Classics Today Insider

CD From Hell: Zander’s Beethoven BS

by David Hurwitz

Beet9Zand

Here we go again. Benjamin Zander offers a Beethoven Ninth on one disc, with two discs of commentary (twenty-four minutes of “Closing Thoughts” alone) doubtless designed to impress us with his inimitable genius and unique artistic insight. I wouldn’t know. I didn’t listen to ... 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


Alvin and the Chipmunks Play Bruckner

by David Hurwitz

Bruck5Venz

Yes, you saw it correctly. Asking the Tapiola Sinfonietta (about 46 members) to play Bruckner’s Fifth Symphony, his grandest work before the Eighth, is like asking Alvin and the Chipmunks to perform Wagner’s Ring. All of it. The result is cartoonish when not simply silly, emphasized at e... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: The Worst Ever Mozart Violin Concertos

by David Hurwitz

MozartContzen

How long are we going to have to put up with a crew of tasteless jokers pretending to be experts in “authentic” performance practice selling us junk like this? Just about everything about these recordings is anti-musical, from the unwelcome harpsichord continuo to the patently insane tem... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: An Argerich Treasure Trove, Live In Lugano

by Jed Distler

61W8D9I4aYL._SL1500

Between 2002 and 2016 the Lugano Festival’s Progetto Martha Argerich presented the great pianist in chamber and concerto collaborations covering a wide range of repertoire, along with performances by young pianists under her mentorship. Fifteen annual “Martha Argerich and Friends” boxed sets e... Continue Reading


References Revisited: Bernstein’s Vienna Beethoven Cycle

by Jens F. Laurson

BEETHOVEN_Symphonies_Vienna-Philharmonic_Bernstein_DG_ClassicsToday_jens-f-laurson_classical-critic

Some performances age like 80s fashion. Case in point: Leonard Bernstein’s second cycle of the Beethoven Symphonies, recorded live with the Vienna Philharmonic in the late 70s and released to great fanfare and overwhelmingly positive responses in 1980, and which I loved on first exposure. Lavishly... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Gergiev Should Leave Stravinsky Alone

by David Hurwitz

StravGerg

This is a worthless disc: dull, sloppy, tired performances of music that these musicians should be able to play with proprietary gusto. Petrushka (1911 version) sounds like a reading rehearsal–and I know, because I’ve played it in reading rehearsals. The jagged string rhythms in the open... 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


Zelenka Goodness From Stuttgart

by Jens F. Laurson

zelenkasancti

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


Enough Handel Arias? Not Yet, Part 2

by Robert Levine

hugheshandel

As if not being familiar with Welsh soprano Ruby Hughes were not enough, the catchphrase for this CD is Arias for Giulia Frasi, Handel’s last prima donna. Well–the things you learn. Frasi arrived in London from Italy in 1742 when Handel’s opera-writing career was over. What lay ahe... Continue Reading


Enough Handel Arias? Not Yet, Part 1

by David Vernier

davidsonhandel

The solo vocal Handel recording (rivaled perhaps only by Schubert lieder) is a virtual industry. Hundreds of recordings fill what has become a special category of the catalog and, for collectors of these things, occupy more a significant stretch of shelf space. And why not? There is no music more su... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Bruckner’s Piano Works

by Jens F. Laurson

BRUCKNER_Piano-Works_HAENSSLER_ClassicsToday_jens-f-laurson_classical-critic

On paper, this smartly programmed disc is a winner: The persuasive combination of a favored artist and a fairly well-designed cover (we eat with our eyes!) on a label with an agreeable reputation presenting neglected repertoire (world-premiere recordings, even) from a beloved composer. The artist, A... Continue Reading


Finally, The Szell Box

by David Hurwitz

SzellEdition

Go ahead. Pull out any disc at random. Chances are you’ll be holding a reference recording for the work in question. Based on the recorded evidence, George Szell was simply the finest conductor of the 20th century. No one else approached him in the consistently exalted quality of the results t... Continue Reading


CD from Hell: Alien Das Lied von der Erde from Rattle

by David Hurwitz

MahlerDasLiedRat

Here’s another wholly characteristic release in BR Klassik’s ongoing series, “Crappy Mahler from Munich.” If Simon Rattle’s first recording of Das Lied von der Erde was nothing special, this new one is just strange. Tenor Stuart Skelton handles it best. He has an exciti... Continue Reading


Reference Re-Revisited: EMI’s Karajan Rosenkavalier

by Jens F. Laurson

STRAUSS-R_Rosenkavalier_Karajan_WARNER_jens-f-laurson_ClassicsToday

Herbert von Karajan’s Rosenkavalier with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf as the Marschallin and Christa Ludwig as Octavian is an opera-recording monolith, a masterful achievement that has ruled the roost for decades. Among those recordings that receive Warner’s very lavish deluxe re-issue treatment (like ... Continue Reading


Rilling’s Budget Mendelssohn; A Reference St. Paul Oratorio At The Center

by Jens F. Laurson

MENDELSSOHN_Choral-Works_Paul_Elijah_Bach-Collegium_Helmuth-Rilling_HAENSSLER_jens-f-laurson_classical-critic

Here is a re-issue containing Helmuth Rilling’s recordings of Mendelssohn’s two oratorios, Elijah and St. Paul, the Second–“Choral”–Symphony, and the Psalms. The attraction, apart from price, is the assembly of a group of very good singers, all caught near or just before their pe... 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


A Reference Ballo From La Scala, 1975

by Robert Levine

ballo

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


Historic Gems: Schnabel’s Sublime Schubert Remastered

by Jed Distler

71FgPEonEQL._SL1200_-1

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


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


CD From Hell: Celibidache Slobbers Over Ravel

by David Hurwitz

RavelCeli

You’ll want to take a shower after hearing these drooling, slobbering, flaccid performances. They make you feel unclean. Celididache famously said that recordings were not music, and here’s the proof. All of these pieces are played under tempo, with a sort of anti-rhythmic glee. Phrases ... Continue Reading


Legacy of the Greatest Wagnerian Soprano of the Last Half of the 20th Century

by Robert Levine

nilsson

From as long as I can recall reading reviews of performances by Swedish soprano Birgit Nilsson (1918-2005)–and that goes back to 1965–the only criticism aimed at her was that her Nordic tone lacked the southern warmth required to sing Verdi and Puccini. Re-listening to her recorded legac... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Zander’s Beethoven BS

by David Hurwitz

Beet9Zand

Here we go again. Benjamin Zander offers a Beethoven Ninth on one disc, with two discs of commentary (twenty-four minutes of “Closing Thoughts” alone) doubtless designed to impress us with his inimitable genius and unique artistic insight. I wouldn’t know. I didn’t listen to ... Continue Reading


Alvin and the Chipmunks Play Bruckner

by David Hurwitz

Bruck5Venz

Yes, you saw it correctly. Asking the Tapiola Sinfonietta (about 46 members) to play Bruckner’s Fifth Symphony, his grandest work before the Eighth, is like asking Alvin and the Chipmunks to perform Wagner’s Ring. All of it. The result is cartoonish when not simply silly, emphasized at e... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: The Worst Ever Mozart Violin Concertos

by David Hurwitz

MozartContzen

How long are we going to have to put up with a crew of tasteless jokers pretending to be experts in “authentic” performance practice selling us junk like this? Just about everything about these recordings is anti-musical, from the unwelcome harpsichord continuo to the patently insane tem... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Gergiev Should Leave Stravinsky Alone

by David Hurwitz

StravGerg

This is a worthless disc: dull, sloppy, tired performances of music that these musicians should be able to play with proprietary gusto. Petrushka (1911 version) sounds like a reading rehearsal–and I know, because I’ve played it in reading rehearsals. The jagged string rhythms in the open... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Bruckner’s Piano Works

by Jens F. Laurson

BRUCKNER_Piano-Works_HAENSSLER_ClassicsToday_jens-f-laurson_classical-critic

On paper, this smartly programmed disc is a winner: The persuasive combination of a favored artist and a fairly well-designed cover (we eat with our eyes!) on a label with an agreeable reputation presenting neglected repertoire (world-premiere recordings, even) from a beloved composer. The artist, A... Continue Reading


CD from Hell: Alien Das Lied von der Erde from Rattle

by David Hurwitz

MahlerDasLiedRat

Here’s another wholly characteristic release in BR Klassik’s ongoing series, “Crappy Mahler from Munich.” If Simon Rattle’s first recording of Das Lied von der Erde was nothing special, this new one is just strange. Tenor Stuart Skelton handles it best. He has an exciti... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Celibidache Slobbers Over Ravel

by David Hurwitz

RavelCeli

You’ll want to take a shower after hearing these drooling, slobbering, flaccid performances. They make you feel unclean. Celididache famously said that recordings were not music, and here’s the proof. All of these pieces are played under tempo, with a sort of anti-rhythmic glee. Phrases ... Continue Reading


CD from Hell: Kozhukhin Emotes All Over Ravel and Gershwin

by David Hurwitz

Kozhukhin

No one need bother with these hot and heavy interpretations of piano concertos by Ravel and Gershwin. Denis Kozhukhin takes every opportunity to indulge in “expressive” rubato in his solo passages, whether the music requires it or not. The fact is, rubato without a firm underlying pulse ... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Pletnev’s Shostakovich Without Balls

by David Hurwitz

Shost410plet

No need to waste much time here. Pletnev’s versions of Shostakovich’s Forth and Tenth Symphonies, two of his beefiest, most muscular works, are simply the worst available. He conducts at rehearsal tempos almost throughout. The first movement of the Fourth takes an excruciating thirty-fiv... 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

More "CDs from Hell" Reviews »

Zelenka Goodness From Stuttgart

by Jens F. Laurson

zelenkasancti

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


Reference Re-Revisited: EMI’s Karajan Rosenkavalier

by Jens F. Laurson

STRAUSS-R_Rosenkavalier_Karajan_WARNER_jens-f-laurson_ClassicsToday

Herbert von Karajan’s Rosenkavalier with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf as the Marschallin and Christa Ludwig as Octavian is an opera-recording monolith, a masterful achievement that has ruled the roost for decades. Among those recordings that receive Warner’s very lavish deluxe re-issue treatment (like ... Continue Reading


Rilling’s Budget Mendelssohn; A Reference St. Paul Oratorio At The Center

by Jens F. Laurson

MENDELSSOHN_Choral-Works_Paul_Elijah_Bach-Collegium_Helmuth-Rilling_HAENSSLER_jens-f-laurson_classical-critic

Here is a re-issue containing Helmuth Rilling’s recordings of Mendelssohn’s two oratorios, Elijah and St. Paul, the Second–“Choral”–Symphony, and the Psalms. The attraction, apart from price, is the assembly of a group of very good singers, all caught near or just before their pe... Continue Reading


A Reference Ballo From La Scala, 1975

by Robert Levine

ballo

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


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


Reference Recording: A Desert Island Billy Budd

by Robert Levine

This is the first complete recording of the revised, two-act version of Billy Budd to appear since the one led by the composer appeared in 1968. A previously un-released “private” recording of the four-act version with the original cast showed up in 1994 and shed great light on Britten&#... Continue Reading


Reference Recording: Britten’s Peter Grimes

by David Vernier

Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes owes its existence to the culminating events of the composer’s and Peter Pears’ three-year sojourn in the U.S., between 1939 and 1942. A busy, creatively challenging, often tumultuous, and occasionally frustrating and disappointing time (the failure ... Continue Reading


The Reference: The Takács Quartet’s Beethoven Cycle

by Jens F. Laurson

Beethoven-String-Quartet-Survey-TAKACS-Quartet_DECCA-jens-f-laurson-ClassicalCritic

At the Freer Gallery, or at the Corcoran Gallery (when it was still a chamber music oasis in Washington, DC), or at the more humble Landon School Mondzac Performing Arts Center, the Takács Quartet made my life better with their performances of Bartók, Beethoven, Haydn, et al. Their recordings, too... 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: 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

More "Reference Recordings" Reviews »

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

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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


Historical Gems: Prime Jorge Bolet From Audite

by Jed Distler

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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A Danish Four Seasons In Song

by David Vernier

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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


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

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Copland’s Third with Original, Even Louder Ending

by David Hurwitz

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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


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

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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


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

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Big Boxes: An Argerich Treasure Trove, Live In Lugano

by Jed Distler

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Between 2002 and 2016 the Lugano Festival’s Progetto Martha Argerich presented the great pianist in chamber and concerto collaborations covering a wide range of repertoire, along with performances by young pianists under her mentorship. Fifteen annual “Martha Argerich and Friends” boxed sets e... Continue Reading


Finally, The Szell Box

by David Hurwitz

SzellEdition

Go ahead. Pull out any disc at random. Chances are you’ll be holding a reference recording for the work in question. Based on the recorded evidence, George Szell was simply the finest conductor of the 20th century. No one else approached him in the consistently exalted quality of the results t... Continue Reading


Legacy of the Greatest Wagnerian Soprano of the Last Half of the 20th Century

by Robert Levine

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From as long as I can recall reading reviews of performances by Swedish soprano Birgit Nilsson (1918-2005)–and that goes back to 1965–the only criticism aimed at her was that her Nordic tone lacked the southern warmth required to sing Verdi and Puccini. Re-listening to her recorded legac... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: The Cluytens/François Ravel Cycles, Again

by David Hurwitz

RavelCluytens

These performances have been reissued, relabled, recoupled, decoupled, repackaged, and otherwise offered in every conceivable permutation countless times, and we have reviewed them in their various incarnations on numerous occasions. So I’ll keep it short. The François/Cluytens accounts of th... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: Bernstein Conducts Vocal Works–and How!

by David Hurwitz

BernsteinVocal

Words matter. That is the primary impression produced by this third and last installment in Sony’s Leonard Bernstein Edition. It contains some, but not all, of the conductor’s recordings of vocal music (more on this below), alongside all of the early and duplicative performances not incl... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: Anatol Ugorski, The Great Bewilderer

by Jens F. Laurson

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Anatol Ugorski was not a favored artist in the Soviet Union, to put it mildly. An early talent for squirreling-out and performing the standards of the Western avant-garde gave rise to first suspicions about his political reliability (which, in the Soviet Union, was tantamount to being considered mor... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: Jochum Complete Orchestral Recordings on DG

by David Hurwitz

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Listening to Eugen Jochum’s work, whether you agree with his interpretations or not, is a life-enhancing experience. Considered during his lifetime as a “baby Furtwängler,” for my money he offers all of the elder conductor’s spiritual incandescence, with none of his typical ... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: Abbado’s Complete DG Berlin Recordings

by Jed Distler

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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