Pt. 2 of 3  March 2003
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WOLFE: String Quartets. Ethel, Cassatt String Quaratet, Lark Quartet. Cantaloupe CA21011:

When you first hear Julia Wolfe, you feel that Morton Feldman’s been reincarnated as a minimalist rock musician. The driving low register chords of the first piece, Big Deep, proceed with a furious energy, but one that seem not to be going anywhere, a Feldmanesque perambulation. For the first five minutes the same chords pound like jackhammers at your ears. Soon the subordinate melody softens the drive, not by tempo but tessitura, and by 11:00 it has completely taken over. But the restive atmosphere predominates and the listener is plunged into a cauldron of conflicting figures, maddening in their urgency. At thirteen minutes, the piece never lets up. Four Marys is an entirely different matter. It begins slowly, its creepy pianissimo carrying that faraway swarm-of-bees sound. Of course it intensifies, taped together by long strips of legato. The register climbs almost unbearably high like the violins in Penderecki’s Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima, but there is no death and destruction, only a yawning hunger for altered states. The title Four Marys most likely refer to the four textural changes in the piece. The third one is even more unsettling than the bees, for the violin’s wail suggests an air raid siren. Even though its tempi and dynamics are more varied than those of Big Deep, this piece too is unsettling. Early That Summer quickly attaches to your ears like a burdock pod and won’t let go. Like the others, you can’t listen passively to it, you can’t play it in the background and decompress to it. Even its ending won’t let you go. Just when you think you’ve heard its final chord, the strings drop to pianississimo and continue on for another minute, like that final piano chord in the Beatles’ song, A Day in the Life. This is string music of such intensity that by the time it’s over, you may not be bothered by the fact that the CD is only 37 minutes long. Purchase Here

--Peter Bates

NIKOLOV: Three Sonatas. Angela Tosheva, piano. Labor Records LAB 7035-2:

These three sonatas from this Bulgarian modernist, spanning from 1951 to 1991, reveals how well the composer probes and pokes at atonality, without ever taxing our attention span. We’re never sure which direction he’s about to take while exploring a theme, but it almost doesn’t matter. The portentous chord that opens Sonata No. 6 (1982) doesn’t lead into the anticipated cavern of angst. Instead, we hear note ripples that painter Paul might have composed. This is serial composition at its best, packed with devices like rapid glissandi, wide tonal range, and dynamics that shift so suddenly we feel bewildered in a sonic hall of mirrors. The character of Sonata No. 7 (1991) retains the probing textures of No. 6 and has similar rough edges yet it is more lyrical. Nikolov makes poetic use of silence. But sometimes he is like Liszt, like when he employs tremulous interludes and lyrical swatches of color. Mercifully, he is not as long-winded as Liszt can sometimes be. His figures never belabor us, never try our patience. Whether he retreads similar territory or explores a new tonal corridor, the result is often satisfying. I expected Sonata No. 2 (1951) to differ significantly from the more recent pieces and it does, yet not overwhelmingly so. It winds around motives like a toccata and grows in intensity before descending into the contemplative Adagietto. The final movement is a spirited Allegro that starts a dance, but one that clomps across the stage like a marionette. As in Bela Bartok’s chamber music, Nikolov’s piano works toss melody shards about rather than produce voluptuous vases. This movement’s arpeggios spurt into the still air – sometimes shocking, but never distressing. His high-register work is not showy or grating. Pianist Angela Tosheva finds the subtleties in these works and delicately presents them to us like exotic sliced fruit. Purchase Here

--Peter Bates

Fascinating music for piano of two contrasting cultures on this pair of CDs...
The Piano Music of ALBERTO GINASTERA, Vol. 1 - Danzas Argentinas; Tres Piezas; Milonga; Malambo; Tres piezas para chicos; 12 American Preludes; Rondo on Argentine Children’s Folktunes - Eduardo Delgado, p. - M-A Recordings M038A:

Delgado is a native of Argentina and recognized as the foremost interpreter of the large body of works for the piano by fellow Argentine Ginastera - best known for his rare orchestral work, the Panambi ballet. I requested this disc for review after attending an exciting live performance by Delgado of one of the Ginastera piano sonatas. Though a 1996 release, Vol. 2 of the series is expected shortly. Ginastera makes use of Argentine folk songs but his melodies are often rather static, with many chromatic clashes - but still within a diatonic framework. Not only is it compelling music with a strong and rough rhythmic energy similar to the Malambo at the end of the orchestral ballet, but Delgado’s fiery performances have been recorded with the usual perfectionist care and attention found in all M-A CDs. In this case it involved removal of the piano’s lid and moving the 96K Pioneer DAT recorder very close to the spaced omni mikes so that the cable lengths could be reduced to just a few feet long at most, and monitoring on headphones. Purchase Here

VIKTOR ULLMANN: Piano Sonatas Nos. 5, 6 & 7; String Quartet No. 3 - Radoslav Kvapil, p./Kocian Quartet - Praga HMCD90 (Dist. By Harmonia mundi):

Czech native Ullmann was another of the Eastern European Jewish composers pegged by the Nazi for composing “degenerate music” and eventually murdered by them after a stint composing music and organizing concerts at the “showplace” cultural concentration camp Terezin. All these works - and a dozen others - were composed under those terrible conditions. His style is similar to Mahler and pre-serial Schoenberg, though the Presto movement of the string quartet goes dissonantly 12-tone. The 22-minute Seventh Sonata quotes a Hebrew folksong, Lutheran hymn and Czech Hussite chorale. I personally feel Ullmann to be one of the most listenable today of all the Entertarte composers currently being honored on recordings. Purchase Here

- John Sunier

Music of the Scarlatti family on two new discs...

ALESSANDRO SCARLATTI: Concerti e Sinfonie per Flauto - Martino Noferi, recorder/Il Rossignolo/Ottaviano Tenerani - CPO 999 856-2:

Although the Scarlatti family didn’t contribute nearly as much to music history as did the Bach family, Alessandro and his son Domenico were among the most important musicians of their time. The father was the most important opera composer after Monteverdi and quintessential example of a Baroque composer, and the son revolutionized the early Baroque keyboard sonata form in his highly individualistic 550-odd harpsichord sonatas. There has been a renewed interest in A. Scarlatti’s instrumental music, and this disc is the first collecting all his extant works for flute and various instruments. Five Concertos share with two Sinfonias and a Sonata. His writing for the flute is not unexpectedly vocal in nature, and there are jaunty rhythms in the melodies redolent of the various court dances popular at the time. There are some lovely dialogues between both a recorder and violin and between more than one recorder in the works for two and even three flutes. The ensemble Il Rossignolo plays original Baroque instruments, specializing in a repertory of 18th century Italian composers. Tenerani is both their conductor and harpsichordist. Recorded quality is excellent, soloist Noferi is a true virtuoso on his instrument, and the works are clearly of more depth than most Baroque musical wallpaper. Purchase Here

A & D SCARLATTI: Concerti & Sinfonie - Europa Galante/Fabio Biondi, violin & director - Virgin Veritas 545495-2:

This collection is made up of eight pieces by the father and three Sinfonias by the son. Six of Allesandro’s works are concerti grossi in seven parts, and came out at the same time as Handel’s six concerti grossi Op. 6. Scarlatti’s are definitely for seven players rather than a larger orchestra as Handel envisioned, and though less virtuosic and imposing than Handel’s they use a similar bantering back and forth of the themes between the smaller concertino section and the rest of the chamber group, and often display a similar exuberant quality. Domenico’s short sinfonias - which may have been used as introductions to cantatas - show a similar tendency toward the unexpected effect that is heard in his all his amazing harpsichord sonatas. Europa Galante is yet another European early music ensemble that matches an attention to musicological preciseness common to nearly all such groups with an excitement in performance that keeps audiences wide awake. Purchase Here

- John Sunier

Here’s a bit of a different take on music of the Baroque, eh what?...
Beatles Baroque II - Les Boreades (arr. by Eric Milnes) - ATMA Classique ACD2 2268:

Another original-instrument ensemble - this one founded in Montreal about a decade ago. Their album of Telemann suites and concertos was named Best Baroque Disc by a Canadian publication. There is nothing in the note booklet about this Beatles project, which appears to be volume two of a series, except that Milnes is also the 11 person group’s director and keyboardist. Perhaps they got into the Beatles-recycling biz to create some original and fun encores to their serious concert programs. Anyway, there are 15 tracks here, covering such Beatle hits as Michelle, Girl, When I’m 64, and A Day in the Life. The arrangements are just perfect, showing that thing - as per Bach, for example. Some of the settings are so skillfully arranged as to sound almost as though the entire piece comes to us directly from the Baroque period. Bully good fun. Purchase Here

- John Sunier

A pair of CDs of the music of American composer Peter Garland...

PETER GARLAND: The Days Run Away = Bright Angel Hermetic Bird, The Days Run Away, A Song, Two Persian Miniatures I & II; The Fall of Quang Tri, Nostalgia of the Southern Cross - Aki Takahashi, piano - Tzadik - TZ 7053:
PETER GARLAND: Another Sunrise; Dreaming of Immortality in a Thatched Cottage, I Have Had to Learn the Simplest Things Last - Aki Takashasi, piano & harpsichord/Essential Music/John Kennedy & Charles Wood, director - Mode Records 110:

Garland studied at Cal Arts with Harold Budd and James Tenney and has been active as a musicologist and essayist as well as minimalist composer. He played a role in the re-evaluation of such composers as Paul Bowles, Conlon Nancarrow, Revueltas, Dane Rudyar and Harry Partch. Now living in Veracruz, Mexico, he once traveled the world for 42 months and is influenced by various world musics as well as Indian and Hispanic traditions of the American Southwest.

Pianist Takahashi (known for her Hyper-Beatles project - 47 composers re-composing their favorite Beatles tunes) has been a prime interpreter of Garland’s music for some time. The notes for both albums refer to the opening line of a poem by Charles Olson which goes “I have had to learn the simplest things last.” That could be the central idea behind most of these works - deceptively simple in a Satie sort of way, meditative but full of strong feelings too. His music has a subtle impressionistic beauty that never seems to fall into the “stuck-record” bag of some minimalists. The first CD is devoted to earlier works of a more strict minimalist approach, while the Mode collection adds percussion and in the Dreaming of Immortality three vocalists. The percussion instruments include the marimbula - an instrument from the Caribbean area used in son and rhumba groups - as well as steel drum, vibes and bass marimba. Another Sunrise was inspired by both the death of a couple of close friends and a sunrise in New Mexico. With two pianos and four percussionists it creates an intense mood that is a sort of an American/Hispanic mirror of Bartok’s work for similar forces. Garland’s subtitle: “In the face of death, the beauty of life and love takes on its true meaning.” Purchase Here

- John Sunier

BEETHOVEN: Sonata No. 8 in C Minor, Op. 13 "Pathetique"/LISZT: Sonetto del Petrarca No. 104; Hungarian Rhapsody No. 12 in C# Minor; Hungarian Rhapsody No. 11 in A Minor/BRAHMS: Intermezzo in E, Op. 116, No. 4/CHOPIN: Scherzo No. 3 in C# Minor, Op. 39; Polonaise in /a-flat Major, Op. 53 Heroic"/RACHMANINOV: Prleude in G, Op. 32, No. 5/STRAUSS (arr. Schulz-Evler): By the Beautiful Blue Danube

Jeffrey Biegel, piano

Angelok ANG CD 8801 75:48 (Distrib. Albany):

Given Mr. Biegel's relative youth (b. 1961), this disc is an anomaly for "historic recordings," though that is precisely what it is. A graduate of the Juilliard School and Adele Marcus, Biegel had prior studied with supreme colorist Morton Estrin. Mr. Biegel likes to pay homage to the great romantic pianists, like Hofmann and Lhevinne; and his recitals from July 8 and July 25, 1997 played live directly for the Internet, capture his feeling for the Golden Age of pianism. Add to the mix that Steinway donated its 500,000th piano, and you have something of a legendary, musical alchemy.

Biegel sports some long, fleet fingers, as witnessed by the ease with which he glosses through the octaves and glissandi in Liszt, a personal favorite. He keeps a high hand for the Hungarian Rhapsody No. 11, imitating much of the phrasing William Kapell managed in his awesome rendition. The Hungarian Rhapsody No. 12 will remind many of Levitzky's famous inascription, and that is exalted company indeed. Biegel begins with Beethoven's stormy Pathetique Sonata, where Beethoven's chromatic agony is offset by the diatonism of his will. We can hear passing allegiance to Tristan, since Wagner well knew his Beethoven. For the final Rondo, Biegel adds two cadenzas that do not break the tension of the whole. I found the Brahms introspective Intermezzo and the two Chopin pieces quite stylish, although I found the Scherzo more compelling than the Polonaise, which to my taste came off a bit precious and mannered. The Rachmaninov Prelude in G seems a deliberate copy of Moiseiwitsch, lovely. And then on to Schulz-Evler's Strauss arrangement, the province of both Moiseiwitsch and Lhevinne. Throughout the recital Biegel maintains a rounded, full-piano tone, the very essance of the music he champions. This is a rising virtuoso of color and intelligent discretion. Purchase Here

--Gary Lemco

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