Classics Today Insider

DG’s Mongrel Shostakovich Cycle

by David Hurwitz

The main purpose in putting this set together, obviously, was to recycle Järvi’s incomplete (for DG) Shostakovich cycle–the rest of it is on Chandos. Järvi has always been a fine Shostakovich conductor, and here he offers Symphonies Nos. 2 and 3, which no one especially cares about eve... Continue Reading


Reference Recording: Muti’s Terrifying Prokofiev Third

by David Hurwitz

Prokofiev’s Third Symphony, based on music from his expressionistic opera The Fiery Angel, is the best score never written for a horror film. The scherzo, in particular, has a ghastly, slithery quality that’s absolutely unforgettable, particularly in this performance where those fabulous... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: Karajan’s Mostly Berlin, Mostly Analog Strauss

by David Hurwitz

This richly packaged, splendidly annotated (with complete texts and translations) limited edition contains the following: 1. All of Karajan’s non-digital stereo Berlin Strauss recordings for DG: Till, Don, Death, Zarathustra, Don Quixote, Ein Heldenleben, Metamorphosen, Salome’s Dance, t... Continue Reading


References Revisited: EMI’s Karajan Rosenkavalier

by Dan Davis

Karajan’s Rosenkavalier, in its EMI reissue as part of the Great Recordings of the Century series, already has been deleted and reissued again. This GROC incarnation now sells for a fortune new on Amazon. Frankly, I never knew it had gone missing, but EMI/Warner’s marketers have infinite... Continue Reading


The “Best” Callas Norma, Refurbished

by Robert Levine

With more than a dozen separate performances of Norma starring Maria Callas to choose from, recorded between 1949 and 1965 (including two for EMI; the others all “private”), what’s a person to do? Since it’s absolutely necessary for every fan of great singing and/or this opera to own at leas... Continue Reading


Mercadante’s Enjoyable Orchestral Works, Finally

by David Hurwitz

Let’s hope this disc represents the start of a series. Mercadante wrote a lot of orchestral music: concertos, fantasias, and whole series of quasi-programmatic pieces that he called, probably for want of a better term, “symphonies”. There’s a tendency, in considering 19th cen... Continue Reading


A Reference Ballo From La Scala, 1975

by Robert Levine

This live, 1975 performance from La Scala may seem an odd choice for a reference recording, but it captures one of those remarkable moments when all soloists, and even a relatively underpowered conductor, were in their primes and decided to live their characters. There has been no dearth of Ballo re... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: A Bruckner Third To Die–Period

by David Hurwitz

This is the most spiritual recording of Bruckner’s Third you will ever hear. I guarantee that the experience of listening must be the closest thing on this mortal orb to enduring an eternity in purgatory. The version is Bruckner’s original one of 1873, and the performance lasts 89 excruc... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: Prokofiev Symphonies and Concertos from Naxos

by David Hurwitz

This box is a terrific deal. Having had the opportunity to review several of these recordings on initial release, I can say without qualms that after Neeme Järvi’s Chandos benchmarks, this is the best Prokofiev symphony cycle available, and the addition of the concertos combined with the budg... Continue Reading


Stupid Box Du Jour: Maazel In Vienna

by David Hurwitz

What on earth was Decca thinking? This should have been so simple. Just take all of Maazel’s Vienna Philharmonic recordings and stick them in a box. But no. Some moron had to actually think about it and make decisions. And so we get the Tchaikovsky symphony cycle (including Manfred) plus Hamle... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: A Perfect Fool of a Planets

by David Hurwitz

The blurb on the tray card says it all: “Of the many recordings of Holst’s brilliantly orchestrated showpiece, this provides a particularly devastating combination of players, conductor, acoustic, and recording technique.” You said it baby: “devastating” is the word. At... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: Belohlávek’s Dull Dvorák, Again

by David Hurwitz

Jirí Belohlávek must be a nice guy, because he invariably turns in “nice” performances: pleasant, unadventurous, faithful to the score–but insightful and exciting? Not so much. The utter pointlessness of this release is underlined by the fact that Belohlávek recorded symphonies ... Continue Reading


Major Discoveries: Petrassi’s Neoclassical Works

by David Hurwitz

First the bad news: the sound quality on this release is highly variable. In the Divertimento and Partita the engineering is rich and full but raw, with the brass in your face and edgy. It’s exciting, to be sure, but also a bit crude. The two vocal soloists in the Four Sacred Hymns sing well [... Continue Reading


Ormandy Owns the “Classical” Symphony

by David Hurwitz

There are some recordings that should never go out of print. This is one of them. Naturally, it’s out of print, but not too hard to find used at super cheap prices as of the time of writing (8/14). Everyone records the “Classical” Symphony, but not everyone does it with such perfec... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Oundjian’s Rubenesque Sheherazade

by David Hurwitz

The justification for this disc is incomprehensible. It’s only fort-five minutes long—there is no coupling. Not that you’d want one. This is an utterly forgettable performance. From the flabby, or shall we say “Rubenesque” portrait of the heroine herself at the start from first violinist J... Continue Reading


Moszkowski’s Four Hand Music: Complete At Last

by Jed Distler

Few composers wrote better salon music for piano than Moritz Moszkowski (1854-1925), whose solo etudes and character pieces are always fun to hear, at least in the hands of pianists who ooze technique and charm. And like all good salon composers, Moszkowski contributed his fair share to the late 19t... Continue Reading


Prokofiev’s Original Film Score for Alexander Nevsky

by David Hurwitz

This is an excellent performance of Prokofiev’s original score to Alexander Nevsky, though it’s deceptive of RCA not to tell us right up front that what’s on the disc is not the more familiar cantata. The truth of the matter is that the cantata gives you all of the important music ... Continue Reading


Reference Recording: Abbado’s Cinematic Alexander Nevsky

by David Hurwitz

Forget the movie, Abbado’s Alexander Nevsky is more vivid than anything you’ll see on the screen. With gutsy singing from the London Symphony Chorus, a fine alto solo from Obratsova in “The Field of the Dead,” and terrifying sonorities in The Crusaders in Pskov, this really i... Continue Reading


Reference Recording: Prokofiev’s Complete R&J

by David Hurwitz

There are a handful of complete recordings of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet ballet, including Previn (EMI), Gergiev (Philips), Ashkenazy (Decca), Ozawa (Deutsche Grammophon), and this one, featuring Lorin Maazel and the Cleveland Orchestra. On balance, the best two remain Ozawa’s, for its... Continue Reading


Boccherini’s Winsome Octet, Symphony No. 28 & Cello Concertos

by David Hurwitz

This music is wonderful, and you really won’t want to miss hearing it. Boccherini was an amazing melodist and a superb orchestrator. The symphony, actually an overture in three linked movements–fast, slow, fast–has excitement and lyricism aplenty, while the Octet’s opening An... Continue Reading


Beethoven’s Plus-Size Late Quartets

by David Vernier

There’s a long tradition of transcribing/arranging string quartets for string orchestra–not only numerous Beethoven settings (including Mahler’s of the Op. 95 F minor and the Bernstein/Mitropoulos Op. 131 and 135) but also the famous Barshai version of Shostakovich’s Quartet ... Continue Reading


Reference Recording: Kertész, Ludwig & Berry Own Bluebeard’s Castle

by David Hurwitz

This performance needs little introduction. Widely regarded as the finest stereo version ever recorded of Bartók’s moody, hypnotic single opera, it took a surprisingly long time to reach CD, but since has been reissued twice, first on Decca’s “Classic Sound” and now on the &... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: A Bruckner Third To Die–Period

by David Hurwitz

This is the most spiritual recording of Bruckner’s Third you will ever hear. I guarantee that the experience of listening must be the closest thing on this mortal orb to enduring an eternity in purgatory. The version is Bruckner’s original one of 1873, and the performance lasts 89 excruc... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: A Perfect Fool of a Planets

by David Hurwitz

The blurb on the tray card says it all: “Of the many recordings of Holst’s brilliantly orchestrated showpiece, this provides a particularly devastating combination of players, conductor, acoustic, and recording technique.” You said it baby: “devastating” is the word. At... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Oundjian’s Rubenesque Sheherazade

by David Hurwitz

The justification for this disc is incomprehensible. It’s only fort-five minutes long—there is no coupling. Not that you’d want one. This is an utterly forgettable performance. From the flabby, or shall we say “Rubenesque” portrait of the heroine herself at the start from first violinist J... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Postnikova’s Plodding Tchaikovsky Concertos

by David Hurwitz

Listening to this dreary set brings to mind the story of the elderly couple in Miami leaving a restaurant after the “early bird special.” The woman asks her husband, “How was the food?” “Terrible,” he replies. “Yes,” she agrees, “and such small p... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Grotesque Debussy and Ravel for Organ

by David Hurwitz

Debussy and Ravel wrote nothing for organ, and with good reason. Their music, which depends almost entirely on color, texture, and rhythm, and in any event tends to avoid counterpoint, is completely unsuited to the instrument. Gunnar Idenstam argues that he has chosen to play this recital of his own... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Harold’s Italian Passport Revoked

by David Hurwitz

What can even a fine conductor do with a bad orchestra in an acoustically lousy room? Leonard Slatkin has had my admiration for decades, but the series of recordings that he has made in Lyon have been almost uniformly disappointing. Here he’s recording French music with a French orchestra that... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Abbado’s First Berlin Beethoven Cycle

by Victor Carr Jr

During his tenure in Berlin, Abbado replaced more than 80 members of the orchestra, virtually eradicating all traces of Karajan’s particular musical personality (while still pursuing his goal of a super-refined ensemble sound). Abbado also uses the Barenreiter edition, featuring Jonathan Del M... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Welser-Möst’s Disaster in the Alps

by David Hurwitz

Strauss’ An Alpine Symphony is many things: huge, glitzy, tuneful, maybe a bit tacky, bombastic, and long-winded, but the one thing it must not be is boring. Believe it or not, this is Welser-Möst’s second recording of the work. His first, for EMI with the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra ... Continue Reading


Carmen From Hell

by Robert Levine

This is an enormously frustrating set. The best thing about it is prime Jon Vickers (1969), offering a José that is beautifully sung and acted, from a menacing fff–he’ll scare you to death in Act 4–to ppp. The end of the Flower Song is ravishing, as is the entire duet with Micaela... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Collins Mangles Sibelius, Pt. 1

by David Hurwitz

If “legendary” can be used to suggest “famously great”, then perhaps the correct term to describe the quality of these performances should be “mythical”. It may be that some older listeners imprinted on them, and there are always listeners faithful to the notion t... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Collins Mangles Sibelius, Pt. 2

by David Hurwitz

Like the first pair of Eloquence discs containing Symphonies Nos. 1-4, these mid-1950s performances are mediocre and irrelevant, compromised by Anthony Collins’ lack of distinctive insights (other than basically correct tempos) and the orchestra’s often miserable response. Most awful is ... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Venzago’s Bruckner 8–Apocalypse Now

by David Hurwitz

Hearing this worst-ever recording of Bruckner’s Eighth is actually a heartwarming experience. It reminds us that even in these days of high playing standards the great masterpieces still resist being mauled by nutcase conductors able to attract sufficient funds (and gullible labels) to inflect... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Scherchen Butchers The Suite From Mahler’s Fifth

by David Hurwitz

This legendary release captures a 1965 live performance of Mahler’s Fifth, or rather a version so cut that it amounts to an extended suite. Two thirds of the scherzo are missing, as is about a third of the finale. The playing elsewhere is so poor that it would make a bad community orchestra bl... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Gergiev’s Messy Rite

by David Hurwitz

Gergiev’s recording of The Rite of Spring, recorded live in Baden-Baden, never should have been released. It’s a mess, both interpretively and especially technically. The problems announce themselves from the very first measures, as the far-too-forward microphone placement limits the dyn... Continue Reading


CD From Hell (or Siberia): A Punch-the-Pianist, Mannerist Figaro

by Robert Levine

Some things you should know: This complete recording was made in the city of Perm, just at the edge of Siberia (a closed city devoted to arms manufacturing previously called “Molotov” during the Soviet era), over a period of 11 days and for up to 14 hours per day—the type of total immersion on... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Haitink Euthanizes Vaughan Williams

by David Hurwitz

If we didn’t already know that Bernard Haitink has no sense of humor as an interpreter, I would call this set a joke. We all know that the British press loves it when major international artists come to England and pay homage to native composers–as distinct from when they attempt to do i... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Dreadful Riffs On Purcell From Pluhar

by Robert Levine

I’ve been a great fan of Christina Pluhar and her period-instrument-and-voice group, L’Arpeggiata, which frequently highlights the wonderful countertenor Philippe Jaroussky, as does this release. Pluhar is known for allowing and encouraging improvisation as well as for adding rhythmic alteration... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Furtwängler the Bach Mangler

by David Hurwitz

This release does Furtwängler’s reputation no credit at all. 1950 was a Bach year (the bicentennial of his death), and the great conductor had his heart set on a Vienna performance of the St. Matthew Passion–which already had been promised to his arch-rival, Herbert von Karajan. In an e... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Koussevitzky Drools All Over Sibelius

by David Hurwitz

These boring, indifferently played, soggily recorded performances haven’t held up well at all (if indeed they ever did when first issued). The first movement of the Second Symphony never catches fire (what a dreary opening!–sound clip), and in the ensuing “Tempo andante” seco... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Davis’ Shameful RCA Sibelius

by David Hurwitz

The prospect of Colin Davis, a committed Sibelian, remaking the symphonies and lots of orchestral music, including Kullervo, with the London Symphony for RCA initially sounded exciting. After all, his Boston cycle was (and remains) a reference recording. The result was a disaster. I have some inside... Continue Reading

More "CDs from Hell" Reviews »

Reference Recording: Muti’s Terrifying Prokofiev Third

by David Hurwitz

Prokofiev’s Third Symphony, based on music from his expressionistic opera The Fiery Angel, is the best score never written for a horror film. The scherzo, in particular, has a ghastly, slithery quality that’s absolutely unforgettable, particularly in this performance where those fabulous... Continue Reading


The “Best” Callas Norma, Refurbished

by Robert Levine

With more than a dozen separate performances of Norma starring Maria Callas to choose from, recorded between 1949 and 1965 (including two for EMI; the others all “private”), what’s a person to do? Since it’s absolutely necessary for every fan of great singing and/or this opera to own at leas... Continue Reading


A Reference Ballo From La Scala, 1975

by Robert Levine

This live, 1975 performance from La Scala may seem an odd choice for a reference recording, but it captures one of those remarkable moments when all soloists, and even a relatively underpowered conductor, were in their primes and decided to live their characters. There has been no dearth of Ballo re... Continue Reading


Ormandy Owns the “Classical” Symphony

by David Hurwitz

There are some recordings that should never go out of print. This is one of them. Naturally, it’s out of print, but not too hard to find used at super cheap prices as of the time of writing (8/14). Everyone records the “Classical” Symphony, but not everyone does it with such perfec... Continue Reading


Reference Recording: Abbado’s Cinematic Alexander Nevsky

by David Hurwitz

Forget the movie, Abbado’s Alexander Nevsky is more vivid than anything you’ll see on the screen. With gutsy singing from the London Symphony Chorus, a fine alto solo from Obratsova in “The Field of the Dead,” and terrifying sonorities in The Crusaders in Pskov, this really i... Continue Reading


Reference Recording: Prokofiev’s Complete R&J

by David Hurwitz

There are a handful of complete recordings of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet ballet, including Previn (EMI), Gergiev (Philips), Ashkenazy (Decca), Ozawa (Deutsche Grammophon), and this one, featuring Lorin Maazel and the Cleveland Orchestra. On balance, the best two remain Ozawa’s, for its... Continue Reading


Reference Recording: Kertész, Ludwig & Berry Own Bluebeard’s Castle

by David Hurwitz

This performance needs little introduction. Widely regarded as the finest stereo version ever recorded of Bartók’s moody, hypnotic single opera, it took a surprisingly long time to reach CD, but since has been reissued twice, first on Decca’s “Classic Sound” and now on the &... Continue Reading


Horne’s Authentic Gluck Orfeo

by David Hurwitz

From a purely vocal point of view, this version of Gluck’s masterpiece stands among the most authentic on the market. The version is Berlioz’s, basically, translated back into Italian, and contains most of the music that Gluck added to his French retread (including the wonderfully scarif... Continue Reading


Järvi’s Prokofiev Sixth: Still The Version Of Choice

by David Hurwitz

Prokofiev’s Sixth was pretty much neglected by major conductors in the West (Ormandy and Martinon excepted) until Neeme Järvi scored a sensation with this recording in 1985, and then the floodgates opened with versions from Previn, Ashkenazy, Rostropovich, Ozawa, Kuchar, and others appearing ... Continue Reading


Previn’s Classic Prokofiev Symphonies 5 & 7

by David Hurwitz

Perhaps no great Russian symphony has received more lousy performances than Prokofiev’s Fifth, and it’s hard to fathom why. Certainly the music is tuneful, direct, exciting, and not that hard to play (except perhaps for the finale’s coda). André Previn’s mid-1970s recording ... Continue Reading


Reference Recording: Prokofiev’s Unloved Second Symphony

by David Hurwitz

No one especially loves Prokofiev’s Second Symphony. Even the composer had his doubts. It’s a loud, dissonant, rather obnoxious piece blatantly patterned on Beethoven’s last piano sonata (an allegro followed by a theme and variations finale), which is of course a miracle of subtlet... Continue Reading


Reference Recording: Pletnev’s Super-Cool CPE Bach

by David Hurwitz

Anyone who has heard Mikhail Pletnev’s Scarlatti knows that he has a real feel for the improvisatory element in Baroque and pre-Classical music, and no one was more improvisatory, capricious, and emotionally extravagant than C.P.E. Bach. Pletnev has finally met his match: a composer who is mor... Continue Reading


Järvi’s Blistering Prokofiev Fifth

by David Hurwitz

We know the drill: Järvi made too many records (who didn’t in the 1980s and ’90s?), his conducting was sometimes sloppy, his tempos recklessly fast–and all of this was true, to a degree. But set against this his excitement, his willingness to let the orchestra play full-out, his r... Continue Reading


Reference Recording: Prokofiev’s Problematic Sinfonia Concertante

by David Hurwitz

This review is going to be a bit more about my subjective impressions than I usually allow, so I want to ask your indulgence up front. Prokofiev’s Sinfonia concertante has its supporters and detractors, but I have always fallen somewhere in the middle: I want to like it but the piece never has... Continue Reading


Reference Recording: Ancerl’s Anguished Prokofiev R&J

by David Hurwitz

One of the things most critics learn early (if indeed they ever learn anything at all!) is never to call any recording “definitive”. So I won’t. The fact remains, though, that this is the best recording of music from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet yet to appear. In The Death of... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: Marriner Plays Mostly Modern Music

by David Hurwitz

This ten-disc set is billed as containing “20th Century Classics,” including such modern gems as Bizet’s Symphony in C, Wagner’s Siegfried-Idyll, the Baermann Adagio for Clarinet and Strings, Grieg’s Holdberg Suite and his Elegiac Melodies. The problem is that the ̶... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: The Best Strauss Collection Since Kempe

by David Hurwitz

In the hands of the major labels, the word “complete” is a dangerous weapon. Usually, the collection in question is not complete, but this one errs in the opposite direction, and all to the good: it is more than complete. Not only do you get all of the tone poems and concertos, but there... Continue Reading


Reference Recording: Hengelbrock’s Death-Defying Dvorák 4th

by David Hurwitz

Yes, the Fourth! Singleton recordings of this symphony are simply unheard of outside of complete cycles, and few less than hard core Dvorák fans have anything good to say about it. I actually thought, initially, that this disc contained the Eighth and had simply reverted for some perverse reason to... Continue Reading


Reference Recording: Kubelik’s Brilliant Dvorák 6th and Janácek Sinfonietta

by David Hurwitz

Kubelik’s commercial recording of Dvorák’s Sixth for DG with the Berlin Philharmonic still stands with the best, but this newcomer takes his interpretation to another level entirely. The hard-edged brilliance and rhythmic exactitude that characterized the earlier recording has been repl... Continue Reading


Kubelik’s Bruckner 9 Stunner

by David Hurwitz

This wonderful disc demonstrates two important facts: first, that there’s no such thing as a “definitive” performance because great artists always manage to say something new about great music; and second, that the most surprising “insights” often result from a literal ... Continue Reading

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Boccherini’s Winsome Octet, Symphony No. 28 & Cello Concertos

by David Hurwitz

This music is wonderful, and you really won’t want to miss hearing it. Boccherini was an amazing melodist and a superb orchestrator. The symphony, actually an overture in three linked movements–fast, slow, fast–has excitement and lyricism aplenty, while the Octet’s opening An... Continue Reading


Under the Radar: Ferrara’s Orchestral Works

by David Hurwitz

Franco Ferrara (1911-85) probably was the most renowned conducting teacher before Finland’s Jorma Panula. His brilliant early career ended due to a nervous condition that made it impossible for him to conduct in public (he developed a disconcerting tendency to pass out in mid-beat), but it did... Continue Reading


Maazel’s Excellent Vienna Sibelius

by David Hurwitz

With the passing of Lorin Maazel, the world of classical music lost one of its strangest yet most talented figures. The man was a cypher. He held just about every major post that it’s possible to get, his discography was huge and duplicative, and given the quantity of records that he made surp... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: Shirley Verrett’s Great Carmen

by Robert Levine

Precisely why this recording—made live at Covent Garden in 1973—is not better known is a mystery; it’s the best Carmen on the market. In the title role on CD there’s no dearth of great singers available, but Angeles is too pure; Callas is too vocally iffy; Norman sounds like a drag queen loo... Continue Reading


Under the Radar: Solti’s Strauss Tone Poems

by David Hurwitz

It’s interesting that Georg Solti’s recordings of Strauss tone poems seem never to have gotten the attention that they deserve. True, he did not program them with the same frequency and comprehensiveness that he did Strauss’ contemporary Mahler, but Solti’s credentials as an ... Continue Reading


Under the Radar: Taming Puccini’s Wild West Opera

by Robert Levine

Fanciulla is Puccini’s hardest opera to cast. The role of Minnie is unlike any other in his canon: Turandot is more direct, half the length, and rarely requires anything other than exclamatory singing; and Johnson is longer, higher, and louder than Calaf or Des Grieux. The opera also requires a be... Continue Reading


Four-Hands Requiem Is Hands-Down Success

by David Vernier

It’s only natural, I suppose, to assume that an “arrangement” or “transcription” for piano of a great orchestral work will be inferior to the original. But that depends on the particular arrangement and on your mindset. Depending on the skill and creativity of the arran... Continue Reading


Under the Radar (!): Jochum and Gilels Play Brahms

by David Hurwitz

Remember these? For a good couple of decades these recordings were lauded as reference versions of the Brahms piano concertos, but they seem to have slipped below the horizon in recent years. Indeed, Gilels’ reputation has waned since his death in 1985, one hopes temporarily, and collectors ar... Continue Reading


Under The Radar: Markevitch’s Zarzuela Collection

by David Hurwitz

Here’s a disc that many of you may have missed, even Markevitch fans: his collection of preludes, intermezzos, arias, and choruses from 11 Zarzuelas, both familiar and unfamiliar–71 minutes in all. The Zarzuela repertoire dates back some three centuries. It is vast, it is wonderful, and ... Continue Reading


A Frühbeck de Burgos Testament: Sensational Liszt

by David Hurwitz

This is the best Liszt orchestral recital to come along in many a moon, and it’s all the more enjoyable given the involvement of Rafael Frübeck de Burgos, a fine conductor and a real trouper who has not received much attention since he ended his association with EMI several decades ago. My, b... Continue Reading


Andrew Davis Does Elgar Proud

by David Hurwitz

OK, so we don’t actually need another box of Elgar, but after his very disappointing series of Holst recordings for Chandos, it’s nice to renew one’s acquaintance with these excellently recorded performances and hear Andrew Davis on top of his game. He is one of the few conductors ... Continue Reading


Under the Radar: Ozawa’s First Mahler First

by David Hurwitz

The 1970s was the decade, discographically speaking, when the Mahler boom really began. Non-specialist conductors began to record the symphonies regularly, especially the First and Fourth, and some of those issues were superb. This release represents a case in point, hands down the best performance ... Continue Reading


Under the Radar: Tetzlaff and Kirshbaum in Bach

by Jed Distler

Violinist Christian Tetzlaff recorded Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas in 1993, bringing a remarkably high level of technical finesse and musical maturity to his performances. He scans phrases with astute harmonic awareness and subtle accentuation to the point where his generally fast tempos and pe... Continue Reading


Scarlatti On The Modern Harpsichord

by David Hurwitz

It’s very odd that most Scarlatti recordings feature either piano or “historical” harpsichords, but very few offer the latter instrument’s modern incarnation. I suppose, in a sense, all harpsichords are historical to the extent that they are copies of older models, but you mi... Continue Reading


Under the Radar: A Great New Glagolitic Mass

by David Hurwitz

Janácek’s Glagolitic Mass is one of the great “collectible” works, in the sense that it has so many readily audible moments that aficionados listen for and love to compare from one performance to the next: the soprano and tenor soloists, those crazy timpani solos, the tempos at th... Continue Reading


Under the Radar: Ozawa’s Sublime Berlioz R&J

by David Hurwitz

This well-nigh definitive recording of Berlioz’s Romeo and Juliet last appeared in a big box called something like “The Berlioz Experience”, surrounded by a bunch of far less desirable performances of the composer’s other major works. Other than that, it has not been reissued... Continue Reading


Beethoven’s Violin Concerto for the 21st Century

by David Hurwitz

Christian Tetzlaff is a brilliant violinist, one whose technique is equaled by his intelligence. He recorded a very respectable Beethoven Violin Concerto with Michael Gielen, last available on Point Classics in so-so sound. This newcomer is finer still, an interpretation with real personality and a ... Continue Reading


Reference Recording: Finally, A Great Beethoven Triple

by Jed Distler

Beethoven’s Triple Concerto works best when played like a svelte, bubbly concerto grosso rather than middle-period Beethoven pretending to be Elgar. For that to happen, you need a firm, decisive podium master who keeps everything clear and moving ahead. And you need three virtuoso soloists wit... Continue Reading


Under the Radar: An “Emperor” Worthy of the Name

by David Hurwitz

Are the Bronfman/Zinman Beethoven piano concertos the modern answer to Fleisher/Szell? It would seem so. When this cycle was issued originally in the mid-2000s the distribution situation with Arte Nova was just a tad questionable on these shores, and Sony/BMG were more of a mess than usual. So we we... Continue Reading


Under the Radar: Really Excellent Beethoven 3rd and 4th PCs

by David Hurwitz

These are sensational performances. They have everything: drama, poetry, and a real point of view, all while recognizing the latest scholarship with respect to playing music of the Classical period. It’s fascinating to hear how interesting an interpretation can become when a big-boned Romantic... Continue Reading

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Ormandy Owns the “Classical” Symphony

by David Hurwitz

There are some recordings that should never go out of print. This is one of them. Naturally, it’s out of print, but not too hard to find used at super cheap prices as of the time of writing (8/14). Everyone records the “Classical” Symphony, but not everyone does it with such perfec... Continue Reading


Kubelik’s Fascinating Take On “Bluebeard”

by Robert Levine

This previously unreleased performance, recorded live at the 1962 Lucerne Festival and sung in German (rather than Hungarian), is an eerie, riveting experience that, strangely, does not bring any other to mind. The Kertesz on Decca remains ideal in every way, including its use of Hungarian and the b... Continue Reading


Reference Recording: Ancerl’s Anguished Prokofiev R&J

by David Hurwitz

One of the things most critics learn early (if indeed they ever learn anything at all!) is never to call any recording “definitive”. So I won’t. The fact remains, though, that this is the best recording of music from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet yet to appear. In The Death of... Continue Reading


Schulhoff Plays Schulhoff: The Complete Recordings

by Jed Distler

The death of Erwin Schulhoff in a concentration camp in 1942 silenced one of the most interesting and creative composers of his generation, a committed communist whose unfettered fusion of jazz, folk, and classical elements has been increasingly embraced by contemporary performers. He also was a ski... Continue Reading


Kubelik’s Live Dvorák 7th: Dark and Massive

by David Hurwitz

Kubelik’s studio Dvorák Seventh may have been good, but it doesn’t hold a candle to this live version from 1979. It’s a big, dark, passionate, tragically intense vision of the work, at least in the outer movements. The first is strongly contrasted and powerfully driven, rising to ... Continue Reading


Classic Kubelik: Dvorák “New World” and String Serenade

by Victor Carr Jr

This live Dvorák Ninth from 1980 features many similar attributes to Rafael Kubelik’s generally well-regarded 1973 studio recording with the Berlin Philharmonic. There’s the same emphasis on rhythm, which keeps the musical pulse flowing excitedly, even in the slow movement, and Kubelik ... Continue Reading


Reference Recording: Kubelik’s Brilliant Dvorák 6th and Janácek Sinfonietta

by David Hurwitz

Kubelik’s commercial recording of Dvorák’s Sixth for DG with the Berlin Philharmonic still stands with the best, but this newcomer takes his interpretation to another level entirely. The hard-edged brilliance and rhythmic exactitude that characterized the earlier recording has been repl... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: Exciting Brahms & Dvorák from Kubelik & Szeryng

by David Hurwitz

Clear, somewhat dry mono sound gives these 1967 performances a touch of shrillness and puts a raw edge on Henryk Szeryng’s violin tone that he surely didn’t have in person. Oddly, this brightness complements the performances, which have remarkable vitality and generosity of spirit. Tempo... Continue Reading


Kubelik’s Bruckner 9 Stunner

by David Hurwitz

This wonderful disc demonstrates two important facts: first, that there’s no such thing as a “definitive” performance because great artists always manage to say something new about great music; and second, that the most surprising “insights” often result from a literal ... Continue Reading


Kubelik’s Live Bartók

by David Hurwitz

Rafael Kubelik recorded Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra twice commercially, and two live recordings (including this one) also grace the current catalog. His finest version, indeed one of the select reference editions of the work, remains his Boston Symphony performance for DG, but his live ef... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: Beethoven with Serkin and Kubelik

by Jed Distler

For at least a half century Beethoven’s piano concertos played a central role in Rudolf Serkin’s repertoire. In 1941 he recorded the “Emperor” with Bruno Walter and the New York Philharmonic, and nearly a decade later he embarked on the full cycle with Eugene Ormandy and the ... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: A Thrill-A-Minute Forza

by Robert Levine

This 1941 recording actually does come under the category of “they’re not making them like this anymore.” Recorded in Italy by Italian Radio, Turin, with a cast steeped in Italian tradition in addition to featuring remarkable singing and conducting, there is a style that cannot be faked or imi... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: Shirley Verrett’s Great Carmen

by Robert Levine

Precisely why this recording—made live at Covent Garden in 1973—is not better known is a mystery; it’s the best Carmen on the market. In the title role on CD there’s no dearth of great singers available, but Angeles is too pure; Callas is too vocally iffy; Norman sounds like a drag queen loo... Continue Reading


Reference Recording: St. Matthew Profound and Unbound

by David Vernier

That opening chorus!–a nearly 12-minute marvel of Klempererian engineering–of musical forces and Bach’s complex yet perfect design–whose conception and extraordinary execution uniquely captures the profundity and power of Bach’s music. That’s what hooked me, at ab... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: Karajan and His Soloists 1

by David Hurwitz

Most of these performances richly deserve their classic status. Schumann and Mozart piano concertos with Dinu Lipatti, Beethoven, Mozart, Franck, Schumann and Grieg with Walter Gieseking, and Mozart’s horn concertos with Dennis Brain are all historic performances. The truth is that KarajanR... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: Rare Géza Anda from the SWR

by Jed Distler

Recorded in 1952 and 1963, these SWF Radio Orchestra broadcasts featuring pianist Géza Anda make their first authorized CD appearance here. Anda’s 1952 Mozart G Major K, 453 collaboration with Hans Rosbaud preserves his clear and direct interpretation in less animated and nuanced estate compared ... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: Hindemith Plays (with) Himself

by David Hurwitz

Hindemith was a lousy conductor, but not of his own music, fortunately. This is because he regarded the role of conductor as sort of a human metronome, and while it’s certainly possible to get more human emotion out of this music than he thought necessary, it actually works very well if you ju... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: Krauss Conducts Strauss in Vienna

by David Hurwitz

Although advertised as “The Complete Decca Recordings,” this set is should be called “The Complete Vienna Philharmonic Decca Recordings,“ since Krauss made an earlier version of Till Eulenspiegel with the orchestra of La Scala, Milan, and his only version of Death and Transfiguration in Lond... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: The Arthur Rubinstein Complete Album Collection

by Jed Distler

Arthur Rubinstein’s 82 years before the public comprised one of the longest and most fulfilling piano careers in history. He adored giving concerts, and audiences in turn responded to the communicative immediacy and emotional balance governing the pianist’s red-blooded and generous approach to m... Continue Reading


Berman’s Liszt Transcendental Etudes: Justly Legendary

by Jed Distler

The late Lazar Berman (1930-2005) recorded two complete cycles of Liszt’s Transcendental Etudes for Melodiya. His 1959 version appeared in the long-deleted BMG/Melodiya Russian Piano School CD reissue series. The 1963 remake presented here was briefly available via Japanese Victor and as part of a... Continue Reading

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Mercadante’s Enjoyable Orchestral Works, Finally

by David Hurwitz

Let’s hope this disc represents the start of a series. Mercadante wrote a lot of orchestral music: concertos, fantasias, and whole series of quasi-programmatic pieces that he called, probably for want of a better term, “symphonies”. There’s a tendency, in considering 19th cen... Continue Reading


Major Discoveries: Petrassi’s Neoclassical Works

by David Hurwitz

First the bad news: the sound quality on this release is highly variable. In the Divertimento and Partita the engineering is rich and full but raw, with the brass in your face and edgy. It’s exciting, to be sure, but also a bit crude. The two vocal soloists in the Four Sacred Hymns sing well [... Continue Reading


Boccherini’s Winsome Octet, Symphony No. 28 & Cello Concertos

by David Hurwitz

This music is wonderful, and you really won’t want to miss hearing it. Boccherini was an amazing melodist and a superb orchestrator. The symphony, actually an overture in three linked movements–fast, slow, fast–has excitement and lyricism aplenty, while the Octet’s opening An... Continue Reading


Reference Recording: Alkan & Chopin Cello Sonatas

by David Hurwitz

Until now the recording of choice for the Alkan sonata was Bertrand/Amoyel on Harmonia Mundi, with Rostropovich/Argerich on DG for the Chopin. The two sonatas make an inspired coupling, all the more so as this newcomer sweeps the board in both works. There’s an odd rule in the classical music ... Continue Reading


Spányi’s CPE Bach Concerto Series Concludes

by David Hurwitz

With this twentieth volume, Miklós Spányi’s imposing series of the complete keyboard concertos of CPE Bach draws to a close. The two concertos, Wq. 46 for two harpsichords, and Wq. 47 for harpsichord and piano, are two of Bach’s finest orchestral works in any form. The latter, in parti... Continue Reading


Rische’s CPE Bach Concertos Vol. 3

by David Hurwitz

There seems to be no plan at Hänssler to record all of the CPE Bach keyboard concertos on modern piano, but the three volumes that pianist Michael Rische has released thus far have been splendid, and generally superior to the competition from Miklós Spányi on BIS if only because Rische takes the ... Continue Reading


Major Discoveries: Hindemith’s Complete Nobilissima

by David Hurwitz

“First recording of complete ballet” this CD tray card proudly proclaims. Sorry guys, that honor goes (at a minimum) to Karl Anton Rickenbacher with the Bamberg Symphony on Koch, released way back in 1995. Statements such as this are all the more annoying when they can be disproved in ab... Continue Reading


Reference Recording: Kegel’s Smashing Orff Der Mond

by David Hurwitz

If you like Carmina burana and want to hear its logical successor, Der Mond is the place to go. Not only does it actually quote from the earlier work, but it contains a maximum of music with a minimum of dialogue. The story could not be simpler: four traveling fellows happen across the moon hanging ... Continue Reading


Savall Personalizes Dowland’s Lachrimae

by David Hurwitz

Most recordings of Dowland’s beautifully touching and melancholy Lachrimae place the seven “passionate Pavans” that give the collection its title up front (as did Dowland himself). The result is about 25-30 minutes of mostly slow, thematically related music, and modern listeners wh... Continue Reading


Dowland’s Lachrimae, And Then Some

by David Hurwitz

This lovely performance of Dowland’s Lachrimae features lutenist Paul O’Dette in three additional solos related to the contents of the larger collection of consort music in five parts. Particularly noteworthy is a Pavane allegedly dedicated to Dowland by Mortiz, Landgrave of Hessen-Kasse... Continue Reading


Reference Recording: Dowland’s Lachrimae From Jakob Lindberg

by David Hurwitz

Believe it or not, the “seven passionate Pavans” that open Dowland’s epochal Lachrimae collection of consort music do not constitute the gloomiest music in the series. That honor, especially in these intense performances, belongs to Sir Henry Umpton’s Funerall and Semper Dowl... Continue Reading


Fretwork’s Intimate Dowland Lachrimae

by David Hurwitz

Dowland’s Lachrimae has been billed (by Cambridge University Press) as “the earliest instrumental music to be generally known,” or words to that effect. Whether true or not, it is an amazingly beautiful collection, and an interesting one too. Its 21 numbers open with seven “p... Continue Reading


Reference Recording: Martin’s Marvelous Mass

by Dan Davis

Frank Martin’s Mass, completed in 1926, premiered in 1963, and now perhaps his most frequently performed work, usually is described as “austere”. It is, but with emotional, musical, and even sensual layers the word doesn’t describe. The austerity is obvious in the homophonic,... Continue Reading


Major Discoveries: Gouvy’s Glorious Fourth Symphony

by David Hurwitz

You can tell from the opening bars of Gouvy’s D minor Fourth Symphony that this is the real deal (sound clip): urgent, compellingly scored, and thematically distinctive. Yes, the idiom is conservative for the 1850s/60s, but good music is good music, and this may well be great music. After a st... Continue Reading


Major Discoveries: Williamson’s Our Man in Havana

by David Hurwitz

When Malcolm Williamson died in 2003, the musical world scarcely noticed. Still, I suppose it’s better to enjoy growing posthumous recognition than to vanish into obscurity after transient popularity in one’s own lifetime. So if Chandos’ series of Williamson’s orchestral work... Continue Reading


Major Discoveries: D’Albert’s Cinderella and Little Mermaid

by David Hurwitz

Eugen D’Albert was a tremendously gifted musician, and even had he not been we would owe him respect for being married six times and inspiring his second wife, the also multiply married Venezuelan pianist Teresa Careño, to utter that immortal line, “Darling, your children and my childre... Continue Reading


Hamelin’s Standard-Setting Busoni

by Jed Distler

Ninety years have passed since Ferruccio Busoni’s death in 1924, and his original piano works remain box-office poison, although they’ve proliferated on disc. Recent recordings include several all-Busoni discs by Roland Pontinen on CPO along with Wolf Harden’s ongoing complete Busoni cycle for... Continue Reading


Major Discoveries: Florent Schmitt’s Children’s Ballet

by David Hurwitz

Florent Schmitt really, really liked Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite. He liked it so much that he wrote his own piano suite based on Hans Christian Andersen’s fable about the little elf that puts children to sleep and sends them magical dreams. When Ravel orchestrated his suite, then added in... Continue Reading


Major Discoveries: Crumb’s Spanish and American Songbooks

by David Hurwitz

George Crumb returns to his favorite poet, Lorca, for the texts of Ghosts of Alhambra, even including one (Malagueña) that he set previously. Crumb’s style by now is well known: the extended performance techniques (both vocal and instrumental), evocative percussion, and the atmospheric contra... Continue Reading


Major Discoveries: Symphonies by a Modern David

by David Hurwitz

Johann Nepomuk David (1895-1977) was a German/Austrian symphonist in the neoclassical style of Hindemith, although he sounds quite different. His music is buoyantly contrapuntal and rhythmically muscular, but far less aggressive than that of his contemporary, as well as less harmonically acerbic. It... Continue Reading

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Moszkowski’s Four Hand Music: Complete At Last

by Jed Distler

Few composers wrote better salon music for piano than Moritz Moszkowski (1854-1925), whose solo etudes and character pieces are always fun to hear, at least in the hands of pianists who ooze technique and charm. And like all good salon composers, Moszkowski contributed his fair share to the late 19t... Continue Reading


Prokofiev’s Original Film Score for Alexander Nevsky

by David Hurwitz

This is an excellent performance of Prokofiev’s original score to Alexander Nevsky, though it’s deceptive of RCA not to tell us right up front that what’s on the disc is not the more familiar cantata. The truth of the matter is that the cantata gives you all of the important music ... Continue Reading


Beethoven’s Plus-Size Late Quartets

by David Vernier

There’s a long tradition of transcribing/arranging string quartets for string orchestra–not only numerous Beethoven settings (including Mahler’s of the Op. 95 F minor and the Bernstein/Mitropoulos Op. 131 and 135) but also the famous Barshai version of Shostakovich’s Quartet ... Continue Reading


Schulhoff Plays Schulhoff: The Complete Recordings

by Jed Distler

The death of Erwin Schulhoff in a concentration camp in 1942 silenced one of the most interesting and creative composers of his generation, a committed communist whose unfettered fusion of jazz, folk, and classical elements has been increasingly embraced by contemporary performers. He also was a ski... Continue Reading


Patricia Goodson Explores Foerster’s Piano Music

by David Hurwitz

Pianist Patricia Goodson has made a systematic study of Josef Bohuslav Foerster’s piano music, and presents it complete for the first time on this inexpensive and very well-recorded four-CD set. Throughout his long life (1859-1951) Foerster wrote a great deal of music. The latest numbered work... Continue Reading


Jerome Lowenthal’s Beethoven Cadenza Feast

by Jed Distler

In 2005 I had the privilege to share a recital program with Jerome Lowenthal and Frederic Rzewski that focused on Beethoven. I played the 32 C minor Variations with an improvised cadenza before the coda; Rzewski played his own Andante Con Moto (a variation set based on the Appassionata sonata’s ce... Continue Reading


Reference Recording: Orff’s Die Kluge on EMI (Warner)

by David Hurwitz

In my review of the Kegel recording on Berlin Classics pairing these two stage works based on Grimm fairy tales, I gave a brief synopsis of each and noted that if you want the best recording of Der Mond, Kegel’s your man; but for Die Kluge this twofer is your best bet, with a performance [&hel... Continue Reading


Four-Hands Requiem Is Hands-Down Success

by David Vernier

It’s only natural, I suppose, to assume that an “arrangement” or “transcription” for piano of a great orchestral work will be inferior to the original. But that depends on the particular arrangement and on your mindset. Depending on the skill and creativity of the arran... Continue Reading


A Box of Orff. Nazaza?

by David Hurwitz

This five-CD set contains a relatively pale early 1970s recording of Carmina Burana whose standout quality is the participation of Lucia Popp and Hermann Prey as soprano and baritone soloists. The Bavarian Radio Chorus is only so-so (the women especially), and Eichhorn’s leadership is reliable... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: The LaSalle’s Classic 2nd Viennese School Quartets

by Jed Distler

Although both DG and Brilliant Classics have reissued the LaSalle Quartet’s 1968/70 Second Viennese School survey on CD, this latest incarnation via DG’s Collector’s Edition also includes the ensemble’s pioneering early digital recordings of the four Alexander Zemlinsky quartets and the Firs... Continue Reading


Sterling Hindemith from Frank Peter Zimmermann

by David Hurwitz

Hindemith’s music seems to be out of fashion these days. There was a time in the 1960s and 70s when few major violinists did not program his Violin Concerto–sort of a modern German composer’s answer to Brahms. Check out, for example, the extended passage for wind ensemble that open... Continue Reading


Reference Recording: Finally, A Great Beethoven Triple

by Jed Distler

Beethoven’s Triple Concerto works best when played like a svelte, bubbly concerto grosso rather than middle-period Beethoven pretending to be Elgar. For that to happen, you need a firm, decisive podium master who keeps everything clear and moving ahead. And you need three virtuoso soloists wit... Continue Reading


Filling In the Gaps: A Fine Collection of Haydn Songs

by David Hurwitz

The programming concept here is attractive: Haydn’s English art songs interspersed with a selection of his Scottish folk song settings. In the event, there are a couple of issues that militate against playing the entire program at a sitting, and we’ll get to them, but in all other respec... Continue Reading


Nazis on Parade: Karajan’s Classic March Album

by David Hurwitz

This epic set of Prussian and Austrian military marches was issued in the mid-1970s, and it raised a few eyebrows. I suppose it represents Karajan and the Berliners letting their hair down and having some fun, in a manner of speaking, and while much of the music dates from the 19th century, that rea... Continue Reading


Britten On Air and On Stage

by David Vernier

Although not regarded among Britten’s most important works, his music written for the theatre, radio, and for films during the 1930s and ’40s represents a very significant period in his development and maturity as a composer of truly significant, later masterpieces. Constrained by time a... Continue Reading


Filling In The Gaps: Dvorák Complete Piano Music

by David Hurwitz

Along with the lesser-known operas, most collectors will probably wait until the very end of their Dvorák hunting to get to the complete piano works. Dvorák, as we all know, was a violist by profession, although he was (like most musicians of the day) trained on a keyboard instrument as well–... Continue Reading


Filling In The Gaps: Wagner’s Patriotic Potboilers

by David Hurwitz

For the Wagnerite who wants everything the Meister wrote, this disc is just the ticket. Polonia and Rule Britannia are two early patriotic potboilers from the time of the first operas, and they are neither better nor worse that you might expect. Noisy and strident, they get the job done, and are con... Continue Reading


Boulez’ First (Almost) Complete Webern Now A Bargain

by David Hurwitz

Actually, although Boulez is the marquee artist for this collection, he has relatively little to do given the fact that most of Webern’s 31 opus numbers consists of chamber music and songs. These are quite impressively done by sopranos Heather Harper and Halina Lukomska, pianist Charles Rosen,... Continue Reading


Delius in Norway

by David Hurwitz

Norway is a gorgeous country, and it’s no surprise that Delius found much of his inspiration there. The pieces on this intelligently planned program run from 1889-1917, and are programmed in roughly chronological order. They range from the charming orchestration of good friend Edvard GriegR... Continue Reading


Filling in the Gaps: Mozart’s Thamos, King of Egypt

by David Hurwitz

Mozart spent a good seven years, on and off, working on his incidental music to Gebler’s play Thamos, King of Egypt. No one much cared about it then–the play, that is–and we care about it even less now. However, Mozart wrote three choruses, four orchestral interludes, and some brie... Continue Reading

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DG’s Mongrel Shostakovich Cycle

by David Hurwitz

The main purpose in putting this set together, obviously, was to recycle Järvi’s incomplete (for DG) Shostakovich cycle–the rest of it is on Chandos. Järvi has always been a fine Shostakovich conductor, and here he offers Symphonies Nos. 2 and 3, which no one especially cares about eve... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: Karajan’s Mostly Berlin, Mostly Analog Strauss

by David Hurwitz

This richly packaged, splendidly annotated (with complete texts and translations) limited edition contains the following: 1. All of Karajan’s non-digital stereo Berlin Strauss recordings for DG: Till, Don, Death, Zarathustra, Don Quixote, Ein Heldenleben, Metamorphosen, Salome’s Dance, t... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: Prokofiev Symphonies and Concertos from Naxos

by David Hurwitz

This box is a terrific deal. Having had the opportunity to review several of these recordings on initial release, I can say without qualms that after Neeme Järvi’s Chandos benchmarks, this is the best Prokofiev symphony cycle available, and the addition of the concertos combined with the budg... Continue Reading


Stupid Box Du Jour: Maazel In Vienna

by David Hurwitz

What on earth was Decca thinking? This should have been so simple. Just take all of Maazel’s Vienna Philharmonic recordings and stick them in a box. But no. Some moron had to actually think about it and make decisions. And so we get the Tchaikovsky symphony cycle (including Manfred) plus Hamle... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: Belohlávek’s Dull Dvorák, Again

by David Hurwitz

Jirí Belohlávek must be a nice guy, because he invariably turns in “nice” performances: pleasant, unadventurous, faithful to the score–but insightful and exciting? Not so much. The utter pointlessness of this release is underlined by the fact that Belohlávek recorded symphonies ... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: Pires’ Complete DG Solo Recordings

by Jed Distler

No sooner did Warner Classics release its edition of Maria João Pires’ complete Erato catalog than Deutsche Grammophon issued its own 20-disc collection containing the pianist’s entire solo sessions for the label packaged in original jacket facsimiles. For the most part it’s an impressive bod... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: Pires’ Complete Erato Recordings

by Jed Distler

To mark Maria Joåo Pires’ 70th birthday in July 2014, Warner Classics has reissued the pianist’s entire output for the Erato label in a 17- CD boxed set, packaged and programmed in original LP and CD jacket facsimiles. Dating from 1972 through 1987, some of this material has either been unavail... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: Marriner Plays Mostly Modern Music

by David Hurwitz

This ten-disc set is billed as containing “20th Century Classics,” including such modern gems as Bizet’s Symphony in C, Wagner’s Siegfried-Idyll, the Baermann Adagio for Clarinet and Strings, Grieg’s Holdberg Suite and his Elegiac Melodies. The problem is that the ̶... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: The Best Strauss Collection Since Kempe

by David Hurwitz

In the hands of the major labels, the word “complete” is a dangerous weapon. Usually, the collection in question is not complete, but this one errs in the opposite direction, and all to the good: it is more than complete. Not only do you get all of the tone poems and concertos, but there... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: EMI Gets Annie Fischer Right

by Jed Distler

Annie Fischer’s complete EMI recordings have been available in various CD reissues over the years, yet never all together until now. Certain items in this 8-disc collection are newly transferred from stereo masters that sound more open, dynamically expanded, and full-bodied than in earlier mono in... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: A Grab Bag of Strauss Orchestral Works

by David Hurwitz

This seven disc sets contains the nine canonic tone poems plus a selection of Strauss’ other orchestral works, drawn from the RCA and Sony catalogs. Some of the choices are obvious, and no less appropriate for that: Reiner’s Ein Heldenleben, Zarathustra, Symphonia domestic, Bourgeois gen... Continue Reading


Maazel’s Frustratingly Decent Strauss

by David Hurwitz

The best disc in this five-CD set of the nine major Strauss tone poems plus a couple of shorter works is the last, containing Don Quixote, the Romance for Cello and Orchestra, and the Cello Sonata with Steven Isserlis and pianist Stephen Hough. The reason is not that the performances are “the ... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: John Williams Plays Everything Spanish

by David Hurwitz

Well, maybe not everything Spanish, but as much as you’ll ever want or need, most likely, including three versions of the Concierto de Aranjuez. The best of these is the earliest, with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra, because it’s the quickest, especially in the central Ada... Continue Reading


Andrew Davis’ Estimable RVW Cycle

by David Hurwitz

This box comes with a glowing review on the back published in BBC Music Magazine. That the featured orchestra is the BBC Symphony should give listeners pause, just as a positive review of a MET performance in that house’s organ, Opera News, should make readers think twice. Even if there is no... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: Ivo Janssen Plays Complete Bach Keyboard Works…and how!

by Jed Distler

In 1998 Dutch pianist Ivo Janssen launched the Void Classics label with a fleet, witty, and intelligently ornamented interpretation of Bach’s Goldberg Variations. Over the next eight years Janssen recorded the rest of Bach’s keyboard works, all of which are now available in an attractively price... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: The Leonard Bernstein Collection Volume 1

by Jed Distler

If you’ve been waiting for DG to systematically reissue its complete catalog of Leonard Bernstein recordings, your day has come. Organized alphabetically and sequentially by composer in original sleeve facsimiles, this first of two mega boxed sets covers A through L, so to speak, beginning with Be... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: Karajan and His Soloists 1

by David Hurwitz

Most of these performances richly deserve their classic status. Schumann and Mozart piano concertos with Dinu Lipatti, Beethoven, Mozart, Franck, Schumann and Grieg with Walter Gieseking, and Mozart’s horn concertos with Dennis Brain are all historic performances. The truth is that KarajanR... Continue Reading


Reference Recording: Engeset’s Complete Grieg, and Then Some

by David Hurwitz

Choices, choices! Ole Kristian Ruud’s superb Grieg box on BIS was and remains a reference for this music, and it is just a smidgen more technically polished than these otherwise excellent performances. However, Engeset has a couple of points in his favor that may weigh significantly with colle... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: Ruud’s Complete Grieg Orchestral Works

by David Hurwitz

At eight discs for the price of three, this is a great set and a great bargain. It has basically ruled the Grieg marketplace for the past few years, but now that Engeset’s Naxos box is also available collectors are spoiled for choice in this music, for both are equally fine. There are some rea... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: Kubelik–The Symphony Edition

by David Hurwitz

This set represents Rafael Kubelik’s art in a wholly positive way. His Mahler and Dvorák cycles are very well-known. The Dvorák remains, along with those by Rowicki and Kertesz, one of the three reference editions of the complete symphonies, and the only one featuring a Czech conductor. It&#... Continue Reading

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