Monday, July 21, 2008

So I've heard (July 2008)

Since class has started and, while I have several drafts kicking around the ether, I haven't had the time or the energy to make a full-scale attempt at a "real" post. I thought, however, that I would mention a few recordings that I've acquired and that are worth a spin. I won't get too in-depth, for the foregoing reasons, as well as the fact that I am shooting for a sort of in-a-nutshell review.

Beethoven, Sonatas nos. 22-26, András Schiff/2008 (ECM)

Schiff's Beethoven cycle presses on, and it's probably tautological to say that this release is obviously deeply considered and intelligently played. Ultimately, I prefer Wilhelm Backhaus in Les Adieux, largely for the same reasons I prefer Backhaus in a lot of cases, though not all (Pollini's Hammerklavier, for example, has made pretty significant inroads with me, coming abreast of Gould, but not quite trumping yet) but Schiff makes a convincing case for his interpretation. I don't really have to say that Schiff has clearly devoted a lot of thought to his Beethoven, and the sonatas on this disc are both well-known and well-recorded. His playing can tend toward the mannered at times, but he's come a long way since that 1983 Goldberg recording. His additions to the discography, in any event, come from the intelligence he brings to something like the Appassionata, which tends, in my view, to become a caricature of itself in some readings. I don't know that I'll be pushing some of my favorites aside for Schiff, but I do know that I'll find room somewhere for the sets.

Bruckner, Symphony no. 9, Goodall/BBCSO/1974 (BBC Legends)

It's worth noting at the outset that this is an "official" release of a pirated (they put it more felicitously) copy of a broadcast recording done in studio. It is, accordingly, lacking in the finer nuances of analog sound circa 1974. If you're used to historical recordings, then the SQ won't bother you. If not, try another record.

Goodall is known for his glacial Wagner (which, in some places, makes Levine look like Pierre Boulez on uppers), and he seems to have a reputation as an opera conductor. His Bruckner is pretty slow and not to everyone's taste. Indeed, some of his recordings have been panned pretty roundly, but praised by others, most notably (in the instant case) by the American Record Guide. Regardless of who likes it and who doesn't, I find that it's either going to work for you or it isn't. I like Goodall's approach to the 9th: the breadth manages to work without slipping into Celibidache-like excess or, worse still, torpor. There is something fundamentally grand about the last three of Bruckner's symphonies, and Goodall seems to bring that out without running into the trap of seeming self-consciously grand.

Bruckner, Symphony no. 4, Tennstedt/LPO/1989 (LPO)

I have long harbored the suspicion that Klaus Tennstedt was a great conductor. His EMI Mahler 8th is pretty good confirmation of that fact, but his live recordings do just as good of a job. The problem is that it's hard to tell precisely what is going on with them. There's a Beethoven 9th and a Haydn Schöpfung pretty well rendered second-rate by the boomy, over-reverberant acoustics. This Bruckner 4th, however, is pretty clear and detailed. It's worth noting that the former two come from the mid-1980s, while this one comes from 1989.

This is, simply put, a thrilling recording of Bruckner's (in my opinion) most accessible score. Celibidache's 1988 Munich recording tends to get mentioned as a contender for tops in this category, and I can honestly say that I think Tennstedt knocks the tar out of that recording down the line. The timings are pretty comparable in the first three movements, with Celibidache drawing the finale out a bit, but Tennstedt and the LPO have a verve and vigor that really seems palpable at times. Tennstedt achieves as much as the other major recordings of the 4th, but he does so in an engaging and seemingly open way.

There are more records to be discussed, but I'd rather save my energies for a discussion that I've been turning over in my head for a little while.


At 11:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I heard the LPO under Tennstedt playing Bruckner a decade earlier than these recordings. Eugen Jochum (who died in 1987) was to have conducted that evening but he was indisposed and so Tennstedt replaced him. From what I recall, it was pretty good but not on the level of Jochum or Celibidache at that time, or Wand some years later. That was before Tennstedt's illness, of course, and the consensus is that he was never quite as good after his recovery. Of all Celi's recordings of the 4th, the one that you want is from Stuttgart in 1978; this has a drive and pulse in the finale unlike anything I've heard before.

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