Swan Lake was the first of Tchaikovsky's three great ballets– works which added a new level of depth and sophistication to what had been a purely superficial art form. Today the music is so well-known and popular that it's impossible to comprehend the difficulties the composer experienced at early performances. Audiences found the music "too symphonic," and the dancers were put off by the prominence given to the orchestra which, they felt, distracted ballet fans from the action on stage. Of course, all of these supposed "defects" are precisely what we admire about the music today, and this elegant but exciting performance reveals the music in all of its glory.
The late Mstislav Rostropovich and Seiji Ozawa deliver probably the greatest digital recording of the Dvorak concerto. For those familiar with the analog Karajan/Rostropovich recording, this digital recording finds the soloist creating a similar impression married with a more supportive Ozawa and the Boston Symphony. Karajan's creamy string sound and often overly-dramatic stylization is replaced here by Ozawa's stricter approach; his handling of the orchestra is masterful in this taught, precise reading. The legendary Boston Symphony responds resplendently and, although they may not highlight the rustic Czech idiom of this music, they certainly bring much charm, warmth, and expected musicality to the accompaniment. But enough about the orchestra - on to Rostropovich.
Yundi Li goes from strength to strength. Deeply thoughtful and formidably virtuosic, he makes light work of Prokofiev’s nightmarish technical demands. This is a really superb disc. As for Seiji Ozawa, he comes in for some bad press these days but here he is a quite wonderful accompanist, coaxing haunting, unforgettable sounds from the Berlin Phil.
A rewarding release… As to the Mandarin, first impressions suggest a gloved fist on Ozawa's part and a general softening of attack since [his earlier DG recording from] 1975… Ozawa is strong on sensuality - those all-pervading glissandos, the seduction games and the languidly teasing sequences that lead to the chase… As to the Concerto for Orchestra…the Bostonians' Bartókian pedigree - it was, after all, Koussevitzky who commissioned the work — guarantees a certain élan and refinement… Ozawa is best where the going gets frantic (his finale is terrific, especially at the outset, and he plays Bartok's more concise original ending)… Ozawa's virtues are intelligence, alertness and a fine ear for detail… (Gramophone [8/1995] reviewing the Bartók recordings, originally released as Philips 442783)
… boldly carved, formidable in articulation, bright in tone, inspired in sensibility… [Serkin's] profundity makes him a paragon among pianists of the mid-20th century.(The New Grove Dictionary of Music & Musicians)
Das war ein Abend, wie Opernfreunde ihn lieben: Tschaikowskis »Pique Dame«, ein Werk des Repertoires und doch selten gespielt, ein Ensemble nicht nur berühmter Namen, sondern großer Singschauspieler, dazu ein Dirigent der Sonderklasse – eine Aufführung, wie sie auch an einem Haus wie der Wiener Staatsoper nicht zum »Alltag« gehört. Der Erfolg der Aufführung, der Jubel waren gleichsam vorprogrammiert. Zumal die Wiener Staatsoper ihrem Publikum noch eine ganz besondere Attraktion anzubieten hatte: Im Mittelpunkt des Abends und schier endloser Ovationen stand eine der großen Heroinen der Opernbühne, Martha Mödl, die hier in den Fünfziger- und Sechzigerjahren des Jahrhunderts als Leonore in Beethovens »Fidelio«, als Isolde und Brünnhilde, aber auch in so manchen Partien des dramatischen Mezzofachs Triumphe gefeiert hatte.
This is playing in the grand manner… Ozawa and the orchestra are behind the soloist in all this and the deciso element is fully realized. But don't let me imply a lack of finesse; not only do lyrical sections sing with subtlety, the big passages also are shapely… In the gorgeously grisly Totentanz, both music and playing should make your hair stand on end. - C.H.; Gramophone