Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring (CD review)

Also, The Firebird, Petrushka, Orpheus. Sir Colin Davis, Concertgebouw Orchestra and LSO. Philips 289-464-744-2 (two-disc set).

The late Sir Colin Davis's 1978 Concertgebouw recording of Stravinsky's complete Firebird ballet was the very first compact disc I ever bought, way back in the early Eighties when Philips and Sony introduced CDs to America. I remember I had a grand selection of about a dozen classical releases total to choose from at my local Tower Records store back then, and I played the Stravinsky disc on one of those early Magnavox top-loading players. Interestingly, I soon sold the player to a friend who is using it to this day; the thing was built like a brick. Anyway, back to the topic, a lot people, myself included, complain about today's exorbitant CD prices, but I must point out that this 2002 rerelease two-disc set under review costs today about the same as I paid for the single disc over thirty years ago, and the two-disc set includes three more full-length Stravinsky ballets. Understandably, you may find it difficult to find a new copy of it, since Philips has been out of business for many years, but you should be able to find it used at a genuinely bargain price.

Philips remastered the recording in their 96 kHz, 24-bit Superbit transfer series, but I can't honestly say the sound of The Firebird is much better than it was on the old disc. It doesn't matter, though, because the sonics were always outstanding, just as the performance has held up after all these years. Both the sound and interpretation are first-rate--refined, and elegant. This is a magical "Firebird," with all the subtle orchestral colors neatly traced out in delicate pastels, and all the overt drama underscored in great swathes of thunder. The Concertgebouw ensemble is just the orchestra to convey these wide extremes of music and sound, too. Perhaps some listeners would opt for a closer, more clinical aural picture, but I prefer the strong, resonant quality of the hall reinforcing the performance. This remains one of my favorite Firebirds on record (although, to be fair, Dorati's recording for Mercury does surpasses it in my view), and it's also good to have it properly indexed at last. Yes, that early CD had exactly one track on it; this newer edition has fifteen.

Sir Colin Davis
Davis's Rite of Spring sounds equally well recorded, but I find his performance here somewhat underwhelming, to say the least. As an add-on to The Firebird, it's useful to have, but I wouldn't recommend it as a first choice. You will find more color and excitement in the Rites of Bernstein, Solti, Muti, Boulez, and Stravinsky himself, among others.

Davis's Petrushka, on the other hand, is quite good, very much the picturesque and sometimes eerie showpiece it has always been; and it comes in sound that is, if anything, even more vivid than in the other two ballets.

Bringing up the rear is Davis's rendition of Orpheus, which he recorded in 1964 with the London Symphony Orchestra. I can't say I care much for the performance or the sound, but that may be a reaction based largely on my not caring overmuch for the 1947 composition itself. The sonics here seem softer, slightly harsher, and more recessed than in the other recordings. However, it again makes a good filler, especially to get a taste of the composer's later work.

Anyway, buy the set for The Firebird and Petrushka, among the better performances you'll find, with The Rite of Spring and Orpheus marking time for the curious.

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:


Vivaldi: Pan Flute Concertos (CD review)

Hanspeter Oggier, pan flute; Ensemble Fratres. Brilliant Classics 95078.

We all know that Italian composer, violinist, teacher, and priest Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) wrote hundreds of concertos for various instruments, along with almost countless other compositions. What's more, in the twentieth century, especially, people began transcribing many of his works for other instruments. As a result, you can find Vivaldi's music played on practically every instrument imaginable. Not that there wasn't precedence for this kind of thing in Vivaldi's own Baroque era, where composers themselves would often rewrite their own works for other instruments. I mention all this in preface to the present disc in which pan flutist Hanspeter Oggier performs eight of Vivaldi's concertos (most of them originally written for flute) on the pan flute, with able support from the period-instrument Ensemble Fratres. It makes for unusual and fairly interesting listening.

The pan flute--sometimes referred to as the panflute, the panpipe, panpipes, or Pan's pipes--consists of a row of hollow, closed tubes of varying length, which produce tones by being blown across their upper ends. The pan flute has been around seemingly forever and shows up in one form or another in almost every culture.

According to his bio, "Hanspeter Oggier began studying the panpipes in his home town and in 1996 commenced taking lessons from master panflutist Simion Stanciu 'Syrinx' in Geneva. From 2002, Hanspeter Oggier continued his education in Geneva and Zurich at the Society Suisse de Pedagogie Musicale, and obtained a teaching degree in 2006. A laureate of the Kiefer Hablitzel Foundation in 2007, he acquired an Artist Diploma in Music Performance the following year, and released his first record with Musica nobilis, entitled Arpeggione, in collaboration with Marielle Oggier (flute) and Mathias Clausen (piano). He completed his musical training at the Hochschule Luzern-Musik with a Master of Arts mit Major Performance Klassic Panflote (2010) with flautist Janne Thomsen." Since then he has built a career as a chamber musician and soloist, participating in concerts all over the world.

Hanspeter Oggier
A fascinating part of his bio informs us that "Like the Ensemble Fratres, Hanspeter Oggier is dedicated to integrating as much as possible the characteristics of the common language into the musical language. He derives his inspiration from the commitment of the musicians of the Renaissance and Baroque era to imitate the human voice."

Mr. Oggier's program consists of the Concerto La notte in G minor Op.10/2 for flute, strings and basso continuo; the Concerto in A minor Op. 3/8 for two violins, strings and basso continuo; the Concerto in G major Op. 10/4 for flute, strings and basso continuo; the Concerto in D minor Op. 3/11 for two violins, cello, strings and basso continue; the Concerto Il gardellino in D major Op. 10/3 for flute, strings and basso continuo; the Concerto in A minor for flute, strings and basso continuo; the Sinfonia al Santo Sepolcro for strings; and an extract from Nisi Dominus, the Andante for flute, strings and basso continuo.

Yes, much of it sounds alike. That's what you get from Vivaldi; anybody who produced the prodigious body of work he did is bound to include some repetition. If you're not fond of Vivaldi, you might not appreciate so much of his work in one place. However, if you do like Vivaldi, Oggier's handling of it on the pan flute makes for an intriguing diversion, particularly as the panpipe sounds breathier and more open than a conventional flute.

The performances are lively, spirited, without sounding too rushed or frenetic. There's a nice, even flow to the music, a comfortable if somewhat varied rubato, and a sweet spirit all the way around. These may be historical performances, yet neither Oggier nor Ensemble Fratres sound in any way stiff or scholarly. The performers are virtuosic in the animation of their playing and, in essence, create a good deal of fun, which no doubt Vivaldi intended.

My only hesitation in fully liking the album is the sound of the pan flute itself. Its breathiness doesn't project the warmth or richness of either a Baroque or modern flute. It is, in fact, a rather coarse sound in comparison to the flute. Still, the ear adjusts, and, besides, pipes do not feature prominently in all of the music, so we do get a couple of breaks in the agenda, which gives the program variety. Then, too, the place in the proceedings the pan flute probably works best is in the concerto Il gardellino, where the instrument delightfully mimics the sound of a goldfinch. It's quite charming and worth the price of the entire album.

For the Vivaldi fan who has everything, Oggier's disc should provide a pleasant diversion from the usual fare. And there isn't a Season in sight.

Recording engineer Jean-Daniel Noir made the album at the Academia Montis Regalis Onlus, Oratorio di Santa, Croce, Mondovi, Italy in August 2015. The recordist has certainly captured a wide dynamic range, with good impact and a quick transient response. Along with an airy, modestly resonant acoustic that never interferes with the reproduction's transparency, the results sound, if fairly close, impressively realistic.

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:


Liszt: Piano Concerto No. 1 and No. 2 (CD review)

Sviatoslav Richter, piano; Kiril Kondrashin, London Symphony Orchestra. HDTT.

Very few discs can lay claim to being definitive recordings of particular classical works. Carlos Kleiber's DG rendering of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony comes to mind as definitive; maybe Reiner's Bartók Concerto for Orchestra and Pollini's Chopin Piano Concerto. And for the purposes of the present review, it's Sviatoslav Richter's 1961 LSO accounts for Philips of the two Liszt Piano Concertos, here remastered by HDTT (High Definition Tape Transfers).

For over half a century Richter's recordings of the Liszt Piano Concertos have remained the benchmarks by which other recorded performances have stood or fallen; Richter's are interpretations of volatile beauty, excitement, and poetry. Yes, especially the poetry. No one quite captured the lyrical pleasures of these concertos as Richter did, all the time conveying the big moments with an equally virtuosic skill. That's not to say I've always liked Richter in everything he's done; he sometimes appeared to me a bit too cold, too distant; but here in the Liszt he captures the bravura of Liszt, the color, and the introspection.

What's more, Maestro Kiril Kondrashin matches Richter's intensity, and the London Symphony plays with consummate skill. In fact, no one involved with this project was less than excellent. The performance is a classic, to be sure.

Robert Fine and Wilma Cozart Fine of Mercury Records recorded the two concertos for Philips in 1961 on 35mm film, and HDTT transferred the music to disc from a Philips 4-track tape in 2014. The first CD version of these 1961 recordings appeared some thirty years ago in what I thought sounded like carelessly overbright transfers, with an alarmingly higher-than-usual tape hiss. Then Ms. Cozart Fine remastered them for a Philips Solo disc in 1995 and rectified most of the first CD's shortcomings. Now we have the HDTT remastering, and it's as good as or better than ever.

Sviatoslav Richter
Comparing the HDTT and Philips Solo discs side by side, I found the HDTT product overall a tad richer, warmer, and fuller, and the Philips disc a touch clearer, more transparent. At least that was my initial impression during the opening movement of the first concerto. As I kept switching back and forth between the two, however, I realized things were not quite so simple. On occasion, the Philips disc sounded warmer and the HDTT clearer. Go figure. By the time I had finished listening to the sound of both concertos, I was ready to throw up my hands in despair of picking a sonic winner. Which is probably saying a lot for the work HDTT did, given that Ms. Cozart Fine had the master tapes to play with, whereas HDTT had only the commercial tape.

Advantages and disadvantages? First and foremost, there could have been more material on the HDTT disc. The fact is, the two concertos are under twenty minutes apiece, leaving close to forty minutes of free space on the disc. The Philips Solo disc couples the concertos with Liszt's Sonata in B minor, also with Richter, making it a better bargain for its playing time and added attractions. On the other hand, the HDTT disc is easier to find (see below), while Philips, being out of business for many years, last produced their disc over two decades ago, and it may prove difficult to find new copies. Moreover, HDTT make their remastering available in a wide variety of disc formats, digital downloads, and price points, which could prove attractive to a lot of potential buyers.

For further information on HDTT products, prices, discs, and downloads in a variety of formats, you can visit their Web site at http://www.highdeftapetransfers.com/.

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:

John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (moviemet.com, formerly DVDTOWN) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

Contact Information

Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to pucciojj@gmail.com.

Readers with impolite, discourteous, bitchy, whining, complaining, nasty, mean-spirited, unhelpful letters may send them to pucciojj@recycle.bin.

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa