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MusicWeb Reviewer’s Log: September 2005

Reviewer: Patrick C Waller

This time I’ll begin with Wagner, having recently acquired EMI’s new Tristan und Isolde, billed as the last opera recording of its kind - all-star cast in the studio. There’s not much in Marc Bridle’s review (link 1) with which I would disagree. Domingo certainly sings wonderfully although I had a bit of difficulty regarding him as a completely plausible Tristan. Stemme is superb as Isolde and there are no weak links in a cast which even boasts Ian Bostridge as the Shepherd. Antonio Pappano and the Covent Garden orchestra are other main stars. This is urgent conducting but it never leads to the music sounding rushed. Nevertheless timings show that this is a generally fast rendition and fitting a single act onto each CD is a desirable consequence. The recorded sound sets a very high standard being refined with the voices well-balanced. Presentation is excellent and there is an extra in the shape of a bonus DVD video which provides sub-titles on the screen while listening to stereo sound which is not markedly inferior to the CD on my equipment or surround sound - which I don’t have the facility to test. Altogether, whatever versions of Tristan you already have - in my collection are Furtwängler, Bernstein and Karajan - the Tristan of Jon Vickers in the latter is still unsurpassed in my view - this is still a must. As an incentive to any waverers, this seems to be going at mid-price, at least at the moment – I paid £20 precisely by mail order.

Perhaps the current economics of recording opera are relevant to the sad news that Chandos is downsizing (link 2). Reviewers are probably meant to be unbiased about record companies but I have to admit that Chandos would be one of my favourites. When one of their discs lands on my doorstep there is a feeling of anticipation – they seem to have made very few duds. So let’s all hope it turns out to be temporary and support them by buying from what is already a marvellous catalogue.

No one who has bothered to read these ramblings before would be in any doubt about another of my favourite labels. There are five Naxos discs to mention this time - which would together cost about the same as EMI’s Tristan; three of them I was fortunate to review. The New Zealand Chamber Orchestra’s disc of Beck’s Symphonies (link 3) was surprisingly good given the obscurity of the composer. If, like me, you previously thought Ince was a soccer player I can enlighten you that his third and fourth symphonies, dating from the 1990s, weren’t written during periods of suspension due to multiple yellow cards – this is Kamran Ince. He is an American composer with Turkish roots (link 4), and a writer of fine contemporary music which is worth seeking out. Rob Barnett and I were both impressed with Jesús Guridi’s piano music (links 5 and 6) and John Quinn’s review of Bolcom’s songs (link 7) prompted me to listen to these unusual and ear-catching miniatures. I have not yet been brave enough to try his Songs of Innocence and Experience (links 8 and 9 – a work which takes up 3 CDs) but maybe I’ll yet get there. Finally, it is good to see Naxos recognizing the William Alwyn centenary and their disc of Symphonies 2 and 5 and the harp concerto Lyra Angelica from Liverpool (links 10 and 11) is splendid. I already have the Chandos/Hickox readings of these works but the new versions represent serious competition. The Gramophone was a bit grudging about the sound quality on this disc but was well-off the mark there, this sounds stunning to me.

The LSO Live label has been packaging up their symphony recordings of Dvořák, Elgar and Brahms into bargain boxes. I had already acquired most of these versions of the latter two composers as single discs and, in particular, enjoyed Bernard Haitink’s Brahms cycle. Sir Colin Davis’s Dvořák had passed me by completely and the set of Symphonies Nos. 6-9 (LSO0071) was very tempting and inexpensive. These are works which I know through the famous LSO/Kertesz set which seems so good that I have previously never bothered with any others. Davis’s versions obviously don’t surpass those by Kertesz but they are a viable alternative approach in more modern sound and I found it refreshing to listen to them.

Harald Sæverud is one of the most important Norwegian composers after Grieg and I have been meaning to explore his music for a while. I have now heard, and can recommend, two discs in BIS’s series – the 5th Symphony coupled with the Oboe Concerto (links 12 and 13) and the 8th Symphony plus the Cello Concerto (link 14). The 8th symphony in particular is a marvellous work.

Most of what is written in reviews rightly relates to music and performance but sound quality is also important, at least to me. I think it was Beecham who quipped that the British didn’t like music, only the sound it makes. Whilst I am very happy with my [Naim 5 series] equipment, I do sometimes wonder what real top-end stuff sounds like. Two recent articles on MusicWeb are relevant (links 15 and 16). Both the cost of David Dyers’ equipment and the title of Bill Kenny’s article catch the eye. Feel free to read my articles facing which ever way you wish!

Patrick C Waller
























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