Favourite Piano Concertos, Vol. 2 (CD review)

Piano concertos by Grieg, Schumann, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, and Addinsell. Stephen Kovacevich, piano; Sir Colin Davis, BBC Symphony Orchestra. Martha Argerich, piano; Kyrill Kondrashin, Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks. Misha Dichter, piano; Sir Neville Marriner, Academy of St. Martin in the Fields. Philips Duo 289 462 182-2 (2-CD set)

I have often written on this site about fabulous buys, bargains among bargains, things like the Beethoven Fifth and Seventh Symphonies with Carlos Kleiber on a single DG Originals or the Dvorak Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth Symphonies with Sir Colin Davis in a Philips Duo set, each of which packages two or three great performances on one or two mid-priced discs. Well, this particular Philips Duo, issued by the company in the late Nineties, may have even them beat.

Of the five concertos on the two discs, there are three works--the Grieg, Schumann, and Addinsell--that are number-one choices in my book. And the other two recordings--the Brahms and Tchaikovsky--are among a handful of my top choices. In fact, I have been recommending most of these items for years. Here, they all come for the cost of a single mid-priced set. Incredible.

The Grieg and Schumann concertos with Stephen Kovacevich are outstanding, and until this release they were available only at full price. The sound is slightly warmer than necessary for good definition, but it is more than acceptable.

Steven Kovacevich
The Brahms, also from Kovacevich, is as powerful and lyrical as one could ask for. I believe it even beats Kovacevich's later EMI recording in performance, if not in sound, which is only slightly less warm and soft than the aforementioned Grieg and Schumann. Second only to Gilels on DG, Kovacevich's Brahms is the one to own, and now you can have it along with four other great performances.

Martha Argerich's Tchaikovsky First Piano Concerto is probably a first-choice for many people. I still think her earlier account on DG is more satisfying, as is Cliburn's on RCA, but there is no doubting that this live Philips performance is more energetic than the others. And it's pretty well recorded, too, despite its being live.

Finally, the little, one-movement Warsaw Concerto from Richard Addinsell, composed for the 1941 film Dangerous Moonlight, has seldom gotten such good treatment as this one from pianist Misha Dichter and Sir Neville Marriner, and the sound here is the best of any in the set.

All of the recordings derive from the Seventies and Eighties, and all of them have already withstood the test of time. This particular incarnation should have already won them some new fans, and I hope it continues to do so.


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

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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

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 (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio StreamLine preamplifier, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my LG G7 ThinQ cell phone, which features surprisingly sophisticated audio circuitry. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

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. --John J. Puccio

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa