be for us," sings the word "justifieth" as "jus-ti-fee-eth". Still, as this curious choice is her sole fall from grace, she deserves to 'scape whipping. Her performance is otherwise wonderful; only Ameling, Felicity Palmer, Kirkby, van Evera, Baillie, and one or two other sopranos among the dozens that have recorded the music are her peers. Indeed, "If God be for us" embodies a good example of her artistry. Giving the air a duration of ten minutes (a typical timing is 4.5 minutes), Scherchen--seeking to mine the profundity of the biblical text--sets a tempo that makes almost unmeetable demands upon the breath control and interpretative resources of the singer. This being the last air in the oratorio, he treats it as the capstone of the individual's response to the Gospel, with the following group of choruses, culminating in the grandest of all Amens, being the community's response. Alarie's singing--ethereal but sustained, responsive to text and music but not vulgarly overstated--superbly realizes Scherchen's vision of Handel's score.

The American Nan Merriman was a prominent singer in her day; Toscanini, as it happens, was one of her fans. Like Ferrier's or Forrester's, Merriman's voice had true contralto weight and color, though her sound lacked the sheer beauty of Ferrier's and the smile that lady could bring to her tone, a smile like a bright shaft of sunlight illuminating a dark passage. She is surprisingly brilliant in the divisions of "For he is like a refiner's fire" and dignified and insightful in "He was despised." She may lack the ultimate distinction of Baker, Watts, and von Otter, but she need not hang her head even in their company. The very prominent vibrato that was a distinguishing characteristic of her voice will strike some present-day listeners as jarring, however. Forewarned is forearmed.

Richard Standen, the English bass, also took part in the earlier Scherchen performance and unquestionably sang much better there. Here he is often a trial, but even so, the complete absence of a wobble in his dry, hollow sound is a notable compensation. Interpretatively, Standen is no Shirley-Quirk, alas, but very few basses are (Harnoncourt's Gerald Finley is no slouch, of course, but this listener can't quite shake the impression that the brilliance is skin-deep).

This Messiah is not something for everyday listening--its sheer interpretative oddness makes such words as "idiosyncratic" and "eccentric" seem almost like euphemisms--and no one under the age of fifty who finds it incomprehensible or unbearable should be chided. It is the product of another world, another time. Even when it was new, it was caviar to the general. So it is still.


Sleepers [DVD] [1991] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Sleepers [DVD] [1991] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Russians are coming! No, wait . . . they're here!!, 6 Aug. 2010
I am almost embarrassed to join the queue of praise for this . . . well, sleeper of a series. Yet since it is virtually the only sensible or entertaining treatment of this subject ever produced for either the silver or the home screen, it needs all the praise it can get. Truth may be stranger than fiction, but it's seldom as funny. It's certainly not as funny as "Sleepers."

No word in the trades yet as to whether Warren Clarke, Nigel Havers, and David Calder, the stars of "Sleepers," have agreed to assume their old parts should the BBC produce a sequel, which I tentatively suggest they title "Sleepers II: Doing It for the Children."


The Original Jacket Collection
The Original Jacket Collection
Offered by EliteDigital UK
Price: £96.08

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A familiar confection but a tasty one nonetheless, 5 Feb. 2009
The review by NNNNN, now several years old, accurately details the pluses and minuses of this release. In and of itself, the set is a fine one: a compendium containing either the only or the last recording made for Columbia of every work by Wagner, Bruckner, and Mahler that Bruno Walter committed to audiotape. The packaging is handsome albeit a bit wasteful of space, and the annotation is excellent--apart from the absence of most sung texts (not a minor matter, of course). The transfers are not new; they are the same ones used in Sony's sadly defunct Bruno Walter Edition. Without exception, the performances are among the greatest ever recorded. The quality of the sound captured on disc is often remarkably true to life; only in the oldest recordings (Mahler's fourth and fifth symphonies) and the ones of the most demanding scale (the Mahler Second and Bruckner's Te Deum) is the want of modern-day technology keenly felt. The one notable technical advance in this set is the fitting of the Mahler Second onto a single disc; one wonders why it took Sony almost twenty years to offer this improvement when the technology to effect it was there all along.

The story has a postscript. Sony appear to have decided that this particular old cow still has milk left in it. A year or so ago they issued a new single-disc transfer, superbly remastered, of the Lied von der Erde recording in the Great Performances series. One hesitates to describe the new transfer as "state of the art"--not least because, as good as it is, it could probably have been a tiny bit better--but fastidious collectors will immediately spot its superiority to the transfer included in the thirteen-CD set at hand. For the true devotee any incremental gain is reason enough for a duplicative purchase, but given the nature of the sound engineer's art and craft--not to mention the marketer's wile--today's satisfaction seldom endures. That the recordings of this work and the others in the present set were not remastered to the latest standard before their release demonstrates either the thoughtlessness of Sony's corporate rulers or their disdain for collectors of classic recordings--or both.

Bruno Walter's personal and artistic integrity stands as a rebuke to the peddlers for whom his legacy has been little else than a lure, constantly recycled, to snare a few quid from those, young and old, who are drawn to his re-creative art.


Bach, Js : Cantatas Bwv 106, 182, 152, 118, 18, 89, 90, 161, 59 (Remastered) (Daw50)
Bach, Js : Cantatas Bwv 106, 182, 152, 118, 18, 89, 90, 161, 59 (Remastered) (Daw50)
Price: £10.59

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A blast from the past, complete with a big mistake--now corrected, 2 Feb. 2009
This release and others in the Das Alte Werk series will, for most purchasers, be very welcome replacements for LPs they have owned and played for forty years and more. Fashions in performance practice are as variable as those in couture, and given a choice, most people will, as it were, select a jacket with this year's cut or a frock with this year's hemline. Those willing to venture farther afield, however, will find in the selections on this two-CD set several performances of enduring value and several performers--notably Kurt Equiluz and Max van Egmond--who were marked out for greatness then and have been neither surpassed nor equaled since. Their work here shows them at their remarkable youthful best.

It must be noted, however, that Cantata 18 is not as described. The performance included in this set is most decidedly not the one made under the direction of Jürgens. As soon as the second movement begins and the voice of Max van Egmond rather than the expected Jacques Villisech is heard, it is evident that the Nikolaus Harnoncourt performance of a decade or more later has been substituted. How could such an astonishing gaffe be made by the producers of this set or go unnoticed by anyone at Warner Music? Given the risibly small market share of the Das Alte Werk reissue series, the substitution in later pressings of the correct recording of Cantata 18 would be an event on the secular plane comparable with the happenings at Fatima or Lourdes. So as ever, caveat emptor.

Despite the just-expressed caution, the set has more to be said for it than against it. Whoever did the remastering did a very commendable job. Would that the same could be said for the set's producer and distributor.
____________________________________________________________
Update (26/5/2013). Thanks to the courtesy of Mr. R. Lane, an Amazon reviewer at the USA site, I have learned that Warner Classics has released a revised and corrected pressing of this release. That is to say, Mr. Lane reports that in current copies of these CDs, the recording of Cantata 18 included in the set is actually the one the label claims it is: the Jürgen Jürgens recording. This is unqualifiedly good news, but given the likelihood that a certain number--perhaps a quite large number--of copies of the older, uncorrected pressings are still out and about, prudence suggests that prospective buyers ask questions of their seller before they buy. (Whether questions will yield helpful answers is a matter best left for another day and another venue.) In celebration of this surprising exercise of corporate responsibility, it seems only fitting and just to ratchet the approval level up to four and a half stars and then round it up to five.

Yet another update (30/10/2013). The samples of Cantata 18 that Amazon provides are still those of the Harnoncourt recording. What this implies I have no way of knowing for sure--save that it underlines the need for prospective purchasers to exercise prudence and caution.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 18, 2010 6:47 AM GMT


Berlioz: Les Troyens [The Trojans]
Berlioz: Les Troyens [The Trojans]
Price: £15.15

6 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Davis's second-best Troyens, 28 Jan. 2009
This largely praiseworthy production has been let down by certain stylistic aspects of performance--those where linguistic and musical matters impinge upon one another. Whilst Davis's mastery of Berlioz's strictly musical style is and has long been remarkable, it seems not to have extended to the choice of singers (in truth, he might have had little say in the casting). None of the singers of the leading parts is a native speaker of French. What is more important, few sing French even adequately. Petra Lang, it should be said, does an excellent job; she is by far the most gripping performer in a decidedly uneven cast. She alone is measurably superior to her opposite number (the exciting but overextended Berit Lindholm) in the earlier Davis recording. Michelle DeYoung undercharacterizes and has an undistinguished voice; she is no match for the alert and involved Josephine Veasey, who at times is almost as good as Baker or Crespin. Ben Heppner, as able as he is, cannot compare with the astonishing Jon Vickers (who is not even in best voice and is barely half as gripping as he was in the theater), nor for that matter with the best Énée of them all, Georges Thill (Les Introuvables du Chant Français, where excerpts from the role can be found, along with many other treasures from the long-past glory days of French singing). Attention is repeatedly, albeit fairly, drawn to Vickers's odd vowels, yet he always sounds as if he's singing French, however eccentrically, and he is alive to every facet of character and every word's implication. His musical and dramatic instincts are a marvel to behold.

From the frequent thinness of their tone, one might reasonably suppose that the LSO Chorus is largely made up of twenty-somethings; their French pronunciation, whilst no more than adequate, is, however, no worse than what one typically hears at Covent Garden or the Metropolitan Opera. Yet the chorus of the Royal Opera House on the earlier set sounds far better rehearsed and sings with appropriate weight and fully supported tone when those qualities are required. The LSO itself is extremely fine--splendid in fact--but in truth so is the ROH orchestra. A choice between them is a matter less of fact than of sentiment. The same holds true for Davis's interpretation. The newer reading is generally a bit swifter and lighter, but both are clearly products of the same re-creative sensibility.

So far as the actual sound is concerned, this recording is clearly superior to all its predecessors, but only a sonic voluptuary would consider the edge sufficient for a verdict in its favor. In sum, while this is a performance that must have been exciting on the night itself, it is not something for the many nights and days ahead. Should you buy both Davis recordings, as I and many others have, it's the newer one that will probably collect dust a good deal faster.


Christmas Carols & Motets
Christmas Carols & Motets
Price: £17.48

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The ne plus ultra of Christmas collections, 14 Jan. 2009
There are two kinds of Christmas recordings: the good ones (aimed at the few for whom Christmas is a holy day or at least a holiday of some significance) and the bad ones (aimed at everyone else). Of the good ones, there are those whose focus is musicological and antiquarian; such recordings are legion (relatively speaking). What remains are those whose true focus, however scholarly the approach of the performers, is the feast itself and its celebration. Of this select group this four-CD set may be the ne plus ultra.

Though all four CDs are precious, the first two are understandably the pick of the litter. Herein one will find presented virtually all the most justly loved Christmas carols and songs; some are a mere century old, others go back to the Middle Ages. Though some selections will inevitably be unfamiliar to listeners, all are truly inspired creations and will probably not long remain unfamiliar. One hears reflected in these carols the happiness and devotion that the commemoration of the birth of the Christ child has inspired for well-nigh two millennia.

The third and fourth CDs are somewhat more "adventurous"; that is, their relevance to Christmas present is somewhat tenuous. Because the instrumental accompaniment here has gone from a single lutenist (the great Desmond Dupré) to an ensemble of "period" instruments (viols, krummhorns, and all the rest of those now ubiquitous antiques, mostly under the direction of the once widely known specialist René Clemencic), it is most unlikely that these selections could or would be sung around the tree. This reviewer is not complaining, however, merely describing.

Alfred Deller (1912-1979) and his consort (a group whose membership changed over the course of time, save for Deller himself and the great bass Maurice Bevan) sing these songs, carols, and motets with predictable beauty and sophistication. What is more, they sing with piety, joy, reverence, and belief. These are the qualities that give this release enduring significance.

As has been true for Deller's other Vanguard recordings, this 4-CD set has come and gone, in one guise or another, about as often as the sun ducks behind the clouds on a windy afternoon. When I purchased several copies of it, it wore this guise: A Celebration of Christmas: Carols through the Ages. Although it would be cheap at any price, it is, however, now substantially less expensive than it was in its previous avatar. Get it while you can, just in case night falls for a while when this release, like its predecessors, disappears.


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