14 June, 2009

Listening Log 15/06/09: Why lesser known?

Listening Log 15/06/09: Why lesser known?

It's never been clear to me why many excellent conductors, from Ansermet to von Matacic, are not so well known today. Compared to the many over-praised conductors around today, all of them are giants. One such person is Rudolf Kempe, who died an early death in 1975. I just heard his RPO Scheherazade, which blew me out of my seat, and in my other Blog I wrote a little note on some of my favorite Kempe recordings. I never heard people mentioning this recording, but it certainly is one of the best around in both performance and sound. Please refer to the link for more info.

Bjarte Engeset deserves more recognition as conductor. He also writes the best notes on Grieg that I have read. e.g. he points out the pentatonic opening of Morning Mood. No wonder I always feel the opening to sound like Butterfly Lovers (the reverse actually). His Grieg recordings for Naxos are uniformly superb. I just picked up hid Peer Gynt suites with the Malmo SO. The interpretation made me sit up straight all the way. His conducting is symphonic, maintaining all instrumental lines with a frim hand and fastidiously weighted dynamics. What a refreshing change from smoothly generic performances of this much-loved masterpiece! The orchestral songs are first-rate, and the soprano is sensationally expressive in Solveig's Song and Solveig's Cradle Song. Recording is demonstration grade. Don't forget the equally excellent companion Norwegian Dances with the RSNO, a CD I had highly recommended before. These Naxos CDs are now among my favorite Grieg recordings, fully on par with Barbirolli!

On to some lesser known choral works. Berio's Sinfonia has always been one of my favorite modern pieces. The performance on this DG issue is marvelous, helped immensely by a super recording (even TAS praised it). I actually think this CD is highly suitable for audiohphiles. It has everything, 8 voices and non-ending succession of unusual sounds, suitable even for those who don't listen to classical music.

The excellence of the chamber choir Accentus, under thier female leader Laurence Equilbey, surpised me. They made the Schonberg a capella pieces actually more beautiful than austere! The Naive recording is of course excellent.

Mercury's bargain Kubelik/CSO set is worthwhile for fans of this conductor. The early 1950's MONO sound is excellent, though there is a little overload occasionally. The Dvorak 9th and Ma Vlast, 2 of Kubelik's staples, are highly characterful and compare well with his stereo remakes. Both Kubelik and the CSO's performances are also more lively in those days than later. A fine issue.

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