Classics Today Insider

Cult Conductors: Bruno Walter’s Perfect Columbia Symphony “Pastoral”

by David Hurwitz

Cult-Conductors-CLASSICS-TODAYbw

In their biography of Bruno Walter, Erik Ryding and Rebecca Pechefsky cite Olin Downes’ review of the conductor’s Boston debut: “When a musical phrase is truly felt by the conductor, and when the orchestra feels it with him, the orchestra breathes, and this natural, deep rhythmical... Continue Reading


Under The Radar: Music In Renaissance Prague

by David Vernier

pragarosabohemiae

There is an ancient depiction of Bohemia as a rose, with Prague at its center, which presumably is the source of the disc’s title (and stylized cover art), although, from a marketing standpoint, the exclusive Latin inscription on the CD’s front cover is more likely to result in bewilderm... Continue Reading


Historic Gems: Bella Davidovich At Her Best

by Jed Distler

61N9e3As9IL._SL1200

As of this writing (November 2019) Bella Davidovich is alive and well at 91, although retired from performing. Melodiya’s excellent restorations for these early 1960s recordings surely will please the pianist, for they represent her artistry at its technical and musical apex. Indeed, I find her at... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: Paul Lewis’ Beethoven Cycles At Super-Budget Price

by Jed Distler

Paul-Lewis

In anticipation of 2020’s Beethoven anniversary year, Harmonia Mundi has bundled together Paul Lewis’ respective Beethoven cycles devoted to the piano sonatas and piano concertos, along with the pianist’s Diabelli Variations. The concertos contain Lewis’ most consistently satisfying Beethove... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Teutonic, Prosaic Schubert & Liszt Sonatas

by Jed Distler

AUD20043.20191008033044

Many years back I was fortunate enough to acquire a disc featuring piano works by the late Ulrich Leyendecker. I especially admired Jimin Oh-Havenith’s masterful and supple interpretation of this composer’s tricky Bagatelles. On that basis, I expected her Schubert to be sensitive and poetic. How... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: Sony’s 94-CD/3-DVD Zubin Mehta Collection

by Jed Distler

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Sony/BMG’s Zubin Mehta Complete Columbia Album Collection opens with his recorded debut as the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s music director in excellently played versions of Respighi’s Feste romane and Richard Strauss’ Don Juan. The somewhat dry engineering, however, is a far cry from the far m... Continue Reading


Cult Conductors: Mravinsky and Shostakovich’s Much Maligned 12th

by David Hurwitz

Shost12

Like most of us, I had very little patience for this symphony. Even Shostakovich thought it was junk, or at least feared that it was. But on closer acquaintance it turns out that there’s really a lot to enjoy. The first movement is incredibly exciting, in Shostakovich’s best cinematic ve... Continue Reading


Gallo Trio Sonatas: The Source for Stravinsky’s Pulcinella

by David Vernier

Gallo

Within the first few seconds of the first track—the Sonata No. 1 in G major—most listeners will find themselves in surprisingly familiar territory—surprising because this little-known 18th-century composer seems to have written a popular tune long attributed to Pergolesi, a misattribution give... Continue Reading


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

by David Hurwitz

KubelikDvor6

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


Cult Conductors: Stoki’s Looniest Wagner CD

by David Hurwitz

WgStoki

This wonderfully insane disc belongs in every Wagner collection, most particularly for the Magic Fire Music. How on earth did Stokowski get this sound out of the 1959/60 Houston Symphony Orchestra? Listen to the sound clip below. Did the entire population of Houston take up the harp for this recordi... Continue Reading


Cult Conductors: Scherchen’s Most Insane Haydn Disc Ever

by David Hurwitz

Haydn

It goes without saying that when Universal put together their Scherchen box of Haydn symphonies, they left out the most important material: his stereo remake of the “Military” Symphony. Happily, it was issued in Japan, coupled to this “Farewell,” which was included in the DG ... Continue Reading


Cult Conductors: Scherchen Butchers The Suite From Mahler’s Fifth

by David Hurwitz

Mahler5Scher

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


Cult Conductors: Is The Beecham Scheherazade Really All That?

by David Hurwitz

CultCond1

For decades now we’ve been hearing British critics chortle with self-satisfied delight over the manifold charms of Thomas Beecham’s 1958 recording of Scheherazade with the Royal Philharmonic. “Beecham is a wizard,” they assert, and nothing, but nothing, compares to the solo w... Continue Reading


Cult Conductors: Revisiting Furtwängler’s Notorious Nazi Ninth

by David Hurwitz

CultCondiii

Well, here it is again, Furtwängler’s despicable 1942 Beethoven Ninth, the one with Hitler and Goebbels in attendance, hailed by his groupies as his greatest, and therefore the greatest ever. What makes it so great, theoretically, is the supposedly audible level of additional interpretive ten... Continue Reading


Cult Conductors: Der Kna Meanders Through Beethoven’s Eighth

by David Hurwitz

CultCondii

The performance here stems from an RIAS broadcast of January 29, 1952, captured in decent mono sound–at least as issued by Audite in its 5-disc box of Knappertsbursch Berlin Philharmonic recordings. It’s incredibly slow. The first movement (sound clip), with exposition repeat, lasts more... Continue Reading


Cult Conductors: Scherchen’s Reference Beethoven Eighth

by David Hurwitz

CultCondi

Hermann Scherchen was, to put it mildly, a quirky conductor, but also an erratically brilliant one. He shocked the musical world in the 1950s by insisting on taking Beethoven’s metronome markings seriously, and the result was a symphony cycle at times stimulating, at times infuriating. It̵... Continue Reading


Cult Conductors: Horenstein’s Eroica–Not The Worst, But Most Dysfunctional

by David Hurwitz

CultCond

This may not be the worst “Eroica” ever recorded technically speaking, but it’s certainly the most dysfunctional. Time and again Horenstein sets up the big moments and then utterly fails to deliver. The huge sequential dissonant pileup in the first movement’s development, the... Continue Reading


Icelandic Bach With Heart and Panache

by Jens F. Laurson

olafssonbach

It has been 13 years since the Alexandre Tharaud Bach recital “concertos italiens” came out. It’s taken that long for any Bach-on-piano recital disc to come even close to that recording-for-the-ages. By way of clever selection of works—staples of transcribed Bach with original Bach and a... Continue Reading


Filling In The Gaps: Dukas’ Marvelous Ariane With Gary Bertini

by Jens F. Laurson

DUKAS_Ariane-et-barbe-bleue_Bertini_CAPRICCIO_ClassicsToday_jens-f-laurson_classical-critic

If you think of Paul Dukas as a Mickey-Mouse composer, think again. He may be forever associated with a famous musical rodent through Disney’s depiction of his tone poem on Goethe’s Sorcerer’s Apprentice in the film Fantasia. But there’s a good deal more to Dukas, even though he abandoned an... Continue Reading


Reference Recording: Norman’s Still Glorious 4 Last Songs

by Victor Carr Jr

Strauss4last

Jessye Norman’s justly celebrated recording of Richard Strauss’ Four Last Songs gains slightly more clarity in this remastering for the Philips 50 series. It’s still quite a thrill to hear her rich voice taking wing with such power and ease at the beginning of Frühling, or the alm... Continue Reading


Reference Recording: Ozawa’s Gurrelieder, Naturally

by David Hurwitz

Gurrelieder

This was an easy call. There’s really only one other contender for reference recording in Gurrelieder: Chailly’s on Decca. That recording has many beautiful things, but the early digital sonics, despite abundant inner detail, can sound glaringly lit especially on high-end systems. This l... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Bernhard Lang Fools With Parsifal

by Jens F. Laurson

Bernhard-LANG_PARZEFOOL_KAIROS_ClassicalCritic_ClassicsToday

The idea of re-writing and reinterpreting extant works to make them appear in new guise is a well-worn one in contemporary music. For years, the tool of (ostentatiously ironic) quotation was the only “out” for composers to squeeze any beauty or conventional harmony into their works. It o... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Teutonic, Prosaic Schubert & Liszt Sonatas

by Jed Distler

AUD20043.20191008033044

Many years back I was fortunate enough to acquire a disc featuring piano works by the late Ulrich Leyendecker. I especially admired Jimin Oh-Havenith’s masterful and supple interpretation of this composer’s tricky Bagatelles. On that basis, I expected her Schubert to be sensitive and poetic. How... Continue Reading


Cult Conductors: Scherchen Butchers The Suite From Mahler’s Fifth

by David Hurwitz

Mahler5Scher

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


Cult Conductors: Revisiting Furtwängler’s Notorious Nazi Ninth

by David Hurwitz

CultCondiii

Well, here it is again, Furtwängler’s despicable 1942 Beethoven Ninth, the one with Hitler and Goebbels in attendance, hailed by his groupies as his greatest, and therefore the greatest ever. What makes it so great, theoretically, is the supposedly audible level of additional interpretive ten... Continue Reading


Cult Conductors: Horenstein’s Eroica–Not The Worst, But Most Dysfunctional

by David Hurwitz

CultCond

This may not be the worst “Eroica” ever recorded technically speaking, but it’s certainly the most dysfunctional. Time and again Horenstein sets up the big moments and then utterly fails to deliver. The huge sequential dissonant pileup in the first movement’s development, the... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Bernhard Lang Fools With Parsifal

by Jens F. Laurson

Bernhard-LANG_PARZEFOOL_KAIROS_ClassicalCritic_ClassicsToday

The idea of re-writing and reinterpreting extant works to make them appear in new guise is a well-worn one in contemporary music. For years, the tool of (ostentatiously ironic) quotation was the only “out” for composers to squeeze any beauty or conventional harmony into their works. It o... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Horenstein’s Obsolete Mahler 8th

by David Hurwitz

Although released some time ago and not reviewed then, the flood of new Mahler 8ths over the past decade or so has prompted me to go back and revisit this “legendary” recording to see if it’s still as lousy as it has always sounded, and the answer is a resounding “Yes!”... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Vänskä’s Torpid Minnesota Mahler First

by David Hurwitz

Mahler1Vanska

Webster’s defines “torpid” as, “(a) sluggish in functioning or acting, or (b) having lost motion or the power of exertion or feeling.” This describes Vänskä’s Mahler First perfectly. At no point does he betray the slightest interest in the expressive point of th... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Shouldn’t Mangling Mozart Be A Crime?

by David Vernier

haasoundspaces

Why, oh why can’t they leave this alone? “They” being the numbers of self-appointed authorities, occasional experts, and shameless pretenders with presumed enlightened understanding and beyond-the-grave insights who seem to wake up one morning and decide, yeah, I think I’ll, ... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Thielemann’s Schumann Gets Worse (Believe It Or Not)

by David Hurwitz

SchumannThiel

Christian Thielemann hates rhythm. Schumann demands it. Thielemann despises sudden dynamic contrasts. Schumann thrives on them. Thieleman seems not to care about instrumental balances. Schumann’s thick scoring requires smart podium management. The Staatskapelle Dresden recorded a reference Sch... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Nano-Mahler Tenth Blows In On A Cold Wind from Lapland

by David Hurwitz

Mahler10Storg

The Mahler parasites are at it again, feasting on the corpse of the incomplete Tenth Symphony. Their latest atrocity consists of a chamber orchestra reduction made by one Michelle Castelletti. The Lapland Chamber Orchestra and conductor John Storgards, who really ought to know better, deploy their s... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: More Bad Bruckner From Nelsons

by David Hurwitz

Bruck69Nels

This next installment in Andris Nelson’s ongoing project to record bad Bruckner coupled with boring Wagner runs true to form. Unfortunately. Aren’t you tired of the endless stream of bad Bruckner recordings fouling the catalog like some sort of noxious, invasive species of musical vegeta... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Karajan’s Choral Music Box

by David Hurwitz

KarajanChoral

If you think that songs like “Dropkick Me Jesus Through the Goalposts of Life” represent sincere expressions of religious sentiment, then you’ll surely respond to Karajan’s handling of the choral music in this set. Indeed, calling it “choral music” may be technica... Continue Reading


CD from Hell: Maria Korecka-Soszkowska’s Dreary Chopin Preludes

by Jed Distler

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Maria Korecka-Soszkowska’s career as performer, teacher, and competition judge dates back to the late 1950s. Since 2007 she’s been head of the piano department at the Grazyna and Kiejstut Bacewicz Academy of Music in Lodz, Poland. However eventful her resumé, the pianist’s heavy, emphatic, an... Continue Reading


Leave No Cliché Behind: Luna Pearl Woolf’s Be Still My Bleeding Angel Heart

by Jens F. Laurson

ANGEL-HEART_PENTATONE_jens-f-laurson_classical-critic

The beautifully and lavishly packaged Angel Heart is marketed by Pentatone as a “music storybook”. At its center is a tale by Cornelia Funke, the author best known for her Inkheart Trilogy of teen-novels, which is read by Jeremy Irons. The music is by Luna Pearl Woolf: a real person and, conspic... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: More Underplayed Four-Hand Mahler

by Jed Distler

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Two decades back, the Trenkner/Speidel piano duo made fine recordings of the Mahler Sixth and Seventh symphonies in piano duet versions. Their recent release featuring Bruno Walter’s four-handed Mahler First and Second symphonies, however, earned a detailed thumbs down from my colleague David Hurw... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Gardiner’s Bloodless Mendelssohn Symphonies

by Jens F. Laurson

MENDELSSOHN_Gardiner_LSO_LSO-LIVE_jens-f-laurson_classical-critic

Mendelssohn is sometimes given short shrift for being a “nice” composer: Harmless, untroubled, and glib. That’s partly because the well-adjusted, prosperous, level-headed, and successful Mendelssohn doesn’t conform to our still ruling romantic ideal of the troubled, struggling, excess-driven... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Peter Gregson Banalizes Bach

by Jens F. Laurson

BACH_GREGSON-ReComposed_CelloSuites_DG_jens-f-laurson_classical-critic

I like re-orchestrations, transcriptions, and re-compositions as much as the next guy. In fact, more than the next guy. Max Richter’s re-composed “4 Seasons” is terrific in its way; Hans Zender’s “composed interpretation” of Die Winterreise can be endlessly fascinating. Uri Caine... Continue Reading


A Lady Macbeth From Hell

by Jens F. Laurson

VERDI_Macbeth_Biondi_GLOSSA_ClassicsToday_jens-f-laurson_classical-critic

The idea of Verdi’s Macbeth (in the original, dramatically taut 1847 version) performed by a period instrument ensemble is, generously viewed, intriguing–at least when Europa Galante and Fabio Biondi are involved, with all their creditable expertise in Italian music. Granted, Verdi is not Vi... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Disastrous Debussy from Gimeno at the OPL

by David Hurwitz

DebussyGimeno

Wow, this is bad! Gimeno has amassed quite a discography with the Luxembourg forces: everything from Mahler and Bruckner, to Shostakovich, Stravinsky, Ravel, and now Debussy. So far I’ve only heard the Stravinsky, a pointless exercise in unnecessary repertoire duplication, but I hope to get to... Continue Reading


CD From Hell Revisited: Minkowski’s Messiah

by David Vernier

I was looking forward to liking this: a good Messiah recording hasn’t come along for awhile. And indeed the opening Sinfonia was just fine–nice clean, crisp, spirited playing and detailed sound. But then, as soon as I heard tenor John Mark Ainsley’s pointlessly drawn-out, time-enou... Continue Reading

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Cult Conductors: Bruno Walter’s Perfect Columbia Symphony “Pastoral”

by David Hurwitz

Cult-Conductors-CLASSICS-TODAYbw

In their biography of Bruno Walter, Erik Ryding and Rebecca Pechefsky cite Olin Downes’ review of the conductor’s Boston debut: “When a musical phrase is truly felt by the conductor, and when the orchestra feels it with him, the orchestra breathes, and this natural, deep rhythmical... Continue Reading


Cult Conductors: Mravinsky and Shostakovich’s Much Maligned 12th

by David Hurwitz

Shost12

Like most of us, I had very little patience for this symphony. Even Shostakovich thought it was junk, or at least feared that it was. But on closer acquaintance it turns out that there’s really a lot to enjoy. The first movement is incredibly exciting, in Shostakovich’s best cinematic ve... Continue Reading


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

by David Hurwitz

KubelikDvor6

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


Cult Conductors: Scherchen’s Reference Beethoven Eighth

by David Hurwitz

CultCondi

Hermann Scherchen was, to put it mildly, a quirky conductor, but also an erratically brilliant one. He shocked the musical world in the 1950s by insisting on taking Beethoven’s metronome markings seriously, and the result was a symphony cycle at times stimulating, at times infuriating. It̵... Continue Reading


Reference Recording: Ozawa’s Gurrelieder, Naturally

by David Hurwitz

Gurrelieder

This was an easy call. There’s really only one other contender for reference recording in Gurrelieder: Chailly’s on Decca. That recording has many beautiful things, but the early digital sonics, despite abundant inner detail, can sound glaringly lit especially on high-end systems. This l... Continue Reading


Under the Radar: Klemperer’s Noble, Dazzling Tchaikovsky Fifth

by David Hurwitz

Otto Klemperer’s Tchaikovsky Fifth is one of the half dozen or so greatest recordings of the work. This may come as a surprise to those who regard him solely as a German repertoire specialist, and equally astonishing are his tempos for the symphony’s first two movements–among the s... Continue Reading


Reference Recording: Shostakovich Chamber Symphonies

by Victor Carr Jr

This compilation of reissues makes for an excellent Shostakovich disc. The Chamber Symphony Op. 110a and the Symphony for Strings Op. 118a are actually arrangements of two Shostakovich string quartets (No. 8 and No. 10, respectively) made by Rudolf Barshai with the composer’s approval. Of the ... Continue Reading


Reference Recording: Giulini’s Epic LA Brahms First

by Jed Distler

At 53 minutes, Carlo Maria Giulini’s Los Angeles Brahms First Symphony from the early 1980s may require more listening time than most other recorded versions–yet it never drags for a second, and it beckons your attention in every bar. The broadly phrased first-movement introduction (soun... Continue Reading


Brahms’ Second in LA–Giulini at His Best

by David Hurwitz

Serious music taken seriously–that’s the first impression you might glean from this magnificent performance. Tempos are deliberate, but never unduly so. The first loud outburst offers an object lesson in how to balance Brahms’ orchestration so that it never sounds too thick and gum... Continue Reading


Reference Recording: Ormandy, Rostropovich, and Shostakovich

by Victor Carr Jr

We are fortunate that the premiere recording of Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 1 took place under such ideal conditions. Not only do we have the work’s dedicatee, Mstislav Rostropovich, but also the Philadelphia Orchestra in top form under the enthusiastic direction of Eugene Ormandy.... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: Great Beethoven 3 and 5 from Kleiber (the Dad)

by David Hurwitz

Erich Kleiber’s 1950 “Eroica” still belongs among the elite handful of great recordings of this perennial favorite, this despite ensemble that isn’t quite immaculate in the first movement (a very minor point), a pair of really shrill oboes, and the somewhat bass-shy, airless ... Continue Reading


Reference Recording: Käbi Laretei’s Ludus Tonalis, Finally On CD

by Jed Distler

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This long unavailable recording stands out among the relatively few that Käbi Laretei (1922-2014) made during her long career. The Estonian/Swedish pianist coached Hindemith’s Ludus Tonalis with the composer in great detail. Nearly two years after Hindemith’s death, Laretei presented Ludus Tona... Continue Reading


Markevitch’s Matchless Rimsky-Korsakov on Eloquence

by David Hurwitz

RimskyMark

Nobody played this music better than Igor Markevitch. Recorded back in 1962, this Scheherazade fought for recognition among those by Reiner, Monteux, Beecham, and other, more famous names, but it yields to none of them in its color, excitement, clarity, and most importantly of all, pacing. Markivitc... Continue Reading


References Revisited: Sawallisch’s Dresden Schumann Cycle

by David Hurwitz

SchumannSaw

Update: This classic set, formerly on EMI’s Great Recordings of the Century series, has now been reissued by Warner Classics. Listening to it again after so much recent lousy Schumann (Michael Tilson Thomas, Christian Thielemann) comes as a relief. The performances are so fresh, so vital, so d... Continue Reading


Bach’s Pupils Shine In Sacred Motets

by David Vernier

bachfamilybernius

The idea to make a program of music composed by members of Johann Sebastian Bach’s family, especially the lesser-known ones, has been realized many times, including in several earlier productions by Hänssler. Here we have some motets by both a son—Johann Christoph Friedrich—and a son in l... Continue Reading


Reference Recording: Peter Serkin’s Mozart Concertos

by Jed Distler

71SlLTsIbhL._SL1500

This six-CD budget box brings together all of the Mozart recordings that Peter Serkin made for RCA, plus the composer’s Concerto for Two Pianos featuring the 15-year-old Serkin and his father Rudolf as soloists. Of chief interest are the six concertos (Nos. 14-19) recorded in 1973 with Alexander S... 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


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


Historical Gems: Ancerl Glows in Martinu Symphonies 5 & 6

by David Hurwitz

martinu5Anc

These brilliant performances never have been equaled, and their qualities are well known. Perhaps the most outstanding of these is the fact that Ancerl proves that it’s not necessary to be fast to be exciting. He achieves extraordinary physical impact through rhythmic precision, clarity of bal... Continue Reading


Kempff’s Schubert in Blu-ray Pure Audio: A Reference Revisited

by Jens F. Laurson

SCHUBERT_KEMPFF_BluRay_DG_ClassicsToday_jens-f-laurson_classical-critic

Schubert—almost as much as Beethoven—had been a staple of pianist Wilhelm Kempff’s repertoire from the beginning to the end of his career, including his final public recital where he played (apart from Beethoven, of course) Schubert’s Sonata D. 845. And if his set of Schubert sonatas did not... Continue Reading

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Under The Radar: Music In Renaissance Prague

by David Vernier

pragarosabohemiae

There is an ancient depiction of Bohemia as a rose, with Prague at its center, which presumably is the source of the disc’s title (and stylized cover art), although, from a marketing standpoint, the exclusive Latin inscription on the CD’s front cover is more likely to result in bewilderm... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: Solti’s Early, Still Competitive Vienna Beethoven Symphonies 3, 5, & 7

by David Hurwitz

Dating from the late 1950s, these generally fine performances show Solti’s consistency as a Beethoven interpreter. In fact, timings are virtually identical to his later versions (give or take a repeat or two). Even at this comparatively early date a craggy directness entirely appropriate to Be... Continue Reading


Under the Radar: Leinsdorf’s Much Better Than You Thought Beethoven 9th

by Dan Davis

Arnold Schoenberg’s tribute to the victims of inhumanity is ironically paired with Beethoven’s ode to brotherhood–the same program Erich Leinsdorf performed for his 1969 farewell concerts with the Boston Symphony two days before this recording was made. A Survivor From Warsaw makes... Continue Reading


Under the Radar: Peter Donohoe’s Superb Brahms PC1

by Jed Distler

Few if any of Peter Donohoe’s full-priced EMI releases have made headway in the label’s American catalog, including this Brahms disc. Now that it’s reissued on EMI’s budget Seraphim line, I offer two words of advice: grab it! This is one of the most gripping Brahms D minor Co... Continue Reading


Under the Radar: Klemperer’s Noble, Dazzling Tchaikovsky Fifth

by David Hurwitz

Otto Klemperer’s Tchaikovsky Fifth is one of the half dozen or so greatest recordings of the work. This may come as a surprise to those who regard him solely as a German repertoire specialist, and equally astonishing are his tempos for the symphony’s first two movements–among the s... Continue Reading


Kancheli’s Sunny Night

by David Vernier

kanchelisunnynight

You’re in a café, a quiet little out of the way place. The sudden sound of violin and piano, perhaps later a bandonéon, playing a sweet, romantic tune creates the perfect atmosphere for evening romance, contemplation, or just enjoying the wine and the solitude (sound clips). This is not the ... Continue Reading


Under the Radar: Herreweghe’s First St. Matthew Passion

by David Hurwitz

On its initial release in 1985, this recording of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion made a huge impression, for a number of reasons. One was the exceptional quality of the recording itself, a typically classy Harmonia Mundi production that we have since come to expect, but that at the time was giving... 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


Under the Radar: Previn’s Glorious Mahler 4th

by David Hurwitz

Mahler4Previn

For years I’ve been referring to this recording as a “reference” for Mahler’s Fourth, and it’s a pleasure to be able to talk about it in greater detail. This is one of those “sleepers” that comes along occasionally, a disc by artists that aren’t normally associated with the repertoir... Continue Reading


Under the Radar: Caballé’s Wholly Convincing Salome

by David Hurwitz

salome

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


Filling In The Gaps: Viola Concertos Rediscovered

by David Vernier

Entwürfe cpo-Cover April–Mai 2018_cover.indd

Violist Jean-Eric Soucy devotes the majority of his booklet notes to describing his search for, discovery/re-discovery, and ultimate proper attribution of these viola concertos, an interesting glimpse into how one innocent musicological quest can unearth and ultimately resolve a longstanding if obsc... 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


Under the Radar: Gounod’s Piano Music

by Jed Distler

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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

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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

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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

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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

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Historic Gems: Bella Davidovich At Her Best

by Jed Distler

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As of this writing (November 2019) Bella Davidovich is alive and well at 91, although retired from performing. Melodiya’s excellent restorations for these early 1960s recordings surely will please the pianist, for they represent her artistry at its technical and musical apex. Indeed, I find her at... Continue Reading


Cult Conductors: Mravinsky and Shostakovich’s Much Maligned 12th

by David Hurwitz

Shost12

Like most of us, I had very little patience for this symphony. Even Shostakovich thought it was junk, or at least feared that it was. But on closer acquaintance it turns out that there’s really a lot to enjoy. The first movement is incredibly exciting, in Shostakovich’s best cinematic ve... Continue Reading


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

by David Hurwitz

KubelikDvor6

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


Cult Conductors: Stoki’s Looniest Wagner CD

by David Hurwitz

WgStoki

This wonderfully insane disc belongs in every Wagner collection, most particularly for the Magic Fire Music. How on earth did Stokowski get this sound out of the 1959/60 Houston Symphony Orchestra? Listen to the sound clip below. Did the entire population of Houston take up the harp for this recordi... Continue Reading


Cult Conductors: Scherchen’s Most Insane Haydn Disc Ever

by David Hurwitz

Haydn

It goes without saying that when Universal put together their Scherchen box of Haydn symphonies, they left out the most important material: his stereo remake of the “Military” Symphony. Happily, it was issued in Japan, coupled to this “Farewell,” which was included in the DG ... Continue Reading


Cult Conductors: Scherchen’s Reference Beethoven Eighth

by David Hurwitz

CultCondi

Hermann Scherchen was, to put it mildly, a quirky conductor, but also an erratically brilliant one. He shocked the musical world in the 1950s by insisting on taking Beethoven’s metronome markings seriously, and the result was a symphony cycle at times stimulating, at times infuriating. It̵... Continue Reading


Norma Fisher: A Great Pianist Rediscovered

by Jed Distler

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Born in 1940, British pianist Norma Fisher enjoyed a busy performing life before the onset of focal dystonia in her right arm forced her to retire from concertizing in the 1990s and refocus her career on teaching. Although Fisher did not make commercial recordings, live and radio archival tapes surv... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: Solti’s Early, Still Competitive Vienna Beethoven Symphonies 3, 5, & 7

by David Hurwitz

Dating from the late 1950s, these generally fine performances show Solti’s consistency as a Beethoven interpreter. In fact, timings are virtually identical to his later versions (give or take a repeat or two). Even at this comparatively early date a craggy directness entirely appropriate to Be... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: Ashkenazy’s First Recordings Via Profil

by Jed Distler

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Discographical vagary often accompanies Profil’s piano reissues, and the label’s Vladimir Ashkenazy compilation “The First Recordings” is no exception. Let’s examine the contents. From 1955 we have 11 solo Chopin selections recorded live during the Warsaw Chopin Competition, some of which ... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: Inghelbrecht’s Luminous Fauré Requiem

by Dan Davis

This Fauré disc is among the highlights of Testament’s fascinating series of Inghelbrecht recordings. The Shylock Suite, five brief movements from incidental music to a play based on The Merchant of Venice, is an attractive morsel, primarily of interest for two vocal sections, here sung to pe... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: Great Beethoven 3 and 5 from Kleiber (the Dad)

by David Hurwitz

Erich Kleiber’s 1950 “Eroica” still belongs among the elite handful of great recordings of this perennial favorite, this despite ensemble that isn’t quite immaculate in the first movement (a very minor point), a pair of really shrill oboes, and the somewhat bass-shy, airless ... Continue Reading


Markevitch’s Matchless Rimsky-Korsakov on Eloquence

by David Hurwitz

RimskyMark

Nobody played this music better than Igor Markevitch. Recorded back in 1962, this Scheherazade fought for recognition among those by Reiner, Monteux, Beecham, and other, more famous names, but it yields to none of them in its color, excitement, clarity, and most importantly of all, pacing. Markivitc... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: Ancerl Glows in Martinu Symphonies 5 & 6

by David Hurwitz

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These brilliant performances never have been equaled, and their qualities are well known. Perhaps the most outstanding of these is the fact that Ancerl proves that it’s not necessary to be fast to be exciting. He achieves extraordinary physical impact through rhythmic precision, clarity of bal... Continue Reading


Reference Recording: St. Matthew Profound and Unbound

by David Vernier

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


Historic Gems: Richter In Brooklyn

by Jed Distler

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Released in its entirety for the first time here, Sviatoslav Richter’s April 22, 1965 Brooklyn recital derives from an audience tape that has floated around the so-called “underground” for a half-century. Notwithstanding audience noises and ambient rumbles, the sound is surprisingly good consi... Continue Reading


Historic Gems: Schnabel’s Sublime Schubert Remastered

by Jed Distler

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For all of Artur Schnabel’s renown and influence as a Beethoven interpreter, the music of Schubert was arguably his first love. At the behest of his teacher Theodor Leschetizky, the teenage Schnabel investigated some of the sonatas, while delving into the chamber works and lieder during his format... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: Pietro Scarpini’s Legendary Busoni Concerto, Finally On CD

by Jed Distler

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The pianist Pietro Scarpini (1911-1997) is not generally known outside of his native Italy, yet has a devoted following in some circles. Although he only made one solo commercial recording (an early 1950s release containing works by Bartók and Stravinsky), he methodically preserved tapes of his bro... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: Marie-Claire Alain’s First (and best?) Bach Cycle

by Jed Distler

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My colleague David Hurwitz recommended both Marie-Claire Alain’s 1978/80 Bach organ music cycle and her 1985/93 digital remakes as reference versions. It’s easy to understand why, for Alain’s stylish virtuosity, ideal tempos, tasteful registrations, and sheer joy in music making speak eloquent... 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


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

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Under The Radar: Music In Renaissance Prague

by David Vernier

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There is an ancient depiction of Bohemia as a rose, with Prague at its center, which presumably is the source of the disc’s title (and stylized cover art), although, from a marketing standpoint, the exclusive Latin inscription on the CD’s front cover is more likely to result in bewilderm... Continue Reading


Gallo Trio Sonatas: The Source for Stravinsky’s Pulcinella

by David Vernier

Gallo

Within the first few seconds of the first track—the Sonata No. 1 in G major—most listeners will find themselves in surprisingly familiar territory—surprising because this little-known 18th-century composer seems to have written a popular tune long attributed to Pergolesi, a misattribution give... Continue Reading


Rouse’s Brilliant Percussion and Violin Concertos

by David Hurwitz

Having recently enjoyed Finnish composer Kalevi Aho’s Eleventh Symphony for percussion ensemble and orchestra (BIS), I have come to the conclusion that percussion concertos are to music what professional wrestling is to sports. They can be immensely entertaining (as indeed this one certainly i... Continue Reading


Rousing Rouse From Gilbert And The NY Phil

by David Hurwitz

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Christopher Rouse was one of the very few recent composers who could write music in large forms with the kind of expressive immediacy and emotional integrity of the great classical composers. I don’t say this lightly, but the evidence is plain and liberally scattered throughout the works on th... Continue Reading


Rouse’s Hot Symphony No. 1

by David Hurwitz

Christopher Rouse is an exciting composer. All of his music, even a dark, slow work such as the First Symphony, features a striking level of tension. He’s also been lucky in that his music has received a good deal of attention on disc. Both the First Symphony and Iscariot have been recorded pr... Continue Reading


Major Discoveries: Kalliwoda’s Intriguing First Symphony

by David Hurwitz

Kalliwoda

Written in 1825, Kalliwoda’s First Symphony attracted many admirers, including Mendelssohn and Schumann, before dropping from sight for almost two centuries. It did not deserve the neglect. In fact, Schumann liked it so much that he cribbed the opening the scherzo (here still called Menuetto) ... Continue Reading


Major Discoveries: Braga Santos Missing Pieces

by David Hurwitz

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This disc fills a useful gap in the discography of Portugal’s greatest twentieth-century composer, Joly Braga Santos. There have already been a couple of recordings of the Symphonic Overture No. 3, but none of Nos. 1 and 2 (subtitled “Lisbon”) until now. The First is a learning wor... Continue Reading


Stölzel: Good Enough for Bach, Definitely Good Enough for Us

by Jens F. Laurson

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If you’ve heard enough Beethoven and want to switch it up, there are Wilms, Raff, Cherubini, et al. If you’ve heard enough Brahms, there are composers of extraordinary if secondary excellence like Bruch, Gernsheim, Herzogenberg, etc. And any baroque composer with a vaguely Italian name can likew... Continue Reading


Major Discoveries: Images of Brazil for Violin and Piano

by David Hurwitz

Brazil

This is one of those discs you’d be tempted to overlook: seven works by seven different composers, most of them unknown (except for Villa-Lobos and Guarnieri), scored or arranged for violin and piano, and played (very well) by performers who aren’t exactly household names. I dismissed it... Continue Reading


Major Discoveries: Schreker’s Four Little Pieces for Large Orchestra

by David Hurwitz

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It might seem silly to recommend a disc on the basis of four brief pieces lasting less than ten minutes in total, but Schreker’s Four Little Pieces for Large Orchestra (a.k.a. Four Film Sketches) are so characterful, so typical of their composer, and so unlike anything else that they deserve t... Continue Reading


A Danish Four Seasons In Song

by David Vernier

danishsongs

A program of Danish songs, set for a cappella choir? Understandably this kind of thing may not be on your “must purchase”–or even “must listen”–list. But one of the reasons we’re here is to share discoveries such as this, and hope that you may find it as rew... Continue Reading


Major Discovery: Henri Marteau’s Intriguing Works for String Quartet

by Jens F. Laurson

MARTEAU_Works-for-string-quartet-v1_CPO_ClassicsToday_jens-f-laurson_classical-critic

Henri Marteau was born in 1874 in Reims. His career as a violinist–where he made something of a name for himself, especially as an interpreter of Reger–took him all across Europe, although he eventually settled in Lichtenberg, Germany, in the northeastern part of Bavaria. As World War I ... Continue Reading


Major Discovery: Orff’s Surprising Gisei

by Jens F. Laurson

ORFF_Gisei_CPO_ClassicsToday_jens-f-laurson_classical-critic

Carl Orff is–just behind Johann Pachelbel, who dominated my unscientific Twitter poll on the topic–the quintessential one-hit composer. It’s Carmina-or-bust with him. He hits all the criteria: His one hit is very famous and the fame-disparity between that hit and his next-best-known wo... Continue Reading


Major Discoveries: War and Peace by Villa-Lobos

by David Hurwitz

Villa Lobos

These two symphonies were both composed in 1919 and reflect the composer’s response to the First World War. Musically they have a lot in common, save that the “War” Third Symphony features a lengthy funeral march while the “Victory” Fourth Symphony (I know, it’s n... Continue Reading


Major Discoveries: An Exciting New Villa-Lobos Symphony Cycle on Naxos

by David Hurwitz

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Villa-Lobos’ 11 symphonies (numbered 1-12, No. 5 is lost) are the least known of all of his orchestral works, for the simple reason that they largely avoid folkloric elements. This doesn’t mean that they are austere; check out the opening of No. 7 (sound clip). The textures are as lush a... Continue Reading


Major Discoveries: Krommer’s Distinctive Early Symphonies

by David Hurwitz

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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

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Gallo Trio Sonatas: The Source for Stravinsky’s Pulcinella

by David Vernier

Gallo

Within the first few seconds of the first track—the Sonata No. 1 in G major—most listeners will find themselves in surprisingly familiar territory—surprising because this little-known 18th-century composer seems to have written a popular tune long attributed to Pergolesi, a misattribution give... Continue Reading


Filling In The Gaps: Dukas’ Marvelous Ariane With Gary Bertini

by Jens F. Laurson

DUKAS_Ariane-et-barbe-bleue_Bertini_CAPRICCIO_ClassicsToday_jens-f-laurson_classical-critic

If you think of Paul Dukas as a Mickey-Mouse composer, think again. He may be forever associated with a famous musical rodent through Disney’s depiction of his tone poem on Goethe’s Sorcerer’s Apprentice in the film Fantasia. But there’s a good deal more to Dukas, even though he abandoned an... Continue Reading


Hindemith’s Die Harmonie der Welt: Great Music, So-So Opera

by David Hurwitz

The importance of this release can’t be overestimated: the first official recording (and most likely the last) of the major work from the final period of one of the 20th century’s very greatest composers. Musically it’s magnificent, and anyone who enjoys the eponymous symphony that... Continue Reading


Filling In The Gaps: Handel’s Glorious Occasional Oratorio

by Jens F. Laurson

Handel_Occasional-Oratorio_BR-KLASSIK_ClassicsToday_jens-f-laurson_classical-critic

George Frideric Handel’s Occasional Oratorio—essentially a pastiche cantata—was meant to buck up the London crowds (and curry political favor) as England was facing a war of succession from Jacobite Charles Edward Stuart. The work presents us with a conundrum: Those for whom having the fringe ... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: A Lotta Great Handel Cantatas

by David Hurwitz

HandelCantatas

There’s nothing more heartbreaking in surveying the current state of the classical music industry than the knowledge that, amidst the constant flow of useless dreck hitting the market daily, there are wonderful sets such as this one that will never receive the acclaim (and financial success) t... Continue Reading


Bach’s Pupils Shine In Sacred Motets

by David Vernier

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The idea to make a program of music composed by members of Johann Sebastian Bach’s family, especially the lesser-known ones, has been realized many times, including in several earlier productions by Hänssler. Here we have some motets by both a son—Johann Christoph Friedrich—and a son in l... 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


Copland’s Third with Original, Even Louder Ending

by David Hurwitz

CopSlat

Leonard Slatkin can always be counted on to offer a new take on familiar classics. He recorded an excellent Copland Third for RCA back in his St. Louis days, and this performance is almost identical in terms of tempo and expression–but not quite. Copland’s publishers, Boosey and Hawkes, ... Continue Reading


Zelenka Goodness From Stuttgart

by Jens F. Laurson

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Jan Dismas Zelenka is one of the most consistent sources of delight: A major late-baroque composer known well enough to be performed but still so unexploited as to bear constant surprises and discoveries. Case in point, this Missa Sancti Josephi, a Mass, like the Missa Divi Xaverii (Accent), that sk... Continue Reading


Filling in the Gaps: Romantic Works for Viola and Piano

by David Hurwitz

ViolaSonatas

Here’s a lovely disc that deserves a spot in your collection of Romantic chamber music. Georges Onslow’s Sonata in F major, Op. 16 No. 1 was originally written for cello, and it appears here in a well made transcription for viola and piano. The music, as you might expect, is tuneful and ... Continue Reading


Filling In The Gaps: Viola Concertos Rediscovered

by David Vernier

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Violist Jean-Eric Soucy devotes the majority of his booklet notes to describing his search for, discovery/re-discovery, and ultimate proper attribution of these viola concertos, an interesting glimpse into how one innocent musicological quest can unearth and ultimately resolve a longstanding if obsc... Continue Reading


Ernest Krenek’s Piano Concertos Emerge from Obscurity

by Jed Distler

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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

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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

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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

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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

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Big Boxes: Paul Lewis’ Beethoven Cycles At Super-Budget Price

by Jed Distler

Paul-Lewis

In anticipation of 2020’s Beethoven anniversary year, Harmonia Mundi has bundled together Paul Lewis’ respective Beethoven cycles devoted to the piano sonatas and piano concertos, along with the pianist’s Diabelli Variations. The concertos contain Lewis’ most consistently satisfying Beethove... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: Sony’s 94-CD/3-DVD Zubin Mehta Collection

by Jed Distler

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Sony/BMG’s Zubin Mehta Complete Columbia Album Collection opens with his recorded debut as the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s music director in excellently played versions of Respighi’s Feste romane and Richard Strauss’ Don Juan. The somewhat dry engineering, however, is a far cry from the far m... Continue Reading


A Big Box of Roussel, Wonder of Wonders

by David Hurwitz

Roussel Edition

Every so often the major labels extrude a heap of stuff, seemingly by accident, that leads one to believe that a glimmer of intelligence lurks somewhere in the bowels of their corporate digestive systems. Here is one such. Warner has put together a big box of Erato/EMI Roussel recordings, and they&#... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: The Magnificent New Music String Quartet

by Jed Distler

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In its eight years of existence from 1948 to 1956, the New Music String Quartet established itself as one of the finest American chamber ensembles of the post-war era, whose long-out-of-print recordings have been highly sought-out collector’s items, commanding steep prices from second-hand record ... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: A Lotta Great Handel Cantatas

by David Hurwitz

HandelCantatas

There’s nothing more heartbreaking in surveying the current state of the classical music industry than the knowledge that, amidst the constant flow of useless dreck hitting the market daily, there are wonderful sets such as this one that will never receive the acclaim (and financial success) t... Continue Reading


Gardiner’s Revolutionary Berlioz? Take The Good With The Ugly

by Jens F. Laurson

BERLIOZ_Rediscovered_Gardiner_ORR_DECCA_Jens-f-Laurson_ClassicsToday

Berlioz: “An acquired taste, but what a taste worth acquiring!” as David Hurwitz points out in his review of the “Philips 50” release of John Eliot Gardiner’s Messe solennelle. Indeed. And even if you think you’ve acquired the taste, Berlioz can still be unwieldy and brittle to the ears.... Continue Reading


Back in Print: Peter Hurford’s Seminal Bach Survey On Argo/Decca

by Jens F. Laurson

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Peter Hurford’s traversal of Bach’s complete organ works has been out of print for years. As a result, all that I had to go by, for assessing Hurford’s take on that oeuvre—which, outside the cantatas, best shows Bach at his essence—was a well-loved, much-played best-selling Double Decca of... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: Columbia’s Black Composers Series Is Back

by Jed Distler

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In 1974 Columbia Masterworks, in association with the Afro-American Music Opportunities Association, launched a Black Composer Series. Nine LPs eventually appeared, all devoted to mostly world-premiere recordings of works by composers of color spanning nearly two centuries. Apparently no effort was ... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: Orfeo Retools Kubelik

by David Hurwitz

KubelikMunich

Although all of this live material has been released previously (and most of it also recorded by Kubelík commercially), this box is far from complete. There are no concertos, for example, and Orfeo released more Hartmann, a Handel Concerto Grosso, and choral works as well. Granted, this set feature... Continue Reading


The Juilliard Quartet’s Epic Epic Recordings

by David Hurwitz

JuilliardEpic

The Juilliard Quartet’s recordings for Columbia (now Sony/BMG) deserve a big box all to themselves. Will they ever do it? Who knows? It would be huge. This release serves to whet the appetite. Originally the group recorded for Columbia’s “Epic” sub-label. As the name delibera... Continue Reading


The Complete Juilliard on RCA: Pretty Spectacular

by David Hurwitz

JuilliardRCA

For a brief period in the late 50s, the Juilliard Quartet left Columbia and made a nicely representative batch of recordings for RCA. However, collectors beware! The majority of these recordings were already released as part of RCA’s 60-disc Living Stereo miscellaneous box. Not included there ... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: Virtuoso Piano Etudes

by Jed Distler

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This 22-CD boxed set more-or-less encompasses the history of the piano etude. It contains several Brilliant Classics releases devoted to complete etude cycles by various composers, along with disc compilations culled both from the label’s back catalog and various licensed labels. The curatorial vi... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Karajan’s Choral Music Box

by David Hurwitz

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If you think that songs like “Dropkick Me Jesus Through the Goalposts of Life” represent sincere expressions of religious sentiment, then you’ll surely respond to Karajan’s handling of the choral music in this set. Indeed, calling it “choral music” may be technica... Continue Reading


Warner Presents Berlioz’s Complete Works, Mostly, and Mostly Terrific

by David Hurwitz

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These 27 well-packed CDs contain just about everything that Berlioz wrote. The most obvious items missing are the extra prelude that Berlioz added to The Trojans in Carthage when the complete opera was broken up as two separate works, and the arrangement for female chorus and orchestra of The Death ... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: Anne Queffélec’s Complete Erato Recordings

by Jed Distler

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Anne Queffélec never made a bad recording. Some are better than others, true, but her accomplished technique and tasteful musicianship consistently make themselves felt throughout the 21 discs comprising her complete Erato and Virgin Classics recordings, gathered together in a specially priced boxe... Continue Reading


Reference Recording: Slatkin’s Tchaikovsky Ballets

by David Hurwitz

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There have been many recordings of the three great Tchaikovsky ballets by the same conductor, and Slatkin’s recordings typically get overlooked in any discussion of them. This is a pity, because his versions are uniformly superb, beautifully engineered, and wholly idiomatic. Is it because no o... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: Yvonne Loriod’s Complete Vega Recordings

by Jed Distler

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Although Yvonne Loriod (1924-2010) was best known for giving standard-setting interpretations of music by her husband, Olivier Messiaen, her repertoire embraced a wider range of styles and composers than one might expect, as this 13-disc collection of her complete Vega label recordings bears out. Lo... Continue Reading


Sigiswald Kuijken’s Zany Bach of Wonders Boxed

by Jens F. Laurson

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Sigiswald Kuijken’s La Petite Bande won’t win any beauty-prizes for the horn-playing in these Bach cantata recordings, which can be quite sour at times. It’s right at that edge where a lover of HIP performances might say that it adds indelible twang and color (certainly realism) and where othe... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: Previn’s Not Always Great LSO Recordings

by David Hurwitz

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This is one of those confused, random collections that makes you want to scream with frustration. It’s called “André Previn: The Great Recordings,” but also, in smaller type, “The LSO Years: 1971-1980.” Now, were all of his great recordings for EMI made with the LSO? A... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: Birgit Nilsson Live

by Jed Distler

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For a clear and colorful evaluation of what made soprano Birgit Nilsson unique, I refer readers to my colleague Robert Levine’s thoroughly informative review of Decca’s massive “La Nilsson” CD/DVD boxed set. The present 31-CD compilation of live archival recordings significantly complements ... Continue Reading

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