Classical CD Reviews
Classical CD Reviews – Part 1 of 2
Published on February 1, 2005
|January-February 2005 – Part 1 of 2 [Part 2]
JUAN CRISÓSTOMO ARRIAGA (1806-1826): Symphony in D. Overture, Los esclavos felices. Carlos Seixas Sinfonia in B flat. João de Sousa Carvalho (1745-1798) Overture, L’amore industrioso. António Leal Moreira (1758-1819) Sinfonia. Marcos Portugal (1762-1830) Overture, Il Duca di Foix – Algarve Orchestra conducted by Álvaro Cassuto – Naxos 8.557207 (58 mins.):
The short-lived Arriaga has always exerted a fascination on music lovers, primarily through the occasional recording of his D major symphony, a delightful romp which recalls the sultry Mozart of Figaro’s Barbarina and the high jinks of Bizet’s C major symphony. The other music on this enterprising disc recalls other delights, like Rossini’s overtures and Schubert in his Italian mood. The little overture of Moreira (called a Sinfonia) has an addicting, dopey glee about it, and the presence of clarinets here and there always make for smiles.
While Sérgio Azevedo’s liner notes are way too serious for such light hearted music, the recording – especially in the two Arriaga works – presents a lovely open sound stage on which the woodwinds have their way. If there were just a bit more definition and timbral luster, this would be a demonstration disc. The performances by the orchestra, which is situated on Portugal’s southern coast, its lovely Riviera, proudly show their affection for the music of their country, and feature some felicitous woodwind playing (which, unfortunately, the strings don’t quite match).
- Laurence Vittes
BRAHMS: Serenade No. 2 in A Major, Op. 16; Symphony No. 3 in F Major, Op. 90 – Bernard Haitink conductrs London Symphony Orchestra – LSO Live 0056 69:10 (Distrib. Harmonai Mundi)****:
The F Major Symphony has more in common with the opening of the Beethoven Fourth than Hans Richter’s designation for the work being kin to Beethoven’s Eroica. Haitink takes a lugubrious, even ponderous tempo at the opening of the symphony’s harmonic ambiguities, and he only opens up for a reticent smile for the recapitulation. The tight-lipped tight-fisted approach is less severe in the Andante and then relaxed for the Poco Allegretto. Here, the soft hues in the cellos and violas are compelling, the flutes yearning with that special Brahms wistfulness. Haitink urges a quiet intimacy that uses degrees of piano that attest to a real sympathy between him and his ensemble; then the French horn returns with the main theme. The finale seems to inherit Haitink’s pent-up momentum, breaking out, still pesant, into a roughly-hewn Allegro. This guarded vivaciousness may well be characteristic of the late Brahms, but it also confirms Hugo Wolf’s criticsm that Brahms was incapable of real exultation in music. A thoughtful performance, exquisitely played, but less Dionysiac than some classic renditions.
BIBER/MUFFAT: Der Turken Anmarsch – John Holloway, Violin; Aloysia Assenbaum, Organ; Lars Ulrik Mortensen, Harpsichord – ECM New Series ECM 1837 – 63 minutes *****:
The virtuosity displayed in the playing here is as stunningly beautiful as the music is itself – this is a disc to treasure. Biber’s broad appeal lies not only in the extreme level of virtuosity required of the musicians, but also in the ethereal and serene quality of the music they’re playing. The recorded sound is also superb, casting a broad soundstage and capturing a very real sense of the acoustic. Very highly recommended.
– Tom Gibbs
GLASS: Concerto for Cello and Orchestra; Concerto Fantasy for Two Timpanists and Orchestra – The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, cond. Gerard Schwarz; Julian Lloyd Webber, Evelyn Glennie, and Jonatahn Haas – Orange Mountain Music ****:
Robert Kurka: Julius Caesar, Symphonic Epilogue after Shakespeare, Op.28 (1955 ) / Symphony No. 2, Op. 24 (1953) / Music for Orchestra, Op.11 (1949) / Serenade for Small Orchestra, Op.25 College (1954) / Grant Park Orchestra, Carlos Kalmar, conductor/ Cedille Records CDR 90000 077 *****:
The music of Robert Kurka is virile,no nonsense, heavily syncopated with long lean soaring melodic lines. If you can conceive of an amalgam of the orchestral music of Prokofiev, William Schuman and Roy Harris with the thrust of Arthur Honegger, then you have an idea of what Kurka is about. There are wonderful dissonances playing against Harris-like uniquely American melodies.The music is classically organized yet fresh and inventive. It is fixating. After more than 60 minutes of this CD you hope for more.
Kurka’s music is beautifully shaped, so that each melodic line is well balanced between the various instrumentral choirs. The listener can hear everything going on in these selections. Much credit for this must go to Carlos Kalmar, Music Director of The Grant Park Orchestra for his masterful readings of the four selections presented.
This recording by the Grant Park Orchestra under the direction of Carlos Kalmar is first rate. The orchestra, comprised of top flight Chicago area musicians, some from the Chicago Symphony, others from The Chicago Lyric Opera, plays elegantly as if it was a permanent long established group, rather than one which only performs together summers. Of course these summers now number 60 for The Grant Park Orchestra, the resident orchestra for the great outdoor venue of the city of Chicago.
The recordings were made in Orchestra Hall, Chicago in 2003. The ambience, the spread of Orchestra Hall is all there. The listener is midway into the auditorium with the depth of the orchestra before him. It is a very lifelike orchestral recording. If you are interested in exciting, beautifully crafted music by a fine American composer whose career was meteoric, this CD is most highly recommended.
SCHUMANN: Piano Sonata No. 2 in G Minor, Op. 22; Romance No. 2 in F# Major, Op. 28, No. 2; Fantasie in C Major , Op. 17; Widmung (arr. Liszt) – Juana Zayas, piano – Music & Arts CD-1148 62:22 (Distrib. Albany)****:
The big piece, the C Major Fantasie, comes across as an extended, passionate and episodic nocturne in arch form, which I suppose it is. Less stentorian and emotionally aggressive than Horowitz, more introverted than Casadesus, Zayas takes a middle way that lingers over small phrases. She plays the “Legend” indication in the first movement as a flowery march, an adumbration of the militancy in the second movement’s indebtedness to Beethoven&Mac226;s A Major Sonata, Op. 101. The grand finale, a la Eusebius, is all innigkeit and candlelight. A truly satisfying Schumann recital which bears repeated hearing. Kudos to recording engineer Tim Martyn of Phoenix Audio.
BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonata No. 30 in E Major. Op. 109; Piano Sonata No. 31 in A-flat Major, Op. 110; Piano Sonata No. 32 in C Minor, Op. 111 – Victor Rosenbaum, piano – Bridge 9159 74:27 (Distrib. Albany)****:
What I find singular in the grouping is the unity of effect Rosenbaum captures, finding consistent thematic and intervallic relationships in the last three sonatas and trying to make their triadic vision apparent to us. Rosenbaum has no trouble with the monster demands made upon his trill, his pedaling, or his having to make arpeggios climb through several registers in a short space. The E Major Sonata invokes the epic journey with a real Vivace, a rarity among tempos to begin any Beethoven sonata. That Rosenbaum can elicit a different character for each of its concluding six variations is worth a study in itself. The astounding diversity of affect that compounds the difficulties in Op. 111 might daunt many pianists, but Rosenbaum appears to have been saving up for this Herculean feat for some time. Majesterial readings by a master on this fine disc.
Dirk Wietheger, cello: Music by GUBAIDULINA, JANACEK and GRIEG – Dirk Wietheger, cello. Atsuko Seki, piano – EigenArt 10300 (68 mins.) ****:
Wietheger is less impressive in the Janacek and, particularly, the Grieg (a surprisingly tough nut to crack, with a unique combination of conventional and modernist tendencies), where pianist Atsuko Seki dominates inappropriately if very beautifully because of her imposing musical elegance and the lovely sound she draws from her instrument. When Wietheger is alone in the Gubaidulina, he takes center stage. In the Grieg, he struggles to be heard.
Andreas Günther’s conversational liner notes are useful and enjoyable, and Andreas Spreer’s recording is perfectly judged, blending the unforced accuracy of the parent company, Tacet, with a highly musical sense of space. On balance, this is a must have disc for cellists and audiophiles who believe that this royal member of the string family, when heard alone, is one of the ultimate tests of an aspiring sound system.
- Laurence Vittes
Here are two gems for the fan of the violin-piano duo…
PAUL LE FLEM: Quintet in E minor for piano & strings; Sonata for violin and piano in A minor – Philippe Koch, violin/Alain Jacquon, piano/Louvigny Quartet – Timpani 1C1077, 66 min. ****:
- John Sunier
An American and a Brit composer bring us tuneful, accessible, previously-unheard music, including two piano concertos…
The Second Piano Concerto dates from 1966 and was dedicated to composer and critic Deems Taylor, who had recently died. This is a serious piano concerto though it may lack a serious tone. The virtuosity required of the soloist is high, and there are both very American touches such as jazz plus European major Romantic piano concerto features. Something close to circus music interrupts a couple times and closes out the concerto with a bang. It’s also a world premiere recording and the work should be on concert programs everywhere – audiences would go nuts for it!
CHRISTOPHER GUNNING: Concerto for Piano and Orchestra; Symphony No. 1; “Storm!” – Olga Dudnik, piano/Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra/Christopher Gunning – Albany Records TROY686, 65:56 ****:
- John Sunier