Recording of the Month

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Sasha Matson  |  Jan 15, 2019  |  30 comments
The Beatles: The Beatles—50th Anniversary Edition
Apple B0028831-01 (2 LPs). 1968/2018. George Martin, orig. prod.; Geoff Emerick, orig. eng.; Giles Martin, reissue prod., remix; Sam Okell, reissue eng., remix; Miles Showell, mastering. ADA. TT: 93:27
Performance *****
Sonics *****

The Beatles, aka the "White Album," was first released on November 22, 1968. On November 9, 2018, in honor of that event, Apple Corps Limited issued the new 50th Anniversary Edition. My comments here refer to listening to the two-LP edition of the newly remixed The Beatles, pressed for Apple by Quality Record Pressings. Also included in three other varying editions are 27 of what are now known as the Esher Demos, 50 out-takes and alternate takes, and a 5.1-channel hi-rez surround mix on BD.

J. Gordon Holt  |  Jan 08, 2019  |  First Published: Nov 01, 1962  |  2 comments
Berlioz: Symphonie fantastique
Boston Symphony Orchestra, Charles Munch, conductor
RCA Victor LSC-2608 (LP). TT: 48:40

It is easy to forget that the hi-fi movements—the "March to the Scaffold" and the "Dream of a Witches' Sabbath"—comprise barely a third of the music in the Symphonie fantastique, yet when we listen to most of the available versions of this, we can understand why the first three movements are usually passed up by the record listener. Two are slow and brooding, one is a wispy sort of waltz, and all three require a certain combination of flowing gentleness and grotesquerie that few orchestras and fewer conductors can carry off. It is in these first three movements where most readings of Berlioz' best-known work fall flat. Either they are too sweetly pastoral or too episodic and choppy, or they degenerate into unreliered dullness.

Richard Lehnert  |  Jan 03, 2019  |  2 comments
Bruckner: String Quintet (arr. for Large Orchestra), Overture in g
Gerd Schaller, arr., cond.; Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra
Profil PH16036 (CD). 2018. Milan Puklický, prod.; Jan Lzicar, eng. DDD. TT: 57:12
Performance ***
Sonics ****

Bruckner & Mahler: String Quintet (arr. for Chamber Orchestra) & Symphony 10: Adagio
Peter Stangel, arr., cond.; Pocket Philharmonic Orchestra
Edition Taschenphilharmonie/Sony ETP008 (CD). 2017. Sebastian Riederer von Paar, prod., eng., ed. DDD. TT: 59:12
Performance ****
Sonics ****

Bruckner's only mature chamber work, the String Quintet in F, has long sounded to many less like chamber music than like a Bruckner symphony squeezed into far smaller form. It's long, follows Bruckner's version of classical symphonic form, and is as meticulously composed and as contrapuntally intricate as his far larger-scaled symphonies. Like many of those, it has an alternate movement, an Intermezzo. In tenderness and poignancy, the Quintet's warm Adagio is close enough in depth and quality to its counterparts in Bruckner's symphonies 00 through 5 that it now exists in at least 11 arrangements (none by Bruckner) for string orchestra; three of those, the most popular being Hans Stadlmeier's, include the Quintet's three other movements.

James W. Keeler  |  Dec 31, 2018  |  First Published: Dec 01, 1962  |  8 comments
Britten: Noye's Fludde
Owen Brannigan, Sheila Rex, Trevor Anthony, Children's Chorus, and East Suffolk Children's Orchestra, Members of the English Chamber Orchestra, Norman Del Mar, conductor
London OS-25331 (LP). Colin Graham, prod. Recording date, 1961-07-03. Recording venue, Orford Church, Suffolk. TT: 48:00

This musical setting of the Chester miracle play about Noah, his ark, and the problems attendant thereof, if one of the most movingly beautiful recorded works I have ever heard. Its simplicity and sincerity are a stinging rebuke to those contemporary composers who have forgotten that music is basically an expression of emotion, without which its appeal can be only to the logic-oriented "mind" of a computing machine.

J. Gordon Holt  |  Dec 31, 2018  |  First Published: Mar 01, 1963  |  1 comments
Mahler: Symphony No.1 in D ("The Titan")
Columbia Symphony Orchestra, Bruno Walter, conductor
Columbia MS-6394 (LP). John McClure, prod. TT: 52:15

This is one of those rare combinations of a superb recording and a stunning performance. As far as I'm concerned, it is the best Mahler First that Bruno Walter committed to discs during his lifetime, including the last one that he made with the New York Philharmonic. And the fact that this recording is far superior to that accorded Walter when he conducted the New York Philharmonic does not detract one bit from my feeling about this new release.

James W. Keeler  |  Dec 24, 2018  |  First Published: Jun 01, 1963  |  1 comments
Music for Strings
Couperin: Concert Pieces for Cello and Orchestra; Mozart: Divertimento in D, K.136; Corelli: Concerto Grosso No.4, Op.6; Britten: A Simple Symphony
Solisti de Zagreb, Antonio Janigro, cello and director
RCA Victor LSC 2653 (2 LPs). Richard Mohr, prod., Lewis W. Layton, eng, TT: 47:56

From the standpoint of content and musicianship this is a superb collection of delightful music performed with the consummate authority and artistry for which Mr. Janigro and I Solisti de Zagreb are justly famous. The recording, too, while by no means perfect, is at least pre-Dynagroove, which as far as I'm concerned is now a compliment to any RCA Victor release.

James W. Keeler  |  Dec 24, 2018  |  First Published: Aug 01, 1963  |  2 comments
Nielsen: Symphony No.5, Op.50
New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Leonard Bernstein, conductor
Columbia MS-6414 (LP). John McClure, prod. TT: 33:10

This is surely one of the most exciting works written in the twentieth century. and if there is going to be an upsurge of interest in the works of this great Danish composer as a result of this recording, then Mr. Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic will have rendered music lovers an invaluable service.

Jason Victor Serinus  |  Dec 18, 2018  |  0 comments
Joyce DiDonato: Into the Fire
Works by Heggie, Strauss, Debussy, Gruber, Lekeu
Joyce DiDonato, mezzo-soprano; Brentano String Quartet
Erato 573802 (24/96, CD). 2018. Jeremy Hayes, prod.; Steve Portnoi, balance, mastering. DDD. TT: 77:38
Performance ****½
Sonics ****½

On the 2017 Winter Solstice, the astounding Joyce DiDonato—the coloratura mezzo-soprano from Kansas who zips through impossible runs of Rossinian roulades faster than anyone can shuck corn—took a break from opera to present a song recital in London's famed Wigmore Hall. With Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer's moving song cycle Into the Fire as its centerpiece, this live recording of DiDonato with the Brentano String Quartet confirms that she is a song interpreter of rare distinction.

Richard Lehnert  |  Dec 11, 2018  |  1 comments
Keith Jarrett: La Fenice
Keith Jarrett, piano
ECM 2601/02 (2 CDs). 2018. Keith Jarrett, prod.; Martin Pearson, eng.; Christoph Stickel, Manfred Eicher, mastering, exec. prod. DDD. TT: 97:47
Performance *****
Sonics *****

This July 2006 concert, performed in Venice's Gran Teatro La Fenice, is Keith Jarrett's seventh recording of the shorter solo-piano improvisations he's explored since the early 2000s, after chronic fatigue syndrome robbed him of the stamina needed to improvise for unbroken stretches of nearly an hour. Despite their many high points, none of its six predecessors—Tokyo Solo, Radiance, Carnegie Hall, Testament, Rio, Creation—matched the cumulative power and depth of his best long-form improvisations: Köln, Sun Bear, Bregenz München, Paris. This one does.

Thomas Conrad  |  Nov 19, 2018  |  8 comments
Wolfgang Muthspiel: Where the River Goes
Wolfgang Muthspiel, electric & acoustic guitars; Ambrose Akinmusire, trumpet; Brad Mehldau, piano; Larry Grenadier, bass; Eric Harland, drums
ECM 2610 (CD). 2018. Manfred Eicher, prod.; Gérard de Haro, Nicolas Baillard, engs. DDD. TT: 48:15
Performance ****½
Sonics ****½

Wolfgang Muthspiel of Austria has been active and respected on the European scene for 30 years. But like so many of the best European jazz musicians, he began to get famous only when he began recording for ECM: His Travel Guide (2013) and Driftwood (2014) were endorsed by critics and embraced by guitar junkies.

J. Gordon Holt  |  Nov 19, 2018  |  First Published: Dec 01, 1963  |  3 comments
Music of Edgar Varèse, Vol.2
Arcana, Déserts, Offrandes, Chanson De Là-Haut (Song From High)
Dona Precht, soprano, Columbia Symphony Orchestra, Robert Craft, conductor.
Columbia Masterworks MS-6362 (LP). John McClure, Thomas Frost, prods. TT: 24:45.

In electronic music, the sounds of musical instruments, natural noise-makers and electronic signal generators are recorded on tape, modified by running them at higher- or lower-than-normal speeds and manipulating their tonal content, and then combined in rhythmic and tonal patterns to create entirely new forms of music.

J. Gordon Holt  |  Nov 13, 2018  |  First Published: Jun 01, 1964  |  1 comments
Joan Baez In Concert, Part 2
Joan Baez, vocals, guitar
Vanguard VTC-1679 (tape), VSD-2123 (LP). Maynard Solomon, prod., Reice Hamel, eng. TT: 48:00.

Well, we finally got ourselves equipped to review 4-track open-reel tapes, via a slightly modified Ampex F-44. All the tapes we have auditioned had noticeably higher hiss than the average stereo disc, but this was not loud enough to be distracting except when the tapes were reproduced at very high levels. Even then, we found the smooth, even hiss to be less objectionable than the ticks and pops from some discs played at the same level.

Richard Lehnert  |  Oct 30, 2018  |  4 comments
J.S. Bach: Six Suites for Viola Solo, BWV 1007–1012
Kim Kashkashian, four- & five-string violas
ECM New Series 2553/54 (2 CDs). 2018. Manfred Eicher, prod.; Judy Sherman, eng. DDD. TT: 2:22:35
Performance ****½
Sonics *****

Little is known of the origins of the Solo Suites, usually performed on the cello. No manuscript in Bach's hand survives, and in the copy produced by his second wife, Anna Magdalena, markings for slurs, articulation, and dynamics are sparse even by baroque standards. The suites may actually have been composed for the violoncello da spalla, an instrument smaller than the cello but larger than the viola, and played while held on the shoulder (some modern players use a neckstrap). But what are problems for the musicologist present a world of latitude to the interpreter, in this case master violist Kim Kashkashian, who takes full advantage of them.

Jason Victor Serinus  |  Oct 18, 2018  |  0 comments
Bernstein: Arias and Barcarolles
Isabel Leonard, mezzo-soprano; Ryan McKinny, bass-baritone; San Francisco Symphony, Michael Tilson Thomas
SFS Media SFS-0073 (24/96 download). 2018. Jack Vad, broadcast & mastering eng., postprod.; Jason O'Connell, post-prod. DDD. TT: 32:54
Performance ****½
Sonics ****

Why name this short digital download or streaming–only release of a live San Francisco Symphony performance from 2017—its native 24/96 PCM broadcast sound is a notch lower than the best-recorded titles in SFS Media's series of Davies Symphony Hall broadcasts— as our "Recording of the Month"? Because, as the centennial of the birth of Leonard Bernstein (1918–1990) draws to a close, this new recording of his eight Arias and Barcarolles from conductor Michael Tilson Thomas—whom Bernstein asked to play piano alongside him when the original version of the cycle, for four voices and piano four-hands, premiered in New York City in 1988—is definitive and essential listening.

J. Gordon Holt  |  Oct 16, 2018  |  First Published: Aug 01, 1964  |  5 comments
Vaughan Williams: Symphony No.2 (A London Symphony)
Hallé Orchestra, Sir John Barbirolli, conductor.
Vanguard Everyman, SRV-134-SD (1963 LP). Reissued in 1982 as PRT Collector GSGC 2035 (LP). Recorded by Pye (UK) in 1957.

This is undoubtedly the best London Symphony that's been committed to stereo to date, and I wouldn't be surprised if it held top place for years to come. I can find nothing to criticize about the performance, and the recording is awe-inspiring—rich, warm and natural, with some phenomenally low bass and very wide dynamic range, yet without the slightest audible trace of breakup during crescendos.

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