CDs

Radu Lupu Live Volume 3

Radu Lupu Live, Volumes 3 and 4

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4 of 5 stars

Volume 3

Mozart
Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major, K488
Munich Philharmonic Orchestra
Rudolf Kempe
London, March 6, 1974

Piano Concerto No. 21 in C major, K467
English Chamber Orchestra
Uri Segal
London, March 25, 1974

Beethoven
Choral Fantasy, Op.80
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra & Chorus
Lawrence Foster
London, September 2, 1971

Chopin
Nocturne in C sharp minor, Op. 27 No. 1
Nocturne in D flat major, Op. 27 No. 2
Scherzo No. 1 in B minor, Op. 20
Leeds International Piano Competition, April 19, 1970

Brahms
Intermezzo in B flat minor, Op.117 No.2
Intermezzo in A minor, Op.118, No.1
Intermezzo in A major, Op.118, No.2
Intermezzo in E flat minor, Op.118, No.6
London, March 5, 1973

Shostakovich
Piano Quintet in G minor, Op.57
Gabrieli Quartet
London, March 5, 1974

Shchedrin
Humoresque
London, December 9, 1974
Doremi: 2 CDs and stream

Volume 4

Mozart
Piano Concerto No. 12 in A major, K414
Cleveland Orchestra
Antal Dorati
Severance Hall, Cleveland, April 7, 1977

Violin Sonata in E minor, K.304
Szymon Goldberg
Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, January 13, 1974

Copland
Piano Sonata
25th Aldeburgh Festival, Maltings Concert Hall, June 18, 1972

Bartók
Out of Doors, Sz. 81, BB89

Brahms
Piano Pieces, Op.118 (complete)

Schubert
Piano Sonata No.21 in B flat major, D.960

Brahms
Intermezzo in E flat major, Op.117 No.1
Intermezzo in B flat minor, Op.117 No.2
Hunter College, New York, February 16, 1974

Radu Lupu


Reviewed by: Rob Pennock

Reviewed: April 2024
CD No: Doremi: 2 CDs and stream – Volume 3: DHR-82178; Volume 4: DHR8221/2
Duration: Volume 3: 148 minutes; Volume 4: 151 minutes

 

 

As with the first two volumes of this series, these CDs mainly capture the celebrated Romanian pianist in his early years.  

Lupu’s Mozart is urban, elegant and rhythmically sprung with occasional ritenuti and pedal use and thankfully the slow movements are given time to breathe. The accompaniments are variable. Kempe’s woodwind are provincial, the horns virtually inaudible. Segal’s brass are too polite, the drum sticks too soft. The Cleveland strings are superb, but until the finale the wind are somewhere in the background. In Beethoven’s Choral Fantasia Lupu and Foster lack the humour, surging power and rhythmic élan of Serkin, Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic (Sony). The sound is variable, but never less than acceptable.

With the chamber works, shortly after the Mozart performance the artists recorded all of the Violin Sonatas for Decca and there is a real sense of conversation between them; although, as recorded, Goldberg’s tone is slightly edgy and his intonation very occasionally falters. The Shostakovich is let down by the Gabrieli’s emotionally detached, overly smooth playing and a lack of tension. 

Moving to the solo recitals, taken by composer. Volume 2 of this Doremi’s series featured a 1971 Aldeburgh Festival performance of Bartók’s Out of Doors (https://www.classicalsource.com/cd/radu-lupu-live-volume-2/) where the Barcarolle and The Night’s Music are slower, the opening Pesante faster than in New York. Both work, but the sound throughout the New York recital is very clangy.  

In the London Brahms Op.118 Intermezzi, he is slower and more contemplative than in his studio recordings and New York, but the latter complete set still features the hallmarks of all his playing; completely natural tempo, dynamic and tonal variation, beautiful phrasing and the ability to make everything sound improvised. However, his Decca version of Op.117 No.1, which is a minute slower, remains arguably the finest on record.

The Chopin Nocturnes are exquisitely poised, the Scherzo an improvisatory sounding tour-de-force, while the sounds Lupu creates in the Copland Sonata (a scandalously under-performed masterwork) are massively sonorous and he finds a rare sense of introspective, nocturnal beauty in the Andante sostenuto. 

Again Volume 1 contains a 1971 Aldeburgh Schubert D.960, which is slower in the first two movements, but Lupu’s impetuosity in New York is compelling and the Andante remains exceptionally beautiful, even if the earlier version is more profound and Shchedrin’s Humoresque is delightfully witty.    

Radu Lupu Live, Volumes 3 and 4 Read More »

Yarlung Records: LP and CD, stream – DSD512 from NativeDSD.com

Takács Assad Labro

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4 of 5 stars

Bryce Dessner
Circles
Clarice Assad
Luminous from Pendulum Suite
Julien Labro
Meditation No. 1
Milton Nascimento
Cravo e Canela
Clarice Assad
Constellation; Celestial, Estrellita, Solais
Kaija Saariaho
Nocturne
Clarice Assad
Clash

Julien Labro (bandoneón)
Clarice Assad (piano and voice)
Edward Dusinberre (violin)
Takács Quartet (Edward Dusinberre and Harumi Rhodes (violins) Richard O’Neill (viola) András Fejér (cello))


Reviewed by: Rob Pennock

Reviewed: April 2024
CD No: Yarlung Records: LP and CD, stream – DSD512 from NativeDSD.com
Duration: 54:01

 

 

Through their work with the Hungaraton, Decca and Hyperion labels the Takács Quartet are very much associated with the core repertoire, so this release featuring five contemporary composers, bandoneón (a cross between a concertina and accordion) and a piano piece with scat vocals looked fascinating.

The album features three pieces using bandoneón and string quartet. In Clarice Assad’s Circles you have a minimalist drone-like treble and snatches of dance over a heavy bass, which is hypnotically distinctive and while the much longer Clash is more abrasive, again you have snatches of melody and dance that create a distinctive sound-world. In a softer vein Julien Labro’s Meditation No.1 mixes longer melodic lines and dance, where the bandoneón is very eloquent and more than a little Parisienne. 

Luminous features scraps of language, which are essentially scat vocals, while Milton Nascimento’s Cravo e Canela has actual lyrics, over boogie-woogie like piano and while the performances are obviously authentic, you can’t help but wonder what the far stronger voiced Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson might have made of them.   

Constellation for violin and piano begins and ends with a melancholy song, which frames a piece of modernist salon music, with a reference to The Lark Ascending at 9.30 and Kaija Saariaho’s Nocturne is a more astringent short Étude for solo violin. In both Edward Dusinberre’s tone is less than refulgent. 

Yarlung record in analogue and DSD256 without editing. The DSD512 download is marvellous, with beautifully rich sonorities and timbres, which is far superior to anything Decca and Hyperion can offer. However I have no idea why the highest resolution you can stream is a mere 24/88.4, which is very good, but lacks the space and impact of the DSD.

The booklet is very informative, but like so many contemporary music albums you have to put up with loads of purple prose, where everyone and everything is absolutely wonderful and the running time is rather short.

Takács Assad Labro Read More »

Janáček - Káťa Kabanová, JW 1/8 (Opera in 3 Acts)

Káťa Kabanová – Rattle with the LSO

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5 of 5 stars

Janáček
Káťa Kabanová, JW 1/8 (Opera in 3 Acts)

Káťa Kabanová: Amanda Majeski (soprano)
Boris: Simon O’Neill (tenor)
Kabanicha: Katarina Dalayman (mezzo-soprano)
Tichon: Andrew Staples (tenor)
Kudrjáŝ: Ladislav Elgr (tenor)
Varvara: Magdalena Kožená (mezzo-soprano)
Dikoj: Pavlo Hunka (bass-baritone)
Glasha & Feklusha: Claire Barnett-Jones (mezzo-soprano)
Kuligin: Lukáš Zeman (baritone)

London Symphony Orchestra & Chorus
Sir Simon Rattle

Recorded live at the Barbican, London on 11 January 2023


Reviewed by: Rob Pennock

Reviewed: March 2024
CD No: SACD and stream – downloads from NativeDSD.com
Duration: 99:26

 

 

This, the second part of Simon Rattle’s traversal of Janacek’s operas, follows on from his highly successful The Cunning Little Vixen. Mackerras’ classic Decca account was used for comparison. 

In terms of the conducting, Rattle is a mere half-minute slower, allowing for him omitting the very brief Act 2 Interlude, but, without impeding the dramatic flow, uses more tempo variation and takes a more analytical approach to Janacek’s extraordinary woodwind writing, although the use of harder timpani sticks and the glorious Vienna trombones make the ‘fate’ motif sound more threatening in Mackerras’ Introduction to Act 1. Both make the long-breathed themes that grow out of what Desmond Shaw-Taylor called ‘pregnant melodic germs’ soar with Puccini like opulence and both approaches sound absolutely right. 

You might think given Mackerras used an all-Czech cast with the exception of the great Swedish soprano and polymath, Elisabeth Söderström, that he would win out in terms of authenticity and certainly in the opening scene their pronunciation and declamation are obviously absolutely right. On the other-hand Rattle’s singers respond with equal conviction and make sure every word can be heard.

As Káťa’s vicious mother-in-law Kabachina, Katarina Dalayman is malevolent without going OTT. The love interest Boris’ equally nasty uncle Dikoj is finely characterised by Pavlo Hunka, as is Ladislav Elgr as his assistant Kudrjáŝ, who is more animated than Mackerras’ Zdenĕk Švehla in his Act 2 ballad and all of the smaller roles are well-taken.

Simon O’Neill uses plenty of dynamic variation and is suitably impassioned as Boris, if rather more Wagnerian than the fresh-voiced 25 year old Petr Dvorský. One can say much the same of Amanda Majeski, who uses her powerful voice to delineate every aspect of Káťa’s character, although Söderström’s top is sweeter and her death is unforgettably poignant.

Sound-wise I downloaded the DSD512 from NativeDSD, which, with the warts and all acoustic, is as near as you can get to being there, with tremendous presence and projection and analogue-like instrumental and vocal timbres. Although the 24/192 stream is pretty impressive. 

The booklet contains the libretto with an English translation. 

Káťa Kabanová – Rattle with the LSO Read More »

Mahler-3rd-Horenstein

Mahler Symphony No3 & Strauss Tod und Verklarung – Jascha Horenstein

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5 of 5 stars

Mahler
Symphony No.3
Strauss
Tod und Verklärung Op.24

Denis Wicks (trombone)
Norma Procter (mezzo-soprano)
Wandsworth School Boys Choir
Ambrosian Singers

London Symphony Orchestra
Jascha Horenstein

Click here to buy online

Recorded at the Fairfield Halls, Croydon, July 27 to 29, 1970


Reviewed by: Rob Pennock

Reviewed: February 2024
CD No: High Resolution Tape Transfers: CD, 2 and 4 channel PCM and DSD downloads
Duration: 120 minutes

This Mahler 3 has always been highly thought of. Horenstein’s Mahler was unostentatious, so you don’t get heart-on-sleeve emotion. Nevertheless, he understood the composer’s fevered imagination, neurosis and quixotic nature.  

In the first movement at a forward moving tempo, each section is smoothly integrated into the whole, but Horenstein gives equal value to the quick and more funereal march elements, always seeks to clarify the textures, Dennis Wicks’ trombone solos are superb and unlike so many other performances the tension never slips. He glides swiftly and smoothly through the Menuetto, with some beautiful phrasing and expertly negotiates the bird-calls and whimsy of the Scherzando, where the use of an off-stage flügelhorn adds a magical touch. 

Norma Procter delivers an eloquent O Mensch!, even if she isn’t in the same class as Janet Baker or Christa Ludwig, but in the fifth movement the boys and women sound rather bland compared to Rattle’s in Berlin (DVD) and the tempo is perhaps too relaxed. But there are no perfect performances of this massive work and it is obviously part of Horenstein’s grand design. At a moderate speed the deeply felt finale is sung by the LSO strings, Horenstein doesn’t accelerate into climaxes and the coda, with two sets of timpani, is magnificent. 

In the Strauss, which was recorded at the same sessions, Horenstein lacks the searing intensity of say Barbirolli or Toscanini and doesn’t achieve a genuinely spiritual transformation. So you buy this for the Mahler and the Unicorn CDs have no coupling.

In terms of the sound, on the LPs the strings lacked definition, the double-basses were recessed and there was some very obvious woodwind spotlighting, which the official Unicorn CDs replicated. Nevertheless the overall effect was very impressive. This remastering derives from tapes recorded at the same sessions where only four microphones were used to capture the new, experimental quadrophonic recording technique; as opposed to the multi-mic set-up on the official version (there is an extensive description of the technical side in the booklet).

The result in DSD128 two channel is a clear improvement on the official releases, having a better dynamic range, definition, and clarity. Compared to the CDs the instrumental and vocal timbres are more analogue, the woodwind, which aren’t spot lit, sound much more real. The CD version inevitably loses some of the exceptional presence and projection of the download, but is still superior to the Unicorn ones.  

Mahler Symphony No3 & Strauss Tod und Verklarung – Jascha Horenstein Read More »

Letter(s) to Satie

Letter(s) to Satie

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4 of 5 stars

Cage (Attrib.)
All Sides of the Small Stone, for Erik Satie
Satie
Gnossienne No.1
Cage
Prelude for Meditation
Satie
Gymnopédie No.1
Gnossienne No.2
Gnossienne No.3
Cage
A Room
In a Landscape
Satie
De l’enfance de Pantagruel: Rêverie
Véritables préludes flasques (pour un chien)
No. 1 Sévère réprimande
No. 2 Seul à la maison
No.3 On joue
Gymnopédie No.2
Le Bain de mer (Sports et Divertissements)
Gnossienne No.4
La Balançoire (Sports et Divertissements)
Cage
Swinging
Satie
Gymnopédie No.3
Gnossienne No.5
Nocturne No.2
Le Tango perpétuel (Sports et Divertissements)
Cage
Perpetual
Satie
Gnossienne No.6
Sarabande No.3
Songe-creux
Prélude du premier acte: La Vocation (Le Fils des étoiles)
Gnossienne No.7
James Tenney 1934–2006
3 Pages in the Shape of a Pear (in celebration of Erik Satie)
Cage
Dream

Bertrand Chamayou

Recorded during April 2023 at Miraval Studios, Domaine de Miraval, Correns


Reviewed by: Rob Pennock

Reviewed: February 2024
CD No: Erato: CD, Flac downloads and streaming: 5419769644
Duration: 69 minutes

 

 

Anyone who has heard Bertrand Chamayou pounding his way through Saint-Saens might be somewhat alarmed at the thought of him essaying Satie, but within the confines of the modern, emotionally detached style of playing he epitomises, this album is rather good.

The main point of interest is the pairing of Satie with John Cage, who admired him enormously. Two of Cage’s pieces, Perpetual Tango and Swinging, follow on from two of Satie’s Sports et divertissements, on which they are loosely based, and the recital opens with All Sides of the Small Stone, for Erik Satie, an evocative recreation of his sound-world about, which is very probably, as opposed to definitely, by Cage. There are also three tracks featuring a prepared piano, one of which is by another Satie devotee, James Tenney.

These pieces, and especially Cage’s A Room, create timbres reminiscent of traditional Korean music mixed with distant bells, while Tenney’s thirty second 3 Pages in the Shape of a Pear is far more acerbic. All are beautifully performed. In the standard piano pieces, Chamayou creates alluring webs of sound and the last track, Dream, is very atmospheric, although Swinging needs to be more emphatic.

Chamayou’s approach to Satie is very cool. In Gymnopédie No.1 he makes the recurring bass chords sound minimalist. In three of the Gnossienne the dynamics are suitably restrained, and he eschews the sustaining pedal, but brings plenty of attack and humour to On joue. What is perhaps missing is the quiet sense of melancholy Aldo Ciccolini finds in this music, but, on balance, Chamayou’s more detached, sculpted approach is equally valid.  

The 24/96 stream captures the dry, low-reverberation acoustic of the Miravel Studios and as there are very few dynamic markings above mezzo-forte, the engineers needed to capture the multiple shades of piano and below Chamayou creates, which they have done reasonably well. What is less satisfactory is the overall weight of sound, which lacks the body and resonance found on many of the independent labels.    

As a bonus you get some fascinating programme notes by Chamayou. 

Letter(s) to Satie Read More »

Radu Lupu Live Vol.2

Radu Lupu Live, Volume 2

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5 of 5 stars

Mozart
Piano Sonata No. 8 in A minor, K310
Piano Sonata No. 16 in C major, K545
Schubert
Piano Sonata No. 18 in G major, D894
Haydn
Andante & Variations in F minor, Hob.XVII:6 (Sonata – un piccolo divertimento)
Piano Sonata No. 50 in D major, Hob.XVI:37
Bartók
Out of Doors, Sz. 81, BB89
Schubert
Piano Sonata No. 21 in B flat major, D960
Moments Musicaux, D780: No. 3 in F minor
Two Scherzi, D593

Radu Lupu

Recorded at the Aldeburgh Festival, Maltings Concert Hall, June 7, 1970 and June 24, 1971 and the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, October 17, 1971


Reviewed by: Rob Pennock

Reviewed: January 2024
CD No: Doremi: 2 CDs download and stream: DHR-82156
Duration: 158 minutes

 

 

In 1969 the 23 year old Romanian, Radu Lupu won the Leeds International Piano Competition and went on to become one of the twentieth century’s greatest pianists, whose recorded legacy was, alas, rather meagre (although the Lupu devotee, Ates Tanin has quite a few privately taped performances),  so live recordings such as this are especially valuable. The composers are taken in alphabetical order.  

The opening piece of Bartok’s Out of Doors, With Trumpets & Drums, is marked Pesante, which Lupu interprets as extremely violent. He powers his way through The Chase and yet at a slow tempo the range of instrumental colour and exquisitely soft chimes in The Night’s Music are virtually unparalleled.  

At a leisurely tempo his phrasing of the theme in the Haydn’s Variation is decidedly romantic, the finger-work crystalline, he makes discrete use of the sustaining pedal and you can say much the same of the Sonata, where the Largo e sostenuto is particularly beautiful. What may be more problematic for modern listeners is his failure to observe most of the repeats.

His tempi in the two Mozart Sonatas – with repeats – where K.310s opening Allegro maestoso becomes con molto, the finale is much slower than the marked Presto and his tempi in the Andantes are different for purely expressive reasons, indicate that thankfully he was trained in pre-HIPP days. Indeed it is difficult to imagine anything more perfect than his playing of those slow movements. 

With Schubert’s D.894, everyone thinks of Richter, whose massively slow performances of the first movement remain one of the wonders of the pianistic world, but Lupu, at almost eighteen and a half minutes weaves a magic spell of incredibly beautiful tone, aided by superb use of the pedals and subtle dynamic and tempo variation. The Andante and Menuetto are leisurely and conversational in tone, but the tempo variation in the latter is wonderfully old-world, as is the gorgeously phrased Trio and he is no hurry in the Allegretto finale, which sounds improvisatory.

Despite being slower, Lupu sounds more impetuous and contemplative in the first movement of D.960 with the repeat than on his recording and then there is the Andante sostenuto, where at a very slow tempo Lupu creates a profoundly beautiful, deeply felt reverie. He then dances delightfully at speed through the Scherzo and finale. The encore is a stately, but smiling account of the F minor Moments musicaux and the Scherzi are equally delightful.

The bang on pitch sound is excellent, without any distortion. In an ideal world the pianos would have a richer tone and while Doremi might want to produce exact copies of the concerts, it took me about half-an-hour to remove most of the intrusive coughing in the slow movement of D.960 using industry standard software and I would strongly recommend they do this in future.     

Radu Lupu Live, Volume 2 Read More »

Upheaval

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4 of 5 stars

Henriëtta Bosman
Sonata for Cello and Piano in A minor
Dora Pejačević
Sonata for Cello and Piano in E minor, Op.35
Lili Boulanger
Nocturne
Nadia Boulanger
Trois pièces

Janne Fredens (cello)
Søren Rastogi (piano)

Recorded at the Musikhuset, Aarhus, June 24-27th, 2023


Reviewed by: Rob Pennock

Reviewed: January 2024
CD No: Our Recordings: CD, DXD, Flac and DSD downloads: 6.220683
Duration: 60 minutes

 

 

This album features works by four female composers whose works are little known because of misogyny and while the Sonatas have occasionally been recorded, this is the first time they have appeared together. The title refers to the period surrounding and including the First World War and presumably to add a touch of authenticity, the piano is a magnificent 1913 Bechstein, which makes modern, made in China Steinways, sound bland. 

Henriëtta Bosmansʼ four movement Cello Sonata (1919) is richly late-Romantic with a hint of Brahms and Franck. It opens with an angular first subject in the cello over massive piano chords, an elegiac Più mosso second, which leads to a tempestuous development section. The Un poco allegretto second and Adagio third movements are full of melancholy with alluring flecks of chromaticism, while the Slavonic dance-like finales triumphant coda returns to the works opening.  

Dora Pejačevićʼs Sonata (1913), which is also in four movements, is similarly romantic, with a touch of impressionism.  I don’t find its more discursive language as appealing as Bosman’s, but some might argue its greater length and complexity brings more variety of expression. Whichever is the case, this is a distinctive voice, with a rich melodic gift and it is tragic that both these works aren’t better known.  

Lili Boulangerʼs exquisite Nocturne (1911) is an arrangement of her Pièce courte pour flûte et piano, as are the first two of her sister’s Trois pièces (1914). The third, Vite et nerveusement rythmé is a concise, virtuoso tour-de-force, quintessentially French take on Iberian dance forms. And again these works are shamefully neglected.

The performances are superb, with pitch perfect attack from Janne Fredens, who, without destroying the line, seems to speak as opposed to play the music and much can be said of her husband Søren Rastogi. The only criticism would be that the slow movement of the Pejačević is too fast.  

OUR Recordings sent a DXD file, which the album was recorded in, which captures the generous, but not excessive, reverberation time of the Musikhuset, Aarhus. The overall and internal balance are perfect, the instrumental timbres beautifully recreated and the performers are there in front of you. The CD quality stream is also excellent, but when compared to the DXD, sounds rather flabby. 

Upheaval Read More »

Organ-ic Liszt

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3 of 5 stars

Liszt
Fantasia and Fugue on Ad nos, ad salutarem undam
Prelude and Fugue on B-A-C-H

Nicholas Kynaston
Royal Albert Hall Organ

Recorded in 1968 as part of Cathedral Recordings’, Great Organs series.


Reviewed by: Rob Pennock

Reviewed: January 2024
CD No: Base2 Music: CD, PCM and DSD512 from NativeDSD.com: SKU 00015
Duration: 44:02

Being a niche market there have always been specialist organ labels, such as Cathedral Recordings, who taped these performances at the Royal Albert Hall in 1968 featuring the 27 year old Nicolas Kynaston, whose 1970s CFP LP of Great Organ Works (also recorded at the Royal Albert Hall) sold well-over 100,000 copies.  And while traditionally reviews say more about the performances, here the sound takes precedence.

In Ad nos, ad salutarem undam when the massive opening statement of the theme relaxes at 1.27, the trill in the semi-quaver run is indistinct, like many others, Kynaston takes the legato marking to mean slower and allows the tension to drop. This happens throughout the work, which is particularly unfortunate in the extended central Adagio, where for all of the superb ppp effects Kynaston creates; there is no sense of line and the Fugue sounds tired. 

The Prelude (or Fantasia) and Fugue is better, having more impetus, but the interpretive flair Alfred Brendel brings to the piano version (Philips) is absent. In fairness, I should add that many organs fans love slow, massive performances and they may well be delighted with Kynaston’s approach. 

The sound though is stunning. David Woodford of Cathedral Records used a mere two AKG C12A valve microphones to capture the image on two-track tape. To place this in context, the Royal Albert Hall’s almost circular auditorium holds over 5,000 people, is 41 meters high and in 1968 the mushroom like acoustic diffusers hadn’t been fitted, so there was loads of echo. Back then the organ had four manuals, over 9.000 pipes and 146 stops 

Jake Purches – himself an organ scholar – of Base2 Music used the original tapes to create an unedited DSD128 digital master, from which the DSD512 used for review derives. The dynamic range is huge, from pppp to ffff. The reverberation time exceptionally well-controlled, the overall balance perfect, clarity and definition are exemplary and everything sounds completely right and natural, which is what you would expect from state-of-the-art analogue sound.

The only downsides are a small amount of tape-hiss, but the ear soon filters this out and if you have neighbours it might be best to wait until they have gone out before playing this at a decent volume level and check for cracks in the plaster after and the running time is very short, but this often happens with analogue-to-digital audiophile transfers, where suitable fill-ups are difficult to find.  

Organ-ic Liszt Read More »

Delius: A Mass of Life. LAWO Classics

Delius – A Mass of Life

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5 of 5 stars

Delius
A Mass of Life

Gemma Summerfield (soprano)
Claudia Huckle (mezzo-soprano)
Bror Magnus Tødenes (tenor)
Roderick Williams (baritone)

Edvard Grieg Kor
Collegium Musicum Choir
Bergen Philharmonic Choir

Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra
Mark Elder

Recorded September 26 to 29 2022 in the Grieghallen, Bergen


Reviewed by: Rob Pennock

Reviewed: December 2023
CD No: LAWO Classics: CD, PCM and DSD downloads from NativeDSD.com: LWC1265
Duration: 94 minutes

 

 

For those who think of Frederick Delius as the composer of gentle idylls such as In a Summer Garden and Late Swallows, A Mass of Life, which sets in German parts of Nietzsche’s Also Sprach Zarathustra, might come as something of a surprise. First performed complete in London in 1909, it includes parts for six horns, four trumpets and a battery of percussion. Its musical language is conservative, late-romantic without perhaps the sustained melodic distinctiveness of some of his shorter works.  

The greater part of the text is sung by a baritone, who effectively becomes Zarathustra, which Roderick Williams delivers with lieder-like attention to detail, immense conviction and considerable feeling. The only caveat being that with the advancing years his tone has thinned and acquired what is now close to a beat, but no other singer inhabits the role in the way he does. The other soloists, who are similarly characterful and intense, blend together beautifully and compared to those on the Charles Groves and Richard Hickox sets their style is more intimate and conversational. 

The orchestral playing and choral singing are vibrantly fresh and alive (the woodwind especially so); the ensemble immaculate. In the programme notes Mark Elder says the work ‘is often over-scored’, which presumably led him to seek out and achieve the exceptional clarity of line and texture that allows him to lay bare Delius’ distinctive harmonic language. From the fast and furious opening chorus onwards he always chooses the tempo justo, while still using subtle rubato and changes of pace, captures every change of mood and gives the big moments their full due; although it would have been nice to hear more of the timpani. All of which makes this the finest account of the work available.    

The album was recorded in DXD. By way of comparison, DSD512, the highest available streaming format of 24/192 and CD quality Flac 16/44.1 were used. The latter is very good, having a nice sense of depth and a pleasingly homogenous sound. Go to 24/192 and the acoustic is more tangible, there is greater presence and the soloist’s individual timbres are better captured. Turn to DSD512 and the effect is akin to removing old varnish from a painting. Suddenly there is a proper acoustic and more space around the instruments. The woodwind, string tone and percussion are weightier and more defined and the brass cut through more. The choirs have real bloom and projection; the soloists are very much there in front of you. 

As a bonus Andrew Mellor contributes some fine programme notes, with contributions from Mark Elder and the whole package has a quality feel to it.      

Delius – A Mass of Life Read More »

Challenge Classics: CD & PCM downloads: CC72932

Korngold – String Quartet No. 1 and Piano Quintet – Severin von Eckardstein and Alma Quartet

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5 of 5 stars

Korngold
String Quartet No. 1 in A major, Op. 16
Piano Quintet in E major, Op. 15

Severin von Eckardstein (piano)
Alma Quartet Amsterdam

Recorded in the MCO Studios, Hilversum, during October 2022


Reviewed by: Rob Pennock

Reviewed: November 2023
CD No: Challenge Classics: CD & PCM downloads: CC72932
Duration: 68:36

 

 

While there has been a revival of interest in the music of Erich Korngold, for many his chamber music remains an unknown quantity. The young Dutch Alma Quartet, who have already recorded the Second and Third Quartets, here essay the superb A major and Piano Quintet dating from 1923 and ’22.   

The Quartet’s highly chromatic first movement might be described as a fight between its jagged first subject and lyrical second, which the Alma’s relish. They take their time in the lyrical Adagio and sing the sublime opening theme. The Intermezzo is delightful, with intricate melodic lines dancing over extended pizzicato passages. Here the Alma’s lightness of touch makes the Doric Quartet (Chandos) sound earthbound and they expertly delineate line and rhythm in the charming Allegretto finale. 

The Piano Quintet opens with a bouncy first subject, a beautiful second and a complex, extended development, which Eckardstein – whose pedal use and sense of balance are exemplary – and the Alma’s imbue with more romantic fervour, tempo variation and smoother lines than Kathryn Stott and the Doric Quartet. Korngold used his own song, Mond, so gehst du wieder auf, as the theme for the Adagio’s eleven variations and here it is a pleasure to hear modern performers taking a very slow tempo and observing the Mit größte Ruhe marking. They also enjoy themselves in the playful rondo finale and, as throughout the album, they seem to talk to one another – their intonation and ensemble are immaculate. 

Before looking at the sound, a word about the programme notes. As now seems de rigueur, the performers tell us about how much they love the music, their personal journey towards it and the like. But there is virtually nothing about the music, which isn’t acceptable on a full-price album featuring rare works.   

However the sound on the 24/96 download is excellent. The venue’s acoustic is audible and the balance is nicely middle-distance. Eckardstein never overwhelms his partners, whose instrumental timbres are reasonably full, the dynamic range, clarity and detail and are also pretty good. 

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