On October 13, 2015 Toronto music lovers attended a recital by the distinguished young pianist, Benjamin Grosvenor, in a return engagement presented by Music Toronto in the Jane Mallet Theatre. After his debut there in February 2014 his self-effacing technique and insightful interpretations were, and still are, the subject of some conversation. This year’s program of Mendelssohn, Bach, Franck, Ravel and Liszt exceeded our highest expectations. The final item on the published program, a dazzling tarantella by Liszt, as they say, drove the audience wild. He returned to the keyboard and treated an expectant, hushed audience to one encore: Percy Grainger’s simple arrangement of Gershwin’s Love Walked In. Devastating! At the moment, Grosvenor has three Decca CDs which, while not exactly the same as being there, are the next best experience.

01 KovacevichI mention these two concerts because Decca has issued a box of Stephen Kovacevich: The Complete Philips Recordings (4788662, 25 CDs). I hadn’t listened to his recordings for some time but, unexpectedly, here were very similar qualities latent in Grosvenor’s playing. Stephen Kovacevich is one of the most revered pianists in the world, whose recordings on Philips are to be found on the shelves of music lovers around the globe. He was known as Stephen Bishop until 1975 when he adopted his mother’s name.

The first recording by the American pianist from Los Angeles, who went to London to study with Dame Myra Hess, was made in the Brent Town Hall, Wembley in February 1968 of Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations. Back to Wembley in August, Philips recorded the Brahms Handel Variations and other pieces.  In December they recorded the Bartók Second Piano Concerto with Colin Davis and the BBC Symphony. They all returned the following April to record the Stravinsky Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments.  Davis proved to be the perfect conductor for Kovacevich. They were simpatico on the various aspects of interpretation as is self-evident in their many collaborations re-issued here; Bartók, Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart, Grieg and Schumann.

I would like to have more than nine CDs of Beethoven; the five concertos, the Diabelli Variations, eight sonatas and three sets of Bagatelles for, as these performances unfolded, they reignited an old passion for the composer.

The Brahms First Concerto is a favorite of Kovacevich which is obvious from his recording here. The second movement is tranquility and simplicity itself. I have never heard another performance  come even close to its communication of elegance and acquiescence. Equally intuitive are the four Mozart concertos. The Schumann and Grieg concertos are outstanding, eschewing the empty, meaningless bravura of a mere technician.

This set is a reminder of the constant introspection and depth that Kovacevich conjures. Each and every work – solos, duets, trios and quintets by a variety of composers – is infused with a sense of fragrance and discovery of truthfulness as it resolves with not a single caveat. The performances carry their own authority making comparisons invidious. In so many cases one forgets that the piano is a percussion instrument. Check out the video preview of this set at youtube.com/watch?v=ePGxjGWB-iw.


02 Stravinsky Complete

Over 100 years have elapsed since Stravinsky’s ballet, Le Sacre du Printemps precipitated near riots at its Diaghilev Ballet premiere in Paris. And yet it is still the very first work that comes to mind at the mention of Stravinsky, even though his style and compositions in different genres changed many times over his 88 years. DG has assembled a 30-CD cube set, Stravinsky Complete Edition (DG 4794650), containing, presumably, everything published.

The first dozen discs are devoted to the 19 stage works on which his fame mostly rests, beginning with The Firebird (1909/10), Petrouchka (1910/11), Le Sacre (1911/13), The Nightingale (1908/09,1913/14) etc., through to The Flood, written for television in 1962. The list also includes The Rakes Progress (1951), an opera in three acts. Conductors include Boulez, Chailly, Abbado, Rozhdestvensky, Bernstein, Levine, Knussen, Nagano, Gardiner and Ashkenazy.

The six discs of orchestral music and concerted works include the Circus Polka for a young elephant, first performed by a ballet of elephants in the spring of 1942. With things being what they are, today it is performed without the elephants. The suites from Firebird and Petrouchka are here as is the Ebony Concerto from 1945 written for the Woody Herman band. Altogether some 36 shorter, jaunty pieces make entertaining listening. Conductors are Boulez, Mackerras, Ashkenazy, Pletnev, Davies, Craft, Bernstein, Bychkov and Knussen, with Rafael Kubelik minding the elephants.

Three discs of choral music include the Symphony of Psalms and 15 other works including Threni and Mass for mixed chorus and double wind quintet, conducted by John Eliot Gardiner, Craft and Bernstein.

There are two more discs devoted to solo vocals and two each for chamber music and piano music. Two discs of historic recordings plus a bonus disc of Le Sacre for two pianos played by Martha Argerich and Daniel Barenboim recorded in April, 2014. Watch the video trailer at youtube.com/watch?v=kEKZGnUZZec.

So there it is… splendid performances of all he wrote occupying only 133 mm of shelf space.


03 History of Classical Music

I really had my doubts about a new collection, The History of Classical Music in 24 Hours (DG 7494648) claiming to be just that. When it was announced I expected a mishmash of bleeding chunks of this period or that, that would really limit its appeal to one audience and revolt another. Today it arrived. It is a 3” (73mm) box containing 24 CDs in 12 hinged double sleeves (called a “mint” in the trade) in chronological order, each devoted to one or two periods. Each mint is titled thusly: 1&2, Music of the Middle Ages/Music of the Renaissance; 7&8, A Trip to France/The Romantic Symphony; 11&12, The Virtuoso II/The Romantic Cello… and so on.

It’s funny that after a lifetime of listening to music in both concert and recorded contexts, some fresh experience will turn back the years and once again I become excited by something new or long forgotten. It is never too late to at least rethink certain eras or even artists when you hear them again or for the first time.

 The symphonies and concertos included are complete, as are symphonic works like Finlandia and The Planets. There are complete song cycles by Wagner, Mahler and Richard Strauss; string quartets, and a stunning array of arias and duets. All performed by the finest musicians and artists. 

The breadth of repertoire is enormous and the performances are taken from the DG catalogue in the latest mastering. In fact, there are more than 24 hours of music, closer to 30 hours. It comes to mind, that except for some complete operas, this package is a true basic repertoire performed by the world’s greatest artists. You can hear samples of every piece at historyofclassicalmusic24.com. Here is a unique basic library for you or a friend at three dollars or less per disc.

Thanks to recordings, we can continue to appreciate earlier generations of performers whose special artistry would be completely lost but for the recording industry – in this instance EMI, who thankfully recorded as many artists as they did, including pianist Benno Moiseiwitsch (1890-1963). He was born in Odessa, the birthplace of many of the great ones: Vladimir de Pachmann, Mischa Elman, Emil Gilels, David and Igor Oistrakh, Nathan Milstein and others.

Moiseiwitsch espoused artistic values that today seem to have slipped away. His playing is so packed with meaning and nuances that the question of mere precision is quite irrelevant. Today we are swamped with pianists who outdo each other for accuracy and perfection but Moiseiwitsch, a natural pianist in the Romantic tradition, had a wonderful tone, achieving a continuity though a constant organic pulse, that finds music in every phrase where others find only notes.

01 Moiseiwitsch

A new collection from Testament, which already has earlier Moiseiwitsch releases, contains performances from 1946 to 1961 (SBT3.1509, 3 CDs). Included are Beethoven’s Waldstein Sonata, Schumann’s Kreisleriana, Pictures at an Exhibition, Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto and the Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini. The third disc has over 70 minutes of informative interviews given in New York and on the BBC.

The Waldstein is a revelation. The performance from 1958 is instantly captivating with a magic that is, I believe, unique to Moiseiwitsch. In the second movement he finds the sense of indolent suspension that conveys more than only the usual merely slow tempo.

Yes, the Waldstein is outstanding but when we turn to Kreisleriana we find the artist in home territory: “What never fails to appeal to me is Schumann.” The constant inflections that are needed to bring this composer off are organically natural to him.

While not technically a Richter, Moiseiwitsch’s Pictures at an Exhibition is not an exercise but is a fully searching treatment that fleshes out the emotional suggestion of each of these miniatures. Earlier in his career he had no interest in performing the work and ignored it over many years but eventually he was drawn to it and played it regularly but, in his own words, never the same.

Moiseiwitsch first toured the United States in 1919 and New York was no stranger to him. On July 19, 1961 he played the Emperor Concerto with Josef Krips and the Philharmonic in Lewisohn Stadium. The pianist had longtime affection and admiration for the work and he and Krips worked very well together.

Rachmaninov is a composer with whom Moiseiwitsch had a close personal relationship (revealed in the accompanying third disc of this set). Rachmaninov was having doubts about one of the variations in the Paganini Variations. He confided in Moiseiwitsch that when he wrote it, it was fine but playing it now he skipped a note. One thing led to another and Moiseiwitsch told him that a drink of crème-de-menthe would solve his problem. Later that evening Rachmaninov was coaxed into playing for some guests and he played the variation perfectly. Moiseiwitsch insisted it was the crème-de menthe and so, according to Moiseiwitsch, whenever Rachmaninov played the work, he first enjoyed a crème-de menthe. The Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini is a showpiece for the kind of volatile collaboration Moiseiwitsch was able to forge with a great artist like Sir Adrian Boult. The tempi they discover here go to necessary but natural extremes yet they stick to each other like glue. The ensemble with the BBC Symphony is honestly thrilling and elicits our rapt attention, hanging on every note. The recording is of the performance given at a Proms concert on September 14, 1946 in The Royal Albert Hall and, although more than serviceable, is not of studio quality. Still, it is much better to have this performance than not.

02 Solti Ring


For 50 years the most talked-about, best-known recording of Wagner’s Ring Cycle is the Decca set from Vienna conducted by Georg Solti (4783702). Decca initially took quite a gamble producing such a massive and expensive project, not exactly sure that there would be a market. However, under the care of producer John Culshaw, the recording was made, opera by opera, over a period of years and the four individual operas – rather, music dramas – and the complete Ring set, have not left the catalogue since. Decca has repackaged the set using the latest 2012 remastering plus the two-CD set of Deryck Cook’s, An introduction to Der Ring Des Nibelungen explaining the themes associated with characters and objects in the drama. A CD-ROM of the complete libretto with English and French translations and two booklets about the Ring and synopses complete the package. Most noteworthy is the price of these 16 CDs – around $50! A case of “it’s so cheap I can’t afford not to buy it.”

03 GotterdamurungTestament has issued two sets of music from The Ring both featuring Birgit Nilsson singing Brünnhilde’s Immolation Scene. The first entry is the complete Act III of Götterdämmerung live from the Royal Albert Hall on September 6, 1963 with a full cast from the Royal Opera including Wolfgang Windgassen, Gottlob Frick, Marie Collier, Thomas Stewart, Barbara Holt, Gwyneth Jones, Maureen Guy and the Royal Opera Chorus and Orchestra (SBT 1506). This was, in effect, a dress rehearsal for the complete opera to be staged a few days later in Covent Garden. Given the venue, the Proms and all that, this would have been less demanding for Solti’s first public performance of this work. While it is not as perfect as Solti’s Vienna performance for Decca a year later, it does have a sense of occasion – a you-are-there reality in real space, an illusion that it seems cannot be convincingly faked electronically. Also, the listener knows that there are people attached to the voices and where they are. I enjoyed this immensely. Dynamic stereo sound courtesy of the BBC. 04 MonteuxThe other set from Testament is an all-Wagner concert conducted by Pierre Monteux with the Concertgebouw Orchestra from July 1, 1963 (SBT2 1507, 2 CDs, mono). We hear the Tannhäuser Overture, the Siegfried Idyll and the Prelude and Liebestod (with Nilsson) from Tristan. Following intermission, presumably, is Siegfried’s Rhine Journey and Funeral March followed by the Immolation Scene. Monteux was a master musician, a conductor who left his stamp, in varying degrees on whatever he directed. How different his Wagner is from Solti’s: Monteux’s is broader and more meaningful with a sweep missing under Solti. The listener feels an awareness that engenders different emotions. Recorded three months earlier than the Solti, Nilsson is in splendid voice and under Monteux, I would say, more sympathetic to the role.

On July 13, 1955 an audience at the Berkshire Music Festival in Tanglewood heard the debut performance by the newly formed Beaux Arts Trio with their founding members Menahem Pressler, piano, Daniel Guilet, violin, and cellist Bernard Greenhouse. The personnel remained intact until 1960 when Guilet was replaced by Isidore Cohen and in 1987 Peter Wiley replaced Greenhouse. Since then there were other new faces including violinist Ida Kavafian in 1992. However, it was Pressler who was always at the helm and the mere mention of the Beaux Arts Trio immediately triggers images of Pressler at the keyboard scarcely ever taking his inspiring eyes from his colleagues. The trio disbanded in 2008. In 2013, Toronto’s favourite venue, Koerner Hall, proudly announced a concert to celebrate Pressler’s 90th birthday with Pressler himself playing with the New Orford Quartet in a program of Beethoven, Brahms and R. Murray Schafer.

There have been other notable trios over the years: Cortot, Thibault and Casals; Edwin Fischer, Wolfgang Schneiderhan and Enrico Mainardi; and many others where prominent musicians who had solo careers occasionally came together for the pleasure of playing with each other. Particularly vital was the special combination of Isaac Stern, Leonard Rose and Eugene Istomin. None, however, had the longevity of the Beaux Arts, albeit with fresh faces in the strings but never without the omnipresent Menahem Pressler. 

01_Beaux_Arts.jpgBecause of their impeccable musicianship and extensive repertoire, the Beaux Arts Trio – Complete Philips Recordings, all 137 of them, is a unique treasure house of hallmark performances of trios and some larger works (4788225, 60 CDs). Everything that they recorded for Philips is here, including the complete trios by Haydn, Mozart (2), Hummel, Beethoven (2), Mendelssohn (2), Schubert, Brahms (2), Dvorak and Schumann (2) plus those by Arensky, Chausson, Granados, Hummel, Korngold, Shostakovich and others. Add many more, in addition to works for larger chamber ensembles with assisting artists. There are two versions of the Beethoven Triple Concerto: in their 1977 recording with Bernard Haitink and the London Philharmonic, the Beaux Arts Trio meant Pressler, Cohen and Greenhouse but in 1992 with Masur and the Gewandhaus Orchestra, the Beaux Arts Trio meant Pressler, Kavafian and Wiley. The Schumann Trio No.2 Op.80 in 1966 finds Pressler, Guilet and Greenhouse. In 1971 there are Pressler, Cohen and Greenhouse. By 1989 we hear Pressler, Cohen and Wiley. The few multiple versions are manna to keen listeners whose pleasure it is to pay close attention to interpretive differences over the years. In truth, regardless of the personnel, every single performance is arresting.

One of the pitfalls of listening to a succession of different versions of the same works in a collection of this calibre is that they appear on different discs and with other works. If you are not careful, you can start the wrong track and be drawn into a different work. In listening to this second Schumann trio I mistakenly started the two Mendelssohn trios and absolutely cannot leave them (that’s what I’m doing now). 

A recent batch of Blu-ray discs from Arthaus Musik inc02_Turandot.jpgludes a 1983 production of Turandot from the Vienna State Opera. The conductor is Lorin Maazel, Eva Marton is Turandot, José Carreras is Calaf, Katia Ricciarelli is Liu, John-Paul Bogart is Timur, the dethroned King of the Tartars and Waldemar Kmentt is Altoum, Emperor of China. Only the long stairway is depicted in this set. The bejewelled costumes and masks reflect the opulence of this mythical place. From its first moment this production seems to be on fire with passion and conviction. The singers have all been caught at the peak of their careers. The 37-year-old Carreras’ blazing performance shows what supreme powers he had. Maazel, absolutely inspired and focused, has the orchestra playing at the top of its form. The unfettered, audiophile-quality sound combined with an elemental, totally assured Eva Marton in the role make for a gripping, compelling Turandot, one I would not want to be without (Arthaus 109095).

Old_Wine_3.jpgOne hundred years have passed since the birth of Sviatoslav Richter and collectors around the world still seek out his recordings and await new releases of live concerts. Doremi continues to release these recordings, reaching Volume 24 (DHR-8043), with a program of Bach and Beethoven. All but one work were recorded in Moscow in 1948, a dozen years before Richter was permitted to travel to the West and here is an indication that there was a serious Bach performance tradition in Russia in the earlier part of the 20th century. Richter went beyond the popular keyboard works and included the Sonata in D Major, BWV963, an early work rarely performed and seldom recorded. Apparently he gave several such recitals with significant Bach content. Russian radio recorded some of them with what appears to have been an advanced technology for the time, providing us with high quality sound. In the years after he was free to travel he included Bach on a regular basis including the French Suite, BWV813 from Dublin in 1968. The 1948 performances of the Capriccio in B Major, BWV992, Fantasia in C Minor, BWV906, English Suite, BWV808, concluding with Beethoven’s Sonata No.22 Op.54, enjoy the same high quality sound.

Conductor Ferenc Fricsay was born in Budapest in 1914 and died in Switzerland in 1963. He studied under Bartók, Kodaly, Dohnányi and Leo Weiner. His instruments were piano, violin, clarinet and trombone. He was acclaimed throughout Europe, the United States and elsewhere, conducting all or most of the prominent orchestras and in many opera houses including Vienna, Berlin, London, New York, etc. Fricsay signed with Deutsches Grammophon in 1948, recording core classical repertoire and 20th century works. His 1958 Beethoven Ninth with the Berlin Philharmonic, Irmgard Seefried, Maureen Forrester, Ernst Haefliger and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau was the first Ninth in stereo and has never lef04_Fricsay.jpgt the catalog. Last year DG issued a box of all his symphonic recordings, a collection, I might add, that has provided endless pleasure. Ferenc Fricsay – Complete DG Recordings Volume 2, Operas and Choral Works is now available (4794641, 37 discs including rehearsal DVD and Ferenc Fricsay – A Self Portrait) with six Mozart operas, Carmen, Bluebeard’s Castle, Oedipus Rex, Flying Dutchman, Mahler Rückert-Lieder (Forrester), Haydn’s The Seasons, the Verdi Requiem and more. The listener will hear the young Fischer-Dieskau and many others whose names will or should resonate. This set will satisfy many wants. Complete contents are on the DG site, deutschegrammophon.com/us/cat/4794641. 

The summer hiatus provided a comfortable window to leisurely absorb the many reissues that have arrived since the June issue.

01_Orchestre_National.jpgNone has given greater continuing pleasure than a fascinating eight-CD set from Radio France80 Ans de Concerts Inédits (FRF020-27, mono and stereo) – of live performances spanning eight decades given by the Orchestre National de France. A series of distinguished conductors and many renowned soloists are heard in 31 works, all but a few derived from performances in the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées. This orchestra was founded in 1934 in the midst of the Great Depression, angering many who viewed the expenditure at that time as ill-advised. In addition to artist profiles, the comprehensive booklet recounts the creation of the orchestra and details its history with its ups and downs over the years.

Record collectors will be pleased to know that there are no Beethoven or Brahms symphonies nor any warhorses that persons who assemble collections seem obliged to include. Each disc of the eight is a well-thought-out, eclectic concert of familiar or unfamiliar works that, curiously, hold the listener’s attention to the end. Some examples:

Disc 1, “The French Tradition,” contains Debussy Nocturnes (Désiré-Émile Inghelbrecht); Lalo Le Roi d’Ys Overture (Paul Paray); Roussel Bacchus et Ariane Suite No.2 (Charles Munch); Poulenc Chansons villageoises (Roger Désormière with baritone Pierre Bernac) and Magnard Hymne à la justice (Manuel Rosenthal).

Disc 2, “Expansion of the repertoire in the 1950s,” contains Coriolan Overture (Carl Schuricht); Mahler Songs of a Wayfarer (Carl Schuricht with the 32-year-old Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau from September 9, 1957 in Besançon, about the time we heard him sing this cycle in Massey Hall); Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche (Joseph Krips); Alban Berg Altenberglieder (Jascha Horenstein with soprano Irma Kolassi); Ravel Deux Mélodies hébraïques (Paul Kletzki with soprano Victoria de los Angeles); Stravinsky Firebird Suite (André Cluytens).

Discs 6 & 7, “Sublime Encounters,” contain once-in-a-lifetime performances of four favourite concertos…OK, warhorses. From April 9, 1964 with Eugen Jochum conducting, Christian Ferras plays the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto with such dazzling virtuosity and daring that the audience bursts into spontaneous applause after the first movement. From 1969 Martha Argerich and Claudio Abbado imbue the Prokofiev Third Piano Concerto with fresh energy especially a “making-a-run-for-the-border” first movement. Then Eugene Ormandy and the unmistakable 1972 sonorities of Isaac Stern in the Brahms concerto and Charles Dutoit and Yo-Yo Ma bring the Dvořák to life in 1993.

There are many other inspired performances from the 22 conductors and 12 soloists, so please check complete details on the ArkivMusic site, arkivmusic.com/classical/album.jsp?album_id=1737327.

I continue to be very impressed by Radio France’s stereo sound that may be described as incandescent. This is noticeably different from the various Rundfunk productions that, to finish the analogy, sound fluorescent.

02_Edwin_Fischer.jpgEdwin Fischer, the Swiss pianist, was born in 1886, studied at the Stern Conservatory in Berlin, a pupil of Martin Krause who also taught Claudio Arrau. Krause himself had been a pupil of Liszt. Fischer’s core repertoire centred around Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms and Schumann. He was one of the first to direct concerted works from the keyboard and formed his own chamber orchestra for that purpose. A consummate musician, he was held in the highest regard by his colleagues and public alike. He faded from the music scene after 1954 due to ill health and died in January 1960.

Apian has issued a three-CD set of his complete Mozart studio recordings for EMI made between 1933 and 1947 on Mozart Piano Concertos (APR 7303). Included are three concertos with his chamber orchestra; Nos.17, K453 and 20, K466 and the Rondo K382. Three concertos, Nos.22, K482; 24, K491 and 25, K503 are with Barbirolli, Collingwood and Josef Krips and together with two sonatas and several solo works total almost four hours of sublime music-making. His love and understanding of the composer is complete, his playing is self-effacing but never tentative. I’m sure that this has been said before, that here the performer gets out of the way and the music seems to be playing itself. An exhilarating performance of the Haydn Concerto hob XVII:11 made with Fischer conducting the Vienna Philharmonic is the icing on the cake.

Some might dismiss these performances because of their vintage but those who do will miss hearing the most elegant, civilized and persuasive insights into Mozart. The transfers by ex-EMI producer Bryan Crimp retain all the sparkle of the originals with a minimum of artifacts. 

Footnote: Testament issued a CD of a 1964 recording of Fischer conducting from the keyboard of the third and fourth Beethoven concertos with the Philharmonia Orchestra (SBT 1169). Praga has remastered a 1951 EMI recording of the Beethoven fifth concerto with Furtwangler conducting the Philharmonia (Praga PRD/DSD 350074, hybrid CD/SACD). Truly magic moments in this performance include the soloist’s arched transition into the last movement in which Fischer’s intuitive hesitations suspend the calm before the storm.

03_McCartney_Orford.jpgAs a longtime resident of Toronto I was exposed to the artistry of Stanley McCartney, the principal clarinet of the TSO and later the COC orchestra, as a chamber musician in Stratford and as a member of the Toronto Woodwind Quintet. From its inception in 1965 the Orford String Quartet (Andrew Dawes, Kenneth Perkins, Terence Helmer and Marcel Saint-Cyr) was recognized as exceptional and would soon enjoy an international reputation.

McCartney was regularly heard with the Orford Quartet and on the occasion of July 14, 1969, they played the Brahms Clarinet Quintet Op.115 that was recorded by the CBC. That performance together with their 1970 live reading of the Mozart Quintet in A Major, K581 is now available on a DOREMI CD (DHR-6612). Both performances are outstanding, winningly alert and decisively expressive. The long second movement of the Brahms, the Adagio, is extraordinarily moving and I don’t believe there is a finer, more sympathetic reading around. Brahms’ exquisite score and the oneness of the five musicians reward the listener with a plaintively beautiful experience (overly sentimental I know but that’s how it affects me, upon no matter how many hearings). In the equally introspective, more euphoric Mozart, the collective sound of clarinet and strings is again miraculous. I would rather that the undeniably well-deserved applause had not been included here. It jolts the listener back to earth.

It is for inspired performances as these that tape recordings were invented.

01_Shostakovich.jpgThe late Finnish conductor Paavo Berglund was renowned for his performances of Sibelius and Nielsen, although he conducted works of other composers including Shostakovich. Berglund conducted in Toronto at the invitation of Jukka-Pekka Saraste in 1994 and was well received. He was one of but two conductors that I have seen conducting with their left hand, the other being Elmer Bernstein in London with the LSO on July 4, 1976. A release from Testament finds Berglund in front of the Berlin Philharmonic on May 18, 2001 playing the Shostakovich Eighth Symphony and the Stravinsky Piano Concerto with Olli Mustonen (Testament SBT2 1500, 2 CDs). Arguably, this is the Shostakovich Eighth to end all Shostakovich Eighths. The formative specifics of Shostakovich’s Stalinist experience that are heard in Russian performances are here revealed to apply to a universal human condition. The events at the core are allowed to unfold with a natural weight and clarity and a sometimes deliberate pace that allows the music to have an impact without piling up the events. In other performances, even the great ones, sometimes these masses become so dense and obstructive that it is “impossible to see the trees for the forest.”

This is not simply a very good performance. It is monumental! The expansive, unencumbered sound allows every nuance to be heard in the correct perspective. The Stravinsky Piano Concerto also benefits from this clear approach where the clarity of the sound in the Philharmonie supports the attitude of soloist and conductor. This was an evening when nothing could go wrong.

02a_Strauss_Heroines.jpgLast fall Arthaus Musik published a superb and I believe essential documentary entitled Richard Strauss and his Heroines (102181, DVD). This film by Thomas von Steinaecker featured such luminaries as Brigitte Fassbaender, Renée Fleming, Dame Gwyneth Jones, Christa Ludwig and Franz Welser-Möst; also the composer’s grandson Christian Strauss. There was the love-hate relationship between Strauss and his wife Pauline, who was a year older than he when he was hired to teach her as an upcoming soprano. Her father was wealthy and well known whereas Strauss was the son of a brewery industry family. His father was also one of Germany’s best-known horn players who had played in Munich at the premiere of Tristan and Isolde. Here is a revealing and fascinating recounting and exploration of Strauss’ portrayal of women in Salome, Elektra, Die Frau ohne SchattenAriadne auf Naxos, Die Liebe der Danae and of course Der Rosenkavalier and finally the Four Last Songs.

02b_Strauss_Rainbow.jpgA further documentary, Richard Strauss at the End of the Rainbow (Cmajor 729908 DVD and 730004 Blu-Ray) sees Strauss as the last great composer of the era (the end of the rainbow), the true successor to Wagner and debatably the greatest composer of the 20th century. This production by Eric Shultz delves deeply into Strauss’ works and their interpretations, including parts of a one-on-one lesson on elucidation given by Brigitte Fassbaender to a winning young soprano, Emma Moore from Wollongong. Musicians and Strauss scholars are interviewed and there is an abundance of previously unreleased footage of Strauss conducting and going about everyday life. Most enlightening is the charismatic pianist Stefan Mickisch who delves into many well-known works. In sum, this is a unique 97-minute appreciation of Strauss, his strengths and weaknesses, his life and works. Learn the one thing he could do that Wagner could not. A must-have presentation if there ever was one.

A reminder: Last year Decca issued a specially priced collection of their recordings of the late Clemens Krauss, Strauss’s friend and trusted interpreter, conducting the Vienna Philharmonic in what truly are incomparable, definitive performances of eight Strauss tone poems and a complete Salome, recorded in the early 1950s in the very finest sound. (Decca 786493, 5 CDs)

03_Ricci_Argerich.jpgOver the past year we have enjoyed four volumes containing rare performances of the young Martha Argerich given in her early 20s and the series continues with a release of a joint recital with Ruggiero Ricci in Leningrad on April 21, 1961 (Doremi DHR-8040). Ricci, who was some 29 years her senior, was already established internationally as one of the leading violinists of all time. It is inevitable from her enthusiasm displayed here that Argerich would soon be recognized as one of our finest pianists. The recital opens with an enthusiastic version of Beethoven’s Third Violin Sonata Op.12 No.3 played with obviously great delight. Ricci proves that he is not only the master of pyrotechnics but a genuine classical violinist. The Prokofiev Sonata for Solo Violin Op.115 is of particular interest because it was Ricci himself who had premiered the work in Moscow two years earlier. Two Bartók works, the Sonatina in D for violin and piano and the Sonata for solo violin, will keep you on the edge of your seat as will the Sarasate Introduction and Tarantella for violin and piano Op.43. A generous bonus comes from Baden-Baden on February 4, 1960 with Ernest Bour conducting Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G Major. Argerich has made this concerto her special vehicle and, arguably, this version is a better collaboration than many of her commercial recordings. The sound is clear and vibrant throughout.

04_Haydn_Symphonies.jpgAn unexpected visitor in my store many years ago was the man who, as I recall, headed the Decca team making videos of performances of their artists. He had returned from Eisenstadt where he worked with Christopher Hogwood. To the surprise of conductor, orchestra and crew, the sound that Mr. Hogwood had believed emulated the sounds of the Haydn orchestra during Haydn’s time sounded quite wrong there. Lesson learned. L’Oiseau-Lyre and Hogwood’s planned Complete Haydn Symphonies Edition with The Academy of Ancient Music was well underway when it ended with the break-up of L’Oiseau-Lyre. Symphonies 1-75, completed from 1988 to 1995, together with four later symphonies, mostly recorded earlier, occupy a new boxed set from Decca (4806900, 32 CDs). Widely acclaimed at the time of their original issue, as times and tastes have changed these performances sound better and better.


It is Friday afternoon and my daughter Adrienne just called me and asked what I was doing now. “I’m having a wonderful afternoon, wallowing in the music from a box of mono recordings.”

01_Decca_mono_years.jpgThe Decca Sound The Mono Years 1944-1956 (Decca 4787946, 53 CDs) is a treasure trove of exemplary performances of symphonic and instrumental music by artists in the Decca stable at the time. FFRR, the ear and ffrr logo, standing for “full frequency range recording,” were registered trademarks and their appearance on the label informed the consumer that this recording sounded better than anything else on the market. For sure, the tipping point into the classical market was when Ernest Ansermet came to London and recorded Petrouchka with the London Philharmonic Orchestra to be released on five 78rpm records. Records are what recordings were called at the time. In November 1949 Ansermet recorded Petrouchka once more, this time in Geneva with the orchestra he had founded in 1918, L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande. Issued, as before on ten 78rpm sides, it also appeared as Decca’s first Long Playing Microgroove record in June 1950 (years ahead of EMI, as usual) and three months later on, yes, as five 78s. As American Columbia, who developed the LP, had trademarked the name and the lp symbol, other companies could not call their LPs, LP. Phillips, who was Columbia’s partner in Europe, for example, coined “mini-groove.” Eventually however LP became generic.

That Geneva Petrouchka elevated Decca as a label and equally important spotlighted Ansermet and his orchestra. The Petrouchka is on the first disc in this Decca box along with their Le Sacre du Printempsrecorded in October 1950. Both are fine performances that are still admirable, dynamic and cleanly recorded, the harbinger of the many wonderful, highly sought-after Decca recordings to come from Ansermet conducting the Suisse Romande and other orchestras in an astonishingly wide repertoire. Included here are Roussel’sThe Spider’s Feast; Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin; Rachmaninov’s Isle of the Dead; Dukas’ Le Peri and Debussy’s Six Epigraphes antiques and Jeux.

01b_von_Beinham.jpgThe world’s expanding demand for more ffrr recordings necessitated finding new artists and the recruiting began, acquiring many now-familiar names. The young Georg Solti was signed in 1947 as a pianist and made several recordings with violinist Georg Kulenkampff. Solti was itching to conduct and so he did with the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra in Beethoven’s Egmont Overture. Many of his recordings from the time are included here: with the LPO are Bartók, Kodály and Haydn and with the LSO Mozart. In March 1946 The Concertgebouw Orchestra under Eduard van Beinum visited London and in the Walthamstow Assembly Hall they had their first recording session with Decca. Their sessions in mid-March 1947 included the Leonore Overture No.2 that was issued on two 10” 78s and hasn’t been heard since. Decca made regular trips to Amsterdam, where in September 1948 Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra was taken down and in 1953, Decca’s final year before the orchestra went to Philips, van Beinum recorded William Pijper’sThird Symphony and a suite from Diepenbrock’s Marsyas produced by John Culshaw who had joined Decca in 1946. Many more items of the Eduard van Beinum recorded legacy with Decca are available on a 5-CD set Decca Original Masters (4731102).

One wonders why EMI let Benjamin Britten change record companies. Britten and Peter Pears had already recorded folk songs for EMI who also released an abridged Peter Grimes and Rape of Lucretia but as heard here, Decca has Britten conducting his Sinfonia da Requiem, Diversions for Piano left hand (with Julius Katchen),Four Sea Interludesand Passacaglia from Grimes and The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra.

On a personal note; from 1952 to 1955 Decca had recorded Sir Adrian Boult in the complete Vaughan Williams Symphonies (seven at the time) with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Those performances were assembled and issued in a uniquely packaged set soon after. My wife presented me with that set for my 25th birthday. Some great wife!

Long gone are the many, many artists who live on in their performances documented by Decca, always in technology ahead of state of the art. The hi-fi era was ushered in by Decca’s ffrr recordings. The CDs in this set are sensibly arranged by artist with a composer’s directory in the booklet. Surprisingly, there is no duplication of any work. Here are but a few of the artists represented in this collection with a significant work:

Alfredo Campoli: Lalo’s Symphonie espagnole (with van Beinum), Elgar Violin Concerto (with Boult); Amadeus Quartet: Mozart Piano Quartets (with Clifford Curzon); Adrian Boult: Vaughan Williams Job and the Suite from the Wasps; also Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev; Sir Arthur Bliss conducts his Colour Symphony and his Violin Concerto (with Alfredo Campoli); Anthony Collins: Walton/Sitwell Façade (with Sitwell and Pears) and Elgar, Falstaff; Clifford Curzon: Brahms Piano Concerto No.1 (van Beinum); Mischa Elman: Beethoven Violin Concerto (with Solti); Christian Ferras: Brahms Violin Concerto (with Carl Schuricht); Anatole Fistoulari: Graduation Ball and ballets by Gluck, Grétry and Tchaikovsky’s usual three; Pierre Fournier: Brahms’ two cello sonatas (Backhaus); Maurice Gendron: Schubert’s Arpeggione Sonata (Jean Françaix), Schumann Cello Concerto (Ansermet); Griller Quartet: Bloch’s four string quartets and Sibelius Voces Intímae; Friedrich Gulda: Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas 26 & 29 and Eroica Variations; Quartetto Italiano: Quartets by Haydn, Boccherini, Schumann and Verdi; Thomas Jensen: Sibelius Lemminkäinen and Karelia Suites; Erich Kleiber: Beethoven Symphonies 6 & 9 plus Wagner; Hans Knappertsbusch: Bruckner Third Symphony (third version, Schalk & Loewe) VPO; Moura Lympany: Rachmaninov Third Concerto (Anthony Collins), Khachaturian Concerto (Fistoulari); Peter Maag: Mozart Symphonies 28 & 29, Serenade in D major K203I; Jean Martinon: Lalo, two Namouna Suites; Fauré and Françaix Concertino (with Kathleen Long); Boyd Neel: Handel 12 Concerti Grossi, Op.6; Zara Nelsova: cello sonatas by Rachmaninov and Kodály; Ruggiero Ricci: two violin concertos by Paganini (with Anthony Collins); Trio de Trieste: Beethoven Archduke Trio, Brahms Trio No.1; Erik Tuxen: fifth symphonies by Prokofiev and Sibelius; Vegh Quartet: string quartets by Smetana, Kodály and Schubert; Wiener Oktett: Mozart Divertimenti 10 & 17, Mendelssohn Octet, Brahms Clarinet Quintet (Alfred Boskovsky).

Because British Decca and American Decca were unrelated, the records were re-labelled London for distribution in North America and elsewhere. The offerings in this box are not presented as a sonic spectacular but as a true reproduction of the original truth of the monaural recordings heard better now than then.

02_Stern_Berg_Bartok.jpgLast month I mentioned attending a Boulez 1969 concert in the Royal Festival Hall that included the Berg Violin Concerto with Isaac Stern. There is no Boulez/Stern recording but in 1959 Stern recorded the concerto in New York with Leonard Bernstein conducting. Praga has produced an SACD “DSD remastered from the original quadraphonic tentatives…without artificial back effect.” (Praga PRD/DSD 350099 hybrid). The disc-mates are the Bartók Violin Concerto and Rhapsody for Violin and Orchestra. Stern had a unique, recognizable timbre that makes this an attractive disc particularly in view of the interpretative insights all around and the ideal sound.

03_Dohnanyi.jpgBack in the days of classical AM stations, there was a place for attractive works of lasting interest but of shorter rather than longer duration. There was a Dohnányi piece that surfaced regularly, the Rhapsody in C Major, Op.11 No.3 played by the renowned pianist Eileen Joyce. Testament has issued some previously unissued concert performances by Ernö Dohnányi (AKA Ernst von Dohnányi) recorded live at the Edinburgh Festival in 1956, at Florida University in 1959 and a couple of BBC transcriptions (SBT2 1505, 2 CDs). Born in 1877 in Bratislava (then Pozsony), Dohnányi attended the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest where he studied with Istvan Thomán, a pupil of Liszt. As did Béla Bartók and György Cziffra. Dohnányi became a composer, pianist and conductor. Through the first half of the last century he was regarded as a pianist of the first rank but today most music lovers might only recognize him as the composer of Variations on a Nursery Tune for piano and orchestra. He did however write a significant amount of chamber music, which is well represented in the catalogue, and composed major symphonic works.

The Florida recital opens with Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No.16, Op.31. No.1, Schubert’s No.18 D894 and three pieces of Dohnányi’s  own. Disc two contains six solo pieces and a concerto, Symphonic Minutes, Op.36. This is a brilliant, interesting four-movement work of which there are another two performances in the catalogue – neither of which I have heard – but this one has the composer-pianist playing. It must be noted that because of the variation of recorded quality of the originals, this release is intended for avid collectors and archivists who can listen through the artifacts. However, I find that the brain soon adjusts and diminishes the steady extraneous distractions. 

06_Bruce_01_Boulez_20th.jpgPierre Boulez turns 90 this year and DG honors the milestone in two limited edition sets, one of which is Pierre Boulez – 20th Century (DG 4794282, 44 CDs). Packaged in the familiar cube, the set contains every recording that Boulez made with DG of music composed during the last century. There are 13 composers represented, some of them familiar and some that are not exactly household names.

Born in Loire, France, Boulez early showed an aptitude for music and mathematics. He studied mathematics in Loire but music led him to the Paris Conservatoire and Olivier Messiaen whose analysis classes introduced him to the 12-tone technique of composition. Today he is regarded by his peers as composer, conductor, teacher and essayist, in that order. Simon Rattle stated that “There is a whole generation of us who were completely educated by Boulez.” As a composer, his output remains strange to the ears of many music lovers but Boulez the teacher states that to prepare a performance, an analysis of the score must be the first step. “True spontaneity comes only after analysis.” This works very well for much of the music by 20th-century composers, his performances being regarded as definitive and his recordings lauded far and wide. I recall having my high expectations exceeded attendinf a concert on May 22, 1969 in the Royal Festival Hall’s 20th Century Concerts with Boulez conducting the London Symphony Orchestra with soloist Isaac Stern. The depth of their Berg Violin Concerto still lingers in my ears.

The discs are sorted by composer starting with Bartók through to Webern on disc 44. Bartók is well represented on eight discs with Four Orchestral Pieces, Op.12; the Concerto for Orchestra; the Dance Suite Op.10; the Hungarian Sketches; Divertimento; The Miraculous Mandarin; Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, the Cantata Profana all played by The Chicago Symphony… and there’s more including The Wooden Prince; the three piano concertos (Chicago/Zimerman, Berlin/Andsnes, LSO/Grimaud) and finally Bluebeard’s Castle with Jessye Norman from Chicago. Bought singly a few years ago these eight CDs alone would have cost about the same as this 44-CD box. 

Berg has three works here: The Chamber Concerto, Lulu Suite and, on three CDs, a complete Lulu with Teresa Stratas, Yvonne Minton, et.al. and the orchestra of the Paris Opera. Harrison Birtwistle has three CDs; Boulez the composer has four including Le Marteau sans Maître and Debussy has three all with the Cleveland Orchestra including a longtime favourite, the Première rapsodie for clarinet. Ligeti, who enjoyed a burst of interest after the film 2001 where his music was heard, has two discs as does Messiaen. Ravel has five and Schoenberg has four including Pelleas und Melisande, Pierrot Lunaire and a complete Moses und Aron. Stravinsky’s five discs include all the big ballets and other works with the Cleveland and Chicago orchestras. A disc each for Szymanowski and Varèse and three for Webern conclude this most interesting and important set. One can only muse… what if Boulez had not been interested in mathematics but architecture? Think about it.

06_Bruce_02_Boulez_DVD.jpgEuroArts has issued a Blu-Ray disc of different Boulez performances of three pieces included in the above compendium. In a concert on May 1, 2003 in the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, Lisbon, Boulez conducts the Berlin Philharmonic in their yearly special concert celebrating the orchestra’s founding in May 1882. Fittingly, Maria João Pires is the soloist in the Mozart Piano Concerto No.20 that contrasts nicely with the 20th-century works: Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin, Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra and Fêtes from Debussy’s Trois Nocturnes (EuroArts 2053074). The very first image that strikes the viewer, long before the music starts is the monastery itself and its Gothic Portuguese architecture that “integrates architectural elements of the late Gothic and Renaissance, with associated royal symbolism, Christological and naturalist.” Construction began in 1501 or 1502 and was well-funded by trade with the East. As time passed and construction continued it became a pantheon to the monarchy with no expense spared. It is almost beyond belief and understandably Lisbon’s prime tourist attraction.

The orchestra does not employ the full complement of players in the concerto but a reduced number to balance correctly for the Mozart. Pires is always so poetic in this repertoire, a pleasure to watch and a pleasure to hear. As for the other three works, the orchestra knows them and Boulez knows them even better but they come off sounding fresh and eminently correct. The video and audio are exceptional although recording the music must have been a challenge because of the long decay time that can cause some problems but hearing it a low level contributes to the sense of occasion and location. There is a bonus of a 19-minute tourists’ tour of Lisbon and environs including several examples of fado and some historical information. The ridiculously illegible cover design notwithstanding, this disc is recommended don’t judge the contents by the cover! 

01_Renata_Tebaldi.jpgThe treasured recordings of Renata Tebaldi that grace the collections of countless music lovers around the globe have been re-issued, all of them, in an omnibus edition in the now familiar cube issued by Decca (4781535, 66 CDs). These are not reissues from doubtful sources but from the archives of Decca itself, ensuring the very best sound of the original recordings.

53 of the CDs contain 27 complete operas: Mefistofele, La Wally, Adriana Lecouvreur, Andrea Chénier, Cavalleria Rusticana, La Gioconda, La Bohème (1951 & 1959), La Fanciulla del West, Madama Butterfly (1951 & 1958), Manon Lescaut, Tosca (1951 & 1959), Turandot, Il Trittico, Aida (1952 & 1959), Un Ballo in Maschera, Don Carlo, La Forza del Destino, Otello (1954 & 1961) La Traviata and Il Trovatore. Also the Verdi Requiem (1951).

Included in the casts are Carlo Bergonzi, Jussi Björling, Mario del Monaco, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, George London, Luciano Pavarotti, Caesare Siepi, Marilyn Horne, Nicolai Ghiaurov, Regina Resnik… and the list goes on. Conductors include Karajan, Solti, Bonynge, Serafin and many others.

Also included are albums of Songs, Folk Songs, Opera Arias, Opera Duets, a Christmas album and Rarities.

Tebaldi’s recording career began in 1951 and ended with her retirement in 1973. Some operas were recorded twice giving us the opportunity to do the thing collectors do and compare the first Tebaldi to Tebaldi seven years on. Or just to enjoy hearing Tebaldi again and again. Complete casts and recording data are included but no librettos and translations.

To make it possible to easily locate a particular recording I suggest that the first thing to do is clearly copy the disc number, 1 through 66, on the top right-hand corner of the paper sleeve.

02_Furtwangler_Lucerne.jpgWilhelm Furtwängler’s final performance of the Beethoven Ninth was in Lucerne on August 22, 1954 with the Philharmonia Orchestra, the Lucerne Festival Chorus and soloists Elizabeth Schwarzkopf, Elsa Cavelti, Ernst Haefliger and Otto Edelmann. Based on the original analogue tapes from the broadcasting archives, audite has produced an exemplary re-mastering (SACD 92.641). The rather dry acoustic exposes a lot more than the relatively murky 1951 Bayreuth Festival recording from EMI. The Philharmoniafrom London is heard here in its glory days, the tempos are familiar to Furtwängler’s devotees and absolutely everything fits together to perfection. From the first bars the superior sound of this new disc unzips all the nuances and dovetailing of instrumental colour. Furtwängler’s elemental vision of the third movement is singular. The forces are so inspired and well-rehearsed that the staggering difficulty of the fourth movement finale is achieved without any sense of effort; not at all easy in a live performance. This is consistent with and a perfect document of Furtwängler’svision of the Ninth and is an essential addition to an appropriate collection. Incidentally, the Tahra SACD issued in 2008 sounds to have been based on a later generation copy.

03_Oistrakh.jpgAnother new SACD re-mastering from Praga of legendary performances features David Oistrakh playing Beethoven’s Violin Concerto and the Triple Concerto both licensed from EMI (PRD/DSD 350082 SACD hybrid). Neither recording is the first time Oistrakh was showcased in this repertoire but this was the first time he had recorded them in stereo. The soloists in the 1958 Triple were not strangers, being members of the David Oistrakh Trio, pianist Lev Oborin and cellist Stanislav Knushevitzky accompanied by the Philharmonia Orchestra under EMI’s house conductor, Sir Malcolm Sargent.The Violin Concerto, also from 1958, was recorded in Paris with the ORF Orchestra directed by André Cluytens. David Oistrakh’s various recordings of Beethoven and just about anything else remain landmarks and their value undiminished. The sound on this new production is cleaner, more spacious and detailed than the original stereo discs.

04_Argerich_Abbado.jpgMartha Argerich & Claudio Abbado – Complete Concerto Recordings (DG 4794155): The first collaboration between Abbado and Argerichto be recorded by DG was in 1967 with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestraplaying the Prokofiev Third Piano Concerto and the Ravel G Major. The last concerto in this inexpensive little 5CD box documents their last concert in March 2013 at the Lucerne Easter Festival playing the Mozart Piano Concertos No.20, K466 and No. 25, K503. In the intervening years DG recorded the Chopin Concerto No.1, the Liszt First Concerto and the Ravel G Major made during Abbado’s tenure with the London Symphony; the Tchaikovsky First with the Berliner and the Beethoven Second and Third Concertos with the Mahler Orchestra. In every case the performances are perfectly judged and persuasive, displaying both sensitivity and authority that serve the composers well.

05_Argerich_Chopin.jpgThe welcome series of the young Martha Argerich on Doremi has arrived at Volume Four (DHR-8036) containing items from the 1965 Seventh International Chopin Competition in Warsaw of which Argerich was the First Prize winner. By 1965 Argerich had already won the first prize at two other international competitions in Geneva and Bolzano. And she was already signed to a recording contract with DGG. These selections of award-clinching performances as recorded live from the Chopin Competition, presented in flawless sound, are valuable documents of the rising star. Works include the Third Sonata, a selection of Nocturnes, Etudes, Preludes, the Polonaise Op.53 and more. A bonus track is a very rare recording from Buenos Aires of the 14-year-old “lioness at the piano” playing the Etude, Op.10, No.1. 

unnamed.jpgIn the New Releases section of The WholeNote last October I enthusiastically reviewed Le Sacre du Printemps and Petrouchka performed by an orchestra new to me, Les Siècles directed by François-Xavier Roth. The initial interest was the score of Le Sacre, a scholarly and painstaking reconstruction of Stravinsky’s original, played on period instruments. It proved to be a lot more than simply that. Since then I now have all seven of their recordings made since 2009 and each disc is exemplary and first in its class. I am pleased to briefly draw them to your attention.

Les Siècles, founded in 2003 by their conductor François-Xavier Roth, is an orchestra of outstanding younger musicians drawn from France’s best ensembles. They have full access to original instruments from the Baroque period forward and employ the instruments in use at the time of each composition… not copies but the instruments themselves. The effect on the different overall timbre is a revelation, not weakening the impact but increasing and refining as never before. Except for the Berlioz, the liner notes with each disc list the name of every player together with their instrument and its provenance. All their recorded performances, regardless of the many venues, enjoy the same translucent 3D sound thanks to Jiri Heger, a professional violist and composer, who produces, balances, mixes and edits the recordings.

A review of Stravinsky’s Firebird (1910) and the Fokine ballet Le Orientales (1910) (ASM 06) appeared in the Classical and Beyond section of the November issue, easily found at thewholehote.com. Here are the other five North American releases on their own label, Les Siècles Live:

07 Bruce 01 BerliozBerlioz: Symphonie Fantastique (ASM 02). With all of the competition it is impressive how many unsuspected shadowy areas are gently illuminated to emotional effect. I’ve never noticed that at the end of the first movement the dreamer falls into deep sleep. The second movement has all the diaphanous textures that one could want – extraordinary articulation in the strings so well captured in the recording. Movement three is a little gentler than usual and still the soundscape is uncanny in revealing everything without highlighting anything. The fourth is rich timbres as opposed the usual blaring or shrieking. The tempo stays moderate and constant to great effect. The final movement is very controlled and has a steady forward stable flow, which without sounding driven, is faster than usual. Very satisfying indeed. Recorded live at La Côte-Saint André.

07 Bruce 02 LisztLiszt: Dante Symphony; Orpheus (ASM 07). This is an outstanding performance of this most elusive of Liszt’s large orchestral works, with long solo lines that require sensitive treatment; they certainly get it here with flowing sinuous lines, unmistakably pre-Wagnerian. The gentle effulgence of the final Magnificat is ethereally sublime with a boys choir. An uncommonly poetic reading of Orpheus benefits from the same acoustic, the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Laon. Definitive performances and a must-have for fans of the repertoire.

07 Bruce 03 DuboisTheodore Dubois: Piano Concerto No.2, Overture de Frithiof, Dixtuor (ASM 09). Attractive works made all the more charming by the sound of the less percussive 1874 Érard piano. It is important to music lovers to have such sensitive performances of this still out-of-the-way French minor master. This repertoire is something Les Siècles obviously enjoy doing and they do it uniquely.

07 Bruce 04 DebussyDebussy: Premiére Suite d’Orchestre, La Mer (ASM 10). This disc contains the 25-minute orchestral suite written in 1883/84 when Debussy was departing from the tradition of his masters at the Conservatoire. Although the scoring was completed by Philippe Manoury it is self-recommending, especially after the subtle and colourful account of La Mer played with all the finesse now expected of this ensemble.

07 Bruce 05 DukasDukas: L’Apprenti Sorcier, Velléda, Polyeucte (ASM 12). The playful Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Dukas’ best known opus based on the amusing tale of the magician’s acolyte whose invocations get out of hand, is just made for this versatile group. It is nice to also have two out-of-the-way works to fill out his meagre catalogue; Velléda, a cantata for soprano, tenor and bass-baritone based on a text by Fernand Beissier, and the dramatic overture to Corneille’s tragedy Polyeucte.

Les Siècles’ live recordings are published by Musicales Actes Sud, a part of the publishing empire Actes sud in Arles.

07 Bruce 06 NovaesOne of my most pleasant memories from back in the day, around 1960, was a recital given at the University of Toronto by the Brazilian pianist Guiomar Novaes. I recall a lady of slight stature gently walking over the piano, seating motionless and waiting for the recording light to indicate that she was “on.” She immediately began playing and when she finished she just walked off. I was enchanted by her playing as were the other members of the audience. Today I still see her clearly in my mind’s eye but sadly cannot recall the repertoire. Novaes (1895-1979) was a pianist firmly rooted in the Romantic era who began making recordings in 1919 and continued well into the LP era, recording some major works including concertos by Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin and Schumann with conductors Otto Klemperer, Jonel Perlea and Hans Swarowsky. Among her admirers was the respected New York Times critic Harold C. Schonberg who wrote in her obituary that “the sheer beauty of her playing managed to transcend any other considerations; it was its own reward… it is hard to think of a pianist whose playing gave so much pleasure as that of Guiomar Novaes.” It is claimed by the cognoscenti that her aristocratic and seemingly effortless playing is best represented by her pre-LP recordings, long out of print and sought after by collectors. Appian has collected her Complete 78RPM Recordings and issued them on a reduced price two-CD set (APR 6015). Recorded between 1919 and 1927 (disc one) and 1940 to 1947 (disc two), the sound reflects their vintage but the collection of short works reflects an era when an artist was expected to inflect performances. The 53 tracks include works by Gottschalk, Chopin, Albéniz, Liszt, Beethoven, Scarlatti and others, including 16 of Villa-Lobos. Note that the surface noise of the original 78s is, of course, omnipresent.  

07 Bruce 01 Strauss KraussIn 2000 Testament issued four CDs of orchestral music by Richard Strauss, recorded by Decca in the Grosser Saal of the Musikverein by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Clemens Krauss. My excited review of them at the time found these uniquely inspired performances to be incomparable in every respect. Decca has gathered them all together in a compact 5-CD set, Clemens Krauss – Richard Strauss The Complete Decca Recordings (4786493), together with the still talked about 1954 recording of Salome with Christel Goltz, Julius Patzak, Anton Dermota et.al. The Vienna-born Krauss, although he worked through the Nazi era, was not a Nazi. These Strauss performances, writes Nigel Simeone, reveal an interpreter “who understood the importance of transparent orchestral textures, intelligent pacing, a natural sense of line, a fine ear for detail and a clear sense of trajectory.” These qualities are abundant in each of all nine works; Don Juan, Ein Heldenleben, Zarathustra, Don Quixote, Sinfonia Domestica, Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme Suite, Aus Italien, Till Eulenspiegel and Salome.

Early in the 1950s when these recordings were made, English Decca’s FFRR LPs had already achieved a level of recording excellence unsurpassed by the other companies, thriving in the new, world-wide enthusiasm for classical music, an enthusiasm well supported by the press and dedicated periodicals. People no longer had a record player… they had a hi-fi. Victor Olof, Decca’s head recording producer led the team that documented these Strauss recordings that awed and delighted the music lovers of the day. The inspired and inspiring recordings now find their ultimate realization in this dynamic little set that is the icing on the cake honouring this 150th anniversary year of Strauss’ birth.

07 Bruce 02 Karajan 1980sWith Karajan 1980s, DG completes its decade by decade re-issue program of their entire library of Herbert von Karajan’s orchestral recordings (4793448, 78 CDs). In that decade Karajan became separated from his orchestra, the Berlin Philharmonic and returned to the Vienna Philharmonic to conduct and make recordings, both audio and video. Which was Karajan’s best decade? The 1960s (DG 47900559, 82 CDs) the 1970s (DG47915775, 81 CDs) or the 80s? The 1960s box witnessed the emergence of Karajan the Superstar and contents include a vast repertoire of Beethoven including his now legendary second complete Beethoven symphonies cycle, a Brahms symphony cycle, Haydn symphonies ... let’s forget the Pachelbel Canon and the Albinoni Adagio. The 70s box had new repertoire and also another Beethoven cycle, a Tchaikovsky cycle, another Brahms cycle, a Second Viennese School collection and some fine Mahler. This new big box of recordings from the 80s contains some daring excursions into new repertoire together with tried and true Beethoven, Brahms, Haydn and the usual suspects. Here we may judge performances of some of these 154 works against Karajan’s own acclaimed versions and I must say that they face some formidable standards. I am informed that the entire production of this limited edition has shipped and is in the hands of dealers around the world. Full details at

07 Bruce 03 Hindemith BrucknerIn her book On and Off the Record, a memoir of her late husband Walter Legge, Elizabeth Schwarzkopf relates an example of conductor Otto Klemperer’s perverse sense of humour. In the autumn of 1958 Klemperer was too ill to conduct a Beethoven Ninth in London. Against his better judgment, Legge took Klemperer’s earnest pleading to heart and engaged Hindemith as replacement. The performance was a disaster. Legge: “It’s your fault; you insisted that I engage him. I’ll never take your advice about artists again.” Klemperer: “You have been in the music business long enough to know that gloating over the misfortunes of colleagues is the only joy left in life.” Months before that London performance, on June 24, Paul Hindemith had conducted a vital performance of the Bruckner Symphony No.7 with the Stuttgart Radio Symphony in Saxony. Remastered from the original SWR tapes, Hänssler has issued an immaculate recording of that event which clearly demonstrates that Hindemith was more than at home with Bruckner (CD 94.222). It is gratifying to hear that Hindemith had well-defined views and a sense of overriding control of arguably Bruckner’s most beautiful symphony. His reading is at least comparable with any of the strong performances from the 50s including Furtwängler and Jochum, although his sober control is closer to Jochum even though in places where we expect a pause, there is none. The long lines are beautifully spun out and never overindulged. Indeed, the final coda which is usually handled as a blazing apotheosis is achieved in subdued manner so the moment of arrival is realized with a great sense of serenity. The performance is lean which better reveals the structure and sinew of the symphony without sounding at all undernourished.

07 Bruce 04 Kleiber MahlerThe late highly esteemed conductor, Carlos Kleiber’s sole performance of any Mahler work took place on June 7, 1967 in the Konzerthaus in Vienna. On the Vienna Symphony Orchestra program was the Mozart Symphony No.33 followed by Das Lied von der Erde with alto Christa Ludwig and tenor Waldemar Kmentt. The orchestra now has its own label on which they have released this Das Lied in quite good mono sound (WS007). We can only bewail that Kleiber’s recorded legacy is so very small due to his famously temperamental approach. He was easily offended and capable of scrapping a well-rehearsed and consummately prepared production in a fit of pique. So it is all the more valuable to have this salvaged and restored archival tape from this source. He brings his vaunted objectivity and clarity of approach to this final word of Mahler’s. It is not usual to describe a performance of this work as refreshing but this is what it is, while doing full justice to the unsparing subject matter.

07 Bruce 05 Richter“And now for something completely different.” After listening to an endless stream of basic and not-so-basic repertoire, a new disc from Doremi had me sitting up and paying fresh attention to some really stimulating off-beat repertoire played by the legendary pianist Sviatoslav Richter (Volume 23 DHR-8037). The music of Szymanowski is by no means a simple affair. His scores are complex and rich in unique post-Romantic originality which may seem initially foreign to many ears and yet here we have music that is full of surprises and unexpected turns. From our point of view this exciting excursion into new repertoire is actually very rewarding. Heard complete is a recital in Warsaw on November 26, 1982 to commemorate the centenary of the composer’s birth where Richter played the Second and Third piano sonatas and was joined by the great violinist Oleg Kagan playing the exquisite three Mythes Op.30. The stereo sound is of studio quality. I am eager to know these pieces better. 

07 Bruce 01 OriginalsThe Originals (Deutsche Grammophon 4793449), 50 CDs in the now familiar compact cube, is an exceptional collection of outstanding performances from the second half of the 20th century that are significant in three aspects: repertoire, performance and sound. The composers range from Bach to Orff performed by artists who were acknowledged masters of the works chosen for inclusion in this edition beginning with Bach – the Oistrakhs’ Violin Concertos and Pierre Fournier’s Cello Suites; Beethoven with the Fifth and Seventh Symphonies by Carlos Kleiber; the Sixth from Böhm and Karajan’s 1963 Ninth. Wilhelm Kempff plays the fourth and fifth concertos (BPO/Leitner) and four sonatas.

Throughout the 50 discs, the reality of the remastered sound is a revelation and at times startling. For example, the patrician performance of the Mahler First with Rafael Kubelik, taken from his complete edition, is a reminder of this conductor’s always intuitive readings of whatever he conducted, heard here in freshly minted, realistic sound. Carl Orff’s remarkable Carmina Burana received its definitive recording in October 1967 conducted by Eugen Jochum under Orff’s personal supervision with an all-star cast including Gundula Janowitz, Gerhard Stolze and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. That recording, heard on disc 33 of this set, is a model of remastering, sounding a tad cleaner than the original Originals single CD.

Karl Böhm’s entries include his celebrated versions of Magic Flute, Tristan and Isolde and the late Mozart symphonies. This set is a well-considered collection of close to 100 works of symphonic music, concertos, chamber music, instrumental solos and vocal music of interest to music lovers and audiophiles alike. Check out full contents on the DG site and listen to samples from every track in the set at deutschegrammophon.com/en/cat/4793449.

07 Bruce 02 ProkofievAsk the average music lover if they like Rachmaninov and the usual answer is a knowing yes. They mention the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini and the Second Piano Concerto and perhaps the Prelude in C-Sharp Minor. Then they are obliged to repeat the usual demeaning put-down about the four piano concertos being merely one concerto orchestrated four times. What a surprise then that Decca could devise a 32 CD set of Rachmaninov: The Complete Works (4786765) performed by top-notch orchestras and conductors, chamber groups, choruses, soloists et al., recorded over the years when the performers were in their prime.

Disc one, track one is, rather appropriately, the aforementioned prelude played by Vladimir Ashkenazy followed by the complete Op.23 and Op. 32 Preludes. Ashkenazy is featured many times in the collection both as pianist and conductor. Some of the works he plays are the four piano concertos and the Paganini Variations all conducted by André Previn; the First and Third Symphonies, the Symphonic Dances, the “Youth” Symphony and The Bells, all with the Concertgebouw Orchestra. The symphonic poems, Prince Rostislav and The Rock and Five Etudes-Tableaux (orchestrated by Respighi), the Scherzo in D minor, and Vocalise are all with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. On disc 32 Ashkenazy very frankly discusses Rachmaninov and his music.

There are many other artists, of course, Mikhail Pletnev, Sviatoslav Richter, Zoltán Kocsis, Jorge Bolet, Alexis Weissenberg, Martha Argerich, Nelson Freire, Byron Janis, the Beaux Arts Trio, Olga Borodina, Neeme Järvi and many others. Here is the chance to get to hear the entire published works by Rachmaninov including all the operas and not to be missed, the complete songs sung by Elizabeth Söderström. Complete contents and excerpts can be found at deccaclassics.com/en/cat/4786765.

07 Bruce 03 MartzyThirty-five years after her premature death at the age of 54, Hungarian violinist Johanna Martzy is still an icon among violin aficionados and record collectors. In addition to a spectacular concert career, working as soloist with luminaries such as Bernstein, Szell, Cluytens, Fricsay, Kletzki and Sawallisch, Martzy was featured as a recording artist of two of the world’s leading companies, Deutsche Grammophon and EMI. In addition to these recordings, documents of her live performances are much sought after. DOREMI has issued a third volume of mostly unreleased live performances and radio broadcasts (DHR-8034/5, 2 CDs). Gems include a 1959 radio recital from Johannesburg, preserved in pristine sound of works from Vivaldi to Bartók. A pleasant revelation in these tracks is her empathetic partner, the South African pianist, Adolph Hallis (virtuoso pupil of Theodor Leschetizky). Here is real music making! Also heard are two stylish viewpoints of Mozart’s third violin concerto (both 1961) and an impassioned Bartók’s First Rhapsody with George Szell (Cleveland 1960). The set ends with the finest performance I know of Suk’s Four Pieces for Violin and Piano, Op.17. In this sparkling performance from 1969 she is partnered by the fine Hungarian pianist, István Hajdu (Arthur Grumiaux’s accompanist).

07 Bruce 04 ArgerichSimilar to the repertoire presented in volumes one and two, DOREMI’s Martha Argerich Volume 3 (DHR-8030) includes her live performances when around age 20. Argerich shot to world fame when she won the 1965 Chopin Competition in Warsaw. She has maintained her status to this day and listening to her early performances, her magic was already in evidence. Over her long career, she came to prefer presenting music with others, playing in chamber groups and as soloist with orchestra. This CD opens with a vivacious rendition of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No.7 Op.10, No.3 in which the Largo is uniquely introspective and, as they say, worth the price of the disc. Then an elegant Schumann Kinderszenen and an animated Toccata Op.7 and Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No.6. Finally, a brilliant performance of Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto accompanied by Carl Melles conducting the Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra. The sound throughout the disc is first-rate.

It seems that every record company of standing is issuing packages of discs selected from their vaults of worthwhile, saleable performances. Of the omnibus editions, the RCA Toscanini Edition on 100 LPs was surely the first. Soon after Karajan’s death, EMI gathered every one of their recordings and issued them in two compact boxes. DG has been assiduously re-mastering their treasured recordings including Karajan’s and issuing them in impressive, well documented editions: Karajan 1960s then Karajan 1970s (Karajan 1980s will appear before Christmas); also Karajan complete analogue recordings of Richard Strauss and Karajan – The Beethoven Digital Recordings. Two unexpected boxes are now on the shelves: Karajan Symphony Edition and from 1963 Beethoven The Symphonies.

07 Old Wine 01a Karajan Symphony EditionThe Karajan Symphony Edition (4778005) is an extraordinary offering: 38 CDs for no more than $60 retail! Here are the complete Beethoven symphonies (1972 version) + overtures; the four Brahms symphonies + Haydn Variations and Tragic Overture, the nine Bruckner symphonies, Haydn’s Paris and London Symphonies; Mendelssohn’s five symphonies; Mozart’s late symphonies; Schumann’s four symphonies and Tchaikovsky’s six symphonies, etc. All the discs reflect the latest remasterings. How is this giveaway price possible? There are a few factors to consider: DG owns the masters; the recording sessions are long ago paid for and DG is making a lot of copies for worldwide distribution. It still is hard to figure out, but who’s complaining?

07 Old Wine 01b Karajan BeethovenBeethoven The Symphonies – Karajan’s 1963 performances are widely considered to be not only the onductor’s best but the best. DG has completely re-mastered the analogue tapes at 24 bit/96 kHz and has also produced a “Pure Audio Blu-ray disc” of the nine plus a rehearsal of the Ninth that is included in a limited edition, smartly bound as a hard cover book (94793442, 6 discs). Karajan was a longtime admirer of Toscanini and preparing for this important cycle, he studied Toscanini’s recordings. Both conductors’ cycles remain in print.

07 Old Wine 02 Kondrashin ShostakovichOn December 18, 1962 defying admonitions from Premier Khrushchev and the Soviet Presidium, the first performance of Shostakovich’s Thirteenth Symphony was given in Moscow and dutifully ignored by the press. The composer had set five of Yevgeny Yevtushenko’s poems, including the recently published Babi Yar, the subject of which was anti-Semitism and the well documented, wholesale massacre of Jews in Kiev by the Nazis in WWII. Further performances were banned until Yevtushenko altered the text, which he did, but not before December 20 when there was a repeat performance with the original text. Praga has issued a hybrid SACD of that event with Kirill Kondrashin conducting the Moscow Philharmonic, two choirs and Vitaly Gromadsky, tenor and speaker (PRD/DSD 350089, texts and translations included). This is the same performance heard on the complete 12CD Russian set (CDVE04241) but now delivered in a more impressive, open and persuasive sound. More than a performance, this is a declamation. I know of no other recorded performance to come even remotely close to the intensity and impact of this significant and valuable document.

The hybrid SACD includes excerpts from Prokofiev’s Cantata for the 20th Anniversary of the October Revolution Op.74. This commemorative work was inexplicably unpublished and unperformed during the composer’s lifetime. Altogether, this is an outstanding release.

07 Old Wine 03 Solti WalkureHis Decca Ring Cycle was years away in October of 1961 when Georg Solti conducted a new Die Walküre at Covent Garden. As I recall, it was Hans Knappertsbusch that Decca originally had in mind for their project. Testament brings us that live performance of October 2nd as recorded by the BBC in appropriately dynamic mono sound (SBT4-1495, 4 CDs). Upon the persuasive urging of Bruno Walter, Solti had just accepted the post of music director of the Covent Garden Opera Company and this performance presages the discipline and vitality of productions to follow, as his many recordings attest. Hearing the voice of the not quite 35-year-old Jon Vickers as the unfortunate Siegmund in the first act and into the second is still, to this day, an electrifying experience. Claire Watson turns in a believable Sieglinde, the only character to appear in all three acts. Brünnhilde is the Finnish Wagnerian soprano Anita Välkki and Wotan is Hans Hotter, in whom I was slightly disappointed in the final scene where he initially seems to be pushing his voice. Perhaps he needed a broader tempo but as the opera runs its course he is back on top. The whole production is very satisfying with splendid orchestral sound and no off-mike voices.

07 Old Wine 04 Abbado finalThe late Claudio Abbado enjoyed a career that spanned more than 50 years, during which he conducted the world’s finest orchestras. His last recorded concerts, those of August 16 and 17, 2013 were with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra. Accentus has issued a splendid DVD of the complete program of that opening concert of the season, comprising Brahms’ Tragic Overture, Schoenberg’s Song of the Wood Dove from Gurrelieder and Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony (ACC20282). I doubt that there could ever be a nobler and more flowing version of the Tragic Overture than heard here. Gurrelieder, Schoenberg’s great ultra-Romantic post-Wagnerian masterpiece has been a special favourite of mine since I first heard the Stokowski/Philadelphia recording. For me it is a heady experience. The Song of the Wood Dove that brings the news of the death of Tove to King Waldemar stands well on its own, magnificently conveying the enormity of the awful news. The immense augmented orchestra supports the outstanding mezzo-soprano Mihoko Fujimura as the Wood Dove. The very fine Eroica is played with total commitment, immaculate in detail and dynamics and enormous authority. A well balanced, albeit unusual program played with effortless virtuosity and a fine showcase for the late conductor. 

06 Old Wine 01 FricsayConductor Ferenc Fricsay (1914-1963) was a significant figure in the international music world in the mid-20th century. He was born in Budapest and studied with Bartók, Dohnányi and Kodály at the Budapest Academy of Music. He held several posts before 1945 when he became co-conductor of what would become the Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra and sole director of the Budapest Opera. By the 1950s his interpretive talent was recognized and he was in demand as a guest conductor by leading orchestras. He left the Budapest Philharmonic in 1948 to become music director of the recently formed RIAS Symphony in Berlin. He held that post from 1948 through 1954, then again from 1959 to 1963.

Thanks to Deutsche Grammophon (DGG at the time) who recorded Fricsay working with his own and other orchestras, there is a wealth of superb performances in the vaults that are about to surface and re-surface in two omnibus CD packages. The first is available now, Ferenc Fricsay The Complete Recordings Volume 1: Orchestral Works (479 2891 45CDs, mono and stereo). Recorded mostly in the Jesus-Christus-Kirche in Berlin, with either the Berlin Philharmonic or the RIAS and its successor, these performances represent the highest level of musicmaking.

I recall my excitement in 1958 over acquiring the Beethoven Ninth in stereo! It was by Ferenc Fricsay conducting the Berlin Philharmonic with soloists Irmgard Seefried, Maureen Forrester, Ernst Haefliger and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. It was on two Decca LPs and was outstanding in every respect. As I write this I am listening to that very performance on disc nine of this collection and it really does stand the test of time. This is a different Beethoven from, say, the Klemperer or Furtwangler Beethoven. The textures are translucent without any suggestion of inevitability, particularly the slow movement which is open and at times radiant. In total there are five discs of Beethoven in the box and lots of brilliant performances of Bartók and Kodály. There are four discs of Tchaikovsky, five of Mozart. Soloists include Géza Anda, Tibor Varga, Monique Haas, Annie Fischer, Wolfgang Schneiderhan, Pierre Fournier, Nicanor Zabaleta, János Starker, Joanna Martzy, Erica Morini, Clara Haskil, Yehudi Menuhin and many others. Clearly there is no space to detail the extensive popular and esoteric repertoire but the detailed track listing of the contents is at deutschegrammophon.com.

Thanks to the soundtrack of 2001, A Space Odyssey, Also Sprach Zarathustra is Richard Strauss’ most familiar work … well, at least the opening pages. Producer and director Stanley Kubrick carefully chose the music and selected the Herbert von Karajan-Vienna Philharmonic recording on Decca as his must-have. The request was unequivocally declined but after much negotiating, Decca agreed on condition that the performance remain anonymous and never identified. A soundtrack album was issued, substituting a Böhm recording. The secret was safe. Years later all was revealed and we wonder if Decca or Karajan was calling the shots.

06 Old Wine 02 Karajan StraussThat performance and the other Richard Strauss recordings made by John Culshaw in the Sofiensaal in 1959 are contained in a sumptuous package of all Karajan’s analog recordings of Richard Strauss for Decca and DG with the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonic Orchestras. Karajan Strauss (4792686) is a limited edition, LP-sized package, about an inch thick, containing eleven CDs, a Blu-ray audio disc and an informative art book. None of these recordings is new to the catalogue. All the usual suspects are here including the live 1960 Der Rosenkavalier from Salzburg (including libretto), plus two historic recordings with the Concertgebouw Orchestra from 1943, The Dance of the Seven Veils and Don Juan, set beside the 1970s recordings from Berlin. The astounding new 24/96 processing of all these analog originals is an unexpected revelation of just how much more information there was to hear. The Blu-ray disc contains the same repertoire as on six of the 11 CDs.

06 Old Wine 03 ShumskyOscar Shumsky (1917-2000) was one of the most cultivated and exquisite violinists of his time, revered by his fellow musicians. He enjoyed a busy career, from the child prodigy engaged by the likes of Stokowski and Reiner settling into the role of concertmaster of New York orchestras and a much-loved and sought-after chamber musician. He played regularly with Glenn Gould, William Primrose, Bernard Greenhouse, Leonard Rose and Earl Wild and vocalists Maureen Forrester, Lois Marshall and James Melton. He was also a conductor and teacher. Canadians may well remember hearing performances in Stratford where he was co-director (1961-64) or director (1965-67) of music. I recall a Mozart concerto there “conducted from the keyboard” by Jose Iturbi in which the orchestra depended entirely on concertmaster Shumsky for their cues. He remained a regular contributor to Toronto’s musical life in addition to his role as teacher.

As sometimes happens, a major talent often is underutilized by the record companies in concerto recordings. In his later years however, Shumsky was taken over by an influential British concert management and became a busy soloist in recordings with leading orchestras.

A new Doremi set (DHR-8031-3 , 3 CDs) is a treasure house of mostly previously unreleased highlights of four decades of Shumsky’s great artistry in various musical styles, in concert with the above artists, playing composers from Bach, Mozart and Beethoven to Hindemith. Complete details at Doremi.com. 

When Carlo Maria Giulini died in 2005 the music world lost one of the last supreme conductors of the second half of the 20th century. Giulini was born in Barletta, Italy in 1914 and began violin lessons at the age of five, later switching to viola. In 1932 he auditioned and was accepted as a member of the viola section of Italy’s foremost orchestra at the time, the Orchestra dell’Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Rome. There he played under Fritz Reiner, Victor de Sabata, Pierre Monteux, Wilhelm Furtwangler, Richard Strauss and others including Bruno Walter. In 1944 he was appointed conductor of the Italian Radio (RAI) Orchestra. A performance of La Mer impressed Arturo Toscanini who had heard the broadcast. The two met and formed a firm, lasting friendship and Toscanini recommended Giulini to La Scala where he became assistant to the great Victor de Sabata, whom he succeeded as musical director in 1953.

06 old wine 01 guilini in viennaIt is axiomatic that the first items in any program should not be showstoppers but DG does that in this set (Giulini in Vienna 479 2688, 15 CDs) with unmatched performances of three Beethoven piano concertos, the First, Third and Fifth, played by Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra. Recorded live in 1979 in the Musikverein, Michelangeli is in winning form, magisterial, dynamic, probing and articulate, as is the orchestra.

The next five discs are devoted to the four Brahms symphonies, the Tragic Overture, the Haydn Variations and the German Requiem, all recorded in the Musikverein with the Vienna Philharmonic. I was not looking forward to the symphonies for, as some readers may have intuited, I am weary of hearing them. Listening to the First renewed my enthusiasm for the work however. This is played not as a “Beethoven Tenth” but a Brahms First. It is quite formal and beautifully laid out, with no deliberate emphasis on this phrase or that or by retarding or accelerating to make a point. This performance vividly recalled my unexpected euphoria at first hearing the work so many years ago. His performance of the Requiem is right on the money, with a strong pulse drawing together the seven sections featuring soprano Barbara Bonney, baritone Andreas Schmidt, and the choir of Vienna State Opera. His balancing of choir, soloists and orchestra is exemplary, although one must acknowledge the art of the engineers at getting just so on this very impressive recording of 1987. Three Giulini Bruckner symphonies, Seven, Eight and Nine, have had a devoted following since their initial release and the sound on these reissues is of demonstration quality. The two Liszt Piano Concertos with Lazar Berman and the Vienna Symphony deserve their inclusion as does the 1979 complete Rigoletto with Domingo, Cotrubas, Ghiaurov, Obraztsova, et al. and the Vienna Philharmonic. The final work in this set is the 1973 cantata An die Nachgeborenen (To Posterity) by Gottfried von Einem, his most important work. There are nine sections in this unusual and moving piece with texts from Bertholt Brecht, the Psalms, Hölderlin and Sophocles. Featured are mezzo Julia Hamari, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, the Vienna Singverein and the Vienna Symphony, recorded in 1975. Without exception, all the interpretations and performances in this collection are of enduring stature, offered in the finest sound that makes the repertoire doubly satisfying.

I have enjoyed the following fine old wines in new bottles over the last little while and pass them along for your summer listening:

06 old wine 02 strauss conducts straussAmong the many collections issued to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the birth of Richard Strauss is the DG compilation of their recordings of the composer conducting his own works and others (Strauss conducts Strauss, 479 2703, 7 CDs). Included are all the Strauss tone poems including two Don Quixotes and waltz sequences from Acts II and III of Der Rosenkavalier. He seems to ignore his quoted advice to conductors, “Play everything twice as fast” and “Don’t look at the brass, it only encourages them.” Included are Mozart’s last three symphonies and Beethoven’s Fifth and Seventh; also overtures by Gluck, Weber, Wagner and Cornelius. From way back in 1921 Strauss plays piano for fabled baritone Heinrich Schlusnus in four lieder. The sound is bright and dynamic throughout featuring the Berlin Philharmonic, the Staatskapelle Berlin and the Bayerisches Staatskapelle. Low price, high recommendation.

06 old wine 03 arkhipovaI was first aware of the Russian mezzo, Irina Arkhipova from the 1963 recording of the Bolshoi’s Boris Godunov which I bought for George London’s Boris. She sings Marina and the Act III duet with Dimitri, building to her adoring and close-to-sublime No, no Tsarevich, I beg you, which is unequaled. Melodyia has issued The Art of Irina Arkhipova (MEL CD 10 2123) in which she sings songs by Tchaikovsky, Six French Songs, Op.65 and Six Romances, Op.73; seven songs by Rachmaninoff and Mussorgsky’s Songs and Dances of Death. I do not understand Russian but I find sung Russian very pleasing and satisfying, hence I have no idea of the English translations but, regardless, I continue to listen to these songs for the pleasure of hearing her voice. But, as they say in the ads, your mileage may vary.

06 old wine 04 don giovanniFrom the very first bars of the overture, you know that the live 1962 Don Giovanni from Munich conducted by Joseph Keilberth with the Bayerisches Staatskapelle will be spectacular! Here is the cast: George London (Giovanni), Gottlob Frick (Commendatore), Hildegard Hillebrecht (Donna Anna), Nicolai Gedda (Don Ottavio), Sena Jurinac (Donn’Elvira), Benno Kusche (Leporello), Albrecht Peter (Masetto) and Anneliese Rothenberger (Zerlina). A dream cast if there ever was one and it is a truly sparkling performance. It’s on Andromeda (ANDRCD 918, 3 CDs) and very inexpensive. Dynamic live sound…not a note is wasted or unheard. A must-have.

Leonard Bernstein had a long career as conductor, composer, pianist, lecturer and educator. We witnessed his growth in every aspect through his recordings, from 78s to CDs and SACDs and visually from Beta to VHS tapes to DVDs. The recordings began in 1945 when RCA Victor initiated a series of American music played and conducted by Bernstein. In 1953 American Decca issued performances of popular symphonies accompanied Bernstein’s spoken analysis and then came the steady procession of his seemingly boundless repertoire recorded by Columbia mostly with his own New York Philharmonic but also with the London Symphony and the Israel Philharmonic.

He made his television debut on November 14, 1954 on CBS’ Omnibus with an analysis of the first movement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony with a grand copy of the first page from the score painted on the floor. The orchestra, members of Toscanini’s then recently dissolved NBC Symphony, played discarded passages from Beethoven’s workbook. Fascinating, yes, but there were only six more of Bernstein’s inspired creations, passed between CBS and NBC and finishing at ABC in 1958. 

He expended a lot of time and energy on and took much pride in his memorable Young People’s Concerts that ran on CBS-TV from 1958 to 1972-73 with such subjects as “What does music mean?” “What is a Concerto?” “Humour in Music” and “Berlioz Takes a Trip.” 

In 1957 he was appointed music director of the New York Philharmonic and in 1958 began his tenure that lasted until 1969 when he resigned, declaring that it took up too much time and that he would never again take on the role of music director of any orchestra. He continued to conduct them from time to time and make further recordings. He was named conductor laureate.

In 1972 DG recorded the Met production of Bizet’s Carmen with Marilyn Horne and James McCracken. It was Bernstein’s first recording for DG and by the way, it won a Grammy. Off to a good start. From then on he recorded mainly for DG, occasionally returning to Sony and on one or two occasions appeared on Decca, EMI or Philips. DG was there for his final concert in Tanglewood on August 19, 1990 when he conducted Britten’s Four Sea Interludes and the Beethoven Seventh with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. He died on October 14 and New Yorkers lined the streets of Manhattan for the funeral procession and construction workers were seen to remove their hats and call “Goodbye, Lennie.”

07 old wine 01 leonard bernstein collectionThe Bernstein Collection Volume One (Deutsche Grammophon 479 1047) contains all his audio recordings for DG by composers A to L. There are 59 CDs and one DVD, packaged in a sturdy LP sized box, two and a half inches deep.  Each disc is individually sleeved in a replica of the original art work but without the liner notes on the back; they would have been too small to read anyhow. Instead there are track listings with timings and recording session data.

Bernstein had made studio recordings of all the Beethoven symphonies with the New York Philharmonic (NYP) for Sony in the early 60s but there is no question that the sweep and continuity of the live versions with the Vienna Philharmonic (VPO) outclass them in every way for many reasons. The orchestra has a signature sound that is passed on from player to player, from one generation to the next. The sonority of their string sound is nurtured and protected. The aura of their winds, particularly the oboe is specific to the VPO. The burnished brass is legendary. Also Bernstein had certainly matured considerably as a conductor and a musician regardless of where he conducted. The differences are unmistakable interpretively and most certainly in the quality and reality of the recorded sound. These evaluations apply equally to the four Brahms symphonies. The DG years documented Bernstein’s finest music making both at home and abroad.

Although there is no mention of any new remastering, the sound on every disc that I played is disarmingly real. I went straight to disc 58 to hear a recording of a longtime favourite that I knew so well, Liszt’s Faust Symphony, the one with the Boston Symphony. I don’t recall the sound being so compelling and real. It made me very happy to be in Symphony Hall where it was recorded.

There’s lots of Bernstein conducting Bernstein, Copland, Ives and Harris, Haydn and Hindemith and the Carmen mentioned above, plus an interesting DVD of the making of West Side Story with Te Kanawa, Carreras et al. Check the complete contents of this Limited Edition set on the DG website, deutschegrammophon.com/us/. The Omnibus programs and The Young People’s Concerts are available on two DVD sets from kultur.com.

07 old wine 02 milsteinIn July 1957 EMI recorded Nathan Milstein playing the Goldmark Violin Concerto No.1 with the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Harry Blech. Milstein championed this ravishing concerto when it was virtually unknown. This stereo recording was reissued in 1995 by Testament in a faultless and satisfying transfer (SBT1047). The reel-to-reel stereo tapes from those sessions have passed into the hands of Praga Digitals who have prepared an SACD version coupled with the Brahms Violin Concerto conducted by Anatole Fistoulari (Praga PRD/DSD 350105).  The DSD remastering of the original tapes has produced ambient recordings of unsurpassed reality, as clear and present as one could wish.

08 bruce 01 bergIn 1991 a new record label came into being when Continuum/Testament issued seven CDs that restored several esteemed recordings from the past of interest to music lovers and collectors alike. Their first disc (SBT1001) featured acclaimed hornist Aubrey Brain, Adolf Busch and Rudolf Serkin playing the Brahms Horn Trio, Op.40 (rec.1933) coupled with Reginald Kell playing the Brahms Clarinet Quintet with the Busch String Quartet (rec.1937). The others for that year were two more Kell programs, discs by Richard Tauber, Yehudi Menuhin and a CD of Ten Top Tenors, a CD that included Caruso, Roswaenge, Thill, Martinelli and others. Quite unexpected was a CD of Alban Berg that included the Violin Concerto played by Louis Krasner, who commissioned the work, with the BBC Symphony conducted by Anton Webern! (SBT1004). The source was Krasner’s own acetates which were far less than pristine, but that was soon overlooked after experiencing this enthralling and unique performance. Today, some 500 releases later, Testament is at the forefront of issuing and reissuing licensed recordings of outstanding performances of every classical genre by artists that are now deservedly legendary, including conductors, instrumentalists, singers, symphony orchestras, chamber groups and two Ring Cycles, Keilberth from Bayreuth (1955) and Kempe from Covent Garden (1957). From the last few months, here are four out-of-the-ordinary releases of special interest:

08 bruce 02 bohmA 2-CD set from the 1962 Salzburg Festival features an August 19 performance with Karl Böhm and the Berlin Philharmonic (SBT2.1489). The program opens with Mozart’s Symphony No.40 played in tempi that may sound to some ears to be on the slow side. However, that was how Böhm heard it and how he played it over the years in Dresden and everywhere else. As such the elegance is very pleasing. Hearing Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau singing Kindertotenlieder was always a moving experience and with Böhm and the Berliners supporting him, the 37-year-old singer is inspired. The big, after-the-intermission work is Also Sprach Zarathustra. DG had recorded a Böhm version in 1958 but this later performance is far more powerful, probing and intense. Böhm does not stay on the surface of the score to give a brilliant effect but is fully aware of and reveals the brooding energy beneath. A performance of this magnitude most certainly adds new dimensions to this mighty tone poem.

08 bruce 03 karajan verdiThe Verdi Requiem was played by the Berlin Philharmonic ten days earlier at the same 1962 Salzburg Festival, on this occasion conducted by Herbert von Karajan. The soloists were Leontyne Price, Giulietta Simionato, Giuseppe Zampieri and Nicolai Ghiaurov with the Singverein der Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde Wien. Testament’sCD (SBT 1491) of the ORF’s recording was authorized by the Salzburg Festival. Frankly, I wondered why issue yet another Karajan Verdi Requiem. From the ethereally balanced strings and voices of the “Requiem and Kyrie,” the performance unfolded, not as expected but as a haunting and respectful homage to Verdi, empathizing with his emotions and his inspiration to write the work. The soloists and chorus are fully enrolled, all rising to the occasion.

08 bruce 04 britten requiemThe world premiere performance of Britten’s War Requiem, given in Coventry Cathedral on May 30, 1960 is finally available on CD (SBT 1490). Taking part in this historic event were Peter Pears, Heather Harper, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau with The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, The Coventry Festival Choir, Boys of Holy Trinity, Leamington and Holy Trinity, Stratford and John Cooper, organ, all conducted by Meredith Davies and the Melos Ensemble conducted by Benjamin Britten. The genesis of this work, commissioned in remembrance of the bombing of Coventry, is well known, together with the many obstacles to be overcome. This is from the BBC’s original recording digitally remastered in 2013. There have been some picayune criticisms of the occasional untidiness in the playing and some off-the-beat entries or that the recording does not make certain passages as clear as they would be in a modern studio recording. For heaven’s sake! This is not an audition tape! It’s an “historic document”! We can now hear how that notable first performance sounded to the people in attendance 54 years ago. There is a sense of occasion throughout the performance from instrumentalists and singers alike as all three soloists demonstrate their total absorption in their roles. I find this monaural recording to be gripping, convincing and eminently moving.

08 bruce 05 mewton-woodNoel Mewton-Wood was an Australian pianist, born in Melbourne in 1922. He studied at the Melbourne Conservatorium and was passionate about all forms of music. In the 1930s he studied with Artur Schnabel and later with Frank Bridge. He had an enormous talent and was highly regarded and respected by his peers and many conductors, especially Beecham with whom he performed often. Britten chose Mewton-Wood to premiere the revised version of his piano concerto and later to accompany Pears while he, Britten, was occupied with Gloriana. Pears commissioned pieces to be featured in their upcoming May 1953 concert. Later that year, devastated by the death of his partner, the 31-years young Noel Mewton-Wood knowingly ingested cyanide. The four-movement Britten Piano Concerto mentioned above was recorded in 1946 by Mewton-Wood with the London Symphony conducted by Basil Cameron. This BBC recording, previously un-released together with the songs commissioned by Pears for their recital, is now on Testament (SBT 1493) with comprehensive notes. The vivacious Britten concerto is played with great gusto and the song cycles, To Poetry by Mátyás Seiber and Voices of the Prophets by Alan Bush were recorded at the time for broadcast by the BBC. 

Back to top