Classics Today Insider

Big Boxes: Abbado’s Complete DG Berlin Recordings

by Jed Distler

91s3ttQqvSL._SL1500

Deutsche Grammophon’s umpteenth Claudio Abbado boxed set gathers under one roof the conductor’s complete Berlin Philharmonic recordings for both this label and Philips. Actually, it’s not quite complete, if you count the absence of Abbado’s 2000 Beethoven symphony cycle, subsequently withdra... Continue Reading


Under The Radar: Cavalli’s Should-I-Die-Before-I-Wake Requiem

by Jens F. Laurson

CAVALLI_Requiem_Ensemble-Polyharmonique_RAUMKLANG_jens-f-laurson_classical-critic

Francesco Cavalli is a lesser-known composer of the Italian high baroque, known best (if that’s the word) for his opera La Calisto that René Jacobs and, back in the days, Raymond Leppard have recorded. If you ever have a chance of catching David Alden’s wild production at the Munich State Opera... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Zweden’s Boring Beethoven 5 & 7

by Victor Carr Jr

Zweden

Want to guarantee a boring Beethoven recording? First: master it at such a low volume level that the music has no dynamic impact whatsoever (unless you crank the volume really, really high). Second: have the conductor be as disinterested as Jaap van Zweden looks to be on the booklet cover, and lead ... Continue Reading


Under the Radar: Gounod’s Piano Music

by Jed Distler

51RqrHNSoL

Everyone knows about Charles Gounod’s operas and choral works, but who knew that he also wrote solo piano music? I certainly didn’t, until this release came to my attention. It offers a judiciously contrasted representation of the composer’s keyboard output, starting with two beautiful charmer... Continue Reading


Under The Radar: The Very First Opera?

by Jens F. Laurson

Cavalieri

One of René Jacobs’ more recent opera projects on Harmonia Mundi–Emilio de Cavalieri’s Rappresentatione–is the type that will make you regret not having the New Grove handy. It beckons research as much as listening. Fortunately, two fine and well-translated essays in the booklet... Continue Reading


Major Discoveries: Krommer’s Distinctive Early Symphonies

by David Hurwitz

KrommerSyms1-3

Franz Krommer evidently took writing symphonies seriously, waiting until he was about forty before his First appeared at the end of the 1790s. That makes his nine works in the form (the Eighth is lost) almost exactly contemporary with Beethoven’s, and while you won’t find a similar bigne... Continue Reading


Big Box from Hell: Martin Rasch’s Pedantic Beethoven Cycle

by Jed Distler

raschbeethoven

Martin Rasch is a pianist in his mid-40s who teaches at Munich’s University of Music and Performing Arts. According to his website, the pianist has a penchant for exploring the central repertoire in cyclical fashion, such as performing both books of Chopin’s Etudes and Bach’s Well-Tempered Cla... Continue Reading


Big Boxes–Piano Masters in Berlin: Great Concertos

by Jed Distler

61Wowy88hiL._SL1200

Deutsche Grammophon has bundled eight “original jacket” albums from the label’s back catalog (actually seven–one originally came out on Philips) that feature pianists performing with either the Berlin Philharmonic or the Staatskapelle Berlin. The performances seem to have been culled at ... Continue Reading


Major Discoveries: Krommer’s Marvelous Late Symphonies

by David Hurwitz

KrommerSyms

Franz Krommer (1759-1831) was a first rate composer. As you can see, he was three years younger than Mozart, and outlived both Beethoven and Schubert. During that time, he wrote hundreds of instrumental works: chamber music, concertos, nine symphonies (No. 8 is missing), and the wind ensemble music ... Continue Reading


Major Discoveries: Tüür’s Splendid New Wine In Old Wineskins

by Jens F. Laurson

TUUR_Symphony-5_Prophecy_ONDINE_jens-f-laurson_classical-critic

Erkki-Sven Tüür’s ongoing cycle of interesting symphonies (in 2017 he arrived at No. 9) makes him–by quality more significantly than quantity–the premiere symphonist of our time. Always good for the inclusion of seemingly eclectic instruments (electric guitar, accordion, big band, pe... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: Kondrashin’s Killer Mahler Sixth

by David Hurwitz

Mahler6Kond

Recorded in 1981, shortly before his death, this performance is important, both as a noteworthy addition to the Kondrashin discography (he didn’t make the Sixth in Moscow for Melodiya, although there was a Leningrad recording) as well as for Mahler fans more generally. It’s a blisteringl... Continue Reading


A Martinů Double Sister Act

by Jens F. Laurson

MARTINU_Double-Concertos_Kodama-Foster_Pentatone_jens-f-laurson_classical-critic

Bohuslav Martinů, the cosmopolitan-by-fate who grew up with a bird’s eye view of the world, up in a church tower, is an endlessly fascinating composer who, at his best, surprises with magnificent beauty embedded in ample skill and great depth. He needs a bit of willing repeat exposure to reveal h... Continue Reading


Alto & Strings Illuminate Rare Baroque Works

by David Vernier

vaterunser

Before you read this you should read Bob Levine’s review of Handel arias by countertenor Franco Fagioli. Now that your unfounded concerns regarding the countertenor voice have been thoroughly quelled (if you ever had such concerns), you can freely proceed to assess the merits of this recording... Continue Reading


R.I.P. Oliver Knussen: Two Fantasy Operas

by Victor Carr Jr

[Editor’s Note: The recent passing of Oliver Knussen marks the end of a career devoted to, among other things, the loving and expert presentation of the widest range of really good, contemporary music, including his own. Knussen’s career was as positive, life-affirming and brilliant as t... Continue Reading


R.I.P. Oliver Knussen: Lindberg’s Aura and Engine

by David Hurwitz

Magnus Lindberg burst onto the contemporary music scene in the 1980s with his early work Kraft (as in “power”, and not the American food conglomerate and inventor of Velveeta cheese by-product substance), an avant-garde spectacular that took the “sound mass” procedures of Ber... Continue Reading


R.I.P. Oliver Knussen: Carter Concertos on Bridge

by Jed Distler

You would never guess that these four compact, vivacious, and imaginatively crafted concertos are the work of a man in his 90s. No doubt about it, Elliott Carter is simply amazing. His creative output keeps increasing with age, while his uncompromising style also has grown more accessible, emotional... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: Furtwängler’s ’50 Scala Ring – Remastered

by Robert Levine

This is a known quantity, having been available in many incarnations since its creation, but a few words about the performance–and Furtwängler–are in order. This is the only live complete (except for two cuts) Ring conducted by Furtwängler; the 1953 Ring, available on EMI, was taped in... Continue Reading


Ives: Three Holidays and a Football Game

by David Hurwitz

James Sinclair is always an excellent guide to this music, even through Ives’ most complex textural thickets. The Fourth of July has real celebratory fervor and a sense of fun, while the climax of Thanksgiving, so often a muddle, here achieves real transcendence, with the choir perfectly integ... Continue Reading


Vivaldi–Bagpipes, And Drunken Sailors

by Jens F. Laurson

VIVALDI_Lazarevitch_Musiciens-de-saint-julien-ALPHA_jens-f-laurson_classical-critic

This disc opens with terrific, riveting interpretations of famous Vivaldi concertos “La Tempesta di Mare” and “Il Gardellino”–performances that absolutely fly off the page thanks to Jeremy Irons look-alike François Lazarevitch directing his band Les Musiciens de Saint-Julien while pla... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: Rostropovich On Warner

by Jens F. Laurson

Rostropovich_WARNER_Cellist-of-the-Century_CLASSICS-TODAY_jens-f-laurson

After lavish and huge boxed sets for Maria Callas and Itzhak Perlman, Warner Classics–drawing on its combined EMI Classics, Warner, and Erato back-catalogues–set its sights on Mstislav Rostropovich. The result is a still luxuriant 40-CD box with the same quality documentation (a 200-page... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Federico Colli’s Mannered, Immature Scarlatti

by Jed Distler

71wP3P4hRuL._SL1200

Federico Colli’s affetuoso approach to Scarlatti frequently slips into mannerism, exaggeration, and vulgarity. Take the famous E major K. 380 sonata, for example, where Colli essentially gives us a master class in belaboring the obvious (sound clips). He inserts crude pauses between phrases, overc... Continue Reading


Vivaldi: An Ultimate Op. 8 from The Avison Ensemble

by David Vernier

During its 42-year, 17,162-performance original off-Broadway run, the Fantasticks made a lot of theatre history–and it also challenged the editors of the New Yorker’s weekly theatre listings to come up with something new to say about the production after virtually everyone on earth alrea... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Zweden’s Boring Beethoven 5 & 7

by Victor Carr Jr

Zweden

Want to guarantee a boring Beethoven recording? First: master it at such a low volume level that the music has no dynamic impact whatsoever (unless you crank the volume really, really high). Second: have the conductor be as disinterested as Jaap van Zweden looks to be on the booklet cover, and lead ... Continue Reading


Big Box from Hell: Martin Rasch’s Pedantic Beethoven Cycle

by Jed Distler

raschbeethoven

Martin Rasch is a pianist in his mid-40s who teaches at Munich’s University of Music and Performing Arts. According to his website, the pianist has a penchant for exploring the central repertoire in cyclical fashion, such as performing both books of Chopin’s Etudes and Bach’s Well-Tempered Cla... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Federico Colli’s Mannered, Immature Scarlatti

by Jed Distler

71wP3P4hRuL._SL1200

Federico Colli’s affetuoso approach to Scarlatti frequently slips into mannerism, exaggeration, and vulgarity. Take the famous E major K. 380 sonata, for example, where Colli essentially gives us a master class in belaboring the obvious (sound clips). He inserts crude pauses between phrases, overc... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Dire Days for Debussy at the Orchestre National

by David Hurwitz

DebKriv

Having just heard Daniele Gatti’s horrendous Debussy disc with the Orchestre National de France on Sony Classical, I was very curious about how this almost identical program with the same orchestra would sound. The answer: just as bad. Granted, Krivine’s performances aren’t quite a... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Gatti’s Deathly Dull Debussy

by David Hurwitz

DebGatti

Can French orchestras still play French music? Not on evidence here. Daniele Gatti leads the Orchestre National de France in some of the droopiest Debussy performances to appear in many a year. The Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun comes off best since it’s a slow, dreamy piece under any circ... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Immerseel’s Recipe for a Beethoven Disaster

by David Hurwitz

BeetImmer

HOW TO MAKE BEETHOVEN IN FIVE EASY STEPS MAIN INGREDIENTS 1. Choose your pitch, in this case A=440. 2. Select instruments of the period, and specific place. 3. Limit the ensemble to a “typical” minimum size. 4. Obey all metronome markings strictly. 5. Eliminate string vibrato to the exte... Continue Reading


Really Bad Wagner From Buffalo

by David Hurwitz

WagnerFall

Well, it had to happen. If the UConn women’s basketball team could lose to Notre Dame in the NCAA Final Four, then Falletta and Buffalo could end their winning streak with a truly dreadful disc of Wagner excerpts. Just about everything about this production sounds wrong: the tinny, low-level s... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Vänskä Leads The Stepford Phil In Mahler’s Sixth

by David Hurwitz

Mahler6Vanska

Oh boy, here we go again. Vänskä has turned the Minnesota Orchestra into the Stepford Philharmonic. The playing here is robotic, submissive, note perfect, tensionless, and utterly lacking in Mahlerian passion. So it was also in the Fifth Symphony; but if anything the situation has gotten worse in ... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Appalling Beethoven from van Zweden and the NYP

by David Hurwitz

BeetZwedenNY

Are these people insane? Before turning to the performances in detail, let’s just list the myriad reasons this release is idiotic. 1. Van Zweden recorded this same program already in Dallas, a disc that is still readily available. What on earth has he done to warrant a second shot at the same ... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Immerseel’s Ghastly, Gruesome, Grotesque Gershwin

by David Hurwitz

GershwinImmerseel

This is a remarkably generous, perfectly dreadful program: eighty-six minutes of the worst Gershwin it has ever been my misfortune to hear. Actually, it would have been about seventy-five minutes had Immerseel played the music up to speed, but more on that anon. Its sole redeeming virtue is Claron M... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Rattle Gets Lost on An Imaginary Haydn Journey

by David Hurwitz

HaydnRattle

It’s been quite a while since we’ve had a CD From Hell to talk about. Happily, you can usually count on Simon Rattle to deliver the goods. Haydn: An Imaginary Orchestral Journey is an idiotic assemblage of miscellaneous bits and pieces designed to showcase “the most forward-looking... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Ballot’s Vile Bruckner Sixth

by David Hurwitz

Bruck6Ballot

Rémy Ballot has no affinity for music. There I’ve said it. How this self-styled Bruckner “specialist” managed to swindle his way into leading the Upper Austrian Youth Orchestra in live recordings of Bruckner’s symphonies is one of those anomalies that only general deafness o... Continue Reading


Big Box From Hell: Bernstein Demastered

by David Hurwitz

Bernstein Remastered

It would be difficult to imagine a more ridiculous, randomly assembled, pointless, and even lazy project. Lots of Bernstein has already been remastered: Mahler, Sibelius, and most significantly, Bernstein himself in Sony’s very recent “Bernstein the Composer” box. So it should come... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Faust and Heras-Casado Starve Mendelssohn

by David Hurwitz

MendelFaust

The hypocrisy of the period performance movement is nowhere more evident than in this release. The principal justification behind “authentic” practice has been that modern playing distorts the true timbres, rhythms, balances, and what have you, that the composer originally intended. Yet ... Continue Reading


Konwitschny’s Surprisingly Boring Bruckner 4

by David Hurwitz

What a disappointment! This 1952 mono recording sounds extremely boxy and constricted in dynamic range (at least in this transfer), nor does the Czech Philaharmonic brass on this outing–the horns especially–have what it takes to infuse Bruckner’s musical edifices with the necessary... Continue Reading


Kleiber and Pfitzner Mess Up Beethoven

by David Hurwitz

Listening to these two wretched performances, recorded in the late 1920s, offers the audio equivalent of desecrating a cemetery. Why, one wonders, can’t we let the dead rest in peace? Actually, what’s so remarkable about Kleiber and Pfitzner is that both are equally terrible, but in comp... Continue Reading


Andante’s Vienna Junk Collection

by David Hurwitz

The lesson of this set: never believe your own PR. The Vienna Philharmonic is one of the world’s greatest orchestras. It’s recorded all of the music on these four discs numerous times under ideal studio conditions, and many of those performances constitute reference editions of the works... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Klemp’s Weirdly Zippy Mahler 2, Down Under

by Jed Distler

Fasten your seat belts, Mahler heads. Here comes the Resurrection Express, live from Sydney, Australia, 50 years ago, zooming across the finish line for what may be the fastest Mahler Second preserved in sound. I use the word “sound” advisedly, since the original broadcast aircheck is of... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Bychkov Botches Tchaikovsky’s Manfred

by David Hurwitz

manfredbych

Classical recordings these days have to have titles akin to Robert Ludlum novels. This is volume two of “The Tchaikovsky Project,” and I suppose it will be succeeded by “The Borodin Disparagement” and “The Rimsky-Korsakov Ultimatum.” Bychkov’s performance, i... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Knappertsbusch Bombs Dresden

by Jed Distler

Fwwwwwaaahhhh! Ppplllllaaaahhh! So go the opening chords to Brahms’ Third Symphony as played here by the Dresden Staatskapelle (sound clip). After 35 more minutes of imprecise entrances, soggy attacks, and ponderous pacing, you wonder if Hans Knappertsbusch had even rehearsed this 1956 broadca... Continue Reading

More "CDs from Hell" Reviews »

Ives: Three Holidays and a Football Game

by David Hurwitz

James Sinclair is always an excellent guide to this music, even through Ives’ most complex textural thickets. The Fourth of July has real celebratory fervor and a sense of fun, while the climax of Thanksgiving, so often a muddle, here achieves real transcendence, with the choir perfectly integ... Continue Reading


Vivaldi: An Ultimate Op. 8 from The Avison Ensemble

by David Vernier

During its 42-year, 17,162-performance original off-Broadway run, the Fantasticks made a lot of theatre history–and it also challenged the editors of the New Yorker’s weekly theatre listings to come up with something new to say about the production after virtually everyone on earth alrea... Continue Reading


Reference Recording: Hale and Hearty Handel Op. 6

by David Vernier

avisonhandel

Handel’s unrivaled masterpieces of the concerto grosso form and style—his Twelve Grand Concertos, in seven parts, for four violins, a tenor, a violoncello, with a thorough-bass for the harpsichord—here receive their finest recording to date, with performances that leave all others—both p... Continue Reading


Reference Recording: The Panocha’s Essential Dvorák String Quartets

by David Hurwitz

DvorakEssentialQts

The Panocha Quartet’s complete Dvorák cycle remains the finest yet produced, and a testament to the great Czech tradition of quartet playing. This three-disc set drawn from the larger box, billed as “the essential string quartets,” does exactly what it says it does, and will appea... Continue Reading


Reference Recording: Mutter’s Miraculous Dvorák Concerto

by David Hurwitz

DvorMut

Having lived with this recording for some time now, I have no hesitation in recommending it as a modern reference for the Dvorák Violin Concerto. It’s always interesting to learn if a wild, “over the top” interpretation like this one will hold up to repeated listening, but it did,... Continue Reading


Reference Recording: Tingaud’s Smokin’ Poulenc Orchestral Works

by David Hurwitz

PoulencTing

Great performance reviews often resort to grilling analogies, for some reason: sizzling, smoking, scorching, flaming, searing–roasting, basting–ok, the last two not so much. These performances are all of those good things, and best of all, they sound truly French. Tingaud’s RTÉ re... Continue Reading


Reference Recording: Pettersson’s Glorious, Scarifying 8th Symphony

by David Hurwitz

Pettersson8

This music grows on you. Unlike most of Pettersson’s other symphonies, the Eighth has two movements, although it’s anyone’s guess why. They share much of their thematic material, and there are no major contrasts in either tempo or mood. Still, the whole thing works for some reason.... Continue Reading


Reference Recording: Pettersson’s Gripping Seventh Symphony

by David Hurwitz

Pettersson7

We have been following BIS’ ongoing Allan Pettersson symphony cycle with some dedication, but what are arguably his two most iconic symphonies, the Seventh and Eighth, were released before ClassicsToday.com got started in 1999, and so it’s time to play a bit of catchup. What makes both w... Continue Reading


Reference Recording: Arrau and Davis Play Beethoven’s Piano Concertos 4 & 5

by David Hurwitz

Certainly one of the more intelligent releases in the “Philips 50”, this single disc combines the contents of two earlier single CDs, and most importantly offers the Fourth Piano Concerto without that annoying disc change you have to deal with in the complete set of five. Claudio Arrau&#... Continue Reading


Reference Recording: Jochum’s Classic Haydn–The 12 London Symphonies

by Dan Davis

This slim “Collector’s Edition” five-CD box of Haydn Symphonies is a delight from start to finish. Eugen Jochum was a wonderful Haydn conductor and even in this age of historically informed performance orthodoxy, no apologies are necessary. These are simply great performances that ... Continue Reading


Bargain Byrd Box From New College

by David Vernier

byrdcrdbox

These very fine performances were originally issued on three separate CDs during the 1980s and ’90s; according to CRD, this set, which simply collects all three original discs in one “bargain” box, first appeared in 2002. And for the convenience of those who missed it the first tim... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: DG’s Excellent Debussy (not complete) Edition

by David Hurwitz

Debussy

This is not the recent DG Complete (not) Edition, but rather its earlier and much better Debussy box. If you’re not an absolute completist–in which case the Warner/Erato box is the way to go–then this is the one to get. Unlike Universal’s only fitfully excellent Ravel box, th... Continue Reading


Reference Recording: The Takács Plays Brahms String Quintets

by David Hurwitz

BrahmsQuints

I recently had an interesting exchange with a good friend and Brahms scholar about why the two string quintets tend to receive less attention than the composer’s other major chamber works. In her opinion, they get short shrift for two main reasons: 1. String quintets in general get played less... Continue Reading


Alsop’s Magnificent Bernstein Box

by David Hurwitz

BernsteinAlsop

Here, in one convenient box, are all of Marin Alsop’s Bernstein recordings for Naxos–eight CDs worth–performances as fine as Bernstein’s own, and sometimes even better. This version of Mass, which Alsop regards as Bernstein’s masterpiece, is the new reference version. H... Continue Reading


Karajan’s Classic Vienna Brahms and Dvorák Revisited

by David Hurwitz

Dvor8Br3Karaj

Herbert von Karajan made so many records that sifting through them to find the true gems can be a real chore. The fact that he remade the same repertoire every decade or so only makes matters even more complicated. This release offers a case in point. There are at least four Brahms Thirds, and three... Continue Reading


Debussy: The (Really) Complete Works on Warner

by David Hurwitz

DebWarner

Unlike DG’s recent incomplete Complete Works box, this one, all 33 CDs of it, really makes an effort to do the job right. Indeed, it contains more than the complete works, because you get both everything Debussy wrote as well as everything he arranged or transcribed–like movements from T... Continue Reading


Major Discoveries: A Big Box of Koechlin Orchestral Works

by David Hurwitz

Koechlin

Here, accompanied by a lavish booklet with re-edited and expanded notes alongside complete texts and translations in German, French and English, are all of SWR’s Koechlin releases led by Heinz Holliger with the SWR Radio Symphony Orchestra Stuttgart. It’s a class act, one not likely to b... Continue Reading


All’s Well That Blends Well–Bravo To Buff Brit B Minor

by David Vernier

trinitybachbminor

All’s well, everything precisely where it should be with this new Bach B minor Mass, albeit from a source not known for many forays into this territory. The Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge is one of the world’s finest choirs, one that operates in an atmosphere and expectation of exce... Continue Reading


The Freire/Chailly Brahms Concertos: Still Holding Up A Decade On

by David Hurwitz

The Brahms piano concertos are recorded so frequently, and so poorly, that at times you might despair of ever hearing a modern performance that has both a point of view as well as a profound understanding of the composer’s style. Well, look no further. Coming hard on the heels of the droopy an... Continue Reading


Major Discoveries: Martinu’s Truly “Epic of Gilgamesh”

by David Hurwitz

Gilgamesh

This terrific live performance offers the premiere recording of Martinu’s late masterpiece, The Epic of Gilgamesh, in its original English version. In you haven’t heard the work before in any of its prior Czech language versions, and even if you have, this is now the recording to own. It... Continue Reading

More "Reference Recordings" Reviews »

Under The Radar: Cavalli’s Should-I-Die-Before-I-Wake Requiem

by Jens F. Laurson

CAVALLI_Requiem_Ensemble-Polyharmonique_RAUMKLANG_jens-f-laurson_classical-critic

Francesco Cavalli is a lesser-known composer of the Italian high baroque, known best (if that’s the word) for his opera La Calisto that René Jacobs and, back in the days, Raymond Leppard have recorded. If you ever have a chance of catching David Alden’s wild production at the Munich State Opera... Continue Reading


Under the Radar: Gounod’s Piano Music

by Jed Distler

51RqrHNSoL

Everyone knows about Charles Gounod’s operas and choral works, but who knew that he also wrote solo piano music? I certainly didn’t, until this release came to my attention. It offers a judiciously contrasted representation of the composer’s keyboard output, starting with two beautiful charmer... Continue Reading


Under The Radar: The Very First Opera?

by Jens F. Laurson

Cavalieri

One of René Jacobs’ more recent opera projects on Harmonia Mundi–Emilio de Cavalieri’s Rappresentatione–is the type that will make you regret not having the New Grove handy. It beckons research as much as listening. Fortunately, two fine and well-translated essays in the booklet... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: Kondrashin’s Killer Mahler Sixth

by David Hurwitz

Mahler6Kond

Recorded in 1981, shortly before his death, this performance is important, both as a noteworthy addition to the Kondrashin discography (he didn’t make the Sixth in Moscow for Melodiya, although there was a Leningrad recording) as well as for Mahler fans more generally. It’s a blisteringl... Continue Reading


Alto & Strings Illuminate Rare Baroque Works

by David Vernier

vaterunser

Before you read this you should read Bob Levine’s review of Handel arias by countertenor Franco Fagioli. Now that your unfounded concerns regarding the countertenor voice have been thoroughly quelled (if you ever had such concerns), you can freely proceed to assess the merits of this recording... Continue Reading


Under the Radar: Hans Henkemans’ Philips Debussy Recordings

by Jed Distler

51dCcamaZAL

It is safe to say that the Dutch pianist Hans Henkemans (1913-1995), who also composed throughout his life, was not exactly a household name, certainly not in the United States. Yet he had a fascinating career. Along with his musical training, Henkemans also studied to be a doctor, but abandoned his... Continue Reading


Under the Radar: Jörg Demus’ Debussy Cycle

by Jed Distler

81WWWdXDjML._SL1500

In 1999 Australian Eloquence brought out an all-Debussy reissue that included selections from a 1960 Deutsche Grammophon recital by Jörg Demus. I wrote that the Austrian pianist’s clearly contoured and sensitively nuanced playing might surprise listeners who understandably linked this artist with... Continue Reading


Grieg & Schumann Concertos: Claudio Arrau At His Serious Best

by David Hurwitz

Claudio Arrau recorded these concertos twice for Philips, the present performances in 1963, and then again in 1980 with Colin Davis and the Boston Symphony. There’s very little to chose between them. Tempos are almost identical, and contrary to what one might expect, the slow movement of the S... Continue Reading


Under The Radar: Jochum’s Surprisingly Fine Mahler Das Lied

by David Hurwitz

Well isn’t this a pleasant surprise? We’ve been bombarded with second-rate Das Lieds, from dreary recent recordings by Salonen, Boulez, Levine, and Maazel, to reissues of overrated, indifferently played, sung, and/or conducted historical “legends” such as Walter/Ferrier and H... Continue Reading


Karajan’s Classic Vienna Brahms and Dvorák Revisited

by David Hurwitz

Dvor8Br3Karaj

Herbert von Karajan made so many records that sifting through them to find the true gems can be a real chore. The fact that he remade the same repertoire every decade or so only makes matters even more complicated. This release offers a case in point. There are at least four Brahms Thirds, and three... Continue Reading


Under The Radar: Ukrainian Piano Treasures

by Jed Distler

reflections_500x500

A disclaimer is in order. I heard this disc prior to its release, and provided a written endorsement on the jacket that states: “Here is piano music that needs to be known, piano music that abounds with visceral vibrancy and expressive intensity, not to mention being skillfully and subtly wrought ... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: Eugen Jochum’s DG Recordings Vol. 1–Orchestral Music

by David Hurwitz

Jochum 1

Eugen Jochum was such a modest soul that he was easily overshadowed by other conductors in DG’s stable. During his lifetime he was sometimes called, both admiringly and disparagingly, “baby Furtwängler,” but the fact is that he was a vastly superior conductor than Furtwängler, of... Continue Reading


Under the Radar: Solti’s First (and best) Mahler Symphony No. 2

by David Hurwitz

Georg Solti’s first recording of the “Resurrection” Symphony, dating from 1966, belongs with his LSO accounts of the First and Ninth as among the great Mahler performances of the “first wave” of stereo versions. Along with the Decca Ring, these releases established Solt... Continue Reading


Under the Radar: Solti’s LSO Mahler Symphony No. 9

by David Hurwitz

Mahler9Solti

Generally speaking, when it comes to Solti’s Mahler, the earlier the better. His LSO recordings of Symphonies Nos. 1, 2, and 9 are superior to his Chicago remakes, while his Chicago analog recordings of Nos. 6 through 8 are more successful than his later, digital efforts. This Ninth is a great... Continue Reading


Gielen Makes The Berlin Philharmonic Really Play Mahler

by David Hurwitz

Mahler7

In September 1994, Michael Gielen filled in for an ailing Klaus Tennstedt (didn’t everyone?), leading the orchestra in this magnificent account of the Seventh Symphony–one of his specialties. The music’s expressive ambiguity, complexity, high level of dissonance, and sheer outrageo... Continue Reading


Martinu: A Mostly Fine Collection Of Orchestral Works

by David Hurwitz

The back of the CD sleeve describes Martinu’s Toccata e due canzoni, one of his major neo-Baroque masterpieces, as scored “for strings and piano obbligato”. This is incorrect. The actual scoring is for piccolo, two oboes, clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, timpani, percussion (cymbals, sn... Continue Reading


Under the Radar: Vladimir Ashkenazy’s 1970s Chopin Preludes

by Jed Distler

41lEy2qkw1L

Vladimir Ashkenazy’s 80th birthday in July 2017 has instigated tributes, reissue projects, and retrospectives of his vast recorded legacy. Although Chopin’s music plays a prominent role in the pianist’s discography, his 1970s version of the Preludes Op. 28 tends to get overlooked when piano ma... Continue Reading


Under the Radar: Ashkenazy’s Late Beethoven Sonata Remakes

by Jed Distler

81gsb1rGh9L._SL1426

First released in 1992, Vladimir Ashkenazy’s digital versions of the last three Beethoven sonatas are not to be confused with earlier analogue recordings issued as part of the pianist’s integral Beethoven cycle. Although they didn’t last long in the catalogue, Arkivmusic.com has given the disc... Continue Reading


Under the Radar: The Ashkenazy/Solti Beethoven Concerto Cycle Reconsidered

by Jed Distler

71iZZ1eigtL._SL1303

With Vladimir Ashkenazy’s July 2017 80th birthday festivities on the classical music community’s radar, one cannot help but reflect upon his immense body of recorded work. Certain items long have held forth as references: the Rachmaninov Preludes, the Chopin Etudes, the Liszt Mephisto Waltz, and... Continue Reading


Ozawa’s First Class Daphnis

by David Hurwitz

Ozawa’s Daphnis never has received the attention it deserves, largely because it had to compete with two outstanding prior recordings by the Boston Symphony under the legendary Charles Munch. That’s a hard act to follow, but the fact is that the orchestra’s playing here is every bi... Continue Reading

More "Under the Radar" Reviews »

Historical Gems: Kondrashin’s Killer Mahler Sixth

by David Hurwitz

Mahler6Kond

Recorded in 1981, shortly before his death, this performance is important, both as a noteworthy addition to the Kondrashin discography (he didn’t make the Sixth in Moscow for Melodiya, although there was a Leningrad recording) as well as for Mahler fans more generally. It’s a blisteringl... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: Furtwängler’s ’50 Scala Ring – Remastered

by Robert Levine

This is a known quantity, having been available in many incarnations since its creation, but a few words about the performance–and Furtwängler–are in order. This is the only live complete (except for two cuts) Ring conducted by Furtwängler; the 1953 Ring, available on EMI, was taped in... Continue Reading


Historic Gems: The 1930 Solesmes Choir Gregorian Chant Recordings

by Jed Distler

91IVnzc175L._SL1500

The 1930 recordings by the Monks at the Abbey of Solesmes under the direction of Dom Joseph Gajard more-or-less set the standard for Gregorian chant recordings. In the mid 1990s, Pearl reissued the complete series in a two-disc set that’s been unavailable for years. Around that same time the monks... Continue Reading


Rosbaud From The Archives: A Collector’s Near-Complete Bruckner Cycle

by Jens F. Laurson

Rosbaud_Bruckner_SWRClassic

Hans Rosbaud, born in Graz, Austria in 1895, led Germany’s South-West Radio Symphony Orchestra (the orchestra of the broadcaster established in the French Zone of Occupation that would go on to become the SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg and that has since been merged with the Stuttg... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: A Grandly Communicative Live Messiaen Vingt Regards

by Jed Distler

61UgXGBy-L

Pianist Jean-Rodolphe Kars made a handful of studio recordings for Decca in the 1970s before ending his concert career in 1981 to enter the priesthood. Among those recordings were excerpts from Messiaen’s Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant Jésus. The Messiaen selections revealed Kars’ supreme technic... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: Revisiting the Budapest String Quartet’s 1951/2 Beethoven Cycle

by Jed Distler

71FMbGJuQL._SL1200

Recorded in the Coolidge Auditorium at the Library of Congress, the Budapest String Quartet’s 1951/2 Beethoven cycle for Columbia Masterworks gained its first integral CD release in an eight-disc set from United Archives that didn’t last long in the catalog. Sony/Classical’s edition extends to... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: Arrau’s EMI Chopin Recital

by Jed Distler

EMI first reissued Claudio Arrau’s 1960 Chopin Third Sonata and F minor Fantasy coupling in 1991. More detail and tonal richness distinguishes this sonic upgrade, although the transfers surely stem from the mono mastertape as they did last time around, despite EMI’s indication to the con... Continue Reading


Furtwängler’s Newly Discovered Manfred Overture

by David Hurwitz

FurtwangerSchum

None of these performances constitute essential Furtwängler, not even the newly discovered Schumann Manfred Overture. We already have a perfectly fine version of that piece, long available on DG, from a 1949 RIAS radio recording with the Berlin Philharmonic. That performance features smoother trans... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: Ormandy Conducts Bluebeard’s Castle, And How!

by David Hurwitz

BartBlue

This is a hoot. Who knew that in 1960, Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra took a swipe at Bluebeard’s Castle for Columbia, in English no less? Maybe it’s because of the language, or perhaps it’s hearing the work rendered with sizzling vividness by the Fabulous Philadelph... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: Hans Rosbaud Conducts Weber and Mendelssohn

by David Hurwitz

RosbaudMend

Collectors have been waiting for an official SWR Hans Rosbaud edition for decades. Beloved of orchestras, universally respected, a true musician’s musician, there was so much more to him than the Philips recording of Moses und Aron and the Turnabout/Vox Bruckner Seventh. You can hear his quali... Continue Reading


Historic Gems: Michelangeli’s 1965 Salzburg Recital

by Jed Distler

71w4s5PwA1L._SL1429

These previously unreleased recordings of the Bach/Busoni Chaconne and the Beethoven Sonata Op. 2 No. 3 document the only portion of Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli’s August 7, 1965 Salzburg Festival recital that the pianist permitted for either broadcast or publication. Fans of the pianist may balk... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: Prime Jorge Bolet From Audite

by Jed Distler

51-0mls7jL

Collectors who know Jorge Bolet as the reserved and occasionally diffident elder statesman of the studio Decca recordings from his final decade generally will find a younger, more energetic, and more inspired pianist throughout these 1962-73 German radio broadcasts. It belabors the point to cite com... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: Smetácek Conducts Dvorák, Glazunov and Gershwin (!)

by David Hurwitz

DvorakSmet

Recently I have had many occasions to remark on the differences between a pickup orchestra full of excellent players (such as the Lucerne Festival Orchestra), and an excellent orchestra. The Prague Symphony Orchestra in the 1950s was certainly not one of the world’s great aggregations, but it ... Continue Reading


Kubelik’s Bruckner 9 Stunner

by David Hurwitz

kubelikBruck9

Reviewers Note: One of the great things about running a website is that you can go back and correct mistakes, and one of the great things about CT.com readers is that they will write graciously to us to point them out. In this case, I reported that the Handel Concerto Grosso on this disc was [&helli... Continue Reading


Walter Gieseking’s Bach: The “Prima Vista” Klavier

by Jed Distler

71Nkc7D-jvL._SL1200

To tie in with the 1950 anniversary marking J.S. Bach’s death in 1750, Radio Saarbrücken engaged Walter Gieseking to play through a large portion of the composer’s keyboard works for a series of marathon recording sessions. The recordings usually took place in the evening, after the pianist had... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: Gieseking’s Debussy Remastered

by Jed Distler

81CtNnHACEL._SL1500

To several generations of music lovers, Walter Gieseking and the piano music of Debussy are synonymous. Gieseking’s boundless coloristic resources, super-subtle pedaling, and near-clairvoyant ability to tap into the composer’s elusive sense of fantasy remain points of reference to this day. Desp... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: Toscanini’s “Leningrad:” The Right Version

by David Hurwitz

ShostToscOK

Shostakovich allegedly hated Toscanini’s performance of the “Leningrad” Symphony. Toscanini allegedly hated the “Leningrad” Symphony was well as his performance of it. Later in life he relented, calling it “not bad.” We don’t know if Shostakovich had a... Continue Reading


Historial Gems: Koussevitzky’s Surprisingly Stylish Bach

by David Hurwitz

After Furtwängler’s perverse desecration of Bach’s Third and Fifth Brandenburg Concertos, this release didn’t at first glance promise to provide much listening pleasure. After all, Koussevitzky’s background and artistic preferences place him even farther from Bach’s ow... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: Mono Milstein In Beethoven & Brahms Violin Concertos

by David Hurwitz

I don’t get it. A few years ago, EMI released this exact coupling in its Full Dimensional Sound series, and here it is again, remastered yet again, sounding almost exactly the same except for an extra touch of hardness in the solo violin’s upper registers in the Brahms. In other words, i... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: Toscanini’s Legendary Philharmonia Brahms Cycle

by Jed Distler

By 1952 the Philharmonia Orchestra, in its seven years of existence, had evolved into one of Europe’s finest ensembles. Its reputation was in many respects consolidated by Herbert von Karajan’s role as music director and orchestra builder, and was further shaped by legendary guest conduc... Continue Reading

More "Historical Gems" Reviews »

Major Discoveries: Krommer’s Distinctive Early Symphonies

by David Hurwitz

KrommerSyms1-3

Franz Krommer evidently took writing symphonies seriously, waiting until he was about forty before his First appeared at the end of the 1790s. That makes his nine works in the form (the Eighth is lost) almost exactly contemporary with Beethoven’s, and while you won’t find a similar bigne... Continue Reading


Major Discoveries: Krommer’s Marvelous Late Symphonies

by David Hurwitz

KrommerSyms

Franz Krommer (1759-1831) was a first rate composer. As you can see, he was three years younger than Mozart, and outlived both Beethoven and Schubert. During that time, he wrote hundreds of instrumental works: chamber music, concertos, nine symphonies (No. 8 is missing), and the wind ensemble music ... Continue Reading


Major Discoveries: Tüür’s Splendid New Wine In Old Wineskins

by Jens F. Laurson

TUUR_Symphony-5_Prophecy_ONDINE_jens-f-laurson_classical-critic

Erkki-Sven Tüür’s ongoing cycle of interesting symphonies (in 2017 he arrived at No. 9) makes him–by quality more significantly than quantity–the premiere symphonist of our time. Always good for the inclusion of seemingly eclectic instruments (electric guitar, accordion, big band, pe... Continue Reading


A Martinů Double Sister Act

by Jens F. Laurson

MARTINU_Double-Concertos_Kodama-Foster_Pentatone_jens-f-laurson_classical-critic

Bohuslav Martinů, the cosmopolitan-by-fate who grew up with a bird’s eye view of the world, up in a church tower, is an endlessly fascinating composer who, at his best, surprises with magnificent beauty embedded in ample skill and great depth. He needs a bit of willing repeat exposure to reveal h... Continue Reading


R.I.P. Oliver Knussen: Two Fantasy Operas

by Victor Carr Jr

[Editor’s Note: The recent passing of Oliver Knussen marks the end of a career devoted to, among other things, the loving and expert presentation of the widest range of really good, contemporary music, including his own. Knussen’s career was as positive, life-affirming and brilliant as t... Continue Reading


R.I.P. Oliver Knussen: Lindberg’s Aura and Engine

by David Hurwitz

Magnus Lindberg burst onto the contemporary music scene in the 1980s with his early work Kraft (as in “power”, and not the American food conglomerate and inventor of Velveeta cheese by-product substance), an avant-garde spectacular that took the “sound mass” procedures of Ber... Continue Reading


Dag Wirén’s Perfectly Pithy Orchestral Works

by David Hurwitz

Wiren

Swedish composer Dag Wirén was the very model of what the Germans call a “Kleinmeister,” or “Little Master.” The term is often used pejoratively, but it need not be, and it isn’t here. Wirén was “Klein” in the sense that his works tend to be short–an... Continue Reading


Major Discoveries: Wirén’s Exquisite Fourth and Fifth Symphonies

by David Hurwitz

Wiren45

These two short, perfectly proportioned symphonies provide an appropriate ending to the orchestral achievement of a grossly underrated, even misunderstood composer–one of the very few who was self-aware enough to understand exactly what his gifts were and how to make the most of them. Unlike t... Continue Reading


Major Discoveries: Wirén Symphonies Nos. 2 and 3

by David Hurwitz

Wiren23

Dag Wirén’s reputation continues to rest exclusively on the popularity of his charming little Serenade for Strings, an early work full of irresistibly catchy tunes. His Second and Third Symphonies (the First was withdrawn) contain themes no less appealing, and reveal a composer who combines m... Continue Reading


Major Discoveries: Gounod’s String Quartets

by Jed Distler

3149028128734

The chronology and provenance of Charles Gounod’s five complete surviving string quartets is shadowy at best. Only the A minor quartet appeared in print during the composer’s lifetime, while three additional quartets only came to light as late as 1993, resulting from an auction of Gounod manuscr... Continue Reading


Ernest Krenek’s Piano Concertos Emerge from Obscurity

by Jed Distler

71HDH8UkyAL._SL1200

Like its predecessor, Volume Two of Toccata Classics’ survey of Ernest Krenek’s works for piano and orchestra includes several recorded premiers. If you’re craving a dodecaphonic waltz that features a nimble solo piano part, energetic brass writing and cannily deployed percussion rejoinders, t... Continue Reading


Saygun’s Fresh and Distinctive Quartets

by Jed Distler

Having surveyed Ahmed Adnan Saygun’s symphonies, CPO turns to the 20th-century Turkish master’s four string quartets. The “wonderfully evocative folk melos” my colleague David Hurwitz referred to in the symphonies organically interfaces with Saygun’s terse chromatic lan... Continue Reading


Saygun: Powerful Symphony No. 4 and Violin Concerto

by David Hurwitz

This release completes CPO’s excellent cycle of Saygun symphonies in fine fashion, and we can only hope that the series continues with additional orchestral works. Both the intense, pithy, alternately violent and lyrical Fourth Symphony (sound clip) and the Violin Concerto are late composition... Continue Reading


Major Discoveries: Masterful Symphonies by Ahmed Adnan Saygun

by David Hurwitz

Saygun’s Third Symphony is a masterpiece, reflecting both the composer’s roots in Turkish folk music and also a compositional sophistication that recalls Bartók (whom the composer assisted on ethno-musicological expeditions in Turkey). At 38 minutes, it’s a major statement, full o... Continue Reading


Major Discoveries: Saygun’s Spirited First Two Symphonies

by David Hurwitz

Turkish composer Ahmed Adnan Saygun (1907-91) speaks in a very powerful, ethnically inflected language that shares many characteristics with that of Bartók. His melodic style clearly derives from the folk music of his homeland, but Saygun employs elements that permit him to expand his harmonic voca... Continue Reading


Major Discoveries: Leo Brouwer’s Ever-Inventive Music for Two Guitars

by Jed Distler

brouwerbrasilguitar

Leo Brouwer (born 1939) is a composer and guitarist whose music lives, breathes, and flows with fluent craftsmanship and unfettered creativity. This was true going back to the Triptico from 1958, written when Brouwer was 19. Already he was writing some of the most idiomatic and assured guitar music ... Continue Reading


Major Discoveries: Brouwer Channels the Beatles

by David Hurwitz

Cuban composer Leo Brouwer occupies an interesting niche in the world of contemporary music. A versatile creative mind in many different media, his reputation rests largely on his extensive oeuvre for guitar, and deservedly so. His music for the instrument is marvelous. Indeed, it would be difficult... Continue Reading


Saygun’s Hot Piano Concertos

by David Hurwitz

If you can imagine the combination of Bartók’s alternately nocturnal and percussive keyboard writing (and scoring) married to the chromatic luxuriance of Szymanowski or Scriabin, then you have a good sense of what to expect from these two marvelous concertos. Saygun was without question a maj... Continue Reading


Major Discoveries: Saygun’s Superb Concertos for Viola and Cello

by David Hurwitz

This disc strikes me as an ideal introduction to the music of Turkey’s greatest composer. Ahmed Adnan Saygun’s style might be described as “Szymanowski with a primal rhythmic feel.” If you love that composer’s First Violin Concerto then you will find here a very similar... Continue Reading


Pettersson’s Appealingly Dismal Sixth Symphony

by David Hurwitz

Pettersson6

Who ever knew that music could capture such a wide range of negative emotion? Allan Pettersson’s Sixth runs the gamut from sad, tragic, wrathful, miserable, and stormy, to neurotic, stressful, dismal, pained, vicious, and sepulchral. What it never sounds is happy, though as we all know there o... Continue Reading

More "Major Discoveries" Reviews »

Ives: Three Holidays and a Football Game

by David Hurwitz

James Sinclair is always an excellent guide to this music, even through Ives’ most complex textural thickets. The Fourth of July has real celebratory fervor and a sense of fun, while the climax of Thanksgiving, so often a muddle, here achieves real transcendence, with the choir perfectly integ... Continue Reading


Ernest Krenek’s Piano Concertos Emerge from Obscurity

by Jed Distler

71HDH8UkyAL._SL1200

Like its predecessor, Volume Two of Toccata Classics’ survey of Ernest Krenek’s works for piano and orchestra includes several recorded premiers. If you’re craving a dodecaphonic waltz that features a nimble solo piano part, energetic brass writing and cannily deployed percussion rejoinders, t... Continue Reading


Pettersson: Curiously Compelling String Concerto No. 3

by David Hurwitz

Slowly and steadily, BIS continues its advocacy of the works of Swedish compatriot Allan Pettersson, a labor of love if ever there were one, since lovable this music certainly is not. The Third String Concerto is a huge work, with two ample quickish movements surrounding a monstrous, 25-minute-long ... Continue Reading


Pettersson: Two Gloomy String Concertos

by David Hurwitz

The performances here are uniformly excellent, though whether or not you’ll like the music is another matter. Allan Pettersson’s Barefoot Songs, to his own poetry, are harmonically traditional and very attractive. The words, typically, are very serious–about death, poverty, and the... Continue Reading


Andor Foldes’ Variable Beethoven

by Jed Distler

51VpDefMfYL

Andor Foldes (1913-1992) was one of the busier pianists in Deutsche Grammophon’s stable during the 1950s and early 1960s. Most of his recordings for the label languished in obscurity throughout the CD era, although certain significant items gained reissue, such as his important four-disc Bartók c... Continue Reading


Historic Gems: Michelangeli’s 1965 Salzburg Recital

by Jed Distler

71w4s5PwA1L._SL1429

These previously unreleased recordings of the Bach/Busoni Chaconne and the Beethoven Sonata Op. 2 No. 3 document the only portion of Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli’s August 7, 1965 Salzburg Festival recital that the pianist permitted for either broadcast or publication. Fans of the pianist may balk... Continue Reading


Filling in the Gaps: Saint-Saëns’ Music for Cello and Orchestra

by David Hurwitz

saintsaenscello

Naxos already has a nearly identical disc featuring soloist Maria Kliegel, and a fine one it is. It lacks only the brief Romance in F major for cello and orchestra, and even includes an orchestral arrangement of The Swan, as does this newcomer. However, if you want the most of Saint-Säens’ mu... Continue Reading


Filling in the Gaps: A Ho-Hum Stravinsky Premiere

by David Hurwitz

RiteChailly

Don’t worry about the not-so-gaping hole in your complete Stravinsky box. His recently uncovered Chant funèbre (Op. 5) turns out to be a bore. It’s ten minutes of undigested Rimsky-Korsakov and Wagner, with a moment that sounds a bit like the conclusion of Strauss’ Elektra (sound ... Continue Reading


Hausegger’s Lisztian Symphonic Poems

by David Hurwitz

Hausegger

If you enjoyed Hausegger’s epic Natursymphonie, you may be disappointed with these shorter pieces. They are, in their way, no less ambitious–Hausegger was nothing if not serious, always, but like Liszt in his symphonic poems–with their pretentious philosophical programs–Hause... Continue Reading


Filling in the Gaps: Rossini & Verdi Overtures from Abbado

by Victor Carr Jr

With its qualities of intelligent, impassioned conducting married to polished and vibrant orchestral playing, Claudio Abbado’s Rossini overture collection offers much for listeners to enjoy. Abbado wonderfully captures Semiramide’s pomp and majesty, Il barbiere di Siviglia’s learne... Continue Reading


Filling in the Gaps: Verdi Opera Choruses

by Anastasia Tsioulcas

There’s plenty of impressive swagger here, and you can take consistent vocal excellence (precision of ensemble and superb diction) for granted with this classic compilation of Verdi opera choruses with La Scala forces under Claudio Abbado. Most of the expected favorites are here, including ... Continue Reading


Hamelin and Andsnes Deliver A Knockout Rite On Two Pianos

by David Hurwitz

StravHamAnd

First a threshold question: Is there any point in listening to the Rite of Spring in its arrangement for two pianos in the first place? The answer is “yes,” even though this necessarily monochrome version (compared to the orchestral original) can’t possibly capture the impact that ... Continue Reading


The Best of Fey’s Haydn (4 of 4): Symphonies Nos. 70, 73, & 75

by David Hurwitz

[Editor’s Note: Thomas Fey’s recent accident and serious injury (he fell down a flight of stairs in his home) means that his projected Haydn cycle will remain incomplete. Here, then, is a four review retrospective describing some of his best efforts.] Thomas Fey’s Haydn series goes... Continue Reading


The Best of Fey’s Haydn (3 of 4): Symphonies Nos. 60 & 61

by David Hurwitz

[Editor’s Note: Thomas Fey’s recent accident and serious injury (he fell down a flight of stairs in his home) means that his projected Haydn cycle will remain incomplete. Here, then, is a four review retrospective describing some of his best efforts.] Happily Thomas Fey dispenses with th... Continue Reading


The Best of Fey’s Haydn (2 of 4): Symphonies Nos. 57, 59, & 65

by David Hurwitz

[Editor’s Note: Thomas Fey’s recent accident and serious injury (he fell down a flight of stairs in his home) means that his projected Haydn cycle will remain incomplete. Here, then, is a four review retrospective describing some of his best efforts.] If you love classical music you̵... Continue Reading


The Best of Fey’s Haydn (1 of 4): Symphonies Nos. 69, 86, & 87

by David Hurwitz

[Editor’s Note: Thomas Fey’s recent accident and serious injury (he fell down a flight of stairs in his home) means that his projected Haydn cycle will remain incomplete. Here, then, is a four review retrospective describing some of his best efforts.] After a slightly disappointing showi... Continue Reading


More Marvelous Mendelssohn from Howard Shelley

by Jed Distler

81YNHq-OrrL._SL1500

Because Howard Shelley has turned out to be one of the most prolific and dependable pianists on disc, it’s all too easy to take him for granted, or not to notice or even care when a truly exceptional new CD appears. Yet the third installment of his ongoing complete Mendelssohn cycle continues to p... Continue Reading


Alicia de Larrocha’s RCA Granados Recordings

by Jed Distler

ct-Alica-Granados

To several generations of piano lovers, Alicia de Larrocha and the music of Enrique Granados were synonymous. As such, it makes both musical and marketing sense for Sony/BMG to bundle her three RCA Granados CDs in a boxed set. Dating from the late 1980s and early ’90s, the recordings mostly of... Continue Reading


Plagiarism 101: Mayr Overtures

by David Hurwitz

MayrOvertures

Giovanni Simone Mayr may not have been a great composer, but he was certainly an opportunistic one. The seven opera overtures presented here, from the first two decades of the nineteenth century, are entertaining enough. Ercole in Lidia has a luscious harp part, but the real treat is the overture to... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: Richter’s Schubert From Profil

by Jed Distler

51wZ3o2rSwL

Profil’s boxed set purportedly devoted to Sviatoslav Richter’s Schubert “live in Moscow” actually derives from various sources. Let’s nail these down. Three selections come from Kiev concerts. Two Paris studio sessions are tacked on as “bonus” items. One is EMI’s oft-reissued 1963 Wa... Continue Reading

More "Filling in the Gaps" Reviews »

Big Boxes: Abbado’s Complete DG Berlin Recordings

by Jed Distler

91s3ttQqvSL._SL1500

Deutsche Grammophon’s umpteenth Claudio Abbado boxed set gathers under one roof the conductor’s complete Berlin Philharmonic recordings for both this label and Philips. Actually, it’s not quite complete, if you count the absence of Abbado’s 2000 Beethoven symphony cycle, subsequently withdra... Continue Reading


Big Box from Hell: Martin Rasch’s Pedantic Beethoven Cycle

by Jed Distler

raschbeethoven

Martin Rasch is a pianist in his mid-40s who teaches at Munich’s University of Music and Performing Arts. According to his website, the pianist has a penchant for exploring the central repertoire in cyclical fashion, such as performing both books of Chopin’s Etudes and Bach’s Well-Tempered Cla... Continue Reading


Big Boxes–Piano Masters in Berlin: Great Concertos

by Jed Distler

61Wowy88hiL._SL1200

Deutsche Grammophon has bundled eight “original jacket” albums from the label’s back catalog (actually seven–one originally came out on Philips) that feature pianists performing with either the Berlin Philharmonic or the Staatskapelle Berlin. The performances seem to have been culled at ... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: Rostropovich On Warner

by Jens F. Laurson

Rostropovich_WARNER_Cellist-of-the-Century_CLASSICS-TODAY_jens-f-laurson

After lavish and huge boxed sets for Maria Callas and Itzhak Perlman, Warner Classics–drawing on its combined EMI Classics, Warner, and Erato back-catalogues–set its sights on Mstislav Rostropovich. The result is a still luxuriant 40-CD box with the same quality documentation (a 200-page... Continue Reading


Kubelik’s Glorious DG Big Box

by David Hurwitz

Kubelik

Thank Claudia Cassidy. The Chicago Tribune senior critic, also known as “The Wicked Witch of the Mid-West,” famously vilified Kubelik during his tenure in Chicago in the 1950s, effectively forcing him out of his position after a few controversial seasons and some outstanding Mercury Livi... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: Olli Mustonen’s RCA Recordings

by Jed Distler

71EF0SsIeWL._SL1500

Pianist Olli Mustonen’s short-lived association with RCA Victor from 1996 to 1998 yielded four CDs, now reissued as a budget-priced box. Two discs are devoted to Beethoven. The other two contain half of Mustonen’s tandem survey of Preludes and Fugues from Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier Book I an... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: Holy Crap, They Left Out Barber!

by David Hurwitz

SlatkinAmer

Slatkin’s American music recordings are uniformly marvelous, and self-recommending. On purely artistic grounds this set is a 10, but it needs to be docked at least a point because RCA, in its dim-witted wisdom, has left off Slatkin’s two Barber CDs containing the three solo concertos, th... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Complete Sony Recordings

by Jed Distler

81nCXb6Qq3L._SL1500

To mark Esa-Pekka Salonen’s 60th birthday year in 2018, Sony/BMG lavishes big box treatment upon the conductor’s complete Sony Classical recordings, mostly dating from the mid-1980s until 2001. The contents mainly focus on 20th-century music, where Salonen’s confident authority and insights pa... Continue Reading


Rosbaud From The Archives: A Collector’s Near-Complete Bruckner Cycle

by Jens F. Laurson

Rosbaud_Bruckner_SWRClassic

Hans Rosbaud, born in Graz, Austria in 1895, led Germany’s South-West Radio Symphony Orchestra (the orchestra of the broadcaster established in the French Zone of Occupation that would go on to become the SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg and that has since been merged with the Stuttg... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: Revisiting the Budapest String Quartet’s 1951/2 Beethoven Cycle

by Jed Distler

71FMbGJuQL._SL1200

Recorded in the Coolidge Auditorium at the Library of Congress, the Budapest String Quartet’s 1951/2 Beethoven cycle for Columbia Masterworks gained its first integral CD release in an eight-disc set from United Archives that didn’t last long in the catalog. Sony/Classical’s edition extends to... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: Alicia De Larrocha–Complete EMI/Warner Recordings

by Jed Distler

No doubt piano connoisseurs will relish the opportunity to acquire, in a single, budget-priced bound, all of the late Alicia de Larrocha’s EMI/Warner recordings. Most of the material originally was recorded for the Spanish Hispavox label in the 1960s, and first appeared on LP in America on Epi... Continue Reading


Saint-Saens: A Box of Symphonies & Concertos

by David Hurwitz

It’s puzzling that Brilliant Classics was unable to get any of the several EMI/Warner sets of Saint-Saëns piano concertos to fill out this set, instead of licensing the decent but not terribly special Vox recordings featuring Gabriel Tacchino and Louis de Froment. At this price, however, you ... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: DG’s Excellent Debussy (not complete) Edition

by David Hurwitz

Debussy

This is not the recent DG Complete (not) Edition, but rather its earlier and much better Debussy box. If you’re not an absolute completist–in which case the Warner/Erato box is the way to go–then this is the one to get. Unlike Universal’s only fitfully excellent Ravel box, th... Continue Reading


Alsop’s Magnificent Bernstein Box

by David Hurwitz

BernsteinAlsop

Here, in one convenient box, are all of Marin Alsop’s Bernstein recordings for Naxos–eight CDs worth–performances as fine as Bernstein’s own, and sometimes even better. This version of Mass, which Alsop regards as Bernstein’s masterpiece, is the new reference version. H... Continue Reading


A Scrumptious Box of Koechlin Chamber and Piano Music

by David Hurwitz

Koechlin Chamber

What a delicious collection this is! Take a moment and listen to the opening of the imposing, half-hour long Viola Sonata’s third movement. A simple sounding melody gradually descends in steps, from the viola’s highest register to its lowest. Underneath, the piano plays a series of gentl... Continue Reading


Debussy: The (Really) Complete Works on Warner

by David Hurwitz

DebWarner

Unlike DG’s recent incomplete Complete Works box, this one, all 33 CDs of it, really makes an effort to do the job right. Indeed, it contains more than the complete works, because you get both everything Debussy wrote as well as everything he arranged or transcribed–like movements from T... Continue Reading


DG’s Incomplete, Grab Bag of a Complete Debussy Box

by David Hurwitz

DebussyDG

In mathematics it is possible to accept the notion that there can be different sets of infinite yet unequal sizes, but “Debussy Complete Works” ought to mean what it says; and when the present set contains 22 CDs (plus 2 DVDs), and EMI/Warner’s also complete Debussy consists of 33 ... Continue Reading


Major Discoveries: A Big Box of Koechlin Orchestral Works

by David Hurwitz

Koechlin

Here, accompanied by a lavish booklet with re-edited and expanded notes alongside complete texts and translations in German, French and English, are all of SWR’s Koechlin releases led by Heinz Holliger with the SWR Radio Symphony Orchestra Stuttgart. It’s a class act, one not likely to b... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: Gerard Schwarz Delivers the Goods on Naxos

by David Hurwitz

Schwarz

This has got to be the most intelligent, comprehensive, and well-earned big box tribute to a living conductor yet assembled. Gerard Schwarz is one of those conductors we tend to take for granted. Always in the public eye on disc, his career has encompassed large ensembles and small, alongside a majo... Continue Reading


Big Boxes; Karl Böhm’s Complete DG Operas

by Jed Distler

71R9g1nfkZL._SL1335

Have you noticed how recent boxed sets devoted to a particular artist’s “Complete Deutsche Grammophon Recordings” also include that artist’s recordings for other labels controlled by Universal Classics? Recent Karajan, Bernstein, Barenboim, and Pollini boxes are cases in point. Likewise, the... Continue Reading

More "Big Boxes" Reviews »