Music – great performances of great pieces on CD

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Music – great performances of great pieces on CD

This is a list of the best performances I have heard of the music I like the best. The list is undoubtedly controversial, but perhaps useful to many music lovers. All the performances listed here are, or have been, available on CD, except where noted. The dates given, unless otherwise noted, are the dates that the recordings were originally made.

You will see many older recordings listed here. This is not primarily because I have ceased to watch closely recent recordings, but is mostly due to my conviction that there was a time in classical music performance history when older, more lively, more passionate traditions were still alive, and a technically very proficient, less eccentric tradition was rapidly being developed. This period of overlapping traditions, the great era of classical music performance, lasted from about 1945 to 1965 roughly. Still, this era, generally speaking, was lacking in its performance of Baroque opera and oratorio. It is only with great artists like Cecilia Bartoli that thrilling performances of this music have surfaced.

Allegri, Miserere

Peter Phillips (cond.), The Tallis Scholars

Bach, Toccata and Fugue in F Major BWV 540, Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor BWV 582, Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C Major BWV 564  played by Carl Weinrich on the organ in Varfrukyrka (Our Lady’s Church) in the city of Skannige, 180 miles south of Stockholm. Weinrich had a rhythmic sense, and a sense of the harmonic rhythm of a phrase [and of whole sections], that is unsurpassed by any organist to whom I have ever listened.  And something wonderful happened to the man when he sat down at that particular organ in Skannige, Sweden.

Available on CD, including the pieces I have listed above. The contents of the 2-CD set are listed below. What a bonanza. Check it out at  http://www.baroquecds.com/

Disc 1

1: Toccata & Fugue in D Minor BWV 565

2: Prelude & Fugue in A Minor BWV 543

3: Passacaglia & Fugue in C Minor BWV 582

4: Prelude & Fugue in E Minor BWV 533

5: Prelude (Toccata) & Fugue in F Major BWV 540

6: Prelude (Toccata) & Fugue (Dorian) BWV 538

7: Allabreve in D Major BWV 589

8: Two Chorale Fughettas BWV 678 & 679

Disc 2

1: Prelude & Fugue in G Major BWV 541

2: Prelude & Fugue in F Minor BWV 534

3: Prelude & Fugue in B Minor BWV 544

4: Trio Sonata No. 4 in E Minor BWV 528

5: Toccata, Adagio & Fugue in C Major BWV 564

6: Prelude & Fugue in D Major BWV 532

7: Trio in G Major for Organ BWV 1027a

8: Chorale on “O Lamm Gottes unschuldig” BWV 656

Bach/Busoni, Prelude and Fugue in D Major, BWV 532 played by Emil Gilels (piano). Both live performances are super. I prefer the Leningrad performance from 1968 to the Carnegie Hall performance from 1969. (One wonders what Bach would have thought, could he have heard this. Personally, I think he would have been bowled over. I sure am.)

Bach, Cantata BWV #106  (Actus Tragicus) “Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit”

I like several recordings of this great cantata:

Felix Prohaska, Teresa Stich-Randall, Dagmar Hermann, Anton Dermota, Hans Braun, Vienna State Opera Orchestra and Choir. (An excellent, older recording that was available as a Vanguard CD. Coupled with Bach, Cantata “Jesu, der du meine Seele”  BWV 78. [See below.] Teresa Stich-Randall on the “Ja, ja, ja komm, Herr Jesu” is perfect.)

Emma Kirkby (soprano), Michael Chance (counter-tenor), Charles Daniels (tenor), Peter Harvey (bass), The Purcell Quartet. (My favorite recording of this piece. I didn’t like it at first, being used to older styles of performance. But this performance grew on me.)

Joshua Rifkin, Ann Monoyios,Steven Rickards, Edmund Brownless, Jan Opalach, The Bach Ensemble

Hermann Scherchen (cond.), Hilde Roessel-Majdan (contralto), Alfred Poell (bass), Wiener Akademie Kammerchor, Vienna State Opera Orchestra. (Lots of things to criticize in this performance, but despite its flaws, it somehow captures the mystery of this piece superbly.) Available from  http://www.baroquecds.com/.

Bach, Cantata BWV #12 “Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen”

Emma Kirkby (soprano), Michael Chance (counter-tenor), Charles Daniels (tenor), Peter Harvey (bass), The Purcell Quartet.  (The first chorus, of course, Bach reuses in the “Crucifuxus” of the B Minor Mass. The parts of this Cantata that Bach does NOT reuse in the B Minor Mass are really good, especially, I think, the aria, “Sei getreu, alle Pein”.)

Bach, Mass in B Minor

I’m not really satisfied with the whole of any of the Bach B Minor Mass recordings. I have to pick a particular recording to listen to a section of the work.

Joshua Rifkin, Jan Opalach, Judith Nelson, Julianne Baird, Frank Hoffmeister, Jeffrey Dooley, Bach Ensemble. (The 1st and best of the “authentic style” performances. The performance of the Credo is excellent.)

Hermann Scherchen, Pierrette Alarie, Nan Merriman, Leopold Simoneau, Gustav Neidlinger, Vienna Academy Chamber Choir, Vienna State Opera Orchestra. (The “Gloria in excelsis”, “Et in terra pax”, “Laudameus te”, “Gratias agimus tibi” on the Scherchen recording are beyond compare, simply wonderful.)

Bach, Cantata “Christ lag in Todesbanden” BWV 4

Karl Richter (cond.), Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (bass), Muenchener Bach-Chor/Orchester. (Forget about authentic instruments, and forget about one voice per chorus part, and just listen to this great recording from 1969.  But, OK, the gestures are exaggerated, overstated, but it’s still stunning. For those who want to hear a more stylistically pure rendition, the Kirby-Chance-Daniels-Harvey performance [coupled with the Cantata BWV #106 mentioned above] is quite good.) (The Richter performance of BWV 4 is available separately, and also is included in the 26 CD set of Bach Cantatas with Richter conducting that was released in 2014 for around $60.)

Bach, Cantata “Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme”  BWV 140

Felix Prohaska (cond.),  Laurence Dutoit, Kurt Equiluz, Hans Braun, Vienna State Chamber Choir and Opera Orchestra

Bach, Cantata “Liebster Gott, wenn werd ich sterben” BWV 8

Karl Richter (cond.), Ursula Buckel, Hertha Toepper, Ernst Haefliger, Kieth Engen, Muenchener Bach-Chor/Orchester. (Recording made in 1959. It can be listened to at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z6dSAjJFyM4. As of 2014, all of the Bach Cantatas that Richter recorded are available on a 26 CD set that can be purchased for around $60.)

Bach, Cantata “Jesu, der du meine Seele”  BWV 78

Felix Prohaska (cond.), Teresa Stich-Randall, Dagmar Hermann, Anton Dermota, Hans Braun, Vienna State Opera and Orchestra. (Recorded in 1954. This was at one time available on a Vanguard CD. The “Wir eilen” duet is still available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ujLK28Nlmq4 .  Don’t miss this.)

Bach, Cantata “Es ist dir gesagt” BWV 45

Karl Richter (cond.), Hertha Toepper, Ernst Haefliger, Kieth Engen, Muenchener Bach Chor/Orchester 1959 (Available from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lDL6C9AsnEM. As of 2014, all of the Bach Cantatas that Richter recorded are available on a 26 CD set that can be purchased for around $60. Incidentally, the concluding Chorale of BWV 45, “Gib, dass ich tu mit Fleiss”, is one of the most accomplished, effective and beautiful harmonizations of a chorale tune that Bach composed.)

Bach, 6 Suites for Cello

I love particularly the Suite No. 6 in D major, BWV 1012.  No one knows for sure what instrument these suites were originally written for. Two of the candidates are the violoncello da spalla and the viola pomposa. The violoncello da spalla, pictured below, is not placed between the legs, but is braced against the shoulder and held against the chest, and probably had 5 strings rather than 4. The viola pomposa has 5 strings, the usual 4 viola strings plus an extra E-string, the same as the violin E-string. It is held on the shoulder.  (Ouch.) Both of these instruments had a curved bow, making the playing of triple- and quadruple-stops a lot easier to play than on the modern cello. Indeed, the modern cello is not the most ideal instrument on which to play these suites. In my list of best performances of these suites, I have omitted Pierre Fournier, whose attempts to play the triple-stops in these suites are very lame and skirted over as quickly as possible.

Viola_da_spalla

1) Pablo Casals (cello)

A cellist of my acquaintance once described to me Casals’ performances of these suites as being “chicken scratchings”. Well, perhaps Casals didn’t have quite the technical facility of a Rostropovich or a Starker, but Casals was by some distance the best musician of the three. It shows in the Cello Suites. Casals’ phrasing is impeccable. Casals’ plays in a much more classical manner than his chief rival in these suites, Rostropovich.  I would just like to add that Casals’ performance of the Sarabande of Suite No. 6 in D major, BWV 1012, is one of my favorite things.

2) Mstislav Rostropovich (cello)

Rostropovich is a great musician, and plays the Bach Cello Suites beautifully, but more romantically than these suites can tolerate, and also quite often with too much force.  That being said, I would not do without these performances in addition to the Casals’ performances.

3) János Starker (cello)

I have not heard the recordings made in the 1990s by Starker. The famous recordings made in the 1970s by Starker (for Mercury) are amazing for their mellifluousness, for their beautiful triple-stops, but also, negatively, for their slowness and their dullness. Also, and most importantly, I find neither Starker’s phrasing nor his placing of melodic emphases convincing, which is too bad, since Starker is one of my very favorite cellists.

Bach, Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin

Nathan Milstein (violin)  (1954-1956)

I am far from having listened to all of the possibly great recordings of these partitas and sonatas. However, I cannot imagine anyone playing them better than Nathan Milstein. His recordings made in 1954-56 for Capitol Records (part of EMI) are wonderfully good. His technical facility in these pieces is every bit as good as Heifetz’s. Milstein’s  musicianship is unsurpassed by any other violin player.  And what is really special about these recordings is the way he makes his violin sing. These recordings are a treasure.  His later recordings on DGG are not as good.

Bartok, String Quartets

Hungarian String Quartet

Beethoven, Symphonies (complete)

(So you want to buy a complete set of Beethoven Symphonies? If you’re going to do that, you might consider the Cluytens set with the Berlin Philharmonic.  It a good set, which has the Berlin Philharmonic before Karajan turned it into an eccentric machine. Andre Cluytens was a fine conductor of Beethoven. No kidding. The performances of the 3rd and 6th Symphonies are excellent, the 9th is quite good. The tempos for the 7th Symphony are lousy.)

Andre Cluytens (cond.), Berlin Philharmonic, G. Brouwenstijn, K. Meyer, N. Gedda, F. Guthrie

Paul Kletzki (cond.), Czech Philharmonic Orchestra/Chorus, I. Wenglor, A. Burmeister, M. Ritzmann, R. Kühne

Update (2015-11-29): I have just heard for the first time Paul Kletzki’s recordings, with the Czech Philharmonic, of all the Beethoven Symphonies (also with the Coriolan and Egmont Overtures). This is my new favorite complete set. To some, these performances of the  symphonies may sound too rough. To me, I think I’m hearing the symphonies closer to how they must have sounded in Beethoven’s time. (And I don’t mean those awful “authentic” performances, i.e., Hogwood, Norrington, and Company that are The Plague, and which are anything but what Beethoven intended.) Kletzki is so good at getting the fire and the articulation of these symphonies that they sound fresh all over again.

Beethoven, Symphony #3 in E-flat Major (Eroica), Op. 55

(I’m afraid I’m given to superlatives. Beethoven was the greatest composer ever. My favorite 4 compositions by any composer are the Symphony #3, Op. 55, the Symphony #7, Op. 92, the String Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 127, and the String Quartet in C# Minor, Op. 131.)

Herbert von Karajan, Philharmonia Orchestra  (1953) (A very fine performance, the 2nd movement played beyond compare. Later von Karajan performances don’t measure up to this one.)

Andre Cluytens (cond.), Berlin Philharmonic   (Honorable mention.)

Beethoven, Symphony #5 in C Minor, Op. 67

Carlos Kleiber, Wiener Philharmoniker

Bruno Walter, New York Philharmonic Orchestra (1950)

(As a youngster, I purchased an LP with a Leonard Bernstein lecture on Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. [A good, if histrionic, lecture. Typical Bernstein.] I don’t know why, but fortunately, the performance of the 5th Symphony on the flip-side was conducted by Bruno Walter rather than Leonard Bernstein. What youthful luck! Perhaps one of the reasons that I like this performance so much is early imprinting. But that is far from the only reason! What great music making, if not the most strictly loyal to the score. The inspired musicianship of the Bruno Walter interpretation, the subtleties of phrasing and dynamics, make this recording one to treasure.)

Beethoven, Symphony #6 in F Major, Op.68 “Pastorale”

Andre Cluytens (cond.), Berlin Philharmonic

Beethoven, Symphony #7 in A Major, Op. 92

Claudio Abbado (cond.), Wiener Philharmoniker

(The Abbado performance with the Vienna Philharmonic is superb. In a class by itself.  I hear things in this recording that I’ve always wanted to hear, but which other conductors haven’t brought out. The ensemble balances are excellent. The reading is forceful, but not histrionic.  Abbado has achieved a wonder.)

Honorable mention goes to these 2 very good performances:

Carlos Kleiber (cond.), Wiener Philharmoniker

Guido Cantelli (cond.), Philharmonia Orchestra (1956)

Beethoven, Symphony #9 in D Minor

Bruno Walter (cond.), Frances Yeend, Martha Lipton, David Lloyd, Mack Harrell, Westminster Choir, New York Philharmonic (1949,1953)

(A fair number of fine performances, and a few really excellent ones of the 9th Symphony are available, most with more modern sonics than this one. But this one so captures the spiritual quality of this great work, that I hesitate to list many other performances. The Bruno Walter performance here is far superior to his later stereo recording with the Columbia Symphony Orchestra, where Walter, at a very advanced age, was in steep decline.)

Some other performances of the 9th Symphony that I like are:

Herbert von Karajan (cond.), Schwarzkopf, Höffgen, Häfliger, Edelmann, Chor def Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Wien, Philharmonia Orchestra (of London) (1955) – This performance with the Philharmonia is much better than the subsequent performances Karajan did of the 9th Symphony with the Berlin Philharmonic. The playing by the Philharmonia wind players, especially in the slow movement, is truly outstanding.

Ferenc Fricsay (cond.), Seefried, Forrester, Häfliger, Fischer-Dieskau, Chor der St.-Hedwigs-Kathedrale, Berliner Philharmoniker   (I like this performance more and more.)

Beethoven, String Quartet in C# Minor, Op. 131

Budapest Quartet (recorded in 1951)

(Probably the most profound composition ever written, and the most impressive arched edifice ever built.  Beats Chartres Cathedral out by about 10,000 leagues or so. This quartet is probably the most profound statement of the human condition ever composed. It is the sound of hundreds of singing masons constructing the roof of the world as well as its foundations.)

(This great 1951 performance by the Budapest Quartet has long been unavailable commercially. The one with Jac Gorodetzky on  2nd violin. This performance is included in the set of the Complete Beethoven String Quartets (recorded in 1951-1952) released as United Archives 8-CD set  NUA01.)

Beethoven, String Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 127

Guarneri Quartet

Beethoven, String Quartet in B-flat Major, Op.130 (concluding with original last movement, “Grosse Fuge”, Op. 133)

Smetana Quartet

(A truly outstanding performance. If you hear this performance, you will never want to listen to another. NOT the later recording the Smetana Quartet did, which is available on Denon. Get the earlier recording, available on CD from Supraphon, that is included in the 3-CD set containing all of the Beethoven Late Quartets. This 3-CD set is also the best all-around set of the Late Quartets I have heard.)

Beethoven, String Quartet in A Minor, Op.132

Fine Arts Quartet

Beethoven, String Quartet in E-flat Major (Harp), Op.74, String Quartet in F Minor (Serioso), Op.95, “Razumovsky” String Quartets, Op.59 #1,2,3

Guarneri Quartet and Fine Arts Quartet both have excellent sets of Beethoven Middle Quartets on CD.

Beethoven, Piano Sonatas

(A pianist’s bread and butter. Generally, I like Solomon, Stephen Kovacevich, Friedrich Gulda. One cannot capture the spirituality of Beethoven by sacrificing the fire, and none of these pianists fall into that lifeless trap.  My favorite? I still like Solomon the best. I avoid Wilhelm Kempff. Immediately below I list some recordings of specific Beethoven piano sonatas that I find especially worth mentioning.)

Beethoven, Piano Sonata in C Major (“Waldstein”), Op.53 and Piano Sonata in F Minor (“Appassionata”), Op.57

Walter Gieseking (piano)

Beethoven, Piano Sonata in D Major, Op. 28 (“Pastorale”)

Stephen Kovacevich (piano) (1998)

(This wonderful, rhythmically alive and lyrical performance of this great sonata by Stephen (Bishop) Kovacevich is just the ticket.)

Beethoven, Piano Sonata in E-flat, Op. 31, #3

Stephen Kovacevich (piano) (1994)

Beethoven, Piano Sonata in E Major, Op. 109

Stephen Kovacevich (piano)   (1994)

Beethoven, Piano Sonata in A-flat Major, Op. 110

Stephen Kovacevich (piano)   (1992)

Beethoven, Piano Sonata in B-flat Major, Op. 106 (“Hammerklavier”)

Beveridge Webster (piano)

(This fabulous recording by Beveridge Webster on a Dover LP has never appeared on CD unfortunately. The entire performance shows a mastery of technique and musicianship that few pianists can rival. The famous slow movement, taken a bit faster than by some other performers, is nevertheless very convincing and moving. The technical ability shown in the last movement is truly awesome. The performance of the 1st movement, likewise, is awesome, and the adherence to Beethoven’s metronome marking puts the lie to Mr. Wilhelm Kempff’s belittling comments about Beethoven’s judgment in choosing the tempo marking. If one doesn’t have access to Beveridge Webster’s performance of the “Hammerklavier” Sonata, who is one to listen to? Solomon is my 2nd choice.  Also, if one doesn’t have access to the Beveridge Webster performance, try listening to the link below to get a pretty good idea of what the 1st movement is really supposed to sound like. (Here’s mud in your eye, Mr. Kempff.) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0UEU70lrGtA

Beethoven, Piano Concerto #4 in G Major, Op.58 and Piano Concerto #5 in E-flat Major, Op. 73 (“Emperor”)

Two great recordings of these 2 concertos:

Walter Gieseking (piano), Herbert von Karajan (cond.), Philharmonia Orchestra

Emil Gilels (piano), Leopold Ludwig (cond.), Philharmonia Orchestra

Beethoven, Sonata for Piano and Violin in A minor, Op. 47 (“Kreutzer”)

Clara Haskil (piano), Arthur Grumiaux (violin)

(The Haskil, Grumiaux performance is by far my favorite recording of the “Kreutzer Sonata”. It’s an older recording, and the piano sounds somewhat boxed in. But Clara Haskil was one of the very greatest of 20th century musicians, and this comes through here, in a magnificent performance. She and Grumiaux were a great team.)

Vladimir Ashkenazy (piano), Itzhak Perlman (violin)

(The best performance with modern sonics. Yes, better than the Kogan-Gilels.)

Beethoven, Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D Major, Op.61

 

Leonid Kogan (violin), Constantin Silvestri (cond.), Paris Conservatoire Orchestra

(If you can acquire this fabulous performance for less than a fortune, get it.)

Yehudi Menuhin (violin), Wilhelm Furtwängler (cond.), Philharmonia Orchestra  (1953)

(A very different performance. Honorable mention.)

Borodin, In the Steppes of Central Asia

Andre Cluytens (cond.), Philharmonia Orchestra

Borodin, Symphony #2

Paul Kletzki (cond.), Philharmonia Orchestra

(Not great sonics, but a truly great performance. I’ve heard the criticisms, but believe me, this performance is magic.)

Brahms, Quintet for Clarinet, 2 Violins, Viola and Cello in B Minor, Op. 115

Leopold Wlach (clarinet), Vienna Konzerthaus Quartet

(Leopold Wlach and the Vienna Konzerthaus played my favorite piece of Brahms with all the old atmosphere that this piece must have had in Brahms’ day. On an old Westminster LP. I downloaded the entire performance from the Internet.)

Sabine Meyer (clarinet), Erich Hoebarth and Peter Matzka (violins), Thomas Riebl (viola), Susanne Ehn (cello).

(The Sabine Meyer recording is a good, modern performance.)

Brahms, Sonata for Clarinet and Piano in F Minor, Op.120, #1 and Sonata for Clarinet and Piano in E-flat Major, Op.120, #2

Franklin Cohen (clarinet), Vladimir Ashkenazy (piano)

(Truly wonderful performance by two musicians working together perfectly. If you can find this CD now, get it.)

Brahms, Symphony #1 in C Minor, Op.68

Stanisaw Skrowaczewski (cond.), Halle Orchestra

(My favorite recording of this piece. Grab this before it disappears.)

Bernard Haitink (cond.), Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (1974)

(Not bad. True to the score. CD is readily available.)

Guido Cantelli (cond.), Philharmonia Orchestra (1953)

(The Cantelli performance is good, but the reason for its being listed here is the performance of the Philharmonia French horn section, headed by Dennis Brain, in the introductory section of the last movement. This is not to be missed.)

Brahms, Symphony #2 in D Major, Op.73

Eduard van Beinum (cond.), Concertgebouworkest  (1954)

(Available currently on CD as part of 2-CD set with all four of the Brahm’s symphonies conducted by van Beinum. I like his performance of the 2nd Symphony far better than anyone else’s.)

Brahms, Symphony #3 in in F Major, Op. 90

Stanisaw Skrowaczewski (cond.), Halle Orchestra

(Grab this before it disappears.)

Brahms, Symphony #4 in in E Minor, Op. 98

Stanisaw Skrowaczewski (cond.), Halle Orchestra

(Grab this before it disappears.)

Brahms, Concerto for Piano and Orchestra #2 in B-flat, Op.83

Emil Gilels (piano), Eugen Jochum (cond.), Berliner Philharmoniker

Brahms, Horn Trio Op.40

Dennis Brain (horn), Max Salpeter (violin), Cyril Preedy (piano)

Britten, Serenade for tenor, horn and strings

Eugene Goossens (cond.), Peter Pears (tenor), Dennis Brain (horn), New Symphony Orchestra  (1953)

(Don’t get the earlier recording with Peter Pears and Dennis Brain with a different conductor. Pears may be better on the earlier recording, but Brain is far superior on the Goossens recording. Get this fabulous recording before it disappears.)

Bruch, Violin Concerto #1 in G minor and Scottish Fantasy

Jascha Heifitz (violin), Sir Malcolm Sargent (cond.), New Symphony Orchestra of London

(Right now, 2015/06/28, this super recording of these two Bruch compositions is available in an inexpensive 6-CD set that contains additionally the violin concertos by Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Sibelius, Mendelssohn, Prokofiev (#2), Vieuxtemps (#5), Rozsa, Glazunov, Mozart (#4, #5 and also Sinfonia concertante for Violin and Viola, K.364), Bach Concerto for 2 Violins in D minor (BWV 1043), and these Concertos for Violin and Cello: Brahms, Op. 102, Vivaldi, RV 547)

Bruckner, Symphony #7

Eduard  van Beinum (cond.), Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (1953)

Bruckner, Symphony #9

There are many who say that Bruckner is full of bombast. And at times that assertion appears to be justified. When we come to the 9th Symphony, however, the genuinely religious fervor, the truly innocent and faithful nature of Bruckner shines forth, especially in the 3rd Movement. When I am desperately in need of simple goodness and humility, and the confession of my baseness and acceptance of it, and plagued by humanity’s devotion to evil, I sometimes turn to Bruckner’s 9th Symphony.

There are 4 good recordings that I have listened to. They each have their strengths.

Stanislaw Skrowaczewski (cond.), Minnesota Orchestra (1996)

Eugen Jochum (cond)., Staatskapelle Dresden (1978)

Eduard van Beinum (cond.), Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (1956)

Bruno Walter (cond.), Columbia Symphony Orchestra

Elliot Carter, Piano Sonata

My favorite piece by America’s greatest-ever composer.

Charles Rosen (piano)

Also, an earlier performance by Beveridge Webster is extremely good.

(Somehow, I don’t think that “Elliot Carter” is a household name in Amerika the way that, for instance, “Ludwig van Beethoven” is in Germany.)

Chopin, Ballades and Scherzos

Arthur Rubinstein (piano) (Volume 45 of the Rubinstein Collection)

Chopin, Polonaises, Polonaise-Fantasie

Arthur Rubinstein (piano)  (Volume 28 of the Rubinstein Collection)

Chopin, Mazurkas and Impromptus

Arthur Rubinstein (piano)  (Volume 27 of the Rubinstein Collection)

Chopin,  Waltzes, Fantaisie in F Minor, Barcarolle, Berceuse         

Arthur Rubinstein (piano)   (Volume 29 of the Rubinstein Collection)

(All of the Chopin recorded by Rubinstein that I have listed was recorded during the 1950s.)

Debussy, Sonata for Violin and Piano

Zino Francescatti (violin), Robert Casadesus (piano)

(Recorded in New York, 1946. Beyond compare. Beg, borrow, or steal to acquire this performance.)

Debussy, La Mer and Nocturnes

Constantin Silvestri (cond.),  Orchestre de la Societe des Concerts du Conservatoire, Choeur Elisabeth Brasseur

(I first acquired this on LP when it came out on Angel (EMI) in 1959. It’s now on a Seraphim CD, which also contains Prelude a L’Apres-midi d’un Faune (cond. Silvestri), and Printemps (cond. Martinon). Constantin Silvestri, at his best, was one of the very finest conductors of late-19th, early-20th century romantic music.)

(More recently the performances of both La Mer and Nocturnes have become available on EMI’s “Icon – Silvestri” 15-CD box set for the fire sale price of around $23.  This box set also contains the recordings Silvestri did with the Philharmonia of the 4th, 5th and 6th Tchaikovsky Symphonies. What an incredible bargain.)

Debussy, Preludes

Walter Gieseking (piano)

Dvorak, Rusalka  (complete opera)

Charles Mackerras (cond.), Renee Fleming, Ben Heppner, Franz Hawlata, Dolora Zajick, Eva Urbanova, The Kuehn Mixed Choir, Czech Philharmonic Orchestra

(Containing Renee Fleming’s finest performance of “Mesicku na nebi hlubokem” (O Silver Moon), this is a beautiful, complete performance of this lyrical opera of Dvorak’s.)

Dvorak, Symphony #7 in D Minor and Symphony #9 in E Minor (“From the New World”)

Rafael Kubelik (cond.), Wiener Philharmoniker (1956)

(Just the best. I owned the LP of this performance of the D Minor Symphony when I was in junior high school. Just glad that Decca reissued it as a CD in their LEGENDS series. Later Kubelik is really good, but not as good as this. When I was in junior high school at Leland Stanford Junior High  in Long Beach, California, Fred Ohlendorf was the Superintendent of Music for the Long Beach Public Schools. I was very lucky to have been a student in the Long Beach public school system. Fred attracted good musicians from all across the country to teach at the elementary, junior high, and high school levels. He also conducted the All-City junior and high school orchestras. I was privileged to play in these orchestras. At his house, I sometimes played French Horn in an informal woodwind and horn octet. Fred and his wife, Edna, owned and operated the Arrowbear Music Camp. There in the summer, in an outdoor setting in the woods,  75 young  junior high and high school music students would play Dvorak’s New World Symphony and other classics.)

Dvorak, Slavonic Dances Op.46 and Op.72

Rafael Kubelik (cond.), Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks (1975)

Handel, Messiah

Charles Mackerras, Janet Baker, Elizabeth Harwood, Paul Esswood, Robert Tear, Raimund Herincx, Ambrosian Singers, English Chamber Orchestra

(Charles Mackerras, in the 1960s, showed us how to perform Handel authentically long before anyone else came along to do this well or [more frequently] badly. This recording has a wonderful zest to it. The ensemble is perfect. The Basil Lam performing edition is, I think, very good at producing an ensemble with the sound and balance that obtained in Handel’s day. The clarity of the playing never takes away from the grandeur. The Choruses are wonderfully performed. There are many highlights, but I will just mention the performance of the bass aria “The trumpet shall sound” with the trumpet obbligato, and Elizabeth Harwood’s rendition of “I know that my Redeemer liveth”. This great performance of The Messiah is still available on CD for around $20. Don’t hesitate. By the way, Warner Classics has allowed this great performance to appear piecemeal on YouTube. For “I know that my Redeemer liveth” try https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7lnpcCtOI-Q.) For “The trumpet shall sound” try https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9MJUQb1J4vo.  For the chorus, “And He shall purify” try https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tl4TFD88Bkc. For the entire performance (YES) try this: go to https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCyVpcczifjt6wqnhg0NCvNA/playlists, and click on the Handel: Messiah playlist. I’m not leading you astray:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vCxpqXCzVME

For a short peak at a documentary of this recording being made, try https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0zNmAJ8N4j8. Note Raimund Herincx, the great bass, smoking a cigarette, and also note Philip Jones, the great trumpeter, at the end.)

“Opera Proibita” – selections of Handel, A. Scarlatti, Caldara

Cecilia Bartoli, Marc Minkowski (cond.), Les Musiciens du Louvre

(If I had to pick one recording to take to a deserted island, this would be it. I could listen to Cecilia Bartoli singing Baroque music forever, and this is the best of her Baroque albums so far.

During an early part of his career, in the early 1700s, Handel was in Italy at a time when the Catholic Church forbade all theatrical performances, including opera. “Opera prohibited.” This was the period, also, when the soprano and alto roles were sung by castrati rather than women. The composers residing in Italy at the time of the theatrical ban were thus confined to writing oratorios, if they still wanted to compose dramatic vocal works at all. Well, for the oratorios produced in this period, the composers used this opportunity to write the most outrageously demonstrative, wild arias for castrati to ostensibly liturgical, but for the most part ardent, inflammatory poesy. The agility needed to sing these arias full of incredibly difficult vocal display is something that Cecilia Bartoli has to a superlative degree. She is simply amazing.

The selections by Handel, Alessandro Scarlatti, and Antonia Caldara on this CD were well chosen. There are some slow tempo selections on this CD. There is one that sounds very familiar except for the words: “Lascia la spina, cogli la rosa” from “Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno”. This aria had first appeared in Handel’s works as a saraband in his opera, “Almira”. After using it in “Il Trionfo”, he used it again as the well-known aria “Lascia ch’io pianga” from “Rinaldo”, the first Italian opera that Handel wrote for the London stage.)

Handel, Ariodante

Marc Minkowski (cond.), Anne Sophie von Otter, Lynne Dawson, Ewa Podles, Veronica Cangemi, Richard Croft, Denis Sedov, Luc Coadou, Les Musiciens du Louvre

(My favorite Handel opera.)

Haydn,  Paris Symphonies (#82-87)

Neville Marriner, Academy of St Martin in the  Fields

Mahler, Das Lied von der Erde

Eugen Jochum (cond.), Nan Merriman (mezzo-soprano), Ernst Haefliger (tenor), Concertgebouworkest Amsterdam

(Jochum at his very best, and Merriman is beyond compare.)

Mahler, Symphony #9 in D Minor

Leopold Ludwig (cond.), London Symphony (1960)

(My favorite performance of the outer movements, and increasingly I like the performance of the 3rd Movement, the Rondo-Burleske, as well. The performance of the 2nd Movement has the wrong tempos.)

Otto Klemperer (cond.), New Philharmonia Orchestra (1967)

(Perhaps the best overall, but frankly, I listen to the Ludwig performance far more often.)

(WARNING: Do NOT discuss with me any heart-on-sleeve performances of this piece with me. I prefer performances that musically cut the mustard, and bring us Mahler, the musician.)

Mahler, Symphony #2 (“Resurrection”)

Bruno Walter (cond.), Maureen Forrester (contralto), Emilia Cundari (soprano), Westminster Choir, New York Philharmonic (1958)

(Admittedly, this performance is the sentimental favorite that I grew up with. Despite the inferior technical sonic quality, I still love this performance.)

Claudio Abbado (cond.), Gvazava,Larsson,Lucerne Festival Orchestra

(A fine, modern performance with good sonics)

Mahler, Symphony #3

Leonard Bernstein (cond.), Martha Lipton (mezzo-soprano), Women’s Chorus of the Schola Cantorum, Boys’ Choir of the Church of Transfiguration, New York Philharmonic

(The one performance of a Mahler symphony conducted by Leonard Bernstein that I can stand. But this is a very good one.)

Mahler, Symphony #4

Paul Kletzki (cond.), Emmy Loose (soprano), Philharmonia Orchestra

Fritz Reiner (cond.), Lisa della Casa (soprano), Chicago Symphony Orchestra

(I wouldn’t be without either of these 2 recordings. The Kletzki recording is, I think, closer to the sound Mahler had in mind. The Reiner recording has the most impressive eruption towards the end of the 3rd Movement that I’ve ever heard, and Lisa della Casa beats ALL the competition.)

Mendelssohn, Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in E Minor, Op.64

Leonid Kogan (violin), Constantin Silvestri (cond.), Paris Conservatoire Orchestra

Mendelssohn, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Symphony #4 in A Major (“Italian’)

Claudio Abbado (cond.), Kenneth Branagh (narrator), Sylvia McNair (soprano), Angelika Kirschschlager (mezzo-soprano), Women of the Ernst Senff Chorus, Berlin Philharmonic

Mendelssohn, A Midsummer Night’s Dream  – Nocturne only

Paul Kletzki (cond.), Philharmonia, Dennis Brain (horn solo)

(This is on EMI’s Dennis Brain Icon CD set. Almost unbelievable that anyone could ever play the 1st horn part this well at such as tempo. A jaw dropper. And very beautiful.)

Monteverdi, title of CD “Favourite Madrigals”

Grayston Burgess (cond.), Purcell Consort of Voices [Eileen Poulter, Felicity Palmer, Grayston Burgess, Ian Partridge, Philip Langridge, Geoffrey Shaw, Christopher Keyte]

(Selected madrigals from Book IV and Book VII. Splendid and authentic performances of some of Monteverdi’s finest music brought to life beautifully and most compellingly. We will never hear better Monteverdi than this. If you can still get a copy of this CD at a reasonable price, snap it up now.)

(Contents include:

“Si ch’io vorrei morire”, “Amor, che deggio far”, “Non, vedro mai le stelle”,

“Chiome d’oro”, “Ah dolente partita”, “Dolci miei sospiri”,

“La Piaga ch’ho nel core”, “Lamento della ninfa”, “Al lume delle stelle”,

“Damigella Tutta bella”, “O come sei gentile”, “Eccomi pronta ai baci”,

“Sfogova con le stelle”)

Monteverdi, title of CD “Madrigali e Arie profane”

Nadia Boulanger (cond. and piano), Comtesse Jean [Marie-Blanche] de Polignac, Irene and Nathalie Kedroff, Lucie Rauh, Gisele Peyron, Paul Derenne, Hugues Cuenod, Doda Conrad

“Il Ballo dell’ingrate” with Marie-Blanche de Polignac (soprano) and Doda Conrad (bass) is completely compelling.

“Lamento della Ninfa” with Marie-Blanche de Polignac is excellent. The melting Italian vowel sounds ……

“Ecco mormorar l’onde” – by far the best recording of this Book II Madrigal

Monteverdi, L’Orfeo

Emmanuelle Haim (cond., harpsichord, organ, regal), Natalie Dessay, Ian Bostridge, Patrizia Ciofi, Alice Coote, European Voices, Le Concert d’Astree

Mozart, Piano Concerto in A Major, KV 488

Walter Gieseking (piano), Herbert von Karajan (cond.), Philharmonia Orchestra

(Gieseking does a wonderful job. The 2nd Movement is breathtaking.)

Mozart, Quintet in E-flat Major for Piano and Winds, K. 452

Walter Gieseking [piano], Philharmonia Wind Quartet (Sidney Sutcliffe [oboe], Bernard Walton [clarinet], Dennis Brain [horn], Cecil James [bassoon])

(Better than the other recordings with Dennis Brain. This is the cream of the Philharmonia Orchestra wind players plus one of the greatest piano players of the 20th century. I love this piece.)

Mozart, Quintet for Horn, Violin, 2 Violas and Cello in E-flat Major K. 407

Dennis Brain (horn), English String Quartet (1956)

(I prefer this recording with the English String Quartet to the other recording Dennis Brain made of this piece with the Griller Quartet. The CD notes do not say who the members of the English String Quartet were at the time this recording was made. The quartet with this name has had so many different members since it was founded in 1909, that it would have been nice if the makers of this “BBC Legends” CD has said who the players were. I can supply that information: The Carter String Trio [Mary Carter (violin), Anatole Mines (viola), Eileen McCarthy (cello)] plus Eileen Grainger (viola).

This CD also has on it:

Brahms, Trio for Violin, Piano and Horn, Op. 40  [also mentioned in this list]

Beethoven, Quintet for Piano, Oboe, Clarinet, Horn and Bassoon, Op. 16

Paul Dukas, Villanelle

Marin  Marais, Le  Basque)

Mozart, The Magic Flute

Karl Bohm, Evelyn Lear, Roberta Peters, Fritz Wunderlich, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Franz Crass, Hans Hotter, Lisa Otto, Berlin Philharmonic

Mozart, Don Giovanni

Josef Krips, Cesare Siepi, Kurt Boehme, Suzanne Danco, Anton Dermota, Lisa della Casa, Fernando Corena, Walter Berry, Hilde Gueden, Vienna Philharmonic

(Some folks criticize Krips’ conducting here. I don’t think that is the problem. The recording technique used by the Decca engineers left something to be desired. This is still the most successful recorded performance of Don Giovanni. Such wonderful singers! And Krips, despite what many say, does an inspired job. One of the things Mahler, the opera conductor, stressed about performing Mozart was to observe Mozart’s beautiful transitional passages. Krips gets these right. The pacing is excellent.)

Carlo Maria Giulini, Eberhard Waechter, Joan Sutherland, Luigi Alva, Gottlob Frick, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Giuseppe Taddei, Piero Cappuccilli, Graziella Sciutti, Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus

(Also, a very fine performance. But I prefer the Krips.)

Mozart, Le nozze di Figaro  (Marriage of Figaro)

Erich Kleiber, Alfred Poell, Lisa della Casa, Hilde Gueden, Cesare Siepi, Suzanne Danco, Hilde Roessel-Majdan, Fernando Corena, Murray Dickie, Vienna Philharmonic

Georg Solti, Kiri Te Kanawa, Lucia Popp, Frederica von Stade, Samuel Ramey, Thomas Allen, Kurt Moll, London Philharmonic Orchestra

Mozart, Cosi Fan Tutte

Herbert von Karajan, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Nan Merriman, Leopold Simoneau, Rolando Panerai, Sesto Bruscantini, Lisa Otto, Philharmonia Chorus and Orchestra

(As far as I’m concerned, this recording is still the gold standard.)

Georg Solti, Renee Fleming, Anne Sofie von Otter, Frank Lopardo, Olaf Baer, Adelina Scarabelli, Michele Pertusi, Chamber Orchestra of Europe

(This is a fine performance, and more advanced recording techniques make this desirable to own in addition to the von Karajan.)

 

Mozart, Requiem

(Of my 4 favorite Masses set to a Latin text, 2 of them set to the Ordinary Mass text [Ockeghem’s Missa Mi-Mi and Bach’s Mass in B Minor] and 2 of them set to the Requiem Mass text [Mozart’s Requiem and Verdi’s Requiem], the Mozart Requiem is closest to my heart since it so eloquently and intensely sings of human need.)

Karl Böhm, Gundula Janowitz, Christa Ludwig, Peter Schreier, Walter Berry, Chor der Wiener Staatsoper, Wiener Symphoniker (DVD) [1971]

(The soloists in this recording cannot be beat, and are simply wonderful. Böhm, as usual, lives up to his very high standard of conducting Mozart, much better than the Mozart Requiem recordings of his Germanic contemporaries. I can understand why he choose such a slow tempo for the Rex Tremendae Majestatis, but it doesn’t quite work for me. The rest of his tempos for the various parts of the Requiem work well. The choir is truly excellent, but perhaps too large.)

Hermann Scherchen, Sena Jurinac, Lucretia West, Hans Loeffler, Frederick Guthrie, Vienna Academy Chamber Choir, Vienna State Opera Orchestra

(An older recording, made in the 1950s, and still one of the very best. The tempo of the Rex Tremendae Majestatis is brisk, a better attempt at getting the majestic quality of this section over than in the Böhm recording. A smaller choir, thankfully, than in the Böhm recording, and an equally accomplished one. )

Mozart, Symphony #39 in E-flat Major, K.543

Herbert von Karajan (cond.), Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra  (on EMI)

(A fine performance.  But I wish that Decca, when it released the CD box-set “Karajan – the Decca Years”, had included the superior performance Karajan did with the Vienna Philharmonic. Instead they included mediocre performances of Mozart’s Symphonies 40 and 41.)

Mozart, Horn Concertos

Dennis Brain (horn), Herbert von Karajan (cond.), Philharmonia Orchestra

(No one has ever written finer concertos for winds than Mozart. And these horn Concertos are among my very favorites. It is not possible to say how great Dennis Brain plays these concertos without using what sounds like extreme hyperbole.)

Mozart, Masonic Funeral Music K.477

Bruno Walter, Columbia Symphony Orchestra

Otto Klemperer, New Philharmonia Orchestra

Mozart, Piano Concerto in D Minor KV 466

Walter Gieseking (piano), Hans Rosbaud (cond.), Philharmonia  (1953) LP Angel 35215

(Beethoven wrote cadenzas for this concerto to perform himself, and one can see why: the first movement sounds fateful and tragic, similar to the ominous D Minor sound in “Don Giovanni”. The Beethoven cadenza to the 1st movement played by Gieseking is absolutely authoritative and dramatic. This is a terrific performance. It is available online at

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8DTSfwHzc_Q )

 

Mozart, String Quartets and Quintets

Musical art can be put to different uses. The highest use to which it can be put is to accomplish a paradoxical purpose, to use time to end time, to bring about an eternal state. Eternity must not be confused with infinity. To bring about an effective end to psychological time by means of musical art is a blessed achievement.  The frontal lobe of the cerebral cortex has been put habitually to many extremely destructive uses in human history, not least that of reifying an abstract concept inappropriately and disastrously, for instance, organizing the governance of human affairs around the concept of market forces. Musical art, at least musical art of any value, does not begin with an abstract concept. Rather it begins with a highly concrete musical intuition, which then can be subject to a complex interchange between the frontal lobe and the developing concrete sounds, which have their own imperatives. Such an interchange is pure play, difficult, but the most rewarding play imaginable.

Nowhere is this highest use of musical art more apparent than in the music of Mozart and Beethoven. (I dare say that it comes to its greatest fruition in Beethoven’s Quartet in C-sharp minor, Opus 131, where in the 4th Movement (of 7 movements), the highest and most sublime arch, greater than that of any cathedral, has been erected on top of the movements which preceded it. In this movement, time is utterly still, and it works. But, of course, time must paradoxically come back into play, and it does so overwhelming and conclusively, and one might almost say, convulsively in the final 3 movements.] Mozart, in a sense, made possible what Beethoven later accomplished. One can hear this felicitously in Mozart’s string quartets and quintets.

One can purchase, in downloadable digital mp3 format, fine, if sometimes a bit stodgy, performances of the complete string quartets and complete string quintets of Mozart for, currently as of May 2016, $9.50. Great performances of great musical art can be amazingly cheap to purchase at times these days, since there is apparently so little demand for them. (Of course, there is nothing to manufacture when it comes to producing mp3’s of recordings which have long since lost their copyrights. And the sellers are hardly using the airwaves or any other medium to advertise these wares.) I have in mind the performances of the string quartets by the Barchet Quartet, and the string quintets by the Barchet Quartet with Emil Kessinger as the additional violist. The sound reproduction is certainly not great, but it is tolerable. The performances are not at all bad, and embody a performance style that has almost disappeared. These recordings originally appeared on vinyl LPs in the 1950s.

If you are not familiar yet with these Mozart quartets and quintets then these performances by the Barchet Quartet (with Emil Kessinger, additional violist in the quintets) is an astoundingly good deal at the price.

Mozart, String Quartets, including the 6 “Haydn” Quartets”, the “Hoffmeister” Quartet, the 3 “Prussian” Quartets (but not all of the string quartets)

The Chilingirian Quartet.  (A 5-CD set)

Mozart, String Quintets

Griller String Quartet [Sidney Griller (1st violin), Jack O’Brien (2nd violin), Philip Burton (viola), Colin Hampton (cello)] and William Primrose (viola)

Mozart, Serenade KV 361 “Gran Partita”

Blaeserensemble Sabine Meyer

Mozart, Serenade in E-flat, K.375

Karl Haas (cond.), The London Baroque Ensemble [Sydney Sutcliffe and Roger Lord (oboes), Jack Brymer and Gervase de Peyer (clarinets), Cecil James and Edward Wilson (bassoons), Dennis Brain and Neill Sanders (horns)]

Mozart, Serenade in C Minor, K.388/384a

Karl Haas (cond.), The London  Baroque Ensemble [Sydney Sutcliffe and Natalie James (oboes), Jack Brymer and Basil Tchaikov (clarinets), Cecil James and Edward Wilson (bassoons), Dennis Brain and Neill Sanders (horns)]

Mussorgsky, Pictures at an Exhibition

Vladimir Horowitz (piano).  1948 Carnegie Hall Recital

(The best of the 3 recordings by Horowitz, it was fairly recently released by Sony. A little better than the 1951 Carnegie Hall performance (on RCA Victor CD),  and tons better than the boxy-sound studio recording.)

Byron Janis (piano)

(Recorded in 1961, this was never released on LP. It was released as CD for 1st time in 1994. No one is as good as Horowitz on “Pictures”, but Janis “places” easily. These two steal the “show”. I can’t understand why Mercury sat on the Janis performance for 33 years. Also, Janis does much less editing of “Pictures” than Horowitz, so you might say it is a “purer” rendition.)

Ockeghem,  Missa Mi-Mi

(From the early Renaissance, the Missa Mi-Mi is one of the very greatest sacred masterpieces of music, with complex, but always natural sounding polyphony, rhythmically complex and enchanting, and quite mystical. It is one of my very favorite pieces of music, which I first heard when I was 18-years old.)

Tikey Zes (conductor), Berkeley Chamber Singers (mixed choir) (Lyrichord LP)

(An astoundingly good performance. Purists may not care for this being a mixed choir performance.)

Edward Wickham, The Clerks’ Group

(A superb recording. Don’t settle for anything less.)

Palestrina, Missa Papae Marcelli  (Pope Marcellus Mass)

Peter Phillips (cond.), The Tallis Scholars

Respighi, Pines of Rome and Fountains of Rome

Fritz Reiner (cond.), Chicago Symphony Orchestra (1959)

Rimsky-Korsakov, Scheherazade

Thomas Beecham (cond.), Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (1957)

(Still the best recording. Violin solos by Steven Staryk, clarinet solos by Jack Brymer, bassoon solos by Gwydion Brooke. The exotic, ear-tingling Orient.)

Rossini Overtures

Carlo Maria Giulini, Philharmonia Orchestra

(Giulini, the conductor most equipped to conduct Rossini, leading the Philharmonia, the orchestra most able to follow his lead. A gem. The overtures included on the CD are: La scala di seta, Il signor Bruschino, Tancredi, L’italiana in Algeri, Il barbiere di Siviglia, La Cenerentola, La gazza ladra, Semiramide, and Guillaume Tell.)

Rossini, L’Italiana in Algeri

Claudio Abbado (cond.), Agnes Baltsa, Ruggero Raimondi, Enzo Dara, Frank Lopardo, Konzertvereinigung Wiener Staatsopernchor, Wiener Philharmoniker

Lucymarie Ruth, The Tiger

My setting of William Blake’s poem, “The Tiger”.  Originally set for SATBB choir, I have subsequently set it for strings, and also for solo organ. They are both available online at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=plWrdIdAMaQ  and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cZcV1_GDcAQ respectively.

Lucymarie Ruth,   Blesséd Winds

For 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 French horns, 2 bassoons. Available online at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i2Ie9PDDCIU

Lucymarie Ruth, The Lone Wild Bird

My setting for woodwind quintet of the beautiful, well known Lone Wild Bird tune. Available online at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O2rBJTKAT-A

Schubert, “Auf dem Strom”  D.943

Richard Lewis (tenor),  Dennis Brain (French horn) , Ernest Lush (piano)

(Old LP, taken from live performance at Royal Festival Hall, London, 1954. This performance is so far above any others, including the other ones for which Dennis Brain played the horn part, that this is the only performance I will list. Richard Lewis sings this better than anyone else I’ve heard, far excelling Peter Pears. The pianist can make or break this piece. Ernest Lush excels. And of all Dennis Brain’s recordings, this one is my favorite. That’s saying a lot. This recording is available online at:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RWjb4szaE6k 

[Thanks, kadoguy.]

In the book Dennis Brain: A Life in Music by Stephen Gamble and William Lynch, it mentions this 1954 recording as being preserved at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Mills Music Library: Blake Collection, and states that this performance is “no longer preserved by the BBC sound archives and not located in any public archive collection, except at this university, on this long-playing record, commercially issued in 1971 by Perennial Longplayer (New York) PER 1007.” I just happen to own a copy of this LP.)

Schubert, Piano Sonata in A Major D.959 

Radu Lupu  (piano)

Vladimir Ashkenazy  (piano)

Schubert, Piano Sonata in B-flat Major D.960

Stephen Kovacevich (piano)

Clara Haskil (piano)

Schubert, Wanderer Fantasy

Sviatoslav Richter (piano)

(Schubert was a pretty darn good pianist, but after attempting to play his “Wanderer Fantasy” on one occasion, he said in frustration, “Let the devil play it.” Sviatoslav Richter was just the right sort of devil to play this piece.)

Schubert, String Quartet #14 in D Minor “Death and the Maiden”

Guarneri String Quartet

Schubert, Symphony #8 in B Minor (“Unfinished”)

Wilhelm Furtwaengler (cond.), Berliner Philharmoniker (1952)

Schubert, Symphony #9 in C Major

Wilhelm Furtwängler (cond.), Berliner Philharmoniker (1952)

Schumann, Cello Concerto

Rostropovich (cello), Samosud (cond.), Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra

(My favorite performance of my favorite cello concerto. If you can find it, grab it. This is far better than the other recorded performances of Rostropovich.)

Janos Starker (cello), Stanislaw Skrowaczewski (cond.), London Symphony Orchestra

(The Starker performance is also very good. My 2nd choice.)

Schumann, Carnaval and Fantasiestücke

Arthur Rubinstein (piano)      (Volume 51 in Rubinstein Collection)

Sibelius, Symphony #5 in E-flat Major, Op.82

Herbert von Karajan (cond.), Philharmonia Orchestra (1960)

(I prefer this recording to the 2 subsequent recordings Karajan did with the Berlin Philharmonic.)

Strauss, R., Horn Concertos #1 and #2

Dennis Brain (horn), Wolfgang Sawallisch (cond.), Philharmonia Orchestra

Strauss, R., Till Eulenspiegel and Tod und Verklärung

Fritz Reiner (cond.), Wiener Philharmoniker (1956)

NOTE on Stravinsky conducting Stravinsky:  Since I originally made this list and posted it online, the recordings that I refer to here as “Stravinsky conducting Stravinsky” have been reissued at fire sale prices as a 22-CD box set. The set is labelled “Works of Igor Stravinsky”

Stravinsky, Symphonies of Wind Instruments

Igor Stravinsky (conductor), Symphonieorchester des Nordwestdeutschen Rundfunks

(Revised version, 1947) (On Volume VII of Stravinsky conducting Stravinsky)

Robert Craft (conductor), Twentieth Century Classics Ensemble (Original version)

(I recommend that you get both of these recordings, as the instrumentation of the 1947 revised version is quite a bit different from the original. Robert Craft much prefers the original version, but I like both versions a lot. They both have their strengths. This is one of my very favorite pieces by Stravinsky.)

Stravinsky, Violin Concerto               

Robert Craft (conductor), Jennifer Frautschi (violin), Philharmonia Orchestra

(On same CD with Craft’s performance of “Symphonies of Wind Instruments” and a terrific performance of “Zvezdoliki”. Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto is my favorite violin concerto. It became well-known only after Balanchine choreographed a ballet for it!)

Stravinsky, Symphony in C

Igor Stravinsky (conductor), CBC Symphony Orchestra (1962)

(This terrific performance is on Disc 2, Volume 4 of the “Stravinsky Conducts Stravinsky” box-set. It also available on a separate CD with both “Symphony in Three Movements” and “Symphony of Psalms”.)

Stravinsky, Rite of Spring

Igor Stravinsky (cond.), Columbia Symphony Orchestra (1960)

(This performance is on Disc 2, Volume 1 of the “Stravinsky Conducts Stravinsky” box-set, but also available as a separate CD.)

Stravinsky, Pulcinella (complete)

Igor Stravinsky (cond.), Mary Simmons, Glenn Schnittke, Phillip MacGregor, Cleveland Orchestra (1953)

(This performance is on a 2-CD set titled “Stravinsky Conducts Stravinsky: The Mono Years 1952-1955″.  This is not part of the Stravinsky conducts Stravinsky big box set put out by Sony. This performance beats the later stereo performance with Stravinsky conducting hands down. (And any performances by other conductors as well. This is not too surprising, as the Cleveland Orchestra in 1953 was tops, the choice of vocal soloists was superb, and Stravinsky was a truly fine conductor of his own music, better before his thrombosis in 1957, than after.)

Stravinsky, L’Histoire du Soldat (Suite)

Igor Stravinsky (cond.), Daniel Oppenheim (clarinet), Loren Glickman (bassoon), Robert Nagel (trumpet), Erwin L. Price (trombone), Alfred Howard (percussion), Alex Schneider (violin), Julius Levine (double-bass) (1954)

(This great recording, also on the 2-CD “Mono Years” set mentioned above is by far the finest performance of this piece I’ve heard. The performance conducted by Stravinsky from 1961 [on Disc 3, Volume 1 from  the “Stravinsky Conducts Stravinsky” box-set] is good, but I prefer the 1954 performance.)

Stravinsky, L’Histoire du Soldat (complete)

Boston Symphony Chamber Players

(A fine recording of the complete version of “The Soldier’s Tale” with the spoken parts done by John Gielgud, Tom Courtenay and Ron Moody. The English translation by Michael Flanders and Kitty Black is quite good. This performance is on a 2-CD set with the Boston Symphony Chamber Players playing in addition Stravinsky’s “Octet”,  “Pastorale”, “Ragtime”, “Septet” and “Concertino”, and Arnold Schoenberg’s “Chamber Symphony #1” and Alban Berg’s “Adagio” from the “Chamber Concerto”. See below for comments about the performance of Stravinsky’s “Septet”.)

Stravinsky, Orpheus

Igor Stravinsky (cond.), Chicago Symphony Orchestra (1964)

(This is my favorite Stravinsky ballet. This wonderful music, from the beginning through the Apotheosis, perfectly evokes the spirit and the myth of Orpheus. This recording is on Disc 3, Volume 2 of the “Stravinsky Conducts Stravinsky” box-set.)

Robert Craft (cond.), London Symphony Orchestra (1995)

(Not quite as good as the performance conducted by Stravinsky. However, this Craft performance is on the same Naxos CD 8.557502, titled “Stravinsky: Three Greek Ballets”, as Craft’s really fine performance of “Agon” (from 1992) with the Orchestra of St Luke’s.)

Stravinsky, Septet

Igor Stravinsky (cond.), David Oppenheim (clarinet), Loren Glickman (bassoon), John Barrows (horn), Ralph Kirkpatrick (piano), Alexander Schneider (violin), Karen Tuttle (viola), Bernard Greenhouse (cello)   Columbia ML 5107   LP  (1954)

(What a dream ensemble!!!  Stravinsky began the composing his Septet in 1952 at the age of 70. I was 8 years old at the time, and little did I know that Stravinsky lived in West Hollywood, 34 miles from where I lived. I believe that the Septet is the first work by Stravinsky where he used serial techniques. Some of Stravinsky’s finest works were written during the 1950’s using serial techniques.

The Septet received a now legendary performance in 1954 [on LP] conducted by the composer that I believe has never become available on CD. [Alas!] This great record also had the best performance ever of “In Memoriam Dylan Thomas” and various Stravinsky songs, including “Three Shakespeare Songs”, “Four Russian Songs”, “Two Balmont Songs”, “Three Japanese Lyrics”, “Three Souvenirs”,  and “Four Russian Choruses”.  What a treasure. The various singers on the songs were, if you can believe this, Richard Robinson, Grace-Lynne Martin, Marni Nixon, Marilynn Horne. Marni Nixon had not yet become a Hollywood star in “Sound of Music”, and Marilynn Horne was not yet well-known. French horn players may be interested to know that the 4 horn players in the “Four Russian Choruses were James Decker, Sinclair Lott, George Hyde, and H. Markowitz.

The performance of the Septet with Stravinsky conducting the Columbia Chamber Ensemble in 1965 (on the 22-CD big box-set) is nowhere near as good as the 1954 performance. However, the performance that I list just below is quite good, and I recommend it as the best performance that one is likely to be able to get one’s hands on these days.)

Robert Craft (cond.), Christopher Oldfather (piano), Rolf Schulte (violin), Toby Appel (viola), Fred Sherry (cello), Charles Neidich (clarinet), Frank Morelli (bassoon), William Purvis (horn)

(This performance is on a MusicMasters CD (67158-2) titled “Stravinsky: The Composer, Volume VIII”. The CD also contains fine performances of “In Memoriam Dylan Thomas” (listed below), of “Three Songs From William Shakespeare”, of “Abraham and Isaac”, of “Cantata”, and of “Capriccio”.)

Boston Symphony Chamber Players

(This performance of the “Septet” is on the 2-CD set with the complete “L’Histoire du Soldat” mentioned above. Of the performances of the “Septet” that are readily available [I doubt if the performance conducted by Robert Craft still is], the Boston Symphony Chamber Players is probably the best one, i.e., the least bad. But I suppose I shouldn’t quibble. After all, how many musicians today have ever heard the Stravinsky monaural LP on Columbia from 1954 to give them a good idea of how this piece should be played? The Boston Symphony Chamber Players do pretty well, except they take the 1st movement a bit too fast, and they have a tendency to lose the character of the piece by not getting the accents correct. (The piano player does get the accents correct. Now if only the other musicians had imitated his good example.) It is very difficult in a chamber score, with such diverse instruments, to get the balances correct. The clarinet in the recording, thank goodness, can be heard, and the violinist doesn’t play too loudly, which happens all too often in other recordings of this piece. The horn player, on the other hand, is full of self-importance practically all the time, and is just too damn loud. (But this is an unfortunate tendency of most orchestral horn players these days when playing in chamber ensembles, because of the really supersonic horns manufactured these days. Now, if horn players only had some taste and would choose to play the Alexander Single B-flat Model 90, at least when they are playing in chamber ensembles.)

Stravinsky, In Memoriam Dylan Thomas

Igor Stravinsky (cond.), Richard Robinson (tenor), Lloyd Ulyate, Hoyt Bohannon, Francis Howard, Seymour Zeldin (trombones), Israel Baker, Sol Babitz (violins), Cecil Figelski (viola), George Neikrug (cello). Columbia ML 5107  LP  (1954)  (see above)

(This is a truly great performance of this very wonderful Stravinsky masterpiece. Stravinsky had been planning to work with Dylan Thomas on an opera. One cannot imagine to what that collaboration would have led.)

Robert Craft (cond.), Jon Humphries (tenor), Michael Powell, Kenneth Finn, John Rojak, David Taylor (trombones), Mayuki Fukuhara, Mitsuru Tsubota (violins), Louise Schulman (viola), Myron Lutzke (cello).  MusicMasters CD 67158-2 (mentioned above)

Stravinsky, Oedipus Rex

Igor Stravinsky (cond.), George Shirley, Shirley Verrett, Donald Gramm, Chester Watson, John Reardon, Loren Driscoll, Chorus and Orchestra of the Opera Society of Washington, DC    (1961)

(On Disc 1, Volume 10 of the “Stravinsky Conducts Stravinsky” box-set.)

Stravinsky, Piano Concerto

Mischa Dichter (piano), Robert Craft (cond.), Twentieth Century Classics Ensemble

Stravinsky, Agon

(This great ballet, completed in 1957, hangs together somehow even though Stravinsky’s style of serial-composition started out fairly simple at the inception of this work, and got quite a bit more complex by the time he had completed it.)

Robert Craft (cond.), Orchestra of St Luke’s (1992)

(As mentioned above, this performance appears on the Naxos CD 8.557502, which also contains performances of “Orpheus” and “Apollo”.)

Igor Stravinsky (cond.), Los Angeles Festival Symphony Orchestra (1957)

(This performance is on Disc 1, Volume 2 of the “Stravinsky Conducts Stravinsky” box-set. Not as good as the Robert Craft performance listed here.)

Stravinsky, Symphony of Psalms

Igor Stravinsky (conductor), CBC Symphony Orchestra (1962)

(This fine recording is on Disc 2, Volume 4 of the “Stravinsky Conducts Stravinsky” box-set. It also available on a separate CD with both “Symphony in 3 Movements” and “Symphony in C”.)

Stravinsky, The Rake’s Progress

Igor Stravinsky (cond.), Judith Raskin, Alexander Young, John Reardon, Regina Sarfaty, The Sadler’s Wells Opera Chorus, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

(Volume 9 (2-CDs) of the “Stravinsky Conducts Stravinsky” box-set. A truly great opera, with an super libretto from W.H.Auden and Chester Kallman.)

Tchaikovsky, Symphony #4 in F Minor

Constantin Silvestri (cond.), Philharmonia Orchestra (1957)

(What can I say? The zest, verve, occasional idiosyncracy, sparkling execution make this my favorite performance of my favorite Tchaikovsky symphony. This performance beats all of the well known ones. The Philharmonia Orchestra, the house that Walter Legge built, was in the 1950s the best orchestra I’ve heard. Only the Wiener Philharmoniker could match it.  The Philharmonia wind players, especially, are superb. There are a few Silvestri albums that are tops. This is one of them. In my not so humble opinion, the 3rd movement is Tchaikovsky at his best. And no other performance has such spirit, sparkle, verve, zest, excitement, precision by the strings and especially by the winds as this performance does. Commercially, I believe that this recording is now available only in the EMI box set titled Icon Constantin Silvestri. You can also  listen to it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NZKicaR8HIQ ).

Verdi, Verdi Arias, Volume I,  Maria Callas

Nicola Rescigno (cond.), Maria Callas, Philharmonia Orchestra (1958)

(3 arias from “Macbeth”, 1 aria each from “Nabucco”, “Ernani”, and “Don Carlo”. One of the very best recordings of Callas on CD. Verdi wrote the part of Lady Macbeth for Maria Callas. LOL. (OK. If you don’t believe this, listen to the CD. Then tell me it   isn’t true.) But the big highlight for me is the “Tu che le vanita” aria for the Princess Elizabeth from Act IV of “Don Carlo” – a stunningly effective and beautiful rendition of this great scene. If you don’t believe me, listen to it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sBxc-yWjXZs.)

Verdi, Messa da Requiem

Tullio Serafin (cond.), Maria Caniglia (soprano), Ebe Stignani (mezzo-soprano), Beniamino Gigli (tenor), Ezio Pinza (bass), Coro e Orchestra del Teatro dell’Opera di Roma

(Verdi would have been quite pleased with the way Serafin conducted this performance. And you will never hear the soloists do a better job. The recording was made in August 1939 in Rome just weeks before outbreak of World War II. This great recording, while it suffers from the poor sonics of the day, is so wonderful, probably the most authentic Verdi-sound that any of us will ever hear. Unfortunately, the sound quality on the big concerted parts with chorus suffers horribly from the limited technical capacity of the time. But the sound reproduction quality for the parts with the soloists is good enough so that the great performances can be heard. Ezio Pinza and Ebe Stignani are at the top of their form.  Gigli is wonderful too, if a trifle too mannered. Even Caniglia does a fine job. Gigli is a bit too mannered in the “Ingemisco” for my taste, but this is still a great rendition, not soon forgotten. Pinza is without compare in the “Confutatis”. One of the highlights for me on this recording is the entire “Offertorio”, especially the “Hostias”, where the entrances of Gigli and Pinza will take your breath away. The “Lux Aeterna”, which sounds as if it was written for Stignani, Gigli, and Pinza, is heart-rending. This is perhaps the musical equivalent of Hieronymus Bosch’s “Ascent of the Blessed” panel from his Last Judgement tryptych.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/16/Hieronymus_Bosch_013.jpg

Three versions of this performance have been released on CD, by Dutton Labs, by EMI, and by Pearl. Avoid the one by Pearl. The Dutton Labs is the best [but maybe unobtainable now], and the EMI isn’t far behind.)

Verdi, Otello

Tullio Serafin (cond.), Jon Vickers, Leonie Rysanek, Tito Gobbi, Rome Opera Orchestra and Chorus (1960)

(A great performance of this greatest of Verdi operas. And this is one of the very best performances of Jon Vickers that has been recorded. Jon Vickers IS Otello.  (Yes, I know who the other candidates are. Vickers is totally convincing, the most masculine, overpowering, commanding Otello from his first entrance.) Vickers is considerably better on this recording than the 1973 recording conducted by Herbert von Karajan.

Verdi, Rigoletto

Tullio Serafin (cond.), Maria Callas, Tito Gobbi, Giuseppe di Stefano, Orchestra e Coro del Teatro alla Scala di Milano (1955)

(Like Stravinsky, I love “Rigoletto” beyond the point where criticism makes any difference. And this recording is simply one of the very best opera recordings with these 3 principle singers. The highlights for me are the duets, those with Gilda and her father, and with Gilda and the Duke.)

Verdi, La Traviata

Franco Ghione (cond.), Maria Callas, Alfredo Kraus, Mario Sereni, Coro e Orquestra Sinfonica do Teatro Nacional de Sao Carlos, Lisboa (1958 live recording)

(I prefer this live recording to the von Karajan live recording with Callas. Callas never made a studio performance of “La Traviata” for EMI. Maria Callas IS Violetta Valery. This is her role. No competition. I heard that Schwarzkopf stopped singing La Traviata after hearing Callas sing Violetta. Alfredo Kraus is one of the best Alfredo Germont’s I’ve heard.)

Verdi, Aida

Tullio Serafin (cond.), Maria Callas, Richard Tucker, Fedora Barbieri, Tito Gobbi, Orchestra e Coro del Teatro alla Scala di Milano  (1956)

Verdi, Un Ballo in Maschera

Antonino Votto (cond.), Maria Callas, Giuseppe di Stefano, Tito Gobbi, Fedora Barbieri, Eugenia Ratti, Orchestra e Coro del Teatro all Scala di Milano (1957)

Wagner, Die Walküre

Georg Solti (cond.), James King, Regine Crespin, Gottlob Frick, Hans Hotter, Birgit Nilsson, Christa Ludwig, and the  Walkueren [Vera Schlosser, Berit Lindholm,  Brigitte Fassbaender, Helen Watts, Helga Dernesch, Vera Little, Marilyn Tyler, Claudia Hellmann], Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra

Wagner, Götterdämmerung

Georg Solti (cond.), Birgit Nilsson, Wolfgang Windgassen, Gustav Neidlinger, Gottlob Frick, Claire Watson, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. Christa Ludwig, Lucia Popp, Gwyneth Jones,  Maureen Guy, Helen Watts, Grace Hoffman, Anita Vaelkki, Vienna State Opera Chorus, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra

Wagner, Tristan und Isolde

Wilhelm Furtwängler (cond.), Ludwig Suthaus, Kirsten Flagstad, Blanche Thebom, Josef Greindl, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Royal Opera  Chorus, Covent Garden, Philharmonia Orchestra

Herbert von Karajan (cond.), Jon Vickers, Helga Dernesch, Christa Ludwig, Walter Berry, Karl Ridderbusch, Chor der Deutschen Oper Berlin, Berliner Philharmoniker

(These are both very fine recordings. Generally, I like the Furtwängler recording better than the Karajan. Flagstad is a better Isolde than Dernesch. Vickers is a truly outstanding Tristan.)

Wagner, Parsifal

Rafael Kubelik (cond.), James King, Bernd Weikl, Kurt Moll, Matti Salminen, Franz Mazura, Yvonne Minton, Tölzer Knabenchor, Chor und Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks

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