Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Rossini - Opera Overtures [Halasz-Zagreb Festival Orchestra]

In my early years of compact disc buying, i bought a fair number of Naxos discs, the idea was that they were cheap, and i could get three for £15, instead of a single full priced disc for £15, that's three times the amount of discs!, it made perfect sense back in the early nineties, now because i almost exclusively buy second-hand, that now not a lot of difference, now i just go purely for the best version, plus over the years i've purged lots of iffy discs, so quite a number of those Naxos discs have fallen by the sword, this is one of those that remain, and regardless of the obscure Orchestra, these are scintillating accounts of the Overtures, been a regular in my Blog [28th August 2010 & 7th January 2013].

Michael Halasz is Hungarian, he's now 77, this recording comes from 1989, i must admit that on the whole i don't like the Naxos philosophy of artwork on their covers, and even the back inserts are not very inventive, however i've fallen in love with the music / performance on the disc.

On this listen i really enjoyed Overtures 1, 3 & 5-6, it's hard to pick a winner, but i think that The Silken Ladder just pips it, here's my thoughts on it,
5 The Silken Ladder [6:20] - Like quite a number of Rossini's Overtures, there's a long introduction, the thing takes time to really get going, with long oboe / woodwind lines, and chattering oboe later, before it explodes into full blown orchestral mode [1:54+], and even then the real heart of the piece keeps revealing itself like layers of an onion [2:22+], with excellent use of chattering oboes [2:28-2:42], the woodwind again have a dialogue back and forth [2:42-2:50], i guess Rossini likes to hand out each piece to a certain instrument, and in this Overture it's certainly the oboes, he repeats everything twice, also Rossini is an expert at rhythms, his Overtures are like well oiled machines!.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Holst - The Planets [Dutoit-Orchestre Symphonique De Montreal]

I seem to be playing this work quite a bit recently, this is the first disc of this work i bought, way back in 1999, and so this is the sort of benchmark i've judged all the other Planets discs on, this version is highly rated, though i must admit it's recorded a tad quiet, appeared in my Blog three years ago [16th April 2012].

Charles Dutoit is Swiss, he's now 78, and this was recorded in 1986, i don't think the front cover is any great shakes, but the music on the inside is great.

On this listening i was most impressed by Mars / Jupiter / Uranus, and this time i felt that Jupiter was the best, it's full of really good tunes, very British, there's a nationalistic flavour to the main tune in the middle, here's my synopsis,
4 Jupiter / The Bringer Of Jollity [8:01] - Jollity?, i guess a sort of jovial mirth, fun if you like, though Holst's choice of word is strange, though in the middle section there's a real sense of contentment!, straight away there's no real intro, right into the celebrations, there's lots of trumpet / brass here [0:33+], busy woodwinds, Holst uses the horns a lot [1:00-1:11], and i love the way Holst brings in the glockenspiel [1:11+], and the flutes [1:26+], the music gets faster and builds up to something, but then comes to a sort of quiet stop, i like the way low twanging strings make a real effect here [2:45-3:02], and then comes the majestic two minute middle section [3:04-5:02], full of swooning strings and noble horns, Holst slowly builds this up to something truly passionate [4:13+], and then in a spirit of grandeur takes it to an apotheosis [4:36+], sounding like some Elgar Pomp and Circumstance March, the opening comes back, and Holst draws all the themes / ideas together, and a nice flourish to end it all off with. 

Here's Andrew Manze conducting Jupiter on YouTube.

Monday, 25 May 2015

Jackson Browne [I'm Alive]

I've had this disc since 1993 when it first came out, and i must have played it dozens of times, it's my sixth most favourite disc of all time, and it's a treasure, plus it's appeared in my Blog twice before [6th May 2010 & 2nd July 2012], Browne here creates a lovely variety of songs, with deep feeling lyrics, and that extra sense of 'time stands still' on certain songs, plus there's a certain something about an album of songs that a greatest hits package can never re-create, and Browne just gets the feel of things right here, each song tells a little bit of the overall story, it's like ten jumbled up chapters of a book!

Jackson Browne is American, he's now 66, this album came out in 1993, it's hard to believe it's already over twenty years old, the front cover shot [by Bruce Weber] shows Browne up to his shoulders in the water, a black and white portrait, nice and sharp, out of focus foreground and background.

The tracks i liked the best were 1-3 & 9, and even though the first three are excellent, it's still this near last one that gets to me, it's my favourite Jackson Browne song,
9 Sky Blue And Black - It starts off a piano solo [0:00-0:11], i guess Browne composed this on the piano, in the credits it's him playing the piano, and the video link too, he starts off singing about a beach scene 'the cries of the seagulls circling the sand', i guess the California coast, and the city is Los Angeles, when the chorus comes in [1:19+], there's a flavour of a reggae guitar, and a sort of synth panpipes, Browne really does have a strong vocal, he sings with real passion, my favourite line 'there's a need to be separate, and a need to be one, and a struggle neither wins', Browne quietens the music down to sing [3:56+] with great effect, the outro is really effective [5:13+], the music takes on a certain coda-esque quality, Browne's piano gently brings things to a close, a phenomenal six minutes of music.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Beethoven - Symphony 5 [Bohm-Wiener Philharmoniker]

I bought this disc back in 2012, from someone in Taiwan i think, this disc isn't available in England and has no barcode, but there's some tremendous discs re-released in the Far East that look so good, i paid a fair price for this, it didn't come cheap, but i worried that it would be a badly recorded live recording or something, as it turns out it's a superb recording, surprisingly very good for 1970 & 1972, but even more important is Bohm's interpretation, music where he lets Beethoven speak, not overdriven and in your face, there's a feel of classic 'this is how it should be done' about it, a great interpretation, this appeared in my Blog a couple of years ago [6th March 2013].

Karl Bohm was Austrian, [1894-1981], this work was recorded in 1970, this Japanese re-packaging is tremendous, the front cover photo is stunningly superb, a crystal clear shot of the Musikverein in Vienna, incandescently lit by those chandeliers, it gives it a tremendous glow, one of the best booklet front covers i know, but the music on the inside is even better!.

Both of these Symphonies are excellently played here, the Fourth is the best version i've ever heard, and the Fifth isn't that far behind, and it was the first movement of the Fifth that i really enjoyed the most, i played this disc while travelling to Reading on the bus, i had it on full volume, and it's slightly recorded low, not the greatest place to play a work when you want a tad more volume, the very opening can seem subdued, i have a recording where Ashkenazy really gets some dynamite out of the opening motif, and Bohm can sound just a bit too laid back in comparison, but there's an architectural long term payback to his approach, it works in the longer scheme of things, it really does sound like what Beethoven wanted, and listening to it now without bus engine distraction, it really does sound menacing enough, well what can i say about Beethoven's revolutionary opening?, it's so profound, it must have stunned audiences hearing it for the first time, Bohm brings out the architecture of the piece so well, one jigsaw piece fits so perfectly into the next, he's not someone who uses short term devices to make a point, but everything seems to be played for long term benefit, the sound really is incredibly good considering the age, plus i can still here individual instruments in the mix, especially the woodwind, a fantastic achievement all round.

Here's Bohm conducting the Fifth on YouTube.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Various Composers - Italian Overtures / Intermezzi / Preludes [Gavazzeni-Orchestra Del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino]

This is my fourth listen to this disc, and my third to get in my Blog [17th November 2010 & 28th December 2011], it's an excellent little compendium of eight Italian Composers, and there's a tendency to delve into the less well known stuff, and that's very welcome indeed, it was good to familiarise myself with some of these 'unknown' pieces today.

Gianandrea Gavazzeni is Italian [1909-1996], mainly an Opera Conductor, which explains the pieces on this disc, he recorded this disc way back in 1957 and 1958, which explains the oldness of the recording, still excellent by the way, and in stereo, the front cover portrait is really excellent [by Leonardo Cendamo], a clear focused shot of Gavazzeni wearing a hat, nice light on his upturned face, love the lettering too, listing the Composers.

Well this recording is fairly old, it needs some more warmth / bass to it, a certain bloom i guess, but it's still amazing for something that's nearly sixty years old, on this listen it was Ponchielli's Waltz Of The Hours i liked the best, but i also thought tracks 2-5 & 8 were excellent too, and it's track 4 Catalini's La Wally Prelude that i found so endearing, it's actually the prelude to Act 4 of the Opera, it starts with shimmering low strings, probably violas, with ghostly high woodwinds [0:00-1:08], it's wonderfully mysterious music, an offstage solo trumpet joins in [1:08-1:35] the thing then returns to the opening again [1:36-2:02], the higher strings come in with harp, Catalani makes a real varied and atmospheric canvas, lighter music comes in, shimmering violins with flutes, and pizzicato lower strings with a tambourine [3:15-3:41], now that's some heady combination!, and very effective musically too, the music gets angry with the high violins [3:59+], and then dark clouds of brass come in [4:20+], with intense strings in the background, lots of tragedy here, Catalini can't help but bring the wonderful opening back again [5:28-6:05], this time subdued, as the music then takes on a more noble conclusion, woodwinds give some sort of coda [6:38+], the end is gentle and beautiful, it's really something worth getting to know, it will be a firm favourite every time you get to hear it.

Here's Gavazzeni playing this Prelude on YouTube.

Friday, 22 May 2015

Beethoven - Piano Trio 7 'Archduke' [Trio Fontenay]

This is a really fantastic set of the Beethoven Piano trios, ditching a few of the pieces that haven't got opus numbers, it's all squeezed onto three discs, i must admit that the three early Trios [Opus 1/1-3] are fairly quaint, no great shakes here, and it's only really in 5 & 7 that you truly feel that they can be called masterpieces, Beethoven's Archduke Trio is one of the very greatest Chamber music works to ever be written, the first time i ever heard its noble themes [Kempff / Szeryng / Fournier on DG], i was stunned by the sheer universal and 'orchestralness' of the work, Beethoven here saves some of his most sublime melodies not for a great Symphony or Concerto, but for the humble Piano Trio, it's a testament to the genius of Beethoven, that he doesn't need a Choral Symphony with vast forces to speak to mankind, he can do it just as well through three people, this work stunned me again today.

The Trio Fontenay are from Germany, they were active in the years 1980-2006, and they recorded this work in 1992, now i love the front picture [by Klaus Thumser], a low shot of the trio with their instruments, the blue sky really does something, very well lighted, and the lettering is a treat.

All of the four movements were a real treat, especially 1 & 3, and it's this third movement variations which was absolutely spiritual it was so good, Beethoven has this ability to build this movement up and up, to the point you forget about music, and just bask in perfection,
Theme [0:00-1:54] - It starts with the most sublime and gorgeous theme on the piano, a Cantabile that the violin and cello both join in on, there's a feeling that time stands still here.
Variation 1 [1:54-3:21] - The piano plays a slightly more complex accompaniment, while the cello and piano take it in turns to play the melody, the Pianist really develops an intensity here.
Variation 2 [3:21-4:44] - Both the violin and cello start to throw around the theme in a fun staccato way, but there's still an underlying sadness to the variation.
Variation 3 [4:44-6:08] - The piano gets more complex, and louder in places, and both the violin and cello join together as a duo in just keeping a sort of beat, the piano really does stretch its legs with virtuosity.
Variation 4 [6:08-8:15] - The fourth variation has some of the most tender music in it, all the players contribute equally, and Beethoven ekes out the most his chosen melody, the violin really starts to throw the aching sadness card into the mix [6:43-7:15], and it develops this fantastic otherworldliness.
Variation 5 [8:15-11:19] - A funny mix of a variation, the piano gets really serious, and then later i lose my way, the music seems to change key and turn into a serenade [9:28+] it's so beautiful, the violin and cello are heartbreaking [10:08+], i guess there's a sort of coda in there [10:50+], it contains some of the most endearing music Beethoven ever penned.

Here's the Trio Fontenay on YouTube, playing a sampling of the the second movement.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Brahms - Violin Concerto [Repin/ Chailly-Gewandhaus Orchester]

And yet another disc that gets its maiden voyage here, i have ten discs in my collection of this Concerto, and none of them are a clear 'winner' / favourite, so it's good to have a new disc, and certainly the Repin / Chailly combination is a good one, at one time i would have called this my favourite Concerto, i'm really not sure now, certainly i play Bruch or Mendelssohn more, but the Brahms is full of great things.   

Vadim Repin comes from Russia, he's 43, he recorded this disc in 2008, the front cover portrait is a great one [by Mat Hennek], a dark brown & white shot, really sharp, you can see the individual stubble on his chin!, i like the lettering, also the back cover is well laid out, Repin on a park bench with his violin.

The big long first movement is really impressive, here it stands at nearly 23 minutes long, and i can't help thinking that Brahms is using the Beethoven Concerto as his model, the timings are eerily similar, plus they're both in D major, Brahms Concerto starts fairly stodgily, but the solo oboe comes in [0:19+], a premonition for the second movement?, and the quickly the whole thing takes off with a real vibrancy [0:52+], the intro is fairly long [0:00-2:46], and yes i really can see the homage to Beethoven now, the almost up and down the scales practising, i do feel there's more 'tunes' in the Brahms, the orchestra at times play with such a might [9:08-9:34], but then afterwards can be so sweet [9:34-9:57], certainly Repin really does get inside the virtuosity of it all [11:37-12:37], and also the poetry / charm of the music [12:52-13:24], Repin gives the Heifetz cadenza in the first movement [17:29-20:58], yes it's different than the Joachim, takes some getting used to, but it's good to hear something fresh, after the cadenza Repin weaves some beautiful long lines, creating a gorgeous coda [20:58-22:17], before ending the whole thing with a flourish.

Here's Repin playing the Brahms Concerto on YouTube.