Thursday, August 19, 2010

New address!

This is the new address: Expect to see an update tomorrow. See you all there!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Long time!

Hey there! Been awhile, no? Sorry for the lack of postings lately. A most lovely distraction of the feminine kind came into my life this past summer. But, sadly, she has had to return to school for the fall. *Sigh.* But at least I'll have time to post up some more treasures from my collection on this blog. Now--some good news and bad news.

Bad news: this blog is coming to an end. I think it has about run its course. So download from those links while you can, because I'm not going to be reuploading them!

Good news: I'll be opening up a new blog--with lossless and lossy uploads. Yes. Keep an eye out on this page during the next week for the new address. Hope you all join me there. Cheers!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Bruckner: Symphony No.9 (MOGM/Nézet-Séguin)

Bruckner: Symphony No.9
Metropolitan Orchestra of Greater Montréal/Yannick Nézet-Séguin
ATMA Classique 22514| Stereo DDD (SACD)

The moment I heard that Norman Lebrecht hailed Yannick Nézet-Séguin's recording of the Bruckner 7th as the best "since Franz Welser-Möst started shaving," I knew there was trouble. Being compared favorably to a conductor I consider one of the most boring ever to have been awarded a record contract is dubious praise indeed. Lebrecht went on to praise the French Canadian's "austere restraint at the big climaxes" as an indication that "[Nézet-Séguin is] an artist who is not chasing cheap rewards." "Restraint," for those of you who may not be aware, is usually a British musical critic's euphemism for "boring." Still, I hold Norman Lebrecht's opinion in very high regard and trust him head-and-shoulders above your average Gramophone scribbler. So being the inquisitive sort that I am, I decided to give Yannick's Bruckner a listen.

Yannick Nézet-Séguin is one of the rising young podium lions that the classical media is so desperately pushing in an attempt to show that the age of the great conductor, and by extension, classical music itself, is not in a state of decline. Like many of these "stars," he fits the bill as to what a "great musician" should look like these days: youthful, seemingly energetic and virile, and effortlessly photogenic. Too bad that a compelling musical vision doesn't seem to be among the virtues that the press lauds.

There is nothing particularly wrong with this recording. The Montreal Metropolitan Symphony sounds undernourished for Bruckner, but otherwise have a good grip on the composer's music. Nézet-Séguin allows the music to unfurl without any hindrance. But there is a flatness to his direction that is lethal in this work. The build-up and statement of the powerful, unison D minor theme at the start of the symphony may as well have been phoned in. What should definitively set the stamp for the direction of the entire symphony reveals Nézet-Séguin, admirable restraint aside, to be a not quite finished artist. Certainly an artist somewhat out of his element in Bruckner, playing it cool only because he has no idea as to how to subdue this symphonic steed. The ghastly, demonic D minor Scherzo and the eerie F sharp Trio, a jarring contrast in the right hands, blends into each other with toothless equanimity. No eerieness, no sense of the diabolical--just a mildly unpleasant daydream at best. And that grinding, six note dissonance that crowns the Adagio and, possibly, the entirety of Bruckner's late work, rolls by the listener as just another ho-hum moment. Nézet-Séguin seems to have no particular direction to be headed to and sounds like he doesn't really care whether he gets there or not. So much for "restraint."

I'm not against Bruckner played in a leaner, more classical fashion. Eduard van Beinum, Rafael Kubelik, Joseph Keilberth, Bernard Haitink, and Carl Schuricht are among the conductors that have brought us some outstanding, Apollonian Bruckner 9ths. Their refined vision do not preclude excitement, however. Each conductor has a compelling vision as to how this symphony ought to sound and where it ought to go. Incidentally, Karl Böhm, no cheap artist he, gave us some gorgeous "straight" Bruckner with some powerfully moulded climaxes that seem beyond the grasp of the musicians here. Nézet-Séguin and his orchestra just seem to be cranking out another generic recording. The SACD sound is superb, but why bother? Unless your dream is to hear the Bruckner 9th on somnambulistic auto-pilot, look elsewhere. What a bore. I can barely muster the energy... *YAWN!*... to finish... this review... [curls up and falls asleep.]

Monday, April 5, 2010

Chopin: Waltzes (Ott)

Chopin: Waltzes (complete)
Alice Sara Ott, piano
Deutsche Grammophon 477 8095 | Stereo DDD

So I'm not even going to lie to you about this. Yeah, I was pretty impressed with Alice Sara Ott's Liszt Transcendental Etudes, her debut on disc. She wasn't on the Arrau/Gekic/Cziffra level, but she was good. But the main reason I ended up buying this disc is... because as far as looks go, I find her to be the bee's knees. Yes, dear reader--sheer animal desire drove me to buy the disc at hand. I was sitting on the proverbial fence about buying this disc, but her looks won me over. Thank you DG marketing team! But don't stop and just admire her pretty pic in her waify, hipster Red Riding Hood garb on the cover. Take a look inside the booklet and you'll find plenty more glamour shots of Ms. Ott with a scant, puff "interview" that does insult to the name "liner notes." A rambling, cutesy little thing that tells you nothing about Chopin and makes Ott sound like a clueless ditz. But she is a cutie, no doubt about it. But what of this recital? Well...

I own at least some 20 to 30-odd Chopin waltz recitals. This may be one of the very worst I've ever heard from a major artist and label. Had you never heard what these pieces were called, you'd hardly believe they were waltzes as they barely dance at all. Galumph about is more like it. Ott's perverse rubato and leaden tone must be heard to be believed. I'm not at all against a more romantic approach to these gems. Cortot's recital is numbered among my favorites. But what sounds magical and sparkling in Cortot's hands sounds lumbering and mannered here. The famous opening fanfare of the E-flat waltz sounds sounds as if the waltzers at this particular salon imbibed the champagne and absinthe a bit too generously. Another pirouette and these dancers will spin themselves away into a drunken stupor. Yes, not everything is so bad. She does a fine stab at the A minor waltz. But the highpoints, modest as they are, cannot compensate for this recital's general mediocrity. A portentious ritardando and a sudden accelerando every few bars does not romantic pianism a la grand manière make. After listening to all this herky jerky, stop-and-go routine, I was fumbling around my medicine cabinet for some Alka-Seltzer to stave off the motion sickness.

As I said, Chopin waltz recitals can be found a-plenty. My personal favorites are Anda, Anievas, Lipatti, Cortot, Tharaud, Darré, Brailowsky, and Rubinstein's 1950's era set. You'll have your own favorites, I'm sure. Whatever they are, stick to those ones and don't bother with Ott. Yes, I've uploaded it, but you'd best toss this turkey. Don't tell me I didn't warn you.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Furtwängler: Pre-war Polydor Recordings (DG Japan)

Wilhelm Furtwängler: Early Polydor Recordings
(Disc 1) Mendelssohn: Overture to A Midsummer Night's Dream; J.S. Bach: Air from Suite No.3; Wagner: Prelude to Act I from Lohengrin, Prelude to Act I and Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde; Schubert: Overture to Rosamunde; R. Strauss: Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks

(Disc 2) Mendelssohn: The Hebrides Overture; Berlioz: Hungarian March from The Damnation of Faust; Schubert: Interlude no.3 from Rosamunde; J.S. Bach: Brandenburg Concerto No.3; Rossini: Overture to La gazza ladra; Brahms: Hungarian Dances Nos.1 and 10; Weber: Invitation to the Dance (arr. Berlioz); Wagner: Siegfried's Funeral March from Götterdämmerung

(Disc 3) Beethoven: Overture to Egmont; Mozart: Overtures to The Marriage of Figaro and The Abduction from the Seraglio, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik; Rossini: Overture to The Barber of Seville; Weber: Overture and Interlude to Act III from Der Freischütz; J. Strauss, Jr.: Overture to Die Fledermaus; rehearsal excerpt from Till Eulenspiegel recording sessions

Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Wilhelm Furtwängler
Deutsche Grammophon Japan POCG -234214 | Mono ADD

Sorry for the long delay between postings as of late. I hope you can at least appreciate quality over quantity.

In my post of Furtwängler's second recording of the Beethoven Fifth, I had mentioned how temperamental he could be when in the studio. Like many of his generation (Otto Klemperer was another notable example), he had a profound distrust of recordings. Part of it was based on the relatively primitive recording and playback equipment available back then. He often complained that what he heard on record was not what he had heard on the podium. And he was probably right. Peter Andry had commented on this phenomenon in his recent autobiography, Inside the Recording Studio. While recording Furtwängler and the Vienna Philharmonic in Mozart's Eine kleine Nachtmusik, Andry was completely bowled over by the luscious and powerful string sound that Furtwängler could inspire from his orchestra. But on the finished record, Andry was dismayed to find that the sound captured on the mikes was only a shadow of what he actually heard. It's a mystery why some conductors are more "phonogenic" than others. Beecham, Karajan, and Stokowski were born recording artists. Furtwängler turned out some excellent studio recordings, but was at home in the concert hall before an audience.

The collection I have here are all studio recordings from the pre-war era. They constitute his complete pre-war Polydor recordings. Most of it is very good, but a great deal was superseded in quality by later HMV recordings and airchecks. Still, this collection is a valuable snapshot of Furtwängler and the superlative level of playing of his Berliners. The collection is programmed in chronological order.

There is so much to talk about here, so let me just touch on the highlights and down points of this set. First the bad news. Or not really bad news. Even the worst recordings here would still be considered very good. Abendroth quality, let's say. But some leave a bit to be desired. The Midsummer Night's Dream Overture that opens this set starts off in fine fashion, but is then hampered by a decidedly un-Mendelssohnian heaviness. Berlioz's Hungarian March sounds curiously prosaic here as do the Freischütz excerpts.

But the best of the best here is absolutely stunning. The Berliners' hearty romp through Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No.3 may be too much for those reared on more smaller scaled recordings. But what a heady delight it is! What sheen and body those strings had. The Wagner items are also outstanding. No surprise from the one of history's great Wagnerians. But what is a surprise is how deftly and wittily Furtwängler sashays through the two Rossini overtures. Rossini and Furtwängler seem about as mismatched as Toscanini and Bruckner. Yet it works! These recordings abound with great comic timing and with superlative playing from the BPO. Incidentally, Toscanini and Bruckner make for a surprisingly effective combo too. Remind me to post that CD some time.

Sound quality is fair on this set. Opus Kura is finally getting around to releasing their own set of the complete Furtwängler Polydors. That set should be one to watch out for. Koch released a more comprehensive set in the early 1990's that included some of Furtwängler's pre-war Electrola and HMV recordings. The transfers by Ward Marston and Mark Obert Thorn are very good; slightly more plump than these transfers, but also a little more diffuse. I had a difficult time choosing which one to post, but I think I made the right choice by going with the DG.

To fully understand what made Furtwängler great, you must hear his war-time recordings and his late HMV recordings. As great as these are, he would go on to outdo himself in time. But for a portrait of the "artist as a younger-ish man", this set can't be beat.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The missing tracks: Beethoven, Orff, Schnittke--they're all here!

So sorry it took this long everyone. But the missing tracks for my first Schnittke film post, the Furtwangler Beethoven, and the Orff are all here. As a show of apology, please enjoy this slightly disturbing video. Thank you all for your patience!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Self serving promo right here!

Don't get too excited. These are not the long awaited links to the missing tracks I've promised for so long (and will have for you tonight). No. Instead this is just to announce the opening of my new blog, The Aging Gamer.

Gaming? Video games? What does that have to do with the great music I offer here? Plenty, buddy. If it weren't for games, and one in particular, I probably would never have discovered classical music. And if that had never happened, the path to an appreciation of higher culture would never have opened for me.

I won't be posting any late breaking news or "exclusive" coverage or whatever. Just reflections on gaming and the old games that helped make me the lovable chap I am today. I hope some of you will visit. Thanks. And those missing track are coming!