Category Archive 'Recordings'
03 Dec 2013

Robert Schumann: Papillons Opus 2

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The great Sviatoslav Richter recorded in 1962 by EMI.

24 Nov 2013

Franz Schubert: Der Erlkönig, D. 328

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Heinrich Schlusnus (1888-1952), accompanied by Franz Rupp. Recorded 1933.

17 Nov 2013

Schubert: Gretchen am Spinnrade, D. 118

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Elizabeth Schwarzkopf (1915-2006), with Edwin Fischer (1886-1960), piano. Recorded October 4-7, 1952 at No. 1A Studio, Abbey Road, London.

27 Oct 2013

Carl Loewe: “Heinrich der Vogler,” Opus 56, No. 1

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Karl Scheidemantel, 1902 Gramophone Concert Record 42870 (831 x).

02 Sep 2013

Nikolayeva Plays Schubert’s Sonata D.960

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Her performance is up there in quality with Arthur Schnabel’s.

15 Feb 2013

Argerich Plays Chopin’s Scherzo No.3 in C Sharp Minor, Opus 39

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Music Analysis:

This scherzo is the most dramatic of the four. It was dedicated to Adolf Gutmann because, according to Wilhelm von Lenz, only Adolf could play the chords in the bass, which cannot be spanned by any left hand (D# F# B D# F# in bar 6). Adolf was one of Chopin’s pupil who could apparently punch a hole in a table. It is also the most ironic and forcefully constructed of the four scherzos, with an almost Beethovenian majesty. The Schezro opens with two mysterious questions that are answered by two striking octaves that even seem uncompromising. The scherzo is built upon two sharply contrasting elements. The first theme in C sharp minor starts with a series of strong accents and thundering scales and follows by a fast and heroic march. As soon as the second theme appears in D flat major, the calmness and serenity wipe out the whole tension. These graceful and luminous passages consist of richly harmonized chorale phrases with shimmering waves of falling notes. It is said that these chorale phrases echo songs sometimes heard at the monastery in Valdemosa. The first theme then repeats, not less striking as when it first appears, but ends in a more shocking way that leads to the second theme, which is now in E major, not D flat major. The second theme follows using the same motif as the previous part, but the transition to the repetition in E minor calls for a sad memory that does not even exist before. After several quiet questions, a silent moment, several waves of sound, and falling octaves, the coda finally comes with a lot of agitation and turbulence. When the coda reaches the high E, a series of rolling waves runs up to a high G#, falls down to a daring stroke A in the bass, and concludes the work with brilliant masterstrokes in C#.


Classical Net review of

For me, there are two kinds of Chopin players: Apollonian and Dionysian – those who aim at some ideal, unchanging interpretation and those who, like jazz players, allow themselves to ride the musical wave, to discover things while they play. Both players run risks. The Platonists can fall into stultification. The Bacchantes can become merely eccentric or the performance can simply break apart into chaos. The Platonist’s reward is a kind of “naturalness.” Perfect beauty seems to come from “just playing.” The Dionysian’s reward is ecstatic discovery. It forces the listener to “hear anew.” Argerich clearly belongs to the second group. That at so young an age she could bring off something so individual and so right amazes me. No wonder the Poles [at the Chopin Competition in Warsaw in 1965] went nuts.

Nothing in the interpretation betrays the music. Still, the interpretation remains one-of-a-kind. Argerich chooses to emphasize the instability of the piece. The opening measures harmonically and rhythmically leave the listener up in the air. The confusion lasts only a moment, as she launches into the main strain. This unleashes a demonic energy, which runs smack into a chorale idea. This usually signals pianists to switch straight into their “nobilmente” gear. Yet, Argerich doesn’t take it straight, preferring to contrast the chords with a glittering arpeggio. Again, this destabilizes the texture, leading to (after the reappearance of the chorale idea) an inexorable rush to the end. What Argerich has done, in contrast to other pianists, is essentially extend the arch of the piece. Her command of dynamics and color here is superb.

06 Dec 2012


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Leonard Cohen‘s “Hallelujah” was written in 1984 for the back side of an album ultimately rejected by that performer’s label.

“Hallelujah” began being covered in early 1990s by Jeff Buckley, a young singer-songwriter performing in the East Village, who recorded it on his only album in 1994, three years before he drowned, getting caught in a boat wake, in a river in Tennessee. Buckley’s version was considerably more emotional and his voice more sympathetic than Cohen’s. Buckley’s early and romantic death brought attention to the song, and one thing led to another.

Today, “Hallelujah” is one of the most-frequently-performed rock songs and a staple routinely used elegiacally in movies and television shows. It has been covered by large numbers of renowned performers, including Bono, Bob Dylan, U2, Justin Timberlake, Rufus Wainwright, and k.d. lang, and is used as a kind of secular funeral hymn around the world.

The song’s phenomenal rise to popularity has even resulted in a book study by Allen Light, The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, and the Unlikely Ascent of “Hallelujah”


The Jeff Buckley version.

25 Aug 2011

Classical CDs Beat Other Genres in Sales

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Variety has some good news.

The classical recording industry is managing to experience sales growth despite the recession, and capitalist enterprise is gradually excavating the enormously valuable recorded repertoire lost to contemporary humanity in the cataclysmic media transition which eliminated the long-playing record.

Nielsen SoundScan’s report for the first half of 2011 indicates that classical music had the biggest gain in sales of all genres, 13%, over the first half of 2010, for a total of 3.8 million albums.

Granted, that’s still a small percentage of the total market (about 2.4%), but it shows that classical is holding its own and then some, with other genres up slightly or slipping.

Moreover, the majors are being supplanted by a swarm of activity from other, smaller, nimbler sources.

Many orchestras increasingly take matters into their own hands, no longer relying on the majors for exposure. The Chicago Symphony has its own label, CSO Resound, so do the Boston and St. Louis symphonies, as well as the London Symphony, London Philharmonic and several other foreign orchestras. With Telarc reduced to a shell of its former self after the takeover by Concord, its two once-regular orchestras, the Cincinnati and Atlanta symphonies, have just formed their own labels.

Probably the most successful and luxuriously packaged inhouse orchestra label is the San Francisco Symphony’s SFS Media, which in 2010 completed its decade-long Mahler project on 17 SACDs and just issued a capstone documentary, “Keeping Score: Mahler,” on DVD and Blu-ray. SFS Media claims to have sold more than 130,000 Mahler CDs worldwide at premium prices — a roaring success for a classical series.

Likewise, individual artists and small ensembles now routinely bypass the majors and minors alike in favor of their own boutique CD labels — like New York new music collective Bang on a Can’s Cantaloupe, pianist Wu Han and cellist David Finckel’s ArtistLed, plus composer Philip Glass’ Orange Mountain Music.

Free of the old restrictions, these labels can offer as many choices to their fans as their markets will bear. In the prolific Glass’ case, Orange Mountain Music has issued at least 75 releases since its launch in 2003, and the Music@Menlo festival in Silicon Valley exhaustively documents its concerts in massive annual boxed sets.

Naxos, the budget label that upended the classical record industry in the 1990s with its no-frills, high-quality recordings, has turned itself into a big distributor of small labels, with 148 of them (mostly classical) now under its umbrella. Harmonia Mundi, once and still a specialist in early music, also distributes a long string of small labels.

If the majors don’t want to keep their rich classical catalogs in print, others are happy to step into the breach. The online retailer ArchivMusic, now owned by piano manufacturer Steinway, has been making deals with the majors that allow it to press custom copies of out-of-print classical CDs and sell them on its website (the titles now number well in the thousands).

Hat tip to Adam Krims.

31 Dec 2010

“The Conservative”

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The Orlons were a black Philadelphia R&B group which began recording in 1960.

Hat tip to Walter Olson.

09 May 2010

Der Hirt auf dem Felsen

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Moritz von Schwind, Schubertiade, 1867

I thought I ought to follow the example of my friends at Maggie’s Farm and, by way of sharing some personal knowledge of high points of the recorded repertoire, start making a regular practice of posting a link to particular performances and recordings.

This particular lieder performance by Elly Ameling is truly remarkable, indubitably the best single performance of Hirt auf dem Felsen ever. I found immediately, simply glancing through references on-line, that my own opinion is widely, and very articulately, shared.

The mp3 on YouTube is, alas! a pale shadow of the CD, which is, in turn, a pale shadow of the old LP version, but such is life.



N.A. writes in a 1990 Gramaphone review:

Few, if any Schubert song recitals, have given me as much pleasure over the years as this one by the Dutch soprano, Elly Ameling. Originally… issued (on a long-playing record titled a) “Schubertiade.”… Ameling’s voice was perhaps at its very best at this time. ..

Der Hirt auf dem Felsen [features] the clarinettist, Hans Deinzer, playing an elderly instrument of unspecified provenance. … Ameling is sensitively accompanied… by Jorg Demus whose intimate playing on a fortepiano tuned with exquisite imperfection has proved over the years an indispensable ingredient of the Schubertiade. Demus brings more expression to the accompaniment than most, with beautifully judged rubato and delicately shaded dynamics. Ameling, fervent and wistful, with faultless intonation, impeccable diction and a rare warmth of sentiment leaves an indelible mark on the sensibilities; it’s a performance to treasure for a lifetime.

At Amazon, Russell F. Scalf of Berkeley, California writes:

Elly Ameling’s breathtaking performance of The Shepherd on the Rock just goes right through me. This may be my ‘island’ recording. You know, if you are banished to an island with just one recording forever, which one would it be? Maybe this one.

D Bullock of Newtown, Massachusetts, adds:

One of Schubert’s last and greatest songs (and that’s saying a lot for arguably the greatest songwriter of any era) was The Shepherd on the Rock (Der Hirt auf dem Felsen). This song, in which the soprano is joined by piano and clarinet, is very long and extremely challenging, because there are three distinct moods to be communicated by the singer, to say nothing of the sheer vocal gymnastics. I have long regarded the song as a bitterly unfair test for merely excellent sopranos, and I have great sympathy for any soprano courageous enough to attempt it in a live recital. It’s nearly impossible to bring off. I have purchased around 10 recordings of the song, all by famous sopranos, and all except one — Elly Ameling’s triumph on this CD — have notable shortcomings in one or another of the three phases of the song. When I listen in awe to Ameling’s glorious version, I sometimes imagine that Schubert, who died at far too young an age, has been granted a “second visit” to earth, and that he appears in the modern age, just there, on the sidewalk in front of my house. I run out and accost him on the street. “Mr. Schubert, there is something you must come to hear IMMEDIATELY. A soprano named Elly Ameling finally mastered every note and nuance of that (almost) impossible song!”


Elly Ameling, soprano; Jörg Demus, piano; Hans Deinzer, clarinet

8:52 video


Der Hirt auf dem Felsen
, D 965
(The Shepherd on the Rock, D 965)

(The first four and the final verses are from Wilhelm Müller, verses five and six are by Karl August Varnhagen von Ense)

Wilhelm Müller – Der Berghirt

Wenn auf dem höchsten Fels ich steh,
ins tiefe Thal herneider seh,
und singe, und singe,
fern aus dem tiefen, dunkeln Thal
schwingt sich empor der Wiederhall,
der Wiederhall der Klüfte.

Je weiter meine Stimme dringt,
Je heller sie mir wiederklingt,
von unten, von unten.
Mein Liebchen wohnt so weit von mir,
drum sehn ich mich so heiß nach ihr
hinüber, hinüber.

(The Mountain Shepherd

When on the highest peak I stand
And look down into the valley below
And sing and sing,
Then from the distant vale’s dark depths
The echo soars up towards me,
The echo of the chasm.

The farther my voice carries,
The brighter it echoes back
From below, from far below.
My sweetheart lives so far away,
That’s why I long to be with her,
Over there, over there!

Varnhagen – Nächtlicher Schall

In tiefem Gram verzehr’ ich mich,
mir ist die Freude hin,
auf Erden mir die Hoffnung wich,
ich hier so einsam bin,
ich hier so einsam bin.

So sehnend klang im Wald das Lied,
so sehnend klang es durch die Nacht,
die Herzen es zum Himmel zieht
mit wunderbarer Macht.

(Nocturnal Sounds

By deepest grief I am consumed,
I am robbed of every joy.
Hope has left me here on earth,
Left me full of loneliness.

The sound of longing heard in the wood song,
The sound of longing through the night,
Lift hearts up to heaven
With miraculous power.

Wilhelm Müller – Liebesgedanken

Der Frühling will kommen,
der Frühling meine Freud,
nun mach ich mich fertig zum Wandern bereit.

Je weiter meine Stimme dringt,
je heller sie mir widerklingt

(Love Thoughts
But now Spring is on its way,
Spring, that gladdens my heart,
And I make myself ready
To go out walking.

The farther my voice carries,
The brighter it echoes back.

01 Dec 2008

DGG Drops Chinese Pianist Yundi Li

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Benjamin Ivry addresses Deutsche Grammaphon’s decision to stop recording Yundi Li with splendid indignation.

The question is whether the classical-music market has narrowed to the point where only a Chinese Liberace or “Chopinzee” (to adopt the term that James Huneker used to describe the 1920s exhibitionistic keyboard antics of Vladimir de Pachmann) can survive. Is it possible for fine artistry to coexist at a time when dazzling, if empty, display is exalted? In the era of the ubiquitous Hollywood star pianist José Iturbi (1895-1980), audiences still flocked to see sober, unflashy pianists like Rudolf Serkin or Benno Moiseiwitsch, masterly musicians who would never be mistaken for pop performers.

Deutsche Grammophon’s dismissal of Yundi Li is only the latest in a series of cases where musical achievement does not equal a recording contract. About a decade ago, Sony Classical dismissed the supremely refined Taiwan-born violinist Cho-Liang Lin (b. 1960), according to Mr. Lin himself, because he was unwilling and/or unable to record the quasi-pop “crossover” works that have kept the cellist Yo-Yo Ma on the Billboard charts.

28 Mar 2008

Earliest Known Sound Recording

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David Giovannoni displays phonoautogram

The New York Times reports on recent research in the history of audio recording demonstrating that the basic principle used by Thomas Edison in his phonograph was previously known and understood. Edison’s genius consisted of taking these kinds of ideas and making them practically useful, thus turning them into commercial products.

For more than a century, since he captured the spoken words “Mary had a little lamb” on a sheet of tinfoil, Thomas Edison has been considered the father of recorded sound. But researchers say they have unearthed a recording of the human voice, made by a little-known Frenchman, that predates Edison’s invention of the phonograph by nearly two decades.

The 19th-century phonautograph, which captured sounds visually but did not play them back, has yielded a discovery with help from modern technology.

The 10-second recording of a singer crooning the folk song “Au Clair de la Lune” was discovered earlier this month in an archive in Paris by a group of American audio historians. It was made, the researchers say, on April 9, 1860, on a phonautograph, a machine designed to record sounds visually, not to play them back. But the phonautograph recording, or phonautogram, was made playable — converted from squiggles on paper to sound — by scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, Calif.

“This is a historic find, the earliest known recording of sound,” said Samuel Brylawski, the former head of the recorded-sound division of the Library of Congress, who is not affiliated with the research group but who was familiar with its findings. The audio excavation could give a new primacy to the phonautograph, once considered a curio, and its inventor, Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville, a Parisian typesetter and tinkerer who went to his grave convinced that credit for his breakthroughs had been improperly bestowed on Edison.

Scott’s device had a barrel-shaped horn attached to a stylus, which etched sound waves onto sheets of paper blackened by smoke from an oil lamp. The recordings were not intended for listening; the idea of audio playback had not been conceived. Rather, Scott sought to create a paper record of human speech that could later be deciphered.

But the Lawrence Berkeley scientists used optical imaging and a “virtual stylus” on high-resolution scans of the phonautogram, deploying modern technology to extract sound from patterns inscribed on the soot-blackened paper almost a century and a half ago. The scientists belong to an informal collaborative called First Sounds that also includes audio historians and sound engineers.

Read the whole thing.

Mp3 link

05 Jul 2007

Artur Schnabel Remembered

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Terry Teachout pays tribute to Artur Schnabel (April 17, 1882 – August 15, 1951) in Commentary.

“You will never be a pianist,” Theodor Leschetizky (sic), Schnabel’s teacher, told him. “You are a musician.” Schnabel modestly claimed not to have known what that meant, but of course he knew perfectly well, repeating the bon mot on numerous occasions. (Nobody ever accused him of insufficient self-regard.) From childhood on, his musical instincts had led him away from the splashy virtuosity of late-19th-century composers. He played Chopin and Liszt early in his career—very well, too, by most accounts—but by the 20’s he had stopped programming their works. Instead, he played Mozart’s piano music at a time when it was generally thought to be suitable only for young children, and Schubert’s sonatas at a time when they were unknown to most pianists. As he later explained:

    I am attracted only to music which I consider to be better than it can be performed. . . . Chopin’s studies are lovely pieces, perfect pieces, but I simply can’t spend time on them; I believe I know these pieces; but playing a Mozart sonata, I am not so sure that I do know it, inside and out. Therefore I can spend endless time on it.

The quality most immediately striking about Schnabel’s style—and the one recognized at once by his most perceptive contemporaries —is its rhythmic vitality. Leon Fleisher, his best-known pupil, described it as follows:

There would be this schwung, an irresistible swing to what he did, as though he were twirling you around in a dance. . . . The emphasis was that beats were never downward events, they were not like fence posts or the hammering of coffin nails—beats were upward springs that would spring you on to the next beat.

The impulsive forward momentum of Schnabel’s playing—it was so pronounced that he had a lifelong tendency to rush—helped ameliorate its other key feature. Like most Austro-German musicians of his generation, Schnabel used changes in tempo to delineate the structural features of the pieces he played, and his rhythmic flexibility was so pronounced that some musicians, Toscanini among them, felt that he slipped on occasion into outright exaggeration.

This latter quality is what Virgil Thomson had particularly in mind when he referred to the “late-19th-century romanticism” in Schnabel’s style.

Schnabel was the first to record Beethoven’s complete piano sonatas, a historic watershed for sound recordings. Later performances by other musicians are sometimes more perfectly polished, but Schnabel’s interpretations remain unsurpassed in warmth and musicality.

No performances of the Schubert piano sonatas come even close to Schnabel’s.

Hat tip to Bird Dog.

12 Apr 2007

Steve Jobs Saves the Music Industry… Again

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Michael S. Malone explains in the Wall Street Journal.

Napster, founded in 1999, was a pioneer in what would be called peer-to-peer file sharing. What made the company so popular with users was that it specialized in the new MP3 music files, it had an appealing user interface, and best of all, the music was free.

It was the last that drove established music artists and record companies nearly insane. It began with the lawsuit by Metallica, followed soon after by Dr. Dre, then Madonna, and culminated in 2001 when A&M Records was granted a preliminary injunction stopping Napster from allowing downloads of any of its artists.

By then, Napster officially had more than 26 million users, but may in fact have had twice that many. Just as important, Napster — and those imitators that tried to copy its success by working the corners of the law — had set off a social revolution. By the time the music industry began to contain the damage, tens of millions of songs had already been downloaded, and a generation of college and high-school kids had come to expect the free exchange of free music.

What the music industry did next was a case study in bad strategy, bad marketing and bad public relations. Not only did the industry crush Napster and any other company that followed in its path, but it also criminalized its own customers. We all got to watch as federal agents arrested college kids, music lovers and even a poor little girl living in the ghetto.

Needless to say, this program of applied troglodytics only managed to drive music downloading further underground, turn America’s children into small-time crooks, and make popular musicians and their record companies — those famous celebrants of maverick and transgressive behavior — look like the worst kind of freedom-crushing rich plutocrats. …

For the next two years, until 2003, the music industry pursued the single dumbest strategy possible in the digital age: It tried to stop the progress of technology and deny users access to a new and more powerful industry standard. Instead, the major record labels dithered, unable to settle upon a single download standard, distribution system or pricing scheme. Instead, they devoted their energy to attempting to undermine each other. …

Then in rode Steve Jobs to the rescue.

When Apple Computer first introduced the iPod in 2001 it had given tacit approval to illegal downloading with its notorious “Rip, Mix, Burn” advertising campaign. But as the iPod quickly became one of the most successful consumer electronics products in history — 100 million units sold as of Sunday — it became obvious that the company couldn’t depend on content either from the underground or from a fractious, delusional music industry.

Thus, the Apple iTunes Music Store, which opened online four years ago this month. Only a technologist with the Hollywood cachet of Steve Jobs could have ever gotten the major players of the music industry together and, better yet, convinced them to agree to a single download and pricing standard. In doing so, Mr. Jobs very likely saved the music industry, which was on the brink of seeing its entire revenue model destroyed by the black market. Instead, at 99 cents per song, iTunes gave music lovers a means to escape illegality at a reasonable price.

Needless to say, it has worked brilliantly. With more than 2.5 billion songs sold by iTunes, Apple, with 80% of all music download revenues as well as nearly 75% of the devices sold to play those tunes, has deservedly been a huge beneficiary of this agreement. But the music industry, by being forced to actually accept a new industry standard and an attendant pricing structure, has arguably benefited even more.

But to get the music moguls around the table Steve Jobs had to make a Faustian bargain. The paranoid record execs, fearful of illegal copies, demanded that every iTune sold had to be freighted with Digital Rights Management (DRM) anti-piracy software. In practice, this meant that iTunes music could only be played on Apple iPods.

The need for absolute proprietary control over both hardware and software has always been Mr. Jobs’s Achilles heel. Twenty years ago that philosophy cost Apple Computer a similar dominance in personal computers against an army of competitors working under a common, “open” system. So one can imagine Apple’s CEO readily accepting the music industry’s demand for DRM, knowing that it would give Apple instant ownership of the online music business. …

By all appearances, the Big Four, which control 70% of the world’s music, were unmoved by Mr. Jobs’s appeal. And then, last week, a breakthrough: Apple announced that it had reached agreement with Britain’s EMI to sell the latter’s music archives (which includes the Beatles) without DRM. Thirty cents more, but twice the sound quality — the first mass-market improvement in music fidelity since the death of the LP. A fair exchange. Good for EMI.

Is this a turning point in the story of digital music? Will the other Big Three follow suit? One can only hope so. The music moguls trusted Steve Jobs once and he saved them. It’s time for them to trust him again.

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