Nov 12

ClarkCornet
Cornet Soloist of the Sousa Band Herbert L. Clarke ★★★★
Herbert Clarke was among the first few generations of trumpet players with a modern three-valved trumpet, and he helped define the nature of virtuosity in trumpet playing. HL Clarke has written many of the trumpet lesson books that exist, and several of which I use on a regular basis. This is a very old historic recording, and the sound is horrid on many of the tracks. The producer admits that they did their best to clean up the recordings and to remove record scratchiness, but it is still a fairly prominent part of the background noise. Even still, it is a delight to hear an early master of the trumpet. While virtuosity today has well exceeded what Clarke demonstrates in these recordings, the Clarke recordings still demonstrate a great mastery of the instrument achieved by few even today.

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Nov 12

Handel
Händel Edition; produced by Brilliant Classics ★★★★★
This was a budget compilation of many of the works of Georg Fredrick Händel, produced by Brilliant Classics. Many of the Brilliant Classics productions are substandard, but this production was not. Most of the pieces included in this collection were excellent performances with excellent recording technique. Though the 65 discs in this offering were quite budget in price, they were anything but budget in quality, and compete adequately with productions by other recording studios. Particularly, many of the vocal pieces were superbly performed, as well as the organ concertos. The Messiah production by Steven Cleobury competes with the other 10-15 recordings of the Messiah in my collection. It is at times a touch rushed, but I find that consistent with British recordings of the Messiah.
So, a few words on Händel. First, I find it incomprehensible that his name is spelled Handel or Haendel, and not Händel, which was his birth name spelling. OK, the Brits don’t have umlauts, but the British be damned, regardless of Händel’s tolerance for the British misspelling of his name. My exposure to Händel has up to now been limited. I’ve had a smattering of his most popular pieces, but there is not much out there with Händel that’s affordable. I’ve watched a number of his operas (in DVD video format), which are very tedious, and a strain on the sentiments of a modern opera lover.
Händel was born about 30 miles from where JS Bach was born in this same year of Bach’s birth. Though Händel became the wealthy internationally acclaimed composer, his works are brilliant but lacking the absolute genius of Bach, even when considering his Messiah. There is a sense of tediousness in working through Händel that is never found in Bach. Both composers borrowed heavily from other compositions that they or others composed, but Bach had a flair for instilling a brilliance to the new use of the music that is lacking with Händel. This is not to say that Händel was not an accomplished composer, and this collection by Brilliant has done a nice job of pointing out to me many of the lesser recognized works of Händel that are absolutely delightful, but rarely ever performed. Hopefully, some day we will see a COMPLETE Händel Edition with high quality performances. Until then, this collection of Händel is a very reasonable and inexpensive alternative.

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Jan 22

Paganini means “little pagan” in English. Some of his compositions are impossibly hard to play. Here is a tune that you’ll recognize, played by a single person.

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Jan 19

NielsonViolinConcNielsen Violin, Clarinet, and Flute Concerti, with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, directed by Kees Bakels ★★★★
Carl Nielsen (1865-1931) was a Danish composer best known for his symphonies and violin concerto. These lesser pieces certainly are no less great than Nielsens’ symphonies, even if less performed. These concerti all use the solo instruments in a unique way, that doesn’t overwhelm one with the solo piece. None of the solos seem to be demanding virtuosic pieces, but are pleasant insertions into a well-fitting orchestral accompaniment. I am not a Nielsen fan, though I find that these pieces were quite pleasing to get to know. Naxos offers superb recordings, and for the price are quite worth it.
 

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Dec 22

Góreki3Górecki Symphony No. 3 (Symphony of Sorrowful Songs) and Three Olden Style Pieces), performed the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Antoni Wit ★★★★★
I have several versions of Górecki’s third symphony, both of which are excellent. Naxos provides a beautiful rendition of Górecki’s 3rd, with excellent sound and balance in this recording. Górecki is not a well known composer, without a large volume of works to his name. He passed away in the 1990’s. While being very distinctly 20th century pieces of music, they are also most accessible to even the most die-hard classicist. The symphony is a sad piece, with orchestra occasional accompanied by a solo soprano voice. The music is haunting, but not in the freakish sense, such as one would get with Ligeti.  Wit masterfully conducts the symphony with a great amount of emotion that touches the listener. As a bonus, Naxos also included the Three Olden Style Pieces, composed in similar genre to the third symphony, though without a vocal part. This is a piece that I would highly recommend to any discriminating classical music lover.
 

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Nov 16

OrganHistory1
OrganHistory2
OrganHistory3
OrganHistory4
 
The History of the Organ, Part 1: It’s Latin Origins, Part 2: From Sweelink to Bach, Part 3: The Golden Age, and Part 4: The Modern Age ★★★★
Only after I purchased each of these separately did I notice that the complete set is now available for a bit cheaper than purchasing each part separately. The production was accomplished by ArtHaus, and utilizes a number of well-known and accomplished organists to demonstrate various historical and modern organs. There is much discussion on the early invention and development of what we know of as the organ, and its evolution and development over time into the modern instrument that we know. The development of organ music was also discussed. There are episodes that spend time in a modern organ building shop, showing how both historical and modern organs are assembled.
Each episode was slightly under one hour, making the set quite pricey for what you get. Topics are treated very superficially. You are never given an in-depth view of the assemblage of any of the organs demonstrated. There are no details as to how organ music has changed over time, or what musically distinguishes one composer from another, other than a brief demonstration of some of their pieces. The technique of playing the organ is only superficially approached in one teaching episode of an accomplished organist with a student.
I enjoyed the series but feel that it could have been much better done. Unfortunately, there isn’t much out there about the prince of all musical instruments, the organ. To that, a better series on the organ is well deserved.

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Oct 04

KronosWagnerAt the Grave of Richard Wagner, by the Kronos Quartet ★★★
At the Grave of Richard Wagner was written by Franz Liszt, is the lead piece on this CD, but is only 2:47 long. The rest of the CD is filled with a string quartet by Alban Berg (op. 3), and five pieces by Anton Webern. This is the only recording of the At the Grave of Richard Wagner piece that I could find.
Richard Wagner’s grave is located in the grounds of his home Villa Wahnfried in Bayreuth, Bayern, Deutschland. Here is a recent photo of the grave, not taken by me (I’ve never been to Bayreuth)

Grave of Richard Wagner at Willa Wahnfried

Grave of Richard Wagner at Willa Wahnfried


Though Wagner’s music is among the greatest music ever written, I have little good to say about the man Richard Wagner. Thus it is fitting that he get a less than 3 minute music memorial written to him, which is rarely listened to, and even less recorded.
The music on this set is not bad. I’m not crazy about the new Viennese school, which Webern and Berg were students of. The performances are quite high quality, and the Kronos Quartet does a wonderful job of making Webern and Berg accessible. Sadly, the entire disc is only 33 minutes long. I bought it used on Amazon.com for a few dollars. It sells new for $42, making it over a dollar a minute, and definitely NOT worth it.
 

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Oct 04

HaydnEditionHaydn Edition, Brilliant Classics ★★★★★
This is not a complete set of Haydn works, but the closest there is on the market. Assembled by Brilliant Classics, this is a steal at $130 for 150 CDs and 6 days, 17 hours and 40 minutes of listening time. It took me over a month to get through this set. The works can be divided up into 8 sections.
a) The symphonies – these were performed by Adam Fischer and the Austrio-Hungarian symphony. Though some of the Haydn symphonies are tedious, Fischer does an excellent job with these, and the recording quality is superb. I also have the set by Antal Dorati, and Fischer offers a nice alternative to Dorati’s set.
b) Concertos – These were performed by a mixture of groups. The recording quality was mixed, and performances good but none of the performances were notably outstanding.
c) Choral works- These were mixed. Brilliant did not include all of his masses, and the masses included have been better performed elsewhere. Even still, the recordings of the masses were excellent and worthy of having. The two cantatas (The Seasons and The Creation) also are better performed elsewhere, even though the included recordings are excellent. The operas are well done but tedious to listen to. This does not seem to be the performers fault, as the operas all sound like the early, less mature Mozart operas.
d) Folk songs-Most of these songs were in English, and written (I presume) while Haydn was in England. These truly were the least desireable part of this set. The songs for the most part all sounded the same. They were a challenge to get through.
e) String Quartets- The String Quartets were all produced by the Buchberger Quartet, and superb. The performances, as well as the recordings were delightful and a joy to listen to.
f) Piano trios- Performed by the Van Swieten Trio, they are quite capably performed. I am not as familiar with his piano trios as Haydn’s other works, so cannot offer great comments, except that they were nicely done.
g) Baryton trios- These are recordings that I have never heard of. I had to look up the definition of a baryton, which is sort of like a cello but with more strings, and strings of different types. The Esterhazy Ensemble is one of the groups instrumental in resurrecting the baryton, and their recordings are well done and most delightful. It is sad that these works are not better known, and I applaud the Esterhazy Ensemble for their wonderful performances of these pieces.
i) Piano solo works – these are offered by a mixture of performers. The recording quality is excellent, and the performances are well done, though none stood out as remarkable.
In summary, the Brilliant Edition is a true bargain for a mix of good to excellent performances of the works of Haydn, with no recordings being truly bad. For the Haydn collector, this is a no-brainer. If you don’t like Haydn, then you probably should not be reading this review.
 

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Jul 30

StraussWalzesStrauss (Family) Waltzes, Polkas and Marches, performed by Wiener Philharmoniker, Willi Boskovsky ★★★★
I love the Viennese music of the Strauss family. These pieces are very uplifting, and all have a strong march or dance beat. Willi Boskovsky and the Wiener Philharmoniker does a superlative job of recreating these pieces, and the recordings are flawless.
That having been said, I listened to these pieces straight through, a full 6 CDs, 7 hours and 24 minutes. I became convinced that it would be a torture worse than anything the Chinese ever had invented  to lock somebody in a room and play them this music continuously. In 24 hours, they would be totally insane. Three quarters time music endlessly heard with the same stylistic phrase and piece endings drives one crazy. The Strausses thankfully had the ability to invent wonderful tunes. Who could not become addicted to An der Schönen Blauen Donau, Frühlingsstimmen, Wiener Bonbons, etc., etc. Yet, creativity has its bad side, with orchestral imitations that are cheap, such as bird song, explosions, thunder and lightning, and the like, which are more annoying than beautiful. Viennese Strauss music is best heard with lots of champagne or beer on board, and works as well with the accordion polka band as with the full orchestra. We will leave the Strauss family to the occasional listening circuit.
This set is a beautiful compendium of the Viennese Strauss family music. There are larger sets, but I fear listening to such a set would drive the insanity to much deeper levels. Stick with this set and you won’t go wrong.
 

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Jul 07

BuxtehudeOrganDietrich Buxtehude Sämtliche Oregelwerke, by Ulrik Spang-Hanssen ★★★★★
Buxtehude was one of the organ masters that taught Bach organ technique and composition, Bach, at age 20, walked over 400 km to spend 3 months with him in Lübeck. Bach clearly excelled his teacher, yet these are quite delightful compositions in their own right. The recording is clear and well done, and the performances are superb and laudable. This is not a set that should be sought out by the occasional classical listener, but to trained ears, it will give hours of delight.
 

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