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Pierre's Tuesday Blog

La chronique du disque (August 2011)

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Facing the truth

Writing (in my case two) blogs isn’t as easy as it looks… I had the wind in my sails for the summer, with our (successful?) series on String Quartets… The truth is, I kind of liked the idea of establishing a “battle rhythm”, because it helps with those times where inspiration requires more perspiration…

I also think one of my missions has to do with music collection and appreciation; so a regular “feature” on my recent music acquisitions is not venturing too far off the path I started on a couple of months ago.


Today, I embark in what I plan to be a monthly feature on the Tuesday Blog, where I will discuss my finds and purchases for the preceedding month.

This monthly blurb is NOT meant to be a “critic’s corner”, but rather a survey of what I have added to my music collection over the last month, and provide some “stakes in the ground”, so you can decide if this is something you want to add to your own collection.

The rules will be kept simple: here’s what I found, here’s where I found it, here’s a couple of sentences about it and (possibly) some opinions.

Not unlike Olympic Figure Skating, I will provide two sets of marks (letters A to D) on sound quality (SQ) and on overall impression (OI). These grades are entirely subjective, but here are some guidelines:

  • About “sound quality”: my point of reference is my iPod (160 GB iPod Classic) with standard earbud-type earphones. I ride the buses here in the National Capital Region; buses and work are where I do most of my iPod listening, so this gives you an idea of the ambient noise… When it comes to sound quality, a good grade means I hear the music clearly, good recording pick-up, acoustically pleasing.
  • About “overall impression”: my point of view varies widely. It may be jaded by other performances I have heard or own (comparisons will be identified if they apply), but a good grade means I heard conviction, virtuosity, and I enjoyed it.

What I acquired in August

Rafael Kubelik, BPO - Schumann - The Four Symphonies, Overtures
[Torrent download]

I went looking for this set, as I searched for digital copies of the Kubelik/Schumann vinyl record I own, coupling Symphonies 1 and 4. In my mind, a record label should re-issue performances from their library that stand out and this is an excellent example of that. Since the vinyl record I own was from the vinyl RESONANCE re-issue series, this set has some notoriety and appeal.

The Schumann set of symphonies is flawed; the 1st and 3rd symphonies have a place in the “standard symphony repertoire”, but the 2nd and 4th less so. This may well be indicative of the composer’s fragile emotional make-up, making the set lack in “continuity of vision”. In return, “unity of vision” for the interpretation of the symphonies as a set will be a challenge. The litmus test, IMO, is the 2nd: if you can “sell” it, maybe you’re onto something, and Kubelik manages to do that in spades. This is a fine “reference” recording of the Schumann symphonies, and Kubelik reads them “straight”, and is well supported by the Berlin Philharmonic. The two “filler” overtures are also worth listening to. The sound is “very 60’s”, so an A- for S.Q., and an A for the O.I.

RACHMANINOV: Symphonies Nos. 1-3
[eMusic purchase]

Speaking of problematic sets of symphonies, Rachmaninov’s contribution to the genre has its share of issues. Critically panned, his First symphony plunged him in such despair that he needed hypnotherapy to recover, and provide gems of the piano and ortchestra repertoire. His Second (along with the Symphonic Dances) are very popular, but his other symphonies are somewhat neglected. In shopping for a set, I stumbled onto a recording by Leonard Slatkin and the St Louis Symphony. This set was recorded early in Slatkin’s tenure, and I was tempted to try these based on another recording of his on the same label (VOX) of the “complete Gershwin”, which I have owned from my vinyl days and has stood the test of time. The Rach set is very good, though I wish he would have attacked the Second with a tad more force – his softer touch, however, made me discover surprising nuances in the scherzo second movement. These are re-issued/re-mastered from the mid-70’s A- for S.Q., A- for O.I.

BEETHOVEN, L. van: Piano Concerto No. 2/Piano Concerto in E flat major, WoO 4/Rondo in B flat major
[eMusic purchase]

I purchased this disc, after sampling Ronald Brautigam’s performance of the “piano version” of Beethoven’s violin concerto (op. 61a). The disc features two concerti which (if you believe the scholars) were Beethoven’s first two: though the WoO 4 was never fully fleshed out and published, and the op. 19 was published after the C minor concerto (known as the no. 1). Confused yet?

As stated in these pages before, I don’t favour “period Beethoven” - I guess I’m a dinosaur in that regard. That having been said, I find Mr. Brautigam’s Beethoven quite enjoyable, and Andrew Parrott with the Norrköping Symphony Orchestra back him up well. If this is a style you favour, then you will not be disappointed. For my money, I prefer my “good old” Perahia/Concertgebouw/Haitink and Lupu/Israel PO/Mehta recordings.

I will note Mr. Brautigam penned this reconstruction of the early WoO 4 concerto, which sounds more like a Mozart creation than Beethoven’s. (According to TC's annie, who owns well over 40 complete Beethoven PC cycles, and two interpretations of the WoO 4: "it should sound like Mozart as Beethoven composed it at age 14. [...] I can understand the rondo gives a mozartian feeling but it's the small orchestra requirement and his teacher Neefe's influence are the real reasons.")

The filler piece (WoO 5) is an alternate finale to the op. 19 concerto, which is a musical curiosity, nothing more. The modern pick-up and technology get this recording an A for S.Q., and I will give these readings a B+ for O.I., which I confess is indicative of my bias against period Beethiven.

RODRIGO: Concierto serenata / Concierto de Aranjuez (Complete Orchestral Works, Vol. 9)
[eMusic purchase]

I’ve been looking for concertos that have been “transposed” or “rearranged” for a different instrument – a good example being Beethoven’s piano rendition of his violin concerto mentioned in passing above. I had heard of the existence of a harp version of Rodrigo’s Conceierto de Aranjuez, and that was the motivation behind acquiring this disk. The harp is the kind of instrument I don’t mind, but in modest measures… The concierto, designed for the guitar, is transformed when it is played on the harp. I think it works quite well in this setting, and has the advantage of sounding “genuine”, not unlike Mozart’s K 314 concerto, which works equally well for the flute or the oboe. The additional pieces by Rodrigo, intended for the harp, are enjoyable to hear, Gwyneth Wentink is in good form, and so is the Asturias Symphony Orchestra, certainly well at home in this repertoire. The sound is crisp and clear. A for S.Q., A for O.I.

MOZART / WEBER: Clarinet Quintets
[eMusic purchase]

In my search for other music, I stumbled onto this recording on the CBC “Musica Viva” series. The recording dates back about 20 years, and features Canadian clarinetist James Campbell and one of the many late vintage line-ups of the Orford String Quartet (featuring Denis Brott at cello). The coupling of Weber and Mozart clarinet quintets is a popular one, and there are several good recordings of it. This one doesn’t stand out as exceptional, more a solid performance by solid musicians. Mr. Campbell has a smooth clarinet style, and it is well suited for the material here. The Orford quartet provides good accompaniment. My greatest reservation with this record is the sound quality – a modern recording of these works would have a clearer, crisper sound, isolalating the individual players. Proof again that radio sound engineers are not always the best recording engineers… So I give this a B for S.Q., and an A- for O.I.
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Updated Aug-30-2011 at 11:43 by itywltmt

Classical Music , Recorded Music


  1. Sid James's Avatar
    some good stuff there. i disagree that schumann's psychological problems affected his composing, but anyway. i caught the mozart & weber clarinet quintets in recital last year. i've known the mozart for a while now, i've got it on supraphon coupled with the brahms CQ, played by vladimir riha. a classic. i also like arthur bliss' CQ, a bit nostalgic & sad, partly reflecting on the losses of WW1. the opening cantilena is very emotional...