Classics Today Insider

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

ShostToscOK

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


Big Boxes: The Best of HvK, Really

by David Hurwitz

Karajan 8cd

Every so often a major label offers signs of a guiding intelligence. DG has released a series of boxed sets, eight CDs each, featuring specific orchestras and conductors: Abbado/Chicago, Bernstein/Vienna, Boulez/Cleveland, and this one: Karajan and Berlin. Three of them are not especially attractive... Continue Reading


Reference Recordings: 3 Classic Albums from HvK

by David Hurwitz

KarajanWebern

Herbert von Karajan. Remember him? The guy who made a million recordings, mostly in Berlin or Vienna? Well, DG has been issuing “three-fers” from his output of wildly varying quality, but the one you really need to have is this one. Karajan allegedly felt so strongly about this project t... Continue Reading


Gielen’s Superb Mahler Returns, Even More Complete

by David Hurwitz

MahlerGielen

Now reissued on 17 CDs, plus a bonus DVD containing a live concert of the Ninth Symphony, this is practically a Mahler “complete works” edition. Yes, Das klagende Lied is missing, but you get the three major song cycles, Des Knaben Wunderhorn, both the Adagio from the Tenth Symphony plus... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: Richter’s Schubert From Profil

by Jed Distler

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


Historial Gems: Koussevitzky’s Surprisingly Stylish Bach

by David Hurwitz

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


Konwitschny’s Surprisingly Boring Bruckner 4

by David Hurwitz

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


Kleiber and Pfitzner Mess Up Beethoven

by David Hurwitz

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


Andante’s Vienna Junk Collection

by David Hurwitz

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


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

by Jed Distler

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


CD From Hell: Bychkov Botches Tchaikovsky’s Manfred

by David Hurwitz

manfredbych

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


Historical Gems: Mono Milstein In Beethoven & Brahms Violin Concertos

by David Hurwitz

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


Reference Recording: Milstein Plays Dvorák and Glazunov

by David Hurwitz

Nathan Milstein was without question one of the handful of truly great 20th century violinists, right up there with Heifetz, Oistrakh, Szigeti, Kreisler–you name it. Though not as flamboyant as some of his colleagues, his exceptional musicianship encompassed virtuosity of the highest order, al... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: Helmut At The Harpsichord

by Jed Distler

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Helmut Walcha’s sober, unselfregarding interpretations of Bach’s organ music relate to this composer much as Otto Klemperer did to the Beethoven symphonies. He brought a similar interpretive outlook in his extended series of Bach harpsichord recordings for German Electrola in the late 1950s and ... Continue Reading


Barenboim’s Re-Reissued Berlin Beethoven Still Delivers the Goods

by David Hurwitz

BeetBaren

Warner has yet again reissued Barenboim’s magnificent Staatskapelle Berlin Beethoven Cycle, for some reason, with a new box design and a different catalog number, at an even cheaper price than previously (about $18 on Amazon or Arkivmusic.com). It’s a steal. Here’s my original revi... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: Rudolf Serkin’s Complete Columbia Recordings

by Jed Distler

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The arrival of Sony/BMG’s complete edition of Rudolf Serkin’s Columbia Masterworks and RCA Victor recordings presents a welcome opportunity to explore his artistry in depth. Serkin was a beacon of the literalist aesthetic that gradually took hold in the mid-20th century in the wake of musicians ... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: 65 Fabulous Cluytens CDs

by David Hurwitz

Cluytens

Belgian-born André Cluytens was a splendid conductor, equally at home in German, French, and Russian music, and this 65 disc set containing his complete orchestral and concerto recordings represents him ideally. There’s a good bit of duplication from mono to stereo, particularly in Beethoven ... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Knappertsbusch Bombs Dresden

by Jed Distler

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


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


Marvelous Dvorák Requiem from Wit

by David Hurwitz

DvorakRequiem

Dvorák’s Requiem seems to be making a comeback, with recent recordings by Järvi, Jansons, and best of all, this one by Antoni Wit, featuring the excellent Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir and four first-class soloists. It’s not an easy work to bring off as far as requiems go. Le... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: Toscanini’s Legendary Philharmonia Brahms Cycle

by Jed Distler

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


Konwitschny’s Surprisingly Boring Bruckner 4

by David Hurwitz

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


Kleiber and Pfitzner Mess Up Beethoven

by David Hurwitz

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


Andante’s Vienna Junk Collection

by David Hurwitz

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


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

by Jed Distler

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


CD From Hell: Bychkov Botches Tchaikovsky’s Manfred

by David Hurwitz

manfredbych

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


CD From Hell: Knappertsbusch Bombs Dresden

by Jed Distler

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


CD From Hell: Walter’s Godawful Vienna Mahler Ninth

by David Hurwitz

Every first recording of a major work has historic interest, and this one has more than most; but there’s no inherent reason why it should be particularly fine musically, and this one isn’t. Bruno Walter himself spoke out against it, and much has been made of the political circumstances ... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: More Faux Elgar, For A Change

by David Hurwitz

ElgarWoods

They’re at it again. Just as Elgar may have stopped spinning in his grave thanks to Anthony Payne’s atrocious completion of the Third Symphony, out comes this disc, which ought to supply him with enough rotational energy to keep him moving for some time to come. We have more than enough ... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Nelsons Insults Bruckner

by David Hurwitz

BrucknerNelsons

This is an atrocious performance of Bruckner’s Third Symphony: sluggish, heavy-handed, superficial, and larded with the kind of bloated, false grandeur that makes a mockery of the composer’s intentions. It’s a classic case of a conductor working with an ensemble that knows the musi... Continue Reading


Male Soprano + Theorbos = Handel From Hell

by Robert Levine

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Who knew? These are a series of “virtuoso” arias composed by Handel from the late 1720s to the late 1740s using only the words “Amen” and “Alleluia”. These teensy bits may seem dull, especially with nothing but a pair of theorbos and a positif organ as back-up, ev... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Harnoncourt’s Twisted Aida Reissued

by Victor Carr Jr

AidaHarn

Harnoncourt fans will be excited to know that their hero has re-imagined Aida and made it his own by emphasizing crystalline textures (revealing newly-found colors in the score), immaculate Mozartean balances, and shimmering Wagnerian strings (despite Verdi’s denial of any influence). Harnonco... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Khatia Buniatishvili Defaces “Pictures”

by Jed Distler

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Several piano pedagogues warned me about Khatia Buniatishvili’s recording of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition before I had the chance to hear it for myself. If you think that the Ivo Pogorelich or Maria Yudina versions are willful and perverse, you haven’t reckoned with Buniatishvili. Sh... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Bringuier Botches Boléro

by David Hurwitz

RavelBring

Vanity, vanity: all is vanity! Evidently the Tonhalle Orchestra of Zurich paid off DG to release this set, which the label accordingly distributes but is doing nothing to promote. Not that they should bother. Bringuier led this same orchestra, not very impressively,  accompanying Yuja Wang’s ... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Harnoncourt’s Perverse Verdi Requiem

by Dan Davis

Nikolaus Harnoncourt’s revisionist assault on Verdi continues. After a disastrous Aida we now have this equally-misbegotten Requiem. Once you penetrate the mumbo-jumbo of the booklet notes by a Bruckner scholar, you find that Harnoncourt’s interpretation transcends the mere “operat... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Abbado Plays Mozart with Authentic Amateurs

by David Hurwitz

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Abbado is a dreadful Mozart conductor. When I was in college in the late 1970s and early ’80s I used to shop at a wonderful classical music store in Baltimore called Recordmasters. The staff was very knowledgeable, and when new releases came out every month they would display them with in-hous... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Abbado’s Deadly Mozart Requiem

by David Vernier

Beating a dead horse is one thing; beating a dead composer’s work–in this case, the work of at least two dead composers and a couple of living musicologist/editors–is another matter. But that’s what Claudio Abbado, who has led many superlative performances in his career (incl... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Tenitone Jonas Kaufmann Crashes And Burns In Das Lied

by David Hurwitz

MahlerKauf

This performance memorializes a stupid stunt. One singer trying to perform all six songs in Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde, written for alto (or baritone), tenor, and orchestra, is the vocal equivalent of motorcycle daredevil Evel Knievel’s failed attempt to jump over the Snake River Can... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Sokolov’s Bogus Profundity In Mozart and Rachmaninov

by David Hurwitz

Sokolov

Put this release squarely into the “naked emperor” category. Scrounging around for unpublished Sokolov recordings, DG has dug up a lackluster Rachmaninov Third from a 1995 Proms Concert at Royal Albert Hall, and a Mozart 23rd Concerto from Salzburg in 2005 so devoid of tension and drama ... Continue Reading


CD From Hell: Bad Transfers of Kletzki’s Embarrassing Mahler 1 and 9

by David Hurwitz

MahlerKletz

Kletzki made some fine Mahler recordings for EMI (Symphony No. 4 and Das Lied von der Erde), but these earlier performances are terrible, the First especially so. Kletzki is more of a Klutzki. It’s not just that the Israel Philharmonic in 1954 was no one’s idea of a great orchestra–... 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

More "CDs from Hell" Reviews »

Big Boxes: The Best of HvK, Really

by David Hurwitz

Karajan 8cd

Every so often a major label offers signs of a guiding intelligence. DG has released a series of boxed sets, eight CDs each, featuring specific orchestras and conductors: Abbado/Chicago, Bernstein/Vienna, Boulez/Cleveland, and this one: Karajan and Berlin. Three of them are not especially attractive... Continue Reading


Reference Recordings: 3 Classic Albums from HvK

by David Hurwitz

KarajanWebern

Herbert von Karajan. Remember him? The guy who made a million recordings, mostly in Berlin or Vienna? Well, DG has been issuing “three-fers” from his output of wildly varying quality, but the one you really need to have is this one. Karajan allegedly felt so strongly about this project t... Continue Reading


Gielen’s Superb Mahler Returns, Even More Complete

by David Hurwitz

MahlerGielen

Now reissued on 17 CDs, plus a bonus DVD containing a live concert of the Ninth Symphony, this is practically a Mahler “complete works” edition. Yes, Das klagende Lied is missing, but you get the three major song cycles, Des Knaben Wunderhorn, both the Adagio from the Tenth Symphony plus... Continue Reading


Reference Recording: Milstein Plays Dvorák and Glazunov

by David Hurwitz

Nathan Milstein was without question one of the handful of truly great 20th century violinists, right up there with Heifetz, Oistrakh, Szigeti, Kreisler–you name it. Though not as flamboyant as some of his colleagues, his exceptional musicianship encompassed virtuosity of the highest order, al... Continue Reading


Barenboim’s Re-Reissued Berlin Beethoven Still Delivers the Goods

by David Hurwitz

BeetBaren

Warner has yet again reissued Barenboim’s magnificent Staatskapelle Berlin Beethoven Cycle, for some reason, with a new box design and a different catalog number, at an even cheaper price than previously (about $18 on Amazon or Arkivmusic.com). It’s a steal. Here’s my original revi... Continue Reading


Marvelous Dvorák Requiem from Wit

by David Hurwitz

DvorakRequiem

Dvorák’s Requiem seems to be making a comeback, with recent recordings by Järvi, Jansons, and best of all, this one by Antoni Wit, featuring the excellent Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir and four first-class soloists. It’s not an easy work to bring off as far as requiems go. Le... Continue Reading


Reference Recording: Malikova Plays Saint-Saëns, Vol. 2

by David Hurwitz

This second installment in Audite’s complete series of Saint-Saëns piano concertos completes what easily is the finest modern reference edition for these beautiful, underrated works. As in the previous release, Anna Malikova displays all of the classical virtues that the composer requires: gl... Continue Reading


Reference Recording: Malikova Plays Saint-Saëns, Volume I

by David Hurwitz

We badly need a first-rate Saint-Saëns piano concerto cycle in modern sound. I know that this may be a minority view, but I found Stephen Hough’s Hyperion edition unsatisfying both interpretively and technically. The best overall remains Jean-Marie Darré’s mono EMI set from the mid-195... Continue Reading


Reference Recording: Thibaudet’s Scintillating Mendelssohn

by Jed Distler

Mendelssohn’s two piano concertos always have fared well on disc, but rarely to the inspired heights this release attains. Pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet is on tip-top form and loaded to go. He brilliantly negotiates Mendelssohn’s scintillating keyboard writing, fusing the best qualities of... Continue Reading


Ameling’s Reference Ravel

by David Hurwitz

Dutch soprano Elly Ameling is one of those artists who, because she specialized in Lieder and concert work, hasn’t always received the acclaim that her artistry deserves. During her performing and recording days she was a professional in the best sense of the word: always prepared, intelligent... Continue Reading


Reference Recording: Cluytens’ Faust, Still The One

by Robert Levine

For the longest time this has been the preferred version of this opera; and despite some quirks, it remains so. In the late 1950s, when this was recorded, Nicolai Gedda was the finest Faust in the world, with a ringing, easy top and a winning combination of French, elegant style, and ardency. Victor... Continue Reading


Reference Recording: Christoff is Boris

by Robert Levine

This note-complete, beautiful-sounding 1962 performance of the Rimsky-Korsakov version of Boris has a great deal to recommend it. As he had done 10 years earlier, Boris Christoff sings Boris, Pimen, and Varlaam–a stunt only possible in the recording studio. I must admit that although at the st... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: Toscanini’s Remarkable Falstaff

by Robert Levine

This 1950 broadcast remains one of the finest performances of any opera ever recorded. The boxy sound still drops dead at the end of each note–precisely how a room can give so little resonance is still a question to be dealt with–but the voices and orchestra appear to be in better balanc... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: Cluytens’ Glorious Wagner

by David Hurwitz

French recordings of Wagner generally receive scant attention, just as for years the quality of French orchestras was routinely underestimated by British, German, and American critics whose tastes in Wagner ran rather to the “dark and heavy” school of sonority. But Wagner’s orchest... Continue Reading


Bernstein’s Sony Mahler Box Re-Boxed and Re-Coupled

by David Hurwitz

First, let’s understand why this reissue is a typical example of major-label stupidity (no, they never learn). If you’re going to celebrate Bernstein’s Sony recordings of Mahler, why not include them all? For example, Des Knaben Wunderhorn was a major recording, ripe for remasterin... Continue Reading


Great Early Wagner from Wakasugi

by David Hurwitz

WagWaka

Early Wagner can be thrilling, or it can be trashy. Sometimes, I confess, it can be both (think Mravinsky’s Lohengrin Act III Prelude), but if we can get thrilling and not trashy, that’s the best option. Hiroshi Wakasugi and the Staatskapelle Dresden manage this seemingly impossible feat... Continue Reading


Markovina Aces CPE Bach, Plus 25 Greatest Hits In Score

by David Hurwitz

CPEMarkovina

This 26-CD set containing CPE Bach’s complete solo piano works represents a landmark of the highest importance and, more significantly, listening pleasure. Ana-Marija Markovina has made a specialty of playing these works. She previously recorded the Prussian and Württemburg sonatas (for Genuin), ... Continue Reading


Memorable Media Vita From Westminster

by David Vernier

mediavitawestminster

Those who take seriously the task of writing about music performances are continually confronted with the challenge of finding words to describe the undescribable. Often, the best that can be done is only adequate; and too often the words–in the guise of colors or shapes or physical textures&#... Continue Reading


Arvo Pärt’s Timeless Deer’s Cry

by David Vernier

deerscry

Occasionally a new release comes along that, because of its uniqueness, or particular sonic character, or some other strange yet compelling power, invites–or perhaps demands–a particular kind of listening, one that requires just sitting back and closing the eyes, letting the music just &... Continue Reading


Suk: Ripening, and a Reference Version of Symphony No. 1

by David Hurwitz

Ripening, the successor to the Asrael Symphony and A Summer Tale, is a voluptuous late-Romantic extravaganza, and it’s very well performed here. Jirí Belohlávek often seems a trifle soft-edged, but here he galvanizes his large forces and produces an interpretation full of conviction. The tex... Continue Reading

More "Reference Recordings" Reviews »

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

by David Hurwitz

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


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

by David Hurwitz

Mahler9Solti

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


Gielen Makes The Berlin Philharmonic Really Play Mahler

by David Hurwitz

Mahler7

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


Martinu: A Mostly Fine Collection Of Orchestral Works

by David Hurwitz

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


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

by Jed Distler

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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


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

by Jed Distler

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


Ozawa’s Reference Mother Goose Ballet

by David Hurwitz

Seiji Ozawa’s Ravel orchestral music series for DG has been regularly reissued, but not very highly regarded. It happens to be excellent, uniformly so, and especially in this performance of the complete Mother Goose ballet. It features absolutely magical playing from the BSO winds, sparkling p... Continue Reading


Ozawa’s First Class Daphnis

by David Hurwitz

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


Ozawa’s Ravel Only Gets Better With Time

by David Hurwitz

One of the oddities of the record industry is that sometimes it’s better not to be regarded as “the best,” even when you really are. Ozawa’s Ravel is a case in point. Never has highly regarded as it deserved to be–there really is no finer complete edition of the orchest... Continue Reading


Kempe Surprises in Stravinsky and Britten

by David Hurwitz

StravKempe

It’s always fun to hear great musicians playing music outside of their comfort zones–at least when they’re on top form, as here. The Staatskapelle Dresden in 1976 was hardly an orchestra known for its Stravinsky and Britten, but they were a sensational ensemble and Kempe was a mast... Continue Reading


Suitner’s Terrific Mozart Symphonies

by David Hurwitz

MozSuit

Otmar Suitner was a first class Mozart conductor. These recordings of symphonies Nos. 39 and 40 rank with the best. Of course, having the Staatskapelle Dresden on hand helps considerably. One of the secrets of playing this music well is to pay careful attention to the bass lines and accompaniments. ... Continue Reading


Under the Radar: Markevitch’s Memorable Mussorgsky

by David Hurwitz

MussPicMark

This all but unknown performance remains one of the reference recordings for Pictures at an Exhibition. It has so many felicities of accent, balance, pacing, and phrasing that it’s impossible to even begin to list them. You can hear right from the opening Promenade that this version is going t... Continue Reading


Julia Fischer’s Tchaikovsky Concerto 10 Years On

by David Hurwitz

FischerTchaik

Has it already been so long? Julia Fischer, as we all recall, made some first rate recordings of the basic concerto repertoire for Pentatone before jumping ship for Decca. That label make a small handful of mostly solo or chamber recordings, in keeping with its “philosophy” to make their... Continue Reading


Under the Radar: Yara Bernette’s Exquisite Rachmaninov Preludes

by Jed Distler

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The American-born/Brazilian-raised pianist Yara Bernette (1920-2002) may not be a familiar name to keyboard mavens, save for an exquisite 1969 Deutsche Grammophon LP devoted to Rachmaninov, containing most of the Op. 23 and Op. 32 Preludes, her only recording for the label. Bernette had actually rec... Continue Reading


Maazel’s Excellent Vienna Sibelius, Now On Blu-Ray

by David Hurwitz

maazelsib

The major labels keep trying to get people to buy the same stuff at ever-higher prices because, well, that’s what they need to do. My original view of this set can be found below. If you have a Blu-Ray player and want this cycle, and don’t care about price, go for it. The remastered CDs ... Continue Reading


Under the Radar: Janácek Rare and Familiar from Jílek

by Victor Carr Jr

The Brno Philharmonic, Janácek’s “hometown” orchestra, premiered many of the composer’s major works, and it maintains a Janácek tradition that lends a certain authenticity to the ensemble’s performances. The orchestra’s sound is lean and nimble, especially compa... Continue Reading


Under the Radar: Idiomatic Janácek Sinfonietta and Danube

by Victor Carr Jr

Janácek’s most popular orchestral work, Sinfonietta, comes vividly to life in the hands of František Jílek and the Brno Philharmonic, who ideally capture the pagan splendor of the raucous brass fanfares in the outer movements while projecting the magical combination of mystery and playfulne... Continue Reading


A Great Ives Collection From Seattle

by David Hurwitz

ivesmorlot

These live performances are outstanding, and the coupling gives you what is basically “the essential Ives” orchestral music. The Fourth Symphony is a tricky piece, particularly in its second and fourth movements, whose chaotic climaxes need to ride that border between riotous, tuneful ab... Continue Reading


Super Shostakovich 1 and 14 from Rattle, Quasthoff and Mattila

by David Hurwitz

I happened back on this release fresh from hearing Karita Mattila triumph at the MET as Kostelnicka in Janácek’s Jenufa. At this stage in her career she is singing better than ever, the voice warm, rich, and steady–no “fading diva with an ugly tone” here. She stole the show;... Continue Reading

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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

ShostToscOK

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


Historial Gems: Koussevitzky’s Surprisingly Stylish Bach

by David Hurwitz

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


Historical Gems: Mono Milstein In Beethoven & Brahms Violin Concertos

by David Hurwitz

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


Historical Gems: Toscanini’s Legendary Philharmonia Brahms Cycle

by Jed Distler

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


Wagner: Der Fliegende Hollander Overture; Tannhäuser; and Other Goodies

by Jed Distler

The three Wagner selections here featuring Arturo Toscanini and the NBC Symphony are taken from broadcast performances; they have previously appeared on independent labels in transfers ranging from mediocre to quite good. Although I cannot ascertain if Testament’s restorations were effected fr... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: Toscanini’s BBC Verdi Requiem

by Robert Levine

There are three recordings of Toscanini’s take on Verdi’s Requiem, each stunning in its own way. This one from 1938, despite the tubby, always problematic but certainly listenable sound, is remarkable for how much instrumental detail is audible and dramatically part of the whole: the des... Continue Reading


Schubert: Symphony No. 2 and Grand Duo, from Toscanini

by Jed Distler

Testament indicates that these Toscanini/NBC Orchestra Schubert broadcast performances of the Second Symphony (aired March 23, 1940) and Grand Duo (February 15, 1941) are “first ever” releases. Not quite true, but they’ve never sounded better, thanks to Paul Baley’s excellent... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: Buoyant Bizet from Cluytens

by Dan Davis

There’s solid meat on these orchestral “Night at the Pops” staples, and Cluytens is just the conductor to elevate these often-played items above the routine. The Symphony in C gets a spirited reading, with sharply defined rhythms, delicious portamentos in the strings and winds, apt... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: Cluytens’ Aces Beethoven and Schubert

by Victor Carr Jr

It’s surprising to learn that it was André Cluytens, and not Herbert von Karajan, who first recorded a stereo Beethoven symphony cycle with the Berlin Philharmonic (1956-60). This mono “Pastoral” was recorded earlier (1955) and has been prized by collectors for decades. And rightl... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: Toscanini’s Remarkable Falstaff

by Robert Levine

This 1950 broadcast remains one of the finest performances of any opera ever recorded. The boxy sound still drops dead at the end of each note–precisely how a room can give so little resonance is still a question to be dealt with–but the voices and orchestra appear to be in better balanc... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: Cluytens’ Glorious Wagner, Continued

by David Hurwitz

This is the second disc of Wagner excerpts reissued by Testament featuring André Cluytens and the Orchestra of the National Theater of the Paris Opera. I have finally figured out why French orchestras at the end of the 1950s and beginning of the ’60s never have received the recognition that t... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: Essential Toscanini, Really

by David Hurwitz

Toscanini

This twenty disc set, curated by Christopher Dyment and Harvey Sachs and drawn from RCA’s epic 80+ CD box of Toscanini’s complete authorized recordings, really does constitute an “essential” selection. Fans will quibble, as will I, but you can’t argue that the set conta... Continue Reading


Puccini: Toscanini’s La Bohème–That’s Authenticity!

by Jed Distler

Fans of Toscanini’s 1946 recording of Puccini’s La Bohème will be happy to know that its best sounding “official” CD incarnation, released in 1991 via RCA’s Toscanini Edition, is back in print, thanks to Arkivmusic.com’s on-demand reissue program. Toscanini condu... Continue Reading


THE COMPLETE PHILADELPHIA ORCHESTRA RECORDINGS 1941-42

by Jed Distler

The main question for collectors familiar with Toscanini’s 1941-42 Philadelphia Orchestra recordings concerns how this newly remastered edition (compiled from “original sources”, according to Sony/BMG) compares to earlier ones. To my ears, the recordings sound better than ever. And... Continue Reading


Toscanini Conductos Beethoven, Dukas, Mendelssohn

by David Hurwitz

This 1931 live Fifth, never approved for release, offers essentially the same interpretation (and a wonderful one it is!) with startlingly present string sound–more so than the later version–albeit with a higher level of surface noise and less dynamic range. The Mendelssohn excerpts most... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: Hindemith Conducts Hindemith (in Decent Mono)

by David Hurwitz

HindemithConductsHdg

In the early 1950s, DG had the bright idea of asking Hindemith to record his own orchestral works. For a variety of logistical, aesthetic, and financial reasons, it turned out to be a very frustrating experience for everyone, and after three CDs-worth of material, the project got picked up (in stere... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: Hindemith Conducts Hindemith (in Stereo)

by David Hurwitz

HindemithSerena

Hindemith’s Horn Concerto is not one of his two or three hundred more interesting works, but this performance by Dennis Brain remains unequalled. The Clarinet Concerto, on the other hand, deserves more attention than it gets, while the Band Symphony is a classic of the genre. Symphonia serena ... Continue Reading


Inghelbrecht’s Historic, Imperfect Debussy La mer

by David Hurwitz

Inghelbrecht knew Debussy personally, and his interpretations were widely acknowledged in his lifetime as authoritative–even if these recordings were not. The problem stems from the poor quality of the playing, particularly from the orchestra’s acidulous wind section. For example Iberia&... Continue Reading


Inghelbrecht Directs Authentic Debussy

by Victor Carr Jr

This Debussy collection features attributes similar to its companion Testament disc previously reviewed by David Hurwitz. Inghelbrecht’s Debussy has an air of authenticity that makes even the endlessly overplayed Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune sound freshly engaging and creat... Continue Reading

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Major Discoveries: Two Röntgen Symphonies and a Serenade

by David Hurwitz

Rontgen9

Julius Röntgen was a remarkable composer: prolific, joyous, traditional at heart, but eclectic in practice. As with many, similarly productive artists, his output is often adjudged “variable” by those who haven’t heard most of it. Of the roughly two dozen symphonies that he compos... Continue Reading


Major Discoveries: Saint-Saëns Neglected Third Piano Concerto

by David Hurwitz

SaintSaensPC3

This program really is wonderful. It’s great to see the Third Concerto getting solo billing for a change as the major work on a single album, and it’s just as enticing to see it coupled to the three short concertante pieces for piano and orchestra. The concerto begins with one of the mos... Continue Reading


Hans Gál’s Powerful Second Symphony

by David Hurwitz

Gal2

Schubert and Gál are billed as “kindred spirits” in this release pairing the “Great” C Major Symphony with Gál’s Symphony No. 2, completed in 1943. I don’t hear it, frankly, and the Schubert is a performance of no special distinction, vaguely influenced by perio... Continue Reading


Major Discoveries: Rieti Music for Harpsichord(s)

by David Hurwitz

Rieti

Vittorio Rieti (1898-1994) was an Italian neoclassical composer of great skill and charm. On this disc, gifted harpsichordist Marina Minkin joins forces with several colleagues in exploring his output for her instrument. There’s some splendidly entertaining music here. You’d think that t... Continue Reading


Polyphony For Nuns

by David Vernier

borgiasdaughter

Artists and record labels often attempt to attract attention to their projects with innovative programming, intriguing/provocative titles, or both. Here’s one–and it does catch your interest. If the title doesn’t get you, the subtitle–“Princess, nun, and musician; Motet... Continue Reading


Gál’s Marvelous Music for Mandolins

by David Hurwitz

GalMand

Aside from having a remarkably flat head (see cover photo), Hans Gál was a composer of real distinction. He had a buddy in Vienna who ran an “orchestra” of mandolins–a “Zupforchester,” or “plucked orchestra.” It consisted primarily of mandolins, guitars, an... Continue Reading


Major Discoveries: Feldman’s For John Cage

by David Hurwitz

FeldmanCage

It’s exciting to see hatART’s recordings available again, especially of Morton Feldman. For John Cage, although at sixty-nine minutes not one of his longer late works, is still one of his tougher ones. Scored for violin and piano, its difficulty lies less in its motivic material than in ... Continue Reading


Kozeluch Symphonies, Volume 1: Nice Music

by David Hurwitz

Kozeluch1

If you enjoy fluent, finely crafted classical period symphonies then this well-played, well-recorded disc is for you. Kozeluch was one of a constellation of Czech symphonies active in eighteenth-century Vienna. His Bohemian roots show in his music’s innate tunefulness (sound clip), as well as ... Continue Reading


Major Discoveries: Ginastera’s Gripping, Expressionistic Bomarzo

by David Hurwitz

Bomarzocover

Without any fanfare or ceremony, Sony has reissued on CD for the first time, at budget price, one of the most important recordings of 20th-century opera: the 1967 premiere of Ginastera’s Bomarzo. No notes, no libretto, and barely a synopsis, but it doesn’t matter. The work is a masterpie... Continue Reading


Major Discoveries: Feldman’s Three Voices

by David Hurwitz

Feldman

If you’re looking for an introduction to Morton Feldman’s special sound world, I can’t think of a better place to start than with Three Voices. It was originally written for Joan La Barbara, whose recording for New Albion is pretty hard to beat, but Juliet Fraser gives her an impre... Continue Reading


Major Discoveries: Feldman’s For Christian Wolff

by David Hurwitz

It may be a cliché to say so, but this really is a disc for people who like this sort of thing. For my money, For Christian Wolff, with its scoring for flute and piano (doubling celesta) isn’t quite as interesting as some of Feldman’s more timbrally varied late works (Crippled Symmetry,... Continue Reading


Reference Recording: Feldman’s For Bunita Marcus

by Jed Distler

I’m tempted to retitle Morton Feldman’s 1985 piano composition For Bunita Marcus “1001 ways to manipulate three notes”. All kidding aside, Feldman’s subtle rhythmic shifts, total avoidance of “interval fatigue”, and carefully staged increments of soft dynami... Continue Reading


Major Discoveries: Boccherini’s Touching, Expressive Stabat Mater

by David Hurwitz

BochStabat

There are two versions of Boccherini’s Stabat Mater, one for solo soprano and strings presented here, the other for three soloists (also with strings). Happily, both versions have now been published in a new Critical Edition as part of the ongoing Complete Works issued by the Centro Studi Ope... Continue Reading


Exciting Strauss From Falletta And Buffalo

by David Hurwitz

StraussFalletta

I sure hope the folks in Buffalo know what a prize they have in JoAnn Falletta. Her Naxos discography has few peers in terms of imaginative programming and quality of results. The city couldn’t ask for a more positive or alluring cultural calling card, and the present release offers a case in ... Continue Reading


Ole Buck’s Precision-Crafted Sinfonietta Works

by David Hurwitz

Buck

If you don’t know Danish composer Ole Buck, you’ve been missing something special. His music is approachable, imaginative, often nature-inspired, and crafted with remarkable precision. Each of these pieces is written for a different number of instruments or players (the notes unfortunate... Continue Reading


Major Discoveries: Victor Babin, the Composer

by David Hurwitz

Babin

Bartók added an orchestral part to his Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion in order to give him and his wife a virtuoso vehicle to take on tour and make a few bucks. The original being one of his greatest masterpieces, the Concerto version stands as a musical embodiment of the motto, “If it ... Continue Reading


Major Discoveries: Harth-Bedoya Plays Garrido-Lecca

by David Hurwitz

Lecca

You gotta love those hyphenated Spanish surnames. Peruvian conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya pays loving tribute to the music of one of Latin America’s major composers, Celso Garrido-Lecca, a major force in the musical development of both Peru and Chile. The four works included here were composed ... Continue Reading


Major Discoveries: Leifs’ Very Approachable Edda Part 1

by David Hurwitz

It’s been a long time coming, but it was worth the wait. Jon Leifs died leaving the third part of his Edda cycle unfinished, and he never heard a complete performance even of this Part One. It’s not hard to understand why. A refugee from Germany during the Second World War, he returned t... Continue Reading


Jón Leifs: Start Here

by David Hurwitz

Jón Leifs’ music tends to extremes: of volume, ensemble size, harmony, and rhythm. As such, people either love it or hate it. I love it. True, it’s a comparatively hermetic, or “closed” style, with a limited range of expressive devices. Harmonic motion follows the parallel f... Continue Reading


Major Discoveries: Two Fine Finnish Violin Concertos

by David Hurwitz

EnglundKlamiVCs

Here’s an easy call. These are two excellent violin concertos by two excellent Finnish composers. Einar Englund’s Violin Concerto is based on an expansive five-note motive (sound clip) that permeates all three movements, but never in a pointlessly repetitive or simplistic way. He was, in... Continue Reading

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Big Boxes: Richter’s Schubert From Profil

by Jed Distler

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


Filling In The (Bernstein) Gaps: Oedipus Rex

by David Hurwitz

Sony France has been doing wonderful things with reissues, so it’s not surprising that they’ve unearthed the one significant omission in all past Bernstein reissue programs: the conductor’s outstanding Boston performance of Oedipus Rex recorded in connection with his Norton Lecture... 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


Filling In The Gaps: Janácek’s Marvelous Mr. Broucek

by David Hurwitz

Hopefully this recording will do something to make up for the neglect of this, Janácek’s least known mature opera. Stylistically, he’s already the composer of Taras Bulba and the late operas: with the colorful juxtapositions of high and low instruments, the rhythmic ostinatos, luscious ... Continue Reading


Filling In The Gaps: Ravel’s (Yes, Ravel’s) Antar

by David Hurwitz

RavelAntar

Now here’s a novelty that fans of Ravel and Rimsky-Korsakov will want to hear. In 1910, the story of Antar reached the stage in Paris as a play, with incidental music by Ravel arranged out of Rimsky’s eponymous symphony/tone poem (with a bit of Mlada thrown in for good measure). There is... Continue Reading


Tone Poems From The “Cow Pat” School

by David Hurwitz

BritTonePoems1

Let’s be honest: Chandos couldn’t just come out and call this disc “Second String British Tone Poems,” but that’s what they are. With the exception of Bantock’s faux-Tchaikovsky-sounding The Witch of Atlas, all of them are pleasant, nature inspired effusions of re... Continue Reading


Splendid Recorded Premieres Of Four Alwyn Quartets

by Jed Distler

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Considering how well William Alwyn’s music has fared on disc, perhaps it’s surprising that his Tenth through Thirteenth string quartets from the 1930s have not been recorded until now. After all, Alwyn always wrote effectively and beautifully for the genre. While the Tenth’s four movements dep... Continue Reading


Filling In The Gaps With Jochum’s Reference Bruckner 1st and Te Deum

by David Hurwitz

BruckDeum

This reasonably priced, Japanese DG release very conveniently offers two reference recordings on a single disc, and that makes it an ideal supplement or single-disc addition to many a Bruckner collection. Jochum’s version of the Te Deum has been difficult to acquire outside of his set of the s... Continue Reading


Songs By Pavel Haas

by David Vernier

haassongs

In May, 1944, in the Terezín concentration camp (the infamous garrison town north of Prague where, among the many thousands, numerous important Czech musicians were imprisoned during 1941-44), the young bass Karel Berman was preparing a recital. Along with songs by Beethoven, Dvorák, and Wolf, he ... Continue Reading


Tiberghien’s Bartók Concludes Impressively

by David Hurwitz

BartokTiber

Cédric Tiberghien’s fine Bartók piano music cycle for Hyperion faces the stiffest possible competition from Zoltan Kocsis on Philips (now Decca, I guess), and there are some works in which the late Hungarian pianist is almost impossible to beat. I am thinking especially of the Piano Sonata, ... Continue Reading


Exciting Strauss From Falletta And Buffalo

by David Hurwitz

StraussFalletta

I sure hope the folks in Buffalo know what a prize they have in JoAnn Falletta. Her Naxos discography has few peers in terms of imaginative programming and quality of results. The city couldn’t ask for a more positive or alluring cultural calling card, and the present release offers a case in ... Continue Reading


Filling In The Gaps: The Two Faces of Dvorák

by David Hurwitz

Hrusa

There were two major currents in Dvorák’s music personality: the Beethoven/Brahms tradition, and the “New School” of Liszt and Wagner. The former took in the symphonies, concertos, most of the chamber works, and the Symphonic Variations included here. In the latter we find the ope... Continue Reading


Singing Shostakovich

by David Vernier

choralshostakovich

No one would accuse Shostakovich of being a choral composer, and no doubt many fans of his music aren’t aware of the works showcased here–two sets of vocal pieces written in 1951, two years before the end of the Stalin era. Perhaps not surprisingly, given the composer’s “deli... Continue Reading


Rare Vaughan Williams, Pleasantly Played

by David Hurwitz

vaughanWilliamSolent

If only the Chamber Orchestra of New York had a few more strings, this program might have been ideal. As it stands it’s pleasant enough, and the rarity of three items offers a useful opportunity to round out your RVW collection. The Solent, in case you were wondering (the notes don’t bot... Continue Reading


Filling In The Gaps: Ozawa’s Third Mahler First

by David Hurwitz

Mahler1Oz

Ozawa recorded three Mahler symphonies with the Saito Kinen Orchestra: the Second, the Ninth, and the First. The Second and Ninth were released by Sony, and have generally been available one way or another. The First, now on Japanese Decca, has never been easy to find outside of Japan. It’s no... Continue Reading


Handel: Three Magnificent Chandos Anthems

by David Vernier

Handel was fundamentally a theatrical composer, in the sense that no matter what the genre, his guiding principle seems to have been that the ultimate purpose of music is to entertain, to keep the audience in–if not on the edge of–their seats, and to keep them coming back for more. Even ... Continue Reading


Filling in the Gaps: The Best Janácek Opera Suites

by David Hurwitz

janacek-jilek

Frantisek Jílek spent most of his career in Brno, at the head of that town’s orchestra. He was a Janácek specialist, but more than that a very good conductor overall. I haven’t heard a single poor recording from him, and I have no idea what political machinations in communist Czechoslo... Continue Reading


Honeck’s Thrilling Elektra Suite

by David Hurwitz

honeckstrauss

This is juicy. I’m sure that many music lovers have wished that Strauss had made a suite from Elektra. It is, after all, one of his most exciting scores, as well as one of his most symphonically cogent. Well, here it is, courtesy of Manfred Honeck and Tomas Ille, and it’s a doozy. You ge... Continue Reading


Handel’s Piano Concertos, Concluded

by David Hurwitz

handelop7

This series of Handel organ concertos has been splendid, and this concluding disc is no exception. Matthias Kirschnereit sounds completely comfortable with the idiom; he ornaments convincingly, fills in the solo part as necessary, and generally seems to have a great time. Listen to the concluding Bo... Continue Reading


Rare (Relatively) Jochum Haydn

by David Hurwitz

haydnjochum

Eugen Jochum was an outstanding Haydn conductor. His recording of the twelve “London” Symphonies with the London Philharmonic has been in print forever, and deservedly so. His even better (because of the orchestra) recordings of four of the late symphonies, with the Staatskapelle Dresden... Continue Reading

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Big Boxes: The Best of HvK, Really

by David Hurwitz

Karajan 8cd

Every so often a major label offers signs of a guiding intelligence. DG has released a series of boxed sets, eight CDs each, featuring specific orchestras and conductors: Abbado/Chicago, Bernstein/Vienna, Boulez/Cleveland, and this one: Karajan and Berlin. Three of them are not especially attractive... Continue Reading


Gielen’s Superb Mahler Returns, Even More Complete

by David Hurwitz

MahlerGielen

Now reissued on 17 CDs, plus a bonus DVD containing a live concert of the Ninth Symphony, this is practically a Mahler “complete works” edition. Yes, Das klagende Lied is missing, but you get the three major song cycles, Des Knaben Wunderhorn, both the Adagio from the Tenth Symphony plus... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: Richter’s Schubert From Profil

by Jed Distler

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


Big Boxes: Helmut At The Harpsichord

by Jed Distler

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Helmut Walcha’s sober, unselfregarding interpretations of Bach’s organ music relate to this composer much as Otto Klemperer did to the Beethoven symphonies. He brought a similar interpretive outlook in his extended series of Bach harpsichord recordings for German Electrola in the late 1950s and ... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: Rudolf Serkin’s Complete Columbia Recordings

by Jed Distler

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The arrival of Sony/BMG’s complete edition of Rudolf Serkin’s Columbia Masterworks and RCA Victor recordings presents a welcome opportunity to explore his artistry in depth. Serkin was a beacon of the literalist aesthetic that gradually took hold in the mid-20th century in the wake of musicians ... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: 65 Fabulous Cluytens CDs

by David Hurwitz

Cluytens

Belgian-born André Cluytens was a splendid conductor, equally at home in German, French, and Russian music, and this 65 disc set containing his complete orchestral and concerto recordings represents him ideally. There’s a good bit of duplication from mono to stereo, particularly in Beethoven ... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: Erick Friedman’s Complete RCA Recordings

by Jed Distler

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Erick Friedman (1939-2004) came to prominence as a Jascha Heifetz protégé when he recorded the Bach Double Concerto with his mentor. RCA subsequently signed Friedman to a contract, positioning him for a career. However, several incidents thwarted Friedman’s early momentum, including his unsucces... Continue Reading


Samson François’ Idiosyncratic Debussy & Ravel

by Jed Distler

Samson François recorded all of Ravel’s piano music and completed roughly 75 percent of a projected Debussy cycle shortly before his death in 1970 at age 48. Like his mentor Alfred Cortot, François imbued this music with tremendous insight, imagination, and tonal resources. Furthermore, he k... Continue Reading


Bernstein’s DG Beethoven Revisited

by David Hurwitz

Leonard Bernstein’s DG Beethoven cycle has withstood the test of time and remains one of the finest sets available, but I wouldn’t toss out that fat original CD issue in favor of this nifty, slim and trim box. Why? Because DG has foolishly decided to omit the disc of overtures accompanyi... Continue Reading


Bernstein’s Sony Mahler Box Re-Boxed and Re-Coupled

by David Hurwitz

First, let’s understand why this reissue is a typical example of major-label stupidity (no, they never learn). If you’re going to celebrate Bernstein’s Sony recordings of Mahler, why not include them all? For example, Des Knaben Wunderhorn was a major recording, ripe for remasterin... Continue Reading


Markovina Aces CPE Bach, Plus 25 Greatest Hits In Score

by David Hurwitz

CPEMarkovina

This 26-CD set containing CPE Bach’s complete solo piano works represents a landmark of the highest importance and, more significantly, listening pleasure. Ana-Marija Markovina has made a specialty of playing these works. She previously recorded the Prussian and Württemburg sonatas (for Genuin), ... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: Essential Toscanini, Really

by David Hurwitz

Toscanini

This twenty disc set, curated by Christopher Dyment and Harvey Sachs and drawn from RCA’s epic 80+ CD box of Toscanini’s complete authorized recordings, really does constitute an “essential” selection. Fans will quibble, as will I, but you can’t argue that the set conta... Continue Reading


Historical Gems: Hindemith Conducts Hindemith (in Decent Mono)

by David Hurwitz

HindemithConductsHdg

In the early 1950s, DG had the bright idea of asking Hindemith to record his own orchestral works. For a variety of logistical, aesthetic, and financial reasons, it turned out to be a very frustrating experience for everyone, and after three CDs-worth of material, the project got picked up (in stere... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: Karl Böhm’s Early Recordings

by Jed Distler

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Collectors of historical recordings on LP may recall “Karl Böhm in Dresden: A Phonographic Documentary Issued in Honor of his 85th Birthday”. This was a series of boxed sets issued on the German Electrola label, encompassing Böhm’s complete early recordings with the Sächsische Staatskapelle... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: Carl Schuricht’s Complete Decca Recordings

by Jed Distler

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Recalling his first Decca Vienna Philharmonic recording sessions, producer John Culshaw wrote that Carl Schuricht couldn’t make up his mind when it came to the Schubert “Unfinished” Symphony’s first-movement tempo, calling the conductor “senile”. Yet hearing this performance for the firs... Continue Reading


The Pierre Fournier Edition: Get It While You Can!

by Jed Distler

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Aristocratic, elegant, tasteful, cultivated. These are only four clichés that most lazy critics use to describe the artistry of cellist Pierre Fournier, yet those four words constantly came to mind as I reacquainted myself with his Deutsche Grammophon, Decca, and Philips recordings, all gathered to... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: The Vienna Philharmonic Symphony Edition

by David Hurwitz

ViennaSyms

Back in 2012 DG released this 50-CD box of symphonies. A limited edition, like most such projects, it may or may not still be available at time of writing, but in order to understand why the more recent 175th Anniversary Box is such a failure, relatively speaking, we need to examine the contents of ... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: DG’s Random Vienna Philharmonic 175th Anniversary Edition

by David Hurwitz

Vienna175DG

This 45-disc random assortment of material does a singular disservice to the Vienna Philharmonic, but it reveals some interesting facts about the corporate catastrophe that is Universal Music. You would think that because Decca, Philips, and DG effectively constitute a single company, it should be p... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: Abbado’s Frustrating Mahler

by David Hurwitz

MahlerAbb

Abbado’s best Mahler recordings were his earliest, made in Chicago, of Symphonies Nos. 2, 5, 6 and 7. The Chicago First was wrecked by bad early digital sonics: this Berlin remake is demonstrably better. Other fine performances in this set, relatively speaking, include symphonies Nos. 8 and 9. Tru... Continue Reading


Big Boxes: András Schiff’s Beethoven Sonata Cycle

by Jed Distler

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Recorded mostly live in concert at Zürich’s Tonhalle between 2004 and 2007, András Schiff’s Beethoven sonata cycle for ECM finally gets the boxed set treatment. Schiff is similar to pianists as disparate as Schnabel, Kempff, Arrau, and Gulda in that he brings a distinctively individual (and so... Continue Reading

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