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Pierre's Tuesday Blog

La Chronique du Disque (June 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 June - Four suggestions totalling 5 CDs...

MENDELSSOHN: Songs without Words
[eMusic - Vol 1, Vol 2]

Mendelssohn wrote eight volumes of Songs Without Words between 1829 and 1845, each consisting of six "songs". The pieces are within the grasp of pianists of various abilities and this undoubtedly contributed to their popularity, though critics find them uneven and possibly undervalue them. In total nearly 50 short pieces, and the "complete" set proposed here spans two discs (NAXOS published a third which is really a compilation of some of the best known from the Nagy lot). There is conviction and good clarity of play here, and what I find particularly noteworthy is a "unity of vision". As I 've said in these pages before, you may find specific tracks that are "better" by other artists, but the "ensemble" is what makes this worthwhile. I liked this - in doses... SQ = A, OI = A-.

Korngold, E.W.: Much Ado About Nothing Suite / Improvisations (Korngold) (1951)

Again, NAXOS' "Classical Archive" of Post-WW II digitally restored pressings brings back to life a historically significant recording, the return of the "Prodigal Son" to his native Austria. The life and times of Erich Wolfgang Korngold is a twisted yet in hindsight predictible tale of a prodigious talent, whose career took an unexpected turn due to the rise of Nazism in his homeland. Korngold wrote operas, and many "serious" works before he was 25 years old, but is sadly associated with the Hollywood Studio film music factory, and though he wished to restart a "serious" career once the war was settled, it never quite materialized. According to the original liner notes from the Varese Saraband LP these studio recordings are "Korngold's only known tape-recorded performances and the only composer-performed document of his 'serious' music - which is, naturally, stylistically related to his film scores." The youthful incidental music from "Much Ado About Nothing" are indicative of the composer's style, pre- or post-Hollywood. The piano works are insightful. The restoration is excellent, though the sound quality betrays the era. I am unsure who or what is the "Austrian State Symphony" but they respond well to the conductor. IIndeed, a great find! SQ = B+, OI = A-.

Tchaikovsky - Ballet Suites (Karajan 1961)

The next two downloads have in common the late great conductor Herbert von Karajan, in works that he recorded several times with the Philharmonia Orchestra (in the 50's for EMI) and with the Berlin Philharmonic (over 4 decades on DGG). Interestingly, this particular recording involves a different orchestra (the Vienna Philharmonic) and record label (Decca) yet the trio of Tchaikovsky ballet suites were recorded at least once with both of the other two... This session dates from a shade over 50 years, and showcases conductor and orchestra well. In terms of overall quality and interpretation, I'd go so far as to say that it is the best of the Karajan lot, based on what I have in my collection (the Berlin DGG "Complete Tchaikovsky") and fading memories of the Philharmonia MONO recording. A recording to consider for the "basic" collection. SQ = A, OI = A.

Rossini Overtures - Berliner Philharmoniker, Karajan

At one point, a friend had purchased the Philharmonia/EMI "Five" Rossini overtures conducted by Karajan (reissued on vinyl in the 1980's under the Angel "Red Seal" series) and I remember thinking the copy I had of Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic/DGG of "six" had more gravitas. In my ongoing quest to rediscover my vinyl collection I was pleased to stumble onto this digital reissue of the old Rossini overtures record that I once owned, and reacquainted myself with these familiar performances. The gravitas (some would say, the pretention) is still there, and I think that adds to the tone of Guillaume Tell and Semiramide, but some of the vintage performances of veteran Italian Opera conductors provide more atmosphere for old favourites like the Barber of Seville. Overall however, it's a "can't miss" recording. SQ = A, OI = A-.

June 27, 2014, "I Think You Will Love This Music Too" will feature a new podcast "It's Haffner Time" at its Pod-O-Matic Channel .Read more June 27 on our blogs in English and in French.