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Classical Musician (England)

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Brahms: Symphonies Nos. 1-4
Brahms: Symphonies Nos. 1-4
Price: £4.99

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic Brahms cycle, 30 May 2011
I second everything all the previous reviewers have said about this cycle. It is certainly one of the best out there, containing some incredibly energetic playing with plenty of passion as well as great sensitivity. For me, Jochum's interpretation of Symphony No. 2 is one of the best out there. It is given a warm, robust performance and the last movement is played with a kind of white-hot energy that you rarely hear nowadays.

Many people think that all Brahms' symphonies should be played as though they are 'Old Man's Music by the fireside' type of thing. Well, just listen to the coda in the last movement of the Second Symphony as conducted by Jochum and tell me if you think this is cosy, sombre music. For me, this is one of the most exciting, joyous and uplifting finales of any symphony that I know (surely that's saying something!).

The Berliners under Jochum play with a great depth of sound and with that characteristic legato that was further cultivated under Karajan. Yet as this cycle is from the mid 1950s, we get to hear the Berlin Phil pre-Karajan, which has the advantage that the sound is a bit more direct and has a bite to it that was sometimes smothered by Karajan's concern for beauty of sound. This is heard to great effect in Jochum's reading of the First Symphony, which is at times grand, imposing, but never ponderous. It has an energy that carries you away right to the end of the piece.

Although the sound is Mono, it is still perfectly acceptable - in fact there is a warmth in the recording which is quite endearing (once you get used to it). For me, this cycle stands alongside Bruno Walter's New York Phil cycle from the early 1950s as one of the greatest to be committed to disc.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 13, 2012 9:51 PM BST

Monteverdi: Vespro della beata Vergine
Monteverdi: Vespro della beata Vergine
Price: £11.25

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful, sensuous and energetic performance, 30 May 2011
I'm somewhat puzzled as to why Herreweghe's recording of Monteverdi's Vespers in neglected in favour of recordings by Gardiner, Parrot and Robert King (as good as those ones are). For me, this recording falls so seductively on the ear that I can't help but respond with rapt attention and I'm drawn into Monteverdi's fascinating musical creation in a way I haven't experienced with other recordings.

I have several recordings by Collegium Vocale Ghent/Herreweghe and what always impresses me is that they refuse to follow the flock of die-hard 'HIP' interpretations by avoiding rigid, slightly aggressive playing or singing. From the opening notes of Deus adiutorum meum I was aware of wonderfully nuanced sound which is full without being syrupy but also well articulated with a fine sense of musical line. There is also plenty of energy in the singing when it is needed.

If you're after a high-octane, relentlessly energetic account, then by all means turn to Gardiner; or if you prefer a more considered, intimate and scholarly approach, perhaps Parrot's recording will serve you well. For me, Gardiner's is just a tad aggressive at times and Parrot's reading is just a bit too thought out and ultimately not as captivating. Herreweghe's singers and players capture all the nuances and colours of these Vespers without resorting to either extreme and for that, it is a recording that will stand the test of time, one that I will turn to often precisely because it is not exhausting or painful to listen to. The choir and soloists all perform to the highest standards and in the solo numbers there is some exquisite ornamentation, which is interesting without being too intrusive.

The sound quality of this recording is also very impressive. Unlike some historically informed performances, there is a lovely warm bass in the sound and the balance between choir and instruments is very well handled.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 26, 2012 11:31 AM BST

Dvorįk: Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in A minor, Op. 53; Violin Sonata in F, Op. 57 and Violin Sonatina in G, Op. 100
Dvorįk: Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in A minor, Op. 53; Violin Sonata in F, Op. 57 and Violin Sonatina in G, Op. 100
Price: £18.60

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful and insightful playing, 30 May 2011
Jack Liebeck is one of the rising stars of the British classical music scene. Having made several acclaimed recordings very recently, he is on his way to becoming a major figure in the violin world. This present recording of violin works by Dvorak displays his qualities extremely well.

His full and rich sound is combined with a musical intelligence and sensitivity that makes for compelling listening. This is displayed to great effect in the Violin Concerto, where perfect intonation and a wonderfully executed variety of articulation is nevertheless subordinated to the more important elements of musical interpretation - including a wonderfully robust (but never rough-sounding) first movement, a beautifully rapt and sensuous reading of the slow movement and a light-hearted, joyous finale with plenty of rustic character.

As a professional violinist myself (having performed the 1st and 2nd movements of this concerto), I can tell you that this piece does not fall under the fingers quite as much as other romantic violin concertos. The 1st movement contains passages which, under the wrong hands, can sound somewhat awkward and rough - especially the demanding double and triple-stopping. Fortunately, Liebeck pushes such concerns to one side and makes it all sound so easy and mellifluous. The Royal Scottish National Orchestra provide a well-played and accurate accompanying role with some lovely sounds especially in the wind.

The inclusion of the Violin Sonata and Sonatina provides a very comprehensive overview of Dvorak's violin writing. The Sonata, despite being a more serious and demanding work, is not played as often as the charming Sonatina, perhaps because of a certain lack of innocent charm which the latter conveys so well. Both works are played with commitment and there is an ideal balance between piano and violin. Katya Apekisheva provides a wonderfully nuanced supporting role in the Sonatina and contributes to a solid and passionate performance of the Sonata.

One may prefer the old recordings by Milstein and Heifitz for the concerto, but Liebeck's recording is one of the best modern interpretations around at the moment and is immensely satisfying thanks to the inclusion of the sonata and sonatina. Having had the honour of accompanying Liebeck in a performance of Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto, I can assure you from personal experience that this violinist is very gifted indeed.

R Strauss: Eine Alpensinfonie [An Alpine Symphony]
R Strauss: Eine Alpensinfonie [An Alpine Symphony]
Offered by skyvo-direct
Price: £11.16

6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very impressive recording with some minor reservations, 28 May 2011
I bought this recording mainly out of curiosity to see what all the hype was about and to discover if Karajan's conception of this piece really did deserve all the critical adulation that it received when it was first released.

Starting with the impressive elements of this recording, one cannot deny that the Berliners bring off one of the most awe-inspiring renditions of the Summit, Vision and Storm sections. The sheer power and depth of the strings and brass are a real treat and I realise that this in itself is probably one of the main reasons why so many people rave about this recording. Equally fine playing is to be found in the quieter, more reflective moments such as the Meadows, Alpine Pastures and of course the wonderful Sunset with its gloriously radiant writing for the strings and horns especially. For all these elements I would give 4 stars.

However, there are some aspects to this recording which prevent me from giving it the full 5 stars and I'll deal with these next. Firstly, even though the Sunrise section is fairly clear with all those bass rumblings being quite forward in the sound-stage, as the piece went on and the texture became more saturated I was aware of a lack of direction in the sound - meaning that individual instruments didn't seem to come from any particular area of the sound-stage and at some points in the piece I almost felt as though I was listening to an orchestra in a kind of sonic soup. I'm no expert in how this could have come about but I do know that some of DG's earliest digital recordings with Karajan have often been criticised along these lines. In addition, I was aware of a certain digital glare which sometimes made the strings and brass sound somewhat shrill in the loudest sections.

Two minor quibbles: for me, the offstage hunting horns seemed to sound very much "on-stage" and confusingly drowned out the string figures in the main orchestra - surely the balance is meant to be the opposite? Also, Karajan forgets to include the metal sheets at the climax of the storm (either that, or they're played extremely quietly!). The last point is a bit pedantic, but there are other recordings, such as the LSO/Haitink one, which produce a terrifying sound at this point! Despite this, I don't think you should allow these two minor miscalculations to detract from what is a fantastic recording in general.

Personally, the recordings of the Alpine Symphony which I turn to most often are LSO/Haitink and Vienna Phil/Previn, both of which convey the multi-faceted nature of this work extremely well without resorting to any exaggerated gestures or disconcerting mannerisms. Surprisingly, Haitink elicits some deliciously raucous playing from the LSO - an element which I feel is missing from Karajan's smoother account. Previn and his Viennese forces produce a wonderfully atmospheric account with a near-perfect balance of rustic alpine spirit and gentle reflection.

I would like to give Karajan's recording a solid 4 stars for the positive points mentioned above. Unfortunately there are some aspects to the sound quality and interpretation which might bring it down to 3.5 stars in my opinion. For a deeply spiritual and majestic Alpine journey, Karajan is your man. However, for something truly inspiring I would turn to the recordings by Haitink and Previn.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 27, 2014 5:12 PM GMT

Eine Alpensinfonie (Welser-Most, Gustav Mahler Jugendorch.)
Eine Alpensinfonie (Welser-Most, Gustav Mahler Jugendorch.)
Offered by NetsavesUK
Price: £13.99

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A blast of fresh Alpine air, 28 May 2011
In a field which is dominated by stately, majestic recordings of the Alpine Symphony, this interpretation comes as a somewhat purifying experience, being, in terms of pacing and articulation, much closer to Strauss' own recording of the work (and also slightly similar to Solti's reading - but without the fierceness). If you like your Strauss to be fleet-footed, with plenty of fresh bite to the sound and an impressive transparency, then you'll probably love this recording.

Welser-Most does away with the cheap bombast that often accompanies this piece and gets the Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester to play with a refreshing honesty and with a sense of purpose and forward momentum that I found very impressive. Whereas Solti's interpretation sounds hard-driven and one-dimensional, Welser-Most manages to keep up a similar brisk pace but instead creates a wonderful cinematic experience - achieved through a less heavy-handed approach. Despite the lighter touch, there is still plenty of power at the summit and storm. All the effects that Strauss asks for are there and what's more you can actually hear all the musical lines that are swirling around the orchestra thanks to a more transparent sound.

The young players are superb - one wouldn't even realise that this is essentially a youth orchestra (albeit one of the finest in the world). This also has the benefit of being a live recording from Vienna's Musikverein and the famous acoustic of this hall is captured to great effect.

So, in conclusion, if you're looking for a recording that will complement those by Karajan, Haitink or Antoni Wit's very expansive account for Naxos, then go no further. This is a very competitive recording that stands out for its individuality of approach and sureness of touch. It is also executed without any disconcerting mannerisms that have beset other "unconventional" readings (Thielemann springs to mind here! - just my personal opinion).

R Strauss: Tone Poems
R Strauss: Tone Poems
Price: £4.99

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great set of performances, 27 May 2011
This review is from: R Strauss: Tone Poems (Audio CD)
As already mentioned, this is a great way to acquire top-class recordings of Strauss' best Tone Poems. With a selection of three world class orchestras (Chicago, Vienna Philharmonic and Bavarian RSO) and Solti in his prime, you generally can't go wrong (especially at only £5!).

I would give 5+ stars to the performance of Don Juan by the Chicago SO. It is searingly dramatic from the very opening (I don't think I've heard those opening bars played so fast!). The virtuosity from the Chicago players is stunning, not a note out of place. But there is also a wonderful character to the sound aided by a very clear recording.

With Ein Heldenleben, I have to admit to not being a great fan of the work (personally I just feel the musical material is a bit sprawling and unwieldy in the central sections) but I do recognize that the opening and closing sections contain some beautiful writing. Not withstanding my view of the work, the Vienna Philharmonic play superbly, injecting real swashbuckling spirit into the opening bars. Too many performances of the opening sound like your swimming through treacle - as a cure, Solti creates a very cohesive picture of the hero as an extremely active and exciting character. Rainer Kuchl's solo in the Hero's Companion section is wonderfully idiomatic and stunningly executed (what else would you expect from the Concertmaster of the Vienna Philharmonic?). In the Retreat from the World, there is some gorgeous playing in all departments - especially the solo horn, cor anglais and strings (of course). 5 stars all round.

I would give 4.5 stars to Till Eulenspiegel (played by the Chicago SO) only because of the slightly bizarre incident near the end where the violins suddenly get out of time with the brass in the lead-up to the 'execution' part - it's only a few seconds though. Don't quite know how that got past the recording producers (or Solti for that matter!). Anyway, I wouldn't let this spoil what is, for me, an outstanding recording of Till with plenty of character and lyrical playing. Solti certainly has the measure of this piece.

With Also Sprach Zarathustra we have a very high-octane account given with the usual virtuosic flair that comes so naturally to the Chicago players. Tempos are on the brisk side, but that has the advantage of not sentimentalizing music which has been hackneyed all too often. It rumbles along quite well until we get to the final big waltz just before the 'midnight bell' climax. Here I would say that the relentless energy in Solti's interpretation boils over into a bit of a frenzy and where I would prefer to hear joyous rapture I hear lots of loud and fast notes played a bit too fiercely. Despite that, the concluding section is performed with a beautifully rapt tone (and what's more, intonation is perfect in the wind!). So, 4 stars for Also Sprach.

Solti's interpretation of the Alpine Symphony is, for me, the least satisfying part of this CD. It is a shame, as there are some elements in the performance that begin to sound promising, but unfortunately they get a bit crushed under Solti's rather fierce approach. Although we have the advantage of the burnished sound of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra for this piece, I feel that Solti doesn't take advantage of this fact and tries to mould the sound into something which begins to resemble his beloved Chicago band.

His account somewhat resembles a juggernaut ploughing through several road blocks and as a result we miss some of the subtleties in the music. At 44 minutes, it is one of the fastest on record I believe (as fast as Strauss' own recording and even faster than Welser-Most's more recent recording.) But whereas Strauss had an orchestral sound which was more transparent and lighter, and where Welser-Most gets his young players to provide a more lyrical palette which is incredibly cinematic, Solti can only offer us white-hot drama with little insight into the multi-faceted nature of this wonderful piece. For that I would turn to Previn's recording with the Vienna Phil, or of course Karajan and the most surprising of all, Haitink's LSO recording (I know....not what you'd expect!). For Solti's jogger's guide to the Alpine peaks I will give 3.5 stars.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 4, 2012 5:31 PM BST

Strauss: Eine Alpensinfonie (An Alpine Symphony)
Strauss: Eine Alpensinfonie (An Alpine Symphony)
Price: £10.91

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great performance, very good sound quality, 27 May 2011
I would place myself in between the two reviews already listed here, as I believe this is a slightly underrated recording of the Alpine Symphony - perhaps overshadowed by Thielemann's more recent Vienna recording which has been praised far and wide.

I have listened to both recordings very recently and was surprised to find that I came away more impressed by Previn's reading than Thielemann's. I can't quite put my finger on it, but I believe that Previn's sense of phrasing and line seems to sound more natural and as a result more satisfying. Whereas Thielemann lingers in places you wouldn't expect, Previn's pacing and choice of tempo relationships sound more convincing. To my ears, he lets the orchestra play and enjoy the piece for what it is and doesn't concern himself too much with providing a "different" type of interpretation.

I'm not an expert on whether the brass or effects on this recording are any better than other famous recordings, but the playing especially towards the Summit and the conclusion is gorgeous. The acoustic is also great, allowing enough atmosphere around the orchestra to provide some sense of the big picture but also providing enough detail in the sound. At 48 minutes you could call this a middle-of-the-road interpretation (in terms of tempo), not quite as grand as Karajan or Haitink nor as fleet-footed as Welser-Most or Solti. This is not to say that it is boring or just conventional for the sake of it. In my opinion it is a very satisfying recording and is worthy to stand beside those other recordings mentioned above.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 3, 2011 12:36 AM BST

Bruckner: Symphony No. 2 / Weber: Euryanthe Overture, Dance
Bruckner: Symphony No. 2 / Weber: Euryanthe Overture, Dance
Offered by Fulfillment Express
Price: £10.21

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, dramatic and radiant Bruckner, 27 May 2011
This release by Decca Eloquence of Horst Stein's recording with the Wiener Philharmoniker is a wonderful find. Recorded in the 1970s, we get Decca's usual stunning sound quality with the Vienna Philharmonic on top form. This is a reading of Bruckner's Second Symphony which is full of warm sunshine, but it also presents a more concise and dramatic view of this symphony than is usually the case.

I have reviewed Riccardo Chailly's recording of this work with the Concertgebouw - another wonderful interpretation to play alongside this one - and it makes for an interesting comparison. Where Chailly lets the music unfold at a steadier pace, reveling in the luminous sonorities (especially in the Adagio), Stein creates a more taut, cohesive line through each movement, being very aware of the symphonic thread. Tempos are on the brisk side, but don't let this put you off - too often it is assumed that very slow tempi in Bruckner equals profundity and spirituality and that this is surely the only way to perform this music. Stein subverts this view by demonstrating a lighter, more lyrical approach (together with much dramatic bite to the sound).

We must remember that Bruckner wrote his Symphony No. 2 before he became infatuated with Wagner, and it appears that Stein recognized this as he does not view this piece in the same way as you would view the mighty canon of Bruckner's later symphonies. Instead, I was aware of earlier influences in the work - even Schubertian strands and touches of Mendelssohn here and there. The writing is more transparent and even concertante-like - the interplay of solo flute and violin in the Adagio is just one lovely example of this. The Vienna Philharmonic play beautifully throughout all four movements.

As a bonus, we also hear Weber's Euryanthe Overture and the Invitation to the Dance. Given robust and warm readings, with enough buoyancy and transparency in the sound, they are a wonderful addition after the Bruckner.

All in all, this a great recording of a symphony which is vastly underrated.

Richard Strauss: Eine Alpensinfonie (LSO/Haitink)
Richard Strauss: Eine Alpensinfonie (LSO/Haitink)
Price: £8.99

14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Solid, full-blooded, big-boned and radiant Alpine journey., 23 May 2011
Alpine Symphony....LSO....Haitink. Who would have thought? If you find this particular combination a bit puzzling and are wondering whether it actually produces good results, puzzle no longer. This is a wonderfully coherent, symphonic reading of Strauss' tone poem, which does not apologize for being big-boned when it needs to be (check out the bass tuba and trombones at the climaxes), but also manages to create a lucid and well-connected musical line which spans the whole work. In too many performances of this piece, one is often aware of travelling from episode to episode, with all the disjointedness that this entails. Haitink, to his credit, is the most discerning of musical judges in this respect. Rarely have I heard a recording and thought "this just sounds right, bingo!".

One may have a personal preference for the burnished gold of the Viennese brass and strings or the power and mighty grandeur of the Berliners under Karajan - but make no mistake, the LSO, in this recording, are on a level playing field with the sophisticated Europeans. In fact, I would say that the brass in the opening section are even more accomplished. The sound is amazingly soft, but also focused and mysterious at the same time. There is some very sensitive playing here as well - particularly in the meadows. The final approach to the summit is gloriously radiant and very well prepared (no sudden climaxes here). Haitink also manages to create a palpable sense of tension in the calm before the storm. The storm itself is very impressive (you might want to play this when the family and neighbours are out!) and the gradual descent into serenity is brought off with a natural elegance of phrasing and some wonderfully rapt playing from all departments. Haitink's rock-solid, unfussy way with this piece really pays dividends - the details are stunningly executed whilst the bigger picture is very well controlled.

For an interesting comparison, listen to Welser-Most's recording with the virtuosic Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester. This is an interpretation which is very different to the LSO recording, focusing instead on a more fleet-footed and cinematic approach (clocking in at a swift 45 minutes compared to Haitink's 50). Both are equally valid of course and more importantly, both performances are top-class.

As stated by the previous reviewer, the sound quality in this LSO Live release is surprisingly good, considering it's the Barbican. The listener is offered a clear and detailed sound-stage but with enough air around the orchestra to provide some atmosphere. Personally I thought the offstage hunting horns were just the right dynamic (they are offstage after all and as a result one is aware of the 'outdoor' effect that is surely intended here, almost like the vast distances in the Bavarian Alps). In general, this is a very impressive live recording of what must have been a memorable evening.

R Strauss: Four Last Songs/Arias
R Strauss: Four Last Songs/Arias
Price: £8.95

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Wonderfully radiant Strauss, 23 May 2011
I would start off by saying that there is no such thing as a definitive recording of any piece of music, no matter how much an individual may love a particular interpretation. This is why we buy several recordings of individual works, in order to appreciate the multi-faceted nature of the great pieces of the past. In the sleeve notes to this recording, the reviewer states "This recording, made in 1953, can be considered authentic for a number of reasons." Personally, I do not believe that ANY recording can claim to be authentic and I don't think della Casa or Bohm would have made such a claim themselves. However, this is certainly a distinctive, historical document and a recording that is more than worthy to stand besides more modern interpretations.

As a comparison, I particularly admire the recent Isokoski/RSO-Berlin/Janowski recording of the Four Last Songs as well as Janowitz's classic account with Karajan at the helm - two recordings which complement each other perfectly in my opinion; Isokoski for a more classically restrained and silvery style of singing; Karajan for a more deeply spiritual and luxurious performance.

Lisa della Casa is certainly more similar to Isokoski's way with Strauss - lighter, with a wonderfully radiant tone. Karl Bohm really pushes the tempo in this performance - an element which may surprise modern listeners, but which to my ears makes perfect sense - especially with Fruhling and September, the two songs which are surely meant to be more life-affirming and brighter in tone than the sleepy Im Abendrot. Gerd Uekermann discuss these points in the informative sleeve notes - highlighting that "there is in fact no mention in the score of Adagio, let alone Largo - the marking for "Spring" is Allegretto and the other three are no slower than Andante." This is certainly an important observation, one which has often been neglected by conductors and singers intent on creating a mystical and sombre atmosphere at the expense of the musical line.

As has been commented on, the order of the songs is different to how it is performed today. Starting with Beim Schlafengehen, next September, then Fruhling and finally Im Abendrot. How could this possibly work I hear you say? Well, take into account that Strauss may not have conceived these songs as a unified cycle (as most people believe), then one can start from a totally different standpoint. The order presented here is the one which was used at the London premiere in May 1950, sung by Kirsten Flagstad and conducted by Furtwangler. The result is that I was more aware of the individual qualities of each song, rather than seeing it as a connected whole. Again, Uekermann discusses the poetic consequences of such an ordering in the sleeve notes - it makes for an interesting comparison with the modern, "standard" ordering.

Sound quality is surprisingly good considering this was recorded in 1953 in Mono. Don't let that last point put you off though, the sound is perfectly acceptable. As for the operatic excerpts, Lisa della Casa shines. She sings with great character, a warm heart and with a natural ease that would be the envy of many a modern diva. Need I say more?

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