Friday, May 11, 2012

Massenet revisited!

I was just listening to WGBH Boston (Classical New England) this morning when my ears caught an orchestral piece of music that I'd never heard before.  Lo and behold, it was the Scenes Pittoresques, by Jules Massenet -- a charming set of four orchestral movements performed by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra on Naxos.  Captivated as I was, I looked into this further and discovered that Massenet wrote other "Scenes", including the Scenes Alsaciennes, Scenes Dramatiques, and Scenes de Feerie.  Few recordings of these works currently exist.  I counted a total of 3 or 4 on CD, including:

1. New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, Jean-Yves Ossonce (Naxos)
2. Orchestre de Ia Société des Concerts du Conservatoire, Albert Wolff -- a classic Decca recording in early stereo sound (Testament, Australian Eloquence)
3. Orchestre National de l’Opéra de Monte-Carlo, John Eliot Gardiner (Erato, Apex)

I think these are highly overlooked orchestral works which probably deserve more attention!
June 2012 BBC Music Magazine Discs of the Month announced:

1. RECORDING OF THE MONTH: Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, Marek Janowski - Wagner: Parsifal (Pentatone Classics)

2. ORCHESTRAL CHOICE: Danny Driver, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Rory MacDonald - Chisholm: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 2 (Hyperion)

3. OPERA CHOICE: Armonia Atenea, Giuseppi Sigismondi di Risio - Gluck: Il trionfo di Clelia (MDG)

4. CHORAL & SONG CHOICE: Choir of Trinity College Cambridge, Stephen Layton - Howells: Requiem & Other Works (Hyperion)

5. CHAMBER: Nightingale String Quartet - Langgaard String Quartets Vol. 1 (Dacapo)

6. INSTRUMENTAL: Yuja Wang - Fantasia (DG)

7. DVD: Rossini: Le Comte Ory (Virgin Classics)
June 2012 Gramophone Editor's Choices revealed:

1. Ray Chen - Tchaikovsky & Mendelssohn Violin Concertos (Sony)

2. Yuja Wang - Fantasia (DG)

3. David Russell - The Grandeur of the Baroque (Telarc)

4. Trinity College Choir Cambridge, Steven Layton - Howells: Requiem & Other Works (Hyperion)

5. Roderick Williams and Iain Burnside - The English Song Series Vol. 22 - Benjamin Britten (Naxos)

6. Olli Mustonen - Scriabin Piano Works (Ondine)

7. London Conchord Ensemble - Poulenc Chamber Works (Champs Hill Records)

8. Nightingale String Quartet - Langgaard String Quartets Vol. 1 (Dacapo)

9. Bamberger Symfoniker, Jonathan Nott - Mahler Symphony No. 7 in E minor (Tudor)

10. London Philharmonic Orchestra, Orchestre de Paris, Georg Solti - Liszt: Tone Poems & Hungarian Rhapsodies (Australian Eloquence)

11. Concerto Copenhagen, Lars Ulrik Mortensen - Handel: Concerti grossi, Op. 3, 1-6, HMV 312-317 (CPO)

DVD: Vivaldi: Orlando Furioso (Naive)

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Speaking of Otto Klemperer ...

Last weekend during Music Appreciation Mornings with my son, I decided to treat him to the Klemperer recording of Stravinsky's Symphony in Three Movements and Pulcinella Suite, as seen on the left.

Columbia (UK) SAX 2588
Otto Klemperer
Philharmonia Orchestra
Recorded at Kingsway Hall, London, 1962 and 1963

This isn't my copy on the left, but I do own a red label original of the album.  I don't believe that a Blue and Silver label of this album was ever produced.

It was luck of the draw that I happened to stumble across this album at a Midwest record collector's show in the suburbs of Chicago.  Hardly any of the dealers there (back in 2003 or 2004) sold any classical music, but a few threw some classical boxes in with their jazz for sale.  I rummaged through the boxes of one dealer whom I had met before, a quiet older fellow who generally knew what he possessed and charged top dollar prices for his items.  Somehow, I landed on this album, picked it out (the disc was in near mint condition), and asked him how much he wanted for it.  My heart beat nervously.  I had a feeling that this was quite rare and wasn't sure if he was well versed in British Columbia/EMI classical recordings.  Five dollars, he told me.  A sigh of relief.  I handed over the money and quickly walked away.  As it turned out, I found a copy on sale on a British classical LP web site for over 150 British pounds. 

It's really a wonderful album.  Now I don't think Klemperer was well known to be a great Stravinsky interpreter, but somehow this recording is still very enjoyable.  I particularly like the Pulcinella Suite.  The LP has been reissued on CD, but sadly, it doesn't come with the fantastic Picasso cover.
Okay, just decided to pick up one of these new EMI Signature SACD releases.  While there are some that might argue that this is just another marketing ploy to repackage old material, I happen to find this a very attractive item.  For one, the SACDs come in a nice bound booklet case, full of illustrations including color photographs of the original front and back covers of the original LPs, color photographs of the original blue and silver Columbia SAX record labels, booklet notes, information about the remastering process, and other historic photos of the original production of the recording.  I love the original EMI/Columbia LP album covers from the late 1950s to 1960s ... beautiful artwork on laminated front covers.  On the left is the actual cover of the SACD purchase; below it you will find the cover art for the albums contained within.

As you can see, I went with the Philharmonia Orchestra recordings of the last six Mozart symphonies with Otto Klemperer.  I've been in a Mozart and Haydn symphony phase, rediscovering older and more recent recordings of the late Mozart symphonies as well as Haydn's Paris and London Symphonies.  As part of this musical re-exploration, I decided to add this set to my collection.  As much as I'd love to, I don't own these on LP, and I figured I'd go with the most recent incarnation of the recordings.  As far as I can tell after listening to the first SACD, the tape hiss appears to be relatively minimal, and the recording sounds very clear with good dynamics.  Repeated listening with comparison to other interpretations (Harnoncourt, Marriner, Bohm, etc) will hopefully provide greater appreciation for these.

If you happen to have any personal recommendations for Mozart symphony cycles, I'd love to hear your thoughts, so please feel free to leave a comment.