Classics Today Insider

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


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


Big Boxes: John Ogdon’s Astonishing RCA Recordings

by David Hurwitz

The excellent booklet notes by our very own Jed Distler constitute a more perceptive review than this is likely to be, but here goes. This six-disc set contains all of John Ogdon’s RCA recordings, issued in “original jacket” format. In other words, it could have been condensed onto... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: Beinum’s Budget Bruckner

by David Hurwitz

Now available from Australian Eloquence, Beinum’s Bruckner recordings are classics–as unique as they are rewarding. These discs were briefly available in a slim Philips box and in a few other configurations, but if you blinked you probably missed them. Symphonies Nos. 7-9 were studio rec... 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


Reference Recording: Marriner’s Unexpectedly Superb MSPC

by David Hurwitz

There’s a moment in the finale of Bartók’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, at figure C for any score-readers out there, where Bartók restores the tempo, which has been continuously slowing down, to the Allegro molto of the opening bars. Few performers play this passage with ... 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


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


Reference Recording: Beethoven Quartets–The Végh Is Back

by Dan Davis

These sterling performances have been high among the prime available Beethoven Quartet sets since their initial appearance in the early 1970s as sought-after Telefunken LPs. Naïve’s booklet and transfers are the same as those of the 1987 Auvidis Valois set. So what’s this release got th... Continue Reading


El Bacha’s Second Beethoven Cycle: Consistently Inconsistent

by Jed Distler

Abdel Rahman El Bacha’s 2012/13 Beethoven cycle should not be confused with his 1980s/’90s recordings for Forlane (out of print on CD, but available via digital download). Then again, the Franco/Lebanese pianist’s intimately-scaled Beethoven style hasn’t changed all that much over the ye... Continue Reading


Yakov Kasman’s Scriabin Cycle Reissued

by Jed Distler

1997 International Van Cliburn Competition Silver Medalist Yakov Kasman recorded Scriabin’s first five sonatas for Calliope in 1996, following up with the remainder in 2003. The label reprinted the cycle as a two-disc mid-price release in 2005 that didn’t remain in the catalog for long. Strangel... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: Quatuor Mosaïques Does Haydn Right

by David Hurwitz

It’s a thousand pities that the Quatuor Mosaïques never completed its cycle of Haydn quartets. Certainly they remain the reference recordings on period instruments, and they compare favorably with performances of any sort. There is something special about the Haydn quartets from Op. 20 on: th... Continue Reading


Reference Recording: Haitink’s Shostakovich Fifth

by David Hurwitz

There are some great things in Haitink’s Shostakovich cycle, specifically Symphonies Nos. 5, 8, 12, and 13. There must always be room for a performance of the Fifth this beautifully played and musically conducted. Haitink does not obviously “take a position” on how slow the finale&... Continue Reading


Dacapo’s Riisager Edition Concludes Brilliantly

by David Hurwitz

This third and, sadly, last entry in Dacapo’s Riisager Symphonic Edition contains some of the best music so far, smashingly performed and recorded. The Summer Rhapsody on Danish folk melodies sounds just as advertised. It’s a jolly potpourri of catchy tunes, scored with glittering abando... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: Giulini’s Interesting But Patchy Concertos

by David Hurwitz

For a conductor who had such a long and extensive career, Giulini made relatively few concerto recordings, and not all of them turned out well. This of course has as much to do with the soloists as it does the conductor, although Giulini worked with some of the best. This nine disc set begins with [... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: Strauss’ Complete (ish) Operas from DG

by Jed Distler

Deutsche Grammophon’s 33-disc collection devoted to Richard Strauss’ complete operas draws upon live and studio recordings that span from 1952 to 2000, sequenced in alphabetical order. Actually, one should say “complete-ish”, since certain performances observe cuts ranging from minor nips an... Continue Reading


Nézet-Séguin: Is Half A Rite Better Than None?

by David Hurwitz

This senseless release seems to be based vaguely  and incoherently on a Stokowski/Fantasia/Tribute-to-Philadelphia sort of theme. The Bach transcriptions are certainly well played, but then they almost always are. They do not compete in vigor or opulence with Stokowski’s own recordings, or th... Continue Reading


Major Discoveries: Karayev Ballet Suites

by David Hurwitz

Kara Karayev’s ballet music isn’t quite as unknown as the rest of his output. This exact coupling was released previously on Melodiya, then Olympia, and now evidently reissued on Delos. Fans of the brilliant and eccentric comedian Ernie Kovacs might notice that he used the concluding Pro... Continue Reading


Peter, John, & (The Other) Mary

by David Vernier

You have no time to settle in and get comfortable. From the very opening seconds, beginning with emphatic orchestral chords, quickly followed by the “shrieks of a woman in drug withdrawal” in a jail cell, you’re pulled immediately into what proves to be a very intense drama–o... Continue Reading


Almost 60 Years Later, Still The Best Aida

by Robert Levine

It may be true that memory believes before knowing remembers, as Faulkner wrote, but in some cases they both come to the same conclusion: After hearing dozens of recorded performances of Aida over the years, it was somehow necessary to return to the first I’d ever heard, recorded in 1955, a cl... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: Hollywood Shines in Verklärte Nacht

by David Hurwitz

This 1950 recording remains the finest version of Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht yet recorded, at least in the original sextet version. The composer himself contributed the notes to the original release and endorsed the interpretation, and Schoenberg was notoriously cranky and difficult to plea... 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


CD From Hell: Oramo’s Push-Me-Pull-You Elgar

by David Hurwitz

As readers of CT.com will know, I am a big fan of Elgar performances by non-native forces. After all, he cannot be the great international composer that his fans claim while simultaneously being the private preserve of a select few British interpreters gifted with understanding of his unique idiom. ... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Karajan Slimes Beethoven Overtures

by David Hurwitz

This disc features Herbert von Karajan’s Beethoven style at its worst. Super-legato phrasing (the opening of the Consecration of the House Overture sounds more like a march from Night of the Living Dead), balances that bury woodwind parts even when they have the tune (the coda of Leonore No. 3... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Bernstein’s Bloated “Jupiter” Symphony

by David Hurwitz

Bernstein played a lot of Mozart in his day, and there’s no question that he genuinely loved the music. And yet, he really wasn’t a very idiomatic Mozart interpreter, which is all the more fascinating because he was a spectacular Haydn conductor. Perhaps owing to its relatively Haydnesqu... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Angela East Destroys Bach Cello Suites

by David Hurwitz

Reviewing music is such a subjective business; few and far-between are the opportunities to cover a disc so horrendous that you can trash it and know that there can be no dissent, that you speak objective truth. So when my colleague at CTFrance.com, Christophe Huss, called me up and said, “You... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Haitink’s Comatose Bruckner Ninth

by David Hurwitz

What is there to say to an artist who famously gave an interview (in Gramophone Magazine) lambasting conductors who go on constantly playing and recording nothing but “big” works such as Mahler and Bruckner symphonies, and who then does exactly that? I just had the pleasure of reviewing ... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Barbirolli’s Spasmodic Sibelius Cycle

by David Hurwitz

Why Warner chose this spasmodic Sibelius cycle for reissue is anyone’s guess, especially with at least two Berglund cycles ready to hand, but here it is again, and so here is my original review with some handy sound clips for added interest. And I suppose we should look on the bright side̵... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Weinberg’s Dreary Symphony No. 12

by David Hurwitz

Oh, how I wish I could love this disc. Weinberg was a very good composer, and his 12th Symphony is subtitled “In memoriam D. Shostakovich.” So hopefully, we would find one of his very best works. No such luck. The symphony is incredibly glum, gray, and dreary. It lasts nearly an hour in ... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Ten CDs of Norrington’s Phony Authenticity

by David Hurwitz

Roger Norrington is the Bernie Madoff of classical music. Luckily for him, there’s nothing criminal in selling your audience a bill of goods, for that is what he has done, and surely by this time he knows it. For decades now, he has been claiming that orchestras in the late 19th and early 20th... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Zander’s Mahler–It’s Baaaack!

by David Hurwitz

Bad Mahler cycles never seem to die. Ben Zander’s day job as a motivational speaker seems to offer him the opportunity to motivate people into forking up the cash to keep this woeful series going, albeit on LINN instead of Telarc. The obligatory talk, designed to convince his listeners that th... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: The Battle-Scarred War Requiem Premiere

by David Hurwitz

Booklet note writer and Britten biographer Paul Kildea, best known for suggesting that the composer’s fatal heart condition resulted from tertiary syphilis passed on by Peter Pears, freely confesses that, “Britten would never have sanctioned this disc’s release, of course.” H... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Death By Bruckner’s Ninth

by David Hurwitz

There have been some bad Bruckner Ninths popping up recently, most notably Abbado’s scrappy rendition and Sinopoli’s Martian perspective, but Davis and the LSO turn in what unquestionably is the second most terrible performance currently available–the worst (on account of the espec... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Barbirolli’s Barbaric Beethoven and Shostakovich

by David Hurwitz

Here we go again: pitiful orchestral playing in foggy mono sound walks hand in hand with positively witless leadership from John Barbirolli to create performances that veer dangerously close to caricature. Never mind the fact that the opening of Beethoven’s Fifth is a “smear” conta... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Colin Davis Murders Bruckner’s 6th

by David Hurwitz

Colin Davis’ blundering through Bruckner continues with this comatose reading of the Sixth Symphony. The first movement begins at a Klemperer-like tempo, which is perfectly fine in theory, but with none of the older conductor’s simplicity of phrasing and sense of forward momentum. Davis ... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Barbirolli’s Most Embarrassing Moments?

by David Hurwitz

This latest release in the BBC’s ongoing series of live Barbirolli recordings runs true to form: it’s pretty dreadful. In fact, the series really deserves a title: how about “Barbirolli’s Most Embarrassing Moments”; or “Glorious John’s Grave Spinners”;... Continue Reading

More "CDs from Hell" Reviews »

Reference Recording: Marriner’s Unexpectedly Superb MSPC

by David Hurwitz

There’s a moment in the finale of Bartók’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, at figure C for any score-readers out there, where Bartók restores the tempo, which has been continuously slowing down, to the Allegro molto of the opening bars. Few performers play this passage with ... Continue Reading


Reference Recording: Beethoven Quartets–The Végh Is Back

by Dan Davis

These sterling performances have been high among the prime available Beethoven Quartet sets since their initial appearance in the early 1970s as sought-after Telefunken LPs. Naïve’s booklet and transfers are the same as those of the 1987 Auvidis Valois set. So what’s this release got th... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: Quatuor Mosaïques Does Haydn Right

by David Hurwitz

It’s a thousand pities that the Quatuor Mosaïques never completed its cycle of Haydn quartets. Certainly they remain the reference recordings on period instruments, and they compare favorably with performances of any sort. There is something special about the Haydn quartets from Op. 20 on: th... Continue Reading


Reference Recording: Haitink’s Shostakovich Fifth

by David Hurwitz

There are some great things in Haitink’s Shostakovich cycle, specifically Symphonies Nos. 5, 8, 12, and 13. There must always be room for a performance of the Fifth this beautifully played and musically conducted. Haitink does not obviously “take a position” on how slow the finale&... Continue Reading


Almost 60 Years Later, Still The Best Aida

by Robert Levine

It may be true that memory believes before knowing remembers, as Faulkner wrote, but in some cases they both come to the same conclusion: After hearing dozens of recorded performances of Aida over the years, it was somehow necessary to return to the first I’d ever heard, recorded in 1955, a cl... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: Hollywood Shines in Verklärte Nacht

by David Hurwitz

This 1950 recording remains the finest version of Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht yet recorded, at least in the original sextet version. The composer himself contributed the notes to the original release and endorsed the interpretation, and Schoenberg was notoriously cranky and difficult to plea... Continue Reading


Slatkin’s Outstanding Tchaikovsky Ballets

by David Hurwitz

Leonard Slatkin’s Tchaikovsky symphony cycle was, on the whole, good but rather ordinary. His recordings of the ballets, however, are excellent, and finer than any of the more recent releases coming out of Russia (Gergiev, for example). Slatkin captures the full romantic sweep of the big tunes... Continue Reading


Oramo Redeems Himself in Nielsen

by David Hurwitz

After his gruesome Elgar Second, I have to confess that I had low expectations for this release of Nielsen’s Fourth and Fifth. After all, very few conductors do equally well by both works. Gibson, for example, produced a great Fourth and a limp Fifth, while Salonen delivered a fine Fifth but a... Continue Reading


Reference Recording: Almeida’s Ultimate Turina Collection

by David Hurwitz

Happily reissued, this is the single Turina disc you need to own, especially if you have room in your collection for only one. Antonio de Almeida was acquainted with the composer, and once told me a delightful story about how Turina, a gentle and gracious soul, requested that the rambunctious conclu... Continue Reading


A Classic: Chávez Conducts Chávez on Everest

by David Hurwitz

This classic recording is one of the more valuable examples of a composer conducting his own music. The total timing, 43 minutes, while short by CD standards, is at least far more sensible than many other Everest reissues which can last substantially less than half an hour. So at budget (or mid) pri... Continue Reading


Abbado’s Mendelssohn, a Souvenir of His Best Work

by David Hurwitz

Mendelssohn is one of the few composers in whose music Abbado has demonstrated consistent mastery (Rossini is another), and while he recorded some of the works in this set both before and after these editions, taken as a whole there is no finer complete Mendelssohn symphony cycle available. He turn... Continue Reading


Reference Recording: Slatkin’s Exceptional Elgar Orchestral Works

by Victor Carr Jr

RCA’s Elgar box is one of the finest sets in its Complete Collection series. Leonard Slatkin’s vital and idiomatic readings catch the spirit of the music while recreating that uniquely Elgarian sound world. Symphony No. 1 fairly crackles with energy thanks to Slatkin’s mastery of t... 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


Reference Recording: Dohnányi’s Superlative Ives and Ruggles

by David Hurwitz

It’s hard to believe that this recording is nearly 20 years old (at time of writing). In 1995, when it was released, Decca—and the classical recording industry generally—was flinging product onto the market without a thought given to promotion or sales, junk being issued alongside great re... Continue Reading


Reference Recording: Busoni’s Monumental Piano Concerto

by David Hurwitz

Busoni’s fascinating, mammoth Piano Concerto no longer can claim to be the rarity it once was, when just about the only version available was John Odgon’s not-really-as-great-as-its-reputation-would-lead-us-to-believe recording for EMI. It requires both a superb pianist, and just as fine... Continue Reading


Under the Radar: Bernstein’s First Liszt Faust Symphony

by David Hurwitz

Faust Sample Insider Review Cover

Leonard Bernstein’s Boston recording of Liszt’s Faust Symphony has for so long been regarded as the reference recording of the work that we’re apt to forget that there’s an earlier version that he made with the New York Philharmonic for Sony back in the 196os. He clearly love... Continue Reading


Major Discoveries: More Madetoja Symphonies from Ondine

by David Hurwitz

This disc completes Ondine’s cycle of Leevi Madetoja symphonies. It’s a shame he didn’t write more of them, for all three are wonderful pieces, fully comparable to those by Sibelius, Nielsen, or any other symphonist of the early 20th century, Scandinavian or not. The First is a pit... Continue Reading


Reference Recording: Giulini’s Enchanting Ravel Mother Goose

by David Hurwitz

Late Giulini is an acquired taste. Even where the tempos aren’t notably slow, as here, there is a certain magisterial deliberation in almost everything he did. Take La Mer. There’s nothing particularly droopy about the interpretation, and the playing is glorious; but even the finale, whi... Continue Reading


Reference Recording: Bargain Bernstein Conducts Bernstein

by David Hurwitz

This inexpensive seven-disc set offers the basic Bernstein in the composer’s own incomparable performances with the New York Philharmonic. His later versions for Deutsche Gramophone may feature some of this music in the final, revised editions, but the differences are never large, and Bernstei... Continue Reading


Under the Radar: Karajan’s Stellar Vienna Planets

by David Hurwitz

Every so often it’s fun to take out a dozen or so recordings of a warhorse like The Planets and see how the various versions compare. Karajan liked the piece well enough to record it twice, once in Vienna, the version here, and once far less successfully in Berlin. This recording is surely one... Continue Reading

More "Reference Recordings" Reviews »

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


Under the Radar: Leinsdorf’s Exciting, Historic Walküre

by Robert Levine

This was the first stereo recording of this opera, released in 1962. Erich Leinsdorf may not have been a conductor of “ideas”, but this reading works: it’s exciting, paced well, stunningly played, and despite a lack of tenderness in a couple of key moments (see below), it would be ... Continue Reading


Under the Radar: Bernstein’s First Liszt Faust Symphony

by David Hurwitz

Faust Sample Insider Review Cover

Leonard Bernstein’s Boston recording of Liszt’s Faust Symphony has for so long been regarded as the reference recording of the work that we’re apt to forget that there’s an earlier version that he made with the New York Philharmonic for Sony back in the 196os. He clearly love... Continue Reading


Under the Radar: Felix Slatkin’s Classy Gershwin and Gould

by David Hurwitz

These performances have been kicking around forever, mostly in crummy remasterings at a super-cheap price. It wasn’t always this way. Felix Slatkin, the violinist and conductor father of Leonard Slatkin, was a thorough pro who grew up leading Hollywood studio orchestras when he was not playing... Continue Reading


Under the Radar: Karajan’s Stellar Vienna Planets

by David Hurwitz

Every so often it’s fun to take out a dozen or so recordings of a warhorse like The Planets and see how the various versions compare. Karajan liked the piece well enough to record it twice, once in Vienna, the version here, and once far less successfully in Berlin. This recording is surely one... Continue Reading


Under the Radar: Prime Bartók and Lutoslawski from Dohnányi/Cleveland

by David Hurwitz

The coupling is smart, the performances amazing in their precision, clarity, and point. Here is yet another disc heedlessly spewed onto the market by Polyversal in the 1990s, only to be non-promoted and quickly deleted. Thank God it’s still available used, or from Arkivmusic.com as an “o... Continue Reading


Under the Radar: Caballé’s Wholly Convincing Salome

by David Hurwitz

This recording has always been sort of the stepchild among Salome performances, but it is a great one, for all that the principals are not usually associated with their roles, or with German opera more generally. Sherrill Milnes makes a firm-voiced, very serious Jokanaan indeed. His German is excell... Continue Reading


Under the Radar: Great Bartók, Martinu, and Janácek from Dohnányi and Cleveland

by David Hurwitz

This disc had “instant cutout” written all over it from the day that it was issued. How was anyone at Decca/Universal going to promote a “hard core” classical release featuring three contemporary works by three different composers, never mind that they were intelligently prog... Continue Reading


Under the Radar: Levine Does It Again in Brahms

by David Hurwitz

Has anyone on disc made two such exceptional Brahms symphony cycles? Why is it that so few mention Levine whenever the subject of the best recordings comes up? His earlier, Chicago cycle has its admirers, true, but this one got no publicity from DG whatsoever–at least on these shores. Indeed, ... Continue Reading


Under the Radar: Mackerras Does Great Holst

by David Hurwitz

Charles Mackerras was so impressive in such a wide range of repertoire that we’re apt to forget just how great almost any of recordings is likely to be. Here is a case in point. I was taking a car service to Grand Central Station last week, and the driver had a classical music station on [&hel... Continue Reading


Santi Plays Wolf-Ferrari–A Hidden Gem

by David Hurwitz

For years Nello Santi was the second string Italian conductor at the MET–the guy who did all of the repertory operas that audiences wanted to see but that the big conductors no longer cared about after the productions were no longer new, and the name singers had departed. In that capacity he w... Continue Reading


The “Ugly Duckling” of Ring Cycles Reconsidered

by Jed Distler

Vinyl collectors may remember Hans Swarowsky’s 1968 Ring Cycle more for the Westminster Gold release’s campy soft-porn cover art than the actual music making. In 1995 Weltbild Classics brought out a CD edition, remastered by its original producer Heinz Schürer, with booklet notes by Kurt Ma... Continue Reading


Reiner Rocks Rossini

by David Hurwitz

Every so often I go on a Rossini overture kick, comparing as many versions as I can of the same piece. This time it was The Silken Ladder (La scala di seta), and work whose outward simplicity belies its difficultly of execution and the precision of its craftsmanship. Although they have a reputation ... Continue Reading


Under the Radar: Barenboim’s Echt-Impressionist Debussy

by David Hurwitz

Barenboim made a lot of forgettable recordings during his tenure in Paris, and he never seemed to have much feeling for French music. This disc, though, represents an exception. It may not be the best Debussy out there. The Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun is quite slow and a tad droopy, but there... Continue Reading


Under the Radar: Excellent Early Ozawa on RCA

by David Hurwitz

Seiji Ozawa made some marvelous recordings in Chicago in the 1960s, at the start of his career, including a spectacular Rite of Spring. This collection features aptly youthful versions of Pictures at an Exhibition and A Night on Bald Mountain, exceptionally well played by an orchestra that, at least... Continue Reading


Under the Radar: Boult’s Surprisingly Fine Shostakovich Sixth

by David Hurwitz

Originally issued on CD in tandem with Malcolm Sargent’s not terribly special Shostakovich Ninth, this version of the Sixth now appears all by itself. Whether you will want to shell out money for a 33-minute CD, as opposed to just purchasing a cheaper download, will be your choice, but either ... Continue Reading


Under the Radar: Abbado’s Chicago Mahler 5th

by David Hurwitz

As with just about all the Mahler symphonies, Abbado has made multiple recordings of the Fifth, but this, his first, remains his finest, and an exceptional performance by any standard. It has all of the famed Chicago virtuosity but also a welcome attention to detail and willingness to savor a phrase... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: Ormandy’s Intense Tchaikovsky

by David Hurwitz

Tchaikovsky was an Ormandy specialty, and this particular Big Box contains all of his RCA recordings, plus some supplements from his earlier, CBS sessions. In the years since his death, it has become fashionable to disparage Ormandy generally, as it was equally fashionable back in the day to denigra... Continue Reading


Under the Radar: Dohnányi Offers A Superior “Pastoral”

by Victor Carr Jr

That this is meaty and muscular Beethoven is evident from the explosive first chord of the Leonore Overture No. 3. Christoph von Dohnányi leads a strongly girded performance that presses ever forward, maintaining the music’s taut drama right up to the triumphant ending with its cascading stri... Continue Reading


Under the Radar: Dohnányi’s Underrated “Eroica”

by Victor Carr Jr

This exhilarating Eroica was among the first recordings Dohnanyi made upon assuming the directorship of the Cleveland Orchestra in 1983. That it still sounds powerfully compelling decades later is testimony not only to Telarc’s realistic recording (you must play it loud to get the full effect)... Continue Reading

More "Under the Radar" Reviews »

Historical Gems: Beinum’s Budget Bruckner

by David Hurwitz

Now available from Australian Eloquence, Beinum’s Bruckner recordings are classics–as unique as they are rewarding. These discs were briefly available in a slim Philips box and in a few other configurations, but if you blinked you probably missed them. Symphonies Nos. 7-9 were studio rec... Continue Reading


Almost 60 Years Later, Still The Best Aida

by Robert Levine

It may be true that memory believes before knowing remembers, as Faulkner wrote, but in some cases they both come to the same conclusion: After hearing dozens of recorded performances of Aida over the years, it was somehow necessary to return to the first I’d ever heard, recorded in 1955, a cl... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: Hollywood Shines in Verklärte Nacht

by David Hurwitz

This 1950 recording remains the finest version of Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht yet recorded, at least in the original sextet version. The composer himself contributed the notes to the original release and endorsed the interpretation, and Schoenberg was notoriously cranky and difficult to plea... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: Mengelberg plays Bach, Strauss, and Ravel

by David Hurwitz

You would think that the reason to get this disc would be for the famous 1928 New York recording of Ein Heldenleben, available from various sources, but despite Opus Kura’s well-deserved reputation for excellent quality transfers, this one does not rank with the label’s best. For me, any... Continue Reading


A Classic: Chávez Conducts Chávez on Everest

by David Hurwitz

This classic recording is one of the more valuable examples of a composer conducting his own music. The total timing, 43 minutes, while short by CD standards, is at least far more sensible than many other Everest reissues which can last substantially less than half an hour. So at budget (or mid) pri... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: Mengelberg’s Heldenleben Revisited

by David Hurwitz

This two-disc set contains all of Willem Mengelberg’s New York Philharmonic recordings made between 1922-25, plus a version of the famous 1928 Ein Heldenleben derived from alternate takes. The earlier acoustic recordings, naturally, feature extremely limited sonics, so much so that it’s ... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: Coppola Conducts Debussy

by David Hurwitz

This disc is interesting on many levels: as a souvenir of the art of Piero Coppola, as evidence of the consistency of the French style of orchestral playing from the pre-War years through the mid 1960s, and as an impressive Debussy program. Take your pick. Coppola was an excellent conductor of the F... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: Mitropoulos Masters Strauss Tone Poems

by David Hurwitz

Captured in concert on September 7, 1959, these performances have been kicking around on various pirate labels. Presumably this release is authorized. The back of the tray card proudly claims “FROM THE PRODUCERS OF BBC LEGENDS,” but anyone who knows that series will understand that this ... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: Philips’ Live Mengelberg Series, Now On Decca

by Jed Distler

During the early days of CDs, the Philips label’s Japanese branch released a group of mostly live 1939-41 recordings taken down by Hilversum Radio featuring Willem Mengelberg and the Concertgebouw Orchestra on 12 single CDs and a three-disc set containing Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. The discs we... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: Munch Conducts Roussel, etc.

by David Hurwitz

These early Munch performances of Bizet, Roussel, and Saint-Saëns were captured between 1946-48, just after the Second World War. At that time none of these orchestras were in the best of shape, and yet they play well enough to give a good account of themselves, and also to realize the conductor... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: Leinsdorf Offers Romantic Thrills

by David Hurwitz

These recordings were all released by EMI Capitol, but they have been gathered together and re-reissued by Italian Urania on two packed CDs. Erich Leinsdorf’s reputation hasn’t worn all that well. Even in his day he had a reputation merely as a workaday “house” conductor for ... Continue Reading


Bruce Hungerford Live

by Jed Distler

Between 1965 and his death in a 1977 car accident Bruce Hungerford recorded 22 out of the 32 Beethoven piano sonatas for Vanguard that count among the most stylish and intelligent interpretations one can find. The main program of this previously unpublished July 29, 1965 recital from the Margravial ... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: Jorge Bolet’s Everest Liszt Recital

by Jed Distler

Because Jorge Bolet (1914-1990) recorded relatively little during his prime, his 1960 solo Liszt recital for Everest holds particular interest. The B minor sonata matches Bolet’s early 1980s digital Decca recording for tonal beauty, aristocratic phrasing, and inner drama, but with considerably mor... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: Celibidache’s Odd Berlin Legacy

by David Hurwitz

When is a recording “historical” and worth having even when it’s not very good? The Celibidache on display here reveals nothing of the artist to come. He found himself at the helm of the post-War Berlin Philharmonic not because of musical merit, but as a result of politics among th... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: Marston’s Definitive De Lucia Edition

by Jed Distler

A windfall of major boxed set releases in the 1970s and ’80s created quite a buzz among avid historic vocal record collectors, including Rubini’s five-LP set devoted to the complete Gramophone Company recordings by Neapolitan tenor Fernando De Lucia (1860-1925), all recorded between 1902 and... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: Classic Prokofiev Piano Concertos

by David Hurwitz

Many music lovers will grab this disc for Sviatoslav Richter’s incendiary account of the First Piano Concerto, with his jaw-dropping clarity of articulation in the allegro sections and exquisite sense of line and phrasing in the work’s few moments of repose. So I’m going to take th... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: Furtwängler RIAS Recordings From Audite

by David Hurwitz

This box contains all of Furtwängler’s recordings for the RIAS in the period 1947-54. They have been around for some time, both officially (on DG) in some cases, and on various “pirate” labels. This latest reissue purports to be the first using the original tapes held in the Germa... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: Stokowski Plays Tchaikovsky and Scriabin, Normally

by Victor Carr Jr

You might expect the combination of Stokowski and these two hyper-emotional Russian composers to be an especially volatile one. But there’s nothing inflated or bizarre about these performances. On the contrary, Stokowski pretty much sticks to the score throughout the program. Okay, there’... Continue Reading


HIstorical Gems: Stokowski Rearranges Tchaikovsky

by Jed Distler

Although Leopold Stokowski made commercial discs of the last three Tchaikovsky symphonies and 1812 Overture, these live recordings are in no way redundant. For one, they prove beyond question that the “Stokowski Sound” was not merely a byproduct of studio wizardry. He knew how to balance... Continue Reading


Live Rarities From A Neglected American Pianistic Paragon

by Jed Distler

Although Leonard Shure (1910-1995) was highly regarded by his peers for his forthright pianism and fierce musical integrity, his artistry is all but unknown today. There are at least two reasons for this. One is that Shure considerably reduced his performing schedule in the early 1960s to concentrat... Continue Reading

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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


Dacapo’s Riisager Edition Concludes Brilliantly

by David Hurwitz

This third and, sadly, last entry in Dacapo’s Riisager Symphonic Edition contains some of the best music so far, smashingly performed and recorded. The Summer Rhapsody on Danish folk melodies sounds just as advertised. It’s a jolly potpourri of catchy tunes, scored with glittering abando... Continue Reading


Major Discoveries: Karayev Ballet Suites

by David Hurwitz

Kara Karayev’s ballet music isn’t quite as unknown as the rest of his output. This exact coupling was released previously on Melodiya, then Olympia, and now evidently reissued on Delos. Fans of the brilliant and eccentric comedian Ernie Kovacs might notice that he used the concluding Pro... Continue Reading


Major Discoveries: Williamson Plays Williamson

by David Hurwitz

Having gone back and listened to this disc while in the process of covering Hyperion’s new release of all the Williamson piano concertos, I noticed that I hadn’t written about it previously, so here we are. The Organ Concerto, dedicated to Adrian Boult, is one wild piece. The opening mov... Continue Reading


Major Discoveries: Williamson’s Piano Concertos

by David Hurwitz

Malcolm Williamson (1931-2003) was obviously a talented composer. His four piano concertos and the two other keyboard concertante works included here deserve to be better know. The problem with them is that all but the Third Piano Concerto are only fifteen to twenty minutes in length, and so difficu... Continue Reading


Graener Vol. 2: Still Going Strong

by David Hurwitz

CPO deserves credit for reviving the works of talented but (politically speaking) stupid and or amoral composers such as Paul Graener. After all, the fact that he was an enthusiastic Nazi hardly matters now that he’s long dead (since 1944 to be precise), and why should we be denied what musica... Continue Reading


Vintage Vibe from Paul Graener, the Jolly Nazi

by David Hurwitz

As I mentioned in my review of Paul Graener’s piano trios, also on CPO, his music, while relentlessly retrospective, reveals a genuine talent. Although the booklet notes make the usual “some of his best friends were Jewish” apologia, the fact is that Graener’s political decis... Continue Reading


Major Discoveries: CPO’s Beck Symphonies Boxed

by David Hurwitz

Franz Ignaz Beck (1734-1809) was certainly one of the greatest of the Mannheim symphonists. His late symphonies, Opp. 3 and 4, compare favorably with Haydn’s middle-period works, with which they are roughly contemporary. Haydn scholar H.C. Robbins Landon spoke very positively of Beck, particul... Continue Reading


Major Discoveries: More Madetoja Symphonies from Ondine

by David Hurwitz

This disc completes Ondine’s cycle of Leevi Madetoja symphonies. It’s a shame he didn’t write more of them, for all three are wonderful pieces, fully comparable to those by Sibelius, Nielsen, or any other symphonist of the early 20th century, Scandinavian or not. The First is a pit... Continue Reading


Major Discoveries: Hendrik Andriessen Symphonic Works Vol. 2

by David Hurwitz

This second release in CPO’s ongoing series of Hendrik Andriessen’s symphonic music is, if anything, even better than Volume One. Andriessen was a splendid composer, one of those true craftsmen who wrote short works that sound larger than they are because not a single note is wasted, and... Continue Reading


Mackerras’ Meiningen Brahms Revisited

by David Hurwitz

Mackerras’ highly regarded Telarc Brahms cycle bills itself as being “in the style of the original Meiningen performances.” This claim is, of course, nonsense, if only because of the word “original.” The interpretations are based on a very interesting 1933 typescript by... Continue Reading


CPE Bach’s Fabulous Hamburg Symphonies Done Right

by David Hurwitz

This is, hands down, the best version of these remarkable pieces yet recorded. Wolfram Christ, famous as a solo violist and principal in the Berlin Philharmonic, whips the strings of the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra into a frenzy in the quick movements, and wrings every drop of expressive angst from ... Continue Reading


Holst Orchestral Works, First Volume from Chandos

by David Hurwitz

Make no mistake, this is a fine disc, but there’s something odd here. Now celebrating its 30th anniversary, Chandos has amassed an impressive catalog of music both familiar and unfamiliar. Much of this has centered on an imaginative exploitation of 20th-century English tonal music, a fertile f... Continue Reading


Major Discoveries: Rare Copland Film Music

by Victor Carr Jr

Four Aaron Copland premieres grace this disc of newly rediscovered film scores. Copland received two commissions for the 1939 World’s Fair. For the Hall of Science he composed From Sorcery to Science, music for a puppet show depicting the history of medicine from ancient China to the modern ph... Continue Reading


Major Discoveries: Enescu’s Third Symphony From Ondine

by David Hurwitz

Enescu’s Third Symphony is one of those “everything including the kitchen sink” late-romantic orchestral extravaganzas that makes even Scriabin sound tame. Scored for a huge orchestra, including a wordless chorus in the finale (sound clip), it is extremely virtuosic and difficult t... Continue Reading


Major Discoveries: Rutter’s Orchestral Works, Including the Beatles Concerto

by David Hurwitz

John Rutter a composer of orchestral music? Who knew? Actually, most of this music has its roots in the composer’s choral settings or works with vocal music. A Distant Land and Five Meditations for Orchestra are all arrangements of choral pieces, while the Suite for Strings is a series of char... Continue Reading


A Baroque Classic: Telemann’s 12 Sonate metodiche

by David Hurwitz

Telemann’s twelve “Methodic Sonatas” come from that happy time when there was no functional difference between pedagogical and art music. Much of Bach’s keyboard output, such as the Inventions and Sinfonias and The Well-Tempered Clavier, falls into the same category. The R... Continue Reading


Major Discoveries: Handel’s Authentic Piano Concertos on CPO

by David Hurwitz

Handel composed his Op. 4 concertos as interludes to be performed between the acts of his oratorios. He played them on the organ–a very small organ with limited range and registers. He offered the harpsichord as a legitimate substitute, and wrote Op. 4 No. 6 for the harp. Like most composers o... Continue Reading


Morton Gould’s Jungle Drums: A Tribute to the Fabulous ’50s

by David Hurwitz

This is the way crossover should be: luscious, exotic, slightly tacky, and wholly wonderful. The first eight tracks are devoted to Gould’s colorful Lecuona arrangements, including Andalucía, Malagueña, and the album’s title track, Jungle Drums. The rest consists of classical and jazz f... Continue Reading

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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


Filling in the Gaps: An Exciting Josephslegende

by David Hurwitz

Every Strauss lover needs a recording of this ballet, composed just before (or during) An Alpine Symphony, for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in Paris. The work has suffered from Strauss’ professed lack of interest in the title character, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t work hard... Continue Reading


Matchless Bach Mass Box

by David Vernier

Pygmalion is a Paris-based choir and period-instrument orchestra founded by Raphaël Pichon in 2006 and has since been active in promoting the music of Bach and Rameau, appearing in various European festivals and making several well-received recordings, including the ones contained in this new box, ... Continue Reading


Filling in the Gaps: Paavo Järvi’s Useful Sibelius Box

by David Hurwitz

This is a very useful set for anyone looking to fill in their Sibelius collection. Yes, it has some familiar works: the Lemminkäinen Suite, the Valse triste, and Pelléas et Mélisande. But the rest—Kullervo, The Maiden in the Tower, and the various cantatas—includes some of his least known pie... Continue Reading


Filling In The Gaps: Interesting Bizet Orchestrations

by David Hurwitz

Forget about this droopy, dull performance of the Symphony in C, with its opening that’s anything but “allegro vivo” (sound clips for comparison). What makes this disc interesting is the orchestration of the complete Jeux d’enfants, with the bits that Bizet didn’t orche... Continue Reading


Reference Recording: The Best Carmen Without Carmen

by David Hurwitz

What to do about Carmen? The tunes are so great, the suites so short, and sometimes you just aren’t in the mood for all that screaming and yelling (never mind the dialog). The solution: “Carmen without words.” It’s been done many times, but seldom as well as here. Shchedrin&#... Continue Reading


Odd Reiner Compilation, Superb Performances

by David Hurwitz

This disc contains a grab-bag of unrelated pieces, a quixotic bit of programming redeemed by the amazingly fine performances themselves. Reiner’s Lt. Kijé Suite compares favorably to contemporary favorite versions by Ormandy and Szell, both of whic were more sensibly coupled. Still, you won&#... Continue Reading


Filling In The Gaps: Fine Janácek Choral Music From Amsterdam

by David Hurwitz

This is an important release, not just because Janácek was a major choral composer and the music is wonderful, but also because it’s important for his music’s dissemination that it be performed outside of his native country. Yes, there is the language issue, but that’s true for an... Continue Reading


Reference Recording: Végh’s Immortal Mozart Serenades and Divertimentos

by David Hurwitz

This set offers 10 CDs of pure joy. It already has achieved classic status, and deservedly so. Anyone who can make Eine kleine Nachtmusik sound this new and fresh (sound clip) deserves a permanent seat in the Classical Music Hall of Fame, and Végh does it not just in that work, but in every piece [... Continue Reading


Cinema Spectacular: Tacky Title But A Great Collection

by David Hurwitz

This Australian Eloquence two-disc set brings together titles from a couple of different projects. First, we have Bernard Herrmann’s British film music album, containing music by Walton, Lambert, Bax, Benjamin, and Vaughan Williams. Today, when most of this music is familiar, it’s useful... Continue Reading


Filling In The Gaps: Cherkassky Rarities

by Jed Distler

Shura Cherkassky fans will welcome the first reissue of the pianist’s complete solo recordings for the UK World Record Club label. The sessions took place between 1958 and 1963, and included several large-scale Beethoven and Schubert works that one might not immediately associate with Cherkassky o... Continue Reading


Filling in the Gaps: The Unknown Sibelius

by David Hurwitz

This nicely varied selection of little-known Sibelius contains four orchestral works, 7 songs and choruses, two chamber pieces, and four piano works. Some of it, such as the late Four Fragments for orchestra and most of the vocal pieces, is ephemeral indeed, but there are some fairly substantial wor... Continue Reading


Filling In The Gaps: Early and Late Vaughan Williams

by David Hurwitz

The music on this disc is typically lovely, and even the earliest piece here, the Serenade in A minor of 1898, foreshadows the composer to come. Check out the scherzo second movement (sound clip). Is there any doubt who wrote it? Both this piece and the equally charming 1900/1 Bucolic Suite certainl... Continue Reading


Three Glorious Grieg Concerto Transcriptions

by David Hurwitz

Everyone loves Grieg. Everyone wishes he had written more orchestral works in large forms. Well, now he has, more or less. I have to confess that I had some qualms about this project to arrange the three violin sonatas as violin concertos, especially on reading the statement, “In these arrange... Continue Reading

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Big Boxes: John Ogdon’s Astonishing RCA Recordings

by David Hurwitz

The excellent booklet notes by our very own Jed Distler constitute a more perceptive review than this is likely to be, but here goes. This six-disc set contains all of John Ogdon’s RCA recordings, issued in “original jacket” format. In other words, it could have been condensed onto... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: Quatuor Mosaïques Does Haydn Right

by David Hurwitz

It’s a thousand pities that the Quatuor Mosaïques never completed its cycle of Haydn quartets. Certainly they remain the reference recordings on period instruments, and they compare favorably with performances of any sort. There is something special about the Haydn quartets from Op. 20 on: th... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: Giulini’s Interesting But Patchy Concertos

by David Hurwitz

For a conductor who had such a long and extensive career, Giulini made relatively few concerto recordings, and not all of them turned out well. This of course has as much to do with the soloists as it does the conductor, although Giulini worked with some of the best. This nine disc set begins with [... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: Strauss’ Complete (ish) Operas from DG

by Jed Distler

Deutsche Grammophon’s 33-disc collection devoted to Richard Strauss’ complete operas draws upon live and studio recordings that span from 1952 to 2000, sequenced in alphabetical order. Actually, one should say “complete-ish”, since certain performances observe cuts ranging from minor nips an... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: Italian Universal’s Art of Giulini

by David Hurwitz

This sixteen CD set contains a generally well-chosen selection of Giulini’s DG recordings. You get Beethoven’s Fifth and Ninth Symphonies (LA Phil and Berlin, respectively), the superb Vienna recordings of Bruckner’s Seventh, Eighth and Ninth, Dvorák’s Ninth, Schubert’... Continue Reading


Slatkin’s Outstanding Tchaikovsky Ballets

by David Hurwitz

Leonard Slatkin’s Tchaikovsky symphony cycle was, on the whole, good but rather ordinary. His recordings of the ballets, however, are excellent, and finer than any of the more recent releases coming out of Russia (Gergiev, for example). Slatkin captures the full romantic sweep of the big tunes... 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


Haitink’s Alternately Enthralling and Frustrating Symphony Edition

by David Hurwitz

These performances have been mindlessly reissued countless times in various boxed sets, this time particularly lazily. There is no special reason to limit the performances only to those with the Concertgebouw Orchestra, other than the fact that Decca (formerly Philips) already had these configuratio... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: Richter’s (almost) Complete Universal Classics Solo Recordings

by Jed Distler

A few housekeeping comments are in order concerning this 33-CD boxed set devoted to Sviatoslav Richter. The contents comprise nearly all of the pianist’s solo recordings previously released by Decca, Philips, and Deutsche Grammophon. It falls slightly short of being a complete edition, because the... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: Westminster’s Questionable Legacy

by David Hurwitz

This intelligently selected (by Alan Newcombe), nicely representative collection of material from the Westminster catalog, much of which has been previously released by MCA, begs the question of what it means to be a “cult label,” or to cite the blurb on the box, “one of the great ... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: Lorin Maazel’s (Not So) Great Recordings

by David Hurwitz

Do the major labels really think that we’re fools? How many times will we see a collection called “great” when it consists of nothing but whatever they happen to have in their back catalogs? Sure, all of us record collectors have been losing sleep over the unavailability of a reiss... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: Handley’s Second-Place RVW Symphonies

by David Hurwitz

Handley’s Vaughan Williams cycle vies with Slatkin’s on RCA for primacy in the modern RVW symphony sweepstakes, and comes in a close second. Of course, don’t tell the British that, but it’s relatively simple to describe just why Slatkin edges out the competition. First, he ha... Continue Reading


Another Colin Davis Big Box of Berlioz

by David Hurwitz

These performances have been packaged tons of different ways over the years, understandably so, for they are almost uniformly excellent and they represent iconic moments in Colin Davis’ career as a conductor. There is no question that he had a special feeling for Berlioz–not as feverish ... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: Britten the Outstanding Performer

by David Hurwitz

It says something about Britten’s ability as a performer of other composers’ music that most of these performances have been highly regarded and have remained in print since they were first issued. Many, especially the song recitals with Peter Pears (including Schubert’s Winterreis... Continue Reading


Reference Recording: Bargain Bernstein Conducts Bernstein

by David Hurwitz

This inexpensive seven-disc set offers the basic Bernstein in the composer’s own incomparable performances with the New York Philharmonic. His later versions for Deutsche Gramophone may feature some of this music in the final, revised editions, but the differences are never large, and Bernstei... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: Brilliant Classics’ Excellent R. Strauss Edition

by David Hurwitz

This is a terrific set, and a steal at the price. You get Rudolf Kempe’s benchmark 9-CD set of the tone poems, concertos, and other orchestral works, five discs of chamber music much of which, though early, is often quite good, three discs of piano works (maybe too much of a good thing), the m... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: Haitink’s Generally Well-Chosen Philips Years

by David Hurwitz

Bernard Haitink has made a ton of recordings, and this 20-CD set offers a smartly chosen selection. One thing is clear: his work with the Concertgebouw Orchestra remains his signal achievement, both for the excellence of the ensemble, as well as for interpretive character. Haitink’s musical pe... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: Philips’ Live Mengelberg Series, Now On Decca

by Jed Distler

During the early days of CDs, the Philips label’s Japanese branch released a group of mostly live 1939-41 recordings taken down by Hilversum Radio featuring Willem Mengelberg and the Concertgebouw Orchestra on 12 single CDs and a three-disc set containing Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. The discs we... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: Mostly Great, Mostly Early Perlman

by David Hurwitz

This nine-disc box contains much of the same material in Sony’s Perlman Original Jacket Edition, plus his early RCA recordings, which provide the most compelling reason for acquiring the set. In particular, his first versions of concertos by Prokofiev (No. 2), Tchaikovsky, Lalo, and Sibelius, ... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: Giulini’s London Years

by David Hurwitz

Giulini was loved. He had integrity. He had the mystique. If we wanted to be cynical, we might say that this allowed him to make a lot of bad records and get away with it, because there is truth to the notion that if you behave with respect and humility you will be treated differently […]... Continue Reading

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