This is a very strange issue. It is entitled “Masterpieces”
although in whose judgement this is, is very much in question.
Many of these pieces could never, by any stretch of the imagination,
be classified as the best works of the composer and so the title
is immediately suspect. There are no piano solo pieces, (all
are orchestral or orchestra and piano) and there is a very strange
assortment of orchestras and conductors present. Also, apart
from the first disc, which has previously been available as
a Capriccio single issue, all of the others seem to be new,
although with these artists, they could have been licensed from
In addition, there
are far superior performances of almost all of these, also
on cheaper labels, and apart from the cheap price of the current
box, I can see little purpose in purchasing it.
The Dante Symphony
is the one exception in terms of performance and recording.
The Netherlands Radio Philharmonic are set in the warm acoustic
of the Concertgebouw Hall in Amsterdam which certainly aids
and abets this performance. Comparing it with that of Kurt
Masur on EMI I would place Haenchen ahead in terms of both
fire and sensitivity. I enjoyed this disc very much, although
as a masterpiece, wouldn’t the Faust Symphony have
been a better choice? The fill-up orchestration of Liszt’s
earlier organ work – A La Chapelle Sixtine - is worth
having ... but a masterpiece?
Moving on to the
symphonic poems, I am reminded of a very much earlier record
(on vinyl) of the same artists doing much the same repertoire.
It was briefly available in the UK on the Hungaroton label
and what a difference. The rhythms were much more alive then,
and even the dim recording gave an impression of an orchestra
really committed to the music, rather than just a run-through,
albeit a good one, well recorded. When one compares these
to the likes of Masur there really is no comparison. Masur
is well recorded and his version is at budget price and has
the Leipzig Gewandhaus no less in cracking form. Even Haitink
(Philips) who is not the most dynamic of conductors in this
repertoire achieves a better structure and flow than the version
on the current disc.
There are many
discs available of the six Hungarian Rhapsodies. These pieces
really need an inspired conductor rather than a good one.
Here, I would go for Ivan Fischer with his Budapest Festival
Orchestra - better by far. Failing that, Dorati on Mercury
(if it still available) is an excellent choice, albeit not
at budget price.
With the concertos,
there is a clear best choice in Sviatoslav Richter on Philips
with Kondrashin and the London Symphony Orchestra. These performances
have more or less been top of the pile for many years, and
hearing them again, one is left in no two minds why. Good
though Jando is, he is no match for the Russian master. Much
the same goes for the Totentanz when compared with Georgy
Cziffra with the Philharmonia Orchestra and André Vandernoot.
In these performances,
Jando is up to his normal good standard, but for sheer massed
voltage his compatriot Cziffra, more than has the edge. In
this company Jandó is somewhat four-square.
Finally, we reach
the fantasias. It was a good idea to collect four of the composer’s
more memorable orchestral/piano transcriptions of works by
other composers. I found the Liszt transcription of Liszt
the best, perhaps predictable. Here, the competition is severe.
I am afraid that Jando, good as he is, is no match for competitors
such as Katchen and Gamba on Decca, or Cherkassky and Karajan
on DG, to name just two. There are a lot more.
With the remaining
transcriptions, there is less competition and I could quite
happily live with these.
So there you have
it – a collection of not so much masterpieces as of orchestral
pieces that Capriccio could get their hands on to issue in
a cheap box in up to date excellent digital recordings.
are all reasonable, but in all cases there are substantially
better recordings around which if bought separately, might
cost a little bit more, but would give a much more satisfactory
selection ... always given that you agree with Capriccio and
consider them all to be Masterpieces in the first place.