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Pierre's Tuesday Blog

La Chronique du Disque (February 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 February

Schumann: Symphony No. 3 & Faust Overture

I received an iTunes gift card for Christmas, and went shopping with it this month. The first two selections for this week come from that modest shopping spree, and both feature old EMI recordings from the Walter Legge/Otto Klemperer partnership of the mid- to late-1950’s and 1960’s with the Philharmonia Orchestra. This first recording – already in my vinyl collection under the EMI “Red Label” reissue series - features the Rheinsih symphony and – as filler – the overture to “Scenes from Faust”. Klemperer’s Schumann symphony cycle for EMI is still viewed as one of the best from the “analog” era, and the orchestra shines through in this symphony – probably a Schumann lover’s favourite. The overture stands out as a dark work - as is the entire set of scenes – and comes in stark contract to the Act I prelude of Gounod’s better-known opera. This is a safe, no miss recording, well preserved in digital form. SQ = A, OI = A.

Beethoven: 4 Ouvertures de Fidelio (Mono Version)

My second Klemperer selection off iTunes is part of a larger series of recordings under the “Bibliothèque Nationale de France” label. The modest liner notes (that came with the download!) suggest that the BNF has undertaken the task of digitizing some of its vinyl collection, and titles in the series include Klemperer’s legendary studio recording of Fidelio with Christa Ludwig and Jon Vickers. The recording I downloaded is a "complete collection” of the four overtures to Fidelio – the three Leonore overtures and the Fidelio overture. The transfer is based from the monaural recording, though it is rendered in faux-stereo. Safe to assume here this is NOT based on original masters, but a pure vintyl transfer and – as such – it is excellent. For under 75 cents a track, it is a great buy. SQ = A, OI = A.

Franck & Lekeu: Sonates - Mathieu: Ballade, Fantaisie

This is a disc that came out a few years ago, featuring the brothers Lefèvre – David at the violin and Alain at the piano in some chamber works for violin and piano. The Franck sonata in A doesn’t need any introduction, but the filler material – the sonata by fellow-Belgian Guillaume Lekeu and the short piece by André Mathieu – make this a worthwhile listen. Lekeu, clearly influenced by his countryman and contemporary Franck pproposes a rich, tense sonata and the Mathieu work (not without its pretentiousness) are given as much care as the more famous Franck sonata. This is a good recording by performers who don’t perform together much. SQ = A, OI – A-.

FRANCK: Le Chasseur maudit / Psyche

In my recent post of Franck’s orchestral music, I proposed a suite of excerpts from his ambitious “Symphonic poem for chorus and orchestra” Psyche. This Chandos recording proposes the complete work, with as filler Le Chasseur Maudit (trans lit. The Damned Hunter) which captures totally the essence of what a tone poem should be (in the tradition of Liszt, and later Richard Strauss). The choral work is certainly interesting, though I found that the Paray selections we sampled give us a good sense of the work nonetheless. The chorus (and more importantly the interplaty between orchestra and chorus) add a dimensiuon to the experience. Worth listening! SQ = A, OI – A-.

Samuel Barber: Piano Concerto - William Schuman: A Song of Orpheus

I can't say for sure that George Szell was a "champion" of American compositions, but here he is with his legendary Cleveland Orchestra in two concertante works featuring two preeminent American soloists in John Browning and Leonard Rose. Browning has been long associated with the Barber piano concerto (and the Ives Concord sonata), and this makes this something of a reference recording. Among the Barber symphonic works, I still prefer the violin concerto, but the piano concerto has its moments. The Schuman piece is interesting, but - as for the Mathieu chamber work discussed earlier - a tad pretentious. Nonetheless, the performers give these works a good run. For American music lovers. SQ = A-, OI = B+.

February 28, 2014, "I Think You Will Love This Music Too" will feature a new podcast "Ferenc Fricsay" at its Pod-O-Matic Channel .Read more February 28 on our blogs in English and in French.