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Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh
Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I am pleased with the eloquent yet ‘fun’ execution of Rimsky-Korsakov’s beautiful ..., July 24, 2014
I think I may have come across only one recording of The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh and the Maiden Fevroniya which wasn’t a live recording. So be prepared for some background noise (mainly stage noises) but these are really not obtrusive. There is no coughing and spluttering from the audience, which I find much more intolerable.
As far as Rimsky Korsakov goes, this is his Titan. The score is opulent and lush, and the magical plot endearing. Whereas Gergiev’s recording on Phillips is the touted standard, I find this recording much more appealing. Tatiana Monogarova is just outstanding as Fevroniya and Vitaly Panfilov’s Vsevolod, while a little roughly-hewn, is not too unattractive and certainly very idiomatic. The male soloists are more uneven. Vedernikov’s reading to me is well-engaged. While the orchestra may not have the ‘gleam’ of the Kirov to some ears, I am pleased with the eloquent yet ‘fun’ execution of Rimsky-Korsakov’s beautiful score. The chorus is also wonderful- beautifully balanced voices and well harmonised, though I defer to the previous reviewer's expertise on the accuracy of their lines. Even without the bargain price, this opera would be a highly recommended first choice.


Brahms: Lieder
Brahms: Lieder
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Price: $18.88
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A natural, October 18, 2013
This review is from: Brahms: Lieder (Audio CD)
I've heard other interpretations of Brahms' lieder and, as with all her lieder recordings, Brigitte Fassbaender stands out as a 'natural' talent. She excels in this area. Her Schubert lieder, Winteriese, Mussorgsky's Songs and Dances of Death....she is just so 'in character', with that amazing, unmistakable voice, that you are just completely absorbed. Take track 3, for example: her 'An eine Äolsharfe' is simply the most sensitive, intelligent, BEAUTIFUL interpretation that I have ever heard. Throughout the CD, she shades and colours her voice, at times languishing, at times taut and urgent- the pauses for emphasis, the diction and sheer vocal beauty enticing the listener with every note. I must also lavish praise on Irwin Gage's virtuoso and equally sensitive accompaniment- this is a rare synergy, which carefully delivers a highly polished performance and a very moving interpretation. It's among the greatest of introductions to Brahms' lieder but a must-have for anyone who appreciates the art of lieder. Very highly recommended.


Tchaikovsky: Pique Dame - The Queen of Spades
Tchaikovsky: Pique Dame - The Queen of Spades
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Mostly uncomfortable, August 17, 2012
I admired Mirella Freni in many roles that she sang with such insight, intelligence and vocal beauty- this, sadly, is not one of them. The vocal transformation here is understandable but still something of a surprise- her technique seems to have changed as well. Her voice, clearly past it's prime, seems to have adopted the idiom of a very heavy wobble that you often hear in many Russian sopranos...either that or her voice had deteriorated far indeed! It's almost painful to hear her put such a strain on her vocal chords... Vladimir Atlantov is hardly my favourite tenor but he has done well in this role in the past. This is the worst I've heard him however- the vocal unsteadiness is very inelegant and at times, sounds raw. Maureen Forrester's Countess is very good though. Formidable, frightful, vicious and vulnerable, as needed and not a bad voice for the role at all. Katherine Ciecinski's Pauline verges more on the matronly side, nonetheless, the voice has a nice, dark hue to it. I would say that the rest of the cast is adequate but not memorable, except Dmitri Hvorostovy, whose sublime baritone made me wish that this Gherman was a baritone instead of tenor. Sadly, the score doesn't flow in Seiji Ozawa's hands...the conducting sounds somewhat mechanical, with little feeling and not a very engaging performance.

It's curious to hear Mirella Freni in this role and credit alone for mastering the language but I don't consider this as a great recording or one of her great recordings.

On it's merits, this is a very average performance of the work, which is not to dissuade anyone from purchasing it. I merely impart my experience having heard it.


Requiem / Four Sacred Pieces
Requiem / Four Sacred Pieces
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A towering monument!, December 28, 2011
I find no faults with this recording and I must say, of all the others, this is the best that I've heard. As much as I have always adored von Karajan, Reiner's pacing is even more elegant and noble. The orchestra delivers superlative playing under his baton and the chorus is exquisite! There is that perfect melding of instruments and voices, where just the right balance is maintained. The 'Lacrymosa' and final 'Libera me' are shining examples of this- where the pathos resounding grandeur of Verdi's music are arguably at their peak...and you will be brought to your knees.

Leontyne Price went on to sing this role a few times and I heard her Solti recording. I dare say: this is not only her best but THE best sung soprano role for this work that I have heard. Her later Solti recording was at times unpleasant by comparison and I would recommend other recordings above the Solti. But here, she SOARS and delivers heart-stopping moments of sensitive, beautiful singing....chilling pianissimi, visceral lower notes and the show-stopping `Libera me' at the end of the Requiem is unparalleled! Listen to her supplicant `Domine, Domine, libera me....' and the tremulous `de morte eternal,' and then with utterly disarming vocal power how she beautifully soars above chorus and orchestra in that final crescendo! Special mention to Reiner here for his superior pacing during the `Domine, Domine...'- for some reason, this is usually rushed, leaving the soprano almost playing catch-up; I've always found it very odd. That sort of timing had just never made sense but here Reiner's pace is deliberate and gives due significance to the passage and the melody. Rosalind Elias' mezzo is a dream, with that rich timbre that made her such a sympathetic and sensitive Suzuki in Madame Butterfly. She sings in opulent, distinctive voice throughout and blends perfectly with Price in the `Recordare.' Jussi Bjorling's tenor is faultless in my view- at times, he reminded me of Plácido Domingo. He sings sensitively enough, if perhaps leaning towards the more heroic but the opening reflection during his `Ingemisco' is compelling. As for Giorgio Tozzi, his rich, full, blooming bass-baritone is among the greatest interpreters of the role. He is both warm and reflective in the quartets (e.g., `Domine Jesu') and powerful, secure and majestic (`Confutatis').

As if the Requiem itself wasn't amazing, the Quattro Pezzi Sacri are simply magical! You may as well be standing in Paradise listening to the Angels' vespers, for the sheer beauty of it! I thoroughly recommend this recording as a clear first choice.


Dalibor
Dalibor
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Powerful, April 20, 2011
This review is from: Dalibor (Audio CD)
Smetana wrote some truly beautiful music...I say this, openly musing, as I listen to Dalibor. I think, for example of the score for `The Bartered Bride', especially Marenka`s beautiful arias "Kdybych se co takového" and "O, jaky, za! Jaky to zal!" Dalibor is of a different hue to The Bartered Bride, yet despite being darker and more heroic (it is a tragedy whereas the previously mentioned opera is comic), it comprises some stunning orchestration. Oddly enough, the opera could almost have been called `Milada' given the key role played by its heroine- and in this interpretation, what a heroine!

I also have Kosler's recording of this opera, and while his conducting is sublime and the sound quality of his recording is superior, this is my first choice. I have to say that the recording quality here imparts a somewhat `pinched' sound to the music and voices but it's not a `mono' sound and the quality is undeniable. True, Urbanova for Kosler is a more elegant and perhaps `finer' sung Milada. Nonetheless, Nadezhda Kniplová is simply wonderful- a more wild, `primal' edge to her vocalizations makes for a more convincing portrayal, though to be honest, Smetana's music is so vivid at times that it would be hard not to be totally in synch with his intentions. Kniplová also has very powerful voice, with a solid lower chest register and a soaring, pitch-perfect top (she sang Brünhilde, among other roles)..yet for all that, has the ability to, shade and colour her voice most movingly. Take the awesome fire of her announcement in the first act "Dalibor! Dalibor! Dalibor!" and compare with her emotionally (not vocally) strained "Vem tento chudý dárek z ruky mé" near the end of Act 2. As Dalibor, Vilém Pribyl is very good, even if he sounds just a tad `nasal' sometimes. He has a strong and heroic voice but not only does he sing well (without resorting to nay `barking' sounds to assist him) but he is gifted with a secure tenor, whereas I found Vodicka on the Kosler recording to be a bit unsteady by comparison. On an even wider scale of comparison, Hana Svobodová-Jankù as Jitka here is a sweet-toned wonder. She sounds here as if she belonged to that line of superlative Czech sopranos like Popp and Beòaèková- the power to rise to the most demanding occasion, the intelligence to interpret the role effectively and yet the most disarming grace to make your very soul melt. Her closing lines towards the end of the opera are almost a benediction. By comparison, Marková for Kosler tended to wobble and was less subtle in her interpretation of Jitka. The rest of the male cast is uniformly superb- Jindrák is a truly regal King Vladislav, employing a stern mein but shaded with a `sage' quality to his voice. Kosler too had an amazing cast in the male roles, though I dare say that Zdenék Svehla's Vitek is an unexpected treat on the present set! He could have even sung the lead role and I'd never have tired of listening to him. Jaroslav Horáèek was also an outstanding Benes (the Jailer) on this present set and like Svehla, made so much more of his comparatively small role.

The Prague National Theatre Orchestra and Chorus seem like a unified extension of Jaroslav Krombholc and the entire assembled cast- the music is so moving and profound at times that the little nuances of Krombholc's reading seem like sheer genius. Balances seem to strategically shift at times but not in a bad way. The beautiful scene-change pieces are expertly handled. I have been listening to this recording quite frequently and have been transported time and again by a masterful interpretation of what is indeed an inspired production of an authentic Czech masterpiece. Libretto and subject-matter contrivances allowed for, this is brilliant.


Granados - Goyescas / Bayo · Vargas · Baquerizo · Casariego · Martín · Ros Marbŕ
Granados - Goyescas / Bayo · Vargas · Baquerizo · Casariego · Martín · Ros Marbŕ
4 used & new from $70.00

5.0 out of 5 stars Perfect....just perfect, January 6, 2011
María Bayo and Ramón Vargas are just vocal wonders. Every member of the cast, the chorus, the orchestra and the conductor, and the music itself...it is all simply exquisite! Bayo sings with such a celestial, beautiful voice and believe me- Vargas has a voice to rival his looks! There's real passion woven into the very music but this is a particularly fine interpretation.

And María Bayo's beautiful aria: Quejas o la Maja y el ruiseñor ....I haven't the words but then, there's no need to add anything to this:

Porque entre sombras el ruiseñor
Entona su armonioso cantar?
Acaso al rey del dia guarda rencor
Y de el quiera algun agravio vengar?
Guarda quizas su pecho
oculto tal dolor,
Que en la sombra espera
alivio hallar,
Triste entonando
cantos de amor,
Ay! de amor.
Y tal vez alguna flor
Temblorosa del pudor de amar,
Es la sclava, es la sclava
Enamorada de su cantar!
Misterio es el cantar que entona
Envuelto en sombra el ruiseñor!
Ah! son los amores como flor,
Como flor a merced de la mar.
Amor! Amor!
Ah! no hay cantar sin amor.

Except perhaps the following translation:

Why in shadows does the nightingale
Intone his amorous song?
Perhaps he holds resentment against the King of Day
And of him he requires some offence to avenge?
Perhaps within his breast
Is hidden such pain,
That in the darkness he hopes,
To find relief,
Sadly intoning
songs of love.

Ay! of love.
And perhaps some flower,
Tremulous at the thought of love,
Is the slave, is the slave
Enamoured with his song!
Mysterious is the song which intones
the nightingale, enveloped in shadow!
Ah! Lovers are like a flower,
Like a flower at the mercy of the sea.
Ah, Love! Ah, love!
Ah! There is no song without love.

And I could not imagine it more beautifully sung, even if I tried.

If you can get a copy, by all means don't hesitate- you can see by the price that it is a true rarity...I'm quite shocked at the price, actually! This is a single CD.


Fedora/Giordano
Fedora/Giordano
34 used & new from $3.76

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A pleasant experience, December 14, 2010
This review is from: Fedora/Giordano (Audio CD)
Giordano's music is lovely, and there are too many awkward librettos in operatic existence for me to quibble too much about how unlikely this one is. Structurally, this opera is therefore certainly likeable enough.

The performers are mostly slavic linguists, so the pronunciation is not particularly idiomatic. As many reviewers state, the lead soprano makes this opera. I can't say that I was Marton's biggest fan but if you accept that every soprano has at LEAST her 'day', this is her's. She here displayed a most impressive control of what I had elsewhere experienced as the enormous, unwieldly instrument that was her voice! Moreso, despite the heavy vibrato and some struggling to master the high notes without 'belting' them, she displays a touching subtlety and grace to her interpretation that does win you over. Carreras' role is similarly not one where the voice is at once disarming but his interpretation and skill does indeed have it's moments. The rest of the singing is not particularly wonderful but generally competent. The conducting and piano accompaniment however deserve special mention: Patane and his players are perhaps the ones who must receive the highest recognition.

I will invest in the new recording with Gheorghiu and Domingo, and later the famous Olivero/Del Monaco. Not being a fan of Del Monaco's tendency to shout, I have prioritised the acquisition in that order. I'd say that this recording is a must for Marton fans but in her own right, she's done a good job here and deserves to be heard.


Wagner: Parsifal
Wagner: Parsifal
Price: $52.41
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The One, October 8, 2010
This review is from: Wagner: Parsifal (Audio CD)
This is a superlative recording and I dare say, this is the one that takes first prize. I have 8 other recordings of Parsifal (Goodall, Jordan, Kegel, Knappertsbuschx2, Krauss, Stein and von Karajan). While I find von Karajan's conducting and the BPO/Chorus to be sheer, unsurpassed beauty, von Karajan's Parsifal (Hofmann) is the worst I have ever heard (it's shocking how such a thing could have been permitted to mar such a beautiful recording!!). Both Kubelik and von Karajan produced STUNNING stereo, studio recordings and have the best Gournemantz in my opinion: Kurt Moll. For Kubelik however, Moll is even more sensitive and .....arresting! Van Dam's Amfortas for von Karajan however, remains unsurpassed in my view. Still, Weikl aquits himself well for Kubelik. Von Karajan has Dunja Vejzovic, who is quite a good Kundry and has the requisite `edge' to her voice (with certainly the range and power) to suitably unhinge the listener at times. Yvonne Minton for Kubelik is truly wonderful though and if I were to make one comment, it's that her Kundry isn't as wild, volatile and desperate as she could be- take Dalis or Schröter (who is wonderful in the lower registers but in the higher tessitura actually fails at times but the sheer effort comes across as a suitable hysteria), for example. This is more of a comparison than a criticism however. Minton has no ungraceful moments and certainly characterises the role brilliantly. And of course, James King's Parsifal is simply superb....the best one that I've heard. Touching, searing and beautiful. I dare say that as great as Knappertsbusch's 1962 recording is, in my opinion, this is better by FAR...the singers are far better (in my view) and the sound quality light-years ahead.

The other reviews have provided details that I need not re-iterate. I merely wish to convey my humble recommendation that after listening to 9 recordings of this opera, this is a clear winner to have.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 7, 2011 3:50 AM PDT


Leoncavallo: Pagliacci / Puccini: Il Tabarro
Leoncavallo: Pagliacci / Puccini: Il Tabarro
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Il Tabarro Review, July 14, 2010
Please note: This is a review of Il Tabarro only

Leinsdorf is usually known for his energetic speeds, and to be honest, I've come to appreciate his pacing. The thing is, Il Tabarro is already short so while Leinsdorf's tempo isn't slow, it's far from rushed. The conducting and orchestra are elegant. There is even the occasional sound of a fog horn....the subtle, well blended violins really do convey the fluidity of a waterfront setting. Really, really well conducted- this is my third Tabarro recording and while the legendary Bellezza recording is more widely available and very well sung (particularly Gobbi's immortalizing of Michele), the recording quality, while good, is still mono. Leinsdorf's recording is ADD, by comparison and his cast is also stellar.

Leontyne Price as Giorgetta adds a slightly husky sensuality to the role but in my view is the best sung Giorgetta I've heard so far....the pronunciation is not idiomatically perfect but such is the case with many non-Italian speakers. Vocally though, she is at times breathtaking. Giorgetta's arietta "Al mattino, il lavoro che ci aspetta" ends on a high note with the word "nostalgia," that many sopranos either have to sing a bit forte to hit the note, or exclude it altogether and remain on the lower octave. Price here demonstrates part of her signature talent and effortlessly reaches the note with time-stopping pianissimo! Her Aida was also distinguished by similarly intelligent phrasing. Of course, Domingo as Luigi sings with ringing bravado and though he is perhaps my favourite tenor, I might have preferred if he softened his tone just slightly. Sherill Milnes is one of my all-time favourite baritones because of his sheer vocal beauty. While Gobbi was more the heart-breaking, Milnes' Michele has a slightly more serpentine quality- still, disarmingly soft when necessary. His "Squaldrina!" evidences the distinction between Gobbi's heartbreak and his venom at Giorgetta's betrayal. Oralia Dominguez as La Frugola at times is a little `fruity' but that is part of La Frugola's charm. She is still La Dominguez with that beautiful, rich tone and in the longer phrasing, she more than compensates.

It's a pity this recording is so scarce, and subsequently so expensive but if you can afford it, this is DEFINITELY one to have. We really do need a re-issue of this to make it more accessible.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 20, 2011 4:00 AM PDT


Poulenc: Dialogue des Carmélites
Poulenc: Dialogue des Carmélites
Price: $18.99

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A journey of transformation, August 28, 2009
I once read a review of where the reviewer said the opera continued to "grow in stature," the more he listened to it. After my ongoing experience with Dialogues des Carmélites, I dare say that I have never heard anything that more closely fits that description. And for someone who used to be almost fettered to studio, stereo recordings, this remastered mono recording proves to be exceptionally good.

As one previous reviewer said, the reason why not many stereo recordings of this opera are available is because this one was so perfect. Pierre Dervaux's conducting is as close to perfection as one could hope for, capturing the ethereal quality of the nuns' order, as well as the fragility, grief, pathos, anxiety and raw brutality of the drama, where appropriate. The music feels more real, rather than fantastical. The sound is clear and well-balanced but what amazing interpretations! The diction throughout is superb, by mere virtue of the performers' nativity.

Duval's celestial voice has immortalised the role and she is not alone in being such an unparalleled pioneer. Her's is a most touching and fragile Soeur Blanche, and her gentle sobs or gasps during her many vulnerable moments make you want to shield her from harm, rather than hug her tight for fear of damaging her further. This must fit in with Mère Marie's towering character as her appointed guardian. Rita Gorr's Mère Marie is both formidable, and yet beneficent, and her duet with Soeur Blanche towards the end of the opera sees a resolution of her matriarchal intent. Gorr is wonderful in this role. I once heard clips of Florence Quivar's interpretation, in English, at the Met., and while she too was breath-taking, I think that it is an inherent character of this opera that it inspires each performer to his or her best. Duval's scene with her character's brother, the Chevalier de la Force (remarkably sung by Jean Giraudeau), is the sort of tension you rarely encounter- without the bombast but all the more taut. Scharley's agony as the dying Prioress is haunting....not in the way that Tchaikovsy's Countess haunts you in Pique Dame. Hers is a more believably human response to death and the death scene cannot fail to leave an indelible mark: her resolve in addressing Soeur Blanche (Duval) as she weakens, then the music changes pace (evoking Mussorgsky's `clock-scene' from `Boris Godinov') and you feel that the Prioress's end is indeed fast approaching. Her plea to Dr. Javelinot is chilling, and her reply as the pain takes hold begins her spell of doom: "Monsieur Javelinot, vous savez qu'il est d'usage dans nos maisons qu'une prieure prenne publiquement congé de la communauté." She then descends into unbridled delirium, agony and eventual death.

This begins a steeper incline to the opera's monumental climax. Even Soeur Constance's character, sung with radiant purity by the brilliant Liliane Berton, takes on a distinctly `fated' hue as the opera progresses. Needless to say, Régine Crespin's Mme. Lidoine, the new Prioress, is pure elegance. Her aria, "Mes Filles, Voila Que S'acheve Notre Premiere Nuit De Prison" is unparalleled on any complete recording of the opera and the top notes are un-forced. This touching aria leads into her final exhortations to her sisters before the each brave the raw terror of mounting the horrific guillotine- portrayed with devastating effectiveness under Pierre Dervaux's expert baton. The sound of the falling blade immediately erases each voice, one by one, until Soeur Blanche's heroic final decision to join her sisters in the end, transforming the death-march of their "Salve Regina" into "Deo Patri sit Gloria," before her voice is suddenly silenced by its violence.

At first I was deeply disturbed by the opera. All accounts of the Reign of Terror have always left me horrified- whether A Tale of Two Cities or Andrea Chenier. This particular account however, was more immediate than I had anticipated. Admittedly, I had to work off the initial shock...and now I am in a phase of sheer wonder at the composition and performances. Consider it a worthy pilgrimage for every opera fan.


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