Classics Today Insider

Big Boxes: Bernstein’s Sibelius Remastered

by David Hurwitz

Sibelius Bernstein

To answer the obvious question, yes, these performances have been remastered well and they do sound better. This is particularly true, and was particularly necessary, in the Fifth Symphony and Pohjola’s Daughter, both of which have greater realism and depth, and less hardness. It’s also ... Continue Reading


CD from Hell: Elizabeth Roe’s Barber and Britten Is No Joy

by David Hurwitz

RoeBarber

Elizabeth Joy Roe, one half of the talented piano duo Anderson and Roe, does herself no service with this bland, boring coupling of Britten and Barber piano concertos. It’s a pity, because she’s a very talented performer who has done excellent work with her partner (witness their Mozart ... Continue Reading


Filling in the Gaps: Fibich Symphonic Poems

by David Hurwitz

Fibich3

Fibich’s colorful symphonic poems have not been neglected on disc, but most of the recordings made to date come from Supraphon and seem to pop in and out of print at random, making them difficult to find. So it’s good to have this ongoing series, especially as it’s very well played... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: C.P.E. Bach Symphonies and Concertos

by David Hurwitz

cpebachsymsctos

This grab-bag of C.P.E. Bach performances, as you might expect, has some good things and some that are less good. Its six discs contain: Disc 1: Six Symphonies for Strings Wq 182. Trevor Pinnock leads The English Concert in performances that, while good, lack body in the sonority as well as that las... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: The Last (First) Maazel Box

by David Hurwitz

MaazelEarly

Here we go again. Lorin Maazel recorded everything for everyone, multiple times, but this set, which contains his earliest DG recordings, does go a long way to explaining what made him so compelling in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Simply put, he was exciting as hell, and he got a remarkably disci... Continue Reading


Major Discoveries: C.P.E.’s Württemberg Sonatas

by David Hurwitz

CPEWurttemberg

Given their importance and their status as masterpieces, C.P.E. Bach’s Württemberg Sonatas enjoy remarkably few recordings that have remained available for any length of time. The First Sonata, in A minor, remains the best known, possibly on account of its flashy finale, but the remainder are... Continue Reading


A Slightly Less Deluxe Solti Ring

by David Hurwitz

SoltiRing

Robert Levine already reviewed the super-duper uber-deluxe Solti Ring box, with so much extra stuff in it that the performance of the actual opera was almost beside the point. For many listeners, this set will be preferable, not least because it contains the remastered, best-sounding edition of the ... Continue Reading


Major Discoveries: Staier Thrills in CPE Bach’s Keyboard Works

by David Hurwitz

cpebachstaier

This remarkable recital is available in Deutsche Harmonia Mundi’s CPE Bach box, but if you’re looking for a single disc featuring some of the master’s most compelling keyboard music, then get this without delay. It covers Bach’s entire career, from the early “Württembe... Continue Reading


Major Discoveries: Two Superb Rautavaara Concertos, One for Birds

by David Hurwitz

RautavaaraCantus

This marvelous disc contains what unquestionably is the finest available performance of Cantus Arcticus, Rautavaara’s most popular piece and one of the very best marriages of an orchestra and taped sounds. For this recording, the birdsong tape seems to have been cleaned up, giving the timbres ... Continue Reading


Under the Radar: Arnaldo Cohen’s Naxos Liszt Recital

by David Hurwitz

LisztCohen

Naxos’ Liszt complete piano music began, way back in 1996, with this stunning recital by one of our finest Liszt interpreters, the woefully under-recorded Brazilian pianist Arnaldo Cohen. The program focuses on transcriptions and original works rooted in the theme of death, but hey, this is Li... Continue Reading


Under the Radar: Mata Rocks in Saint-Saëns and Jongen

by David Hurwitz

Jongen

Eduardo Mata really had a flair for French music, and this recording is one of the very best that he ever made. There is no finer version of Jongen’s attractive and still sadly neglected Symphonie concertante. Telarc recorded it when the very loud new organ at Davies Hall in San Francisco was ... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: Stoki’s Still Estimable Ives Fourth

by David Hurwitz

IvesStok

Japanese reissues of Sony Classical titles seem to be popping up these days, and at rational prices. This release is one of the best. It’s not often that the world premiere recording of something remains viable in the face of later competition, particularly a work as complex as Ives’ Fou... Continue Reading


Filling in the Gaps: Where the Blomstedt SF Eulenspiegel Went

by David Hurwitz

StraussBlom

We may understand the rationale, but it’s a pity nonetheless. When Decca put together it’s generally excellent Strauss box, it included all of Blomstedt’s recordings except Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks. The reason was because Blomstedt never made Don Quixote for Decca, so... Continue Reading


Fischer Back On Form In Mahler 9

by David Hurwitz

Mahler9Fischer

Ivan Fischer conducts a lovely, impulsive Mahler Ninth. The performance comes as something of a relief after his tepid reading of the Fifth, but here, happily, he’s back on form. Interpretively, his vision of the work recalls Bruno Walter’s, or more recently, Kurt Masur’s underrated New York r... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Ozawa Snoozes Through Ives’ Fourth

by David Hurwitz

IvesOzawa

How on earth Seiji Ozawa manages to make Ives’ wild and crazy Fourth Symphony sound so boring has to be one of the great mysteries, but there it is. You may recall how exciting it was when a new recording of this extraordinary work was announced. Most of us had to take Stokowski’s versio... Continue Reading


Major Discoveries: Bavouzet’s Pristine, Poetic Haydn Vol. 5

by David Hurwitz

Haydnsonbav5

Having spent the past couple of days lining up reviews of, and listening (again) to, Wagner’s Ring operas, I can’t even begin to describe just how refreshing it has been to turn to this disc of Haydn sonatas, the fifth release in Jean-Efflam Bavouzet’s superb ongoing cycle. Imagine... Continue Reading


Reference Recording: Solti’s Ring–Deluxe Style

by Robert Levine

Decca-Ring

In time for Georg Solti’s centenary and Wagner’s bi-centenary, in what can only be referred to as a remarkable “feat” of packaging and at only slightly less cost than a small two-family house, Decca has re-released its Solti Ring, recorded between 1958 and 1964, re-re-mastered. Included in t... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: Keilberth’s Reference Götterdämmerung

by Robert Levine

Gotterdammerung

This, the final installment in the recently-discovered, first-ever stereo Ring Cycle, is the proverbial icing on a superb cake. Joseph Keilberth, a conductor who never had the profile of other great Ring conductors (Karajan, Solti, Böhm, Krauss, Knapperstsbusch, Furtwängler) has turned out to be a... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: A Hot Night with Siegfried

by Jed Distler

KeilSieg

Siegfried launched Testament’s first-ever release of the 1955 Bayreuth Ring Cycle that Decca recorded in stereo. Both Mike Ashman and the original producer Peter Andry offer booklet notes that fully account for the circumstances of these recordings and why it took more than half a century for ... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: The Best Die Walküre on Disc?

by Robert Levine

KeilWalk

This was the second release in the much-awaited, almost legendary “missing” Ring from 1955 that was professionally recorded live at Bayreuth and then dumped because producer John Culshaw and Decca thought the future of opera was in the studio. As with the Siegfried, the performance is ma... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: Keilberth’s Bayreuth Rheingold

by Jed Distler

KeilRhein

Das Rheingold marked the third installment of the so-called “missing” Ring from 1955, recorded by Decca live at Bayreuth, and only issued for the first time more than 50 years after the fact. The performance matches this series’ predecessors (Siegfried and Die Walküre) in several ... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: Unusual Wagner from Toscanini

by David Hurwitz

WagTosc

This disc contains some novelties that Toscanini collectors will surely want to add to their collections. First, there’s the original, long version of the Act III Prelude to Tannhäuser. At thirteen minutes, Wagner was surely right to cut it down to more manageable size, but it makes a fine co... Continue Reading


CD from Hell: Elizabeth Roe’s Barber and Britten Is No Joy

by David Hurwitz

RoeBarber

Elizabeth Joy Roe, one half of the talented piano duo Anderson and Roe, does herself no service with this bland, boring coupling of Britten and Barber piano concertos. It’s a pity, because she’s a very talented performer who has done excellent work with her partner (witness their Mozart ... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Ozawa Snoozes Through Ives’ Fourth

by David Hurwitz

IvesOzawa

How on earth Seiji Ozawa manages to make Ives’ wild and crazy Fourth Symphony sound so boring has to be one of the great mysteries, but there it is. You may recall how exciting it was when a new recording of this extraordinary work was announced. Most of us had to take Stokowski’s versio... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Karajan and His Soloists Let Rip–and Tear, and Shred

by David Hurwitz

KarajanSolistsII

There is one really noteworthy performance here: Karajan and Rostropovich in Strauss’ Don Quixote, a Karajan specialty. Not even the booklet note writer has many kind words to say about the Beethoven concertos with Alexis Weissenberg. Truth be told, it’s not terrible. It’s just tha... Continue Reading


Heavy-handed Chopin Préludes (and one great Soler sonata)

by Jed Distler

71ITHD5OwFL._SL1425

For the most part Alain Lefèvre wields a heavy, prosaic hand over Chopin’s Op. 28 Preludes. He drags Nos. 2 and 4 into the ground, and sucks the life force out of No. 3’s darting left-hand 16th-note runs. No. 5 is thick and texturally monotonous, while No. 8 conveys the composer’s agitato moo... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Depressingly Faceless Beethoven Overtures from Järvi

by David Hurwitz

BeetOvsJarv

If you loved some of Paavo Järvi’s Beethoven symphony performances, as I did, this release will come as a big disappointment. At fifty-one minutes of playing time it offers poor value at full import price, but that hardly matters when the actual performances are so faceless. Taken in isolatio... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Erratic Nielsen from Davis and the LSO

by David Hurwitz

nielsen

There were some interesting moments in these performances that originally led me to treat them more kindly than they probably deserve, but rehearing them now only highlights their evident faults. Colin Davis could be tremendously compelling, or he could be a total mess. Here, he’s a bit of bot... Continue Reading


A Big Bad Box Of Scriabin From Decca

by David Hurwitz

Scriabin

I’m not even going to completely unpick the ridiculous hodge-podge that constitutes this “complete works” box. The piano pieces proceed in order by opus number, followed by the pieces without same. They are played, with varying degrees of success, by Vladimir Ashkenazy (mostly exce... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Schwarz’s Low Rent Mahler 2

by David Hurwitz

Mahler2chwarz

Everything about this release screams cheap. The packaging artwork is primitive, and the engineering so low-level that it robs the music of much of its impact. Attempting to capture this work live is always risky because of the expanded dynamic range, and in this case the risk certainly did not pay ... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Lenny’s Dud Carmen Returns

by Robert Levine

bernsteincarmen

This recording was poorly received upon its initial release. Re-listening, quite carefully, after 43 years, has done it no favors. Leonard Bernstein, who led it at the Met with the same cast, had his own ideas about the score and most of them were bad. He uses the Oeser edition, which not only uses ... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Chailly’s Faceless Brahms Serenades

by David Hurwitz

BrahmsChaillyser

Chailly has gone “authentic.” First he made a magnificent recording of the two Brahms piano concerto with Nelson Freire, then he decided to rethink–and I used the term advisedly–his approach to the composer, and out came the dullest recording of the symphonies in years. The n... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Zinman’s Dull Symposium on Stravinsky’s Rite

by David Hurwitz

StravRiteZin

We live in strange times. If you glance at the “arts” section of most newspapers as constituted at the beginning of the 20th century, you may well find the same information under “amusements” or “entertainment,” a subtle but significant difference. We no longer tu... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Sinopoli’s Tired, Decadent Elgar Symphonies

by David Hurwitz

ElgarSin

Giuseppe Sinopoli could be too smart for his own good. He had a dozen or two doctorates in a bunch of subjects, and knew so much about everything that you get the feeling that sometimes he couldn’t get out of his own head, interpretively speaking. Elgar was unquestionably a self-indulgent late... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Christophers Leads a Jolly Mozart Requiem

by David Vernier

MozReqChris

Harry Christophers is a wonderful choral conductor; Boston’s Handel & Haydn Society choir and orchestra usually can be counted among the world’s finest ensembles, especially in the Baroque and Classical period repertoire. But this Requiem, recorded live in April/May 2011, is a big disappoint... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Sickly Shostakovich Cello Concertos

by David Hurwitz

ShostIvashk

Alexander Ivashkin made a few adequate recordings with Polyansky for Chandos, but this coupling of the two Shostakovich Cello Concertos was licensed from Ode in New Zealand. One has to wonder why. Previously, these performances appeared in Brilliant Classics’ otherwise excellent big Shostakovi... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Stárek’s Mahler 7-Amateur Night At Czech Radio

by David Hurwitz

Mahler7Starek

Back in my college days when I played in the university orchestra, we once invited a school for the blind to the listen in on the rehearsal. As a special treat, each of the kids got the chance to conduct the orchestra in Smetana’s The Moldau, and we had to follow them as they sped […]... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Ballot’s Toxically Dull Bruckner 8th

by David Hurwitz

Bruck8Ballot

The great Donald Francis Tovey one sagely observed that a vogue for Mahler “will do us more good than Bruckner, because his mastery will discourage the cult of amateurishness, which keeps us contented with ignorance and ready to believe that ineptitude is noble in itself….” Truer w... Continue Reading


CD From Purgatory: Castelnuovo-Tedesco Gluten-Free Piano Concertos

by David Hurwitz

Castel

Castelnuovo-Tedesco wrote a great deal of enjoyable music, and Naxos deserves credit for championing the cause. However, this release does not feature the composer’s finer works. The two piano concertos present music of such studied triviality that it borders on the insulting. How to describe ... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Gergiev’s Lazy Shostakovich Tenth

by David Hurwitz

Shost10Gerg

Valery Gergiev is a cipher; or maybe he’s just not a very good conductor. He appeared at an opportune time—during the chaotic collapse of the Soviet Union. A dynamic administrator, he deserves credit for rebuilding the Mariinsky Theater opera and orchestra, and fostering a new generation of fine... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: More Horrible “Authentic” Haydn, Chez Ricercar

by David Hurwitz

HaydnLaurent

Here’s another one of those dreary, period-instrument performances that’s so devoid of basic musical sense that it makes a mockery of the very notion of “authenticity”. First of all, as is well known, Haydn wrote his “Paris” symphonies for a very large orchestra, and the two chosen here,... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Bad Singing Kills Early Bizet

by David Hurwitz

BizetClovis

Unfortunately, this disc can’t be called more than a stop-gap, and that may be pushing it. Of course the music is fun, tuneful, and astonishingly well-scored given the composer’s Prix de Rome youth. The Te Deum in particular is delightfully secular. Bits of it wound up in The Pearl Fishers, wher... Continue Reading

More "CDs from Hell" Reviews »

Big Boxes: Bernstein’s Sibelius Remastered

by David Hurwitz

Sibelius Bernstein

To answer the obvious question, yes, these performances have been remastered well and they do sound better. This is particularly true, and was particularly necessary, in the Fifth Symphony and Pohjola’s Daughter, both of which have greater realism and depth, and less hardness. It’s also ... Continue Reading


A Slightly Less Deluxe Solti Ring

by David Hurwitz

SoltiRing

Robert Levine already reviewed the super-duper uber-deluxe Solti Ring box, with so much extra stuff in it that the performance of the actual opera was almost beside the point. For many listeners, this set will be preferable, not least because it contains the remastered, best-sounding edition of the ... Continue Reading


Reference Recording: Solti’s Ring–Deluxe Style

by Robert Levine

Decca-Ring

In time for Georg Solti’s centenary and Wagner’s bi-centenary, in what can only be referred to as a remarkable “feat” of packaging and at only slightly less cost than a small two-family house, Decca has re-released its Solti Ring, recorded between 1958 and 1964, re-re-mastered. Included in t... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: Keilberth’s Reference Götterdämmerung

by Robert Levine

Gotterdammerung

This, the final installment in the recently-discovered, first-ever stereo Ring Cycle, is the proverbial icing on a superb cake. Joseph Keilberth, a conductor who never had the profile of other great Ring conductors (Karajan, Solti, Böhm, Krauss, Knapperstsbusch, Furtwängler) has turned out to be a... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: The Best Die Walküre on Disc?

by Robert Levine

KeilWalk

This was the second release in the much-awaited, almost legendary “missing” Ring from 1955 that was professionally recorded live at Bayreuth and then dumped because producer John Culshaw and Decca thought the future of opera was in the studio. As with the Siegfried, the performance is ma... Continue Reading


Reverent, Transcendent Rachmaninov All-night Vigil

by David Vernier

rachmaninovallnight

Anyone familiar with this repertoire, so intimately associated with Russian culture and religious tradition, who happened to be looking for an exemplary recording, might understandably assume that the ideal performance would be owned by a Russian church or concert choir; after all, these groups, the... Continue Reading


Reference Recording: Ormandy Celebrates Ives’ Holidays

by David Hurwitz

IvesHolidaysOrm

Eugene Ormandy was a surprisingly dedicated Ives conductor, at least on disc, and a very good one too. This version of Three Places in New England was, if memory serves, the first of Ives’ original scoring for full orchestra, and it’s quite fine. Not too many conductors besides Ormandy r... Continue Reading


Classic Ives From Ormandy and Stokowski

by Victor Carr Jr

Ives1Ormandy

Eugene Ormandy’s peerless Ives First Symphony, a singular classic in which the conductor employs all the resources of his fabulous orchestra, comes packaged here in Sony’s last re-launch of its highly successful budget-priced Essential Classics series. The famous Philadelphia strings mak... Continue Reading


Reference Recording: Holy Smokes! Litton Crushes Ives 1 and 4

by David Hurwitz

Ives14Lit

These are excellent performances in every respect: magnificently played, beautifully recorded, and conducted with unfailing intelligence. The First Symphony is a better piece than is often thought–immature, in its way, but also irreverent, tuneful, and full of Ives’ typical honesty and s... Continue Reading


Reference Recording: Litton’s Ives Second and Third Symphonies

by David Hurwitz

Ives23Lit

What a wonderful surprise it has been, seeing this release of the complete Ives symphonies on Hyperion. I have no doubt that Andrew Litton’s cycle will serve as the reference for many years to come. The principal competition comes from Michael Tilson Thomas on Sony, featuring the Chicago Symph... Continue Reading


An Almost Ideal Collection of Ives Orchestral Works

by David Hurwitz

IvesDoh

Let’s get the one dud out of the way: Symphony No. 1 from Mehta and the L.A. Philharmonic. The problem is simple. Mehta introduces a whopping cut into the finale that chops the piece effectively in half. Come on guys! Either play it the way Ives wrote it, warts and all, or don’t waste ou... Continue Reading


Reference Recording: Michelangeli’s Ravel and Rachmaninov Still Unmatched

by David Hurwitz

RavRachMich

To prove the contention that there’s value in scarcity, I offer this disc as Exhibit One. Michelangeli made very few recordings, but all of them, even the weird ones like his Beethoven concertos, are special in some way. More to the point, we are still listening to them, and this one, recorded... Continue Reading


Reference Recording: Larrocha Plays Falla

by David Hurwitz

FallaLarrocha

What is there to say? Larrocha essentially owned this repertoire for at least four decades, and it is impossible to take issue with her authoritative, idiomatic handling of Falla’s music. This is not his “complete” piano works, but even so Larrocha manages to find nearly an hour’s worth of d... Continue Reading


Major Discoveries: Koechlin’s Fabulous Jungle Book

by David Hurwitz

Koechlin

Believe it or not, this set seems to be kicking around still, either as a domestic release or as a reasonably priced Japanese import. If you missed it the first time around, grab it now, because heaven only knows how long it will remain available. Koechlin’s series of works based on Kipling... Continue Reading


Reference Recording: Alain Shines in Bach Organ Works

by David Hurwitz

bachalain

Okay, I do my best not to listen to organ music. I’ve got to be in the right mood, despite the fact that I really enjoy a lot of music composed for the instrument (especially by the French romantics: Franck, Widor, etc). The nicest thing about Bach’s organ works is that, first, there are a [&hel... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: Martinon’s Complete Chicago Recordings At Last

by David Hurwitz

Martinon

These recordings are stunning, plain and simple. There isn’t a single performance in this set that could not serve as a reference version for the repertoire in question (OK, maybe the Weber Clarinet Concertos with Benny Goodman…). Some of been reissued already, and are well-known: most o... Continue Reading


Reference Recording: Shostakovich’s Entertaining Golden Age, Very Complete

by David Hurwitz

ShostSereb

This recording is billed as the first totally, absolutely complete release of The Golden Age, Shostakovich’s best ballet, in that you get all of the repeats, some of which are omitted in the only competing, more or less complete version on Chandos (with Rozhdestvensky). Having all of the repea... Continue Reading


Reference Recording: Rossini’s Stabat Mater

by Robert Levine

RossiniStabat

This work, in its entirety by Rossini (an earlier version, with additions by another composer, had been previously performed), was premiered in Paris in 1842 and then played in Bologna (with Donizetti conducting); it was a gigantic success, and indeed, it is a masterpiece. It is wonderfully operatic... Continue Reading


Zemlinsky’s Really Complete Mermaid Premiered

by David Hurwitz

Zemlinsky

Zemlinsky’s Die Seejungfrau has been recorded at least seven times, but this newcomer has some special qualities. It is without question the most gorgeously played and opulently engineered, which is saying a lot. After all, Chailly and the Concertgebouw (Decca) aren’t exactly slouches, a... Continue Reading


Major Discoveries: Stenhammar’s Two Worthy Piano Concertos

by Jed Distler

Stenhammar

A year following his piano debut in Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, the 22-year-old Wilhelm Stenhammar penned his own first concerto, and subsequently performed it under distinctive conductors like Hans Richter and Richard Strauss. Clearly Brahms’ influence informs Stenhammar... Continue Reading

More "Reference Recordings" Reviews »

Under the Radar: Arnaldo Cohen’s Naxos Liszt Recital

by David Hurwitz

LisztCohen

Naxos’ Liszt complete piano music began, way back in 1996, with this stunning recital by one of our finest Liszt interpreters, the woefully under-recorded Brazilian pianist Arnaldo Cohen. The program focuses on transcriptions and original works rooted in the theme of death, but hey, this is Li... Continue Reading


Under the Radar: Mata Rocks in Saint-Saëns and Jongen

by David Hurwitz

Jongen

Eduardo Mata really had a flair for French music, and this recording is one of the very best that he ever made. There is no finer version of Jongen’s attractive and still sadly neglected Symphonie concertante. Telarc recorded it when the very loud new organ at Davies Hall in San Francisco was ... Continue Reading


Under The Radar: Charles Groves Haydn and Mozart

by David Hurwitz

HaydnGroves

Charles Groves had very few opportunities to make recordings outside of the British repertoire, so it’s good see these eminently musical and attractive performances back in the catalog (they originally appeared on IMP). Actually, even in Haydn Groves adopts an English angle, with the Oxford an... Continue Reading


Under The Radar: Groves’ Planets Goes Nova

by David Hurwitz

Planets

If you’re tired of under-characterized, conventionally “pretty” performances of The Planets, then you really need to hear this. Groves indulges in a couple of daringly slow tempos in Venus and Neptune, but so impressively does he sustain the music’s color and atmosphere that ... Continue Reading


Under the Radar–Baroque Choral Music From Poland

by David Vernier

gorczyckiwroclaw

Packaging alert: When I first looked at the cover of this CD, my casual glance at its distinctive script convinced me that I was looking at a program of music by Gorecki, as in Henryk Górecki, the 20th-century composer of Symphony No. 3 (Symphony of Sorrowful Songs) fame. What a surprise to discove... Continue Reading


Under The Radar: Muti’s Live, Blood and Guts Trovatore

by Robert Levine

TrovatoreMuti

Since there are dozens of recordings of Il trovatore available, of which a half dozen are more than good, no one would have guessed that the world needed another. But here, taken from a series of live performances at La Scala in December of 2000, Riccardo Muti gives us a thrilling reading, filled wi... Continue Reading


Under The Radar: Ebullient Mozart Concertos from Hadland on Simax

by David Hurwitz

MozartHadland

It’s easy to overlook yet another recording of these popular works, but this release has a lot going for it. On evidence here, pianist Christian Ihle Hadland has a blast playing Mozart, nowhere more so than in the cadenzas that he has composed for both concertos. Granted they may not be quite ... Continue Reading


Under The Radar: Super Handel Op. 6 from I Musici

by David Hurwitz

Handelop6

These sunny, winsome performances are lovely. There’s nothing particularly British about this music by a German composer, written in homage to Corelli, for all that British ensembles understandably have claimed them for their own (Who wouldn’t?). It’s more than a little bit sad that ensembles ... Continue Reading


Non-British Groves: Sibelius

by David Hurwitz

SibGroves

Charles Groves recorded almost exclusively British music. Even when he played Haydn, he had to do the “Oxford” and “London” Symphonies. Mozart’s “Paris” Symphony was, for him, an exotic excursion. This set of Sibelius suites, tone poems, and short pieces was... Continue Reading


Boccherini’s Wonderful Guitar Quintets, The Old Fashioned Way

by David Hurwitz

BoccheriniFandango

If you missed these three discs on their original release (as I did), you may want to pause and give them some consideration. Boccherini’s Guitar Quintets are really beautiful works, full of charm, variety, good tunes, and interesting forms. They include the famous “Fandango” and the variation... Continue Reading


Under the Radar: The Mandelring Quartett’s Varied Shostakovich

by David Hurwitz

shostmandelring

There were some outstanding performances in this series, though I had a few reservations about some of them (the Third Quartet, for instance, struck me as just a bit underplayed). However, hearing this set as a whole, it becomes clear that this is certainly as fine a cycle as any of the other great ... Continue Reading


Anna Malikova’s Superb Scriabin Cycle

by Jed Distler

81DajgsF1uL._SL1400

Anna Malikova’s Scriabin cycle contains the 10 canonical sonatas only, leaving out the Sonata-Fantasy in G-sharp minor and E-flat minor sonata from the composer’s teen years. Her intelligent virtuosity easily and unambiguously holds its own alongside the reference cycles by Vladimir Ashkenazy an... Continue Reading


Under the Radar: Jochum’s Enchanting Meistersinger

by Jed Distler

51hoEomd29L

Last available in Deutsche Grammophon’s bicentenary edition of Wagner’s complete operas, Eugen Jochum’s 1975 Die Meistersinger now resurfaces on its own, courtesy of Arkivmusic.com’s on-demand reprint program, complete with the original multi-lingual booklet notes and libretto. Note that thi... Continue Reading


Kupiec and Skrowaczewski: Chopin for Connoisseurs

by Jed Distler

chopinkupiec

It’s unusual to start a CD review of Chopin’s concertos by talking about the orchestra, yet here’s a recording where the composer’s accompaniments take on a sense of distinction, specificity, and musical meaning with which many conductors don’t even bother. A short book... Continue Reading


Behrens Is A Hotter-Than-Hell Elektra

by David Hurwitz

Elektra

This is a knockout. There is so much heat generated in this performance that you may be tempted to get the fire extinguisher. Ozawa might not have been everyone’s first choice for an Elektra conductor, but he comes through with flying colors, and so does his orchestra. The energy level is very... Continue Reading


Byron Janis’ Liszt Concertos: Playing For The Ages

by David Hurwitz

LisztJanis

It’s odd how Byron Janis’ reputation seems not to have declined as much as it has just evaporated. He’s still spoken of with great respect whenever his name comes up, but you don’t see his recordings listed among the top recommendations in the way that they used to be. Certai... Continue Reading


More Fine Bach Cantatas from St. Gallen

by Jed Distler

51dFGcq1NSL

As with earlier Bach cantata cycle volumes from the J.S. Bach-Stiftung of St. Gallen, Switzerland, the contents consist of contrasted selections, rather than following a common BWV number chronology. Volume 12 begins with BWV 70 “Wachet! Betet! Betet! Wachet!”, originally composed in 1716 but co... Continue Reading


Pärt: Passio–A Fine Alternative to Hilliard

by Robert Levine

Passio

If your contact with Passion music is Bach’s St. John or St. Matthew, you’re in for a shock. This score contains no dynamic markings except in the first and last minutes. The story is told with no dramatic outbursts, no overt drama, no complex rhythms, and the effect is hypnotic and ritualistic ... Continue Reading


Colin Davis’ Berlioz R&J: Third Time’s The Charm?

by David Hurwitz

BerliozDaivis

Colin Davis always has been a fine Berlioz conductor, and this version of R&J bids fair to be considered the best of the three(!) he has left us. It came out just at the point when the three-headed monster known at the time as Universal Classics was finally axing its classical division, which ha... Continue Reading


Under the Radar: Muti’s Marvelous Vienna Schumann

by David Hurwitz

schummuti

We are amazingly well supplied with excellent Schumann symphony cycles. Here’s another one. Philips never bothered to distribute these 1994 and 1996 performances (issued on two separate full-price CDs) domestically, so its not surprising that they got licensed off to Newton Classics. The princ... Continue Reading

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Historical Gems: Stoki’s Still Estimable Ives Fourth

by David Hurwitz

IvesStok

Japanese reissues of Sony Classical titles seem to be popping up these days, and at rational prices. This release is one of the best. It’s not often that the world premiere recording of something remains viable in the face of later competition, particularly a work as complex as Ives’ Fou... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: Keilberth’s Reference Götterdämmerung

by Robert Levine

Gotterdammerung

This, the final installment in the recently-discovered, first-ever stereo Ring Cycle, is the proverbial icing on a superb cake. Joseph Keilberth, a conductor who never had the profile of other great Ring conductors (Karajan, Solti, Böhm, Krauss, Knapperstsbusch, Furtwängler) has turned out to be a... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: A Hot Night with Siegfried

by Jed Distler

KeilSieg

Siegfried launched Testament’s first-ever release of the 1955 Bayreuth Ring Cycle that Decca recorded in stereo. Both Mike Ashman and the original producer Peter Andry offer booklet notes that fully account for the circumstances of these recordings and why it took more than half a century for ... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: The Best Die Walküre on Disc?

by Robert Levine

KeilWalk

This was the second release in the much-awaited, almost legendary “missing” Ring from 1955 that was professionally recorded live at Bayreuth and then dumped because producer John Culshaw and Decca thought the future of opera was in the studio. As with the Siegfried, the performance is ma... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: Keilberth’s Bayreuth Rheingold

by Jed Distler

KeilRhein

Das Rheingold marked the third installment of the so-called “missing” Ring from 1955, recorded by Decca live at Bayreuth, and only issued for the first time more than 50 years after the fact. The performance matches this series’ predecessors (Siegfried and Die Walküre) in several ... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: Unusual Wagner from Toscanini

by David Hurwitz

WagTosc

This disc contains some novelties that Toscanini collectors will surely want to add to their collections. First, there’s the original, long version of the Act III Prelude to Tannhäuser. At thirteen minutes, Wagner was surely right to cut it down to more manageable size, but it makes a fine co... Continue Reading


Classic Ives From Ormandy and Stokowski

by Victor Carr Jr

Ives1Ormandy

Eugene Ormandy’s peerless Ives First Symphony, a singular classic in which the conductor employs all the resources of his fabulous orchestra, comes packaged here in Sony’s last re-launch of its highly successful budget-priced Essential Classics series. The famous Philadelphia strings mak... Continue Reading


Radio Days: The Young Nelson Freire on Peak Form

by Jed Distler

1559308

To mark Nelson Freire’s 70th birthday season and his fruitful relationship with Decca, the pianist has selected a handful of previously unpublished (officially, that is) concerto broadcast performances dating from 1968 to 1979. Freire made few commercial recordings during the years when his intern... Continue Reading


Early Karajan/Nilsson Live-From-Scala Walküre

by Robert Levine

myto-walkure

I’m not quite sure how this performance, recorded live at La Scala on April 29, 1958, has escaped me for so long, but despite its problems it’s a white-hot reading by Karajan, entirely different from his later, chamber-like approach. Emotions–all of them–run very high and tempos are ... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: Hindemith Conducts Bruckner, Really

by David Hurwitz

BruckHind

Hindemith had a relatively poor reputation as a conductor, even of his own music. His approach tended to be matter-of-fact, unsentimental, and plainspoken to a fault. The result in Bruckner is curious, but not as off-putting or unidiomatic as you might expect. Tempos in the first two movements are u... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: Goberman’s Classic Haydn Returns

by David Hurwitz

HaydnGob

So often the reissue of a “legendary” classic performance turns out to be an “illusory” classic, but here is a set that lives up to its storied reputation. As is well known, Max Goberman planned to record all of the Haydn symphonies for his own label, but his sudden death fro... Continue Reading


New to CD: Emanuel Ax’s 1975 Solo Debut

by Jed Distler

61r9iXz7hxL

Appearing (I believe) for the first time on CD, this is Emanuel Ax’s solo debut album, recorded in 1975, one year after he garnered international attention as first prize winner in the 1974 International Arthur Rubinstein Piano Competition. The recording sounds more full-bodied, three-dimensional,... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: Martinon’s Mono Philips Legacy

by David Hurwitz

MartinonPhilips

These three discs feature Jean Martinon leading the Lamoureux Orchestra in the early to mid 1950s. A conductor of genius, most all that he did was memorable in one way or another, and there are some amazing performances captured here, albeit in sometimes grotty sound that badly needs remastering. No... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: Klemperer’s Studio Beethoven Ninth Live

by David Hurwitz

Beet9Klemplive

Otto Klemperer’s studio Beethoven Ninth is one of the finest recordings of the work, though this has not been an opinion unanimously shared. It suffers from none of his late tendency to slowness (at least in comparison with other, non-period instrument performances), and his unsentimental, dir... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: Landmark Porgy and Bess from Audite

by Robert Levine

GerwshwinPorgy

This historical set is a major document: In 1952 the State Department sponsored a European tour of Porgy & Bess that was to last more than three years. This performance comes from a radio broadcast of a live performance in Berlin on September 21, 1952, and judging from the audience reaction (and... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: Monteux’s d’Indy Perfectly Pitched

by David Hurwitz

MonteuxDindy

In his review of RCA’s complete Monteux recordings, Jed Distler pointed out that some of the earliest recordings of the music of d’Indy used the original transfers from the previous Monteux box, and therefore were pitched about half a step flat. This was later corrected in the individual... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: Another Klemperer Beethoven 9th

by David Hurwitz

Beet9Klemp

We already have three Beethoven Ninths conducted by Klemperer in London, all with the Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus. This one, recorded in Cologne in 1958, is quite similar to those, dating as it does from the same period. It had been sitting in my pile of discs to review for quite a while, unti... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: Willem van Otterloo’s Original Recordings

by David Hurwitz

Otterloo

Otterloo has his fans—everyone does, let’s face it—and I intend no disrespect to him when I say that this set contains little that is special in today’s competitive marketplace. He was a very fine musician, and a wonderful orchestral trainer. These performances mostly involve three orchestra... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: Der Kna’s Memorable RIAS Legacy

by David Hurwitz

Kna

The principal value of this five-CD set lies in “Der Kna’s” Bruckner performances. You get two of the Ninth, one live, one studio broadcast, and one of the Eighth. The editions are pre-Nowak, though the Eighth is mostly the final version, while the Ninth has some retouching, perhaps most notic... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: Morini’s Tchaikovsky, Really, Really Live

by David Hurwitz

TchaikMorini

Erica Morini tears into the Tchaikovsky concerto like a woman possessed; indeed, in the finale she more or less leaves Fricsay and the orchestra panting to catch up, which they do, barely (sound clip). Even this momentary lapse somehow adds to the charm and spontaneity of the interpretation, especia... Continue Reading

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Major Discoveries: C.P.E.’s Württemberg Sonatas

by David Hurwitz

CPEWurttemberg

Given their importance and their status as masterpieces, C.P.E. Bach’s Württemberg Sonatas enjoy remarkably few recordings that have remained available for any length of time. The First Sonata, in A minor, remains the best known, possibly on account of its flashy finale, but the remainder are... Continue Reading


Major Discoveries: Staier Thrills in CPE Bach’s Keyboard Works

by David Hurwitz

cpebachstaier

This remarkable recital is available in Deutsche Harmonia Mundi’s CPE Bach box, but if you’re looking for a single disc featuring some of the master’s most compelling keyboard music, then get this without delay. It covers Bach’s entire career, from the early “Württembe... Continue Reading


Major Discoveries: Two Superb Rautavaara Concertos, One for Birds

by David Hurwitz

RautavaaraCantus

This marvelous disc contains what unquestionably is the finest available performance of Cantus Arcticus, Rautavaara’s most popular piece and one of the very best marriages of an orchestra and taped sounds. For this recording, the birdsong tape seems to have been cleaned up, giving the timbres ... Continue Reading


Major Discoveries: Bavouzet’s Pristine, Poetic Haydn Vol. 5

by David Hurwitz

Haydnsonbav5

Having spent the past couple of days lining up reviews of, and listening (again) to, Wagner’s Ring operas, I can’t even begin to describe just how refreshing it has been to turn to this disc of Haydn sonatas, the fifth release in Jean-Efflam Bavouzet’s superb ongoing cycle. Imagine... Continue Reading


Major Discoveries: Chaplin’s Stupendous Score to Modern Times

by David Hurwitz

ModTimes

Charlie Chaplin wrote most of his own film scores. Although he couldn’t notate the music, he did play piano and violin, and was able to work with his arrangers (including in this case David Raksin of “Laura” fame). With his typical concern for detail, he achieved exactly the sound ... Continue Reading


Major Discoveries: Jadassohn’s Knowing Symphonies

by David Hurwitz

Jadassohn

Yes, this music is ridiculously conservative, as we might expect from a founder of the post-Mendelssohnian Leipzig school, but with a difference. Unlike so many of his colleagues Jadassohn, who composed these four symphonies between 1860 and 1888, keeps all of their elements in scale. They are brief... Continue Reading


Major Discoveries: Two Sensational Ibert Ballets

by David Hurwitz

IbertMercier

This is without a doubt a “must have” if you care about great 20th century ballet music–in other words, the kind that you can listen to just for itself. Le Chevalier errant was composed in 1935 for the inimitable Ida Rubinstein (of Boléro fame). It’s based on the Don Quixote... Continue Reading


J.C. Bach Symphonies: One Major Discovery in the Minor

by David Hurwitz

JC Bach

These are perky, pleasant performances of vanishingly slender works. Each symphony has three movements, almost none of which lasts longer than two or three minutes, and most of which play for less. We are clearly present at the dawn of the form. Zinman and his players could perform these pieces in t... Continue Reading


Major Discoveries: Freitas Branco Violin Sonatas

by David Hurwitz

FreitasBranco

These two attractive sonatas (and the Prélude) track Freitas Branco’s development very accurately. The First Sonata has an adventurous form: a gentle opening followed by a brief scherzo, an even shorter adagio, and then a long, fully developed finale. The model clearly is Franck, the harmony rich... Continue Reading


Under the Radar–Baroque Choral Music From Poland

by David Vernier

gorczyckiwroclaw

Packaging alert: When I first looked at the cover of this CD, my casual glance at its distinctive script convinced me that I was looking at a program of music by Gorecki, as in Henryk Górecki, the 20th-century composer of Symphony No. 3 (Symphony of Sorrowful Songs) fame. What a surprise to discove... Continue Reading


Major Discoveries: Azerbaijani Piano Concertos (More or Less)

by David Hurwitz

AzerbPcs

This is fun. Fikret Amirov and Elmira Nazirova’s concerto is based on Arabic themes, and while it has its share of “snake charmer” music, it makes a worthy successor to, say, Saint-Saëns’ “Egyptian” Concerto (sound clip). Amirov got some attention from Leopold Stokowski back in the 1950... Continue Reading


Major Discoveries: A Quartet of Brian Symphonies

by David Hurwitz

Brian6

Brian’s Sixth Symphony, subtitled “Sinfonia Tragica,” makes an idea introduction to his music. It’s full of evocative sounds and unusually (for him) arresting thematic ideas, and its single movement takes less than twenty minutes. The last few minutes are a Mahlerian phantasm... Continue Reading


Major Discoveries: Eccentricities, Even For Alkan

by David Hurwitz

AlkanMaltempo

Vincenzo Maltempo’s Alkan recordings have been very successful, and this one is no exception. Billed as “a collection of eccentric piano works,” Maltempo isn’t kidding. The weirdness begins with the Trois Petites Fantaisies, Op. 41, which are not especially small (they last m... Continue Reading


Major Discoveries: Koechlin’s Fabulous Jungle Book

by David Hurwitz

Koechlin

Believe it or not, this set seems to be kicking around still, either as a domestic release or as a reasonably priced Japanese import. If you missed it the first time around, grab it now, because heaven only knows how long it will remain available. Koechlin’s series of works based on Kipling... Continue Reading


Boccherini’s Wonderful Guitar Quintets, The Old Fashioned Way

by David Hurwitz

BoccheriniFandango

If you missed these three discs on their original release (as I did), you may want to pause and give them some consideration. Boccherini’s Guitar Quintets are really beautiful works, full of charm, variety, good tunes, and interesting forms. They include the famous “Fandango” and the variation... Continue Reading


A Plug For Pärt’s Orchestral Music

by David Hurwitz

Part

This very beautiful disc features three of Arvo Pärt’s best orchestral pieces. My colleagues David Vernier and Robert Levine, who have reviewed most of the releases featuring the composer’s music, are both big vocal music specialists, and accordingly have focused on the choral works. Th... Continue Reading


Major Discoveries: Wagenaar Symphonic Poems 2

by David Hurwitz

Wagenaar

This second disc of orchestral music by Dutch composer Johan Wagenaar (1862-1941) is very enjoyable. I say “orchestral music” and not “symphonic poems,” as the back of the tray card promises, because the largest and best work on the disc isn’t a symphonic poem at all. I... Continue Reading


Brian’s Enigmatic and Uplifting Symphonies 22-24

by David Hurwitz

Brian

Havergal Brian may be a “cult composer”, but he’s surely one of the better ones. His music, even from its early days, was always strange, imaginative, and distinctive, and this disc, containing some very early and very late works, makes the point tellingly. Symphonies Nos. 22-24 fo... Continue Reading


Major Discoveries: Koechlin’s Weird and Wild Schubert Wanderer

by David Hurwitz

Koechlin

The gem on this disc is Koechlin’s remarkable orchestration of Schubert’s Wanderer Fantasy. Commissioned as a ballet by Diaghilev, Koechlin makes no effort to imitate Schubert’s own orchestral idiom, nor does he turn the piece (as did Liszt) into a piano concerto. There is a piano ... Continue Reading


Major Discoveries: Rattle Excels in Szymanowski Songs & Harnasie

by Robert Levine

SzymRattle

Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937) composed music of great beauty and exoticism unique to himself. The two song cycles recorded here are more than tinged with orientalisms, with the East filtered through French-pastels. The first, Love Songs of a Fairy-Tale Princess, consists of just three songs and is o... Continue Reading

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Filling in the Gaps: Fibich Symphonic Poems

by David Hurwitz

Fibich3

Fibich’s colorful symphonic poems have not been neglected on disc, but most of the recordings made to date come from Supraphon and seem to pop in and out of print at random, making them difficult to find. So it’s good to have this ongoing series, especially as it’s very well played... Continue Reading


Filling in the Gaps: Where the Blomstedt SF Eulenspiegel Went

by David Hurwitz

StraussBlom

We may understand the rationale, but it’s a pity nonetheless. When Decca put together it’s generally excellent Strauss box, it included all of Blomstedt’s recordings except Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks. The reason was because Blomstedt never made Don Quixote for Decca, so... Continue Reading


Filling In The Gaps: Handy Rare Sibelius from Segerstam

by David Hurwitz

SibSeg

It has become trendy to play Sibelius’ incidental scores more or less complete, rather than as he revised isolated numbers or grouped them into suites. I am not personally convinced that this is wise; Sibelius knew what he was doing, but it very much depends on the score. King Christian II wor... Continue Reading


J.C. Bach Symphonies: One Major Discovery in the Minor

by David Hurwitz

JC Bach

These are perky, pleasant performances of vanishingly slender works. Each symphony has three movements, almost none of which lasts longer than two or three minutes, and most of which play for less. We are clearly present at the dawn of the form. Zinman and his players could perform these pieces in t... Continue Reading


Filling in the Gaps: A Great Disc of Great Comedy Overtures

by David Hurwitz

ComedyOvertures

They don’t write ’em like this anymore. This splendid program of comedy overtures spans more than a century, from Cimarosa’s Il matrimonio segreto of 1792 or Wolf-Ferrari’s Susana’s Secret of 1909. Funny how these two bookends both involve secrets, isn’t it? Along... Continue Reading


Pears & Bream Do Britten & Walton

by David Vernier

breampears

The artistic collaboration between Peter Pears and Julian Bream inspired original works by Britten and Walton, and this recording captures these pieces in first-rate—you could say definitive—performances. Although the Chinese songs are far more interesting for their poetry and thematic symbolism... Continue Reading


Filling in the Gaps: Borodin’s Major Orchestral Works

by David Hurwitz

BorodinDavis

On this reissue, Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic do In the Steppes of Central Asia, but the remainder of the program (the inevitable Notturno aside) is the familiar Davis/Toronto set, long a mainstay of the Sony catalog. You get the two and a half symphonies, as well as the Overture and Polo... Continue Reading


Filling In The Gaps: Plenty of Shostakovich Film Music

by David Hurwitz

ShostSereb

Shostakovich’s film music has received a lot of attention recently, largely because all of it is now published and is readily available, and also because the music includes a lot of populist, easy-to-listen-to material. But not entirely: Hamlet and King Lear offer moments of Shostakovich the gritt... Continue Reading


New to CD: Emanuel Ax’s 1975 Solo Debut

by Jed Distler

61r9iXz7hxL

Appearing (I believe) for the first time on CD, this is Emanuel Ax’s solo debut album, recorded in 1975, one year after he garnered international attention as first prize winner in the 1974 International Arthur Rubinstein Piano Competition. The recording sounds more full-bodied, three-dimensional,... Continue Reading


The Zimmermann Trio’s Magnificent Beethoven

by Jed Distler

BeetZimm

Beethoven’s early Op. 3 String Trio may not match Mozart’s K. 563 Divertimento’s inventive sublimity and grand scale, yet its six movements add up to a delightful 40 minutes’ worth of highly contrasted, effectively crafted, and uplifting chamber music. The Zimmermann Trio offers what mus... Continue Reading


Filling In The Gaps: Stravinsky’s Music for Violin and Piano

by David Hurwitz

StravVln

There’s more Stravinsky for violin and piano than you might think, and this two-disc set stands alone as the best possible recording of it. Aside from the usual bits derived from Pulcinella, there is a transcription of bits of the Divertimento from The Fairy’s Kiss (and other sections of the com... Continue Reading


Filling In The Gaps With Faust, Faust and Faust

by David Hurwitz

Berlioz8scenes

The concept and repertoire make this a disc of unusual interest. Berlioz’s Eight Scenes from Faust eventually became, greatly enlarged, The Damnation of Faust. Interestingly, Mephistopheles is a tenor; later he would become a baritone and Faust would get the tenor part. The music contains several ... Continue Reading


Filling In The Gaps: Mendelssohn’s Grand Concertos for Two Pianos

by David Hurwitz

Mendel2pnocots

Donald Francis Tovey famously described Mendelssohn as a “spoiled genius”. If so, then these two works composed between the ages of 14 and 15 reveal his genius before it got spoiled. They are wholly delightful. Mendelssohn’s classical impulses guarantee that he won’t fall into that deadly ... Continue Reading


Filling In The Gaps: Haydn–Cantatas for the House of Esterházy

by Robert Levine

HaydnCtatas

Composed around 1763-64, these gala cantatas were written for the sole purpose of glorifying Prince Nicholas Esterházy, and two of them have never been played since. They are joyous works of praise, filled with complicated coloratura and fine, melodic recitatives for the soloists, energetic work fo... Continue Reading


Filling In The Gaps: Kabalevsky’s Risk-Free Symphonies

by David Hurwitz

Kabalevsky

A puzzling composer, Kabalevsky in his first two symphonies offers works that are brief, pleasant, and emotionally take no risks. They sound a bit like generic film music: picturesque and varied in mood but seldom engaging for its own sake. There are, however, a few of the rhythmic tricks that turn ... Continue Reading


Hope’s Original, But More Importantly Superb, Mendelssohn

by Victor Carr Jr

MendelssohnHOpe

This is billed as the world-premiere recording of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in its original 1844 version–before the changes the composer made prior to publication after consultation with Ferdinand David, the work’s first soloist. The changes primarily concern the solo part, and... Continue Reading


Enescu’s Isis and 5th Symphony, Dead and Loving It

by David Hurwitz

EnescuIsis

My Uncle Sam had one of the coolest jobs of anyone I ever knew. He was a restorer for the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was his job to touch up the masterworks, repairing defects, filling in gaps, and otherwise keeping them looking pristine. You have no idea how many well-known paintings benefited ... Continue Reading


Filling In The Gaps: Bach “Short” Masses BWV 233-236

by David Vernier

BachMagSch

It was a real treat to revisit this recording—to be reminded how exuberant the celebratory sections, how crisply articulated both the choral and orchestral performances, how perfectly calibrated and lively the tempos, how buoyant the spirit of the playing and singing. And the solo singing is prett... Continue Reading


Filling In The Gaps: The Major Mozart Violin Sonatas

by David Hurwitz

MozartVlnSon

For the record Mozart’s “great” violin sonatas, as per the title of this set, evidently consist of K. 296, 301-306, 359, 360, 376-380, 454, 481, 526, and 547. I guess that means that the rest qualify as the “lousy” violin sonatas. Mozart wrote a ton of them, and none ranks among his finest... Continue Reading


Liszt’s Charming “Bunte Reihe” Transcriptions

by Jed Distler

Bunereihe

Violinist/composer/pedagogue Ferdinand David is best known today for having midwived and premiered Mendelssohn’s famous E minor violin concerto. Respected for his student editions of virtually all of the standard violin literature of the time, his own compositions are rather modest in scope an... Continue Reading

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Big Boxes: Bernstein’s Sibelius Remastered

by David Hurwitz

Sibelius Bernstein

To answer the obvious question, yes, these performances have been remastered well and they do sound better. This is particularly true, and was particularly necessary, in the Fifth Symphony and Pohjola’s Daughter, both of which have greater realism and depth, and less hardness. It’s also ... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: C.P.E. Bach Symphonies and Concertos

by David Hurwitz

cpebachsymsctos

This grab-bag of C.P.E. Bach performances, as you might expect, has some good things and some that are less good. Its six discs contain: Disc 1: Six Symphonies for Strings Wq 182. Trevor Pinnock leads The English Concert in performances that, while good, lack body in the sonority as well as that las... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: The Last (First) Maazel Box

by David Hurwitz

MaazelEarly

Here we go again. Lorin Maazel recorded everything for everyone, multiple times, but this set, which contains his earliest DG recordings, does go a long way to explaining what made him so compelling in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Simply put, he was exciting as hell, and he got a remarkably disci... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: Decca’s Fascinating, Bountiful, and Unpredictable Mono Years

by Jed Distler

1507-1

Decca’s big box “Mono Years” retrospective focuses on orchestral and instrumental recordings made between 1944 and 1956, many of which appear for the first time on CD. Its 53 discs are packaged in original jacket facsimiles (many including generous “bonus” fillers), ordered alphabetically ... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Karajan and His Soloists Let Rip–and Tear, and Shred

by David Hurwitz

KarajanSolistsII

There is one really noteworthy performance here: Karajan and Rostropovich in Strauss’ Don Quixote, a Karajan specialty. Not even the booklet note writer has many kind words to say about the Beethoven concertos with Alexis Weissenberg. Truth be told, it’s not terrible. It’s just tha... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: Bach by Hogwood, Historically Interesting

by David Hurwitz

BachHog

Rehearing these recordings, I am struck by the fact that Hogwood was a musicologist who deserves great respect. He lived at a time when the recording industry afforded academics who were also performers a unique opportunity to hear the fruits of their research. Hogwood rightly took advantage, but th... Continue Reading


Hogwood’s Big Vivaldi Box Is No Bargain!

by David Hurwitz

VivaldiHog

Talk about Caveat emptor! With the single exception of the Nisi Dominus, not terribly appealingly crooned by James Bowman, you get all of this music in exactly these versions in another Decca box called “Vivaldi Masterworks”, additionally featuring all of the collections with opus number... Continue Reading


A Big And Wonderful British Box Of Groves

by David Hurwitz

Groves

Charles Groves was a terrific conductor and it’s proof of his sterling qualities that these performances have held up so well over the years. British music could not have asked for a finer ambassador, and for my money he outclassed Boult, Handley, or any other British music specialist you migh... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: A Fine Stravinsky Set That’s Not Quite What It Seems

by David Hurwitz

StravBalSym

Don’t you just hate it when an otherwise worthwhile collection is undermined by just plain label stupidity? I don’t know if there’s anyone left at Universal who even knows what they have in their own catalog. On purely musical grounds this really is an excellent set, but it contains works that... Continue Reading


Another Unnecessary Bruckner Box

by David Hurwitz

BruckJanow

Janowski’s Bruckner features one indisputably great performance: the Eighth Symphony. The early works (Symphonies Nos. 1-3, plus the Mass in F minor included as a bonus) are all very good, although these aren’t the Bruckner symphonies that determine the viability of a complete set. No. 4... Continue Reading


A Big Bad Box Of Scriabin From Decca

by David Hurwitz

Scriabin

I’m not even going to completely unpick the ridiculous hodge-podge that constitutes this “complete works” box. The piano pieces proceed in order by opus number, followed by the pieces without same. They are played, with varying degrees of success, by Vladimir Ashkenazy (mostly exce... Continue Reading


Chandos’ Fine Arnold Symphony Cycle, Boxed

by David Hurwitz

ArnoldHickox

There’s a very wide expressive range between the bright and breezy finale of Arnold’s Second Symphony and the angst-filled violence at the start of the Seventh (sound clips), never mind the long, desolate finale of the Ninth. I suspect it will be a while before this strange, often distur... Continue Reading


Reference Recording: Alain Shines in Bach Organ Works

by David Hurwitz

bachalain

Okay, I do my best not to listen to organ music. I’ve got to be in the right mood, despite the fact that I really enjoy a lot of music composed for the instrument (especially by the French romantics: Franck, Widor, etc). The nicest thing about Bach’s organ works is that, first, there are a [&hel... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: Martinon’s Complete Chicago Recordings At Last

by David Hurwitz

Martinon

These recordings are stunning, plain and simple. There isn’t a single performance in this set that could not serve as a reference version for the repertoire in question (OK, maybe the Weber Clarinet Concertos with Benny Goodman…). Some of been reissued already, and are well-known: most o... Continue Reading


A Bittersweet Big Box of 20th Century Boulez

by David Hurwitz

Boulez

Most all of this material has been reissued previously, but with Boulez’s 90th birthday coming up you can count on the performing arts military industrial complex to spend a fortune celebrating his achievements, and his labels to do their part. Had Boulez not been such a fine conductor there s... Continue Reading


A Handy Box of Bach Concertos from Café Zimmermann

by David Hurwitz

BachZimm

This set actually includes more than concertos: you get the orchestral suites too. The concertos are included in one of their various forms, either the Brandenburg Concertos, the three violin concertos, the Triple Concerto, the works for keyboard(s), or reconstructions for conjectured original force... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: Goberman’s Classic Haydn Returns

by David Hurwitz

HaydnGob

So often the reissue of a “legendary” classic performance turns out to be an “illusory” classic, but here is a set that lives up to its storied reputation. As is well known, Max Goberman planned to record all of the Haydn symphonies for his own label, but his sudden death fro... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: Pierre Monteux’s Complete RCA Victor Recordings

by Jed Distler

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Pierre Monteux (1875-1964) was celebrated and respected throughout a long conducting career for his formidable musicianship and taste, together with his gifts as an orchestra builder and teacher. From an early age Monteux brushed with history. At 14 he attended the premiere of Franck’s D minor sym... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: Rheinberger’s Organ Works

by Jed Distler

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Although Rudolf Innig concluded his 12-disc cycle of Rheinberger’s complete organ works in 2005, it has taken nearly a decade for MDG to bring it out as a boxed set. For comprehensiveness alone, it has no competition. Every solo organ piece Rheinberger composed is here, from the 20 sonatas (he int... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: Munch’s Explosive Romantic Masterworks

by David Hurwitz

Munch

This set contains most if not all of the music by the listed composers that Munch recorded for RCA, and generally speaking the performances vie with the best. Some, such as Schubert’s Second Symphony, have been very hard to find. There are some genuine classics, of course—the Heifetz Mendelssohn... Continue Reading

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