Learn more Shop now Learn more Shop now Shop now Shop now Shop now Shop now Shop now Learn More Shop now Shop now Learn more Shop Fire Shop Kindle Learn More Shop now Fitbit
Profile for J. S. Bower > Reviews

Personal Profile

Content by J. S. Bower
Top Reviewer Ranking: 7,772
Helpful Votes: 1008

Learn more about Your Profile.

Reviews Written by
J. S. Bower "Jon Bower" (England)
(REAL NAME)   

Show:  
Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11-12
pixel
Shostakovich: Symphony No. 11 "The Year 1905"
Shostakovich: Symphony No. 11 "The Year 1905"
Price: £17.71

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A really nice surprise, 28 July 2010
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
OK, this one genuinely shocked me. Under the Pletnev recording, I did a comparison for [...] (great site!) of modern recordings of the 11th, comparing them with my benchmark (and classic) Berglund on late analogue EMI.

I ultimately plumped for Wigglesworth. But this present Caetani recording has proved a bit of a game-changer. Yes, the orchestra's a bit rough sometimes, but Caetani's (and his orchestra's) heart is in the right place.

I would say the first three movements here are as good as anybody's, although I find the changes of gear in the finale a bit worrying.
But then we come to the sound...

I always wondered what a full-dynamic range and ultra-transparent recording of this wide-screen piece, minimally miked and with absolutely no spotting or gain-riding might sound like. Now I need wonder no more. This is a highly transparent and natural recording and -frankly -it trumps all the digital era recordings I have heard.

Sonically, it's a dead heat with the classic Berglund on my Goldmund vinyl-spinner. The percussion climax to the second movement is shattering, and the bells do sound stunning at the end- even if they do cover the orchestra rather too much.

Top of the class, recording engineers, even in PCM! But this one really deserved DSD...
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 21, 2015 2:52 PM BST


Grieg:Bizet:Mussorgsky
Grieg:Bizet:Mussorgsky

4.0 out of 5 stars Not Szell's best- look elsewhere, 25 July 2010
This review is from: Grieg:Bizet:Mussorgsky (Audio CD)
If you read my reviews, you will probably know that I have a tendency to go weak in the knees and swoon when faced with late 50s/early 60s Szell recordings with the Cleveland Orchestra. All rules are made to be broken, however, and this recording certainly blows the game wide open.

Szell seems curiously distanced and unsympathetic throughout . The playing is immaculate as ever, of course, but the `soul' seems to have wandered off for a cup of tea. The result is often under-characterised, metronomic and - frankly - not too exciting. Even orchestral fireworks like the finale, frantic farandole from l'Arlesienne fail to achieve lift-off. That's a real surprise.

The sound is pretty good, but the real problem here is that you can do a lot better on all these pieces. Take the Mussorgsky/Ravel `Pictures'- a real piece of orchestral fireworks if ever there was one. Even on SACD, we have real heavy-hitting competition.

I took the time to listen to the present recording, followed by:

1) The Reiner/CSO on Living Stereo - produced and recorded by the great Mohr/Layton team.
2) The RPO/Leibowitz on Analogue Productions - `The Power of the Orchestra' originally another Shaded Dog, but produced and recorded by the immortal Gerhardt/Kenneth Wilkinson (Decca) team.
3) Slatkin/St Louis on Mobile Fidelty - originally a Vanguard, I suspect, produced and recorded by Aubort/Nickrenz of Elite Recordings.

No, these teams and names may not mean much to some folk but, trust me, these are three of the head honchos in producing and recording during the `Golden Age' of analogue sound.

Basically, Szell and the Cleveland cannot live in this company. In a piece which must evoke different imagery and moods for each picture, his reading is critically under-characterised. All three of the above performances are notably superior in this respect, and are accompanied - amongst other pieces - by equally convincing readings of `Night on a bare/bald mountain' (the Rimsky version for Slatkin and Reiner, a quite outrageous and startling custom version on Leibowitz.)

What's more, sonically, all these three recordings show the recording engineers at the very top of their game. All the recordings sound great, but in quite different ways in terms of how they present orchestras playing in a real acoustic space. In fact, listening to all of them in quick succession turns out to be something of a masterclass in recording styles and sound quality.

So, having gone this far, let's give some personal recommendations for golden-age `Pictures' on SACD:

1) Best all-rounder, sound and performance- The Reiner on Living Stereo: refined playing, vivid performances and accompanied by a great collection of Russian classics; this is also the cheapest and most readily available recording- in fact, at the time of writing, they're virtually giving away this great SACD on either side of the pond. So, two fine shaded doggies- Festival (LSC 2423) and Pictures (LSC 2201) for small change- a no-brainer!
2) The wackiest and furthest off the beaten track- Leibowitz on Analogue Productions; you can get this from audiophile outlets in the States.
3) The best sound quality - and by quite a long way, even in this exalted company - the Slatkin on MoFi . But I'm afraid you may have to pay an eye-watering price.

All three will make you happy. So, there you have it. All complaints to my dog, please.


Auber. Berlioz. Rossini - Overtures
Auber. Berlioz. Rossini - Overtures

5.0 out of 5 stars Close to perfection..., 22 July 2010
I profoundly disagree with the other reviewer, I'm afraid. This is a simply fabulous Szell SACD, both sonically and musically.

Although there is some music here which is - shall we say - a tad lighter and not altogether top-rate, the inspired, sparkling playing brings contagious joy. The precision and dynamism of the performances is just wondrous. Who said George Szell had no sense of lightness or humour? Truly, this was a 'perfektion orkester' - and long before the term was used (incorrectly, I feel) for Karajan and the BPO.

As an added bonus, the sound also sparkles on this one- it's probably the best I have heard yet in this exceptional series from Sony; highly transparent, neutral and well staged(!). Only a very slight 'etched' quality shows this is no Shaded Dog.

Having Szell and the Cleveland materialise and perform in your living room, over 40 years on, is a wonderful experience. As always, much credit to Sony and their re-mastering folk. If only other companies dealt with their back catalogue with such grace and respect.

So, how's about it Sony, why not buy EMI's magical archives, mouldering in oblivion...?

And a second request, please , for Szell's stupendous reading of the Walton Variations on a theme of Hindemith.

Thanks, Sony, and thanks - of course - to a truly great conductor and orchestra.


Vaughan Williams: Symphony No. 5; Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis; Serenade to Music
Vaughan Williams: Symphony No. 5; Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis; Serenade to Music
Price: £13.95

5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A dissenting opinion, 20 July 2010
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I'm used to being a dissenter, so here is an alternate viewpoint. Now shoot me.

Peter Warlock's often-quoted comment that "it is all just a little too much like a cow looking over a gate" was actually about Vaughan Williams' overall style, rather than this particular symphony, Anyway, he would have been right, but for this performance of VW 5 only.

This is beautifully played, serene and spiritual. But VW was also a man of great fire and passion (note the explosive 4th and 6th symphonies which bracket this), and the best performances reflect this dichotomy- this one doesn't: it's all one mood and one feeling. So much worthiness at one go, it's like taking a couple of Mogadon. And I just LOVE this music. But one-note VW is not for me.

The same issue permeates the Tallis Fantasia; it's all reverent, hushed and dewy-eyed. But just listen to the great Barbirolli or Silvestri performances to hear what's missing.

Although I must admit that its juxtaposition with the original Tallis 4-part hymn ' Why fum'th in fight' is a masterstroke.

I haven't mentioned the sound yet- that's unusual for me. It sucks! I actually had to check a couple of times to see if it was actually playing the SACD rather than RBCD layer. It's bloated, fuzzy, unfocussed and - most noticeably - shockingly un-transparent. Really. No, it's not my high end gear, as soon as I put on a MoFi, BIS, Chandos, Caro Mitis... you get the idea... the see-through transparency is back!

On a broader note, I find Telarcs to be thoroughly inconsistent. Some - most noticeably the old Soundstream remasters - were good to excellent. More modern ones were a very mixed bag, suffering varously from:

1) Wow, look what a big bass drum I have!
2) Misty, distant balance
3) Under-balanced percussion (apart from the enormous bass drum, see #1)
4) Paavo Jarvi- don't start me on him, serial murderer of various 2Oth century classics (Stravinsky Rite, Bartok Concerto for Orchestra, Britten Young Person's Guide and many, many more)
5) Hey, my bass drum is STILL bigger than yours!

OK, I feel better, now, doctor. I'll come quietly.


Strauss;Don Juan/Death & Trans
Strauss;Don Juan/Death & Trans

5.0 out of 5 stars Great performances, great sound, 18 July 2010
This is definitely one of the better-sounding Epic transfers by Sony. It is, in fact, difficult to believe sometimes that it's 53 years old! It is clear, transparent and nicely focussed, with good dynamic range and even - in Til - some deep bass. Only a slight 'etched' quality and roughness to the upper strings and brass betrays its vintage. But this does not detract from the wondrous performances.

As usual, the extreme virtuosity of Szell and the Cleveland is displayed in the service of the music, not for any self-serving or grandiose purpose (Karajan lovers please note).

Don Juan, in particular, is played with a swagger and intensity that amazes; if the opening bars don't raise the hairs on the back of your neck, then you're probably dead... However, the Don's tender and gentler moments are just as well served.

This is where Til, by contrast, suffers slightly; the whole piece is fairly hard-driven, and does not altogether bring out Til's more humane side- as a result, his gory end is, perhaps, less tragic. I find it difficult to imagine George Szell ever smiling, let alone engaged in a 'merry prank' and maybe this is reflected here!

The spritual dimension of Death and Transfiguration is laid bare and fully explored. How strange to note this piece being written by a precocious 25 year old...

So, here we have a great transfer of great music, phenomenally played. Now I only have one question to Sony. Where is the sublime Szell reading of the Walton/Hindemith variations, please? Ditto the Hindemith/Symphonic Metamorphoses. You know it makes sense...


Dvořák - Symphonies Nos 8 and 9
Dvořák - Symphonies Nos 8 and 9

5.0 out of 5 stars And worth every penny!, 18 July 2010
Ever wondered why this and many of the Szell/Cleveland recordings on SACD are going now for so much money? Read on and find out...

This is one of the immortal recordings. Great music, great playing - even pretty good sound!

I can't imagine these performances being surpassed. Idiomatic, intense and stunningly played. They really do put the much-praised Ivan Fischer recordings - good though they are - in their place. Never has the difference between 'good' and great' been so clearly displayed as here.

What's more, this is one of Sony's better transfers. It sounds clear, lucid and well-balanced. No, it doesn't sound as good as the miraculous Fisher offering on Philips/Channel Classics (that is modern state-of-the-art) but, with performances like this, it really matters not.

It's a pity that the equally great Dvorak 7 from Szell and the Cleveland sounds so poor- murky, thin and bloated; I can only assume the master tapes had deteriorated. What a pity!


London Symphonies 2
London Symphonies 2
Offered by japazon
Price: £42.03

5.0 out of 5 stars A breath of fresh air, 15 July 2010
This review is from: London Symphonies 2 (Audio CD)
'Historical performance practice' - does the very thought of whiny violins, weird sounding brass and worthy, po-faced performances fill you with terror? Fear ye not, these authentic performances are full of joy, wit and snap. The performances are immaculate, the playing and ensemble wondrous and the minimally-miked DSD sound is clear, transparent and convincing, with surprising dynamic swings handled effortlessly.

The clear sound and transparent playing synergise wonderfully throughout.

If your idea of the London symphonies was Colin Davis's big-band performances with the Concertgebouw (fine as they are, of their time), then these will send a welcome breath of fresh air through your ears. And it's impossible not to smile at times, as Papa Haydn's wit or unexpected modulations catch one by suprise.

This one is thoroughly, recommended, together with its companion volume (93, 95 and 96). Only one question of Ars Produktion- when can we have the others, pretty please?

Hearing these symphonies afresh makes one wonder about dear old Josef. For a great composer, he seems to have been suspiciously normal - no drug habit, syphilis, deafness, madness or part-time axe murder habit. This is deeply worrying; to confirm his status as one of the musical immortals, could some kind musicologist please identify hitherto unrevealed nastiness that we can associate with him?
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 26, 2015 11:02 PM GMT


Symphony 9 & 12 (Hybr)
Symphony 9 & 12 (Hybr)

2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Truly excellent, but a game of two halves, 15 July 2010
This review is from: Symphony 9 & 12 (Hybr) (Audio CD)
This is an intriguing and thoroughly recommendable coupling of two very different Shostakovich symphonies.

The 9th is a small (but definitely not minor) masterpiece; the 12th is, despite Wigglesworth's earnest defence and reading of the piece, a piece of hackwork - the sort of thing Shostakovich had to resort to from time to time, when things got rough, to placate Stalin and his court philistines.

The 9th almost got Shostakovich in deep water; composed just after the war, and following the epic 8th and 9th symphonies, the apparat expected a like-minded, vast, noisy paean to victory in the Great Patriotic War. Instead, they received this short, lightweight Haydn-esque symphony. And, this being Shostakovich, the ambiguity and anguish behind the forced gaiety of the last movement is not difficult to discern. This was risky stuff; however, Shostakovich got away with it, and for the usual reason; the officials were too stupid to recognise the ambiguity, or simply found it more convenient to accept the shiny, happy facade and ignore the darker depths of the symphony.

Wigglesworth gets this double-meaning just right; this is a near perfect and superbly played performance- one of the very best 9ths I have heard- and I have heard quite a few, live and recorded. The grimace and tears behind the high jinks are not rammed down our throats, but they cannot be ignored. We will flog you until you dance...

And what are we to make of the 12th? I feel Shostakovich may have been telling us something by writing his weakest symphony for the 'successful' 1917 Revolution; by contrast, his take on the failed 1905 Little Revolution produced incomparably greater music. Go, figure. This shouldn't take too much brainpower, though...

As with this entire cycle, Wigglesworth's reading is direct, considered and thoughtful. However, it cannot hide the vacuum behind the bombast.

Like his previous Shostakovich recordings on BIS, the sound on both these symphonies is simply stunning; transparent, vivid and explosive. Well done, BIS engineers!

And now a surreal aside for you. Notice how the main motif of the first movement of the 12th, which returns at the end of the finale (at around 110 decibels) is based on the great Goodies rendition of 'I have a ferret sticking up my nose'. Yes, really. Nice post-modern irony, Dmitrij Dmitrievic ! And who would have thought that repeats of 'The Goodies' were available on State TV?
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 5, 2012 10:31 AM BST


Shostakovich: Symphonies Nos. 9 and 12
Shostakovich: Symphonies Nos. 9 and 12

5 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Is this a joke? But I'll review it anyway, 15 July 2010
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I am referring to this being available in MP3. Wow, that must sound REALLY good...

Seriously, this is a great recording of great music (well half of it is, anyway). So why listen on a horribly compressed, low bit-rate digital abortion of a medium? Go and buy the SACD.

After you have done that, you will find that this is an intriguing and thoroughly recommendable coupling of two very different Shostakovich symphonies.

The 9th is a small (but definitely not minor) masterpiece; the 12th is, despite Wigglesworth's earnest defence and reading of the piece, a piece of hackwork - the sort of thing Shostakovich had to resort to from time to time, when things got rough, to placate Stalin and his court philistines.

The 9th almost got Shostakovich in deep water; composed just after the war, and following the epic 8th and 9th symphonies, the apparat expected a like-minded, vast, noisy paean to victory in the Great Patriotic War. Instead, they received this short, lightweight Haydn-esque symphony. And, this being Shostakovich, the ambiguity and anguish behind the forced gaiety of the last movement is not difficult to discern. This was risky stuff; however, Shostakovich got away with it, and for the usual reason; the officials were too stupid to recognise the ambiguity, or simply found it more convenient to accept the shiny, happy facade and ignore the darker depths of the symphony.

Wigglesworth gets this double-meaning just right; this is a near perfect and superbly played performance- one of the very best 9ths I have heard- and I have heard quite a few, live and recorded. The grimace and tears behind the high jinks are not rammed down our throats, but they cannot be ignored. We will flog you until you dance...

And what are we to make of the 12th? I feel Shostakovich may have been telling us something by writing his weakest symphony for the 'successful' 1917 Revolution; by contrast, his take on the failed 1905 Little Revolution produced incomparably greater music. Go, figure. This shouldn't take too much brainpower, though...

As with this entire cycle, Wigglesworth's reading is direct, considered and thoughtful. However, it cannot hide the vacuum behind the bombast.

Like his previous Shostakovich recordings on BIS, the sound on both these symphonies is simply stunning; transparent, vivid and explosive. Well done, BIS engineers!

And now a surreal aside for you. Notice how the main motif of the first movement of the 12th, which returns at the end of the finale (at around 110 decibels) is based on the great Goodies rendition of 'I have a ferret sticking up my nose'. Yes, really. Nice post-modern irony, Dmitrij Dmitrievic ! And who would have thought that repeats of the Goodies were available on State TV?
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 22, 2012 5:22 AM BST


Shostakovich: Symphony 11 (Symphony 11 The Year 1905)
Shostakovich: Symphony 11 (Symphony 11 The Year 1905)
Price: £14.91

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best all-rounder for Shostakovich 11, 14 July 2010
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I deeply love the Shostakovich symphonies; it is, therefore, a source of great pleasure that they are so well represented on SACD.

I have always had a soft spot for number 11. Based on the abortive `Little Revolution' of 1905, this is real wide-screen, technicolor programme music. In actuality, it's great film music, without the unnecessary bother of having a film attached...

My touchstone for this music is the great, late-analogue era Berglund performance with the Bournemouth Symphony on EMI. It's an astonishingly deeply-felt reading, graced by a truly great recording, one of the finest - in my opinion - ever committed to analogue tape. I would dearly love it to appear on SACD, I am sure it would still amaze (if the corporate apparatchiks in charge of EMI this week ever managed to pull their fingers out of their bottom lines and allow some of their classic back-archive material onto SACD).

But what we'll consider here are three readings:

1) This Wigglesworth/Netherlands RPO on BIS
2) The Lazarev /RNSO on Linn
3) The Russian NSO/Pletnev on Pentatone

I have also the Kitayenko/Cologne on Capriccio, but have not yet got round to playing this; I will update this critique when I have done so.

Incidentally, all were auditioned in stereo, SACD layer of course, on my reference high end Esoteric/Goldmund/Martin-Logan system. I'm still a sceptic on matters multi-channel, I'm afraid...

In my opinion, one of the three recordings is a good all-rounder, but two have a significant flaw.

So, how does each of the three stack up?

1) The Wigglesworth. A good example of BIS's high quality SACD house sound. Neutral, transparent and with staggering (almost too much so!) dynamic range. The battery of percussion which closes the second movement will melt speakers, whilst much of the first movement is whisper-quite and deeply atmospheric. Wiggelsworth clearly understands this music, the performance is deeply felt, sincere, and graced with fine playing. Sonically and interpretationally, it all rather spookily reminds me of my reference Berglund recording- that's no bad thing!

2) The Lazarev. This has excellent sound from Linn, an atmospheric first movement, explosive second movement and dynamic finale. However... the third movement is simply mis-judged in my opinion; marked `in memoriam' this is a threnody for fallen martyrs of the revolution. Quite simply, it should not skip along at the speed set by Lazarev; by contrast, both Wigglesworth and Pletnev get this third movement spot on, measured, dignified and grief-stricken.

3) The Pletnev. This is probably the best, and most idiomatic all-round performance. The last movement, in particular, is faster and more exciting than most. But it's also matched with the poorest overall sound. Don't get me wrong, it's extremely transparent and has a seamless mid-range and liquid treble. It's weak point- as often evidenced on Polyhymnia recordings - is its absence of underpinning bass foundation. This lack of slam and bass foundation severely constrains the impact of episodes where Shostakovich lets rip and simply throws the kitchen sink into the orchestration. These `wipe-out' moments simply underwhelm in the resulting thin balance. The balance is also erratic at times - note the almost absent snare drum in the second movement, suddenly leaping to the front of the mix as the massacre episode takes off. A real pity.

So there we have it. My recommendation as an all-rounder is this Wigglesworth reading on BIS. I can't live with Lazarev's third movement tempo, and the sound for Pletnev is not up to the standard of the other two recordings.

Will the Kitayenko on Capriccio steal its crown? Wait and see!
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 11, 2012 7:36 AM BST


Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11-12