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Collection Listening Log

Discussion in 'classical' started by Todd A, Aug 24, 2017.

  1. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    The Emerson's Janacek. Of course it's well played. Everything sounds meticulous. The sul ponticello playing is pristine, though it lacks bite, it lacks emotional substance. That's more or less the thing with this disc as a whole. It's a fairly common critique of the ensemble, I know, but here I find it more true than in other repertoire. Don't get wrong, there are things to enjoy here, not least Lawrence Dutton's viola playing, and one needn't struggle to listen to any instrument in the mix being played at the highest level. I've not heard a bad ESQ disc, because one doesn't exist, but this repertoire is not an ideal fit for them. Or at least this repertoire and this ensemble is not an ideal fit for me.



    Amazon UK link
     
  2. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    The Takacs take on Janacek. The First is of the more sumptuous and beautiful variety. There's none of the intensity and passion of the Skampa, but the Takacs display more refinement than the Gabrieli, and the emotional outbursts, while more contained, are exquisitely realized if not the last word in drama. Each of the players makes the most of their parts, and the sound is incredible, allowing one to follow each musical line with ease without strain and without the more in your face aspect of the Skampa. The one thing that might seem to be missing superfically, especially in the second movement, is biting sul ponticello playing, but here the clarity of the playing offers something a bit different. The Takacs do play with more fire in the third movement, and just how often does a listener think to him- or herself, man, that second violinist hits it out of the park? The viola, especially in the final movement, also sounds spectacular. The Takacs manage the splendid trick of playing with a slightly slow tempo through much of the Second, while playing with notable passion and energy, and immense flexibility and smoothness during transitions. In the second movement, one realizes just how fine Edward Dusinberre can play, evoking passion without melodrama. If a nit must be picked, and it must, the third movement "lullaby" is a bit fast compared to what came before. That doesn't mean it's not perfectly realized, because it is. In the finale, the Takacs play with a flawless, refined version of abandon. There's some real passion here, which invites the closure of eyes and soaking in of every iota of musical goodness, with that viola burrowing into one's consciousness. This is the best of the non-Czech ensemble recordings in my collection. (OK, I only have four non-Czech recordings, but still.)

    As noted, SOTA or even SOTA+ sound.



    Amazon UK link
     
  3. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

    [​IMG]


    The Juilliard's Janacek. The Juilliard take their time in the First, never rushing, never generating a lot of intensity, even with the precisely executed and relatively potent sul ponticello playing in the second movement. It's probably the least 'idiomatic' Janacek in my collection, but the execution is immaculate. There's tonal lushness married to intepretive devices that stand out for how well done they are without necessarily contributing to the success of the music. Some of the rubato is pronounced and thickens the music - one needn't go beyond the first movement to hear it - and the corporate use of vibrato is impressive but kind of unusual. The Juilliard manage to go further than the Emerson in anonymizing the music. To be sure, there's an attraction to the playing, and some of the details are simply stupendous. For instance, the violins playing in unison in the third movement are more distinct and precise than in any other version, and the effect is at both aurally impressive and almost irrelevant musically. Too, the pizzicato partnered to positively gooey glissandi in the final movement is an aural wonder, but it's out of place. It's just wrong. But what a glorious way to be wrong! The Second starts off sounding almost like something Schoenberg would have written after a lengthy sojourn in the Moravian countryside. Then, as it turns more, well, intimate, there's little evocation of personal romantic or spiritual longing, and more a sense of a symbolism-tinged neo-expressionistic admiration. Forget the Klimty Cynthia von Buhler art on the cover; think Charles Dwyer. Again, the playing is just superb. The first violin in the second movement is at times achingly beautiful. The "lullaby" in the third movement sounds just lovely, and calls to mind Dvorak more than Janacek, and the viola playing is hauntingly attractive. And just why the Juilliard play an almost pseudo-waltz section in the last movement is a bit unusual, and the heavy use of vibrato is both garish and gorgeous. I admit that I've long had a soft spot for this recording, but it is hard not to notice that it's not the best Janacek playing available. If one accepts its unusual/unique nature, it's rewards are ample. Of course, the biggest reward is the accompanying Berg Lyric Suite, which is good enough to warrant a separate release all by itself.

    Excellent sound.



    Amazon UK link
     
  4. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    The Talich's Janacek on Supraphon. It's nothing but Czech ensembles from now on for both quartets. Though the timings of the quartets are not especially fast, the Talich often sound more rushed overall than other ensembles, with a steadier approach to tempo, relatively speaking. The not bad, but not great digital sonics compress dynamics a bit, too, contributing to a less wide ranging sound. That written, there's plenty of energy throughout both works. It's largely tense and nervous, and the sul ponticello passages in the second movement sound just kind of rushed. The third movement approaches the Skampa in terms of intensity, but in terms of sound or impact. Only in the final movement do the Talich offer more variety in their approach. The Second improves slightly on the First, but still possesses something of a rushed feel. While on the surface it is exciting, it becomes a little tiring, and one misses the more emotional aspects of the music. To an extent, this set is like the Emerson, but with a Czech accent.



    Amazon UK link
     
  5. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    The Panocha's Janacek. The Panocha pull off a neat trick. The Panocha always, always sound beautiful, with a warmth to the overall sound. That would seem to imply a loss in intensity, passion, and contrast between sections, and it sort of does. But it doesn't matter. The First opens with ample drive and passion in the first movement, and displays it throughout. The sul ponticello passages in the second movement certainly do not rival the Skampa in terms of edge and intensity; rather, they approach the Emerson in terms of polish. Yet, unlike the Emerson, the passages and the surrounding music are all characterful enough, sound so thoroughly like Janacek that it doesn'y matter. The third movement offers an object lesson in how to play with immense beauty and warmth and fiery intensity at the same time. Listen to that viola weep. The Second is, if anything, even better than the first. Beautifully warm, perfectly smooth playing tickles the ear, but passion tugs at the heart. Vibrato and rubato use throughout the work(s) is perfectly judged in every instance in every movement, and here the second movement manages to sound both completely cohesive while each instrument can still be listened to individually as the foursome play with emotional intensity essentially equal to the Skampa and beauty at least equal to the Takacs. The third movement "lullaby" is poignant and sweet in part, the dramatic climax powerful and draining, the beautiful tone of the ensemble roughened slightly to being only slightly less beautiful. The Finale is played fast, yet the choices seem natural, the playing flows, and the ensemble knows when to slow down. The high register violin playing roughly halfway in sounds almost too good to be true. When listening to this disc, the only possible quibble I can see has to do with disc length as no other works are on the disc. That written, I find it impossible to complain about forty-five minutes of perfection.

    One of the great sets from one of the greatest string quartets.


    Amazon UK link
     
  6. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    The Pavel Haas Quartet's Janacek. With the cellist plucked from the Skampa, this ensemble, anchored by the husband-wife team of first violinist Veronika Jarušková and said cellist Peter Jarušek deliver some of the greatest Janacek on disc. The young-ish ensemble plays beautifully, if not quite with the warmth of the Panocha. They do play with an unerring command of proper tempi and dynamics. The first movement flows uncommonly well, and that's in comparison to all the ensembles to this point. The soundworld is very Janacekian. Move to the second movement, and one hears not especially intense sul ponticello playing, but unusually clear and precise playing, and the climactic outbursts later in the movement match even the Skampa for bite, but with almost Panocha levels of refinement. The third movement, played with a degree of expressiveness second to none, and fairly representing nearly fitful sobbing and distress in the back half, is simply outstanding, and the finale matches perfect tempi to old style emotional expression to new school executive perfection. The Second opens with a first movement that displays nearly extreme contrasts in both tempo and dynamics, yet the foursome play them perfectly, and, just as important, they transition between styles flawlessly. It sounds as though the music can go no other way, the expressivity of the playing is genuine. The movement becomes a masterpiece unto itself. Then the next masterpiece arrives in the form of the Adagio, which sounds operatic, though like one of Janacek's great operas. The third movement "lullaby" displays both gentleness and sadness, and the climax burns, and the group knows just how to deploy pauses of just the right length for just the right effect. The final movement erupts out of the gate, with the cello leading the way with in your face playing. The overall tempo is not especially fast, as with the Panocha, but the Pavel Haas manage to impart at least as much vibrant expression to their playing, and if their tonal lustre also falls just shy of the Panocha, they play some of the music with great beauty. Unambiguously great stuff.

    Another of the great sets from one of today's greatest prime age ensembles. I can't possibly be the only one who wants to hear how they might handle Beethoven in one of the upcoming anniversary years.

    (Also, since I've ended up with two recordings of Haas' From the Monkey Mountains quartet, from two of my favorite ensembles - the Pavel Haas and the Petersen - I think a quick shootout is necessary.)



    Amazon UK link, Quartet No 1

    Amazon UK link, Quartet No 2
     
  7. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    Finishing off the duo of Janacek's quartets with the Prazak Quartet's recording. The First opens with a darker overall sound and somewhat broad tempo, but the violins play with a edgier sound than either the Panocha or Pavel Haas, and like the Pavel Haas, the Prazak vary tempi and dynamics expertly, with seamless and flawless transitions. Sonics are not as good as for the Pavel Haas, so the dynamic contrasts aren't quite as pronounced, though that does not lessen the impact. Here, it is worth noting that the cellist plays well, and like the two preceding ensembles, both corporate and individual playing are at the highest level. In the second movement, the sul ponticello playing never sound especially intense, but it is fast and sharp and rises in volume as it moves around the ensemble. There's an aspect to the playing here that tamps down the heated emotive elements of the playing more evident with the Panocha and Pavel Haas, almost like sheer force of alone has prevented an uncontrollable outburst from occurring. This feeling only heightens in the third movement, as tears shed barely hold back a torrent of emotion. The finale starts off somewhat subdued, but the playing ratchets up in intensity until the violins play in a near frenzy about halfway through, and the full ensemble brings the heat soon thereafter. It's a corker of an ending. And that's the less great of the two performances. The Second displays the same executive traits of the First, but here the ensemble ups the emotional ante, going just about as far as the Pavel Haas, but they combine that to a perceived degree of precision superior to the Emerson and Takacs. It's the best of both worlds. (This should not be construed to imply that the Pavel Haas don't play at the highest level; they do.) The second movement pulsates with passion throughout, with the fading violin playing like near exhausted whispers. The third movement "lullaby" is idealized and romantic, the viola playing pristine, the explosive climax pulverizing and draining. The finale starts off at a rollicking pace, but backs off for contrast, then alternates. The Prazak even take the time to noticeably vary the dynamics of the pizzicati, sometimes each individual pluck, for goodness' sake. The movement just feels right. Same with the whole quartet, and the whole disc.

    It was not by accident that I saved the Panocha, Pavel Haas, and Prazak for the end of the survey. These have been and remain my favorite versions of the works, each supremely well played and expressive and sufficiently different from one another so that it is essential for me to have all of them on tap. Of the other sets, the Skampa brings the fire like no one else, the Takacs refinement of the highest (probably possible) order, and the Juilliard a unique approach that is probably an acquired taste. It might be time to buy another set or two.



    Amazon UK link
     
  8. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    If you have two versions of the From the Monkey Mountains quartet, you might as well A/B 'em.

    I started with the Pavel Haas Quartet since they are named after the composer. With both ensembles, expert playing is given, and here the Pavel Haas offer mostly full bodied and at times warm playing. One can hear the influence of Janacek on the younger composer, but the work is not merely imitative. One can hear other influences, and some folksy music, and also some rhythmic exploration that, while not as individual as Janacek, still pushes the boundaries of its time a bit, if not in a truly radical way. The first movement, Landscape, is relatively lush, while the second - Coach, Coachman and Horse - is more adventurous, with the dialogue between the low strings and the violins creating both novel and of-the-20s, avant-garde sonorities and a potent "rustic" atmosphere. It's more vibrant and snappy than many other Andantes. Good stuff. The third movement, The Moon and I (a Largo e misterioso), is more subdued and mysterious to start with, slowly building in intensity and power, almost like a scaled-back and more austere Transfigured Night. Then comes the closer, Wild Night, which out of the gate relies on higher register playing, possesses mucho energy, and has folksy dance elements, in an almost Mephistophelian way, which is augmented by some percussion, superbly played by Colin Currie.

    The Petersen, in its Conrad Muck led guise, are a different kettle of fish. Their corporate sonority is leaner, edgier, and brighter, their attack more aggressive, their style more unabashedly modern. This is immediately apparent in the opening movement, which here sounds more avant-garde and less folksy, more Schoenberg than Janacek. One can hear almost proto-minimalist writing in the violins, and some passages are chirped out aggressively as almost a minute is shed off the timing. The second movement sounds almost Expressionist in its tuneful ugliness. Muck slices through the muck, as it were, in a few passages, successfully entreating his fellow musicians to grind out a little more. The Largo e misterioso is tense even when subdued, and the players just keeps ratcheting up tension until the climax, before backing off in a haunting, nearly Bergian way. The Finale sounds almost like something out of a horror movie soundtrack at the start, and proceeds at a more robust pace, with sharper playing from the quartet and punchier playing from percussionist Daniel Tummes. The middle section is folksy, with Muck fiddling out some of his music with an intellectualized version of rustic fiddling. The recording is more in your face musically than the Pavel Haas Quartet, always pushing and pushing and pushing.

    Here's a case that illustrates why both ensembles are among my favorites: they both execute their very different visions so well that it becomes essential to have both. No culling needed here.



    Amazon UK link - Pavel Haas

    (Petersen OOP)
     
  9. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    The first work that I consciously started to collect a lot of multiple versions of was Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra. While not his best orchestral work - that would be the Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta - it is thoroughy enjoyable and makes for easy listening and lends itself to easy collecting. Some great tunes, virtuosic writing and (usually) playing, a musical poke in DSCH's eye (and through him, Lehar, though who cares about that?), it's a masterpiece. After ripping my non-opera collection, I sorted through the results, and it turns out that I have 35 versions. And that doesn't count Gyorgy Sandor's composer-approved solo piano transcription. I don't listen to this work frequently now, so I figured it's a good time to revisit them all in short-order, something I've never done.

    What better place to start than the first commercial recording, Fritz Reiner's 1946 job with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra? In its not entirely folksy sound, it shares similarities with Reiner's later CSO recording, but otherwise there's nothing to recommend this recording except its being a historical document. The playing is generally good, though the brass do not always inspire the greatest confidence, but the relatively good sounding winds make up for it. Reiner never lets the tempo flag and generates enough excitement in the right places, notably the finale, and gets the mocking theme in the Intermezzo interrotto right.
     
  10. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    From the first recording of the CfO to the first one I bought: Eliahu Inbal's Denon recording with the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande. It has been years since I last listened (ten, twelve, more?). The first thing one notices is how well the sound holds up. (Partly due to the various hardware upgrades made over the years, Inbal's frequent vocalizations are also now apparent.) The second thing one notices is how dramatic Inbal makes it. It's almost operatic or Mahlerian in its approach, and Inbal has no problem having the strings hold this or that note just a bit longer. He also has no problem playing around with tempi while never letting any of his personal touches interfere with the clarity of the writing or the flow of the music. In fact, it may enhance it. The blatty brass and wide dynamic range lend themselves to some nice scale and a swell coda. Inbal takes the Giuoco delle coppie at a nice, leisurely pace (7'18" vs Reiner with the CSO at 6'02"), with oodles of focus and detail. The Elegia, dark, brooding and mysterious to open, erupts into weighty tuttis, and the massed violins have a pleasant sharpness to them. Inbal's slightly relaxed initial tempo in the Intermezzo interrotto allows for more dramatic contrasts when the main melody is interrupted. Inbal takes about a minute longer in the Finale than Reiner with the CSO (henceforth, Reiner, given the grand stature of the recording), and as such, the movement does not sound like it is constantly pushing forward; Inbal's approach allows for greater contrasts between sections, with dramatic tuttis, and a most satisfying coda. A superb recording.

    This is an imprint recording, and as such, perhaps my fondness for it is misplaced. Of course, I readily acknowledge that there are better or at least sufficiently different versions out there and I have not listened to it for a long time, so perhaps my fondness is not misplaced. Anyway, this recording offers a perfect example of why I stopped culling recordings.



    Amazon UK link
     
  11. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    A third first, here the first of three recordings from Rafael Kubelik (of eight total from him) in my collection, this one with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra from 1958. Kubelik's direction makes for a perfectly comfortable and entertaining opener, with hints of mystery and ample detail. His tempo choices are generally just right, and his transistions executed almost without flaw. It lacks the drama and drive of others, but it works well anyway. The Giuoco delle coppie sounds light and playful. Kubelik brings the Elegia in at a snappy 7'04". The opening section sounds a bit too light, but the high winds are just awesome. The louder music lacks the drama of Inbal, but it sounds more uncompromisingly modern. The Intermezzo interrotto is a musical good time, never sounding too heavy or serious, and the rude musical interruption is just delightful. After a slightly slow and dynamically limited fanfare opening, Kubelik and the RPO deliver a high energy finale.

    While not a great CfO, or even Kubelik's best, this is a good recording. Of course, I can't think of any recording from Kubelik that that is not at least enjoyable. Probably the closest would be the early Decca Ma Vlast, but that's because of the odd recorded balances more than the conducting.



    Amazon UK link
     
  12. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    I figured I should just get Fritz Reiner's CSO recording out of the way. After all, it has been a, or even the, reference version for decades. Superbly paced and executed, with ample orchestral detail, it often thrills, as in the finale, and it is impossible to gainsay the playing of the Giuoco delle coppie playing. Overall, the playing sounds a bit light on flexibility and charm in some places; it sometimes sounds stern.

    Sound is superb for its age. Even into the early 90s, it was excellent. Newer versions have supplanted it sonically - eg, Zoltan Kocsis, Seiji Ozawa's recording with the Saito Kinen Orchestra. Perhaps the newest remasterings have managed to eke out improved sound, but I won't be finding out. Overall, it's an excellent version, but even before relistening to more versions, I knew it's not first choice for me.



    Amazon UK link
     
  13. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    Gielen's CfO is very well played, very exactly conducted, and displays plenty of clarity. The recording as a whole tends to sound leisurely, never more so than in the too slow Giuoco delle coppie, which takes over a minute longer than Reiner II. There's plenty of weight and clarity, but the energy level just seems a bit low, though Gielen does open the Finale with a high degree of energy paired with meticulous attention to detail, though it flags a bit until the coda. Not a favorite.

    SOTA sound.


    Amazon UK link
     
  14. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    Eduard van Beinum's 1948 recording is another I've not listened to for many years. The first thing one notices is the very string dominated sound, with timps and bass drum almost AWOL. The relative lack of orchestral detail changes the nature of the work, forcing the listener to focus to the big picture. And that big picture is an at times exciting, vibrant one (the opening and closing movements), and sometimes a sort of bland musical mush, like in the Giuoco delle coppie, because of the comparative lack of clarity. When I first bought this, not too long after it's release, I didn't care for it, finding it dull. Part of that was due to hardware limitations. Sonics are quite poor, and one needs as clear a system as possible to enjoy what is there. I enjoy it more now, but even now that I can hear pretty much everything that's there, sonics relegate this to historical curiosity only.



    Amazon UK link
     
  15. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    "I really felt like listening to Gerard Schwarz's recording of Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra." I just wanted to see what it felt like to write that, because I've never thought that. I picked this disc up many moons ago from BRO for a few bucks, and like many discs in this survey, I've not listened to it for years. As with Beinum, the first thing that one notices is the sound, which is somewhat dark and lacking in high frequency energy. Detail is not an issue at all, nor are balances, it's just slightly different. The opening movement is sensibly paced, well played, but sort of lacks energy or distinction. The Giuoco delle coppie is well done, and sort of fun. The Elegia picks things up a bit, especially in the percussion rich tuttis. The Intermezzo interrotto sounds fine, and the Finale is pretty peppy, with excellent playing. But it's all quite unmemorable. This recording epitomizes unexceptionable but unexceptional.
     
  16. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    Previn's Telarc recording starts off with a weighty and subdued Introduzione that gradually builds in tension and scale and volume, with superb dynamics and low frequency heft. (Jack Renner and crew's recordings still boast some of the low end in the business.) The Angelenos play superbly and produce a rich sound, sort of adding a dash of Rachmaninoff to the mix. The Giuoco delle coppie is slightly leisurely, and as the pairs of instruments play in each section, there's a sense of fun, especially when the trumpets have a go, but what keeps capturing the ear is the massed violin playing. The Elegia starts off as a somewhat breezy piece of night music with a vampire movie sheen (think Love at First Bite), but lightness fades away in the tutti with timps displacing gobs of air and flicking a finger in the listener's chest. The natural perspective recording gets the most out of the violin-viola dialogue, and Previn apparently can't help himself from underscoring some parts of the score, but to excellent effect. The Intermezzo interrotto starts off rich and dark and probably too romantic, and moves to the interruption which sounds slow and exaggerated with the circus-y playing especially effective. Previn starts off the Finale a bit slow in the opening fanfare, but then switches gears completely, building up speed and energy to a level to match almost anyone, with the clarity of orchestration (dig the tuba!) and impact (beware the timps) adding much aural excitement. The transitions between sections, with widely divergent tempi, are so smooth and masterful that one takes them for granted. To some extent, the performance is all about the playing, with the LAPO demonstrating it's corporate chops, which could be considered a drawback, though it is a concerto for orchestra.

    When I first got this disc, I enjoyed it but found it a bit too soft-edged and not particularly "Hungarian". I still find it a bit soft-edged and not particularly Hungarian (it's more London-New York-LA urbane), but I enjoy it much more now. I've grown to appreciate Previn's conducting more over time, and wouldn't mind if he got the big box treatment.



    Amazon UK link
     
  17. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    Leopold Stowkowski's Concerto for Orchestra is a swift affair, beating Reiner's timings across the board, and sometimes subtantially. The Introduzione is nearly a minute faster, for instance, and as such there's more excitement than mystery and drama. Stokowski fiddles with the flutes a bit, and either had damp wool blankets stuffed inside the timps during the recording, or there was a conscious decision to reduce the recorded level. And for some reason, the harps get lots of love. The super taut Giuoco delle coppie has exaggerated balances, with the side drum more prominent than normal, but balance issues aside, the playing is quite good and very, very peppy. Stokowski opts for a super zippy Elegia, which turns the music into something fitting for an old time horror flick, the kind with nary a scare. The Intermezzo interrotto sounds too rushed in the main melody, though the interruption is great good fun. The Finale fanfare is slightly held back, but then it's pretty much off to the races through to the end, with literal gobs of excitement. Sound for the vaunted 35mm film recording process holds up well, but it can't hide the fact that it is now ancient, and as noted, balances are not ideal. Overall, a meh.


    Amazon UK link
     
  18. Tony L

    Tony L Administrator

    Worth noting that the Reiner Living Stereo linked upthread is an SACD and is very nice IMO. I have it along with a fairly hefty stack of others in the series. It is dual layer so plays on normal CD players, but better again via an SACD player.
     
  19. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    The almost great recording with the fatal flaw. Szell gets great, precise playing that may be better executed than Reiner's. Effective and exciting, the last trait aided by some extra brisk tempo choices (eg, the Introduzione shaves more than a minute off Reiner), it might be possible to consider this a post-modern or even industrial take on the music, with some of the more mysterious or dark music sounding either imposing or grinding. Or, in the case of Giuoco delle coppie, an example of sterile exactitude. If the descriptions sound negative, they are not meant that way; this is a tip-top shelf playing of the work. But the Finale kills the whole thing. The execution is beyond reproach, but the massive cut destroys all flow and coherence and was and remains inexcusable. Here's an object lesson in how to take a great recording and destroy it.



    Amazon UK link
     
  20. herb

    herb music live

    Today

    Anne-Sophie Mutter, Modern - a 3 CD 'box'.

    Stravinsky, Lutoslawski, Bartok, Moret, Berg and Rihm.

    Floating.....
     

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