KlassikNet: 101 Best Classical CDs
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101 Best Classical Music CDs:
Twentieth Century in Eastern Europe and Russia

JANACEK (1866-1928): Sinfonietta - Taras Bulba
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra
Vaclav Neumann, conductor

Born in Moravia (Czech Republic), Leos Janacek was a kind of Czech Debussy. Like the Hungarian composer Bela Bartok, Janacek struggled against the expansionism of Germanic music. He wrote rough, brassy music which dipped heavily into the raw sounds of his native culture. The two works on this disc are excellent examples of Janacek's special brand of musical poetry. World Music enthusiasts should tune in without hesitation.

BARTOK (1881-1945): Music for strings, percussion and celesta - Concerto for orchestra
Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra
Yevgeny Mravinsky, György Lehel, conductors
Praga/harmonia mundi

There is nothing more barbaric or refined than the music of the Hungarian Bela Bartok - by far the best World Music ever! The dizzying rythms and colours of Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta recall the most primitive forms of musical expression. This piece has the intensity and impact of gypsy flamenco, Indian râga and African polyrythms. Tame by comparison, the Concerto for Orchestra is a hundred times richer and more exciting than any possible combination of MIDI files.

STRAVINSKY (1882-1971): The Rite of Spring - Petrushka
Cleveland Orchestra
Pierre Boulez, conductor
Deutsche Grammophon

The premiere of Igor Stravinsky's Rite of Spring in Paris in 1913 triggered a riot in the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées: fist-fights, booing, verbal abuse, stink-bombs and more. Why all the noise? Because of the primitive power of Stravinsky's music and the supposed obscenity of the ballet's choreography. Today, the ballet is a big hit with audiences around the world and has even made its début on CD-ROM. The ballet Petrushka is based on an old Russian farce. Pierre Boulez's musical direction is impeccable.

STRAVINSKY (1882-1971): The Firebird (complete ballet and rehearsals)
New Philharmonia Orchestra
Ernest Ansermet, conductor

First danced in Paris in 1910 by the then celebrated Ballets Russes, the two-act Firebird is based on an old Russian legend about Czar Ivan's annihilation of the green-fingered wizard Katshei with the aid of a magic bird. The orientalist music is saturated with colour and recalls Rimsky-Korsakov's Shéhérazade. The Swiss conductor Ernest Ansermet (1883-1969) was a close friend of composer Igor Stravinsky.

PROKOFIEFF (1891-1953): Piano Concerto no 3 - Toccata (+ Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto no 1)
Byron Janis, piano
Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra
Kirill Kondrashin, conductor

Prokofieff's Third Piano Concerto is the most electrically charged of the five. American pianist Byron Janis and the Russian conductor Kirill Kondrashin sprint through this ironic and rather breathless score like a couple of Olympic champions. Their performance of this concerto easily qualifies as the greatest ever recorded. The Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 1 is also stunning.

SCHULHOFF (1894-1942): Symphony no 2
HAAS (1899-1944): Study for String Orchestra
KLEIN (1919-1945): Partita for Strings
ULLMANN (1898-1944): Symphony no 2

Czech Philharmonic Orchestra
Gerd Albrecht, conductor
Orfeo C 337941

Czech-born composers, Erwin Schulhoff, Pavel Haas, Gideon Klein and Viktor Ullmann all have in common that they died during deportation, victims of Nazi barbarism. The works presented on this CD convey influences from Bartok and Stravinsky and reveal deeply original composers that we are only just beginning to discover. Gerd Albrecht, leading the top-drawer Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, communicates these scores with intense commitment.

SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975): Symphony no 5
Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra
Yevgeny Mravinsky, conductor

The most important composer of the Soviet Empire (15 symphonies, 15 quartets...) Dimitri Shostakovich is in some circles considered the Beethoven of the 20th century. Caught between the dictates of the Stalinist regime and his own artistic conscience, he left behind works of suffocating pessimism. Given its premiere in 1937, the Fifth Symphony owes a great deal to Tchaikovsky. Under the baton of Yevgeny Mravinsky, it becomes a veritable crucifixion.

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