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Reviews Written by
T. Beers (Arlington, Virginia United States)

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Integrale Des Qrts
Integrale Des Qrts
5 used & new from CDN$ 84.95

5.0 out of 5 stars Marvelously Intimate Communication, Jan. 7 2003
This review is from: Integrale Des Qrts (Audio CD)
The string quartet is the highest achievement of classical music. How to describe what a great string quartet is/does? Four voices that sing, simultaneously dependently and independently. Or, as someone else once said, "a conversation among four very intelligent and witty persons." After almost 200 years, Beethoven's 16 quartets still stand as the acme of the form, notwithstanding brilliant contributions from just about every important composer since. There are many wonderful performances of the Beethoven quartets available on CD, but none are more distinguished than these performances by the Talich Quartet. More than any other ensemble in my experience, the Talich's performances proclaim that intimacy is the true experience of quartet playing (and listening). Every phrase is projected with exquisite attention to the constantly shifting balance of light and shadow that is the hallmark of the greatest quartet playing. Tempos are vigorous without being rushed, rubato is applied in the subtlest way imaginable, and dynamics seem to explore impossible distinctions between pp and ppp. In short, every performance in this set invites you to carefully listen to Beethoven's musical argument as you've never listened before. As a result, unless you own really sophisticated speakers, the best way to hear these performances is over headphones. (Sound quality is a bit dry, but the acoustic suits the Talich's style perfectly.) Last and certainly least: note the price. Originally available on seven premium-priced CDs, the new Soft Box format provides elegant packaging at a handsomely reduced cost. There is no one way or best way to play this music; Beethoven's accomplishment is too rich to be captured by any one performance or performing group. But the Talich recordings stand among the very best you'll ever hear. It's a very great privilege to listen in on their kind of conversation!

Furtwängler Conducts Mozart
Furtwängler Conducts Mozart
Price: CDN$ 33.92
20 used & new from CDN$ 23.65

5.0 out of 5 stars Old-Fashioned Mozart, Jan. 3 2003
The two piano concertos are finally presented in honest transfers of actual transcription discs; previous Lp and CD editions have substituted other performances - or parts of other performances - and palmed off the result as Badura-Skoda/Furtwaengler! The real thing turns out to be fascinating, albeit romanticized in ways that will really annoy today's period instruments crowd. The real down side is the sound quality, which is truly wretched. That's disc One. Disc Two is a different story altogether, presenting two classic Furtwaengler/Vienna Philharmonic studio recordings (originally produced by EMI) in absolutely gorgeous transfers courtesy of M&A's great engineer Maggi Payne. This second disc is worth the price of the entire set, don't doubt it ..... The g minor symphony is played with great passion, but also with exquisite attention to orchestral balances and articulation. Its companion is a very rare Furtwaengler recording of the great Serenade for 13 Wind instruments. This may be nineteenth century Mozart, but it's so luscious I dare anybody to resist!

Beethoven:  Symphonies
Beethoven: Symphonies

5.0 out of 5 stars A Fabulous Bargain!, Dec 3 2002
This review is from: Beethoven: Symphonies (Audio CD)
This ridiculously inexpensive set would make a great "stocking stuffer" at Christmas, or serve as a wonderfully cheap, quality introduction to the Beethoven symphonies for a classical music novice. But, regardless of price, it stands on its own merits so that even experienced listeners should find much satisfaction. The performances, recorded in Dresden's acoustically famed Lukaskirche in the late 1970s, are also available on the Berlin Classics label, but you'll pay a lot more. Blomstedt's Beethoven isn't flashy and certainly owes nothing to recent period instrument-style. But the conductor's musicianship is sound and the orchestra plays beautifully, all within a performance style that can be roughly characterized as "traditional middle european" (think Karl Boehm or Eugen Jochum). And what an orchestra! The Dresden Staatskapelle has been one of Germany's premiere bands since its founding in the sixteenth(!) century. To this day, it has maintained a unique dark and rich sound that Herbert von Karajan once said reminded him of "old gold." More recently, the orchestra recorded a digital Beethoven cycle with Sir Colin Davis for Philips, but that set was never released in the USA. No matter; Blomstedt's cycle has just as much integrity as Davis's, and the orchestra playing is, if anything, superior in the earlier set. Sound quality is very good analog stereo. The 5 CDs are set in sturdy cardboard envelopes and packaged in a space-saving "soft box." There are no liner notes, but hey, that's a small debit when so much quality can be had at such a reasonable price.

Debussy Orchestral Works--Jeux; La mer; Trois nocturnes
Debussy Orchestral Works--Jeux; La mer; Trois nocturnes
Offered by thebookcommunity_ca
Price: CDN$ 43.83
10 used & new from CDN$ 2.69

5.0 out of 5 stars Orchestral Wizardry, Oct. 29 2002
Lorin Maazel is one of the most technically proficient conductors ever to face an orchestra. Sometimes that technical proficiency seems to get in the way of the music; a Maazel performance can sound more about Maazel than about the composition he's performing. Generally speaking, I've found that's mostly a problem with Maazel's performances of German music. The very exalted status of Beethoven, Bruckner, Brahms and Mahler seems to invite a studied & "arch" pseudo-profundity from Maazel (and not just Maazel!) that he doesn't impose on, say, French or Russian music. And it helps that French and Russian composers, so obsessed with orchestral color and related affects, invariably wrote music that plays to Maazel's real strengths: a demand for flawless articulation and an almost uncanny ability to balance orchestral choirs so that every part of a complex score stands out in luminous relief. This Debussy CD is a good example of Maazel working with the right kind of material and producing jaw-dropping performances. And it's not at all what I expected given the orchestra he conducts. After all, while the Vienna Philharmonic is one of the world's greatest orchestras, its very plush, dark and "woody" sound is not usually conducive to great Debussy playing. But Maazel coaxes an unbelievable transparency out of this great orchestra, without any sacrifice of richness. This is orchestral playing that must be heard to be believed. "La Mer" and the "Nocturnes" are given wonderful performances, but the performance of Debussy's late masterpiece "Jeux" is the standout. Even if you own classic performances of this score by the likes of Boulez, Martinon & Munch, try to hear this disc ... It will seduce you. (But be warned, chaste and/or priggish listeners definitely should steer clear!) BMG/RCA's sound quality is absolutely superb.

Vars/Fugue On A Theme By Mozar
Vars/Fugue On A Theme By Mozar
Offered by Vanderbilt CA
Price: CDN$ 36.70
4 used & new from CDN$ 32.73

3.0 out of 5 stars Counterpoint, Oct. 23 2002
Who honors a composer more, another composer who reimagines his predecessor's theme as living music, or other people who want the man and his music safely interred in some museum? The other reviewer seems offended that Reger pilfered a Mozart theme and wrote ... well, Reger! Last time I looked, Mozart's music was public domain, and it was in Reger's day (1873-1916) too; it enjoys no special status that walls it off from creative use - or even misuse - by other composers. (Neither can I imagine that Mozart would have been much interested in having his music reduced to the status of artifact.) In short, Reger's composition 'Mozart Variations' requires no justification beyond evaluating what it is and whether it works and how well it works. And this is what I hear: Reger's development of Mozart's famous theme is always interesting; each of the variations, as well as the concluding fugue, is imaginatively conceived and gorgeously orchestrated; and the whole thing could have been written by no composer other than Max Reger. That said, I'm afraid Horst Stein's at times lacklustre performances on this well-recorded Koch disc just don't qualify as first-rate arguments for Reger's genius (not too strong a word). Try Valery Polyansky on Chandos, or Leif Segerstam on BIS, or Colin Davis on Orfeo if you want to make the acquaintance of an off-the-beaten-path, late Romantic master who had the arrogant cheek to treat Mozart as a colleague rather than as a sainted corpse. And if you think that sounds disrespectful of Mozart, you can always go out and buy your umpteenth recording of Wolfie's A major sonata and let it go at that.

Conducts Debussy-Mer/Ibert-Por
Conducts Debussy-Mer/Ibert-Por
Offered by Gray Fox,
Price: CDN$ 202.20
2 used & new from CDN$ 161.77

5.0 out of 5 stars TOTALLY AWESOME!, Oct. 3 2002
Charles Munch's stint as Music Director of the Boston Symphony lasted from 1949 to 1962. An inspired but erratic conductor, most people in-the-know consider his best music making came in his first 10 years at Boston. These performances of Debussy's "La Mer" and Ibert's "Escales" date from that golden decade and show Munch and his incomparable orchestra at their very best. Recorded by legendary RCA engineer Lewis Layton in December 1956 and released the next year, they were among the first stereo recordings issued on Lp records, and they still sound spectacular in this premium XRCD remastering by JVC. In fact, this XRCD version allows you to appreciate with unparalleled clarity why these are among the classic recordings of the Lp era: Munch conducts one of the most passionate "La Mer" performances ever put on disc, but miraculously also achieves a near flawless balance of parts and voices. No mean achievement given the subtle complexity of Debussy's orchestral writing! The Ibert performance is similarly inspired and makes you wonder why this very likable piece is scarcely played at all today. It may not be a masterpiece like "La Mer," but surely there should always be room in the active repertoire for such charming tone paintings as Ibert's three post-cards from Italian and North African ports-of-call! Note: Unlike Sony SACD discs, you do not need special equipment to play XRCD expanded audio Cds. (Just the same, the better your equipment, the more you will be able to appreciate just how well JVC has remastered these recordings.) So, although the same performance of the Debussy can be had on a standard (& much less expensive) "Living Stereo" Cd from RCA/BMG, fans of Charles Munch, the BSO and great performances of French music shouldn't hesitate to spend the extra money to hear the musical splendors revealed on this very entertaining disc.

Sym 5...
Sym 5...
Offered by thebookcommunity_ca
Price: CDN$ 68.34
2 used & new from CDN$ 58.54

5.0 out of 5 stars Rodzinski's Disfigured Tchaikovsky Fifth, Oct. 3 2002
This review is from: Sym 5... (Audio CD)
More about the "disfigurement" below. But first, let me say that I've loved these Rodzinski recordings of Tchaikovsky 5 & 6 and the Dvorak "New World" ever since I discovered them on wretched-sounding Westminster Lps during my undergraduate days 30(!) years ago. (The Lps were cursed with an unbelievable number of scratches ..... something that was pretty much par for the course after Westminster was taken over by ABC Records in the 1960s. Don't talk to me about the "good old days" of vinyl discs!) I always hoped these performances would be transferred to CD, but hardly expected they would come up sounding this good. Westminster's master tapes are clearly in great shape and Deutsche Grammophon has brilliantly remastered them with state-of-the-art 24Bit/96kHz technology so that the mono sound has both dimension and richness. The performances are superbly taut and dramatic, but never sound rushed; clearly, they are the performances of a man who passionately believed in the music he was conducting. The only drawback that you should be aware of is that Rodzinski imposes a whopping cut in the finale of the Fifth Symphony: scads of music are simply lopped out of the movement's development section in the misguided belief that they are merely repetitive. To be fair to Rodzinski, this was common practice with many conductors performing the Tchaikovsky Fifth up until the 1950s (when these recordings were made). Still, it seriously disfigures one of the most white-hot, out-and-out memorable performances of Tchaikovsky that you will ever hear. Frustrating! I hasten to add that no cuts disfigure either the "Pathetique" or "New World" performances, and these remain among the best recordings these often-played pieces have ever received. So, in spite of Rodzinski's flawed performance of the Fifth, you really do need to own these fabulous CDs!

Mozart: Symphony Nos. 25 In G Minor & 36
Mozart: Symphony Nos. 25 In G Minor & 36
Offered by moviemars-canada
Price: CDN$ 13.84
9 used & new from CDN$ 11.99

4.0 out of 5 stars The Other Klemperer, Aug. 5 2002
Most people today know Otto Klemperer only from his EMI stereo recordings which represent a kind of "Indian Summer" period in the great conductor's career. They are (mostly) treasurable performances that still sound wonderful in EMI's current CD remasterings. But the Klemperer of those recordings almost always delivered magisterial, broadly-paced performances that many people have always judged to be "too slow." I think that criticism is too blunt to do justice to what are, on the whole, some of the most insightful recorded performances of the great classics I have ever heard. But there is no question that Klemperer in his earlier decades was a more consistently dynamic conductor than he became later. Not that much remains of his music making back then. Klemperer made a (very) few commercial recordings in the 20s, and then nothing until Vox began recording him in Paris and Vienna in the late '40s. That Vox series ended in Vienna in 1952, just before the conductor signed his first contract with EMI's Walter Legge. Over the past 10 years, Vox has remastered all of its Klemperer recordings for CD, and this Mozart/Schubert coupling from 1950 (along with other CDs of Bach concertos and Mendelssohn symphonies) represents the final installment of the series. The two Mozart symphonies are fleet, fast and muscular. They are quite similar to "live" Klemperer performances of the same period (& to EMI's earlier mono recordings now available on the Testament label). The Schubert 4th also is quick and dramatic, although it rather seriously lacks charm; to my knowledge it is the only Klemperer recording of the piece. Klemperer has his French orchestras playing with noteworthy, un-Gallic precision. The 'Paris Pro Musica Orchestra' which plays the Mozart symphonies is/was a pseudonym for a studio band Vox assembled to make its early French recordings; the Lamoureux Orchestra which plays in the Schubert 4th was a very real and famous Parisian ensemble. The CD's sound quality is surprisingly good considering the original tapes were recorded over 50 years ago: the Mozart symphonies sound the best, the Schubert 4th is more constricted, but still highly listenable. (But certainly, the sound on this CD is much better than that offered on the companion Vox 2-disc set presenting Klemperer's fascinatingly athletic 1946 recordings of the Bach 'Brandenburg concertos.') Given the Vox price, Klemperer fans shouldn't hesitate, especially given the rarity of the Schubert.

Vespers of the Blessed Virgin
Vespers of the Blessed Virgin
Price: CDN$ 24.34
26 used & new from CDN$ 8.98

4.0 out of 5 stars Marvelously Intimate Monteverdi, Aug. 2 2002
The Scholars Baroque Ensemble is a small group of British singers and period instrumentalists that records for the inexpensive Naxos label. The SBE's singers (about 12 in number!) furnish both chorus and soloists, which is to say that you will not encounter celebrity vocalists here or in any SBE/Naxos production. Still, this performance of Monteverdi's sublime 1610 Vespers joins other noteworthy Scholars/Naxos recordings of Bach (St. John Passion; Motets), Handel ('Messiah'), and Purcell ('Dido & Aeneas'; 'The Faery Queene') near the top of my list of recommendable budget-priced recordings. As with all its recordings, the SBE provides a chamber-scale performance of music that is often performed as polychoral spectacle by much larger groups. I find the intimacy of the SBE's approach refreshing; others might legitimately prefer a larger sound and gravitate to recordings by the likes of John Eliot Gardner or Nikolaus Harnoncourt. And even if you do prefer a smaller scale performance of the Monteverdi Vespers, direct competition for SBE/Naxos comes from baroque veteran Andrew Parrott on a pair of EMI CDs. Parrott's fine performance is also budget priced, employs star singers (Emma Kirkby, for example) and sounds considerably more polished than the SBE's. Call me perverse, but I rather prefer the Naxos recording anyway. While a bit rough around the edges, the sheer enthusiasm of the SBE is winning. Moreover, Naxos provides a suitably rich and resonant recording acoustic so that, although performed chamber-scale, the grandeur of the music isn't at all slighted. In short, the freshness and astonishing beauty of Monteverdi's glorious music registers throughout. Lovely!

Brahms, Pno. Cto. 1&2
Brahms, Pno. Cto. 1&2
Offered by Vanderbilt CA
Price: CDN$ 64.40
6 used & new from CDN$ 11.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Leonskaya's Magnificent Brahms, July 30 2002
This review is from: Brahms, Pno. Cto. 1&2 (Audio CD)
Elizabeth Leonskaya is a Russian pianist who performs a lot in Germany and Austria, less often here. What a shame! She has technique to burn, but what stands out about her Brahms performances is the quality of sound she coaxes from the piano: huge, massive, but not loud or percussive; burnished, almost dark, like a sonic equivalent of polished mahogany. She is, in short, a perfect pianist for Brahms and one can only wonder why these CDs aren't more well known or widely praised. Of course, the reason is the sheer number of distinguished recordings of this fabulous music. Backhaus, Schnabel, Pollini, Barenboim, Gilels, Fleischer, Arrau, Rubinstein and Serkin are only the most famous pianists to have recorded both Brahms concertos with distinction, and Leonskaya belongs in that pack to be sure. Her approach is closest to Arrau's: magisterially-paced (but never too slow), with an acute attention to detail that is considered and rendered structurally, i.e., not as mere decoration. As with Arrau, Leonskaya's playing seems to inhabit an almost three-dimensional musical space. The result is a "centered" kind of performance that is as much concerned with the vertical, harmonic dimension(s) of the music as with the horizontal. Both Inbal and Masur - & their orchestras - provide distinguished support, and the result is the kind of performance that can only happen when musicians are truly listening to each other. (I had some worries about Masur. Although he is a fabulously gifted conductor, neither of his recorded Brahms symphony cycles [Leipzig Gewandhaus/VEB/Philips/analog and New York Phil/Teldec/digital] have shown him at his best. In this case, Masur's patient carefulness on the podium doesn't result in the rhythmic slackness and structural disjointedness that marred those recordings. As with Inbal, the orchestral writing unfolds grandly but cohesively, and is totally "in synch" with the pianist's conception of the music.) Teldec's (digital) sound is first rate and the price for the 2 Cd, "slimline" set is very attractive. Please try these recordings. You'll be glad you did!

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