In 2014 Deutsche Grammophon celebrated the 20th anniversary of its flagship series, The Originals, with a limited edition collection featuring some of the labels greatest albums.
This second volume concludes the labels survey of its iconic series by presenting more legendary analogue albums. Including key recordings such as Beethovens Late Sonatas with Pollini, Berliozs Symphonie Fantastique with Markevitch, Brahmss Hungarian Dances with Karajan, Dvoraks New World with Fricsay, Chopin Preludes with Argerich…
“[These suites] have rarely been recorded or promoted by harpsichordists during the most recent revival of interest in ‘early music.’” I realize that Richard Egarr is entitled to his own opinions—his liner notes on an earlier release, for example, likened the humor in Purcell’s harpsichord music to that of the wonderful old 1950s BBC comedy The Goon Show —but he’s not entitled to his own facts. Christopher Brodersen pointed out in a 2011 review of these works featuring Laurence Cummings ( Fanfare 34:5) that ArkivMusic listed nine complete sets played on the harpsichord, with several others on the piano. I find some of the suites have considerably more recordings than that, in 2014: 26 for the Suite in A Major, 28 for the Suite in D Minor, 25 for the Suite in E Minor, 47 for the Suite in E Major. If such numbers reflect rare recordings, I have to wonder what Egarr would consider a moderate number, let alone a frequent one.
Americana II, otherwise billed as AmerIIcana, is a sequel to Roch Voisine's album from the previous year, Americana (2008), a full-length collection of American country standards that was recorded in Nashville. Sung mostly in English with a few French-language versions appended as bonus tracks, Americana was a big hit in France, where it reached number three on the albums chart. Despite its success, it wasn't a great album. It features standards like "Ring of Fire" and "Crazy" that have been covered a million times over, and worse, the album was produced in a very plain country-pop style without any edge whatsoever. Tellingly, the album wasn't as well received in Voisine's native Canada, where listeners are more accustomed to country music.
Giuseppe Fortunino Francesco Verdi was an Italian Romantic composer, mainly of opera. He was one of the most influential composers of the 19th century. His works are frequently performed in opera houses throughout the world and, transcending the boundaries of the genre, some of his themes have long since taken root in popular culture - such as "La donna mobile" from Rigoletto, "Va, pensiero" (The Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves) from Nabucco, "Libiamo ne' lieti calici" (The Drinking Song) from La traviata and the "Grand March" from Aida. His work has sometimes been criticized for using a generally diatonic rather than a chromatic musical idiom and for being essentially melodrama during his early years. He was an atheist. Verdi's masterworks dominate the standard repertoire a century and a half after their composition.
Deutsche Grammophon is lucky in that World War II didn't slow classical recordings in Germany as it did in the United States but stimulated them: It was essential for wartime morale. Thus, if you can get past any repugnance related to these recordings' genesis, there's a huge amount to enjoy. There's a disc of lieder by all the prewar greats (Franz Volker, Tiana Lemnitz, Erna Berger, and Heinrich Schlusnus), a disc of Wagner featuring young Hans Hotter, opera and operetta performances by Berger and Helge Roswaenge, and a disc showing how the German singers gave Italian opera a distinctively Nordic but highly communicative edge. The set is crowned by a complete Winterreise that was recorded by Peter Anders in 1945 (and sounds it): the cultivated tenor's anguished performance embodies a Germany facing the abyss. –David Patrick Stearns