RACHMANINOFF: Piano Concerto No. 1 in F# minor, Op. 1. Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op.18.
Piano ConcertoNo. 3 in D minor, Op. 30. Piano Concerto No. 4 in G minor, Op. 44. Rhapsody on a Theme
by Paganini, Op. 43.
Valentina Lisitsa, piano/London Symphony Orch/Michael Francis, cond.
DECCA B0018117 (2 disks) P. T. 2 hr. 25:55
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'SOLTI - THE LEGACY" Excerpts from live and commercial recordings covering 60 years of Solti's
career, 1937 - 1997; music of Mozart, Schubert, Verdi, Berlioz, Britten, Wagner and Strauss
DECCA 478 4884 (2 disks) TT: 157:03
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BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 3 in D minor (Nowak edition). Symphony No. 4 in E flat "Romantic." (1878/1880 edition). Symphony No. 7 in E. Symphony No 8 in C minor (1892 version, Nowak edition
(II -IV)
Royal Concertgebouw Orch. (No. 3/4). Vienna Philharmonic Orch. (No. 7). Berlin Philharmonic Orch.
(No. 8)/Nikolaus Harnoncourt, cond.
WARNER CLASSICS 256465626 (4 disks) TT: 4 hr. 20:37
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JENSEN: Theme with Variations. Symphonic Partita. Air. Suite Kong Baldvines Armring. Sinfonia
in D. Rondo marziale. Passacaglia.
Trondheim Symphony Orch/Eivind Aadland, cond.
CPO 777 347 (2 disks) TT: 123:36
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PICKARD: Piano Concerto. Sea-Change for Orchestra. Tenebrae for Orchestra.
Fredrik Ullén, piano; Norrköping Symphony Orch/Martyn Brabbins, cond.
BIS 1873 TT: 74:02
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Ukrainian pianist Valentino Lisitsa achieved fame for her performances on YouTube; her famous concert in Royal Albert Hall was mentioned on this site (REVIEW). It is said that she personally financed this Rachmaninoff project to the tune of $300,000, and it probably will sell well because of her massive following—it is being hyped extensively on YouTube. Publicity surely does play an important part in any career, and Lisitsa surely has profited from it. However, musically this Rachmaninoff set doesn't amount to much. There is no question that Lisitsa has technique to burn—but there are dozens of other youngish pianists (and very young as well) who are equally—or better—gifted technically. Lisitsa's Rachmaninoff interpretations are rushed, insensitive and miss the music's grandeur. There are a few technical slips, but these amount to little compared with the rushed playing of many of the music's most sensitive pages. Even the lush romanticism of the famous 18th of the Paganini Variations is missing. The opening of Concerto No. 2 is about as unimaginative as it gets, a quick run-through that poorly introduces the magnificence of the pages to follow. Concerto No. 3 often is a near disaster. The opening pages are played nearly double-speed; there is no mystery, everything is loud, fast and often blurred.. The young British conductor Michael Francis, now at the beginning of a promising career as conductor of the Norrköping Symphony Orchestra, does his best to try to hold things together, and members of the LSO play well. Although recorded in Abbey Road Studios in England, site of hundreds of great recordings, engineering here offers a brittle piano sound in upper registers, little definition in the instrument's mid and lower ranges. This set offers no challenge whatever to the many currently available sets of Rachmaninoff's concerted works, particularly those by Earl Wild, Stephen Hough, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Simon Trpceski, and Jean-Yves Thibaudet. If you love Rachmaninoff, keep away from this ill-advised venture.

Decca's 2-disk Solti set contains many treasures ubcluding some of his earliest recordings. As an oddity, we have Sir Georg playing the glockenspiel in an excerpt from Mozart's Magic Flute, with Arturo Toscanini conducting the Vienna Philharmonic from a performance during the 1932 Salzburg Festival—and we hear him as pianist in lieder of Schubert from Salzburg in 1947, and in the Decca 1987 Mozart Concerto K. 365 in which he is joined by Murray Perahia. There is an excerpt from Elektra featuring Christel Goltz recorded in Munich in 1952 (from an LP of excerpts from the opera); 15 years later Solti made his legendary recording of the opera with Birgit Nilsson. There are two complete commercial Solti Rosenkavaliers, one on Decca with Regine Crespin, Yvonne Minton and Helen Donath, and the Royal Opera House production from 1985 with Kiri Te Kanawa, Anne Howells and Barbara Bonney, available on DVD.. Now we also have the final scene from the opera, a live performance from Covent Garden December 1959 with Sena Jurinac, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Hanny Steffek. Another treasure is the closing scene from Andrea Chénier from Chicago's Lyric Opera with Richard Tucker and Renata Tebaldi, both in top form, and excerpts from Otello sung by James McCracken and Tito Gobbi from Covent Garden in 1964, and by Plácido Domingo and Kiri Te Kanawa with the Chicago Symphony in 1987. And there is Birgit Nilsson singing the Liebestod from Covent Garden in 1971, and Hildegard Behrens in spectacular form in an all-too-brief excerpt from Götterdämmerung from Bayreuth 1983. These are only a few of the important recordings in this fine set. Sound quality varies as one would expect, but always does justice to the performances. The set is issued at near-budget price. Don't miss it. And Solti admirers also surely should investigate the recent DVD that includes him and Richard Strauss rehearsing Rosenkavalier in 1947 (REVIEW).

Nicholas Harnoncourt's direct approach to Bruckner is not to all tastes, but should you wish to sample it, this four-disk set issued at budget price should be investigated. Symphony No. 3 and 4 with the Royal Concertgebouw were recorded in December 1994 and April 1997, Symphony 7 with the Vienna Philharmonic recorded June 1999, and Symphony No. 8 with the Berlin Philharmonic was taped April 2000. Three of these are currently available individually at full price, so this is, indeed, a remarkable bargain. Stereo sound is best on the Amsterdam recordings, but others are very good as well.

Norwegian composer Ludvig Irgens Jensen (1894-1969) followed in the footsteps of Johan Severin, Edvard Grieg and Christian Sinding. Jensen's music, often of a patriotic nature, was considered somewhat radical—which seems incredible to me based on what is heard on this new 2-CD set. Jensen's oratorio Heimferd won a major prize and is considered to be a national musical monument for Norway. These CPO SACDs focuses on symphonic works beginning with his first major orchestral piece, a theme based on a Nordic tune followed by 16 short variations. Symphonic Prelude consists of music composed for the play The Drover; the 4-movement suite from Kong Baldvines Armring is another sampling of Jensen's theater music. Passacaglia began life as a sacred work for soprano, chorus and organ, ending up as a purely orchestral work. In its original form, this music was highly regarded; CD notes suggest it follows in the tradition of Bach, Beethoven, Bruckner and Brahms. Sinfonia in D and Rondo marziale are two other works highly regarded by Jensen's contemporaries. CD notes by Christopher Schlüren extol the merits of all of this music, but I found it to be unmemorable. Surely the fine orchestra plays this music well, sonic quality is excellent, but there's nothing here I would wish to experience again.

British composer John Pickard (b. 1963) writes music that is easily accessible, masterfully orchestrated, and often very high in decibels. He obviously loves percussion instruments—which will please many listeners— evident from
the three works on this superb BIS issue. The piano of course is a percussion instrument, but really sounds like it in this concerto composed 1999-2000. There are three connected movements and, according to the composer, each movement is closely related to a musical model from the Baroque era, although surely nothing baroque is suggested. It must be incredibly difficult to play, a task beautifully handled by Swedish pianist Fredrik Ullén, a first-class virtuoso. He specializes in contemporary music and already has recorded the complete piano works of Ligeti. Sea-Change for Orchestra dates from 1988, a commission from the Music Department of the University of Wales, and as it was intended for students, Pickard underplayed technical demands on the playersm although it still sounds very difficult to play. It is a 17-minute work suggesting movement and often sinister changes in the ocean. A longer work, Tenebrae (24:33) concludes this CD. It is a study of often frightening mysterious darkness. Written in 2008-09 for the Norrköping Symphony, it is dedicated to Martyn and Karen Brabbins; Martyn led the premiere in 2010. In both of these orchestral pieces the composer has many explosive percussive outbursts, all vividly captured by the BIS engineers. Conductor Martin Brabbins obviously totally believes in this compelling music and the composer's program notes are splendid. Most recent BIS recordings are SACD, but this is not a multi-channel recording. However, the rich, detailed audio rather sounds like multichannel when the stereo channels are supplemented by sound from rear speakers. I am fortunate to have a Sunfire unit (Theatre Grand Processor II) that lets me do this. However, the stereo sound is mightily impressive.

 

R.E.B. (March 2013)