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Gramophone the 50 greatest Schubert recordings

Posted on 11 March 2017 by admin

The 50 greatest Schubert recordings begins with orchestral works, then moves through chamber and instrumental, and finishes with vocal. All of these lists are, of course, subjective, but every recording there has received the approval of Gramophone‘s critics and are artistic and musical benchmarks. So if you want to hear Schubert performance at its best, the list is the perfect place to start.

The first one is Symphonies Nos 1-6, 8 & 9

Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra / Karl Böhm

(DG) Recorded 1963-71

These are marvellous performances: vibrant, clear, characterful and effortlessly well played. The recordings, too, still seem new-minted, even the Ninth, the first of the symphonies to be recorded. The Berliners’ art is the art that disguises art. Böhm never feels the need to do anything clever but just quietly sees to it that this superb orchestra plays at its best. His way with the two late symphonies is, in fact, highly sophisticated. The Unfinished begins in what seems to be a leisurely fashion but his performance of the first movement catches Schubert’s mix of lyricism and high drama with extraordinary acuity. Conversely, the second movement seems swift but brings the work full circle, with an equally extraordinary sense of calm and catharsis in the final pages. The celebrated 1963 Ninth out-Furtwänglers Furtwängler in the myriad means it uses within a single grand design to capture the symphony’s sense of danger and derring-do in addition to its lyricism, nobility and earthy Austrian charm.

In the early symphonies, Böhm’s approach is simpler-seeming and more direct. Rhythms are so finely propelled, the pulse so effortlessly sustained, the music always lands on its feet. The zest comes from the stylish Berlin string-­playing; melodically, it’s the woodwinds (every one a Lieder singer) who catch the beauty of Schubert’s melodies and the skirl of the attendant descants. You won’t find yourself tiring of Böhm’s approach; he doesn’t give in to irritating idiosyncrasies (à la Harnoncourt), but ensures that the Schubertian stream is always clear to the ear and sweet to the taste.

Second, Symphonies Nos 1-9

Academy of St Martin in the Fields / Sir Neville Marriner


Marriner’s Schubert is light on its feet, full of sprung rhythms and gracefully=turned phrases. The early symphonies are a sheer delight in this cycle with some glorious playing by the Academy of St Martin in the Fields. The later, great works like the Unfinished and the Great C major are also very appealing, with beautifully judged tempi and some wonderfully vivacious playing by these virtuoso musicians. In this repertoire, the competition tends to be from large symphony orchestras – BPO and Boöhm, Royal Concertgebouw and Harnoncourt, the NDRSO and Wand, to name three of the finest cycles – but Marriner’s set can be confidently recommended if you respond to a more agile, ‘modern’ (though not ‘authentic’) approach.



Symphonies Nos 3, 5 & 6

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra / Sir Thomas Beecham

(Warner Classics) Recorded 1955-59

Beecham was well into his seventies when he made these recordings with the Royal Philharmonic, the orchestra he had founded in 1946. His lightness of touch, his delight in the beauty of the sound he was summoning, the directness of his approach to melody and his general high spirits will all dominate our memory of these performances. But, listening again, we may be reminded that Beecham could equally well dig deep into the darker moments of these works. Schubert’s elation was rarely untroubled and the joy is often compounded by its contrast with pathos – Beecham had that balance off to a T. It should be noted that he doesn’t take all the marked repeats and he doctored some passages he considered over-repetitive. However, these recordings may also serve as a reminder of the wonderful heights of musicianship that his players achieved, as in the Trio of the Third.



String Quintet in C major, D956. String Quartet No. 14 in D minor, D810 ‘Death and the Maiden’

Pavel Haas Quartet with Danjulo Ishizaka vc


This is good. Very good. Acclaim and the Pavel Haas Quartet are familiar bedfellows – after all, they did win Gramophone’s Record of the Year for their Dvořák two years ago. But this is their first recording that really steps into a crowded marketplace. They represent the best qualities of the Czech tradition – warmth, sonorousness, individuality, intensity; but what’s striking here is their fearless risk-taking, their fervency and the absolute confidence with which they propel you through these two masterpieces. In the Quintet they have the perfect partner in cellist Danjulo Ishizaka – and there’s no sense of a quartet plus one, which hampered the Takács Quartet’s recent reading.

Their tempi are unfailingly right to the extent that comparisons, for once, seem almost irrelevant. And the slow movement of the Quintet is aching but never emotes superficially; the way the players withdraw the sound at its close is absolutely mesmerising. The Belcea rein in the emotions to a greater degree (compare them at around nine minutes into this movement) but the Pavel Haas – with slightly more dragging, vulnerable phrasing from the first violin – are insanely memorable. They also judge transitions beautifully so that the two works unfold in a completely natural way: just sample the finale of the Quintet, at the point where the second idea, with its slightly wincing Viennese gaiety, gradually yields to the return of the troubled opening idea.

In the Quartet, too, there is much to admire: in the spectral closing minutes of the first movement; or in the slow-movement variations, where you’re held rapt as the first violin and then the cello take centre stage, and the ricocheting rhythms of the following variation – which can sound like gunshots in some performances – display a delicacy and a sense of dance. The crazed tarantella that closes the quartet is a tour de force, raw, visceral and with an emotional immediacy that is almost unbearable. Such is the intensity of the playing that by the end of the disc you, too, are quite exhausted. But that’s perhaps how it should be.

Will these highly personal interpretations stand the test of time as effectively as the slightly cooler readings from the Belcea and, in Death and the Maiden, the Takács? From this proximity it’s impossible to say, but I’d say the odds are pretty good.



String Quintet in C, D956

Hagen Quartet with Heinrich Schiff vc


By following Boccherini in using two cellos instead of two violas for his String Quintet, Schubert increased the potential for greater textural contrast. Moreover, the dichotomy between the tragic perspective and Viennese gaiety in the Quintet, so evident in much of Schubert’s greatest music, generates an especially potent dramatic force.

The Hagen Quartet’s performance of the first movement, which presents remarkably clear textural detail, is broad and expansive. The Hagen include the exposition repeat in a movement that lasts almost 20 minutes. Perhaps as a consequence, they play the Adagio second movement at an unusually fast tempo. However, through breathtaking dynamic control in the first section, passionate intensity in the second, and engaging spontaneity of the ornamentation in the final section, the Hagen achieve an expression that’s powerfully compelling.

The second half of the Quintet is often treated as a period of emotional relief from the profound concentration of the first two movements. Startlingly, the Hagen maintain the tension with violent textural and dynamic contrast in the Scherzo, and distinctively varied registral sonority in the Trio. The finale, in which the Hagen effectively balance the music’s charming Hungarian flavour with its more sinister touches, provides an arresting conclusion.

The Hagen’s account of Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge is polished and sensitive, and it vividly conveys the difference between Beethoven’s and Schubert’s compositional means. The Hagen’s is an outstanding disc, in which exceptional performances, that challenge the finest alternatives, are complemented by superb recording.



String Quintet. Symphony No 5

Isaac Stern, Alexander Schneider vns Milton Katims va Paul Tortelier vc Prades Festival Orchestra / Pablo Casals vc

(Sony Great Performances) Recorded 1952-53

This should have an in-built fail-safe against hasty consumption, in that the interpretative ingredients are so rich, varied and unpredictable that to experience it all at once is to invite mental and emotional exhaustion. Casals is the linchpin. A charismatic presence, he embraces everything with the passion of a devoted horticulturist tending his most precious flowers, and that his love extended beyond the realms of music to mankind itself surely enriched his art even further. The most celebrated Prades recording ever is still the Stern/Casals/Tortelier reading of the Quintet, a masterful traversal graced with elastic tempi, songful phrasing, appropriate rhetorical emphases (especially in the first and second movements) and fabulous string-playing. The coupling is a ‘first release’ of Schubert’s Fifth Symphony, recorded in 1953 – a warm, keenly inflected performance, jaunty in the outer movements and with an adoring, broadly paced Adagio. One presumes that it has been held from previous view only because of a few minor executant mishaps. It’s certainly well worth hearing. The transfer of the Quintet reveals itself as marginally warmer but occasionally less well-focused than previous incarnations. Still, the original was no sonic blockbuster to start with, but this shouldn’t deter you from hearing this disc.



Piano Quintet, ‘Trout’. Litanei, D343. Variations on ‘Trockne Blumen’, D802

Renaud Capuçon vn Gérard Caussé va Gautier Capuçon vc Alois Posch db Frank Braley pf


A memorable account of the Trout Quintet. This group may not project the warmth and bonhomie of the famous Curzon/Boskovsky recording (Decca), nor does it have the searching quality of the performance led by Alfred Brendel (Philips), but for verve and refinement it’s hard to beat. The happy, carefree nature of the music is captured perfectly on a beautifully clear recording; it’s especially notable how every detail of the double bass’s very spirited contribution is clearly heard yet with no sense that Alois Posch is ‘bringing out’ his part. Especially enjoyable is the Scherzo – a fast tempo but finely poised, and with a subtle, effective relaxation of the Trio – and the Variations. In Var 2 Renaud Capuçon’s figuration is so delicate that the viola melody can create a particularly strong expressive effect, and the following variation is just as magical – Frank Braley’s demisemiquavers are quite brilliant, with a lovely, silvery tone, and the bass melody has, for once, nothing elephantine about it.

The elaborate, showy set of variations on ‘Trockne Blumen’ from Die schöne Müllerin, dating from 1824, is an unhackneyed choice of filler. Played with the precision and delicacy that Capuçon and Braley bring to it, it is highly effective, though with only occasional touches of the melancholy we expect in late Schubert. After this extravagant music, the touching simplicity of the song arrangement is the more striking.



Piano Quintet, ‘Trout’. String Trios – B flat, D581; B flat, D111a

Members of the Leipzig Quartet (Andreas Seidel vn Ivo Bauer va Matthias Moosdorf vcChristian Zacharias pf Christian Ockert db

(Dabringhaus und Grimm)

This Trout must surely be one of the very best versions of this much-recorded work. You get the impression that here was an occasion when everything ‘clicked’, giving the playing a friendly, relaxed feeling that’s just right for this carefree piece. Zacharias has the knack of making even the simplest phrase sound expressive, and the strings, without any exaggeration, produce the most beautiful tonal shadings. All five players, too, have an impressive sense of line; the phrasing and points of emphasis are balanced so that Schubert’s expansive designs are projected compellingly. If the Trout shows a Schubertian spaciousness, his one completed String Trio is unusually compact. Another distinguished feature is the florid, Spohr-like elegance of much of the violin-writing – Andreas Seidel is splendidly stylish and confident. This is another very fine performance, emphasising the predominating gentle lyricism but with plenty of vigour and panache when required. The String Trio fragment, less than two minutes, continues the same ‘let’s hear everything’ approach; it’s a sketch for what subsequently became the comparatively familiar B flat Quartet, D112.



String Quartets D703, D804, D810, ‘Death and the Maiden’ & D887

Quartetto Italiano

(Philips Duo)

Recorded 1965, 1976-77

The Italians’ playing has freshness, affection, firm control and above all authority to a degree that no relative newcomer can match. It’s notable not only for the highest standards of ensemble, intonation and blend, but also for its imaginative insights; these attributes readily apply to the music-making on this Duo reissue,
particularly in the slow movements. Indeed, the players’ progress through the wonderful set of variations in the Andante con moto, which reveals the Death and the Maiden Quartet’s association with the famous Schubert song of that name, has unforgettable intensity.

The comparable Andante of No 13, with its lovely Rosamunde theme – which is approached here in a relaxed, leisurely manner – is held together with a similar (almost imperceptible) sureness of touch. When this work was originally issued, the first-movement exposition repeat was cut in order to get the quartet complete on to a single LP side. Here it has been restored.

Finest of all is the great G major Quartet, a work of epic scale. The first movement alone runs to nearly 23 minutes and the players’ masterly grip over the many incidents that make up the Allegro molto moderato is effortless. For an encore we’re given the Quartettsatz, a piece on a smaller scale, but here presented with a comparable hushed intensity of feeling. This, like the Death and the Maiden, was recorded in 1965 and the textures are leaner than on the others, with a fractional edge on fortissimos. Nevertheless, the ear soon adjusts when the playing is as remarkable as this. The other recordings have more body and a fine presence. The CD transfers throughout are excellent.



String Quartets – D804 & D810, ‘Death and the Maiden’

Takács Quartet


With their Decca Beethoven cycle, the Takács Quartet set a modern-day benchmark. Now, with a new record company and a replacement viola player, things look set for them to do the same for Schubert’s two most popular string quartets. These works were written in 1824, a year of despondency for Schubert, who was ill and clearly felt he was living under the shadow of death. Whereas in the Rosamunde, the underlying feeling is a tearful nostalgia, in Death and the Maiden there’s a black despair that at times gives way to anger.

The Takács have the ability to make you believe that there’s no other possible way the music should go and the strength to overturn preconceptions that comes only with the greatest performers. Tempi are invariably apt – the opening of the Rosamunde is wonderfully judged. They also have a way of revealing detail that you’d never previously noticed – in the Allegro of D810, Schubert’s sighing figure in the viola is here poignantly brought out.

But though there’s plenty of humanity in these recordings, there’s nothing sentimental about the playing; they make Schubert sound symphonic, and a sense of drama and tensile strength underlines everything, even a movement as luscious as the Andante of the Rosamunde Quartet, which is based on the theme that gives this quartet its name.

The recording captures the quartets vividly and realistically and Misha Donat’s notes are erudite and stylish. Please click to Gramophone UK to get more about the 50 greatest Schubert recordings.


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Gramophone: Monteverdi’s Combattimento – which recording should you buy?

Posted on 13 April 2016 by admin

Dramatic madrigal, scena, musico-literary fling – however you care to classify Monteverdi’sCombattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda (‘The Fight between Tancred and Clorinda’), one thing is certain: it’s a one-off. First presented in 1624 at a private performance before a small, presumably avant-garde audience of nobility in a Venetian palace, it was a boldly theatrical staging of 16 verses from Torquato Tasso’s crusader epic Gerusalemme liberata (‘Jerusalem liberated’), in which a fight between the Christian knight Tancredi and the Saracen warrioress Clorinda – whom Tancredi loves, but, as we are told at the outset, has mistaken for a man – ends in Clorinda’s death.

Working during what were still the early years of operatic experiment, Monteverdi depicts all this in a 20-minute burst of violence and emotion for three voices, continuo and small string band in which the text is set almost entirely as recitar cantando, the style of sparsely scored, counterpoint-free heightened declamation that was one of the defining features of the early-17th-century Baroque and which made possible the creation of modern opera. But to callCombattimento a ‘miniature operatic scene’ would hardly do it justice, and would be almost as misleading as the description of ‘madrigal’ associated with it as a result of its inclusion in the composer’s eighth book of madrigals, Madrigali guerrieri et amorosi(‘Madrigals of Love and War’), published in 1638.


For one thing, Monteverdi had innovations to air. As he explained in a long and detailed preface, the representation of warlike anger was one of them, expressed in the fast repeated notes and fanfare sounds he called stile concitato, a solution he had arrived at through Platonic theorising but which was dramatically effective enough to be copied by other composers. Furthermore, he used these devices not just in the sung text but also in the instruments, while other string effects include thumping pizzicati (radical for the 1620s, evoking the rain of sword blows, punches and even head-butts), the graduated trotting and cantering of Tancredi’s horse, the warily circling harmonies of the work’s opening pages, and the fp chords to suggest the dying Clorinda’s shortness of breath. Combattimento thus occupies an important place not only in the early history of dramatic music, but also in the development of expressive use of orchestral resources.

Secondly, the use of pre-existing poetry rather than a text custom-made for dramatic singing offers the composer a number of challenges, resulting in quite a few oddities. The story is told almost entirely by the singing Narrator (or Testo), who represents the voice of the poet, and there are just a few short break-outs into speech for the two protagonists; only a foolhardy librettist would have allowed such an imbalance. Neither does Tasso’s solid-looking late-Renaissance ottava rima look at first like the kind of text to take wing in this urgently Baroque setting. Monteverdi turns these challenges into opportunities, however, first by making his Narrator more human even than the unfortunate combatants, wincing at the blows they land on each other, living their anger and lamenting helplessly as he watches their inexorable tragedy play itself out. And as for Tasso’s verse, it turns out that its rattling flow suits Monteverdi’s ‘modern’ music perfectly well, giving it rhythmic shape, power and – well, yes – literary class.


The outline of the piece is thus: it is dark, in the time just before dawn, and the Christians’ attempts to reconquer Jerusalem have suffered a blow after their siege tower has been set alight by a Saracen raiding party. Having led a counter-attack, Tancredi finds himself alone outside the walls. He spots a Saracen warrior and rides to the attack. Not recognising the warrior as Clorinda, he challenges ‘him’ and they engage. The Narrator pauses to lament that no one will witness these heroic deeds because of the covering darkness (the work’s only set-piece lyrical aria, ‘Notte, che nel profondo oscuro seno’, reminiscent in atmosphere of the great plea to the underworld in Orfeo, ‘Possente spirto’). The battle begins – a ferocious one in which swordsmanship and subtlety are left far behind. Soon the combatants are exhausted, and as they pause for breath, Tancredi sees that his opponent is badly wounded. He exults inwardly, but the Narrator chides him, warning that if he survives this battle he will find himself weeping ‘a sea of tears’. Tancredi asks to know who his adversary is, but Clorinda admits only to being one of the destroyers of the tower, thus enraging Tancredi and rekindling the fight. Clorinda falls, mortally wounded, and asks for Christian baptism. Overcome by a strange emotion, Tancredi rushes to fetch water, and on lifting her visor he lets out a cry of horror as he recognises the face of the woman he loves. (The Narrator’s response, ‘Ahi vista! Ahi conoscenza!’, is powerfully set by Monteverdi.) As she is baptised, Clorinda smiles; and she has the last words: ‘Heaven opens, I go in peace.’

Monteverdi’s introduction gives precise directions on howCombattimento is to be staged, not all of which are directly relevant to a sound-only recording. Musically, however, there are also certain stipulations that it would be impertinent to ignore: ‘the Narrator is to regulate the timing of his words in such a way that a sense of unity is conferred upon the whole’; ‘the instruments must be played in a manner consistent with the emotions expressed in the words’; ‘the Narrator’s voice must be clear and steady, and of good declamation’; ‘he is not to use any vocal ornaments or trills except in the canto beginning with the word “Notte”; elsewhere his declamation should imitate the passions described by the words.’


Perhaps these unusually firm performance directions are responsible for a surprising basic uniformity of approach among modern recordings; certainly, there is not as much variety as there is in recorded versions of Orfeo and the Vespers, whose timelines show a similar pattern of slow trickle gathering momentum with the early-music revival, peaking in the early 1990s with the 350th anniversary of Monteverdi’s death, and continuing at a slightly reduced pace thereafter. Also strongly noticeable at first glance is the large spread of individual performers; only one director has recorded it twice, a mere handful of singers appear on more than one recording (only two repeating the same role), and relatively few of them are what you might call star names, in the early music world or otherwise. This, it seems, is a piece well able to protect its own identity.

The Gramophone archive reveals at least eight pre-1970 recordings that haven’t made it on to CD, so the earliest in our survey is Raymond Leppard’s from 1971. It is set apart from all its successors by the use of multiple strings (English Chamber Orchestra) and a tenor leggiero of impeccable operatic pedigree, the elegant Luigi Alva, as the Narrator. Heather Harper is also there as an ample-voiced Clorinda. But if the sound world is a period piece and theconcitato sections are somewhat machine-like, it is not hard to see how Leppard’s lush but dramatically honest way with the music had won new admirers for Monteverdi in the 1960s.

The 1970s was the decade of change, however. In 1975, René Clemencic used single period-strings and a recognisably ‘early music’ light tenor in Zeger Vandersteene, yet heavy rhythmic emphases and wide tempo contrasts add little to the drama beyond a certain fatalistic tread, while the editing and wallowy sound are not to be borne. Greater authority on all counts came in 1978 whenReinhard Goebel and Musica Antiqua Köln joined up with perhaps the most influential Monteverdi singer of the day, Nigel Rogers. Rogers’s strengths are his stylistic sense, flexible throat and ease with words, and the more outwardly dramatic contributions are left to an angry David Thomas and to Patrizia Kwella in a moving death scene. The string playing is agile but typically rather fussy, and probably seemed rather thin-toned to anyone who knew only Leppard or Clemencic, but this recording was the first in the intimate style we would today recognise as a norm.

For the next 10 years or so Goebel’s Combattimento was a very serviceable benchmark. Nikolaus Harnoncourt’s recording from 1980 is burstingly theatrical if rather heavy-handed, with at its heart some shouty free declamation from Werner Hollweg which even breaks free of the notes at the visor-raising moment. Jean-Claude Malgoire’s Narrator, András Laczó, attempts a subtler balance of text-delivery and lyricism, but this 1986 version is underpowered, as is Nicholas McGegan’s of 1988 with Capella Savaria and a pleasingly light Narrator, Guy de Mey, who, despite offering in ‘Notte’ some of the most agile ornaments around, is often too tremulous. Roberto Gini’s first recording of the work with Ensemble Concerto (the first all-Italian one, in 1987) is confidently stylish but ultimately rather anonymous.

The arrival of Anthony Rooley’s Consort of Musicke atCombattimento in 1989 as part of their complete Monteverdi madrigal cycle (begun on Decca L’Oiseau Lyre, completed on Virgin) must have raised hopes of a new version that could qualify as definitive, but for all the stylistic and vocal assurance of Emma Kirkby, Paul Agnew and Andrew King, this is a surprisingly one-paced account, hamstrung by rather static continuo playing. Kirkby’s death scene is heartbreaking, though.


Several interesting new versions did appear in the early 1990s, one of the more arresting involving the combined forces of Red Byrd andPeter Holman’s Parley of Instruments, using their new set of ‘Renaissance violins’ (lighter and sweeter than the by-then-standard ‘Baroque’ ones) and a colourful continuo section (there is even a regal here). It is John Potter’s Narrator, however, who really catches the ear – with perhaps the most finely judged balance of speech and floated singing yet, as well as two of the most perfectly timed ‘ahi’ howls. This is a reading with natural ebb and flow and a convincing ‘early Baroque’ feel. With the 1993 anniversary approaching, things were hotting up. The 1991 recording by Skip Sempé and Capriccio Stravagante followed a staged production and is the boldest and most outgoing since Harnoncourt, with Verdian outpourings from Narrator Konstantinos Paliatsaras, even if the rather wet Tancredi sounds as if he would have been a pushover for the hard and hectoring Clorinda. The following year, Stephen Stubbs and Tragicomedia served up an even more imposingly operatic Verdian voice, Douglas Nasrawi, as Narrator. Yet, magnificent as he sounds, his Italian diction is sluggish and indistinct. Predictably, though, the continuo playing from this group is lively and imaginative: I liked the warmth of the organ in ‘Notte’. This performance adds a sinfonia at the beginning, perhaps to recreate something of the effect suggested by Monteverdi that the piece should surprise the listener by emerging unexpectedly straight after another madrigal.

William Christie’s recording with Les Arts Florissants, also from 1992, is the first to have a baritone Narrator, the ravishing Nicolas Rivenq, who manages to strike an urgent tone without rattling the rafters quite as much as Paliatsaras or Nasrawi. He may lack the technical agility of some

Emma Kirkby, a singer of ‘stylistic and vocal assurance’ in Monteverdi, pictured with Anthony Rooley others in ornamentation, but his Italian is quick and secure, and overall he is a commanding presence in a reading that, as you would expect from Christie, shows plenty of character and sure dramatic instinct, its flow perfectly directed, its sound heart-swellingly beautiful.


Only two recordings were actually made in 1993 (therefore issued after the anniversary). Philip Pickett and the New London Consort offer a slick performance, with John Mark Ainsley a firm but lyrical Narrator. Knowing Pickett, he probably has a reason for allowing less rhythmic freedom here than there is in the previous batch of recordings, but that still means that this sounds like an essentially comfortable reading, for all the sickening pizzicato crunches of its fight scene. Pickett limits his continuo to solo harpsichord, but a more extreme stripping-down comes in the account by Marco Beasley and Diego Fasolis, which features just them – a tenor and a harpsichordist. Beasley’s intimate storytelling and folk-like style have the seductive ring of the troubadour, but the necessary rewrites to the score make this a curiosity rather than a recommendable version. Beasley returned to the piece in 2006 with ‘proper’ string accompaniment directed by Guido Morini, but without the same spark.

Beasley’s performances do reflect an important new development, however: the serious arrival on the scene of Italian performers. Sadly,Sergio Vartolo’s reading is maddeningly mannered and drawn-out (taking nearly 26 minutes), but Gabriel Garrido’s 1997 version with Ensemble Elyma, extracted from a larger Tasso-based stage entertainment (therefore kitted out with an introductory sinfonia), is both more natural and more compelling, with swift, angry action and an imposing but lyrical baritone Narrator in Furio Zanasi. Like Rooley,Rinaldo Alessandrini came to Combattimento in 1998 in the course of a complete cycle with Concerto Italiano (the Consort of Musicke’s successors as kings of the Monteverdi madrigal). Here, too, there’s a sinfonia (by Dario Castello), leading to a reading of urgent and intelligently shaped drama, tighter and harder than Garrido’s, and with a Narrator in Roberto Abbondanza who projects strongly but stops short of the histrionics of Paliatsaras and Nasrawi, striking home all the more effectively for it.

Another recording that would have attracted interest on release isRené Jacobs’s with Concerto Vocale in 2000 – a typically incident-packed and colourful interpretation in which the drama very much dictates the music’s flow. The authoritative and dark-voiced Narrator of Victor Torres and the vivid role playing of Kobie van Rensburg and Salomé Haller create a fiery, edge-of-control atmosphere that suits the warlike scene perfectly.

Even without comparison with the last two, Sandro Volta’s all-Italian account would already sound weak and scrappy, and Roberto Gini’s second recording, also from 2003, accomplished but polite. More detailed is Françoise Lasserre’s loving reading from the year after, with Narrator Jan Van Elsacker relishing the tenderer moments in particular in a performance that – if not quite capturing the drama of Alessandrini or Jacobs – gathers you in its rolling momentum.

Claudio Cavina’s recording with La Venexiana was another to be part of a complete madrigal cycle. With a soft-edged Narrator in Mario Cecchetti (who had sung the role for Gini the previous year), these admired Monteverdi interpreters give an individual reading in which the details are thought through and lingered over (not least the normally rapid-fire text delivery in the fight scene), resulting in a performance lasting 25 minutes. Inserting the harp solo from ‘Possente spirto’ at the start of ‘Notte’ is over-clever, though, symbolic only of the fact that this performance needs more naturalness.


Then came two compelling one-offs in 2005. First, Emmanuelle Haïm wheeled in a rather big gun for her Narrator with Rolando Villazón, whose wide dynamic range, love affair with line, and verismo oomph produce results that, despite a whiff of the 19th century, can set the spine tingling. Sometimes a performance is just too splendid to resist, and this is one of them, though I do wonder if it is really true to the atmosphere of Tasso and Monteverdi’s world. Even more out on a limb, however, is Anna Caterina Antonacci’s solo account. The playing of Modo Antiquo under Federico Maria Sardelliis frankly not so exciting, but all ears will anyway be on Antonacci – dark, grand, feisty and totally inhabiting the music (she once huskily described the piece as ‘a pass-ion fight’). Like Villazón’s, this performance is somehow wrong, but also somehow so right.

The 2009 account by Le Poème Harmonique is rich, agile and atmospheric, with flow between sections expertly managed byVincent Dumestre. The playing is vivid, Marc Mauillon’s Narrator is penetrating and heartfelt (if lacking the authority of some rivals), and there’s a moving swell in sound at the moment of Clorinda’s conversion. And, bringing us up to date, the most recent version of all comes from Jonathan Cohen and Arcangelo, recorded last year. James Gilchrist is not as vocally imposing or belligerent a Narrator as some others, but he does show strong commitment to text and atmosphere in an intimate emotional reading. Cohen directs with shape and careful momentum, but it’s a pity that the instruments, though well played, lack presence and attack in the church acoustic.

Of the 27 recordings listed here, I can’t imagine that many will fail to take pleasure in those by Goebel, Rooley, Sempé, Stubbs, Pickett, Garrido, Lasserre, Dumestre and Cohen. Those by Holman, Haïm, Cavina and Antonacci/Sardelli have that little bit more interest, either for drama, musical flow or quirkiness, but in the end Christie, Jacobs and Alessandrini stand out for the way their ideas and performers pull together. Choosing one of these has had me wavering: sometimes I’ve favoured Christie’s fine balance of dramatic incident and musical intelligence; slightly more often I’ve weakened for Alessandrini’s bolder combination of the same attributes. Jacobs’s has kept coming back to me, however. Some may feel that it’s too colourful or tries too hard (not new criticisms of Jacobs), but it really hits home when it needs to, and as Haller draws out her long dying note, you remember Monteverdi’s description of the work’s astonished early audiences: ‘moved to such compassion that eyes were moist’.


René Jacobs

(Harmonia Mundi)

This one won’t please everyone, but, as is so often the case with Jacobs, strong ideas strongly realised really do a memorable interpretation make. In a tough field it won my vote for its moments of emotional power, successfully integrated into a coherent yet dramatically urgent whole.



Rinaldo Alessandrini


Roberto Abbondanza is an imposing Narrator in a finely judged balance of musical and dramatic needs. This is a bold and confident all-Italian version that, more than any, seems at ease with Monteverdi’s musico-dramatic world. If Jacobs annoys, this won’t disappoint.



William Christie

(Harmonia Mundi)

Nicolas Rivenq is a splendid Testo; and exuding a faultlessly managed sense of flow, Christie reminds us that when it comes to Baroque music drama his musicality, skill and understanding rarely fail him.



Emmanuelle Haïm


Awesome singing from Rolando Villazón is set within a performance skilfully driven by Haïm. The 19th-century vocal style will irk some, but you’d be a fool to miss this. (Antonacci’s compelling solo version is likewise a must-hear.)

Selected Discography

Date / Artists / Record company (review date)

1971 Harper (C), Wakefield (T), Alva (N); ECO / Leppard Philips 426 4512PBQ (7/73 (R), 1/75 (R) – nla); 426 2432

1975 Aragón (C), Spanier (T), Vandersteene (N); Clemencic Consort /Clemencic Harmonia Mundi HMA190 986

1978 Kwella (C), Thomas (T), Rogers (N); Musica Antiqua Köln /Goebel Archiv 415 296-2AH (12/81 (R), 5/86)

1980 Schmidt (C), Equiluz (T), Hollweg (N); Concentus Musicus Wien /Harnoncourt Warner 2564 69052-5 (9/89 (R), 2/94 (R))

1986 Poulenard (C), Cantor (T), Laczó (N); Grande Ecurie; Chambre du Roy / Malgoire CBS MK44688 (10/89 – nla)

1987 Cadelo (C), Gaifa (T), Manno (N); Ens Conc / Gini Tactus TC561301

1988 Zádori (C), Klietmann (T), De Mey (N); Capella Savaria /McGegan Hungaroton HCD12952 (2/89)

1989 Kirkby (C), Agnew (T), King (N); Consort of Musicke / RooleyVirgin 561571-2; 083397-2; 562268-2 (3/92 (R))

1991 Pierard (C), Padmore (T), Potter (N); Red Byrd, Parley of Insts /Holman Hyperion CDH55165 (9/92 (R))

1991 Malakate (C), Aymonino (T), Paliatsaras (N); Capriccio Stravagante / Sempé DHM 05472 77190-2 (2/94)

1992 Semellaz (C), Brand (T), Rivenq (N); Arts Florissants / ChristieHarmonia Mundi HMA195 1426 (10/93 (R))

1992 Borden (C), Righetti (T), Nasrawi (N); Tragicomedia / StubbsWarner 2564 69613-8 (10/93 (R))

1993 Beasley; Fasolis hpd Dynamic CDS384

1993 Bott (C), King (T), Ainsley (N); New London Consort / PickettL’Oiseau-Lyre 440 637-2OH (6/95)

1995 Banditelli (C), Abbondanza (T), Carmignani (N); San Petronio Cappella Musicale / Vartolo Naxos 8 553322

1997 Pennichi (C), Caccamo (T), Zanasi (N); Elyma Ens / Garrido K617 K617 095/2 (9/99)

1998 Franzetti (C), Ferrarini (T), Abbondanza (N); Conc Italiano /Alessandrini Naïve OP30435 (12/98 (R))

2000 Haller (C), Van Rensburg (T), Torres (N); Conc Vocale / JacobsHarmonia Mundi HMC90 1736/7 (5/03)

2003 Bertotti (C), Di Donato (T), Cecchetti (N); Ens Conc / GiniDynamic CDS478

2003 Martorana (C), Zane (T), Gaspari (N); Ens Symphonia Perusina /Volta Tactus TC561308

2004 Galli (C), Maletto (T), Cecchetti (N); Venexiana / Cavina Glossa GCD920928 (2/06)

2004 Laurens (C), Lamy (T), Van Elsacker (N); Akadêmia / LasserreZig-Zag Territoires ZZT051003 (7/06)

2005 Ciofi (C), Lehtipuu (T), Villazón (N); Concert d’Astrée / HaïmVirgin 363350-2 (2/07)

2005 Antonacci; Modo Antiquo / Sardelli Naïve V5050 (5/06)

2006 Beasley; Accordone / Morini Cypres CYP1645 (10/06)

2009 Druet (C), Van Elsacker (T), Mauillon (N); Poème Harmonique /Dumestre Alpha ALPHA172 (3/11)

2013 Gilchrist; Arcangelo / Cohen Hyperion CDA68019 (3/14)

Key: (C)Clorinda, (T)Tancredi, (N)Narrator (Testo)

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Gramophone’s Top 10 Bartók recordings

Posted on 17 February 2016 by admin

These are 10 of the finest recordings of Bartók recordings listed in Gramophone.

Concerto for Orchestra

Chicago Symphony Orchestra / Fritz Reiner


‘A classic recording by one of the master Bartók conductors. With staggering playing by the Chicago Symphony and recording that simply doesn’t sound its age, this is a magnificent achievement. RCA’s sound reportage of the Concerto for Orchestra has uncanny realism, and if the climaxes are occasionally reined in, the fervour of Reiner’s direction more than compensates…’

String Quartets

Emerson String Quartet


‘The impression one gains from these recordings (I have not seen the Quartet in the concert hall) is of massive tonal projection and superlative clarity, each textural strand coloured and made audible to a degree possibly unrivalled in the recorded history of these works. DG’s close brightly-lit, yet never oppressive recording quality must share some of the credit for that, of course. Combine this with controlled vehemence, headlong velocity and razor-sharp unanimity (any fast movement from quartets two to five can serve as illustration) and you have a formidable alliance of virtues…’

Violin Concerto No 2

Patricia Kopatchinskaja vnFrankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra / Peter Eötvös


‘Bartók’s Second Violin Concerto has long since been accorded classic status and in – my guess – making a determined effort to ‘think it new’, Kopatchinskaja and Eötvös sometimes risk exaggerating what is already pretty intense. The effect can be downright hectic; but it’s a mightily exciting account, which certainly doesn’t rush its fences or sell the score short. When Bartók slackens the tension and allows lyric reflectiveness to emerge, as in the first movement’s development, this performance is poetic and subtly shaded to a fault; and even though the second and third movements are usually played with a somewhat lighter touch, I found the sheer intensity of Kopatchinskaja and Eötvös’s advocacy compelling…’

The Miraculous Mandarin

Budapest Festival Orchestra / Iván Fischer


‘As Mandarins go, they don’t come more miraculous than this – a vivid, no-holds-barred performance that henceforth tops my list of current recommendations. Everything tells – the flavour is right, the pacing too and the sound has a toughened, raw-edged quality that is an essential constituent of Bartók’s tonal language…Delicacy trails bullish aggression, forcefulness alternates with an almost graphic suggestiveness – and it’s all there in the full score. Fischer never vulgarizes, brutalizes or overstates the case and, what is most important, he underlines those quickly flickering, folkish elements in Bartók’s musical language (they are everywhere in evidence) that other, less intuitive conductors barely acknowledge…’

Violin Sonatas

Isabelle Faust vn Florent Boffard, Ewa Kupiec pfs

(Harmonia Mundi)

‘Here Faust approaches the music from a Bachian axis: her tone is pure, her double-stopping immaculate (and never abrasive) and her sense of timing acute. She obviously relishes the score’s balance of colour and counterpoint, and her performance is distinguished by a combination of musical intuition and technical finesse (a good place to sample is 5’49” into the first movement).I would strongly urge you to purchase this superb disc, even if you already own recordings of both works…’

Bluebeard’s Castle

Nimsgern, Troyanos; BBC Symphony Orchestra / Pierre Boulez


‘Boulez’s pacing is ideally judged—in fact, throughout this memorable performance, he balances the constituent parts of Bartok’s rich tonal palette with a meticulous ear, patiently scaling the score’s many texturally complex climaxes. Nimsgern is a tortured, yet commanding Bluebeard, vocally excellent and interpretatively compelling, although the recording does sometimes lend his voice an untypically cavernous quality…’

Piano Concertos

Géza Anda pf Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra / Ferenc Fricsay


‘Much as one would like to tout the new as the best, there are some older recordings where a very special chemistry spells ‘definitive’, and that pose an almost impossible challenge to subsequent rivals. Such is this 1959 recording of Bartók’s Second Piano Concerto, a tough, playful, pianistically aristocratic performance where dialogue is consistently keen and spontaneity is captured on the wing (even throughout numerous sessions). The first movement is relentless but never tires the ear; the second displays two very different levels of tension, one slow and mysterious, the other hectic but controlled; and although others might have thrown off the finale’s octaves with even greater abandon, Anda’s performance is the most successful in suggesting savage aggression barely held in check…’

Piano Sonata

Zoltán Kocsis pf


‘Kocsis’s mastery of tone, rhythm and articulation, allied to his painstaking attention to important source material (namely Bartók’s scores and records), make for a level of pianistic distinction that is fairly unique in this repertory. To say that, with Kocsis, ‘less is more’ is to suggest executive reticence, which is certainly not the case…this is unquestionably one of the great piano records of the post-war period…’

Violin Concertos

Arabella Steinbachervn Orchestre de la Suisse Romande / Marek Janowski


‘Arabella Steinbacher and Marek Janowski offer us Bartók in 3D, the three dimensions not only spatial but emotional as well. I can’t think of a version of the Second Concerto, past or present, where structure and content are more thoughtfully balanced, or where significant points in the score are more lovingly underlined. I lost count of the number of times I paused the CD player to note this or that salient detail…’

Piano Concertos

Jean-Efflam Bavouzet pf BBC Philharmonic Orchestra / Gianandrea Noseda


‘If you’re after a disc of Bartók’s piano concertos that maximises on the music’s drive, elegance and sparring potential, then you could hardly do better than this ear-catching new production by Jean-Efflam Bavouzet and the BBC Philharmonic under the spirited direction of Gianandrea Noseda. Rarely have I encountered a reading of the First Concerto where, in the first movement especially, the sense of instrumental interplay is so consistently vital…’

Explore Bartók’s life and music…

Béla Bartók – the life and music of the Hungarian maverick

Béla Bartók’s music takes listeners on a journey through folklore and fantasy. Rob Cowan offers a guide to exploring his compelling genius…

Inside Bartók’s Solo Violin Sonata

Rob Cowan talks to violinist James Ehnes about the demands of Bartók’s Solo Violin Sonata…

Bartók’s piano concertos – the pianist’s sternest test

Tackling Bartók’s three piano concertos is tantamount to conquering Mount Everest – but is the view from the summit worth the climb, asks Geoffrey Norris…

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Gramophone the best classical recordings of 2015 digital magazine free download

Posted on 29 December 2015 by admin

You can enjoy the free digital magazine via Exact Editions, or by downloading the Gramophone app. The below introduce is from Gramophone.

There is always going to be a demand for great music in great performances, and recorded music will always be an essential adjunct to what happens in the concert hall and opera house. It’s what we’ve been celebrating since 1923 when Compton Mackenzie saw an opportunity to comment on what then was a fairly new medium. I think he’d have been amazed at the breadth of the recorded offering that arrives at our offices week after week. And I think he’d have been equally amazed at the staggeringly high level of performance the vast majority of new recordings attain. Of course, as the old adage goes, ‘the good is the enemy of the best’. This digital magazineisn’t about the good; it’s about the best!

Drawing together the 10 recordings selected as Editor’s Choices each month, led off by a Recording of the Month, we offer 130 releases (we publish a magazine each month and an extra Awards issue) that we are proud to stand by as the finest of 2015. Add to that the 13 recordings that received Gramophone Awards – and there are inevitably overlaps between the monthly selection and this annual event – and you have a pretty impressive line-up that reflects the breadth and depth of the classical industry’s annual output.

Our Recording of the Year is a posthumous release from Claudio Abbado, a powerful live performance of Bruckner’s Ninth Symphony, recorded at the last concert Abbado conducted. There are many different, and powerful, currents at work here, but at the end of the day, it’s a mightily impressive reading of one of music’s great unfinished creations.

It’s always heartening when a work from the ‘core’ repertoire receives a new, and truly great, recording, and two of this year’s Recordings of the Month also took Awards (bearing in mind only half of the year’s releases were eligible for the 2015 Awards – July to December will have their chance next year!): Piotr Anderzewski’s stunning recording of three Bach English Suites and the Pavel Haas Quartet’sSmetana string quartets. Both recordings must take their place alongside the classics that already have a special place in the catalogue.

Whether you buy your music on CD, download it or stream it, there’s bound to be something in the pages that follow that will pique your interest and, I hope, provide you with the pleasure that a great recording can. Once again, we present this digital magazine in association with Qobuz – simply click on the sleeve image and (provided you live in a country where Qobuz operate) you can sample the recordings as you read.

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