KlassikNet: 101 Best Classical CDs
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101 Best Classical Music CDs:
Austro-German Romanticism


(Schumann, Brahms, Bruckner, Wagner)


SCHUMANN (1810-1856): The Four Symphonies - Overture, Scherzo and Finale
Staatskapelle Dresden
Wolfgang Sawallisch, conductor
EMI

Compositions occasionally struck by visionary lightning, Schumann's symphonies give us a glimpse of the mental deterioration from which he died in 1856. The Dresdeners have this music in their blood and Wolfgang Sawallisch's white hot musical direction nails you to the wall.


SCHUMANN (1810-1856): Scenes from Childhood - Forest Scenes - Bunte Blätter (selection) - Abegg Variations (+ Scarlatti, Beethoven)
Clara Haskil, piano
Philips

Hunchbacked and Jewish in occupied France, the Roumanian pianist Clara Haskil (1895-1960) lived practically like a pauper until a few years before her death from an accidental fall on a staircase in a rundown Brussels railway station. Not exactly the dolce vita of Artur Rubinstein! Haskill, who made the world cry, knew unlike any other pianist how to interpret Schumann's shadow-peopled fantasy world.


BRAHMS (1833-1897): Piano Concerto no 1 (+ Franck, Litolff)
Clifford Curzon, piano
London Symphony Orchestra
George Szell, conductor
Decca

At twenty-three Brahms produced the D-Minor Piano Concerto, one of his four or five true chefs-d'oeuvre. Contrast the violence of the opening bars with the reflective entry of the piano. You immediately understand why this version wins out after more than thirty years. There is a legitimate alternative to this version, perhaps slightly more reflective recorded by Claudio Arrau and Carlo Maria Giulini (EMI). Both stand out from the crowd.


BRAHMS (1833-1897): Symphony no 3 - Tragic Overture - Schicksalslied
Ernst-Senff Chor
Berliner Philharmoniker
Claudio Abbado, conductor
Deutsche Grammophon

Do you like Brahms? Try the Third Symphony and you will be hooked. Claudio Abbado's masterly interpretation is almost epoch-making. It really is the great modern version. In the finale, drawn out to the limit, the musicians of the Berlin Philharmonic play as if their life depended on it.


BRAHMS (1833-1897): Piano Pieces op.117, 118 + 119 - Rhapsodies op. 79
Radu Lupu, piano
Decca

At the end of his life, a hardened old bachelor who favoured brothels, Brahms produced these concise little masterpieces so complex in form they breathe a poetry and a lyricism which is totally fulfilling. The Roumanian Radu Lupu (b. 1945), himself a secretive musician, produces the most mysterious version of Brahms.


BRAHMS (1833-1897):Trio no 3 - Cello Sonata no 2
Julius Katchen, piano
Josef Suk, violin
Janos Starker, cello
Decca

There are those who maintain that it was in his chamber music that Brahms was at his best. They could be right. The players on this recording form a unity and produce a warmth and an energy which are at the heart of chamber music.


BRUCKNER (1824-1896): Symphony no 7
Wiener Philharmoniker
Karl Böhm, conductor
Deutsche Grammophon

Implicated in the Nazi regime, like so many other orchestra conductors (Karajan, Furtwängler, Krauss, Mengelberg...) Karl Böhm (1894-1981) was briefly forbidden to conduct following the armistice until the indulgent allies gave him back his baton to conduct Mozart, Strauss and Bruckner, his favourite composers. The Austrian Anton Bruckner (1824-1896) who Wagner considered the greatest symphonist since Beethoven, composed immense sound cathedrals. His Seventh Symphony (of nine) is a mystical work to which Karl Böhm holds the key.


WAGNER (1813-1883): The Valkyrie
Birgit Nilsson, Theo Adam, Leonie Rysanek, James King
Bayreuth Festival Orchestra
Karl Böhm, conductor
4 CDs Philips

Generally, the Flying Dutchman is the ideal opera to become acquainted with the music drama of Richard Wagner. Next comes the Ring of the Nibelungen. Also known as the Tetralogy, Wagner's epic about the ferocious power struggles among the ancient Teutonic gods is composed of four operas: The Rheingold, Siegfried, The Valkyrie, Twilight of the Gods. Wagner did originally intend for the entire Ring to be heard over a period of four successive evenings. If such an approach seems intimidating, start with the most accessible episode: The Valkyrie. Free of any Germanic heaviness, Karl Böhm's reviting version (recorded "live" at the Bayreuth Festival in 1967) presents a more human Wagner. Those who are keen on historical recordings should rush out and buy the spell-binding "live" 1940 Metropolitan Opera performance on the American label Walhall with Lauritz Melchior, Lotte Lehamn, Marjorie Lawrence, Friedrich Schorr and Emanuel List!


WAGNER (1813-1883): The Flying Dutchman
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Marianne Schech, Fritz Wunderlich, Gottlob Frick
Chorus of the Deutsche Staatsoper, Berlin
Staatskapelle Berlin
Franz Konwitschny, conductor
2 CDs Berlin Classics (German libretto only)

Access to Wagner's operas is not always easy. Rather than Parsifal or The Twilight of the Gods, begin with The Flying Dutchman. Given its premiere in Dresden in 1843, this opera is based on an old Nordic legend about a dead sea-captain and his crew condemned to roam the oceans until redeemed by love and fidelity. A stroke of genius for a thirty-year-old composer still under the influence of Italian opera. High seas ambience and orchestral writing full of special effects, The Flying Dutchman remains one of the greatest dream-machines of the opera repertoire. Franz Konwitschny's surging musical direction creates an amazing wide-screen effect. If you still have difficulty getting into the opera, try renting Pandora, with Ava Gardner and James Mason.


WAGNER (1813-1883): Tristan and Isolde
René Kollo, Margaret Price, Brigitte Fassbaender, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Kurt Moll
Staatskapelle Dresden
Carlos Kleiber, conductor
4 CDs Deutsche Grammophon

An enormous melodrama about love, fidelity and betrayal, the medieval Tristan et Yseult is one of the oldest Western myths. While composing Tristan and Isolde, Wagner expected his peers, both living and unborn to feel emotionally ravaged. Indeed, this music is perhaps the most poetic, the most erotic and the most malevolent ever written. If you are strong enough to cope with its venom, try Carlos Kleiber who glorifies the dizzying musical sorcery. If historical recordings are not a problem, don't miss the miraculous 1936 "live" Covent Garden performance with Lauritz Melchior and Kirsten Flagstad under the musical direction of Fritz Reiner (Vai Audio).



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