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Alexander Arsov

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Höhepunkte aus "Der Ring des Nibelungen"
Höhepunkte aus "Der Ring des Nibelungen"

4 von 6 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen A must for aspiring Wagnerians, 13. Juli 2011
[1] Das Rheingold: Aur Burg führt die Brücke
[2] Die Walküre: Ein Schwert verhiess mir der Vater
[3] Die Walküre: Walkürenritt
[4] Die Walküre: Leb wohl, du kühnes, herrliches Kind!
[5] Die Walküre: Feuerzauber
[6] Siegfried: Notung! Notung! Neidliches Schwert
[7] Siegfried: Brünnhildes Erwachen
[8] Götterdämmerung: Brünnhilde, heilige Braut!
[9] Götterdämmerung: Trauermarsch

Berliner Philharmoniker
Herbert von Karajan

Wotan: Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau [1]; Thomas Stewart [4, 5].
Siegfried: Jess Thomas [6, 7]; Helge Brilioth [8].
Brünnhilde: Helga Dernesch [7].
Siegmund: Jon Vickers [2].
Loge: Gerhard Stolze [1].

This is a truly amazing CD. Not so long ago it was solely responsible for making me a true fan of Richard Wagner's late works. I have never had any doubts in his genius and I have always liked his operas from the so called "middle period" - Lohengrin, Tannhäuser and especially Der fliegende Holländer. But Wagner's late works - much more aptly called not operas, but music dramas - had always terrified me with their length and complexity. Years ago a complete recording of The Ring accidentally happened to be in my hands. I gave it a try and ended bored to extinction at the second scene of Das Rheingold - the first part of the cycle. It's funny how things do change.

These excellent highlights showed me the real genius of Richard Wagner and made of myself an ardent admirer of his late works, especially The Ring. Only recently did I find out how magnificent and how ingeniously composed this cycle of four music dramas really is. The numerous leitmotifs that Wagner used to describe practically every character, idea, feeling, and object are not only deeply psychological but very often extremely beautiful and combined in an astonishing way. His ability to tell an epic story with text and music in a continuous way without virtually any pauses is something to marvel at. Once one gets bitten by Richard Wagner's genius, one never fully recovers. Nor does one want to.

The whole of Der Ring des Nibelungen runs for the unbelievable length of about 14-15 hours - the "prelude" Das Rheingold is about two and a half hours long and the three "days", Die Walküre, Siegfried and Götterdämmerung, are about four hours long each - and a complete recording usually takes something like 14 CDs. To compress the entire huge masterpiece into one CD with duration of no more than 80 minutes seems to be an impossible task. And yet, whoever compiled this CD did it. The nine tracks are not only among the best of the whole cycle musically, but they also represent crucial points in the story; one can almost follow it from the beginning to the end, heavily abridged of course. All excerpts come directly from the complete recording made by Herbert von Karajan and the Berliner Philharmoniker together with a really magnificent cast of singers between 1966 and 1970 for DG. This is the same remaster made for the Originals reissue and the sound is astonishing - clear, rich and sumptuous, with terrific dynamic range and power, but it is never reduced merely to the bombastic heroism which many people think is the only way to interpret Wagner's music; for my own part it's not even the most convincing way, let alone the only one. The ability of Karajan to achieve breathtaking beauty of sound does not at all prevent him from creating tremendously dramatic and at the same time movingly lyrical interpretation. He detested the famous description of his performance as "chamber music style" - and rightly so; it's a perfect nonsense, unless it means that the brass is powerful without being blaring and subtlety of Wagner's orchestration is superbly revealed.

Das Rheingold is presented with only one excerpt - [1] Aur Burg führt die Brücke - the very last nine minutes or so, or 'The entry of the gods into Valhalla' as it is more popular. Here you have the opportunity to enjoy two really great singing actors - Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau as the stately, majestic Wotan and Gerhard Stolze as the exceptionally cunning and shrewd Loge. The finale is certainly one of the most glorious pieces of orchestral music ever composed.

Die Walküre occupies the next four tracks. In [2] Ein Schwert verhiess mir der Vater Jon Vickers appears as Siegmund, the son of Wotan and a mortal woman, contemplating the origins and his fate; although I have never been fan of Jon Vickers because his specific timbre just doesn't grip me, his powerful tenor is irresistible here. The so called Walkürenritt [3], which Wagner himself never called with that name, is actually the famous 'Ride of the Valkyries' but not the three minute orchestral showpiece that most people know but six minutes with a lot of singing from the flying Valkyries, and even this is by no means the whole scene that serves as introduction to the Third and last act of the music drama. The last track from Die Walküre - [4] Leb wohl, du kühnes, herrliches Kind! - is the final of the opera itself, much more popular as 'Wotan's Farewell'. This must surely be one the most stunning pieces of opera ever composed. Richard Wagner surpassed even himself in expressing with the most gorgeous music every embrace, every glance, and every nuance of the heartbreaking scene when Wotan puts his daughter Brünnhilde to eternal sleep amidst fire until a hero comes and awakes her. The American bass-baritone Thomas Stewart gives a supreme rendition. He is tender and caressing, but powerful and majestic at the same time. Last but definitely not least when we talk about Wagner's music dramas, his diction is exemplary. The last two lines - surely one of the most famous in the history of opera:

Wer meines Speeres Spitze fürchtet
durchschreite das Feuer nie!

are something you are not likely to forget, especially with the following orchestral tour de force. You can listen to them together with the so called Magic fire music because they are separated in another track - [5] Feuerzauber.

Siegfried - the third part of The Ring - is represented by two tracks: [6] Notung! Notung! Neidliches Schwert and [7] Brünnhildes Erwachen, and so is the the last part - Götterdämmerung - [8] Brünnhilde, heilige Braut! [9] Trauermarsch. Here two Siegfrieds can be heard - Jess Thomas and Helge Brilioth - and both are so damn good that I am always left wanting more of their voices. As a special bonus from the gentle sex, here is Helga Dernesch in gorgeous voice as the just awakened Brünnhilde on track 7. Unlike many people, neither Thomas, nor Brillioth sound "undercast" to me; nor do I hear any problems with Helga Dernesch's high notes, for that matter.

In track 6 the incomparable Gerhard Stolze appears again, but this time in the role of the sinister Nibelung Mime trying to use Siegfried in his own schemes about obtaining the ring. This excerpt is also known as Schmidelied , or Forging Song, because it is connected with Siegfried's forging his sword which is called Notung. Here Wagner reached new heights in describing the very Hell with music. Awesome orchestration. Track 8 is actually Siegfried's death and is very moving with its quietness. The Funeral March that follows immediately is the only purely instrumental composition on the disc and one of the most majestic. It is a perfect finale of the CD, if not even of The Ring itself.

At the end of this very long and extremely tedious review which you are at perfect liberty to evaluate as 'uncommonly boring', a little piece of advice. Listen to the disc with the librettos in hand. Of course the CD has no liner notes whatsoever, let alone excerpts from the librettos, and that is quite natural considering the budget price. But all Wagner's original texts, together with his own and very important stage directions, can easily be found with translations on the net, online or not. They immensely increase the understanding of the music and make the whole experience altogether unforgettable.

Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen
Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen
Preis: EUR 18,26

8 von 11 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
3.0 von 5 Sternen Karajan and Solti: comparative review of "bleeding chunks", 13. Juli 2011
Rezension bezieht sich auf: Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen (Audio CD)
The best thing about such highlights is that they give quite an excellent overview when it comes to what is worth acquiring and what is not in terms of complete recordings. The "Ring", especially, being a work of immense proportions, is a solid thing to buy and I would hardly do so without sample some "bleeding chunks" first. I have been introduced to the "Ring" thus, only it was a one-disc selection that comes from the complete recording with Karajan. Since I am incredibly fascinated by the work, I thought I should like to hear another recording of it that illustrates an altogether different approach. The first that came to my attention was of course the most legendary one.

The next few lines are by no means a comprehensive review even of this set of highlights. Nor are they comparison of the type ''who's better than whom''. All they attempt to explain is why after hearing Karajan's "bleeding chunks" I rushed to get hold of the complete recording and why I didn't do the same about Solti's "Ring", and finally decided not to buy the set at all (unless you have some old copy you're willing to get rid of for a few bucks). Of course it is rash to make conclusions for a complete recording of 14 hours after hearing only two and a half of them, but I daresay it is not so unreasonable.

I may start by saying that I simply don't understand all the hype around Solti's "Ring" and I do think its historical significance, which is completely indisputable, tends to obscure its weaknesses. I have seen Solti, Culshaw and the cast extolled to the skies a great many times. As it turned out, it is not nearly as heavenly as that.

To begin with Solti's conducting, it is quite impressive - sound-wise. Indeed, Solti (and Culshaw as producer, and Parry as engineer) simply blow Karajan away in terms of powerful sound. It's not often that I hear Karajan's sound with the Berliner Philharmoniker from the late 1960s blown away but that is the case here. But power is not the whole of Wagner. If you think it is, then Solti's "Ring" is definitely your Ring: it is massive, heroic and frenetic, with blaring brass that is guaranteed to blow you away together with the arm-chair you're sitting in. I don't know why Solti's admirers get offended when the conducting of their idol is described as "bombastic". It is as obvious as it could be - listen to the climaxes during the "Entry into Valhalla" and "Wotan's Farewell". But this is not necessarily a bad thing; this is just Solti's view of Wagner. And it must be stressed that he is not so lacking in lyrical qualities as is often pointed out, although he certainly does nothing to emphasize them. And this is just another proof that is not only possible for a great masterpiece to have radically different interpretations, but it is indeed inevitable.

Now comes Karajan and the famous "chamber style approach" that was invented by some mentally deficient critics. Karajan himself detested the description - and rightly so. To my mind, such description simply states that the brass does not blare and obscure the strings regularly and climaxes flow more smoothly than you can imagine. Otherwise the sound is stupendous in terms of dynamic range and clarity, by no means does it lack power. But the sound of a conductor is just like the style of a writer: if he has nothing interesting to say with it, he is done. And here comes the miracle, because Karajan's attention to detail (hear the timpani, in Siegfried's "Funeral March" for instance), his tempo fluctuations, his ability for building dramatic tension and stunning climaxes (hear "Wotan's Farewell") are something miraculous indeed. In comparison to all that, Solti sounds positively brash, rash and, occasionally, even cheap and vulgar. Karajan's Ring may not be so heroic and so powerful as Solti's, but it is not a bit less dramatic, far more lyrical and a great deal more insightful at the same time.

An ideal illustration for Karajan's subtlety which Solti generally lacks is, ironically, the most famous part of the "Ring": "The Ride of Valkyries". Solti not only brings the brass much too forward but he sounds surprisingly clumsy. In contrast, Karajan never obscures the extremely important strings and he is much more sensitive to Wagner's modest thematic material but fertile imagination. Karajan creates a vision of Valkyries flying on their horses which matches Wagner's detailed stage directions to perfection. Solti brings the Valkyries down with a gusto and puts them on lame horses.

As for Culshaw's legendary sound effects that were supposed to recreate every detail from the action, I am not impressed with them at all, either. Wotan's spear hitting the rocks is fine, but Donner's hammer and the final destruction of Valhalla are distinctly unpleasant sensations. Instead of making the recording more real, they only make it more ridiculous and for my part I am rather happy that Karajan never went so far with these things. But the bigger problem is that, more often than not, the powerful sound of the orchestra obscures the voices and the text become unintelligible. This is another advantage of Karajan's recording: it has a far better balance between the voices and the orchestra, a kind of unity of sound you are not likely to find in Solti's recording where both parts are clear enough in themselves but don't mix too well. I suppose in the late 1950s, when "Das Rheingold" was the first of the four music dramas to be recorded, such a sound and such effects must have been a sensation. But they have aged badly.

But the greatest problem with Solti's "Ring" is not Solti himself (nor the presumptuous Culshaw for that matter). Whatever the details, Solti is still a great conductor, even if not exactly to my taste. He has something unique to say and he knows pretty well how to say it in a most effective way. Even though I would never prefer his conducting for my desert island exile, it remains towering achievement. And despite Culshaw's puerile passion for cacophony, on the whole the sonority and the clarity of the sound remain spectacular even today, some half a century after it was made.

The greatest disappointment in Solti's "Ring" is the cast. I am totally baffled when read descriptions like "the greatest cast ever" and such like. I have not listened to almost anything and am a Wagner as well as a "Ring" neophyte, but to my mind Karajan's singers are distinctly superior on almost all fronts. I am amazed that such cast is so often regarded as inferior, even when Karajan's conducting is considered masterful.

In my very humble opinion the only singers in Solti's "Ring" that are on par with Karajan's set, differences in interpretation and all, are Birgit Nilsson, Wolfgang Windgassen and Gustav Neidlinger. Nilsson doubtlessly has tremendous voice and she must have been there when the walls of Jericho fell; she is pretty much like Solti's conducting and hence a perfect complement to it. Coincidence or not, Karajan's Brünnhilde, Helga Dernesch, is just like the Maestro's conducting - warm, imaginative and subtle. Wolfgang Windgassen is a bit too lyrical perhaps, but to my mind quite convincingly so; the man has the voice and knows how to use it. He is quite different than any of Karajan's Siegfried's, Jess Thomas and Helge Brilioth, but an equally great pleasure to listen to. The most important difference is that Windgassen has never been underrated, as Thomas and Brilioth often are. As for Gustav Neidlinger, he is superb all right, but not a bit more so than Zoltan Kelemen, though rather different as both voice and interpretation.

It is interesting to note that Gerhard Stolze is the only singer who is on both recording and sings the same part. Significantly or not, as far as the "Forging Song" goes, he is certainly a more cunning and scheming Mime with Karajan than with Solti; in the latter set Stolze tends to overact his part a bit. Also, there are singers in the Solti's set that are just decent and reliable but nothing more, George London and James King for example. Both are quite dependable, but the former, though possessing a much more powerful voice, is no match for the brilliant dramatic inflection that Fischer-Diskau brings to the text, and the latter, though musical and lyrical enough, simply cannot hold a candle to the burning intensity of Jon Vickers as Siegmund.

Some small parts in Solti's Ring are downright appallingly sung, Froh (Waldemar Kmentt) and the Nightingale (Joan Sutherland?!) for instance, but in this category Set Svanholm gets the palm all right. How so incompetent, not to say terrible, a singer could have been included at all in such recording is beyond me. Both his voice and his rendition of Loge's part are, to put it mildly, some kind of an accident, or a bad joke perhaps. Some say he is great because he actually sings the lines, while Karajan's Loge (Gerhard Stolze) is terrible because his is only declamation and nothing more. Nonsense. First of all, Loge's part is largely declamatory and, secondly, Stolze's rendition is a fabulous characterization which has exactly as much singing as there should be. Both extremes can be heard in the finale of "Das Rheingold" where Stolze totally puts Svanholm to shame, and I can't help feeling sorry for the poor Set who is trying to tackle a part that is so painfully beyond him.

But my greatest disappointment in Solti's "Ring" is the man who has been hailed as the greatest Wotan ever. Hans Hotter is just another example of adulation I simply cannot understand. Yes, I know he was past his prime is 1965 when Solti's "Die Walküre" was recorded. Yes, I have listened to his 1955 live recording from Bayreuth with Keilberth and recorded in fantastic early stereo by DECCA. It is not much better; the voice is fresher for sure, but the rendition is just as messy and can hardly be described as anything more than acceptable. It seems to me that Hotter at his best is hardly a bit better than just good. But the studio recording with Solti really is pathetic. Hotter's voice is unsteady and hoarse, his diction is often abominable though he is supposed to sing in his native language. He tosses off some of the most lyrical moments with something very much like barking. The long and majestic lines - "Denn einer..." and "Wer meines..." - are incredibly sad things to listen to. The only slight redemption of all that mess comes in the quietest moments when Hotter finally manages to sound at least decent - but not for long. I don't know if Brünnhilde is moved by her father's outburst, but I am certainly filled with sorrow - for Hans Hotter. It is completely out of question to put such performance along Thomas Stewart's one in Karajan's set. Not only is the American's diction far superior, but his voice, which may lack somewhat in power, has nevertheless unbelievable ability for sustaining a beautiful melodic line and a very fine dynamic range. Stewart's interpretation of both the text and the music has an emotional richness and psychological insight Hotter never could have dreamed of.

In short, Solti's historically important recording of the "Ring" is a remarkable sonic achievement for the age and captures some of the most glorious orchestral playing ever put on record, at least in terms of impressive orchestral power. Otherwise, there is little of Wagner's overwhelmingly important lyrical side, but a great deal of abrasive heroism not entirely without appeal, I admit, but also somewhat tedious after few listenings. It's interesting to give it a try or two from time to time for, if anything, the approach does sound original, but ultimately I would definitely go with Karajan's subtlety, imagination and absolutely unmatched ability for making Wagner's music flow like the Rhein itself.

For all the hype there is and probably will continue to be, for me the cast in Solti's "Ring" remains just a little above mediocre and by no means preferable to Karajan's often easily dismissed singers. None of the latter has a poor voice or inadequate artistry to the part, while some of Solti's singers are almost a disgrace, another part are just good, and only few are on the same level of excellence as their analogs in Karajan's set. How much of that is due to some personal charisma of the conductor and how much due to various other reasons is highly debatable, but I am inclined to think that the excellence of Karajan's cast is not the least due to his fascinating personality. Last but certainly not least, the voices and the orchestra complement each other much better in Karajan's set, whereas in Solti's they usually seem to fight with each other.

Nikolai Lugansky - Brahms, Wagner und Rachmaninoff
Nikolai Lugansky - Brahms, Wagner und Rachmaninoff
DVD ~ Dominique Pernoo

2 von 2 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
4.0 von 5 Sternen The Mixture as Before, 10. Juli 2011
Verifizierter Kauf(Was ist das?)
Very much like his 2008 Verbier recital, Lugansky's 2002 performance in La Roque d'Antheron is a quite nice DVD to watch one or twice, but after that it is more likely not to bear another watching for years.

To begin with more obvious negatives, the program is appalling short (less than an hour, encores and all) and visual side is pretty questionable. Now, when a DVD is offered at full price, the least that companies could do is to fill it nicely: 58 minutes or so sounds like a lame joke. Very much like the garish presentation of the DVD box, the concert itself is filmed in a dark place where the lightning is more often used to show the semi-asleep audience rather than Lugansky himself. Apart from that, the direction is rather ordinary, quite unlike some other DVDs in the series (with the cheesy name ''Les Pianos de la Nuit) such as Berezovsky's beautifully shot mutilation of Liszt's Transcendental Studies. Seldom is some imagination on the director's side shown, but it is often that the camera is too much focused on Lugansky's face and his mannerism at the keyboard.

However, it is the music and the performance that I rate here and it is this that grants four stars to this DVD but prevents it from getting five. Brahms' six ''klaviestücke'' Op. 116 are beautifully done as befits the generally tranquil and lyrical nature of the music. The only other piece in the program, if this is the word, is Lugansky's own transcription of excerpts from Wagner's ''Götterdämmerung''. These are, naturally, the most famous moments: the duet between Siegfried and Brünnhilde, Siegfried's Rhine journey and funeral march, and the fire consuming Valhalla in the very end. Well, two main complaints about Lugansky's contribution: his transcription is a bit too straightforward and attempts no full exploration of the sonority of the instrument; and in some of the more dramatic moments he resorts to mere banging and/or rushing which all but ruins the music. In contrast, the lyrical passages are wonderfully played. But the best on the DVD, like in the Verbier case, are the encores. These are all Rachmaninoff pieces - Op. 23 Nos. 5 and 7, Musical Moment Op. 16 No. 4 - and here Lugansky is in his element. His G minor prelude is as dazzling as ever, and his left hand in the last piece has to be heard to be believed.

There are no bonuses on the DVD save few dismayingly short excerpts from other DVDs in the same series. Among these one can hear, nay see, how a fine musician like Zoltan Kocsis wastes his time with a noise-parading-as-music by Gyorgy Kurtag.

Nikolai Lugansky - Live at the Verbier Festival
Nikolai Lugansky - Live at the Verbier Festival
DVD ~ Nikolai Lugansky
Preis: EUR 27,03

2 von 2 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
4.0 von 5 Sternen Lugansky not quite at his best, 28. Juni 2011
Verifizierter Kauf(Was ist das?)
This is a rather fascinating DVD which captures Nikolai Lugansky at the 2008 Verbier festival. He is at his absolute technical best, of course, but he is the wrong repertoire. The program here, to begin with, is neither especially long (less than 80 minutes, encores and all), nor especially varied. It consists of one historical curiosity (Janacek) and few piano transcriptions from a famous ballet (Prokofieff), both twentieth century works, and a bunch of Romantic masterpieces, mostly Liszt plus some Chopin and Rachmaninoff as bonus. Sadly, Lugansky's playing is much more varied than the program.

This was my introduction to the music of Janacek whom I had hitherto known only as a name. It didn't leave the impression that I had missed something special. The Sonata with the enigmatic title ''1.X.1905'' is an interesting, curious work. It is very short, 11 or 12 minutes, and it has but two movements, both of which have significant titles: ''Premonition'' and ''Death''. The music is rather modern, with sparse melody and a good deal of dissonance, but it is appealing enough for a starter. I particularly liked the more tender second movement.

Prokofieff has never been my cup of tea but his ballet ''Romeo and Juliet'' is one of the exceptions. Unfortunately, Lugansky has chosen only six of the ten excerpts transcribed for solo piano from the orchestral original that comprise Prokofieff's Op. 75. This is for sure the highlight of the recital, such as it is. Lugansky excels in all pieces, and he is especially memorable in the most lyrical ones such the closing ''Farewell''. My only mild complaint here concerns the most famous of these piano transcriptions - ''Montagues and Capulets'' - where Lugansky plays the ''trombones'' much too quietly: it doesn't work especially well. Somehow I have the strange feeling that, much like Arcadi Volodos, Lugansky has a colossal technique and often plays extremely demanding works with great ease, but he is really at his best in the most lyrical moments of them: the middle section of ''Montagues and Capulets'' is fabulously done.

Lugansky's Liszt is what downgrades this recital to four stars. The beginning was quite promising, if not exactly memorable. The two pieces from the ''Italian Year'' of ''Annees de Pelerinage'' are among Liszt's most tender and poetic works, and Lugansky plays both ''Sposalizio'' and ''Sonetto del Petrarca 123'' beautifully. In the former he slows down rather dangerously at few places, but he avoids the perverse dullness of Lazar Berman in his complete recording for DG; as for the latter, it is a nice touch to play it instead of the much more popular, not to say hackneyed, 104th sonnet. However, the four Transcendental Studies are all disappointing mixed bags, for they all combine sensitive playing in the more lyrical passages with ugly rush and banging in the climaxes. ''Chasse-Neige'' (No. 12) and No. 10 (titleless) are probably the finest of the bunch here, since Lugansky's playing is only occasionally marred by really unnecessary exaggeration. ''Feux follets'' (No. 5) has some charming moments but many passages sound like a technical exercise, having nothing to do with the whimsical and mischievous quality that this study evokes in the right hands; the climax is ridiculously perfunctory and sloppy. Alas, the same is quite true about ''Harmonies du Soir'' (No. 11). Lugansky starts nicely enough, but then his technical prowess gets the better (or the worse) of him: the climax of the piece is pure travesty, abominably fast and totally ruined. It must have been a shock for Lugansky too, for he didn't recover until the end of the piece.

I used to be baffled that the crispness and clarity, to say nothing of musicality, of Lugansky's Chopin and Rachmaninoff seem to vanish into thin air when he turns to Liszt. Then I read an interview with him from which it was clear that he holds Liszt in low esteem, apparently being victim of the old hokum about the duality of his nature which is supposed to be a combination of ''Mephistopheles and Abbe'', ''Charlatan and Prophet'' and other nonsense like that. Small wonder that such attitude would result in unsatisfactory performances. If he could look at Liszt with as little prejudice as at Chopin and Rachmaninoff, Lugansky would surely turn into a Liszt interpreter of the first order. Right now, thanks to these four Transcendental Studies, he looks like a little more than a crass banger. His two wonderful ''Italian'' pieces are by no means good enough to rectify this. I don't know if it is just a coincidence, but during Liszt's works Lugansky's mild mannerisms at the keyboard seem to get aggravated.

There are four encores and they are surely the best on the whole DVD. Chopin's Etude Op. 10 No. 8 and Rachmaninoff's rousing Prelude in G minor Op. 23 No. 5 are charmingly different than Lugansky's studio recordings but tremendously effective nonetheless. The beautiful thing about the Chopin's etude is that Lugansky forces you to notice that wonderful cornucopia of melodies in the left hand which is usually lost in the glittering figurations of the right hand when this etude is played by fabulous technicians who are inferior musicians. As for the G minor prelude, it is safe to say that Lugansky plays this extremely popular piece better than any other living pianist, both technically and musically. He generates a tremendous excitement from the march-like sections, played with astonishing clarity, and his middle section is almost unbearably beautiful. Indeed, it's saying a great deal that Lugansky's interpretation can hardly be mistaken for anybody else's - quite an achievement in a piece of such fame. The other two encores are Rachmaninoff's preludes Op. 32 Nos. 5 and 12, both of which, so far as I know, Lugansky has never recorded in studio. I hope he soon will. They prove yet again, if any further proof is needed, that Rachmaninoff is certainly Lugansky's forte, as are more introverted and poetic works.

The sound is an ordinary stereo but it is quite good enough to enjoy Lugansky's artistry to the full. The picture quality is also very fine, the camera work rather less so. The concert was shot is a small and very dark place that looks more like a cave than like a concert hall. Besides, the direction is not top-notch either; there are many shots too distant to appreciate Lugansky's devilishly precise hands, and many of the close ones are taken from awkward angles. All in all, visually the production is rather mediocre. Perhaps one is not unjust to expect more from what is considered one of the most prestigious musical festivals in Europe.

There are no additional materials except few stingily short trailers from DVDs with highlights from other editions of the festival. Among the things worth seeing on these miserably short excerpts is Yuja Wang's stupendously fast and unbelievably accomplished performance of Cziffra's horrendously difficult transcription of ''The Flight of the Bumblebee'' and Kissin's butchering the finale of Horowitz's ''Carmen Variations''. Especially the latter could certainly use less speed and more musicianship.

In short, entertaining and enjoyable DVD but, after a few watchings, quite dispensable as well. Except for the encores and, to some extent, Prokofieff's music and the first two pieces of Liszt, the rest of the recital is hardly Lugansky at his best, musically at all events. I wish next time he would record an all-Rachmaninoff recital, for this is sure to turn out a lot better than the present one. If not, he might think of making his program longer and more varied: by inclusion of more Chopin and Rachmaninoff, for instance. It would also help if he changes the director and the recording venue.

A Window in Time,Vol.2
A Window in Time,Vol.2
Preis: EUR 16,51

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5.0 von 5 Sternen Like his 'Window in Time'' companion, an indispensable recording for every Rachmaninoff buff, 28. Juni 2011
Rezension bezieht sich auf: A Window in Time,Vol.2 (Audio CD)
What I have to say about the differences and the similarities between Rachmaninoff's sound recordings and his digitally reproduced piano rolls, I have said it in my review of the other disc in the ''Window in Time'' series. Suffice it to say here that every word is equally true for this disc as well.

By far the most important among the 16 pieces on this disc are the three Rachmaninoff never recorded sonically, either acoustically or electrically. These are Rubinstein's ''Barcarolle'', which is just another proof why the great pianist is well forgotten as a composer, and Chopin's Nocturne Op. 15 No. 1 and the Second Scherzo, which may remind us that Rachmaninoff was a ''Chopinist'' to be reckoned with. At first glance, Chopin's pieces may seem to be too much on the slow side for Rachmaninoff, but everybody who has listened to his sound recordings of Chopin - most numerous after his own works - should know that this is not at all unusual. Rachmaninoff's stupendous recording of the Third Scherzo, unfortunately available only in poor acoustical sound, is a fine example of the stark contrasts that characterize his Chopin interpretations: the octave section is insanely fast, while the second subject is taken unusually slowly. The gem on this particular disc certainly is the Second Scherzo. It takes Rachmaninoff nearly ten minutes to go through all of it, but at least he doesn't make any annoying cuts like the young Michelangelli. In fact, Rachmaninoff creates here an awe-inspiring interpretation that combines the demonic impetuosity of Horowitz with the aristocratic poise of Rubinstein. We can but divine what glorious sound Rachmaninoff must have coaxed from his Steinway in the concert hall.

Among the pieces which Rachmaninoff did record sonically as well there are fewer revelations in comparison with the other disc in the series. The reasons are two-fold. On the one hand, the program here contains a great deal more junk. One wonders whether it was Rachmaninoff's wish to record such pieces by Henselt, Paderewski and Gluck-Sgambati, or he was under certain pressure from the recording companies to produce lollipops for mass use. On the other hand, most of his sound recordings of these pieces are post-1924, that is from the electrical era, and thus do not sound so much worse than the digitally reproduced piano rolls in terms of clarity; as far as depth and sonority, and even some subtle nuances, are concerned, the sound recordings are way superior of course. Perhaps the two Chopin Waltzes (Op. 18 and Op. 34 No. 3) are the most precious among these rolls, because they allow us to appreciate details that are hardly discernible in the sound recordings of these pieces (acoustical ones from 1920-21).

In short, though less fine as a selection, this second disc in the ''Window in Time'' series is just as important for the Rachmaninoff buff as its predecessor. It goes without saying that it, too, must be listened to together with the corresponding sound recordings in order Rachmaninoff's unique pianism to be fully appreciated.

Rachmaninoff: Werke Für Klavier Solo
Rachmaninoff: Werke Für Klavier Solo
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Preis: EUR 44,99

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4.0 von 5 Sternen Intensely personal Rachmaninoff!, 28. Juni 2011
This title is simply a euphemism for disappointment. I am an incorrigible Bolet buff and would normally give five stars to more or less all of his recordings, which are not so numerous alas. For once, however, I don't find his musicianship fully convincing, at least in two of the pieces on this disc. Rachmaninoff buffs (of which company too am I) may just as well be warned that Bolet's interpretations are every bit as controversial as his choice of program: a massive set of variations, five preludes from Opp. 23 and 32, ''Melodie'' Op. 3 No. 3 and, by way of encores, Rachmaninoff's transcriptions of Kreisler's ''Liebesleid'' and ''Liebesfreud''.

Rachmaninoff's ''Chopin Variations'' Op. 22 is a fairly early work, written in 1903 when Sergei was 30, that has been sadly neglected, rather unlike his much later ''Corelli Variations'' (1931). It is recorded but occasionally, most recently by Lugansky I think, and taken seriously even more seldom. The work does contain some pastiche here and there, but it is a fine testimony of Rachmaninoff's pianistic genius: he takes the noble theme from Chopin's Prelude No. 20 and works out such a maelstrom of variations that, long before the end of the piece, one completely forgets the original. On the whole it is a fine work which contains some of the most haunting pages in all of Rachmaninoff's piano works. Bolet's rendition, as it might be expected, is less powerful than Lugansky's, but every bit as musical, if not more. Elegance and virtuosity, or poise and drama for that matter, may look like mutually exclusive qualities, at least in piano playing, but they seem to co-exist quite happily in Bolet, of which the ''Chopin Variations'' are an excellent example.

The selection of preludes is a very strange one: Op. 3 No. 2, Op. 23 Nos. 5 and 10, Op. 32 Nos. 7 and 12, though not in that order. It is not for nothing that the accent is on lyrical pieces, for in these Bolet truly excels, even though in some of them he has the intimidating competition of Horowitz and even Rachmaninoff himself. My major disappointment, which chiefly downgrades this disc to four stars, is the interpretations of the famous C sharp minor and G minor preludes. The former is played in a rather faster tempo than is customary today, more in the manner of Rachmaninoff himself actually. It is a fine performance in its own right, but it does not in the least erase memories of Ashkenazy's majestic recording, or of Rachmaninoff's vastly different but equally mind-blowing one. Bolet's clarity and golden tone are well present here, as always, but the climax somewhat lacks its essential grandeur.

But the most baffling affair on this disc is the G minor prelude, Op. 23 No. 5. I guarantee you have never heard it played like that; alas, I am not sure the music benefits from Bolet's approach. To begin with, this is most probably the slowest G minor prelude on record (some four and a half minutes!), the march-rhythm is transformed into a dance- one, and the climaxes in the outer parts are very weirdly done indeed: the main theme is brought very much forward, played in the same regally slow manner, while the accompanying chords are vastly subdued. A very bizarre interpretation, to say the least, which has nothing to do either with Horowitz or with Lugansky, both of whom I certainly prefer. In a way, I find Bolet's rendition fascinating - it takes a lot to make something unique out of so hackneyed a piece - but I am only too well aware that many people may well, and rightly, find it unacceptable. One last point, though: the middle section is miraculously played. Here Bolet is indeed quite on par with any previous recording, if not superior to them all. The inner voices are brought with rare subtlety and the main theme sounds more ethereal than ever before, played with uncanny combination of quietness and clarity.

The ''Melodie'' from Op. 3 is a charming piece, beautifully executed except for the somewhat rushed bass chords in the middle of the piece. The two Kreisler transcriptions (or paraphrases?) are slower and more contemplative than Bolet's rather dashing early recordings (RCA, 1972, available here). If these late recordings are not especially dazzling, they certainly allow one to better appreciate the subtle fun that Rachmaninoff had at Kreisler's expense.

It is only fair to add that Bolet's weird ideas of program and his sometimes questionable interpretations are not in the least helped by the nearly dismal digital sound of DECCA. The British company consistently gave Bolet an inferior sound quality during the 1980s, when he made almost all of his late recordings, but this disc is one of the lowest points. The balance is fairly fine, but the bass is often abominably flat and the dynamic range, to say nothing of the beauty of tone, is surely unworthy of the Bechstein concert grand used in these recordings. Compare this flat and shallow sound with the sumptuous one provided for Ashkenazy in the mid-1970s and the difference might well shock you; I am not sure Ashkenazy played on Bechstein but he definitely was much better recorded in terms of sonority and depth than Bolet more than a decade later. For recordings made in 1986 (the Variations) and 1987 (the rest), DECCA really ought to have done a great deal better job.

All in all, a fascinating disc with several disappointments which are neither negligible nor fatal. Even though Bolet was 71-72 years old at the time of recording, his technical prowess seems only a little less formidable than in his earlier years. It is his vision and taste which are occasionally, but highly, questionable, together with DECCA's consistently (except, to some extent, for the Variations) miserable sonics, that detract from the value of this disc. Also, I really wish Bolet had changed his program. I do like the ''Chopin Variations'' and the Kreisler pieces, but I would gladly exchange them for more preludes, most of the etudes and some other pieces from Op. 3, especially the achingly beautiful ''Elegie'' (Op. 3 No. 1) in which Bolet would certainly have created a truly unforgettable interpretation of a dismally neglected piece.

P. S. The disc is of course out of print, and it will probably remain so, but almost all of it (without three of the preludes, including the G minor one), can be found in the recently issued, haphazardly selected but very cheap, DECCA box set dedicated to Jorge Bolet.

Die Klavierkonzerte / Klavierstücke
Die Klavierkonzerte / Klavierstücke
Preis: EUR 19,99

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5.0 von 5 Sternen Much more than a great bargain!, 28. Juni 2011
I should like to disagree completely with anybody who thinks that the most important thing about this box set is the budget price. No, not even close, gentlemen. Stupendous bargain this box set certainly is, but the most important reason to have it is its remarkable artistic excellence. Vladimir Ashkenazy may not be the most original or imaginative musician who ever lived, but he is certainly one of the most subtle and sensitive ones and I, for one, am ready to rate his Rachmaninoff among the finest in my admittedly limited listening experience.

As far as the four concertos and the Paganini Rhapsody are concerned, no self-respected fan of Rachmaninoff could be indifferent to his own stunning recordings made between 1929 and 1941. Personally, I love them all, but I do think there is enough room for Ashkenazy's vastly different renditions. His First Concerto is a particularly fine recording of a vastly under-rated and under-recorded work. The Second Concerto is one of the most crowded fields in classical music (even the Chinese buffoon has recorded it), and I have a great deal of affection for Weissenberg/Karajan and Bolet/Dutoit. But since I have never cared about Richter's crude playing, Ashkenazy is top contender here as well. The Third Concerto is a little disappointing, at least with Horowitz (1950, 1978 live) or Bolet (1969 live, 1982) in mind, but Ashkenazy pulls it off more than decently and he is worth listening, even if he should have chosen the alternative cadenza. (As he did in his earlier recording - DECCA, 1963 - with Fistoulari, which is on the whole a finer performance than the present one with Previn.) The Fourth Concerto I could never quite accept as one written by Rachmaninoff and since, apparently, I am the only person on earth who has never heard Michelangelli's ultra-hyper-mega legendary recording, Ashkenazy is quite good enough for my money. As for Andre Previn on the rostrum, he is no Karajan of course, but he is more than competent and quite able to match the sensitivity of Ashkenazy's playing. He often coaxes tremendous sound from the London Philharmonic and DECCA have done a great job with the recording.

The solo piano works are even better. I still think that Ashkenazy's complete recordings of the Preludes and the Etude-tableaux are overall the finest. He is way above Weissenberg's banging in the former and at least as impressive as Lugansky, but more musical than him, in the latter. Ashkenazy's technique is stupendous but always put in service of the music, never at its expense. That's saying a great deal and it is not something one often finds in Rachmaninoff's works, or any other works for that matter. It is a curious irony but Ashkenazy's seemingly impersonal approach often produces results which are anything but ordinary. Only the famous G minor prelude (Op. 23 No. 5) and in the achingly beautiful etude-tableau Op. 39 No. 5 do I certainly prefer with other pianists (Horowitz for both, Lugansky for the former); in any of the other 39 pieces Ashkenazy's supreme musicianship, with his exquisite handling of melodic lines and inner voices, easily stands comparisons with more dazzling and extrovert interpretations. Indeed, he doesn't lack drama and passion, even certain amount of rhetoric, either: the grandeur of his Prelude Op. 3 No. 2 is irresistible and seldom matched by others. The etudes are particularly stunning, played with a rare combination of panache and musicality that easily equals Rachmaninoff's own, and outstanding, interpretations (as in Op. 36 No. 6) and sometimes even surpasses Horowitz himself, if not in terms of high-voltage virtuosity, at all events in terms of sheer musicianship (Op. 39 No. 9). Ashkenazy's rendition of the haunting Op. 33 No. 8 makes the young Lugansky's wonderfully unbridled approach sound dull by comparison. All pieces are splendidly recorded, the piano having beautifully balanced and sonorous sound which is not often found on record, even in DECCA's catalogue.

My only slight disappointment is the Second Sonata where, for once, Ashkenazy falls a little short of my expectations. The lyrical passages of the second movement are surprisingly stodgily played and the in the finale Ashkenazy stumbles several times rather awkwardly. The stupendous climax in the first movement, surely of the most amazing ones in the piano literature, is impressively played, but the sweeping chords afterwards are unnecessarily rushed. It is nice, powerful performance overall, but nowhere near the apocalyptic vision of Horowitz or the more poetical approach of Lugansky or Vesselin Stanev. Nevertheless, this is a very minor blemish of no consequence.

If this box set has any drawbacks, these are mundane ones, such as the weird programs on some of the CDs. For example, the 24 Preludes should have been on one disc, as they are available separately, and so should the 17 etude-tableaux, as they have NEVER been available, sadly and inexplicably. The fascinating version of the Symphonic Dances for two pianos (which makes a most fascinating comparison with the orchestral original) should, of course, have been on the same disc with the suites that were originally composed for two pianos. It is also regrettable that Ashkenazy did not record more of the music for solo piano, such as the other four pieces from Op. 3, the six Musical Moments Op. 16, the seven pieces than comprise Op. 10, the Variations on a Theme by Chopin Op. 22 or the First Sonata, why not even some of Rachmaninoff's delicious transcriptions of music than ranges from Bach to Kreisler. In fact, he did record many of these pieces but a little too late to be included in this box set.

Never mind. Apart from minor quibbles, Ashkenazy's six-disc exploration of Rachmaninoff's works is not just comprehensive - including as it is solo piano, piano duet and works for piano and orchestra - but it maintains an astonishing artistic excellence in all fields. This is no mere introduction or great bargain. It is much more than that. These recordings have survived for some forty years after they were made, and I see no reason why they should not survive for at least forty more. I know of no other pianist who has recorded so much Rachmaninoff so well, as Vladimir Ashkenazy certainly has.

Preludes 2-24/Morceau Op.3,2
Preludes 2-24/Morceau Op.3,2

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3.0 von 5 Sternen No, Alexis, this will not do!, 28. Juni 2011
Rezension bezieht sich auf: Preludes 2-24/Morceau Op.3,2 (Audio CD)
Alexis Weissenberg has always been a very controversial artist. Whatever he played - Chopin, Liszt, Stravinsky, Rachmaninoff, Debussy - he never played it in an ordinary way. I was introduced to his artistry by his concerto recordings with Karajan, which include Rachmaninoff's Second, Tchaikovsky's First, and Beethoven's five, and which are somewhat less idiosyncratic than usual with him. Later I heard quite a few of his solo piano recordings, but the truth is that I have never come to grips with Weissenberg. I almost always find his playing fascinating but I almost never really like it. In fact, the relationship is a typical love-hate one, both components being present on almost every single disc, sometimes even in the same work. This is pretty much the case with Weissenberg's complete recording of Rachmaninoff's preludes, alas. I heard it for the first many years ago and was completely appalled by what seemed to me mad rushing and gross insensitivity. Since then I have come back to the CD but a few times, always trying to free myself from my old prejudice, yet I always ended running away horrified. The next few paragraphs are an attempt to explain why the last of my efforts is most probably - the last.

The greatest problem with Alexis' interpretations of Rachmaninoff's preludes is the most obvious one: his tempi are highly unorthodox, usually much faster than anybody else's. What takes Ashkenazy more than 80 minutes, Alexis tosses off in less than 73 minutes, namely full 10% faster - which is a lot. Therefore it is all the more surprising to find here one of the slowest (about 5 min) renditions of the C sharp minor prelude (Op. 3/2). It works remarkably fine indeed, as Weissenberg combines drama and lyricism in a most spectacular manner. His highly uncompromising, not to say savage, approach to the keyboard yields rather fascinating results in some of the most vigorous preludes, most notably in Op. 23/7, Op. 32/6, Op. 32/8 and, above all, in Op. 32/4 whose sweeping climax is brilliantly done. Also impressive is Op. 23/3 which taken at such breakneck tempo acquires a curious streak of mockery and burlesque, reminding us that the generally dour and brooding Rachmaninoff actually had a fine sense of humour. However, even in those cases Alexis' performance is often marred by sloppiness, as in the cases of Op. 23/2 and Op. 23/5 where charming and exciting moments go hand in hand with perfunctory and indifferent ones. Alexis is surprisingly convincing in the mighty Op. 32/10 but he manages to ruin almost completely the equally majestic Op. 32/13 by rushing and banging through it without any regard for the music.

In the lyrical preludes Alexis is the same very mixed bag. For instance, Op. 32/5 clearly shows that when he wants he can play with tenderness and sensitivity, being original not at the expense of the music and also standing comparison with Horowitz and Rachmaninoff themselves outstandingly well. There is also much refreshing charm in Op. 23/4 or Op. 32/7, although their ethereal quality is largely, if not entirely, lost. Pretty much the same is true of Op. 23/1 and Op. 23/10, another pair of preludes that are among Rachmaninoff's most delicate and intimate pieces. While listening to these pieces I often have the disconcerting sensation that this music was composed for the heavens but Alexis has knocked it down and it has fallen down to earth.

The sound is decent and quite listenable for recordings made in 1968-69, but it is in no way exceptional, even for its time. It is often brittle and harsh, RCA's trademarks actually, and the piano seldom has anything like fine sonority. Interestingly, the rough nature of the sound closely resembles the playing.

All in all, I can't think of a single prelude that I would prefer in Weissenberg's interpretation over any other, including his fine C sharp minor one. I can listen to almost all of them with interest, and to some even with pleasure, but on the whole the set is absolutely no match for Ashkenazy's equally impressive technique but much, much more sensitive musicianship; the same goes for Lugansky in the first 11 preludes. As for individual preludes played by artists of much greater individuality, such as Horowitz or Rachmaninoff for instance, everything Alexis has to offer falls rather short, if not originality-wise, musically at all events. I am not even sure that Weissenberg's recording is a good introduction to this music, for it often takes liberties that verge on grotesque. I can't say that I find his wild eccentricity more convincing than Marietta Petkova's rather ordinary but much more musical approach. She is full ten minutes slower, in toto, and Alexis would have been wise to slow down too.

Complete recordings of Rachmaninoff's preludes being a rarity, this one is certainly worth having as a kind of curiosity. It might reward an occasional listening. Or it might not.

Rachmaninoff: Klaviersonate 2, Corelli Variationen
Rachmaninoff: Klaviersonate 2, Corelli Variationen
Preis: EUR 14,70

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5.0 von 5 Sternen Warning: the young Lugansky is dangerous for your speakers!, 28. Juni 2011
This CD is a re-issue of a recording made in January 1993 in Amsterdam and originally released by Challenge Classics. Two things are immediately fascinating: 1) Lugansky was but 20 years old at the time; and 2) a decade or so later, he re-recorded for Erato/Warner two of the pieces of this disc (the Musical Moment and the Corelli Variations).

Let me first warn you to be careful with the volume control. The sound here is quite amazing indeed. Seldom have I heard such crashing bass, yet never too loud to obscure the high register. The sonority is beautiful and deep, the tone is warm and perfectly natural. Considering all that, some displaced furniture is a small price to pay. But the real reason to get this disc, especially at such terrifically low price, is Lugansky himself.

That a youth of 20 could play Rachmaninoff's Second Sonata with combination of musicality and bravura all but defies belief. It is only too easy, especially for an eager youngster with colossal technique, to make a hash out of such daunting work, turning it into a cheap show-off. Not Lugansky. If anything, he clearly shows that the tons of negative criticism as regards the musical value of the sonata are hokum. This is a magisterial work that requires a great deal more than stupendous technique, namely a superior artistry, and Lugansky delivers the goods splendidly. He doesn't have Horowitz's intensity, certainly, but he neither rushes the music, as Weissenberg often does, nor stumbles badly here and there as it happens with Ashkenazy. My top prize for the most sensitive interpretation of Rachmaninoff's Second Sonata still goes to Vesselin Stanev, but Lugansky is a sure runner-up; and sonically, as a matter of fact, he is way more impressive than Stanev. The Corelli Variations are equally mind-blowing, technically and musically, though here Ashkenazy puts a stiff competition.

The five bonus pieces consist of two original compositions and three highly imaginative transcriptions. The Musical Moment Op. 16 No. 2 demonstrates Lugansky's absolutely devastating left hand as well as his impeccable handling of those plaintive, melancholic and brooding melodic lines so characteristic of Rachmaninoff. The mischievous outer parts of Polichinelle Op. 3 No. 4 are a trifle rushed and lack the character of Rachmaninoff's own fabulous recording, but the lyrical middle section is miraculous. The two song transcriptions (Rachmaninoff's own ''Lilacs'' and Tchaikovsky's melting ''Lullaby'') are played with all the grace, charm and delicacy required to make them sound as the masterpieces they are. As for Rachmaninoff's notoriously difficult transcription of Mendelssohn's Scherzo from his incidental music to Shakespeare's ''A Midsummer Night's Dream'', well, this is a blistering account that has to be heard to be believed. Lugansky takes the piece pretty fast, but with extraordinary control of every nuance. In terms of crispness and clarity, this is one of those rare cases when even Rachmaninoff's own recording pales in comparison.

As for the comparison between the two versions of the two pieces which Lugansky re-recorded later, this shows beyond doubt that his artistry was virtually fully formed in his early twenties ' which a much more unique phenomenon than his formidable technique. Certainly, he has developed since then, but not much. The astonishing thing is that there seems to be not much room for development, at least as far as the music of Rachmaninoff is concerned. I have recently heard Lugansky's exhilarating etude-tableaux, recorded in 1992 for the same label (though in Moscow), and I wish he would record them again for I believe his maturity might yield more profound interpretations. But I am not so sure about the Second Sonata. There is very little to improve here.

The original edition is completely out of print, of course, and all fans of Lugansky and all Rachmaninoff buffs should be grateful to Piano Classics for re-issuing this stupendous recording which ought to be on the shelves of every pianophile.

The Art of Piano - Die großen Pianisten des 20. Jahrhunderts
The Art of Piano - Die großen Pianisten des 20. Jahrhunderts

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3.0 von 5 Sternen Fascinating documentary that should have been done a lot better, 26. Juni 2011
Verifizierter Kauf(Was ist das?)
There is a great deal here that for every piano buff will relish. For my part, Horowitz's stupendous performance of his ''Carmen Variations'' from his legendary TV concert in 1968 is well worth the price of the whole DVD. So far as I know this performance was watched, studied and very lamely copied by a number of modern virtuosi, but it has never been released officially otherwise. There is a lot of other rare footage also. Some personal favourites include Rubinstein playing a lovely cadenza to the first movement of Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto, or Cziffra's ridiculously fast but irresistibly virtuoso performance of Liszt's ''Grand Galop Chromatique'', which I cannot stand listening to but watching it always leaves me with my jaw hopelessly dropped. Also unforgettable are Scriabin's Etude Op. 8 No. 12 from the same TV concert of Horowitz, or the old Cortot, looking like he has just stepped out of a horror movie, explaining to his students the mysteries of ''Der Dichter spricht'', the last piece of Schumann's ''Kinderszenen'', or the equally ancient Wilhelm Backhaus interpreting Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto, his favourite, in terms of the myth about Orpheus and Eurydice. Even the buffoonish posturing of Glenn Gould is an amusing thing to watch for a minute or so, to say nothing of his humming which is sometimes louder than his playing. And what of that G minor prelude played by the young Gilels for the Soviet military aviators by way of propaganda during the Second World War, or Benno Moiseiwitsch's might rendition of Rachmaninoff's B minor prelude, etc., etc., etc. The documentary is full of such tremendously fascinating stuff, yet I simply cannot give it more than three stars. The next few paragraphs are an attempt to explain why.

Obviously there are two ways to make such a documentary: including many artists and spending little time on each, or including a few great names but spending considerable time on each one of them. This documentary uses the former approach, and it does a fine job encompassing a galaxy of keyboard geniuses from Paderewski and Hoffmann to Michelangelli and Arrau: nearly half a century of video performances, mostly in black-and-white and in subpar sound even for their time, but this is to be expected. Of course everybody cries that some of his favourite pianists are missing, and I may join the lines with the names of Kempff and Bolet, but this is inevitable. The problem here, though the approach is generally commendable, is that too many names are crammed into too short a time. Either the number of the former should have been reduced or the latter should have been extended.

The consequences of this incongruity between the number of the pianists presented and the total duration of the documentary is that many of the musical performances are badly cut. You may rest assured that you are not going to here more than a minute or two from the Polonaise Op. 53 with Rubinstein or the first movement of Appassionata with Myra Hess, let alone anything more from Tchaikovsky's First Concerto than the first movement's cadenza with Gilels or the notorious octaves from the finale with the absurdly young Richter. Even short pieces are often abridged, like Cziffra's ''Galop'' or Horowitz's Etude mentioned in the beginning. (At least Horowitz's ''Carmen'' is complete.) To put it mildly, such cutting is very annoying. Otherwise, the selections are admirably done and there is only one great pianist (Rachmaninoff, alas) for whom there is no footage available, apparently none has survived or ever been done (but the archive shots of Rachmaninoff are nonetheless precious for he is caught doing something very unusual for him: smiling). Hoffman's indifferent rendition of the C sharp minor prelude might well make one wondering what all the fuss about this fellow is, but it is rightly made clear that this the only video recording of him; it was made in the 1940s when Hoffman was long past his prime.

Except elongation of the total duration of the movie, another fine opportunity to save more time for rare video performances would have been severe cutting of the commentary. There is a narrator who, well, narrates the main text, usually over some terrific photos of the incredibly dashing in their youth Backhaus, Rubinstein or Horowitz, and this is really fine. Also, there are some intriguing interviews with several fellows from the ''cast'', such as Rubinstein, Arrau and Moiseiwitsch, and these are rightly retained. However, in addition to all that, there is a great deal of commentary by contemporary pianists, and the fact that many of these are quite famous (Barenboim, Kissin, Vasari, Kovachevich, the first two speaking with appalling accents) cannot obscure the bitter truth that 99% of this commentary is pure junk of no importance. All that wasted time should have been much better used for showing more of those rare historical performances complete.

On the top of all that, sometimes the commentary is rife with some stupid old prejudices which the documentary thus propagates, deliberately or not. The most explicit example concerns the most controversial of these great pianists: Vladimir Horowitz. Apart from some interesting details about his legendary return Carnegie Hall in 1965, all Schuyler Chapin has to say about Horowitz is that he was a ''phenomenon'', ''extremely shrewd'' and a great ''showman''. Well, Horowitz certainly was a very shrewd showman, but this has nothing to do with his status as phenomenon - unless one superficially equals this with popularity, which is obviously what Mr Chapin does. The gentle Horowitz-bashing continues with Tamas Vasari's preposterous claim that for him technique was more important than music! This is a very old story, indeed, and it may be taken seriously only by people who have either absolutely no idea of Horowitz's artistry or some personal animosity towards him. Vasari continues with other startlingly brilliant notions such as ''there is something about perfection and artistry which is contradictory''. It is not surprising that he makes a very poor case trying to put into words that ''something'' might be. When a pianist has a natural technique which comes from the inside, rather than being imposed from the outside, and allows him to achieve technical perfection with ease, there is absolutely no contradiction with artistry. Needless to say, this is exactly the case with Horowitz, as with many other - though by no means all! - great technicians. Such ''gems'' of prejudice and stupidity should have been cut without ceremony.

All in all, a nice documentary full of rare video performances by great pianists that every piano buff will certainly appreciate. The DVD is accompanied by a fine booklet with extensive information about all performances and commentaries, including most years of the former which are not given during movie. All the same, the documentary is too short, too sketchy and too fragmented, with too many too badly cut performances and quite a bit of useless rambling by contemporary fellows in between. There is a lot to enjoy here, certainly, but there is not a little to regret as well.

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