Archiv’s Stereo Analogue Recordings

Archiv Productions was founded in Germany in  1945 as a subsidiary label of Deutsche Grammophon. It’s purpose was to record older music in performances authentic to the periods covered.  DG has already issued a box of CDs that was an overview of Archiv’s entire history. Now they have a new box which focuses in on the label’s stereo analogue recordings, made between 1959 and 1981. I think they’ve done a splendid job at hitting all the highlights. Karl Richter’s Bach recordings are represented by one of the cantatas and the Magnificat. Richter recorded around 75 of the cantatas and his approach was admired for its vigor, precision,  and strength. August Wenzinger recorded Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks using a large wind band without strings, the way Handel originally wrote it for the first performance. Trevor Pinnock’s recording of the Bach Orchestral Suites, one of the first of many that Pinnock made for Archiv is here, as is Telemann’s Der Getreue Music-Meister.

Archiv Analogue stereo box

Remarkable recordings by Charles Mackerrs, Simon Preston, and Helmut Walcha are all here along with many surprises, all pleasant ones. Archiv producers not only took great care with the arts and repertory for the label but also with the recorded sound. Every CD in this magnificent set is state-of-the-art for its day and most still hold that title up to present time. Each disc is in a cardboard sleeve that duplicates, on a smaller scale, the original vinyl album art work. You can see that in the beginning, it was the cream colored, plain sleeves that were all alike except of the artists and compositions. The label later went to silver with color inserts alternating with full color bordered in silver. They are all beautifully reproduced for this set. There’s an informative booklet delineating the entire series, complete with period photographs of the artists.

There’s not a clunker in this elegant set; it should be a much demanded gift item for the holiday season coming up in six months. But it is so appealing that if you bought it now, you’d probably want to keep it yourself.

Zubin Mehta Conducts Symphonies & Tone Poems

It’s hard to cherry pick and put into digest form a career so long and varied as that of Indian born conductor Zubin Mehta. He’s had major stints as music director with such prestigious orchestras as the Montreal Symphony, The Los Angeles Philharmonic, The New York Philharmonic, and the Israel Philharmonic, as well as numerous opera companies.  The venerable maestro is now 80 years old, so he’s been around some time. Decca was faced with the task of picking his recordings for that label made slightly before, during, and slightly after his tenure with the Los Angeles Philharmonic: 1962-1978. During his time in California he built the already good ensemble up to world class and helped it to have name recognition from the numerous recordings for the Decca label, the label where Mehta had made early, successful recordings with the Vienna Philharmonic.

Zubin Mehta Box

I would been fine with a box of all Los Angeles recordings but Decca has opted to take many of those out and replace them with recordings made in Vienna, Israel, and one from New York. So you won’t find the superlative L A recordings of Holst’s The Planets (the best of all of Mehta’s LA recordings), John Williams Star Wars, Nielsen’s 4th symphony, or the plethora of Ives, Copland, and Gershin recordings. You will find from L A the sturdy, exciting, yet sometime pedantic complete Tchaikovsky Symphony recordings, Sweeping romantic readings of Dvorak’s 8th 9th symphonies,  and the first-rate, near definitive recordings of the Richard Strauss tone poems – Also Sprach Zarathustra, An Alpine Symphony, Ein Heldenleben (this one five stars for me), and the Domestic Symphony. You will find his magnificent, warm and wonderful reading of Bruckner’s 9th symphony with the Vienna Philharmonic, a stupendous, one of the top-three, performance of Mahler’s second symphony, and the New York Philharmonic in an exciting Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique. With the Israel Philharmonic you’ll get all of the Schubert Symphonies, plus Rosamunde in performances that are sturdy but don’t sparkle enough to make them first choices, and near perfect readings of Tchaikovsky’s music from Swan Lake and Nutcracker from the same source.

One thing in common for all of the recordings: Decca’s amazing 70s recorded sound, microphoned from the conductor’s point of view. Most exciting and overall a big thrill. The low price makes this a set to consider since there are no complete missteps and many towering triumphs.

A Genre Bending Chiller That Delivers

I get so tired of watching ads on television for movie thrillers. In these ads they usually show you the best, or most arresting, parts. You watch the movie and find the rest is pretty tepid. Not so with 10 Cloverfield Lane, a genuine thriller that will get your heart racing and rivet your attention to the screen.  In it, a young woman (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) comes to after an automobile accident to find herself in a bunker run by survivalist John Goodman.

10 Cloverleaf Lane

She’s told that there’s been trouble outside and the air is poisonedand that she is only safe in the bunker,  but she comes to suspect that crazy old John has trapped her for other reasons.  I can’t tell more so I won’t ruin the surprises, but let’s just say that Goodman is magnificent, good enough to earn an Oscar nomination, though those aren’t generally give for this sort of movie. Genres are combined and bent and the ending will astonish you. This is one thriller that delivers! It’s available now on an  immaculately produced Blu-ray with terrifying surround sound that also includes a DVD and a digital copy.

A Delightful Dukas Disc, or Discs

Gee, am I having fun going back through the catalog titles of such cool audiophile labels as Chandos, the British label that has recorded so many premieres yet finds time to do sterling sessions of more familiar fare. I stumbled on their double-disc Dukas disc which contains most of the composers output for orchestra and solo piano. Dukas was very exacting and destroyed much of his work before it could be published. It is one of music’s great mysteries as to what those scores might have been. We do know that several operas and tone poems were scrapped. It seems odd for a man who penned one of the best known tone poems in the orchestral lexicon, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Thanks to Fantasia, Leopold Stokowski, and Mickey Mouse, this work is know to thousands who might not usually absorb classical music.

Dukas Tortelier

Yan Pascal Tortelier’s reading of this familiar piece with the Ulster Symphony is dramatic, colorful, and immaculately recorded. Even without Mickey on screen, one can imagine the lazy apprentice conjuring up a spell to have the broom tote the water buckets to fill the cistern, then see proceedings stop when the broom is chopped in two. Then the anguish as the screams of French horns and trumpets announce an army of brooms that gets completely out of control. Tortelier has rapidly become one of my two or three favorite versions. The double-disc Chandos reissue offers the colorful dance piece La Peri with its scintillating fanfare (successfully taken at a rapid clip by Tortelier), a sole symphony, and the Wagnerian style overture Polyeucte. But I discovered that you can buy the orchestral music on two separate CDs, available in used condition for a penny and not much more on Amazon.com. I’ve printed the cover of one of them here. You can find the discs at Amazon.com, the downloads at ClassicsOnlineHD.

“Zootopia” is Lots of Fun

Disney’s newest, Zootopia, is a beautifully animated feature length film with somewhat ambiguous messages about tolerance and discrimination.  Against all advice from her parents and 225 siblings, Judy Hopps, a young rabbit, goes to the big city of Zootopia determined to be a police officer. She perseveres through vigorous training to graduate first in her class, but is assigned, on her first day at work, to be a meter maid. She runs into scam-artist Nick Wilde, a wily fox, and the two end up trying to solve a case of missing predators. Zootopia, you see, is set up so that predators and prey can live together, but the desire to stray can be understood as it’s in the genes. It’s like the alcoholic who goes to AA meetings and adheres to a spiritual program. His natural bent is to drink, but by practicing a program he or she can keep from acting out on his/her natural desire.

Zootopia

There are lots of lovable characters in this movie. Both Judy and Nick, of course, but also a lot of animals we meet briefly along the way in the source of the investigation. Then there are animals behaving with human twists that will elicit smiles from most viewers. For instance, the DMV is staffed by sloths, who naturally take more time than anyone to process simple forms and answer to the point questions.  But secretly… The Blu-ray transfer is state of the art for both video and audio presentations, and there are copious extras to let you in on how the movie was made.  There are also sections devoted to deleted characters and scenes. All in all Zootopia will delight the kids while giving adults fodder for discussing social issues with those children. Highly recommended.