And still they come: no sooner has some old (or not-so-old) friend vanished than it’s repackaged at a lower price. It’s a good way to make new friends as well – something that you might reject at £15 suddenly seems attractive at less than half-price, and if it’s presented in a two-disc set, may become irresistible.
True, Warner’s Ultima series has minimal booklet notes, and in this latest batch every recording is naughtily described as digital, which some aren’t, but DG and Harmonia Mundi are more generous and accurate with their documentation.
Better is a DG Galleria CD (469 551-2) of four symphonies – Matin, Midi, Soir and Philosopher – with the Prague CO under Bernhard Klee. The many solos (even for the double bass) are full of character and enjoyment, and the CD has a generous playing time of 80:39.
Generous again at 81 minutes is Leonard Bernstein’s live recording of BEETHOVEN’s Missa solemnis (469 546-2) with the Concertgebouw Orchestra, and a strong line-up of soloists, including René Kollo and Edda Moser – radiant in the Benedictus, as is Herman Krebbers in the glorious violin solo.
Bernstein emphasises the dramatic rather than the spiritual side of the work to great effect, but isn’t so persuasive in the same composer’s Second and Seventh Symphonies with the Vienna PO (469 545-2), which are high in adrenalin but short on subtlety.
Much more successful, with the same orchestra under Eugen Jochum, is Maurizio Pollini in the First Piano Concerto (469 549-2). He makes Beethoven’s long first-movement cadenza witty and believable, and produces piano sound of great depth and beauty.
As does Wilhelm Kempff in SCHUMANN’s Kinderszenen, Kreisleriana and Waldszenen (469 555-2), recorded when he was in his late seventies, and containing a lifetime’s commitment and experience. The fingers may be a little stiff in some of the faster music, but what clarity and love there is, especially in the artless simplicity of Kinderszenen.
That’s something that Daniel Barenboim could learn: his performances of the Second and Third Symphonies with the Chicago SO (469 554-2) linger with too much romantic angst.