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Classical Music

Symphonies


Barber: Orchestral Works, Vol. 1: Overture, The School for Scandal, Op. 5 / Symphony No. 1, Op,. 9 / First Essay for Orchestra, Op. 12 / Symphony No. 2, Op;. 19

Barber: Orchestral Works, Vol. 1: Overture, The School for Scandal, Op. 5 / Symphony No. 1, Op,. 9 / First Essay for Orchestra, Op. 12 / Symphony No. 2, Op;. 19 Lowest new price: $8.16
Lowest used price: $2.74

As composers go, Samuel Barber's output was rather small, and of that output only a few pieces have any kind of currency. But those few are major orchestral gems. Barber's music does require an adept and sympathetic orchestra (and conductor) to get them just right, however. On this release, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, with Marin Alsop conducting, handily accomplishes that task. Their rendering of The School for Scandal Overture rivals the famous Schippers version, and Alsop's take on Symphony No. 1 easily demolishes the Järvi (on Chandos) and the Slatkin (on BMG). The underexposed and rarely performed First Essay for Orchestra has no rivals here at all. Of particular merit is Alsop's handling of the mercurial Symphony No. 2, which so troubled Barber that he later disavowed it. Barber completists will relish this sympathetic reading. --Paul Cook

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Shostakovich: Symphony Nos. 1 & 7

Shostakovich: Symphony Nos. 1 & 7 Lowest new price: $9.48
Lowest used price: $6.77

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Symphonies 1-3

Symphonies 1-3 Lowest new price: $11.63
Lowest used price: $5.25

At two discs for the price of one, and three outstanding performances, this set offers great value. Most impressive is the performance of the First Symphony, the disastrous premiere of which precipitated a nervous breakdown. As a consequence, the work was not revived until after the composer's death. In many ways, it's his most closely argued symphony--each movement begins with the same theme, and they share other melodic material as well. Vladimir Ashkenazy's performance is simply the finest ever committed to disc. He's just about as impressive in the two later works, though there the competition is tougher. The magnificent playing of the Concertgebouw Orchestra certainly adds to this set's attractions. --David Hurwitz

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Messiaen: Turangalila Symphony; L'Ascension

Messiaen: Turangalila Symphony; L'Ascension Lowest new price: $12.16
Lowest used price: $2.49
Brand: Naxos

Turangalîla-Symphonie - L'Ascension / Thomas Bloch, ondes martenot - François Weigel, piano - Orchestre de la Radio Nationale Polonaise - Antoni Wit, direction

If you don't already own a copy of Messiaen's epic, weird, and beautiful Turangalîla Symphony, here's your chance. And if you already own a copy, pick up this CD, anyway--you'll love it. Conductor Antoni Wit and the Polish National Radio Symphony deliver an awe-inspiring reading of the complex work, showcasing all the drama, tonal colors, and spiky rhythms the Turangalîla demands. Messiaen's 10-movement work is a grab bag of musical themes from throughout the composer's career; you'll find elements of birdsong, Eastern mysticism, a gorgeous "love theme," and serialism in this epic composition. With this much going on, it's no wonder that few ensembles (however famous) get it right. But Wit and company do get it right, letting the masterpiece's multiple themes (statue, love, flower, chord) all unfold dramatically, with great playing all around. Naxos's sonics are remarkable as well, capturing the magnitude of the 100-piece orchestra and providing a rich balance during the tricky passages for ondes martenot (a sort of glorified theremin). As a bonus on this budget priced, two-CD set, we get L'ascension, an earlier work from Messiaen but one that's just as interesting. Here, intense rhythms are replaced by lush symphonic passages, but the playing is just as splendid. Highly recommended. --Jason Verlinde

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  • Shrink-wrapped

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Prokofiev: Symphonies, No. 1: Classical / No. 2- Dreams, Op. 6 / Autumnal Sketch, Op. 8

Prokofiev: Symphonies, No. 1: Classical / No. 2- Dreams, Op. 6 / Autumnal Sketch, Op. 8 Lowest new price: $6.48
Lowest used price: $1.25
Brand: CD

THEODORE KUCHAR - PROKOFIEV: SYMPHONIES/DREAMS/AUTUMNAL SKETCH - CD

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Music of Grainger, Britten and Warlock

Music of Grainger, Britten and Warlock Lowest new price: $5.00
Lowest used price: $2.49


The Art of Sergiu Celibidache, Volume 5 (Mozart: Symphony, No. 41 'Jupiter'/Ravel: Le Tombeau de Couperin/Hindemith: Mathis der Maler)

The Art of Sergiu Celibidache, Volume 5 (Mozart: Symphony, No. 41 'Jupiter'/Ravel: Le Tombeau de Couperin/Hindemith: Mathis der Maler) Lowest used price: $36.33


Britten: The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra; Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge; Simple Symphony

Britten: The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra; Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge; Simple Symphony Lowest new price: $39.88
Lowest used price: $3.36
Model: 1989806

In this century, few composers have been as well-equipped to perform their own works as Benjamin Britten. An accomplished pianist and conductor, he was used to working in front of the microphone and was able to record most of his own works, some more than once. Despite the continuing popularity of these scores with other conductors, the composer's own versions have held up very well. Britten's account of the Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra, recorded in 1963 with the London Symphony, shows a masterly touch. Many of the subtler details of the writing emerge in this performance, which, for all the felicities of expression and nuance it achieves, moves along rather smartly. It's a spirited treatment, quite modern-sounding in places, with the LSO clearly having great fun. The recording, made in Kingsway Hall, is very bright and exhibits a touch of brittleness at the high end. --Ted Libbey

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Howard Hanson: Symphonies Nos. 5 & 7 / Piano Concerto / Mosaics

Howard Hanson: Symphonies Nos. 5 & 7 / Piano Concerto / Mosaics Lowest new price: $11.01
Lowest used price: $1.98

Howard Hanson is one of America's great mid-century composers. His music, like that of Roy Harris, draws its character from the plains, from the pioneer blood that settled that part of the country. Here we have two major symphonies, a piano concerto, and a tone-poem, "Mosaics". These works are at the heart of American Romanticism; his melodies are distinct and tonal, his writing formal. He's not as idiosyncratic as Roy Harris or as buoyant as Copland and his music never went into other areas of 20th- century experimentation. But his symphonies, particularly the Fifth, belong in every collection. --Paul Cook

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Piston: Symphony No. 6/The Incredible Flutist/3 New England Sketches

Piston: Symphony No. 6/The Incredible Flutist/3 New England Sketches Lowest new price: $16.98
Lowest used price: $3.48

This is yet another fantastic release in RCA Victor's American music series with Leonard Slatkin conducting the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra (with great Thomas Hart Benton cover paintings). The Incredible Flutist by Walter Piston, written in 1938, is one of his most colorful works, and it is probably his greatest work, despite the power of his symphonies. (The "Tango of the Merchant's Daughter" will bring you to your knees.) It's from a ballet suite about a funky circus that invades a sleepy little town. Slatkin's take on Piston's Three New England Sketches is elegaic and the Symphony 6 more robust. Wonderful music. --Paul Cook

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