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Heras-Casado’s Soporific Schumann

This is probably the dullest Schumann cycle I have encountered in recent years – quite a feat in the face of similarly uninspiring traversals by Ticciati, MTT, and Gardiner (LSO) but to name a few. Not having been previously acquainted with conductor Pablo Heras-Casado’s work before, I have no idea where his repertoire affinities lie, but it’s clear that Schumann isn’t one of them.Continue readingHeras-Casado’s Soporific Schumann

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Splendid Sibelius & Stravinsky from Celi/Munich

Readers who are acquainted with me personally know that I am a devout admirer of Sergiu Celibidache, a conductor who made a great impression on me in my formative years and who has shaped the way I thought about music ever since. Even putting aside his philosophical predilections (and assuming that his music-making can be divorced from his musical vision at all, but that’s a topic for another day), his measured tempi and unorthodox sonority has been the source of much controversy, but even his most vehement detractors will acknowledge that his best performances could communicate so much tension and conviction that they would compel one to evaluate not only the music at hand, but one’s whole idea of what music is, afresh.Continue readingSplendid Sibelius & Stravinsky from Celi/Munich

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Chamayou Triumphs in Messiaen’s Regards

Olivier Messiaen’s epic piano masterpiece, the Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant-Jésus (Twenty Contemplations on the Infant Jesus), has been very well-served on disc ever since Yvonne Loriod’s pioneering recording on Erato, and there are great interpretations to suit every taste, from the virtuosic (Béroff, Peter Serkin, Aimard) to the reverential (Austbø, Kars), and everything in between (Osborne, Muraro, Loriod). To this distinguished list, add Bertrand Chamayou’s new recording. Chamayou’s vast expressive palette, sensitivity to color and splendid technique have been defining features of his artistry ever since his standard-setting complete recordings of Liszt’s Années de pélerinage and Ravel’s piano works. And in the Vingt Regards, there is probably no pianist today better suited for the job of realizing Messiaen’s unprecedented expressive and technical demands.Continue readingChamayou Triumphs in Messiaen’s Regards

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Andris Nelsons’ Crashingly Disappointing Strauss

Andris Nelsons has recorded some of this repertoire quite successfully for Orfeo with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. This set, despite featuring two top-class orchestras in the form of the Boston Symphony and Leipzig Gewandhaus, is nowhere near as good. It seems that over these intervening decade Nelsons has lost much of that vigor and inspiration informing his earlier work: here what we have is for the most part a tired conductor dragging his two hapless orchestras over the finish line. Continue readingAndris Nelsons’ Crashingly Disappointing Strauss

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Sensational French Duets from Lewis/Osborne

This is a stunning disc. Paul Lewis and Steven Osborne have had distinctive careers and earned a reputation as doyens of modern British pianism, but they are also astonishingly fine chamber music players, having collaborated back in 2010 on a disc of Schubert’s piano duets, a recording that I still value very highly. But with this disc of French pieces for four hands, they surpass themselves.Continue readingSensational French Duets from Lewis/Osborne

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[email protected]: The (Truly) Legendary Recordings

The Austrian conductor Otmar Suitner (1922-2011) turned 100 this week, which gave me the perfect opportunity to look back at his very prolific legacy, much of which has languished into oblivion. A conductor who spent most of his career behind the Iron Curtain, those who knew of him remembered him for his lengthy, but artistically not particularly groundbreaking, tenure with the Staatskapelle Berlin between 1964 and 1990, during which he churned out mostly mediocre recordings of the German classics, and which gave him a reputation of being yet another stodgy Kapellmeister. Continue reading[email protected]: The (Truly) Legendary Recordings

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Ivan Fischer’s Brahms 3 and Serenade 2

Ivan Fischer has taken his time with the Brahms symphonies. He first embarked on the cycle in 2009 with the first symphony and the Haydn Variations; he now concludes it with the tricky Third and the Second Serenade.Continue readingIvan Fischer’s Brahms 3 and Serenade 2

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A Towering Bruckner 4 from Karl Richter

Karl Richter: harpsichordist, organist, Baroque expert, pioneer of the historically-informed performance movement, best known for his Bach. But Karl Richter the Brucknerian? Who would have thought!Continue readingA Towering Bruckner 4 from Karl Richter

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An Elegant Mahler 4 from Bychkov/Czech

With this release, the Czech Philharmonic and Semyon Bychkov embark on purportedly the first Mahler cycle since Vaclav Neumann’s on Supraphon thirty years ago. This fact has been cited as an impetus to begin this cycle, along with the usual claim to the orchestra’s pedigree in Mahler (Mahler was Bohemian by origin and premiered the 7th symphony with this orchestra).Continue readingAn Elegant Mahler 4 from Bychkov/Czech

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RCO’s Live Beethoven Cycle

A flood of new and reissued Beethoven recordings have emerged in the past two Beethoven anniversary years, and riding on this celebratory bandwagon, the illustrious Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra has released this cycle of Beethoven symphonies, derived from radio recordings of live performances, on its house label. Continue readingRCO’s Live Beethoven Cycle