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Reviews: Elgar: Enigma Variations, Britten: Young Person's Guide - Paavo Järvi

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Reviews: 7

Site review by mwagner1962 September 27, 2006
Performance:   Sonics:  
Okay, I am now trying to decide if I want to buy any future Telarc SACDs with Paavo Jarvi and Cincinnati as I bought this SACD with HIGH hopes. I was hoping for a killer SACD recording of all three pieces and now all I have is a decent SACD recording of Elgar's Enigma Variations.

The Young Person's Guide OVERALL is just plain uninspiring. Sometimes dull, sometimes uninteresting, and there are times where the usually fine Cincinnati Symphony seems almost asleep....maybe the maestro was?? While some of the sectional highlights ARE good, the glorious fugue is anything BUT glorious. This performance is the first ever where I did not almost cry in joy during the ending. VERY SAD.

The Four Sea Interludes is another big disappointment. While there are a few nice moments, once again the performance is just plain uninspiring. I once had a friend who felt that only British orchestras can truly play Britten like it is supposed to be played. And after comparing this new Telarc to my old Chandos redbook CD of The Four Sea Interludes with Vernon Handley and The Ulster Orchestra (especially the "Storm" movement), I wonder if my friend was right??

Finally, the possible saving grace. While not truly outstanding, Paavo Jarvi sort of salvages the recording with a fairly competent reading of Elgar's Enigma Variations. At times the orchestra actually sounds like they are having fun. Strings are especially nice!!!

I am usually a huge fan of the sound on Telarc SACDs but most of the time the sound on this new recording is a big let down. Remember the old days when Telarc took a childish delight in showing us all how loud they can make the bass drums?? Well, get ready for a flashback....timpani are almost as bad in the Britten. To be fair, there are a few times the sound is very fine, especially in the sections that are not so bloody loud, but overall, I overall I feel that this is NOT one of Telarc's OR Cincinnati's best efforts.

Maybe recommended, but with SERIOUS reservations....

Review by Edvin October 31, 2006 (2 of 3 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
English is not my native language. I struggle hard to find different nuances when I write here. In Cincinnati British music is not part of their native language, but they struggle also. If they had a better conductor the problems would be better solved, but alas.

I don´t get it. Why are Telarc recording this repertoire in Cincinnati? Why not make a journey across the Atlantic and thus recieve the real thing. No guarantees, but the odds are higher. Paavo Järvi doesn´t speak British music. He hasn´t got a clue. But he tries hard and is worth a Big Burger for his efforts.

I have no interest whatsoever to listen to British musicians perform American music that is essentially American by flavour. Copland, Gershwin, Harris are all part of the American heritage and way of expression. Minutae expression. Small points of rhythmic accents, syncopations at the right place. The Europeans never really got the hang of jazz, did they? Yes, some did, but that´s beside the point. The opposite is true also. I don´t want to hear British music played by American orchestras unless it is led by a real conductor, American or otherwise. Bernstein did a staggering Vaughan Williams fourth in NY. Paavo Järvi is not in that league.

The Purcell variations are plain uninspired. Dull, boring, low key. The Sea Interludes should never be performed without the Passacaglia. No Passacaglia here, no surprise. Some nice atmosphere, but the playing is so wrong. The grace notes in the first interlude are treated as longer notes. The Storm is really tame and the final desperate pages are so weak. I doubt that Järvi has ever attended a performance of the whole opera. No understanding at all.

The Elgar variations is a love affair. Of mine that is, Järvi I don´t know. A guess would be - no. Well, it is nicely played and the orchestra play as good as they can. But when the direction is so sloppy, what to expect. A plain theme and not much affection in the Caroline-variation. I would have thought that Elgar loved his wife, but apparently Järvi thinks not. The rising horns are too much in a hurry. Every variation is under-characterized, too literal and tame. In Nimrod he misses the whole excursion, a study in the noble art of the crescendo played as gods by the London Symphony with Eugen Jochum once (you don´t have to be British to succeed. Levine and the Berliners were very good). The whole sonority and balance is wrong.

In the finale Järvi is including the organ, but it all lacks the nobilmente feel that is essential to Elgar. You cannot kill this music and if you want it in surround don´t hesitate. All the notes are in the right places, but the soul is absent.
The sound is typical of Telarc. A wide dynamic range, quite a heavy bottom. In the Storm movement in the Britten Sea Interludes it starts as a timpani concerto. And what is even more quaint is that the three set timpani is spread out all over the stereo perspective. The high note, E-flat, is in your left speaker. The middle note, B-flat, is in the middle. The low note, F, is on your right. Not totally but if the reproduced sound is real the timpanist must have had several meters between the kettledrums. Or mikes in front!

I don´t like this sort of production. No one at Telarc cares about who is playing what and where he/she is placed. No one cares about how it is recorded as long as they keepwithin the given rules. To me Telarc is a not so serious company. My next listen will be the Wagner/Strauss sacd. My last hope.

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Review by Daland November 15, 2006 (8 of 11 found this review helpful)
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Notwithstanding all the Järvi-bashing this is an excellent recording in every way. Glorious sound and plenty of verve. To claim that American musicians are unsuited to British music is mere prejudice. This is universal music that speaks to everyone. Interpretation is a matter of taste rather than nationality. Being German, I have heard German music performed by musicians of many different nationalities, but it has never occurred to me that Americans should not play Bruckner or that Russians should avoid Chopin.

In the Enigma Variations Paavo Järvi opts for generally slower tempi than, say, Boult or Gardiner (he is, however, considerably faster than Bernstein in his reading with the BBC Symphony Orchestra), yet his approach is never heavy-handed. He knows how to build tension, helped by excellent sonics. Admittedly, the famous Nimrod variation lacks some of the hushed intensity you find in the best recordings. Even so this is a highly satisfactory account. In fact, I found Britten's "Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra", whose magnificent opening theme sets the tone for this disc, and the "Four Sea Interludes" from "Peter Grimes" even more impressive. Just listen to interludes Nos II and IV (Sunday Morning and Storm). Of course, other conductors might whip up more excitement here, but Järvi perfectly catches the haunting atmosphere conjured up by Britten's music.

The sound is very rich and detailed in the best Telarc manner. Especially Variation 19 of the "Young Person's Guide" and Interlude II provide ample opportunity for the percussion instruments to come into their own.

I have listened only to the multi-channel version.

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Review by pip440 March 29, 2007 (13 of 18 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
This is a stunning recording, the closest thing I know to being in a concert hall for a memorable night of music. I delayed in buying this because of the negative comments of some reviewers on this website, but having read David Hurwitz's glowing 10/10 review on the Classics Today website (www.classicstoday.com/review.asp?ReviewNum=10357) I took the plunge. Hurwitz is right! I keep playing the disc over and over: it is my favourite current SACD (of 120). I have known and loved these pieces for years, and they are given brilliant and involving performances here. The sound is incredibly realistic with a rock-solid bass, although I had to reduce the volume setting of my subwoofer. I really cannot fault it. Bravo!

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Review by darkroommd April 24, 2007 (8 of 10 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:    
Normally would not add to an album already with 4 reviews, BUT... Appears to be some debate among us reviewers regarding how fantastic or ordinary these recordings are.

I want to place my vote behind the previous reviewers who have criticized the Britten performance. Indeed, the Young Person's Guide here is entirely mediocre. With this piece, I want to hear excitement and enchantment, suitable to entice the interest of a young listener. Hate to say it, but this is simply an uninteresting reading. The orchestra opens with a nice flourish but quickly fizzles by the time we are hearing each instrument's exposition, and there is no redeeming quality in the typically high-spirited fugue finale. 2.5 STARS for Britten.

We are rewarded somewhat by the Enigma Variations. I would hesitate to call this a great interpretation of this Elgar classic but one that can hold its own. Lovers of the Nimrod Variation will not be disappointed, but I doubt those with a favorite Enigma in his or her collection will have it supplanted here. 4 STARS for Elgar.

Certainly the best thing this SACD has going for it is Telarc. There is not a finer recording job of Britten or Elgar previously. Those who like to audition all 3 audio modes (RBCD, SACD stereo, and SACD surround) will especially appreciate the dramatic improvement in the surround mix. (In fact, this will be my new standard disc for demonstrating SACD's superiority over RBCD to friends.) Only criticism is some heaviness in the bass at times.

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Review by sacd_fan_2007 February 5, 2008 (5 of 8 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
To start, it isn't fair to say Mr. Jarvi doesn't get British Music. Just listen to his collaboration with Leif Ove Andsnes and the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra on the Britten Piano Concerto: http://www.amazon.com/Shostakovich-Concerto-Trumpet-Strings-Britten/dp/B000026D0E/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=music&qid=1202266211&sr=1-1

Jarvi/Cincinnati did record a very tame and bland Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique, but then think about it... what does "dry wit, reserved manners, mild, polished and proper" go with?

Jarvi/Cincinnati have all the qualities of the perfect British Orchestra! :-)

Yes, this Peter Grimes was too pretty for such a brutal tale, and there's no excuse for omitting the Passacaglia, but the Purcell and Elgar were excellent in their British character.

And why should one expect every recording to copy {insert your reference disc here}? I'm sure Jochum, Boult, and Gibson were great, but I don't see their Elgar and Britten on SACD. In the meantime, this Jarvi/Cincinnati disc provides an excellent British rendition. This disc is recommended!

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Review by wiener12 June 22, 2009 (4 of 14 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:    
As an ex-pat Englishman I would point out that TELARC have commited a very serious offence against Her Majesty the Queen - The Union Flag is printed on the documentation THE WRONG WAY ROUND. Now I know what could happen if a British company printed the Stars and Stripes the wrong way round, so why not some action. I have emailed TELARC three times on this matter and never received any reply. ON the matter of the recording and performances all I would say is that I am waiting for something better - they did not inspire me in any way.

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