This recording, from live performances
at the Barbican last December, is the finest opera CD I have heard this
year. The sheer electricity generated by Davis's lithe and fearless
conducting of this extraordinary score - even given the fact these are
live recordings - is of a magnitude I have rarely encountered elsewhere
(indeed, only Carlos Kleiber and Karl Böhm on live opera recordings
approach Davis's thunderbolt excitement). With these discs coming at
such an attractive price (less than £20) and with such clear and thrilling
sound (even more so given the notorious problems with recording this
opera) this set becomes an essential purchase.
Only Wagner it seems got it right about
Berlioz. When he said he was 'devilishly smart' he just about summed
up what made Berlioz so thrilling a composer, particularly in this opera.
Hear Les Troyens, with its lavish ballets, the underlying tension
of the scoring, the despair and exhilaration of the mood and you have
a cornucopia of human expression and fragility within its four hours.
Its epic span mirrors the story it tells - yet few operas seem so atmospheric.
With its tempestuous storm during the Royal Hunt interlude and the sheer
lyricism of the love duet between Enée and Dido Les Troyens
can seem both spectacular and intimate. Its scope is simply breathtaking
and even more so when one considers how miniaturist the attention to
the scoring is.
There are problems, however. Les
Troyens is so massive in scale that it takes a master conductor
to hold everything together. Listen to even parts of this recording
(the transition between the Cavatina and the March in Act I, for example)
and you feel that the stitching holding together the woven cloth is
not quite as meticulously sewn as it might be. Moreover, the action
of the opera can appear very episodic (there are many drastic changes
of scenes). The advantage of this live recording, however, is that it
is a concert performance and this seems to interfere less with the diffuse
action of the libretto than in a fully staged performance.
Davis has lived with this opera for
many years (indeed gave the first performance of the complete two-part
version in 1969 - more than a hundred years after its completion). The
passion and theatricality which colours his Covent Garden recording
is in evidence here - although, because this is live, there is a greater
tension and latent energy to the conducting. The Trojan March is profoundly
exciting - the LSO brazen and blazing. Dido's Lament, however, has greater
beauty than in his studio recording - the LSO playing with fabulous
poise and expressivity of tone.
Holding this together is his cast.
Ben Heppner, for whom this is his first outing as Enée, is incapable
of giving us a single ugly sound and finds the high tessitura of the
part comfortably within his scope. His French diction is certainly clearer
(and cleaner) than Jon Vickers' on Davis' first recording and he sounds
much less powerful in tone (in a word, more 'lyrical') than Vickers.
Vickers had already sung the role on stage so perhaps brings greater
involvement to the part but Heppner is not really that less involving,
particularly in the Duet and his Aria where the vulnerability to his
tone seems closer to the ideal than Vickers' sheer voluminous power.
Michelle DeYoung, imposingly tall in real life, was due to sing the
role of Cassandre - but here makes a formidable Dido. Her lament is
moving, her characterisation reflective and tense. Petra Lang is a noble
Cassandre - perhaps too Germanic in her phrasing - but what clarity
of enunciation! Both the LSO Chorus and the LSO are on world beating
There are now just three complete recordings
of Les Troyens (two by Davis and one by Charles Dutoit) in the
catalogue [Beecham's 1947 recording is heavily cut, as was the norm
at the time]. This recording, made in excellent sound and with a conductor
at the height of his powers and with even more insights into Berlioz'
epic opera, is marginally preferable to his 1969 recording. Many will
indeed prefer Heppner's lyrical Enée to Vickers' powerhouse assumption
of the role. Josephine Veasey (in Davis I) is a formidable Dido singing
with beauty of tone and with enormous vocal strength an overall better
recommendation than DeYoung. Dutoit's all French version is beautifully
sung but lacks momentum. What makes Davis II so indispensable is the
astonishing playing of the LSO - virile and abrasive one moment, impassioned
and lyrical the next. They are simply triumphant.
An outstanding bargain, this is an
Copyright: MusicWeb 11 October 2001
Reviews of the Year
Reviewers were asked to nominate from their own writings
in the past year reviews of which they felt stood out from their others
for some special reason.
fonietta (1912) Violin Concerto (1945)
(violin) Dallas SO/Andrew Litton rec Nov 1994, Dallas
DORIAN DOR-90216 [70.06] [RB]
of recorded sound.
Sir John Falstaff - Bryn Terfel, Ford - Thomas Hampson, Fenton -
Daniil Shtoda, Dr Cajus - Enrico Facini, Bardolfo - Anthony Mee, Pistola
- Anatoli Kotscherga, Mrs Alice Ford - Adrianne Pieczonka, Nannetta
- Dorothea Röschmann, Mrs Quickly - Larissa Diadkova, Mrs Meg Page
- Stella Doufexis, Rundfunkchor Berlin, Berliner Philharmoniker, Claudio
Rec Berlin, April 2001.
DG 471 194 2, 2 discs [52'07 & 61'20], Full Price
listeners, we at last have a great recording of this great opera in
fine sound. And it has never sounded
Falstaff is an opera I have always found 'difficult' - until, that
is, I heard this recording of it. I felt a genuine sense that I was
rediscovering a masterpiece - for a reviewer an uncommon experience,
and therefore an enjoyable one.
Mia Peltenburg (soprano)
Rosette Anday (mezzo-soprano) Paul Marion (tenor) Josef von Manowarda
(bass) Vienna Symphony Orchestra & Singverein, Wilhelm Furtwängler
Live recording, Vienna, November 1927 (incomplete)
FURT NOV 002 One disc, 65'35, Full Price [SM]
Verdi Requiem may be incomplete but what remains, albeit in primitive
sound, is of scorching intensity.
Although I wrote this under a pseudonym (although now you know who I am)
I was particularly pleased with this April Fool. Cast, conductor, venue
and date are all genuine -but it was fascinating to recreate the fantasy
of this recording in my mind for the phantom CD release. I am still receiving
orders for this 'disc' six months after it appeared! And I am still feeling
guilty about it, too.
LITTLE OF WHAT YOU FANCY"
The Golden Age of the British Music Hall: Recordings from 1901-1931
Marie Lloyd, Harry
Lauder, George Robey, Charles Coborn, Harry Champion, George Formby
Snr., Billy Williams, Vesta Victoria, Florrie Forde, Billy Merson.Will
Fyffe, Dan Leno, Little Tich, Albert Whelan, Gus Elen, Norah Blaney,
Lily Morris, Vesta Tilley, Albert Chevalier, Billy Williams.
ASV Living Era
CD AJA 5363 [74.56] [TD]
is an indispensable record for those who love the world of the old Music
A labour of love drawing on Tony's knowledge of Music Hall
learned from his Father.
No.5 in C sharp minor
Junge Deutsche Philharmonie Conducted by Rudolf Barshai
Laurel Records Laurel-905 [69:33] [TD]
you buy only one new Mahler recording this year make sure it's this
one. Versions of Mahler symphonies of this calibre arrive very seldom.
It is the finest recording of the Fifth Symphony currently available.
This review help bring international recognition to this
recording but also to MusicWeb.
1952) The Complete Symphonies Volumes 1-7
Artur Rubinstein Philharmonic Orchestra Artur Rubinstein Philharmonic
Choir Ilya Stupel - conductor in chief. Roma Owsinska, Soprano (2) Tadeusz
Chmielewski, Piano (3) Jan Wolanski (15)
DANACORD DACOCD 404-410 [DDD] [JF]
complex of works. A huge cycle of symphonies. Some of these pieces are
truly great, some exhibit pure genius, some are unlistenable, some are
just plain banal. Yet somehow I feel that this man has to be accommodated
into the Pantheon of Western composers. These CDs make a very brave
and largely consummated attempt at beginning to secure this recognition.
Simon Hewitt Jones
Violinists: Maud POWELL (1867 - 1920) The
Complete 1904 - 1917 Recordings, Vol.1
Maud Powell (violin) Recorded 1904 - 1917
NAXOS 8.110961 [71.56] [SHJ]
beautifully restored disc of great historical value. Maud Powell's warm,
inviting tone makes this an essential buy for violin aficionados.
opp. 6, 7, 17, 24, 30, 33, 41, 50, 56, 59, 63, 67, 68, "A Emile
Gaillard", "Notre temps"
Nina Milkina (pianoforte)
Recorded in the Wigmore Hall, London, April 1970
UNTERSCHRIFT CLASSICS (no number) [2 CDs, 68.33, 75.25]
world of Chopin's Mazurkas is so infinitely varied that no one artist
will have the best answer to every single piece. There are a number
of sets for which we have to be eternally grateful and Nina Milkina's
is among them.
Charles Villiers STANFORD (1852-1924)
Clarinet Concerto in A minor, op. 80 Gerald
FINZI (1901-1956) Concerto for Clarinet and Strings, op.
31 Dame Thea King
(clarinet) Philharmonia Orchestra/Alun Francis Recorded 1-2/8/1979 (Finzi),
28-9/11/1979 (Stanford), Henry Wood Hall, London
HELIOS CDH55101 [48.56] [CH]
you have the Finzi in a differently coupled version, at the Helios price
you might consider getting this for the Stanford.
Comparative Reviews of Recordings of Manon Lescaut
This was an enormous undertaking
Symphony No. 10 in E Minor * Maurice
RAVEL Bolero ** Zoltan
KODALY Dances from Galanta **
Czech Philharmonic conducted by Karel Ancerl * RIAS Symphony Orchestra
Berlin conducted by Ferenc Fricsay ** recorded 1956 Prague *, Berlin
**. DG 457 080-2 [76.17]
out and buy it - it is a tragedy that these issues were not publicised
in the UK. You might be interested to know that they are also hidden
from view via the Universal France Website.
A welcome to an old favourite never released on CD in the UK
. 1949) Piano Works
Star-Prelude and Love Fugue; Sonata No. 1 "Dante Sonata"; Three Letters
from the Unknown Soldier; Sonata No. 2
Rolf Hind (piano) rec. July 2000 (DDD)
DACAPO 8.224148 [69'10] [PS]
playing from Rolf Hind, a superb piano superbly recorded - if you already
know and love the music this is self-recommending (probably!). If you
don't, do give it a whirl: the two imposing powerful, purposeful, and
eloquent sonatas are based on an unconventional - and surprising - compositional
technique. Even mild persistence will reap its reward, as I myself discovered.
Call me big-headed if you like, but I'm quite proud of this effort!
However, it's not because of any assumed literary talent on my own part,
but because at the outset I had this prejudicial premonition that I
wasn't going to like it, not one bit. But, by the time I'd finished,
I'd not only overcome (some of) my prejudice, I'd actually got to like
some of it, and the most substantial part of it at that. Looking over
the review again, I find that I seem to have expressed my reactions
with a fair bit of candour, because that's how I still feel about it.
I'll tell you what, though, it's a terrific record!
W. SOLOMONS (1953-) Songs of Solomo
Taylor(counter-tenor), Jonathan Leonard (piano) rec. Jan 2001
DA CAPO NEW CENTURY CLASSICS NCC2003 [37.38] [PSe]
curate's egg is definitely one to "try before you buy". Mixing my metaphors
a bit, it's a bran-tub of songs: amongst the so-so-rans and the nice-to-haves
you'll find a couple of truly treasurable plums. The affectionate performances
are unfortunately marred by the use of a pub piano in a recording which
redefines the standards for bathroom acoustics.
The first thing I did when I played this was to check the date. To my
dismay, it wasn't April the First. First impressions, dominated by the
awful acoustic of the recording, were hardly favourable. It took a lot
of hard graft for me to penetrate this murk and give what I hope is
a fair assessment of its virtues and vices.
ARNOLD (b. 1921
) Symphony No. 7 (1973) Symphony No. 8 (1978)
National SO of Ireland/Andrew
Penny rec 21-22 Feb 2000, National Concert Hall, Dublin, Ireland (in
presence of composer)
NAXOS 8.552001 [63.55] [PSe] [RB]
this "approachable" music with caution - Arnold's Seventh Symphony
merits an "18" certificate with additional warnings for the faint-hearted!
Rounding off their highly recommendable complete set of the Arnold symphonies,
Andrew Penny and the NSO of Ireland may well have saved the best until
last. Electrifying music given highly charged performances - buy it,
and be damned! [PS]
I was absolutely chuffed to bits when Rob offered this one to me, and
even more chuffed when I found that it lived up to my unrealistic expectations.
I think - hope - that it's obvious that Arnold, and particularly his
symphonies, are particularly close to my heart. But that can be a problem,
as I found out when I spent many hours agonising over what to say and
how to say it. Nevertheless, it will have been worth all the effort
if, as a result, even one single person went out, bought the CD, and
fell in love with the music.
Peter Grahame Woolf
Century Music for solo flute
Salvatore Sciarrino - "Hermes"
(1984) James Dillon -
"Sgothan" (1984) Jesus Rueda
- "Suspiria" (1988) Isang
Yun - "Sori" (1988) Gyorgy
Kurtag - "Doloroso" (1992) Stefano
Gervasoni - "Ravine" (2000) Brian
Ferneyhough - "Carceri d'Invenzione IIb" (1984)
Claude Debussy - "Syrinx"
by Mario Caroli
SvaNa SVN001 [76 mins] [PW]
unreservedly and this will be one to come back to when playing the 'best
in category' game towards the end of the year.
Jazz Duets: Chick Corea & Gary Burton; Carla Bley & Steve