Artists

San Francisco Symphony (Tilson Thomas) – ‘Mahler: Symphony No.9’  An SACD review by Mark Jordan

San Francisco Symphony (Tilson Thomas) – ‘Mahler: Symphony No.9’ An SACD review by Mark Jordan

What is a conductor? In a scientific sense, a conductor is a material that transmits electricity. So, in some fundamental sense, the conductor of a symphony orchestra can be seen as transmitting energy. But what is this energy? Part of it is of course excitement and emotional commitment in a musical manner. Yet it should never be forgotten that the critical component of what a musical conductor should be transmitting is the composer’s vision. On the first count, Michael Tilson Thomas brings a controlled, refined focus to this new hybrid SACD from San Francisco Symphony Media. On the latter count, though, I wonder if Tilson Thomas isn’t functioning more as an insulator, keeping Mahler’s blazing inspiration at a safe distance. read more…

The Beatles – ‘Love’  A DVD-Audio review by Mark Jordan

The Beatles – ‘Love’ A DVD-Audio review by Mark Jordan

Things that make you go, “Hmmm.”

Hmmm.

The best I can say about this project featuring new remixes and production of favorite tracks by The Beatles is that it has some wonderful moments. The worst I can say is that it has some bloody awkward moments. read more…

State Opera of South Australia (Fisch) – ‘Wagner: Das Rheingold’  An SACD review by Mark Jordan

State Opera of South Australia (Fisch) – ‘Wagner: Das Rheingold’ An SACD review by Mark Jordan

Wagner’s ‘Ring of the Nibelungs’ is coming to multichannel SACD, and thanks to the State Opera of South Australia and Melba Recordings, it is being done right. The odds of bringing this massive tetralogy off successfully, especially with the additional hurdles of demanding recording technology, are considerable But then again, the musical movers and shakers of the city of Adelaide, Australia, had the wherewithal to produce Australia’s first ‘Ring’ cycle a decade ago (with the use of existing costumes and sets from Europe), and they had the gumption to build a completely new production in 2004, so why shouldn’t they go ahead and grab the golden ring by being the first to premiere the cycle on Super Audio Compact Disc? read more…

Barb Jungr – ‘Walking in the Sun’  An SACD review by Mark Jordan

Barb Jungr – ‘Walking in the Sun’ An SACD review by Mark Jordan

English chanteuse Barb Jungr knows how to give a song a personality, even when it is a song that already has a strong one. She’s able to grab each song by the horns, and whether it is her own or someone else’s to start with, by the time she’s done, it’s definitely hers. This could be a bad thing in the wrong hands, but fortunately, Jungr has the creativity, skill, and shrewd sense which put her into that select category of artists whom we’re eager to hear cover songs. Her combination of covers and originals on her new Linn Records album ‘Walking in the Sun’ blends seamlessly into one of the most impressive albums I’ve heard this year. read more…

Los Angeles Philharmonic (Salonen) – ‘Stravinsky: Le Sacre du Printemps’  An SACD review by Mark Jordan

Los Angeles Philharmonic (Salonen) – ‘Stravinsky: Le Sacre du Printemps’ An SACD review by Mark Jordan

A debt has been paid. In 1938, cartoon mogul Walt Disney approached Igor Stravinsky and offered to pay to use the composer’s famous ballet ‘The Rite of Spring’ (“Le Sacre du Printemps” in its original French title) in his animated film ‘Fantasia’. Before Stravinsky could dismiss the idea outright, Disney quickly pointed out that the actual score – originally published in Russia – was not covered by United States copyright laws. In other words, take a token payment and smile or else I’ll use it anyway and pay you nothing. Stravinsky smiled through gritted teeth and took the token payment. He couldn’t even maintain the smile when Disney and conductor Leopold Stokowski cut the piece down to less than half its original size and paired it up with cartoon images of dinosaurs. But he had little choice. So Stravinsky devoted himself to putting out revised versions of the orchestrations of his early ballets so that the new versions would be under copyright. Now, almost seventy years later, Disney’s debt is being repaid in handsome manner. The first recording to come out of the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s brand-new Walt Disney Concert Hall features a performance of the ‘Rite’ for the twenty-first century, complete in its revised orchestration, with nary a dinosaur in sight. This disc also marks Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft’s welcome return to releasing classical multichannel Super Audio Compact Discs after a hiatus when they appeared to give up on the format. Let us hope that this release signifies DGG’s acknowledgement that a solid niche market has developed for high-resolution multichannel sound, despite all the gloom ‘n’ doom predictions which were rife a couple of years ago. read more…

Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam (Jansons) – ‘Shostakovich: Symphony No.7 in C, Op. 60 “Leningrad”’  An SACD review by Mark Jordan

Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam (Jansons) – ‘Shostakovich: Symphony No.7 in C, Op. 60 “Leningrad”’ An SACD review by Mark Jordan

This has proven to be a watershed year for Shostakovich, the centenary of his birth serving as gateway into the pantheon of great composers (at least for most listeners, pace Pierre Boulez). The flood of releases honoring Shostakovich this year is not a great surprise, but what is a great surprise is the number of truly great recordings we’ve seen. This new release from the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra’s in-house label, RCO Live, lands in very distinguished territory, and if it doesn’t ultimately end up in the final handful of greatest recordings from the centenary year, it is perhaps only because of the piece itself, which isn’t in the highest echelon of this composer’s output. Shostakovich’s Seventh initially received an enormous amount of publicity, both due to the composer’s fame (via a magazine article in the U.S. which featured pictures of Shostakovich in his firefighter’s helmet, as he helped preserve Leningrad during the Nazi siege), and to the remarkable premiere, held in the besieged city and broadcast over the walls to the lurking Germans. The score was then smuggled through enemy lines and out of Russia on microfilm, leading to some very high-profile performances in the west by the likes of Toscanini, Stokowski, and Rodzinski. read more…

Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (Jarvi) – ‘Britten: Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, Four Sea Interludes, Elgar: Enigma Variations’  An SACD review by Mark Jordan

Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (Jarvi) – ‘Britten: Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, Four Sea Interludes, Elgar: Enigma Variations’ An SACD review by Mark Jordan

Sheer ardor may not be Paavo Järvi’s strong suit, but he has a scientist’s precision with the sifting of orchestral textures, and his new Telarc recording reveals details almost completely lost in the murk of other performances of these familiar orchestral works by English masters Benjamin Britten and Edward Elgar – even in performances led by the composers themselves. And Järvi’s sense of wonder never fails to make this music sound fresh and newly discovered. Best of all, Telarc’s engineers have either hit upon the perfect pieces for Cincinnati’s Music Hall, or else they’ve found some new insights to recording there. Whichever is the case, this release marks both Telarc’s and Paavo Järvi’s finest achievement yet in Cincinnati. read more…

Angela Hewitt – ‘Chabrier: Dix pieces pittoresques and Other Piano Music’  An SACD review by Mark Jordan

Angela Hewitt – ‘Chabrier: Dix pieces pittoresques and Other Piano Music’ An SACD review by Mark Jordan

One of the great delights of exploring classical music is to discover something previously unknown to you, something which immediately makes you wonder, “How did I live without this before?” With a quarter-century of listening experience under my belt, I’ve been around long enough to have grown tired of Beethoven and Mahler and then become excited by them all over again at least twice as I delve deeper into their works. But the freshness of unexpected discovery is the sweetest of all, and this new Hyperion disc from Angela Hewitt has opened up the doors to a whole new world for me. Hewitt is of course famous for her pianistic sallies into baroque music, salvaging what once had been a repertory regularly performed on the modern grand piano. But here she explores the small but utterly fascinating body of piano music written by French composer Emmanuel Chabrier, who predated Debussy and could rightly be considered the true French Impressionist composer. read more…

Pink Floyd – ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ A DVD-Audio review by Nicholas D. Satullo

Pink Floyd – ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ A DVD-Audio review by Nicholas D. Satullo

In 2003, High Fidelity Review trumpeted one of surround music’s best moments, the release of Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side of the Moon‘ as a 5.1 SACD. While by all accounts the disc enjoyed enormous popularity among surround music enthusiasts, there were two immediate questions presented: What would it have sounded like if released as a DVD-Audio disc? And what about the original quadraphonic mix by sound engineer Alan Parsons? The debate over the two competing surround formats was fresher then, and there was a thirty year allegiance to the 4.0 quadraphonic mix of original surround engineer Alan Parsons, a mix that was never endorsed by the group itself, but which had itself become a cult classic since the release of this giant work in 1973. read more…

Minnesota Orchestra (Vanska) – ‘Beethoven: Symphonies No.3 Eroica and No. 8’  An SACD review by Mark Jordan

Minnesota Orchestra (Vanska) – ‘Beethoven: Symphonies No.3 Eroica and No. 8’ An SACD review by Mark Jordan

There was a time, not so long ago, when almost every new Beethoven recording which was released had a sense of routine to it. But the last decade or so has found players and conductors of all ages digging deeper into these warhorses to find the depths that still lurk behind even the most familiar phrases. The young Finnish conductor Osmo Vänskä is now recording an entire cycle of the Beethoven symphonies with the Minnesota Orchestra, the orchestra he has been revitalizing ever since he was named music director in 2003. He proves to be a committed Beethovenian of vision, energy, and power. Between this cycle and the Haitink cycle on LSO Live, we may well find ourselves on the receiving end of the best Beethoven cycles in many years. read more…

Cincinnati Pops Orchestra (Kunzel) – ‘Great Film Fantasies’  An SACD review by Mark Jordan

Cincinnati Pops Orchestra (Kunzel) – ‘Great Film Fantasies’ An SACD review by Mark Jordan

In recent years, John Williams has written some concert pieces not connected with his extensive film scoring career. But if he wants concert immortality, then he need look no further than his music from George Lucas’ ‘Star Wars’ series. If he would arrange these into an effective concert suite (as opposed to the general selections now available), then we would have a wonderful concert suite (or two) on our hands. We have parts of one or more such suites on this new hybrid multichannel Super Audio CD from Erich Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops on Telarc, but not everything passes the final cut. The music Williams seems to have been born to write is the opening title for the original ‘Star Wars’ (as it will always be to those of us old enough to have had our minds blown by seeing it when it first came out; it is now known by the catchy title ‘Episode IV: A New Hope’). Indeed, the first four tracks on this disc make a nice quasi-symphony. The music for the main titles of ‘A New Hope’ serves as an expansive, inspiring opening, the tender portrait of ‘Princess Leia’ is a fine slow movement, the rollicking ‘Cantina Band’ makes a joyous scherzo, and the ‘Imperial March’ stands as a pulse-pounding finale, albeit a rather dour one. read more…

London Symphony Orchestra (Haitink) – ‘Beethoven: Symphony No. 7, Triple Concerto’  An SACD review by Mark Jordan

London Symphony Orchestra (Haitink) – ‘Beethoven: Symphony No. 7, Triple Concerto’ An SACD review by Mark Jordan

Watch out for the quiet ones. They’ll get you when you least expect it. Bernard Haitink is a quiet one, and always has been, doing his work as conductor and orchestra builder in a straightforward, unglamorous way for over a half century now. I’ve found myself too frequently over the years looking past Haitink at more colorful personalities. But it’s always at that moment when I’m just about ready to dismiss Haitink as bland that he sneaks in something unexpectedly pulse-pounding. He has done it once again with his new Beethoven ‘Seventh’ with the London Symphony on LSO Live. On the surface, such a vital piece might seem unusual territory for Haitink’s quiet mastery, but the secret of that mastery is that he knows when to lead and when to give the players free rein. The result here is one of the most natural and joyous performances of Beethoven’s ‘Seventh’ I’ve ever heard. read more…

Vienna Symphony Orchestra (Kreizberg) – ‘Bruckner: Symphony No.7 in E major’  An SACD review by Mark Jordan

Vienna Symphony Orchestra (Kreizberg) – ‘Bruckner: Symphony No.7 in E major’ An SACD review by Mark Jordan

The nasty Viennese critic Eduard Hanslick infamously described Bruckner’s ‘Symphony No. 7 in E major’ as “a symphonic boa constrictor” after its first Vienna performance in 1884, but even he had to begrudgingly note in his review that the audience seemed very pleased with the work. In fact, their ovation lasted for forty-five minutes, giving the shy bumpkin Bruckner his first taste of success at the tender young age of sixty, after a lifetime of laboring in relative obscurity. In retrospect, it seems hard to imagine what efforts Hanslick must have gone to in order not to like this expansive, sincere, and often quite genial work. What the critic couldn’t (or wouldn’t) come to terms with was Bruckner’s expansion of traditional symphonic structure allowing for structures much more massive than earlier classical symphonies. His typical sonata form structure is almost like traditional sonata form squared, with each subsection having its own contrasting subsections. Bruckner combined this ingenuity with the sound world of Baroque and Renaissance polyphony, which he then “souped up” with a Wagnerian approach to harmonic flexibility. The resultant brew is unique to Bruckner, and it is no wonder that many early listeners became hopelessly lost along the way. The ‘Seventh’, however, is Bruckner’s least wayward symphonic adventure, and most patient listeners will find themselves eventually swept up by the composer’s heartfelt invention. read more…

Philharmonia Orchestra (Zander) – ‘Mahler: Symphony No.1 in D major, Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen’  An SACD review by Mark Jordan

Philharmonia Orchestra (Zander) – ‘Mahler: Symphony No.1 in D major, Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen’ An SACD review by Mark Jordan

Benjamin Zander returns with another distinguished contribution to his Telarc Mahler cycle, albeit one with less blazing conviction than his ‘Third’, ‘Sixth’, or ‘Ninth’. Initially, the concept of a Zander Mahler traversal may have appeared less enticing than a Michael Tilson Thomas cycle (at least to those not familiar with Zander). In the event, however, the Zander cycle has moved from strength to strength while the Tilson Thomas cycle, after an impressive start, has descended into the realm of sleek technical fetish. Zander, conversely, remains devoted to the emotional impact of Mahler, though this recording finds him more reserved than one might expect… or is it just the mix? read more…

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