SEABOURNE: “Accept These Few Roses” for String Quartet / Coull Quartet / available for free streaming on YouTube
SEABOURNE: Child’s Play for Wind Quintet. Storyteller: Chamber Concerto No. 3 for Bass & 8 Players / Fabio di Casola, clarinetist; Kaspar Zehnder, flautist; Jaime Gonzalez, oboist; Monika Schneider, bassoonist; Sebastian Schindler, hornist; Kamilla Schatz, violinist; Matthias Schrantz, cellist; Ivan Nestic, bassist; Ava Artounian, pianist; Kaspar Zehnder, flautist/conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on titles above
SEABOURNE: Double Concerto for Horn & Orchestra / Ondřej Vrabec, hornist/conductor; Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra / available for free streaming on YouTube
SEABOURNE: On the Blue Shore of Silence for Cello & Piano: I.; II.; III.; IV. / Orsolya Vági, cellist; Sayaka Kubota, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on movement numbers above
SEABOURNE: Piano Concerto No. 2 / Kristina Stepasjuková, pianist; Academy Orchestra of the Czech Republic; Ondřej Vrabec, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
SEABOURNE: Pietà for Viola & Piano / Henrietta Hill, violist; Alessandro Viale, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube
SEABOURNE: 16 Scenes Before a Crucifixion / Alessandro Viale, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube beginning HERE
SEABOURNE: String Quintet: I.; II.; III & IV / Mainzer Virtuosi of the Casalmaggiore Festival / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on movement number above
SEABOURNE: Symphony of Roses / Symphony Orchestra Biel-Solothurn; Kaspar Zehnder, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
SEABOURNE: Threads for Solo Violin, mvmts 2, 3 & 5 / Alberto Bologni, violinist / available for free streaming on YouTube
SEABOURNE: This is a Song for You Alone (Violin Concerto): I. Appassionato; II. Dolce – Semplice / Irina Borissova, violinist; Mainzer Virtuosi; Dmitry Khakhalin, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking movement titles above
SEABOURNE: Tu Sospiri? For Chamber Orchestra / Staatsorchester Rheinische Philharmonie; Daniel Raiskin, conductor / available for free streaming HERE
SEABOURNE: Violin Concerto / Fenella Humphreys, violinist; Deutsche Kammerakademie Neuss Orch.; Lavard Skou Larsen, conductor / available for free streaming by clicking on movement links HERE
As I noted in my three reviews of Peter Seabourne’s music, he has a very original and discursive style based in part on the music of Bartók but using entirely original themes and motifs. Some of his music is harmonically astringent, some quite lyrical; much of it is fairly complex in construction while other pieces (particularly his piano works) are made up of simpler building blocks. The bottom line is that each and every piece listed above is worth investigating, because unlike so many modern composers, Seabourne, along with Kalevi Aho and a few others, manages to vary his compositional style enough to continue holding your interest as you move from work to work. Seabourne is also generous enough to make much of his music available for free streaming online himself, believing that promulgation breeds interest and, in turn, further performances, but sadly he is still far less known than his extraordinary talent deserves.
SEGERSTAM: Concertino-Fantasia for Violin, Piano & Small Orchestra. Piano Concerto No. 1. Orchestral Diary Sheet No. 34 / *Hannele Segerstam, violinist; +Rainer Keuschnig, pianist; ORF Symphony Orchestra; Leif Segerstam, conductor / Kontrapunkt 32184
SEGERSTAM: Concerto Serioso for Violin & Orchestra.* Divertimento. Patria. Sketches from Pandora. Three Moments of Parting for Violin & Piano*+ / *Hannele Segerstam, violinist; +Ralf Gothoni, pianist; Austrian Radio Symphony Orchestra; Leif Segerstam, conductor / Bis CD-84
SEGERSTAM: Moments of Peace III. So It Feels (Piano Concerto No. 3). Symphony No. 13 / Rainer Keuschnig, pianist; Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz; Leif Segerstam, conductor / Bis CD-184
SEGERSTAM: String Quartet No. 6. A Nnnnnoooowww for Wind Quintet. Rituals in La for 2 Pianos / Segerstam Quartet; Helsinki Wind Quintet; Leif Segerstam, Lasse Werner, pianist / Bis CD-20
SEGERSTAM: String Quartet No. 7. Six Songs of Experience / Segerstam Quartet; Taru Valjakka, soprano; Austrian Radio Symphony Orchestra; Leif Segerstam, conductor / Bis CD-38
SEGERSTAM: Symphonies Nos. 11 & 14* / *Mikael Samuelson, baritone; Finnish & *Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestras; Leif Segerstam, conductor / Bis CD-483
SEGERSTAM: Symphonies Nos. 81, 162, 181 / Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra; Leif Segerstam, conductor / Ondine 1172
Those who have read my article on Leif Segerstam in the 1970s will be aware of how wonderful and interesting the above works are. Segerstam’s unusually fluid, “melting-clock” style of composition isn’t for everyone, but once you get used to it and into what he is doing, I think you’ll be captivated.
SEIBER: Andantino Pastorale for Clarinet & Piano. Divertimento. Introduction & Allegro for Clarinet, Cello & Piano. More Nonsense.* 3 Morgenstern Lieder.* The Owl and the Pussycat.*Serenade for Wind Sextet / *Sarah Maria Sun, soprano; various instrumental performers / Avi 8553602
Magnificent performances of the offbeat music of Mátyás Seiber, the unfortunately little-known Hungarian composer who also loved jazz and sometimes incorporated it into his works.
SEIBER-DANKWORTH: Improvisations for Jazz Band & Symphony Orchestra / The Johnny Dankworth Band; London Philharmonic Orchestra; Hugh Rignold, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
One of the finest Third Stream works ever composed, brilliantly played by both the jazz band and symphony orchestra.
SHOSTAKOVICH: The Golden Age (Complete Ballet) / Royal Scottish National Orchestra; José Serebrier, conductor / Naxos 8.570217-18
Shostakovich’s 1930 ballet about a Soviet soccer team visiting a Western city where their efforts are undermined by hostile administrators, decadent artists and corrupt officials has dated badly except for the music, which is fascinating and, for Shostakovich, unusually happy and sunny. A few of the numbers in the complete score are mere transition music, meant to bridge scenes onstage, but I personally recommend the full ballet because the suites leave out some wonderful music. Serebrier’s performance is both energetic and musically taut, bringing out the best in the score.
SHOSTAKOVICH: Piano Concerti Nos. 1 & 2 / Yefim Bronfman, pianist; Los Angeles Philharmonic Orch.; Esa-Pekka Salonen, conductor / Piano Quintet / Bronfman, pianist; Juilliard String Quartet / Sony Classical 60677 or available for free streaming in small bits on YouTube
My general complaint with much of Shostakovich’s music is that it is whiny and self-indulgent, but these two piano concerti are among his happiest and most engaging works. Brilliant performances all round!
SHOSTAKOVICH: 24 Preludes & Fugues / Craig Sheppard, pianist / Roméo 7315-16, also available for free streaming in small bits on YouTube
One of Shostakovich’s finest achievements, superbly played by the underrated American pianist Craig Sheppard.
SHOSTAKOVICH: String Quartets Nos. 1-15 (Complete). Piano Quintet.* 2 Pieces for String Octet+ / Borodin String Quartet; *Sviatoslav Richter, pianist; +Prokofiev String Quartet / Melodiya 1001077; most also available for free streaming on YouTube
This has long been considered the touchstone recording of these works, which are possibly Shostakovich’s finest achievement as a composer.
SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphony No. 1: I. Allegretto; II. Allegro; III. Lento; IV. Lento – Allegro molto / NBC Symphony Orch.; Arturo Toscanini, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on individual movement titles above
SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphony No. 5 / Cleveland Orchestra; Artur Rodziński, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphony No. 7, “Leningrad” / NBC Symphony Orch.; Arturo Toscanini, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphony No. 10 / Prague Symphony Orchestra; Václac Smetaček, conductor / Orchestral Concert 14
These are my four favorite Shostakovich symphonies and my favorite recordings of them. The Toscanini No. 7 has long been a controversial performance and recording, but except for slightly faster tempi in the last movement, no one follows Shostakovich’s score better than he—emotional but lacking the sentimentality that Shostakovich himself preferred (but I don’t).
SHOSTAKOVICH: Violin Concerto No. 1: I. Nocturne; II. Scherzo; III. Passacaglia-Cadenza; IV. Burleska / David Oistrakh, violinist; New York Philharmonic Orch.; Dmitri Mitropoulos, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on movement titles above
An absolutely stupendous performance in every respect. Don’t let the mono sound put you off.
SHULMAN: A Laurentian Overture / NBC Symphony Orchestra; Guido Cantelli, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
SHULMAN: Mood in Question / Artie Shaw, clarinetist; New Music Quartet / available for free streaming on YouTube
SHULMAN: Rendezvous for Clarinet & Strings / Benny Goodman, clarinetist; Stuyvesant String Quartet / available for free streaming on YouTube
SHULMAN: Theme and Variations / Emmanuel Vardi, violist; NBC Symphony Orch.; Frank Black, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
Alan Shulman, one of the “jazzniks” in Toscanini’s NBC Symphony, wrote a few pieces that were quite interesting. These are my favorite performances.
SIBELIUS: The Bard / London Philharmonic Orch.; Sir Thomas Beecham, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
SIBELIUS: En Saga / New York Philharmonic-Symphony Orch.; Arturo Toscanini, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
SIBELIUS: Festivo / Royal Philharmonic Orch.; Sir Thomas Beecham, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
SIBELIUS: Finlandia / NBC Symphony Orchestra; Arturo Toscanini, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
SIBELIUS: Lemminkäinen’s Return / London Philharmonic Orchestra; Sir Thomas Beecham, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
These short pieces are among Sibelius’ most popular, and they still hold up today, particularly in these performances.
SIBELIUS: Kullervo: Dramatic Symphony, Op. 7 / Randi Stene, mezzo; Peter Mattei, baritone; Estonian National Male Choir; Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra; Paavo Järvi, conductor / Virgin Classics 3913632 or available for free streaming on YouTube
A remarkable work, often overlooked in Sibelius’ oeuvre, played and sung beautifully in this performance.
SIBELIUS: The Oceanides / Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra; Andrew Davis, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
SIBELIUS: Songs / Gerald Finley, baritone; Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra; Edward Gardner, conductor / Chandos CHSA 5178 or available for streaming in small bits on YouTube
Canadian baritone Gerald Finley does a superb job on this collection of Sibelius songs with orchestral accompaniments, excellently conducted by Gardner.
SIBELIUS: The Swan of Tuonela / Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra; Herbert von Karajan, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
SIBELIUS: Symphonies Nos. 1-3 & 5. Pohjola’s Daughter. Tapiola / London Symphony Orchestra; Robert Kajanus, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
The great conductor Robert Kajanus, a personal friend of the composer, was the first to record all of his symphonies, but only the ones listed above are available for free on YouTube, along with his superb versions of Pohjola’s Daughter and Tapiola.
SIBELIUS: Symphony No. 4 / NBC Symphony Orchestra; Arturo Toscanini, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
Toscanini brings out the tragic quality of this symphony better than anyone else I’ve ever heard.
SIBELIUS: Symphony No. 6 / Royal Philharmonic Orchestra; Sir Thomas Beecham, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
SIBELIUS: Symphony No. 7 / London Philharmonic Orchestra; Sir Thomas Beecham, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
Beecham’s recordings of the last two Sibelius symphonies are among his finest recordings.
SIBELIUS: The Tempest; Pelléas et Mélisande / London Philharmonic Orchestra; Sir Thomas Beecham, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
SIBELIUS: Valse Triste / Leopold Stokowski and his Symphony Orchestra / available for free streaming on YouTube
Stokowski recorded Valse Triste several times, but this one is my favorite.
SIBELIUS: Violin Concerto / Guila Bustabo, violinist; Berlin State Opera Orchestra; Fritz Zaun, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
As good as Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg is in this concerto—and she is outstanding—she doesn’t hold a candle to Guila Bustabo in intensity, despite the dated 1940 sound.
SMETANA: The Bartered Bride: Overture / Saarbrücken Radio Symphony Orchestra; Michael Gielen, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
SMETANA: The Bartered Bride: Komm, mein Sohnchen / Fritz Wunderlich, tenor; Gottlob Frick, bass; Bamberg Symphony Orchestra; Rudolf Kempe, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
Smetana’s folk opera The Bartered Bride combines a few good arias and scenes with rather inferior “folk”-type music, but these are two of the best and most distinctive excerpts from it.
SMETANA: Bohemian Fantasy / Fritz Kreisler, violinist; George Falkenstein, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube
SMETANA: From My Homeland / Bronislaw Huberman, violinist; Boris Roubakine, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube
Two excellent short violin pieces, played to perfection by Kreisler and Huberman.
SMETANA: Ma Vlast / Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra; Rafael Kubelik, conductor / Orfeo 115841
Rafael Kubelik recorded Ma Vlast several times, including performances with the Czech Philharmonic from 1990 and 1991, but this earlier recording with the Bavarian Radio Symphony remains his finest in all respects.
SMETANA: String Quartets No. 1, “From My Life” & No. 2, “From My Homeland” / Pavel Haas Quartet / Supraphon 4172 or available for streaming in small bits on YouTube
There have been many fine recordings of these outstanding quartets over the years, but none have the incredibly intense energy of these performances.
Ethel Smyth was one of the finest composers of her day, which was the late 19th century through the mid-1920s, but by the late 1930s her fame and reputation had fallen away from her. In recent decades, however, a great deal of her music has been revived, showing her to have been not only a good composer but a very original one. Below are the works I consider to be her best.
SMYTH: Cello Sonata in a min.: I. Allegro moderato; II. Adagio non troppo; III. Allegro vivace e grazioso / Moray Welsh, cellist; Martin Roscoe, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on movement titles above
SMYTH: Double Concerto for Violin, Horn & Orchestra / Sascha Gawriloff, violinist; Marie-Luise Neunecker, hornist; Radio-Philharmonie Hannover des NDR; Uri Mayer, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
SMYTH: Mass in D / Catriona Smith, soprano; Helene Schneiderman, alto; Scott MacAllister, tenor; Andreas Macco, bass; Hermann Trefz, organist; Philharmonia Chor Stuttgart; Württemburgische Philharmonie Reutlingen; Helmut Wolf, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
SMYTH: String Quartet in e min.: I. Allegretto lirico; II. Allegro molto leggiero; III. Andante; IV. Allegro energico / Fanny Mendelssohn Quartet / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on movement titles above
SMYTH: The Wreckers / Peter Sidhom, baritone (Pascoe); David Wilson-Johnson, baritone (Lawrence); Brian Bannatyne-Scott, bass (Harvey); Anthony Roden, tenor (Tallan); Annemarie Sand, mezzo-soprano (Jack); Justin Lavender, tenor (Mark); Anne-Marie Owens, mezzo (Thirza); Judith Howarth, soprano (Avis); Huddersfield Choral Society; BBC Philharmonic Orchestra; Odaline de la Martinez, conductor / Conifer 51250; acts 2 & 3 only available for free streaming on YouTube
Sorabji, Khaikosru Shapurji
SORABJI: Piano Pieces: In the Hothouse; Toccata. Fantaisia ispanica. Vales-Fantasie: “Hommage à Johann Strauss.” Pastiches: “Hindu Merchant’s Song” by Rimsky-Korsakov; “Habanera” from Bizet’s “Carmen”; Chopin’s Valse. Le jardin perfumé. Jami. Gulistān. Opus Clavicembalisticum: Introito & Prelude-Corale. Prelude, Interlude & Fugue. Fragment Written for Harold Rutland. Fantasiettina sul nome illustre del’egregio poeta Christopher Grieve ossia Hugh M’Diuarmid. Quaere reliqua hujus materiei inter secretiora. St. Bertrand de Comminges, “He Was Laughing at the Tower.” HABERMANN: Au clair de la lune, in the style of Sorabji / Michael Habermann, pianist / Naxos 8.571363-65, also available for free streaming in small bits on YouTube
A reissue of Michael Habermann’s landmark recordings of Sorabji’s music—the first ever commercially made, and with the approval (not easy to get!) of the composer himself—this 3-CD set presents many astonishing gems as well as many “lighter” pieces (still very complex and difficult to play) that both he and Sorabji apparently felt would help to sell his difficult and very non-commercial music to the public. Habermann must be lauded for this effort; many of these performances still hold up extremely well, and several of the pieces here have never been recorded by anyone else.
SORABJI: Opus Clavicembalisticum / Geoffrey Douglas Madge, pianist / Bis 1062/64
There are only two extant recordings of this massive work, this one and the recording by John Ogden which, though more exciting in places, is played quite inaccurately in several key passages.
SORABJI: Songs / Elizabeth Farnum, soprano; Margaret Kampmeier, pianist / Centaur 3613, or available for free streaming in small bits on YouTube starting HERE
Sadly, Elizabeth Farnum has a wobbly and somewhat strained voice, but her musicianship is impeccable, Margaret Kampmeier is a superb pianist, and alas, no one else has recorded all of these songs, which are typically fascinating and atypically brief.
SORABJI: Symphonic Nocturne / Lukas Huisman, pianist / Piano Classics PCLD0119
An exciting, outstanding performance of Sorabji’s late-period, unpublished “nocturne,” one of his strangest and most discursive works.
SORABJI: Transcendental Studies Nos. 1-25 / Fredrik Ullén, pianist / Bis 1373
SORABJI: Transcendental Studies Nos. 26-43 / Fredrik Ullén, pianist / Bis 1533
SORABJI: Transcendental Studies Nos. 44-62 / Fredrik Ullén, pianist / Bis 1713
SORABJI: Transcendental Studies Nos. 63-71 / Fredrik Ullén, pianist / Bis 1853
SORABJI: Transcendental Studies Nos. 72-83 / Fredrik Ullén, pianist / Bis 2223
Pianist Fredrik Ullén is in the process of recording all 100 of Sorabji’s often long and discursive Transcendental Studies, but has been stuck at 83 for the past year. Nonetheless, all of these albums are worth acquiring, as these are among the composer’s most interesting and well-structured works.
SPONTINI: Agnese di Hohenstaufen (abridged) / Montserrat Caballé, soprano (Agnese); Antonietta Stella, soprano (Irmengarda); Sesto Bruscantini, baritone (Duke of Burgundy); Bruno Prevedi, tenor (Henry the Palatine); Giangiacomo Guelfi, baritone (Emperor Henry VI); Giampaolo Corradi, baritone (Philip Hohenstaufen); Walter Alberti, bass (Henry the Lion); Ferruccio Mazzoli, bass (Archbishop); Carlo di Giacomo, tenor (Teobaldo); Giovanni Antonini, tenor (First Squire); RAI Symphony Orchestra & Chorus; Riccardo Muti, conductor / Opera d’Oro 1187 or available for free streaming on YouTube
In my view, Gasparo Spontini is still one of the most underrated Italian opera composers of all time. His work is far more original and inventive than that of the “Bel canto boys” (Rossini, Donizetti and Bellini), yet because it is les obviously tuneful it is badly under-performed. This late opera concerning the struggle between Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI and Henry the Lion, which also involves the Emperor’s cousin Agnes, is not one of his strongest plots but the music is outstanding.
SPONTINI: Fernando Cortez / Angela Gulin, soprano (Amazily); Bruno Prevedi, tenor (Fernando Cortez); Aldo Bottion, tenor (Alvaro); Antonio Blancas Laplaza, baritone (Telasco); Luigi Roni, bass (High Priest); Ivan Stefanov, bass (Montezuma); Carlo del Bosco, baritone (Moralez); Nereo Ceron, tenor (A Sailor); Guido Fabbris, bass (Mexican official); RAI Symphony Orchestra & Chorus; Lovro von Matacic, conductor / House of Opera CD85812, available for sale HERE or available for free streaming on YouTube
This earlier Spontini opera, written after his blockbuster hit La Vestale, is one of his most vital and exciting works.
SPONTINI: Olympie / Julia Varady, soprano (Olympie); Stefania Toczyska, mezzo (Statira); Franco Tagliavini, tenor (Cassandre); Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, bar (Antigone); George Fortune, bass (L’Hiérophante); Josef Becker, bass (Hermas); RIAS Chamber Chorus; Berlin Opera Men’s Chorus; Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra; Gerd Albrecht, conductor / Orfeo 137862
One of Spontini’s finest French operas, curiously sung by a mixed Italian-German-Slavic cast but sung well nonetheless and well conducted by Gerd Albrecht.
SPONTINI: La Vestale (abridged) / Maria Callas, soprano (Giulia); Franco Corelli, tenor (Licinio); Enzo Sordello, baritone (Cinna); Nicola Rossi-Lemeni, bass (High Priest); Ebe Stignani, mezzo (La Gran Vestale); Nicola Zacccaria, bass (Chief Harsupex); Teatro alla Scala, Milan Orchestra & Chorus; Antonino Votto, conductor / Idis 6425/26
SPONTINI: La Vestale (abridged) / Michèle Le Bris, soprano (Giulia); Nadine Denize, mezzo (La Grande Vestale); Robert Dumét, tenor (Licinius); Claude Méloni, baritone (Cinna); Jacques Mars, bass (La Grande Pontife); Orchestra and Chorus de l’ORTF; Roger Norrington, conductor / Ponto 1038
Two abridged performances of Spontini’s masterpiece, but the only complete recording, conducted by Riccardo Muti, features the weak and wobbly voices of Karen Huffstodt and Denyce Graves as Giulia and the Gran Vestale. The Callas recording has particularly awful sound (the orchestra is recorded better than the voices), but the performance is simply astounding. The stereo version conducted by Norrington has a very competent cast. Your choice…or just get both.
STENHAMMAR: Romeo och Julia Suite. Reverenza. 2 Sentimental Romances. Sången, Symphonic Cantata / Charlotta Larsson, soprano; Martina Dike, contralto; Lars Cleveman, tenor; Fredrik Zetterström, baritone; Norkköpings Musikklasser Children’s Choir; Gothenberg Symphony Orchestra & Vocal Ensemble; Neeme Järvi, conductor / Bis 2359
The prize composition on this CD is the symphonic cantata Sången, clearly one of Stenhammar’s greatest works, but the Romeo and Juliet Suite is also well written in addition to being quite charming.
Still, William Grant
STILL: Africa: III. Land of Superstition / American Symphony Orchestra; Leon Botstein, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking title
The first two parts of this suite are rather romantic-sounding and unremarkable, but the third section is highly imaginative. Today it is often played by solo pianists who don’t have a clue what to do with the music. Botstein doesn’t always capture the “feel” of Still’s music right, but in this performance he is really very good.
STILL: Danzas de Panama: 4. Cumbia e Congo (1953) / Cincinnati Conservatory of Music Encore Advanced Chamber Orchestra; Jaime Morales-Matos, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking title above
A fine performance of one of Still’s lighter works.
STILL: Ennanga (1956) / Ann Hobson Pilot, harpist; Videmus Ensemble / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking title
This performance is not quite as African-sounding as I might have liked, but spirited enough to give the right impression.
STILL: Frisco Jazz Band Blues / The Azusa Pacific University Chamber Wind Ensemble / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking title
A little-known and unusual work by Still, simulating the slightly off-kilter rhythmic playing of West Coast black blues bands of the 1920s and ‘30s.
STILL: Lenox Avenue: Spiritual and Blues (1937) / The Los Angeles WPA Symphony Orchestra; William Grant Still, conductor
Go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-w3CRWAlMtY, move the cursor to about 11:16, and listen to the remaining music, which is the best in this ballet. I have no way of knowing how many Africa-American musicians were in this orchestra, but the gospel choir certainly sounds black.
STRADELLA: Vocal duets / Emma Kirkby, Susanne Rydén, sopranos; Christine Marsoner, contralto; Sergio Foresti, bass; Alessandro Palmeri, violone; Claudio Astronio, harpsichordist/organist / Brilliant Classics 94343
Stradella was an excellent craftsman who wrote a ton of vocal music. These charming duets, sung to perfection, are among his finest works.
STRAUSS: Allerseelen / Peter Schreier, tenor; Norman Shetler, pianist / All mein gedanken. Du meines Herzens Krönelein / Klara Takács, mezzo; Jenö Jandó, pianist / Amor. An die nacht / Kathleen Battle, soprano; Margo Garrett, pianist / Befreit. Die heiligen drei Könige aus Morgenland. Meinem Kinde / Anne Schwanewilms, soprano; Hallé Orchestra; Mark Elder, conductor / Cäcilie / Jussi Björling, tenor; Harry Ebert, pianist / Die erwachter Rose / Lucia Popp, soprano; Wolfgang Sawallisch, pianist / Freundliche Vision. Heimliche Aufforderung. Herr Lenz. Ich trage meine Minne. Ruhe, meine Seele / Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, baritone; Gerald Moore, pianist / Leise Lieder / Renée Fleming, soprano; Jean-Yves Thibaudet, pianist / Morgen. Ständchen / Leo Slezak, tenor; Michael Raucheisen, pianist / Die Nacht / Nicolai Gedda, tenor; Erik Werba, pianist / Das Rosenband / Carolyn Sampson, soprano; Joseph Middleton, pianist / Traum durch die Dämmerung / Ernestine Schumann-Heink, contralto; Katherine Hoffmann, pianist / Wiegenlied / Elena Gerhardt, mezzo; Artur Nikisch, pianist / Zueignung / Alexander Kipnis, bass; Arthur Bergh, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on individual titles above
Ranges from 3 1/2 (for historic material) to 6 fish for all of above
These are some of my absolute favorite recordings of Strauss lieder, which I highly recommend to you.
STRAUSS: Four Last Songs: I. Frühling; II. September; III. Beim schlafengehen; IV. Im Abendrot / Christiane Oelze, soprano; Eric Schneider, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on titles above
These are the ONLY performances of these songs I’ve ever heard that don’t sound overly morose or drippy.
STRAUSS: Complete Vocal Music with Piano (all songs and recitations) / Christiane Libor, Juliane Banse, sopranos; Michelle Breedt, Anja-Nina Bahrmann, Anke Vondung, mezzos; Brigitte Fassbaender, speaker; Jeongkon Choi, Martin Mitterutzner, Brenden Gunnell, Christian Elsner, Lucian Vondung, tenors; Markus Eiche, baritone; Andreas Mattersberger, bass-baritone; Christoph Berner, Burkhard Kehring, Malcolm Martineau, Wolfram Rieger, Nina Schumann, pianists / Two Pianists TP1039312
This boxed set of Strauss’ complete music for voice and piano, including the dramatic recitation Enoch Arden, is for the most part very good. All of the performances herein are well-interpreted and, for the most part, well sung. Worth your investment.
STRAUSS: Also Sprach Zarathustra / Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra; Clemens Krauss, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
STRAUSS: Also Sprach Zarathustra / Chicago Symphony Orchestra; Fritz Reiner, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
The two greatest performances I’ve ever heard of this oft-overplayed work, and both give lie to the claim that the work “dies off” after the dramatic opening section. Why it is not conducted like this more often, I have no idea, but even Reiner’s later recording (1960) lacks the fire of this earlier 1954 stereo gem.
STRAUSS: Daphne / Paul Schöffler, bass (Peneios); Vera Little, mezzo (Gaia); Hilde Güden, soprano (Daphne); Fritz Wunderlich, tenor (Leukippos); James King, tenor (Apollo); Rita Streich, soprano (First Maid); Erika Mechera, mezzo (Second Maid); Hans Braun, tenor (First Shepherd); Kurt Equiluz, tenor (Second Shepherd); Harald Pröglhöf, baritone (Third Shepherd); Vienna State Opera Chorus; Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra; Karl Böhm, conductor / DGG 445322 or available for free streaming on YouTube
Strauss’ penultimate opera is clearly his best work since Elektra, and in fact the only post-Elektra opera worth hearing complete. The cast and conductor here are near-perfection.
STRAUSS: Don Juan / NBC Symphony Orchestra; Arturo Toscanini, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
STRAUSS: Don Juan / Staatskapelle Dresden; Rudolf Kempe, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
Toscanini’s stunning 1951 high-fidelity recording of this work reveals more detail than even the stereo versions of Reiner, Szell or Kempe. It is also much less rushed than Reiner or clumsily phrased than Szell, despite the better sound of the latter. Kempe’s recording is, in my view, the finest of all stereo or digital versions I’ve heard.
STRAUSS: Don Quixote / Enrico Mainardi, cellist; Karl Reitz, violist; Berlin Staatskapelle Orchestra; Richard Strauss, conductor / available for streaming in small bits on YouTube
STRAUSS: Don Quixote / Frank Miller, cellist; Carlton Cooley, violist; Daniel Guilet, violinist; NBC Symphony Symphony Orchestra; Arturo Toscanini, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
Two mono recordings that will absolutely blow you away in their emotional but very different interpretations. The Strauss recording from c. 1939 is one of his best-sounding discs, and both his conducting and Italian cellist Enrico Mainardi’s performance are full of wit and humanity. This late (1953) recording by Toscanini features his first-chair cellist, Frank Miller, rather than Emanuel Feuermann, who played it with him in 1939, but I much prefer this warm, autumnal reading of the score, so different in feeling from not only his earlier self but also from virtually every other conductor who has ever played this work.
STRAUSS: Elektra / Res Fischer, mezzo (Klytämnestra); Astrid Varnay, soprano (Elektra); Leonie Rysanek, soprano (Chrysothemis); Helmut Melchert, tenor (Ägisth); Hans Hotter, bass (Orest); Heiner Horn, bass (Pfleger des Orest); Gerti Charlent, soprano (Vertraute der Königin); Helene Petrich, soprano (Schleppenträgen); Hasso Eschert, tenor (Junger Diener); Arno Reinhardt, bass (Alte Diener); Kaethe Tatzmann, mezzo (Die Aufseherin); Ilse Ihme-Säbich, contralto (1st Maid); Trude Roseler, mezzo-soprano (2nd Maid); Marianne Schröder, mezzo-soprano (3rd Maid); Marlies Siemeling, soprano (4th Maid); Käthe Möller-Siepermann, soprano (5th Maid); West German Radio Cologne Orch. & Chorus; Richard Kraus, conductor / Capriccio 5008 or available for free streaming on YouTube
STRAUSS: Elektra / Birgit Nilsson, soprano (Elektra); Regina Resnik, mezzo (Klytämnestra); Marie Collier, soprano (Chrysothemis); Gerhard Stolze, tenor (Ägisth); Tom Krause, baritone (Orest); Tugomir Franc, bass (Pfleger des Orest); Margarethe Sjöstedt, sop (Vertraute der Königin); Margarita Lilowa, soprano (Schleppenträgen); Gerhard Unger, tenor (Junger Diener); Leo Heppe, bass (Alte Diener); Pauline Tinsley, mezzo (Die Aufseherin); Helen Watts, contralto (1st Maid); Maureen Lehane, mezzo-soprano (2nd Maid); Yvonne Minton, mezzo-soprano (3rd Maid); Jean Cock, soprano (4th Maid); Felicia Weathers, soprano (5th Maid); Vienna State Opera Chorus; Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra; Sir Georg Solti, conductor / Decca 830302 or available for free streaming on YouTube
Two great recordings of Strauss’ greatest opera, one mono and one stereo. In the latter, all of the singers involved give 110% as does conductor Solti, producing a masterpiece of a recording, but in the former—conducted even more tautly by Richard Krauss—three of the important principles (Klytamnestra, Chrysothemis and Orest) are even more strongly cast. I suggest getting both.
STRAUSS: Ein Heldenleben / Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra; Willem Mengelberg, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
STRAUSS: Ein Heldenleben / NBC Symphony Orchestra; Arturo Toscanini, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
Two fantastic performances of this work from 1941. The Mengelberg is my absolute favorite; it is far more detailed and intense than his vastly overrated 1928 recording with the New York Philharmonic-Symphony; but the Toscanini, differently phrased, is also overwhelming in its emotional intensity and one of his best-recorded early NBC broadcasts.
STRAUSS: Horn Concerti Nos. 1 & 2 / Marie-Luise Neunecker, hornist; Bamberg Symphony Orchestra; Ingo Metzmacher, conductor / Warner Classics 7235472, also available for free streaming in small bits on YouTube
Surprise! Dennis Brain has been deposed in the Strauss horn concerti…and his slayer is a female French horn player! She gives much more life and lift to No. 2 than Brain did, and equals him in No. 1; in addition, these are in modern digital stereo sound.
STRAUSS: Salome / Maria Cebotari, soprano (Salome); Karl Friedrich, tenor (Narraboth); Dagmar Hermann mezzo (Page); Wilhelm Felden, bass (First Soldier); Hans Braun, bass (Second Soldier); Marko Rothmüller, baritone (Jochanaan); Ludwig Weber, bass (First Nazarene); Hans Schwiger, tenor (Second Nazarene); Erich Majkut, tenor (Slave); Julius Patzak, tenor (Herod); Elisabeth Höngen, mezzo (Herodias); Peter Klein, tenor (First Jew); William Wernigk, tenor (Second Jew); Maximilian Willimsky, tenor (Third Jew); Erwin Nowaro, tenor (Fourth Jew); Ljubomir Pantscheff, bass (Fifth Jew); Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra; Clemens Krauss, conductor / Gebhardt 11 (live, London, September 30, 1947)
STRAUSS: Salome / Leonie Rysanek, soprano (Salome); Waldemar Kmentt, tenor (Narraboth); Rohangiz Yachmi, mezzo-soprano (Page); Eberhard Wächter, baritone (Jochanaan); Hans Hopf, tenor (Herod); Grace Hoffman, mezzo-soprano (Herodias); Tugomir Franc, bass (First Soldier); Fredric Guthrie, bass (Second Soldier); Murray Dickie, tenor (First Jew); Heinz Zednik, tenor (Second Jew); Kurt Equiluz, tenor (Third Jew); Karl Terkal, tenor (Fourth Jew); Herbert Lackner, bass (Fifth Jew); Vienna State Opera Orchestra; Karl Böhm, conductor / RCA Red Seal 694320-2 (live, December 22, 1972)
STRAUSS: Salome / Teresa Stratas, soprano (Salome); Wiesław Ochman, tenor (Narraboth); Hannah Schwarz, mezzo-soprano (Page); Bernd Weikl, baritone (Jochanaan); Hans Beirer, tenor (Herod); Astrid Varnay, mezzo-soprano (Herodias); Reinhold Möser, bass (First Soldier); Wolfgang Probst, bass (Second Soldier); Friedrich Lenz, tenor (First Jew); Ewald Eichberger, tenor (Second Jew); Kurt Equiluz, tenor (Third Jew); Karl Terkal, tenor (Fourth Jew); Alois Pernerstorfer, bass (Fifth Jew); Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra; Karl Böhm, conductor / Deutsche Grammophon DVD 0440 073 4339-5 or available for free streaming on YouTube
I’ve heard most noted exponents of this role – Christel Goltz, Ljuba Welitsch, Inge Borkh, Birgit Nilsson, Montserrat Caballé, Gwyneth Jones, Hildegard Behrens, Cheryl Studer, Jessye Norman, Karita Mattila – and these are by far the three most intense and compelling performances of the opera ever recorded, period. Part of their success is undoubtedly due to conductors Clemens Krauss and Karl Böhm, the latter being Strauss’ favorite conductor of his own operas and the man to whom he dedicated the score of Daphne. On the first and earliest recording Krauss leads a performance of almost unbearable, white-hot intensity while Böhm provides both drama and clean, intense, beautifully sculpted performances. The Vienna Philharmonic plays a bit better than the Vienna State Opera Orchestra, but omigod that 1972 live performance is a killer.
First, however, we have the Cebotari performance, a live recording with multiple sound defects: scratchy acetate sound and occasional pitch distortions that apparently couldn’t be corrected. But you’ll NEVER get over this performance if you are willing to overlook these. Cebotari was Strauss’ own favorite interpreter of this role; she had a voice that has accurately been described as “being like a Gypsy singer, but tidied up a bit.” She is a princess who has gone completely over the edge, and her insanity grows moment by moment in this unbelievably intense performance. The final scene will drive you mad!
As for the 1972 Böhm performance, it is not perfect. Baritone Eberhard Wächter’s voice was one size too small for Jochanaan, plus he was not in his best voice at the start of the performance, but he is (in my view) the most intense interpreter of the role on records and as the opera progresses he gets past his worst moments of vocal unsteadiness. Soprano Leonie Rysanek, who was told by Richard Strauss’ son Franz that she had the voice his father “dreamed of when writing the opera,” goes off-pitch now and then in her confrontation with Jokanaan and, in the final scene, omits one high-lying phrase (which, for some reason, she never sang in performance) on the words “Ah! Ah! Jochanaan…du warst schön.” Tenor Hans Hopf is a beefy Herod, sounding a bit weary and too old for the role, but he projects the proper feeling of menace and perversion.
Yet in the end these few flaws matter not at all, because this is without question the most dramatically intense, powerfully sung and emotionally overwhelming stereo Salome on record. You’d think that each and every performer had one finger in a light socket all the way through this endeavor…that’s how incredibly electrifying it is. Other than the Cebotari reading I’ve not heard its like in my life. Her few flaws aside, Rysanek gives, to my mind, the most vivid and complete portrayal of the title character I’ve ever heard, Cebotari included. Welitsch, often thought of as a touchstone in this role, can’t hold a patch to her, not even in her superior 1949 broadcast of the opera. Rysanek lightens her voice in the first part, sounding appropriately youthful and silvery, and as the drama continues and develops she sounds more and more insane with each passing moment until she erupts in the final scene with such strong intensity that it will knock you off your seat. It is absolutely riveting. This performance has been issued by two different labels, Opera d’Oro and RCA Red Seal. It would be nice to say that it doesn’t matter which one you get, but unfortunately it does. The Opera d’Oro release sounds gritty and unnatural, as if the recording were made on a poor cassette tape, whereas the RCA version was taken from the original house tapes and sounds absolutely fantastic. The supporting cast is mostly exscellent, particularly Kmentt, Hoffman, Yachmi and the five Jews.
The video performance from two years later was a tour-de-force for soprano Teresa Stratas, whose voice was far too small to sing the title role onstage. For this filmed version she came in, lip-synched her part to the pre-recorded complete opera, and then mimed her role (as did the others) for the camera. Her Salome is entirely different from Rysanek’s psychotic reading: she comes across as a spoiled brat of a princess who is used to getting her way, and is therefore willing to have Jochanaan killed because he wouldn’t submit to her. Götz Friedrich’s direction, and the very imaginative but not trashy sets and costumes, are dazzling and certainly add to one’s enjoyment of the performance. Hans Beirer is a Herod much like Hopf two years before; Astrid Varnay’s voice is less well controlled than Hoffman’s, but she is an even more decadent Herodias. The vastly underrated and forgotten Polish tenor Wiesław Ochman sings a lovely, silvery Narraboth, and although Bernd Weikl is a shade less intense than Wächter, his Jochanaan is superbly sung, one of the very finest ever recorded. And, as usual, Böhm’s conducting is superb, if missing some of the intensity of the live 1972 performance.
Because of the few musical flaws in the Rysanek performance you really need to own both of these, and the Cebotari is a must for any serious lover of this opera, but if you do you need never acquire another Salome as long as you live. They complement each other and give you the full measure of Strauss’ intense, perverse, yet strangely erotic opera.
STRAUSS: Till Eulenspiegel / Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra; Richard Strauss, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
STRAUSS: Till Eulenspiegel / Staatskapelle Dresden; Rudolf Kempe, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
The two lightest and wittiest recordings of this work, which desperately needs this sort of approach in order to make it work. Strauss’ earlier 1929 recording is equally witty, but the 1944 film sound of the Vienna Philharmonic performance brings out the details much better.
STRAUSS: Tod und Verklärung / Teatro alla Scala Orchestra of Milan; Arturo Toscanini, conductor / part of Immortal Performances 1015
STRAUSS: Tod und Verklärung / NBC Symphony Orchestra; Arturo Toscanini, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
Death and Transfiguration, to give this work its English title, was one of Toscanini’s favorite works, and to my mind he was the only conductor who really got every last drop of meaning out of this music. I own no less than four recordings of it by him. The 1937 version with the Vienna Philharmonic is nearly as intense as the 1946 La Scala performance, but the sound is far inferior. The 1942 Philadelphia Orchestra recording is by far the most beautiful sonically, but lacks some of the intensity and depth of feeling of these last two performances. Had the La Scala version not existed, I would have no compunction about recommending the NBC Symphony studio recording as his best, but there is much more feeling and sweep in this 1946 performance.
STRAUSS: Violin Sonata in Eb: I. Allegro ma non troppo; II. Andante cantabile; III. Finale: Andante – Allegro / Jascha Heifetz, violinist; Arpad Sandor, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking movement titles above
In my view, the best of all recordings of this work, in part because of the outstanding pianism of Arpad Sandor, in my view Heifetz’ best accompanist.
STRAVINSKY: Agon / Sinfonieorchester des Südwestfunks Baden-Baden; Hans Rosbaud, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
For me, this is the tautest performance of Stravinsky’s great late ballet, his first written in the 12-tone style.
STRAVINSKY: Apollon musagète / RCA Victor Orchestra; Igor Stravinsky, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
I personally prefer Stravinsky’s recording with the Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra a bit better, but this one is almost as good and is available online.
STRAVINSKY: Canticum Sacrum: Part 1, Part 2 / Marcel Beekman, tenor; David Wilson-Johnson, baritone; Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Choir & Orchestra; Reinberg de Leeuw, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on section titles above
An outstanding performance of Stravinsky’s 1955 choral-vocal piece, unfortunately not available (to my knowledge) on CD.
STRAVINSKY: Capriccio: I. Allegro; II. Andante rapsodico; III. Allegro capriccioso ma sempre giusto / Ian Parker, pianist; London Symphony Orchestra; Michael Francis, conductor / part of Atma 2656, also available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking movement titles above
My favorite performance of this effervescent work for piano and orchestra.
STRAVINSKY: Concerto for Piano & Wind Instruments: I. Largo – Allegro – Più mosso; II. & III / Alexander Toradze, pianist; Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra; Valery Gergiev, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking movement titles above
A spectacular performance of this concerto by the little-known Alexander Toradze, conducted by Valery Gergiev when he was still really Valery Gergiev.
STRAVINSKY: Concerto for String Orchestra: I. Vivace; II. Arioso; III. Rondo / Britten Sinfonia; Jacqueline Shave, conductor / part of Sound Circus 68475, also available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking movement titles above
A stupendous and little-known performance of this excellent, underrated piece.
STRAVINSKY: Concerto in Eb, “Dumbarton Oaks”: I. Tempo giusto; II. Allegretto; III. Con moto. Danses Concertantes / Sinfonietta de Montreal; Charles Dutoit, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking titles above
Two of the very finest performances from Dutoit’s somewhat uneven Stravinsky set.
STRAVINSKY: Duo Concertante / Samuel Dushkin, violinist; Igor Stravinsky, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube
The historic first recording of this work, which gives us the rare privilege of hearing the composer at the piano.
STRAVINSKY: Ebony Concerto / Benny Goodman, clarinetist; Columbia Jazz Band; Igor Stravinsky, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
I own four recordings of this excellent piece, including the original one by Stravinsky conducting the Woody Herman Orchestra in 1946, but this one is my favorite.
STRAVINSKY: The Fairy’s Kiss (Baiser de la Fée, after Tchaikovsky). Fav’n i pastushka (Faune et bergère), Op. 2. Ode (In Memoriam Natalia Koussevitzky) / Lucy Shelton, soprano; Cleveland Orchestra; Oliver Knussen, conductor / DGG 449205, or available for streaming in small bits on YouTube
By far, the most exciting and interesting performance of The Fairy’s Kiss, along with two smaller works played (and sung) to perfection.
STRAVINSKY: Fireworks / Chicago Symphony Orchestra; Seiji Ozawa, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
STRAVINSKY: In Memoriam Dylan Thomas / Alexander Young, tenor; Columbia Chamber Ensemble; Igor Stravinsky, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
My favorite versions of these two short works. The second of these is among Stravinsky’s most lyrical and heartfelt pieces, beautifully sung by Alexander Young.
STRAVINSKY: The Nightingale / Loren Driscoll, tenor (Fisherman); Herbert Beattie, bass (Bonze); Donald Gramm, bass-baritone (Emperor); Reri Grist, soprano (Nightingale); Marina Picassi, mezzo (Cook); Elaine Bonazzi, mezzo (Death); Washington D.C. Opera Society Orch. & Chorus; Igor Stravinsky conductor / available for streaming in small bits on YouTube
This superb recording was once available as a single LP, then part of Sony/CBS’ massive boxed set of all of Stravinsky’s Columbia recordings. Now it appears not to be available except for free streaming on YouTube in chunks, but it’s still the preferred recording of this lovely early opera.
STRAVINSKY: Les Noces / Nadine Koutcher, soprano; Natalya Buklaga, mezzo-soprano; Stanislav Leontieff, tenor; Vasiliy Korostelev, bass; Musica Aeterna Chorus; Mikhail Mordvinov, Artem Abashev, Alexander Osminin, Oksana Pislegina, pianists; Nikolay Dulskiy, Roman Romashkin, Igor Grishkin, Andrey Nikitin, Vladislav Osipov, Vadim Yashin, Alibek Kabdurakhmanov, percussion; Teodor Currentzis, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
Conductor Teodor Currentzis does the most spectacular job on this 1923 cantata for voices and percussion, a precursor to Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. I’ve seen three different recordings out there conducted by him; all are equally excellent. This one is available complete in one sound file on YouTube.
STRAVINSKY: Octet / Georges Laurent, flautist; Manuel Valerio, clarinetist; Raymond Allard, Ernst Panenka, bassoonists; Georges Magar, Marcel Lafosse, trumpeters; Jacob Raichmann, John Coffey, trombonists; Leonard Bernstein, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube in small bits
Bernstein’s finest Stravinsky recording, and my favorite of this work.
STRAVINSKY: Oedipus Rex / Martha Mödl, mezzo (Jocasta); Peter Pears, tenor (Oedipus); Heinz Rehfuss, baritone (Creon/Messenger); Otto von Rohr, bass (Tiresias); Helmut Krebs, tenor (Shepherd); Werner Hessenland, narrator; NWDR Male Choir; Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra; Igor Stravinsky, conductor / part of Acanta/Pilz 233694
This recording was originally made, as it appears on this CD, as a radio studio rehearsal in 1950 for broadcast in West Germany with the narration in German. A few years later, it was issued commercially on a Columbia LP, but this time with the narration in French by Jean Cocteau, who had done the honors at the original premiere in Paris in the 1920s. But this was merely an experience, for although Stravinsky wrote this opera-oratorio in Latin, on purpose as a “dead language,” he wanted the spoken lines to be given in the vernacular of the country in which it is performed, so as far as I’m concerned, a speaker in French is just as incomprehensible to me as a speaker in German. Yet it remains the best-sung and most gripping performance of this work, exceeding by a large margin ALL stereo recordings I have heard of it. So there you are.
STRAVINSKY: Oedipus Rex / Patricia Johnson, mezzo (Jocasta); Ronald Dowd, tenor (Oedipus); Raimund Herincx, baritone (Creon); Harold Blackburn, bass (Tiresias/ Messenger); Alberto Remedios, tenor (Shepherd); Sir Ralph Richardson, narrator; Sadlers Wells Men’s Opera Chorus; Royal Philharmonic Orchestra; Colin Davis, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube: click HERE for complete links
Although Patricia Johnson and Ronald Dowd are not quite as good as Mödl and Pears in the mono recording, this 1960 performance is clearly the best stereo and/or digital recording of this work because all of the singers are dramatic and have no wobbles. But Warner Classics/EMI chose only to issue it briefly in a box set of Colin Davis’ early recordings, and it is now unavailable EXCEPT on YouTube as streaming audio. If you click the link above, it will take you to my article on this recording which explains its bizarre history and provide you with all the links in their proper musical order.
STRAVINSKY: L’Oiseau de Feu (Firebird), Complete Ballet / Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra; Valery Gergiev, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
Another great recording made when Gergiev was “really” Gergiev (he isn’t any longer).
STRAVINSKY: L’Oiseau de Feu Suite / RAI Turin Symphony Orchestra; Artur Rodziński, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
This radio broadcast from 1955 is a bit noisy, but one of the most exciting performances I’ve ever heard.
STRAVINSKY: Perséphone / Pauline Cheviller, narrator; Andrew Staples, tenor; Finnish Children’s Chorus; Finnish National Opera Chorus & Orchestra; Esa-Pekka Salonen, conductor / Pentatone Classics 5186 688
There are several good recordings of this out there, including one by Kent Nagano on Virgin Classics, but this one is the best in my estimation.
STRAVINSKY: Petrouchka / New York Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra; Dmitri Mitropoulos, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
Still the best version of this remarkable ballet.
STRAVINSKY: Piano-Rag Music. Piano Sonata: I. Quarter = 112; II. Adagietto; III. Quarter = 112 / Jenny Lin, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube vy clicking on titles above
I absolutely love these crisp, energetic readings of early Stravinsky.
STRAVINSKY: 2 Poèmes de Paul Verlaine: I. Un grand sommeil noir; II. La lune blanche / Donald Gramm, bass-baritone; Columbia Chamber Orchestra; Igor Stravinsky, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking titles above
STRAVINSKY: 2 Poems of Konstantin Bal’mont: I. Forget-me-nots; II. The Dove / Evelyn Lear, soprano; Columbia Chamber Orchestra; Robert Craft, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on titles above
STRAVINSKY: Pribaoutki: I. Uncle Armand; II. The Oven; III. The Colonel; IV. The Old Man and the Hare / Cathy Berberian, mezzo-soprano; Columbia Chamber Orchestra; Igor Stravinsky, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on titles above
Outstanding song performances recorded in the early 1960s with three excellent singers, Stravinsky and Robert Craft conducting.
STRAVINSKY: Pulcinella / Edda Moser, soprano; Werner Hollweg, tenor; Barry McDaniel, baritone; Radio-Sinfinieorchester Stuttgart des SWR; Michael Gielen, conductor / available for free streaming in small bits on YouTube
By far the finest performance I’ve ever heard of this charming ballet based on the music of Pergolesi, with three excellent singers (for once!).
STRAVINSKY: Ragtime for 11 Instruments / Columbia Jazz Ensemble; Igor Stravinsky, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
A really fun piece by Stravinsky. His own recording of it has much more of a jazz swagger than anyone else’s.
STRAVINSKY: The Rake’s Progress / Hilde Güden, soprano (Anne Trulove); Eugene Conley, tenor (Tom Rakewell); Norman Scott, bass (Mr. Trulove); Mack Harrell, baritone (Nick Shadow); Martha Lipton, mezzo (Mother Goose); Blanche Thebom, mezzo (Baba the Turk); Paul Franke, tenor (Sellem); Lawrence Davidson, bass (Asylum keeper); Metropolitan Opera Chorus & Orchestra; Igor Stravinsky, conductor / Naxos 8.111266-67, also available for free streaming in small bits on YouTube
STRAVINSKY: The Rake’s Progress / Jayne West, soprano (Anne Trulove); Jon Garrison, tenor (Tom Rakewell); Arthur Woodley, baritone (Trulove); John Cheek, bass-baritone (Nick Shadow); Shirley Love, mezzo (Mother Goose); Wendy White, mezzo (Baba the Turk); Melvin Lowery, tenor (Sellem); Jeffery Johnson, bass (Asylum keeper); The Gregg Smith Singers; The Orchestra of St. Luke’s; Robert Craft, conductor / Naxos 8.660272-73
As you can see from the above, Naxos owns this opera. The composer’s 1964 stereo remake does have the benefit of Judith Raskin’s astoundingly lovely Anne Trulove, Alexander Young’s fine Tom and John Reardon’s first-rate Nick Shadow, but the tempi are too relaxed and Regina Sarfaty’s Baba the Turk is wiry and unattractive. Despite some diction problems for Hilde Güden and a somewhat too benign Nick in Mack Harrell, the earlier 1953 recording is far superior, with crisper tempi, Eugene Conley in fantastic voice and Blanche Thebom as the absolute best Baba the Turk you will ever hear in your life. Only Jennie Tourel, in the world premiere performance, is nearly as good, and that recording suffers from miserable orchestral playing, agonizingly slow tempi and horrible sonics.
Robert Craft was one of those rare conductors of modern music who had impeccable taste in solo singers. He never picked a loser in his entire long life, and this recording, which originally appeared on the Music Masters label, is yet more proof of this. Only John Cheek has a slightly rough timbre, but his Nick Shadow is wonderfully menacing in an underhanded way, and his outburst of temper comes across more vividly than Harrell’s. Wendy White is a very fine Baba, much better than both Sarfaty and the long string of losers we get nowadays, and the little-known Jayne West and Jon Garrison are also excellent in their roles. In addition, Craft’s conducting has the zip and drive of the 1953 Stravinsky recording, but is in digital sound.
STRAVINSKY: Renard / John Aler, Nigel Robson, tenors; David Wilson-Johnson, baritone; John Tomlinson, bass; London Sinfonietta; Esa-Pekka Salonen, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube in small bits
Written in 1916, this witty and appealing opera-ballet is probably Stravinsky’s least-well-known stage work. This excellent recording was originally issued as a single disc by Sony Classical, but alas is now only available in a 7-CD boxed set with many superfluous (albeit OK) performances of other Stravinsky works.
STRAVINSKY: Requiem Canticles / Sally Burgess, contralto; Roderick Williams, bass; Simon Joly Chorale; Philharmonia Orchestra; Robert Craft, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
This, one of Stravinsky’s last major works (1966), was played at his funeral in 1971 at his request. Once again, Craft’s performance tops all others.
STRAVINSKY: Le Roi des Étoiles / SWR Vokalensemble Stuttgart; Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Saarbrücken; Michael Gielen, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
An outstanding but little-known short work by Stravinsky, excellently conducted by Michael Gielen.
STRAVINSKY: Le Sacre du Printemps / Orchestre Symphonique de Paris; Igor Stravinsky, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
STRAVINSKY: Le Sacre du Printemps / Philharmonia Orchestra; Robert Craft, conductor / Naxos 8.557508; alternate version with London Symphony Orchestra available for free streaming on YouTube in small bits
STRAVINSKY: Le Sacre du Printemps (corrected manuscript version)/ Park Avenue Chamber Symphony Orchestra; David Bernard, conductor / Recursive Classics 2058479, also available for free streaming in small bits on YouTube
Three performances of Stravinsky’s landmark ballet score, each of them indispensable. The 1929 Stravinsky recording was the first made of this score, and despite a few errors it is the most exciting performance I’ve ever heard. (Pierre Monteux’s first recording of the ballet, also made in 1929, has even more mistakes in it.) Robert Craft, as usual, gives us a taut, splendid reading (actually two of them), full of excitement. David Bernard’s recent recording of the amended score, taken from the manuscript, has dozens of corrections and changes in it. This performance is required listening, despite the fact that the composer apparently felt that the published score should stand, since he never conducted or recorded this alternate version himself.
STRAVINSKY: Scenes de Ballet / Orchestra of St. Luke’s; Robert Craft, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
This little-known but excellent 1944 composition is another one of those that shows a small jazz influence in Stravinsky’s work.
STRAVINSKY: A Sermon, a Narrative and a Prayer / Shirley Verrett, mezzo-soprano; John Horton, narrator; Loren Driscoll, tenor; CBC Chorus & Symphony Orchestra; Igor Stravinsky, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
Another outstanding but little-known composition by Stravinsky, beautifully sung by Verrett and Driscoll and conducted by the composer himself.
STRAVINSKY: The Soldier’s Tale / Dame Harriet Walter, narrator; Sir Harrison Birtwhistle (Soldier); George Benjamin (Devil); Royal Academy of Music Manson Ensemble; Oliver Knussen, conductor / Linn CKD 552
This, the late Oliver Knussen’s last commercial recording, is an absolute gem, better than anyone else’s.
STRAVINSKY: 3 Songs from William Shakespeare: I. Musick to heare; II. Full fadom five; III. When daisies pied / Cathy Berberian, mezzo-soprano; Columbia Chamber Orchestra; Igor Stravinsky, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on individual titles above
Outstanding songs in classic performances by the great (if slightly cracked) Cathy Berberian.
STRAVINSKY: Symphony in C / NBC Symphony Orchestra; Leopold Stokowski, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
An astounding and surprisingly taut performance of this superb score by Stokowski.
STRAVINSKY: Symphony in Three Movements: I. quarter = 160; II. Andante; III. Con moto / SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg; Michael Gielen, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on movement titles above
Absolutely the most exciting and explosive performance of this score.
STRAVINSKY: A Symphony of Psalms / Alexis Vlassoff Chorus; Orchestre des Concerts Straram; Igor Stravinsky, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube in small bits starting HERE
I still find this the most exciting and vital performance of this oft-performed work.
STRAVINSKY: Symphonies of Wind Instruments / Montreal Symphony Orchestra; Charles Dutoit, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
There are many good recordings of this short, compact work, but I’ve always loved the combination of lyricism and drive in this performance.
STRAVINSKY: Tango / René Bosc, pianola / available for free streaming on YouTube
A strange yet charming piece, originally written for the pianola on which it is played here.
STRAVINSKY: 3 Movements from Petrouchka: I. Danse Russe; II. Chez Petrouchka; III. La Semaine grasse / Yefim Bronfman, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on movement titles above
I’ve long been a Yefim Bronfman fan, and this performance is typical of his brilliant performances—detailed and exciting.
STRAVINSKY: Threni (Lamentations of Jeremiah) / William Lewis, James Wainner, tenors; Bethany Beardslee, soprano; Beatrice Krebs, mezzo-soprano; Mac Morgan, Robert Oliver, basses; The Schola Cantorum; Columbia Symphony Orchestra; Igor Stravinsky, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
Actually, my preferred version of this work is the Robert Craft recording with the Philharmonia Orchestra and various soloists, but for whatever reason this seems to have disappeared from both CD and the Internet, so I have substituted the Stravinsky recording.
STRAVINSKY: Variations, “Aldous Huxley in Memoriam” / SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg; Michael Gielen, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
Another outstanding Gielen performance of a small but excellent late (1963) composition.
STRAVINSKY: Violin Concerto: I. ; II; III.; IV. / Gil Shaham, violinist; NBR Symphony Orchestra; Christoph von Dohnányi, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on movement numbers above
Absolutely the most electrifying performance I’ve ever heard of this concerto.
Strong, George Templeton
STRONG: Au Pays de Peaux-Rouges / Stephanie Bruning, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube
STRONG: Elegy for Cello & Orchestra / Mihaly Virizlay, cellist; Peabody Conservatory Orchestra; Frederick Prausnitz, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
STRONG: Die Nacht / NBC Symphony Orchestra; Arturo Toscanini, conductor / available for free streaming at the Internet Archive
STRONG: Le Roi Arthur / Moscow Symphony Orchestra; Adriano, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
George Templeton Strong (1856-1948), virtually forgotten today, was one considered a very important American composer of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Part of the reason for his being neglected is that he moved to Vevey, Switzerland in 1897 because of “poor health,” but apparently the mountain air worked wonder on him since he lived to age 92. His music is somewhat advanced harmonically for its time, particularly the four-part tone poem Die Nacht, but all of it is excellently written and wonderfully atmospheric.
STROZZI: Arias & Cantatas, Op. 8: L’Astratto; Aure già che non posso dall’Idol mio; Cieli, stelle, Deitàdi; Che si può fare; E giungera pur mai alla linea crudele; È pazzo il mio core; Hor che Apollo è a Theti in seno; Luci belle deh ditemi perché / Emanuela Galli, soprano; Fabio Bonizzoni, harpsichordist; La Risonanza / Glossa C81503, available for streaming individually on YouTube
Barbara Strozzi, the adopted (and quite probably illegitimate) daughter of poet and painter Giulio Strozzi, was clearly the first great woman composer. Also a singer, she wrote a large number of vocal works, most of which were, surprisingly, published during her lifetime (1619-1677). These are excellent performances all round.
STULGINSKA: FGT (Flying Garbage Truck) / LUX:NM / In Credo. Stara Rzeka / Silesian Chamber Orchestra; Przemysław Fiugajski, conductor / Let’s Meet / Lutosławski Piano Duo / Ori / Warsaw Contemporary Ensemble / Dux 0759, available for free streaming on YouTube starting HERE
Modern Polish composer Agnieszka Stulginska has written some extremely interesting and well-organized pieces, several of which are on this remarkable CD. Fascinating in both form and rhythm, they grab your attention and do not let go.
SUESSE: Concerto for 2 Pianos & Orchestra in e min. / Beatrice Long, Christina Long, pianists; Eskichir Greater Municipality Symphony Orch.; Patrick Souillot, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
SUESSE: 8 Waltzes for Piano & Orchestra (Symphonic Waltzes) / Dana Suesse, pianist; General Motors Symphony Orchestra; Frank Black, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
SUESSE: Jazz Concerto in D for Combo & Orchestra / Cy Coleman, pianist; American Symphony Orchestra; Frederick Fennell, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
SUESSE: Serenade to a Skyscraper. Spindrift. American Nocturne. Afternoon of a Black Faun / Dana Suesse, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on individual titles above
SUESSE: Young Man With a Harp / Casper Reardon, harpist; Dana Suesse, pianist; Chauncey Morehouse, drums / available for free streaming on YouTube
Dana Suesse, hailed in her younger years as “the female George Gershwin,” actually had two careers: the first as a composer of pop tunes with a classical bent, such as her Jazz Nocturne which evolved into the hit song “My Silent Love,” her 1930 smash hit “You Oughta Be in Pictures,” and other tunes promoted by bandleader Paul Whiteman, and her post-1937 career in which she turned to very serious works combining classical forms with jazz, during which time she studied with Nadia Boulanger. Ironically, her popularity declined once she started writing better music, but the pieces listed above are all excellent and worth hearing. She died in undeserved obscurity in 1981, but fortunately her name and works have been kept alive by pianist Peter Mintun.
SUK: Asrael: I. Andante sostenuto; II. Andante; III. Vivace; IV. Adagio / SWR Orchester Baden-Baden; Karel Ancerl, conductor / SWR Classic 19055CD, also available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on movement titles above
Josef Suk was one of the most interesting of Romantic-era composers, and this symphony is one of his greatest achievements. YouTube also has a performance available by Ancerl with the Cleveland Orchestra, but this recording has far greater sound.
SUK: Ballade for Cello & Piano in D min. Serenade for Celli & Piano in A / Marek Jerie, cellist; Ivan Klansky, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking titles above
SUK: Four Pieces, Op. 17 / Ginette Neveu, violinist; Jean-Paul Neveu, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube
SUK: Piano Trio in C min. / Ostravské Trio / available for free streaming on YouTube
These are other excellent pieces by Suk, particularly the piano trio, in performances ranging from good (the Ballade and Serenade) and excellent (the Piano Trio).
SZEWCZYK: Twisted Dances. Conundrum. Piano Trio No. 1. Half-Diminished Scherzo. Images From a Journey. Furioso. Very Angry Birds. Nimbus. Bliss Point / Piotr Szewczyk, Philip Pan, violinists; Bogana Kraulj, clarinetist; Galen Dean Peiskee Jr., Ileana Fernandez, pianists; Jorge Pena, violist; Betsy Federman, cellist; Scott Erickson, oboist; Brian Magnus, cellist; Trio Solis / Navona NV6093 or available for free streaming on YouTube beginning HERE
I find Piotr Szewczyk to be one of the finest of contemporary composers, a man whose music bridges the gap between the “edgy” style of so many young composer today with an outstanding grasp of musical construction. These works are varied enough to show you how fine his music really is.
SZYMANOWSKI: Études. Fantasia in C. Masques. 20 Mazurkas, Op. 50. 2 Mazurkas, Op. 62. Metopes, Op. 29. Piano Sonatas Nos. 1-3. 4 Polish Dances. 9 Preludes. Prelude in C# min. 4 Studies, Op. 4. Vales Romantique. Variations in Bb min., Op. 3. Variations on a Polish Theme / Sinae Lee, pianist / Divine Art 21400 or available for free streaming in small bits on YouTube
British pianist Martin Roscoe, who I believe was the first to record all of Szymanowski’s piano music, did a very fine job with nice styling, but Sinae Lee is a much more dynamic and exciting pianist, which is what many of these works call for. Perhaps this is due to the fact that Roscoe is not as much of a Szymanowski specialist as Lee.
SZYMANOWSKI: Harnasie, a Góral Ballet in One Act.* Stabat Mater+ / *Robert Murray, tenor; +Lucy Crowe, soprano; +Pamela Helen Stephen, mezzo; +Gabor Bretz, baritone; BBC Symphony Chorus & Orchestra; Edward Gardner, conductor / Chandos 5123
SZYMANOWSKI: Stabat Mater / Adriana Martino, soprano; Anna Maria Rota, contralto; Renato Capecchi, baritone; RAI Turin Chorus & Orchestra; Artur Rodziński, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
Both Harnasie and the Stabat Mater are outstanding orchestral-choral-vocal works by Szymanowski. The Gardner recording is supreme in the first, but although he conducts well in the second, his vocal soloists aren’t nearly as good as Rodziński’s.
SZYMANOWSKI: Love Songs of Hafiz / Katarina Karneus, mezzo-soprano; City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra; Sir Simon Rattle, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube in small bits
An extremely fine performance of these songs by both singer and conductor.
SZYMANOWSKI: Krol Roger (King Roger) / Wojtek Drabowicz, baritone (King Roger); Piotr Beczala, tenor (Shepherd); Olga Pasichnyk, soprano (Queen Roxana); Krzystof Szmyt, tenor (Edrisi, a Sage); Romuald Tesarowicz, bass (Archbishop); Stefania Toczyska, contralto (Deaconess); “Alla Polacca” Youth Choir; Polish State Phil. Chorus & Orch. (Katowice); Jacek Kaspszyk, conductor / CD Accord 131-2, also available for free streaming on YouTube
An absolute masterwork on a par with Scriabin’s Poem of Ecstasy, Krol Roger is quite possibly Szymanowski’s masterpiece. This is the finest performance I’ve ever heard, not just vocally but also in the conducting of Kaspszyk.
SZYMANOWSKI: Mythes / Diana Tischchenko, violinist; Joachim Carr, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube
Absolutely the finest performance I’ve heard next to David Oistrakh of these superb, atmospheric pieces, but Oistrakh’s boxy, mono recording doesn’t really do these pieces justice.
SZYMANOWSKI: Prince Potemkin – Incidental Music / Polish State Philharmonic Orchestra (Katowice); Antoni Wit, conductor / Naxos 8.66062-23
An unjustly-overlooked piece by Szymanowski, conducted with great feeling by Antoni Wit.
SZYMANOWSKI: 7 Songs After James Joyce: Nos. 1, 3, 5, 6, 7 / Mitsuko Shirai, mezzo-soprano; Hartmut Höll, pianist / part of Capriccio 67.024; four of them available for free streaming on YouTube
Outstanding performances, in English, of these wonderful songs by the vastly talented Shirai.
SZYMANOWSKI: Songs of a Fairy-Tale Princess / Iwona Sabotka, soprano; City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra; Sir Simon Rattle, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
Outstanding performances of these superbly crafted songs by Szymanowski by both Sabotka and Rattle.
SZYMANOWSKI: String Quartets Nos. 1 & 2 / Quatuor Joachim / Calliope 1747 or available for free streaming on YouTube in individual movements starting HERE
These are the greatest performances I’ve heard of these mysterious yet gripping works.
SZYMANOWSKI: Symphony No. 3, “Piesn o Nocy” / Ryszard Minkiewicz, tenor; Warsaw Philharmonic Choir & Orchestra; Antoni Wit, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
SZYMANOWSKI: Symphony No. 4, “Concertante” / Jan Krysztof Broja, pianist; Warsaw Philharmonic Choir & Orchestra; Antoni Wit, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube in small bits
Superb performances of Szymanowski’s last two symphonies, clearly his greatest.
SZYMANOWSKI: Violin Concerti Nos. 1 & 2 / Ilya Kaler, violinist; Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra; Antoni Wit, conductor / Naxos 8.557981
These performances of the violin concerti are equally fabulous.