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Musica Vita (Birmingham, UK)

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Mendelssohn/Liszt/Schumann: Lieder
Mendelssohn/Liszt/Schumann: Lieder
Offered by shakedownrecords
Price: £4.85

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars More outstanding Lieder, 3 Mar. 2012
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Firstly, a gripe: like many in the "Double Forte" series, this two-disc set comes without any texts of the songs. It is possible to find them on the internet, for example at the Lied, Art Song, and Choral Texts Archive, but that is quite time-consuming, especially if you want translations too. When EMI reissue these recordings, as surely they will soon (it will be Dame Janet's 80th birthday in 2013), let them provide full texts!

Mendelssohn's songs are not well-known and for some reason have often been regarded as second-rate. Well, this collection goes a long way to refute that. There is a wide variety of styles here, from the familiar melody of "Auf Flügeln des Gesanges", via the magical "Neue Liebe" (reminiscent of the fairies in the Midsummer Night's Dream music), the simple beauty of "Der Blumenkranz" to the exuberance of "Im Grünen". Maybe it has been a case of the songs simply needing the right singer to reveal their greatness: and here she is.

Liszt's songs are possibly even less well-known than Mendelssohn's. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Brigitte Fassbänder have each recorded a goodly number, but not many other singers have. Here we have twelve; one is in French, a poem of Victor Hugo, but the others are from the German mainstream and many poems will be familiar from other composers' works. The settings are generally expansive and have, as one might expect, elaborate accompaniments, in which Geoffrey Parsons has ample opportunity to show what he is capable of! I have to admit that I know very little of Liszt's music and was moved by these Lieder and Dame Janet's interpretations.

The Schumann Liederkreis Op 39 is astonishing. I have heard these songs many times, always sung by a man, and I also own Dietrich F-D's recording with Eschenbach, which is admirable. However there is nothing in these Eichendorff poems which says "men only" and hearing a female singer perform them reveals them in a new aspect. Much more than that, this performance is outstanding. Daniel Barenboim always brings some special insight, and together he and Dame Janet produce a spellbinding atmosphere from beginning to end. I cannot imagine a better performance than this.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 2, 2012 7:56 PM BST

Schubert: The Hyperion Schubert Edition, Vol. 01  Goethe & Schiller Settings
Schubert: The Hyperion Schubert Edition, Vol. 01 Goethe & Schiller Settings
Price: £14.24

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unsurpassed, 16 Feb. 2012
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This recording was made towards the end of Janet Baker's performing career, but she had lost none of her interpretative insight or vocal technique even if there was a slight loss of smoothness of voice. Her 'unashamed accompanist' is Graham Johnson. All the songs are by Goethe or Schiller, and putting a selection together as here is a very good basis for a successful recital, in which we can explore Schubert's contrasting reactions to the many facets of Germany's great dramatic poets. More important, these are wonderful interpretations. I normally hate such comparisons, but here venture the opinion that they are on a par with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau.

However I would hesitate to recommend this CD as an introduction to Schubert's Lieder for those who are not familiar with the art-form. Most of the songs are lesser-known works, and you will not find the most popular songs such as Heidenröslein or Kennst du das Land, which are available on other discs by Dame Janet. However Nähe des Geliebten and Der Fischer are here, and getting to know the others was a voyage of discovery for me.

My niggle is that the performers omit some of the stanzas. Johnson seems to be the instigator of that. The worst example for me is the omission of two stanzas from the beautiful An den Mond, D.296; those stanzas are essential to the meaning of the poem. To cap it all, the printed text omits yet another which is performed!

Despite these drawbacks, if you love either Schubert or Janet Baker, as I do both (musically speaking of course) this disc is a must.

Bach: Mass in B Minor
Bach: Mass in B Minor

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Genius from Jochum, 11 Feb. 2012
This review is from: Bach: Mass in B Minor (Audio CD)
Bach's music, of all composers, is robust enough to be performed in many different ways and still show its greatness. This recording illustrates that it is the musical genius of the director which is all-important in achieving a great performance, and not whether certain types or numbers of instruments and singers are used. The great German conductor Eugen Jochum clearly knows his Bach as do his orchestra and chorus. These sound to be moderately large, and the Bavarian Radio choir has the strength and skill to cope with Bach's difficult vocal writing, even in the six- and eight-part choruses, and not be swamped by the orchestra. The recording places the choir rather distantly, so not all the words are as clear as they might be, but the balance is otherwise very good and gives the feeling of a live performance.

Genius, and possibly love, is what Jochum brings to this. His tempi are ideal, never dragging, never rushed, and without 19th century mannerisms. Throughout he communicates a sense of happiness, even in the serious parts such as "Crucifixus". I was particularly taken by his marked slowing of the tempo at the words "et incarnatus est" towards the end of the duet "Et in unum Dominum", anticipating the following slow chorus. Real inspiration, even if the purists frown. The soloists are all admirable, and I especially liked Brigitte Fassbänder's "Agnus Dei"; there is something about this aria that brings out the best in singers. Highly recommended.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 4, 2012 12:39 PM GMT

Bach: Mass in B minor
Bach: Mass in B minor
Price: £22.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Academic and uninspiring, 10 Feb. 2012
This review is from: Bach: Mass in B minor (Audio CD)
I am glad I am not the only one to dislike this performance. I have read so many rave reviews and recommendations I was really looking forward to hearing it. What a disappointment. But praise where it is due. The singers of the Monteverdi Choir are splendid and excel themselves in the Sanctus and Osanna sections. The soloists are good but not outstanding in any way. The orchestra, well they are generally good but I agree with "AbsoluteClassical" in that there are some ugly sounds, mainly caused by the vibrato-less strings. Some - not all by any means - of Gardiner's tempi are simply too fast, the worst example being "Laudamus Te", which is an unseemly scramble. At an appropriate tempo this is one of Bach's most beautiful arias: is beauty a dirty word to the HIP brigade?

More generally there is a feeling of haste: the playing is matter-of-fact "let's get this over with" in manner, although less so in the slower numbers. Perhaps JEG has concentrated on musicological theory to the neglect of the emotional content. In any event it fails to move me and I shall not be playing it very often. I think I am being generous to give it three stars. If you want a period-instrument performance, Harnoncourt is miles better.

J.S. Bach: Mass In B Minor, Bwv 232
J.S. Bach: Mass In B Minor, Bwv 232
Price: £7.60

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Attractive but lightweight, 9 Feb. 2012
I do not have these CDs, but I have owned the vinyl version for many years and as nobody else in the UK has written about this milestone recording I will put a few thoughts down. This was first recording of the Mass in B minor to be made according to the performing practices of Bach's day, and must be regarded as pioneering or even experimental. In his detailed notes, Nikolaus Harnoncourt explains the reasons for his choice of just about everything to do with his performance, even the numbers of player and singers in each section of the orchestra and choir. Almost needless to say the numbers are quite small. The choir uses boy trebles, but the alto and soprano soloists are female, and all five are very suited to the music. The pitch is lower than modern concert pitch by about one semitone. This disturbs me, but many listeners will not notice.

The first Kyrie is taken at a tempo about 50% faster than Klemperer in his EMI recording, in other words about normal for nowadays. But nothing in the rest of the work is at all rushed, and in a few numbers Harnoncourt is actually slower than Klemperer. The woodwind is clear, the trumpets do not drown out the rest, and the strings, played without vibrato, are not gritty as they are in many period-instrument performances. The corno da caccia in "Quoniam" is rather uneven, but one must make allowances for the fact that this was a time of pioneering. The orchestra seems to have a good understanding of Bach's style, yet I cannot but feel that the six- and eight-part choruses "Sanctus" and "Hosanna" need more singers to give a good balance. However Harnoncourt treats Bach's score with great reverence, and the result is generally convincing.

This recording has given me great pleasure and is easy to listen to, but I would not recommend it as a first choice, as the overall effect is lightweight, and to my mind does not do justice to the majesty of this work. Unless "authenticity" is of paramount importance to you, consider Karl Richter.

Christmas Oratorio (Ameling, Baker, Tear, Fischer-Dieskau, King's College Choir, Academy of St Martin in the Fields, Sir Philip Ledger)
Christmas Oratorio (Ameling, Baker, Tear, Fischer-Dieskau, King's College Choir, Academy of St Martin in the Fields, Sir Philip Ledger)
Price: £9.24

25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A performance of great distinction, 7 Feb. 2012
I first wrote this about an earlier issue of this recording, which seems no longer to be available, so I reproduce it here.

I have always considered the sound of the King's College Choir to be too lightweight and polite, and in this recording their German pronunciation is sometimes awry. Having got that off my chest, I can say that everything else about this performance is splendid. The playing of the Academy of St Martins is impeccable, Philip Ledger's direction inspired, with tempi just right (except for the Lullaby in Part 2 which might have been better slightly slower) and the soloists seem ideally suited to this music. Robert Tear is a persuasive, declamatory Evangelist and sings his arias with great feeling, and Elly Ameling is beautifully radiant. It is almost needless to say that Janet Baker and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau give performances of real distinction. His "Grosser Herr" in Part 1 will make you sit up and listen, but his delicate accompanied recitatives are even more moving. I find Janet Baker's "Schliesse mein Herz" in Part 3 to be her best aria here, although the others are also admirable. EMI's recording is of the best, and has overcome most of the notorious reverberation of King's College Chapel.

This is some of Bach's most joyful music, and this performance will cheer you up on the darkest of winter days.

Bach: Mass in B Minor
Bach: Mass in B Minor

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Profound and revelatory, 7 Feb. 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Bach: Mass in B Minor (Audio CD)
According to the booklet, Otto Klemperer considered the Mass in B minor to be the greatest music ever written. Accordingly he put all his long experience into the production of this recording, insisting on reduced forces and soloists whose voices would suit the music. The BBC Chorus and New Philharmonia were possibly the best in Britain at the time, and it is hardly possible to imagine a better team of soloists. EMI's engineers also did a good job, although there is some congestion in the loudest passages.

The first Kyrie is taken at about crotchet/quarter-note = 40, which seems painfully slow at first, but have patience and listen to the gradual unfolding of this magnificent fugue. Klemperer had the ability to convince the listener that his way was right, no matter how unconventional. Thereafter, the tempi are generally more as usually heard, and in those other sections which are taken slowly, again listen and be convinced.

The possible downside of this performance is that in some movements the players sound to be unfamiliar with Bach's style (perhaps they were at that time) and there is, to me at least, a certain sense of struggle. It is possible that this is what Klemperer wanted, but nowhere is there an easy fluency such as Richter achieves with his Munich orchestra. The choir is excellent and the soloists are beyond reproach.

This interpretation has depth, grandeur, majesty in abundance and magnificent solo/duet singing, Janet Baker's Agnus Dei especially. Recommended, but if you like more vitality and joy in your Mass, listen to Richter.

Bach: Mass in B minor
Bach: Mass in B minor
Price: £11.71

18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 50 years old and still a front-runner!, 7 Feb. 2012
This review is from: Bach: Mass in B minor (Audio CD)
The distinguished Bach scholar Karl Richter created his own distinctive path in the rediscovery of J S Bach's music. His Munich Bach Orchestra and Choir were an essential part of this, and their extensive experience of Bach's music was such that they completely overcame the formidable difficulties of the Mass in B minor, and on this recording they play with a fluency and beauty which is rare even today. It is still one of the best available even after 50 years. The recording may not be as good as the best of today's but is perfectly adequate and only in the loudest tuttis is there a lack of clarity. The only "star" soloist is Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, whom it is wonderful to hear in "Et in Spiritum Sanctum", but the others are very good and well-suited to the music.

I also know the recordings by Klemperer, Münchinger, Jochum, Gardiner and Harnoncourt, and all these are worth hearing, but I find that only Klemperer comes close to matching Richter's achievement - and that is in a very different way. Klemperer brings out the grandeur and depth of Bach's vision, Richter communicates joy and light. Your foot will be tapping in every one of the faster movements when you listen to Richter. Not that it is in anyway lightweight: the majesty is there throughout. Unreservedly recommended.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 1, 2012 4:36 AM BST

Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde
Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde
Price: £9.25

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Haitink strikes again!, 5 Jan. 2012
This ought to be a world-beater but it isn't. The Philips engineers have captured the superb playing of the Concertgebouw Orchestra to perfection and every detail of Mahler's score is revealed. The fly in the technical ointment is that James King's microphone is over-amplified, and so his singing is almost painfully "in your face", detracting from an otherwise fine performance. Mercifully Janet Baker does not get that treatment, except momentarily in "Der Einsame", and she is at her best, bringing passion to "Von der Jugend" and exquisite sensitivity to "Der Abschied".

Yet the whole thing fails to convince. There is a certain lack of tension, perhaps best exemplified in the final movement, where the ominous darkness does not descend as it should (Tennstedt is superb in that respect). Maybe the fault lies within me, but I have found Haitink's Mahler to be restrained, even understated in some of the symphonies, and I must conclude that this is another example.

This disc is worth having, but for something really convincing, go to Kubelik (also with Janet Baker), Tennstedt or best of all, Klemperer with Fritz Wunderlich and Christa Ludwig. Or if you can stand a third-rate recording, Bruno Walter with Kathleen Ferrier.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 1, 2015 5:06 PM GMT

Verdi: Messa Da Requiem - Sony Classical Masters
Verdi: Messa Da Requiem - Sony Classical Masters
Price: £3.99

8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good but not a first choice, 4 Jan. 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Never having been a fan of Solti, I bought this disc solely to hear Janet Baker in this fantastic music. In that respect I was not disappointed; she sings the mezzo solo "Liber scriptus" wonderfully and no less so in the duet "Recordare" and the other ensembles. Jose van Dam is also very moving and well-suited to this work. Unfortunately I cannot enthuse over Leontine Price or Veriano Lucchetti. Price constantly scoops from one note to the next (portamento is too polite a term), and her lower range, heard especially in the "Libera me", lacks depth. Lucchetti is also disappointing, with vague starts to musical phrases and a general lack of subtlety.

The Chicago Symphony Chorus is excellent; choruses do not come much better than this. Likewise the orchestra, and the combination in the eight-part fugal "Sanctus" is beautifully clear - until the brass enters. The recording gives the brass far too much prominence, so that when they are playing loudly the rest is obscured. Because of this, the "Tuba mirum" is not as frightening as it should be, indeed it is difficult to hear much of the important chorus parts in that section. Aside from that, the recording captures Verdi's wide-ranging dynamics, from the quiet mood of the opening to the enormous drum-beats in the "Dies irae" very well.

With the whole work on one disc, this is a great bargain, but even so I would not have this as a first choice. Buy it for Baker, van Dam and the chorus, but listen also to Abbado (with the Berlin Phil) and Giulini. Both are currently only a few pounds more, and with Giulini you get the Four Sacred Pieces as well.

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