Gramophone Magazine Editor's Choice

January 2009

Editor's Choice

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Stephen Kovacevich plays Beethoven's Diabelli Variations

Stephen Kovacevich plays Beethoven's Diabelli Variations


Bach, J S:

Partita No. 4 in D major, BWV828

Beethoven:

Diabelli Variations, Op. 120


Very special release indeed, the return after more than 40 years to the piece that first brought him worldwide fame – Stephen Kovacevich in Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations.

In the 90s Stephen recorded the complete Beethoven Sonatas for EMI for the first time, and the set is one of the standard recommendations. Yet something was missing and this recording completes the cycle, which for Kovacevich has become a true life-cycle, having given his sensational Wigmore Hall debut with this piece in 1961 and recording it in a still-classic version for Philips in 1968.

His conception has changed – it has a more live quality (despite being a studio recording) and more dramatic - quite simply it’s picks you up and sweeps you along irresistibly to the very end. Some of the most profound Beethoven playing ever put on disc!

As a generous bonus comes his first ever Bach recording, a concert favourite of his, Bach’s Partita no 4 which provides a wonderful palate-cleanser after the emotional rollercoaster of the Diabelli!

“It's certainly faster than his own earlier recording. But more important is the sense that Kovacevich has now encompassed the extremes of the work more fully. His understanding of Beethoven's juxtapositions of beauty and crudity, reflection and action, and the sheer dynamic range, are fully exposed in this new version, which captures the piano sound beautifully. A disc to treasure.” Gramophone Magazine, January 2009

“Kovacevich brings penetrating insight and a thrilling physical involvement. From the outset there is a driving momentum and crispness of articulation, and the bristling energy of so many variations makes the slower ones stand out in compelling relief, without needing especially slow tempos... one of the most impressive things about this new recording is the powerful feeling of live music-making. It is alive and spontaneous, and the overall physical and emotional sweep here is exciting and enormously fulfilling.” BBC Music Magazine, February 2009 *****

“[The Diabellis are] custom built for Kovacevich. Nothing this artist does is less than compelling” Penguin Guide, 2011 edition

GGramophone Awards 2009

Editor's Choice

GGramophone Magazine

Editor's Choice - January 2009

BBC Music Magazine Awards 2010

Instrumental Finalist

Onyx - ONYX4035

(CD)

$15.25

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Beethoven - Symphonies Nos. 2 & 7

Beethoven - Symphonies Nos. 2 & 7


Beethoven:

Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 36

Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92


Beethoven’s Symphonies Nos. 2 and 7 make up the fifth and final instalment of the Symphony Cycle with conductor Osmo Vänskä and Minnesota Orchestra; a cycle which has received universal praise.

The first instalment in Osmo Vänskä’s and Minnesota Orchestra’s Beethoven cycle was released in December 2004 and was immediately praised for the performances as well as for the state-of-the-art sound. The following discs have if anything strengthened the case for this cycle. With such forerunners it is not surprising that the present disc, closing the cycle, has been eagerly awaited.

The disc opens with Symphony No. 2, completed in 1802 during one of the darkest periods of the composer’s life, as he was struggling to reconcile himself with his encroaching deafness. Under the circumstances, as Beethoven specialist Barry Cooper points out in his liner notes, a striking feature of the work is ‘its thoroughly optimistic character throughout – it is almost as if he was using the symphony as a means of escape.’ Following it is the Seventh Symphony in which the strong rhythmic drive that pervades all four movements has made it a favourite in the concert hall – among its admirers is found Richard Wagner who famously dubbed it ‘the apotheosis of the dance’.

‘Vänskä's Beethoven looks set to be a front-runner among the historically unprejudiced cycles now available.’ International Record Review

“…these are performances that can hold their own with the best, and the quality of the recording… immaculate. …a superb conclusion to a worthwhile cycle.” BBC Music Magazine, December 2008 *****

“What is truly outstanding here is the transparency of the texturing and the meticulous integration of phrase shape and accent within the rhythmic continuum. Everything is audible but since Vänskä is not a didactic conductor nothing is italicised or underlined.” Gramophone Magazine, January 2009

“This coupling of the Second and Seventh symphonies points up what Rob Cowan has called Vänskä's ability to 'focus the music's rhythmic profile with unwavering control'. Not that the performances are control-orientated. Even where the metronomes are good and speed is of the essence, as in the finale of the Second Symphony, quickness does not preclude ease.
In the Seventh Symphony, Vänskä keeps the harmonic drama in as sharp a focus as the rhythmic.
The pulse may be quicker, the sound tauter, but the epic first movement breathes here much as Klemperer would have allowed it to breathe.
With Vänskä, old insights are not necessarily invalid insights. In the Allegretto and thirdmovement Trio there is a reversion, not to oldfashioned Teutonic slowness, but to thoughtful tempi that are on the measured side of quick.
What is truly outstanding here is the transparency of the texturing and the meticulous integration of phrase shape and accent within the rhythmic continuum. Everything is audible but since Vänskä is not a didactic conductor nothing is italicised or underlined. That said, the violins' extraordinarily precise articulation of the Second Symphony's notorious seventh bar, with its arch of double-dotted trilled quavers and interior grace notes, may shock collectors used to the old pre-Bärenreiter fudges.
The BIS recording has exceptional clarity, with finely judged reverberation times, and a dynamic range that catches every gradation of the orchestra's scrupulously judged sound profile right down to pianissimi of quite astonishing beauty and restraint.”
Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010

“Both symphonies are played with great care and affection, while Vänskä's conducting is consistently and admirably lucid. The dividends are enormous when it comes to the elusive Second Symphony - few rival versions have quite so effortlessly captured its Janus-faced nature” The Guardian, 14th November 2008

GGramophone Awards 2009

Finalist - Orchestral

GGramophone Magazine

Editor's Choice - January 2009

Super Audio CD

Format:

Hybrid Multi-channel

BIS - BISSACD1816

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Tchaikovsky - Violin Concerto

Tchaikovsky - Violin Concerto


Tchaikovsky:

Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35

Souvenir d'un lieu cher, Op. 42


The second major Romantic concerto recording for Janine Jansen following her remarkable interpretations of two pillars of Romantic violin repertoire, the Mendelssohn and Bruch concertos.

Jansen has already wowed the world with her performances of Tchaikovsky’s tour de force: “Janine Jansen impressed again in Tchaikovsky's Violin concerto with the technical precision and musical bravura with which she played this beloved repertoire.” NRC Handelsblad

Souvenir d’un lieu cher provides a delightful link to the Concerto recording. The first movement ‘Meditation’ was initially intended as the Concerto slow movement, before it was later replaced by the ‘Canzonetta’.

“Everything here is vital, un-hackneyed. And yet Jansen is very much the old-fashioned romantic. Her way with tempo rubato and with dynamic contrasts is unashamedly free. There's an intimacy about her playing which sits well with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra... The partnership with Daniel Harding could hardly be tighter.” Gramophone Magazine, January 2009

“Poised, intelligent and remarkably pure of intonation for a live performance, Janine Jansen's Tchaikovsky certainly knows its own mind. What's truly memorable? From Jansen, the powerful high register and full-toned harmonics of the cadenza; from Daniel Harding and his Mahler Chamber Orchestra, nicely balanced in relation to the soloist, the airborne quality of the Polonaise and the oboe solo in the finale's one reflective sequence.” BBC Music Magazine, February 2009 ****

GGramophone Magazine

Editor's Choice - January 2009

Decca - 4780651

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Birtwistle: The Minotaur

Birtwistle: The Minotaur

Recorded live at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden on the 25th & 30th April and 3rd May 2008.


John Tomlinson (The Minotaur), Johan Reuter (Theseus), Christine Rice (Ariadne), Andrew Watts (Snake Priestess), Philip Langridge (Hiereus), Amanda Echalaz (Ker), Rebecca Bottone, Pumeza Matshikiza, Wendy Dawn Thompson, Christopher Ainslie, Tim Mead (Innocents)

The Royal Opera Chorus & The Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Antonio Pappano (conductor) & Stephen Langridge (stage director)

This world premiere of a gripping new work by composer Harrison Birtwistle and librettist David Harsent, commissioned by The Royal Opera, brings the monstrous, Greek mythological character to the stage. The Minotaur, part man, part beast, trapped in his labyrinth and constrained by his bloodthirsty role there, longs to discover his true identity and his own voice. Athens must pay a blood sacrifice to Crete and among the innocents is Theseus, who has come to challenge the violent Minotaur, but who also attracts the attention of Ariadne, half-sister and keeper of the monster; it is with her help he succeeds.

‘Thanks to a superb cast and impeccable playing under Antonio Pappano, the evening is a glittering success. …what Birtwistle has done is give us one opera inside another. The outer one is strident and earthbound; the inner one – ending with the Minotaur's Caliban-like

dying aria – burns with visionary fire.’ The Independent

Bonus Documentary: ‘Myth is Universal'.

PICTURE FORMAT: 16:9
LENGTH: 175 Mins
SOUND: 2.0 LPCM STEREO/ 5.0 DTS SURROUND
SUBTITLES: EN/FR/DE/ES/IT

“This opera, premiered at the Royal Opera last April, seems to me to be a masterpiece, of the kind that one feels the greatness of before one has a complete understanding of it. …the Minotaur is a terrifying and pained figure. This performance is the climax of John Tomlinson's career, in a part written with his huge, gravelly voice in mind. The other compelling figure is Ariadne... Christine Rice, bearing the weight of exposition and of suffering, uses her wonderfully rich mezzo to stunning effect.” BBC Music Magazine, December 2008 *****

“Birtwistle's latest large-scale music drama, written for Covent Garden, is a quite different experience on DVD: what might have been planned by composer and stage director to be witnessed from a distance is shown in unsparing close-up.
But this seething, monumental reinvention of one of the most disquieting Greek myths – with a pithy libretto by David Harsent – is neither betrayed nor diminished by this excellent film.
Only in its final stages does the opera's focus shift decisively to the doomed Minotaur from the scheming Ariadne, and the drama's most essential point is that this Ariadne – as different from Strauss's as Birtwistle's Orpheus is different from Gluck's – is in her own way as much of a monster as the half-man/half-bull. These demanding roles are projected with maximum musical eloquence by Christine Rice and Sir John Tomlinson, no doubt because – as Rice makes clear in the absorbing 30-minute documentary that accompanies the performance – what is demanding is also intensely rewarding to singers prepared to commit themselves to a steep learning curve. Equal commitment is evident in Johan Reuter's Theseus, the conventions of heroic posturing given new depth and relevance in text, music and vocal acting alike. We see little of Antonio Pappano and his orchestra, but the excellent sound never lets us escape the inexorable magnetism of the instrumental continuum.”
Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010

“The filming reinforces the strengths of Stephen Langridge's tightly controlled, potently expressive production in an economical yet atmospheric setting, with the whole ensemble totally engaged in the drama's dark enterprise. Repeated hearings underline that, in the end, this tragedy is the more convincing for the way its turn towards pathos does not involve any false consolation.” Gramophone Magazine, January 2009

“The work’s transition to high-definition video is marvellously achieved...the opera’s incarnation on DVD never appears stilted or ‘stagey...The sound qualities of the recording are also outstanding, capable of revealing—in all its shocking majesty—the detail, subtlety and visceral power of Birtwistle’s extraordinary score.” Opera

“Birtwistle's idiom, always abrasive, has developed here a more lyrical strain...The impact of the opera is greatly heightened not just by the casting but by staging by Stephen Langridge...[Pappano] excels himself, conducting an electrifying performance with orchestra and chorus finely coordinated.” Penguin Guide, 2011 edition

GGramophone Awards 2009

Finalist - DVD

GGramophone Magazine

DVD of the Month - January 2009

DVD Video

Region: 0

Format: NTSC

Opus Arte Royal Opera House Collection - OA1000D

(DVD Video - 2 discs)

$35.75

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Mozart: Duo Sonatas Volume 1

Mozart: Duo Sonatas Volume 1


Mozart:

Violin Sonata No. 18 in G major, K301

Violin Sonata No. 19 in E flat major, K302

Violin Sonata No. 20 in C major, K303


Catherine Mackintosh and Geoffrey Govier (Duo Amadè)

Mozart’s charming and intimate late violin sonatas KV 301, 302 and 303, composed in Mannheim in 1778 are performed here on period instruments by Duo Amadè (Catherine Mackintosh and Geoffrey Govier) and coupled with two sets of variations based on French popular tunes.

Mackintosh and Govier have a love for this repertoire which stretches back to the late 1980s when they first met at the Royal College of Music, London. They formed Duo Amadè in order to perform the charming and intimate works of Mozart for this combination in concert often carried out with readings from his family letters. In 2006 Duo Amadè performed the whole cycle at the Royal College of Music.

Violinist Catherine Mackintosh is best known as the former leader of Orchestra of Age of Enlightenment and part of the Purcell Quartet. She is joined by fortepianist Geoffrey Govier. Geoffrey plays a fortepiano after Anton Walter made by Christopher Clare in Cluny while Catherine plays a violin dating from 1703 by Giovanni Grancino. These instruments bring a lightness and freshness of articulation to these delightful works, entirely in keeping with the spirit of enlightenment in which the sonatas were written. It is their aim is to record the complete cycle of mature sonatas.

“For Catherine Mackintosh and Geoffrey Govier the "rules" of historically informed performance have become second nature; we get the impression they're playing for sheer enjoyment of the music.” Gramophone Magazine, January 2009

“For Catherine Mackintosh and Geoffrey Govier the 'rules' of historically informed performance have become second nature; we get the impression they're playing for sheer enjoyment of the music. All the distinctive moments are appreciated and given due emphasis but in a spontaneous way, the interpretative points never going beyond what musicians with good rapport might do on the spur of the moment. Yet it's obvious that Govier and Mackintosh are careful, as well as spirited, interpreters. The recorded sound and balance are excellent, and they artfully control their dynamics so that principal and subsidiary lines are clearly distinguished.
The concluding Rondo of K302 contains many octave passages shared by piano and violin; here, with precise matching of tone colour, articulation and volume, Govier and Mackintosh turn what might seem like a rare lapse of Mozartian imagination into a delightful colouristic device. In the first movement of this sonata they make the most of the quasi-orchestral writing, with its pulsating crescendi, horn imitations and tremolando effects. Colourful in a different way is the minor section in K301's finale, where the con sordino piano's soft quality perfectly supports the poised violin melody.
You may wonder whether to favour Duo Amadève; or the impressive Podger/Cooper team (see aobe). The latter mix into their programmes the juvenile works from the 1760s, but if you are most interested in the great series of works starting with K301, Duo Amadève; may suit you better.”
Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010

GGramophone Magazine

Editor's Choice - January 2009

Chandos - up to 40% off

Chandos Chaconne Mozart Duo Sonatas - CHAN0755

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Beethoven - Complete String Quartets, Quintets and Fragments

Beethoven - Complete String Quartets, Quintets and Fragments


Beethoven:

String Quartets Nos. 1-16 (complete, inc. Grosse Fuge)

String Quintets (complete)

Quartet Fragment


The critically acclaimed ensemble, The Endellion String Quartet, celebrate their 30th anniversary with the release of a spectacular 10 CD Box Set of new recordings of Beethoven String Quartets and String Quintets, and all quartet and quintet fragments. The release also coincides with the 800th anniversary of Cambridge University, where they have been quartet in residence since 1992, and therefore form a key part in the quartet’s celebrations as musical ambassador.

The Endellion String Quartet formed in 1979, and is renowned as one of the finest quartets in the world.

Winner of the Royal Philharmonic Society Award for Best Chamber Ensemble, the quartet have an international touring schedule and have performed at every major venue and festival across the globe. They have worked with the likes of Sir Thomas Allen, Joshua Bell, Michael Collins, Steven Isserlis, Mitsuko Uchida and Tabea Zimmerman. Their presence in London has been marked by several series both at the South Bank and Wigmore Hall, where the quartet were Artistic Directors of several ‘Quartet Plus’ series.

All the music featured in the recording is from the new scholarly performing edition by well known Beethoven scholar, Jonathan del Mar, and published by Bärenreiter. These Beethoven symphony editions are already used by orchestras worldwide.

To mark the double anniversary celebrations, the quartet will be performing six concerts at West Road concert hall in Cambridge, four concerts at the Wigmore Hall in London throughout October, January, March and June, plus master classes and educational workshops worldwide. The Endellion String Quartet will also feature in the BBC film ‘Searching for Beethoven’ (Seventh Art Poductions) due for broadcast in January 2009, where a number of excerpts of the Beethoven recordings played by the Endellion String Quartet will be featured.

“…the Op. 18 set offers some of the most convincing performances in the cycle, every movement delivered with energy, musical insight and a good deal of wry humour.” BBC Music Magazine, December 2008 ****

“The Endellions have always been an intense, sensitive group… with perfect intonation and matching, this is a most valuable new issue, particularly with such a wonderful collection of bonus items.” Gramophone Magazine, January 2009

GGramophone Magazine

Editor's Choice - January 2009

Warner Classics - 2564694713

(CD - 10 discs)

$40.50

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Rautavaara - Complete Works for Male Choir

Rautavaara - Complete Works for Male Choir


Rautavaara:

The Singer

Autumn at the Rivermouth

2 Preludes by T.S. Eliot

2 Psalms

Ave Maria

Joulun virsi - Christmas Hymn

Book of Life - complete songs for male voice choir

4 Songs to Poems of Aleksis Kivi

Legenda - Legend

Leaves are Leaves

4 Serenades

Hammarskjöld Fragment, Op. 84

2 Finnish Folk Song Arrangements

The Fox and the Sick Cockerel

4 Romances from Rasputin


YL Male Voice Choir & Talla Vocal Ensemble, Pasi Hyökki & Matti Hyökki

This release marks the culmination of the 80th birthday celebrations for Ondine's best-selling omposer, Einojuhani Rautavaara, following a successful campaign on his back catalogue. Ondine has had a long and fruitful association with the Finnish cult composer since the late 1980s, having recorded the premières of many of his works and garnering many awards along the way, including a Grammy nomination for his Angel of Light (Symphony No. 7). This new recording features his complete works for male choir - one of the most popular genres in this composer's artistic output.The two ensembles are the YL Male Voice Choir (Helsinki University Choir), one of the world's most prominent male voice choirs and the commissioner and dedicatee of most of Rautavaara's (and also Jean Sibelius') works for male voice choir. Only recently the Choir was featured on the critically acclaimed recording of Sibelius' Kullervo, along with the Talla Vocal Ensemble, a smaller group of 10 singers originally founded within the YL Choir.

“Especially striking, its tenor line soaring over a quasi-orchestral vocal fabric, is the literary Leaves are Leaves; but finer still are the Four Alexis Kivi Songs (1998-2005), from his opera about Finland's equivalent of Pushkin and Burns, the main solo 'Melancholy' movingly underpinned by YL's awesomely dark, firm basses.” BBC Music Magazine, March 2009 *****

“YL divide up the works between the main body and their 10-man offshoot, the Talla Vocal Ensemble – the latter, incidentally, are superb in the two TS Eliot Preludes (1956, rev 1967).
Ondine's recording is rich, with great presence, matched by singing of urgency and vividness.
And YL and Talla's interpretations have impetus and power, as in the half-hour-long A Book ofLife (1972), which is split between the two groups (as are the Four Serenades, 1978), setting 11 poems – including texts by Rilke, Rimbaud, Goethe, Emily Dickinson and Whitman – in five languages.
The greater textural palette attained through using two differently sized choirs is more akin to that found in some early-music recordings. Perhaps there's a loss of intimacy and a certain dreamy quality – for instance in the Psalms (1968-71) or some of the folksong arrangements.
But this is a small price to pay for the gains which, for collectors of Rautavaara, will chiefly be the quartets of songs to poems by Aleksis Kivi (arr 2005) or from the opera Rasputin (arr 2006), not otherwise issued.”
Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010

“…so this comprehensive and magnificently sung new collection has the field to itself.” Gramophone Magazine, January 2009

GGramophone Magazine

Editor's Choice - January 2009

Contemporary Music - up to 25% off

Ondine - ODE11252D

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The Complete Haydn Symphonies

The Complete Haydn Symphonies


Haydn:

Symphonies Nos. 1 - 104 (complete)

Symphony in B flat major, Hob.I:107 (Sinfonia ‘A’)

Symphony in B flat major, Hob.I:108 (Sinfonia ‘B’)

La vera Costanza: Sinfonia in B flat major, Hob.Ia:15

Lo Speziale: Sinfonia in G major, Hob.Ia:10

Sinfonia Concertante in B flat major, Op. 84, Hob. I/105


One of the most extraordinary bequests in the history of music, Haydn’s symphonies established his reputation as the greatest composer of his time.

This comprehensive boxed set – including not only Nos 1–104 but also No. 105 (Sinfonia concertante) and the less familiar No. 107 (‘Symphony A’) and No. 108 (‘Symphony B’) – celebrates both a highly commended symphonic series and a supremely imaginative composer who changed the course of classical music.

GGramophone Magazine

Re-issue of the Month - January 2009

Naxos - 8503400

(CD - 34 discs)

$124.50

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