Featuring the best reviews from our loyal ClassicsOnline members.
(26 May – 9 June)
I hesitated to use the hoary cliché "classic," even to describe this wondrous musical experience. But that's still what it is. How many lives has this recording changed? Invariably for the the better, I should say. Even those who reject its maniacal perfectionism and hear calculation at the expense of expressivity acknowledge the sheer creativity of Gould's imagination.
I greatly prefer this version to the later recording. There are certain artists who seem to embody specific dimensions of life almost perfectly: Mozart, youthful innocence; later Beethoven, reflective maturity; Prokofieff, rebellious youthfulness. Part of the magic of Gould's performance is that he unites all of these, and more. You can still hear Gould impetuously sweeping aside the somber piety of playing Bach on the (staid sounding) harpsichord, insisting on his own right to find his own vision in the music, regardless of the claims of authenticity. And, for all the studied, almost frightening precision of his attack to the keyboard, he finds a cornucopia of emotional range unmatched by his detractors and competitors--and, sadly, by his later, crankier self. Here are brilliance, dazzling energy, incredible rhythmic dynamism; but also kindness, wonder, and indescribable sweetness. Like a Mahler symphony, this astounding musical kaleidoscope comprises an entire world of emotion and experience.
It may be that the influence of this performance is a mixed blessing. It may have inspired some to exalt speed and precision over musicality, or put their own eccentricities ahead of the composer's intentions. But even these consequences, if they are true, pale in comparison to what this radiant achievement has taught generations of listeners about what is possible in music--and in life. The world would be an incomparably poorer place without the inexhaustible freshness of its revelations.
An Ear-Opening Eye-Opener
PAER is not the first name to come into the opera-lover's head. In fact to most I should guess he is little more than a name in a footnote, as he was to me. And FERDINANDO Paer? A Neapolitan? Something wrong surely.
In fact, despite the German ancestry, he was one of their leading composers who snatched the operatic crown from Venice and established it in Naples, in that period that bridges the gap in the routine Italian operatic history between Vivaldi and Rossini. But what a discovery!
Listen to ClassicOnline's sample of the track (#7)that begins the magnificent Terzetto in the final scene of the first Act: does that not whet any opera lover's appetite for more? From then on until the end of the act there is operatic ensemble writing to equal that of the greatest operatic masters. Personally I long for some enterprising company to issue the full opera (is it too much to hope that these highlights are in fact torn from a recorded whole?) Or another neglected Paer discovery.
Not that this recording is totally without blemish: some of the soprano's solo arias have more vibrato than most of us care for these days. In the ensembles however - of which there are abundance (in contrast to the previous era when the chain of recititive-and-aria was but rarely broken by a duet).
A point to remember is that this was the launch period of the castrati - a hurdle to be overcome in any modern performance.
The Punic Wars might not seemm a fruitful source for a libretto; but this traditional farago of love, apparent betrayal, suicide and last-minute salvation should not trouble any opera-lover. Sadly these highlights are also the only example of an individual Paer opera available at all; although there are odd arias in various diva collections.
I only have one thing to say regarding SOFONISBA - buy it!
Fanny Mendelssohn Has Something To Say
I wasn’t quite sure what to make of this disc on first hearing it. The recording quality is excellent, and has good dynamic range. Initially, though, it was difficult for me to avoid the inevitable comparisons with Fanny’s brother Felix. However, upon a second and third listening on my home stereo, the talents of both Fanny and Heather Schmidt (the pianist) made themselves readily apparent. This recording contains pieces from various points throughout Fanny’s all too short life, and clearly demonstrate the talents of a growing composer as well as those of a more mature developed individual, despite the fact that she was discouraged from publishing because of her gender.
Make no mistake, Fanny has something to say. The turbulent Allegro molto in C minor is defiant, with whirlwinds of chords that travel up and down the keyboard, which contrasts nicely with the more wistful three movement Sonata in C minor, the latter being dedicated to her brother “in his absence”. And a marvelous example of a more mature composition can be found in the Piano Sonata in G minor, a strong yet not too forceful work that grabbed this listener by the ears and made him stop what he was doing until the fourth movement had finished. Darker harmonies, albeit strangely warm at the same time, can be found in the Sonata o Capriccio, yet another piece on this disc that I liked a great deal. And there is no denying that the Notturno in G minor, written by a more mature Fanny, shows why this composer is worth exploring and listening to. Yes, this is a composer with something to say. And with Heather Schmidt bringing the pieces to life, Fanny’s compositions do indeed have a voice. This listener wants to hear more.
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