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Mozart: Great Symphonies
Mozart: Great Symphonies
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Price: CDN$ 166.38
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5.0 out of 5 stars Not The Walter Mozarts That You Think You Are Going To Hear, July 15 2004
The virtues of Bruno Walter's Mozart performances are well known
to decades of listeners. Solid, spirited, flowing and ,in the best sense of the word, elegance. As was the practice of his time repeats are often not taken. Most listeners will know that from his later CBS stereo recordings with the Columbia Symphony Orchestra. This 4 cd set are not those recordings. They are his earlier mono CBS recordings (now owned by SONY)with the New York Philharmonic and again the Columbia Symphony. Besides the last 6 symphonies the set includes the earlier mono versions of several overtures, the Masonic Funeral Music as well as Symphonies Nos. 25, 28 & 29. These are new remasterings by SONY France and the sound is full and clear. Walter made numerous stereo recordings for CBS but he made even more mono ones. Most of them have been out of circulation for decades and it is good to see them starting to be put back in circulation.

Ralph Vaughan Williams: Symphonies 1-9
Ralph Vaughan Williams: Symphonies 1-9
Price: CDN$ 24.02
16 used & new from CDN$ 24.02

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Together Again For The First Time, July 15 2004
Sir Adrian Boult sort of did two complete cycles of Vaughan Williams symphonies. The second was in stereo for EMI . The first ...well not quite so simple. The first was recorded by Decca in the 1950's, in the presence of the composer, and consisted of the then complete 8 symphonies. The 8th was stereo while the rest are in excellent mono (the recording of the Sea Symphony was used to demonstrate high end equipment in the Royal Albert Hall). Then the composer composed a 9th Symphony but Sir Adrian was between contracts. No longer at Decca but not yet with EMI. In stepped the American Everest label to record Boult in the 9th. That world premiere recording was done the morning of the composer's death (the session was previously scheduled). So to aquire Boult's first cylce you needed the first 8 from Decca and the 9th from Everest. In the U.S. the Decca's were often hard to come by while the same situation existed in the UK for the Everest. After 40 years Decca has finally hit upon the obvious solution, license the Everest recording. This they have done and we now have Boult's complete first cycle in one set combining the Decca recordings and the Everest.
Recorded in the presence of the composer Boult's tempos are brisk but that is what Vaughan Williams wanted. Just listen to the composer's own recording of his 4th symphony for proof of that. He often complained late in life that conductors were taking his works too slow. No problem with that here. Boult also has a fine sense of how these works should flow as well as a good ear for the clarity of orchestral detail. The mono sound of symphonies 1 to 7 are really excellent. After the recording of the 6th there is a brief speech by the composer thanking the players and conductor. So after 40 years Boult's first complete Vaughan Williams cycle; together again for the first time.

Santa Claus Symphony
Santa Claus Symphony
Price: CDN$ 14.96
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Quite A Find, July 14 2004
This review is from: Santa Claus Symphony (Audio CD)
The cover picture and the title "Santa Claus Symphony" might make some wary but have no fear as this cd is a real find. William Henry Fry (1813-1864) has a string of firsts to his name. First American composer to write for large symphony orchestra, the first American to write a large scale opera and the first music critic for a major American newspaper. Quite popular in his day he eventually faded from the repertoire. It is safe to say that until this recording some of these works had not been heard in a century (2 are first performances). As will be very apparent that neglect was unjustified. Fry had a grand gift for melody and more importantly the skills and imagination to work them. To call his orchestration colorful is understatement.

The Santa Claus Symphony has a story line but can be listened to on its own. Fry deftly blends in an occasional folk tune or two in so skillful a manner that it takes a few seconds to realize it's there. It emerges seamlessly from his own music. The work concludes with a grand Mahlerian setting of Adeste fideles. Fry was a great lover of the bel canto style of opera. That is evident in The Breaking Heart where the orchestra seems to sing in that style. It is a sentimental piece that Fry's skills
prevents from crossing over into kitsch.It was his most popular work in his life time. The massive Niagara Symphony was written for one of P.T. Barnum's "Monster Concerts" although no record of a performance survives. It is scored for large orchestra with 11 timpani.It is a contrast between very subtle and grand orchestral gesture. It is quite impressive bringing to mind Tchaikovsky's Manfred Symphony or Richard Strauss' Alpine Symphony although those works were decades away in the future. The Overture To Macbeth from 1864 was one of his last works. A fine dramatic work that is also a bit of a curiosity. Here Fry is writing about a play set in a Scottish civil war at the height of the American Civil War.
The playing of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra is simply superb as is Tony Rowe's conducting. Quite an accomplishment for works that they are playing for the first time. Naxos' notes indicates there are a wealth of other Fry works out there and one hopes they will record more. His music is just too good to be ignored.

Battle of Britain
Battle of Britain
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5.0 out of 5 stars At Last The 2 Battle Of Britains!, July 13 2004
This review is from: Battle of Britain (Audio CD)
After some 30 years we can finally hear the two complete scores written for the 1969 film "The Battle Of Britain". We have here on one cd Ron Goodwin's score that was used and Sir William Walton's that was mostly pulled. When the film was completed it had a score by Walton that was conducted by Sir Malcolm Arnold. About a month before the film's release Walton's score was yanked and replaced by a new one by Ron Goodwin. Why? Well it has nothing to do with the quality of Walton's score but the quantity. He composed only about 25 minutes of music for a film that is about 2 hours. He and director Guy Hamilton felt that the sounds of aerial combat was all that was needed in most places. The American studio that paid the bills wanted music through out and Hamilton reluctantly pulled the score. Among the angriest reactions came from one of the film's stars, Sir Laurence Olivier. A close friend of Walton's he demanded that some of Walton's score be kept or he would have his name removed from the credits. That resulted in Walton's piece "Battle In The Air" being kept in the film.
Walton's score was not completely forgotten. As a birthday gift former British Prime Minister (and amateur conductor) Edward Heath bought the manuscript from the studio and gave it to the composer. From that manuscript Carl Davis prepared a short suite from the score in the 1990's. However a mystery remained; where were the tapes of the complete Walton score conducted by Arnold? The studio did not have them and until the early 1990's they were thought lost. It turns out that recording engineer Eric Tomlinson had them - sitting in his garage for 20 years!
So we now have 2 very fine scores for one film. Goodwin's is overflowing with vigor and colorful orchestrations. It is even more remarkable when you consider he had less than a month to turn out a full symphonic score. Walton's score has its many moments of high drama but relies more on subtle tension to create its atmosphere. He also takes a dig at a composer he never cared for, Richard Wagner. He uses Siegfried's theme from the Ring operas as the basis for his music depicting the Luftwaffe pilots. In a section called "Young Siegfrieds" he treats the theme both cynically and sarcastically giving us a clear view of what he thought about them. If you are worried about the sound quality on the Walton have no fear. The tapes were in a cool, dry place and the sound quality is the equal of the "official" Goodwin score. Once again Varese Sarabande comes up aces. Both film and classical music lovers are in debt to them for this release that restores to circulation a work by one of Britain's greatest classical and film music composers of the 20th Century.

Symphonies Nos 35 - 41
Symphonies Nos 35 - 41
Price: CDN$ 29.28
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5.0 out of 5 stars 40 Years On Still Among The Best, July 8 2004
This review is from: Symphonies Nos 35 - 41 (Audio CD)
You might call Karl Bohm's Mozart old fashioned but don't take that as a put down. He does not take up the more recent practice of taking every repeat causing some works to go over 40 minutes. Not for Bohm the fine points of the latest academic trend but instead a a very fine feel for the spirit of Mozart's music. If the dramatic grand gesture is needed then Bohm magnificently provides it. If the music is livelier and more fleet of foot then Bohm sparkles with a wry grin. Overall this is Mozart to enjoy and Bohm never fails the listener. The 40 year old recording needs no excuses and neither do you for not buying these truly wonderful performances.

Beethoven's Hair: An Extraordinary Historical Odyssey and a Scientific Mystery Solved
Beethoven's Hair: An Extraordinary Historical Odyssey and a Scientific Mystery Solved
by Russell Martin
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 18.86
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Story In Bloated Form, July 1 2004
It is impossible to damage this book. That's because it has so much padding it probably could survive any shock.Initially you are expecting to read a story about how a lock of Beethoven's hair snipped by a 17 year old Ferdinand Hiller (the later composer) wound up by various means in the U.S. 200 years later. That interesting story could be told in about half the space taken up in this book.
Beethoven dies, the hair is snipped and then we get a mini biography of Ferdinand Hiller. Beethoven is next ressurected and we get a chapter of his first decade in Vienna with much repetition. Don't worry you'll get the rest of his life a chapter here and there. Then Hiller dies and we get his obituary which retells what we got two chapters back. You get the idea. Every now and then something else about the hair and later chapters about the 2 guys who bought the lock at auction.
What this book sorely needed was an editor to organize it and cut out the repetitions, paragraphs entirely made up of questions(most of which had already been answered) and unsupported speculation. When I tried to check the bibliography to find out where some of this stuff came from I was some how not surprised that there was none. Here is a case of a book that will probably work better in a Reader's Digest condensed version.

Beethoven Collection: Symphonies Nos. 1-9, Complete Recording (Box Set)
Beethoven Collection: Symphonies Nos. 1-9, Complete Recording (Box Set)
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Price: CDN$ 111.87
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Rather Good At A Give Away Price, July 1 2004
Janos Ferencsik (1907-1984)was one of the most prominent conductors in post World War II Hungary. Although he recorded mostly for the state run Hungaraton label he did make a few for other labels. A very fine recording of Schoenberg's "Gurrelieder" on EMI is highly recommended. Ferencsik was not a flashy conductor but instead concentrated on the inner workings of a score often providing some interesting insights that many glossed over. A concert of Bartok's music that I heard some 25 years is still quite vivid in my mind.Like many of his generation clarity of textures among the different sections of the orchestra was a hallmark.
These Beethoven recordings were made towards the end of his life and are a fine example of his work. These are solid performances that avoid some of the Romantic excesses that crept into the scores via Wagner. One gets the sense in these performances of a Beethoven emerging from the Classical period of Haydn and Mozart in the Romantic era which he would forge. Performers are all first class and the price is really a steal.
You probably have one or two sets by more well known names but this set would make an ideal back up to take along on vacation, for the office or for your portable player. Either way you will be getting some very fine performances at an incredible price. Off the top of my head I can think of about 3 sets by other conductors selling for 3 to 4 times the price that do not even approach the quality of Ferencsik's performances

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Price: CDN$ 14.09
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2.0 out of 5 stars Should have Stayed Buried, July 1 2004
The old Vox catalog has quite a few gems worthy of reissue. There are however a few horrors that are best left buried. Both these performances fall into the later category. The Klemperer Bruckner 4th is the better of the two but no where in the same league with his later EMI recordings. The orchestra barely hangs in and is noticeably on the thin side. Hans Rosbaud was a very fine Mahler conductor. The Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, at this period in the early 1950's, was an excellent ensemble making many now classic recordings with Ferenc Fricsay for DGG. To call their playing in the Mahler 7th a horror would be kind. The problem is not that they are bad players but that they were probably playing Mahler for the first time and had no idea of what they were getting into. There is a later radio broadcast recording of the 7th by Rosbaud and Sudwestfunks Sinfonieorchester Baden Baden that clearly shows that the conductor knows his Mahler and the orchestra was more familiar with the idiom. In the early 1950's this recording was the only game in town. I suspect though that it probably turned off folks who were not familiar with Mahler. Recommended only for those with a severe case of blind nostalgia.

Price: CDN$ 14.98
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Complete Published Score, June 24 2004
This review is from: Hamlet (Audio CD)
Shakspeare's "Hamlet" has been a particular favorite with Russian audiences and composers. Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev and Shostakovich (Akimov's 1932 and Kozintsev's 1954 stage productions) all wrote incidental music for performances of the play. By the time Shostakovich would score Kozintsev's 1964 film version of "Hamlet" it would be the third time that he would write a score for it. For years most listeners only knew the music from the film from the suite arranged by Lev Atovmian. Yablonsky here gives us the complete published score of some 23 pieces lasting over an hour.
There is some fascinating and original music here parts of which would find their way into the 9th Sting Quartet. While most of it is eeriely subtle there are many moments of sharp dramatic attacks. The composer plays a cat and mouse game with the listener with uneasy calm only to be jolted back in the work. You will also hear something quite, quite rare in any Shostakovich score, a harpsichord. In a detached manner it underlines Ophelia's descent into madness, insanity and ultimate death. It is quite effective and makes one wish the composer had written more for the instrument. Dmitry Yablonsky appears to be Naxos new in house Shostakovich conductor having previously given listeners very fine performance of the 7th Symphony, the Jazz Suites and Suite from "The Bolt". The performances here are equally fine with some of the more dramatic moments appropriatey unsettling.
The track listings also indicate which of the 8 of the 23 pieces were used in the suite should you which to hear it that way. However when Atovmian made the suite he slightly trimmed most of the pieces so you get a slighty longer version of the suite should you program it that way. Very detailed notes from Naxos but the print could have been a bit bigger and darker. This is the first in a new series by Naxos called Film Music Classics. It is a great start. At the price, just about a give away.

Sibelius: Symphonies
Sibelius: Symphonies
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5.0 out of 5 stars As Fresh & Bracing As The Air On A Finnish Winter Morning, June 22 2004
This review is from: Sibelius: Symphonies (Audio CD)
These recordings are some 30 to 40 years old but they are still have a freshness to them that seems to be all too lacking in some newer Sibelius performance. Bernstein was as passionate about Sibelius as he was about Mahler. His death prevented the completion of a second Sibelius cycle with the Vienna Philharmonic. Those Vienna recordings were a bit too measured and studied a far cry from the bracing exuberance that Bernstein brought to these works in these New York Philharmonic recordings.
He was not afraid to push his the New Yorkers dangerously close to the edge nor did they flinch from going there. The horns in the last movement of the 5th Symphony for example get a work out but their playing of of Sibelius' great bell like melody is unforgetable. In quieter moments Bernstein deftly weaves Sibelius' often delicate harmonies and melodies and avoids having them stumble over each other. There is at times a stark contrast in tone but that works quite nicely in showing the composer's on going struggle with reconciling his Romantic roots to the newer early 20th Century idioms. Some smooth it over, Bernstein meets it head on. Perhaps he is seeing a bit of Mahler in Sibelius but the two were contemporaries and had discussions on the meaning of what a symphony is. The recordings were originally made by CBS/Columbia and have worn their years well. A bit of edge at times but that seems to work nicely with Bernstein's approach.

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