Top Ear

Eloquence short reviews, Vol. 2

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Jeremy Lee writes

Australian Eloquence, one of the most intelligent reissue labels around, has invaded the Hong Kong market some while ago and my colleague Leonard reviewed 5 releases here.  Following up is this second set of short reviews, from Brahms to…er…Mahler…

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This is a reissue of a full-priced London Decca disc with the exact same repertoire released in 1996 which lasted in the catalogue for the amount of time it takes you to read this sentence.  Piano mavens should be happy that it has been exhumed, for this is a really intelligent programme which features some impressively tasteful and virtuosic playing by Thibaudet.  Of course, I have my personal preferences for a bit more fire in the Brahms (Katchen, on the same label), or further contrasts in the Schumann (Pogorelich/DG, or if you want an inhumanly even and speedy arpeggios variation, Richter), but Thibaudet’s sensitivity and pearly touch is not to be sniffed at.  Pearly, too, are the glorious Decca sonics.  Filling the programme is Schumann’s Arabeske (beautifully shaded but slightly forgettable) and some appendices from the Symphonic Etudes of which I do not have a great memory of.

Details

  • Album name:  Brahms:  Paganini Variations;  Schumann:  Arabeske;  Études Symphoniques
  • Performers:  Jean-Yves Thibaudet (piano)
  • Label:  Decca Eloquence 476 8503
  • Sonics:  Stereo DDD
  • Total playing time:  64:35

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In 1977 Decca released an LP coupling Xavier Montsalvatge’s Concerto Breve and Carlos Surinach’s Piano Concerto, one that was never to see the light of day on CD internationally until the Australians exhumed it.  For those who used to have the LP, having this new transfer onto CD is surely a joy.  Soon Larrocha recorded the Albeniz and the Turina, this time with a different orchestra, and this serves as the makeweight for this album of Spanish piano concertos.  They are uniformly lovely pieces, some highly chromatic, some ravishingly colorful, some resembling Villa-Lobos, some harking back to Debussy, and all deserve to be played more often–one often wonders (aloud, in my case) where these gems have languished in the repertoire.  Needless to say, Larrocha plays them with all the flair and authority you could expect, and Frühbeck de Burgos accompanies accordingly.  Lovely.

Details

  • Album name:  Concertos from Spain
  • Performers:  Alicia de Larrocha (piano);  Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos (conductor);  London Philharmonic Orchestra (Albeniz, Turina);  Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (Montsalvatge, Surinach)
  • Label:  Decca Eloquence 476 2971
  • Sonics:  Stereo ADD/DDD
  • Total playing time:  75:35

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As the collective name of the performers suggest, the musicians concerned here are all taken from the Boston Symphony Orchestra with Michael Tilson Thomas as pianist.  Opening the programme is a chamber arrangement of the Faun Prelude transcribed by Benno Sachs, and it’s a very good arrangement (especially in utilising the harmonium) that ultimately lacks the lust and lustre of the orchestral version–you can’t really let a viola and a cello take up what is supposed to be the huge, erotic D-flat string theme in the middle and make us believe.  But the arrangement–as well as the playing time, longer than usual at 11 minutes–reveals a lot of interesting detail that you would struggle to hear in the original.

Then there are the sonatas.  All the principals play very beautifully, and MTT accompanies with panache and plenty of virtuosity–with pianism of this quality, one wishes he would consider returning to the piano.  For more beautiful playing of the Violin Sonata, there’s Kyung Wha Chung/Lupu on Decca for you to consider, but to my ears both are as lovely.  The Sonata for Flute, Violin and Harp also features in the Chung/Lupu disc but I have a slight preference for this one mainly because the sonics are better.  Lastly Doriot Anthony Dwyer plays the Syrinx very beautifully.  An excellent disc.

Details

  • Album name:  Debussy:  Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune, Sonata for Flute, Viola & Harp;  Violin Sonata;  Cello Sonata;  Syrinx
  • Performers:  Boston Symphony Chamber Players
  • Label:  DG Eloquence 476 7703
  • Sonics:  Stereo ADD
  • Total playing time:  56:59

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Indispensable is the word for this exemplary disc.  His La Mer is one of those performances that stand out no matter how much competition there is (I have heard north of 8 versions and I still return to this most often).  I’m no secret lover of the old Concertgebouw sound, and this performance delivers it aplenty.  Bits worthy of note are the extremely natural, glorious brass chorale at the end of the first movement, the sparkling woodwind playing in the second, and the speedy conclusion to the third.  The Trois Nocturnes and the Images are equally well done (the Images are in good mono), the last movement of Iberia in particular featuring some really interesting percussion playing and a (deliberately?) out of sync tubular bells to the main theme that reminds me of slapstick humour.  That brings me back to where I started.  Indispensable.

Details

  • Album name:  Debussy:  Trois Nocturnes;  La Mer;  Images pour orchestre
  • Performers:  Eduard van Beinum (conductor);  Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
  • Label:  Philips Eloquence 464 636-2
  • Sonics:  Mono/Stereo ADD
  • Total playing time:  77:03

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I reviewed Mehta’s Mahler 1 and 3 on the same label here and I was not very impressed with the 3rd, but thankfully the 1st has grown on me more and more every time I hear it and I have to say it has become one of my favorite versions.  With high expectations, I approached this Los Angeles Mahler 5th.  As the playing time suggests, this is a speedy performance, and a joyous one at that.  Mehta shies away from the turbulence of part I, which is probably not what Mahler would have envisioned, but thankfully the remaining bits are quite marvelous:  bubbly, fresh and exciting.  Sonics are fine as well and much better than that of the Mahler 3rd.  That said, the LAPO’s playing isn’t at all world-class (scrawny strings in the fugal passages, perilous brass at times, and what not) and there are plenty of versions which combine excitement with superior playing and sonics, not to mention a more convincing part I–one recent acquisition that fits into all those categories is Mackerras/RLPO–but Mehta’s is still to be recommended.  Now all I need is his IPO 4th and my Mehta Mahler collection on Decca will be complete…

Details

  • Album name:  Mahler:  Symphony No. 5
  • Performers:  Zubin Mehta (conductor);  Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra
  • Label:  Decca Eloquence 450 135-2
  • Sonics:  Stereo ADD
  • Total playing time:  65:17
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Author: Top Ear

Musical hooligans.

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