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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Concerto 3 in C minor, Op. 37 [38:31]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Sarabande
from French Suite in G major, BWV816 [4:47]
Richard STRAUSS (1864 -1949)
Ein Heldenleben, Op. 40* [48:13]
Mitsuko Uchida (piano) *Anton Barachovsky (violin)
Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks/Mariss Jansons
rec. live, 2011, Philharmonie im Gasteig, Munich
Video Director: Brian Large
Region Code: 0; Picture Format: NTSC 16:9; Sound format: PCM Stereo; DTS 5.0
ARTHAUS MUSIK 101 683 [95:00]

Mariss Jansons is a lucky man - that is, he has the ‘luck’ that comes from being at the top of your profession - in that he leads two world-class orchestras: the Royal Concertgebouw and the Bavarian Radio Symphony. Here we see him at the helm of the latter. The precise recording date(s) is not specified but I’m pretty certain that the performances were filmed in March 2011. A performance of this programme in Munich on 18 March 2011 was reviewed for Seen and Heard by Jens F. Laursen. A week later the performers brought both the same music to London’s Barbican Hall, when Gavin Dixon was on hand to review them for Seen and Heard.
 
For the Beethoven concerto Jansons employs a reduced orchestra - with the violas seated on his right, where many conductors place the cellos - but the sound that is produced, while by no means heavy, unashamedly - and rightly - utilises the tonal resources of the modern symphony orchestra. Jansons shapes the orchestral introduction to the first movement well; the playing is alert and cultured with an excellent wind section well to the fore. Mitsuko Uchida’s playing is delightful and full of deft touches. She plays with strength when required but the chief impression left with the listener is of grace and flair. Though much of her performance is relaxed and poised she gives an exciting account of the cadenza.
 
In the slow movement the piano’s opening phrases are exquisitely weighted and voiced: Uchida takes exceptional care over these bars. The performance that then unfolds is finely wrought. Uchida’s playing is extremely thoughtful - often she seems lost in the music - and very expressive. Jansons and his orchestra offer sensitive support. She launches the finale with scarcely a pause after the Largo. The rondo is done very well; the good humour of the music is well conveyed at a sensible - not breakneck - pace. This is a delightful account of the movement and at the end Uchida’s pleasure at the success of the performance as a whole is evident and fully justified.
 
As an encore she gives an elegant account of the Bach Sarabande.
 
Ein Heldenleben has become one of the great orchestral showpieces and a virtuoso calling card for conductors and touring orchestras. It’s a work that Jansons has recorded live before but with his other orchestra, the Royal Concertgebouw. That performance, which I’ve not heard, is on SACD (RCO 04005) and also on DVD. I believe it’s the performance that Jansons gave in September 2004 during his first concert as the orchestra’s chief conductor. This present account, though superbly played, is not one of the most flamboyant I’ve heard, and none the worse for that. The Hero’s theme is laid out confidently at the start. The Critics snipe at the Hero, though I have heard more acid accounts of their music. One of the highlights of the performance is the portrayal of the Hero’s Companion by concertmaster Anton Barachovsky. He’s absolutely superb. Not only is his playing totally secure - as you’d expect at this level - but also the portrayal he projects is extremely characterful. The Love Music that follows is pretty sumptuous and, as he does at several other points in the score, Jansons visibly revels in both the music and the sound of his orchestra - and why not?
 
The Battle Music strikes me as tending towards opulence rather than being biting in tone. However, I ought to qualify that by saying that I suspect it was much more exciting when experienced live in the hall. It’s superbly played but doesn’t quite have the thrill factor that I’ve heard in some other versions. The Hero’s Deeds of Peace and, indeed, all the music that follows, right up to the end of the work, are done very well indeed. Strauss’s tapestry of recollections of his past music is laid out marvellously for us. The music is beautifully phrased and glows warmly. There are far too many excellent solo contributions to list individually but mention must be made of the outstanding horn and violin solos in the work’s closing pages.
 
Some years ago - before I started reviewing for Seen and Heard - I had the good fortune to see and hear Jansons and the BRSO give a memorable account of Strauss’s Don Quixote in Symphony Hall, Birmingham so I’m particularly pleased to have on this DVD an audio and visual reminder of their excellence in this composer’s music. One’s enjoyment of this excellent concert is enhanced by the very good camera work which is under the experienced and sensible direction of Brian Large.
 
John Quinn

Masterwork Index: Beethoven piano concerto 3 ~~ Strauss Ein Heldenleben

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