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Profile for Robert L. Berkowitz > Reviews


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Reviews Written by
Robert L. Berkowitz RSS Feed (Natick, MA United States)

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Freddy Kempf Plays Chopin
Freddy Kempf Plays Chopin
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Missing something, February 21, 2003
I eagerly purchased this disk after reading an interview of Daniel Pollack in Clavier magazine. Pollack specifically mentioned Freddy Kempf as the most singularly talented young pianist facing the public today. He noted that Kempf didn't do as well in competitions because of their tendency to select for those pianists who are conservative enough to simultaneously appeal to the widely varying tastes of the jury. Pollack noted that Kempf brought a bold and interesting perspective to his playing, and I looked forward to this disk as an opportunity to hear someone with a unique pianistic voice.
I would agree that Kempf is unique. He had some unusual tempo choices and shifts in each of the Ballades. Many of his choices struck me as interesting, but left me cold. I felt the opening tempos for both the F major and f minor Ballades were too fast, almost as if he were eager to get to some more technically demanding material. There was an agogic slow-down in the transition to the second section of the g minor Ballade that, again, was interesting but not emotionally compelling.
He has a very competent technique, and was able to handle all the technical difficulties with apparent ease. His F major Ballade closed at a tempo faster than any other performance I've heard. It was quite exciting, though it only barely compensated for the rather perfunctory opening.
The stereo sound is first-rate, maybe even demonstration class. All the performances were skillful, but they don't compel repeated listenings the way performances by Rubinstein, Zimerman, Emanuel Ax or some other pianists' do. Still, this CD offers an excellent opportunity to sample the artistry of this up and coming young pianist in familiar and accessible repertoire.

Piano Sonatas 28 & 29
Piano Sonatas 28 & 29
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Beethovenian for our time, January 26, 2003
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This review is from: Piano Sonatas 28 & 29 (Audio CD)
Louis Lortie's performance of these important late Beethoven Sonatas put him in exalted company. These are performances worthy of comparison to many of the great Beethoven performers, including Gilels, Kempf, Brendel, Barenboim and Arrau.
I first became impressed with Lortie after listening to his performance of a couple of Mozart concertos through a Musical Heritage Society disc. He plays with such exquisite taste, always demonstrating a respect for the period and the composer. I then heard his Ravel, which I reviewed on Amazon and gave a 5-star rating. Given the breadth of his repertoire, it is not surprising that he would bring such skill and sensitivity to playing Beethoven.
His playing is clean, incisive, brilliant, lyrical and always thoughtful. The Chandos sound is first-rate.
I highly recommend this recording. I very much look forward to hearing his entire survey of the 32 Sonatas.

Rachmaninov: Piano Concertos 2 & 3 / Ashkenazy, Kondrashin
Rachmaninov: Piano Concertos 2 & 3 / Ashkenazy, Kondrashin
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41 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Classic Rachmaninoff, January 25, 2003
Ashkenazy recorded the Rachmaninoff piano concerto no. 3 at different points in his career. This recording, the one with Fistoulari, was his first, and in my estimation his best. He had just shared first prize with John Ogdon at the 1960 Tchaikovsky competition, and was at his technical peak.
I owned this recording of the Rachmaninoff 3rd when it first came out on LP. I grew to love this concerto through it, though in my estimation the recording by Cliburn and Kiril Kondrashin surpasses it. The cover of the LP indicated that Ashkenazy recorded this performance in one cut without edits. It seems all the more special for that reason.
These recordings of the Rachmaninoff concertos nos. 2 and 3 are marked by nobility and some restraint. Ashkenazy takes an almost "classical" approach to these concertos. Some might call him reserved, but it would be equally appropriate to say that he chose to dignify Rachmaninoff and protect him from what can be a tendency to overly romanticize this music. For me, the third concerto comes off more successfully with this approach.
Consistent with this more reserved approach, Ashkenazy plays the shorter, less showy, cadenza in the first movement of the Rachmaninoff 3rd.
This recording will always have a special place in my collection. It is beautifully remastered and worthy of its placement in the Legends series.

Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No.1 / Rachmaninoff: Concerto No.2
Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No.1 / Rachmaninoff: Concerto No.2
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131 of 138 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This CD captures a vital musical and cultural moment, January 12, 2003
I wasn't even born when Cliburn took the world by storm, winning the Tchaikovsky competition in the Soviet Union. But the legend still lived on when I was taking piano lessons at the age of nine. While I was growing up, listening to any Cliburn recording conjured up the swell of pride that our nation felt about him, and that extra-musical element added to the joy of his music-making.
We often focus on Cliburn's victory in the Soviet Union as a uniquely American victory. A lanky Texan walked into the Soviet Union, our Cold War enemy, and played Russian music to a severely discerning Russian audience, completely bowling them over. Khrushchev had to give permission to the judges to give Cliburn the Gold Medal because it represented such an embarassment to the Soviet Union to have their pianists lose to an American.
In truth, it was also a victory for the Russians. To find that their music could be played with such understanding and depth by a young man so culturally and geographically removed from the Russian people proved that Russian music is universal -- it transcends cultural boundaries. That an American could be taught to play Russian music so brilliantly could only mean that Russian music was so great and compelling that it could speak to the soul of any human being regardless of his or her background.
In other words, it was a win-win situation for America and Russia, and this recording of the Tchaikovsky concerto becomes the place of meeting where both Russians and Americans can celebrate. Having Kiril Kondrashin, the famed Soviet conductor, lead the orchestra only serves to make that point even clearer.
This extra-musical element has always imbued Cliburn's recording with a sense of occasion. But one would be remiss if one thought that this recording was special only because of Cliburn's sweet victory. The discerning Russian audience knew what it heard was great, and this recording taken from a Carnegie Hall concert shortly after the competition makes it clear what they were so excited about.
Cliburn is a big-hearted player. He has a generous, open style that is utterly disarming. His playing is full of lyricism, grandeur, majesty and heart. It is particularly revealing to compare Cliburn's recording with another Tchaikovsky recording imbued with a sense of occasion: Horowitz and Toscanini.
On April 25, 1943, the great Russian pianist Vladimir Horowitz played a benefit performance of the Tchaikovsky 1st piano concerto at Carnegie Hall with the legendary conductor Arturo Toscanini and the NBC Symphony. Money from the performance went to support the war effort by purchasing war bonds. The musicians brought a special fervor to the performance inspired by their patriotism for their new-found homeland. Here, again, the Tchaikovsky concerto became the medium through which cultural boundaries were transcended. But no playing could be more diametrically opposed to Cliburn's playing than Horowitz's.
If Horowitz's performance represented the pinnacle of what Russian's might expect from the Tchaikovsky concerto, then Cliburn brought a whole new perspective to the piece. Where Horowitz is incisive and brilliant, Cliburn is broad, noble and majestic. Where Horowitz can play at lightening-fast speeds, Cliburn chooses to slow the tempo in order to capture the ardour and sweep of the musical line. If the Russians were accustomed to Horowitz or Horowitz-like playing, then Cliburn's performance was a new revelation and marked a turning point in the way the Tchaikovsky concerto would be heard and performed.
Cliburn's performance may not have been as boldly different in conception as I argue above (after all, his teacher was a Russian pianist named Rosina Lhevinne), but it has become the standard by which I compare all other performances that have come after him. And the Horowitz recording I mentioned is a standard by which all pre-Cliburn performances get measured. They are so different and deserve to be heard in tandem to experience how a single piece of music can be interpreted in different ways.
The recording of Rachmaninoff's 2nd piano concerto comes from a later date (with Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony). This, too, has been my standard for Rach 2. Cliburn brings the same generous lyrical style to this most familiar piano concerto.
I highly recommend this disc, especially because of the historical moment it captures, but also because the performances are without peer.

Rachmaninoff: Sonata No. 2 Prelude Op. 23, No. 4 Etude-tableau Op. 39. No. 5 / Prokofiev: Sonata No. 6
Rachmaninoff: Sonata No. 2 Prelude Op. 23, No. 4 Etude-tableau Op. 39. No. 5 / Prokofiev: Sonata No. 6
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I bought this CD for the Prokofiev Sonata, January 12, 2003
I grew up with Cliburn's recording of Prokofiev's sixth sonata. I have since acquired several other recordings including Ivo Pogorelich, Yefim Bronfman, Sviatoslav Richter, Barbara Nissman and Willis Deloney.
I find something magical about Cliburn's performance that no other performance quite re-creates. Cliburn is among the most lyrical pianists of the 20th Century. His sense of timing is unmatched. Although the sixth sonata is the first of the "war sonatas", and one can make a case for taking a brutal and percussive approach, Cliburn manages to bring his ever-present lyricism and pianistic color to every phrase. He plays with such heart! Sometimes his tempos are a little slower than other recordings, particularly in the second and third movements, but through these slower tempos he is able to turn phrases with such thoughtfulness and loving attention to the developing musical line. In the last movement, he has an uncanny way of separating voices, and the return of the first movement's opening theme is a revelation filled with poignancy and wisdom. I often feel Cliburn is telling me a detailed story through this music and, if I could penetrate just a little deeper, I would be able to translate this story into words. I cannot think of any other piece of recorded piano music that prompts that kind of response from me.
The stereo sound is fully acceptable, though not state-of-the-art. I do not find myself distracted by the stereo sound given the superb quality of the playing.
The Rachmaninov pieces are a wonderful addition to this disc. I'll leave it to the other reviewers to comment about the Rachmaninov 2nd sonata, but I will add that the shorter Rachmaninov pieces are beautifully played.

Samuel Barber: Orchestral Works, Vol. 2 - Cello Concerto / Medea Suite / Adagio for Strings
Samuel Barber: Orchestral Works, Vol. 2 - Cello Concerto / Medea Suite / Adagio for Strings
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31 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is an outstanding issue!, January 6, 2003
Wendy Warner's recording of the Barber Cello Concerto is a more satisfying account than the recordings by Yo-Yo Ma, Steven Isserlis or Raphael Wallfisch. Each of these other recordings commend themselves for various reasons, but Ms. Warner's account brings together a searching musicality, technical command, poignant lyricism, and a beautiful stereo acoustic.
Marin Alsop is a skilled Barber interpreter. Her support for Ms. Warner is admirable. The Medea Ballet Suite is an interesting work, although I prefer hearing the abridged "Dance of Vengeance" which is made up of 3 of the movements from this larger work.
The Adagio for Strings is also beautifully done.
In summary, this disc would be worthy of collection even if it were full price. Obtaining it at a bargain price makes it indispensable.

Barber: Cello Concerto / Cello Sonata / Adagio for Strings
Barber: Cello Concerto / Cello Sonata / Adagio for Strings
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Get it for the cello works, not for the Adagio, January 6, 2003
This CD brings together Barber's two main works for cello, his Concerto and his Sonata, along with a recording of the Adagio for Strings. Ralph Kirshbaum is a thoughtful advocate and intensely lyrical performer for both cello works.
Kirshbaum's performance of these two works was my first introduction to both pieces. Since then, the cello concerto has become one of those pieces for which I have sought many recordings. I now own recordings by Yo-Yo Ma, Steven Isserlis, Raya Garbousova, Wendy Warner and Raphael Wallfisch in addition to Kirshbaum's.
I still reach for Kirshbaum's recording despite the wealth of recordings I have. He plays the concerto from a darker perspective. No one else quite captures the majesty and ardour he brings to the introduction of the 2nd theme in the third movement, and his performance of the second movement is full of poetry. I am aware that he opts for some technical simplifications in the concerto (particularly a run at the end of the first movement that he takes as single notes when they are usually played as double stops) and I find that a little disappointing, but there is a warmth and lyricism about his playing that I find totally captivating. The Scottish Chamber Orchestra under Jukka-Pekka Saraste gives him admirable support. In particular, the contribution of the brass section in the third movement gives their performance a nobility not found in any other recording of the Cello Concerto.
The cello sonata is played with conviction. This, too, is a beautifully lyrical piece that deserves to have a more prominent place in the cello repertoire. Kirshbaum is skilfully accompanied by Roger Vignoles.
The perfunctory performance of the Adagio for Strings is a disappointment. The orchestra plays skillfully, but the tempo is too fast. I came away with the feeling that the tempo was set in order to make sure that it would fit into the allotted time left for this recording.
The stereo sound is rich, full and well-balanced.
Although the disappointment of the Adagio performance prompted me initially to give this disc a 4-star rating, I decided that if the recording had only included the cello works I would have rated it with 5-stars. I didn't see why I should reduce its score because of the added Adagio. Thus I gave it a 5-star rating.

Vaughan Williams: Symphony No. 5 / Norfolk Rhapsody, No. 1 / The Lark Ascending
Vaughan Williams: Symphony No. 5 / Norfolk Rhapsody, No. 1 / The Lark Ascending
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16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars I totally agree with David Keyes, January 3, 2003
I was surprised to see that Mr. Keyes, a previous reviewer of this disc, got no "helpful votes" for his comments. My review would have said precisely what Mr. Keyes' review said.
I purchased this disc when it first came out a few years ago. I already had performances of "The Lark Ascending" but had no recording of the Symphony No. 5. I have a habit of buying recordings that have at least one familiar piece -- it helps me ease into the less familiar work by allowing me to enjoy yet another performance of a more familiar work. I was very disappointed with Sarah Chang's performance and there was nothing in the performance of the Symphony No. 5 that compelled me to listen to it again. It took hearing a performance of the Symphony with Andre Previn for me to fully grasp its appeal.
In my opinion, Mr. Keyes is exactly correct. The selections on this disc present an excellent introduction to the "pastoral" side of Vaughan Williams' musical output, but one can find better performances for each of these pieces.
There are certain climactic moments in the Symphony no. 5, especially in the first movement, that should wash over the listener and leave him or her spellbound . These moments are lost in Haitink's account. Haitink takes a different approach that emphasizes a steady, structural development. One might not fault him for his differing approach but, for me, something absolutely essential has been lost from the symphony.
I highly recommend the recordings by Vernon Handley and Andre Previn. Even the Naxos budget recording with Kees Bakels provides a more satisfying climax at those important points. Haitink, however, has the advantage of better stereo sound than Bakels. Previn, on Telarc, is state-of-the-art. Handley's recording on EMI has just the right ambience and warmth.
Regarding "The Lark Ascending", I completely agree with Mr. Keyes that Sarah Chang rushes through it. Her tone is quite beautiful, but the performance feels perfunctory. I highly recommend the account by Nigel Kennedy coupled with his newer recording of the Elgar concerto. The classic recording by Iona Brown and the ASMF with Neville Marriner on a budget label has always been very satisfying.

Brahms: Piano Concerto No. 1 / Tragic Overture
Brahms: Piano Concerto No. 1 / Tragic Overture
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I was surprised, January 1, 2003
I do not yet own this recording, but I heard it on the radio. I expected to listen only until the end of the first movement, but I was drawn in and listened until the end.
I am not an unqualified fan of Gutierrez's playing. I have regarded him as a "warhorse" pianist without much musical depth. My criticism is silenced by this performance. Gutierrez's playing was beautiful throughout. There was nothing brash or sensationalistic about his playing.
Probably the most impressive aspect of this recording is the ensemble between Previn and Gutierrez. Previn pulled a sumptuous sound from the Royal Philharmonic, and highlighted details not typically heard in other performances. He supported Gutierrez beautifully throughout the performance, and there was a sense of camraderie between pianist and conductor that found its way into this recording.
I am surprised to say that I would recommend this recording highly, and I won't hesitate to recommend it to anyone.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Glorious voices, limited orchestra, December 30, 2002
This review is from: Turnadot (Audio CD)
I've previously reviewed two other Turandot Highlights CDs. One with Pavarotti/Sutherland/Caballe and the other with Domingo/Ricciarelli/Hendricks.
I was surprised to be as impressed with the voices on this CD as I was. I previously regarded Carreras as a lesser tenor than Domingo or Pavarotti, but he is in great form on this disc. His singing is inspiring and totally compelling. Also Caballe as Turandot is the equal of anyone. Many believe that only Sutherland could fill that role, but Caballe is truly admirable here. Mirella Freni is a full-throated Liu -- maybe a little to bold for the character in my opinion. I was more impressed with Caballe as Liu on the Pavarotti/Sutherland/Caballe disc.
The selection of highlights is remarkably different from the other Highlights discs. The disc that seems to make the most sense in terms of highlights is the Pavarotti/Sutherland/Caballe disc, however that one leaves out the first two riddles. Both this disc and the Domingo, et. al. disc have all three riddles. They also all contain "Non Piangere, Liu", "Ah, per l'ultima volta" and, of course, "Nessun Dorma". This disc allows arias to fade out instead of trying to end them in a neatly tied-up cadence.
The grave disappointment with this disc is the quality of the orchestra. The orchestral climax at the end of the first act is a total flop. I thought I was listening to first-class voices accompanied by a high school band.
Still, the singing is so compelling that this disc deserves consideration, and the budget price makes it easy to try. It does not come with much in the way of liner notes, so it is helpful to already have another disc with the libretto, if you want to be able to follow the arias.

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