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AUDIOPHILE AUDITION - web magazine for music, audio & home theater
 




Part 2   December 2003 [Part 1]
 

PUCCINI: Tosca (complete opera) - Maria Callas, Renato Cioni, Tito Gobbi. Conducted by Carlo Felice Cillario - EMI 5 62675 2 7:

When I owned this album back in the Sixties, I marveled at its dramatic force, hissed at the arch villain Scarpia portrayed by the inimitable Tito Gobbi, and was swept along by the fine orchestral balance. But all these elements were overshadowed by the stunning and volatile Maria Callas. Her interpretation of Puccini’s incongruous but poignant Visi d’arte plunges deep into the chest cavity. I also love the way she spits out her spoken lines. “Il prezo.” “Quest e il bacio di Tosca!” And who can forget “E avanti a lui tremava tutta Roma”? The final scene in which she kills Scarpia (preserved also on videotape) has never been equaled. The album later died of scratch-and-hiss cancer, so I’m pleased to hear that its reissue is a decent one, with well-balanced and non-showy stereo and fair-to-middling miking. You may need to adjust the volume down in Act I at Callas’s first entrance and up in Act III to hear the lovely shepherd’s song. Also, there is that problem with audience noise common to many live recordings even today: Coughs. Hair-trigger applause. It would be several decades before savvy engineers would learn to record dress rehearsals and pipe in audience response at acts’ conclusions (if absolutely necessary).

Renato Cioni. Now there’s a name you rarely hear these days. On this production his role as Mario Cavaradossi was probably the zenith of his career. A second rate tenor, he does a serviceable job as the tortured artist. His brief Victoria aria is thrilling and his duets with Callas are believable; unfortunately he succumbs to nervousness with his signature song, E lucevan e stele. He sings it too fast and his final sob sounds like a cackle. Don’t let that stop you from buying this fine collector’s item. What a loss that the whole performance is not preserved on video. Maybe a copy will turn up someday. Purchase here

- Peter Bates

Michael Torke Six-CD Boxed Set

Michael Torke One = Green, Purple, Ecstatic Orange, Ash, Bright Blue Muisic - Baltimore Sym./David Zinman
Michael Torke Two = Four Proverbs, Book of Proverbs - soloists/Argo Band/Torke; soloists/Netherlands Radio Choir/ & Philharmonic Orch./Edo De Waart
Michael Torke Three = Javelin, Saxophone Concerto, December, Run, Charcoal - Atlanta Sym./Yoel Levi/John Harle, sax/Albany Sym./David Allan Miller/Philharmonia Orch./Michael Torke/Baltimore Sym./Zinman
Michael Torke Four = Adjustable Wrench, Overnight Mail, Monday & Tuesday - London Sinfonietta/Kent Nagano/Lothar Zagrosek/Orkest de Volharding/Jurgejen Hempel
Michael Torke Five = Vanada, Flint, Music on the Floor, Slate, Rust - London Sinfonietta/Nagano/David Alan Miller/Lothar Zagrosek/Michael Torke, Philip Bush, Apollo Sax Quartet
Michael Torke Six = Telephone Book, July, Chalk, Change of Address - Present Music, Apollo Sax Quartet, Balanescu Quartet, Michael Torke Band:

Torke is amazing success story for a young American composer. He was getting performances and even recordings at age 22 while still an undergraduate at the Eastman School of Music. All of the music in this set was recorded and issued by the Argo sub-label of London/Decca. When that avant label folded in l998 Torke was able to obtain the rights for all the recordings, which he has now re-ordered and re-mastered.
All available separately or as a set from Ecstatic Records, www.michaeltorke.com - on six CDs on his own label. Yes, there is a slight improvement in fidelity over the Argo pressings - at least on the couple I had and A/B’d.

One of the attributes of Torke's music which was a success with the general public was his obvious interest in wanting to communicate with his audiences rather than go off on his own serilized path. His music uses minimalism and neo-Romanticism but with the boisterous energies of pop music behind it. The syncopated rhythms and strong pulse in his music appeals to those listeners into dance music of all types; in fact several of his scores cores were created for Peter Martins and the New York City Ballet. Torke has not turned up his nose at 12-tone technique, but merely taken it in some new directions. He often uses a mosaic, cut-and-paste style in moving around blocks of musical material both large and small. Most of his music has been instrumental, but in Disc Two he demonstrates a growing facility with vocal music, which eventually resulted in his opera Strawberry Fields.

Torke has a special love of the saxophone and virtuoso performer John Harle has performed and recorded much of his music for the instrument. A droll sense of humor is found in many of the works, including the title and concept of Changes of Address, - whose six short movements attempt to capture the mood of the six different addresses at which Torke lived in NYC during a certain length of time. If you want to sample just one of the discs to start, I would suggest Number Four, with his catchy Adjustable Wrench, and the witty Overnight Mail - whose three movements are: Priority, Standard, & Saturday Delivery. Purchase here.

- John Sunier

Fiorentino Edition VII = SCHUBERT: Sonata No. 13 in A Major, D. 664; 4 Impromptus, D. 899; Sonata No. 4 in A Minor, D. 537

Sergio Fiorentino, piano
APR 5561 67:29 (Distrib. Albany):

Another in APR's ongoing tribute to Sergiu Fiorentino (d. 1998), this all-Schubert reissue captures the artist in late career, 1996-97, when his tone was golden and luminous, his touch nuanced and delicate, easily a rival to the great Schubert tradition of Annie and Edwin Fischer, Wilhelm Kempff, Sviatoslav Richter, and behind them all, Artur Schnabel. Some may find Fiorentino's way with the four popular Impromptus too "laid back," but those used to the "heavenly length" persuasion in Schubert will savor the majesterial approach, rife with adumbrations (especially in the Allegretto quasi Andantino of the A Minor Sonata) of the great, posthumous Sonata in A Major. The swell and intricate harmonic motion of Schubert's filigree does not escape Fiorentino, and his Impromptu in G-flat is poised in chiselled relief. Entirely clear eyed, the Sonata in A, D. 664 is not prosaic; it still has that charming "Scotch snap" that made me love it when Myra Hess first bestowed her own magic on its musings. The A Minor Sonata has Fiorentiono exploring its weirdly compelling bass harmonies in fine sound: recorded in the Konzertsaal Siemensvilla, Berlin, Fiorentino's Steinway has wonderful, full-bodied presence, and there is no shatter in the extreme registers. Laid back? Maybe, but eminently self-possessed, I call it. Purchase here

--Gary Lemco


PISTON: The Incredible Flutist ballet suite; Fantasy for English Horn, Harp & Strings; Concerto for String Quartet, Wind instruments & Percussion; Psalm and Prayer of David - Seattle Symphony/Gerard Schwarz (soloists: Scott Goff, flute; Glen Danielson, English horn; Therese Wunrow, harp; Julliard String Quartet) - Naxos American Music Series 8.559160:

From these Seattle Symphony recordings made by Delos in l991-2 Piston's best-known work jumps out and grabs the listener with its imaginative programmatic fantasies. It's great fun following the composer's scenario for the 11 sections of the ballet - some as short as 34 seconds . Flutes Goff is superb and the ruckus raised by the band at the end of the Circus March even outdoes the classic version by the Boston Pops - all they had was a musician who did a good barking dog and the Seattle Symphony musicians all enter into the seeming cacophony. The Suite for Orchestra contradicts its staid title in its initial movement, which is a musical reminder of the composer's early work as a dance band musician. The Concerto was created for its unusual combination of forces because Piston felt that works for string quartet and full symphony favored the orchestral string section.Purchase here

PISTON: Symphony No. 4; Capriccio for Harp and String Orchestra; Three New England Sketches - Seattle Symphony/Gerard Schwarz - Naxos American Music Series 8.559162:

This Delos/Seattle Symphony reissue features two of my personal favorite Piston works - the four-movement symphony and the Three New England Sketches. The Symphony was commissioned for the hundredth anniversary of the University of Minnesota and was described by the composer as melodic and expressive. I especially like its second dance-like movement, marked i and the Finale (Energico) is in typical sonata form but full of buoyant energy and good tunes. The Sketches open with Seaside - one of many musical impressions of the sea penned by composers ever since the Romantic era. Summer Evening imitates the lulling background sounds of insects , and Mountains portrays a massive landscape with solid C Major chords. Naxos is to be commended for bringing back to a wider audience these recordings of the figure some consider the dean of 20th century American music (and at bargain prices). Purchase here

- John Sunier

Stokowski/New York Philharmonic = WAGNER: The Flying Dutchman Overture; Wotan's Farewell and Magic Fire Music/GRIFFES: The White Peacock/IPPOLITOV-IVANOV: In the Village from Caucasian Sketches/MESSAIEN: L'Ascension/TCHAIKOVSKY: Francesca da Rimini, Op. 32/VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: Fantasia on Greensleeves

Cala CACD0533 76:47 (Distrib. Bayside Entertainment):

Cala once again collaborates with the British Leopold Stokowski Society to reissue two companion CD's, each taken from 1947-49 sessions with the New York Philharmonic for CBS, the first series of virtuoso-style inscriptions after Toscanini's departure from the ensemble 1935-36. In the late forties, Stokowski shared the podium of the New York Philharmonic with Dimitri Mitropoulos, fully expecting to inherit full conductorship after Rodzinski's departure. When this did not happen, Stokowski made records to display the Philharmonic Board's wrong choice. The sparks really fly in the Tchaikovsky Francesca da Rimini, after the sequence in Dante, which Stokowski takes at a whiplash pace whose style will remind some auditors of the kind of frenzy Albert Coates could command from an orchestra. Still, Stokowski's insistence on free bowing to eliminate added string pulse makes for that "Stokowski sound" which he pours over the music like a rich sauce. On LP, the Tchaikovsky shared the program with Khachaturian's Maquerade Suite, now restored on the companion disc (Cala CACD0534), along with more visceral Wagner, including the Rienzi Overture and excerpts from Gotterdammerung.

The Wagner selections ar no less lush, with Stokowski's own arrangements, splicing the Valkyrie motive to the onrush of sound describing Wotan's farewell to his beloved daughter in the purely orchestral version (Stokowski recorded the operatic version with Tibbett in 1934 in Philadelphia), here taken from an elusive 10" CBS LP (ML 2153). Messaien's L'Ascension, with its odd mixture of religious mysticism and oriental exoticism, was an LP musical debut made February-March 1949. The Flying Dutchman did not win Stokowski's approval for release originally, presumably because of some woodwind glitches after the D Minor opening bars; the LP came as a special edition (BM 39) as a radiothon fund-raiser. The singular personality is impressionist Charles Griffes' The White Peacock, which Stokowski had premiered in Philadelphia, 1919, a subtle and sensuous moment in the manner of Debussy and Loeffler. I urge Stokowski collectors and lovers of virtuoso ensemble to seek out both of these Cala restorations, where conductor and players set a new, post-war standard of flamboyant excellence. Purchase here

--Gary Lemco


DVORAK: Serenade in D Minor for Winds, Cello and Bass, Op. 44; Symphony No. 8 in G Major, Op. 88

Rafael Kubelik conducts Bavarian Radio Orchestra
Orfeo D'Or C 595 031 62:33 (Distrib. Qualiton):

Rafael Kubelik (1914-1996) was fervently devoted to the music of Dvorak, and this issue from two distinct sessions a year apart, 27 May 1977 (Op. 44) and 17 May 1976 (Op. 88), while it provides us another animated and loving reading of the Eighth Symphony, also gives us a work new to our catalogue, a performance of the wind serenade, juicy as a pomegrenate. Composed in 1878 and scored in the spirit of the Brahms Serenade in A Major, the piece is rife with Bohemian dances, Mozart's outdoorsiness, and the extroverted pep of a Sunday village band. Although recorded in the studio, Kubelik's performance has all the aural delights and warmth of a live broadcast, especially the second movement Menuetto, where the blending of colors is magical. The G Major Symphony receives, in a concert performance, glowing treatment, again illuminating in its inner voices and delectable warblings, gurglings, and agogic accents. The Allegretto grazioso has almost the same mysticism in its bittersweet waltz rhythm as Talich evoked from this perennial score. The melding of oboe, clarinet, and pizzicato and arco strings is a joy to hear. Kubelik was 63 when he made this music, and his powers with the ensemble he had already led for fifteen years are as refined in velvet as anything Ormandy achieved in Philadelphia. The whole album is sculpted in love and thick cream; my only wish is that it had an overture or tone-poem to fill it out. Purchase here

--Gary Lemco

Dimitri Mitropoulos = MAHLER: Symhony No. 6 in A Minor/BERLIOZ: Romeo and Juliet Symphony, Op. 17- excerpts/DEBUSSY: La Mer/STRAUSS: Dance of the 7 Veils

Dimitri Mitropoulos conducts New York Philharmonic and Cologne Radio-Symphony (Mahler)
EMI "Great Conductors of the 20th Century" Vol. 29 7243 75472 2 74:42; 78:18:


EMI continues its impressive cycle of conductors' tributes with an imporant testament to Dimitri Mitropoulos (1896-1960) in repertory vital to his ethos, particularly the Mahler Sixth from Cologne, August 31, 1959, a thrilling conception whose Andante moderato (placed in the third-movement position) is heart-rending. I owned every oneof the restored LP incarnations herein reissued on CD: the 1952 Berlioz "complete orchestral score" from Romeo and Juliet (ML 4632) seems entirely appropriate to reinstate on this 200th anniversary of the composer's birth. Although it had appeared on French Sony reissue (SX2K 62587), that edition disappeared, and so the EMI is most welcome. The superheated playing of the Berlioz is phenomenal, the sweep and fire of the Ball and Love-Scene pure pre-Tristan; and Martin Bookspan once commented on his preference for Mitropoulos' Queen Mab Scherzo to all others', even to that of Toscanini, who clearly modelled many of Mitropoulos' renditions.

The Debussy La Mer dates from November 27, 1950 (ML 4431).  Again, the bristle and exotic color of the panorama is Greek Toscanini, but with added sensuality. Mitropoulos adds the trumpet flurry at the end of wind-and-sea dialogue to give Triton his due. A fervent reader of Richard Strauss scores, Mitropoulos outdoes Fritz Reiner in Salome's purple, lurid dance, recorded November 3, 1956. Collectors have long cherished Mitropoulos' Elektra performances from the MET; for this retrospective series I would have liked to see the live suite from Mitropoulos' The Woman Without a Shadow. Even more rare would have been the 1951 suite from Mozart's Idomeneo, in the Busoni arrangement. The one live moment is the inflamed Mahler with the Cologne orchestra, taped just one year prior to Mitropoulos' death in Milan, again leading Mahler, the Third Symphony. Perhaps Andante will consider an issue of the Vienna performance of this work.  The Cologne has all the earmarks of Mitropoulos' style: the frenetic urgency, the longing for eternity, the colossal paroxysms of the flesh. Indispensable collectors' fare. Purchase here

--Gary Lemco

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