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hjonkers (The Netherlands)

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Brahms: Piano Concerto No. 2; Beethoven: Sonata No. 23 in F Minor  "Appassionata"
Brahms: Piano Concerto No. 2; Beethoven: Sonata No. 23 in F Minor "Appassionata"
Price: CDN$ 9.31
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Brahms concerto with almost no equal - and a nice dessert, July 11 2004
In his notebooks, Richter himself tells repeatedly how strongly he disliked this performance of the Brahms Second. Most significantly, he blames Leinsdorf for pushing the tempo all the time. For the rest we have to guess for what his motives could be. After all, it is quite strange that the pianist in what is perhaps the best-loved of all Brahms B flat's doesn't like it himself. What could Richter have had in mind? Perhaps he had even greater ideas for this piece - but as it is here, I cannot possibly imagine. Richter gives probably the pianistically most perfect rendition of the concerto ever made, coupled with a musical insight that most of his colleagues could hardly dream of. And considering Leinsdorf: his accompaniment is very correct and I don't hear him pushing at any time - actually, Richter's playing is so dominant that it is the piano which seems to take the lead in the piece, not the orchestra. And that's fine with me.
I like it better than the also much-revered Gilels/Jochum recording: Gilels takes his time and is philosophizing around, but in the end he almost sinks in his own ideas. Richter's playing on the other hand is full of richness too, but never makes the piece excessively ponderous and storms right at the gates with utmost certainty. Similarly, Richter possesses all the power of a Serkin but avoids the latter's sometimes ugly neuroticism and his patronizing focus on rhythms. He takes about as many risks as Schnabel, but is pianistically more reliable. This all is not to say that we have the perfect recording of the Brahms here: pianists like Schnabel, Fleisher, Arrau, Brendel et al. show many insights for which Richter has no space. But if I were forced to keep just one, it would probably be Richter's (Schnabel is maybe the equal, but less good recorded).
There are many unforgettable moments here: the piano solo before the first orchestral tutti in the first movement blazes with fire and excitement - and complete technical mastery. I've never heard it played as good as here. And then the following piano entry after 3 minutes - Richter's fantastic, illuminating tone and sonorous basses shine through so well here. And then, in the following minutes, we get a demonstration of how to connect phrases almost effortlessly (perhaps this is what the editorial reviewer refers to, although he has come up with his usual nonsense as well). The marcato after 7 minutes once again demonstrates his technical skills, but also an incredible feeling for rhythm and excitement. The tender scenes are just that - and a look forward to the great slow movement. The second Allegro I'd say has the same fury as in Serkin's recording, but Richter is far more flexible and less dogmatic. Richter's approach to the Andante is rock-solid and unfussy; it is wonderful to hear how he is able to play without any mannerisms and yet generate the highest level of expression. In the Allegretto, Richter's sweet but powerful tone again does small wonders; he seems to shape many small and lively episodes within this movement that is sometimes treated as a perfunctory and dull conclusion. Not here; the Allegretto makes the ideal end for this hugely impressive recording.
I haven't spilled a word yet about the Appassionata on this disc, and it should not be left unnoticed that this, too, is a masterful performance. The first movement is boldly shaped, with lots of contrasts in tempi dynamics. However, it perfectly adds up in the end and it betrays that SR had a strong sense of architecture as well. The slow movement is done solemnly and with beautiful tone-coloring. And there's the famous last movement that runs at incredible pace - and still Richter never loses control. Yet good as this one may be, it is completely outshined by a live performance by Richter in Prague from one year earlier - there he drops all his caution and you'll get more passion in the opening, more life in the slow movement and a final that is about the most exciting piano recording made, period. But enthusiastic as I am about even that live performance, the greatest Appassionata on record I believe is by Claudio Arrau (Philips), who is more faithful to the original text and responds best of all to the complex characteristics of this marvelous sonata. So, the recording included here is a nice dessert, but the main thing is definitely that gorgeous Brahms which you just cannot afford to pass by. Here is one of the finest documents of Richter's playing, a must for every classical music fan.

Rediscovered Liszt Recital - Never before studio recordings (1972/3)
Rediscovered Liszt Recital - Never before studio recordings (1972/3)
Offered by Fulfillment Express CA
Price: CDN$ 15.42
18 used & new from CDN$ 7.68

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Just fantastic, July 10 2004
The producer of this recording tells in the booklet notes that Jorge Bolet was at his absolute peak during these sessions - more than in his later London recordings which he calls stolid. I personally wouldn't be so negative about Bolet's later efforts, but on this disc from 1972-3 he certainly is in absolute top form. Here is one Liszt disc you'll want to listen to over and over because of its amazing richness in piano playing and the full exposure of Liszt's sound world. Bolet is a master of Romanticism and has an amazing feel for playing this type of music, Liszt in particular, 'right'. He possesses a pearl-like tone that makes his legatos sound otherworldly, and has a thunderous strength as well - sometimes he can even be rough. But generally his playing shows a certain decent restraint that makes sure it doesn't become vulgar. Bolet's technique too was stellar, but at moments his fingers can be somewhat stiff and uncomfortable. His pros and cons and temperament do not completely suit a few included pieces, making them somewhat unsatisfactory. Other tracks however, are revelatory. I can only wonder how RCA managed to keep this disc abandoned for so long.
Bolet performs a Liebestraum that borders to the miraculous; I've seldom heard anyone play the piano with such an enchanting eloquence. Un Sospiro is also wonderful, although it doesn't touch the same extreme heights; it sounds as if he does not feel the same Dionysian inspiration as in the Liebestraum. La Campanella, another Liszt favorite, sparkles beautifully with a roaring climax - but it is obvious that Bolet's fingers are not really well-suited to this featherweight playing. The Gnomenreigen etude is too stiff and lacks contrast - but then, I don't give a damn about this piece (we could also have done without that nonsensical chromatic Galop and the Spanish rhapsody; where is Vallée d'Obermann anyway?).
Then we come to the two really great compositions on the disc (and, together with the Liebestraum, the main reason to get it immediately) namely Funérailles and the Tannhäuser Ouverture. Both are dazzling performances; without one hint of self-consciousness or sentimentality Bolet casts a thrilling spell over Funérailles. He handles the gripping sphere of the piece perfectly without sacrificing musicality to showmanship: the octave sections are certainly overwhelming (listen to this with speakers full on; you don't know what you're hearing!), but Bolet always applies that aforementioned restraint to keep things in proportion. Finally, there's the Tannhäuser Ouverture which is fantastic all the way through - as the booklet notes rightly remark, he starts decently and slowly but builds the intensity to a hair-rising pace in the last minutes. It gives me nothing but great joy to listen to such splendid piano playing, and I can forgive Bolet for his regularly overcharged fortissimos. Altogether, great cd and fantastic piano playing even though some tracks are less good (and certainly some pieces of choice). It settles Jorge Bolet among the greatest pianists of the 20th century.

Pno Ctos
Pno Ctos
Offered by Vanderbilt CA
Price: CDN$ 33.14
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3.0 out of 5 stars Good introduction, but no ecstacy here, July 7 2004
Ce commentaire est de: Pno Ctos (Audio CD)
These early digital recordings do not show Stephen Hough's artistry at its best. There is much to admire in his rhetoric abilities, but during these sessions (when he was in his twenties) they still were in a stage of development. Sure, his tone quality is already exemplary and his technique stellar, but I don't think Hough already possesses the variety of colours and the harmonic tension to bring these two piano concertos off completely convincingly. I'd say he relies too much on that leonine, sonorous sound quality (which the other reviewers here praise so much), while forgetting to really adapt to the character and sphere of each particular movement of the two concertos. His partner in these, Andrew Davis' BBC Orchestra, is quite unconvincing overall: their way with both works is quite businesslike and never reaches the edge-of-your-seat-excitement that accompanists like Szell, Haitink or Abbado could create.
Hough's strength in the D minor concerto is formidable, but where is the sizzling tension, the complete identification with the sphere of the first movement? It's not there - take the first entry of the piano; Hough seems to care mainly about his style and forgets about the necessary tension. The great climaxes are still exciting from Hough's side, but his orchestral partners leave me indifferent. The B flat, especially the first movement, is too slow: in a faster, more energetic and exciting account Hough would have made more impression. As it comes however, he is no match for Arrau who could adapt to slow tempi like no one else. After a while, Hough's phrasing gets boring at this slow tempo. Again he does not completely identificate with the work - he plays the final rondo as though it is exactly the same thing as the first movement. Worse is that I don't get any particularly positive impression of the BBC team; it's dragging and uninteresting.
These recordings may not be really bad after all, and are certainly valuable introductions, but heck, we're talking about Brahms' two piano concertos here, about the greatest compositions ever made for piano and orchestra. Why should you be satisfied with collaborations that never really touch the summit of interpretation? There are enough available that do - Fleisher/Szell, Arrau/Haitink (both analogue), Brendel/Abbado (digital) and a group of others behind them, too. Those who are praising this set as the best digital go-round for the Brahms concertos might need to look over there.

Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 3; Piano Sonata No. 2
Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 3; Piano Sonata No. 2
Price: CDN$ 9.49
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2.0 out of 5 stars Your library deserves better, June 1 2004
This must be the 15th reissue of this recording, this time for RCA's 'library' series. Some people like this performance, because it is so 'full of profound feeling'. I don't. Although I am generally a huge fan of pianists who give strongly felt performances, the kind of feeling Horowitz shows here is not my cup of tea. He plays like crazy, completely neurotic and over-the-top. Add to that 15,000 wrong notes, an awful piano tone, lots of banging and an uninspired support from Ormandy's NYPhO, and we have a performance that should be avoided. At least, if you don't like the above. Also included: a sonata that sounds more like a Horowitz encore than Rachmaninov. Try Ashkenazy/Previn for the concerto, Andsnes/Berglund or just about anything else.

Chopin:  Piano Music
Chopin: Piano Music
Price: CDN$ 7.99
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2.0 out of 5 stars Banged, chaotic, clueless... Ignore it., June 1 2004
Ce commentaire est de: Chopin: Piano Music (Audio CD)
It appeared to me that the title of this disc meant something like 'Horowitz' best Chopin recordings' or so. New remastering, expansive booklet, a better chosen cover than the usual hideous RCA fronts: all looked good.
I should have paid more attention to the disc's backside, though. It says (in minuscule letters, of course - maybe they'd better not told it at all) that the main bulk of these recordings was made around 1980, indeed the period in which Horowitz' outpourings couldn't really be called 'reliable'. I wasn't very fond of VH's 1978 Rach 3, and this disc proves to be in the same kind of category. I'm sorry but these recordings are simply not acceptable. Why RCA even considered releasing them is really enigmatic. Would Horowitz himself have approved of these contents? That's very doubtful: his playing here is merely a parody on his former greatness (but he had a little revival a few years later, e.g. the Moscow recital).
The good news is that RCA's remastering is excellent: even though these performances are some 25 years old, nearly every detail of the pianist is beautifully captured and the piano tone is great.
That does not apply to the playing, unfortunately. The G minor ballade and Fantaisie-Polonaise are simply frustrating. Oh certainly, Horowitz has a lovely tone most of the time, and it's pretty well audible that this is not your neighbour playing. At spare moments he gives wonderful new insights into these pieces. But even then, his distorting manners and brittle fingers cannot be excused. Especially nasty is his habit to bang very hard on a few chords when his technique has left him alone for a while. And this happens just a bit too often, especially in the trickier sections of the ballade. The coda of the poor piece is just butchered. His over-the-top and endlessly dragging phrasing in both works isn't very pleasant either and gives a chaotic feeling. And if you know that VH does not play the last chord of the Polonaise in ff (as Chopin wrote), but the last TWO chords instead, that indicates well how awful the rest of this performance is, too.
A little better -less banged- are the Barcarolle and F minor ballade, yet here too the distorting and messy phrasing makes them hard to enjoy. The barcarolle merely sounds like a boat that has lost its direction, and I don't get any idea of a clue in Horowitz' playing. The F minor Ballade, although clearer, is still so exaggeratedly charged that I can't really enjoy it. And the coda is, once again, a banged-up mess. As for the two etudes: the c sharp minor is quite bad but the G flat major makes something good: although he clearly slowed down for technical reasons, the piece sounds politer than usually and most textures are nicely laid out. A pity that he decided to bang the last notes, however.
The nocturnes are recordings from 1957, apparently representing Horowitz in better form. But these pieces too are a disappointment: the recorded sound is dry and dull (not sure whose fault this is) and Horowitz' playing itself doesn't make too much sense either: it is all too busy and indifferent and fails reach depth. It doesn't sound as if he really loved the pieces.
At least the closure of this 'recital' is worth it, a little waltz that is beautifully coloured and charming. But this is a disc that should be avoided nevertheless: it is frustrating to hear how so many great pieces are mistreated by a pianist at a less good day of his. Try looking for Horowitz' earlier Sony recordings of Chopin and see why RCA should be really ashamed for this awful release.
But maybe I could have known it anyway. The bottom of the jewelcase, left to the booklet, has the term 'romantic music' spelled in several languages. If that isn't fishy...Was RCA trying to create an André Rieu-effect?

The Untouchables (Widescreen)
The Untouchables (Widescreen)
DVD ~ Kevin Costner
Offered by niff78
Price: CDN$ 14.97
25 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Great gangster cartoon!, May 18 2004
Ce commentaire est de: The Untouchables (Widescreen) (DVD)
The Untouchables tells the story of four policemen who fight Al Capone during the prohibition of the 30's. Don't expect anything like The Godfather though: this movie merely aims at -sometimes cartoonish- entertainment. Don't be surprised with the stereotypical characters and story and the all too colourful 30's setting. It's just how this movie works. Robert de Niro's Al Capone is excellent as the funny bad guy, Kevin Costner and Sean Connery both fit excellently in their roles as two persistent police officers with a mission. Yes, several happenings in the story may be somewhat cliché, but it is nothing less an exciting movie to watch. Executions, shoot-outs, trials and much more: it's all here. It's still better to pinch something well than to invent something badly!

The Rock DVD
The Rock DVD
DVD ~ Sean Connery
Price: CDN$ 5.97
50 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable movie with great acting, May 9 2004
Ce commentaire est de: The Rock DVD (DVD)
A lot in 'The Rock' hints at James Bond. There is a British man (named John Mason) who is a master at escaping and fighting; a villain who wants to destroy an entire American city and a lot of over-the-top action scenes. What's more, Mason is played by Sean Connery. But there are some differences with Bond as well: the storyline is (even) more one-dimensional; the girls are absent and, most importantly, Mason is rather the sidekick of the movie's main character: scientist Stanley Goodspeed (Nicholas Cage).
Goodspeed is the real man-with-a-mission here: he tries to keep an evil Vietnam general (Ed Harris) from blowing up San Francisco. The general is hiding in Alcatraz, of all places. However, the only man who knows how to infiltrate Alcatraz is this prisoner John Mason, a man who was arrested years and years ago and once escaped from Alcatraz. Mason is at first reluctant to help, also because nobody tells him exactly who he is fighting against. But soon he and Goodspeed form a good team that fights the bad general till the bitter end.
The story itself is rather flat: once the team has entered Alcatraz (which happens rather early in the film), a hide-and-run-game starts that continues till the very end. The action scenes are spectacular but also somewhat predictable. Still, this isn't a bad movie, thanks to the great acting of Cage and Connery. Both play characters that are anything but one-dimensional: Mason changes from a curmudgeon scoundrel into a virtuous man, and Goodspeed slowly converts from a typically desperate scientist into a brave action hero.
It is the interplay and communication between Mason and Goodspeed that makes this film more than worthwhile, and can make you forget the rather nonsensical story. It's an enjoyable movie to watch, therefore. Oh and, don't miss the end scene!

Far from Heaven (Bilingual) [Import]
Far from Heaven (Bilingual) [Import]
DVD ~ Julianne Moore
Price: CDN$ 16.06
58 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Atmospheric drama; just wish it were longer, May 8 2004
This movie plays in the 50's and the atmosphere of that period is brilliantly portrayed. The exaggerated retro-font of the film title is already one indication, and consequently the screen is filled with old-timer cars, typical house interiors and much more that points to the 50's. Some might find the world Haynes creates more like a doll-house: the environment is almost too autumnal and the streetcars are too new. But he nevertheless manages to create a very striking sphere.
But it is the storyline and the characters above all that give this 50's-atmosphere. The -on first sight 'perfect'- couple of Cathy (Julianne Moore) and Frank Whitaker (Dennis Quaid) struggles with taboos from that era: Frank has a coming-out as homosexual, after which Cathy falls in love with the black gardener Raymond (Dennis Haysbert). Cathy discovers her husband kissing in a room with another man, and the mighty gossip circuit of the town soon tells Frank about the adventures of his wife. Not surprisingly, this situation results in trouble for their family.
There is a clear message about the morals of the 50's: Cathy's friends suddenly aren't very good friends anymore as soon as they hear about her friendship with a black person. Cathy herself clearly doesn't feel very much at ease between her friends, while she gets completely in her element when Raymond is nearby. This Raymond is an interesting character, if only because he is played by Dennis Haysbert. While he is here a simple black gardener who meets a lot of racism from his surrounding, the same actor plays the role of the first black president of the USA in '24'! Talk about changes! The character of Raymond may be a little too 'perfect', as others have already pointed out, but it contrasts nicely with the image of gutter rats that is attached to many people in Cathy's social environment.
The cast here does its job very nicely: Moore is great in her performance of a typical 50's woman who slowly becomes more adventurous and 'human'. She plays merely restrained, as if to make her role not too stereotypical. That certainly succeeded. Husband (in the movie) Quaid is another seemingly normal person with unexpected sides (his being gay) and is terrific as a tormented and desperate man. Haysbert makes a very convincing case as the sympathetic gardener, with his seemingly relaxed acting that makes his character Raymond almost cosy. Also, the gossip aunts are irritating to watch and that's exactly how they were meant.
Some could find the film a little too compact, and I certainly wish the director had taken more time to shed more light on the relationship between Raymond and Cathy. Same for the other relationship: Frank's gay mate is a bit cartoonish and this aspect could certainly have been worked out better. The film didn't leave me unsatisfied, far from it, but I think the story would have benefited from a broader, longer approach. But that criticism shouldn't keep you from seeing this very worthwhile and enduring movie. The sometimes 'implied' acting sheds a special light on the dramatic storyline and the atmosphere just breathes the 50's. Certainly recommended.

Piano Concerto 2
Piano Concerto 2
Offered by Vanderbilt CA
Price: CDN$ 35.95
4 used & new from CDN$ 5.51

5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best 2nd Brahms concertos, May 7 2004
Ce commentaire est de: Piano Concerto 2 (Audio CD)
Another reviewer rightfully remarked that Rubinstein's performance here isn't as thought-out as others are. Yet, he only benefits from that. Rubinstein's playing is of a tremendous spontaneity, in a way I hadn't heard before in the Brahms B flat concerto. There's never a lack of fire: for example, he plays the 'marcato' sequences in the first movement with more panache than most others, and the last movement sounds like it runs on Spanish pepper. Even then, charm and grace are always present, both elements that are so characteristic of Rubinstein's playing in general. He plays the staccato notes after 3'38 in the first movement almost like dancing steps! Krips and the RCA Symphony are excellent companions and they join Rubinstein in his wild ride. It's a very impressive performance that I definitely count among my favourites. The playing of the fillers is more aristocratic: less force and more poetry. But it works very well for me, especially in the Rhapsody which is one of the best examples of the 'autumnal sadness' in many of Brahms' compositions. Here, it turns out that Rubinstein perfectly 'understands' this atmosphere. Both Rubinstein and Brahms fans should definitely not miss this great disc.

Leif Ove Andsnes Great Artist
Leif Ove Andsnes Great Artist
Offered by langton_distribution
Price: CDN$ 55.58
5 used & new from CDN$ 39.48

5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating take on the Third Concerto, May 7 2004
Leif Ove Andsnes' recording of the third Rachmaninov concerto, made with Paavo Berglund's Oslo Philharmonic when he was only 24, was considered good enough for the 'Great Artists of the Century' series, and rightfully. Andsnes' view of Rachmaninov's 3rd concerto can be described as 'Nordic': he remains cool and in control at all moments and is temperate rather than romantic. Or maybe it isn't right to attribute this attitude mainly to a Norwegian: after all, Rachmaninov's own recording is also notable for its straightforwardness. In that sense, Andsnes' recording is quite authentic. The term 'cold fury' has been attached to Rachmaninov's recording, but that isn't really the case with Andsnes. There's a lot of temperament for sure, but he also has a pleasant 'natural' warmth in his playing. The piano sound may not be as bold as with, say, Horowitz, but it is still very attractive and never distant or frosty.
But as said, Andsnes doesn't really play like a romantic. He strikes the notes with a sovereignty and nobleness that lifts itself highly above the unnecessary hysteria that I hate so much in the Rach. 3 (Argerich, Horowitz/Ormandy). Some might find him too relaxed and abstemious, especially at the start of the first movement, but I just love it. I can't help but I was often reminded of the Dutch saying "behave normally; then you behave already mad enough". Andsnes does exactly that: he has an overwhelming naturalness and command that puts every note exactly in place. I'm never invited to think "Why do it like THIS?"
He also has a great feeling of the architecture of the piece. The first movement is an easy subject to ill treatment by over-enthusiastic pianists, but Andsnes handles the up and down-going tension bows with utter ease. But it is only in the cadenza that he really bursts loose. I much prefer the longer, chordal version (which Andsnes plays) over the lighter one used by Horowitz, the composer himself and others. I think the cadenza is the core of the movement (and maybe the concerto) and the whole movement should be built around it. Therefore, the moment itself deserves extra weight, which the chordal version gives completely. Well, this is exactly what Andsnes does: his playing here is utterly fascinating: he plays with a lot of fury but it is hardly heavy (like Kissin) or clumsy (like Lang Lang).
The following two parts are much of the same: they are temperate but energetic at the same time (listen to the capricious accents at almost every right-hand run). The colouring of the textures in the third movement (especially after 7'55) is always fresh and wonderful and there's an abundance of clarity. Obviously Andsnes and Berglund's (excellent) orchestra don't aim for sheer excitement, but the third movement has enough of that in itself. Not surprisingly, the concluding coda is less bombastic than normally.
As a whole the performance is just excellent. It is interesting to see how mature some young artists can play. In that sense, this recording has some similarities to the very fine Ashkenazy/Fistoulari collaboration from 1963. It is also a delight because so many young pianists cannot cope with this heavy burden of a concerto: see the aforementioned Kissin (very dull) and Lang (just plain bad). But Andsnes does not only win the youth prize: he easily settles aside my overall favourite Ashkenazy/Previn.
The other pieces on the disc are some of Rachmaninov's Etudes-Tableaux; wonderful pieces that are done full right here. Andsnes plays them just as good as Ashkenazy (again) or Lugansky. Especially in the E flat minor etude, you hear what the addition 'tableau' actually refers to: this is playing of unusually high poetry. I could go on but it's sufficient to say that these pieces are nearly as interesting as the concerto itself.
This disc is very well worth its place in the 'Great Artists' series. You're tired of the usual workaday readings of the Rach 3? Try this: it doesn't disappoint.

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