Classical Releases: 'The City,' Mahler and Beethoven With Washington Roots

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Sunday, July 12, 2009

A classical music recap: Washington Post critic Anne Midgette surveys some of the recordings released in recent months by artists and ensembles with a local connection.

Beethoven: The Complete Piano Concertos

Richard Goode; Iván Fischer leads the Budapest Festival Orchestra.

Nonesuch

Iván Fischer, the principal conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra, is one of the most-recorded conductors around today. But his recordings are made not with the NSO but with the Budapest Festival Orchestra, which he founded and has built into one of the most interesting orchestras around. They recently issued the Mahler Fourth, the latest in their ongoing Mahler cycle. But in light of Fischer's project next year to do a Beethoven symphony cycle in New York jointly with the BFO and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, it is worth visiting this recently released Beethoven account, recorded live in Budapest in 2005.

And indeed, this is luminously clear Beethoven. Fischer is never going to have the crisp tautness of, say, a David Zinman (I really enjoy his Tonhalle Orchestra recording of the symphonies); Fischer's heart is always on his sleeve. But his approach here is relentlessly, restrainedly classical. Rather than wallowing in big phrases, he keeps clean and supple and out of the way.

In fact, restraint is a hallmark and, perhaps, a slight drawback of the set as a whole. It is, of course, a trait of the soloist, Richard Goode, whose presence here is the point of the exercise; for Nonesuch, this release represents a bookend to Goode's accounting of the complete sonatas back in the 1990s. Goode's playing is clean, often very beautiful, and sometimes finicky. And these recordings are so beautifully schooled that they take on a sort of sameness; even the Emperor is suspiciously well mannered. There are always moments that capture the ear, but overall, you can find many other more exciting accounts of the cycle -- including, in fact, Zinman's, with Yefim Bronfman.

"The City"

Documentary film with a score by Aaron Copland.

The Post-Classical Ensemble conducted by Angel Gil-Ordóñez.

Naxos

Ralph Steiner and Willard van Dyke's Utopian documentary "The City," made for the 1939 World's Fair, depicts an ideal community where children grow big and strong, work is close to home, and every citizen has a right to amenities like public tennis courts: the federally planned community of Greenbelt. The film also represents an artistic Utopia, bringing together aestheticized images of city life (hearkening back to Walter Ruttmann's 1927 documentary "Berlin, Sinfonie einer Grossstadt") and a score by Aaron Copland, carving out his American identity in strong, sure musical strokes.


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