Classical

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Christopher Breunig  |  Dec 08, 2010
Daniel Harding stresses what he sees as Orff’s ‘monumentality’ – perhaps this prompted timings outstretching the composer-approved Jochum recording (same orchestra, 1968) by over 5m. It takes the fun out of a piece to which, in any case, the ‘law of diminishing returns’ applies. Orchestral precision is exceptional, however. The singing is best at the top of the scale: fine boys’ and women’s voices, a boyish soloist; the ‘roasted swan’ (Bunz) is arguably the finest yet, but Gerhaher’s sensitive work sounds monochrome and the men dry in this live recording.
Christopher Breunig  |  Dec 10, 2010
Anyone present at either of the June 2008 Barbican performances edited here will not hesitate, yet a certain paradox might present itself to the disinterested listener. Haitink’s fastidious control and self-effacement, coupled with excellent orchestral playing, make for a fine presentation – of symphonic seriousness. But somehow it exposes Strauss’s lazy reliance on his motifs, the inherent schmalz, the ‘effects’ such as the water droplets: better placed in his Don Quixote capsized boat Variation. Somehow the Karajan Berlin or Dresden Luisi recordings mask the less attractive Straussian traits.
Christopher Breunig  |  Dec 10, 2010
Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey prompted a flourish of LPs excerpting the timpani and organ pedal opening of Also Sprach. . . One wonders how many non-Straussians would stomach the whole Nietzschean epic! In fact, Karajan’s Decca version was used for the film.
Christopher Breunig  |  Dec 08, 2010
The Helsinki conductor, after ten years with the CBSO, has returned to his Nordic roots with appointments with the Finnish Radio SO and in Stockholm. These Schumann live performances, 2008/’09, equal the finest on disc: ie, Szell, Sawallisch. The orchestra sounds ‘right’ in scale and tone for this composer, playing beautifully for Orama, who brings euphoric brilliance to the ‘Spring’ Symphony’s scherzo and ideal pacing throughout the noble Second, with its returning motifs and (rather like the Allegretto in Beethoven’s Seventh) delightful little counterpoint section in the slow movement. The sound is natural, and one can only hope Symphonies 3 and 4 will appear.
Christopher Breunig  |  Dec 10, 2010
The Bach playing of Tatiana Nikoleyeva was the inspiration in 1950 for Shostakovich’s 24 Preludes and Fugues, and her two recordings inevitably are seen as definitive. (Nikoleyeva endeared herself to London audiences late in life; she also made several Hyperion discs. ) The young Moscow pianist provides a booklet overview of exceptional thoroughness, although the accompanying 23m DVD interview with a stubbly Andreas Staier gets us practically nowhere. Melnikov’s pianistic range, though, is something else.
Christopher Breunig  |  Dec 08, 2010
Of course, Vasily Petrenko is far too young to have lived through the Stalinist repressions which informed interpreters like Sanderling, Barshai or Mravinsky but to say that he pitches in is an understatement. I do feel the third movement could have had even greater force at a reduced tempo, but for overall tension this surpasses previous RLPO instalments in this Naxos series. Antiphonal exchanges in the second scherzo are rhythmically precise and the various solos throughout have real quality. And Petrenko obviously has the skill of gearing a complete performance to a climactic point – in this case the final coda, those flickering embers which leave no easy resolution.
Christopher Breunig  |  Dec 08, 2010
This offers a very different kind of listening experience from the classic Mercury Firebird with LSO/Dorati. There both sound and performance are upfront, confrontational (albeit exciting); Nelsons goes in for subtlety with soft playing that’s almost inaudible – the subject-matter is unmistakable with the ‘fluttery’ textures he achieves. The sound has an altogether more natural concert hall perspective too. Evidently performed with a very large chorus, the Symphony makes a complete contrast: taking us away from Stravinsky’s colourful Diaghilev period to a 1930 Koussevitzky commission with Latin texts and austere orchestration.
Christopher Breunig  |  Dec 10, 2010
Dorati’s extensive experience as a ballet conductor is set out in his Notes Of Seven Decades. He left a substantial Mercury catalogue – the late producer Wilma Cozart Fine had once been his secretary – with his complete LSO Firebird (Watford Hall, 1959) ever after an audiophile choice. One hopes Speakers Corner will issue it separately. The Minneapolis Le Sacre, excitingly fast, has an air of authority.
Christopher Breunig  |  Dec 10, 2010
In 1988/9 former HFN writer Andrew Keener produced the Peter Donohoe recordings for EMI – Nigel Kennedy/Steven Isserlis, no less, in 2(ii). He’s worked with Stephen Hough since his Virgin Classics debut and these Minnesota recordings form Hyperion’s 50th set in its ‘Romantic Piano Concerto’ series. We have the full length slow movement for No. 2, but also the disparaged Siloti cut edition and another of the pianist’s own devising.
Christopher Breunig  |  Dec 10, 2010
Similar in spirit to Alice Harnoncourt’s groundbreaking Teldec Seasons (1997), the Berlin group gives a real edge to Vivaldi’s pictorial writing here, yet with tranquil moments in the introduction to ‘Summer’ and ‘Autumn’ (ii). Sledgehammer D-minor discordancy launches ‘Chaos’ in the coupled ten-track 1737 score, Rebel’s nouvelle symphonie for dancers/orchestra. Continually inventive, with mechanical nightingales, a hunt scene, ‘Tambourins’, ‘Warblings’ for piccolos/violins, etc, this is not music of great substance yet it’s still worth knowing. Translucent sound and, as ever, superlative execution.

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