Mstation Classical Reviews

Valid RSS pre Dec 04 reviews are here

Fri, 06 Mar 2009

New RSS system and Feeds

For a long time we've been running separate instances of Blosxom to handle
our two categories of News, as well as our Reviews and Commentary to do with
books, classical music, pop/dance/etc music, games, and podcasts. Blosxom has
served us very well but always had some problems playing well on a PHP site ...
integration proved difficult.

So now we've installed a Wordpress system which offers quite a few advantages.
First of all, all the categories can be easily browsed within one page plus it's
very easy to add something new or disappear something.

Hopefully, you'll like it! Here is the page ...

The feeds can be subscribed to by mousing over the categories on the right
hand side of the page. The new feeds are as follows:

classical music
news: general
news: music, games

We will keep the present feeds running until perhaps the end of April,
so no great rush, although news items will be posted to the new feeds
from today... March 6 09.

[] permanent link

Sat, 28 Feb 2009

Llibre Vermell

Llibre Vermell
Choeur de Chambre de Namur

You will no doubt have come across some of the Belgian abbey beers, which are brewed to centuries old recipes and are smooth and beautiful. Such as their Christmas beer packs a fair wallop as well but you'd be silly to be taken by surprise as the taste, while still being smooth, has a certain heaviness.

From the same sort of place comes these three movements. Pilgrims came to this certain place and stayed around to perform vigils, and from to time they liked to have a bit of a jolly dance to loosen up as it were. Needless to say the Abbots and other people in charge were anxious that the dances be pious and respectable - bacchanalian revels would get everyone into trouble and would lead to a fair amount of time performing acts of contrition.

And so you might expect something a little watered down and insipid ... and it is true, it doesn't rock along. It has, however, a lovely spare beauty with a rich intermingling of voices that will send little bursts of warmth around your head. It is very nicely performed and recorded as well.

And now for a post-Christmas Christmas beer. (Baron K)

[] permanent link

Fri, 30 Jan 2009

Bach, Mutter

J.S. Bach, Violin Concerto in A minor, Violin concerto in E major
Sofia Gubaidulina, In tempus praesens
Anne-Sofie Mutter
London Symphony Orchestra
Valery Gergiev 
Deutsche Grammophon

This is Anne-Sofie Mutter's first Bach recording for Deutsche Grammophon and along with two concertos by the great man there is a modern one by Sofia Gubaidulina. Opinions will vary as to how well these two sit together but people who are interested in Mutter primarily should be quite satisfied.

The second piece isn't completely random though: Gubaidulina is a Russian who has lived in Germany since 1997 and who is inspired by Bach, and who has won prizes in Germany for modern classical music.

Mutter's work here is as usual - rather nice and the recording is of high quality. With DG you even get a decent quality jewel case and insert but don't we all look forward to a larger next format where we can have decent type sizes and less cramped designs. Forget downloads. (Jean le Tellier)

[] permanent link

Purcell Sonatas

Purcell, Sonatas of 3 Parts 1683,
Pavlo Beznosiuk, Rachel Podger,
Christopher Coin, Christopher Hogwood
Editions de l'Oiseau - Lyre

Well, I thought, seeing "Editions de l'Oiseau", absolutely typical that one has to go to France to hear this sort of music by this greatest of English composers. And sonatas too. It's a bit more complicated than that though, as can be seen by reading the list of players. This CD was actually recorded in Emmanuel College, Cambridge in 1994.

The Editions de l'Oiseau was founded back in 1973 with the idea of recording period music with period instruments - quite a new idea then. Subsequently, l'Oiseau was acquired by Decca, and this recording is from their archive.

These sonatas were almost a throwaway from Purcell. He wanted to make people aware of what was happening in Italy at the time and to become less enslaved of the music of France (which Charles II was very keen on). His model might have been Archangelo Corelli or possibly Vitali, Cazzati, and Colista.

It is a lovely recording and being able to hear Purcell Sonatas is somewhat of a rarity so I recommend it to you. (Baron K)

[] permanent link

Thu, 27 Nov 2008

Purcell - Dido and Aeneas

Purcell - Dido and Aeneas special dance version by Sasha Walz DVD, Arthaus Musik

Quite recently I had a look at two DVD's from Arthaus and I'm back with another so soon after coming across this one quite by accident. If a DVD demands some visual value for it to be worthwhile then this one has that in spades. It will also upset Puritans ... which is completely fine with me.

It opens with a big tank in which people are swimming in a sort of dance-like way. There are pretty limbs and the occasional breast and, of course, Purcell's gorgeous music.

In case you're wondering, yes, this version is different to the original in a few ways, not least of which is that it's about fifty minutes longer and has all the dance things going on. The original had room for Divertisements - baroque dance interludes - but these are, of course, gone.

There are some nice moments in the modern dance - the lovely dance of Cupid done by a young boy and various other writhings and jumpings about. There is a nice restrained eroticism that runs through it all, which is highly appropriate as this is a love story after all.

I wonder if the puritan thought police have been attacking it. Just parenthetically, I recently came across a story where an Armani Junior ad had been withdrawn because some people had complained that it made them feel funny, and that such an ad was certain to get paedophiles heading straight for the local playground. These people are quite certifiable I think and should be put in nice clean white rooms where they can set about cleaning out their polluted hearts.

Yes, I digress: the eroticism here in this DVD is quite mild and unlikely to upset anyone with even a mild degree of sophistication. It's not for everyone though - traditionalists might regard it as akin to an unknown musician using samples from someone famous to advance themselves. And Baroque Opera is lovely in its own right. The dance that rightfully accompanies it is also beautiful, light and elegant - like the music itself.

Another aspect was the idea of having both singers and dancers on the stage. This works quite well for the chorus but looks a little silly when you have two Didos and two Aeneas (Aeneai?) on stage at the same time - this was particularly noticeable (shall we say) during Dido's lament.

If you're a Purcell fan then you should just have it as it is at the very least interesting. And if you're not a Purcell fan it is interesting in its own right. Now I'm waiting for a full and proper version of Fairey Queen. (Baron K)

[] permanent link

Tue, 28 Oct 2008


various, Maria Cecilia Bartoli Orchestra La Scintilla, Adam Fischer, Decca

For some reason the Classical labels are making a more interesting fist of coming up with new ways of showing value to customers than the Pop people. Whether that's because the Pops have just given up under the weight of their own whining I don't know.

This release is a case in point - in the form of a hardback book with two CD's embedded in the back cover. The contents of both the book and the CD´s are to do with that interesting diva from the past, Maria Malibran and who better to celebrate her than the great Cecilia Bartoli herself?

The various numbers are taken from tour dates of Miss Malabran - from London, New York, Paris, Brussels, Naples, and Milan with the dates ranging from 1825 to the year of Malabran's death, 1836.

Bellini features prominently, along with Hummel, Mendelssohn, and Malabran herself. Naturally enough, Bartolli makes it all sound as nice as one would expect. (Baron K)

[] permanent link

Wed, 01 Oct 2008

Haydn, Handel DVD's

This month I had a look at two DVD's from Arthaus Musik featuring Handel's Messiah and Hayden's The Creation - two quite religious themes which I happened to watch on a Sunday. This made me feel quite good as I do actually go to church but haven't managed it much lately.

I had noticed Arthaus a few years back as they caught my eye with various offerings and in the meantime they have grown quite a lot and have recently acquired the TDK name as well so their catalogue has suddenly grown large and has quite a nice quality feel to it.

One of the problems with music DVD's has been the production. We shouldn't have any qualms about looking at the scenes as that's what we do when we attend concerts or operas although, I imagine, there are quite a few people who don't watch very closely during a concert. The problem has been one of perspective - operas, for example, are staged and costumed to be watched from a certain distance and if a camera is up a soloist's nose, everything that has been carefully planned by the makeup and costume people goes out the window and we're frequently left with this rather exagerrated figure. Similarly, the staging frequently looks a little silly when subjected to a closeup view. As well as that, the mental soundstage becomes confused as we trip around the hall with no change in the sound qualities. What to do? It's actually quite difficult. With new recordings (and many of the issues are from TV recordings of the past - The Creation is from 1992) a proper soundfield could be recorded and the mix altered accordingly with the camera cuts... but subtly and not to the full real affect. Stages and makeup designed for the event would be good as well. One problem with all this is that it would cost a fortune and so there would be a likelihood of a very limited repertoire - one that many, in advance, would regard as dumbed down. We shall see what, if anything, happens.

Haydn's The Creation was filmed in a lovely Rococco church somewhere (couldn't find any reference in the notes as to where) with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and the Festival Choir of Lucerne, with Peter Schreier conducting. It is rather a nice piece of music and sounded quite lovely in the old church. In this work there also echoes of the work of the subject of the other DVD for the month - namely Mr. Handel. We have a little double-dotting and a few trills from the singers but this is its own work and comparisons of this kind can be odious - best to enjoy it for what it is.

Handel's Messiah is as well-known a piece of music as you can get. This version is from the Brandenburg Consort along with the choir of King's College Cambridge, and conducted by Stephen Cleobury. As Handel was from Halle in Brandenburg-Prussia, the former is a nice, though perhaps accidental, touch. It was shot at the Pieterskerk in Leiden, Netherlands, in 1993 and was a TV production originally. With those musical elements you'd hardly expect this to be anything other than a first class production - and so it is. (Baron K)

[] permanent link

Mon, 01 Sep 2008

Schubert and Mozart piano

Schubert, piano quintet "Trout"
Mozart, piano quartet in E flat
Yefim Bronfman
Pinchas Zukerman
Jethro Marks
Amanda Forsyth
Joel Quarrington,
Sony BMG

In honour of the Schubert piece, this CD has pictures of trout fishing flies on its cover. Ah, I thought, trout fishing! It's been a little while, and then I had visions of a bankside summer's day, the buzzing of insects under a shady tree, and a trout taken, and eaten at a nearby hostelry, and washed down by quantities of a fine French white - the whole of which I haven't actually experienced yet.

Yes, I do digress but I did wonder whether the Schubert piece would be programatically redolent of any of this. No, it wasn't but it is a rather nice piece of music and is, apparently, the favourite of a great many people. It was written in Steyr, Austria and is said to reflect Schubert's love of the beauty of the region.

Mozart is credited with the founding of the piano quartet but beyond that I'm not quite sure why these pieces are together other than Austrianness - thematically, and musically, they don't flow at all. The Schubert piece delightfully winds itself around its theme whereas the Mozart is more lugubrious and heavy-handed... almost like an excercise turned out in slight boredom for people who weren't liked that much. I imagine more than a few people will disagree with my assessment. (Baron K)

[] permanent link

Sun, 06 Jul 2008

Virginal -Susann van Soldt

various, The Susanne van Soldt Virginal Book, Guy Penson, Ricercar

A virginal, in case you were wondering, is in this context at least, a musical instrument and was quite popular in the Low Countries at the time of the late Renaissance.

This very pleasant and quite sprightly CD is taken from a manuscript dated 1599 which belonged to Susanne van Soldt and consisted of an anthology of tunes of the time and which included a fair number of Psalms in Dutch.

The virginal sounds a bit like a thickened up harpsichord. This particular one is a "mother and child" which ingeniously incorporated a smaller instrument inside the larger one which extended the upper end of the instrument's reach. It is well played here by Guy Penson and the result is quite pleasing. (Baron K)

[] permanent link

Tue, 03 Jun 2008

Bach Viola

J.S. Bach, Die Sonaten fur Viola
da gamba und Cembalo,
Jordi Savall
Ton Koopman,

A little Bach, or better, a lot of Bach, every once in a while, is good for the soul I think. Some might quibble with the regularity of the pulses and feel better with, say, Mozart, or later still, with the great open fields (and dark forests) of Wagner.

This is a quibble, and it's not much of one and might be just a mood born of hearing a little too much techno thump-thump, and if we move to the harmony then all should be forgiven.

These sonatas were originally thought to have been from an early period of Bach's output but more recent scholarship places them later. I'm not sure it matters except that these are said to be amongst the few that don't conform to some grand design. One might suspect that they were "just" excercises but with Bach "just" does become a rather bigger word.

This recording is nice enough with two gifted musicians playing. I'm tempted to question the microphone choise and placement though... to me, it is too close and there are sounds you would only hear if you were the musicians themselves. (Baron K)

[] permanent link

Wed, 30 Apr 2008

Monterverdi, Orfeo

Monteverdi, Orfeo
Concerto Italiano

The two discs for this also come with a nice thick booklet with lots of nice illustrations as well as a very interesting essay on the history of opera and its early styles as well as Monteverdi's place in it - which was a follow on of the Florentine absorbtion in an imagined sort of Greek classicism. Imagined, because no-one knew just what ancient Greek music sounded like (no bouzouki jokes please). The sorts of things that exercised their brains was the relationship of voice to music and the styles of both. The purists imagined a rather simple but powerful style.

The style of Orfeo is Monteverdi's inspired take on all this which wouldn't have been altogether loved by the purists but was, nevertheless, powerful and reasonably simple harmonically.

This particular release is notable for the considerable brio that sometimes enters the performance. Quite often this sort of thing is performed in a very mannerly way, which is actually quite suitable and pleasant. I wouldn't like to say which way was "right" but both are valid and both (as lomg as "mannerly" doesn't mean "plodding") are very nice to listen to. The recording quality on this one is excellent as well. (Baron K)

[] permanent link

Mon, 24 Mar 2008

Beethoven and Brahms

Brahms had a great deal of trouble in getting out of Beethoven's long shadow, in the sense of having his own voice. His friend Robert Schumann had been urging him to compose his first symphony but Brahms was unsure at first of producing something strong enough, and good enough, to stand on its own ... without unfavourable, or even favourable comparisons with the grumpy old master. He had, it is said, a few false starts that ended up being parts of other works.

Out on a Pentatone Super Audio CD (which plays fine in an ordinary player), and with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra conducted by German, Marek Janowski, is modern evidence that he succeeded in his aims, and now the lush and sweeping romanticism of his works stands quite on its own.

In the same breath I should also mention a box set of Beethoven Symphonies - 'The Complete Symphonies' with the New York Symphony conducted by Bruno Walter. This is a digitally remastered version, all 6hrs 51 of it, and is out on United Archives at quite aa reasonable price.

(Baron K)

[] permanent link

Fri, 29 Feb 2008

Handel Arias

I haven't had a listen to good old Mr. Handel for a little while so, with the usual disclaimer that I find collections a bit obnoxious, I looked forward to listening to DG's Archiv Produktion release of Magdalena Kozena's Handel Arias with the Venice Baroque Orchestra.

The first point was that I hadn't heard or heard of the Venice Orchestra before. People will tell you that Venice is just as beautiful and mysterious as everyone else says but that decent music, in a church or elsewhere, was very hard to come by. By the sound of this disc I'd say there was at least a little - if they're ever at home. I've planned for some years to be decadent in a pallazo by a canal so perhaps I'll make an extra effort to go now even if I've missed the best of the decadence by two hundred years or so.

The mezzo, Magdalena Kozena, is worth a listen as well - just as well - I suppose there are people who buy vocal music for the backing, but I've never heard of anyone doing this. Anyway, her style is not quite as delicate as I prefer but she does have power, clarity, and versatility and she handles Handel (sorry, couldn't resist) with aplomb and believability. It is possible, though, that I'm being unfair, or at the least, leaping to conclusions about the qualities of her voice. Have you ever taken a violin or voice CD out and about to audition speaker/amplifier combinations? That experience can be truly eye-popping - the amount of difference, particularly in the highs and high-mids is huge even between items of similar price. I listened to this CD on decent but unspectacular headphones.

A little later, after listening to the Kozena CD, and completely by accident, I happened to hear the German tenor, Johann Kaufmann singing some Romantic songs while accompanied by a pianist. It was a smallish room and there was no amplification and so the purity of the sound was unsullied. This is the way to go of course, the real thing. But it's not always handy or possible to fit a tenor or a mezzo in the back of your car along with the necessary instrumentation. (Baron K)

[] permanent link

Tue, 05 Feb 2008

Boxed Baroque

I hope you had a pleasant Christmas and that 2008 treats you well. I usually spend Christmas in rural France and this year was no exception, as you might have gathered from my last column. Alas, France is going the Roundhead way - no more liesurely cigar with coffee after dinner in a restaurant or cafe, and more pertinently for this column, the non-drinking, non-smoking jogger, Sarkozy (a business Roundhead's wet dream if ever there was), is seen as a great threat by the many musical organisations that receive government help. I'm familiar with the arguement that if culture can't live commercially, it should be left to die and as you might guess, I take a loftier view and disagree. For one thing, mass "culture" is so gut-cringingly awful, and so bought-and-paid-for that there has to be some escape. I'm sure that support of these people lowers the national mental health bill.

Of course these things usually don't die completely. There are many performance societies in places like the USA where they play to friends and family and have a very nice time doing so. Look up your local ones (the web is the best place to look and church noticeboards can be helpful too) and see what's going on why not?

All of this is by way of introduction to a 20 CD boxset I just found. It's from Warners and is dedicated to French baroque - tous les genres! - as they exclaim: opera, divertisments, sacred, grand motet, ballet, and more! The players are star-studded and the composers are who you'd expect plus some names not many would recognise. The set is called 200 ans de Musique a Versailles - 200 years of music at Versailles. (Baron K)

[] permanent link

Mon, 03 Dec 2007

Almost Christmas

As I write the Christmas lights are about to come on in places where there is still a little good taste about such things. It is, if not exactly exciting, at least a pleasure to look forward to - a little treat in the early gloom of winter. Soon too, the hours of daylight will start to lengthen again and we will be cruising towards the seasonal delights of spring and summer.

For many years, I have spent Christmas in France and they do a few things differently there. They have Christmas dinner on the evening of the 24th and open their presents late that same night. Christmas day is very quiet and on Boxing Day they are back to work. Christmas cards are not so frequently sent and are fairly kitsch when they do. The shops selling CD's also don't have collections of Carols at all that I've seen. It's not too strange: these things were the inventions or updatings of the English mercantile bourgeoisie and could be expected to be rejected out of hand.

Two box sets have caught my eye however. The first is called Joyaux Baroques (presumably Joyous Barocque in Anglophone countries... or something similar if I've mispelled the "b" word). It's from Marc Minkowski and the Musiciens du Louvre and so you know it is going to be something nice before opening it. There are four CD's with selections from Charpentier, Lully, Rameau and another beginning with "M". ahem. All of this comes from Erato.

The other is Musique Sacree (Sacred Music, as you guessed) and features Mr. Haydn, and is presented by Nikolaus Harnoncourt and the Concentus musicus Wien. This comes on four CD's as well and is out on Teldec. Both of these labels are Warners by the way.

If you are living in a politically correct country where your own culture is being denied so that it doesn' offend newcomers, you might like to play this second selection loudly so that you can explain to doorknockers what that aspect of Christmas is about. My experience is that newcomers are interested rather than offended.

I hope that you have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and that you find a civilised country in which to smoke your cigars.

[] permanent link