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Pierre's Tuesday Blog

La Chronique du Disque (September 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 Suggestions for September

Schubert: Wanderers Nachtlied
Despite dying at age thirty-one, Schubert was extremely prolific. His output numbers well-over 600 songs, many of which are art songs (or lieder) set for single voice and piano. Though we are drawn to his song cycles (Wintereise, for instance), the vast majority of his songs are stand-alone singular settings of poems by many of the great German poets, Goethe and Müller chief among them. This two-CD set is volume 8 of baritone Matthias Goerne’s ongoing complete Schubert cycle for Harmonia Mundi, and as a grouping of unrelated songs, this certainly does the trick. I have read glowing reviews of Goerne’s Schubert, and it is well-deserved, however I maintain that Fischer-Dieskau still holds the title as the most genuine, complete interpreter of this material. Where this disc probably has an advantage, it is in its superior production and sound. Can’t miss. SQ = A, OI = A.

Swan Lake : Integral
Ballet, it goes without saying, is a showcase of athleticism and dance in its purest form, so it is certainly a legitimate question to ask ourselves: is it appropriate to “listen” to ballet rather than “watch” it. Many scores (think of The Firebird, for instance) transition well from the dance stage to the concert stage in their “complete” rather than “suite of excerpts” format, but the same can’t necessarily be said of the great trio of ballets by Tchaikovsky. I featured the complete Nutcracker in a podcast last Christmas, and have enjoyed listening to the Sleeping Beauty, but I retain my enthusiasm for Swan Lake in its complete form as a concert piece. This particular eMusic download is – I believe – taken from the 1989 Bolshoi video release, featuring the Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra under Algis Zhuraitis, and the transfer has its problems, not the least of which is the order of tracks in the Final Act. Some of the tempi are, for clear reasons, been adapted to suit the choreographer’s vision of the work, and don’t quite lift the music to its pinnacle. There’s still great stuff here, don’t get me wrong, but we’d probably get more out of this as a dance video. SQ = B, OI = B.

Carlo Bergonzi - Canzoni Napolitane
Over the summer, we lost the great Italian tenor Carlo Bergonzi, a mainstay in opera stages in Italy and all over the world in the 1960’s, and certainly the Verdi tenor of choice before Pavarotti came to prominence. I plan a special tribute to Bergonzi in November, and thought I’d tease you with this terrific recording of Bergonzi attacking the Neapolitan songbook. These songs have been recorded by probably every Italian tenor of note, Luciano included, but few tenors “sell” this repertoire the way Bergonzi does on this CD. What makes this doubly impressive is that he’s not backed up by Italian musicians, but rather by Spaniards! You will recognize many of these songs from similar compilations, but few will get your heart pounding like this, I assure you! Love it, absolutely love it! SQ = A, OI = A.

Liszt - 19 Hungarian Phapsodies (Dichter)
Speaking of teasing upcoming podcasts, I plan a two-part look at the Liszt Hungarian Rhapsodies in December, with both the orchestral versions and the originals for piano. In doing some research on the web, I stumbled upon this 1970’s set by pianist Misha Dichter. I am familiar with his Liszt semi-cycle for Philips from some old vinyls my Mother owned, and I was pleased to rediscover the rhapsodies in this remastered set. Dichter doesn’t get too sentimental or showy here, so you are legitimately won over by Liszt’s genius. A fine reference recording of these piano favourites. SQ = A, OI = A-.

WIENIAWSKI / SARASATE: Violin Showpieces
We can’t speak of Brandon Manitoba’s James Ehnes as a “young artist” anymore – he has graced the concert stage all over the world a few times over already, and has an impressive discography as a chamber artist and in concertante repertoire. It is great to discover Ehnes playing violin in a duo setting, and this fine CBC release from almost 15 years ago shows Ehnes in complete command of his instrument, in some virtuoso tunes by Pablo de Sarasate and Henryk Wieniawski. Like in the case of the earlier Bergonzi and Goerne albums, there are many comparables in our libraries, but Ehnes’ musical vision stands up well against some of these venerable violinists of the day, and he certainly doesn’t pale when compared to some of today’s marquee artists (even in their far gone primes). You will love this! SQ = A, OI = A.

October 3, 2014, "I Think You Will Love This Music Too" will feature a new podcast "Operatic Piano Transcriptions" at its Pod-O-Matic Channel . Read more on our blogs in English and in French.