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MusicWeb Reviewer’s Log: January 2005

Reviewer: Patrick C Waller

There could be no better place to start than the New Year’s Day concert from Vienna. Sensitive to the recent Asian earthquake, the occasion was not as festive as usual. The Radetzky March, a traditional final encore, was omitted and the players of the Vienna Philharmonic generally looked more serious than is usual (except when singing la-la-la in the Peasant’s Polka). Conductor Lorin Maazel took up his violin for the Pizzicato Polka and to play a solo (normally for the zither) in Tales from Vienna Woods. As far as I can recall, he is the only conductor of recent times to do this and, approaching his 75th birthday, he can still play a bit! If you missed this concert then the CD and DVD are either already available or will be soon. I have yet to buy a recording of the event - for me these are occasions of the moment and not to be relived. Every year I spend the first morning thinking that sometime I ought to at least try to go to Vienna, even though TV provides a passable experience. There is just one problem – co-ordination of the pictures and sound. The best picture I can get (digital BBC2) is probably about one second delayed from the best sound (analogue Radio 3). Even taking picture and sound from the same digital cable box gives imperfect co-ordination.

Talking of "delay", the New Year’s Day concert seems to be a big exception when it comes to issuing records. Whilst it is clearly possible to do so within a couple of weeks, many hang around for several years waiting to be issued. I suppose there may be a variety of reasons for this but when it turns out to be something special, this seems a pity. I have just bought Konstantin Scherbakov’s disc of Scarlatti sonatas for Naxos (8.554842) which is volume 7 in their projected complete series (there will doubtless be at least 30 discs before it is complete). This was recorded in January 2000 and seems to have waited 5 years to hit the shelves. Perhaps in this case it was justifiable since I enjoyed Benjamin Frith’s volume 5 (see links 1 & 2) much more than Scherbakov. This series is frustrating in that it has so far ignored the clear pairings of sonatas that Kirkpatrick identified. For example, Scherbakov gives us Kk238 in F Minor (in an excessively slow reading – this is supposed to be Andante) but where is Kk239 to follow? I admire Scherbakov a great deal (see links 3 & 4 for reviews of his disc of Liszt’s transcription of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony) but, on this evidence, Scarlatti may not be his forte. I shall be interested to read reviews from MusicWeb colleagues in due course.

Collecting Scarlatti sonatas (there are 546 of them for solo keyboard) is a daunting but rewarding task. There are a few ongoing complete projects and Scott Ross recorded them all for Erato on the harpsichord (of which I have a wonderful 3 disc anthology). Also on the harpsichord, I was pleased to acquire Ralph Kirkpatrick’s recordings from the sixties and seventies when they recently reappeared on Archiv (00289 477 5003) – he is, of course, the man who prepared the definitive catalogue of the works. Naxos’s project is so far entirely on the piano (and presumably will remain so) and is shared between artists (one per disc to date). If, like me, you have developed the [Domenico] Scarlatti bug and are gradually building up a collection, there are several other factors to consider. One is that, with so many works, avoidance of too much duplication is necessary but quite difficult. The main reason I bought Scherbakov’s disc was that I didn’t have a recording of most of the 16 that he offers. After acquiring a few Scarlatti discs, merely finding out which sonatas you have can be a challenge and any serious collector of classical music needs to have a database catalogue of their recordings. In this respect I can wholeheartedly recommend Classic Collector (see link 5) which I have used for several years. This has a report function which enables one to, for example, list out all Scarlatti sonatas in Kk order.

A final word on Scarlatti – if you want to hear any one of his 546 sonatas on the computer it is easy to do so by visiting link 6 and downloading free MIDI files created by John Sankey (who describes himself as "Harpsichordist to the internet"). There are no repeats or frills but this was obviously a labour of love.

A piece that I often play around Christmas time (probably quite illogically) is Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis. Some months ago I noticed the MusicWeb reviews of Kenneth Schermerhorn’s recording for Naxos (see links 7 & 8) but it took me a while to get around to hearing the disc. Gwyn Parry-Jones and Michael Cookson were both generally positive about this disc, the latter more so. They disagreed about the balance between orchestra and voices but for me this was fine. I thought the recording excellent and more refined than on Jeffrey Tate’s 1989 reading for EMI which I used for comparison (a worthwhile version perhaps due for bargain reissue?). The voice of soprano Lori Phillips is an acquired taste (and undoubtedly not to be preferred to Carol Vaness for Tate) but overall, for me, this is a splendid rendition and a most desirable disc. Michael Cookson’s point about not being too parochial about who is performing what seems very apposite – Beethoven from Nashville – if it is as good as this then why not ?

There continue to some great bargains around in record shops at the moment – no need to worry about "January" sales any more. I was hunting for last minute presents on Christmas Eve and picked up a few things that went down well. In doing so I came across the perfect present to myself, a slimline 4CD box called 20th Century Classics I on the splendid Warner Apex label (0927 49420-2). Inter alia, this contains the Violin Concertos by Berg, Hartmann and Janáček (a reconstruction), Choral Music by Dallapiccola, Elliott Carter’s Oboe Concerto and Berio’s Sinfonia. These discs are available separately each costing about £5 in the UK and the box normally retails for £15. Many thanks to HMV for letting me have all this for £5! Equally remarkable was the relative lack of duplication involved (only the Berg and Janáček do I already have recordings of) and the fact that there was also a 20th Century Classics II in similar vein, almost everything of which in it I already own a recording (life isn’t usually like that!). I doubt that it will still be possible pick this up for £5 but it is still a considerable bargain at £15. In particular, Dallapiccola’s choral music is a revelation.

One of the few downsides in having a fairly large collection of recorded music is that people don’t tend to buy you records as presents – they haven’t any idea what you might want and are worried you will already have the disc. There is one enlightened person I know who keeps buying me DVDs at Christmas (of which I have only about 10) and they are also very good at choosing some gems. This year came Tchaikovskys’s Eugene Onegin in a film version by Petr Weigl based on Solti’s Covent Garden recording (Decca 071 124-9) and a compilation of Schwarzkopf, Seefried and Fischer-Dieskau singing Richard Strauss, Mahler and Schubert (EMI Classic Archive DVB 4904419). The Tchaikovsky is superb musically, well acted and beautifully shot but doesn’t quite hang together because it is continually obvious that the singing is mimed. No such worries with the other DVD which includes Schwarzkopf in the last of part of Act I of Der Rosenkavalier. Irmgard Seefried is impressive in live renditions of songs by Strauss and Mahler (particularly notable is her Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen – perhaps my favourite song of all) and Fischer-Dieskau sings the Lieder eines Fahrenden Gesellen for all they are worth in a 1960 performance under Paul Kletzki. In what is described as a bonus, Fischer-Dieskau is joined by Gerald Moore for four Schubert lieder including a rather restrained Erlkönig. Following this they shake hands and say good night.

I did get one other "musical" Christmas present – Stephen Fry’s Incomplete and Utter History of Classical Music (as told to Tim Lihoreau). Sporting a "post-it" note from J. S. Bach on the back cover – "Pick up wig from cleaners… write Mass (possibly B minor)…" this is a humorous chronological take on classical music which for the most part seems to be factually accurate. Endearingly, incorrect statements made for humorous purposes are accompanied by smilies. The biggest surprise was that the authors (who seem to be admirers of Wagner) are pretty confused about the order in which the music of Ring cycle was composed (Die Walküre is initially stated to be fourth and then third but was, of course, second). The musical events of history are interestingly related to other happenings, particularly in the world of art and literature. After a while Fry’s fixation on Elgar’s moustache becomes a bit wearing but most of the jokes are funny. Recommended to anyone interested in classical music whose sense of humour is at least as warped as mine J purchase (50% off).

A disc that caught my ear recently was the final instalment of Marin Alsop’s recordings of Barber’s orchestral music for Naxos – an impressive series (see links 9 & 10). A particular delight is the Canzonetta for oboe and strings, part of an unfinished concerto which was completed after Barber’s death by Charles Turner. The disc also includes a complete opera lasting 9 minutes and 44 seconds – A Hand of Bridge. This is entertaining stuff although I am not sure whether the contract of 5 Hearts was made or how this work could be sensibly programmed in the opera house (as an encore??).

Talking of Marin Alsop, I heard her on the radio before Christmas talking about the inspiration she received from Leonard Bernstein. She related a story of him standing before the New York Philharmonic and saying something the effect that "I have looked at this again and last time we did this piece (Tchaikovsky 5) it was all wrong" – and how she was thereby encouraged to keep rethinking her interpretations. Suitably impressed, I went back to a system I was developing at work and redesigned it (hopefully for the better!). Finally in relation to Marin Alsop, my New Year resolution is to go and see her conduct the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. Assuming I manage to keep it, I’ll report back on that in a future log.

At this time of year, many people are thinking of forthcoming holidays but I am still a bit fixated on last year’s once in a lifetime trip to Australia. Shortly after coming back I received a disc of Australian music to review called Red Earth and was most impressed (Jonathan Woolf seemed to like it too – see links 11 and 12). At the time I was conscious of my almost complete lack of experience of music from "down under". There has been recent good news on this front with the release of a Naxos disc of music by Peter Sculthorpe (see Rob Barnett’s review at link 13). This is most notable for the didgeridoo in Earth Cry but there is also a splendid Piano Concerto and the whole disc is well worth hearing.

In my last log, I wrote about Alfvén’s symphonies, bemoaning the pace at which Naxos’s series was progressing. Inevitably, I suppose, within about 2 hours of completing that Rob Barnett was sending me an e-mail saying that their version of the Fourth Symphony was coming out this month. It can be argued that this is his finest work, so watch out for the disc and for reviews on MusicWeb.

Finally, Marc Bridle’s editorial entitled "On the Humanity of Music and Musicians: the new unacknowledged legislators" (link 14) is suitably thought-provoking stuff for the new year. It brought me back to earth after Stephen Fry.

Patrick C Waller


1. http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2003/Apr03/Scarlatti5.htm

2. http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2003/Aug03/Domenico_SCARLATTIv5.htm

3. http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2004/Oct04/Liszt_Beethoven9.htm

4. http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2004/Dec04/Liszt_Beethoven9.htm

5. http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/lion_elk/

6. http://www.midiworld.com/scarlatti.htm

7. http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2004/Feb04/Beethoven_Missa%20_solemnis.htm

8. http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2004/Mar04/BeethovenMS.htm

9. http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2004/Nov04/Barber_capricorn_concerto.htm

10. http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2004/Dec04/Barber_capricorn_Alsop.htm

11. http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2004/Aug04/Red_Earth.htm

12. http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2004/Sept04/red%20earth.htm

13. http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2004/Nov04/Sculthorpe_Earth_Cry.htm

14. http://www.musicweb-international.com/SandH/2005/Jan-Jun05/janed.htm


see also Weblog for December


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