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Profile for Mr. John Manning > Reviews

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Reviews Written by
Mr. John Manning (Penarth, Vale of Glam Wales)

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Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique/ Cleopatre, Scene Lyrique
Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique/ Cleopatre, Scene Lyrique
Price: £12.26

3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not quite fantastic, 12 Mar. 2011
I have become a fan of BIS's SACDs, several of which have given me much pleasure. I appreciate their realistic style of recording, nicely distanced and atmospheric, with a natural dynamic and frequency range. This, then, is a recording I looked forward to auditioning.
My first impression is of a closer recording than usual from this source; this doesn't worry me in the first three movements, in which the playing I consider to be nicely paced but lacking any great excitement, overall quite enjoyable. The timpani's 3 'thunder' rolls at the end of the third 'Scene aux champs' movement surprise me by decreasing in volume, the opposite of what I expect from previous recordings. The beginning of the March to the Scaffold strikes me as beginning to sound a little dutiful, and the now obvious closeness of the recording robs it of atmosphere. I take much the same impression from the final movement, and cannot in all conscience convince myself that I am listening to a scene of wild abandon.
The 'scene lyrique', Cleopatre, works better for me; Anna Caterina Antonacci is able to colour her voice interestingly and as a whole the performance seems to take off, unlike that of the symphony.

In the symphony the orchestra is clearly recorded with a wide frequency range, but I miss the concert hall sound that BIS can give us. Perhaps I am driven by disappointment to award only 3 stars to this disc, but I know that BIS can and does do better.

Verdi: Messa Da Requiem (Frittoli, Borodina, Zeffiri, Abdeazakov/CSO/Muti)
Verdi: Messa Da Requiem (Frittoli, Borodina, Zeffiri, Abdeazakov/CSO/Muti)
Price: £22.33

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Muti's passionate Verdi, 12 Mar. 2011
Muti opens the work at a slow tempo, showing us his care for detail. 'Te decet hymnus' from the basses increases the tempo considerably, and from that point onwards it is obvious that Muti is giving us the dramatic approach to this work. The Dies Irae is brisk, the Sanctus fast, with no noticeable problems in ensemble. Chorus and orchestra give a committed, all-out performance.
Ildar Abdrazakov has a rich, rounded tone and the requisite gravitas for the Mors Stupebit. I would not care to criticise any of his contribution. Mario Zeffiri's light-toned tenor suits his heartfelt Ingemisco very well, despite his very top notes not being as well controlled as the rest of his range; Olga Borodina generally produces a fine, even tone; I find her a little tentative in her upper register, and the bottom register darker in quality, in the Lux Aeterna. Barbara Frittoli's soprano blends well with the other soloists, but she sometimes chooses to use a slow, wide vibrato which some may not care for. However, she helps to make the soprano and chorus (unaccompanied) section of the Libera Me one highlight of this performance for me. Ultimately the soloists will be a matter of personal preference and we all have our favourites.

Despite having apparently being recorded 'live' on 3 dates in January 2009 I detect no audience in this recording. Indeed, I would remark on a noticeable silence between sections, unlike Harnoncourt's live recording for RCA. Balance is very good between orchestra, a very clear chorus, and soloists; there is a pleasant ambience but it doesn't match RCA's airiness. The soloists as a group have a slight edge to their voices, but not enough to cause offence. Overall level matches my average setting, and dynamic and frequency range are very good. Bass drum doesn't quite have the low extension of RCA's, but nevertheless has impact. CSO Resound did not take the opportunity to use the surround tracks for the offstage trumpets in the Dies Irae, unfortunately. My impression is that of a well-executed multi-mike recording that does full justice to the musicians' contributions and makes Muti's interpretation a must for all lovers of this work to enjoy.

Brahms: German Requiem
Brahms: German Requiem

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Levine's gripping Brahms, 1 Mar. 2011
This review is from: Brahms: German Requiem (Audio CD)
Recordings of live performances have the potential to capture the magic of the occasion, or to perpetuate flaws. Happily, the former applies to this disc. Levine has a firm grip on his forces and a secure grasp of Brahms' masterpiece. He draws out excellent singing from the Tanglewood chorus, who give their all. Entries and exits are cleanly executed, while diction and dynamics are excellent. Together with the Boston Symphony orchestra they respond unerringly to Levine's detailed direction.
Of the two soloists, Michael Volle impresses with his clarity, firmness of tone and expression. His timbre reminds me of Bryn Terfel in this work, which I consider to be a flattering comparison. Christine Schafer cannot match his clarity in the text, but otherwise complements him in vocal quality.
BSO seems to have chosen a naturalistic method of capturing this performance, eschewing close microphones to achieve an open sound with atmosphere. This risks recording audience noise, and I notice a few minor 'noises off' in the first part, but not enough to worry even an old fusspot like me. After the first few minutes I noticed no more. The frequency and dynamic range of the recording are large, and spatially it is wide and deep, the rear speakers adding ambience. Several things impress me; to name but two the organ pedal adding richness, and a stupendous crescendo at the end of part 3, "Lord, make me to know mine end" where the engineer captures the chorus valiantly giving their all for Levine.
I have two criticisms, one very minor and one more noticeable. The timpani are balanced (possibly naturally) rather close and are slightly boomy; and the violin tone sometimes sounds a little thin and wiry to my ears. Neither detract greatly from a very enjoyable performance, but I feel it fair to subtract one star.

Beethoven: Piano Concertos 4 & 5
Beethoven: Piano Concertos 4 & 5
Price: £14.48

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beethoven with polish, 26 Feb. 2011
I eagerly anticipated Sudbin's foray into Beethoven's concertos for BIS, having been delighted with his interpretation of Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky, Medtner and Scriabin on the same label. It is enough to say that my expectations were exceeded; Sudbin adapts his style to meet Beethoven's demands with delicacy and brilliance. Osmo Vanska does not merely obtain an accompaniment from the Minnesota orchestra but has obviously taken great pains to display Beethoven's orchestration in the best light, without ostentation. In my opinion, he slightly softens the contrast between piano and strings in the slow movement of the fourth concerto - Barenboim's Euroarts blu-ray impresses me greatly here - but overall Vanska manages to bring out detail that catches my ear even in such familiar works. Accents and phrasing are beautifully judged, soloist and orchestra play as one to create a wholly satisfying interpretation.
Beethoven makes no huge demands here for the recording engineer - no bass drum for example that would require extra headroom - and in this 5.0 surround recording I do not feel the need to increase amplification above my normal setting, as I wish to for some other BIS recordings. That is not to underestimate the engineer's achievement; balance is excellent with pin-sharp lateral instrumental placement. Ambience is ideal, with a little unobtrusive help from the rear speakers. No doubt Vanska had something to do with the transparency of the orchestra too, as detail is very clear.
I assume the first three concertos will follow, and if they measure up to this SACD will complete a very collectable set.

Holst: Orchestral Works 2 (The Planets/ Japanese Suite/ Beni Mora)
Holst: Orchestral Works 2 (The Planets/ Japanese Suite/ Beni Mora)
Price: £14.46

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Worthy continuation, 5 Feb. 2011
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Little needs to be added to Amazon's CD description of the music recorded here; it is a great shame that Richard Hickox's sad demise prevented him from conducting a new recording of Holst's best known work, The Planets, but Volume 1 on Chandos (also Elgar's symphonies - more fine SACD recordings) are a fitting testimonial to his talent.
Sir Andrew Davis has no need of gimmicks but obtains a well-played, 'middle of the road' interpretation of these works. I didn't find any significant new insights, but neither did I find anything to complain about.
The Planets - a 'suite for large orchestra' - is a challenge for the recording engineer, utilising a range of percussion (all clearly recorded) and an organ which is not only used for bass underpinning but has a startling glissando in Uranus. Chandos have opted for a natural-sounding recording which sets the orchestra in a good acoustic environment with a realistic frequency and dynamic range. In this case there is a noticeable distancing which creates somewhat more blurring than in a multi-miked recording, but is arguably a more accurate representation of a live concert hall sound. Rear speakers add reverberation which reinforces the impression of naturalness.
In common with Gardiner's SACD on DG, I find that I need more amplification than usual to produce the 'airy' result that I enjoy; climaxes here are then gloriously unrestrained. As a matter of personal taste I prefer Davis's faster tempo in Mars, but Gardiner's organ glissando is more impressive. I find much to enjoy in both discs.
Comment Comments (8) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 25, 2012 2:37 PM BST

Chopin: The Piano Concertos [Blu-ray] [2011] [Region Free]
Chopin: The Piano Concertos [Blu-ray] [2011] [Region Free]
Dvd ~ Evgeny Kissin
Price: £29.99

23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Contrasting Chopin, 2 Feb. 2011
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This concert in celebration of Chopin's birthday caught my eye immediately; both concertos in a concert given in February 2010, on the superior medium of blu-ray, and with Kissin's name prominently displayed. The maturing wunderkind plays the concerto no. 2, while Nikolai Demidenko plays the first (although they may well have been composed in the reverse order). While Demidenko might not have as elevated a profile as Kissin, he is a pianist of rare talent, some of whose recordings on Hyperion occupy a respected place in my collection.
Let me firstly dispose of the excellent Warsaw Philharmonic under Antoni Wit, who must be extremely familiar with this music and play it not only with accuracy but also with affection.
Demidenko concentrates on projecting every note clearly, and to some ears may err towards caution rather than carefree abandon. Nevertheless the fast movements of the first concerto are impressive for their immaculate fingerwork, and the slow middle movement is idyllic. His encore, a mazurka, is less buttoned-down and allows more of Demidenko's obvious affinity with Chopin's music to shine through.
Kissin may be more mature now, but he always showed an understanding beyond his years, so there is for me no great surprise in his interpretation of the concerto no.2. His technique has always been phenomenal, and here he achieves pristine fingerwork to match Demidenko, but with less apparent effort. He also uses more dynamic contrast, in a masculine display of both technique and insight into the composer's mind. The first encore, the 'revolutionary' study, seems designed to upset all wannabee pianists like myself in its accuracy and abandon, and the posthumous waltz that follows varies between limpid delicacy and controlled fury. The faces of the listening orchestra tell it all; knowing smiles, then amazement at what they are hearing and seeing.
Pictures are excellent; the hall is tastefully lit and camera direction is good. Demidenko leans out of his key light occasionally, but that's all that caught my eye.
The surround sound tracks are as good as any recording of these works that I have heard. Chopin doesn't pose too many problems for the sound engineer, no bass drum to stomp on your subwoofer or cymbals to tickle your tweeters, so he has been able to achieve a believable balance that tends to favour the strings and keep the brass in check. Piano sound is only slightly forward, to my ears more so for Kissin (who seems more inclined to use fortissimos). The audience is not totally silent but doesn't intrude, except at the end of the second concerto where their enthusiasm for Kissin leads them to applaud before the final chords have died away.
Demidenko brought a smile to my face, Kissin a tear to my eye. They are both well worth a hearing in an excellent recording.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 7, 2012 10:21 PM GMT

Respighi: Roman Trilogy (Fontane Di Roma/ Pini Di Roma/ Feste Romane)
Respighi: Roman Trilogy (Fontane Di Roma/ Pini Di Roma/ Feste Romane)
Price: £13.18

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Atmospheric orchestration, 1 Nov. 2010
Respighi's descriptive tributes to Rome are ideal subjects for the medium of SACD; atmospheric, exciting, and with orchestral writing that benefits from higher resolution.
The Fountains of Rome opens at a leisurely pace, and I was able to appreciate detail that I had not previously heard; Neschling and the Sao Paulo Symphony made me aware of water, flowing and dripping, and the grandeur of the sculptures.
Children playing get the Pines off to a brisk start with their high-pitched noises, and each tableau is faithfully communicated up to the overwhelming climax of the marching Roman soldiers.
The brutality of the circuses can be difficult to listen to if your imagination is active; Respighi pulls no punches in Roman Festivals. Happily the piece moves on to less bloodthirsty scenes, the imitation of a barrel organ being most effective.
BIS have continued their tried and tested method of recording, giving us a natural and spacious concert-hall sound. Dynamic level is very large, and I found that I needed to use more amplification than usual to maintain clarity in the quietest passages. This meant that those Roman soldiers raise the roof at the end of The Pines, which accurately reflects the huge orchestral forces. I have multi-miked recordings that maintain more detail during this very loud section, but fail to fully portray the huge crescendo captured here by BIS.
I feel that the recorded nightingale in the Pines of the Villa Borghese at night could have been given more atmosphere in the multi-channel recording; the possibility of floating it in the air is a tempting one, but I found it to come from the front speakers. Those Roman soldiers, however, do play their buccines from the rear speakers most effectively, and there is also brass from the rear in the opening of the Festivals.
I have waited for this first modern SACD of these works for some time, and am glad to be able to report that I am very satisfied.

Mahler;  Prokoviev: Lucerne Festival: Mahler: Symphony No. 1;  Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No.3) [Blu-ray] [2010] [Region Free] [NTSC]
Mahler; Prokoviev: Lucerne Festival: Mahler: Symphony No. 1; Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No.3) [Blu-ray] [2010] [Region Free] [NTSC]
Dvd ~ Yuja Wang (Piano)
Price: £25.65

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars More delights from Lucerne, 31 Oct. 2010
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Abbado and his hand-picked players continue their Mahler symphony series with a detailed and absorbing account of the first. The concert begins, however, with Prokofiev's 3rd piano concerto, here played by Yuja Wang. This is my first acquaintance with this artist, and I am left wondering why I have not heard her previously. On the evidence of this recording, she has a prodigious technique and a true insight into Prokofiev's music. She integrates splendidly with her accompaniment; Abbado spends much time looking over his shoulder at the soloist, and who could blame him. The spiky sections of the concerto trip effortlessly off Wang's fingers, and the broad melodic sections are suitably romantic. Orchestra and soloist bring the work to a breathtaking finish.
Abbado demands much from his orchestra in the Mahler, revealing its inner workings whilst creating an atmospheric experience. The faces of the players reveal how great is their determination to give of their best for Abbado, and he acknowledges their efforts during the applause.
Video quality and direction are of a high standard. Wang displays no histrionics but a half-smile shows when she is enjoying herself.
My first impression of the multi-channel audio is that it is slightly subdued, but louder passages open up gratifyingly to to give a convincing concert-hall effect. Dynamic range is high, and low frequency sounds are excellently reproduced - the bass drum is palpable. My impression is of being in a seat about half-way back in the hall; violins are smoothed out somewhat. Microphones are noticeable by their absence - I tried in vain to see where they were placed. The piano is not given artificial prominence, but is nevertheless clear. Audience noise is negligible. If forced to find fault, I would ask for a little more high frequency level, but that's being overly critical.
I have read elsewhere that the blu-ray of Mahler's second symphony in this series has problems with the multi-channel audio. If true, it would be a great pity as the three others that I have tried are excellent.

Brahms: Violin Sonatas - Anne-Sophie Mutter [Blu-ray] [2010]
Brahms: Violin Sonatas - Anne-Sophie Mutter [Blu-ray] [2010]
Dvd ~ Anne-Sophie/Lambert Orkis Mutter
Price: £16.00

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A close partnership, 9 Aug. 2010
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Those who have seen and heard Anne-Sophie Mutter and Lambert Orkis's TV recordings of the Mozart violin sonatas will know that there is an increasingly close musical partnership between them that pays dividends for their audiences. Brahms demands much from both instrumentalists, and here Orkis has no qualms about letting his Steinway loose in true fortissimos, never putting a finger wrong. Mutter is never overwhelmed by the power of the piano, however. She obtains a gorgeously rich, smoothly controlled tone from her instrument, managing to avoid all the unmusical sounds that a violin in lesser hands can make.
The 3 Brahms sonatas are mature works, to my ears somewhat similar in overall, typically Brahmsian, feeling. Here they are played in order 2,1,3; the no.1 sonata is arguably the most popular, and from the outset we are given a reading of concentrated intensity, shorn of histrionics but nevertheless powerful when appropriate. The slow movement impresses me as improvisatory, both players musing together as one.
The well-known lullaby given as an encore is, after the sonatas, comparatively simple, but is treated with much care and affection. Mutter could well be gently crooning a child to sleep, with Orkis's restrained accompaniment.

The concert was recorded in the Bibliotheksaal Polling, (not a book in sight). Its elegantly painted walls and ceiling are tastefully lit and featured, with excellent direction that avoids lights/cameras in shot. There is visible, however, a cable strung across the balcony which I can only surmise has something to do with Mutter's microphone, which I cannot pick out. The piano has two obvious but not over-prominent stand mics near its open lid. Mutter herself is, as ever, timelessly elegant in a trademark strapless gown. Her expression is a little fierce and concentrated whilst playing, but her genuine smile lights up the room as she acknowledges applause. Orkis avoids any ostentation, just produces the music with an economy of physical effort.

The DTS-HD Master 5.0 sound is quite close, but entirely believable in a relatively small room. Frequency and dynamic range are beyond criticism; the rear channels are only noticeable during applause and the instruments stay front and centre. I personally would have preferred a little distancing and ambience, but what we have here is entirely appropriate to a chamber performance. PCM stereo is available as an option. There is no audience noise, just once or twice the faint sound of Orkis turning the page. If forced to find a point of criticism I believe I detected a slight hardening of the piano tone during a particularly loud passage, just once, and that could be my imagination.

I don't believe anyone will be disappointed with this issue, particularly considering the reasonable price at the time of my purchase.

Violin Concertos - Annar Folleso, Norwegian Radio Orch. (Blu-Ray)
Violin Concertos - Annar Folleso, Norwegian Radio Orch. (Blu-Ray)
Price: £18.52

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Virtuoso violin, 15 July 2010
As the title suggests, this issue consists of 2 violin concertos by Ole Bull, the Concerto in A major and the Concerto Fantastico. There are also 4 more descriptive works, Sæterjentens Søndag (the Herdgirl's Sunday); Et Sæterbesøg (a Mountain Vision); I Ensomme Stunde (la Melancolie) and La Verbena De San Juan. All of these call for a violin soloist of quality. Ole Bull himself had a prodigious talent, and influenced the young Grieg, among others.
The concertos display a facility for melody and rhythm more than for structure, but are unmistakeably his own, not to be confused with any other composer. Of the two I found the Concerto Fantastico more immediately appealing. Even more ear-catching are the characteristic pieces; La Verbena De San Juan's Spanish rhythms and percussion being most persuasive.
The Norwegian Radio Orchestra under Ole Kristian Rudd with soloist Anna Folleso leave nothing to be desired in a committed, virtuosic and affectionate performance.

2L have given us a choice of media; SACD hybrid and 'Pure Audio blu-ray' in three formats. In their booklet (available on the blu-ray disc in Adobe acrobat form) they explain the philosophy behind the recording technique most interestingly, with illustrations of the chamber-like orchestra's layout with microphone positioning. I was able to sample both discs for comparison on my Oppo BD-83 player and (blu-ray only) via a Popcorn Hour C-200 media player. In both formats, the recordings are ideal, clear yet with ambience, full in frequency and dynamic range, revealing yet sympathetic. On balance I found the SACD to be slightly more refined, possibly more extended in the high frequencies and more immediately revealing of the starting transients of percussion. Surround in both discs is handled expertly with the rear speakers adding greatly to the ambience.
This, my first audio-only blu-ray, I count as a great success. Whereas I would hesitate to rank Ole Bull amongst the world's most celebrated composers, his music is most listenable, presented here in an exceptionally fine fashion.

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