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Pierre's Tuesday Blog

La chronique du disque (November 2011)

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On this day, November 29 1877 – Thomas Edison demonstrates his phonograph for the first time.

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.
My acquisitions for November

Gustav Mahler - The Complete Symphonies (Kubelik) [10CD]

I may be wrong on this, but I believe the Mahler cycle recorded by Kubelik and the Bavarian RSO was the first complete cycle done in Stereo, and may have been the first recorded cycle sold as a set, period. I won’t be surprised if I’m wrong, though… Can we agree that this is the first Mahler cycle to have had broad appeal and distribution? Many times re-issued by DG through the years as single releases or as a set, these recordings are my personal equivalent of an old pair of slippers: comfortable, and I get hissy if I can’t find them to wear. We can argue about the technical merit of the recordings (especially the set I downloaded as 128 kbps MP3’s and NOT as FLAC files), but we cannot dispute how sincere and committed Kubelik is to this music, a conviction and sincerity that he manages to communicate to his orchestra, as if a viral infection! As I have stated many times in these pages, you can arguably find better “individual” performances (though I stand behind Kubelik’s work on the symphonies 1 to 5 whole heartedly), but you cannot question the unity of vision for the whole set, including the Tenth symphony’s Adagio, as orchestrated by Mahler. This set gives all other cycles issued before or after a serious run for their money. A- for SQ, A for OI.

Smetana: Symphonic Poems - Suk: Meditation etc. /Czech PO, Kubelik

[eMusic on-line purchase]

Rafael Kubelik was the Principal Conductor of the Czech Philharmonic between 1942 and 1948, when he left what was then Czechoslovakia rather than suffer through the Soviet puppet regime. This Supraphon recording, dating back to the mid-1940’s is one of a few reissued recordings from the Kubelik tenure, and features Czech music by two composers for whom Kubelik has a strong affinity. Let’s cut to the chase: this recording has atrocious sound quality, and dynamics are so poor that the difference between forte and piano is volume… In fairness, I initially listened to this recording on my iPod on a plane without the benefit of noise-cancelling headphones. But even after a second listen at home, I find that the recordings barely give us a glimpse of Kubelik and the Czech Philharmonic playing music that should be right up their alley. It's a shame... A document only a Kubelik fan would want… D+ for SQ, and a C+ (with reservations) for OI.

Ultimate Liszt: The Essential Masterpieces

[Store purchase]

A first for the chronique – a disc I actually went to a store to buy. I bought this 5 CD set while on a business trip in New Mexico for under US$15. My Liszt purchase in this Liszt’s birthday year - a great buy, which includes 4 (if not 5) CD re-issues from the London/Decca catalog. I made the purchase for the Faust-Symphony (performed here by Antal Dorati in a rare live recording with the Concertgebouw). The Solti/Liszt Tone Poem disc is not only classic, but a pure delight! I wish they used Solti instead of Kurt Masur for the Hungarian Rhapsodies – in fact, I prefer the piano versions to the orchestra versions, but they are still fine. An elder Claudio Arrau plays both Liszt concerti – I wish they would have used the Ivan Davis/Edward Downes versions from the early Phase 4 releases instead, but still good. And Curzon plays a thinking man’s B Minor sonata, an unexpected surprise and must-hear performance. Two thumbs up! A for SQ, A for OI.

Richter - Schubert: Piano Sonata, D. 784- 13 Variations - Schumann: Fantasiestucke - Debussy: Cloches à travers les feuilles

[eMusic on-line purchase]

This is a recording of BBC piano recitals featuring Svatoslav Richter. Richter, along with Emil Gilels and David Oistrakh examplify the Russian-born and trained virtuosi who stayed behind the Iron Curtain and yet had something of a Western presence during the Cold War. Thank goodness that the Soviet authorities allowed these great musicians to travel abroad and show their wares! Richter is definitely at home in this repertoire of Schubert, Schumann and Debussy. Great performances, and great sound, albeit “live” performances - the attendees are invisible, except for their warm and well-deserved applause at the end of each work. A for SQ, A for OI.

Oscar Peterson In Russia (2 CD)


Any jazz collector worth his salt has a 50/50 split of studio and "in concert" jazz recordings. We can all agree that playing in front of fans gets the best out of jazz performers, and (a lot of times) these are had-to-be-there performances. In Russia is one of my favourite Oscar Peterson albums, recorded in concert in the then-Soviet Union on November 17, 1974, and is (by far) the best jazz recital recording in my collection, and certainly one of the best of the 1970’s. With the exception of a handful of tracks where he performs alone, the bulk of the concert involves one of the many incarnations of his trio, with the great Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen on bass, and drummer Jake Hanna. The level of comfort and chemistry displayed by these performers sets up a veritable clinic on trio play, and this is particularly true of the second half of the album, starting with Hanna’s great drum solo opening to Strayhorn’s Take the A Train, and The Great Dane makes his double bass sing in a terrific rendition of You don’t know what it Means to Miss New Orleans. A great mix of jazz standards, Peterson originals, recorded in front of an at first subdued audience that quickly embraces the moment and provides warm applause and encouragement throughout. The digitized product is very good. A for SQ, A for OI.

Quick Hits:

  • Curzon - Delius: Piano Concerto - Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 24 - Beethoven: Choral Fantasy [eMusic] Another BBC Legends recording, this time featuring Clifford Curzon (who contributed to the Liszt set discussed earlier). The revelation for me here is the Delius concerto. The other two works are fine, though not Curzon's best IMO (His Mozart with Kertesz in studio is better overall, and Kuerti's recordings of the Choral Fantasy are more musical). Still a good listen. B+ for SQ,, B+ for OI.
  • Messiaen: Les Oiseaux LOUISE BESSETTE [eMusic] Louise Bessette is a local French-Canadian pianist who specializes in contemporary piano repertoire. She definitely gives these solo works by the French composer a solid, committed performance. This is somewhat dry material, however, and requires a certain amount of "listener investment" - with a nice return if you ask me. A for SQ, A- for OI.

December 2nd 2011, "I Think You Will Love This Music Too" will be adding a new montage "Three Transcribed Concertos" to its Pod-O-Matic Podcast. Read our English and French commentary December 2nd on the ITYWLTMT Blogspot blog.

Updated Nov-29-2011 at 14:11 by itywltmt

Classical Music , Recorded Music