Monday, March 26, 2012

Decca Music Group Limited
478 3206
Chopin - Liszt - Ravel
Benjamin Grosvenor
Executive producer: Ben Pateman
Recording producer: Simon Kiln
Recording engineer: Arne Akselberg
Recorded Lyndhurst Hall, Air Lyndhurst Studios, London, April 23-26, 2011

This is a phenomenal disc.

I have to admit that I was initially skeptical about purchasing this debut album from the 18 year old British pianist Benjamin Grosvenor.  I mean, could his performances of all four of the Chopin Scherzos and the Ravel Gaspard de la Nuit compare to some of the most well known performances of these works?  (He also performs three Chopin nocturnes, two Chopin pieces transcribed by Liszt, and Liszt's En reve.)  I've got recordings of the Chopin performed by Rubinstein and Horowitz (both on vinyl and on CD) among others, and there are many enjoyable Gaspards on the market (I have Argerich live at the Concertgebouw, Steven Osborne's recent Ravel compilation, Thibaudet, Pascal Roge), but somehow, I've found myself coming back to this CD day after day after day.  There's something just mesmerizing about Grosvenor's playing ... his touch, his use of dynamics, his virtuosity and clarity in fast passages, his lyricism and phrasing in slower passages ... I can't quite explain it.  I love the way he attacks the opening measures of the Scherzo in B minor and find his placement of accents perfect.  The Gaspard is superb.  I never used to spend a great deal of time listening to the second movement (Le Gibet) but have been looping this track at least 3-4 times now as I write this!  I have absolutely no regrets about purchasing this album and look forward to many more enjoyable hours listening to it.  Furthermore, I'm eager anticipating this young and highly talented artist's future albums to come!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Vik (A Product of Radio Corporation of America)
LX-1075

Mam'selle Gisele

Gisele MacKenzie
George Siravo, Sid Bass, Neal Hefti, conductors
Producer/director: Herman Diaz, Jr
Recorded at Webster Hall, New York City, December 10, 11, and 13, 1956

I just gave this disc a spin on the turntable as my wife and I were having dinner this evening.  It's been at least one year since I last listened to this album, and I nearly forgot how wonderful of an album this is.  If you have any appreciation for French song, I think you'll really enjoy this album.  It's got a very nice collection of well known French songs from the first half of the twentieth century ("C'est si Bon", "Autumn Leaves", "La Vie en rose", "Sous le ciel de Paris", etc.) as well as a few pieces from the American songbook ("September in the Rain") sung with French lyrics.  For me, this album conjures up images of post-WWII Paris ... outdoor cafes in the Quartier Latin, strolling along the River Seine, a scene right out of a Doisneau photograph.  Before purchasing this album at a Reckless Records in Chicago, I had never heard of Gisele MacKenzie.  She's actually a Canadian-born singer, but as a native of Winnipeg, she spoke French fluently.  She started playing the piano at the age of three and took up the violin at age seven.  By the age of fourteen, she was enrolled at Toronto's Royal Conservatory of Music.  She later became a well-known television (she had her own weekly TV show on NBC) and recording artist, which is how she gained her popularity in the states.  Gisele has a very warm voice, and I think that she brings a lot of life to the French repertoire on this album.  The orchestral/band arrangements are excellent and complement her quite well.  Fortunately, this album was remastered onto CD in 2002 by the Japanese as a limited edition with a nice attractive LP-style cover, which one can purchase online for a price ($50-60 on Amazon.com).  Or, if you like to hunt, you can check around your local used LP shops to try to find an original vinyl pressing (mine was $3.99).

Here are a couple of the notes from the back cover which you'll often see on pre-stereo records of this era:

"This is the 'New Orthophonic' High Fidelity Recording.  It is distinguished by these characteristics: 1. Complete frequency range.  2.  Ideal dynamic range plus clarity and brilliance. 3. Constant fidelity from outside to inside of record. 4. Improved quiet surfaces."

"Beware the Blunted Needle!  A blunted or chipped needle can permanently damage your most valuable records."

Friday, March 2, 2012


Here's a video from EMI promoting the latest release of Russian-born conductor Vasily Petrenko, who is currently the Chief Conductor of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and whom I think is one of the most exciting young conductors on the international classic music scene today.  I picked up a couple of his recent releases on the British label Avie Records, namely a recording of Rachmaninov's Symphonic Dances, Isle of the Dead, and The Rock; and a recording of Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto Nos. 1 and 4 with the Macedonian pianist Simon Trpceski.  I thoroughly enjoyed both of these recordings for their dynamic performances and excellent sound, so I decided to give Maestro Petrenko's debut release on the EMI lael a try.  This CD contains Rachmaninov's Symphony No. 3, coupled with the Caprice Bohemien and Vocalise.  This video served as a spoiler for me, too, and I can say that after hearing the first few minutes of the first movement of the Symphony No. 3, I was hooked.  Although I'd heard Rachmaninov's second symphony several times (whose heart doesn't melt with the opening bars of the Adagio movement?), this was actually my first exposure to this work and I loved it.  Take a listen yourself and let me know what you think!

In response to an insightful reader, I've pasted a link to a Youtube clip of the first two movements of the Scythian Suite as conducted by Antal Dorati with the LSO on Mercury SR90006.  I unfortunately couldn't find a clip of the Love for Three Oranges Suite, but hopefully you can still appreciate part of this famous recording!