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CLASSICAL  CDs
Pt. 2 of 2   Nov. 2003

BEETHOVEN: Triple Concerto, Piano Trio In B-flat Major, Opus 11. The Eroica Trio. Prague Chamber Orchestra - Angel 7243 5 62655 2 3:

In the past, I’ve had mixed feelings about this trio of photogenic ladies. A CD featuring Brahms was charming and showed real promise, if not the composer’s roguish humor. An ill-advised foray into the funky work of Astor Piazzolla seemed beyond them. Their music was too precise, too controlled. With this CD, they’ve tackled middle Beethoven and scored. They sensitively evoke the first movement’s delightful imitations. And how well they handle that superb finale at the Triple Concerto’s first movement finale! They have the right mixture of brio and restraint, faithful to the music and refusing to show off. The affecting Largo proceeds with languorous tones and leads seamlessly into the delightful Rondo. The Eroicas haven’t played often in the concerto format, but their work with the Prague Chamber Orchestra – with no conductor!—shows that their sense of pacing is not self-contained. They play well with others. The other piece on the disc, the Piano Trio in B-flat Major, is also a tasty bonbon from early Beethoven (composed even before his first string quartet). It is bright, bouncy, and inventive with the lightness of touch and humor more closely associated with Haydn than Mozart. Again the skillfully executed imitation and sense of play. I wonder how they’d handle the darker and more complex Archduke Trio or the quirky Ghost Trio. Still, from the way they handle this music, the transitional early Romantic period is clearly theirs, perhaps even more so than the late Baroque. Listen to the opening of the songful final movement of the Piano Trio and enjoy this seemingly effortless rendition Purchase here.

-- Peter Bates

MOZART: Piano Concertos, Vol. 1, K. 482 and 595 – Christian Zacharias, piano and conducting the Lausanne Chamber Orchestra – MDG 340 1182-2 (63 mins.):

Christian Zacharias starts off his second recorded cycle of the Mozart concertos with a superb coupling of K. 482, the most sovereign of the 27, and K. 595 (composed in the year before his death), the most resigned. Unlike his previous complete set, which he recorded for EMI with a variety of orchestras and conductors including Günter Wand, David Zinman and Neville Marriner (and which is now available through Amazon for less than $30—an amazing bargain!), Zacharias here serves as both soloist and conductor.

The difference is obvious in the more direct, more involved playing of the Lausanne Chamber Orchestra, particularly its wonderful woodwind players, and the relaxed freedom which the always inventive Zacharias (among his recordings is one on which he plays 20—count ‘em!—20 different performances of the same Scarlatti sonata on one CD) explores the inner secrets of Mozart’s miraculous music. There is no shortage of energy in his playing—the occasional arrival of improvised notes is invariably special and, even on repeated hearings, surprising—but it is more spontaneous, more creative and more satisfying than on his earlier set. The stealth with which he creeps into and through 482 is hypnotic, and his smiling bright cadenzas for the same concerto, in which he allows a few of the woodwinds to join, are irresistible. His performance of 595 is less outstanding, less interested (as most are) in plumbing the difficult recesses of Mozart’s soul which lie beneath the surface sunshine.

The sound is MDG gold, clear and natural, the piano gorgeous and the winds luminous, with astonishing spatial and tonal depth. Gerhard Allroggen’s articulate, detailed notes find, in the way the best notes used to, the glory of the musical experience in the blueprints of Mozart’s scores. Purchase here

- Laurence Vittes

A trio of violin concertos up next...
ACHRON: Violin Concerto No. 1, Op. 60; The Golem (Suite); Two Tableaux from Belshazzar - Elmar Oliveira, violin/Joseph Silverstein conducts Berlin Radio-Symphony - Gerard Schwartz conducts Czech Philharmonic (Golem) and Barcelona Symphony (Belshazzar) - Naxos 8.559408 65:28:

Released under the auspices of the Milken Archive of American Jewish Music (founded 1990), which intends to issue fifty discs devoted to diverse, musical genres and idioms of Jewish expression, this album debuts a series of pieces by Joseph Achron (1886-1943). Prior to this release, I knew Achron only by a few, small pieces championed by Jascha Heifetz, in which Achron acted as piano accompanist. Having been raised in St. Petersburg, Achron came under the spell of the Gesellschaft (the Society for Jewish Folk-Music), which inculcated his abiding interests in folklore, religious hymnody, cantorial inflection, as well as in fusing a polyphonic and  harmonically eclectic blend of elements from Scriabin and the Second Viennese School.

The Violin Concerto dates from 1925. It is divided into two movements of unequal length, the second of which is a set of "improvisations" or variations on two Yemenite themes or "cantillations," each of which ends with a distinct cadence or vocal formula taken from readings of the Torah, the book of Jewish Law. So, as one might expect, the music is alternately dramatic and incantatory, lyric and declamatory, much like Bloch's Schelomo, but whose harmonic syntax sounds like Weill or Schreker. Solo Elmar Oliveira and his capable violinist-turned-conductor Joseph Silverstein ply much devotion and frenzied energy to this work, recorded 1998, playing passionately and sympathetically. Whether any of its dionysian colors and stringent psalmody will appeal to us any better than it did to its contemporary audience is another question--except for Louis Krasner, few instrumentalists have bothered to learn it. To me, there is a touch of neurosis about the entire work; it simply tries too hard..

Achron wrote incidental music for The Golem in 1931 for a New York production by the Yiddish Art Theater, a concept not too far from Odets' work with The Group Theater. Gerard Schwartz conducts the five sections of the twelve-minute suite, much of which conforms to Schoenberg's dicta on serial technique. The destruction of the creature, whose job is to protect the Jews from persecution (anyone ever note that Meyer Wolfscheim 'creates' Gatsby for this purpose?), finds musical equivalent in having the Golem theme played in retrograde. Dedicated to Fritz Reiner, who premiered the work in 1932, the suite remained in obscurity until this 2000 performance by Gerard Schwartz. Despite the large orchestra (even more expansive in Belshazzar), the music struck me more as an experiment in orchestral colors than as a personal expression. Belshazzar (composed 1924, revised 1931) too, did not distinguish itself in my melodic consciousness--what I get from this disc is a sense of a gifted, highly idiosyncratic writer of ethnic music whose universality is still an open debate. Purchase here

--Gary Lemco



RICHARD YARDUMIAN: Violin Concerto; Symphony No. 2 ‘Psalms;’ Armenian Suite - Nancy Maultsby, mezzo/Singapore Symphony Orch./Lan Shui - BIS CD-1232:

The tonal, ethnic-influenced works of Yardumian were championed by both Ormandy and Stokowski in the 40s and 50s, as well pianist John Ogdon. However, the composer - who died in l985 - is not now considered a major figure in American music. He demonstrated deep Armenian religious preoccupations in his music and at that time they were unappreciated, but now with the popularity of the Eastern European spiritual/meditational composers Yardumian should be catching on.

His use of modalities reflecting a distant past are heard in the Violin Concerto. His Second Symphony uses excerpts from five of the Psalms as text and a mezzo-soprano soloist. It is in effect an orchestral song cycle, and also has strong modal qualities. The early Armenian Suite began life as a piano piece based on an Armenian lullaby, but in its orchestral version gets very lively in some of its seven movements. All the melodious folk songs are genuinely Armenian in their source. This vigorously international CD is both well-played and recorded in excellent sonics Purchase here.

- John Sunier

The Romantic Violin Concerto Vol. 3 = JENO HUBAY: Violin Concertos Nos. 3 in G minor & 4 in A Minor; Variations on a Hungarian Theme - Hagai Shaham, violin/BBC Scottish Sym. Orch./Martyn Brabbins - Hyperion CDA67367:

Looks like Hyperion has created a companion series of volumes for violin to their long-running one of Romantic Piano Concertos. Hubay, who lived until 1937, founded the so-called Hungarian style of violin playing and is known for his many violin showpieces. A round and broad tone is the main quality of this style. Lessened performances of his music following his death may have been partly due to his being personally at loggerheads with Bartok and Kodaly - considered Hungary’s national composers. Both Brahms and Liszt influences are heard in his concertos, which were often created for his own virtuoso performances No. 3 follows the structure of Liszt piano concertos, with four movements instead of three. The Fourth Concerto is built on Baroque forms and even has the violin playing an extended drone on the open G-string to imitate a French dance accompanied by the bagpipe. The acoustics of the church in Edinburgh where the recording was made are rich and natural sounding. A good feature of the disc is that unlike some of the forays into the more obscure repertory on some labels, you can be sure that everything issued on Hyperion is at a very high level of recorded sound. Purchase here

- John Sunier

The Elision Saxophone Quartet - Live Through the Years - Equilibrium EQ56 (Distr. by Albany) -[www.elisionsax.com]:

This CD is from a sax quartet based in Austin Texas. As with many other burgeoning sax quartets around the world, their program ranges from Bach to Bop and consists of mainly shorter pieces. The group was founded in 1990 and has played throughout the U.S. in many different venues. The CD is a compilation of what they feel is the peak of their live performance recordings made over the space of a decade. This is a brave endeavor technically because the recordings existed on a mix of reel tape, cassettes, DATs and CD-Rs. Mastering engineer Andy Murphy did a yeoman job bringing them all together - interesting that the abbreviation for the label name is EQ! The fact is one can only tell with headphones the higher hiss level on a few tracks. These are good recordings of some great playing, and their audiences obviously loved it.

The 23 tracks are: BACH: Prelude from Partita No. 3, ROMERO: Choro y tango, IBANEZ: Triguenita, GONZAGA: Gaucho, COREA: Spain, WILLIAMS: That’s a Plenty, GERSHWIN: Porgy & Bess selections, Salute to Glenn Miller, Just for Show, BERNSTEIN: Prologue to West Side Story, EVANS: Waltz for Debbie, AYOUB: Jazz Suite, PHIL WOODS: Three Improvisations, MANCINI: The Pink Panther, Poison Ivy, My Girl, Goodnight Sweetheart, Broadway Romance, BACH: Sarabande from Second English Suite.

- John Sunier

Speaking of West Side Story, here’s a fresh take on it...
BERNSTEIN: West Side Story - Barbara Bonney, Michael Ball, La Verne Williams, Christopher Howard/Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus/Barry Wordsworth - Warner Classics 2564 60423-2:

This concert version of the classic Leonard Bernstein musical was done in the UK in l993 but is only now being issued in the U.S. for the first time. The soloists come from both operatic and stage musical backgrounds - singer Ball appears on three of the four different cast recordings of Les Miserables, for example. The interesting thing here is that the approach presents West Side Story as a classical operetta, with symphony orchestra and some full ballet sequences. The use of operatic soloists is similar to Bernstein’s own concert version recording of his score for DGG with Jose Carreras and others. However, it doesn’t push the operatic vocal style into the ludicrous, as did Bernstein’s. In fact, this version has most of the snap and excitement of the original Broadway cast recording, and with a better orchestra in improved sonics Purchase here.

- John Sunier

We close out with some south-of-the-border piano music...

VILLA-LOBOS: Piano Music Volume 3 = Suite Floral, Ciclo Brasileiro, Brinquedo de Roda, Dancas Caracteristicas Africanas, Tristorosa, Chôros Nos. 1, 2 & 5 “Alma Brasileira” - Sonia Rubinsky, piano - Naxos 8.555286:

A brilliant delight of a Brazilian piano music recital! The 20 tracks delve into different aspects of the prolific composer’s output but all represent a distinctive mix of standard Western music with exotic Brazilian musical culture. English translation of all the pieces are provided, for which thanks. Some give an idea of the pleasures to be found herein: Brazilian Soul, Idyll in a Hammock, Joy in the Garden, Song of the little cranky one, Let’s all go dancing.Purchase here

Guatemala Volume 5 = MANUEL MARTINEZ-SOBRAL: Five Characteristic Pieces and a Romance, Sonata for Two Pianos, Four Autobiographical Waltzes - Susanne Husson and Michel Bourdoncle, pianos - Marco Polo 8.225188:

More delightful piano music, this time from the culture of Central America. Martinez-Sobral, who lived until 1946, wrote many works for the piano and one of the only works by a Central American composer for two pianos. Pianist Husson has recorded all of them for Marco Polo. Strong tempos and catchy melody abound in their pieces. The composer loved waltzes and the final movement of his Two Piano Sonata is a several waltzes in a rondo structure. The Four Autobiographical Waltzes attempt to portray elements in the composer’s life during their course; two of them are serenades to women he loved Purchase here.

- John Sunier


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