Friday, December 2, 2016

Strauss, II Johann. (1825-1899) The complete Orchestral Edition. CD 30

New acquisition.
Bought in 2013.
First listen: 2-12-2016.
Label: Naxos.
CD 30 from 52.
Recording dates: January 1991.
Recording venue: House of Arts, Košice.
Recording engineer: Gejza Toperczer.
Running time: 67:17.
Classical relevance: Since these are the only recordings, essential.

Works performed:
Fest Marsch, opus 49.
Luisen Sympathie Klänge, opus 81.
Alexandrine Polka, opus 198.
Paroxysmen, opus 189.
Kammerball Polka, opus 230.
Attaque Quadrille, opus 76.
Reiseabenteuer, Waltz, opus 227.
Par Force, Polka, opus 308.
Erinnerung an Covent Garden, Walzer nach Englischen Volksmelodien, opus 329.
Kriegsabenteuer, Quick Polka, opus 419.
Perpetuum mobile, ein musikalischer Scherz, opus 257.
Klug Grethlein Waltz, opus 462.

Works performed by:
Slovak State PO Košice, Alfred Walter.

After a long time I came back to this box. I always listen to this music with large intervals, so it must have been a year ago or more, I do not remember. These are the only recordings of Johann Strauss II complete orchestral works, and as such it is a unique document and not likely to be repeated by what ever label. To record 52 CD's of Strauss music is for most companies impossible to realize in terms of money. It would however make a big improvement to have top orchestras and conductors doing the performing, for despite the efforts that went into this project, the major flaw are the orchestras, conductors and recording engineers. They are of the second tier, not bad, but not good either. But at least we have the music, and for this I am grateful.
CD 30 then, not filled with absolute masterworks, but a few stand out in a compositional manner.
I was delighted to hear such witty and well written works like: Alexandrine polka, Attaque Polka and Perpetuum mobile-ein musikalischer scherz. This orchestra excels in the faster works, like the Polkas, the Quadrilles and so forth. The waltzes are mediocre on this disc. The Viennese swing and spontaneity is missing. It is stiff in the loins, square even, straightfaced as if they are all counting the notes, and play the dance element always in the same tempo, more like a menuetto. No sloppy playing mind, they keep close to the score, but it is all so measured and without the joy that is unmistakable the prime part of Strauss's music.  There is no natural flow. But funny enough, and do not ask me why, but the last waltz on this disc "Klug Grethlein" is played as it should, flowing free, emitting joy, as if the bonds of mediocre fell to the floor. Well....
As to the recording, It is not bad, all details can be heard, and there is some depth, but the ambiance is not warm but rather chilly. Moreover the string and flutes together can give you a start for their shrillness, suddenly in a fff, not nice for the ears. A decent recording, not more. A question of quality of equipment, placing of the microphones, a good mixing console, and decent near field monitors to have a bearing as to the sound. Good headphones is also a wise decision. O, well, we have to do with them.

Stravinsky, Igor. (1882-1971) Ballet music. TOP RECOMMENDATION.

From my collection.
Bought in 2010.
First listen: 25-3-2013. CD 24.
Second listen: 2-12-2016.
First listen: 4-4-2013. CD 25.
Second listen: 2-12-2016.
Label: DECCA.
Recording dates: June 1980 & May 1981 & October 1982.
Recording venue: Auditorium Detroit, USA.
Recording engineers: John Dunkerley & James Lock. 
Running time: 43:34 & 68:07.
Classical relevance: Essential, reference recordings.

Works performed:
The Firebird.
The Rite of the Spring.

Works performed by:
Detroit SO, Antal Dorati.

Again perfect performances, in state of the art sound. It was the glory time of the famous DECCA engineers. Not a single recording in this box suffers from bad sound, they are all reference class. And the same goes for the performances, for Dorati delivers, and how! It is as if this man has grown into the score and made his body and mind one with these ballets. These are by no means easy works to perform and in the case of the Rite of the Spring a technical tour de force. The last is also the most resistant to connect with.  I admire the accomplishment, have a huge respect for the intricate score, but fail to feel anything beyond that. I connect with it, but over the lines of amazement how a composer can write such a wonderful and yet such a cold composition. It doesn't in any way diminish my admiration, no, not at all. But I can not close my eyes and swoon in the music, there are simply too many details to concentrate on.
Not so with the other two works, in this I find a kindred spirit towards ballet music. This is truly a performance every ballet lover must have.

Pachelbel, Johann. (1653-1706) Miscellaneous Organ Works. TOP RECOMMENDATION.

From my collection.
Bought in March 2016.
First listen: 22-3-2016.
Second listen: 2-12-2016.
Label: Oehms.
Recording dates: November 2005 and May 2006.
Recording venues: Augustiner Eremiten Kirche Pappenheim and St Petri, Erfurt Bussleben, Germany.
Recording engineers: Stefan Briegel & Gerhard Gruber.
Running time: 75:08.
Classical relevance: Essential.

Works performed:

See heading.

Works performed by:

Joseph Kelemen.


Stertzing Organ, 1702. 
Pitch: a'= c. 517 Hz.
Meantone temperament after Praetorius.

Crapp Organ, 1722.
Wind pressure: 60 mm WS.
Pitch: a'= 476 Hz.
c. ein Halbton über heute ublichem Stimmton, Werckmeister III.

Kelemen's take on Pachelbel is near perfect, and to my ears much better as the Sluys recording I heard some time before.. To start with the recording of the Stertzing organ. The sonorities and tempi on the Kelemen disc are sublime, spot on. Much more natural as the frontal approach on the Jozef Sluys CD. 
Kelemen is livelier and wonderfully expressive. Pachelbel sounds rather complete and whole in his hands. It has simply more of the Zeitgeist, which I dearly missed in Sluys interpretation. The Ciacona in F minor, which is transposed to D minor, is a good example of Kelemen's superiority. He is clearly the master if it comes to Pachebel's  music. I so enjoyed what I heard. Kelemen plays the first part of the music on the Stertzing organ, and the other half on the Crapp organ, an instrument I simply love.
Kelemen does not disappoint me, but makes me listen with renewed enthusiasm to Pachelbel. I wished he recorded the complete organ music. This disc is a marvel and highly recommended.
Superior sound and interpretation.

Strauss, Johann (father and son) Strauss, Edouard. Ballet music. Ballet masterpieces. CD 22 & 23.

From my collection.
Bought in 2010.
First listen: 15-3-2013.
Second listen: 1-12-2016.
Label: DECCA.
CD 22 & 23 from 35.
Recording dates: April 1980 & March 1981, April 1974.
Recording venues: Kingsway Hall, London.
Recording engineers: James Lock, Kenneth Wilkinson.
Running time: 70:27 & 67:20.
Classical relevance: Reference recordings and performance.

Works performed:
Aschenbrödel. (Cinderella)
Ritter Pásmán.
Le Beau Danube.

Works performed by:
National PO, Richard Bonynge.

There is no doubt in my mind that this would be my desert island box. 35 cd's in this box with the best performances and recordings of ballet music you can get, and in all respects reference recordings. For me this is touchstone by which all is measured. An absolute unique box that does not have to fear competition, not now or ever. I wish that Richard Bonynge recorded all what is in this box, but that is not so, regrettable, but in terms of excellence all conductors and orchestras are top notch. He would have been the man to record the complete orchestral works of Johann Strauss I and II and family. What a treat would that have been, instead of this mediocre box from Naxos.
But to get back at the music on both brilliantly the works are scored. So many instances that Strauss will dazzle you out of countenance with a csárdás here and there, or a ravishing waltz, or a Mazurka that makes you want to dance. What a magical world ballet conjures up, and what a mood changer it is. This music pulls you up from even the deepest depression, and brings quite easily a smile on your face. The recordings are state of the art, even the ADD recording of Le Beau Danube, just listen at the gorgeous brass the guys from DECCA captured in such realistic sound. 

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Kuhnau, Johann. (1660-1722) Complete Organ Music. Part II.

New acquisition.
Bought in May 2015.
First listen: 4-6-2015.
Second listen: 1-12-2016.
Label: Brilliant.
CD 2 from 3.
Recording dates: May 2014.
Recording venue: Freiberger Dom & Marienkirche Rötha, Germany.
Recording engineer:Simone Bellucci.
Running time: 75:11.
Classical relevance: Essential.

Works performed:
Biblical Sonatas No. 5 & 6.
Prelude in B flat major, & G minor, D major, G major, C major, C minor, D minor, E minor.
Fugue in G minor.
Sonata in B flat major.
Fuga in C major.
Toccata in A major.

Works performed by:
Stefano Molardi.

Gottfried Silbermann organ (1714) Freiberg.
Gottfried Silbermann organ. (1722) Rotha.

Finally I would say, Johann Kuhnau's organ works completely recorded on three discs. A composer that always lived in the shadow of the great Bach, which is a pity really, for he is well up to what was composed before and during his career. He is a composer that embraced the various trends and musical inventions that developed in Europe between the end of the 17th and the beginning of the 18th century. Kuhnau was an expert organ tuner, testing Silbermann organs in Freiburg and Rotha, so it is very fitting that Stefano Molardi chose these instruments on all three cd's.  And despite his greatness and his artistic excellence, he had a hard time to sustain his integrity, when Telemann and Fasch pushed him out of business with the speed of lightning. Yet Kuhnau played a pivotal role in the evolution of music in central Germany, which is easily overlooked even to this day. There was a refinement in his melodies, and a friendly elegance in his narrative, that made it extremely hard not to like his music. And out of this was born the Biblische Sonaten,  6 of them, masterworks in which Kuhnau depicts biblical scenes from the old testament in such vivid and picturesque colours, that the scenes really translate themselves in a very natural way through his music. Stefano Molardi unlike in his complete recording of J.S. Bach's Organ works, found in Kuhnau the right amount of balance to create a very sophisticated, yet an almost daring approach towards the sonorities of this music, and where Kuhnau paints with its notes, Molardi gives full justice to the music by painting the compositions of Kuhnau on the organ, an organ Kuhnau's knew as no other. I would go so far as to say that there is a kind of symbiosis between composer and performer. Well, better I could not say it me thinks. A small matter of remark about both the Ciacona in F minor, and the Prelude in A minor, both remarkable and colour rich compositions, but boy the Ciacona is really played at a slow tempo, that despite the quality of the music, it almost falls apart, and the structural integrity is at question. Only due to Molardi's fabulous technique the music keeps a tiny amount of unity, but to my taste it's far too slow.
And finally I come to the recording. I have listened on my reference equipment, and found some odd anomalies which can only be explained by carelessness, deliberate or not, ( not likely) or by choice, which is hard to imagine, but which did disappoint me a little. I know the sound of this Silbermann organ in Freiburg very well, and was somewhat surprised to find that the first 3 sonatas sounded a bit muffled in the upper and lower region of the instrument. Sure there is ample detail, and it's not a bad recording, on the contrary, but I missed the lucidity of the instrument, which I heard in other recordings. But Lo and Behold, in the 4th Sonata this was suddenly corrected, the image lost its muffled veil, and I recognized the acoustics again, plus the sonorities of the organ. The last two pieces were recorded on the Silbermann organ in Rotha, and that sounded fine.
This however should not distract you from this fabulous interpretation, for that it is, but on the contrary you should get this box pronto. The price is low, and the chance of finding better interpretations at the moment is not likely to happen.

Walther, Johann Gottfried. (1684-1748) Complete Organ Music. Chorale settings IV. CD 5. TOP RECOMMENDATION.

New acquisition.
Bought in December 2015.
First listen: 1-12-2016.
Label: Brilliant.
CD 5 from 12.
Recording dates:29-30 April & 1-6 May 2013.
Recording venue: Church of Sant Antonio Abate, Padua, Italy.
Recording engineer: Alessandro Simonetto.
Running time: 65:49.
Classical relevance: Essential, reference recording.

Works performed:
See heading.

Works performed by:
Simone Stella.

Instrument used:
Francesco Zanin 2006.

I cannot stress enough how important this complete recording is. It's the first on the market and it sets a standard. So far as I have heard and sampled through the whole box, it will stay on this high level started by CD 1. Walther is a very important composer, who made a significant mark on the musical heritage of its time. A well respected organist and human being he was praised by many a famous name, and rightly so. The music is mesmerizing and involves you completely in the maelstrom of all encapsulating intimacy, and gives you a complete awareness of his genius as a master on his instrument. There is no doubt about it, that Simone Stella hits all the right buttons, and clearly shows what Walther was capable of. Serene, majestic, graceful, with a perfect feel for counterpoint, and seamlessly combining the most wonderful melodies one can imagine for an organ. There is nothing wanting in performance and sound.
The Zanin from 2006 is an amazing instrument. It has an authentic sound, and is so wonderfully constructed by this master of organ building, that it you would not know, you would not date it to 2006.
The recording is gorgeous, just the right amount of ambiance given.

Froberger, Johann Jacob. (1616-1667) The Complete Music for Harpsichord and Organ. CD 8. Partitas from Secondary sources (III)

New acquisition.
Bought in October 2016.
First listen: 1-12-2016.
Label: Brilliant.
CD 8 from 16.
Recording dates: 1-8 March 2016.
Recording venue: Saletta Acustica "Eric James"Pove del Grappa, Vicenza, Italy.
Recording engineer: Alessandro Simonetto.
Running time: 57:07.
Classical relevance: Essential Froberger.

Works performed:
See heading.
In E minor.
In D.
In D minor.
In B minor.
In E minor (FbWV 627)

Works performed by:
Simone Stella.

Harpsichord by William Horn, after Ioannes Ruckers 1638.

I will not repeat myself in another review full of praise. This said: This CD is amazing in its conception and the actual performance. It can be done different, but not better.
The recording is amazingly truthful.