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Mozart: Piano Concertos Nos. 12, 13 & 14 - The Chamber Version
Mozart: Piano Concertos Nos. 12, 13 & 14 - The Chamber Version
Price: $25.40
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A New Way to Hear These Beloved Concertos, June 25, 2013
The three piano concertos presented on this disc were, of course, written for full orchestra. But as was often done in their day (1783 or thereabouts) they were also published for piano and string quartet and that is what we get here. The performances are crisp, lyrical, a little lightweight (no surprise, given the 'orchestration' but also given their musical materials -- they also sound a little lightweight in their full orchestra versions), and entirely enjoyable.

Confession: Like many of you, I have recurring earworms (bits of music that stick in one's mind even when they're not being played; in German the term is 'Ohrwurm') and one of my most persistent occurs in Concerto No. 12 in A, K.414. It's the little viola figure that appears in measures 2, 3 & 4 of the first movement's second subject. I have no idea why this little three-note thingie persists but there you are. Blame it on Mozart.

The musicians are the up-and-coming Austrian pianist Gottlieb Wallisch and a young British string quartet, the Piatti Quartet. I've very much liked Wallisch in a couple of Schubert piano sonata recordings Piano Sonatas 5 7a 11 & 12 & Piano Sonatas 1 8 & 15 Reliquie. (Although Wallisch comes from a musical family he is not related to eminent English family of musicians surnamed Wallfisch.)

This is obviously not the first choice for these three early Mozart concertos, but for those who love them they could serve as a 'different' version. I found that I liked them immensely in spite of having been imprinted on performances by, among others, Mitsuko Uchida Mozart: Piano Concertos and Perahia Concerto Nos 11.

There is a recent recording by Janine Fialkowska of Concertos Nos. 13 & 14 (plus some other things) that use the same version but which add a string bass to the string quartet. I reviewed it very positively here: Mozart: Concertos 13 & 14.

This is a hybrid SACD issue and the sound is startlingly real.

Scott Morrison

Myra Hess: Great Pianists of the 20th Century, Vol. 45
Myra Hess: Great Pianists of the 20th Century, Vol. 45
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars As Good as I Remembered It, June 25, 2013
I first heard of Myra Hess in the 1950s when my teacher had me learn Hess's arrangement of Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring. Then I actually heard her and was overwhelmed by two things: her unfailingly beautiful tone and the strength of her playing. I bought the whole collection of Great Pianists (for a pittance from one of Amazon's resellers) perhaps ten years ago and although I had listened to all of them eventually, Hess's was the first I went to. But it's been probably five years since I listened to it and just now I put it in my car for a trip and listened carefully as I hadn't done in a long time. Make no mistake, this brave, courageous woman (remember her dozenz of noontime concerts at the National Gallery during the six years of the Blitz and WWII when concert halls were blacked out at night?) was an amazingly talented player. She gave credit to her teacher, Tobias Matthay, for her marveously velvet tone but wherever she got it she was almost unique in her ability to make the piano sing. Yet she could get deep in the keys as well and make the piano thunder.

This collection has some of her most compelling recordings: the Jesu, Schumann's Carnaval, the Beethoven Opp. 109 & 110 sonatas, the two little Scarlatti sonatas, and more.

Worth every penny.

Scott Morrison

Britten: Piano Concerto - Violin Concerto
Britten: Piano Concerto - Violin Concerto
Price: $8.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars New Versions of the Britten Concertos, June 19, 2013
Almost unknown these days, for reasons that completely escape me, Britten's sole piano concerto (1938-39) has fared extremely well in recordings. There is the classic recording with Sviatoslav Richter who made the first recording of it Britten: Piano Concerto / Violin Concerto, Opp. 13,15; this has always struck me as both fortuitous and ironic that the great Russian would record the great Briton (Britten), their connection being, one supposes, their limitless love of Shostakovich whose music inspired them both. And that recording remains definitive if only partly because Britten is the conductor of the performance. Although it was recorded in 1970, its sound holds up fairly well to modern standards. Then there is the recording by Joanna MacGregor on the budget Naxos label Britten: Piano Concerto which is also quite fine. Another British virtuoso, Stephen Osborne, has recorded it Piano Concerto Op.13 Diversions Op.21 Young Apollo although the orchestral contribution by the BBC Scottish SO strikes me as a little less idiomatic somehow. Well, what of this one? First, let me say that the BBC Philharmonic are in marvelous form. The orchestral writing in the Piano Concerto is a virtual concerto for orchestra and these Mancusian musicians are fully equal to its demands. Howard Shelley, a great pianist in the Romantic literature (his Rachmaninov is unfailingly superb), is right up there with Richter and MacGregor. He has all the sparkle required for the fast movements and the third movement is eerily evocative. That third movement was, of course, a later addition to the concerto, replacing the original 'Recitative and Aria' that Britten played in the première of the work. He decided it didn't work and replaced it a couple of years later. It is, however, included in this recording as Band 5 and it strikes me as a marvelous piece which I'd known from both Osborne's and MacGregor's recordings.

The Violin Concerto (1940), although it came a bit later, is an example of Britten's evolving style. It is rather more mature, if one can use that term, and sounds even more Shostakovian, especially in the marvelous finale, a searing Passacaglia which strangely presages the Passacaglia in Shostakovich's First Violin Concerto (1947), perhaps an example of Britten inspiring Shostakovich. The only other recording I know (and love) is that of Mark Lubotsky, coupled with the Britten/Richter piano concerto. My impression is that Tasmin Little plays the work a bit more histrionically than Lubotsky and although that is valid, it will be for some perhaps an acquired taste.

This disc does not displace the classic Richter/Lubotsky/Britten but it offers its own pleasures and its recorded sound is modern, sounding excellent even in the mp3 version. I've not heard the CD version but can only imagine it is even better sounding.

Scott Morrison
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Neeme Jarvi conducts Chabrier
Neeme Jarvi conducts Chabrier
Price: $8.99

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Some of Chabrier's Most Familiar and Popular Works, June 17, 2013
Emmanuel Chabrier (1841-1894) was a major figure in late 19th-century French music. This collection of his orchestral music is played by the pre-eminent orchestra of French-speaking Switzerland (Suisse romande, in local parlance), the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, an ensemble founded and long directed by Ernest Ansermet and well-known for its literally hundreds of recordings. It is conducted by its new music director, Neeme Järvi, the peripatetic conductor who is or has been the music director in such far-flung places as Glasgow, Detroit, Tallinn, The Hague, Gothenburg (Göteborg), and now Geneva. It contains many of Chabrier's most familiar works, including his most popular orchestral piece, España.

Chabrier had the ability to infuse his works with an always charming sparkle, largely the result of his uniquely personal orchestrations. Even the only somber piece here, 'Lamento' (which features the wonderful playing of English horn player Alexandre Emard) has its own brilliance.

A few comments: Felix Mottl's orchestration of Chabrier's piano piece, 'Bourrée fantasque', manages to copy Chabrier's style of orchestration, perhaps partly because although he didn't complete it Chabrier left a full score of the first few measures. Another orchestration of piano music, this time completely by Chabrier, is the 'Suite pastorale' whose first movement 'Idylle' was said by Poulenc to have inspired him to become a composer. There are excerpts of orchestral interludes from two of Chabrier's operas, 'L'Etoile' and 'Le roi malgré lui' and the overture to his opera on a Celtic subject, 'Gwendoline'. The collection opens with 'Joyeuse marche', of which Chabrier wrote in a letter about its first rehearsal, 'The March is a crazy piece; the orchestra was splitting their sides'. 'Habanera', long thought to be an orchestration of a piano piece, turns out to have been written first for piano. Chabrier thoughtfully orchestrated the piano piece, originally in D flat, in the more usual orchestral key of D major. Like 'España', this piece was directly influenced by Chabrier's several-month sojourn in Spain in 1882, an exposure to Hispanic music that forever changed his approach to both rhythm and orchestration.

These performances are idiomatic, fresh and brilliant. The sound is fine. I have only heard the mp3 version but can assume that the CD version is equally or more so.

This is an easy recommendation, particularly for those who know, say, 'España' or the familiar 'Fête polonaise' from the opera 'Le roi malgré lui', and would like to know more Chabrier.

Scott Morrison

J.S. Bach: The Transcriptions of Concertos by Vivaldi and the Marcello brothers
J.S. Bach: The Transcriptions of Concertos by Vivaldi and the Marcello brothers
Price: $8.99

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Young Bach Experiments, June 15, 2013
Most of these transcriptions of string concertos by the somewhat older composers Antonio Vivaldi and brothers Benedetto and Alessandro Marcello were made when Bach was in his twenties and represent the young composer stretching his wings by making over already existing works by composers he admired. He was aided in this by his Weimar patron, Prince Johann Ernst, who had discovered some of these concertos in Holland and brought them home. The wonder is that Bach took compositions which are basically incompatible as harpsichord music and made them not only doable but actually quite wonderful pieces. He changes the keys of some of them to make them more agreeable for fingers on a keyboard. He retains all the ornaments that the violin soloist would have been playing in these concerti and made them work for keyboard players. He used a double manual harpsichord in order to make the expected contrast between soloists and the ritornello instruments.

It has been speculated as to why Bach made these transcriptions -- although this CD contains eight of them, Bach actually made seventeen such transcriptions -- and no clear answers have been forthcoming. Certainly he was interested in pleasing his patron, a keen musician -- he transcribed some of Prince Johann's music as well -- but he may also have been an eager young man exercising his compositional muscles by using preexisting works as frameworks for his own efforts. And he may have been making them for private performances when a group of musicians were not available to play these concerted works. Whatever the reasons, these are wonderful works. All of them are from violin concertos except for one by Alessandro Marcello which was for oboe and strings. Seven of them are in the usual three movements -- fast, slow, fast -- that had just become standard for the concerto form. The eighth, the transcription of Benedetto Marcello's Concerto a cinque, Op. 1, No. 2, has four movements -- slow, fast, slow, fast.

Sophie Yates is a brilliant English harpsichordist who is probably better known for her playing of English and French music. She plays a two-manual instrument by the English maker Andrew Garlick; it is a copy of a 1748 harpsichord by the French maker Jean-Claude Goujon. The instrument is tuned (by its maker) to the mildly unequal Vallotti temperament, A = 415 Hz.

For lovers of harpsichord music and of all things Bach, this one is worth having.

Scott Morrison

Die Schweigsame Frau
Die Schweigsame Frau
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars What the Guardian Had to Say About It, June 13, 2013
This review is from: Die Schweigsame Frau (Audio CD)
[I've never done this before. I'm reprinting the review that appeared today in the Guardian (London) which adds to what the previous reviewer, Ralph Moore, said and to what I added in his comments section.]

The Richard Strauss discography has always proved problematic when it comes to Die Schweigsame Frau, his ill-fated 11th opera, first performed in Dresden in 1935, and inseparable, in many ways, from the vexed circumstances of its creation. The only finished product of the composer's collaboration with the Austrian-Jewish novelist Stefan Zweig, it was begun in 1932. The Nazi accession to power in January 1933, however, followed by Strauss's unwise decision later that year to accept the presidency of Goebbels's Reichsmusikkammer (State Music Bureau), placed the project under strain, despite the two men's mutual admiration. Shortly before the premiere, their correspondence, in which the composer voiced angry criticism of the Nazis, was intercepted by the Gestapo. Strauss was stripped of public office and became subject to increasing intimidation. Banned after four performances, Die Schweigsame Frau was not heard again until 1946.

The opera is based on a play by Ben Jonson. Morosus, a war-damaged naval captain unable to bear loud noise, disinherits his nephew Henry for becoming an opera singer, but is then conned into marrying the "silent woman" of the title - Henry's wife, Aminta, in disguise - who mutates into a shrieking harridan the moment the knot is tied. Strauss's aim was to write a breezy comedy, though the score has often been described as shallow, brittle and short on his usual lyricism.

Based on a production in Chemnitz, this recording takes a very different view. Frank Beermann adopts slower speeds than his predecessors, which opens a deep vein of sadness. His approach is matched by a superb performance from Franz Hawlata, whose Morosus is not the usual curmudgeon but an ageing man confronted by the cruelty of youth. There are imperfections, however. Henry lies too high for Bernard Berchtold and Julia Bauer's Aminta doesn't strike form until act two. There are also heavy cuts, including a scene, one of the funniest, involving a singing parrot. But this irrevocably changes the way we listen to the piece itself, which makes it a significant achievement.

Rating: 4/5

Tim Ashley
(c) The Guardian

Alfred Cortot: Piano Arrangements
Alfred Cortot: Piano Arrangements
Price: $8.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Cortot as Arranger, June 12, 2013
Alfred Cortot (1877-1962) was a giant among French pianists in the first half of the 20th century. Among other things he formed the foremost piano trio of the time with Jacques Thibaud and Pablo Casals. His earliest job of note was a répétiteur for the chorus of the Bayreuth Festival in the late 1890s; and he introduced Götterdämmerung to Paris in 1902. He was an esteemed recitalist and made many recordings which are still treasured by cognoscenti even today. He made the first ever recording of the Liszt B Minor Sonata. He was particularly noted for his Chopin and Schumann. Among his pupils were Clara Haskil, Magda Tagliaferro, Dinu Lipatti, Vlado Perlemutter, Raymond Lewenthal and Samson François.

Cortot is not particularly noted as an arranger for piano and this disc contains arrangements I'd never even heard of before. Yet, they are marveously done and make one eager to hear more, if more exist. This CD does not suggest that it is the first of several CDs to come.

First up is a truly amazing arrangement for one pianist of the duo-piano 'Dolly Suite' by Gabriel Fauré. As one who has played this suite countless times it is hard to pick up where Cortot had to pare or rearrange. The arrangement sounds absolutely true to Fauré's original. The young Chinese pianist, He Yue (b. 1990), plays it correctly but without the last bit of insouciance inherent in the Suite. Interestingly, this is the first solo piano recording I've encountered that was actually recorded in China, in this case at the conservatory in Gulangyu where He Yue currently teaches.

Bach's 'Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, BWV 565', has been arranged for piano by many others (among them Ferruccio Busoni, Carl Tausig, Percy Grainger and Ignaz Friedman) and has often been virtuosically elaborated. This arrangement sticks pretty much to the original, making allowances for limitations inherent in a piano transcription of an organ work. He Yue plays it without a lot of flair but there are some heroic moments.

Next comes arrangements of pieces familiar to all: Brahms's 'Lullaby', the 'Largo' from Bach's F Minor Keyboard Concerto (familiar to some from the movement's appearance as the sinfonia in the cantata 'Ich steh mit einem Fuß im Grabe, BWV 156'), the slow movement from Chopin's 'Cello Sonata, Op. 65', and Schubert's beautifully childlike Lied 'Heidenröslein'. All are lovely and all are played idiomatically by He Yue.

Finally, the trickiest of the arrangements to pull off by Cortot, his piano only version of Franck's Violin Sonata in A Major. He Yue shows his virtuosic chops in the thrilling second movment, but most amazing in this arrangement is the lovely canon in the last movement whose threads in the original are concurrent in the violin and piano line. Somehow Cortot manages to place the canonic voices in the piano while the pianist is also playing the original's accompaniment, a superior effort. He Yue does this arrangement proud and it is the violin sonata arrangement that makes this CD worth having.

TT 57:46

Scott Morrison
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Schmitt: Complete Original Works for Piano Duet & Duo, Vol. 3
Schmitt: Complete Original Works for Piano Duet & Duo, Vol. 3
Price: $18.39
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Always Melodic, Always Charming, May 29, 2013
Florent Schmitt (1870-1958) was a French composer who ought to be better known. This CD by the Invencia Piano Duo contains two-piano and piano-duet (piano four hands) music by this quintessentially graceful composer who was in the generation just after Debussy and Ravel and whose music shares some of their harmonic language. He was a student of Fauré. You might want to read the descriptions and reviews of the two earlier volumes in this series: Schmitt: Complete Original Works for Piano Duet & Schmitt: Complete Works for Piano Duet & Duo, Vol. 2.

This CD contains one reasonably lengthy March (written for a military band but then arranged for two pianists) and three suites of 'pieces caracteristiques en forme de suite': two suites 'Feuillets de voyage' ('Travel Pages'), Books I & II, and a suite called 'Musiques foraines' ('Carnival Music'). Both of these suites contain charming miniatures that are evocative of various places or experiences, e.g. 'Boniment de clowns' ('Clown Patter'), 'Retour à l'éndroit familier' ('Return Home'), 'Douceur du soir' ('Balmy Evening'), 'Les élephants savants' ('Educated Elephants'), 'Marche burlesque' ('Farcical March') and so on. Written in easily assimilable style, these pieces will, on becoming familiar, have you humming or even dancing.

The Invencia Piano Duo comprises a married couple, Andrey Kasparov and Oksana Lutsyshyn, who were trained at the Moscow State Conservatory and at the exceptional Indiana University School of Music. They are on the faculty of Old Dominion University in Norfolk. They are marvelous players and their style fits Schmitt's insouciant music elegantly.

Scott Morrison

Nikolai Lugansky: Chopin, Rachmaninov, Beethoven, Prokofiev (9 CD)
Nikolai Lugansky: Chopin, Rachmaninov, Beethoven, Prokofiev (9 CD)
Price: $36.33
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Pianism, Great Price, May 27, 2013
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Every disc in this 9CD set is wonderful and the price simply cannot be beat. Lugansky is one of the best pianists before the public today, especially playing this repertoire. If you are interested in reading about the individual discs -- all of which have been issued separately in the past but at full price -- go to these links:

Prokofiev Piano Sonatas 4 & 6; Ten Pieces from Romeo and Juliet ballet: Prokofiev: Piano Sonatas 4 & 6; Ten Pieces from Romeo and Juliet

Rachmaninov Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Corelli and Chopin Variations: Rachmaninov: Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini; Variations on a Theme of Corelli; Variations on a Theme of Chopin

Rachmaninov Piano Concertos Nos. 2 & 4: Rachmaninov: Piano Concertos Nos. 2 & 4

Rachmaninov Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 3: Rachmaninov: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 3

Rachmaninov Preludes & Moments musicaux: Rachmaninov: Preludes, Moments musicaux

Chopin 24 Preludes: Chopin: 24 Préludes

Chopin Etudes: Chopin: Études

Beethoven Sonatas 7, 14 'Moonlight', 22, 23 'Appassionata': Beethoven: Sonatas Nos. 7, 14 "Moonlight," 22, 23 "Appassionata"

Chopin and Rachmaninov Cello Sonatas, Rachmaninov Vocalise (with cellist Alexander Knaizev): Chopin & Rachmaninov: Cello Sonatas

Some of these discs also have mp3 versions and if you go to the disc's mp3 version site then click on 'format: mp3', you will be able to sample the tracks. Prepare to be impressed.

This recommendation is a no-brainer if you're interested in current pianists playing the heart of the Russian piano literature (plus a soupçon of Beethoven).

Scott Morrison
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Piano Recital 1962
Piano Recital 1962
Price: $21.15
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Kempff Plays Rameau, Couperin and Handel!!! Oh, and Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert, Too, May 23, 2013
This review is from: Piano Recital 1962 (Audio CD)
This recording of a live recital at the Schwetzingen Music Festival is from 1962, recorded live and broadcast back then over Süddeutsch Rundfunk (South German Radio). Südwest Rundfunk, the successor to Süddeutsch Rundfunk, has been sponsoring the Festival for sixty-plus years and they have recorded all the music presented at the Festival, an amazing treasure trove of performances by virtually all the major artists of their era. They are now releasing selected performances and that includes this stunningly beautiful recital by Wilhelm Kempff, one of the great poets of the piano. In my own mind I call him 'The Quiet Pianist'.

The really surprising thing, though, is that he begins his recital with two short pieces by Jean-Philippe Rameau and one by François Couperin. In fifty years of collecting Kempff I've never heard him play anything French except a couple of pieces by Fauré. And his way with these 'trifles' is simply stunning: delicate, dreamy, quiet, under impeccable control, and musical in a way that one rarely hears from pianists playing these pieces originally for harpsichord. Rameau's 'Les trois mains' and 'Le rappel des oiseaux' are eerily evocative. Couperin's 'Le carillon de Cithère' is, if anything, even more so. These three works, which last only eleven minutes in toto, are, for me, worth the price of the entire CD. But we also get a short Handel minuet from one of his keyboard suites (B flat, HWV 434, No. 4) and the gorgeous and rarely heard Mozart 'Pastorale variée' in B flat, K Anh. 209b (which may, in fact, not be by Mozart but is lovely in any case).

What remains on the disc are pieces that Kempff recorded before: Beethoven's two-movement Sonata No. 22 in F Major, Op. 54, Schubert's Sonata in A Minor, D 845, and Impromptu in G Flat Major, D 899, No. 3. These are convincing readings but do not supersede his other recordings of them, worth having particularly if you don't have the others. But it's the five preceding works that make this disc invaluable for Kempff fans.

The recording was remastered for this release and sound is absolutely clear and lifelike.

Enthusiastically recommended. This one, as with all my favorite recordings, will automatically find a place on my iPod so I can carry it around with me.

Scott Morrison
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 5, 2013 2:19 PM PDT

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