Classical

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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.
Christopher Breunig  |  Dec 10, 2010
A Festival Hall recording originally made by Tony Faulkner in Feb 1989, for what is now called Music Preserved, this was one of Klaus Tennstedt’s characteristic concert performances. And it is gratifying to see the transfer honouring Mahler’s wish for a break after (i), here spanning a considerable 25m. His highly individual response to the ‘Resurrection’ (some will say related to his awareness of mortality) is apparent from the beginning, and never diminishes, although the very deliberate second movt will not suit all tastes. The ‘Urlicht’ is beautifully sung and Yvonne Kenny’s later contribution no less considerable.
Christopher Breunig  |  Dec 10, 2010
The frail Romanian pianist was not always so lucky with her recording conductors. In these 1955 reissues she is partnered by Ferenc Fricsay, a significant figure in the postwar DG catalogue. In an essay written shortly before his early death he described Mozart as ‘a golden-feathered messenger of God’. Haskil’s unerring, needle-sharp fingerwork suggests no less a messenger of this composer.
Christopher Breunig  |  Dec 10, 2010
Playing a Steinway, Nelson Freire completed these mid-Dec ’09 recordings in the as yet unfamiliar acoustic of The Friary, Liverpool. He made his debut in the Chopin Preludes, aged 28 (CBS, 1972). ‘A hurricane of pianistic power’ then suggested the Saturday Review. The words that spring to mind now are ‘pianistic wisdom’ – Freire unfalteringly negotiates the often tortuous, enigmatically conceived paths of the Nocturnes, balancing their elements and attuned to the contrasts between them.
Christopher Breunig  |  Dec 10, 2010
A stirring (although not properly level-matched) Kingdom Prelude prefaces a midpriced version of the Violin Concerto altogether superior to the recent Znaider/Sony [HFN June]. Sir Mark Elder is flexible in the introduction and exposes unfamiliar details; the Hallé reveals a natural affinity with Elgar’s writing escaping their Dresden rivals; and Thomas Zehetmair has a searching command of the solo part. Competition here for the earlier, less indulgent Kennedy recording! As fillers we have the Gerontius Prelude and, sung by mezzo Alice Coote, ‘The Angel’s Farewell’ in a 1900 arrangement without chorus. Sound Quality: 85% .
Christopher Breunig  |  Dec 10, 2010
Rebranding himself simply as Yundi, the Chinese pianist moves to EMI with the promise of a complete Chopin series. Produced by his former DG team (Christopher Alder/Klaus Hiemann), these Nocturne recordings were completed in a Zurich church during January. The sound is resonant but clean, wide in dynamic range – and preferable to that in last month’s Freire/Decca set. The two pianists are most divergent in the Lisztian Op.
Christopher Breunig  |  Dec 10, 2010
After finally being allowed to come to the West in 1960, Richter soon made LPs for CBS, RCA, DG, EMI and Philips. Extraordinary! His UK debut with Kondrashin was at the Albert Hall in July ’61 in Chopin, Dvorak and Liszt; the two Liszt Concertos (which you can find ‘live’, with the Hungarian Fantasy and Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise, on BBC Legends 4031-2) were then produced over three days at Walthamstow Assembly Hall, by a Mercury team. With more than nine hours of tape to hand, the pianist asked for a complete retake of the First Concerto, most of which was used for the edited master. The results subsequently have become the benchmark coupling.
Christopher Breunig  |  Dec 08, 2010
Memorable Dvořák Sevenths we have had from Kubelík, Schmidt-Isserstedt, Monteux, Rowicki and (Sir Colin) Davis. I am not sure that Ivan Fischer’s ousts any of theirs but he’s always an interesting, individual conductor (visit the Berliner Philharmoniker website to see him in Haydn) and there’s enormous warmth in this DSD recording. But what makes this SACD significant is the way he brings to life the five-movement Suite: analogous to Brahms’s two Serenades – that is, delightful music neglected in favour of the symphonies. Ex-Philips, the Budapest Dvořák Symphonies 8 and 9 SACD coupling is now on Channel Classics.
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 08, 2010
It’s odd to find Sony, in promoting its young Classical Brit award-winning violinist, issuing recordings made as long ago as December 2007. And the resonant Potton Hall acoustic doesn’t add sweetness to the high register of Liebeck’s Guadagnini instrument – although he’s somewhat favoured in the balance, at forte the piano sounds lunge forward. There’s no doubting his sincerity and engagement with the music but, as with their earlier Dvořák sonatas on Sony (coupled with a lacklustre production of the Violin Concerto), it’s the highly developed artistry of pianist Katya Apekisheva that holds the attention more. Sound Quality: 65% .
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
Forget Deryck Cooke: it’s not what it says on the tin. For this overblown ‘life and death’ soundscape Matthew Herbert has sampled Sinopoli’s 1987 Philharmonia recording of the Tenth Adagio, layering and cutting into it with solo viola (flute, Mahler’s ‘singing bone’, would have been more apt) and ambient sounds at Mahler’s graveside and Toblach composing hut. Recordings were made from a hearse and inside a coffin and ‘we buried microphones in an urn’. Play the nine tracks out of sequence and the ‘unexpected artistic consequences’ are your own responsibility, it warns! Such pretentious indulgence ought to make this eligible for a Turner Prize.
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 08, 2010
Having recorded the concertos and complete piano solo works, Zoltán Kocsis continues to be the torch-bearer for Bartók’s music. And with his native orchestra everything sounds thoroughly idiomatic (whereas, for instance, fellow-Hungarian Solti’s Bartók had a personalised gloss) and full of gusto. The Hungaroton production offers clear separation and a wide soundstage, though this is accompanied by slight stridency in the Divertimento finale. The hapless drunkard in the fourth of the transcribed Hungarian Sketches should make listeners smile.
Christopher Breunig  |  Dec 08, 2010
One could say that the Janet Baker/Barbirolli EMI recording prompted reappraisal of the Sea Pictures, and this live alternative (first published in an earlier LPO set) is an affecting reminder of her unique vocal timbre and musical commitment. From the same 1984 RFH concert, taped by Capital Radio, the First Symphony finds Vernon Handley with ‘the bit between his teeth’, skimming 3m 30s from his 1979 CfP timing with the London Philharmonic, and missing in particular the tender inwardness of the Adagio. Other writers have welcomed this more bitter account; I stand by the 1956 Barbirolli/Hallé Elgar First [SJB1017]. Sound Quality: 70% .

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