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Music Reviews by some guy who doesn't know much about music (me)

Disclaimer: I have very little formal understanding of music, let alone any education in music. I am probably overly impressed by superficial points of technique and emotional tricks that musicians abuse. Music is an emotional experience for me, and I review based on my own emotional response to a piece or recording.

My favorite piano recording

Brahms Concerto #2
Sviatoslav Richter with Erich Leinsdorf conducting the Chicago Symphony
Chicago, 17 - 18 Oct 1960, RCA

I find this recording so powerful that I can't put any words to it.

My favorite live performance

Elizabeth Wolff
Boulder, CO, March 2001 (not recorded)
My most memorable concert was a free concert at the Boulder public library by the little-known pianist Elizabeth Wolff. She played Rachmaninov like I've never heard; her rendition of Rachmaninov's Preludes took me out of my body. I don't have a recording so I can't describe it beyond that, but her recording of Rachmaninov's Moments Musicaux, Op. 16 (her only published recording) is also outstanding.

Mozart - Concerto #20 - Richard Goode

The Mozart purists cringe at this one because it's much too fast and flamboyant, but I've heard many other performances of this popular concerto and he brings it alive like no one else I've heard. As flashy as Mozart was for his time, I think he would approve.

Beethoven - All five concerti - Glenn Gould

Glenn Gould makes Beethoven's concerti feel like pop music, in the good sense. There's a smooth hipness to his playing, and all five are unbelievably catchy.

I always thought it was a bit silly how much piano students practice scales, but hearing Gould play Beethoven's 5th concerto over and over for the last several months, I can't get over how beautifully Beethoven composed the scales, and how masterfully Gould rides them. They are the most powerful and emotional part of the whole piece for me, especially in the last movement, which ends surprisingly quietly for Beethoven. It feels like I've been on a roller coaster after I hear Gould play the 5th.

Two opposites

David Helfgott - Rachmaninoff Concerto #3
Arturo Benedetti Michaelangelli - Schumann, Debussy, Chopin: EMI live recording, Royal Festival Hall, 1957

These two are about as opposite in style as you can get. Helfgott is nearly insane in his style (this is the guy they made the movie "Shine" about, and he spent a decade in mental institions), sometimes to the point that you wonder if he even realizes the orchestra is there. But I can't deny that it's a truly brilliant performance. I've heard many performances of Rachmaninoff's 3rd, but Helfgott really feels like he "gets" it. Unfortunately, the other pieces on the CD make me wonder if Helfgott is a one-hit wonder, since they fall totally flat in comparison.

Michaelangelli, on the other hand, is one of the most precise players I've ever heard. I'd call his style "passion through precision". Despite his almost inhuman precision, his performance feels undeniably human. In a few pieces, this precision brings out an intensity that I have never felt in them, especially the beginning of Schumann's Faschingsschwank aus Wien, Op. 26 and the end of Chopin's Ballade No.1 in G minor, Op. 23.

Mozart Requiem - Sir Neville Marriner - Academy of St. Martin in the Fields

Mozart's Requiem is my favorite choral composition, and no other performance I have heard even comes close. Beware: once you hear this recording, you may not be able to tolerate any other performance of this piece.