Concert Reviews | CD Reviews | DVD Reviews | Opera | Early Music | News | Film | Art | Books | Kids


Best Recordings of 2012 (#1 - 10)

Time for a review of classical CDs that were outstanding in 2012. My lists for the previous years: 2011, (2011 – “Almost”), 2010, (2010 – “Almost”), 2009, (2009 – “Almost”), 2008, (2008 - "Almost") 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004.

# 1 - New Release

H.Purcell et al., Dorothee Mields, Lautten Copagney Berlin,
Wolfgang Katschner, Carus 83371

available at Amazon
H.Purcell, “Love’s Madness”
D.Mields / W.Katschner / Lautten Copagney Berlin

How much is early musicke allowed to rock? Christina Pluhar and L’Arpeggiata do funky things, but the liberties they take receive frowny faces from the purists. Dorothee Mields and the Lautten Copagney don’t need to stray from the score to achieve the same and more. In this medley of songs by Purcell and contemporaries, all about the effects of love, Mields & Co. so dig into their instruments that they bring the house down and blow the cobwebs off decades of well behaved performance practice. Positively addictive and joy-giving, it was days before my CD player yielded to another disc.

# 1 – Reissue

D.Scarlatti, 19 Keyboard Sonatas, Sergei Babayan, Piano Classics 0024

available at Amazon
D.Scarlatti, 19 Keyboard Sonatas,
Piano Classics

When the newly found label Piano Classics popped up on the radar in 2011, a look at their eclectic re-issues revealed a connoisseur’s hand in picking the finest out of print, out of the way, and overlooked piano recordings: Koroliov’s Goldberg Variations, Lugansky’s Rachmaninoff, Katsaris’ Beethoven/Liszt transcriptions, Moravec’s Mozart Concertos to name a few. Also Sergei Babayan’s 1995 Scarlatti Sonatas, which had languished on the poorly distributed, minor Pro Piano Records but was an insider tip among the few who had got their copy. Now Babayan’s terrific performances, his singing tone, his tempered coyness, and his regal power can more readily compete with, or rather complement, the best Scarlatti piano recitals: Pletnev, Sudbin, Tharaud, Horowitz, alongside which Babayan can proudly stand.

# 2 - New Release

E.Wolf-Ferrari, Violin Concerto, Overtures & Intermezzi, Benjamin Schmid, Friedrich Haider, Oviedo Filarmoniía, Farao 108069

available at Amazon
E.Wolf-Ferrari, Violin Concerto, et al.,
B.Schmid / F.Haider / Oviedo Filarmoniía

Imagine a Violin Concerto that has everything it takes to become an overplayed favorite—yet is virtually unknown? Imagine no more, listen: To Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari’s such concerto, written in 1943. The concerto is a melodic feast for listeners, a rhythmic joyride for violinists, fiendishly difficult, exciting, and rewarding as hell.

Being premiered in 1944, by the Munich Philharmonic under Oswald Kabasta in the “Capital of the Movement” with an American soloist who elected to stay in Italy and Germany during WWII (Guila Bustabo, worth an essay or two of her own): all that didn’t help its journey to posterity… Neither can its romantic tone have endeared it to post-WWII audiences. That brew of music and political history was precisely the thing audiences—or at least the taste-makers—reacted against when they signed up to the avant-garde. Politically and ideologically, one can’t hold it against them. Musically it was a great loss that’s slowly being remedied. This recording is one of many such signs.

Hard to believe that this is only the third recording of the concerto since the premiere performance broadcast. Ulf Hoelscher’s (2000, cpo) was an honorable effort, but not competitive. Narimichi Kawabata’s (2010, Victor Entertainment) is a Japan-only release with naturally limited circulation. This, Benjamin Schmid’s, is the release that will blow the lid of the concerto and its repertoire history.

Benjamin Schmid was primed to be Austria’s next super-star violinst, but his career has moved laterally instead and he still awaits the real international breakthrough. That doesn’t change the fact that he is a world class fiddler—a gift and tenacity he decidedly puts to use in this concerto. The Oviedo Filarmonía is not an established brand in the orchestra world, in fact it’s third class at best. But they respond and are sympathetic to Wolf-Ferrari’s idiom, or else Wolf-Ferrari advocate Friedrich Haider, their recent Music Director, has made them so. Either way, the performances of the concerto and the Opera-excerpts, unlike so many other well meaning performances of rare repertoire, is very satisfactory.

Those latter four orchestral excerpts are not the main ingredient by any stretch, but they’re great fun, too. Wolf-Ferrari has a gift for masterly turns of phrases, has you in suspense with just two notes. You’ll find touches of Beethoven’s Ninth, Sibelius, and playful hints of Italian opera (Boito, Verdi) in them, and bop along. The Farao release comes with exemplary liner notes, in lavish packaging, and with a bonus DVD. (The documentary can be watched on YouTube - subtitles in English et al. available.)

# 2 – Reissue

Mieczysław Weinberg, Piano Sonatas 4-6, Murray McLachlan, divine art 25107

available at Amazon
Weinberg, Piano Sonatas 4-6
(divine art)

Ten years ago, record stores still existed, and they had five differently spelled index-cards for Mieczysław Weinberg. Or more likely: none at all, because his time hadn’t come. But we’ve been discovering Weinberg since, a composer resembling his buddy Shostakovich, but without the smile. (Or so goes my simplistic quip.) His piano works are among the most readily gratifying of his œvre, whether spunky miniatures or his bold and rudely melodious sonatas. The harmonic turns in the especially marvelous 1955 Fourth Sonata groove delightfully under the hands of Murray McLachlan,; the Adagio is simply lyrical. The gentle and playfully dissonant elegance of the Fifth Sonata’s or the sweet and sour agitation of the Sixth round out this very successful traversal of repertoire still not well enough known. Released on Olympia in the late 90s, this cycle didn’t make a splash. In its much deserved second outing on divine art, it should. Especially since—unfortunately, in a way—the performances are much better than those on the the Grand Piano label’s new Weinberg piano-works project with Allison Brewster Franzetti.

# 3 - New Release

A.Schoenberg, L.v.Beethoven, J.Haydn, A.Berg, An die ferne Geliebte op.98, Adelaïde op.46, The Book of the Hanging Gardens op.15, Altenberg Lieder, 3 Songs
C.Gerhaher, G.Huber, Sony 1935432

available at Amazon
Schoenberg, Beethoven, Haydn, Berg, "Ferne Geliebte
C.Gerhaher, G.Huber

The title suggests a Beethoven-focus, but “Ferne Geliebte” is really Christian Gerhaher’s achievement to get a major label to record Schoenberg’s song cycle “Hanging Gardens”. It’s a vote of confidence by Sony in the finest, certainly most natural living Lied-baritone to let him sing, so Gerhaher, “one of the last great, truly great song cycles, set to that incredibly fascinating not-love story by my far-and-away favorite poet, Stefan George” so Gerhaher himself. Bookended by heartbreakingly beautiful renditions of Beethoven’s best, An die ferne Geliebte, and Adelaïde, this is as perfectly presented a release of challenging beauty as I can imagine. An instant yes-love story. Berg and Haydn fill out the demanding and rewarding recital.

Note: It looks like the version available on is a CD-R on Demand, which is BS. Perhaps best get it from the UK or German outlet, instead.

# 3 – Reissue

D.Shostakovich, Six String Quartets, Jerusalem Quartet, Harmonia Mundi Gold 508392

available at Amazon
DSCH, SQ4ts 1,4,6,8,9,11,
Jerusalem Quartet
HMU Gold

Ever since we’ve come across the Jerusalem Quartet at ionarts (at the Terrace Theater in 2005, at the JCCGW in 2006, sabotaged at the Library of Congress in 2007, at the Barns in 2012), we’ve loved their playing… most especially their Shostakovich performances. I have not heard that much zest since the Borodin (especially in their Melodiya cycle)… yet they add beauty to brawn. They are still the only quartet from which I am actively hoping for a complete Shostakovich String Quartet cycle to add to the glut of excellent Shostakovich String Quartet cycles (like the Mandelring’s such cycle). That the Jerusalemites are taking their merry time (assuming they’re working on such a cycle at all) is only fine: Better get it right and for the ages than rushing anything. Read “Dip Your Ears No. 80” for a review of their two Shostakovich releases so far, now combined on this most welcome 2-disc Harmonia Mundi Gold re-release.

# 4 - New Release

F.Schubert, Fanatsie in C, Rondo in b, Sonata in A, Carolin Widmann, Alexander Lonquich, ECM 1648702

available at Amazon
Schumann, Fanatsie, Rondo, Sonata
C.Widmann, A.Lonquich

Carolin Widmann is a household name only in households that listen to lots of Sciarrino, Boulez, or her brother Jörg’s music. But the German violinist with the most musical pizzicato in the business has a very deft hand with the romantic repertoire, too. Her Schumann Sonatas (also ECM) are a revelation; this Schubert here is equally gratifying. The way Widmann and pianist Alexander Lonquich throw themselves into the klutzy rhythms of the Rondo’s Allegro, then emerge with the sunniest, most graceful disposition as if nothing had happened, causes smiles inside. That's something no one else quite achieves that way, not even the smartest other such Schubert recording, that of Isabelle Faust and Alexander Melnikov. The Fantasie has an assertive, feisty quality, devoid of romantic slobbering in the Andantino. And out of the marginalized A-major sonata Widmann and her accomplice make something that sounds like top-shelf Schubert.

# 4 – Reissue

F.Chopin, Nocturnes, Ivan Moravec, Supraphon 4097

available at Amazon
Chopin, Nocturnes

Ivan Moravec is a pianist’s pianist, just un-famous enough to be thought of as an insider-choice to those who knows him. In a way I see (and hear) in him a bit of a proto-Sokolov (Moravec is 20 years older). His recordings are few and far between, which helps the mystique, but at least now they’re being re-issued on a regular basis, sometimes by multiple labels.           His Mozart, Chopin, Beethoven are all of a musicality that has few peers. Although their repertoire doesn’t much overlap, the pianist that is called to my mind thinking of describing Moravec, is Clifford Curzon.

His—Moravec’s—1965 recording of the Chopin Nocturnes has been out on a variety of labels and gotten most circulation—at least in the US—on Connoisseur Society and Nonesuch. It’s considerably more famous than its proponents would like to think. Indeed it’s probably what Moravec is best known for (at least to those who have never heard him in recital), but that doesn’t make it less excellent: Unsentimental (a fine compliment to M.J.Pires’ recording, therefore) but with depth and sensitivity many shades of color, except all with hints of sepia. The sound is good, a little less harsh than it used to be (on Nonesuch) but not so much better that the old releases need replacing. Every Chopin collection would be richer for this recording, though.

# 5 - New Release

Max Richter / Antonio Vivaldi, Recomposed - The Four Seasons, D.Hope, André de Ridder, Konzerthaus CO, DG 1748602

available at Amazon
M.Richter, Recomposed / Four Seasons
D.Hope / Ridder / Konzerthaus CO

When an original is involved, a famous one at that, improving on it is impossible by per definitionem. But a pale pastiche or cheap imitation certainly isn’t desirable, either… so why bother at all? No one needs a mock-original or likeness of the Four Seasons. Something new must be created off the old substance if working with Vivaldi’s evergreen at all—and that is exactly what Max Richter’s re-composition manages.

Richter is British genre-defying composer fond of electronic elements who has composed ballets for the Royal Opera House alongside collections of ringtones. His Vivaldi-goes-clubbing approach works most extraordinarily so in “Spring” and “Summer” where Richter opens whole new avenues and sightlines of beauty, calm and distant and dotted with moments of wicked otherness. Richter didn’t just re-mix extant recordings into pseudo-hip newishness, as DG’s “Re-Composed” series has done before (Carl Craig & Moritz von Oswald’s Ravel/Musorgsky, Matthew Herbert’s “Mahler Symphony X”, Jimi Tenor, and Matthias Arfmann). Instead he created the piece from scratch, stripped Vivaldi bare, re-forged it, and recorded it with Daniel Hope. Not surprisingly, Richter is least interesting where skirmishes closest to the original, but those instances are rare and the rewards elsewhere outweigh them greatly.

# 5 – Reissue

P.Hindemith, Eight Sonatas, Das Marienleben, Glenn Gould & others, Sony 541357

available at Amazon
Hindemith, Piano & Brass Sonatas, Marienleben,
G.Gould / R.Roslak et al.

Re-issuing the recordings of their golden goose Glenn Gould for the umpteenth time isn’t in itself novel for Sony to do. But the latest “Glenn Gould Collection” at least does the re-issuing very nicely. For one, it’s neatly sorted by composer, which is excellent for those (like me) who still like the physical product and are not too keen on unwieldy big boxes that can’t be properly filed. All the Bach (apart from the complete set) comes in appropriate batches. There are the (in)complete Beethoven Sonatas for those who feel it’s compelling… the Mozart sonatas, for the masochist in all of us. It includes the complete CBC Broadcasts and a re-issue of the intriguing Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould… in short: everything of great, some, and no importance that Gould ever produced.

I’d like to use the series for highlighting the true, but often ignored marvels in Gould’s output, namely the recordings of composers that were so dreadfully unfashionable in his time, that solely by playing them he already made a statement—and therefore didn’t feel compelled to add any Gouldisms in the interpretation to make a statement in the first place. That’s when his genius came to the fore, without the exasperating (or delightful, depending on the listener) wilfully contrarian streak. That includes his recordings of Richard Strauss—Enoch Arden with Claude Rains, 5 Pieces, the Sonata, and the Ophelia Lieder (Mrs. Legge-Schwarzkopf), his Schoenberg—Klavierstücke, various Songs, Ode to Napoleon, Fantasy, Piano Suite, Piano Concerto with Robert Craft, the Book of Hanging Gardens (!), et al, his six last Haydn Sonatas, and the Berg & Krenek bits. Exemplary for these off-the-beaten-path recordings in which he excelled I want to highlight his recording of the three Hindemith Sonatas, unsurpassed to this day, and coupled on four discs with the brass and piano sonatas, and Das Marienleben, Hindemith’s Rainer Maria Rilke-based song cycle. Turns out that Hindemith is still not very popular or reputation-enhancing fare today, but Gould makes you wonder why, more than any other pianist or even musician.

# 6 - New Release

August De Boeck, Piano Concerto, Theroigne De Mericourt Prelude, Francesca Orchestral Suite, Jozef de Beenhouwer, Ivo Venkov, Janácek Ph.O., Phaedra 92071

available at Amazon
De Boeck, Piano Concertoet al. Beenhouwer / I.Venkov / Janácek Ph.O.
Phaedra 92071

Unheard-of beauties—literally and metaphorically—from August de Boeck on this ear-opening orchestral CD: a thrilling Piano Concerto transcribed from two-manual “Hans-Piano” (!) to standard piano by its performer Jozef de Beenhowuer and a large, 40-minute high-romantic Orchestral Suite from one the forgotten opera Francesca. The latter easily makes up in beauty for what it lacks in originality. The horns of the Janácek PO are not world class, and while the playing is expert, it would be nice to hear this music in even better performances. But then the Cleveland or Bavarian Radio Orchestras don’t bother to play de Boeck. Yet.

(Review first published in Listen Magazine)

# 6 – Reissue

L.v.Beethoven, The Complete String Quartets, Talich Quartet, La Dolce Volta 121

available at Amazon
Beethoven, Five Symphonies,
Talich Quartet
La Dolce Volta 121

The Talich Quartet is an armchair of a quartet… not strident, not terribly aggressive, but also with enough spring in the cushions to keep a certain bounce… neither homogenized nor flaccid in their sound. Their Mendelssohn remains top-of-the-line (although the Mandelring Quartet seems to be close on their heels). Their Mozart is old-world gorgeous (see Best of 2011). Much the same of what is true for their Mozart is true for their Beethoven, although the competition in Beethoven seems greater: There’s the Gewandhaus Quartet in roughly the same category… the Végh Quartet—albeit in considerably inferior sound (and out of print)—offers even more of that yesteryear-glow. The Talich hasn’t the X-ray quality of the Hagen’s, and the modern accuracy, energy, and clearly defined edges the Takács and Pražák Quartets bring to the table. In that sense the Talich are not a must-have set… but they are a lovely-to-have set and available again, thanks to La Dolce Volta, who have access to the entire Caliope catalog.

# 7 - New Release

Hans Pfitzner, Palestrina, K.Petrenko, Frankfurt Opera & Museum Orchestra and Chorus, Oehms OC 930

available at Amazon
Hans Pfitzner, Palestrina
K.Petrenko / Frankfurt Opera & Museum Orchestra and Chorus
Oehms OC 930

I have a soft spot for most of the disreputable Hans Pfitzner’s unabashedly romantic tone. But Palestrina, his supposed masterpiece, can be dull. While I suffered through a performance with Simone Young in Munich, the Frankfurt opera, too, performed Palestrina, and fortunately Oehms was there to capture it. Under Kirill Petrenko the score sounds the way I want to hear it: delightfully crisp, full of purpose, nuance, detail, and even joy. It turns Palestrina from admirable craftsmanship into a sanguineous musical drama. The quality singers—among themPeter Bronder, Britta Stallmeister, Claudia Mahnke, Wolfgang Koch, and Johannes Martin Kränzle—add to the delight, but the Frankfurt Opera Orchestra and its conductor are the stars.

# 7 – Reissue

A.Bruckner, Five Symphonies, Günter Wand, Berlin Philharmonic, RCA 1708661

available at Amazon
Bruckner, Five Symphonies,
G.Wand / Berlin Philharmonic
RCA 1708661

available at Amazon
Bruckner, Symphonies 1-9,
G.Wand / Cologne RSO
RCA 7776582

About two years ago Sony/RCA’s started releasing box re-issue-sets that are not just super inexpensive, but downright cheap. Some of those no-frill sets are so packed with great interpretations of great music that they throw into confusion the relationship of value, cost, and price. Günter Wand’s first and only complete go at Bruckner’s Nine Symphonies is among them the most tempting (alongside Erich Leinsdorf’s Prokofiev and Murray Perahia’s Mozart Concertos). In Europe it has been out since late 2010, now it's made it to the US. Still, I mention it only by way of pointing to another, even more recent re-issued set of Wand’s Bruckner on RCA.

This time it is his incomplete Berlin Philharmonic cycle that contains the Fourth, Fifth, Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth Symphonies. There are proponents of each of Wand’s cycles and his various recordings of the Eighth and Ninth especially. I’ve always made my case that the Eight in this is among the most special Bruckner recordings there are—of any symphony by any conductor: gravity, divine architecture, recording quality, dedication, orchestral sound, just enough—not too much—reverb, and that inscrutable ‘innate musicality’ in perfect combination. The Berlin Ninth is certainly my favorite Wand Ninth and among the very best. The rest is exemplary in the unfussy, unassuming, sneakily grandiose way of Wand’s.

Wand’s performances can get mistaken for bland, especially by those in need of ostentatious glare-and-blare. But that’s not how I prefer my Bruckner, nor how I think of Bruckner. Some of these recordings have been difficult to come by in the US… which makes their re-release doubly welcome. It’s anyone’s best first Bruckner-stop (unlike the specialist-Schuricht choice earlier) just as it belongs in any Bruckner-veteran’s collection.

# 8 - New Release

L.v.Beethoven & A.Berg, Violin Concertos, Isabelle Faust, Claudio Abbado, Orchestra Mozart, Harmonia Mundi 902105

available at Amazon>
L.v.Beethoven, A.Berg, Violin Concertos,
I.Faust / C.Abbado / Orchestra Mozart
Harmonia Mundi

Everyone seems to talk about Isabelle Faust’s new Beethoven Violin Concerto, with Claudio Abbado and his Orchestra Mozart. And yes, it is has years of interpretive gunk stripped away with its simple, toned-down honest to the orchestral part especially. And yes, it is the most touching, least affected new recording I’ve heard since Thomas Zehetmair and Frans Brüggen’s (which is still more visceral and remains my favorite if forced to pick one.) Like Zehetmair and as on her first recording with Jiri Belohlávek (also HMU), Faust—thankfully—doesn’t use the staid Kreisler cadenzas but the much more dramatic Beethoven-Schneiderhan (or some such similar) version.

Yadda-yadda-yadda. The real deal on this disc is the Berg concerto: The saturation of Faust’s tone, slightly roughened like seductive sandpaper, gives the violin concerto a quality that marries the poignantly disturbing with the felt; harshness with yearning beauty. Arabella Steinbacher’s Berg, among the best and also coupled with Beethoven, is an excellent, telling complement: A celebration of grievous, heartfelt beauty… a kind of innocent mourning to Faust/Abbado’s carnal grief. How lucky, to be so spoiled for riches in either of these concertos.

# 8 – Reissue

L.v.Beethoven, Complete Piano Trios, Trio Wanderer, Harmonia Mundi 902100

available at Amazon
Beethoven, (Complete) Piano Trios,
Trio Wanderer
Harmonia Mundi

Beethoven also on the re-issue front: The Trio Wanderer (ARD Music Competition laureates) and their now complete set of the Piano Trios join the surprisingly thin top tier of complete Beethoven Piano Trio cycles. There they enjoy the musical company of the smiling, glowing second Beaux Arts traversal (Philips/Decca, with violinist Isador Cohen) and of the athletic Florestan Trio (Hyperion).

Beethoven’s Piano Trios are a little convoluted; their numbering is inconsistent, the opus numbers haphazard, the provenance not always clear. The Wanderer covers the conventionally accepted core Trios: The three Opus 1 Trios, Opus 11 (variously a clarinet- or piano trio), the trio of famous central Trios opp.70 1 & 2 and op.97, Opus 44 “Variations on an original theme”, Opus 121a Kakadu Variations, the early WoO 38 Piano Trio, and the late WoO 39 Allegretto for Piano Trio. That makes the Wanderer the least complete among these “complete” sets: The Florestan throws in the very early Hess 48 Allegretto, the Beaux Arts (as does the equally completist Guarneri Trio Prague) further adds Opus 38 (arranged from the Septet, op.20), and most importantly Opus 36b, Beethoven’s own transcription of the Second Symphony. None of these complete cycles include Opus 63 (an arrangement of an arrangement—from Wind Octet op.103 via String Quintet op.4 to Piano Trio), Hess 47 (an arrangement of the first movement of the op.3 String Trio, and Kinsky/Halm Anhang 3 (an incomplete two movement piece long misattributed to Mozart). These Piano Trio foundlings can be added by picking up the Beethoven Project Trio’s disc dedicated to just them.)

Total completism isn’t everything, though, and the wonderful muscular sound of the Trio Wanderer and the superbly natural Harmonia Mundi recording should make this a tempting addition to either of the other cycles. For those yet to discover the Beethoven Piano Trios it’s a co-equal choice alongside Beaux Arts & Florestan. That it is luxuriously packed into a neat, space-saving four-disc slip-case only helps.

Edit: Turns out that the Wanderer Trio's Beethoven isn't a re-issue at all, but a new release. My fault entirely... but I'm not changing the list now.

# 9 - New Release

A.Diepenbrock, Orchestral Works, Symphonic & Orchestrated Songs, Missa in die festo, et al., Various artists, et'cetera KTC1435

available at Amazon
A.Diepenbrock, Collected Works,
Various & numerous artists

It is the bane of lesser known composers to be compared to the better known ones. That’s certainly the case with Alphons Diepenbrock, whom I will compare to anyone from Loewe to Schumann, to Debussy, Wagner, and Richard Strauss in just a moment.

The reason I found myself interested in Diepenbrock in the first place is because his name is among those on the plaques-of-honor in Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw: Prominently at the back balcony in the left corner, flanked by FRANCK and (fittingly) DEBUSSY. The one-time Classics teacher at a catholic school and musical autodidact became a conductor and respected composer, the most significant Dutch composer of the first decades of the 20th century, according to his biographer Leo Samama. He performed and was performed in the famous hall of his home town that now has his name emblazoned among the more (and a few still less-) famous colleagues. For his 50th birthday for example, Willem Mengelberg performed an all-Diepenbrock concert with the Concertgebouw Orchestra that was a vast artistic (and financial) success.

Riccardo Chailly appropriately couples one of his Mahler recordings—the 7th—with Diepenbrock’s symphonic song “Im grossen Schweigen”. The disc can be hard to come by, but I needed to plug the gap in my Mahler collection. The Mahler’s all very well, but it was the Diepenbrock that captured my ears and imagination. How fortuitous that the Dutch et’cetera label collected all the fine Diepenbrock recordings they could get their hands on and issued them in a 150th anniversary 8CD box plus a DVD. That’s great news for the lover of romantic 20th century music—especially for voices—with a touch of the strange.

The few orchestral works without chorus or singers are gems welding Debussy to small-scale-Wagner. His sensually chromatic 50-minute Missa in die festo for double choir, tenor, and organ is, for all its Sweelinck-substructure, so seductive, the church immediately banned its performance. His songs, dear to Mahler, are not all among his best… Loewe-Schumann-Wolff meet here, in various languages: German, Dutch, French. (Christoph Prégardien and Robert Holl are among the singers.) His lavish, equally multilingual symphonic and orchestral songs are more intriguing and were, at their time groundbreaking, inspiring Mahler’s Lied von der Erde. The Hague Philharmonic and Hans Vonk (culled from old Chandos CDs) do most of the heavy lifting, but the Concertgebouw under Chailly (“Hymn to the Night”, with Arleen Augér) and Bernard Haitink (“The Night”, with Janet Baker) contribute as well.

# 9 – Reissue

A.Bruckner, Symphonies 8 & 9, Carl Schuricht, Wiener Philharmoniker, EMI SACD 9559842

available at Amazon
Bruckner, Sys.8 & 9,
C.Schuricht / WPh,

After holding out on Super Audio CD productions for ten years, EMI has caved to (presumably Japanese) audiophile pressure and produced a line of SACD re-issues at a time where the format, if not the physical medium itself, has been declared dead. Dead has rarely sounded so good as in the case of the 1960s Carl Schuricht Bruckner studio-recordings, luxuriously presented and resuscitated from frankly mediocre sound to something now perfectly acceptable. It’s still not spectacular HiFi, but it clears the way for the stupendous interpretation especially of the Eighth Symphony (Ed.Nowak). The old, ever-nonconformist Schuricht delivers one of the most intense, unwavering Eighths, with a first movement as urgent-but-steady as any on record. The Ninth isn’t shabby at all, either. In a way it sounds much more than any other reading as if it had considered the partly missing fourth movement (which Schuricht, for all his forward looking kinks, almost certainly didn’t)… which is to say that it avoids tame sentimentality in the Adagio and instead cherishes the dissonances.

# 10 - New Release

E-P. Salonen, Violin Concerto, Nyx, Leila Josefowicz, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Finnish RSO, DG 1752102

available at Amazon
E-P.Salonen, Violin Concerto, Nyx,
L.Josefowicz / E-P.Salonen / Finnish RSO

Nyx is an orchestral piece half the way to a clarinet concerto and a truly great work. It’s palpable, image-inducing music, belly music rather than brainy musical theory. It’s music that grabs you by the lapels; possibly lower. It lures, beguiles, makes luxurious use of quiet, brings out militaristic tones. Best: it’s not a second longer than the music it contains. Nyx communicates with American efficiency and candor, yet hints at a hypothetical modern continuation of Debussy; ditto Mahler, just less convoluted. Like all music Nyx benefits greatly from the live experience. But so does Beethoven and even on record it’s easy to hear how this is ingenious music. And Nyx is only supposed to be the filler on this disc which features prominently Salonen's new Violin Concerto, "Out of Nowhere". A partially sparse, partially snappy virtuoso work, played masterly by Leila Josefowicz, it's just about as appealing as Nyx: This is altogether one of the finest, most readily appealing 21st century classical music releases.

# 10 – Reissue

L.v. Beethoven, Piano Sonatas 1 - 32, Paul Badura-Skoda, Gramola

available at Amazon
Beethoven, Piano Sonatas,
Paul Badura-Skoda,

Paul Badura-Skoda, born in Vienna in 1927, Edwin Fischer student, completes—alongside his two more famous contemporaries, the fellow Fischer-student Alfred Brendel (*1931) and fellow Viennese Friedrich Gulda (*1930)—the Austrian triumvirate of pianist that shaped the interpretation of the classical repertoire. They all recorded complete Beethoven Piano Sonata cycles multiple times (see LvB Sonata Cycle Survey); eight times between them. This is the first of Badura-Skoda’s two goes at it… and while his second traversal for Auvidis Astrée (1978 – 1989) is HIP and performed on seven different Fortepianos and Hammerklaviers, this first cycle on a Bösendorfer Imperial Grand is the connoisseur's Echt-Viennese cycle. Americans might remember it through the issue of the Musical Heritage Society’s recordings for Beethoven's bicentenary in 1970. It has now been re-issued for the second time on CD, by its ‘original’ label, Gramola. To make it more interesting still, they throw in an additional CD with two further, hitherto unpublished interpretations of the op.106, the Hammerklavier Sonata: a live concert recording from Warsaw, 1976 and a studio recording from four years later, performed on a Fortepiano from Beethoven's time.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for notice of this - I had no idea the disc existed and I was really pleased to hear Mields again.
There are some badly conceived "tasteful" percussion riffs in a few of the instrumental numbers - blot on the landscape or pimple on a 17th century portrait? you choose the metaphor, either way it sounds dumb.