I want to draw your attention to some great reissue-series. Australian Eloquence of Universal music have started a grand reissue programme in order to get good recordings back into the catalogue. They draw the recordings from the back catalogues of Philips, Decca, Deutsche Grammophon and ABC Classics. A while ago they were not so widely distributed but now they’ve started to spread. You can find them at Amazon and other major sites, and so far there are 419 releases listed on Presto Classical. The releases come as single CDs, twofers and box sets. The prices are in the budget- to super-budget range but original liner notes are thankfully included.

Another budget reissue-serie is Decca’s Ultimate [insert composer, country or instrument here] – the Essential Masterpieces. They are budget box sets of 5CD which offer a good overview of what’s inside the brackets. The content of each disc is usually an identical replica of an album from their back catalogue, that is often out-of-print. The drawback of these sets is the total lack of liner notes.

I also have to mention ArkivMusic‘s reissue programme. They produce duplicates of out-of-print recordings that they think should be made available again. The artwork and liner notes are the same as in the original releases. Prices are in the higher range but that’s okay if it’s the only way to find the recording you’re seeking. At the moment of writing ArkivMusic are listing the gigantic number of 8942 releases in their reissue programme.

I’ve turned to all three sources of reissues to find out-of-print recordings of the distinguished Sir Neville Marriner and Academy of St. Martin in the Field. Quality artists like them deserves to be brought back from the vaults and presented to a new generation of record buying public.

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Brahms’ Ein Deutsches Requiem

johannes_brahms_1853Yesterday I attended a performance of Brahms’ Ein deutsches Requiem, with Trondheim Symphony Orchestra and conductor Eivind Aadland. I had listened to the work—or more correctly—started to listen to it several times on CD, but never got any further after the second movement. So I thought the concert last night would be as good an oppurtunity as any to sit down and get through it all.

After a good first and the brilliand second movement I waited for the next great musical ideas to appear, but I waited in vain. Not even the seventh and final movement had that extra brilliance. So—and I know I’m going to insult some Brahms-geeks here—I just wanted to share that I think the requiem would have been a better composition without the movements following the second. After all, that movement sounds pretty conclusive musically (I don’t care about which words they’re singing), and then you won’t get tricked into sitting there for a CD’s length waiting for something that never comes.

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One Year with Fine Music

It’s now one year since the first post was published at Before that, the first three reviews were published on testsites at Blogspot and WordPress; Mozart: Complete Works for Horn and Orchestra or: good music well presented on 12 October, Glass: Violin Concerto or: one of my favorite violin concertos the day after and Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherazade and Borodin: Polovitian Dances or: is Beecham always this good? on 3 November 2008. After a while a proper domain was set up and was launched with the first review on 8 March 2009.

As mentioned, the first review was of Mozart’s sublime horn concertos, on the Naxos recording with Michael Thompson. It’s a marvellous disc that also has the benefit of completed fragments and up-to-date editions by scholar John Humphries. Another favorite Mozart interpreter of mine is Sir Neville Marriner, which has recorded all of these concertos at least four times with the Academy and four different soloists. With Barry Tuckwell for EMI (1972), Alan Civil (1973) and Peter Damm (1989) for Philips and David Pyatt on Elatus (1997). Either Marriner never got satisfied with his first three takes on the concertos or he agreed to re-record a favorite repertoire because he knew the recordings would be in demand. From the quality of the performances, I suspect the latter.

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V for Victory Music

When I’ve accomplished something and want to celebrate it, I like to listen to what I call victory music. That’s symphonic film music of a heroic character. Below, I’ve collected the finest victory music that I know of.

Erich Wolfgang Korngold was the father of symphonic, heroic film music. Listen to these great themes from top adventure films, all featuring Errol Flynn, from the late 30s and early 40s; Captain Blood, The Sea Hawk, and Elizabeth & Essex.

Ron Goodwin was the master of great war themes in the 60s, producing such gems as 633 Squadron, Battle of Britain, and Where Eagles Dare.

John Williams, the reviver of symphonic film scores in the 70s, is the man behind these great adventure and science fiction themes; Superman, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Star Wars, and Jurassic Park.

Do you know about other great victory themes? Then I would like to hear them!

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Glorious Recordings of Vivaldi’s Gloria

I have to say that Antonio Vivaldi’s Gloria (RV 589) is among my favorite works of sacred music. The first recording I heard of it was the one with Nikolaus Harnoncourt and his period instrument ensemble Concentus musicus Wien on the label Elatus. What really caught my attention was the Gloria-movement that opens the work. The swift tempo and excellent playing were addicting to the ear and I listened to it quite often. However, the rest of the work didn’t strike the same string in me.

After a while I found out that Sir Neville Marriner and his Academy of St. Martin in the Fields had made a recording of the work for EMI. From the start until the end I found it a revelation. Not only did the tempo of the Gloria-movement sound just right–neither exaggeratingly fast nor boringly slow–but the rest of the work was more engaging in this recording. As an example take the last movement, Cum Sancto Spiritu, which in Marriner’s vision is more cohesive and with more forward momentum. I suspect it’s played a bit faster than it was ment to be, but the execution is pulled off so admirably that it doesn’t sound a second too fast.

The Academy actually recorded the Gloria once earlier, just a few years after the chamber orchestra was formed. This time with Sir David Willcocks as conductor and Marriner as the leader. Now reissued on Decca Legends, it too is a good recording of the work but with markedly slower tempi than Marriner’s some decades later.

Last, there’s the odd one out. One day while I listened to the radio, I heard a preposterously fast interpretation of the Gloria-movement. It was with Concerto Italiano conducted by Rinaldo Alessandrini on the Naive label. Although incredibly fast, it’s excellently played and a joy to listen to. After digesting this interpretation of the Gloria-movement, Harnoncourt’s actually sounds… not slow, but certainly not too fast.

In 2009, Alessandrini re-recorded the Gloria (RV 589) with the same period instrument ensemble on the same label. His interpretations are still very fast, but the Gloria is a bit slower than his previous take. When he probably held the world record of fastest Gloria in excelsis Deo ever recorded, he possibly wanted to moderate some of the speeds. But only slightly. Also, in this new recording the instruments are tuned a semitone higher than in the previous one, making the staccatos in the opening bars sound less ominous. Both recordings by Alessandrini are quite virtuosic and very recommendable, as is Marriner’s, Harnoncourt’s, and Willcocks’ in their different ways.

Have a Glorious New Year.

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Spotify one Step Closer to Perfection

Spotify is an excellent service, making tons of great (and many more tons of not so great) music instantly available. It’s even better now that I’ve upgraded to Spotify Premium, avoiding commercials and the countless and increasingly irritating messages from Jonathan. However, when it comes to the availability of recordings there’s been something lacking the whole time: Universal Music has been reluctant to unlock its vault of classical music. They sit of the archives of Decca, Philips, and Deutsche Grammophon which would add significant value to a Spotify subscription.

Now Universal’s policy seems to have changed and I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered that Spotify had made available a few recordings from Decca. Then I did some investigation and found that recordings from DG and Philips are available as well. Not many, but several interesting ones.

So, for christmas, you can relax with Carmignola’s Concerto Italiano, Mullova’s 5 Violin Concertos by Vivaldi, Marriner’s The Four Seasons and Orchestral Works by Vaughan Williams, Uchida’s new recordings of Mozart’s Piano Concertos Nos. 23 & 24, her Schubert solo piano music, and her Mozart piano sonatas, Dorati’s complete Haydn symphonies, Chailly’s Shostakovich Jazz Album, Lewis’s take on Purcell’s Dido & Aeneas, Britten’s Peter Grimes and War Requiem, Jansen’s Beethoven & Britten Violin Concertos, Haitink and Ashkenazy’s Brahms concertos, Ashkenazy Duets, Argerich and Freire’s Salzburg duets with a spectacular performance of Rachmaninov’s symphonic dances, Alfred Brendel’s Farewell Concerts, Karajan’s 1963 Beethoven symphony cycle and a Brahms cycle (1-3 from the 70s and No. 4 from the 80s), Lang Lang’s take on Chopin’s piano concertos, Glass’ score for Notes on a Scandal, or Willcock’s Miserere by Allegri. With this selection I wish you a merry musical christmas!

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Bill Bailey’s Remarkable Guide to the Orchestra

Last Sunday, some friends and I went to Usher Hall, a very beautiful venue in Edinburgh, to see Bill Bailey’s Remarkable Guide to the Orchestra. If you are like me, you probably think of Bill Bailey as the guy from Black Books, and possibly a frequent guest on British panel shows on television, but he is actually also a stand up comedian, and, perhaps more relevant in this case, a classically trained musician. I quote from Wikipedia:

Bailey is a talented pianist and guitarist and has perfect pitch. His stand-up routines often feature music from genres such as jazz, rock (most notably prog rock from the early seventies), drum’n’bass, rave and classical, usually for comic value. Favourite instruments include the keyboard, guitar, theremin, kazoo and bongos.

Bill Bailey’s Remarkable Guide to the Orchestra is, as the name suggests, a guide to the orchestra, and in addition to Bill Bailey, there was the BBC Scottish Symphony Orcestra, conducted by Anne Dudley. Bailey began the show by thanking us for going out to watch live music, rather than staying at home watching the final of X-factor, which apparently was on the same day. He then went on to tell us about the first time he went to a concert with an orchestra, and why he likes it so much. While talking about this, he would use the orchestra quite a bit to make his points. He would make the orchestra play a small piece of music, and then make them play it again, with only certain instruments, and again, with even fewer, lifting out the instruments he was talking about to really let us hear them.

Once before, I have been to a concert where something similar happened. It was on the 18th of January, 2008, in Trondheim, at a concert with Trondheim Symfoniorkester, conducted by the British musician and conductor Andrew Manze. Manze would do much the same as Bailey, in that he would talk a little bit about each piece they played, frequently making the orchestra play small excerpts, essentially treating the entire orchestra like a cd-player, so he could better explain why he liked a particular part. I had never been to a classical concert where the conductor talked quite as much about the music they played, but Manze is an excellent speaker and I enjoyed it immensely.

The concert with Manze was mainly a concert, and the talking was limited to a few minutes between each piece, whereas Bill Bailey’s Remarkable Guide to the Orchestra was at least equally much a comedy show. However, Bailey uses a lot of music in his comedy, ranging from playing “The Swan” from “Carnival of the Animals” on tuned cow bells to miming a 70s police show just by music. It did, however, contain some serious pieces of classcial music, like “Sunrise” from “Also Sprach Zarathustra”, as well as Bailey speaking with tremendous enthusiasm about the orchestra and it’s different instruments.

It is clear that Bill Bailey cares a lot about the orchestra, and also that he wants people to enjoy it, and I belive shows like this, which combine music with a bit of explanation, can actually help people appreciate a classical concert more. In addition, I got the impression that the musicians were having great fun. I imagine it can be quite gratifying, if you are playing a “low profile” instrument like the bassoon, to suddenly have 10 minutes of a performance dedicated to focusing people’s attention on you and your instrument.

Unfortunately, the tour is finished, but I understand the show can be found on DVD, and it’s certainly on my list of things to look out for.

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