You're probably right. Although I do like Slatkin's Barber discs and in general his performances of American music. I also like a few other things, sometimes for sentimental value (e.g. his Telarc Mahler 2nd is actually quite good for sound and performance). And I can't recall a single DG or Philips from the 80s and 90s that I would consider outstanding even though Philips had some fine sounding performances in the 1970s.
Great Modern Classical Recordings - Page 2
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While reading this thread I happened to be listening to Beethoven's Third Symphony from the Mackerras box set with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. I usually tend to buy SACDs, but this CD collection has what I consider excellent performances and spectacular sound.
Again, I don't sort things by label in my head, but I have Gergiev recordings that sound good. Blomstedt too, I think he was in the 80s. Bruggen is well recorded (don't care much for him as a conductor). Salonen. Tilson Thomas.
But now that all the labels have morphed into a couple of giant umbrellas (Sony, Universal, etc.), a house sound is likely a thing of the past.
Re: House sound
Even sadder for me is the total abandonment of recording opera in ways that take full advantage of stereo. I've seen disparaging remarks about Culshaw gimmickry. But frankly, I prefer the worst Culshaw opera recording to the tendency today to have singers stand immobile in one place as if in concert with an odd movement thrown in here or there. I suppose if all you care about are the voices and vague orchestral sounds that's fine. No wonder so many opera fanatics don't mind mono. But for me, recreating the illusion of a performance is part and parcel of the fun of recorded opera. And sadly, recording live performances doesn't always get you there either. For various reasons, most recordings of live opera do not capture the performance properly. Sure, it's possible to record live shows so that they sound real on a CD, but few modern engineers seem to have those skills. If there's one "house sound" that's distinct, it's in the Decca signature recordings of opera from the 50s to the 70s. Everything from Wagner to Puccini to Donizetti sounds better when the stage action is planned and recordings reflect stage movement and the voices vary in volume and location to reflect this. I weep at the thought of what great performances we could capture today using the best digital tech and carefully planned stereophonic placement. But what we get are dvds of the Ring as enviro fable and cds of static concerts.
We'll have to disagree. Opera on recording allows me to imagine the perfect performance. Moreover, given the tendency of directors to deface the classics (i.e. "modernize") with strange productions, I often prefer hearing the opera without seeing the director's innovations. Doesn't mean there aren't good dvds, but the intersection of good production and good sound is more limited than I wish. And ultimately, a filmed opera is not the same as seeing it live, just as a filmed play is often inferior to a good movie adaptation of the same piece.
I'm kind of reluctant to dip my toe into the waters of more modern conductors, orchestras. I've heard people talking about HIP being mediocre, modern performances being run of the mill. How close to the truth is that?
I think my most modern recording is Karajan's Beethoven 8th with the Berlin Phil from 1986.
I'd say if you like symphonies, there's a lot you could get by simply exploring different styles of conducting and also different composers. Classic conductors like Reiner, Dorati, Szell, Bernstein, Klemperer, Walter, Solti, Horenstein, etc. left many great recordings that are worth exploring. If you want to try HIP at low cost, why not listen to some of them on youtube? I believe there are versions of Beethoven and Mozart by people such as Norrington, Gardiner, Hogwood, and Harnoncourt to try. I'm not personally an HIP fan, but why not listen to a few and see what you like?
Also in terms of exploration, I recommend dipping your toe into waters of orchestral/symphonic composers that you haven't heard: Have you explored work by Sibelius, Mahler, Vaughan Williams, Strauss, Rachmaninoff, etc? But I also think you need to try some non-symphonic music. Again, the web and youtube allow you to hear different things to see if they are to your taste. Bach in both traditional and HIP versions has many riches to explore. Listen to some cantatas. Listen to both piano and harpsichord versions of things such as The Goldberg Variations (Glenn Gould or Landowska) or The Well-Tempered Clavier. Maybe listen to a few of the Bach cello sonatas (Rostropovich, Yoyo Ma, or Starker are good places to start).
If you're curious about opera you can either try the Greatest Hits route -- arias of Puccini or Verdi sung by Pavarotti or Domingo or Moffo or Sutherland. Or else listen to a complete recording with libretto in hand or else watch a dvd with subtitles of Mozart's the Marriage of Figaro or Don Giovanni. Then listen to something like Strauss's Four Last Songs for a taste of how beautifully vocals and orchestra can combine. (Here one could recommend Schwartzkopf, Janowitz, te Kanawa, or Norman. All have versions on youtube.)
Hi edgeworth, thanks for the recommendations. I came to classical music less than a year ago, after checking out some stuff on youtube. I got a bit hooked on Beethoven symphonies, but recently have been starting to branch out more. I listened to Sibelius Symphony 1, Karajan on youtube, and I'll explore the work of Sibelius a lot more.
I also listened to a bit of Béla Bartók, Out Of Doors, that was an interesting piano piece. I listened to Bach Brandenburg Concerto 3 or 4 I think it was. I've listened to some others too. There's so much of it, it's a bit bewildering, but I think I'm at the beginning of a long and wonderful journey.
As far as opera is concerned, I haven't looked into that much yet, I've been thinking about giving Tristan and Isolde a go, I have no idea what they're singing though. I might also buy Fidelio.
I'll spend a lot of time on youtube, most of my recent classical purchases came as a direct result of finding them on youtube first.
Opera without understanding the words is like watching TV with the sound off. It's a dramatic form with stories and characters. I'd recommend starting out with opera live or on video. I started out listening to records with a libretto in my lap, but until I actually saw an opera, I had no idea what it was all about. I could only guess. Ballet is great too. There are some fantastic ballet videos. I'm happy to recommend some videos if you are interested.
If you can't see good opera live with super titles, you might consider listening to a few operas from the Chandos series that are sung in English. Of course the music is better in the original language, but your appreciation increases when you first hear it as musical drama in a language you're familiar with. I enjoyed listening to the English Ring Cycle years ago and recently I heard both the sung in English versions of Eugene Onegin and Don Giovanni and I learned something both times even though I'm familiar with those operas from different recordings and a few live performances.
As I noted above I don't consider filmed opera even vaguely comparable to a live event. Many of the compromises that are acceptable live seem much weaker and hokier on the screen. This is especially true when the singers are poor actors or physically unsuited for the part. Also if the recording is good (audiophile grade) I am bothered by the incongruity of the implied location of the instruments and voices based on the recording vs. the visual cues on the screen (For example if one voice obviously seems to come from the left towards the rear but the camera is close up on the singer dead center it's jarring for me.) Oddly, watching DVDs of opera is one time when multimiked recordings actually sound more appropriate -- rather like film soundtracks.
Also I don't know if this is a problem for others, but in languages that I speak or have reasonable familiarity with, strong/poor accents disturb me a lot. This is true for French, somewhat for German, and even for Russian despite my limited understanding of the language. Nonetheless, I know enough to recognize really bad pronunciation.
There are a LOT of great opera and ballet blu-rays now. There has been an explosion of titles lately. I'm happy to recommend some excellent ones if anyone is interested. If you have a big screen and a good surround system, it's the best way to experience opera and ballet.
I have heard several good recordings. I particularly like the new Onegin with Netrebko. But I daresay you will not find one single good opera dvd that deals with the problem I outlined. If the film is good, the photography won't be static. But if the sound is good (i.e. naturally recorded in high fidelity), it will reflect the relative soundstage of the point of view of the recording chosen by the engineers. Which means the sounds will not come from the positions between your speakers that are implied by the locations of those characters on your screen at all times. This problem is less important if the recording is multimiked and panned and implied depth and soundstage position are constantly shifted. just as in a movie, in which case the audio is not by my definition first rate. This is also not an issue if you listen on headphones but it is clearly audible on even a modest stereo system that is arranged to take full advantage of stereophonic or surround sound.
I know lots of opera blu-rays that are able to handle sound perspective gracefully. But that is MUCH less important than a really good staging and actors putting across the drama. It's meant to be visuals AND sound, not just sound. "Sound only" was a compromise that had to be made when recording was on records. We've evolved beyond that now.
The main problem I find with opera (and especially ballet) is if the camera gets too close, so you can't see the ensemble of the dancers or the relationships between characters on the stage. Also snappy cutting makes you lose track of the overall stage the piece is being performed on. That was a huge problem back in the days of the televised Met broadcasts on a 21 inch CRT. But with the advent of blu-ray, I've noticed that directors are shooting a little wider and taking advantage of the increased resolution to make the perspective more all encompassing. (That also solves your audio perspective problem.)
I'm watching on a video projection system with a ten foot wide screen. When hidef wide shots are projected, they look even better than being there in person, because you're in the comfort of your own home where you can watch any time you want, the 5:1 sound is encompassing, and the size of the screen allows for more variety than from a single seat in an opera house.
I almost never play my opera CDs all the way through with a libretto in my lap any more. I'd rather see it. And there are a lot of blu-rays with wonderful stagings and even a few great ones shot cinematically.
As I said before, we'll just agree to disagree. We have very different aesthetic preferences. Soundstaging is far more important to me than it is to you. Moreover, on a good stereo I can listen to a string quartet, close my eyes and imagine the players in front of me. Until they get true holographic pictures, I will never imagine I am at the theater from watching a dvd or bluray. In addition, the analytic perspective of watching filmed opera is a bit like watching filmed plays. There's a reason that filmed plays are not as successful as actual movies. Being at a theater is a different experience from watching a film. Film removes some of the impact of live. It lets you look at made up faces a bit too closely so that makeup which is optimal for being seen from farther away in a theater is not optimal for film and vice versa. Dramatic license that forgives physically limited singers onstage is less tolerable on the screen. Moreoever, a film with "good" sound will inevitably have a soundtrack that sounds weak when heard on its own since it relies on visual cues from the film. In many ways, I actually like a "movie" opera with lip synching more than the average recording of a live performance. And of course, I leave out the fact that much filmed opera is horribly directed. There is only one traditional staging of the Ring on DVD and it is rather bland -- the Levine Met set. The other versions -- Boulez, etc are far too modern for my tastes. In some cases it's not too distracting, in others it's truly risible. Best to hear the performances unseen.
Obviously you are blessed to like filmed opera. Happy for you. I am much less satisfied. So I share my opinions for those who hear like me and I am able to articulate what makes people like me uncomfortable with filmed opera that is less troublesome with good audio only recordings.