Mstation Classical Reviews

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Mon, 30 Oct 2006

Von Otter

I let the music speak
Anne Sofie von Otter
(Benny Andersson/BjŅrn Ulvaeus/Tim Rice/Mats Nörklit)
CD, Deutsche Grammophon

This is my first experience of Anne Sofie, and to begin with I was completely lost on the style of her voice. Obviously an accomplished singer, I did enjoy listening to her singing, and it wasn’t long before I wanted to hear the other albums she has done (mentioned in the back cover). The music of Benny Andersson is known around the world most significantly with ABBA, and here, Anne Sofie realises an ambition to sing his works after seeing the musical DuvemĆla.

Her interpretation of The Winner Takes It All is excellent. Being an emotionally wrenching song in its own right, Anne Sofie draws on her own passion and in this arrangement it works beautifully; simply done, but not lacking in any warmth or love. Also Butterfly Wings, The Day before you Came, I’m Just a Girl, and the two songs from Kristina frĆn DuvemĆla. I appreciate the Jazz influences on this music. Maybe I’ll learn Swedish one day!

Well worth getting this album, so enjoy! (E Walton)

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Der Rosenkavalier

Richard Strauss, Der Rosenkavalier
Wiener Staatsoperchor
Wiener Philharmoniker
Semyon Bychov
Robert Carsen, Brian Large

This is from the Salzburg Festspiele of 2004 and is a very good example of Strauss staging and performance. It is interesting that Strauss doesn't generally attract directors who wish to make anachronistic versions to show their own senses of irony and with-itness... thankfully. Some of them seem a little like the management of the V & A museum in London who's mission largely seems to be to destroy the Victorian grace of the place in a misguided attempt to be cool. And of course, now is now, and next week it is last week and so it becomes rather silly.

Stagers of operas have better excuses though. What is created lasts only for the season and audiences, who have seen most of the repertoire before, like an occasional shock.

There are no shocks here however. It is a nicely done rendition that will give Strauss fans a pleasant 201 minutes. (Baron K)

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Schubert – Death and the Maiden

Schubert – Death and the Maiden
Takács Quartet
Edward Dusinberre, Károly Schranz, Geraldine Walther, András Fejér
CD, Hyperion

An excellent opening presents us with a confident and passionate display of musical artistry. Precise timing gives a clean cut to the phrasing; crucial to the start of this famous work. World over this music demands technical mastery from all who play it; taking no prisoners, those whose power and demands of their instrument are not 100% should use this as a tool to draw from within.

The second movement does not shy away from the demands. The opening line seeming to last forever, the players must sing this music as if it would never end. The whole movement is like this, but Takács provide us with a breathless, yet perfectly comfortable phrase. Un-hurried in the middle section, the change of heart but not phrasing style, is portrayed beautifully. And moving towards the minor and the end of the movement, the stillness is undisturbed by the first violin, building to a triumphantly quiet end.

The ever famous ‘scherzo’ and the finale are both very clear, and well balanced. I congratulate all the players for superb performance of this quartet (14) and the earlier (13), played next on the CD. It is well worth the investment to hear this fabulous sound, one I feel perfect for Schubert. (E Walton)

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American Classics - Aaron Copland
Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra
Joann Falletta
CD, Naxos

Founded in 1935, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra has performed great works throughout its lengthy career. Here, under the direction of JoAnn Falletta; one of the greatest conductors of her time, the orchestra produce a landscape beneath your feet with precise percussion and wind, and warm, energetic string and brass sections.

Opening with Prairie Journal, we are immediately presented with a hive of activity. The music resonates with Copland to the core, opening up a whole world in front of your eyes; referred to as "Copland's out-doorsy cachet" (E. Yadzinski). (The piece was renamed after a competition held in America for the public to write sub-titles to the music. The winning entry was entitled Saga of the Prairie.)

We move on to Rodeo (Four Dance Episodes - 1942). Filled with contrasting colours and themes, it reminds me of the writing style of a composer friend of mine. A mixture of excitable, reminiscent, dancing, and expansive themes offers a great range of emotions and listening material. The ever popular Hoe Down completes these four episodes for a very enjoyable 18 minutes of listening.

Letter From Home is beautifully performed. Copland writes very sentimentally and nostalgically in this work. Using a common theme throughout, his orchestration is both unusual and typical, particularly his use of dissonant harmonies showing his happiness in developing his harmonic style. Copland's words say it best;

"It's very sentimental, but not meant to be taken too literally - I meant only to convey the emotion that might be naturally awakened in the recipient by reading a letter from home."

The Red Pony - Film Music suite (1948) is Copland showing his roots. Taken from Copland's own score of the film of Steinbeck's novel of the same name, this suite was aimed at children, a suggestion by Copland himself; it uses folk-like themes as all are original and offers great emotional variety, which is portrayed by the Buffalo Philharmonic exceptionally well. They really are amongst the greatest orchestras of our time, conducted by one the great conductors of our time.

This is an excellent musical education on American music without even realising you're learning. (E Walton)

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Mon, 02 Oct 2006


Joseph Haydn, symphonies 68, 93 - 104
Royal Concertbouw Orchestra
Nikolas Harnoncourt
5 CD's, Warner Classics

Nikolas Harnoncourt became the heir to big draw conductors like von Karajan but as the quote below shows with a quite different attitude.

"For me," says Harnoncourt, "to play together and in equal pitch is not a goal. For me, the rehearsal starts with the content of a piece - what it means, how it can change the listener. I was an orchestral musician for 17 years and what I missed was the question 'why?'. I wanted to know why Bruno Walter asked me to play like this . . . In those days, musicians were slaves, but my musicians are partners and they have to know about the conception. This is my way of working." (1)
and ...
"They used to order a musician to play his part alone," he relates, "and I have never seen anything less than terror when this happened. Two players, friends of mine, suffered a complete nervous breakdown and were dragged away to mental hospitals for electric-shock therapy. I know how dangerous it is to work with musicians. I would never be the cause of anything like that." (1)

And so we have 5 discs here of sympathetically played Haydn from a very good orchestra - avery pleasant few hours, all in all. (Baron K)

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Mutter Mozart

Mozart, The violin sonatas
Anne-Sophie Mutter
Lambert Orkis
4 CD's, Deutsche Grammophon

This "Deluxe Limited Edition" is the grand finale of Anne-Sophie Mutter's Mozart Trilogy and comprises 4 CD's of her playing wonderful violin along with Lambert Orkis on piano. It was recorded in Munich in February of this year (06) and so is a new statement rather than yet another remastering from the vaults.

In addition to this year being the 250th anniversary of Mozart's birth (as you no doubt already know) it is also the 10th anniversary of Anne-Sophie Mutter's debut. She was picked out by Von Karajan when she was 13 and has hardly looked back since. Treated like royalty in Germany and the USA, she does get some grumpiness in England because of her high fee demands and some doubtfulness about her ability to fill seats in that place.

There is no doubting her ability to fill seats in other places and not much doubting of her ability either. Whether the style is exactly to your taste is another question but it is a style of today and it does have cool beauty. I would think Mozart violin sonata fans would want this. (Baron K)

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British Light Classics

The British Light Music Classic Series
The New London Orchestra
Ronald Corp
4 CD's, Hyperion

"77 tracks of golden nostalgia on 4 compact discs". The accent here is actually mostly on themes such as The Archers, Dr. Findlay's Casebook (Och, Dr. Cameron!), Desert Island Discs, and the like rather than the usual pleasant Victoriana. It is pleasant too and the object of bringing together a collection of tunes that might make listeners hark back to a more pleasant Britain is readily achieved.

British Light Classics
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Barry Wordsworth
2 CD's, Warner Classics

This is a very similar collection to the one above except, as you can see, there are 2 CD's in the box instead of four. In this case though, you get a free download from Warner's website of one more similar track for your iPod or whatever.

Both of these collections are nicely performed so it will boil down to whether you want more or less. (Baron K)

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