Author Topic: Rattle rumble  (Read 1524 times)

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Offline Todd

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Rattle rumble
« on: June 20, 2017, 05:22:03 AM »






The first shootout.  The First Symphony.  Younger Rattle vs older Rattle.  Birmingham vs Berlin. 

Before starting in on the shootout proper, I had to select which format of the Berlin cycle to use.  For stereo, the set includes both FLAC and WAV formats in both 24/96 and 24/192.  (It also includes three surround downloads, but I don't have surround sound.)  I chose FLAC and did some A/Bs.  I made sure my transport was set to handle 24/192 PCM output and jumped around every symphony.  Most of the time, the two files sounded exactly the same.  A couple times I thought the 24/192 might be a bit clearer, but then I'd do another comparison, and I would not hear a difference.  I settled on using 24/192 for the shootout only because I can.  In either format, sound is SOTA.  The clarity is superb for live performances, with only some lack of studio clarity in lower frequencies.  Dynamic range is SOTA.  Timbre is spot on.  Bass is deep and heavy and tight.  Recorded level seems a bit low, requiring one to turn up the volume a bit, but care is needed since the low level masks the stupendous dynamics.  The only beef I have with the set has nothing to do with the sound, but the delivery of the symphonies; the set is delivered as twenty-six consecutive tracks.  I had to split the symphonies into their own folders.  Outrageous!

I started with the Berlin recording.  The opening movement starts off slow and soft and almost Tchaikovsky-tragic then morphs into post-Tchaikovsky tragic, with some superb string playing and physically obvious timps.  The Andante sounds beautiful, almost dreamily bucolic at times.  When the various winds get their turn, the playing is at times fantastical, and it is obvious that the individual players in the band are tip-top tier.  Rattle guides the band back to rigorous playing, and the corporate execution is exciting and exact almost to a fault.  Almost.  The Scherzo is quick, but not too much so, in the outer sections, and beautifully and jokingly light in the middle, and it ends in fast and furious mode.  The Finale opens threatening to be more melodramatic than Tchaikovsky, quickly backs off to start the sonata form development, and alternates between faster, almost manic passages, and slower, string-heavy, luxuriant passages, most effectively.  This is heavy-duty romanticism.  Rattle pushes things, but sounds less than perfectly under control.  The low strings really provide a solid foundation, too.  Good stuff.  I don't know if I could say best ever, but superb.

The Birmingham version sounds lighter and more distant, and while in good sound, no instruments sound as full, and the violins lack some body.  The low frequencies may have slightly more studio clarity, but they lack weight.  Rattle's conception of the opening movement, while not escaping the influence of Tchaikovsky, sounds less like the Russian's music.  There's a transparency and detail orientation that goes beyond the later recording.  The intense passages are not quite as intense or thrilling, but the overall thrust is similar.  The Andante sounds less lovely and a slower, with less delicious wind solos, but it still sounds nice, and the climax sounds excellent, but too tame and contained compared to the Berlin outing.  The Scherzo is noticeably slower than the later recording, and sounds plodding in the outer sections, at least until the brass heavy coda.  The Finale starts off tragically enough, backs off, then proceeds to alternate styles, with the slow music a bit more stately and reserved.  It's a nice enough recording, but it lacks the energy and purposefulness of the later recording.

I definitely prefer the Berlin recording.
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Offline snyprrr

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Re: Rattle rumble
« Reply #1 on: June 21, 2017, 07:38:02 AM »
His remake of 'Apollo' with Berlin is thicker than 1000 cheesecakes- ricotta overload!!
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Offline XB-70 Valkyrie

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Re: Rattle rumble
« Reply #2 on: June 21, 2017, 05:20:58 PM »
Thanks for the review. Plenty of people around here seem to have only snarky remarks about Rattle--not sure why. We heard him live with the Berlin PO once several years ago in San Francisco, and thought the performances superb, especially the Brahms Symphony No 2. Any thoughts on his Brahms set on Warner? I have Walter and Szell in stereo, but want something in more modern sound. That set has been on my list forever, but I have never gotten around to actually buying it.

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Offline Todd

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Re: Rattle rumble
« Reply #3 on: June 21, 2017, 05:38:19 PM »
Any thoughts on his Brahms set on Warner?


Rattle, like almost all conductors, is hit and miss for me.  I'm not sure why people would just dislike him.  I tend to prefer his 20th Century fare, and I dislike his Vienna LvB, so I've passed on his Brahms so far, perhaps unfairly.  The most recent modern Brahms cycle I have that I really enjoy is Abbado's Berlin cycle.  Chailly doesn't work for me, and Hengelbrock's first disc is good but not up to his usual standard.  Maybe Manfred Honeck can deliver a knockout modern cycle.  Kubelik's Orfeo set is my favorite stereo cycle, but it is getting long in the tooth.
« Last Edit: June 21, 2017, 05:54:18 PM by Todd »
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Offline PerfectWagnerite

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Re: Rattle rumble
« Reply #4 on: June 21, 2017, 05:51:08 PM »
Thanks for the review. Plenty of people around here seem to have only snarky remarks about Rattle--not sure why. We heard him live with the Berlin PO once several years ago in San Francisco, and thought the performances superb, especially the Brahms Symphony No 2. Any thoughts on his Brahms set on Warner? I have Walter and Szell in stereo, but want something in more modern sound. That set has been on my list forever, but I have never gotten around to actually buying it.
Solti/Chicago has very good sound and is very well played and suprisingly mellow. A very different cycle is Dohnanyi/Cleveland where you get an almost chamber-music like nuance in every bar. For a more old-school approach I turn to Gunter Wand. If you are more adventurous I suggest Harnoncourt/Berlin. It is suprisingly free from most Harnoncourt idiosyncracies and is just superb music making.

These are all available, cheaply, from a variety of sources.

Offline Todd

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Re: Rattle rumble
« Reply #5 on: June 21, 2017, 05:58:17 PM »
A very different cycle is Dohnanyi/Cleveland where you get an almost chamber-music like nuance in every bar.


I'm wondering if/when a Dohnanyi reissue series or big box might be forthcoming.  A tidal wave of Solti discs is slated for reissue next week to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of his death.  (I hope we don't have to wait for Mr Dohnanyi to pass before he gets reissue treatment.)
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Offline PerfectWagnerite

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Re: Rattle rumble
« Reply #6 on: June 21, 2017, 06:16:44 PM »

I'm wondering if/when a Dohnanyi reissue series or big box might be forthcoming.  A tidal wave of Solti discs is slated for reissue next week to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of his death.  (I hope we don't have to wait for Mr Dohnanyi to pass before he gets reissue treatment.)
I remember seeing a few box sets called Soltissimo but they were imports maybe and didn't seem to be readily available.

Yes I hope CvD gets his dues, a very professional and underrated conductor IMO.

Offline Todd

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Re: Rattle rumble
« Reply #7 on: June 21, 2017, 06:22:46 PM »
I remember seeing a few box sets called Soltissimo but they were imports maybe and didn't seem to be readily available.


Those were Korean market issues.  The new Solti reissues are single and double discs.  There are dozens of titles coming out on the 30th.  I don't know if there will be any new boxes, but I wouldn't be surprised.
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Offline Ken B

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Re: Rattle rumble
« Reply #8 on: June 21, 2017, 09:15:48 PM »

Rattle, like almost all conductors, is hit and miss for me.  I'm not sure why people would just dislike him.  I tend to prefer his 20th Century fare, and I dislike his Vienna LvB, so I've passed on his Brahms so far, perhaps unfairly.  The most recent modern Brahms cycle I have that I really enjoy is Abbado's Berlin cycle.  Chailly doesn't work for me, and Hengelbrock's first disc is good but not up to his usual standard.  Maybe Manfred Honeck can deliver a knockout modern cycle.  Kubelik's Orfeo set is my favorite stereo cycle, but it is getting long in the tooth.

I second Abbado's Berlin Brahms. Harnoncourt too.
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Offline amw

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Re: Rattle rumble
« Reply #9 on: June 21, 2017, 09:34:15 PM »
I quite enjoyed Vladimir Jurowski's cycle on LPO ages ago, & Christian Thielemann's cycle which is probably not ideal for anyone other than a dedicated Staatskapelle Dresden fan. Chailly's cycle is on my to listen pile, and it looks nice, but that first movement timing for No. 2 makes me cringe a little.

As for Rattle his Szymanowski is excellent, although I somehow can't see Berlin playing Szymanowski....

Offline Todd

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Re: Rattle rumble
« Reply #10 on: June 27, 2017, 05:28:42 AM »






The Second.  Berlin first.  Rattle leads a fairly brisk opening movement, and for most of the movement there is a sense of restraint, only abandoned in the climax.  He manages to merge together the disparate components well.  As focus shifts from one outstanding section of the orchestra to another, it sort of takes on an almost Concerto for Orchestra feel, though that's meant in a good way.  The second movement opens with perfectly presented pizzicati - the SOTA sound helps here - and as the movement unfolds, the playing often maintains a sense of extra tension, except in the gorgeous Andante sostenuto.  One can almost detect hints of sorrow from time to time, too.  The back and forth between violins and low strings is striking, and the movement is dramatic.  As is the third movement at the start, and even more so on the Lento sections, with its darkly beautiful wind lamentations.  The Finale is fast and potent, with only slightly undernourished trumpet fanfares something of a disappointment.  (I should note that this is in comparison to Berglund; in absolute terms the trumpets are just fine.)  The Moderato assai sounds seductive, with Rattle building up tension and speed near the end of the Meno moderato section masterfully, with the Berliners showing how well they can play.  Rattle ekes out a bit more intensity but a bit less scale and grandeur than Berglund with the return of the opening material.  The remainder of the movement is executed flawlessly, with Rattle building up to an imposing, beautiful coda.  I only recently listened to Berglund's first recording of this symphony, and it struck me as the best version I've heard, and it still seems a bit better, managing the transitions more seamlessly and just flowing better, but make no mistake, this second Rattle recording cooks.  More precisely, it smokes. 

Birmingham.  Rattle's earlier effort likewise starts with a fairly brisk opening movement.  The playing sounds less restrained, but the sonics are smaller in scale and less weighty, resulting in a bit less impact.  The playing and transitions are a bit more blended throughout the movement - the whole thing, really - but that results in less dramatic contrasts between sections.  The second movement starts off more restrained, displays more of a sense of gloom, and has a satisfyingly powerful climax.  The playing does not sound as beautiful at any time, though, and while hardly enervated, it lacks the pulse of the Berlin recording.  The third movement again lacks the energy, intensity, and beauty of the Berlin recording, and the faster music sounds slower.  The final movement starts off less weighty, and perhaps somewhat as a result, the trumpets cut through the orchestra a bit more cleanly, though it's not a fully satisfying blast.  The entire movement is fine, with good playing, a nice sense of drama and intensity, and so forth, it's just that the Berlin recording has more of everything.  It's more better.
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Offline Oldnslow

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Re: Rattle rumble
« Reply #11 on: June 27, 2017, 03:53:14 PM »
Best Brahms cycle I have heard in a long time is the new release by Andris Nelsons with the BSO

Offline aukhawk

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Re: Rattle rumble
« Reply #12 on: June 28, 2017, 06:25:18 AM »
Before starting in on the shootout proper, I had to select which format of the Berlin cycle to use.  For stereo, the set includes both FLAC and WAV formats in both 24/96 and 24/192.

May I ask where from?  I wanted to include the 7th from this cycle in the recent 'mini-blind comparison' but was unable to find a source at anything like a reasonable price.

Offline Todd

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Re: Rattle rumble
« Reply #13 on: June 28, 2017, 07:37:26 AM »
May I ask where from?  I wanted to include the 7th from this cycle in the recent 'mini-blind comparison' but was unable to find a source at anything like a reasonable price.


Berlin Philharmonic Recordings Shop.  $49 for the cycle in up to seven formats.
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Offline aukhawk

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Re: Rattle rumble
« Reply #14 on: June 29, 2017, 10:01:28 AM »
Thanks.  I've now discovered what I'd overlooked before, single volumes from Amazon, and have bought the 6th/7th coupling, and have just listened to the 6th.
Lush, and very indulgent, to my ears most un-Sibelian.  :(  A bit of austerity would not go amiss, in this symphony.  Rattle/BPO seems to continue the heroic sound-world of the 5th, rather than (as in most other recordings that I have) faintly echoing the frozen 4th.  I don't have Rattle's Birmingham 6th to compare (I do have 3rd 4th 5th 7th from that cycle).  Of modern versions I do have, I think Kamu/Lahti may be my favourite.

I look forward to the 7th.
« Last Edit: July 25, 2017, 09:15:19 AM by aukhawk »

Offline aukhawk

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Re: Rattle rumble
« Reply #15 on: June 30, 2017, 02:59:47 PM »
Now listened to the Rattle/BPO 7th.
It's very good indeed.  For me, up there with my own favourites Bernstein and Karajan (who came 4th and 2nd in the recent mini-blind comparison, with Colin Davis being 1st).  But quicker and more middle-of-the-road than either of those. 
Ironically, the section of music I chose for the mini-blind (basically the 2nd movement, if this 1-movement symphony were to be divided up) was the part I found least convincing here - the 'bird call' section was just prosaic, and the subsequent huge swirling climax badly lacked low-end grunt.  In every other respect I thought this Rattle/BPO was top notch, clearly Rattle knows this music inside out.
There is a nagging reservation about excessive (to my ears) vibrato in the BPO woodwinds, and to a lesser extent the strings, both in the 7th but especially the 6th symphonies. 
Perhaps in these later symphonies the Rattle/Rattle comparison could be extended to include a BPO/BPO comparison - Rattle/Karajan.  :-\

Offline Todd

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Re: Rattle rumble
« Reply #16 on: July 04, 2017, 05:13:22 AM »





The Third.  Berlin.  The Allegro moderato starts off at a nice clip, and Rattle keeps things taut throughout.  In some of the string playing, and even in some tuttis, there are hints of Mahler's First to be heard.  It's definitely cooler and less romantic that the first two symphonies, as is the second movement, which Rattle again keeps moving along.  I suppose it could sound darker, but it works well enough as-is.  The concluding compact Allegro unfolds with energetic determination with hints of triumph seeming to shout out, but a few times I wouldn't have minded a slightly relaxed tempo.  Still, this is a fine version played with supreme virtuosity.

Birmingham.  The first movement sounds slightly broader here, but it also sounds slightly more coherent overall, as though each section of the orchestra is more fully integrated.  The quality of playing doesn't strike me as being quite as good, but the movement seems to jell better.  The second movement sounds lighter and more fantastical and at times nearly whimsical.  The final movement, though a bit swifter, seems to flow just a bit better and seems less rushed overall, and with more effective tuttis.  And are those hints of Bartok around two minutes in?  A most enjoyable version.

Overall, I prefer the Birmingham recording.
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Offline Todd

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Re: Rattle rumble
« Reply #17 on: July 11, 2017, 05:46:09 AM »






The Fourth.  Berlin.  The low strings growl the symphony into existence, immediately establishing a dark and forbidding soundworld.  As Rattle conducts, he imbues hints of Mahler and ice-cold Wagner, and the SOTA sound quality really pays off as dynamic gradations are almost miraculously well done.  Rattle keeps the second movement dark, and the low strings add real gravitas to the music.  The third movement sounds sparse and austere, with nearly crushing tuttis.  The finale sound comparatively light and upbeat for the first couple minutes, then reverts to the colder, more austere soundworld, ending in a dreary and plain and puzzling coda.  Which is a good thing.  Rattle keeps the playing tense for the duration.  An outstanding performance.

Birmingham.  The opening is hefty, but not as dark, and while staying tense, it sounds a bit more beautiful than the Berlin recording.  It's possible to say that detracts from the mood, but it doesn't harm the proceedings.  The second movement remains a bit lighter in mien, but also sounds more mysterious, for lack of a better word.  The lighter overall sound makes the Il tempo largo sound even more austere and hauntingly beautiful, especially when winds are prominent, though the playing lacks the tension of the Berlin recording, and the climax is not nearly as powerful.  Since the rest of the symphony is not as dark and heavy as the Berlin recording, the opening to the finale doesn't sound as comparatively light, and the rest of the movement attains a sense of mysteriousness until it switches to the stripped down close.  This recording is excellent, but the greater energy and intensity and darkness of the Berlin recording wins the matchup.
« Last Edit: July 11, 2017, 06:04:16 AM by Todd »
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Offline aukhawk

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Re: Rattle rumble
« Reply #18 on: July 14, 2017, 03:11:37 AM »
Thanks for your reviews which are a very good read.
Had a listen to the BPO 4th.  A bit too much 'beauty' for my taste in this music, particularly from the various featured soloists - cello, flute etc.  And Rattle adopts middle-of-the-road tempi - he can't be criticised for that of course but I do feel in late Sibelius that slower is nearly always better.

Karajan/BPO - the later of his two BPO recordings of the 4th, now available on Warner - is a bit slower throughout and over a minute slower in the crucial 3rd movement.  And he keeps his soloists in check and of course the recording is a little less lush (though good enough - EMI 1976 and now remastered).  The forest here is not merely primeval - it's damn near fossilised.  Karajan by his own account identified closely with this music, almost more than anything else in his repertoire - I consider this recording essential.

Karajan's earlier BPO recording  (on DG, 1965) is unremarkable by comparison, and that leaves
Levine/BPO (DG, 2007) which is broadly similar to Rattle's version - velvety recording, too much beauty, though I do like his 3rd movement, absolutely tippy-toeing through the landscape without so much as rustling a leaf.  Coupled with a fine 5th Symphony, where the DG '4D' recording technique seems to work better.

Turning to the CBSO they too have recorded this work twice - latterly with Oramo (on Erato), a Finnish conductoir who can be expected to know his way around this music.  And, in fact, this recording of the 4th is the BBC's Building a Library top choice - I can't say I agree.

Vanska is the Finnish master of this music, I think.  He has recorded it twice (both on BIS) and the earlier recording (Lahti SO) features the longest 3rd movement I can find, about 2:20 longer than Rattle, though sadly not as breath-holdingly still as either Levine or Karajan - I think the recording is a little too close on the soloists.  His later recording (Minnesota) is more moderate overall but has an expansive 1st movement, and with sound to match the best. 

Off-topic I know but my 1st choice - Karajan/BPO on Warner.  Vanska/Minnesota for a more modern recording.
« Last Edit: July 14, 2017, 03:14:43 AM by aukhawk »

Offline Todd

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Re: Rattle rumble
« Reply #19 on: July 18, 2017, 05:36:20 AM »






The Fifth.  Berlin.  Rattle leads a reading of, when needed, ample scale, weight, power, and energy, but he also expertly transitions between sections and seamlessly leads the band in wide-swinging dynamics, with light and lovely and hushed strings of no little beauty, and a powerful climax that displays absolute executive control.  Here and there in the Piu Presto, one might think that maybe Rattle pushes things too much.  Or not.  It's certainly exciting.  (And how often does one get to savor such excellent bassoon playing?)  Rattle keeps the second movement taut except in the Tranquillo section, and the Berlin sections, especially the strings, shine as melodic content is passed from one section to another.  It might come across as too, well, sectionalized in parts, but it's near impossible not to find it enthralling.  The finale starts with some brisk playing, and when the horn call arrives, while it could be more powerful, it sounds perfectly proportioned and smoothly undulating.  When the whole orchestra joins in, the effect is electric.  As things cool off again, the string playing nearly overwhelms with it beauteous sheen, and the concluding chords of the coda are perfectly timed and executed.  A superb performance. 

Birmingham.  Rattle's approach evidently did not change a great deal in the years separating the two recordings.  There are differences in some details and execution, but the overall sound and feel is quite similar.  The more distant, blended recording means that bassoon playing, still quite nice, is less detailed, but it also means that trumpets emerge out of a more cohesive image.  But then, the second movement, while no slouch in terms of tempo and tension, lacks the snap of the Berlin reading, and the finale's horn call lacks the grandeur and smooth execution that older Rattle gets.

Berlin wins.
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