This fabulous five disc set is replete with some of those old Stokowski warhorses all recorded in absolutely mind boggling Phase 4 sound, overblown perhaps but astounding for its time. Decca's remastering is absolutely magnificent and the discs are jam packed with almost six hours of music. This is another fine memorial to a great conductor who remained astonishingly vital until the very end of his life.
Bernard Haitink conducts the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Brahms’s great orchestral works, including the complete symphonies. The concertos feature three great soloists: pianist Claudio Arrau, violinist Henryk Szeryng, and cellist Janos Starker. "No one, I trust, will deny that Arrau has lived with, wrestled with, and in a truly terribly way ’known’ the D minor Concerto for more years than most of us can consciously recall. Where contemporary pianists have often tended to refine or domesticate the concerto, withdrawing it from the world of heroic endeavour, Arrau has always done the reverse. No pianist, apart possibly from Serkin in his several recordings, has communicated so formidably the work’s scope: its seriousness and its anxious, tragic mood. Often Arrau makes free with the text. But the vision is huge, the technique astonishing. Haitink is a worthy accompanist."
This splendid seven-disc set marks Alicia de Larrocha's 2003 retirement from the concert stage after an extraordinary career spanning more than seven decades. To many listeners, she is a peerless performer of Iberian (particularly Spanish and Catalan) music. Indeed, as her rendition of Manuel de Falla's Nights in the Gardens of Spain demonstrates, this Catalan pianist brilliantly captures the indefinable magic and charm of Iberian music, revealing a timeless richness and depth that lesser artists, conforming to ideas of national style, often miss. It would be a mistake, however, to define de Larrocha as an "Iberian specialist." As this set demonstrates, her rich repertoire encompasses various traditions and a timespan from the late Baroque to the present, from Bach to Xavier Montsalvatge (1912-2002).
Duke Ellington recorded for Brunswick from 1926 to 1931, the period in which his great talent and great orchestra first flowered, whether the band was recording under his own name or such pseudonyms as the Washingtonians or the Jungle Band. The earliest recordings are highlighted by the presence of trumpeter Bubber Miley and trombonist "Tricky Sam" Nanton, whose brilliant work with plunger mutes for vocal effects did much to define the early sound–which, in turn, rapidly evolved and expanded with the additions of Harry Carney, Johnny Hodges, and Cootie Williams. While the band's repertoire included many blues and popular songs, its distinctive identity emerges from early renditions of such trademark pieces as "East St. Louis Toodle-O," "Black and Tan Fantasy," "The Mooche," and "Mood Indigo." By the end of the period covered in this set, Ellington's ambitious later suites–some of them CD-length–are portended in the elegant extended composition "Creole Rhapsody," his clearly superior contribution to the symphonic jazz movement.
Many collectors would agree that Sviatoslav Richter was the greatest pianist of the 20th century. His enormous recorded legacy hides hundreds of treasures, many of which are included in this beautiful 51CD set. Released to celebrate the 100th anniversary of his birth (20th March 2015), the edition encompasses his complete Decca, Philips and DG recordings, including his Sofia Recital as well as his collaborations with Rostropovich, Karajan and Benjamin Britten.
Among the virtuosity warhorses in the piano repertory, the five concertos by Camille Saint-Saens have established an appealing reputation. The audiences worldwide are enchanted to attend performances by great virtuosos in utterly melodious and harmonic works with dazzling keyboard pyrotechnics and musical ideas of the most refined quality. Yet, a very few of the professional pianists dare to approach this pianistic output by one of the most prolific and multifaceted artists of the European culture (composer, playwright, philosopher, astronomer, archaeologist, poet etc). To find the proper touch, to balance the wild virtuosity with the subtle musical concept, to get the deepest level of significance in these works – are all difficult tasks that require a high level of artistry (not only in pianistic terms).
Japanese-British pianist Mitsuko Uchida continues to impress with recordings that are not so much intellectual as simply well thought out, making a challenging yet extremely satisfying overall impression. Consider the three works by Robert Schumann recorded here. Only the Waldszenen, Op. 82 (Forest Scenes), are well known. The Piano Sonata No. 2 in G minor, Op. 22, is an early but not immature work, composed in 1830 and supplied with a new finale in 1838 at the suggestion of Clara Schumann, who pointed out that while she could play the original version, few others would be able to.
Decca have sportingly given the competition 18 months' free run with Schnittke's Concerto Grosso No. 4/Symphony No. 5. But fine though the Gothenburg/Jarvi performance is, the new recording surpasses it. In Schnittke's world expressive urge and structural constraint will never unite in total wedded bliss, but in the Fifth Symphony (for short) the thing they produce is certainly bigger than the both of them. I won't rehearse the description I gave in my review of the BIS issue, save to say that it progresses from Stravinskian concerto grosso, through Mantovani-with-a-nervous-breakdown pastiche (based on the teenage Mahler's unfinished Piano Quartet) to full-blown tragic symphony echoing archetypes from Mahler's Fifth and Sixth Symphonies.
Ernest Ansermet enthusiasts will be thrilled by the items chosen for inclusion in this six-disc set dedicated to the Swiss conductor with L'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, the orchestra he founded and led. Many of them are first international CD releases – Haydn's Symphony No. 22, Beethoven's Symphony No. 4, and Sibelius' Symphony No. 4, along with nine others – while some of them are well-known and well-loved recordings from the conductor's huge catalog – Stravinsky's Pulcinella Suite, Ravel's Le tombeau de Couperin, and Honegger's Le roi David, along with 14 others.
Authoritative and comprehensive, this 55CD set presents a unique period in human history: a period when brilliant recorded sound on LP & CD, plus radio, TV, film and live all combined to offer huge new opportunities for singers, record labels and producers to expand the audience for classical music.