Classical

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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
These concert recordings supplement rather than displace Curzon, Gilels, Kempff, Serkin, et al, yet the opening bars of the Fourth Concerto immediately reveal Fellner’s very beautiful piano sound – which we already know from his Bach on ECM – and subsequently that he completely understands the imperatives of Beethoven’s expressive writing: in dynamic gradations, the function of trills and turns, etc. Furthermore he is very sympathetically accompanied by Nagano – the unfolding of the dramatic dialogue in 4(ii) has rarely sounded so interesting. Alas the ‘Emperor’ falls well below its companion here. Sound Quality: 65% .
Christopher Breunig  |  Dec 10, 2010
These bracing readings differ only slightly from Sir Charles’s late-1980s Prague/Telarc set (same producer: James Mallinson), which had even more brio in some places: eg, the ‘Linz’ finale. And one irritating feature is repeated: the juxtaposing of both slow movements for the ‘Paris’, when by coupling 32 with ‘Haffner’ and ‘Linz’ (CD2), timings would have allowed complete alternate three-movement versions to avoid fiddling with programe remote. The playing of the SCO could not be more responsive, but there’s a schoolmasterly severity about Sir Charles’s Mozart – enough to send me scurrying to Pinnock’s warmer view. Sound Quality: 72% .
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
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
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
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 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
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
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
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% .
Christopher Breunig  |  Dec 08, 2010
There are parallels with the 1970s Kovacevich cycle: keen young Beethoven pianist (students respectively of Myra Hess/Alfred Brendel) partnered with older, principal conductor of the BBC SO – though Colin Davis had the LSO for No. 5. Both soloists opt for glissando octaves at the recapitulation of 1(i), and play the longer Beethoven cadenzas in Nos. 1 and 4.
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
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
Boyd Neel was perhaps first (1936) to bring authenticity to Handel’s Op. 6 – Karajan (very late ’60s) being ‘last of the dinosaurs’. Period instruments are pretty well the only choice today, Pavlo Beznosiuk’s group proving eminently stylish, with good tempi, good balance and imaginative detail. Continuo is harpsichord; and Handel’s added wind parts for Nos.

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