Giulio Caccini (c.1550-1618) was born in Rome, and soon took up an important musical post in Florence under the Medicis. He was widely famous, and apparently a very controversial figure, having boasted of inventing the solo chordally-accompanied song. His two collections entited Nuove Musiche of 1602 & 1614 are certainly important to this development, and Caccini was one of a handful of composers to first work in this new style. However, it had become common practice to perform older madrigals in this way via intabulations, so any notion of invention is hazy at best. Nonetheless, Caccini's detailed ornaments given to the printed vocal part are a landmark in composition.
Abbado's splendid Petrushka was among the very first CDs to be reviewed in these pages. Robert Layton extended a warm welcome in March 1983. The fact that it appeared with no coupling didn't seem to bother him unduly at the time; I've no doubt that it would today. … The Petrushka is full of sensitive and dramatic detail: I don't know of a more intense account of the poignant scene in Petrushka's tiny backstage cell—all shadow and nervous apprehensiveness. Nor have we seen any more clearly into the elaborate texturing of the outer tableaux (this is the more lavishly scored original version); the tactility of the inner-part writing is constantly arresting. Vividly and imaginatively characterized, these performances are shining examples of Abbado's best work with the LSO. (from the review of the Mussorgsky/Stravinsky reissue DG 423901)
Estonian composer Arvo Pärt is best known for the mystical minimalist style he developed in the late 1970s. While pivotal works from this period are included here, this disc's special value is the glimpse it gives of where Pärt was coming from before he simplified his style. His Symphony no. 3 from 1971 contains many premonitions of the austere, quasi-religious music to come: unaccompanied Gregorian chant-like melodies, for example, and the punctuation of bells. But the Symphony also has a wider range of expression, color and dramatic contrasts, sharing a seriousness of purpose with Pärt's later works, but in a manner more akin to Shostakovich.
Bartók's Piano Concertos are among the most difficult ever written; only a piano virtuoso of amazing dexterity, along with a virtuoso orchestra, can play them. Maurizio Pollini is that pianist, and the Chicago Symphony is that orchestra. The pianist's command of the music is consistently impressive, and Claudio Abbado leads the orchestra in extremely close sympathy with the pianist. The result is a set of performances that would be ideal except for two factors. One is that this LP reissue contains only two Concertos, when all three can fit on one CD. The other is that the recording balance so undervalues the orchestra that you can't hear everything. I'd love to hear these artists rerecord the same music with better engineering. –Leslie Gerber
Karl Böhm's Beethoven is, on balance, the best complete cycle available from Deutsche Grammophon. This will come as a surprise to many, given the fact that the label relentlessly promotes performances by Herbert von Karajan (three complete cycles!) and Leonard Bernstein, but for quality of playing, as well as superb sound, these versions are just about unbeatable. And at a "twofer" price, the complete set on three pairs of discs is a terrific value. –David Hurwitz