SU­PER FI­DELITY

Australian HIFI - - CONTENTS - by Au­dio­phile Au­di­tion

This is­sue, Au­dio­phile Au­di­tion’ s John Su­nier re­views some clas­sic pieces from the likes of Wag­ner and Brahms, plus dis­cov­ers a disc of clar­inet and pi­ano pieces that were all writ­ten by Amer­i­can com­posers.

MAHLER Sym­phony No 5

This new record­ing of the Mahler 5th is the be­gin­ning of a pro­jected Mahler se­ries from BIS, the Min­nesota Orches­tra and con­duc­tor Osmo Van­ska. There are plenty of fine Mahler Fifths around, in­clud­ing my favourite by Bern­stein recorded in the 80s, as well as those of Chailly and Du­damel. I am a bit con­flicted about this one. I find the first move­ment de­tailed but slow and lack­ing en­ergy. My con­flict arises from the qual­ity of the record­ing. It’s marvellous, re­veal­ing de­tails in this sym­phony I haven’t heard in other record­ings. The highs sparkle, and the bass is prodi­gious when it needs to be. I au­di­tioned the SACD 5.0 layer and from an au­dio­phile stand­point, the record­ing left noth­ing to be de­sired. This is an ec­cen­tric in­ter­pre­ta­tion that some Mahler lovers will ap­pre­ci­ate and is a worth­hile pur­chase for the sound alone...but not ev­ery­one will like the ren­di­tion.

TRACEUR Amer­i­can Mu­sic for Clar­inet and Pi­ano

Michael Nor­swor­thy (clar­inet) and David Gomp­per here play Sou­venirs (Robert Bleaser), Black Anemones (Joseph Sch­want­ner), Three Amer­i­can Pieces (Lukas Foss), Ne­braska Im­promtu (Marti Ep­stein), SchiZm (Derek Ber­mel) and Gomp­per’s own Traceur. The open­ing work is my favourite on this record­ing. Sou­venirs was orig­i­nally writ­ten for pic­colo and pi­ano and is a charm­ing and very ef­fec­tive set of works that have a very nice, ac­ces­si­ble some­what jazz feel to them. Sch­want­ner’s Black Anemones (1980) was orig­i­nally one of a set of songs for so­prano and orches­tra. While I pre­fer the orig­i­nal, I can­not fault the use of just this one par­tic­u­larly beau­ti­ful melody which holds up as just that. Three Amer­i­can Pieces is the old­est work here and adds an in­ter­est­ing ‘Bern­stein-es­que’ feel. Traceur is the longest and most in­volved of the works here, but more ab­stract than the oth­ers. The per­for­mances and se­lec­tions are ter­rific. Highly rec­om­mended!

AL­BERT ROUS­SEL Sym­phonies/Suites

This disc is a fine com­pi­la­tion of this some­what ob­scure com­poser’s best works. Rous­sel was one of those com­posers whose in­no­va­tion and skills were greater than his name recog­ni­tion, an eclec­tic writer whose mu­sic is trapped in a grey area in-be­tween the late Ro­man­tic and the Im­pres­sion­ist realm. Per­haps even more in­ter­est­ingly, some of his mu­sic ac­tu­ally sounds ahead of its time with mo­ments of or­ches­tra­tion and har­mony that seem to presage Prokofiev. This is a nice com­pi­la­tion of Rous­sel’s best­known works, and the record­ings (Bern­stein in New York, Kara­jan with the Phil­har­mo­nia, Cluytens with the Paris Con­ser­va­tory and Detroit un­der Paul Paray) are in many ways ‘the one’ for each. The Sym­phonies 3&4 and the Suites from Bac­chus et Ari­ane are Rous­sel’s best-known works, though the in­clu­sion of the Suite en Fa was a pleas­ant sur­prise.

BRAHMS Pi­ano Works Vol­ume 5

I have not fol­lowed the en­tire se­ries of Brahms’s pi­ano works from Rit­tner, but of the is­sues I’ve sam­pled, Vol­ume 5 strikes me as the most suc­cess­ful. Rit­tner em­ploys one of the best pe­riod-au­then­tic pi­anos in the se­ries, a Stein­way & Sons from around 1860. This pi­ano makes a mighty sound, fully wor­thy of Brahms’s grand-scale, virtuoso works. In­deed Rit­tner and his Stein­way even man­age to make Brahms’s two lesser ef­forts from Op. 21— Vari­a­tions on an Orig­i­nal Theme and Vari­a­tions on a Hun­gar­ian Song— sound more im­por­tant than they re­ally are. As for the grand Han­del Vari­a­tions, Rit­tner plays them with steely-fin­gered vir­tu­os­ity that never flags, a rous­ing per­for­mance. Rit­tner causes us to take note of Brahms’s re­source­ful­ness, as well as mon­u­men­tal­ity, in this great work. MDG’s typ­i­cally fine multi-chan­nel SACD record­ing com­pletes the pack­age.

THE WHO Isle Of Wight 2004

The ‘Who’ who per­formed at the Isle of Wight Fes­ti­val in 2004 whose per­for­mance is cap­tured on this Blu-ray (and two CDs) was ac­tu­ally just Townsend and Dal­trey (Moon and En­twhis­tle hav­ing died in 1978 and 2002 re­spec­tively) backed up by a tight band who all put on an en­er­getic 2+ hour set of mind-blow­ing rock that in­cludes I Can’t Ex­plain, Sub­sti­tute, Any­way, Any­how, Any­where, Who Are You, Be­hind Blue Eyes, Bar­gain, Baba O’Ri­ley, The Punk And The God­fa­ther, 5:15, Drowned, My Gen­er­a­tion, Won’t Get Fooled Again, Pin­ball Wiz­ard, Amaz­ing Jour­ney, Sparks, See Me, Feel Me/Lis­ten­ing To You and Magic Bus. What a night! The au­dio qual­ity is very good. It de­faults to stereo, but the DTS Mas­ter Au­dio 5.1 mix sounds su­pe­rior. The power of the elec­tric in­stru­men­ta­tion is more preva­lent in this au­dio set­ting. The video dis­plays crisp edit­ing, ex­cel­lent stage close-ups and is very sharp.

FRED HER­SCH {Open Book}

Fred Her­sch’s lat­est re­lease of solo pi­ano mu­sic is a ju­di­cious amal­gam of his own com­po­si­tions, along with cov­ers of jazz stan­dards. In de­cid­ing how any com­po­si­tion is to be played, Her­sch may be com­pared to a crafty base­ball pitcher who paints the cor­ners of the plate, never any­thing over the mid­dle. The ses­sion opens with a Her­sch orig­i­nal, The Orb, a ru­mi­na­tive piece filled with calm­ness and fas­tid­i­ous har­mony. Benny Gol­son’s Whis­per Not has a Mozartian feel and a bold and com­plex at­tack that pro­vides an in­ner ten­sion. An­to­nio Car­los Jo­bim’s Zin­garo trans­mor­phed into a new piece— Por­trait In Black and White— for which Her­sch uses a soft and sparse ap­proach to tell a story that is filled with colours and a pre­cise mu­si­cal vo­cab­u­lary that does not stray far from the melody. All-in-all a tour de force of solo pi­ano play­ing. www.au­daud.com

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