Category Archives: Classical Music, Recorded

Sviatoslav Richter – A 1950s Retrospective

Two decades ago, Leslie Gerber’s enterprising New-York-based label Parnassus began issuing a series showcasing previously unreleased and rare recordings from Sviatoslav Richter made throughout the Soviet Union and its satellites in the 1950s – the decade before the explosive 1960 debut American tour that elevated him to a legendary status that never wore off. Over a period of several years, thirteen discs were issued in seven volumes. They were easily obtained at the big-city Tower Records stores in the USA,  but were often difficult to find abroad, and a bit expensive where they could be found.

Parnassus is now distributed by Musical Concepts, my friend Todd Landor’s label/distribution unit/production company. Late last year, after Todd had acquired the Colorado Quartet’s Beethoven recordings from Parnassus, I suggested that we compile a Richter 1950s retrospective  for digital-only release.

A little over four hours of music was selected from the near sixteen hours of music on the original discs for Sviatoslav Richter – The Early Years: Rise of a Virtuoso Legend. The choices were difficult, as the set is so consistently excellent from an artistic standpoint, but several major works for which Richter had an affinity were obvious choices, particularly Prokofiev’s Piano Sonata No. 7, Schubert’s Piano Sonata in B-Flat Major, and Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition (a very different interpretation than the well-known Sofia recital from 1959 issued by Philips back in the day),

The original Parnassus masters were generally good, but most benefitted from pitch stabilization to remove flutter from analog tape sources. A few were re-equalized and in several cases obtrusive lighting and electrical hum were abated; in a couple of instances, very slight noise reduction was applied.

And now, it is available from Amazon – for now, it is priced at under $9 in the USA and 8 quid in the UK.

American customers can find it here, and UK listeners can find it at this Amazon link.

More Praise for Cuckson, Burns, and Nono

Miranda Cuckson and Christopher Burns | Luigi NonoThe Examiner‘s Stephen Smoliar relates his experience listening to the my label Urlicht AudioVisual’s recording of Luigi Nono’s La lontananza nostalgica utopica futura with violinist Miranda Cuckson and electronica master Richard Burns some years after having heard a live performance by Gidon Kremer:

An impressive effort to document Miranda Cuckson’s performance of Luigi Nono

… A recent release of [La lontananza nostalgica utopica futura] by Urlicht has taken a rather unique approach to capturing that sense of journey. Violinist Miranda Cuckson and “projectionist” Christopher Burns made a recording after having given a performance in New York. This was a multi-track recording for playback on a 5.1 Surround Sound system, and it was released as a Blu-ray audio disc. For those who lacked the necessary technology, that disc was packaged with a more conventional stereophonic CD. As one who lacks that “necessary technology,” my own listening experience involved playing the CD with full knowledge of my previous spatial experience.

With that disclaimer I have to say that there is much to be gained from the CD in spite of its limitations. Without the spatial effects one is more inclined to attend to Nono’s motivic vocabulary. While this may make the journey less “physical,” one can still appreciate that sense of peregrination through the six sections of the piece (conveniently marked as separate tracks on the CD). Furthermore, those who understand the semantics of “madrigal” in its Renaissance context will probably be more likely to appreciate why Nono chose this noun to categorize this particular composition.

Nevertheless, the other significant disclaimer I must make is that I had the advantage of listening to this recording with the benefit of past experience. There is no doubt that this is complex music, the result of scrupulous attention to both the notations encountered on the music stands and the sounds on the recorded tracks. It is probably more than most listeners will be able to manage on first contact. Nevertheless, it does not take many exposures for mind to encounter familiarities as the performance peregrinates. The listener willing to let this music work its magic on its own terms is likely to be well rewarded.

Luigi Nono: La lontananza nostalgica utopica futura (1988-89) Miranda Cuckson, violin / Christopher Burns, electronics

Produced by Christopher Burns and Richard Warp Recording engineer: Richard Warp Recorded at A Bloody Good Record Inc, Long Island City NY Mixing engineer (stereo CD): Richard Warp Mixing engineers (DTS 5.1 surround mix): Paul Special and Richard Warp Assistant mixing engineer (DTS 5.1 surround mix): Dillon Pajunas DTS 5.1 surround mix produced at Sonic Arts Center, CCNY, NYC Produced for New Spectrum Recordings, NYC Executive producer: Glenn Cornett

Urlicht AudioVisual UAD-5992 CD plus Blu-Ray Audio for home theater systems — available at Amazon.com. CD plus DTS-CD for home theater systems — available here.

… and yes, I’m enjoying every note…

Saturday night listening: Hans Werner Henze’s too-rarely-performed opera “Elegy for Young Lovers”. I know, it’s light listening as usual. An old college friend reminded me earlier today that I would often assert that “music should be rigorous”; that sentiment has changed little in 30-plus years.

The Henze recording features Lisa Saffer (she can sing anything, and I mean anything), Roderick Kennedy, a stunningly good supporting cast, and the Schoenberg Ensemble conducted by the much-underrated Reinbert de Leeuw. It’s part of a 27-disc set documenting Schoenberg Ensemble recordings of 20th century music issued about five years ago by Dutch indie Et’Cetera. The performances are consistently excellent.

Inaugurating the New and Recent Release Podcast

I’m going to take a crack at regularly showcasing new and recent releases that impress the heck out of me. Herein is the first edition.

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More information on the featured recordings:

Continue reading Inaugurating the New and Recent Release Podcast

Another Reason I Like Alex Ross

His recent post on the best Bruckner recordings on CD comes pretty close to mine (though I’m not as sanguine about the Welser-Möst/Cleveland Orchestra Bruckner DVDs I’ve seen). Besides, how can I not like a guy whose first LP was Jascha Horenstein’s mighty Bruckner Ninth on Vox?

I’ll add two alternate first choices to Alex’s short list: the Eighth with Herbert Blomstedt and the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig on Querstand, and the Ninth with Evgeny Mravinsky conducting the Leningrad Philharmonic on Melodiya.

Is He the Greatest Recording Era Conductor You’ve (Probably) Never Heard Of?

It was Ray Edwards – at the time buyer for Tower Records’ legendary, late, lamented classical department on West 4th and Broadway – that recommended I check out the recordings of British-born, Russian-raised conductor Albert Coates (I believe we’d been talking about the ever-popular “Toscanini vs. Furtwängler” debate and my having come down decidedly on the side of Willem Mengelberg).

Continue reading Is He the Greatest Recording Era Conductor You’ve (Probably) Never Heard Of?

Is There a “Mozart Effect”? Oliver Sacks Says No… and Yes

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An example of crass commercialism for which I blame myself — and it makes a great gift.

Does listening to Mozart make you a genius? Lest anyone forget, here is an example of a decade-plus-old product for which I take near-full responsibility.

Courtesy of the gang over at bigthink.com, Oliver Sacks has a detailed answer:

Continue reading Is There a “Mozart Effect”? Oliver Sacks Says No… and Yes