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Die Special Record Section - December 1975 - Teil 3

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Off Duty / Europe / December 1975
1975 at Its Best - Ein Leben im Schallplatten-Himmel

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Catching Up On Classical

By WALTER B. RIOS im Dezember 1975

  • Walter B. Rios began listening to opera records while still in the cradle (in der Wiege oder im Kinderwagen gelegen) 46 years ago and it sparked an interest in high fidelity that grew while he attended NYU (New York University). After 10 years of writing music criticism as well as hi-fi articles for Stereo International, High Fidelity Musical America and other publications, he founded Off Duty in 1970. Now he writes whenever and whatever he wants. - Walter Rios ist Gründer, Verleger, Herausgeber und Chefredakteur von off-duty.

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FRUSTRATION is a normal state for the classical recordings collector to be in while shopping in Europe's American military record outlets. Belonging to a musical minority since classical accounts for less than ten % of record sales, potential purchasers of such works find that few record outlets have the space, time and know-how to cater to their admittedly specialized tastes.

For example, with more than 20 versions of Schubert's "Unfinished" Symphony (Die Unvollendete) in the Schwann Catalog, how likely is one outlet to have the version you're after?
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AAFES Europe bietet fast keine Clasics mehr an

Many of the most publicized new recordings are multiple-disc boxed sets, yet these are no longer stocked by AAFES, Europe, since the introduction of its new Atlanta-based distribution system.

The new approach is great for those interested in standard-price, standard-repertory discs but rarely delves into classical esoterica.

In the past years the collector's salvation was the Special Order Desk where most recording in the United Kingdom's "Gramophone" catalog could be ordered at military discount prices. But the PX's new supply system now orders exclusively from Stateside suppliers.


Fortunately, some classical albums, notably those by Deutsche Grammophon, are available at military discount prices at the Top Pop Shops and the EUCOM audio club carries the Philips classical line. (For more about these outlets, see the lead article of this section.)

Darum hier die "the year's best"

Now as to the year's best, as noted by international critics. We've selected the following recordings to look for when shopping for new classical material this season.

Among recent opera sets the multimedia productions of Herbert von Karajan attract attention for their individuality of approach. Viewers swept out of their TV or movie-house seats by his Otello and Madame Butterfly cannot fail to be enthralled by the disc releases, even with the
visual dimension missing.

The Verdi recording (Angel SCLX-3809, 3 discs), featuring Mirella Freni, Jon Vickers and Peter Glossop, is faulted for some dynamic idiocyncracies, such as the almost inaudible whispering between Iago and Cassio, something that would clearly come across when seen on the screen, however.

Freni is even more compelling as Puccini's fragile heroine and admirably supported by Christa Ludwig, Luciano Pavarotti and Robert Kerns (London OSA 13110, 3 discs).
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Weitere Klassik-Hits

A controversial recording is Rossini's Siege of Corinth conducted by Thomas Schippers, with Beverly Sills, Shirley Verrett and Justino Diaz (Angel SLCX 3819, 3 discs).

Roundly panned by critics for liberties taken with the music to make it a vocal showcase, this is a hybrid edition produced for the Metropolitan Opera in New York, using two versions Rossini composed for Paris and Naples. While it is not faithful to what Rossini wrote, it makes good listening and is the only recorded version of this opera we are likely to see in a long time.

Another unique set is Benjamin Britten's Death in Venice, (London OSA-1309, 3 discs), with Peter Pears and John Shirley-Quirk the protagonists in a new opera based on Thomas Mann's 1911 novella. But in this case the composer is still on the scene to make sure it is performed according to his wishes.

Monteverdi, alas, didn't leave clearcut instructions for the orchestration of his operas, but Nikolaus Harnoncourt, the Concertus musicus Wien and their collection of original instruments have studiously prepared an arrangement of his last opera, Vlncoronazione di Poppea, that most critics praise. This piece, dating from 1642, is of Wagnerian length and even after numerous cuts it takes up five discs (Telefunken HD6-35427).

  • Anmerkung : Nikolaus Harnoncourt (1929-2016) war als Dirigent auch ein Ziehkind / Protegé von Musikliebhaber und Chefredakteur Karl Breh, der den begabten Mann in die highfidelen "Circel" der klassischen Musik ausserhalb von Karajan eingeführt hatte.

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Weitere Beispiele sowie echte CD-4 Platten

Also of sprawling length are a couple of Russian masterpieces available for the first time in the West thanks to detente. Mussorgsky's Khovanshchina (Melodi-ya/Angel SRDL 4125) and Prokofiev's War and Peace (Columbia/Melodiya SLS 837) are each 4 disc extravaganzas by the "Bolshoi opera of Moscow", superbly cast and well-engineered.

Another newcomer to the recorded repertory is Massenet's La Navarraise, (Columbia MQ 33506), a short and rousing piece in verisimo style a la Tosca produced in quadraphonic sound to good effect. It features Lucia Popp as heroine in a 19th Century Spanish Civil War story.

The same composer's Thais, with Anna Moffo as a dramatically convincing heroine, fares less well at the hands of some reviewers because Moffo's voice is
not what it was. Nonetheless, this set is a good example of the surround-sound approach to opera on records (RCA ARD3-0482, 3 CD-4 discs).
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und noch mehr Platten

Of the unusual operas introduced in the last 12 months, one of the most universally acclaimed is Verdi's Ungiorno di regno, a comic-opera that flopped in 1840 but is finding new favor with lovers of early Verdi. The recording, conducted by Lamberto Gardelli, features Jessye Norman, Fiorenza Cossotto, Jose Carreras and Ingvar Wixell (Philips 6703055, 3 discs).

Another highly successful early Verdi production is / Vespri Siciliani, with James Levine conducting the New Philharmonia Orchestra. Martina Arroyo, Placido Domingo and Sherrill Milnes are featured on the four recordset (RCA ARL 40370).

While there is no shortage of Aida recordings in the catalog, most of them pale next to the new all-star casting of Montserrat Caballe, Fiorenza Cossotto, Placido Domingo, Piero Cappuccilli and Nicolai Ghiaurov, led by Riccardo Muti and the New Philharmonia Orchestra. It is a winner (Angel SCLX-3815, 3 discs).

Soprano Joan Sutherland, meanwhile, has recorded Bellini's / Puritani for the third time, and this time she is paired with a tenor really worthy of the opera, Luciano Pavarotti, as well as Piero Cappuccilli and Nicolai Ghiaurov. As usual, her husband, Richard Bonynge, conducts (London OSA 13111, 3 discs).

Ralph Vaughan Williams, while a 20th Century composer, was hardly a modernist and in Sir John in Love he looked even further back, to Elizabethan times, for melodies to go with Shakespeare's Falstaff theme. It's a winning combination and the opera's first recording, by the New Philharmonia Orchestra under Meredith Davies, is a notable effort (Angel SCLX-3822, 3 discs).

Neither can Carl Orff's individual style be classified as contemporary, as evidenced by the popularity of Carmina Burana. This dramatic setting of bawdy medieval student songs with original Latin text has a new quadraphonic recording by Michael Tilson Thomas and the Cleveland Orchestra and it is a sonic blockbuster (Columbia MQ 33172).

und jetzt die Weihnachtsausgaben sowie weitere Quadro-Platten

No December summary of operas would be complete without that Christmas favorite, Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel, which has a new recording cited as one of the year's best.

The stellar cast includes Helen Donath, Anna Moffo, Lucia Popp, Arleen Auger, Christa Ludwig and Dietreich Fischer-Dieskau, led by Kurt Eichhorn with the Bavarian Radio Orchestra (RCA ARL2-0637, 2 discs).

On the orchestra side, one of th e year's best is Symphony No. 8 in C-minor, Op. 65 by Dimitri Shostakovich, the first recording of this work outside the U.S.S.R. and an outstanding one by Andre Previn and the London Symphony Orchestra (Angel S-36980).

Another massive work, Mahler's Symphony No. 2 ("The Resurrection"), has a fine new quadraphonic recording by Leonard Bernstein, also with the London Symphony Orchestra (Columbia M2Q 32681, 2 discs).

But for a single-disc quadrophonic recording showpiece try La Valse and other orchestral pieces by Ravel, with Pierre Boulez and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra (Columbia MQ32838).

Chor-Musik ist für Quadro besonders geeignet

Choral music is particulary well-suited to quad treatment and a good example is Haydn's " Wind-Band Mass (No. 12.) in B Flat Major," given an inspired performance by the New York Philharmonic under Bernstein (Columbia MQ 33267).

Also offered in quad is Handel's sacred oratorio Salomon in a Vanguard set (VSQ 30041-3, 3 discs), with Sheila Armstrong and Justino Diaz giving outstanding performances. They are accompanied by the English Chamber Orchestra under Johannes Somary.

On the recital stage the year's outstanding vocalist is mezzo-soprano Janet Baker, whose recordings of cantatas and arias by Handel (Philips 6500523), Haydn and Mozart (Philips 6500660) received rave notices. The Handel disc won a prize at this year's Montreux Festival.

There have been some superb chamber music releases in 1975, notably the Danish Quartet's 5-disc album of Mozart Quintets (Telefunken SLA-25097) and the four record Late Quartets of Beethoven by the Vegh Quartet (Telefunken SKA 25113).

A fine single disc is Dvorak's String Quartet in G Major, Opus 106, by the Prague String Quartet (DG 2530480).

Finally, as a gift for the quadraphonic enthusiast with really fine equipment, we strongly recommend the E. Power Biggs performance of four popular Bach Toccatas and Fugues, recorded in the Freiburg Cathedral. The church has four organs, dating back to 1513, which Biggs plays simultaneously, one for each channel, of course (Columbia MQ 32933).
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