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CLASSICAL  CDs
Pt. 2 of 3  June 2003

Exotic orchestral music from way south of the border opens this section...

ALBERTO GINASTERA: Overture to the Creole Faust; Ollantay; Pampeana No. 3; Dances from Estancia ballet - Odense Sym. Orch./Jan Wagner - Bridge 9130:

Ginastera, who died in 1983, was the most important Argentine composer of the last century. The international success of his music made him a sort of musical spokesman for the entire country. His most familiar work with most listeners will probably be the early Estancia ballet, from which four exuberant dances are presented here. Later in his life the composer leaned more toward serial techniques, but these works are for the most part tonal and full of exciting rhythms and colorful orchestrations. The major work here - the third Pampeana of l954 - is subtitled “symphonic pastoral,” but its second movement rages with insistent rhythms. It is - like the familiar finale of Estancia - based on the native Malambo rhythm. Wagner is a Venezuelan native and the Danish orchestra gives over 100 concerts a season in an acoustically superb concert hall, so performance and sonics are top-flight. Purchase Here

VILLA-LOBOS: Uirapuru; Bachianas Brasileiras No. 4; The Emperor Jones - Odense Sym. Orch./Jan Wagner - Bridge 9129:

More super-colorful and inventive orchestral music, this time from the most prominent composer of Brazil of the 20th century. The self-taught, cigar-chomping composer admired Debussy, Wagner and Puccini and created a huge catalog of works in many different forms. (Lalo Schifrin, in the video reviewed in this issue, mentions Villa-Lobos’ trip to Hollywood when asked to do his first film score for Green Mansions. He arrived at the airport with a huge valise that turned out to be the entire score already composed - and it was longer than the movie! He was innocent of the way movie music is created after the film is shot and edited.)

The Uirapuru was a legendary bird in Amazonian Indian myths; the composer devised a short ballet based on the legend. One of the characters plays a nose flute but Villa-Lobos transferred those melodies to soprano sax. The fourth of his Bachianas Brasileiras series was originally written for piano and later orchestrated. Only the opening movement refers to the Bachian counterpoint of the title. Eugene O’Neill’s play was the basis of the ballet The Emperor Jones, a page from the history of Haiti. This is the longest work on the CD and the most welcome in this exciting performance since it is infrequently recorded. Purchase Here

- John Sunier

MOZART: Violin Concerto in G Major; BACH: Violin Concerto in E Major; KREISLER: Praeludium & Allegro; SHEILA POP: Varsovia Breakdown; Various variations - Gilles Apap, v./Sinfonia Varsovia - Apapaziz Productions GKJ00103:

Apap is a Santa Barbara-based French violinist who enjoys leaping over musical fences and off musical stages. His website (www.gillesapap.com) is great fun - navigation is via the chakras of the violinist’s body, and he must be the only classical performer to publish negative reviews of his public performances on his web site! The Varsovia Sinfonia was founded and directed by the late Yehudi Menuhin, with whom Apap had a close friendship. The Bach and Kreisler are lovely performances of great verve and elan.

It is with the third movement cadenza of the familiar Mozart concerto where the unexpected suddenly becomes the norm. Apap reports one man in the audience once screamed “Hey, Where’s Mozart?” As the exuberant violinist puts it, he just goofs off with his fiddle. We hear Mozart’s theme - sometimes recognizable and sometimes not - in variations as an Irish jig, Romanian folk music, jazz a la Stephane Grappelli (another Apap former cohort), and even some lovely East Indian violin. Apap has been spending time in India in his travels and among his guest artists on this session was violinist Dr. L. Subramanian. One track has a number of people evidently deliberately coughing throughout - probably a dig at noisy concert audiences. Add to these oddities the fact that none of these additional five tracks are listed on the back of the album! It’s sort of like the “Easter eggs” in some DVD videos. Purchase Here or at www.gillesapap.com

- John Sunier

FRANZ SCHUBERT: Piano Sonatas D. 958, 959, 960 - Murray Perahia, p. - Sony Classical S2K 87706 (2 CDs):

The last three piano sonatas of Schubert hold a place in the piano repertory similar to the last string quartets of Beethoven in quartet literature, and the influence of Beethoven’s music on Schubert was strong as well. These were the most fully-realized and innovative piano works of his tragically short career. The opening of the C Minor Sonata, D.958, comes close to quoting Beethoven, and there are allusions to Schubert’s song cycle Winterreise. The final sonatas, D.960 in B Flat Major, is a 40 minute epic that could be seen as a searching musical journey. Some of Schubert’s Wanderer Fantasy is recalled early in the development.

The gorgeous Schubert melodies are lovingly brought out by Perahia, and he creates more exciting dynamic contrasts than many recorded performances of these sonatas. Last month I reviewed here another double-CD Schubert Sonata package from Alfred Brendel on Philips which included C. 959 & 960. While Brendel often surpasses in the subtle lyrical passages, I preferred the bolder approach of Perahia which he has developed in recent years. His piano is more closely miked than Brendel’s and has a richer tone - perhaps also due to the original DSD recording. In addition, Brendel had a live audience and a some points I was wondering if some of Gilles Apap’s guest coughers had wandered into the hall - there was so much noise distraction. Purchase Here

- John Sunier

Guitars galore on our next pair of CDs...

Sharon Isbin Plays Baroque Favorites for Guitar - VIVALDI: Concerto in D Major; Concerto in A Minor; ALBINONI: Adagio; BACH: Concerto in A Minor for Violin; Adagio; Prelude in D Minor for Lute; Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring - with Zürcher Chamber Orch./Howard Griffiths - Warner Classics 0927453122 3:

Isbin is one of our pre-eminent classical guitarists and won Grammys for her albums for Teldec in both 2001 and 2002. She has worked extensively with harpsichordist and Bach scholar Rosalyn Tureck on ways to apply Bach’s keyboard practices to the classical guitar to make such transcriptions more accurate and exciting. This CD grew out of that, with all the selections either transcribed or arranged for Isbin’s guitar and chamber orchestra. The Bach A Minor Violin Concerto works beautifully on the guitar, and John Duarte’s arrangement of the famous Albinoni Adagio strikes me as the most effective version of that striking melody in any form whatsoever. This collection should have wide appeal to many levels of music lovers. Purchase Here

The Pedrick-Hutson Guitar Duo - Mirage - Works by DUARTE, LEISNER, GIULIANI, JOHNSON, MERTZ, HANDEL, DEBUSSY, GRANADOS, KOSHIN, ANON. - (no #):

One guitar is nice, but in any sort of music from rock to classical, multiple guitars are even better. Music for a pair of lutes was very popular during the Renaissance, and the classical guitar duo has had some standing in music since the 19th century. A number of works have been composed for the combination of two guitars, and the format is perfect for new versions of music originally conceived for solo guitar or other mediums entirely. This charming program is divided between original works and arrangements of familiar melodies by Handel, Debussy, Granados and an Irish folk tune. The title tune, Mirage, is a recent work of chromatically-interesting beauty by American guitarist/composer David Leisner.

Folksongs are also involved in the English Suite by the same John Duarte who contributed the Albinoni Adagio arrangement to Sharon Isbin’s CD above. Russian guitarist/composer Nikita Koshkin provides a delightful five-movement Cambridge Suite, which includes a taste of Scott Joplin in its rollicking Ragtime movement. Only a pair of mics was employed in this purist 24bit recording and the guitar sounds are richly present without emphasis on finger/string noises. This is an independent production, so the best source is probably the duo’s web site: http://www.pedrickhutsonduo.com Purchase Here

- John Sunier

Here are two highly individual albums of rather obscure piano music...

JOSEPH JONGEN: The Complete Piano Works, Vol. 1 - Diane Andersen, piano - Pavane ADW 7475/6 (2 CDs):

Jongen was an important figure in music in Belgium in the early part of the 20th century. He was a busy music educator for three seasons of the year, doing most of his composing only in the fourth summer period. The son of a cabinetmaker, he inherited a meticulous approach to his creations, which were mostly short sonatas, sonatinas or suites for piano. His Post-Romantic style is steeped in that of Cesar Franck, though in some of these works an impressionistic tendency is heard. Many of the pieces are inspired by the composer’s love of his Belgian homeland. While they are all well-crafted and direct in their musical communication, a very personal touch comes thru in what violinist Eugene Ysaye referred to as their being “full of curious harmonies.” Jongen was also close to Faure, Pierne and Florent Schmitt. These works reminded me of some of the also very personal piano miniatures of Mompou. Some of the highlights of the set are a Petite Suite, designed for young audiences, two tone-paintings: Clair de Lune and The Sun at Noon, three Impromptus inspired by Chopin, and the concluding 24 Preludes in all the keys - a sparkling kaleidoscope of atmospheric little gems, most two minutes or under in length. Purchase Here

KAIKHOSRU SHAPURJI SORABJI: Passeggiata veneziana; Villa Tasca - Jonathan Powell, piano - Altarus AIR-CD-9067:

Sorabji, who died in l988, was one of the most unusual composers for the keyboard in 20th century music. His father was Persian and his mother a Spanish-Sicilian opera singer. He had a long career as composer, critic and writer on music, creating three huge organ symphonies and over 60 piano works. His style might be expressed as a sort of space-age Liszt crossed with Scriabin. He wrote his music at high speed directly to the final draft, and much of it is so incredibly complex and dense that only a few pianists have had the temerity to tackle it for public performance.

The music of Italy was a strong influence in Sorabji’s style and many of his works have Italian titles, and he championed Mediterranean culture over the Protestant virtues of northern Europe (where he lived most of the time, in England). The second work on this disc is lengthy (53 minutes), but nothing like Sorabji’s most massive works - the Symphonic Variations and Opus clavicembalisticum. The Passeggiata veneziana is a kind of operatic theme transcription - the source being Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffman. Villa Tasca is a musical portrait of a famous villa near Palermo in Sicily at which both Wagner and Donizetti were guests. Considered one of the composer’s best works, it is unusually sparse for Sorabji, with a simpler basic structure given texture by complex ornamentation and arabesques. It’s final pages conjure up a specific recording of a haunting folksong titled Sicilian Muleteer’s Song. Pianist Powell specializes in the music of Sorabji, Scriabin and Szymanowski and has written articles on them as well as Futurism and Russian Music. He is fully and amazingly adept at handling the translation of Sorabji’s obsessive note-spinning to palpable form in sound. His photos of Villa Tasca today are in the note booklet. Purchase Here

- John Sunier

Paris/Buenos Aires - Tango Futur Ensemble - BIS-CD-1170:

Tango Futur is a French sextet comprising bandoneon, doublebass, piano, sax, percussion and a mezzo-soprano. They have assembled here a program of 17 selections built around the connection that has existed for over 120 years in tango culture between the cities of Buenos Aires and Paris. The young Argentine capitol chose Paris as its cultural model and when the first tango musicians visited Paris they had instant success. The only composer here who will be recognizable to most listeners is Piazzolla. His Fuga y Misterio, and Chiquilin de Bachin serve as musical bookends of the album. He is also the only composer represented who is not still living. Five of the pieces involve the mezzo and she prefaces one instrumental tango with a short recitation. The sound of the soprano sax is prominent in several of the pieces, and the number of them that are scored for the full sextet reveals that many of these works were commissioned by Tango Futur. Some embellish melodies from historic tangos, while others work compositional transformations on the basic tango rhythm, such as Gratzler’s Transmutango. Altogether an absorbingly alternate approach to chamber music. Purchase Here

- John Sunier

VIKTOR ULLMANN: Symphonies Nos. 1 (“On My Youth”) & 2 in D Major; Six Lieder; Don Quixote tanzt Fandango - Juliane Banse, soprano/Gürzenich Orchester Cologne Philharmonic/James Conlon - Capriccio 67 017:

Ullmann is one of the group of Jewish composers who have been rediscovered in recent years with new attention paid to those victims of the Nazi who wrote was referred to as Entarte Musik (Forbidden Music). Along with Irwin Schulhoff I would say his music is the most interesting and timeless of the less-well-known composers in that unfortunate category. Ullmann sought to combine tonal and atonal elements in a manner also found in the works of Scriabin, but he would not be considered avant garde today. His opera The Emperor of Atlantis has had some performances recently, as well as his piano sonatas Nos. 5 and 7, but the two symphonies which he had hoped to create by orchestrating those two piano works have not been widely heard.

Indications about the orchestration are found in the piano scores to both works, and Bernhard Wulff employed them to reconstruct the First Symphony from the Fifth Sonata and the Second Symphony from the Seventh Sonata. The world of the old Viennese waltz is central to both works, and in the First Symphony Ullmann quotes the Viennese drinking song O du lieber Augustin. Ullmann had decided on the unusual instrumentation of his Second Symphony before he was executed at Theresienstadt, and it includes a large woodwind section plus a harpsichord. It has a march reminiscent of Mahler, a very gloomy Adagio movement, and concludes with variations and a fugue on a Hebrew folksong. Ullman’s Don Quixote Dances the Fandango is a light and tuneful overture with castanets, which also required extensive reconstruction due to the sketchy manuscript written on poor quality paper. Sonics of the CD are excellent, and there is also a video DVD of Second Symphony performed by the same forces Purchase Here.

- John Sunier

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