Formed by three Austrian immigrants and one youthful Londoner, the Amadeus Quartet came to prominence in postwar England. It excelled in the Classical repertoire, and its recordings in the 1950s were important contributions to the growing body of chamber music on the newly introduced LP. The process of recording on tape was a major improvement over the start-and-stop 78 rpm methods, and these clean and skillfully edited masters hold up quite well in the digital transfer. This seven-disc set follows Deutsche Grammophon's 2003 reissue of the quartet's early Mozart recordings, and covers works by Haydn, Schubert, Mendelssohn, and Brahms, thus giving a fuller representation of the group's prodigious output for Westminster and DG.
Masters, as the name suggests, is a series that concentrates on presenting recordings of the stars of DG's digital catalogue. As Diapason noted: "one does indeed find here the greatest names of the DG catalogue: Abbado, Bernstein, Giulini, Karajan, Argerich, Kremer, Pollini, Ludwig …," not to mention Anne-Sophie Mutter, Mischa Maisky, Giuseppe Sinopoli, Trevor Pinnock, Reinhard Goebel and John Eliot Gardiner…
DG’s mining of its vast catalogue continues with the Original Masters series of budget-priced reissues, of which this well-filled three-disc Hans Hotter set is a highly attractive entry. Hotter’s superb, black-tinged instrument and aliveness to the texts indisputably place him among the great singers of the last century. So this set is an enticing proposition for those familiar with his artistry and for newcomers interested in an overview of Hotter’s distinguished career. But the set is weighted toward the latter part of that career; all of the second disc and parts of the other two were recorded in the early-to-mid-1970s when Hotter was in his mid-60s. (Despite the album’s title, some tracks were recorded in 1975). He was still singing with insight and expressivity, but his remarkably well-preserved vocal instrument had nevertheless become darker, drier, less flexible, and more effortful.
This Zimerman recording of the Brahms Piano Concerto no. 1 may have received some critical lambasting when it was originally released. However, despite this, I find that this recording is unjustly underrated because in its own special way it plumbs the depths of Brahms' heart and soul. Zimerman, although he recorded this in his late-twenties, interprets the solo part with insight, and does not go over-the-top with pianistic pyrotechnics, as most other pianists tend to do. Bernstein leads the Viennese musicians in a sympathetic accompaniment that serves as a perfect foil to Zimerman's parts and allows him to integrate into the orchestral texture. And the DG recording, although not entirely clear, is characterised by the atmosphere and bloom of the Vienna Musikverein, despite the extreme forward balance of the piano.
Maurizio Pollini's late 1970s film recordings of Beethoven Piano Concertos 3 and 5; Mozart Piano Concertos 19 and 23; and Brahms Piano Concerto 2 have it all: great pianism, beautiful playing by the Vienna Philharmonic, magnificent conducting by Karl Bohm (Beethoven, Mozart) and Claudio Abbado (Brahms), all adding up to one thing: a beautiful experience. These DVDs are a feast for the ears: great audio, and the eyes: great video. The 1970s Unitel films used in this DG release have held up very well in the vaults: there are no glitches or imperfections in the picture. The camera work is also excellent, and serves the music being performed.
There is no audience, and the recording venue: Vienna's Musikvereien, has wonderful acoustics - one of the best concert halls in the civilized world. It was worth alot to me to see Karl Bohm smile at Maurizio Pollini at the beginning of I, of Mozart's Piano Concerto 19 with it's humorous, scherzo like theme which begins the concerto. Highly recommended!
These 1977-78 recordings are Karajan's best Brahms–better than his somewhat mannered digital set. The Berlin Philharmonic, as ever, is amazingly smooth and accomplished, playing with great class without losing any power–as an example, just listen to the finale of the second symphony. DG's engineers have turned this always-good recording into something truly magnificent to hear, and, at the price, this is a sure bet.