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Reviewers select their best reviews of the year

The reviewers of MusicWeb have named Berlioz' Les Troyens, conducted by Sir Colin Davis on the LSO Live label, as the 2001 Record of the Year.

This is the first time that MusicWeb, the world's largest Internet website for music, has nominated a record of the year. We are pleased that it has gone to a new and enterprising recording venture.

Founded last year, LSO Live CDs offer the excitement and energy of live performance and preserve the Orchestra's finest performances, bringing great music to the widest possible audience. The recordings are made using the highest definition recording technology and available at budget price.

Les Troyens has become one of the fastest selling opera sets in recent years and has attracted outstanding critical acclaim.

We are really honoured that the LSO LIVE recording of 'Les Troyens' conducted by Sir Colin Davis has been nominated by all the reviewers as Music Web Recording of the Year. For all of us, LSO LIVE has been a veryimportant development for the LSO, ensuring the preservation of many of the LSO's finest performances made available to audiences worldwide at truly accessible prices.

Thank you very much for your recognition and we will strive to continue to deserve it.

Clive Gillinson
Managing Director,
London Symphony Orchestra

We reprint our review of the set here.

Les Troyens
Ben Heppner (tenor) - Enée  Michelle DeYoung (mezzo-soprano) - Dido Petra Lang (mezzo-soprano) - Cassandre Sara Mingardo (alto) - Anna Peter Mattei (baritone) - Chorèbe Stephen Milling (bass) - Narbal Kenneth Tarver (tenor) - Lopas London Symphony Chorus London Symphony Orchestra, Sir Colin Davis (Recorded 3, 7, 8 & 9 December 2000, Barbican Centre, London) LSO Live LSO 0010 CD 4 CDs [62.23, 68.57, 56.25, 51.51], Super Budget Price

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 form.

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 unmissable set.

Marc Bridle

Copyright: MusicWeb 11 October 2001

 Reviewer's 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.

Rob Barnett

KORNGOLD Sin fonietta (1912) Violin Concerto (1945) Ulrike-Anima Mathé (violin) Dallas SO/Andrew Litton rec Nov 1994, Dallas DORIAN DOR-90216 [70.06] [RB]

A classic of recorded sound.


Marc Bridle

Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901) Falstaff (1893) 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 Abbado
Rec Berlin, April 2001. DG 471 194 2, 2 discs [52'07 & 61'20], Full Price

For listeners, we at last have a great recording of this great opera in fine sound. And it has never sounded better.

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.

VERDI REQUIEM 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]

This 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.



Tony Duggan

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]

This is an indispensable record for those who love the world of the old Music Hall.

A labour of love drawing on Tony's knowledge of Music Hall learned from his Father.


MAHLER Symphony No.5 in C sharp minor Junge Deutsche Philharmonie Conducted by Rudolf Barshai Laurel Records Laurel-905 [69:33] [TD]

If 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.

John France


Rued LANGGAARD (1893- 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]

A great 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

Great Violinists: Maud POWELL (1867 - 1920) The Complete 1904 - 1917 Recordings, Vol.1 Maud Powell (violin) Recorded 1904 - 1917 NAXOS 8.110961 [71.56] [SHJ]

A beautifully restored disc of great historical value. Maud Powell's warm, inviting tone makes this an essential buy for violin aficionados.


Chris Howell

CHOPIN Frédéric (1810-1849) Mazurkas, 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]

The 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.

Sir 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]

If you have the Finzi in a differently coupled version, at the Helios price you might consider getting this for the Stanford.

Ian Lace

Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
Comparative Reviews of Recordings of Manon Lescaut

This was an enormous undertaking

John Phillips

Dimitri SHOSTAKOVICH 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] [JP]

Go 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

Paul Serotsky

Poul RUDERS (b . 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]

Apocalyptic 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!

David W. SOLOMONS (1953-) Songs of Solomo ns Stephen Taylor(counter-tenor), Jonathan Leonard (piano) rec. Jan 2001 DA CAPO NEW CENTURY CLASSICS NCC2003 [37.38] [PSe]

This 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.

Malcolm 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]

Approach 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

20th 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" (1913)   played by Mario Caroli  SvaNa SVN001 [76 mins] [PW]

Recommended unreservedly and this will be one to come back to when playing the 'best in category' game towards the end of the year.

Don Mather

Famous Jazz Duets: Chick Corea & Gary Burton; Carla Bley & Steve Swallow ARTHAUS DVD100 334


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