Recording of the Month

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Richard Lehnert Posted: May 24, 2012 Published: Nov 01, 1987 0 comments
Arvo Pärt: Tabula Rasa and Arbos
Tabula Rasa: Fratres (2 versions); Cantus in memory of Benjamin Britten; Tabula Rasa
Gidon Kremer, Tatjana Grindenko, violins; Keith Jarrett, piano; Alfred Schnittke, prepared piano; Staatsorchester Stuttgart, Dennis Russel Davies, conductor; Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra, Saulus Sondeckis, conductor; cellists of the Berlin PO
ECM New Series 1275 (CD). Heinz Wildhagen, Peter Laenger, Eberhard Sengpiel, Dieter Frobeen, engs.; Manfred Eicher, prod. AAD. TT: 55:04

Arbos: Arbos; An den Wassern zu Babel; Pari Intervallo; De Profundis; Es sang for langen Jahren; Summa; Stabat Mater
Gidon Kremer, violin; Christopher Bowers-Broadbent, organ; The Hilliard Ensemble; Brass of the Staatsorchester Stuttgart; others
ECM New Series 1325 (CD). Peter Laenger, Andreas Neubronner, engs.; Manfred Eicher, prod. DDD. TT: 59:21

Harold Lynn Posted: Sep 18, 2013 Published: Oct 01, 1987 11 comments
Duruflé: Requiem; Fauré: Requiem
Blegen, Morris, Shaw, Atlanta SO and Chorus.
Telarc 80135 (CD). Robert Woods, prod.; Jack Renner, eng. DDD. TT: 74:23

To have two Requiems by French composers on the same disc certainly invites comparisons. Superficially similar, the works are actually quite different: both are conceived for small-scale performance, both rely on the organ, and neither places any great demands on chorus or orchestra. The differences concern mood and even intent. Fauré's Requiem, composed between 1887 and 1890, has survived all kinds of performances, both amateur and professional, without losing its ability to move hearers with its gentle hymn for the dead. The Duruflé, composed in 1947, has not achieved this kind of public appeal. A commissioned work, and not unified in style, this requiem is enjoyed by those who sing it; audiences tend to find it bland.

J. Gordon Holt Posted: Oct 24, 2013 Published: Jun 01, 1987 0 comments
Copland: Appalachian Spring (Suite), Eight Poems of Emily Dickinson, An Outdoor Overture (CD only)
Pacific Symphony Orchestra/Clark/Marni Nixon (soprano)
Reference Recordings LP RR-2 and CD RR-22CD. Tam Henderson, prod.; Keith Johnson, eng.

This is unquestionably one of the best recordings Reference Recordings has done. The sound of the LP is up-front and quite bright, giving the orchestra that peculiarly nasal quality I usually associate with small French orchestras. There is truly remarkable detail and naturalness here; I was about to write that the recording makes the orchestra sound very small and pinched in Appalachian Spring when I noticed on the record jacket that this is the "Original version for 13 instruments." Okay, so I know what it costs to hire musicians in the US, but I still prefer the version of this work scored for full, bombastic, overblown 108-piece symphony orchestra. The 13 instruments are superbly balanced, though—even the piano, which is usually (and wrongfully) relegated to behind the orchestra. About a half a block behind it.

J. Gordon Holt Posted: Nov 18, 2013 Published: Dec 18, 1986 0 comments
REFLECTIONS
666rotm.reflections.jpgJim Walker, flute, Mike Garson, piano
Reference Recordings CD RR-18CD.

DEBUSSY: Quartet in g
RAVEL: Quartet in F

The Cleveland Quartet
Telarc CD-80111.

What do you listen to when you've heard Reference Recordings' Symphonie Fantastique, Telarc's 1812 Overture, and Sheffield's Firebird, the last of your audiophile guests have gone home, and tomorrow's a workday but you're too hyped up to go to bed?

These.

Both are from record companies whose reputations were built on sonic blockbusters, but the subjects of this review are about as true to expectation as Mr. T flouncing about with a limp wrist.

Reflections is a program of short works for flute and piano. It's quiet, restful, and, in an age when it seems that nothing is worth listening to unless it's high-powered or "significant," this laidback program is a delightful change of pace.

J. Gordon Holt Posted: Nov 18, 2013 Published: Nov 18, 1986 1 comments
666rotm.earl.jpgBERLIOZ: Symphonie Fantastique
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Massimo Fraccia
Chesky CR-1.

RACHMANINOV: Piano Concerto No.2 in c
Earl Wild, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Jascha Horenstein
Chesky CR-2.

Chesky? Massimo Fraccia? Is this a put-on?

No, it's not. Chesky is a new record company which, at a time when everyone is predicting the imminent demise of the LP, has just launched its first two LPs and is threatening to follow them with more.

David Chesky is a young composer/musician who, despite some impressive credentials in the classical music world, remains singularly unrenowned. But he is also a musical reactionary after my own heart, who feels that all the best performances of the so-called Romantic repertoire were done years ago and will probably never be equalled. But rather than just bitch about this in record reviews, he is doing something about it, by releasing some of those early, possibly definitive performances on the best-sounding recordings he knows how to produce.

J. Gordon Holt Posted: Nov 13, 2013 Published: Aug 01, 1986 1 comments
886rotmjgh.1.jpgStravinsky: The Firebird (1910 Suite)
Debussy: Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun
Los Angeles Philharmonic, conducted by Erich Leinsdorf
Sheffield Lab Direct-to-Disc Lab 24 (LP). Lincoln Mayorga, prod.; Doug Sax, James Boyk, engs.

For some reason, Stereophile didn't receive an early pressing of Sheffield's latest orchestral recording, their first since the Wagner and Prokofiev discs back in 1977. So, guess where my review copy of this finally came from? From Harry Pearson, that's who. How did this come about? Well, I had seen a passing comment in The Absolute Sound to the effect that HP didn't like the recording, and since I was favorably impressed with what I'd heard of it at the last two Consumer Electronics Shows, I phoned HP to ask what he didn't like about it. "Dull high end, closed-in sound, not enough spaciousness" was the reply. Thank you, I said. Several days later, a copy of the disc arrived, postmarked Sea Cliff, NY.

Thank you Harry, but I must disagree with you about this recording.

Wes Marshall Posted: Feb 21, 2014 Published: Jun 01, 1986 4 comments
The four works in Private Music's initial release represent such a consistently high level of creation that it is remarkable to see them released all at once. The label's owner, Peter Bauman, was one of the founders of Tangerine Dream, the pioneering electronic music group from Germany (footnote 1). His influence infuses all the releases.
J. Gordon Holt Posted: Mar 18, 2014 Published: Dec 01, 1985 9 comments
rotm1285.p.pngRespighi: Church Windows
The Pacific Symphony Orchestra, Keith Clark conducting.
Reference Recordings RR-15 (LP). Tam Henderson, prod.; Keith Johnson, eng. AAA

Some years ago, Harry Pearson, editor and publisher of That Other Magazine, announced his intention to help finance production of a no-holds-barred symphonic recording. The only question was, who would produce it?

Reference Recordings' Tam Henderson assures me he did not have HP's grant in mind when he conspired with the Pacific Symphony's conductor to record "something" in the Crystal Cathedral, a huge barn of a place in Santa Ana, CA. When that hall, graced by a large, romantic-sounding pipe organ and superb acoustics, proved to be unavailable because of some legal wrangle, the idea of recording something big and romantic for orchestra and pipe organ refused to go away.

J. Gordon Holt Posted: Apr 10, 2014 Published: Sep 01, 1985 1 comments
985rotm.shost250.jpgShostakovich: Symphony 15
USSR Ministry of Culture State Symphony Orchestra, Gennady Rozhdestvensky conducting.
JVC/Melodiya CD VDC-528 (CD). Igor Veprintsev, eng. AAD.

I have been wondering recently if we aren't seeing the beginning of the end of rotten recordings. I'm now not too surprised when yet another superlative-sounding Telarc or Reference Recordings disc arrives for review, but when a Soviet-made Melodiya blows me away with its sound, not to say a stupendous performance, I must conclude that something earthshaking is going on.

J. Gordon Holt Posted: Apr 15, 2014 Published: Aug 01, 1985 6 comments
885rotm.250.jpgMozart: Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, Posthorn Serenade
Prague Chamber Orchestra, Charles Mackerras conducting.
Telarc CD 80108 (CD). Robert Woods, prod., Jack Renner, eng. DDD.

Holt's First Law of Recording states: "The better the performance, the worse the recording—and vice versa." It's true; really fine recordings of superb musical performances are so rare that the discovery of one such gem is cause for rejoicing. Well, you can rejoice: this is one of them.

Steven W. Watkinson Posted: May 07, 2014 Published: Jul 01, 1985 4 comments
Anyone who thinks the ultra-chic New York progressive music scene lacks a sense of humor hasn't heard Laurie Anderson. Her last album, Mister Heartbreak, proved to be the most listenable and entertaining example of the genre on years. It also provided a sound quality that put most "audiophile" discs to shame.
J. Gordon Holt Posted: Jun 09, 2014 Published: Jan 01, 1985 1 comments
Performance Recordings is the closest thing to a one-man label. James Boyk is president, A&R director, musical director, recording engineer, production manager, jacket notes author, and the star performer. He is also Artist in Residence and lecturer in music and engineering (specifically sound recording and reproduction) at Cal Tech. And he happens to be one of digital's most ardent detractors, having conducted, and widely publicized, several controlled listening tests that proved to his satisfaction that digital recordings are destructive to musical sound. (I will not question his methodology or conclusions here; suffice it to say that James is as stalwartly pro-analog and anti-digital as it is possible to be.)
J. Gordon Holt Posted: Jun 17, 2014 Published: Dec 01, 1984 3 comments
1284rotm.promo.jpgBeethoven: Symphony 9 in d, Op.125 ("Choral")
Berlin Staatskapelle and Rundfunkchor, Otmar Suitner, cond.; Dietrich Knothe, chorus master; Magdaléna Hajóssyová, soprano; Uta Priew, contralto; Eberhard Büchner, tenor; Manfred Schenk, bass.
Denon CD383C7-7021 (CD).

This is a positively stunning performance, abetted by one of the best-sounding orchestral recordings on CD to date.

I have long felt that the best reading of Beethoven's Ninth ever committed to records was an antique Columbia 78 set with the Vienna Philharmonic and Felix Weingartner (later released on an abominable-sounding LP: SL-165). I almost hate to day it, because the oldest idols die the hardest, but Suitner's is better! This is a monumental, consummately joyous Ninth that leaves the listener with a wonderful feeling of elation. If the orchestral playing is at times a little less than world-class and a couple of the soloists not quite up to star level, so what? This may well be the definitive Ninth on CD, both interpretively and sonically.

J. Gordon Holt Posted: Jul 08, 2014 Published: Oct 01, 1984 3 comments
1084rotmjgh.jpgSaint-Saëns: Piano Concerto No.2
Rachmaninoff: Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini

Bella Davidovich (pno), Concertgebouw Orchestra, Neeme Jarvi, cond.
Philips CD 410-052 2 (CD), 6514-164 (LP).

At last we're starting to realize some of the promise of CD from a major record company. This is the best CD recording I've heard yet from Philips. Both of these are virtuoso romantic works requiring a big piano sound and the stamina to produce it for 6–10 minutes at a stretch, which is probably why few lady pianists will tackle them. Bella Davidovich pulls these off with great aplomb.

To me, the Saint-Saëns is the better of the two, and is one of the truly great performances of this work. I grudgingly rate it as equal to my long-time favorite, the Rubinstein/Reiner performance on a 1958 RCA LP (LSC-2234), although I would have liked a little more TLC from Ms. Davidovich in the first movement. She seems a little rushed where an occasional lingering caress is indicated, but that is quibbling with what is a really rousing performance.

J. Gordon Holt Posted: Aug 04, 2014 Published: Aug 01, 1984 6 comments
884rotm.ssph.jpgSaint-Saëns: Carnival of the Animals
Ravel: Mother Goose Suite

Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, André Previn, cond.
Philips CD 400-016 2 (CD).

The whimsical Carnival, with its nose-thumbing at Saint-Saëns' contemporaries (eg a lugubrious "Can-Can" and a stately cello rendition of Berlioz's Dance of the Sylphs, from The Damnation of Faust), is given a delightful treatment here, and put on one of the best-sounding CDs I've heard to date from a major record company.

Philips has been less up-front about the roots of its CDs than most other record manufacturers, If fact, they have been downright sneaky about it. This release—billed prominently on the CD jacket as a "Digital Recording"—sounds very much as if it was analog-mastered. The is certainly nothing Philips should ashamed of, because this is a better-sounding recording than most digitally mastered ones.

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