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Nigel Kennedys Greatest Hits - EMI Classics 57330 2:
This compilation should probably be in the Reissues section, but somehow a CD cover with the soloist in WWF-type facial makup, a semi-Mohawk haircut and taking a big bite out of his violin would seem even more out of place there. I guess this is the Kennedys alternate to the sexy covers on some of female violinists CDs. At least he appears to be again using his first name. The CD is not entirely a reissue anyway - three of the tracks are first recordings, including a rip-roaring Czardas by Monti.
Hes not just a poseur trying for crossover success - these are 13 very attractive short encores, and Kennedys enthusiastic delivery makes even the chestnuts glow with the brightest colors. Some are arrangements of pieces not originally composed for the violin - such as a lovely version of Saties Gymnopedie No. 1. There is some Bach, Debussy, Kreisler, and the program opens and closes with a movement from Vivaldis Four Seasons. Two traditional melodies from the British Isles are heard in especially creative arrangements for violin solo and orchestra: Danny Boy and Scarborough Fair. His own brief line notes on each selection are also folksy and informative - also quite an alternative to the usual wordy and musicological details on the music. Purchase Here
- John Sunier
Two flutists in our next pair of CDs...
JEFF MANOOKIAN: Flute Concerto; Symphony of Tears - Laurel Ann Maurer, flute/vocal soloists/Armenian Nat. Opera Orch. & Chorus/Jeff Manookian, cond. (Concerto)/ Karen Durgarian, cond. (Sym.) - Albany Troy507:
Young conductor and composer Manookian works with such organizations as the University of Utah SummerArts Orchestra, Pasadena Symphony, Salt Lake Symphony and Armenian Nat. Opera Orchestra. The three-movement flute concerto - a lovely tonal work - calls for extremely virtuosic playing by the soloist. The Symphony was inspired by the tragic and little-known Armenian Genocide of 1915-23, during which Ottoman Turks murdered more than half of the Armenian population. Some of the lyrics for mezzo and boy soprano are in Armenian and others in English - there are also passages from the Divine Armenian Liturgy. The very moving work was recorded live in Yerevan Armenia in September 2001 and is intended to console those who have suffered crimes of hate. Purchase Here
Flute Recital = TAKTAKISHVILI: Flute Sonata in C; SCHULHOFF: Flute Sonata; BARTOK: Suite Paysanne Hongroise; DOHNANYI: Aria; MARTINU: First Sonata - Marina Piccinini, flute/Eva Kupiec, piano - Claves CD 50-2105:
This most attractive program of works for flute and piano will have minimal chance of duplicating even one selection in most flute lovers collections. All the composers are of Eastern European extraction and rather than associations with ancient Greece or Parisian salons the flute in that part of the world comes out of the folk music cultures. That is reflected in all of the works here. Taktakishvilis and Schulhoffs sonatas both blend sounds of the Parisian Les Six group with folk songs of Georgian in the former and Czech in the latter. The two famous Hungarian composers are both steeped in their countrys folk tradition (which they collected and preserved on cylinder records), yet Dohnanyis gorgeous Aria sounds closest to the more romantic moments of Rachmaninoff. This well recorded and documented CD is one of the most varied and enjoyable solo instrument plus piano recitals I have heard in some time. Purchase Here
- John Sunier
GRIEG: Cello Sonata in A Minor, Op. 36; String Quartet in G Minor, Op. 27
Truls Mork, cello; Havard Gimse, piano; Solve Sigerland ,violin; Atle Sponberg, violin; Lars Anders Tomter, viola
Virigin Classics 5 45505 2 62:16 (Distrib. EMI):
I first heard Grieg's passionate Cello Sonata (1883) on a CBS LP with Leonard Rose, whose unbridled enthusiasm made a believer of me. The String Quartet came to me in pieces, with only the Scherzo's being offered on "Budapest String Quartet Encores" (CBS ML 5116) before I finally purchased the whole with the early Budapest on Biddulph. You need not wait to splice these fine works together: Truls Mork, Norway's answer to the diverse music-making of violinist Gidon Kremer, has assembled a talented group of friends for this Grieg recital that features consistently urgent and tender playing of both works. The entire Virgin production is a Grieg homage, with lovely pictures of the Grieg home at Troldhaugen to supplement the intensity of the performances. Everywhere we have that folkish modality that pervades the Lyric Pieces and gives poignancy to the melodies in Peer Gynt. In fact, Grieg came to lament Peer Gynt (and to a degree, his Piano Concerto) the way Rachmaninov grew to despise his C# Minor Prelude, as it came to overwhelm the other fine works in his oeuvre. This disc dispels any notions of Grieg's "singular success" and provides renewed and refreshed illuminations of two visceral cornerstones to chamber music literature. Vivid colors in equally vivid sound. Purchase Here
ARNELL: String Quintet, Op. 60; Music for Harp, Op. 72a; Piano Trio, Op. 47; Trio for Flute, Cello, and Piano, Op. 168; Suite for Unaccompanied Cello - Locrian Ensemble
Dutton CDLX 7122 71:02 (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi):
I formerly knew the concert music of Richard Arnell (b. 1917) from one work, his Punch and the Child as conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham for CBS. His music for films has made some impression; the one score I recall was for Duerrenmatt's The Visit, starring Ingrid Bergman and Anthony Quinn. Arnell studied at the Royal College of Music with John Ireland; during WW II he worked with conductor John Barnett, who helped Arnell develop a series of orchestral works that refined his tonal and occasionally audacious, musical syntax. In Britain, his champion has been violinist Erich Gruenberg, much involved in commissions and performances of Arnell's expressive and accessible pieces.
This collation by the Locrian Ensemble offers compositions spanning 1946 (Piano Trio) to 1991 (Flute Trio), in a range of varying moods and colors. Arnell seems to a\have taken his impetus from Debussy, whose own rarified Trio for Harp, Flute and Viola exerts a subtle influence in much of the hue and mercurial plays of light and dark in these works. Justin Pearson plays the 1960 Cello Suite, a piece "in olden style," with allegiances to Bach, certainly, but perhaps even to an older modality in 15th Century dances. The Piano Trio is the last piece Arnell wrote in America, having been stranded here at the outbreak of the Nazi blitz. It has a somber cast, with occasional interludes of lyric beauty. While there are dark moments here and in the 1950 String Quintet, there is no extended sense of angst or post-Schoenbergian harmonic turmoil. Not so dreamy as Bax, but neither as tumultuous as Walton can be, Arnell sets a middle course, technically polished, rhythmically flexible, and contrapunctally sound (via the teaching of John Dykes). Recorded at Henry Wood Hall in 2002, these more than competent pieces reveal a sincere, lyrical voice in music whose popular ouevre should be enlarged by CDs such as this one. Purchase Here
GAVIN BRYARS: - A Portrait = Cello Concerto; One Last Bar, Then Joe Can Sing; Les Fiancailles; Jesus Blood Never Failed Me Yet (2 versions); The Green Ray; Adman Songbook; The Sinking of the Titanic; The North Shore - Julian Lloyd Webber, cello/ John Harle, sax/Valarie Anderson, soprano/Bill Hawkes, viola/Tom Waits/Gavin Bryars Ensemble - Philips 289 472 296-2 (2 CDs):
Bryars came to the attention of the music world with his audacious 1975 original version of Jesus Blood Never Failed Me Yet. The piece - which in some versions ran as long as an LP side - uses a field tape recording (in a loop) of an old man singing a fragment of a simple religious song. A string section begins to add simple harmonies , increasing in density with each repetition of the song. The two versions on this CD are much shorter - titled singles, and mix the voice of Tom Waits with that of the original.
The one other vocal piece is a song cycle on eight love poems by a Lebanese writer. Bass clarinet is predominant in this work. The standout works for me in this set were the lyrical neoclassic Cello Concerto with Lloyd Webber, and the almost hypnotic work for strings Les Fiancailles. Bryars writes thoughtful new music that is highly original and yet highly accessible. Recorded quality varies somewhat due to the many differing ensembles involved, but is overall good. Purchase Here
PAUL CHIHARA: Forever Escher; Shinju ballet; Wind Song (Cello Concerto) - 1) Amherst Sax Quartet/Aracata String Quartet; 2) Ballet Arts Orchestra/Paul Chihara; 3) Jeffry Solow, cello/American Sym. Orch./Gerhard Samuel - New World Records 80597-2:
Seattle-born composer Chihara studied with Nadia Boulanger and Gunther Schuller among others, and makes extensive use of non-Western musics in his works. He has written many works for the stage, ballet, film and television. The major work here, the ballet, derives its scenario from the suicide plays of a great Japanese dramatist. Chiharas score integrates into the orchestral fabric a tape of electronically-processed vocals and instrumentals of authentic ancient Japanese music. The musique concrete process used conveys a sense of doom to the story of the two young lovers.
The Escher-influenced work held for me the most interest of the three here. Chihara wanted to imitate the artists skillful metamorphosizing of one object into another in his drawings. He used melodic and harmonic fragments from such sources as the song Laura, an Artie Shaw riff, some harmonies from Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, and so on. The musical found objects are heard in all four movements, and are traded back and forth between the sax quartet and the string quartet. Thoroughly fascinating, edgy yet accessible new music from this composer who has been fortunate enough to benefit from a sizeable catalog of recorded CDs. Purchase Here
- John Sunier
Bassoon Music of the Americas = ETLER: Sonata; JOSE SIQUERA: Three Etudes; WM. OSBORNE: Rhapsody; VILLA-LOBOS: Ciranda des sete notas; Three Chorinhos - Jeff Keesecker, bassoon/Helen Grimaud, piano - ACA CM20045:
Keesecker brings us far more than the run-of-the-mill recital for solo instrument accompanied by piano. The considerable range and expressive abilities of the lowly bassoon are fully explored in these enjoyable non-hackneyed works. The first two follow a neo- classical pattern such as a Baroque sonata for recorder and continuo might. Villa-Lobos was especially fond of the bassoon and we are taken into his lush Brazilian environment with this concerto-like ciranda of seven notes. Then the Brazilian theme heats up with the closing three mini-choros in which the solo bassoon is enlarged to a trio with the addition of a guitarist (also playing the folk instrument the cavaquinho), and another performer on the Brazilian pandeiro. Purchase Here
- John Sunier
ARVO PÄRT: Summa; Trisagion, Symphony No. 3; Fratres; Silouans Song; Festina Lente; Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten - Estonian National Symphony Orchestra/Paavo Järvi - Virgin Classics 5 45501 2:
Virgin Classics has occasionally issued single-CD collections of works by contemporary composers which were premiered on various CDs earlier. In some cases the attraction of having all the works on one disc ameliorates the disadvantage of the performances being not quite as good as the originals. That is certainly not the case here - many of these works were premiered on the ECM label but fellow Estonian Järvi (son of Neeme) gives us a superb reading of all Pärts nine works in this collection, and sonics are just as good as were ECMs. The Eastern European brand of minimalism characterized by Paarts music works with the most primitive of materials to achieve a profoundly meditative and spiritual mood that is unafraid of silence or long-held notes. Paarts close connection with the Greek Orthodox Church is central to his music, as was Messiaens with the Catholic Church. With a bow to Edgar Allen Poe, he calls his often bell-like sound tintinnabulation. His great appeal to listeners has given the composer a cult-like status with audiences and collectors.
Early polyphony and plainsong often provide the beginning point for works by Paart, and the this is especially true of the main work here - the Symphony. This work is much more complex, with a huge orchestra, and partakes of the violent contrasts of dynamics which fellow minimalist Kancheli carries even further. Fratres is probably the big hit of this collection - heard in its orchestral garb as opposed to the violin-piano version by Gidon Kremer and Keith Jarrett which originally popularized the piece on ECM. Purchase Here
- John Sunier
Nightmare in Venice - VIVALDI: La Notte (The Nightmare Concerto); Concerto Grosso in A Minor RV 522; PURCELL: Suite from The Fairy Queen; CASTELLO: Sonata Decima; LECLAIR: Suite from Scylla et Glaucus; CIMA: Sonata a Tre in A Minor; English Fantasy Suite; Fantasy on Corellis La Folia - Red Priest - Dorian DOR-90305:
Red Priest is only a quartet of early-music specialists but with a larger than life reputation for unique programming (such as this CD) and daring interpretations. Violin, cello, recorders and harpsichord are the groups makeup, and a critic observed of them, If nobody goes over the top, how will we know what lies on the other side? Named after the nickname for Antonio Vivaldi, Red Priest reminded me of the gutsy Italian early-music group Il Giardino Armonico, though of a reduced size.
In their notes they describe the opening of La Notte as more reminiscent of a Hammer Films horror oater than anything else in the Baroque period, so it made a perfect intro to this CD. In addition to sparkling and energetic versions of the other Vivaldi, Purcell and LeClair works, the quartet arranged three pieces of music by Robert Johnson for the theater of Shakespeares time plus one by Nicholas LeStrange into a Fantasy Suite. Then they wind up with their very own improvisation on a famous theme of Corelli, readily admitting that it may not fit the currently accepted boundaries of authenticity. Sonics, as is the norm with Dorian, are first rate. If Red Priest is a musical dream for your ears, you might want to check out their earlier CD, Priest on the Run. Purchase Here
- John Sunier
***Five New Entries in Naxos American Classics Series. This acclaimed series is the most ambitious recording project ever devoted entirely to American composers - when completed over 200 CDs will make up the series. The rich tapestry of American concert music continues to be served with these excellent performances at bargain prices that allow collectors to explore important American composers whose music they have never before heard.. Purchase Here.
MICHAEL TORKE: Rapture (Percussion Concerto); An American Abroad; Jasper - Colin Currie, percussion/Royal Scottish Nat. Orch../Marin Alsop - Naxos American Classics 8.559167:
SAMUEL BARBER: Piano Concerto; Die Natali; Commando March; Medeas Meditation and Dance of Vengeance - Stephen Prutsman, p./Royal Scottish Nat. Orch./Marin Alsop - Naxos American Classics 8.559133:
CHARLES MARTIN LOEFFLER: Music for Four Stringed Instruments; String Quartet; Quintet in One Movement - DaVinci Quartet - Naxos American Classics 8.559077:
JOHN ALDEN CARPENTER: Sonata for Violin and Piano; String Quartet; Piano Quintet - Paul Posnak, Piano/Sergiu Schwartz, violin/Vega Quartet - Naxos American Classics 8.559103:
GEORGE WHITEFIELD CHADWICK: Orchestral Works = Thalia, Melpomene, Euterpe, Angel of Death, Aphrodite - Nashville Symphony Orchestra/Kenneth Schermerhorn - Naxos American Classics 8.559117:
The Torke CD is a real departure for this series, consisting of works composed in just the last few years. Torkes music has been called some of the most uplifting and optimistic being created today. Hes not afraid of beautiful melodies and the energy of his rhythmic patterns is heard full- blown in the percussion concerto. An American Abroad is a sort of update of Gershwins classic but with a feeling of the romantic wonderment of travel in general - that feeling of wonderment seems to pervade many of Torkes very accessible works.
The Barber works have been recorded before, but these are superb interpretations in find sonics at a bargain price. Barbers Late Romantic tonal style is prevented from sounding dated by his use of modern harmonic and melodic leadings. In the Medea ballet selection he skirts Bartokian territory, especially with the prominent xylophone part. With the freeing of modern music from the stranglehold of academic serialism, his music should be appreciated all over again today.
Loeffler has been almost forgotten today although he was one of the most respected American composers in the 20s and 30s. Boston was his hometown, and his earlier works - as with most American composers then - were influenced by Germanic compositional styles. Later French Impressionism is heard in his works. The three movement Music for Four Stringed Instruments of l917 is his best known work and was composed in memory of a friend who was an aviator in WWI. It incorporates plainchant of the early Christian church.
Carpenter is probably best known to audiophiles for his colorful Adventures in a Perambulator, recorded by Howard Hanson on an early Mercury Living Presence LP. Like Charles Ives, he combined success in the business world with an active live as a composer. Various of his works show influences of the Germanic, French, Russian and even jazz. His Violin Sonata is a lovely work that opens with a hint of Delius and continues with a feeling of nostalgia common to that composer. The Quintet also shows impressionistic influences, but couched in a more heavily Late Romantic style.
Chadwick will also come to most senior audiophiles attention as the composer of the spectacular Symphonic Sketches, also recorded for Mercury Living Presence by Howard Hanson. Studies in Germany, followed by the music world of Boston are also part of his background, though later works such as two of these overtures named after the Muses, show more of a French tendency. His highly personal style often quoted hymns and folk tunes, and his scherzos were especially jovial and light-hearted. Because of these qualities, Chadwick seems to possess the most American sound of U.S. composers up until Copland. Both Angel of Death and Aphrodite were inspired by sculptures by artist friends of the composer. The Nashville Symphony is making quite a reputation for its excellent performances of American music and this fine disc is just one of its successes. Its somehow satisfying to have American music played by an American orchestra for a change. Purchase Here
- John Sunier