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CLASSICAL CDs , Pt. 2 of 2 
June 2002

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DOUGLAS ALLANBROOK: Ethan Frome--Leanne Gonzalez, sop/Anita Costanza, mezzo/S. Mark Aliapoulis, bar/John Allanbrook, cond/Cambridge Chamber Orchestra--Mapleshade 07182 (2 CDs):

This is another attempt at an "American" opera, and it's more successful than most. Douglas Allanbrook (b 1921), like so many others, studied with Nadia Boulanger in Paris, and since 1952 has taught at St. John's College in Annapolis. The libretto by John Hunt retells Edith Wharton's grim tale of jealousy and attempted suicide, but Allanbrook's music isn't as bleak as you might expect. It's contemporary in style, proceeding mostly in declamatory accompanied recitative, but with a good deal of attractive, long-lined melodic material. It's uneventful--there isn't enough happening and not enough musical ideas for three full acts and an epilogue--but the imaginative orchestration has a propulsive energy that keeps it moving along. The singers are adequate, all three principals providing effective characterizations. Aliapoulis has a sometimes troubling vibrato and is stronger at the top than the bottom, but he's bold and clear; Costanza offers an appropriately querulous Zeena, and Gonzalez's light soprano emphasizes the girlish charm of Mattie. Allanbrook's son Mark presumably conducts with understanding, and the orchestra plays well. Summary but no libretto; very good sound. I was sufficiently interested to listen to the opera several times, each time becoming more impressed with its dramatic force.

--Alex Morin

DOWLAND: Seaven Teares--Ellen Hargis, sop/ Paul O'Dette, lute/ The King's House--Harmonia Mundi 907275:

The lachrima was an established 17h-century form, a slow sad pavan that was used by many composers of the time, with John Dowland among the most interesting. Seven of the 24 selections on this disc are from his 1593 Lachrymae; the rest are similar in nature. Some are purely instrumental and others are sung--and very well sung--by Ellen Hargis; her cool, clear voice, almost without vibrato, is well suited to this material, and she is as expressive as the music allows. The early music specialists of The King's House play skillfully, greatly aided by master lutenist Paul O'Dette. Goo sound and notes, wih texts. The songs are all minor-key laments, continuously dissonant, and that leads to some monotony, but Dowland was imaginative in differentiating them, and the excellent performances make them--even when heard seriatim-- fall easily on the ear.

--Alex Morin

HANDEL: The Choice of Hercules; GREENE: Hearken Unto Me, Ye Holy Children--Susan Gritton, sop/Alice Coote, mezzo/Robin Blaze, ctr-tenor/Charles Daniels, tenor/Peter Harvey, bass/Robert King, cond/Kings Consort and Choir--Hyperion CDA67298:

Never one to waste music, Handel wrote The Choice of Hercules in 1750 out of the remnants of an early version of Alceste. To a text probably by his longtime collaborator Thomas Morell, it tells the story of the young Hercules choosing between vice and virtue (guess who wins), a popular subject often used by Renaissance and Baroque painters and by Bach (Hercules auf dem Scheideweg) among others. It was generally performed on a twin bill with Alexander's Feast. Handel's music here is on the whole serene, flowing mellifluously, with his typically imaginative orchestration and little coloratura, and it's very beautiful. There are other recordings, led by Ledger (EMI) and Pommer (Capriccio), but this one is by far the best. King and his Consort and Choir are masters of the Baroque idiom, and their playing and singing is brilliant. The cast is just as good, with Gritton in splendid voice and Blaze and Coote (whom I hadn't heard before) almost as satisfactory. Maurice Greene's Hearken to Me, which fills out the disc, is an interesting piece with considerable dramatic power, though it lacks Handel's inspiration. Good sound, good notes, and a great pleasure to hear.

--Alex Morin

English String Miniatures, Vol. 4 - Works of PETER HOPE, FRANK BRIDGE, ADAM CARSE, ERNEST TOMLINSON, HOLST, DELIUS, PAUL LEWIS - NORTHERN SINFONIA/DAVID LLOYD-JONES - Naxos 8.555070:

Music for strings has long been popular in British concert halls, and this is the fourth in a series devoted to such works, both by well-known and unfamiliar composers. The works on this CD are of a lighter nature and tend to show influences of folk song and dance of the British Isles. Many of the work's movements in fact have dance designations - Valse, Graceful Dance, March, Jig, and Gaily - but not quick. That last is the second of the two short but sweetly atmospheric Aquarelles of Frederick Delius. The string tone of the Northern Sinfonia is elegant and captured well on the recording.

JOLY BRAGA SANTOS: Symphony No. 2; Crossroads Ballet - Bournemouth Symphony Orch./Alvaro Cassuto - Marco Polo 8.225216:

Santos, who lived until l988, was the leading symphonic composer of Portugal in the 20th century. It's unfortunate we haven't heard more of his music on disc because both of these works are fully realized and very attractive tonal and lyrical masterworks. The composer was only 23 when he wrote his second symphony. It has highly emotional sections and a satisfying structure in its four movements. Santos said that he wanted to react against a tendency rejecting monumentalism in music, and the symphony certainly does have its monumental moments. Crossroads is in five movements reflecting the scheme of a Baroque orchestral suite but was written especially for dance. Popular folk dances from various regions of Portugal are used in the ballet.

- John Sunier

MISA CRIOLLA--Khemeny Ensemble/Ken Goldenberger, tenor/Phoenix Boys Choir/Georg Stangelberger, dir--Summit DCD 321:

Khemeny is a vocal and instrumental ensemble founded in Mexico in 1981 to perform Andean folk music. I don't know the origins of Misa Criolla or even what language it's sung in, but whatever they are, it's a powerful and moving version of the Latin Mass. The other ten selections on this disc are from Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, and Peru; some of them are tender but most have exciting propulsive rhythms and the arrangements are fascinating. Ken Goldenberger isn't great, but his clear tenor is adequate for the tasks he's set here, and the well-trained Phoenix Boys Choir sings sweetly. The sound is rather hollow but it's acceptable, and all in all, this is an imaginative and interesting foray into little-known territory.

--Alex Morin

WAGNER: Arias from the Ring--Placido Domingo, tenor/David Cangelosi, tenor/Natalie Dessay, sop/Violeta Urmana, mezzo/Antonio Pappano/Royal Opera House Orchestra--EMI 557242:

Placido Domingo is undoubtedly the greatest tenor of our time, only to be compared with Caruso; in both cases, the baritonal timbre of their voices made them ideal recording artists. But Domingo--surely the most recorded vocalist in phonographic history--is far more versatile, singing everything from zarzuela to all the major French and Italian roles and lots more. He is also amazingly durable, at the age of 61 still producing an even flow of clear, rounded, and very beautiful tones. Here he tackles Wagner, and now the only comparison is with Laurits Melchior. Domingo isn't a true Heldentenor; his voice is lighter and less forceful than Melchior's, but it still rings out brilliantly and with the kind of lyricism Wagner always asked for. The 10 arias--five from Siegfried and five from Götterdammerung--are all so good I can't really single any of them out for special praise, but in his version of "Nun singt! Ich lausche dem Gesang" the voices of the forest birds are especially lovely. His partners in the duets are excellent, and Pappano provides superb accompaniments, molding every phrase to maximum effect. Good sound, good notes, and altogether a major achievement.

--Alex Morin

THE RAGS OF TIME: 17th-Century lute songs and dances--Paul Hillier, bar/Nigel North, lute, theorbo, and guitar--Harmonia Mundi 907257:

This is an unusually interesting disc. It offers 15 poems by John Donne, some spoken and some sung, and 11 songs from Henry Lewes' Select Ayres & Dialogues, most of them by Lewes himself. We usually think of Paul Hillier as the director of the Hilliard Ensemble, but here he appears as soloist. He has a pleasant if undistinguished baritone, but he presents these songs effectively; he understands their idiom and offers them with an easy grace. He's particularly good in the spoken poems, which he delivers fluently and expressively. Nigel North is among our foremost virtuosos of the plucked instruments of the Baroque era, and his solos and accompaniments are appropriate and skillful. As usual for Harmonia Mundi, the sound and notes are excellent. There is a sameness to these songs that leads to some monotony, but taken individually, they have a grave innocence that is very attractive.

--Alex Morin

A pair of CDs featuring the recorder - the instrument - not the engineer or component...

HENRY PURCELL & others: Fantazia - Amsterdam Loeki Stardust Quartet - Channel Classics CCS 16998:

If you generally find yourself turned off by the recorder, give a listen to this amazingly virtuoso quartet of performers. They never squeak or fail in the pitch department, and they play together as though one instrument. Their range goes from sopranino recorder down to one that looks much like a bassoon, so there is quite a variety of timbre. The word Fantasia was first used for almost any purely instrumental work, and they occurred in many different forms. Nine of these are by Purcell, while Richard Mico and John Jenkins are credited with two more of the short pieces apiece. Purcell composed all his Fantasias over a one month period one summer in l680, and like a diary each was given a specific date. Which looks very strange next to a l7th-Century piece!

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird - World Premiere Recordings of works by LEONARD BERNSTEIN, ROBERT SIMPSON, RICHARD ARNELL, MATYAS SEIBER, DAVID FORSHAW, DAVID ELLIS, BETH WISEMAN & PHILIP WOOD - John Turner, recorder/Camerata Ensemble (string quartet) - Olympia OCD 710:

An engaging collection of modern works - none too hard on the ears - for recorder and strings. It opens with Forshaw's work inspired by the poem of the CD's title and plays around with the ability of the recorder to imitate birdsong (but don't look for 13 of them). Some of the works use only one or two instrument of the quartet; for example Bernstein's Variations on an Octatonic Scale is for recorder and cello duo.

- John Sunier

Clarinetist Richard Stoltzman Times Two...

LUTOSLAWSKI: Dance Preludes, NIELSEN: Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra, PROKOFIEV-KENNAN: Sonata Op. 94 - Richard Stoltzman, clarinet/Warsaw Philharmonic Orch./Lawrence Leighton Smith - Victor Red Seal 09026-63836-2:

Concertos for Clarinet and Orchestra - JEFFREY NYTCH: Concerto (1994), MARGARET BROUWER: Concerto (1994), MARIE BARKER NELSON: Culinary Concerto, WM. THOMAS McKINLEY: Going Home - Richard Stolzman, clarinet/Seattle Sym. Orch./Gerard Schwarz - MMC Recordings HDCD MMC2080:

Stoltzman, our leading classical clarinetist today, has been playing across musical genres since his first public performance as a child, playing Amazing Grace. These two new CDs bring a variety of works for clarinet and orchestra, most of them heard for the first time. The major interest on the Red Seal release is Kent Kennan's skillful transcription of the famous Prokofiev Sonata for Flute and Piano. Stoltzman praises the way the sonata is moved from flute to clarinet and piano to small orchestra "but sounding exactly as if Prokofiev himself had scored it." The Dance Preludes and Nielsen Concerto share with the Prokofiev the inclusion of the folklore of their composer's respective countries.

All the works on the second CD are receiving their premiere recording. The longest of the concertos - the Culinary Concerto - was highly individualized to Stoltzman since he is a Cordon Bleu-trained pastry chef on the side. He had said he saw similarities between creating a Linzer torte and preparing a satisfying Mozart Clarinet Quintet. This work's movements are: Brothy Frothy, Sweet & Sour, Piquant & Presto Zesto. The Nytch three-movement concerto which opens this CD contrasts the complex orchestral sounds with the clean solo clarinet lines. The 12-minute arrangement of Going Home brings in a piano part in addition to the clarinet, and brings the Dvorak's famous tune into the present with a jazzy treatment and modern chord changes.

- John Sunier

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