After recently being so impressed and musically enriched listening to Julian Bliss play the Mozart Clarinet Concerto (signum records, 2014), I decided it might be informative to hear his teacher, Sabine Meyer, play it. I found on my shelves her 1998 live recording with Abbado in an EMI box set. My notation of a previous hearing years ago stated merely "Excellent". I was intrigued to obtain and listen to her earlier recording of it with Hans Vonk, also on EMI - this one being a studio recording from 1990. (She plays the basset-clarinet in both.)
Well, I hear the same unmistakable singing quality I admire so much in Bliss's recording. I also hear the same purity and evenness of tone throughout every register. I also hear the same crispness of articulation. And I hear the same sheer musicianship playing in the lowest register, without a hint of the honking I keep hearing in too many other recordings of this piece. So it is with delight I discover what an astute student Julian Bliss is and what a master his teacher is. In both I hear clarinet playing of the very highest caliber.
But there is more here. Ms. Meyer brings something incredibly special to this music that Mr. Bliss doesn't quite match in his 2014 live recording. And that is an irrepressible, irresistible, effervescent sense of JOY. Joy is the essential ingredient which, to me, positively defines the very best performances of any Haydn or Mozart performance - from solo piano, to chamber music, to full symphonies. The sense of joy must burst forth from the very foundation of the music-making. And Sabine Meyer plays just this way. Joy originates from the very essence of her being - as if she can hardly contain it while playing this music. It is made all the more evident with every minute ornamentation and small filigree she applies here and there. Fortunately, this quality is matched superbly by Hans Vonk (an underrated conductor if ever there was one) and his Staatskapelle Dresden orchestra.
Incredibly, even the Adagio displays this sense of joy, via the most sublime, simple, natural outpouring of musical expression - very much like what I hear in Julian Bliss's recording. And what makes it work so superbly is the free-flowing, moving tempo. Not for a moment does it drag or bog down with too much emoting, as is so often the case.
It is rare that I hear a recording of an over-played piece which moves me as much as this one did. It is rarer still that I can only describe the experience as life-affirming, and so musically-enriching that I can listen to nothing else for quite some time. And EMI's recording, in this 1998 remastering, is excellent, as is the companion Sinfonia concertante in E flat which follows the concerto on this disc.
I recommend this recording with the utmost enthusiasm. I regret having not heard it before now. One day soon, it will be most interesting to listen again to her later recording with Abbado to see how it compares. I don't remember it moving me as this earlier one did, but she just might surprise me!
Galway protege, Raffaele Trevisani, plays beautiful Mozart in the biggest gymnasium Delos could find.
Ok...it's not really recorded in a gymnasium. It just sounds that way (more on this below). More importantly, this is lovely Mozart from beginning to end. It's rather old-fashioned, in a warm, Romantic way, with moderate tempos. But smiling and lively too. And here's the deal...if you think Raffaele Trevisani sounds JUST like James Galway, you're right. He does. Trevisani was a student of Galway's. And I've heard it said (and have witnessed it firsthand a few times myself back in the day) that any flutist who spends time with Galway (even for just a one-off master class), comes away with his distinctive tone. I sure wish they'd share the secret!
There is a problem here, though. And it's not that Trevisani sounds just like Galway. In my book, that's actually a positive. And it's what drew me to this particular flutist in a world where one flutist tends to sound pretty much like every other. No, the problem here is the outrageously over-reverberant acoustic. Delos for some reason has chosen the biggest, swampiest, churchiest church to record this intimate music, and then did nothing to mitigate the reverberation. Even on a very highly detailed stereo system such as mine, the acoustic reverberation swamps the music-making in a very distracting way. And it's a real pity, because the playing has all the ingredients to be charming and smiling. This would be a glorious venue for recording an a cappella choral group in some ethereal, 20th Century repertoire. But for lively Mozart chamber music - not so much. On the plus side, the flute is spotlit in front of the strings, so that radiant Galway-esque tone shines through. But it leaves the string trio wallowing in the reverb. This so easily could/should have corrected by the recording engineer with a simple adjustment of the microphones.
Returning to my favorite recording of these glorious quartets - from Oxalys on the Fuga Libera label - I'm rewarded instantly with a breath of fresh air. It's fresher, lighter, airier, much clearer, and positively bubbles with charm, energy and life-affirming joy.
I really like this flutist and have ordered his discs of Mozart and Mercadante concertos. I'm currently listening to his Delos disc, "New Century Flute Concertos", which contains some interesting music (and one masterpiece). It's also well recorded. He is a very musical, insightful player and I absolutely love his sound. Compared to Galway, Trevisani's sound isn't quite as thick, his vibrato is not quite as wide and heavy, and mercifully he does not honk the low notes like his teacher loves to do. So I actually prefer his sound to Galway - at least in Mozart. But I sure hope he has better recording engineers in other discs. Delos is a label we don't see much of any more. But sadly they really made a mess of this one from 2014.
I'm relatively new to British clarinetist, Julian Bliss. And the more I hear, the more I love his playing. (Incidentally, he studied in the U.S. at Indiana University and subsequently with Sabine Meyer in Germany.)
He possesses an absolutely beautiful tone. If not quite the overtly gorgeous woodiness of Martin Frost, it is clearer, perfectly focused and supported - a simply beautiful, rounded tone. And it is lovely to listen to. No matter the material, there is never a strident high note; never a fruity, unsupported spread. It's not overly dark or thick. Suffice it to say, Julian Bliss has just about the most beautiful, natural clarinet sound you're ever likely to encounter.
And he's so utterly musical too. His Mozart simply sings - as if he's a soprano at the Met expressing her profound love for the tenor. Not melting; not sentimental; simply a natural outpouring of expression via lovely legato lines, punctuated by crisply executed articulation. Again, though, it's not quite so intentionally ravishing, ala Martin Frost. But somehow even more natural in its simplicity. Mr. Bliss does play a basset-clarinet here, with the 4 additional low notes, making this one of the most rewarding accounts of this concerto on record.
And he turns in an exceptional Nielsen too, where his display of virtuosity is never ostentatiously flashy, ala Andreas Ottensamer, but so very musical - serving only the composer's score. This somewhat wayward concerto has not always convinced me of its musical merits, but Mr. Bliss brings a real sense of purpose and direction to it which finally allows this piece to fully make sense. I found it very enjoyable. Conductor Mario Venzago deserves high praise as well, providing insightful and responsive support in both concertos.
The fillers are two Mozart soprano arias, arranged for clarinet by Mr. Bliss himself. They work exceptionally well for clarinet, and sound for all the world as if Mozart wrote them just this way! I enjoyed both ever bit as much as the concertos.
Signum Classics provides excellent recorded sound, with the soloist perfectly placed before the orchestra in a lovely acoustic. The clarinet is not at all spotlit, as it is in their more recent recording of the Mozart for Mark van de Wiel, where his close proximity to the mic in the low notes nearly ruins Mozart's musical line.
It would be difficult to imagine a better recording of these clarinet concertos than this. Indeed, I cannot think of another recording of the Mozart that I enjoy more. I've already listened to this one many times. Julian Bliss is one I will explore further.
I'm puzzled by this release, especially as it is listed as a "Vol 1" in a series.
First, Chandos already has a wonderful, 80-minute disc of the music of Eric Coates, conducted by Rumon Gamba with this same orchestra (the BBC Philharmonic, 2002). That CD is an absolute knock-out, containing all the real "greatest hits", with sparkling, energetic music-making and superb sound - rather unlike this latest one from John Wilson, I'm afraid.
Second, Mr. Wilson has already recorded a lot of Coates. There are two late-1990s discs of orchestral works and miniatures for ASV with the BBC Concert Orchestra. Then he made another collection with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic in 2005, for Avie Records. And in 2008, back to the BBC Concert Orchestra he went to record yet another collection for Dutton Epoch. Now he takes up this repertoire again, this time with the BBC Philharmonic for Chandos.
The good news is that there is very little duplication - so far - in all these discs. This new Chandos series, however, starts off with three. From the ASV recordings, Wilson here duplicates The Dancing Nights and the first of the Two Symphonic Rhapsodies. And he duplicates the London Everyday Suite with Gamba's Chandos disc. One has to expect many more duplicates will be inevitable with future installments.
What bothers me the most, however, is that the inspiration from the podium is several notches below what we'd expect. Mr. Wilson now sounds just a little tired of it all and the music lacks the charm, sparkle and sheer joy found in his earlier recordings. Then there is the sound. I was surprised Chandos chose not to release this on SACD, as would have been expected based on prior successes with that format and this conductor (namely the Copland and Bennett series). And listening to it, I can hear why. This is not one of Chandos's best-sounding recordings. It's a little claustrophobic/congested, a bit hard in climaxes, and overall lacks air and spaciousness. This soundscape may very well be part of the reason the music doesn't seem to smile as much as it should.
And finally, an unfortunate programming blunder: just as the final, gentle sounds of the lovely By The Sleepy Lagoon fade into nothingness, all of a sudden...BAM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The hugely loud, hard, bombastic opening note of the London Suite blast into the listening room without warning (with some audible distortion in the recording, I might add), quite ruining the mood and annoying the hell out of me. And what follows continues to be loud, bombastic and too fast - completely devoid of charm. I just can't imagine what anyone involved with this had in mind here.
After being rather bored with this first volume in the new Chandos series, I dusted off Wilson's ASV discs from my shelves and sat down for a quick listen. And I couldn't for a moment turn it off! I thoroughly enjoyed them and was pleased to hear ASV's brighter, more immediate house-sound suited these scores perfectly.
While I welcome new recordings of this composer's delightfully lighthearted music, I'm afraid this series from John Wilson is superfluous. I can only guess he would like to memorialize his recordings of this composer in an integral set for a single label. But, frankly, the music of Eric Coates doesn't really justify such extravagance, especially when he's already recorded so much of it and there are so many neglected composers he could (should) turn to. For those interested in this repertoire, I'd highly recommend starting with Gamba's fabulous Chandos CD, or any of Wilson's earlier recordings.
I'm not often enticed by cover art, but I have to admit this one did it to me. Seeing that big basset-clarinet up close to a normal clarinet was so fascinating (having never seen one in person) that I had to give this disc a try. And Mark van de Wiel, being the principal clarinet of the Philharmonia, sealed the deal.
And it's a bit of a mixed bag, I'm afraid.
Beginning with the Phibbs Concerto, I read in the wonderful booklet that it was written for (along with a "creative friendship" with) our soloist. It was premiered with the Philharmonia in November 2017 and this recording was made shortly after. And what a wonderful, fresh, energetic creation it is! It is structured in an ambitious 4-movement layout and is expertly and colorfully orchestrated. The first two movements are very reminiscent of Copland's more famous clarinet concerto. Yet it possesses such a unique voice (and colorful orchestration) the Copland flavor simply brought smile after smile while listening. Then with the Adagio, and especially the finale, Phibbs establishes a more original and secure individuality. While the preceding is decidedly American-esque, the remainder sounds firmly French. The Adagio often reminds me of Henri Tomasi (specifically his glorious saxophone concerto), while the finale takes it another daring step further into the realm of Connesson, with its dazzling virtuosity for both soloist and orchestra.
The playing here is simply fabulous. This is a studio recording but sounds for all the world like a live performance, with its effortless spontaneity and unbuttoned exuberance. There is a sense of occasion and an ever-present feeling of new discovery. It is also spectacularly recorded, with the orchestra given thrilling presence.
The Mozart, unfortunately, is not as satisfactory. It was recorded "live", with a different orchestra in a different hall. It is well played and the London Chamber Orchestra is incisive and alert. But there is a touch of the routine in Mr. van de Wiel's playing. But what spoiled it for me was his propensity for showing off those low notes of his basset-clarinet. He honks them out with unnecessary force, disrupting the melodic line and sounding quite out of character for Mozart. I guess I should have expected such ostentation, given the cover art; but Mozart's glorious score must still be given top priority. I suppose signum classics might be partly to blame, as the soloist is very closely mic'd. However, the sound of his clarinet overall does not strike me as outrageously spot-lit throughout the rest of its range. And on another live recording from signum of this same concerto, from the wonderful Julian Bliss, there is none of this honking in the low notes. That entire performance is eminently more musical and natural. Perhaps van de Wiel leans in toward the mic as he plummets down to those lowest notes. Or maybe he's trying too hard to fill the hall with sound. Who knows. Regardless, it left me annoyed. And the rapturous applause which instantly erupts at the end is something I certainly could have done without. (Signum had the good sense to edit it out on their live recording for Bliss.)
This disc is worth it for the glorious Phibbs concerto. But if your main interest is with the Mozart, I'd turn to any number of other recordings of that - none better than the aforementioned Julian Bliss. The one from Martin Frost on BIS is also satisfying.
I haven't reviewed many discs this summer - for a variety of reasons (stereo issues, mainly). Now that things are getting back to normal, it's time to get back to what I love. Starting off with this ridiculous bunch of nonsense on DG's latest "star-marketed" album doesn't get me motivated, I'm afraid. But here it is - short and very sweet.
I'm scratching my head trying to comprehend why John Williams participated in this. He doesn't need the money; he doesn't need the fame; he doesn't need the exposure. He certainly doesn't need a job! So then why would he stoop to a project requiring him to make syrupy sweet, elevator Musak arrangements of all these wonderful tunes?
I guess DG should be admired for making it happen. Because there is not a whit of musical value to it. I personally could not listen to much of it. It's like eating chocolate mouse, followed by chocolate cake and finishing the meal with chocolate cream pie. It's so sickeningly sweet, it's simply nauseating. And Mutter's slow, wide, sea-sick vibrato only increases the urge to hurl.
John Williams is my hero. He's one of my very favorite composers - ever. I probably listen to more John Williams music on the stereo than any other composer - certainly more than any other living composer. And yet this CD just makes me sick to my stomach. But people will buy it and go "Ga-Ga" over it because it's John Williams and it's Anne-Sophie Mutter, who they think they're supposed to just love. But I just can't.
DG, good job; you'll make your "classical" quota this quarter. Mr. Williams, I'm shocked you had any part of this. I'd discourage anyone from supporting this kind of production.
I received a complimentary copy of this CD for consideration. I agreed to give it a listen and review it.
I don't always take the opportunity to try something completely new and unexpected. But when duo alterity contacted me and offered to send me their CD, I jumped at the chance. I was a flutist back in the day and I have always been fascinated by Classical guitar. So this combination immediately piqued my interest.
duo alterity is comprised of Allison Hughes, flute, and Joseph Van Doran, guitar. These players are accomplished musicians and derive obvious pleasure playing together. They certainly are advocates for this repertoire, immersing themselves fully into the music-making. The recording quality is excellent, presenting the two equally in balance. They are placed in a perfect acoustic, just close enough to be intimate.
Listening to the disc from beginning to end, I must admit to coming away feeling like it was too much for one sitting. After a few days, I listened again in shorter sessions, listening to each piece individually, on separate occasions. This worked much better!
Beginning with Astor Piazzolla's Histoire du Tango, we hear the immediately recognizable flavor associated with this composer. The four contrasting movements make for an enjoyable experience, bringing many smiles along the way. His writing is perfectly suited for this particular instrumentation.
Ned Rorem's Romeo and Juliet, for me, was simply too much of the same thing and not enough in the way of compositional substance, creativity or variety. And the flutist, in particular, does not vary her tonal color sufficiently to hold one's interest. This piece sounds to be the most overtly "modern" and is not the most appealing. However, this may very well have caused me to enjoy the final piece as thoroughly as I did. Phillip Houghton's From the Dreaming brought a most welcomed variety and plethora of tonal colors. Musically, it offered the most unique and interesting originality of the entire concert. This also applies to the orchestration, which fully exploits the myriad colors and playing techniques available from these two instruments. Here these two fine players shone with virtuosity and interpretive skills.
This is a first class production, including excellent, informative liner notes along with superb recorded sound. And the playing is most assuredly excellent. There is no mention that any of these works were commissioned by duo alterity; if that is the case, I would look forward to another CD from them in hopes they might include a new work composed just for them.
I received a complimentary copy of this CD for consideration. I agreed to give it a listen and review it.
This is a no-frills, independent release produced by BRC Audio Productions. There are no liner notes and it offers a very short playing time of just 40 minutes. But the music is what's important, and I enjoyed listening to this recording - for the most part.
The Midwest Chamber Ensemble, under the direction of its conductor, Steve Lewis, sounds to be an accomplished, semi-professional group of musicians who enjoy playing together. Their reading of Spohr's delightful Nonet is sunny and relaxed, with a pronounced pastoral, yet joyful feel. Slowish tempos predominate all 4 movements. This works better in the opening Allegro and the Adagio (which thankfully does not sag), than it does in the Scherzo and final Vivace, where a little more momentum and sheer verve would have been most welcomed.
The woodwind players in particular are excellent. They play with wonderful musicality and vibrant, colorful tone. It's a pity the violinist isn't quite as accomplished. There are several exposed violin passages which sound rather insecure, with some less than perfect intonation. I suspect this may have dictated the somewhat slower tempos being adopted. However, this is not detrimental to the overall performance and I still enjoyed it enough to listen a second time.
The Octet, unfortunately, is another matter. It is curious that only one movement was included (the opening Adagio-Allegro), as the entire work would have easily fit on the disc. Many of the players employed here differ from those in the Nonet, and it clearly is a less accomplished group. This sounds rather like a local, community group and could have used a good deal more rehearsal. I frankly would have omitted to altogether.
The recording quality throughout is excellent. BRC Audio Productions captures the hall acoustics beautifully, with a pleasing warmth and plenty of detail. The laid back perspective compliments the sunny, relaxed approach.
All in all I am glad to have heard this performance of the Nonet - recordings of it are far from abundant. My favorite comes from the Vienna Octet, included on an absolutely splendid 2-disc, 2010 Eloquence set. It is better played (as to be expected), with fresher tempos in all 4 movements, infusing it with life. However, for a more thoughtful, relaxed view, this one from the Midwest Chamber Ensemble brings pleasure.
These fantastic Dohynanyi/Vienna Stravinsky and Bartok recordings have been reissued many times before (on Decca and Eloquence). For once, they are worth the repeated appearances. They are magnificent in every way - exciting, colorful, atmospheric, superbly played and spectacularly recorded.
If this Eloquence release seems familiar, it is - sort of. The Dohnanyi items were issued separately on 2 Eloquence CDs in 2004. For this current release, Eloquence has helpfully combined them as a two-fer, and had the brilliant idea of adding Maazel's 1974 Rite of Spring. This addition brings together all 3 famous Stravinsky ballets, plus the Bartok, making this a very attractive and extremely generous bargain. Indeed, the playing times are 80'33 and 79'31!
One remark about Maazel's 1974 Rite: this is somewhat of a rarity. To my knowledge, it is has only been issued on CD in Decca's massive box set of every Rite of Spring Decca/DG ever recorded. (That is a splendid collection, by the way!) To have it here, separated from a 20-disc set, is cause for excitement. It is a splendid performance, in great sound. I prefer this one over his subsequent recordings of the piece. It is more natural and less over-the-top, yet still splendidly full of drama, color and spectacle. And it is superbly played by the Vienna Philharmonic. The vintage 1970s Decca sound is typical of that era - with some minor spotlighting, but yet natural enough.
Hopefully, these Dohnanyi recordings are well-known to most collectors. If not, they should be. Not only are they among the very best (certainly some of the most exciting) of this repertoire ever committed to disc, they're also some of best recorded. And for those who are often disappointed with the inaudible organ contribution in most Miraculous Mandarines - you are in for a real treat with this one. Wow.
I have enjoyed Volumes 1 and 2 in this series from Chandos, with some notable exceptions. But Volume 3 will be my last. (Please see my reviews for the earlier volumes below.)
So here's how it's going:
Volume 1 - thoroughly enjoyable from beginning to end (well, with the exception of the Marimba Concerto). Beautifully played and recorded.
Volume 2 - a mixed bag. Some more of the richly atmospheric, lyrical expression heard in Volume 1, plus some atonal nonsense in the form of his Symphony #2. And there's a truly disappointing performance of the saxophone concerto, played with unpleasant tone by a poorly chosen soloist. Recording quality becomes questionable and variable.
Now comes Volume 3, which is more of RRB's atonal serialism we heard in the symphony on Vol 2. Ugh.
His Symphony #1 begins with an unpleasant, unmusical, uninteresting motif and it continues similarly for 22 long minutes. I'm certainly glad RRB eventually outgrew this phase. But I'm not glad Chandos has decided to subject us to it.
Zodiak (symphonic poem) is more of the same - atonal, but not quite so "serial-ist"; not quite the obvious "paint-by-numbers" formula heard in the first two symphonies. More tolerable, and rather more pleasant, is Reflections for String Orchestra, which was written for our conductor here, John Wilson. But surprisingly, I found this reading of it to be rather reserved and uninvolving. One would have thought Mr. Wilson would have poured his heart and soul into this one, being its dedicatee and all. But nope. I found it curiously unmoving. I didn't listen to the vocal selection, as that is simply not my thing, even under the best of circumstances.
The sound is good in the traditional Chandos manner, especially in SACD. But I'm over Richard Rodney Bennett now. Mr. Wilson (and Chandos), please move on to something else.