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Classical Musician (England)

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Szymanowski: Violin Concertos 1 & 2; Britten: Violin Concerto
Szymanowski: Violin Concertos 1 & 2; Britten: Violin Concerto
Offered by A2Z Entertains
Price: £5.95

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Incredible playing on all fronts, 20 July 2011
This is a recording I will treasure. Here we have three fantastic violin concertos performed by one of the finest violinists of our time. Frank Peter Zimmerman isn't just a virtuosic performer, he is an incredible musician who is able to dig deep into the personality of each of these concertos. As well as the flawless technique, Zimmerman has a beguilingly sweet tone which I find irresistible in this repertoire (I wonder whether he uses gut strings...?). One could call the Szymanowski concerti 'perfumed' pieces (especially the 1st concerto, with its almost decadent impressionism), but Zimmerman shows us so much colour and imagination that it is hard not to be drawn in.

Personally I believe that his interpretation of Britten's Violin Concerto is magisterial. Like I said before, there is a sweetness to the sound and vibrato, which he maintains throughout the whole work, yet he varies his tone in order to really convey the multifarious nature of each movement. The harmonics and double/triple stopping is delivered with such assurance and clarity it is astonishing. I should also say that the orchestral contribution in all three concertos is first rate - I especially loved the colourful interjections in the Britten, brought out by a wonderfully detailed and atmospheric recorded sound.

Walton - Belshazzar's Feast; Vaughan Williams - Job
Walton - Belshazzar's Feast; Vaughan Williams - Job
Price: £6.24

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Vivid and dramatic Walton; very good Vaughan Williams, 20 July 2011
I have to admit to not being a great fan of the BBC Symphony Orchestra or Andrew Davis, but occasionally they hit the spot (more with modern repertoire I feel...). This is a live recording of Walton's Belshazzar's Feast taken from the Last Night of the Proms in 1994. It is performed by the BBC Singers, BBC Symphony Chorus and BBC Symphony Orchestra with Bryn Terfel as soloist.

First of all I have to say that the atmosphere of the occasion is captured rather well on the recording, with all the choral voices and Bryn Terfel being recorded in vivid sound. Just occasionally one is aware of slightly muddied textures in the orchestra and the intrusion of the audience, but it honestly isn't enough to disrupt proceedings. Bryn Terfel is magnificent as the soloist with his powerful voice intoning the biblical prophesies. Credit also to the choir and to the orchestra, who are both on top form throughout. The choir enunciates very clearly and there is a wonderful bite to the orchestral sound. I felt that the louder, more exciting passages came off best, as Andrew Davis takes quite a brisk approach throughout, thereby creating a very coherent line through each section. Occasionally the orchestra sounds a little bit anonymous in the more reflective passages, but this is a minor quibble to be honest.

I have to admit that Vaughan Williams' Job was new to me, but it is an outstanding piece. It is essentially a one act ballet (even though it is entitled 'A Masque for Dancing'), travelling from the familiar pastoral style of Vaughan Williams in the introduction to a more waspish, extremely colourful 'Satan's Dance of Triumph' - a more bracing style of music which Vaughan Williams later adopts in his 4th and 6th Symphonies. The orchestration and melodic invention is very impressive and started to really make me think about Vaughan Williams' gifts as an orchestrator - a factor which is often overlooked. The playing of the BBCSO is fantastic throughout - vivid, detailed, with just the right balance of power and delicacy.

Schumann: The Violin Sonatas
Schumann: The Violin Sonatas
Price: £13.49

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Intelligent and intriguing performances, 19 July 2011
As a professional violinist, I particularly admire Schumann's Violin Sonatas for the simple fact that, together with Brahms, they represent a pinnacle of romantic violin writing within the sonata genre. By that I mean that the complex shifts of mood that accompany the motivic material in these pieces have to be performed with such a depth of understanding and an almost psychological underpinning that they truly begin to acquire an epic status (despite the modesty of the medium).

Having performed the Sonata in A minor, I can tell you from personal experience that these pieces are just as technically challenging as Brahms' Violin Sonatas - the D minor Sonata even more so I would say. In order to do these works justice one has to be aware of the romantic yearning and passion inherent in the melodic material and the piano accompaniment, but at the same time also not fall into the trap of playing the work as some kind of 'Brahms-Lite' sonata. I have heard so many performances where the two players decide to either ride roughly over Schumann's delicately nuanced score and present it as a kind of late Romantic-fest, or to underplay the piece in order to convince the listener that these works in fact belong to the Schubertian era.

To cut a long story short, the recording by Carolin Widmann and Denes Varjon manages to create a wonderfully intelligent middle path between the two extremes mentioned above. Here there is passion, yearning, delicacy and a very impressive range of colour which I have rarely heard elsewhere. Both players confront the epic D minor Sonata with bravado and they were beginning to convince me that this piece is truly one of the greatest violin sonatas ever written, such is the conviction of the playing. Widmann isn't afraid to vary her sound from being intensely rich with a sumptuous vibrato down to something more streamlined and emotionally cool.

Included on the recording is the rarely played Sonata No.3 in A minor, WoO 2. It is a very interesting piece with a rather virtuosic and emotionally varied first movement. Even if the rest of the piece doesn't quite live up to the same standard of writing, it is still performed with a consummate ease and natural flow that is quite beguiling.

The sound quality is rather generous - nice and reverberant with an ideal balance between violin and piano. Perhaps just occasionally the acoustic muddies the waters, but this is only a trifle compared to the advantages that the sound-stage gives to the players.

Brahms: Piano Quartets 1-3 / Mahler: Piano Quartet Movement
Brahms: Piano Quartets 1-3 / Mahler: Piano Quartet Movement
Price: £8.12

7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Benchmark recording, 19 July 2011
Just like all the previous reviewers have said, this is a fantastic recording on all fronts. The group 'Domus' gives us passionate, intelligent and well-rounded performances of Brahms' Piano Quartets and as a bonus, a wonderful rendition of Mahler's Piano Quartet in A minor.

What I found so appealing about the sound of this chamber group is the mixture of tonal elegance, technical flawlessness and an unerring sense of musical line. All these qualities are needed especially in the Piano Quartet No.2 - a vast, epic work, which benefits from a group of players that can provide a taut and musically coherent performance.

There is no idiosyncratic point-making in these performances, nor is there a sense of routine or a feeling of playing on automatic pilot. The contributions from all four members are exemplary, helped of course by vivid sound quality that balances the instruments very well indeed (not that easy when you have 3 string instruments competing against a grand piano).

Mahler's Piano Quartet movement is given all the passion you could ask for - but without sounding over-cooked or frenetic. Domus choose a sensible pace for the work, (not too languid, like you hear in so many performances), and the klezmer-like melodic figures are brought out with style and panache.

All in all, a supreme recording of some very challenging repertoire. I would recommend without reservation.

Le Mystere Des Voix Bulgares Vol.1
Le Mystere Des Voix Bulgares Vol.1
Price: £7.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unique and magical, 19 July 2011
After having heard my former piano teacher (who is Bulgarian) talk about the distinctiveness of Bulgarian female choirs, I thought I had to find out for myself what this is all about. Well let me tell you, from the opening track I was captivated by this unique sound. It's very hard to describe in words, but there is a direct and almost other-worldly quality about the singing which I found so beautiful.

The recording consists of a mixture of love songs, more austere (but harmonically fascinating) Thracian Chants, up-beat numbers with complex rhythms (often 5/7/11 in a bar) - one of my favourite being 'Svadba' (The Wedding). There is one curious track called 'The bleating sheep', which consists of a soloist imitating the sound of said sheep and some alien glissandi in the choir forming a curious background - weird at first but I found that I responded to it's uniqueness. It's certainly different!

I would recommend this wholeheartedly!

Wagner: Overtures and Preludes
Wagner: Overtures and Preludes
Price: £11.01

14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Partial review of Rienzi and Parsifal extracts, 14 Jun. 2011
I have to confess to only having downloaded the Rienzi Overture and Parsifal extracts, as I've already got very satisfying recordings of the other tracks. However, as the other reviewer has stated, these two performances in particular are truly top class.

With the Rienzi Overture we have the Vienna Philharmonic under Karl Bohm. It is given a warm, robust and thrilling performance - everything you could want from this music really. In fact I found myself wanting to get up and dance towards the end...yes, I'm a bit crazy like that.

Now we come to Parsifal. This opera was the first Wagner work that I studied as a music student and it has always retained a special place for me. After hearing Haitink conduct it at Covent Garden, I was convinced that this is truly a work of genius. Anyway, enough reminiscing. Here we have one of the finest and most moving performances of the Prelude and Good Friday Music I have ever heard (and I've heard quite a few interpretations). The Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra under Eugen Jochum play like gods. The Prelude has a luminosity and intensity which just blew me away. What I found interesting was that even though the trumpets came across a little bit too much at the climaxes I still found their phrasing incredibily moving. There is passion here as well as contemplation - not something you'd usually say about the Parsifal Prelude.

This wonderful balance of emotions continues into the Good Friday Music, which is both sensitive and passionate in equal measure - with some gorgeous playing in the woodwind. In fact every department of the orchestra gives of their best in this performance. There are no off-putting mannerisms or extreme, idiosyncratic decisions by Jochum. Instead we just have an amazing intelligent performance by top class musicians.

The Parsifal extracts were recorded in 1957 I believe, but the sound quality is absolutely stunning for its age - I couldn't believe it was that old.

Wagner: Orchestral Music
Wagner: Orchestral Music
Price: £17.22

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars [Insert all known superlatives here], 14 Jun. 2011
I don't really consider myself a Karajan fanatic, but I do recognize that on some occasions old Herbert got it bang on target. This recording is one such occasion. I don't think I've found such an accomplished set of Wagner extracts anywhere else. From the thrilling drama of the Flying Dutchman Overture through to the rapt and incredibly intense playing in the Tristan Prelude & Libestod, these performances are truly top class.

Karajan chooses the Paris version of the Tannhauser Overture - leading staight into the Venusberg Music, but whatever you think of this version, the Berliners under Karajan convey the music with such utter conviction that matters such as versions and endings pale into insignificance. For me, the emotional heart of this recording is the Prelude to Act 1 of Lohengrin. Listen in awe. Words cannot describe the beauty of the string tone or the gradual build-up to an overwhelming climax (but still tasteful - remember this is Karajan conducting).

Sonics are very good in general. With the Die Meistersinger Overture there is perhaps a touch of boxiness in the sound, but other than that I couldn't detect any other serious drawbacks. So 4 stars for sound quality.

All in all, buy it. If you like Wagner and Karajan, you won't be disappointed. In fact you'll be thrilled.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 25, 2012 12:38 PM GMT

Liszt: Piano Works, Vol.3 / BOLET
Liszt: Piano Works, Vol.3 / BOLET
Offered by frontdog
Price: £10.99

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Aristocrat of Liszt pianists, 14 Jun. 2011
Although I'm not that familiar with Liszt's output in general, I adore some of his solo piano works, particularly his wonderful Piano Sonata and the exquisite Liebestraume. Here we have Jorge Bolet giving a truly refined performance of this incredibly demanding sonata, together with charming interpretations of smaller piano works - including a sparkling Valse impromptu and the three Liebestraume of course.

I have to admit that I had never heard of the name Jorge Bolet until I found this CD in my local library. Boy was I missing out! If you're only familiar with young, flashy virtuosi like Lang Lang et al I would most definitely give this recording a try. Bolet has an incredible technique but it is allied with sincere musicanship and a beautifully refined touch that is at opposite extremes to the likes of Lang Lang. This is most apparent in the central movement of the sonata, which is given a poignant and deeply felt performance.

I was also touched by his playing in the Valse impromptu, which is a wonderful sparkling little piece. The three Liebestraume are as sensitive and dreamy as you could want (without losing sense of the musical line however). In general I would certainly place Bolet's performance of the Piano Sonata alongside Argerich's DG recording - but it is of a different magnitude to make an interesting comparison. Where Argerich is all fire and extreme passion, Bolet gives us a slightly steadier performance that is just as involved and inspired in its own way.

Bruckner: Symphony No. 6 / Weber: Overtures
Bruckner: Symphony No. 6 / Weber: Overtures
Price: £7.88

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stein's Bruckner: heart-warming, inspired and extremely undervalued, 1 Jun. 2011
I can't quite understand why nobody has reviewed this wonderful recording yet, but I thought I'd get the ball rolling as I believe this one of the finest accounts of Bruckner's 6th Symphony on record.

Having bought Stein's magnificent recording of Bruckner's 2nd Symphony (on Decca, again with the Vienna Philharmonic), I couldn't wait to hear this CD. I certainly wasn't disappointed. Stein brings a human warmth to this most underrated of symphonies that is infectious and extremely satisfying. Where other conductors such as Wand, Karajan, Celibidache to name a few, focus on the monumental aspects of this music, Stein combines a more lyrical and light-handed approach with plenty of gusto and rustic spirit.

The 1st movement is thrilling here with the Viennese brass players presenting a swashbuckling sense of style, together with the exquisite antiphonal effects in the coda, which are brought off magnificently. Stein keeps things moving and doesn't allow the lyrical sections to drag and become ponderous. With the Adagio we are treated to a gorgeous performance, full of colour and a natural elegance of phrasing that is extremely poignant. This is Bruckner as seen through Schubertian glasses I feel - and in the Adagio from the 6th Symphony, this is a very convincing way of interpreting Bruckner's more intimate writing.

Although Stein's reading of the symphony as a whole is not quite as taut as Norrington's very interesting account with the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra, his interpretation of the Scherzo and Finale do come close. With plenty of sparkling light and wit, the Scherzo is given a performance that is full of Viennese charm and rustic spirit - especially in the sections with those wonderful horn calls (I really felt I was outdoors in the Austrian mountains at this point!). Stein keeps a tight rein on proceedings in the Finale, making sense of the slightly sprawling structure. As a result, the conclusion of this movement arrives with a natural sense of purpose and inevitability, rather than suddenly hitting us in the face.

In addition to the Bruckner, we are given charming performances of two overtures by Weber - Der Beherrscher der Geister (Ruler of the Spirits) and Abu Hassan. Needless to say, both are played with exquisite refinement and plenty of energy. All in all, this is a wonderful CD that has been unfairly neglected. To read more opinions of the recording I would direct you to the website where there are plenty of Stein supporters at hand to give some very positive feedback.

David Oistrakh Plays Lalo and Prokofiev
David Oistrakh Plays Lalo and Prokofiev
Price: £14.09

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Glorious violin playing from a great master, 30 May 2011
This has to be one my favourite CDs in my entire collection. It contains 2 spellbinding performances of canonical violin concertos and some charming miniatures.

As a violinist myself, David Oistrakh remains, for me, one of the greatest musicians of the 20th century. His sound radiated a bear hug of warmth, passion and sensitivity that has rarely been equaled before or since. He is certainly one my favourite violinists to listen to. What I would give to have heard him live in concert! Here we are treated to a deeply felt performance of Lalo's Symphonie Espagnole (full, 5 movement version) which sends shivers down my spine every time I listen to it.

From the opening fanfare figure on the violin, Oistrakh is totally in command of everything around him. The third movement is particularly impressive both for the orchestra's grasp of the infectious Spanish rhythms and Oistrakh's incredibly subtle playing, throwing off the high-wire pyrotechnics with a shrug of the shoulders. In the last two movements there is a perfect balance of passion, accuracy of execution and an unswerving sense of the melodic line. The Philharmonia under Jean Martinon provides plenty of background character and demonstrates some very sensitive playing.

Next we turn to Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 1 with that devilish little Vivace middle movement. How does Oistrakh cope with such hurdles? With utter ease. Unlike some young modern violinists, such as Vengerov, who emphasise the modernistic, angular aspects of this concerto - with some rough patches in the playing, Oistrakh never lets this side of things distract from the purity of his sound. There is still plenty of devilish character to his playing, but this is balanced out by a consistency in the sound that is incredibly impressive. The LSO play wonderfully, creating an appropriately impressionistic background to Oistrakh's virtuosic and atmospheric performance.

The inclusion of four charming miniatures is testament to Oistrakh's musical character, that he was not just interested in the big concerto warhorses, but also reveled in the delights of intimate chamber music. Here we have an incredibly moving performance of Debussy's Clair de Lune and exciting renditions of Falla's Jota, Tchaikovsky's Valse-Scherzo and Zarzycki's Mazurka. All of these are with Vladimir Yampolsky at the piano.

The sound for the two concertos is a very warm mono and the miniatures are in stereo. Yet don't let that put you off. The mono is quite good actually, (I've heard far worse sound quality in later stereo recordings).

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