17 November 2013

A very happy ending to a courtship in sound and wisdom in Janowski's Bruckner cycle

Marek Janowski's Bruckner symphony cycle took a little more than 5 years to complete. These days when the vast majority of Bruckner recordings are live, this cycle in a sense comes as a surprise as all the recordings are not indicated as live.

The cycle began with B9 recorded and issued in 2007 and finished with B4 recorded in October 2012 and issued just recently. The following list shows the chronological order in which the recordings are released. All are recorded in Victoria Hall, Geneva, Switzerland. All are issued in hybrid SACD/CDs.

Symphony         Recorded in          Released in        Version/Edition
B9                      5/2007                   2007                    Nowak
B6                      1/2009                   2009                    Nowak
B5                      7/2009                   2010                    Nowak
B8                      4,6,7/2010             2010                    1890 Nowak
B7                      10/2010                 6/2011                 Nowak
B1                      6/2011                   4/2012                 Linz 1866 Nowak
B3                      10/2011                 9/2012                 1889 Nowak
B2                      10/2012                 6/2013                 1877 Carragan
B4                      10/2012                 11/2013               1878/1880 Nowak

If I have to use just a few words to describe this cycle, they are 'air', 'space' and 'contrast between mellowness and urgency'. The first two words refer to the recorded sound and the last phrase to Janowski's treatment of the symphonies. The sound is very pleasing in all the recordings, with air and space around each section of the orchestra, and with lovely warmth both of the orchestral sonority and in the hall ambience. Janowski imparts excellent limpidity and mellowness to the nine symphonies and the result is mesmerizing. However, as with all recorded cycles except perhaps Blomstedt's, there are bound to be some weak links. Less successful are B9 and B7, and I'd say it demands an acquired taste in B5 as well. Exceptional ones are B8 (recorded in 3 different months), B1, B2 and B3. The last one published, B4, provides a very happy ending to this cyclic endeavour.

On the SACD/CD the copyright date is 2013 (correct)

On the back cover, the copyright date is wrongly stated as 2010 which is earlier than the recording was made!

All in all, it is a lovely cycle that merits repeated listening, which I've been doing for quite some time.

18 August 2013

Mono vinyl party

For those who follow my blog, I have to offer an apology for not updating it for more than 4 months. I asked myself why and I can only come up with one answer: a fiendish period of one new and arduous project, one yearly time-engulfing academic exercise, two trips and a new turntable. I haven't forgotten Bruckner during this time. In fact, apart from the first two things mentioned above, the last two endeavours are intricately interwoven with my deep interest in Bruckner. I'll leave these to future posts.

Let me start with reporting a very interesting party today: a listening session dedicated to mono LPs. It was a very pleasant morning as I could meet some good old friends. All of them are veteran classical music fans. They came over because they were interested in auditioning how these mono LPs would sound when played via a mono cartridge in general, and comparing their sound when a stereo cartridge was used in particular. In fact the 'stereo setup' in my friend's office is about 20 times more expensive than my humble 'mono setup'. The cartridge in question is the Audio Technica AT33Mono (45th Anniversary edition).

The result is stunning. The mono cartridge won our hearts overwhelmingly in all the mono records.

The listening area in my friend's office

AT33Mono (45th Anniversary edition)

You won't believe it is mono in Fricsay's Verdi Requiem recording

Vintage Bruckner recordings issued in both mono and stereo in the good old days

Here is the playing list (unless otherwise stated, all are in mono):

1) Mendelssohn violin concerto; Beethoven Romances 1&2

        Menuhin / Furtwaengler BPO/Philharmonia

        HMV ALP 1135 (Made in Gt. Britain) (Red-Gold label)

 Recorded 25-26 May 1952

2) Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 6

        Mravinsky / Leningrad Philharmonic

        DGG LPM 18334 (GY3)

        Recorded June 1956

3) Verdi Requiem

        Fricsay / RIAS SO

        DGG 18155/56 LPM (GY3)

        Recorded 22-26 Sep 1953

4) Dvorak New World Symphony

        Reiner / Chicago SO

        RCA Victor Red Seal LM-2214 (Red Shaded Dog label)

        Recorded 1958

5) Mendelssohn & Tchaikovsky violin concerti

        Francescatti / Mitropoulos / NYPO

        Philips Minigroove ABL 3159 (Made in England) (First label)

        Recorded 1955

6) Bruckner Symphony No. 4

        Kertesz / LSO

        Decca LXT 6227 (Orange-Silver) (Mono) and SXL 6227 (WBg ED2) (Stereo)

        Recorded 20,21,22,25 Oct 1965

7) Bruckner Symphony No. 6

        Klemperer / The New Philharmonia

        Columbia 33CX 1943 (Semi-Circle) (Mono) and SAX 2582 (Semi-Circle) (Stereo)

        Recorded Nov 1964

8) Bruckner Symphony No. 9

        Mehta / VPO

        Decca LXT 6202 (Orange-Silver) (Mono) and SXL 6202 (WBg ED1) (Stereo)

        Recorded 3-7 May 1965 

In the comparison of mono vs stereo versions of the same recording (the Bruckner records), either version has its own merits in the Decca records. The mono versions have a more life-like timbre of the instruments while the stereo versions show their exuberance in more colourful orchestral passages. However, for the Klemperer Bruckner 6 on Columbia (EMI), the stereo version sounds much better: mellower and less rugged.

Thank you pals for a very enjoyable morning.

17 April 2013

New recording of the Vienna version of Bruckner Symphony No. 1 -- Claudio Abbado

Claudio Abbado has been enjoying a beautiful Indian Summer with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra, notably in Mahler and Bruckner. This may give one the impression that he started rather late in Bruckner, or for that matter Mahler as well. How wrong one is! In fact he first started to record Bruckner, in Symphony No. 1 in C minor, as early as 1969, and this recording was to become one of the members of the Vienna Philharmonic cycle produced by Decca in the early 1970s. And then there was a 1972 live recording issued by Melodiya in the former USSR, but only in the LP format and has not been reissued in CD up till now.  More than 20 years later in 1996 he recorded this symphony again with the Vienna Philharmonic on DG (453415-2). All these 3 recordings used the "Linz" version. 

The Melodiya LP and the 2 CDs of the VPO recordings. The Japanese London CD is the first CD release of the 1969 recording issued by Decca.

The LP box-set issued by Telefunken-Decca in 1974 of the 9 Bruckner symphonies by the VPO under different conductors. (B1: Abbado; B2&6: Stein; B3&4: Böhm; B5: Maazel; B7&8: Solti and B9: Mehta).

Time flies and in recent years he was performing this symphony again with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra but this time he changed his preference to the 1890/91 Vienna version. Bruckner fans are well aware of the scarcity of recordings of this Vienna version. We have recordings of this later version (Complete Critical Edition edited by Brosche) by Wand, Rozhdestvensky and Chailly, in chronological order, besides a more recent digital download of Botstein's, and that's all we got. Even if recordings using the first published edition (Hynais) are included, there are only 2 more complete ones, by Adler and Andreae, and one of the Scherzo only, by Fritz Zaun (included in the EMI box-set of historical recordings).

In the coming Claudio Abbado: The Symphony Edition, a big 41-CD box-set issued by DG to celebrate Abbado's 80th birthday, Abbado handpicked all the recordings, and he chose for Bruckner's C minor symphony (CD26) a live recording in the Kultur- und Kongresszentrum, Lucerne in August 2012 with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra, of course of the Vienna version he championed of late. Track timings: 12'04"; 12'44"; 8'40"; 16'40". This is an important new addition not only to his discography in particular but also to Bruckner's discography in general. I'm really looking forward to it. 

For detailed track listing of this big box-set, click here to go to the official site.

For some reason, this box-set was advertised as a 40-CD box-set but in fact it contains 41 CDs.

04 April 2013

"Anton Bruckner -- The Collection" box-set from Profil

As far as I know, there has never been a fuller box-set dedicated to Anton Bruckner's music than the coming 20-CD box-set from Profil which contains most of his works. In the past most of the box-sets contain his symphonies and at most adding in some of his sacred works.

It contains Bruckner's:
Orchestral works: all 11 symphonies, March in D minor and Three Orchestral Pieces.
Sacred works: Te Deum, Mass in C major "Windhaager Messe", Masses in E minor & F minor, Psalm 150, Missa solemnis, Requiem, Tantum ergo, Ave Maria, Helgoland, Latin Motets (Pange Lingua, Afferentur Regi Virgines, Vexilla Regis, Christus factus est, Locus iste, Os Justi meditabitur, Libera me, Domine, Ave Maria, Tota pulchra es, Virga Jesse and Ecce sacerdos).
Chamber music: String Quartet in C minor, String Quintet in F major, Intermezzo in D minor and Rondo in C minor.
Piano works:  Lancer-Quadrille, Steiermärker, Quadrille for 4 hands;3 Kleine Stücke for 4 hands, Klavierstück E-flat major, Sonatensatz in G minor, Stille Betrachtung an einem Herbstabend, Fantasie, Erinnerung.

Although it does not include all of Bruckner's music, it is still a set that is very ambitious in its scope. From the information so far gathered, it is a set featuring different orchestras and conductors: Georg Tintner, Gerd Schaller, Kurt Sanderling, Günter Wand, Christian Thielemann, Herbert von Karajan and Karl Anton Rickenbacher. A very tempting list it is.

It is scheduled to be released in mid-April.

Update (18 Apr):
Track listing:

Vol 1: CD1 Symphony "00" in F minor. Georg Tintner/Royal Scottish National Orchestra.
         CD2  Symphony "Die Nullte". Georg Tintner/National SO of Ireland.

Vol 2: Symphony No. 1 (1866 version; ed. Carragan). Gerd Schaller/Philharmonie Festiva.

Vol 3: Symphony No. 2 (1872 version; ed. Carragan). Gerd Schaller/Philharmonie Festiva.

Vol 4: Symphony No. 3. Klaus Tennstedt/BRSO.

Vol 5: Symphony No. 4. Kurt Sanderling/BRSO.

Vol 6: Symphony No. 5. Günter Wand/DSO Berlin.

Vol 7: Symphony No. 6. Bernard Haitink/Staatskapelle Dresden.

Vol 8: Symphony No. 7. Yuri Ahronovitch/Gürzenich-Orchester Köln.

Vol 9: (2CD) Symphony No. 8 (ed. Haas). Christian Thielemann/Staatskapelle Dresden.

Vol 10: Symphony No. 9. Günter Wand/RSO Stuttgart des SWR.

Vol 11: Latin Motets. (from Calig)

Vol 12: String Quintet, Intermezzo, String Quartet, Rondo. (from Naxos)

Vol 13: Te Deum. Karajan/VPO (Profil). Mass in E minor. Hermuth Rilling/Bach-Collegium Stuttgart (from Hänssler Classics)

Vol 14: Mass in F minor. Psalm 150. Hermuth Rilling (from Hänssler Classics)

Vol 15: Organ Works, Choruses and Mass in C Major "Windhaager Messe". (from Capriccio, Naxos, Ars Produktion)

Vol 16: Works for piano. Brunner and Schopper. (from CPO)

Vol 17: CD1.  Missa Solemnis. Psalm 112. Rickenbacher/Bamberger Symphoniker. March, Three Pieces.
           CD2. Requiem. Janssens.
            (from Virgin Classics/EMI, MDG, Cypres)

28 March 2013

Testament Records gifted us with 2 new additions to Klemperer's Bruckner discography and one misprinted album

For a long time, Testament Records has been doing a great job in churning out previously unissued recordings of many eminent conductors, some with much historical interest and a few with historic significance as well. For this Bruckner enthusiast, Testament's Bruckner CDs and LPs are of immense interest to me. This Easter, two new additions to Otto Klemperer's Bruckner discography appear on this label.

One (SBT2 1477) is Bruckner's 7th coupled with Mozart's 40th, recorded live in November 1965 in Royal Festival Hall, London. No exact date is given. Another (SBT2 1485) is Bruckner's 5th coupled with Schubert's Unfinished, with a given broadcast date of 21 March 1967. Both are with the New Philharmonia Orchestra. All are mono recordings. The copyright of these 2 albums is held by the BBC, and apparently the master tapes are kept in the British Library Sound Archives. Digital remastering was done by Paul Baily at Re:Sound, and Testament paid for the editing and digital remastering.

I'm lucky to have an early listening to these CDs, thanks to the efficient and speedy ordering policy of the local importer, Shun Cheong Record. My early impression is that while these recordings can capture the "magic" of Klemperer on the fly, they also reveal a sort of Jekyll and Hyde nature of Klemperer's interpretative trait. The Seventh is dotted with shards of tempestuous tantrums here and there, and you're given quite a rough ride within and across movements, augmented somewhat by the limitation of the sound in the recording and the widely-known dry acoustics of the Royal Festival Hall. I wouldn't say it is a very charming addition to the many extant Klemperer's Bruckner 7 recordings, but the genuine frisson of the night is well captured and can be felt almost viscerally, for example in the aggressive waves of development in the first movement. It is an unmistakably intense reading.

The Fifth, recorded 2 years later, is a different scene. Klemperer's famed architectural control is evident here. If the Seventh in 1965 represents a manic, or at least hypomanic, level, this Fifth in 1967 symbolises a more neutral mental state, with gleams of brooding in the woodwinds and particularly in the Adagio. It can easily become a loveable part of Klemperer's Bruckner discography. The Schubert Unfinished in another disc is palpably touching. This 2-CD set is one that I would not part with.

The story does not stop here. Testament has given us another talking point, and maybe also a rush of excitement from collectors, in SBT2 1485. They mix up the 2 CDs. Disc 1 is supposed to contain the music of Bruckner 5 and Disc 2 the Unfinished as printed both in the booklet notes and the back inlay. However, what is in Disc 1 is the Schubert and in Disc 2 the Bruckner. I don't know whether they will remedy this in the near future, but if you're a collector of misprinted CDs, go get one as early as you can lest they would soon recall this first batch.

Testament SBT2 1485

The 2 misprinted CDs

These two double-CD sets have proudly joined their companions in Klemperer's Bruckner CDs as in the following picture:

Some of Klemperer's Bruckner symphony CDs

P.S. I've emailed John Berky about this error and he replied that he had passed along this message of misprinted CDs to Testament Records. Hopefully they will remedy this soon, although for me this error will not affect my listening pleasure. After all, what is in a name, or a label in this instance?

24 March 2013

The interesting case of Heinz Bongartz's Bruckner Symphony No.6 recording

Although it was known that Heinz Bongartz had made other recordings of Bruckner symphonies (B7 with RSO Leipzig on 10 April 1948 and the D minor with Dresdner Philharmoniker on 12 Nov 1950), apparently only one is now extant: Symphony No. 6 recorded in December 1964 with the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig. This recording has been well-known for many years among Bruckner fans, not least because of its scarcity in its original CD re-issue by Berlin Classics (although it is still available in a Berlin Classics box-set, and lately from Klassik Haus Restorations). Some would consider it the "holy grail"of the recordings of this symphony, but others would be less than pleased.

My impression with this recording is one of dissatisfaction with the CD especially its brass outbursts. There can be no doubt that the Adagio is really lovely and moving. However I was not satisfied with this conclusion. I was wondering if so many Bruckner aficionados think so highly of this recording, there must be a reason for it. I wanted to ascertain if it is the problem of the remastering in the CD re-issue that mars an originally excellent recording.

So I turned to the LPs. This recording was originally issued by VEB Deutsche Schallplatten (VEBDS) in the former GDR on 2 Eterna LPs (8 20 540-541). The stereo version from Eterna is 8 25 540-541. Since 1954, Deutsche Grammophone from the former West Germany had started co-operations with VEBDS, and it was followed shortly afterwards by Philips and EMI. One form of cooperation is for these companies to pay VEBDS for the right to distribute an existing VEBDS recording on their own label in the West. Thus came the Philips version of this recording in stereo on 835 388 LY, which has a deluxe gatefold cover with the sleeve holding the single LP between the 2 halves of the cover, and a cloth-bound spine. 

Eterna black label 8 25 540-541

Philips 835 388 LY

The Philips issue is a joy to look at and to hold in hands, but its deficiency lies in the single LP. The Adagio is split onto two sides of the LP: Side One has the first movement and the beginning of the Adagio, and Side Two contains the concluding part of the Adagio and the last 2 movements. It compares poorly with the Eterna release with each side of the 2 LPs holding each movement of the symphony.

What I have suspected but never really anticipated is the effect of the sound difference between these LPs and the CD on the overall impression of the interpretation. The strident and shrilling brass on the CD, particularly in bars 24-28 at the beginning of the first movement, becomes convincingly impactful but never so coarse and harsh on the CD. The timpani, well heard in bar 28 when the brass stops, is solid and distinct rather than the slightly muffled sound on the CD. All the instruments are more "airy" on the LPs. The result is a truly marvellous recording. 

Comparing the two issues of LPs from either sides of the then Berlin Wall, the sound is more lively with a bigger dynamic range on the Eterna LPs, albeit with a little more surface noise, while the sound is warmer, making the Adagio even more lovely, on the Philips release. I won't be tempted to make the difficult choice of which LP version is better -- I'm truly happy to hold on to both.

I don't want to go into the everlasting argument of whether LPs or CDs are better as I naively reckon it is an utter waste of time.

However given this particular experience, I'd suggest that if you want this recording, don't waste time and money on the original CD re-issue on Berlin Classics. Go for either, or even better both, of these LPs and you won't regret.  Now this recording, in its vinyl version, will comfortably sit in my favourite list of this symphony. 

21 March 2013

Cristian Mandeal's Bruckner cycle is coming back on CDs

This is a Bruckner cycle recorded between 1984 and July 1989 with the Clug-Napoca Philharmonic Orchestra, finishing a few months before the collapse of the Ceausescu regime in Romania. All are analogue studio recordings. The fact that such a cycle could materialise in those turbulent and difficult times in Romania is a little miracle in itself.

Cristian Mandeal studied piano, composition and conducting at the Music High School in Brasov and the Music Academy in Bucharest, Romania. Later he also studied with Herbert von Karajan in the 1980s and with Sergei Celibidache in the 1990s.  In the UK, he was Principal Guest Conductor with the Hallé Orchestra in Manchester until the end of the 2008/2009 season. He is currently Principal Guest Conductor of the Copenhagen Philharmonic.

This cycle was originally released in several LPs by Electrecord, but understandably difficult to obtain in the West at those times. With the advent of CDs, only Symphony No. 7 was re-issued. For a while the only way to obtain this cycle is through John Berky's website via digital download. Now this cycle will be re-issued in Japan by the end of March.

It is great news to lovers of Bruckner's music indeed.

01 March 2013

Update on "Homemade" partial Bruckner cycles

An update on the "Homemade" partial Bruckner cycle page (listed under the blog title) was made, with pictures on Ivor Bolton's and Jaap van Zweden's ongoing work posted.

25 February 2013

In Memoriam -- Wolfgang Sawallisch (1923-2013)

Wolfgang Sawallisch passed away last Friday, 22 February 2013. May he rest in peace.

He was a prolific conductor in terms of recorded music. As far as his Bruckner recordings are concerned, although he did not do a full cycle, all of what he has recorded are very fine, and two of them are among my favourites. Besides the 6 commercial releases in physical products as shown in the picture below, he also has live recordings of B3 and B5 with the Philadelphia Orchestra in the form of digital download from the orchestra's official website.

B1: recorded 25-26 & 29/10/1984. Orfeo
B4: recorded March 1993 with the Philadelphia Orchestra. EMI (One of my favourites.)
B5: recorded 28-29/9/1990 and 18-20/3/1991. Orfeo
B6: recorded 13-14/10/1981. Orfeo (A tamed "peaceful" interpretation. The beginning of the recap in the Adagio is so nice, and the coda is truly memorable.)
B9: in the CD booklet, the recording date is printed as 23-23/12/1984. Orfeo
B9: live recording 10/8/1983 with the VPO. Altus

12 February 2013

Bruckner symphonies recordings: Summary CD/DVD Review 2012 (New recordings)

The year 2012 is an unusually fruitful year for Bruckner aficionados as far as new releases, reissues and, in particular, completion of cycles of Bruckner symphonies CDs and DVDs are concerned, although the number of releases is not great compared to previous years.

This is a personal summary review for 2012, and I make no pretensions to being exhaustive in the coverage of releases in this period. For one thing, unofficial releases will not be discussed. And even for official commercial releases, there may still be one or two that I haven't got, for one reason or another. Furthermore I'll choose only the notable ones to discuss.

First, the completion of Bruckner cycles. My favourite modern cycle (from No.1 to No. 9) is without doubt Herbert Blomstedt's on Querstand. I've praised more than once Blomstedt's ongoing efforts in Bruckner's symphonies - in 2009 on his trilogy of Nos. 6-8,  a brief take on his No. 5 in the following year, in 2011 compiling an adhoc cycle par excellence, and then voicing my anticipation of the completion of the cycle last September. The finished cycle does not disappoint. It is easily the best sounding and performance-wise most rewarding modern cycle. It is now also available in a box-set.

Another cycle which saw its completion is Marcus Bosch's on Coviello Classics, but there is always a lingering impression that he is out of his league in Bruckner in parts of this cycle.

Although strictly speaking it is not a Bruckner cycle, the seven Bruckner performances recorded in the Anthology of the RCO are of such historical interest that they should be mentioned alongside any partial cycle.

While partial cycles are touched on, particular mention must be given to the incomplete cycle left by the great Brucknerian Guiseppe Sinopoli. A box-set was issued locally in Japan (Tower Records Universal Vintage Collection PROC1182). Those who have not got these recordings in the past should look no further.

Another cycle which comes near to completion is the excellent one by Marek Janowski on Pentatone. The First and the Third were released in 2012, leaving only the Second and the Fourth to complete a Nos. 1-9 cycle. 

As far as individual new recordings are concerned, Daniel Barenboim's new 7th on DG is really impressive, "an embodiment of tragic beauty and elegiac mellowness". 

Gerd Schaller's B1-3 recordings (Profil PH12022) continue his cycle of versions of Bruckner's symphonies that derive mainly from recent editions by William Carragan. Schaller is a very nice and gentle man, a fact that we noticed when we dined with him in St. Florian last August. The Philharmonie Festiva is a symphony orchestra established in 2008 by Schaller with the core cast of musicians from the Munich Bach Soloists, a soloist ensemble first founded by Karl Richter, and the rest from top orchestras in Munich and other orchestras in Germany. Their recordings are all marked by a dark-hued orchestral palette and sumptuous sound. Their growing reputation is not without reason. In the pipeline is the Eighth which will be released later this year.

When it comes to name the most impressive new recording in my mind, Barenboim's has to give way to Mario Venzago's Bruckner 2 recording. Venzago's ongoing Bruckner cycle on CPO will be a product of his cooperation with different less-widely-known orchestras, a little reminiscent of Georg Tintner: Nos. 4 and 7 with the Basel Symphony Orchestra, Switzerland, Nos. 0 and 1 with the Tapiola Sinfonietta, Finland, No. 2 with the Northern Sinfonia, UK, and the coming Nos. 3 and 6 with the Bern Symphony Orchestra, Switzerland. Venzago has made it clear that he wanted to portray a different character in each of Bruckner's symphonies, so much so that he'd nicknamed every one of them. While the first 2-CD offering (4th and 7th) did not raise my interest much, the second 2-CD offering (D minor and 1st) was very good and began to make me harbour expectations for his future recordings. The 2nd (CPO 777735-2) is outstanding, being a very spirited and uplifting performance, and gives a new handsome face to this seldom performed symphony. It's a pity that he didn't use the 1872 version which was originally advertised for the concerts in November 2011, but there is a very interesting story to this choice....

There are a couple of surprises to come too. Donald Runnicles with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra (Hyperion CDA67916) gave us a surprisingly good Bruckner 7. It is an eloquent reading with smooth long lines and some special touches to minor details here and there. Although I wouldn't say that it'll enter my favourite's list, it's been a pleasure listening to it. Another surprise is the 4th from Shao-Chia Lu and the Taiwan Philharmonic, which although the lower strings have room for improvement, is a product of fine cooperation and commitment.

On the other hand, some new releases are less encouraging. I was a little excited when I found Franz Welser-Möst's CD (Orfeo C868121B) at the Salzburg Festival House last August, well before it was officially released. It is a recording of the 18 August 1989 performance of Bruckner 7 with the Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester during the Salzburg Festival. By the time I had listened to it, my initial sentiments sagged. Although it is hailed in the back cover: "We hear a new Bruckner here, fresh and full of youthful spirits -- as firm proof of his worldwide recognition in a place synonymous with tradition", I may be too dumb to discern this synonym. Welser-Möst's handling of the piece is more like a bull in a china shop, the sort of youthful imprudence that one can only euphemistically call the performance exciting. As if they are diagonally across the street from each other, Christoph von Dohnányi's Bruckner 4 performance on 30 October 2008 in the Royal Festival Hall captured on Signum Classics (SIG CD256) is a stale routine, even languid at time, despite the excellent playing of the Philharmonia Orchestra. << Please read the comments below for an alternative view from Mr Ken Ward, Editor of The Bruckner Journal. >>

I suppose some would call it a sin if I don't mention for the year 2012 Simon Rattle's Bruckner 9 recording on EMI with the latest completion of the Finale. I firmly believe that this recording has a certain historical significance, in that the attempted completion of the Finale has been endorsed by the Principal Conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. But otherwise its significance will stop at that. Artistically, for the first three movements, I can easily recall more than a handful of recordings that can far more emphatically endear me to this incomplete masterpiece and tug at my heartstrings. I'd return to this recording only for a taste of the completed Finale. Sonically, however, the SACD issued in Japan (TOGE-11092-93) is superb.

For DVD/BD, I need to add Abbado's Bruckner 5 performance with 'his' Lucerne Festival Orchestra (Accentus Music ACC10243 on Blu-ray Disc) . It was recorded live at the Concert Hall of KKL Lucern on 19 and 20 August 2011. The players were obviously listening to one another very carefully and the result is for all to appreciate -- it is almost like chamber music played by a full symphony orchestra. Orchestral transparency, cantabile litheness and beautiful subtle nuances characterise this memorable performance. 

Version 1: 12/2/2013
Version 1.1: 14/2/2013 with reference to Abbado's DVD and second picture added
Version 1.2:

15 January 2013

Digital rebirth for my vintage Leica lenses -- via Fujifilm X-E1 (Part 2): 50mm Summilux first version, 35mm Summilux ASPH and Summicron ASPH

While Fujifilm has provided some help to users of M-mount lenses by showing a list of compatible lenses for its M mount adapter used on the X-Pro1 and X-E1, many notable Leica lenses are not included. For example, in Part 1 the Noctilux 1.0 (1976) and 75mm Summilux-M (1980) are included in the list while the 135mm Tele-Elmar (1965) is not -- the earlier version, 135mm Elmar (1960), is nevertheless in the list.

In Part 2, I continue the test of compatibility with 3 more Leica lenses. The one included in the official compatibility list is the 35mm Summicron-M ASPH (1997), while the other 2 not on the list are the 35mm Summilux-M ASPH (1994) and the 50mm Summilux first version (1959).

On the left is Leica 35mm Summicron-M ASPH (titanium), in the centre mounted on the X-E1 is Leica 50mm Summilux (I), and on the right is Leica 35mm Summilux-M ASPH (titanium) with a customised hood from Contax (the original hood, unlike that of the titanium 35mm Summicron, is black plastic which I thought is not a worthy match of the titanium finish of the lens proper).

The first version of the 50mm Summilux was released in 1959 (with a serial number starting from 1640601), and had the shortest life span of any Leica lenses as it was soon replaced by a new redesign in the second version two years later (with a serial number starting at 1844001). My lens has a serial number 1661xxx, which was released in 1959 according to records. According to Erwin Puts, it has low overall contrast at full aperture, and "on-axis coarse detail is rendered with good clarity but with soft edges". In fact I found these characteristics make this lens one of my favourites for portraits because the low contrast and the mild degree of softness result in very pleasing and comfortable facial features and skin texture of the subjects pictured. The bokeh is also smooth and attractive. Overall this lens has that special "vintage Leica fingerprint".

Leica 50mm Summilux (I) at f/1.4, 1/30s, ISO 320

Leica 50mm Summilux (I) at f/4, 1/180s, ISO 200

100% crop (near centre)

100% crop (right lower corner)

It can be seen from the 100% crops that this 50mm Summilux of over 50 years of age is still performing well.

Leica 35mm Summicron at f/2, 1/30s, ISO 2500

100% crop

Leica 35mm Summicron-M at f/4,1/30s, ISO 1250

100% crop (click to enlarge to original size)

The 35mm Summicron-M ASPH needs no introduction. Fujifilm X-E1 can handle this lens very well. Its sensor and processing engine also show their power in the high ISO pictures above.

Leica 35mm Summilux-M at f/1.4, 1/30s, ISO 500

100% crop (click to enlarge to original size)

Leica 35mm Summilux-M at f/1.4. 1/40s, ISO 800

These lenses make the X-E1 all the more lovable.