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Featuring the best reviews from our loyal ClassicsOnline members.
 (26 May – 8 June)

FRANCK, C.: Symphony in D minor (Paray) (1953)
(Naxos Classical Archives: 9.80530)

Reviewer: markprowen
Date Reviewed: 05/22/11
FRANCK, C.: Symphony in D minor (Paray) (1953)

The French Franck

Selected comparisons: Stokowski/1927; Ormandy/1956 (both with the Philadelphia Orchestra and also available as ClassicsOnline downloads); Paray/1959.

This present recording is the earlier of Paray's two recordings (both were made in Detroit, originally for Mercury Records, the later in stereo).

Paray had the knack of drawing very idiomatic playing from his orchestras and so we have here the advantage of French character being combined with North American orchestral virtuosity. Although there is little to choose between either Paray version, the present recording is the more taut. Here, the tempo changes in the first movement feel more natural and the playing in general has slightly more bite. Strings are lyrical and the playing has a tremendous sense of sweep and urgency.

Stokowski in 1927 takes a completely different approach. His preceding spoken outline illustrates what is to come - 'a symphony of the mystical and dreamworld'. Broad, spacious, wayward tempi, but all irresistible and of course, fabulously played by the Philadelphians.

Ormandy took over from Stokowski in Philadelphia and recorded the Franck Symphony at least three times. His 1956 recording has much to commend it: Ormandy followers will undoubtedly respond to this. However, whilst the playing is again virtuosic, this is arguably the least characterful of the recordings discussed so far.

Classical collectors will be very familiar with the fact that there are several stereo recordings which have gained almost legendary status over the years: Monteux/Chicago; Maazel/Berlin; Munch/Boston - the list goes on! If readers who already own one or more of these recordings wish to acquire a vintage mono performance, in summary, I would say for:

a 'French Franck' - go for Paray (earlier rec.);
a 'Franck Fantasia' - expore Stokowski (1927)
a 'Not a note out of place but ultimately middle of the road Franck' - Ormandy (1956).

All of these downloads gain from the expert 'transfers' from ClassicsOnline; these are helped by the 320kps mp3 file quality. At such bargain prices, an absolute recommendation would be to download all three recordings - you will actually be richer - not poorer - for it!

SAINT-SAENS, C.: String Quartets Nos. 1 and 2 (Fine Arts Quartet)
(Naxos: 8.572454)

Reviewer: peterjohndean
Date Reviewed: 05/21/11
SAINT-SAENS, C.: String Quartets Nos. 1 and 2 (Fine Arts Quartet)

A beautiful late flowering

Saint-Saens remained a prodigy to the end of his long life. Although his style went out of fashion, he continued to write beautifully crafted melodic music in the French tradition of clarity and wit, within these late quartets a new profundity of expression, to which the Fine Arts Quartet are very sensitive.

It is hard to understand why the quartets are not more frequently played. Perhaps because they are too intimate and delicate compared to Saint-Saens’ more extrovert earlier works. Fortunately, with this recording we can appreciate their beauty undisturbed and they will repay repeated playings, each time revealing some new subtlety. The sound is exceptional and the disc offers remarkable value, like all Naxos recordings.

Guitar Recital: Moller, Johannes - BARRIOS MANGORE, A. / CRAEYVAGNER, K.A. / REGONDI, G. / VILLA-LOBOS, H. / GOUGEON, D. / BROUWER, L.Date
(Naxos / Laureate Series: 8.572715)

Reviewer: kerryalt
Date Reviewed: 05/19/11
Guitar Recital: Moller, Johannes - BARRIOS MANGORE, A. / CRAEYVAGNER, K.A. / REGONDI, G. / VILLA-LOBOS, H. / GOUGEON, D. / BROUWER, L.Date

Great Debut!

On what I hope is the first of a series, Johannes Moller has delivered a stellar rendering of Romantic and Modern music for the guitar. The Barrios reading (performed tuned 1/2 step down as did Barrios) is wonderfully expressive and unique. Following are superb versions of Villa-Lobos etudes and Cadenza, all delivered in a highly expressive style consistent with the period. The previously unknown to me Craeyvanger's 'Introduction and Variations on a theme from Der Freischutz' is a beautifully constructed early Romantic work, interpreted in the style but with great clarity of line.

Like a pendulum, the music goes back and forth between the Romantic and Contemporary idioms. The premiere of the very interesting and haunting Lamento-Scherzo by Denis Gougeon (Canada) is followed by the oft performed 'Reverie' by Giulio Regondi. Moller somehow makes the transitions sound quite natural.

The recording closes with possibly the best performance ever of the fascinating Sonata by Cuban composer/guitarist Leo Brouwer. This is a very challenging work that becomes transcendent in Moller's reading.

Moller is also an accomplished composer, so it is appropriate that the recording closes with his own 'Poem to a distant fire', a sublime work that explores the colors possible on the guitar.

Mr. Moller clearly has impeccable tone and technique, but his superb musicianship and artistry makes this recording one of the best I've heard. Highest recommendation.

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