Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – The Last 6 Symphonies
Philharmonia Orchestra / New Philharmonia Orchestra – Otto Klemperer
3xSACD | ISOs (2.0): 6,52 GB | 24B/88,2kHz Stereo FLAC: 2,90 GB | Full Artwork
Label/Cat#: EMI Classics # 50999 9 55932 2 | Country/Year: Europe 2012 (1956-1962) | 3% Recovery Info
Genre: Classical | Style: Viennese School, Orchestral, Historical Recording

In the online discussions about the best recorded versions of the Mozart symphonies there is little reference made to Otto Klemperer, although at one time his EMI recordings of the last several Mozart symphonies were considered the epitome. His various recordings have been available in one form or another ever since his first LPs came out in the late 1950s.

After Klemperer escaped Germany when Hitler came to power, he had a difficult time in the U.S., even getting himself arrested. In 1954 a young agent in NYC arranged for him to conduct a concert in Portland, Oregon. He became famous overnight with his superb performance of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, and he ended up in London, where he was asked to conduct EMI’s house band, the Philharmonia. Most British orchestras of the period played well enough to get by but were not first rate. Klemperer fired up the Philharmonia and made London a benchmark for orchestral excellence during the 1960s.

These recordings were originally made in 1956 thru 1962. The first couple of Mozart Symphonies were done in mono in 1956, but then stereophonic recording hit the record business and Klemperer did them over again in stereo for a set of the last six. (No. 37 was discovered in 1907 to have been actually by Michael Haydn, not Mozart.) These are full-bodied performances of great power and knowledge, yet with sensitivity when required. Klemperer may have a reputation for stodgy tempi, but actually the rhythm force of his conducting relieves any of these movements from sounding too slow. The music can still be light and graceful when required – such as in the minuet movements.

Klemper divided up the string sections, making for more interesting spatial effects in stereo, and although the EMI Great Recordings of the Century series did an OK job with reissuing these Mozart performances, they don’t begin to reveal the thrilling and highly detailed sonics heard on this new SACD remastered series. This time EMI’s engineers did it right, playing the original tapes on refurbished Studer open reel decks, using noise reduction judiciously if at all, and converting to 96K/24-bit PCM before mastering to stereo SACD.

This is what might be called big band Mozart, with none of the modern early music refinements coming into play as in the cycles of Pinnock or Hogwood. This is Mozart on modern instruments in a large-sized orchestra – not just 40 musicians like some so-called “authentic” recordings. On the other hand, Klemperer has a different approach to this music that he obviously adored and was fully familiar with. While cycles by Mackerras, Bohm, Karajan, Bruno Walter and others may compete in some ways, Klemperer’s efforts stand up amazingly well now that one can hear details in the recordings which were never exposed before except in the mastering studio. And like the RCA Living Stereo SACDs, they are available at bargain prices!

—John Sunier ~audiophile-audition

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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – Concertos for 2 & 3 Pianos
Haydn Sinfonietta Wien / Ronald Brautigam, Alexei Lubimov & Manfred Huss
SACD ISO (2.0/MCH): 3,13 GB | 24B/88,2kHz Stereo FLAC: 1,04 GB | Full Artwork
Label/Cat#: BIS # BIS-SACD-1618 | Country/Year: Sweden 2007 | 3% Recovery Info
Genre: Classical | Style: Viennese School

This is a truly lovely recording, with original instruments, beautifully played, with devotion and care. It is also possibly the closest you will ever get to how it would have sounded, performed by the composer himself, had the technology been available to capture it when Mozart was alive.

The first piece, Concerto in E flat major for Two Pianos KV 365, also known as Piano Concerto No. 10, was the last of Mozart’s piano concertos written in Salzburg, before he left for Vienna. He composed it for his sister Nannerl and himself, and right from the start, it is obvious that she was also a gifted keyboard performer. In this recording, the piece is performed in its two versions: the original from 1779, with a small orchestra, and the other from 1782 with an extended orchestra, which deservedly gives it a certain grandeur. The work is built in three movements and is challenging for both soloists. The parts for the two pianos are equally assigned and Mozart was careful to divide up the most striking and virtuosic passages evenly between the two solo players. The first movement, Allegro, opens with a long, ambitious orchestral introduction. Both pianos finally enter together, briefly alternating introductory phrases, as if exchanging ideas with each other, to then join again in the first theme. A second theme appears afterwards, more dramatic, giving briefly the impression that something bad might be about to happen, but this never takes place. The orchestra puts an end to it by repeating the opening and leading the movement to its finish, a beautifully fluid cadenza and coda. This is brilliantly delivered by Alexei Lubimov, who plays piano 1, and Ronald Brautigam, who plays piano 2. It is all done in a suitably witty, playful and charming manner and one can imagine two siblings performing and enjoying themselves together. This fact was natural for both Wolfgang and Nannerl, who were used to performing together from a very young age but who also understood and liked each other on a personal level. The musical rapport between Lubimov and Brautigam is already present in this first movement and does justice to the Mozart siblings.

In the second movement, Andante, slow and refined, they continue the playful dialogue as if engaging in a healthy, joyful competition. After the introductory theme, a minuet, by the orchestra, the same theme appears in the pianos, divided into two solo passages to allow the soloists to demonstrate their skills individually. The two pianists soon seem to flow together again, as the movement progresses, nicely leading and accompanying each other, beautifully alternating with the orchestra though it suitably stays in the background allowing the two keyboard performers to shine. This movement finishes almost abruptly, to take us into the finale, Rondeau, Allegro, wonderfully scored by Mozart to the instruments of his day. It has such size and power that one cannot help but wonder what he would have achieved with modern day grand pianos. Again, Lubimov and Brautigam, excel and deliver the piece perfectly, with rhythmic drive and equal elegance both in the lyrical graceful passages and in the exuberant return to the main rondo theme. They left me enchanted, wishing that I could have been present to participate in such musical joy.

To my mind, the greatest achievement of the two soloists is undoubtedly the fact that very often one wonders if there are two pianos or only one, though some of the score would be physically impossible for one soloist. Without the actual view of the two pianists on stage, it is difficult to believe that, in some passages, we are listening to two distinct people. We have in Lubimov and Brautigam, two musicians of unquestionable virtuosity, who perform the piece on the fortepianos of Mozart’s time and, I believe, as the composer intended, telling musical stories playfully to each other while interfacing and alternating with the orchestra, who also use period instruments. The Haydn Sinfonietta Wien plays wonderfully throughout, suitably cushioning the two soloists, taking them along or gently conversing. Manfred Huss’s direction is expertly sensitive and delicate throughout, demonstrating his great understanding of the period instruments and of the capabilities, not only of the soloists, but also of his musicians. Clearly he feels comfortably at home with the orchestra he founded in 1984 and has led ever since.

The other piece, in this wonderful recording, is the Concerto in F major for Three Pianos KV 242, also known as Piano Concerto No. 7 or the Lodron Concerto. The name Lodron refers to the fact that this was a piece commissioned by the Countess of Lodron for herself and her two daughters. Mozart completed and presented it to her in 1776, aged only twenty. As he frequently did on such occasions, the composer geared each part to the performer who would play it, with the degree of difficulty adjusted to the differences in skill and experience. In this case, two of the solo parts are moderately difficult, while the third, for the younger of the two girls, is carefully written with fewer technical difficulties. The contribution of the third piano is much more modest and in fact the piece loses little when transferred for two soloists. A few years later, Mozart actually composed a different version for only two pianos, which he performed, for the last time, in 1780, in Salzburg, with his sister Nannerl. The fact that the solo parts do not require virtuoso performances, has sometimes caused the work to be dismissed as one of Mozart’s weaker pieces, however it cannot be rendered unimaginative. One should never forget that he composed it, not for himself but for three lady amateurs who were his students and who naturally wanted a piece that would give delight to themselves as performers as well as to their guests as listeners.

The first movement, Allegro, has an almost roaring opening by the orchestra and soon the combined presence of the three soloists produces rich, though not complex counterpoint, maintaining a charming, pleasant quality throughout, delicate and enchanting, almost feminine in style. These attributes are repeated in the third and final movement, Rondeau, Tempo di Minuetto, as the name indicates, like a minuet, which gives each soloist considerable attention, allowing them to shine as individuals though assigning to the orchestra the responsibility of building up to a dramatic finale. It is the second movement, Adagio, which contains expression equal to Mozart’s greatest works, defined by its lyrical, melodic passages. The two soloists from the Concerto in E flat major for Two Pianos, Lubimov and Brautigam, are here joined by Huss who conducts the orchestra from the keyboard, playing the third piano part. They deliver it with the same delightful, joyful enthusiasm which they had previously applied to the more virtuosic parts of the Concerto for Two Pianos. The result is totally charming, delicate, pleasantly poetic and entertaining, perfectly interpreting the composer’s intentions of making his three lady students shine in the presence of their guests. Again the Haydn Sinfonietta rises to the occasion, enhancing the performances of the three soloists, as well as carrying out the responsibility given them by the composer to deliver the more complex, dramatic parts, as the countess and her two daughters were moderately skilful performers.

The sound of the fortepianos and the orchestra is gloriously pure and clear throughout, giving the concertos a fresh, crystalline quality and purity of tone that I have seldom heard. The technical superiority of the SACD hybrid disc is very obvious, leaving one wondering why the record labels do not do more of these, particularly for classical compositions.

In short, this CD is a delight from begin to end. It will make you want to see and hear the two pieces performed live because only then can one fully enjoy the virtuosic playfulness and beauty of the musical interchange between the two pianos in the Concerto in E flat major; not to mention the pure divertimento of the Concerto in F major, which is a recreational, uplifting and entertaining.

Margarida Mota-Bull ~musicweb-international

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Valery Gergiev, Kirov Orchestra – Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherazade (2002)
PS3 Rip | SACD ISO | DST64 2.0 & 5.1 > 1-bit/2.8224 MHz | 62:10 minutes | Scans included (PDF) | 4,42 GB
or FLAC 2.0 Stereo (converted with foobar2000 to tracks) 24bit/88,2 kHz | Scans included (PDF) | 1,16 GB
Features Stereo and Multichannel surround sound | Decca / Philips # 470618-2

Of all the conductors who were trained in the last days of the Soviet Union, Valery Gergiev is surely the hottest. With a stunning series of recordings of Russian operas — from Mussorgsky’s Boris to Prokofiev’s Betrothal in a Monastery — Gergiev and his Kirov Opera Chorus and Orchestra, along with the best singers in Russia, have produced the most exciting and revelatory opera performances in the past decade. Nor have Gergiev and the Kirov Orchestra slighted the symphonic repertoire. They have recorded the works of Stravinsky, Scriabin, and Mussorgsky to great critical acclaim. This recording of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Shéhérazade, coupled with Borodin’s In the Steppes of Central Asia and Lyapunov’s orchestration of Balakirev’s Islamey, is easily in the same league as Gergiev’s earlier recordings and is as good or better than the best recordings of the past. In Shéhérazade, Gergiev stresses the extravagant color and explosive movement of the score and finds the dramatic structure of the work in its balletic forms. When it comes to In the Steppes, Gergiev illuminates the magnificence of his compositional structure through the brilliance of Borodin’s orchestration. And in the riotous Islamey, the Kirov’s staggering display of ensemble virtuosity serves only to heighten the delirious excitement of the music. This is as great a recording of Russian music as has ever been made, with stupendous sound from Philips. (more…)

Monserrat Caballé, José Carreras, Sir Colin Davis, Royal Opera House – Puccini: Tosca (1976) [Reissue 2006]
PS3 Rip | SACD ISO | DST64 2.0 & 4.0 > 1-bit/2.8224 MHz | 118:24 minutes | Scans | 5,3 GB
or FLAC(converted with foobar2000 to tracks) 24bit/88,2 kHz | Full Artwork | 1,94 GB
Features Stereo & Quadrophonic Surround sound | Pentatone Music B.V. # 5186 147

Caballé’s Tosca is one of the most ravishingly on record, with scarcely a less than beautiful note throughout, save where an occasional phrase lies a touch low for her. She doesn’t quite have the ‘prima donna’ (in quotes, mind) temperament for the part (the coquettish malice of ‘but make her eyes black!’, as Tosca forgives Cavaradossi for using a blonde stranger as model for his altarpiece of the Magdalen, isn’t in Caballé’s armoury; either that or she knows that her voice would sound arch attempting it), but her portrayal is much more than a display of lovely sounds. She’s precise with words, takes minute care over phrasing, and she knows to a split second where dead-centre precise pitching becomes crucial. Carreras’s Cavaradossi is one of his best recorded performances: the voice untarnished, the line ample, and if he’s tempted at times to over-sing one forgives the fault for the sake of his poetic ardour. José Carreras recorded Tosca twice in the 1970s–his best years–but his voice was much better for Colin Davis when recording this set in 1976 than it was for Herbert von Karajan’s 1979 interpretation. Wixell is the fly in the ointment: a capable actor and an intelligent artist, but his gritty timbre lacks centre and thus the necessary dangerous suavity. Davis’s direction is flexible but dramatic and finely detailed, and the secondary singers are all very good. The recording, despite some rather unconvincing sound effects, still sounds very well, with space around the voices and a natural balance between them and the orchestra. (more…)

Mirella Freni, Jose Carreras, Wiener Philharmoniker, Herbert von Karajan – Verdi: Aida (1980) [Japan 2012]
PS3 Rip | 3x SACD ISO | DSD64 2.0 > 1-bit/2.8224 MHz | 155:04 minutes | Scans included | 6,23 GB
or FLAC(converted with foobar2000 to tracks) 24bit/88,2 kHz | Scans included | 2,48 GB
Japanese SACD Reissue 2012 | EMI Classics / Esoteric Company, Japan # ESSE 9074~6

The reissue of classical music masterpieces by ESOTERIC has attracted a lot of attention, both for its uncompromising commitment to recreating the original master sound, and for using hybrid Super Audio CD (SACD) technology to improve sound quality. This series marks the first hybrid SACD release of historical recording selections that have been mainstays of the catalog since their initial release.
The criterion of re-mastering is to faithfully capture the quality of the original master. ESOTERIC’s flag ship D/A converters, model D-01VU, Rubidium master clock generator model G-0Rb and ESOTERIC MEXCEL interconnect cables and power cords, were all used for this re-mastering session. This combination of highly advanced technology greatly contributed to capturing the high quality sound of the original master.

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Hector Berlioz – Symphonie fantastique – Los Angeles Philharmonic, Gustavo Dudamel (2013)
FLAC (tracks) 24 bit/96 kHz | Time – 01:00:58 minutes | 951 MB | Genre: Classical
Official Digital Download – Source: highresaudio.com | @ Deutsche Grammophon
Recorded: Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles, United States, May 2008

In his “Fantastic Symphony in Five Parts,” a literal translation of the composer’s final title, Berlioz tells a musical tale with himself as the central character – creating not only a mood (as in Liszt’s symphonic poems), but states of mind and precise, physical situations. Nothing like it had been attempted on this scale before.

Berlioz’s new concept of how far one could go in dramatic music without resorting to a vocal text once caused considerable polemicizing over whether such music was viable without reference to the “story.” Wagner’s great friend and champion, Eduard Dannreuther, took the negative tack: “The Symphonie fantastique, particularly its finale, is sheer nonsense when the hearer has no knowledge of the program.”

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