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Der Fliegende Hollander (The Flying Dutchman)
Der Fliegende Hollander (The Flying Dutchman)
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars For Stewart Fans Only, March 1, 2010
I acquired my copy of this recording as a freebie from the old BMG Music Service. The late Thomas Stewart is the only reason to acquire this memento of the 1971 Bayreuth Festival. His Dutchman is well sung and dramatically apt. Ridderbusch has a good voice, but his Daland doesn't make much of an impression. The same holds true for Herman Esser and Sieglinde Wagner in their small roles. Harald Ek's Helmsman is quite good, but I doubt anyone would buy a "Dutchman" recording for this small role. Bohm's conducting is characteristic and fairly low voltage. The recording is a typical example of the acoustics of the Festspielhaus.

Finally, there is Gwyneth Jones, who has managed to compromise more expensive recording projects than any singer I know. I understand she had a extraordinary stage presence and power that tended to overshadow vocal flaws in stage performance. Unfortunately, her raw and unsteady singing is a trial in recording.

If you must have a Bayreuth stage performance of "Dutchman" look to Testament's reissue of the well sung and atmospheric 1956 Keilberth conducted Decca stereo set with Uhde, Varnay, et al. Sawallisch also conducted the opera for Philips in the early '60s in a festival performance that has shown up on a Decca big box re-issue. Franz Crass is wonderful as the Dutchman, but the set is compromised by Silja's shrill Senta.

Symphony No. 7
Symphony No. 7
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Surprisingly Good Seventh, January 25, 2010
This review is from: Symphony No. 7 (Audio CD)
I was surprised by the quality of Gergiev's reading of Mahler's strange and wonderful Seventh. I haven't cared for my earlier samplings of his cycle - finding the First a pretty crude affair (not helped by a so-so recording) and the Sixth a perfunctory run through not at all redeemed by a mediocre SACD encoding.

The Seventh is something else again. The bass prominent sonics of the first movement are atmospheric and the "dragging" quality of the opening appropriate to the context. The C major theme - a wonderful moment in Mahler's work - is well played. The coda is speedy and well integrated into the whole.

The first "Nachtmusik" is well done. The march episodes are alert and the bizarre quasi-tango bits come across very well. The cowbells are neither overly prominent nor sounding like they were recorded in another hall.

The Scherzo is less spooky than I've heard it elsewhere, but the quick tempo works well and it comes across as tongue in cheek. I couldn't help think of Snoopy's parodies of Bulwar-Lytton's stock "It was a dark and stormy night." This is a refreshing approach.

The finale opens with a rousing fanfare and proceeds at a good clip. This movement has always struck me as deliberately superficial (for example the repetition of the "Merry Widow" like tune) or parody. Gergiev plays it for it's off kilter humor and the orchestra responds well.

I listened in the SACD surround mode. The recording is close up with only a minimal sense of the hall - which I prefer to being unrealistically plunked down into the middle of the orchestra. As a whole, the production isn't a touchstone for DSD encoding. Upper strings in particular lack the bloom of the best examples of this technology.

It is refreshing to enjoy this installment of Gergiev's cycle when I've been very disappointed in examples I've heard. I will have to give his new Eighth a listen.

Violin Concertos in Hungarian Style Op 11
Violin Concertos in Hungarian Style Op 11
Price: $11.50
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Virtuosic Note Spinning, December 10, 2009
Joseph Joachim was a highly regarded violin virtuoso and friend/collaborator of Brahms. The two later became estranged as a result of Brahms' taking sides with Joachim's wife in their divorce proceedings. The Brahms Double Concerto for Violin and Cello was something of a peace offering.

On the evidence of this recording, Joachim should have stuck to fiddling and left the composition of his vehicles to Mendelssohn, Schumann, Brahms, et al. While there is no doubt as to the composer's understanding of his instrument and his ability to display his technical command, the musical content strikes me paltry. There are some good tunes and plenty of pyrotechnics in the youthful Op. 3 and the mature Op 11 (particularly in the latter's finale), but there is too much empty note spinning and structural meandering to create a compelling listening experience. I suppose one shouldn't come down too hard on a virtuoso's creations for self display. The visual element of the fingers flying up and down the fingerboard no doubt play a part in the success of many such pieces. Still, in contrast to the unabashed fluff of a composer like Beriot, Joachim appears to be straining for some profundity of utterance and misses the mark. After sitting through the disc multiple times, I'm still bored by it.

Soloist Suyoen Kim plays cleanly and with considerable spirit. Halasz doesn't win me over as the best advocate for the pieces. His conducting often seems under-energized and routine. The Weimer orchestra plays well enough, but a fatter more romantic sound would have helped. It's hard to say if that's the fault of the muscians or the recording. It seems to have a fair degree of room resnonance, but is rather lightweight and colorless.

Naxos has done the violin repertory a service recently through the exploration of the music of 19th century composer/virtuosos like Beriot and Rode. It is educational to hear these Joachim works, but a couple of listens is enough for me.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 28, 2011 2:18 PM PDT

Handel: Messiah - Dream Cast
Handel: Messiah - Dream Cast
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4.0 out of 5 stars Worth the Price for Leontyne Price, November 23, 2009
I own the "completes" from which these excerpts were taken so the disc doesn't fill a crying need from my perspective. As to whether this is truly a "dream cast" individual tastes will dictate whether the title lives up to the hype.

From my perspective, the reason to acquire this disc is the opportunity to hear Leontyne Price singing in repertory outside her usual fach. Her "He shall feed His flock" is full of expression and sung with a smoky, almost baritonal, timbre that may not be to everyone's liking but which I find very affecting. If you've heard her old recording of Barber's "Knoxville, Summer of 1915" you will understand when I say she brings a personal take to the music that is treasurable. It makes you wonder what she would have done with the complete soprano part, which I do not believe she preserved for posterity in the studio. The thought of what a soaring note of triumph that wonderful upper register in its prime would have brought to "I know that my redeemer liveth" makes me long for what might have been.

For my money, she makes the disc worthwhile.

Price: $17.45
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4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars So-so, November 18, 2009
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Messiah (Audio CD)
I treasure Karl Richter's Bach recordings for DG (B Minor Mass, Magnificat, the Passions, Christmas Oratorio , and the selection of cantatas) but his Handel is a different matter. There is a lugubrious Guilio Cesare in circulation and at least another oratorio (Samson, maybe?) that I heard on LP years ago but never felt compelled to purchase. I hadn't this Messiah since the LP era either, but at bargain prices, why not refresh the memory?

Richter gives us a very traditional view of the work with stately tempi and an absence of vocal ornamentation. The occasional cadential trill creeps into the orchestra such as at the end of "Glory to God". I don't care much for the orchestral swelling or the train braking into the station retards. At least, Richter's penchant for exaggerated pauses before the final cadence is pretty much held in check. There are some odd tempo adjustments in places ("Ev'ry valley" for example) where the tendency to press forward with a return to the prior tempo sounds like a bad splice of differing takes. Richter's overall approach is respectful and devotional. If that is your vision of the way the piece should go, enjoy it.

This 1972 recording was made well into the era of the research of Basil Lamm, Watkins Shaw, John Tobin and others which gave us a more accurate textual picture of the piece. Richter uses a 1939 edition that perpetuates, among other things, Mozart's bass transposition of "But who may abide" written for the castrato Guadagni. Later, Richter uses the authentic Guadagni version of "Thou art gone up on high" assigned to the contralto. Richter also uses the tenor arioso version of "Their sound is gone out". Major/minor key relationships indicate that this alternative was intended for use with the duet with chorus version of "How beautiful are the feet." A simple string/harpsichord/organ orchestration is used with trumpet reinforcement in "Glory to God," "Hallelujah," and the final "Worthy is the lamb" trilogy. I don't detect any colla parte doubling by oboes or bassoons.

The soloists are a good team, but far from my favorites. Helen Donath is sweet voiced and goes against the general absence of ornaments by singing the occasional trill. Anna Reynolds is in good voice but her placid vocal temperament was never to my taste. I remember an interview in which she expressed her view that the alto part of this oratorio was low key and comforting. She certainly holds true to her vision. Stuart Burrows is a tenor with a touch of acid in the tone that may not be to all tastes. Donald McIntyre, Wotan in the Boulez Ring, is a strong voiced bass.
The Alldis Choir is full throated and sings with good diction.

DG's recording is bright and sounds grainy and metallic through my Canton reference speakers. Samples played through my Polk Audio system sound smoother and more musical - probably as a result of less high frequency extension. Hedwig Bilgram's harpsichord suffers from the recording quality, sounding harsh and clangy.

Traditional minded listeners may find Richter's Messiah to their taste. I frankly find it boring.

Don Giovanni
Don Giovanni
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars So-so performance compromised by EMI's hatchet job, September 15, 2009
This review is from: Don Giovanni (Audio CD)
I had never been tempted to buy this performance from its earliest issuance on LP until I found a copy in a local thrift shop at $3.99. It isn't awful, but a prospective purchaser can get a better idea of the opera from many competitors. Barenboim's conducting is on the slow and weighty side, not necessarily a bad thing, but the "giocoso" elements of the score aren't given their due. The ECO is in typical good form and the chorus does its bits well.

The cast is a mixed bag. Soyer is a middle of the pack Don. At least he sings the part without the excessive mannerisms of some of his recorded competitors. Evans' Leporello does sound a little older, but that doesn't bother me. The sense of maturity brings another dimension to the Don's worldly and sarcastic valet. Helen Donath's silvery soprano is always welcome and her Zerlina is well sung. Rinaldi is a decent Masetto. Lagger is a coarse voiced Commendatore. The early to mid-70s were getting late in the day for Luigi Alva who had been singing lyric tenor roles for close to a quarter century. The juice was no longer so evident in the voice and the runs in "Il mio tesoro" (relegated to an appendix in this re-issue) suffer in comparison to his late 1950s recording under Guilini (also EMI). I don't care for the two "donnas" at all. Sgourda's ungainly voice doesn't do justice to Anna, particularly in the coloratura ending of "Non mi dir" and Harper's matronly sound and prim characterization don't make much of either Elvira's music or her fascinating and conflicted character.

The cast and interpretation might have benefitted from a more complete presentation of the secco recitatives. As it is, opportunities for character development have been pruned away with very damaging results. EMI has given us a mangled presentation of the original. The digital re-master, incidentally, has a copyright date of 1991, so the sound suffers incomparison to more recent 96kHz, 24 bit efforts.

Bargain hunters will be better served by Krips 1955 Decca effort, newly available in the Heritage Masters series at about $18 retail. Personally, I still favor Guilini's EMI Great Recordings of the Century set with Sutherland and Schwarzkopf as the two ladies. Others may be put off by Wachter's snarling Don, Taddei's baritone and buffo Leporello, and Scuitti's thin voiced Zerlina.

Mass in B Minor
Mass in B Minor
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Early Karajan, September 5, 2009
This review is from: Mass in B Minor (Audio CD)
Karajan's early recording of many standard repertory items have always impressed me as more interesting than his later re-makes - after, perhaps, being Karajan went to his head. So it is with this 1952/3 recording of the B Minor. Rhythms are well sprung and while slow by current standards, the tempos aren't as lugubrious as Karajan's DG stereo effort of over a decade later. The cadential retards sound mannered today as does the prolonged final chord in the "Dona nobis pacem."

Choruses were recorded in Vienna with the Vienna Singverein and Orchestra. Solos were recorded in EMI's Abbey Road studios using Legge's Philharmonia and a singers including a relatively young Schwarzkopf and a very young Gedda. Schwarzkopf and Gedda are the stand-outs in the quartet, both in very fresh voice. Hoffgen is a very good alto, but suffers in comparison to the Kathleen Ferrier of the "bonus" tracks included in the issue. The only criticism of Rehfuss is that the lowest notes just aren't in his voice.

The Vienna orchestra is Ok, but comes off second best to Legge's hand picked Philharmonia forces. The Singverein sopranos won't win any prizes for tonal beauty or pinpoint accuracy, but the choral singing is by and large pretty good. The Vienna sessions aren't exactly helped by the harsh and dry sound of the Musikvereinsaal in comparison to the more colorful sonic picture achieved in the London studio. Interestingly, the bonus experimental recordings of Karajan's rehearsals for a 1950 broadcast of the Mass in some ways sound more mellifluous than the later sessions. Speaking of those rehearal excerpts, the singing of Kathleen Ferrier is extraordinary in tonal beauty and intensity and makes me appreciate anew just what a great artist the world lost in her early death.

Mahler - Symphony No. 6 [RARE]
Mahler - Symphony No. 6 [RARE]
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Good Performance, but Not Worth the Asking Price, August 25, 2009
I commented on this performance when it appeared in this forum some months ago, after finding it in a local Virginia used CD shop very cheap. It is a good performance, but not worth the asking price. If you want pride of ownership for a rarity, go ahead, but there are many better (and cheaper) alternatives. For anyone interested, here's what I wrote earlier:

After years of trying to track down a copy of this out of print CD (I've owned the domestic Nonesuch LPs from the 1970s for years) I found a copy at a bargain price in a local used CD shop. This elusive item usually prompts bidding wars when a copy comes up in on line auction. Well, rarity value certainly adds something, I suppose. However, this performance has been superseded several times by more modern recordings.

Horenstein's interpretive ideas are very much on the mark. The opening movement march is inexorable rather than snappy, the scherzo appropriately clumsy, the andante a moment of respite, and the finale alternately grim and triumphant. What compromises the conductor's vision is the technical security of the Stockholm Philharmonic. Remember that this recording dates from 1966, rather early on in the Mahler movement, and the score probably wasn't terribly well known to the Swedes. In consequence, the orchestra sounds under-rehearsed. There are a number of clams in the course of performance - unavoidable in a concert recording. The orchestra also seems to run out of steam as the finale progresses.

Unicorn's recording certainly shows the forty something year old source to good advantage. For Horenstein collectors, it is self-recommending. For a better representation of the conductor's late career Mahler, I'd suggest the studio recordings of Nos 1,3 and 4. No. 1 is also a difficult to find on Unicorn CD, No.3 was recently issued in a Brilliant Classics compilation featuring Symphonies 1-9 with various orchestras and conductors (it's on Brilliant 99549-3/4) and No. 4 (with a radiant young Dame Margaret Price as soloist on EMI Clasics for Pleasure (7243 5 74882 2 8). For No. 6, general collectors should investigate Bernstein (CBS or DG) or the hybrid SACD versions featuring Michael Tilson Thomas and the SFO (on the orcheatra's own label) or Benjamin Zander and the Philharmonia on Telarc.

Donizetti: L'Elisir d'Amore
Donizetti: L'Elisir d'Amore
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not a Favorite, August 13, 2009
In this recording, made in 1955, the lyrical quality of di Stefano's singing was taking a hit from his tendency to take on heavier roles. Even so, his singing of "Una furtiva lagrima" is very good indeed. Hilde Gueden is an interesting choice for Adina. She scoops too much for good bel canto singing but the tone is always easy on the ear. Capecchi swaggers nicely as Belcore and Corena's traditionally buffo Dulcamara is well sung. Molinari-Pradelli keeps things moving without displaying the affection for the piece that Serafin shows in his EMI effort of roughly the same period and gets good playing from the Maggio Musicale forces.

Typical for its time, the recording is cut, including a big excision after the discovery of Nemorino's inheritance. The sound is definitely showing its age. Ensemble climaxes tend to distort and the stereo sound is not very well organized - not surprising given that Victor Olof, the producer, was not convinced of the need for stereophonic sound at the time. (John Culshaw records in his memoirs that as Olof's assistant, he was assigned to development of stereophonic opera, a task Olof considered "of no importance.")

I had not heard this venerable recording since its incarnation on London's Opera Treasury years ago. It was good to hear it again, but if you are only buying one recording, I suggest Decca's 70s production with Pavarotti's golden toned Nemorino, despite Sutherland's droopy Adina and lower male voices that are only so-so. It is complete and in good sound.

Mahler: Symphony No. 6
Mahler: Symphony No. 6
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Good Mahler Sixth, August 6, 2009
This review is from: Mahler: Symphony No. 6 (Audio CD)
The domestic release of this recording puts to rest fears that Sony/BMG had abandoned the SACD format for the Zinman Mahler cycle. My first copy, an import, was a standard "redbook" CD that was also defective - the discs split from center to edge the first time they were inserted into jewel case. My advice is to make sure you get the SACD hybrid.

As to the performance, repeated listening leaves me less satisfied than I was upon first hearing. BMG's sound is pretty seductive, but the performance seems more ordinary as time goes on. True, Zinman emphasizes clarity of the polyphonic strands of this very complex symphony. Mahler's various lines and counterpoint emerge with uncommon clarity - aided no doubt by a clear and spacious recording. (I have listened to the SACD multi-channel layer only.) Zinman adopts a swaggering march tempo for the first movement and the "Alma" theme soars. He also observes Mahler's exposition repeat, giving the movement the appropriate balance. The end of the ethereal "cowbells" episode seems to catch the conductor off balance and he takes awhile to recover momentum.

The wonderful Andante is well played (as the second movement) and again, the lines emerge with clarity. Zinman allows the emotional content of the music to speak for itself. The Scherzo is a true to the "weighty" indication of the score. This odd movement gains a sense of gravity in Zinman's handling. Both inner movements emerge as undercharacterized.

The Finale, in Mahler's revision without the third hammer stroke, makes its points through clarity of line and texture. Again, Zinman seems be allowing the sense of tragedy to accumulate through attention to structure and detail. This is Mahler in the objectivist/classicist vein.

I prefer Mahler's first thoughts on the sequence of the Scherzo and Andante. When the Scherzo is played as the second movement, the A Minor/Major tonality of the Allegro energico carries over into the second movement along with permutations of the thematic content of the first movement. The Andante's impact as a lyrical "oasis" between the opening Allegro and Scherzo and the harrowing finale is emphasized, not to mention the relative major/minor key relationship between the Andante and the opening of the Finale. Since the final three movements are on a separate disc, the listener can program the inner movements in their preferred sequence.

Zinman's Sixth is a continuation of his workmanlike series - good, if generic, leadership, good orchestral execution, and excellent sound. I have been lukewarm about his efforts to date and the Sixth doesn't change those impressions.

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