The connections between Martha Argerich and Daniel Barenboim run deeper than the fact that they are both Argentines; Argerich studied with Vincenzo Scaramuzza, who also taught Barenboim's father, and the pianists both have Russian-Jewish-Argentine ancestry. They have the kind of instinctive understanding, coming from shared experiences, that makes for successful duo piano work, and that sets this live recording apart from the majority of superstar pairings.
Otto Klemperer's Beethoven is one of the towering achievements in the history of recordings. By today's standards, these performances are hopelessly old-fashioned: dark, heavy, and frequently very slow. But they are also the grandest, most unsentimental, most purposeful versions in the catalog.
August brings a new batch of (six) titles in the Virtuoso series. Building the range of recordings with big symphonies, key concertos, influential choral works and appealing chamber music. All of the titles in the series offer excellent recordings, famous artists, strong visuals, innovative booklet notes and best-selling composers. They tick every box to make serious classical music as easy and approachable as can be, with integrity and without compromise.
Parsifal represents the culmination of Wagner’s work as a revolutionary composer of opera. In it he created a powerful allegory on the conflict between Christianity and paganism, good and evil, light and dark, physical passion and spiritual abstinence. This dramatic production by the brilliant German stage director Harry Kupfer marked Daniel Barenboim’s appointment as the artistic director of the Berlin State Opera in 1992. The cast is made up of the finest Wagnerian singers of the period, all of whom enjoyed substantial international careers. Barenboim’s superb conducting reveals Wagner’s multi-layered score in all its glory.
Kiri Te Kanawa does well by these songs, avoiding the billowing excesses of sentiment that in other hands (or vocal chords) can make them sound much too soggy. Although Berlioz gathered them all together under the present title, all of the songs were composed at different times for different singers, so they aren't really a cycle at all. I seldom listen to all of them at once, and you should feel free to take them in any order that suits you. "The Death of Cleopatra" is an early cantata that perfectly suits Jessye Norman's stately delivery. She's always at her best playing royalty, and if they're dying in mortal agony, so much the better.
Liszt’s Dante Symphony is a work of astonishing imagination. His evocation of the ‘Inferno’, the shade of Francesca da Rimini and her sad remembered love is marked by strokes of genius which, with bewildering frequency, pre-empt the mature Wagner (who was, incidentally, the dedicatee of the work). If the second and third movements – the ‘Paradiso’ was wisely commuted to a setting of part of the Magnificat plus a brief Hosanna – don’t quite match the sweep and control of the first, they have their own particular magic. Even so, the work has not acquired the popularity of the Faust Symphony. Barenboim’s new recording with the Berlin Philharmonic is thus particularly welcome. Not only does it augment the number of available recordings to four, it is also the most polished. Even performing ‘live’, the Berlin Philharmonic turns in a performance of near-perfection – the solo lines are a particular joy.