Recordings

The best, and sometimes the worst, in recorded music.

A Crop of Recordings XVI: Elgar, The Dream of Gerontius and the First and Second Symphonies played by the Berliner Staatskapelle under Daniel Barenboim

Edward Elgar

If Gerontius died today, it would probably be at a hospital with no Cardinal Newman to record his passing and no Sir Edward Elgar to create his beautiful dream of a masterpiece. And, one supposes too, there’d be no Daniel Barenboim to bring the work to Germany so powerfully as he does here, details and quibbles to follow. We don’t immortalize last words and thoughts the way we used to.

A Crop of Recordings XV: Bizet, Brahms, Dvořák,and Jongen!

Joseph Jongen

As well-written program notes remind us here, Georges Bizet was an unlucky man. Chain-smoking killed him at 36. He died thinking Carmen a failure. And his Symphony in C went unknown and unheard until Felix Weingartner unearthed it eighty years later at a 1935 concert in Basel. None of this gets in the way of the fact that the piece is memorable from beginning to end, even if similarities to Gounod’s symphony are a bit on the suspicious side. Bizet’s own symphonic effort was catalysed by the experience of transcribing Gounod’s work for two pianos. At times one can hardly tell the two pieces apart.

A Crop of Recordings XIV: Richard Strauss, Bruckner, Brahms, and Wagner

Richard Strauss Conducting

Here is a really lovely performance of Ein Heldenleben, perfectly recorded in Frankfurt’s Alte Oper. From the very first note—that rich ocean-liner steam whistle signifying a voyage through life—it’s satisfying—if, that it is—you like things a bit understated. You are sitting about row “K,” and the orchestra is laid out before you at a slight distance. Listeners familiar with the many videos of this orchestra on YouTube will not be disappointed at the fine balances and purring nature of the sound. This is a satiny, swift reading, gently beautiful, supple and romantic in an undemonstrative way. It reminds me of Reiner’s and Kempe’s versions, both of which bring the piece home similarly at around 45 minutes.

A Crop of Recordings XIII: Richard Strauss, Hans Rott, Alberto Ginastera, Robert Schumann, and Gabriel Fauré

Alberto Ginastera with Cat

This is a groundbreaking recording—and a wonderful one! I first became aware of Elektra on an old Fritz Reiner/Inge Borkh LP of excerpts. The unusual violence of Strauss’s harmonies appealed to my teenage ears. Not long after, Georg Solti taped the complete opera, though without, I felt, the same crushing power from the podium as Reiner. But the sound of the orchestral score remained with me, and I always hoped someone would put together a suite. It’s taken 54 years in my case—but here it is!

A Generous Collection of Works by Marie Jaëll from the Centre de Musique Romantique Française (Palazzetto Bru Zane, Venice)/Ediciones Singulares

Marie Jaëlle (1846-1925)

Lovers of nineteenth-century music will want to know about the remarkable work of the Centre de Musique Romantique Française. The Center, founded in 2009, is run primarily by scholars from France but is located in Venice, at the Palazetto Bru Zane. It engages in research—and provides financial support—for concerts, opera performances, print publications, and numerous recordings. Many of these recordings are multiple-CD sets that come with a small hardbound book containing—in French and English—informative essays and sung texts and translations. The Center organizes these CD/book combinations into three categories: “French Opera” (11 releases so far), “[Composer] Portraits” (3 releases), and “Prix de Rome” (6 releases—compositions written by student composers at the Paris Conservatoire, such as the young Debussy). All the CD/books are produced and published by the Center itself, but Amazon.com and other record distributors tend to refer to them, instead, by the name of the firm that manufactures the book: Ediciones Singulares (El Escorial, Spain).

A Crop of Recordings X

This CD has already become a favored and frequented member of my collection. Chandos has a long and successful history of recording the BBC Philharmonic, but this is the first recording I’ve encountered from their new venue in MediaCity, Salford. I’m happy to report that the transparency, fine balances and smooth listenability of the old Studio 3 are alive and well in the new facility. And the performances, under recently appointed Music Director Juanjo Mena, are as idiomatic and atmospheric as one could hope for.

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