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Pierre's Tuesday Blog

La Chronique du Disque (May 2014)

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For those unfamiliar with our monthly recordings review - If Sound Quality (SQ) and Overall Impression (OI) grades need further context, feel free to visit earlier posts in this series.

My acquisitions for May


Beethoven: The Creatures of Prometheus Op. 43
[eMusic]

When it comes to Beethoven’s stage music, other than the great incidental music he wrote for Egmont, The Ruins of Athens and Konig Stephan, we usually retain his only opera, Fidelio (or Leonore, depending on the version you prefer), the overture to Coriolan but usually overlook his two ballets: Ritterballett (WoO 1) and the Creatures of Prometheus. The latter’s overture is often programmed in concert or in the many compilation of Beethoven overtures, but we rarely hear the complete work. As some of you know, the set of variations we associate with Eroica (the symphony and the piano variations of the same name) are also found in tis ballet. This download of the complete ballet features the Slovak Philharmonic orchestra (which is one of the many East-European orchestras used by the NAXOS label) and their conductor Libor Pesek. This isn’t a thrilling read of the ballet, thiough in fairness the ballet isn’t great music to begin with. To round up your Beethoven collection. SQ = B+, OI = B+.


Géza Anda & Tibor Varga: The Music of Béla Bartók
[eMusic]

Here’s a very interesting compilation of what I assume were radio broadcast performances from Berlin Radio in the 1950’s of Bartok chamber music, performed by some of the best Hungarian musicians of the day, chiefly violinist Tibor Varga and pianist Géza Anda. The chamber works featured include Contrasts (for piano, violin and clarinet), the Bach-inspired sonata for solo violin and a pair of piano suites, including the suite for two pianos and percussion with a rare performance by Georg Solti joining Anda. These are masterful performances, intimate and insightful, of works we have all heard before, but maybe not with the same zest and fervor. Love it! SQ = A, OI = A.


Mozart: Symphonies Nos. 40 & 41
[iTunes]

Recordings of the pairing composed of Mozart’s late great G Minor and Jupiter symphonies spring up in the Mozart discography like dandelions in early Spring! So many of them, from many recording eras, by so many obscure and famous conductors, approaching the material from a historic or Victorian tradition… For my money, this vintage, late Stereo pairing conducted by Karl Bohm and the Vienna Philharmonic stands the test of time, and I guess the people at iTuines agree since they distribute a digital version through their service. This is vintage Bohm – a Mozart traditionalist to the core, he approaches the symphony with the right blend of reverence and gusto. A personal faavourite. SQ = A, OI = A.


Treemonisha
[eMusic]

When one thinks of an African-America opera, the name that invariably pops up is Porgy and Bess. Did you know that another African-American opera preceeded it by 25 years? Indeed, Scott Joplin (of ragtime fame) poured his heart and soul into a grand opera in 1910, Treemonisha. The opera's theme is that education is the salvation of the Negro race, represented by the heroine and symbolic educator Treemonisha, who runs into trouble with a local band of magicians. The opera was never fully staged during his lifetime; its sole performance was a concert read-through with Joplin at the piano in 1915 at the Lincoln Theater in Harlem, New York, paid for by Joplin. Sixty years later, Robert Shaw and the Atlanta Symphony gave it its first full performance, and later Gunther Schuller reworked the score for a performance by the Houston Grand Opera. Sometimes referred to as a “ragtime opera”, Treemonisha is available in many recordings by “specialized” ragtime ensembles, and this is the case of this set of excerpts by a Scandinavian group. I was quite surprised with the quality of the singing, and the authentic feel of the performance. This is worth listening to! SQ = A-, OI = A-.


Billy Joel - The Complete Albums Collection (2011)
[Torrent]

As I write these musings, we are in the throes of the Stanley Cup playoffs, the premier professional hockey tournament in North-America. One of th teams involved in the playoffs is the New-York Rangers, who had to compose with a rather odd game schedule because theor home rink, New-York’s Madison Square Garden, was appropriated for the 64th birthday of its “resident artist” pianist, singer and songwriter Billy Joel. How fitting that I downloaded this set of his complete albums, spanning 30 years of recordings, some of which have become iconic: Piano Man, The Stranger, and so many great songs that are now mainstays in the repertoire of almost every pub entertainer… Part of this album collection is his “Fantasies and Delusions” for solo piano played by pianist Richard Joo under Joel’s personal supervision. I take the set of small piano works as a tribute to the music of Schumann, Chopin and Liszt, meant to capture a foregone era of late romanticism. Joel is known for crafting a tune, and these works showcase his ability to do so. Again, this is a worthwhile listen. Because there is so much diversity here, I won’t provide a grade, but I do recommend this set for people who are itching for a Billy Joel fix!


May 30, 2014, "I Think You Will Love This Music Too" will feature a new podcast "Beethoven: Piano sonatas abd Concerto" at its Pod-O-Matic Channel .Read more May 30 on our blogs in English and in French.
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