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  Hy End: Hy Sarick Reviews New Releases of Music from Sibelius, Vivaldi and Mussorgsky

      Date posted: November 14, 2008

Sibelius: Kullervo/Robert Spano, Atlanta
Sibelius: Kullervo, Atlanta Symphony & Men’s Chorus/Robert Spano, Charlotte Hellekant, mezzo, Nathaniel Gunn, baritone  TELARC Multichannel SACD/CD Hybrid 60665

The Kullervo Symphony was the first large orchestral work attempted by Sibelius. Based on a tragic and quite gruesome story from the collection of epic Finnish tales known as The Kalevala, the work was very successful at its first performance. The work is diffuse and rambling at times with definite echoes of Wagner and Tchaikovsky. Sibelius later came to have several reservations about it. Though it is an early piece, it has many hints of the more mature composer, even though Sibelius was at one time considered an “old fashioned” composer, his work derided as derivative and sentimental.

His reputation has more recently been revived, and rightly so, since his writing can be evocative and quite moving. I’m very fond of Sibelius’s music, and though this sprawling work is not the one I would want to introduce the composer’s music, this is a disc that’s certainly worth having. Kullervo is superbly peformed by the Atlanta Symphony and voices, with a very fine recording, both detailed and spacious, as we have come to expect from TELARC in their remarkable SACDs.

Vivaldi: The Four Seasons; Tartini: Sonata in G minor for Violin and basso Continuo, Devil’s Trill Sonata” Joshua Bell, violin, Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, John Constable, harpsichord   SONY/BMG Classical 88697-11013-2

Oh, No! Not another Four Seasons!  But, after listening, it’s a damned fine one at that. Every good (and not so good) fiddler has to have his/her crack at this great and deservedly popular work. Johua Bell needs no introduction, as he is one of the finest violinists of his generation, a truly matured prodigy.
Vivaldi/Bell & Mussorgsky/Jarvi
The Academy play superbly, as we’ve come to expect. So how does this version stack up? Well, among the best, I would say, being alive and vital, spirited and though “conventional”, historically informed. As Joshua Bell says in the liner notes, “We sometimes are so concerned with authenticity that historical and Baroque playing can be over stylized and almost impersonal in a way. There is so much attention to style, rather than having fun with the piece. I come from a tradition of violin playing rooted in the Romantic era, yet I often perform with musicians such as Roger Norrington and John Eliot Gardiner who are committed to finding the ‘authentic’ approach to early music. In the end, my approach is informed by a variety of influences.” So be it.

The additional difficult Tartini Sonata  is played with flair, panache, and great virtuosity. Throw in a very fine recording (though a litle bassy; AM), and I can’t think of a Four Seasons  I’d rather own than this one.

Mussorgsky: Night on Bald Mountain; Pictures at an Exhibition (orch. Ravel); Prelude to Khovanshchina, Cincinatti Symphony/Paavo Jarvi  TELARC Hybrid CD/SACD 60705

One of the showpieces of the orchestral repertoire, Pictures demands a first-rate recording, and here it gets just that! The work was originally written for the piano (Richter is best here), and then brilliantly orchestrated by Maurice Ravel.

It’s a colorful and exciting adaptation which ends in a tremendous climax whose visceral power is guaranteed to bring an audience to its feet. This recording is open, airy, and with great depth, and the TELARC BBD (Big Bass Drum), here in all its glory.

The Cincinatti peformance is excellent, lacking only that final degree of refinement. This Jarvi shows some welcome restraint in the buildup to the final climax, and makes a suitable case for why we need yet another version of this oft-recorded warhorse. There are, however, other versions to consider, not the least being Gergiev on Philips, who has the mighty Vienna Philharmonic at hand. It is superb performance, but sonically bested by the Jarvi. And then there is the 1957 Reiner/Chicago Living Stereo, recorded brilliantly, needing no excuse sonically, and the best played (though I didn’t listen all the other 100+ recorded versions of this work).

 Hy Sarick

Andrew Marshall adds:

I’m very partial to an earlier TELARC recording of this work, that of Maazel in Cleveland, an LP, #10042, which has more recently been released in stereo SACD. It’s a little less dry sonically, and perhaps without quite the dynamics of the more modern Jarvi, but it’s a fairly quick, and very cogent performance, a less leisurely gallery tour. It also has that BBD with a slightly loosened skin for a wonderfully resonant decay. Love that boom, boom, boom!

Table of contents for Hy End

  1. Hy End: Hy Sarick Reviews New Releases of Music from Sibelius, Vivaldi and Mussorgsky
  2. Hy End - Bruckner, Brahms, & Bang-Bang Lang Lang Liszt, by Hy Sarick
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