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CLASSICAL CDs
  Pt. 2 of 2 

 September 2002


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Alexander Lubimov, piano - Der Bote. C.P.E BACH: Fantasia in F minor; CAGE: In a Landscape; TIGRAN MANSURIAN: Nostalgia; LISZT: Abschied; GLINKA: Nocturne in F minor; CHOPIN: Prelude, Op. 45; VALENTIN SILVESTROV: Elegie; DEBUSSY: Elegie; BARTOK: Four Dirges, op9a, Nr. 1; SIVESTROV: Der Bote -- Alex Lubimov, piano. ECM New Series 1771 461812-2:

Don't make the mistake of listening to this stunningly recorded compilation of quiet, meditative piano works as background music for other activities. You'll miss some of the most beautiful elegaic piano compositions written over three centuries that I've heard in a long time. Although these are quiet works that evoke feelings or regret or sadness, pianist Lubimov has chosen ten works that taken as a whole create an island of reflection in an anxiety-ridden world. The adjective beautiful rarely comes to mind when describing the music of John Cage, but In a Landscape is just that. Liszt's Abschied also defy's the stereotype of his music; it is achingly heartfelt. The living Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov's 1976 Elegie plays like a ghost-like meditation on disconnected, random events that increasingly occur in our world. His later Der Bote (the messenger), for which the album is named, hearkens back to the more ordered world of classical composers and sounds less contemporary than CPE Bach's Fantasia. Lubimov infuses these works with a clarity and heartfelt nostalgic reverie that is moving rather than depressing. The ideal combination of bell-like christallinity and reverberant space makes this a demonstration disc for piano recording. Highly recommended.

- Robert Moon

VALENTIN SILVESTROV: Sonata For Cello And Piano; String Quartet No. 1; Three Postludes; Hymn 2001. Aiya Lechner, cello. Silke Avenhaus, piano/ Rosamunde Quartet/Simon Fordham, violin/Maacha Deubner, soprano/Valentin Silvestrov, piano. ECM New Series 1776. 289461898-2:

"What I deal with might be called poetry in music," writes the Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov. Indeed, this music is quiet for the most part, original and demands a listening that is patient and introspective. In the Sonata for Cello and Piano, both voices are intertwined, each fluttering around the other like two butterflies circling a rose, reflecting each's movements, each dancing with itself and each other. Delicate, melodic strands meet, merge and separate, briefly emerging, creating an emotionally moving tapestry. The String Quartet No. 1 is of similar mood, but for me it wanders about with less atmosphere, greater density and more stridency than the Cello Sonata. Postludium DSCH (Shostakovich's musical imprint) creates an eerily beautiful and contemplative soundscape for voice and piano trio. One of the few discernible melodies ­ albeit trucated ­ is found in the beautiful Postludium 3 for cello and piano. Hymn 2001 finds the composer performing a short piano work "from afar, listening raptly." Clearly Silvestrov is creating a unique landscape of sounds that are thoughtful and unusual. The performers and recording are excellent. For those interested and willing to explore one of the many ways music is being redefined by today's composers.

- Robert Moon

Distinctive but accessible modern keyboard music in this pair of CDs...

GLASS CAGE - Music for Piano by Philip Glass and John Cage - GLASS: Conclusion of Satyagraha, Metamorphosis 1 - 5, Mad Rush; CAGE: A Room, Dream - Bruce Brubaker, piano - Arabesque Recordings Z6744:

I'm not sure if this is the first time these two composers have shared a disc, but it's an interesting idea. While all of Glass is readily identifiable, the many varied approaches to "chance music" of John Cage mean that you can never be quite sure of the source. However, his two minimal piano pieces Brubaker plays here fit in perfectly. Both composers wrote a set of five piano pieces named Metamorphosis but only Glass' work is heard here - the Kafka story was his inspiration. It may not seem possible, but Brubaker actually elicits a bit more depth and emotion out of Glass' piano music than does the composer himself. Recorded sound is also excellent, which aids appreciation of the micro-subtleties in this music.

LOU HARRISON: Complete Harpsichord Works, Music for Tack Piano and Fortepiano -A Sonata for Harpsichord, Village Music, Six Sonatas for Cembalo, Incidental Music for Corneille's "Cinna," A Summerfield Set, Three Earlier Works for Solo Keyboard - Linda Burman-Hall, French double harpsichord, Spanish single harpsichord, fortepiano & tack piano - New Albion NA117:

Harrison has created interesting works for the harpsichord throughout his lengthy career. In the 50s, before a rebirth of interest in the harpsichord, the tack piano (thumbtacks inserted into the felt hammers) was often used as a substitute for the authentic instrument. Because of the ease of tuning the harpsichord vs. the piano - it nearly always requires tuning anyway before playing - it is a perfect vehicle for experimenting with different tuning systems. Harrison observes in his introductory notes that he has been "a part of such apostasy from the dull grey of industrial 12 tone equal temperament," and that he wants the freedom of performers and composers to tune pieces in ways that are most appropriate or enhance the musical beauty. The various works use several different alternatives to equal temperament, including 7-Limit Just Intonation, Triphony, and various modifications of Well Temperament. The usual Harrison world-music-influenced melodic style is heard in all the works, and I found the different variations of tuning to be much easier on the ears than microtonal works I have heard on standard pianos.

- John Sunier

Exciting new works from America and Russia . . .

JOHN ADAMS: Naive And Sentimental Music; Mother Of The Man; Chain To The Rhythm - Los Angeles Philharmonic/Esa-Pekka Salonen - Nonesuch 79636-2:

This commission by the LA Philharmonic in cooperation with several other orchestras excited Adams, who said it was his most ambitious of his works outside of his operas. The epic symphonies on Bruckner and Sibelius were an inspiration, though you won't hear anything reminding you of them. But a strong affinity for the power and contrasts of Nature connects all three composers. Naive and Sentimental Music is really a three-movement symphony, but Adams chose the title for a more poetic take, and to fit the almost bi-polar nature of the work's materials. The first movement opens with a very naive theme on guitar, piano and harp. The middle movement refers literarally - not musically - to Busoni's elegiac cradle song of the man at the coffin of his mother. The rousing final movement, Chain to the Rhythm, makes use of Adam's patented rhythmic cells which sail thru a variety of harmonic areas and build to surges of symphonic peaks.

VLADIMIR MARTYNOV: Come In!; Autumn Ball of the Elves; L'apres midi du Bach - Ensemble Opus Posth./Tatiana Grindenko, director & solo violin - CCn'C Records 01412:

The Ensemble Opus-Posth. Is a ten-member string ensemble, which is expanded to chamber orchestra size for Come In! There are no notes about composer Martynov but he is onto something in the area of Eastern European minimalist-spiritual musical language. The title of the main work comes from a poem about finding the staircase to heaven in your heart, hoping that as we knock on the hidden door a voice will say Come In! The oft-repeating celesta and wood block give the simple but catchy theme a clock-like urgency that speaks of time/life/death and other cosmic concerns. The work is in six short movements and most effective. The Autumn Ball puts Vivaldi, Mendelssohn and others thru the minimalist wringer, becoming a Steve Russ in the process. The witty Bach work employs the stuck-record syndrome to sketch the story told about Bach's children disturbing his afternoon nap by creeping to the harpsichord and playing a final cadence short of the ending tonic chord - Bach being forced to get up and play the final chord to set his mind at repose again. The listener has to wait nearly 12 minutes to get repose from that final tonic chord.

- John Sunier

LAGQ Latin - The Los Angeles Guitar Quartet - Telarc CD-80593: [NOTE: SCHEDULED FOR RELEASE SEPTEMBER 24th]

The LAGQ, made up of John Dearman, Scott Tennant, William Kanengiser and Andrew York, has been together for 20 years. All being composers and arrangers themselves, they have expanded the guitar quartet repertory considerably. Being based in LA, a center of Latin American culture, they decided to assemble a program of Latin and Latin-inspired works - some of them demonstrating what resulted when composers from other cultures tried to create a Latin sound. The 17 tracks start off with an arrangement of a Sting tune, move thru pieces by Argentina's Piazzolla, Cuba's Brouwer, and a couple Mexican pieces from America's Copland. The traditional flamenco Sevillanas is played by just two of the guitarists with hand clapping, and a lovely quartet arrangement of the second movement of Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez closes out the concert. But before that we hear the quartet's delightful arrangement of six themes from Bizet's Carmen. My first thought upon seeing this CD was: Oh boy, how soon will the multichannel SACD version of this one come out? One guitar at each of four speakers would be heavenly. (Just learned it's a simultaneous low & hi-res release - just haven't received the SACD yet.)

- John Sunier

MAHLER: Symphony No. 6 "Tragic" - Philharmonia Orchestra/Benjamin Zander; plus Zander Discusses Mahler's Sixth - Telarc 3CD-80586 (3 CDs):

Last month was Tilson-Thomas' outstanding Mahler Sixth and here already is yet another Sixth. Zander, who is on the staff of the New England Conservatory of Music, has previously recorded the Mahler 4th, 5th and 9th with the Philharmonia for Telarc and has received acclaim for his Mahler conducting which he began with that orchestra in l995. Due to the commentary by Tilson-Thomas that came on a DVD with that Sixth, I now better appreciate this least-known of the Mahler nine or ten symphonies. That and the superb interpretation by Zander enabled me to get into this heavy work more readily than ever before. I was also assisted by first listening to the entire discussion on the third CD of this set. Zander uses sizeable excerpts from the recording to illustrate his points as he slowly progresses thru the work movement by movement. The commentary is fairly interesting, but my does he ever go on - for 80 minutes to be exact. It's almost too much of a good thing. This performance is topflight but lacks the emotional impact of Tilson-Thomas' approach. Also, it's a standard CD vs. that SACD release. I'll give this another audition when the inevitable SACD version is released by Telarc, in case the lower resolution affected my feeling about the performance.

- John Sunier

Boulez Conducts VARESE: Ameriques, Arcana, Deserts, Ionisation - Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Pierre Boulez - DGG 289 471 137-2:

These four works are classics of early 20th century avantgarde music. Varese followed neither diatonic tonal paths nor Schoenberg's 12-tone approach, but worked with "organized sound" - huge blocks of sonorities with ferocious dissonances. Heavy percussion is a feature of most of the works; Ionisation is written for 13 percussion instruments and is famous for its inclusion of a fire siren. Ameriques was Varese' sonic impression of New York City and its skyscrapers. Boulez does his best to achieve the most precise interpretation these works have probably every received, but in the huge climaxes of shuddering sound the failings of 44.1 sampling become apparent. And Varese was also into spatial music, so these complex works would be even more exciting in multichannel! Let's hope this one soon becomes part of the monthly SACD release schedule of Universal Music.

- John Sunier

 

Our next pair of CDs march to a different drummer...

'Round Midnight - Classic Broadway Songs, Film Themes, Spirituals, Jazz with the 12 Cellists of the Berlin Philharmonic - EMI Classics/Blue Note 7243557319 20:

Talk about crossover! This is the sort of program that is sure to bring some newbies into the world of classical music, and without the slumming/poor taste displayed by the typical opera singer attempting to get their tonsils around some pop music. The 12 cellists began their career in l972 to play just one piece - a very avant Hymnus for 12 cellos by Kagel. They decided to stick together and broaden their repertory and they've had an international concert career every since. (Wonder what Karajan thought of all this?) Their approach, programming, and album ideas over the years have been anything but heavy-handed Germanic nit picking. Their arrangements are a delight - in the same vein as those of the LA Guitar Quartet, and the sound of a dozen of most peoples' favorite orchestral instrument is thrillingly rich. Some of the gems among these 14 tracks are hits from Gershwin, Glenn Miller, Bernstein, Ellington Henry Mancini. Chick Corea's Spain gets an amazing, swinging treatment, and of course there's the title tune from Thelonious Monk, which closes out the CD. There are three guest soloists: a flugelhorn/trumpeter, a doublebassist, and in the middle of the program conductor Sir Simon Rattle as the speaker in an original work titled Amerika 2002, In Memoriam. Famed jazz trombonist Bob Brookmeyer is the composer, and the work is a tribute to September 11.

KITTY BRAZELTON - Chamber Music for the Inner Ear - California EAR Unit, Manhattan Brass Quintet, Chris Washburne, trombone & others - CRI Emergency Music CD 889:

Brazelton epitomizes the totalist approach to new music which has gained favor in these opening years of the 21st century. Younger audiences that previously wouldn't be caught dead at a standard-repertory chamber or orchestral concert are packing venues for the unpredictable, genre-busting sounds some refer to as 21st-century schizoid music. Brazelton is one of many new composer-performers who are just as much at home composing a string quartet as playing in a punk rock band. Some of her past groups wove together Hildegard von Bingen polyphony with rock, free jazz, heavy metal, and folksong. Her current group is described as a "digital chamber-punk band." Another interesting feature of this new music is that women composers are as much in evidence as men composers - that's a sea change.

The opening work, Come Spring! For brass quintet is nothing like you have ever heard for such an ensemble. Walls of sound are produced, in accordance with Brazelton's observation as to why can't there be stacks of sound in classical just as their are stacks of amps/speakers in rock? The brazenly non-standard approach to instrumentation is shown in the combination of alto sax and cello for "Called Out Ol' Texas" and "R," which features 5-string violin, guitar, doublebass and bongos plus Brazelton's own voice. The three-movement, 23 minute Sonata for the Inner Ear which closes the CD is a "deconstructive homage to classical sonata form." Among its sound surprises are a Bartok-like theme on solo flute, a concertino-like piano section described as "rabbit ragtime," a duo of cello and marimba, a B3 organ improvisation reminiscent of Procol Harem, a bow to John McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra, and a solo for sampler in which the source material is outtakes from early recordings by the EAR unit.

- John Sunier

 

Two complete, rarely-heard, ballet scores and one ballet suite on these CDs...

WILLIAM WALTON: The Quest (ballet in five scenes); Siesta; The Wise Virgins (suite from the ballet - after J.S. Bach) - English Northern Philharmonia/David Lloyd-Jones - Naxos 8.555868:

William Walton wrote only one original ballet score and The Quest is it. The allegorical poem The Faerie Queene was its inspiration, presenting the battle between good and evil. The work was premiered under difficult conditions during WWII, and is a highly theatrical score full of uniquely identifiable and imaginative Waltonisms. This is the first recording of the work using the composer's original orchestrations. There have probably been more transcriptions and arrangements of J.S. Bach's music than of any other composer in history, but Walton's wonderful ballet using themes from Bach's chorale preludes and cantatas remains one of the most attractive of all. The idea of using the story of the wise and foolish virgins from the gospel Matthew is credited to ballet director Frederick Ashton, who had decided during WWII to read the entire Bible. Lovely sonics and spirited performances of both works. This is a gem for all ballet music lovers.

ADOLPH ADAM: La Filleule des Fées (The Fairies' Goddaughter) - complete ballet - Queensland Sym. Orch./Andrew Mogrelia - Marco Polo 8.223734-35 (2 CDs):

Another world premiere recording from this label devoted to exploring the un-recorded repertory. First staged in Paris in l849, this ballet is full of the lilting melodies and rhythms spun out by Adam, but free of some of his overly-familiar tunes from Giselle and others of his stage works. The orchestrations are also brilliant for their time - sort of like ballet music by Rimsky-Korsakov. The leading role of the goddaughter was danced by ballet superstar Carlotta Grisi, who also created the Giselle role. The story concerns the love affairs of the goddaughter, which are both aided and nixed by good and bad fairies. Adam started his music career as a church organist and also playing percussion in a theater orchestra. His fund of melodic invention as well as his flowing rhythmic sense has ensured his music remains in the repertory these 153 years.

- John Sunier

BEL CANTO: Arias by Donizetti and Bellini--Roberto Alagna, tenor/Angela Gheorghiu, sop/Evelino Pidó, cond/London Philharmonic--EMI 557302:

Alagna is one of our most popular tenors, and he seems to trying to capitalize on his fame; every time I turn around, there's a new disc to review. It seems to me that what keeps him from being great is a lack of clear definition; his voice lacks distinction of sound and interpretation, and while he's certainly capable, I find him a little bit boring. Also, he may be singing too much; his voice seems to have coarsened since I first heard him, and his tones tend to spread more now than they did. Despite the title, the disc doesn't offer much in the way of "bel canto", which suggests a smooth legato, an easy coloratura, and beauty of tone. Most of the selections here (in some of which he is joined by his wife, soprano Angela Gheorghiu) call for dramatic declamation, and there is more shouting than melodic flow. I don't put this disc among the best or most interesting products of his work, but Alagna fans will be attracted to it.

--Alex Morin

VIVALDI: Farnace--Sara Mingardo, sop/Adriana Fernandez, sop/Sonia Prina, mezzo/Gloria Banditelli, mezzo/Florio Zanasi, tenor/Jordi Savall, dir/Le Concert de Nations/Chorus of the Zarzuela Theater--Alia Vox 9822:

If you only know Vivaldi for "The Four Seasons", look again: he wrote over 600 other concertos and many works in other genres, including lots of vocal music--oratorios, cantatas, and at least 45 operas, most of which are lost. All of it was skillfully fashioned, not breaking any new ground, but if the music isn't always inspired, it's always good to hear. Farnace is one of his strongest operas, staged for the first time in Venice in 1726 and in revised versions thereafter. The hopelessly complicated libretto by Antonio Maria Lucchini, (which had already been set to music by several other composers) deals with Pharnaces, King of Pontus, and his defeat by the Roman Pompey, with several subplots along the way. But the story really doesn't matter, since Vivaldi wasn't much interested in depicting character; what does matter is the meticulous workmanship of the score, with its succession of florid da capo arias and brilliant orchestral effects.

This is one of the few Vivaldi operas to have been recorded several times, and all the earlier efforts are superseded by this one. For one thing, it's the only one that's complete, including all the material from the 1731 version, some from the 1738 version, with each act preceded by selections from another setting of Farnace by Francisco Corselli presented in Madrid in 1739. For another, the cast, while not spectacular, is uniformly good. I don't much like the metallic timbre of Zanasi's voice, but he deals effortlessly and accurately with the coloratura arias, and the women (the mezzos taking the roles originally performed by castrati) are excellent. Savall's direction is brisk and knowledgeable, and his musicians are skillful. Good sound, good notes, and a good time to be had by all.

--Alex Morin


BEETHOVEN: Christus am Ölberge--Monica Pick-Hieronimi, sop/James Anderson, tenor/Victor van Halem, bass/Serge Baudo, cond/Lyon National Chorus and Orchestra--Harmonia Mundi HMA 1955181:

Beethoven's Christ on the Mount of Olives was written in 1801, around the time of Symphony No.2, but not published until 1811 (hence the late Opus 85 number). Its libretto, by the poet Franz Xaver Huber, paraphrases the Biblical narrative; the composer was later critical of it, but actually it's quite effective. Intended for performance during Lent, when staged events couldn't be presented, it was very successful at first and then nearly disappeared--perhaps justifiably, since at times it represents the composer at his most sententious (and he could get pretty sententious when he wanted to). But mostly it's very beautiful and highly effective, with its alternating dramatic narrative, Italianate arias, and big choruses. There is a pretty good account led by Paul Klee (DG), but this reissue of a 1986 recording has better sound and much better soloists, who all sing out boldly and expressively. The bright, clear, tenor of James Anderson as Christ is especially effective, and Baudo and his Lyon forces are strong and responsive. The notes are in amusingly fractured English but are interesting, the text is given only in German, and the sound is pretty good. A valuable release.

--Alex Morin

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