This 16-disc set contains what is without a doubt the most distinguished collection of Mahler performances ever to have been assembled in one place. DG has sensibly collected all of Bernstein's Mahler for Polygram labels, including the London "Das Lied von der Erde," and all of the orchestral song cycles: "Song of a Wayfarer," "Kindertotenlieder," "Rückert-Lieder," and "Des Knaben Wunderhorn." All of these recordings have been issued separately to general critical acclaim, and despite a veritable warehouse of new Mahler discs in the '90s, Bernstein's versions by and large still reign supreme.
This series of performances dates from between 1966 (when the six quartets Nos. 14-19 dedicated to Haydn were recorded) to 1973 and was rightly saluted on its completion as a fine achievement. The playing of the Quartetto Italiano has a freshness, range and subtlety that vividly realizes the music in all its variety, while technical problems seem to have been solved so that the music-making can be both spontaneous-sounding and thoughtful throughout.
This is the kind of package which represents the best of the Philips Classics Duo series. Slightly older recordings, but in beautiful, clear, warm analogue sound; artists of the old school and the first rank; a compilation of potentially neglected music made available absurdly cheaply in attractive packaging with high production values and intelligent notes; what's not to like?
This Scriabin set is one of the finer offerings in Universal's Trio series. Vladimir Ashkenazy's crisp phrasing and lean orchestral sonorities contrast markedly with the lush appointments of Riccardo Muti's cycle, which relies heavily on the voluptuous sound of the Philadelphia Orchestra to make its effect. In this regard Muti scores over Ashkenazy in the First symphony, where the Russian conductor's crisp, no-nonsense approach sounds comparatively restrained (especially the highly emotive second movement). But the tables turn in Symphony No. 2. Here Ashkenazy's clarity and focus give much needed shape and rhythmic definition to this music, which tends to meander in Muti's hands. The finale is a perfect example: muscle with Ashkenazy; mush with Muti.
This cycle of Nielsen symphonies is a partial crossover from the Bis label, not a remake. The connection with Bis assures that the sonics given to the Gothenburg Sym. will be excellent, and the clarity of the wind playing, the inner detail and clean dynamics are a big plus. Jarvi isn't especially tuned in to the mystery and tragedy of Nielsen's later works. He zips too quickly through the first movement of the Fifth, missing its combination of anguish and chaos. He isn't expansive or joyous enough in Sym. #3, even though the subtitle is 'Espansiva.'
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 is a very fine set of Mozart's "complete" wind concertos, though Deutsche Grammophon does not make that claim, to their credit. The Flute Concerto #2 is not here, though that work is simply a lazy reworking of the Oboe Concerto. Some fragments for horn are also missing, though we get the Andante for Flute. The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra plays very well throughout, with instrumentals carefully and beautifully balanced.
Led by Lorin Maazel, the Philharmonia Orchestra are captured at their very best in these live performances of Mahler's Nine Symphonies. Recorded in concert at London's Royal Festival Hall, the symphonies include performances by soloists and ensembles including Sarah Connolly, Michelle Deyoung, Philharmonia Voices and the BBC Symphony Chorus. Praise for these performances has been near universal…'You get that audience perspective as if you were sitting in the hall, and its got all the energy and focus of a live or concert recording.' (BBC Radio 3) '…Maazel could sustain this score in a way that seemed to transcend reality…a tremendously moving experience.' (Classical Source) 'an extraordinary reading of the Ninth…a performance touched by greatness.' (Musicweb International).