Music Reviews

The Best DSD. Does Bill Dodd Agree with Gramophone Magazine?

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Gramophone says they’re among the very best!

Founded almost 100 years ago (1923), Gramophone is one of the world’s most important music publications.  Over the past few weeks Gramophone has posted on social media lists of the top recordings of works by various composers. It should come as no surprise that we can find many of these recordings at the NativeDSD Music Store. Beethoven, Mahler, Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Mozart, Handel, Dvorák, Bartók, and Vivaldi.

Beethoven

Channel Classics
Beethoven:  Symphonies Nos 4 & 6
Budapest Festival Orchestra / Iván Fischer

Gramophone:
“It comes as no surprise to find these marvelous Budapest musicians moving the Pastoral Symphony downstream along the Danube from the woods by Heiligenstadt to the countryside beyond Buda. (…) It is all-pervasive. (…) a reading of the finale which is unashamedly devout.”  

And in the Fourth?  “… the feel of a performance which has zest and humor…”

Bill Dodd: 
“All of the Ivan Fischer/BFO Beethoven albums have met with praise from critics, but this one is my favorite!”

Mahler

Challenge Classics
Mahler:  Symphony No 1 (Hamburg 1893 Version). Blumine
Netherlands Symphony Orchestra / Jan Willem de Vriend

Gramophone: 
“Don’t miss this one. Jan Willem de Vriend has gone back to the earlier incarnations of the complete score into which ‘Blumine’ slots more naturally as the second movement of what was then a five-movement ‘Symphonic Poem in Two Parts’.  As such it may be seen as required listening for Mahlerians. (…) The music-making is winningly fresh and vigorous.”

Bill Dodd: 
“Hearing something so familiar as Mahler’s First in its earliest version makes for some head spinning moments, but it truly is fascinating, and the sound is excellent.”

Channel Classics
Mahler: Symphony No 4
Miah Persson; Budapest Festival Orchestra / Iván Fischer

Gramophone:
“What no one will deny is the amazing unanimity and precision of the playing here and the superlative quality of the sound engineering. (…) Miah Persson is ideally cast…”

Bill Dodd: 
“I have never had a recording hit me as being so fundamentally “right” as Ivan Fischer’s superb Mahler Fourth.  No wonder it’s at the top!”

LSO Live
Mahler:  Symphony No 6 
London Symphony Orchestra / Valery Gergiev

Gramophone: 
“This Sixth is dark… it’s the finale which really hits home, the orchestra whipped into a frenzy that may or may not be idiomatic, but certainly strikes sparks.”

Bill Dodd: 
“Mahler’s Sixth is often called his “Tragic” symphony.  Gergiev makes that abundantly clear, and the result is a Sixth to remember.”

LSO Live
Mahler:  Symphony No 7
London Symphony Orchestra / Valery Gergiev

Gramophone: 
“For some, Valery Gergiev’s dark, pumped-up Seventh might prove to be the high point of his Mahler cycle.  (…) The playing is consistently assured, the sound powerfully immediate.  The reading has a monolithic drive that is nothing if not distinctive.”

Bill Dodd:
“You will hear (and read) many critics belief that Mahler’s Seventh is his “problem” symphony– one that doesn’t really work. I can only say that after decades of collecting and listening to Mahler’s symphonies, the Seventh has become the one I listen to most often. I love it. And I thoroughly enjoy both Gergiev’s performance, and that of Iván Fischer with the BFO (see below).”

Channel Classics
Mahler:  Symphony No 7
Budapest Festival Orchestra / Ivan Fischer

Gramophone:
“I honestly can’t remember hearing a performance of this extraordinary symphony that was so plainly in love with its ethos, its originality, its sonority. (…) It’s one of those performances that makes one think of the piece differently, and that in itself is cause for celebration and reassessment.”

Bill Dodd:
“Fischer’s Mahler Seventh is right up there with the best– with spectacular sound quality.  This might be the performance that makes the Seventh one your favorite Mahler symphonies as well.”

Channel Classics
Mahler: Symphony No 9
Budapest Festival Orchestra / Iván Fischer

Gramophone:
Editor’s Choice
“Everything snaps into focus… the Channel Classics issue is in a very special class, a sonic dazzler… a potential award winner.”  

Bill Dodd:
“Yes!”

Channel Classics
Mahler:  Symphony No 3
Budapest Festival Orchestra / Iván Fischer

Gramophone:
Editor’s Choice and Critic’s Choice
“Here for once is a Mahler symphony release that feels different from the outset. …I doubt whether there has ever been a more precisely focused, more sheerly beautiful recording of any Mahler work. (…)This Third is a must have.” 

Bill Dodd: 
“I couldn’t agree more— I think this is the most magical Mahler from Fischer and the BFO since his fabulous Fourth.”

Tchaikovsky

Pentatone
Tchaikovsky:  Violin Concerto
Julia Fischer; Russian National Orchestra / Yakov Kreizberg

Gramophone: 
“A splendid recording from the hugely impressive Julia Fischer.  There’s power and poetry in spades, and the orchestra accompany with thrilling commitment.”  

Bill Dodd: 
“I totally agree– Julia Fischer was amazing at this age for her technique as well as her ability to deliver a performance which one might expect from a much more mature artist.  This is wonderful music making and an outstanding recording.”

Pentatone
Tchaikovsky:  Hamlet, Op 67a- Overture and Incidental Music.  Romeo and Juliet
Tatiana Monogarova, soprano; Maxim Mikhailov, bass.  Russian National Orchestra / Vladimir Jurowski

Gramophone: 
“In 1891 a complete stage performance of Shakespeare’s Hamlet took place in St. Petersburg with music by Tchaikovsky.  His fantasy overture, written three years earlier, was heard again, this time filleted to roughly half its original length and reduced in scoring to the requirements of a theatre orchestra (…)  But Ophelia is more than ever at the heart of the piece, her plaintive oboe melody very much dominating this version and exquisitely played- as is everything- by the Russian National Orchestra, whose refinement has opened a new chapter in Russian orchestral Playing.”

Bill Dodd:  
“I think you will be surprised by the power of the emotions that Jurowski brings forward in both works.  This is an outstanding release.”

Brahms

Channel Classics
Brahms:  Symphony No. 1.  Variations on a Theme by Haydn.  Hungarian Dance No. 14 (arranged by Fischer)
Budapest Festival Orchestra / Iván Fischer

Gramophone: 
“Fischer and his decidedly classy Budapest orchestra treat the Variations as an affectionate tribute to Hayden… Finely sprung and nicely styled… A superlative recording helps.  And what of the symphony…? This too is a vibrant affair, stylish and alert, played with clarity and sheen (…) This is a more extrovert reading than many of you will hear, less burdened.”

Bill Dodd:
“My own thoughts are simple– This is exciting, even thrilling Brahms– clear and intelligent. It rises to the top level of Brahms symphony recordings. And Channel Classics’ recording quality is unsurpassed.”

Pentatone 
Brahms:  Violin Concerto, Double Concerto Op 102
Julia Fischer, Daniel Muller-Schott, Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra / Yakov Kreizberg

Gramophone: 
“Julia Fischer offers this ideal Brahms coupling in strong and sympathetic readings…  An outstanding disc which stands high on the list of this perfect coupling.”

Bill Dodd: 
“It’s true!  This Brahms Concerto and the Tchaikovsky Concerto were incredibly well received and made Julia Fischer a star violinist. Pentatone’s recording is superb.”

Mozart

Pentatone
Mozart: Violin Concertos Nos 3,4, and 5
Arabella Steinbacher, Festival Strings Lucerne / Daniel Dodds

Gramophone: 
“A top-class recording enhances the sensation of keen participation.  Steinbacher finds her sweetest tone for the slow movements; elsewhere, there’s a strong awareness of the sense of fun that pervades many parts of these youthful masterpieces.”

Bill Dodd:
“A perfect summation of a top performance!”

Pentatone
Mozart:  Serenades
Netherlands Chamber Orchestra / Gordan Nikolic

Gramophone: 
“Nikolic shows that he is as superlative a violin soloist as he is a conductor, as unerring in his understanding of lyrical eloquence as he is of dramatic timing.  He never puts a foot wrong.  Neither does Pentatone’s production…”

Bill Dodd: 
“Mozart knew how to have a splendid time at a wedding (The “Haffner Serenade)!  This is a superb release!”

Handel

Channel Classics
Handel:  Utrecht Te Deum.  Utrecht Jubilate
Nicki Kennedy (soprano), William Towers (countertenor), Wolfram Lattke, Julian Podger (tenors), Peter Harvey (Bass).  Netherlands Bach Society / Jos van Veldhoven

Gramophone: 
“The Treaty of Utrecht concluded the War of Spanish Succession in 1713.  (Handel) composed a large-scale Te Deum and Jubilate for the Service of Thanksgiving held in Wren’s recently completed St Paul’s Cathedral.  Jos van Veldhoven’s excellent Dutch musicians are joined by a team of mostly English soloists. ‘To thee all angels cry aloud’ is sung with tense drams by the incisive chorus, Julian Podger and William Towers.  ‘When though tookest upon thee to deliver man’ has sensitive contributions from oboist Michael Niesemann, and high tenor Wolfram Lattke, (…) The Netherlands Bach Society fires on all cylinders.”

Bill Dodd: 
“For people who know Handel only for “The Messiah”, there are many rewards in this superlative album.”

The album also contains “Ode for the Peace of Utrecht” by Handel’s contemporary, William Croft.

Dvorák

Channel Classics
Symphony No 7.  American Suite
Budapest Festival Orchestra / Iván Fischer

Gramophone:
“Iván Fischer is truly ‘one on his own’, a fund of fascinating interpretative ideas which, whether or not you always agree with them, invariably make musical sense. A refined and individual Seventh! It was a good idea to follow the exultant Seventh Symphony with a flowing, genial account of the still too-rarely-played American Suite, a dance sequence that’s an ideal bedfellow, repertoire-wise, for the Slavonic Dances and Legends.

Bill Dodd: 
“Truly an unbeatable Dvorak 7th!  It proves that there is far more to Dvorak than his Ninth Symphony and his Cello Concerto!”

Bartók

Pentatone
Bartók:  Violin Concertos
Arabella Steinbacher (violin) Orchestre de la Suisse Romande / Marek Janowski

Gramophone: 
“Arabella Steinbacher and Marek Janowski offer us Bartók in 3D, the three dimensions not only spatial but emotional as well.  I can’t think of a version of the Second Concerto, past or present, where structure and content are more thoughtfully balanced, of where significant points in the score are more lovingly underlined.”

Bill Dodd:
“I came late to Bartók. I hadn’t explored his music much until about 10 years ago when I was introduced to the piano concertos and the violin concertos.  If you haven’t discovered Bartók, I urge you to start here. This recording of the two Violin Concertos lacks nothing for superb musicianship and audio quality.”

Vivaldi

Channel Classics
Vivaldi: Violin Concertos, Op. 4, La Stravaganza
Arte dei Suonatori / Rachel Podger (violin) 

Gramophone: 
“The performances by Rachel Podger are Crackling with vitality and executed with consistent brilliance as well as a kind of relish in virtuosity that catches the showy spirit, the self-conscious extravagance, of this particular set of works.”

Bill Dodd:
“Astonishingly entertaining!”

Channel Classics
Vivaldi: L’Estro Armonico
Brecon Baroque / Rachel Podger (violin)

Gramophone: 
“What really shoots this recording straight to the top of the pile, however, is the sheer joy of it, the spontaneity and the tireless, surging musical energy of its many sudden feints and sallies.”

Bill Dodd:   
“This album is on the list of all-time best sellers on Native DSD for good reason.  All of Rachel Podgers’ Vivaldi recordings have received the highest praise. Her Bach as well! And I mean all of them.” 


Some thoughts on critics

I have my favorite music critics.  I’ve learned to read between their lines.  I’ve learned to allow for their prejudices, likes, and dislikes. The hardest part is sometimes trying to figure out whether they like the recordings or not.   It’s good to read those critics whose writing succeeds in causing actual thought!  But all reviews should be considered as a starting point, not a final word.  

So, to be absolutely clear, all the recordings listed in this edition are enthusiastically recommended by me!

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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