Music Reviews

An Embarrassment of Riches – Pt. 1

We’ve had a wonderful increase in the number of available albums.  More varieties, more depth, Simply more!  I’m just getting started, but here are a few I’ve been enjoying very much.

Venezuelan conductor Rafael Payare is becoming increasingly well known for both his musical skill and his charismatic energy,  and this release shows it! It’s an outstanding Mahler 5, full of life and forward momentum.  The Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal is perfectly caught with incredible clarity by Pentatone.  I’ve lost count of how many M5’s I have, but this one holds its own with any of them.  But there’s also…

Semyon Bychkov is 3 deep into his Mahler cycle, and his number 5 is the highlight so far.  It has many fine qualities—not the least of which is the wonderful playing of the Czech Philharmonic.  Bychkov presents a more expansive, polished performance.  It’s rather like a series of exquisite vignettes.  Bychkov’s orchestra is a bit more recessed– not to a fault, just simply a different aspect.  I think that fits the performance.  

Which one? Both are excellent, but quite different from each other.  The samples will help you choose.  Better yet, get both!

I remember a great rock artist making a very negative comment about “greatest hits” albums.  I won’t repeat what he said, but I usually have a similar opinion.  But this album is absolutely delightful. Sometimes variety works!  And this one of those times.  This album invites listening to simply enjoy what’s coming out of your speakers (or headphones) in a very informal way.  You might even find that there are many Bach works that don’t require that you follow any rules.  There’s an excellent variety of pieces all featuring top artists.  You will thank me for telling you about it.

Michael Stern leads the Kansas City Symphony in three 20th Century one-movement symphonies– each one about 20 minutes in length.  The earliest is Scriabin’s “Le Poeme de l’extase (The Poem of Ecstasy).  Scriabin’s works tend to be mystical in nature, and certainly this one is no exception.  It was one of Stokowski’s favorite works to conduct, and he was the first to record it.

Samuel Barber’s First Symphony (In One Movement) was written while he was still in his mid-20’s.  It  received its premier in Rome in 1936.  It’s in many ways the most conservative of the three symphonies  in this set, lyrical and powerful in turn.  If all you know of Barber is his Adagio for Strings, this is an excellent way to hear more!

And then there’s Jean Sibelius’ masterpiece, his Symphony No. 7 in C Major.  I have multiple recordings of this wonderful work, but this one can stand with the best of them.  It’s his final symphony, and it really sums up what makes his music so unique.

As you might expect, the Reference recording is superb, and captures these quite fine performances very well. 

I was surprised by, and very impressed with Gianandrea Noseda’s National Symphony recordings of Beethoven’s First and Third symphonies late last year.  The interpretations, the musicianship, and excellent recording quality made the album one of my front-runners for best of 2022.  Now we have the next in what promises to be an excellent Beethoven Symphony cycle:  Symphonies 4 and 5.   I’ll make it simple:  I absolutely love this album!  If you had expected anything less than first rate from Noseda’s Beethoven, I think you’ll be very surprised as well.  Beethoven’s power and structure is here, but also the simple joy of the music!  Listen to the samples! 

I enjoy Gabor Varga’s many albums.  Sometimes I simply line them all up and push “play”.  And this one, Sounds of Colors is great addition!  Piano, vibes, double bass, and drums– all blending as one.  Gabor Varga writes:  

You can hear how much we enjoyed the freedom of improvisation, how we had a “conversation” with our instruments. Maybe you can even hear how we felt, but you will certainly hear one thing – how much we love music. 

I absolutely can, and I think you will, too.  

Atzko Kahasi, piano, and Tony Overwater, double bass, really show their love for these John Coltrane songs.   They say they felt challenged by the prospect of making these pieces work with just the piano and bass, but they all truly work.  For me, that’s especially true of the title song, Crescent.  There’s not a single wrong note, or wrong feeling anywhere on this album.  You are highly encouraged to take a listen!

Truly an embarrassment of riches!  I’ll have more of the latest adds next time, but in the meantime, explore and listen to the samples!

Written by

Bill Dodd

Bill is Senior Music Reviewer at NativeDSD. He lives in the Portland, Oregon area. He is an avid photographer too! Along with his early interest in broadcasting and high fidelity audio, he was exposed to classical music in small doses from age 5, was given piano lessons from age 9— Starting with Bach and including Gershwin. Successful morning personality in San Francisco at age 22. (true). Sang in choirs in high school and college. Although the broadcasting experience was all in popular music, his personal listening has been mostly classical his whole life—along with others including Benny Goodman, Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck, Joni Mitchell, The Who, and Led Zeppelin.


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