The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music review: “Wigmore Hall Live” series is a stand-out of live recital recordings and gets The Ear’s top recommendation

July 9, 2010

By Jacob Stockinger

I’ve never been to Wigmore Hall (below) in London. But I sure want to go there.

Especially now.

That’s because I have been listening to a number of recordings in the “Wigmore Hall Live” series.

And I am impressed. The “Wigmore Hall Live” releases offer some of the best and brightest spots on the classical recording scene right now.

Many things recommend this series of more than 40 recordings to me.

For one, they are live performances, and there is just something about a live performance, with the interaction between performers and audiences, that appeals.

Wigmore is small hall that casters to chamber music, song recitals and soloists, and I live that.

The artists, often young and European, are often performers we Americans should know better but haven’t heard enough of and don’t get to see live.

Each title also represents a historic document since it presents a specific concert on a specific date.

The acoustics and sound engineering are usually superb, especially those recorded in more recent years.

The timings are usually generous and run up to more than 80 minutes. But an average of 65-70 minutes seems like an ideal recital to listen to at night.

The audiences seem exemplary. They cough little, they stay quiet and they don’t intrude on the recording.

And most of all, the recording are of programs – actual programs that are deliberately planned for listenability and coherence – rather by genre. And these days, I don’t want to hear all the Chopin mazurkas, all the Beethoven cello sonatas and so on, the way so many CD releases are organized.

I’ve read that the live format is cheaper to record and produce – indeed, many performing arts groups, presenters and venues – have turned to creating their own recording labels because larger studio labels are strapped.

So far, I have sampled about a dozen CDs. I tend to favor instrumental over vocal recordings, although Wigmore Hall Live offers lots of appealing art song recitals (including one by Lorraine Hunt Lieberson).

Here are my results:

American pianist Jonathan Biss (below) in a recital of Schubert and Kurtag: 10/10. It offers great playing of an original program, by the young gifted musician who appeared in a Mozart concerto with the Madison Symphony Orchestra this past season.

Russian violinist Alina Ibragimova and French pianist Cedric Tiberghien (below) in the first volume of the complete Beethoven violin sonatas: 10/10. The CD features two early and two middle sonatas. The interplay is exemplary in these up-tempo and fiery readings by these young artists. It makes one hungry for the other two CDs one expects in the series, which I hope are also mixed up rather than chronological.

An all-Haydn program by the Dorian String Quartet with survey that includes an early, middle and late quartets plus an encore movement from another quartet: 9/10. The playing is terrific in its balance and tone, but the early quartet seems token compared to the richness and maturity of the late works. Then again, maybe that is the point.

English pianist Imogen Cooper in a Beethoven Sonata (Op. 101), a Mozart (A minor, K. 310) and Ravel (“Miroirs”) with an encore of Debussy’s “La Terrace des Audiences au Clair de Lune” from Book 2 of the Preludes: 8/10. Fine playing by an artist we Americans should know more of. But the playing just doesn’t quite rise to the same inspired level as her 3-CD set of late Schubert works from the Avie label.

Hungarian cellist Miklos Perenyi with pianist Denes Varjon: 10/10. The underrated cellist, who recorded all the Beethoven sonatas with star pianist Andras Schiff, offers a solo Bach Suite (No. 3), Britten’s Sonata for Cello and Piano and a Brahms Sonata (No. 2) that makes for a perfect evening of cello music.

There are more title I love, and I return to them another time.

But in the meantime, I give the “Wignore Live” series my highest rating and strongest recommendation.

You can find many titles at or at your local record store.

You can also read more about them, see a complete list and even order at Wigmore Hall’s own site, which has a link below:

Do you know Wigmore Hall Live series?

What do you think?

Do you have titles you particularly like and recommend?

Leave a critique or review.

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

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