Recordings

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

Recordings III: Ives, Copland, and Ginastera

Charles Ives

What does the music of Charles Ives sound like with an Australian orchestra and a British conductor? Different, one is tempted to to say, but not really. We’ve become used to our Ives done New York style, with Broadway snap and brass. No one gets that wrong. But Ives was a New Englander, and the disruptive elements in his music have perhaps been overstressed. He always explained that bits of band marches and Americana in the Second Symphony were present to remind him of his youth, not shock Horatio parker, his music teacher. And the famous razzy “non-chord” at the end was meant to evoke dance bands sending everyone home with a screech–not annoy the professor!

A Crop of Recordings II: Elgar, Rachmaninoff, Strauss, Schmitt, Magnard, and Beethoven

Conductor Ernest Ansermet (1883 Vevey - 1969 Geneva)

About a year ago Sarah Connolly, Andrew Davis and the BBC Symphony brought us rich rolling Sea Pictures as part of their Gerontius CD set for Chandos. In that voluptuous traversal Sarah Connolly sings like the golden girl who would be queen. This is grand Elgar in the tradition of Janet Baker, where soft low notes yearn and consecrate. At times the “r”s roll and things veer imperial. But there is another, more intimate way to woo these chords. It struck me immediately. Alice Coote nearly whispers the music to you like a woman in love. It isn’t a question of volume, of course. Coote sings all the dynamics as written. It’s her manner, so personal, so confessional. It matters less that her voice is slightly lighter than Connolly’s or that the orchestra’s pulse is less nautical. This isn’t tourist Elgar. This is three o’clock in the morning Elgar. And at that hour intimate tears are welcome.

A Crop of Recordings I: Shostakovich, Scriabin, Schönberg, Nielsen, Brahms, Strauss, and a Piano Recital

Steven Kruger—with the kind permission of Fanfare Magazine—here begins a series of reviews of recorded music. All these are from CDs and SACDs, but of course the download is rapidly becoming a more important source for recordings. Of course the rest of us will be chipping in as well!

Wagner, Tannhäuser Overture. Sibelius, Symphony No. 2 – the BSO’s first recording under Andris Nelsons

Nelson's debut recording with the BSO

I don’t think I have heard the Boston Symphony sound this full and deep since Koussevitzky. This CD inaugurates Andris Nelsons’ era at the helm of the BSO and signals a reinforcement of the orchestra’s considerable strengths in the more brooding side of the continental repertory.

Sviatoslav Richter (1915 – 1997) on Disc: Hunting the Snark

Angelic demon.

Two musical instruments rise above all others in their humanity — the violin, because it comes closest to imitating the singing voice, and the piano, because it comes closest to conveying human nature. As human nature is vast, so is pianism. You can sequester yourself from territory that is too hot, cold, angry, lustful, domineering, or terrifying. Some pianists base their whole career on safely walling off the troubling aspects of human perversity (Alfred Brendel comes to mind, with his ability to make even Liszt wipe off his shoes at the door), while only one has been courageous enough to venture without a care into heaven and hell.

The Music of Mozart’s Last Months: La Clemenza di Tito at Emmanuel, Die Zauberflöte at Salzburg under Furtwängler, 1951, and Beecham’s Requiem from Pristine.

The primary occasion for this writing was Emmanuel Music’s fine performance of Mozart’s last opera, La Clemenza di Tito, under Music Director Ryan Turner. However, two extraordinary recordings of works Mozart composed during those busy final months of his life have appeared, as downloads from Pristine Classics, and they are not only magnificent in themselves, but they provide an enlightening context for this somewhat elusive opera seria. These recordings are of the legendary 1951 Salzburg performance of Die Zauberflöte under Wilhelm Furtwängler in the spectacularly improved sound we have come to expect from Andrew Rose, and a magnificent studio recording of the Requiem under Sir Thomas Beecham from 1954-56.

“Music for a Time of War” – The Oregon Symphony under Carlos Kalmar play Ives, Adams, Britten, and Vaughan Williams on a Pentatone Release…Highly Recommended!

The Review has quite a backlog of recordings piled up, and we hope to make our way through as many as we can. I especially wanted to make note of this full concert recording by the Oregon Symphony, not only because our own Steven Kruger wrote the perceptive and witty program notes, but because of its exceptional musical quality and its truly extraordinary recording. A multichannel recording from Pentatone Classics, which released the Berlin concert performance of Der fliegende Holländer under Marek Janowski reviewed a few months ago, it amazed me with its timbral and spatial naturalness. It most definitely belongs in the reference collection of any audiophile, whether they are inclined to multichannel playback or not. I listened to it in stereo on headphones, using an SACD-compatible player.

Richard Wagner, Der fliegende Holländer: the beginning of Marek Janowski’s Historic Series of Concert Performances of the Ten Mature Operas and Music Dramas

Since his renowned 1980-83 recording of Wagner’s Ring with the Dresdener Staatskapelle, Marek Janowski has acquired a cult following, especially in Wagner, not unlike Jascha Horenstein or Reginald Goodall. His steady, active tempi and decisive phrasing evoke an older performance style which goes back, it is thought, to the days of Richter, Seidl, and Mottl. Janowski, when asked if he studied historical performances of Wagner expressed his devotion to Wilhelm Furtwängler and an admiration for the Bayreuth performances of Hans Knappertsbusch, which, he points out, are not at all as slow as is generally thought. Janowski’s own mentor in conducting was Wolfgang Sawallisch, who left an easily noticeable mark on Janowski’s mature style as a conductor, with his restraint and and constant vigilance over orchestral balances, as well as the balance of dramatic flow and structure. In fact, there is a good deal in common that one can hear in the performance under consideration and Sawallisch’s 1961 Bayreuth performance. “Ein guter Meister…”

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