January 1, 2013

Recommended Recordings for Phils 7 by Gil French, Concert Editor for American Record Guide

Higdon, Jennifer: Machine
No recordings available.

Beethoven: Symphony No. 1
David Zinman, Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra
Arte Nova 63645

Right from the 12-bar introduction to the first movement, Zinman makes us hear everything—every marked articulation, even instrument (even the bassoon line).  Yet everything is perfectly blended, balanced, so wide-eyed and expectant.  In fact, I’m even aware how he doesn’t elide notes that everyone else does.  Why?  Because they’re not in the score! 

So why is this important?  First, these are all the elements out of which Zinman creates such infectious rhythms, the life blood of this symphony.  Once past the introduction, the strings’ strokes are buoyant with quick lifts at the end of notes.  The rapid-fire 1/16th notes in the lower strings make for a really tight pulse. And because Zinman creates such transparent textures, he makes us hear two and three levels of activity simultaneously.  I never before realized what a “classical era” work Beethoven’s first symphony is.  To really have its effect, it must be played as cleanly and precisely as Mozart or Haydn.

After the can’t-sit-still first movement, Zinman makes the second a genuine “Singing Andante with Motion” (as Beethoven calls it).  Does he ever!  It’s easily paced, lyrical, and, baby, does it flow—all three elements.  Same for the third-movement Minuet: not forced, but what flow and life it has, and what pungent timpani!  Where Zinman’s articulation at quick tempos really pays off is in the Finale—what bounce, rhythm, and infectiousness, all abetted by transparent, warm, resonant engineering.

The other work on this album is Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2, given an equally stirring performance (recommended last season).  Bonus: Arte Nova is a super-budget label.

Larsson, Lars-Erik: Concertino for Trombone
Christian Lindberg; Okku Kamu, New Stockholm Chamber Orchestra
BIS 348 or BIS (2-CD) 473

No one can match Lindberg as soloist in this work. It’s not just his ultra-velvet Tommy Dorsey tone quality with a lovely vibrato touch, but his supreme lyricism, depth of expression, and musicality that set him apart.  In the Aria (second movement) just listen to the degree of legato he gets, remarkable given the slide nature of the instrument and the need to take breaths.  Then listen the way he captures the quick snap and pinpoint rhythms of the Finale.  It’s a pity Okku Kamu makes the strings of the orchestra (new in 1987) sound so flatlined, monotone, and unarticulated. Still, this is the best recording of the few available. 

If you still want it, BIS 348 is called “The Winter Trombone” with Lindberg as soloist in ‘Winter’ from Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons”, Milhaud’s “Winter Concertino”, the Larsson, and a Telemann concerto originally for oboe.  BIS 473 contains all 12 Concertinos that Larsson wrote between 1953 and 1957 for 12 different solo instruments with string orchestra.

Mozart: Symphony No. 40
Marc Minkowski, Les Musiciens du Louvre
Deutsche Grammphon Archiv 6506

This is probably the most beautiful and most perfect Mozart recording I own (yes, beauty and perfection do go together when appreciating Mozart, don’t they).

Not only is this period-instrument orchestra brightly tuned and in tune (early instrument tuning can easily come up sour), but the timbre of the strings and winds is warm, mellow, and smooth.  What an invigorating contrast then are Minkowski’s snappy tempos and sparkling articulation in the first and last movements, let alone the contrasts between double forte and pianissimo, between strings and winds, and even between different woodwinds such as the velvet bassoons and resonant wood flutes.

The slow second movement is utterly serene, the most beautiful performance of it I’ve ever heard.  To Minkowski it’s love music, as three different lines intertwine around each other.  And when he repeats the opening exposition section, he does so “sotto voce”—so hushed its beauty veritably makes one ache with longing.  And the third movement Minuet is simply the most exquisite on record.

Each movement flows perfectly with an alert but unforced pace.  As a result, Minkowski turns four perfect wholes into one overall whole, an esthetic experience of abstract beauty.  It’s the closest I’ve ever come to understanding what mathematicians mean when they describe the beauty of working out a perfect formula.  Warm, balanced, utterly transparent sound enables us to hear everything.  The other works on the album are Mozart’s Symphony No. 41 and the final ballet from “Idomeneo”.  


Liane Curtis said...

Higdon's name is Jennifer, not Joan. Also I notice you don't have a photo of your Music Director, Arild Remmereit, on the main page of the blog. Both these things are problems.

Liane Curtis said...

Thank you so much for fixing both those problems I mentioned yesterday (deleting the slideshow of the conductors entirely, as you did, might be a classic case of "cutting off your nose to spite your face.") Now two more requests: please fire CEO Charles Owens, and reinstate Music Director Arild Remmereit