Wednesday 29 April 2015

Remastered Classics Series Review-Classical CD Choice

"The original slightly dry studio recording has been transformed on this PENTATONE reissue of the 4.0 quadraphonic tapes in a way that really bring this work to life."

With the season of spring is apporaching, our remastered classic series are in full bloom. This can be seen by the outstanding reviews we have received so far. Here you can read the latest reviews of the remastered classics (original Deutsche Gramophone recordings) written by Graham Williams and posted on Classical CD Choice.

The first review is about 'Remastered Classics Bizet-Carmen' with Leonard Bernstein and Metropolitan Opera Orchestra:

When Leonard Bernstein’s recording of Bizet’s Carmen first appeared on LP in1973 it won a Grammy and sold over 100,000 copies as well as marking the start of Bernstein’s relationship with Deutsche Grammophon, one that lasted right up to his death in1990. Thanks to this superb SACD re-mastering by PENTATONE of the original DGG quadraphonic tapes, the qualities of Bernstein’s striking, if controversial version, of Bizet’s opera can be assessed as never before. This recording was made at sessions in the Metropolitan Opera House, New York in September 1972, during a run of performances of a new production of Carmen conceived by Bernstein and Göran Gentile, the Met’s new general manager, who sadly was killed in a car crash before the production opened. It uses an appropriate amount of the spoken dialogue of the Fritz Oeser edition rather than the sung recitatives of the Guiraud edition heard on many earlier versions and, in spite of some less than idiomatic French accents from the singers, this works well. Like many Bernstein recordings this one has its controversial aspects, the conductor’s choices of tempo being the most obvious. 

For example, the opening Prelude is taken at a very deliberate pace and elsewhere some unusually steady tempi, as well as fast ones, will surprise many listeners, but Bernstein’s compelling exposition of the tragic drama is so persuasive that one quickly gets used to these idiosyncrasies. The cast is a strong one, crowned by Marilyn Horne’s impressively sung portrayal of the heroine. Her rich singing is both seductive and powerful, yet she never sacrifices beauty of tone for theatrical effect and gives a fully rounded characterisation of the part. James McCracken is a virile sounding Don José and though his drift into falsetto voice at the end of the Flower Song sounds frankly bizarre elsewhere he sings with much sensitivity. Adriana Maliponte is a touching Micaëla with a lovely soaring vocal quality and Tom Krause provides a forthright and firmly sung Escamillo. The many smaller roles are also generally well cast. The singing of the Metropolitan Opera Children’s Chorus is enthusiastic as is that of the Manhattan Opera Chorus (a replacement for the Metropolitan Opera chorus who had demanded higher payments for their services) trained by John Mauceri.

The incisive playing of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra is simply magnificent, its quality shining through in every bar, and the way it responds to Bernstein’s direction clearly indicates the rapport the conductor established with the musicians during the course of the staged run. The gorgeous Entr’acte before Act 3 illustrates the point perfectly. As an opera Carmen is action packed, and the DGG engineering team made full use of the possibilities offered by multi-channel sound to re-create the drama in purely aural terms. Off-stage effects – choruses, trumpet fanfares and the like – are brilliantly realised using the 4.0 channels most imaginatively. The sound throughout is pristine, with excellent balances between voices and orchestra – a tribute to the fine engineering of Günter Hermanns. The two well filled discs ( CD1 79’25”, CD2 80’35”) are handsomely presented in a hard-backed book with the full libretto in French and English. Lovers of Bizet’s Carmen have a bewildering selection of recordings from which to choose, but Bernstein’s uniquely haunting and individual conception should be heard in this outstanding re-incarnation of a classic set. A remarkably rejuvenated and most welcome re-issue of a unique opera recording from 40 years ago.

Graham Williams

The second review is about 'Remastered Classics Joplin-Treemonisha' with Houston Grand Opera Orchestra and Gunther Schuller:

For many the music of Scott Joplin (1868-1917) will be associated with his numerous ragtime compositions, including ‘The Entertainer’, that were used in the 1973 film ‘The Sting’ starring Robert Redford and Paul Newman. However, Joplin, who as a child was introduced to the works of Mozart, Beethoven and Chopin by his piano teacher Julius Weiss, had more serious ambitions than to write merely syncopated ragtime music. He wrote two operas and a ballet but only his second opera ‘Treemonisha’ has survived. It received a single unstaged public performance in 1915 in Harlem just two years before Joplin’s early death from syphilis. Thanks to the efforts of the composer and conductor Gunther Schuller who sympathetically orchestrated and arranged the music from the piano score, in what was obviously a labour of love, the work was successfully staged in 1975 by the Houston Grand Opera in Houston,Texas and later it transferred to Broadway. It is this production recorded at RCA Studio A, New York in October 1975 that is the basis for this splendid recording, one that wears its years lightly, conducted by Schuller.

The plot tells the story of Treemonisha, a foundling discovered under a tree who, thanks to her adoptive parents Ned and Monisha, is taught to read, write and do arithmetic by a white woman. She then attempts to lead her community against conjurers who prey on their belief in sorcery and superstition. Treemonisha is abducted and is about to be thrown into a wasps’ nest when she is rescued in the nick of time by her friend Remus. The community accept the forces of right (education) over those of wrong (superstition) before electing her as their leader. Touchingly naïve though the story may be it surely has deep resonances for our time. Treemonisha is not a ragtime opera as Joplin himself was at pains to point out, though it does have a number of ragtime elements in such catchy sections as “We’re goin around” and “Aunt Dinah has blowed de horn”. The music is unfailingly melodic and often sentimental suggesting the milieu of a light 19th century opera. The cast is a generally strong one with fine singing from Carmen Balthrop in the title role. Edward Pierson delivers a sonorous Parson Alltalk and a 29 year-old Willard White as Ned makes the most of his big aria “ When villains ramble far and near”.

The original slightly dry studio recording has been transformed on this PENTATONE reissue of the 4.0 quadraphonic tapes in a way that really bring this work to life. The surround channels are used as much as the front ones. Singers often appear from the rear and sides as do the various chorus groups while the orchestra always remains at the front. This imaginative use of surround sound enhances the whole production and is a tribute to the fine engineering of Günter Hermanns, the doyen of Deutsche Grammophon engineers. The two SACDs are handsomely packaged in a hard backed book that includes the full English libretto and notes on the opera. Most definitely recommended.

Graham Williams