Oct 09

Toscanini, A collection of his works ??
It is typical that the first performance of any classical work that one hears, if well performed, tends to stick in ones mind, and defines for hearings of other performances a standard to measure up to. I grew up on Toscanini, and was told repeatedly that he was one of the greatest conductors of the twentieth century. I remember sitting for hours, listening to nothing but Toscanini. In the case of Toscanini, the rule introduced at the beginning has not held true, and I have found much better recordings and performances of just about everything that Toscanini has to offer. This compendium of 10 CDs of his works confirms that statement. Toscanini tends to always be very sharp, bombastic, and unfeeling in his performances. Somehow, he seems to think that if a work is flawlessly performed in double the meter of any other conductor, it is better performed. Toscanini just has no feel as to the soul of any piece of classical music. There is nothing on this CD that I have not heard better performed by other conductors. Toscanini does a reasonable job with the American composers like Gershwin and Grofe, but destroys Wagner. I will be comparing two other conductor sets in this series, one with Furtwängler and the other with Ormandy. Furtwängler is not my favorite composer but is total delight to listen to, after having one’s ears abused with Toscanini. In addition, the recordings in this set are poorly cleaned up, and much of the record noise and tinny sound remains. They could have done better, though this set was only $17 for 10 CDs so it’s hard to complain too bitterly. The  good grace of this set is that it is very inexpensive, and does give one a proper feel for Toscanini.

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Oct 09


Edition Bachakademie Hänssler, mostly featuring Helmut Rilling ?????
This is now my second hearing of this set of 172 CDs, consisting of all the known works of Johann Sebastian Bach. There exist two other collections of his works, one put out by Brilliant Records, and the other by Teldec. I do not have the Teldec set, but will probably purchase it when it becomes available again. This set, costing about $1600 (I paid much less for it), is now being offered for $300 on Amazon.com, which should be a total steal. The Hänssler edition is the only collection that utilizes adults and modern instrumentation for the productions of all the cantatas and other choral works. The only exception, of course, is the boys choir in the Mätthaus Passion. There are better performances many of Bach’s cantatas. I feel that Karl Richter’s cantatas are superior in terms of feeling and expressive content, though Richter offers less than half of all of Bach’s cantatas. Rilling is a most capable conductor, offering the complete cantatas and other vocal works of Bach, with more compelling performances than any of the other complete collections. The Brilliant and Teldec sets oftentimes uses boy performers, which can easily become quite wearisome to the ears. Rilling, like Richter, avoids period instruments, thus giving a brilliance and charm to the works that other performances do not possess. Regarding using modern vs. original instrumentation, the keyboard works for harpsichord are variously performed in this set, occasionally with a piano, occasionally with a clavecin, and usually with a harpsichord. I appreciate harpsichord music, but, much dynamics of performance appear to be missing with a harpsichord. Even when a piano is used instead of a harpsichord, the performer usually tends to plays the piano in a fashion like I was taught, to make it sound like a harpsichord. This ends up in a rather mechanical sound, that might be imitated by a piano roll. Perhaps, this is why I really appreciate the Bach performances of Glen Gould, who breaks out of the mold of original instrument thinking, and allows Bach to speak in a new and fresh fashion. Sometimes, an unusual array of instruments are used, such as in the Wohltemperte Klavier, where the harpsichord, organ and Clavicin are all variously utilized. The keyboard works were quite variable, though most with quite convincing and compelling performances, even though a number were more routinely and mechanically driven. In total, this set is an amazing compendium of mostly top notch, well performed Bach. The cantatas are the selling point of this set, though that should not diminish the attractiveness of the rest of the works on the set, whether they be keyboard, violin or cello sonatas, or any of the other plenteous compositions of the greatest of all composers of all time. Any lover of Bach must have this set: it will be treasured for many hearings.

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