Mstation Classical Reviews

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Fri, 30 Jun 2006

Weiss / Lindberg Lute

Silvius Leopold Weiss, Music for Lute
Jakob Lindberg

Silvius Leopold Weiss composed these pieces for lute in the first half of the eighteenth century. He was born in Silesia but ended up in the court at Dresden and was the highest paid instrumentalist in the Hofkapelle.

The pieces here are rather nice - muted as you'd expect of a single lute, and reflective. The actual instrument used is a Sixtus Rauwolf lute from 1590 which was purchased by Jakob Lindberg at Sotheby's.

It's a very pleasant 73'14 for those who like this period of music. (Baron K)

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Wagner, Gotterdammerung DVD

Richard Wagner, Gotterdammerung
Heinz Krause, Wolfgang Schone, Henk Smit,
Jeannine Altmeyer
Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra
Hartmut Haenchen
Pierre Audi
3 DVD's, Opus Arte

One thing about Mr. Wagner and his kuntesartsmusick is that you tend to get quite a lot of it. It is certainly not for the impatient and is almost a direct opposite to the concepts of bite-size and dumbed-down sound bites. Walking out of a shop with one of these is a statement - a statement that will keep you entertained for approximately two hundred and sixty-nine minutes.

This is the the fourth and final part of Der Ring des Nibelungen, otherwise known in English as the Ring Cycle. This was a new production in 1999 and was recorded in Holland for TV. Quite a few music DVD's come from a TV source and the quality can be variable but this one is quite alright and the production itself is quite an interesting one, with a rich, modern look to it that is well done and suited to this media. (Mr. Mayberry)

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Mahler Symphony No 7

Mahler (1860-1911)
Symphony no. 7
Daniel Barenboim – conductor
Staatskapelle Berlin
CD, Warner Classics

Mahler’s Seventh Symphony was composed between 1904 and 1905, then revised and scored in 1905-6. It was first performed in 1908. As one would expect, this symphony is big and shows the transition from the Romantic Era into the music of the twentieth century. Mahler had an idea of an open air “night patrol” scene when composing this music, thus two of the movements (the second and fourth of this 5 movement work) are entitled “Nachtmusik” and were, in fact, composed long before the other movements. In correspondence with the idea of being out in the open air, the symphony contains many sounds of nature, such as cowbells. The first movement is march-like, almost grotesque in style with fanfares and occasional birdcalls. The second is particularly stormy and atmospheric. The third movement is entitled “Schattenhaft” which means “shadowy” and is rather threatening in mood, which ends up as a morbid type of “danse macabre.” The second of the Nachtmusik movements is completely different in style, indicated by “Andante amoroso” and includes writing for the guitar and mandolin. The final movement was referred to by Mahler as “Der Tag” – the daylight, which, by huge contrast brings the dazzling light of day.

The orchestra provides a huge range of colour in this symphony. The strings are often required to play long, rich lines, but are delicate when needed. The woodwind are particularly brilliant at bringing out the grotesque edge to the music, while the brass are both brooding and threatening. The character of the music changes so often, and the director (Barenboim) obviously has a huge sensitivity and understanding towards this style. (M. North)

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Herz Piano

Piano Concerto no. 3, op 87
Piano Concerto no. 4, op 131
Piano Concerto no. 5, op 180
Howard Shelley – piano
Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra
CD, Hyperion

Heinrich/Henri Herz (1803/6-1888)

The son of a musician, Heinrich Herz was born in Vienna. He studied first with his father, then at Coblenz and finally entered the Paris Conservatoire, where he became a prize-winning piano student. In 1821 the great pianist, composer and pedagogue, Ignaz Moscheles visited Paris and was to have a profound influence on Herz’s style. His career went from strength to strength as a pianist, composer, teacher, inventor and piano manufacturer. It is hard to believe now that in his day, he was more popular a pianist than Liszt, Chopin and various other pianists, and he was able to charge more per ticket for this recitals and concerts, in which he played mainly his own compositions (of which there are 8 piano concertos). From the 1830s, Herz joined up with the Klepfa manufacturer of pianos, and although this venture failed, Herz whent on to establish his own piano factory which actually managed to improve on Erard’s double-escape mechanism. His pianos went on to win prizes at International Expositions.

I won’t go on to describe each movement of the three concertos in detail, but this music is far from being purely virtuosic music of no substance. Admittedly, there is a lot of difficult piano writing intended to show off the player’s ability, which Howard Shelley does with tremendous clarity and beautiful touch. But at times, the writing is tender and delicate – my favourite movement being the second movement of the 3rd piano concerto, the opening theme to which sounds as though it is based on a Scottish lullaby. Both the orchestra and the soloist create a simple and beautiful sound. This is a lovely recording and it is nice to hear something different from this era in composition. (M.North)

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Beethoven Piano

Piano Sonatas, Opp. 109, 110 and 111
Mitsuko Uchida – piano	
CD, Philips

These piano sonatas are particularly special, as they are the last three of Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas, which he began in 1795, and ended in 1822 (the year in which he died). I know we’ve all heard it before, but I still find it more than incredible that he composed these sonatas well after he had lost the ability to hear completely!!! In contrast to the first sonata, which is clearly set in classical form and convention (yet with his own style clearly emerging, even then…), the late sonatas are slightly bonkers. We can see the stage set for composers such as Schumann in Beethoven’s numerous performance directions at the beginnings of the movements, often in German (e.g. “Gesangvoll, mit innigster Empfindung” – Songlike, with the deepest expression). The full range (and beyond, at the time!) of the keyboard is used, while the tonality and form is being stretched to its limits.

Mitsuko Uchida is justly well-respected, particularly for her Mozart recordings, and this recording are certainly no exception. Her tone is beautiful and brings off the nobility and elegance of Beethoven’s sound world with great sympathy. If you follow the score, she has clearly given great thought to all of Beethoven’s markings and directions. Perhaps if we compare this to the recordings of Schnabel , it probably doesn’t share quite the same intense and deeply personal understanding (which in my opinion is probably more important) but it certainly is more obedient and accurate. (M.North)

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Thu, 01 Jun 2006

Handel, Messiah

George Frederick Handel - Messiah	
Arlene Auger, Anne Sofie von Otter, Michael Chance, 
Howard Crook, John Tomlinson, Trevor Pinnock
English Chamber Orchestra and Choir
CD, Archiv Produktion

Originally recorded onto LP in 1988, this recording is amongst the best you will find. It was given significant recognition a year later by winning a Brit Award. An added effect is the use of authentic instruments giving this recording a wonderfully ornate feel, and exactly what I needed to hear from the moment I set it off. The ECC produce an excellent quality of sound, and pronounce clearly, a factor often overlooked when a choir is the lesser focus.

The soloists cannot be faulted on their performance of what is understandably a work of significant difficulty. Each has taken their part, and with evident study, added a very personal side to the music. Like characters in a play, they act on the music, and with the orchestra, add great drama and excitement.

Let us not forget the harpsichord whose sound is precise and dominant. It leads the orchestra exactly how continuo should. Nor the chamber organ whose delicate sound of the 18th Century tradition can be heard accompanying the soloists and the orchestra the majority of the time.

If you have the LP of this recording, it is well worth buying this re-released version on CD as a more permanent edition to your collection. Enjoy, and be relieved at the quality of sound bliss to ears. (E Walton)

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Japanese Music

Japan - Shakuhachi and Koto
Sozan Chiaki Kariya
Shunjn Kariya
LP, Air Mail Music

This CD is from a series from different countries called Air Mail Music and is quite cheap. I was interested to find out if the production was also cheap. The CD notes certainly are but the recording itself is not and there are 62 minutes of the soft sounds of the bamboo flute and stringed koto.

Also, very happily, there has been no attempt to dumb things down by Westernising it so one can get a real flavour of ... well, we're not actually told very much about where these tunes originated and how they were originally used but it all sounds quite genuine and almost expressionistic in a muted sort of way. One could imagine some of it being played at a tea ceremony. I must learn a little more about this music. (Baron K)

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Sixteen: Ikon

The Sixteen, Ikon
various sacred music
Harry Christophers
LP, Universal

The Sixteen is a vocal ensemble formed by Harry Christophers in 1978 and here they give us seventeen tracks of modern sacred music. The composers include Rachmaninov, Tavener, Part, MacMillan, Kalinnikov, Stravinsky, Chesnokov, and Holst. Well, actually, that's all of them. There are some very nice pieces here and they are very nicely performed as well. The rich reverb in the recording is courtesy of St. Giles, Cripplegate in the midst of London's Barbican centre. This is an ancient, small church in the center of a late 60's development of apartments and performing facilities as well as the Guildhall School of Music. It's worth a look if you haven't seen it. (Baron K)

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Vivaldi: Dixit Dominus

Antonio Vivaldi, Dixit Dominus
Baldassarre Galuppi, Laetatus Sum, Nisi Dominus,
Lauda Jerusalem
Kornerscher Sing - verein Dresden
Dresdner Instrumental-Concert
with period instruments
Peter Kopp
LP, Deutsche Grammophon

The Vivaldi Dixit Dominus was only discovered in 2005 and caused great excitement. It all started back in 1750's or 60's when the court at Dresden, having lost their Italian composer, decided to order some music for the Roman rite from Venice. The supplier was a man called Baldan who slipped into compositions of Baldassarre Galuppi four works of Vivaldi under Galuppi's name. This was discovered in 2005 by an Australian scholar, Janice Stockigt. Good work!

So here we have a gorgeous Dixit Dominus from Vivaldi on it's first recording as well as, fittingly, works of Galuppi. In the notes they refer to Vivaldi as being Baroque while Galuppi is said to be more Early Classical but for most people the general impression will be one of Baroqueness. It's all well worth a listen... or three. (Baron K)

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Rutter Mass

Mass of the Children - Rutter
The Choir of Clare College, Cambridge; Farnham Youth Choir
Timothy Brown
CD, Naxos

Seeded from Rutter’s experience in the boy’s choir on the recording of Brittens War Requiem in 1963, this music again combines the voices of children and adults. It wasn’t until pressing play that I remembered I was never that keen on this style of music. It is too happy for me – all the harp glissandos, and flute/piccolo trills. Having just been listening to Mendelssohn it was a bit of a culture shock. However, personal opinion aside, this recording has been exceptionally well pulled off.

The textures within the composition are varied, with wonderfully blended polyphony in both the instrumental writing and the choral writing. This music does tend to fill ones heart with happiness – it seems unavoidable for even the icy hearted of us. The solos are spectacularly presented, with such precise musicality, it could shadow the most popular choirs of the time.

The Agnus Dei unexpectedly presents us with an uneasy, almost frightening atmosphere, with particularly good use of counterpoint, and tubular bells.

What follows the Mass is a song cycle for baritone and guitar. With this I am very impressed. I had not come across such a combination, and will be keen on hearing other such albums. The baritone, Jeremy Huw Williams, has a very pure, rich tone to his properly matured voice. The accompaniment, given to us by Stewart French, is articulate and precise; his conservatoire training clear as day.

We finish with another rare combination, of mixed choir, flute and guitar. They sing a wedding canticle based on Psalm 128. This is a beautiful ending to an album of this genre. (E Walton)

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Purcell: Dido and Aeneas

Henry Purcell, Dido and Aeneas
Lynne Dawson, Rosemary Josua, Gerald Finley
Clare College Chapel Choir
Timothy Brown
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Rene Jacobs
LP, Harmonia Mundi

We would have more Harmonia Mundi but their laughingly titled PR people seem to be ... well, they are not gifted at their trade, let us say.

I'll mention this recording because it comes packaged with their catalogue for 2006 and has been released at a low price. And this is not the normal recorded-in-Zagreb low price offering.

This was Purcell's only pure opera and even though it was put together as a court entertainment, and thus with no real thought of continuing performances, it has gone on to be one of Purcell's most performed works. It is a delight and every lover of early music should have a copy. Faced with which one to buy (there are many recordings) can be a confusing task -- which emphasis is correct? That I wouldn't like to say but this recording sounds very true to the spirit of this type of music and its time and is well worth investigating. (Baron K)

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Mozart: the string quartets

Mozart, the string quartets
Hagen Qaurtett
7 CD's, Deutsche Grammophon

It is 250 years since Mozart's birth and there will be a lot of Mozart recordings being promoted to "celebrate" the event. It certainly is an event worth celebrating and what could be more fitting than sitting down to several hours of him while sampling some fine wines?

Then comes the problem of what exactly to listen to or maybe what to buy. This 7 disc set in a nice little box with some notes is not a bad place to start. The Hagen Quartett is very accomplished, the recording very nice, and the variety of music presented is enough to get you through a variety of evenings.

One interesting historical fact is that this whole genre of chamber music was started by Haydn and Mozart. Haydn had started the genre off and Mozart had solidified the idea with a dazzling array of compositions. (Baron K)

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Mozart: Die Zauberflote

Mozart, Die Zauberflote (Magic Flute)
Dorothea Roschmann, Erika Miklosa,
Christopher Strehl, Rene Pape, Hanno Muller-Brachmann
Mahler Chamber Orchestra
Claudio Abbado
2 CD's, Deutsche Grammophon

More Mozart! And that has to be a good thing even when it isn't the anniversary of his birthday. You might remember also that this opera contains the famous high C section which only a very sopranos can perform. It is also the most performed of Mozart's operas.

It has also been controversial with some people talking of the elements of freemasonry which appear -- something that wouldn't have been very popular with Mozart's masters had they cottoned on. You can read up on this aspect (and others) at if you care to. In any case, there are many scholars who dispute the masonic message thesis and some who find it laughable.

Die Zauberflote is a Singspiel and was concieved as a crowd pleasing composition that would also hopefully lift the audience's taste levels. Its elements of magic and allegory have pleased audiences ever since.

And this is a pleasing performance nicely captured. (Baron K)

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Monteverdi Vespers

Claudio Monteverdi, Vespers
The complete 1610 publication
including the six part Magnificat and Missa In illo tempore
Choir of the King's Consort
The King's Consort
Robert King
2 CD's, Hyperion

I had planned to be in Venice for most of April this year, and perhaps longer if the right, slightly decadent, high-born woman had come along to sweep me out of my monastery and ply me with silken dreams and fabulous feasts in her glorious, slightly damp-stained, faded palazzo. And with little trips to be born heavenwards in ancient churchs by the music of Vivaldi and Monteverdi and anyone else who might have been played. I was going to have been only a little bit fussy.

Maybe now it will be September or October. Or maybe some sweet dreams should just be thought about and postponed continually. I shall report back what transpires.

These two CD's bring us Monteverdi's Vespers of the Blessed Virgin. This came some three years after Orfeo and there is some thought that he might have never heard it all performed together. This is our treat. It was composed while in the service of the house of Mantua. He would go on to be choirmaster at St. Mark's, Venice, in 1613 and this work is supposed to have been what he prepared as a sort of calling card for prospective employers as he had become disatisfied in Mantua.

Plainsong and polyphony, psalms and Seraphim - it is all very beautiful, very well performed, and very recommended.

Oh, and good luck to Helen, who is leaving Hyperion to take up a new position at Wigmore Hall. (Baron K)

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Mendelssohn Sacred

Sacred Choral Music - Mendelssohn
John Robinson (organ), David Hill (director)
The Choir of St John’s College Cambridge
CD, Hyperion

Mendelssohn was a composer I greatly sympathise with. He lacked determination to get the best from his musical ability, and had a great need for personal intimacy. Here is a great man whose choral writing gives him the opportunity to express his mind and emotions. He was also a composer for all, meaning he wrote music that would be musically rewarding for all involved – very much a sympathetic composer.

The opening of Sacred Choral Music is the ‘Three Sacred Songs’, Op 23. They were written whilst on a trip to Rome in 1830. Unimpressed by the musical talent that lay in Rome, he devoted his mornings to singing, playing and composing after which he would travel the city. All of the music on this album lifts the listener from the stresses of ones surroundings, and wraps you up a “cocoon of enchanted idealism”. A mixture of solo with organ, solo choir, and accompanied choir adds variety to the textures demonstrated by Mendelssohn’s elite compositional skills, and the variety a choir has to be able to portray in a quality performance.

The reputation of the choir of St John’s College Cambridge does seem to go before them. A dramatic, yet gracious effort gives the listener beautiful music, with room for personal imagination. I cannot complain about the interpretation of this music, and encourage all to delve deep into their imaginations whilst listening. This music deserves time in your evening, or your journey to work. It will improve your day, whichever end of it you happen to be! (E Walton)

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Great Ballets

Great Ballets by Famous Choreographers
Adam, Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev
Giselle, The Nutcracker, Romeo and Juliet
Great Ballets by Famous Choreographers
Bolshoi Ballet
Natalia Bessmertnova, Yuri Vasyuchenko
Yuri Vetrov
Yuri Grigorivich
Chatelet - Ballet Lausanne
Elisbeth Ros, Gil Roman, Juichi Kobayashi
Damaas Thijs
Maurice Bejart
Corpi Di Ballo del Teatro Alla Scala
Alessanra Ferri, Angel Corella
Kenneth MacMillan
3 DVD's, TDK

A veritable feast of ballet here with 3 DVD's in a slipcase. The idea has been to assemble three well-known and well-loved ballets from impeccable companies and with famous choreographers in charge. There are five hours and forty-one minutes on offer here.

With the Bolshoi, Ballet Lausanne, and La Scala doing the work we can be fairly satisfied with the standards although people who are ballet maniacs might quibble a little about the precise performances and whether or not some other companies should have a look in. But even those people will probably want this just to have it. For others, especially those just discovering a love of ballet, or maybe even just exploring, this is a very nice way to start, and of course, being on DVD, we have the full visual thing ... which is the point of ballet, otherwise it would just be ... music! (Baron K)

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Belle Epoque Melodies

L'invitation au voyage
Melodies from La belle epoque
John Mark Ainsley
Grahan Johnson
LP, Hyperion

The belle epoque is generally defined as the settled and comfortable life before WWI - it's the French equivalent of that late-Victorian English world where servants scurried about while those upstairs amused themselves in a polite manner. Except, at that time, the creative world was gravitating towards Paris - something that would continue for some years to come.

This is a pretty collection of songs that will be enjoyed by anyone that enjoys this oevre and particularly those who might have Francophile tendencies. (Baron K)

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