Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Rimsky-Korsakov, Nicolai. (1844-1908) & Borodin, Alexandre. (1833-1887) Orchestral Works. Top recommendation.

From my collection.
Bought in November 2009.
First listen: 29-11-2009.
Second listen: 28-6-2017.
Label: Zig-Zag Territoires.
Recording dates: June 2004.
Recording venue: Concertgebouw Brugge, Belgium.
Recording engineer: Markus Heiland.
Running time: 76:18.
Relevance to me: Essential.
Top recommendation.
Reference performance.
State of the Art sound.

Works performed:
Sheherazade opus 35.
Russian Easter Festival Overture opus 36.

Borodin.
In Central Asia.
Polovtsian Dances.

Works performed by:
Anima Eterna, Jos van Immerseel.

If you expect sparks and a virtuosic display in the music of both composers I advise you to ignore this release. If however you appreciate authentic performance practice plus authentic instruments, and are willing to listen to this music then I promise you, you will be in for a treat.
All classical music fans will know the works on this disc, for they belong to the core repertoire of every orchestra, and are regularly performed in concert halls. So the story behind the music is well known as are the composers.
What you get with this orchestra are highly polished interpretations. Were vibrato is reduced to a minimum, and long legato lines are rare. Dynamics that are perfectly judged, and a harmonious balance that is beyond words, so beautiful. Never be afraid that you will miss any details, for the reduced amount of strings allows you to hear every tiny detail behind them. The brass has a golden shine, and fits perfectly in the total picture of the music, without distorting the equilibrium of the orchestra. It is all utterly perfect. All is so well balanced that even in the loudest passages, you never have to lower the volume or block your ears. The woodwinds are warm and really a treat to hear throughout the loudest passages. And when all is in rest, the winds and solo violin seem to float in midair. But then, the recording belongs to the best I have ever heard in my life. 
I can also safely say that all the works on this CD are reference interpretations. Never have I heard Sheherazade or the Russian Easter festival overture better as on this recording, and Borodin's works get quite close to the same level. This orchestra is on such a high altitude that it fulfills all technical and interpretive wishes one could possibly have.
The violin in Sheherazade is played by Midori Seiler, and she is amazing. Her hushed tones are out of this world, and she creates a magical world that gets you right in the middle of this of the story.
I have only small quibble regarding the recording of the timpani and the snare drum in the Polovtsian dances. It all happens fixed in the right speaker and does not travel the wide of the orchestra, which is a pity, for the effect is partly destroyed. But it's minor and it should not keep you away from this extraordinary recording.



Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Koechlin, Charles. (1867-1950) Piano Works Volume I. ....des Jardins enchantés.

New acquisition.
Bought in June 2017.
First listen: 27-6-2017.
Label: Hanssler Classics.
Recording dates: December 2007.
Recording venus: Kammermusikstudio Stuttgart, Germany.
Recording engineer: Karlheinz Runde.
Running time: 76:27.
Relevance to me: It's an ongoing learning process.

Works performed:
Andante quasi adagio.
Sonatine opus 87 No. 1,3 & 4.
L'Album de Lilian, opus 39 & opus 149. Extracts. 
Paysages et marines, opus 63.

Performed by: 
Michael Korstick, Piano.

As I said earlier when I reviewed some chamber music for Flute form this composer, that I have a sort of a hate-love relation with this music, and this comes more to the fore in the piano music. There are some disconcerting harmonies that irk me the wrong way. But on the other side there are also beautiful moments, serenely magical with a sense of relaxation. It can lure you quite quickly into melancholy reminiscences, more so as lifting your spirits. There is delight but also a touch of sameness in this music. The music breathes freely and is uncluttered by dazzling or unnerving moments. It's demeanor turns into a sombre and inward lament of some kind. Very effective but a little soulless. But I like the reflective harmonies, so I will get used to the music, but maybe not all. Korstick is a fine piano player, but a touch to slow.
The recording is quite good.




Irgens Jensen, Ludvig. (1894-1969) Symphonic Works. Top recommendation.

New acquisition.
Bought in June 2017.
First listen: 27-6-2017.
Label: CPO
CD 2 from 2.
Recording dates: August 2009.
Recording venue: Olavshallen, Trondheim, Norway.
Recording engineer: Stephan Reh.
Running time: 64:32.
Relevance to me: Essential.

Works performed:
Sinfonia in d.
Rondo Marziale (third movement of the Symphony)
Passacaglia.

Works performed by:
Trondheim SO, Eivind Aadland.

The performances on the second disc are as impressive as the first disc. As an interpretation and recording this release goes further in all points as the Naxos disc, of which I spoke in an earlier review. And while the Bournemouth SO under Bjarte Engeset give a good account of the Sinfonie and Passacaglia, Aadland finds more passion and drive in these works, and has the bonus of the Rondo Marziale, which is a very impressive movement. As a added bonus it is better recorded too. Irgen-Jensen is a recent discovery for me, and I am still amazed what a fine composer he is. The intricate textures Jensen weaves has a luminosity beyond what I ever expected. I find it to be spellbounding in every aspect. He conjures and maintains an atmosphere of a magical spectral quality, with an intense expressivity and quite an emotional directness that grabs you immediately. There is an passionate vitality creating a tonal bloom which gives you a feeling of oneness with the music, highly engaging. Especially the Passacaglia is a powerhouse of forceful emotion which has its dark sides, but is outreaching to communicate. This considerable intensity makes for a deeply felt experience.  The Rondo marziale came as a welcome surprise, so well it is composed, that it remains a mystery why he took it out of the context of the Symphony. There is a visionary and daunting quality, disquieting even with its unnerving shifts of perspective. The Sinfonia in d minor is in every aspect a masterwork in two movements. It deploys a huge range of colours with many spiritualized elements. There is always a quiet sustained tension, but also bold gestures in both movements. The energy and variety is almost palpable. Illuminative, fascinating, superbly responsive music. 
The recording and performance are superb.



Bruckner, Anton. (1824-1896) Symphony No. 3 in D minor. Third version of 1889.

New acquisition.
Bought in June 2017.
First listen: 27-6-2017.
Label: CPO.
CD 4 from 11.
Recording dates: April/May 2012.
Recording venue: Kultur Casino, Bern, Switzerland.
Recording engineer: Gerald Hahnefeld.
Running time: 54:35.
Relevance to me: Essential.

Works performed:
See heading.

Works performed by:
Berner Symphonieorchester, Mario Venzago.

About Venzago approach I already said a lot in my earlier reviews of Symphony No. 0/1/2. That he is without doubt authentic in his approach of the Bruckner symphonies is crystal clear to me, whatever the criticasters may say or write. No. 3 sounds so uncluttered and has such free flowing virility that is is hard to imagine this work could be done in a different way. For every one of us it is quite an ordeal to be confronted with a slimmed down Bruckner, but in the end in pays huge dividends. Clarity in orchestral matters, coherent in its structure, easy to follow melody lines, and above all you are not blown away by massed brass, or drowned in massed strings. And in the case of the third we get the best orchestra until now. The strings are super sweet, and the brass is a balm for you ears. The Berners have Bruckner in their blood. Especially the finale has all the elements in it, what makes Venzago's approach so special.  This will be for me the final Bruckner, unless someone will record it on authentic instruments. That should be quite a treat. Maybe Jos van Immerseel  with his orchestra could make a success of it.

 

Tchaikovsky, Pyotr Ilyich. (1840-1893) Symphony No. 1, Winter Daydreams, opus 13, and other works. Top recommendation.

New acquisition.
Bought in June 2017.
First listen: 27-6-2017.
Label: BIS.
Recording dates: June & December 2002. August 2003.
Recording venue: Gothenburg Hall, Sweden.
Recording engineer: Michael Bergek.
Running time: 77:10.
Relevance for me: Essential.
Reference performance.
Top recommendation.
State of the Art sound.

Works performed:
Symphony No. 1 in G minor, "Winter Daydreams". (1866/74).
The Snow Maiden, opus 12. (1873) Orchestral excerpts from the incidental music to Ostrovsky's play.
Romeo and Juliet. (1869/70/80. Fantasy overture after Shakespeare.

Works performed by:
Gothenburg SO, Neeme Järvi.

Tchaikovsky is number one in my collection as a composer. It was always so, and will stay put. This set was for a long time on my list to purchase, but somehow it was always kept in the waiting queue. I ended this misery this month and ordered the whole set. And by what I hear I should have done that much earlier, for I find it in all respects one of the best sets I have, and in the case of the first symphony I am convinced that it is in the top 3 of best recorded and performed interpretations. What a joy this recording is. You can walk through the desks, not a detail is missed, whether in the woodwinds or strings and for that matter the brass. Furthermore, Järvi is a master in applying dynamics and accents. He keeps the whole orchestral image crystal clear, with a amazing lucidity, and a razor sharp control on the total sound. The fact that you literally hear all the details, no matter how loud or soft the orchestra plays, is an exceptional feat. The engineer understood Järvi's technical skills and recorded it most faithfully. The front to back image is stunning no less. The first symphony opens this disc. It is just oozing with virility, and it's visceral quality is immediately noticeable. Soft grained when the music needs it, blazing with rhythmical precision and pounding passion, as if his dear life depended on it. He squeezes the last ounce of grandeur and weight out of this score with plenty of swagger. The clarity and control, and this really impeccable orchestral discipline, makes this performance a top recommendation. How beautiful the Finale is, thrillingly precise like a swiss clockwork. Or the finely pointed Scherzo, with an infectious lilt so well known in Tchaikovsky's musical context. No undue sentimentality here, but a pure and clean romantic approach, rubato and legato sparingly applied.
But nothing prepares you really for the Snow Maiden and Romeo and Juliet. Both works have so much to tell, that your ears at times get an overload of melodies and harmonies, every one of them filling my heart with joy. The expressive statement of both works is one of enduring excellence. Unexpected moods, flowing without interruption and full of expectations, it all gives you a sense of how great this composer actually was. His emotional trajectory is always clear and stated with authority. Expansive and sometimes hypnotic fiestas, this is high end music with deep roots in the very soul of Tchaikovsky.
Amazing.



Monday, June 26, 2017

Hiller, Ferdinand. (1811-1885) Piano Works.

New acquisition.
Bought in June 2017.
First listen: 26-6-2017.
Label: CPO.
Recording dates: March 2010.
Recording venue: Kammermusikstudio SWR Stuttgart, Germany.
Recording engineer:  Not mentioned.
Running time: 52:48.
Relevance to me: Essential.

Works performed:
Piano Sonata No 2 in A major opus 59.
No 3 in G minor opus 78.
Trois Ghasèles, opus 54.
Six piano pieces, opus 130.
From: : Vermischte Klavierstücke opus 81, No. 1-3.

Performed by:
Alexandra Oehler, Piano.

For no reason at all really, I kept away from this composer, but as it proves by this CD that was not justified. I am duly impressed by what I hear. Alexandra Oehler exudes confidence and is revelling in the many contrast and dynamics Hiller has in his sleeve. Some of his music is a dazzling affair, and the sheer control Oehler has over the textures is amazing and exhilarating at the same time. 
Hiller is a regular powerhouse of emotions, and a fervent painter of musical images full of reflective musings. Whatever Hiller throws at you it is always refreshingly animated and splendidly articulated. The music unleashes imaginatively wrought embellishments with a controlled freedom that has me gasping at times. Especially both sonatas are a expression of 
Hiller's deep understanding of the piano's possibilities and he knows exactly how to express himself. People tend to forget what a talented composer he was, and not only a writer of countless difficult pieces to irritate scholars aspiring to become pianists. 
Oehler is amazing in this repertoire, really amazing. The sound is a match to Oehler's excellence.




Koechlin, Charles. (1867-1950) Chamber Music with Flute. World Premiere Recording.

New acquisition.
Bought in June 2017.
First listen: 26-6-2017.
Label: Hanssler Classics.
Recording dates: February 2004.
Recording venue: Not mentioned.
Recording engineer: Burkhard Pitzner Landeck.
Running time: 55:16.
Relevance to me: Well worth having.

Works performed: 
Épitaphe de Jean Harlow, opus 164.
Trio (Divertissement) opus 91.
Suite en quatuor, opus 55.
Trio opus 92.
Sonate pour deux flûtes, opus 75.
Deux Nocturnes, opus 32.
Sonatine modale opus 152a.
Pièce de Flûte pour lecture à vue opus 128.

Performed by: 
Members of the Radio Symphony Orchestra Stuttgart.
Tatjana Ruhland, Flute.
Yaara Tal, Piano.

Long did I hold back on this composer. I always thought that this dreamlike music was not for me, having already troubles with the likes of Claude Debussy, or Scriabin, etc. Finally though I took the plunge, for 3 of the Hanssler releases were on sale. So my thought was, if it does not work, no man overboard.  But it did work, hesitantly but it worked. Koechlin is more firm in his expression as say Debussy. Rhythmically there is much more going on, and although it has a dreamlike character I found a way in. There is no struggle in this music, it blossoms easily. Late romantic lushness is very much in its genes. There are at times unexpected depths of melancholy in a few of his works, but also countless little touches of imaginative colour and a certain grace. There is contrast but no tension, pure beauty and shimmering waves of almost elusive harmonies. His ingenuity of writing is always at the front of things. Immensely likable music.
I found the performances and recording top notch.




Rimsky-Korsakov, Nicolai. (1844-1908) & Borodin, Alexandre. (1833-1887) Orchestral Works. Top recommendation.

From my collection. Bought in November 2009. First listen: 29-11-2009. Second listen: 28-6-2017. Label: Zig-Zag Territoires. Recording ...