Classical Music Home

Welcome to Naxos Records

Keyword Search
  Classical Music Home > Classical Music Reviews

November 21th-November 30th, 2006



RAWSTHORNE: String Quartets Nos. 1-3 / Theme and Variations

David Angel; Laurence Jackson
Maggini Quartet


Review by Sunday Telegraph
November 2006

Although well represented on disc, the music of Alan Rawsthome (1905-71) Is rare in the concert hail. Yet It is attractive and, It not as striking as that of his ellow- Wafton, has Its own distinctive flavour - and is emphatically not English musle. These pithy quartets date from 1939,1954 and 1965; the second Is perhaps the best, lb melancholy Iyrldsm a contrast to the rhythmic passages In which Rawsthorne excels. The third Is intensely concentrated and confirms the compose. s skill in developing Imposing structures from fragments of theme. The Maggini are right Inside thIs music, performing It with InsIght and affectIon.

Review by Andrew Achenbach
Gramophone, November 2006

Another triumphant display by those magnificent Magginis

The Maggini Quartet's tireless exploration of the British string quartet repertoire continues in fine style with this indispensable anthology devoted to Alan Rawsthorne (1905 -71). Launching proceedings are the Theme and Variations for two violins from 1937, a bracingly inventive 15-minute essay that secured Rawsthorne's reputation as a major new voice. The rigorous First Quartet of 1939 (itself pre-dated by two unpublished essays in the medium !Tom 1933 and 1935) is also cast as a theme and variations; its economy of thought and fastidious polish will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with Rawsthorne's exhilarating Symphonic Studies and piano Bagatelles completed the previous year.

Premiered by the Griller Quartet at the 1954 Cheltenham Festival, the Second Quartet again yields plentiful nourishment and stimulation for both head and heart. Written in 1965, the Third Quartet is at once the most searching and tightly organised of the three. Not a single note is wasted, while the central Chaconne manifests a distinct kinship with the brooding Sarabande slow movement from Rawsthorne's Third Symphony (1964).

We have, of course, come to expect the highest standards from the Maggini/Naxos alliance - and this new issue does not disappoint. Inquisitive readers can rest assured that the Maggini's performances are as deeply pondered as they are powerfully communicative: theirs is music-making of entrancing skill, cogent drive and tangible dedication. Boasting sound and balance of impressive realism, in addition to lucid notes by John Belcher of the Rawsthorne Trust and the composer himself, it's got to be one of my discs of the year.

Review by Scott Cantrell
Dallas Morning News, Saturday, November 4th, 2006

RESPECT, NEGLECT: The Englishman Alan Rawsthorne (1905-1971) belonged to the same generation as Shostakovich and Copland. But, lacking their "public" voices, he's more respected – notably by other composers – than performed, even in his homeland. But Naxos has been doing a nice job of honoring his centenary with recordings.

A MUSICAL EVOLUTION: Rawsthorne's three published string quartets, beautifully written and intellectually engaging, bear comparison with the 20th century's best. The First (1939) suggests the influence of neoclassicism, not least in its theme-and-variations format. The Second (1954) and Third (1965) are more liquescent, and more harmonically piquant. An isolated phrase may remind you of Shostakovich or Bartók, but Rawsthorne's voice really is his own, neither confrontational nor platitudinous.

BOTTOM LINE: A fine balance of intellectual rigor and sonorous appeal, in skillful performances and first-rate recorded sound.

Review by Andrew Clements
The Guardian, November 2006

Naxos is doing a fine job of expanding the CD coverage of Alan Rawsthorne's unobtrusively accomplished music. The quiet strengths and immaculate craftmanship of Rawsthorne's achievement are well illustrated in his three string quartets, which conveniently frame his whole creative career. All that survives of the First Quartet is a theme and variations, dating from 1939 when the composer was 34. Rawsthorne's music already contained elements that were identifiably British, and close to the world of Bridge in particular.

The Second was composed in 1954 when Rawsthorne's style was shifting towards the taut, laconic world of his late pieces, while the Third Quartet was completed in 1965, six years before his death. It's a wonderfully concise work, formally rigorous and totally self-consistent; by then Rawsthorne had made his accommodation with modernism, and found a personal voice within it.

ELGAR: Music Makers / Sea Pictures

Sarah Connolly
Bournemouth Symphony Chorus; Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/ Simon Wright


Review by Sunday Telegraph
November 2006

Sarah Connolly is here in Janet Baker territory,b ut her individuality means that comparisons do not arise. Simon Wright conducts a moving performance of The Music Makers, a marvellous work that has emerged from the disfavour with which it was once regarded. He takes some passages slowly but without sentimentality and the chorus s diction is exemplary. The solo mezzo part is small but crucial and is raptly sung by Connolly. In the five Sea Pictures she is deeply poetic in Sea Slumber-Song , airily whimsical and touching in Where Corals Lie and dramatic in The Swimmer (where the organ makes an exciting contribution). Recording quality is excellent

Review by Andrew Clark
Financial Times, November 2006

Connolly is steadily laying claim to the Janet Baker mantle – with justice, if this CD is any judge. The timbre is uncannily similar, and although Connolly paces the songs more gently and lets her tone go hard at the climax of “Sabbath Morning at Sea”, her performance has a radiance that echoes Baker’s classic 1960s version with Barbirolli.  It is paired with an equally idiomatic account of the choral ode The Music Makers, featuring the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and Chorus.  Simon Wright conducts.

Review by Hugh Canning
Times Online, November 2006

“A singer who sings no more” — a line from O’Shaughnessy’s ode The Music Makers — looms over performances and recordings of both of these works: Janet Baker, whose 1960s versions are yardsticks by which all others are judged. In the song cycle Sea Pictures, nobody has come nearer than Connolly to equalling Baker. She often sounds uncannily like her predecessor, but this isn’t a copycat interpretation: Connolly opts for a slightly broader tempo in the Sea Slumber Song, and generally for faster ones in the four other songs. Like Baker, she rises majestically to the emotional climax of Sabbath Morning at Sea, expressing a sort of patriotic ecstasy. The Bournemouth Music Makers isn’t quite on this exalted level, though Connolly bids fair again to match Baker in the solo sections.

FINZI, GERALD: Intimations of Immortality / For St. Cecilia

James Gilchrist, tenor

Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/ David Hill


Review by Greenfield
American Record Guide, October 2006

Childhood innocence did not linger in the life of Gerald Finzi. The youngest of five children, Finzi grew up feeling alienated from his family. Mortality was no stranger, either: by age 17, he had lst his father, three brothers, and a beloved music teacher, Ernest Farrar, who was killed in The Great War. Small wonder that William Wordsworth's Recollections of Early Childhood, with its commentary on the loss of youthful innocence ("What though the radiance which was once so bright be now forever taken from my sight") should have captured the composer's attention. He began setting Wordsworth to music in the late 1930s, not completing the work now known as Intimations of Immortality until 1950.

The piece is vintage Finzi: sweeping melodies, lush, colorful orchestration, emphatic fealty to text, and a quintessentially British idiom that tips a cap to Elgar and Vaughan-Williams while remaining itself. I find it very moving, partly because Wordsworth speaks to me- a 53-year-old caught up in a dizzying panoply of mid-life changes- with uncommon directness, ("though nothing can bring back the hour of splendor in the grass, of glory in the flower; we will grieve not." Sigh. I'm trying.) Anyway, for all its bitter-sweetness, the music is as rich and resolute as the text, running a gamut of emotions from sadness to stoicism to ringing exultation.

The performance here is strong, though chorally one could ask for more. Bournemouth sports a fine orchestra; and, spurred on by Maestro Hill, the players deliver plenty of passion and sweep. James Gilchrist is your basic honey-voiced British tenor, crooning his way through the score, over-enunciationg consonants as he goes. He's easy on the ear, but how many Rs do we really need in the word "fresh"? The kicker is the choir, which makes pleasant sounds but converys little in the way of poetic oomph owing to namby-pamby diction and indifferent engineering, which buries the singers beneath the orchestral textures and never lets them up. This continues into St Cecilia, yet another lovely work, where the choir can sound gorgeous one minute and fall out of the sonic frame the next.

Your decision is made easier by the relative dearth of competition in the 40-minute Intimations. There is an EMI release (64720) with tenor Philip Langridge and Richard Hickox on the podiumm as well as Hyperion 66876, a more intimate reading conducted by Matthew Best with John Mark Ainsley handling the solos. But, choral amnesia aside, this one has many virtues and its general availability at the Naxos price sweetens the pot further for Finzians.

Review by Em Marshall
Musicweb International, November 2006

A very welcome addition to Naxos’s burgeoning collection of English music releases!

I was delighted to see James Gilchrist’s presence as soloist, as I have been deeply impressed by the live performances he has given in recent years of British works, and by his dedication to, and championing of, this wonderful music. 

In setting Wordsworth’s ode Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Years – a lament for the loss of the intuitive, almost spiritual, joys and visions of childhood – Finzi created one of the greatest British choral works of the twentieth century. Although started in the late 1930s, the work was not finished until 1950, when it was given its premiere at the Gloucester Three Choirs Festival with Herbert Sumsion conducting.

From the very first note of the Naxos disc, the atmosphere is gripping, and full of a tense excitement. The BSO and BSC produce a lush and rich sound, and Gilchrist’s distinctively muscular yet smooth, warm and gorgeous tones, beautiful enunciation and well-controlled vibrato add to the extremely apt pervading sense of nostalgia.

The performance is taken at a good pace as a general rule – a little faster than the 1996 Hyperion recording - with John Mark Ainsley and the Corydon Orchestra and Singers conducted by Matthew Best, a worthy competitor - and has good rhythmic drive, as exemplified in Now, while the birds thus sing a joyous song, which is nicely snappy. Gilchrist captures the wistfulness of the piece perfectly in But there's a Tree, of many, one and the glorious O joy! That in our embers is quite radiant. I love the playful joy with which Gilchrist sings the word “pleasures” in Earth fills her lap with pleasures of her own – and in these moments of delight and happiness, Gilchrist and the BSO and BSC dance, and the music brims with a tremendous sense of joy and fun - more so than on the Hyperion disc.

On the whole, Gilchrist’s voice is softer and more effeminate, yet at the same time comes across as bolder and more confident, than John Mark Ainsley, although Ainsley is more vibrant and resonant, and stops only just short of too much vibrato to my ears. However, the Naxos disc is given a head start by a far nicer recording sound. The balance is much better on Naxos, and the - closer mike-d, it sounds - soloist more audible against the chorus and orchestra. In Oh evil day! If I were sullen, for example, John Mark Ainsley is nearly drowned out by the chorus. Yet the Hyperion recording is, if slightly less beautiful than the Naxos, more intense. Listen to Ye blessed Creatures, 1 have heard the call - it is more dramatic, sinister and harsher than the Naxos version - the harshness partly due to the recording - and, as such, is slightly more effective. Similarly, Ainsley’s But there's a Tree, of many, one is more harrowing – he takes it more slowly, and it is starker, wilder and full of a desperate melancholy. The climaxes on Hyperion are more ecstatic. Listen to the opening of Then sing, ye Birds, sing, sing a joyous song!; not just faster in Hyperion, but more exultant too, whilst Naxos is more restrained. There is a more profound sense of stillness, calmness and translucent beauty in Hyperion’s And O, ye Fountains, Meadows, Hills, and Groves, which means a greater contrast when we get to the livelier “I love the brooks”... The ending of Intimations of Immortality is sublime in both recordings. 

The second work on the Naxos disc is For St Cecilia, which was commissioned for the 1947 St Cecilia’s Day Festival. The words are by the poet Edmund Blunden, Finzi’s contemporary. Finzi – a deeply literary man himself, and whose consummate craftsmanship shows itself at its best when setting words - corresponded with Blunden to refine the text to its current form. There is some stunning word and imagery painting in the portrayal of the saints, composers and instruments. The Hyperion disc includes Dies Natalis as an opener.

On the whole, this Naxos disc is one that I would recommend to both people looking for a recording of Intimations, and to those who already have the Hyperion recording. I couldn’t possibly choose between them for quality of soloist, chorus and orchestra – I prefer Gilchrist and Naxos for some movements, and Ainsley and Hyperion for others. A decision between the two would have to come purely down to recording – in which case Naxos wins hands down with its clear, warmer, more intimate sound and better balance.  One probably ought to mention here that Philip Langridge’s version on EMI with Hickox is another superlative recording, which I have omitted to discuss here for reasons of length – but would again be one that I can highly recommend. However, this Naxos disc is a very safe bet anyway, with lively and sensitive performances from choir and orchestra and lithe, characterful and astute singing from Gilchrist, who combines luscious beauty of tone with technical ability, emotional involvement and intuitive understanding and communication of both words and music.

Review by Frank Carroll
Sunday Herald, November 2006

The origins of Finzi’s setting of Wordsworth’s Intimations of Immortality From Recollections of Early Childhood can be traced to his unhappy childhood: his father and three brothers all died before he was 17.  Echoes of Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Parry, Holst and even Tippet abound in this large-scale work for tenor, chorus and orchestra.  The highlight of this new recording is the persuasive, if occasionally over-sweet, performance of tenor James Gilchrist, while both orchestra and chorus respond selflessly to David Hill’s resolute direction and the composer’s elegiac style.

Finzi’s greatest legacy is his gift for setting words to music, and it is in his songs that we hear the perfection of this art.

ADAM DE LA HALLE: Jeu de Robin et de Marion (Le)

Tonus Peregrinus/ Antony Pitts


Review by Brewer
American Record Guide, October 2006

In a review of two anthologies that included excerpts from Adam de la Halle's play about Robin and Marion (Mar/Apr 2005) I expressed my wish for a DVD of the complete work. While this recording is not what I still wish for, Antony Pitts has released a new version of the complete work that presents some problems but is also quite fascinating.

While the earlier truncated recordings were made only in the original Old French [starting with Binkley's very truncated version from 1966, rereleased on Teldec 21709; see also May/June 1992 & Mar/Apr 1994), this recording is an exercise in right and left brain discrimination. Centered in the mix are the original songs in their original language. In the left channel John Crook presents the full text of Adam's playas a dramatic narration in Old French, and alternating with the original in the right channel is a modern English adapta­tion by Rosemary and Antony Pitts. While this may at first sound a bit like a Berlitz language tape for Old French, I found that I became involved directly in the story through the Eng­lish version but was also trying to hear and learn the subtleties of Adam's original words-and the distinction between the two on this recording is more than linguistic.

The Old French narrator is miked closely, almost as if it were an audio book recording, while the English dramatic version is more distant, as if the players were on a stage acting out this sometimes rather funny mini-drama. While the notes say it is possible to adjust the balance in favor of one language or the other (the songs are common to both), 1 found on various machines that I could never entirely fade out the other side-there were always a few linguistic "ghosts" around.

As inventive as this solution is for the pre­sentation of a 13th Century French drama for a contemporary English audience. I still think current technology is not quite up to a multi­layered presentation of recorded material. My ideal would have been either two separate recordings (along the lines of the German and English versions by Ute Lemper of Cabaret Songs, Sept/Oct 1997:279 & May/June 1997: 281) or, perhaps by eliminating the extra ron­deux, motets, and the excerpt from Adam's Li Jus du Pelerin, the two versions could have fit separately on a single disc. The first solution was most likely unfeasible owing to basic eco­nomics, and the second would have been per­haps a bit too academic. Pitts has supplied a creative alterative that is reasonable and sometimes extremely funny. My only com­plaint is that texts and translations are only included for the play's songs and not for the rondeux and motets used as interludes.

BACH, JOHANN SEBASTIAN: Kunst der Fuge (Die) (The Art of Fugue), BWV 1080a

Sebastien Guillot, harpsichord


Review by Haskins
American Record Guide, October 2006

Guillot, who studied with Huguette Dreyfuss and Christophe Rousset, performs the earlier version of Bach's contrapuntal tour de force­11 fugues, 2 canons, both sets of mirror fugues (but Guillot inexplicably omits one of the second pair), and-for good measure-the unfin­ished fugue. (In most cases, the fugues differ in detail from Bach's final revision, and the ordering also varies from the published order of 1751.) He plays a harpsichord by J onte Kuntif after German models (no information on the tuning); it sounds beautiful and it's bril­liantly recorded. His performance style is opti­mal for this music: careful articulation, just the right amount of emphasis in certain phrases, occasional and well-placed arpeggiations. In Fugue 3 (Contrapunctus 2 in the published Art of Fugue) the dotted rhythms have just the right amount of swing to demonstrate Guillot's wonderful Gallic sensibility. Naturally the French-style Fugue 7 (Contrapunctus 6) has just the right spirit as well. The gentle Fugue 6 (Contrapunctus 10 without the first 22 mea­sures) has beautifully shaped phrases and just the right amount of added ornamentation.

At mid-price this recording is ideal. It com­pares well with the releases by Kenneth Gilbert on OG Archiv (Jan/Feb 1991) and Robert Hill on Music & Arts (July/Aug 1995). I probably like Hill's recording best of all for his virtuosity: he takes faster tempos for Fugue 7 and Fugue 5 (Contrapunctus 9) but plays them with such control and nuance that it's sometimes hard to realize exactly how difficult the tempos would be for anyone else. M&A's sound is close-up, a little harsh, but acceptable. Gilbert, as you might expect, takes grander tempos and plays a superior instrument. His performance of Fugue 1 (Contrapunctus 1) is my favorite ofthe three releases, and his sensitive approach to the 'Canon in Hypodiatessaron' (Canon per Augmentationem in Contrario Motu) outclass­es Hill and Guillot as well. Of course, the sound is beautiful too. Alas, both Hill's and Gilbert's recordings are deleted, at least in this country; but listeners who own only Guillot's release won't be too disappointed.

BARSANTI: 6 Recorder Sonatas, Op. 1

Huguette Brassine, Louise King, Barnaby Ralph


Review by Kreitner
American Record Review, October 2006

Francesco Barsanti (1690-1772) was born in Lucca and went to England in 1714, with his fellow Lucchese Francesco Geminiani, to play recorder and oboe; he seems to have spent the rest of his career in the British isles, publishing a fair amount of instrumental music and a bit of sacred music. These are his Opus 1 recorder sonatas, first published in 1724, complete and in order, at A=415.

These sonatas, like many from their era, mix structural elements of the sonata da camera and the sonata da chiesa: all but one haw four movements, all six start out with Adagios, and all basically alternate slow and fast, but three of them include movements with dance names rather than just tempos. They are relatively well known among recorder players, and it's easy to see why: they are challenging but not superhuman, virtuosic yet clearly written with an eye to what the recorder does well.

The performance here is admirable: precise and heartfelt and always thoughtful. I found myself hoping for a little more spontaneous ornamentation in the slow movementi, though I admit it's difficult; the composer writes in quite a few ornaments himself, which may be a signal for restraint. And I do wish the harpsichord had been more adventurous ani that the fast movements had had more of a hell-for-leather quality. But all in all it is hard not to like Barsanti on the strength of this music and hard not to wonder what the rest of his music is like-even if you don't quite find your taste for Corelli and Handel wiped away with a stroke.

BERIO, LUCIANO: Sequenzas I-XIV (Complete)

Various Artists


Review by D. Moore
American Record Guide, October 2006

Suddenly there are three new recordings of the Berio Sequenzas. I only got two of them so far, but since the New York Times has stolen a march on us with the other complete issue on Mode, maybe I can figure out something from reading their review. The NYT doesn't include the Black Box release I have here, so between that and the old Ensemble InterContemporain album on DG, we should be able to come up with something to say.

Sequenza 1 is for flute. It alternates passages of great verve and agility with distant quiet notes. It is the shortest of all the Sequenzas by about a minute, clocking in at about six minutes. Sophie Cherrier, on DG, turns in a lively and pleasant-toned rendition. Nora Shulman on Naxos makes more of the flutter­tongued aspects of the piece; and though her tone is less centered than Cherrier's, she pulls the parts together, cutting half a minute off Cherrier's timing. Ruggieri stretches it out to half a minute longer than Cherrier, making more of the details than either of the others. Obviously, there is no one right way to play improvisatory pieces like these, but I prefer the bright sound of the DG performance and the details evident in the Black Box to the some­what impersonal reading on Naxos.

Sequenza 2 is for harp, complete with sound effects of all sorts. Berio says in the notes for the DG recording that he was trying here to dispel the notion of the harp being fit only to play "seductive glissandos". Again, the playing for DG of Frederique Cambreling strikes me as stronger and more to the point than Goodman on Naxos, whose instrument tends to bend pitches when played too strongly.

3 is an amusing tour de force for woman's voice doing all of the things it should never do. Arnold does them with great abandon and flair for Naxos, while Luisa Castellani is even more virtuosic, if somewhat less amusing. Arved Ashby in his review of the DG (July/Aug 1999) reminds us that Cathy Berberian was out­standing in this piece, but doesn't inform us where her performance may be found.

4 is an 11-minute opus for piano. Here I tend to like the Black Box recording. Orvieto makes more of the lyrical elements than either Berman or Florent Boffard, resulting in a slightly longer performance but one that falls more easily on the ear.

5 is half as long, an amusing exercise for trombone. Both readings seem excellent, but Benny Sluchin for DG makes more out of the potential for double-stops than does Naxos's Trudel.

6 is a 15-minute monster for viola. It is hard to make this one work. Dann for Naxos has trouble keeping the high pitches stable- if, indeed that is the object of this game. The Times reviewer blames Berio for writing a boring piece. DG's Christophe Desjardins manages to cut 2-1/2 minutes from Dann's timing and sounds more assured, though no happier abomt the situation. Times have changed over the years. I have an LP performance by Karen Philips that cuts it down another 30 seconds to just under 12 minutes. Her recording is a bit harsh and she has major pitch problems. Walter Trampler comes closer than anyone else to taming this monster. He manages to make it sound organized, if not totally idiomatic. The object seems partly to be to prove that the viola can play difficult double and triple stops in a high register in tremolo. Trampler is the only one who can do it without falling apart. Anne Midgette, the Times reviewer, mentions that the Mode album includes a further performance on cello. I wonder if that works better. Or at all! I don't think I'd enjoy tackling this piece.

7 puts the oboe through its paces. The pieces from this period have an interesting tendency to concentrate on different methods of playing a single note. Could Berio have been listening to Giacinto Scelsi? This one experiments with different ways of articulating, including double stops, flutter-tonguing, etc.­quite fascinating on an oboe, as it was on the trombone, not to mention the human voice. Both Naxos's Sarc and DG's Laszlo Hadady seem to be having a fine time, though I think Sarc has more fun with the double stops. Naxos adds a further performance on soprano saxophone where Wallace Halladay tries it on a single-reed instrument, opening up a new can of worms. He has a good time with the flutter-tongue passages, though I think the oboe changes of sonority are more impressive in places. On the other hand, the soprano member of the sax family has some pretty impressive high notes and a lot of personality.

Waking up the next morning to the sound of a particularly imaginative bird who was trying out every possible song he could get his throat to produce, I was forcefully reminded of these Sequenzas. No.8, for violin, is a good example of the technique. Moving from a con­centration on single notes to a latter half of amazing agility but mostly to be played in a whisper, Berio seems determined to break down walls and preconceptions. Jeanne-Marie Conquer on DG plays a bit more delicately than Wood for Naxos, but Wood gets a bit more variety from the articulations. Lazari on Black Box plays the opening with anger and annoyance and manages to imbue the entire 13-minute piece with just a little more personality than the others.

9 is another that exists in two versions, for clarinet and for alto saxophone. The clarinet is played on Black Box. Teodoro gives us the shortest reading - under 13 minutes. DG's Alan Damiens takes a little longer, but plays with a little less sonic sensitivity. I find myself judging the performance by subtlety of tone color; and those long, loud high notes towards the end get rather irritating if they aren't well integrated with the surrounding phrases. Valdepenas for Naxos does a little better in this area, extending and separating the phrases to the tune of 14 minutes. He and Teodoro have the most solid tonal character. Between the two sax readings Christian Wirth for DG gets my vote: his tone is better controlled than Halladay's for Naxos and he plays some really impressive double-stops. Yes, on a saxophone! I told you the demands were remarkable.

Sequenza 10 is for trumpet and piano reso­nance. What does that mean? You may well ask. Berio has nothing to say about it, but he describes the piece as the most "laborious" of all the Sequenzas. Naxos explains that the pianist keeps the loud pedal depressed all the time, thereby giving the trumpet some extra resonance. One can detect this if one listens closely, since there are a lot of short batted notes with silences afterwards. Few's Naxos performance is three minutes longer than Gabriele Cassone's for DG. Cassone has the richer and more interesting sound, though the resonance is perhaps a little more marked on the Naxos. I prefer the DG so far, particularly since the faster tempo helps the resonance reflect some chordal effects, but I wonder what the Mode recording is like?

11 is a wild piece for guitar. Eliot Fisk for DG plays it in a little over 15 minutes in a lively Spanish-sounding style. Villegas adds over a minute to that for Naxos. He gives less of a Spanish flavor to the music, somewhat to my surprise, but is a bit more precise in his articulation of the phrases. Fisk holds my attention better.

12 is for bassoon. Here Munday on Naxos is persuaded into the stratosphere, wailing in the air most sadly, sliding about slowly and lugubriously. Pascal Gallois on DG controls his slither much more precisely, making more of the odd effects Berio places in his way. He also takes a good two minutes longer to manage the obstacles, making this the longest performance of any of the Sequenzas at 18-1/2 minutes! It isn't boring, though.

13 is a short one for accordion, subtitled Chanson. It is nice to hear some sustained harmony again after so many mostly monophonic pieces. Both performances seem fine to me, though DG's Teodora Anzellotti has perhaps a slight edge in articulation.

At this point the DG set ends; it was produced before Berio wrote his last Sequenza. But if that set attracts you (I find it more exciting than the Naxos), there is always the Black Box disc that includes the cello Sequenza 14. This is a rough one on the instrument, full of knocking on wood and Bartok pizzicatos. Adkins (Naxos) plays it in 13 minutes while Teodoro (Black Box) cuts it down to 11-1/2. They are both good, though the sound effects are perhaps more impressive on the Naxos recording.

The Black Box contains several short pieces. First come two dissonant but attractive pieces for violin and piano, written in 1951. Then comes a curious and lovely Canon for flute, viola, cello, and basque drum, giving the latter part of the piece a castanet background. Then a short Recitative for cello solo, and finally a Lied for clarinet solo. According to the Times review, the four-disc Mode album con· tains not only the alternate scorings of the Sequenzas but Gesti for recorder and Psy for double bass. Also, two of the performances are by the dedicatees of the music. And as a final attraction, the verses written to introduce each of the pieces by Edoardo Sanguinetti are read before each performance (in what language, we are not informed). Of course, these verses are supplied in the notes to the DG album, and that also sports notes by the composer himself, so it's swings and roundabouts as usual. The combination of DG and the Black Box are the best bet, I think-but I haven't yet heard the Mode album.

BRIDGE, FRANK: Piano Music, Vol. 1

Ashley Wass


Review by Becker
American Record Guide, October 2006

Ashley Wass is fast becoming a major figure in recording the piano music of the British Isles. Now that Peter Jacobs's fine Bridge series on Continuum has been withdrawn, finding it may require paying a hefty price. With two more volumes to go, can Wass adequately fill the gap, and does Naxos come up, once again, with a low-priced winner? The answer to both questions is most likely yes.

Frank Bridge is a great composer who has been shamefully neglected in the world's concert halls. His music has a fastidious craftsmanship and a wide-eyed creativity from his earliest post-Brahms mode to his later, more advanced harmonic techniques. Except for his powerful sonata (not here), his piano music consists of miniatures of considerable charm and, sometimes, sadness. If hardly reflective of his best work for orchestra, they are still enjoyable in an emotionally less challenging way.

Fairy Tale Suite from 1917 consists of four movements beginning with 'The Princess' and ending with the object of her affections, 'The Prince'. In between we have 'The Ogre', and 'The Spell', so write your own scenario. The 'Princess' is a little waltz (what else?), and 'The Ogre' is appropriately gruff and grotesque. Both Jacobs and Wass handle the impressionist textures with great skill and affection. That is also the case with The Hour Glass and its three fairy tale movements. Although Wass tends to linger a little longer over the music, his phrasing and inflections are beautifully handled.

The program is rounded out with Set I of Miniature Pastorals, Three Lyrics, Three Poems, Three 1912 Pieces, and In Autumn. Each is a lyrical gem, and all avoid anything that could be construed as Britishisms. If anything, the music reflects the influence of Fauré, Ravel, and Debussy-all in the context of the salon.

Andrew Burn's notes are reasonably complete, and the sound is fine. Those who already have the Peter Jacobs records need not rush out to replace them as this series progresses. The excellent caricature of Bridge on the Continuum covers is a loss that will be regretted, but collectors need have no fear in acquiring this wonderful start to Ashley Wass's series.

COATES: Symphonies Nos. 1, 7 and 14

Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Munich Chamber Orchestra, Siegerland Orchestra
Olaf Henzold; Christoph Poppen; Jorge Rotter; Raymond Curfs


Review by Gimbel
American Record Guide, October 2006

This collection of Gloria Coates's symphonies might be considered a sampling of her career (she was born in 1938). I'll consider them in chronological order, though the program rotates them into the order 14, 1, 7- not unreasonable musically .

The earliest work, Symphony 1 (1973), is subtitled 'Music on Open Strings', and is the piece that first put Ms Coates's name on the musical map. The string orchestra is tuned to a pentatonic Chinese scale given to Coates by her teacher Alexander Tcherepnin, to whom the piece is dedicated. In the opening movement, the bloated Asiatic melody is treated as an ostinato over which strange glissandos and mysterious tappings radiate like a cosmic infection. After an amusing scherzo, III gradually returns the orchestra to "normal" tuning ("while playing"). The finale becomes a dense 14-voice glissando canon but ends with a flow­ering of radiant open strings.

Symphony 7 (1991), for full orchestra, is "Dedicated to those who brought down The Wall in PEACE". It opens as a study on gradually expanding glissandos that eventually unwind and climax in ecstasy. The "slow movement" is a sort of chaconne on a chromatic theme that seems as if it were merely frozen points in another glissando. The final movement deals with slowly converging glissandos that lead to a harrowing culmination.

The Ivesian Symphony 14 (2002), for strings and timpani, is Coates's most recent essay in the genre. Its subtitle is 'Symphony in Microtones', but like the previous work there are underlying politics involved. Ms. Coates divides her ever-sliding string orchestra into two groups tuned a quarter tone apart, to which a mostly glissandoing timpani is added. Each of the three movements is based on borrowed material. I uses a hymn by Belcher ('Lamentation'), which makes its mistuned appearance about five minutes in; II is a fantasy on the song 'Jargon' by William Billings ("Let horrid jargon split the air And rive the nerves asunder. Let hateful discord greet the ear As terrible as thunder!"-which pretty much describes the effect). Coates borrows a melody of her own from her Fifth Symphony to drive III to a monster climax. Coates, a Wisconsin native now living in Germany, seems to be making a statement about her native land; but I hardly think it's an "especial homage", as annotator Kyle Gann asserts in his notes. (Mistuned "Lamentable Jargon" in America in 2002? I think I get it.) The piece would make a good elegy for 9-11.

All of these recordings derive from concert performances in Germany: Symphony 1 from 1980, Symphony 7 from 1997, Symphony 14 from 2003. 1 and 7 have been previously released by CPO (999392), but I didn't have that release available for comparison. (It contains Symphony 4 in place of the new 14.) Ms. Coates's painting on the cover offers a valuable complement. Keep in mind, though, that this is quite a listening ordeal.


Dennis O'Neill; Ingrid Surgenor


Review by Moses
American Record Guide, October 2006

This program of 16 Donizetti songs appears to be a reissue of Collins 1510 (M/J 1998). As Mr. Lovelace pointed out, "the subjects tend to be death and passionate love and nothing in-between" so the songs often sound like arias, with concluding high notes. For example, 'Una Lagrima' starts off like a prayer but suddenly turns into an operatic outburst, and 'La Mere et l'enfant' is an operatic aria with the high notes that tenors die for. O'Neill's top notes are all there, but they don't have the brilliance of Pavarotti's or Di Stefano's. Several of these songs are ballads, for example, 'Il Pescator' (The Fisherman), a long piece based on a Schiller poem that has several voices (like 'Erlkönig'). 'La Crepuscule' (Twilight) is a poem by Victor Hugo; it has a nice melody (I almost wrote"aria") but, again, an operatic climax. The program also includes some Neapolitan salon pieces like 'Amor Marinaro'. Several selections include decorative frills like scales and trills, which O'Neill manages quite weil. I liked 'Il Sospiro', a romantic song with a long· breathed cantilena, and 'Giuro d'amore', a passionate declaration of love.

As noted, O'Neill isn't my ideal of an Italian tenor; his voice lacks tonal richness and body, and he sings without much emotion. Yet, given his vocal resources, he does well. Ingrid Surgenor is a very supportive accompanist.

A major fault in this release is the absence of texts and translations; Naxos refers to a website where these are available. I checked it and it's all there, but it is not convenient.

DORMAN, AVNER: Piano sonatas 1-3/ Moments Musicaux/ Azerbaijani Dance

Eliran Avni, piano


Review by Gimbel
American Record Guide, October 2006

Israeli Avner Dorman (b 1975) studied at Juilliard with John Corigliano. This is mostly student and post -student piano pieces, played by his Juilliard colleague, Eliran Avni.

The three sonatas show a variety of interests, all of them conservative, musical, and audience-friendly. The pre-Corigliano Sonata 1 (1998), subtitled Classical, is a pleasant three- movement affair with virtuosic nods to Prokofieff and Poulenc, put forth with plenn of healthy personality. The Corigliano era begins with Sonata 2 (2001). The first movement composes out an improvisation at a smoky New York club (see Michael Sahl's Jungles, last issue, for a different version of the same scenario). The second and final move­ment is a wildly exuberant multiple-metered dance. Sonata 3 (2005), also titled Dance Suite, opens as an extended fantasy for a blind oud player and ends with sizzling Modern Music jazz. ("Unexpectedly, the serene atmosphere disappears", as the notes put it.) The idea is to suggest a "multicultural" reconciliation of worlds, ancient and modern, ethnic and Western.

The remainder of the program is spare piano pieces of varying length. There are a beautiful, very early Prelude from 1992 (the composer was 17), two etude-like Moments Musicaux from 2003, and a showy Azerbaijani Dance written in 2005 especially for this disc. Mr Dorman reminds me a little bit of Fazil Say in his general outlook. I hope he will be able to maintain a sensible aesthetic sense with all the possible roads before him.

This well-produced and immaculately played release will please certain audiences. I think it's too early to tell where this will lead, but Mr Dorman is certainly a composer to be watched.

DRUCKMAN: String Quartets Nos. 2 and 3

Group for Contemporary Music


Review by Quinn
American Record Guide, October 2006

Of all the composers championed by the Group for Contemporary Music, Druckman is the one whose music I most like to listen to. Many composers of a modernist stripe get so deeply into the mindset that musical structures are made out of ideas that they forget that it is also made out of sounds, and Druckman seems not to have lost sight of that even at his most avant-garde. Ideas and motives are not only carefully wrought in and of themselves, but they are repeated, echoed, turned over, and pondered as objects of beauty. This is true especially in the beautiful music of his later period (the 80s and 90s), which includes three of these four pieces; the producers have cleverly placed the one relatively early work (the second quartet) at the end of the program, at which point we are sufficiently warmed up by the lovely, deliquescent sound of the later works and prepared to dig into something a bit thornier and more difficult.

Mr Lehman, reviewing the originial release on Koch (July/Aug 1998), found that the music got on his nerves, but I'll take Druckman over Wuorinen, Sessions, or Martino any day of the week.

The Group for Contemporary Music's cool, technically perfect performance style- which Mr Lehman and I agree doesn't bring out the best in the Sessions music reviewed below- is just the thing for Druckman's cool, technically perfect compositions. This one's definitely going to stay on my shelf.

EL-KHOURY: Orchestral Works

Colonne Orchestre/ Pierre Dervaux


Review by French
American Record Guide, October 2006

Bechara El-Khoury is a Lebanese composer ,who moved to Paris in 1979 when he was 22. He eventually became a French citizen but retains a deep feeling for integrating the poetic and tonal atmosphere of his native country with Western symphonic style.

Dance of the Eagles is a short, pulsing work ith a Khachaturian-like beat that Dervaux serves up with infectious style. Gods of the Earth (subtitled Symphonic Image) and Night and the Fool (a symphonic suite in two movements) are both very long-lined works with haunting, melancholy harmonies and a form that feels like a dialog-almost a question and answer-between solo plaints and bigger orchestral responses. In EI-Khoury's rich orchestral palette I hear echoes of Honegger and, at one point, harmonies similar to Mahler's Symphony No. 10. Both are so atmospheric they feel like some of Bernard Herrmann's moody harmonies that elicit pictures even though you've never seen the movie. Dervaux couldn't keep the lower strings in tune, especially in chromatic unison passages where they couldn't retain ensemble either. The wood­winds, brass, and percussion, on the other hand, are terrific. In all three works Dervaux maintains a firm dramatic direction, and engineering is clear, warm, resonant, and balanced.

The other three compositions are disappointments. Requiem for Orchestra and Lebanon in Flames are part of a trilogy emerging from the recent Lebanese civil war. After hearing the above three works first, I expected these hitting-closer-to-home works would be even more emotional. Instead, both come across as mere pastiches of style and mood that aren't at all integrated, and melodic lines are underpinned with empty supporting harmonies. Notes say that this album was recorded in September and October 1983 and originally released on the Forlane label. I suspect that these two works were recorded apart from the others, because, while the melody lines are clear, details in the rest of the orchestra are a mushy blur for the most part.

The Contemplation of Christ also is just a collection of effects with no mystical feel, despite what the liner notes say. And why couldn't the strings, when performing alone, play on the beat with ensemble?

FLAGELLO, NICOLAS: Piano Concerto No. 1 / Dante’s Farewell / Concerto Sinfonico

Tatjana Rankovich, piano; Susan Gonzalez , soprano

National Radio Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine/ John McLaughlin Williams
New Hudson Saxophone Quartet
Rutgers Symphony Orchestra/ Kynan John


Review by Lehman
American Record Guide, October 2006

A native New Yorker (he studied with Giannini at the Manhattan School of Music and later taught there), Nicolas Flagello (1928-94) was a faithful and devout romantic with a capital R. Unfortunately for him, his earliest music appeared just about the time that his backwards-looking, hyper-emotional idiom was going out of style, and he stopped composing (in the early 1980s) too soon to be picked up by the return-to-tonality bandwagon. Only in the past decade or so has Flagello gained wide recognition through recordings.

One of the most significant of those re­cordings included his Second and Third Piano Concertos (Vox 7521; July/Aug 1996), with the same (superb!) soloist as on this new Naxos premiere recording of his big three-movement First Piano Concerto written in 1950. Though this work doesn't represent Flagello's fully mature manner (his later music is gloomier and more harmonically adventurous) and is clearly indebted to conventional romantic-era rhetoric, it certainly conveys the composer's characteristic boldness and vitality. As frankly emotional as the concerto is- imagine a hybrid of Puccini and Rachmaninoff to get an idea of its sound-it has a forcefulness, a sort of masculine brawniness, that is Flagello's own. And, boy, does it have sweep, intensity, and conviction. It positively throbs with larger­than-life passions and defiant heroism that constantly strive for, and sometimes achieve, a magniloquent statement-as in the grand return of first movement's main theme (just after 8 minutes in). It also shows off two more of Flagello's key attributes: his careful crafts­manship and structural logic and his gift for memorable tunes, whether long-spanning melodic arches, restlessly unwinding inner voices, or rhythmically driving dances.

Naxos completes the program with two more of Flagello's until-now-unrecorded works from later in his career: Dante's Farewell, a 14-minute dramatic monolog for soprano and orchestra from 1962, and Concerto Sinfonico, for saxophone quartet and orchestra, Flagello', last composition (1985). Dante's Farewell setsa text (included in the notes) that relates an episode in the Italian poet's life from the point of view of his wife Gemma. (Dante has a terrifying dream-vision that warns him to flee h'is home and leave his family, departing forever for Rome.) Many listeners will be familiar with the genre from Barber's exactly contemporane· ous Andromache's Farewell, and there's consid·erable kinship between these two works, both of them heartfelt valedictions (sung by women cast as dramatic scenes inspired by literary history and shaped as symphonic, motive-generated structures. Flagello's composition is especially effective in the unforced, organic way the vocal line grows out of and finally subside, back into the evocative, slowly swaying music, built of rocking-back-and-forth thirds, that begins and ends the piece.

Concerto Sinfonico, written by the already-ailing composer, is if anything even darker ana more tormented than Dante's Farewell, though the coloring imparted by the four saxophones adds a faintly film-noir feel-appropriate, perhaps, to evoke the cinema of disillusion. intrigue, betrayal, and doom. The central 'Lento Movendo', a forlorn barcarolle, has a moody, death-haunted beauty racked by distant reverberations of tragic fates suffered and yet to come.

Performances and recordings are excellent, though not all listeners will be partial to Susan Gonzalez's heavy vibrato. This is an admirable addition to Naxos's growing library of American classics and definitely one for lovers of romanticism, whether or not preceded by "neo".

FRANKEL: Curse of the Werewolf / The Prisoner / So Long at the Fair Medley

Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/ Carl Davis


Review by Koldys
American Record Guide, October 2006

Many of Benjamin Frankel's concert works were rooted in serialism, but most films do not exactly cry out for 12-tone music. So, of his more than 100 scores, only two use this avant-garde technique, and both are on this record Curse of the Werewolf was another Hammel Films production that brought garish color and explicit gore to the monster legends popularized by Universal films in the 1930s and 40s. The assertive dissonances sound more like Berg than Bennett, though there are some temporary respites of tonality. The finale, with its driving rhythms and whooping horns, is especially potent.

The Prisoner, not to be confused with the cult television series, was dark fiction loosely based on the case of Cardinal Mindszenty. The music reflects the story line: stark, desolate and foreboding. For the most part these scores should appeal to admirers of Frankel's symphonic output.

With over an hour dedicated to the two main features, the remaining films are represented by brief excerpts. Both are charming' interludes that sound positively old-fashion sandwiched between their modernistic counterparts. Davis and the Liverpoolers do the music proud, and Naxos contributes realistic sonics.

GAUBERT: Works for Flute, Vol. 3

Sally Pinkas; Fenwick Smith


Review by Chaffee
American Record Guide, October 2006

This is another in a series covering the entire output of French flutist Philippe Gaubert (Jan/Feb 2005). I have praised the sensuous, effortless musicality of Fenwick Smith. Even in the showy, virtuosic display pieces (e.g. the Nocturne et Allegro) Smith plays with remark­able grace and control. never slipping into the more bombastic, heavy style with wide vibrato and dense, dark tone favored by many Ameri­can flutists. This is a real treat; I wish more flutists used this as a model.

Everything about this is commendable, including the well-written notes.

GIANNINI: Symphony No. 3 / Dedication Overture / Variations and Fugue

University of Houston Wind Ensemble / Tom Bennett


Review by Quinn
American Record Guide, October 2006

This is my first experience of Vittorio Giannini, whose name appears to mean "Wagner" in Italian; the critic Arthur Cohn described Giannini as "a 20th Century composer using well-sharpened tools of the 19th Century". Were this music not for wind band, I would easily have misdated it by 50 or 60 years. But I must admit it's pretty impressive as band music goes; in fact, these pieces are so imaginatively orchestrated and lush that it's easy to forget the string section isn't actually there somewhere.

In the fugue of the Variations and Fugue, whose subject is the chromatic wedge favored by many late-baroque composers, one wishes there were a string section, as the jumpiness of the melody is a bit awkward for even the best university wind ensembles. The music both allows and demands a very high level of playing, and the University of Houston Wind Ensemble turns in an absolutely world-class performance. I might not look for another record of Giannini's music, but I'd certainly try this band out again!

KRAUS, JOSEPH MARTIN: Complete German Songs

Martin Hummel, baritone; Birgid Steinberger, soprano; Glen Wilson, piano


Review by Bauman
American Record Guide, October 2006

Kraus lived only a few months more than Mozart but hasn't been so well known, because he spent much of his creative life in Sweden.

Naxos has chosen to give us his complete songs written in German but has wisely pretty much alternated between a soprano and a baritone so that there is no vocal monotony. The mood of the songs is quite varied, and they make for very pleasant listening. There is a fair amount of vocal acting here, too. I listened to this two days in a row and enjoyed it more the second time.

Both vocalists sing very well. Both are native Germans, so the language is no problem for them. Glen Wilson is an American pianist in his 50s who has a career in Europe. The recording is outstanding, as are the notes. This is a real "sleeper".

MAHLER, GUSTAV: Symphony #8 in E Flat Major “Symphony of A Thousand”

Barbara Kubiak, soprano I; Izabela Klosinska, soprano II; Marta Boberska, soprano III;
Jadwiga Rappe, alto I; Ewa Marciniec, alto II; Timothy Bentch, tenor;
Wojciech Drabowicz, baritone; Piotr Nowacki, bass

Polish Radio Choir in Krakow/ Wlodzimierz Siedlik
Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski University Choir/ Kazimierz Szymonik
The Warsaw Boys Choir/ Krzystof Kusiel-Moroz
Warsaw National Philharmonic Choir/ Henryk Wojnarowski
Warsaw National Philharmonic Orchestra/ Antoni Wit


Review by Chawkin
American Record Guide, October 2006

It seems that only yesterday (though it was a year ago, Sept/Oct 2005) that I was marveling about how well the Eighth could withstand the wide difference in playing time between the Nagano and Rattle performances without sounding pushed at the faster or dragged at the slower ends. Here comes another reminder of the same phenomenon. Some ten minutes in playing time divides Haitink's and Solti's performances (both from September 1971­it's worth a smile to think of Harper finishing up as Solti's Soprano I in Vienna and hopping onto the shuttle to Amsterdam to be Haitink's Soprano II).

Two other notable phenomena came to my attention here.

The first is how precipitously some musical reputations fall after the death of the artists who inspired them. In his lifetime, Solti would sell out concert halls effortlessly. His recordings were commercial hits and recipients of many critical awards. These days, his reputation has plummeted. When he is remembered at all, it is as a brutal, rigid martinet.

The second is what different ears we sometimes bring to old much-loved recordings when we revisit them after many years. I recently listened to Solti's first Mahler 5 and was shocked at how pedestrian parts of it sounded. How would the 1971 reissues stand up on reacquaintance?

Haitink's, which I had been fond of when it first came out, was mostly a disappointment. I don't know how well he knew the piece back when he recorded it (he has said that he doesn't particularly like it and has dropped it from his repertory), but parts of it sound more than aloof. I am tempted to write that they sound phoned in.

The big differences among the performances here are in Part II. Haitink's Introduction is straightforward to a fault. No suspense, no scene-painting. Where Colin Davis and Mitropoulos had the ear riveted in an instant, Haitink plods along. Setting us up for more later? But the later isn't in the opening chorus. No huge vistas here. The echoes are dutiful, not spooky or even atmospheric. Prey's opening lines are so full of expression and life that they are like a reproach to the conductor. It's as if he was thinking "how can you play like that when I'm singing like this?"

Like Prey, Sotin is in really good voice, a bass with real weight and color. Haitink plods along patiently but, by the time the More Perfect Angels (a title that sounds like something out of Monty Python) sing their "Uns bleibt ein Erdenrest", the conducting is almost unbearably pedantic.

Cochran's voice is a dryish light helden­tenor. It's almost a Loge sound. Acceptable but not inspiring. The sopranos are so-so. Cotrubas sounds lovely. Harper sounds ordinary (what must she have been thinking after having just been through the piece with Solti?) and Van Bork is competent. The altos are both acceptable: Finnila has a more solid voice, though she is stretched by the high parts of her role. Deileman is lighter in voice.

Haitink finally comes to life in the "Blicket auf" section with tenor and chorus. It is thrilling, as is the second half of the Chorus Mysticus: those final brass calls have tremendous weight and perfect emphasis. They really do sound as if they are reaching out to the universe.

Choruses (and especially the boy choir) sound wonderful. The orchestral playing is good in color, but lacking in intensity and specificity. About six minutes of a wonderful musical experience and 64 minutes of something less than that.

Wit's Mahler performances that I've heard have never been bad, but they haven't quite risen to the highest level. This Eighth, which is unfortunately spread onto two discs, thereby giving up Naxos's usual price advantage, is more of the same. If I had heard it as a concert, I would have been pleased. On records, you have to go back again and irritants get compounded. The lack of weight in the chorus and the odd moments annoy: the shaky ensemble and awkward trumpets in the "Gerettet" chorus and the incoherence in the end of the "blicket auf" chorus up to the Chorus Mysticus. The soloists are so variable: an unpleasant, bleaty tenor, who manages to pull himself together for "Blicket auf' but is a nuisance elsewhere and a bass without much color or juice in his voice. Amends come in the presence of a fine baritone, good sopranos, especially Boberska, a haunting Mater Gloriosa, and the more than acceptable altos. Naxos, probably with help from the Polish Radio, has come up with a spectacular recording. The roar of the percussion at the end is something to marvel at.

Solti's was a famous recording in its day. It has worn well with time. The cast is a great one, in great form. There are other Eighths with strong singers. Kubelik's has fine women (Arroyo, Spoorenberg, Mathis, Hamari, Proctor). Davis's has Ben Heppner in lovely voice. Mitropoulos has a powerful cast. None of these is a match for Solti's.

I've never heard a mountain sing, but if I were to and it didn't sound like Talvela, I would be disappointed. Shirley-Quirk has to work a little at the top of his range, but is solid and powerful. Kollo is simply thrilling. Along with Mitropoulos's Giuseppe Zampieri and Heppner, his is the pinnacle of this part on records. He is in his best voice here: clear and ringing, effortlessly beautiful and heroic, with the Chicago strings shining like sunbeams around his voice. Harper is incomparably better here than she was for Haitink. Her voice and Popp's are sweet and fresh and blessedly in tune. Auger is the Mater Gloriosa that dreams are made of. Both altos are superb; Minton is a little darker than Watts, but they blend beautifully with each other and with Popp in the trio.

The redoubtable Wilhelm Pitz has the choral forces in fine shape. The Vienna Boy choir is at its formidable best, and the orchestral playing is a delight. The Chicago under Solti could sometimes be brutal and colorless, but not here. The playing is superlative and effortless.

Solti's conducting is also fine here. His Part I combines nuance with propulsion in a way that Haitink, who is plain to a fault, and Wit, who is more expressive than Haitink but not especially perceptive, don't. His introduction to Part II is not much less straight than Haitink's, but is so much more alive. Solti was an old opera hand, and setting a scene in music was second nature to him, as was musical storytelling. Tension and release, light and shadow are perfectly managed in this wonderful reading. Does Solti fall short at all? I'm afraid he does. The very end of the work, so beautifully set up by all that went before, doesn't quite take off the way that Haitink- not to mention Mitropoulos, Davis, and several other performances-manages to. Something extra is missing. It's not enough to spoil or even mar the performance, but I can't help wishing that someone had told Solti and company to give it one more try.

Wit has excellent modern recorded sound with presence and space and a huge dynamic range. Nothing to complain about there. Haitink has the extra presence of SACD, which is an impressive advantage, set off by tape hiss that's also audible in the CD tracks. Solti's sound was impressive in its time and remains so. The hiss is almost inaudible and not in the least distracting in the face of the performance.

Solti comes with text, translation, and a nice liner note by Michael Kennedy. Wit and Haitink offer no text or translation. The former gives a liner note and short biographies of the musicians (I was fascinated to learn that the bleaty tenor is known as "the best Hungarian tenor" even though he is not Hungarian. Information like that is worth many texts and translations!) Haitink offers a quite good note on the music and some discussion of four-channel techniques that Philips was experimenting with at the time. It also has a cover photo of Haitink conducting with eyes closed. At first I wondered if he was doing a Karajan imitation, but after rehearing this performance, I suspect that even he was having trouble staying awake.

The Mahler 8 situation is a complex one. The most riveting performances both have problems. Mitropoulos's sound is not very good, even in the Orfeo release, its best mastering. Colin Davis's female singers are not the best (he is burdened with Sharon Sweet, who also disfigured Maazel's Vienna recording). The Horenstein on BBC is dramatic but inconsistent. The Nagano and Rattle are both pleasant and well recorded, if not exactly life-transforming experiences. There are Bernstein performances on both Sony and DG where the conductor works the musicians, the audience, and himself tremendously hard to produce a symphony that's only a little bit less compelling than Mahler's original.

The Solti is a very strong performance. It will probably be a first choice for many listeners who don't want to deal with Mitropoulos's sound or Davis's sopranos, though they will be giving up that last measure of grandiose elation that is so much a part of this huge work.


Auer Quartet; Kodaly Quartet
Zsolt Fejervari


Review by Fine
American Record Guide, October 2006

Max Bruch was 82 when he wrote his Octet, and Felix Mendelssohn was 16 when he wrote his. Bruch had a career as a conductor, a composer, and a teacher, but even after living the equivalent of two of Mendelssohn's lifetimes (Mendelssohn died at 38) he could not write an Octet to compare with Mendelssohn's. It is rather poignant to think about Bruch in 1920, at the end of his life, still writing in the style of the 1820s and still trying to write as well as Mendelssohn (who was himself trying to write as well as Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, and Handel).

These musicians give both pieces their best collective shot, and the resulting reading of the Mendelssohn is extremely fine: resonant, articulate, clear, expressive, and full of all kinds of contrasts in texture. It is well recorded to pick up both the individual voices and the blend of voices. They do their best with the Bruch, but even the finest playing of the piece is not enough to raise it to the level of excellence that Mendelssohn reached at the tender age of 16.

PALOMO: Andalusian Nocturnes (Nocturnos de Andalucia) / Spanish Songs (Canciones espanolas)

Seville Royal Symphony Orchestra / Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos
Maria Bayo; Pepe Romero


Review by Boyer
American Record Guide, October 2006

Lorenzo Palomo (b 1938) is a Spanish conductor who has recently achieved some renown as a composer. In this, the first recording of his music to cross our desk, we have three major offerings: two orchestral song cycles, Andalusian Spring (1992) and Memories of Youth (1987). and a 40-minute suite for guitar and orchestra, Andalusian Nocturnes (1996).

Memories of Youth was first performed in a version for voice and piano at Carnegie Hall by Montserrat Caballe. The writing is not only beautiful and accessible, but the composer shows real understanding of the lyric possibilities of the human voice. Much the same can be said of the later cycle, and they both have an exotic atmosphere.

The suite of Nocturnes is somewhat more sprightly than the songs. Palomo, aware of the difficult balance problems that affect guitar­and-orchestra pieces, scores alternately for the full orchestra and the guitar, the latter playing with only the most sparse accompaniment. His approach is very effective.

The Nocturnes are played with considerable flair by the great Pepe Romero. The Seville Royal Symphony shows itself to be a fine ensemble under Frühbeck de Burgos's direc­tion. Maria Bayo, who seems to specialize in Spanish repertory (May/June 2003: 192, May/ June 2004: 224, etc.), is a fine advocate for the composer's work, turning in a first-rate performance.

The sound is generally excellent, though the engineers have made Bayo bigger than life and have surrounded her with a different ambiance than the orchestra's. Note are informative, though texts and translations are not included and must be copied, assuming the listener has a computer, from Naxos's web site.

These reservations aside, this is another very satisfying entry in Naxos's Spanish Classics series.

PERSICHETTI: Divertimento / Masquerade / Parable IX

London Symphony Orchestra Wind and Percussion Ensemble/ David Amos


Review by Kilpatrick
American Record Guide, October 2006

A dissertation by Williams Nicholls notes that Vincent Persichetti never forgot the apparent disrespect of music educators who, at a national conference in 1956, came and went during the first performance of his Band Symphony. Perhaps he didn't know how things go at conferences, but I would also surmise that the music did not compel them to stay. Persichetti is given much credit for writing music that introduced young musicians to modern music, but to me, that's as far as it went. While his slow, expressive music is often beautiful, the exuberant works are shallow, producing their dissonance almost entirely through bitonality and mirroring. There is nothing wrong with these devices until you hear them in one piece after another.

Listening to Eugene Corporon's student ensembles from Cincinnati OH and Denton IX is always a pleasant task, but this time, comparison puts them in perspective. Of course it would not be fair to expect a college group to meet the same standard as the London Symphony Winds, but they offer almost the same program. The students sound very good, but the world-class professionals have uniformly solid, beautiful tone, stable pitch, and security at all dynamic levels. They also take the fast music much faster, and it helps.

The London recording is a reissue (Bau­man said good things about it in Nov/Dec 1994).

ROREM: Violin Concerto, Pilgrims, Flute Concerto

Philippe Quint (violin), Jeffrey Khaner (flute)
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Josi Serebrier (conductor)


Review by Chafee
American Record Guide, October 2006

I am about to move to an old Ohio town with a population of less than 4000. My friends on the "dream coasts" are aghast: Where will I get good Eritrean (much less Italian or Indian) food? Where will I go when I want to hear a concert Tuesday night? Will I start engaging in strange rural rituals like cow tipping just to keep my sanity? But it is actually a college town with four independent bookstores, art galleries, and one well-known gourmet restaurant. I can drive to Cincinnati in about an hour, and I travel often for work.

What does this have to do with Ned Rorem? When I travel, it is often to large cities or university towns where I spend time with highly educated, sophisticated musicians and scholars. It is refreshing to kill countless hours talking about music, art, and life. A trip to New York, Chicago, of Durham often leaves me mentally and physically exhausted yet satisfied. In all those countless hours of conversation, I recall only one brief discussion about Rorem: I mentioned to a small group of musicians assembled for a "new music event" in another city that I regretted missing the chance to see Rorem's new opera in Indiana this spring. The response was tepid, and then we veered away into a lengthy discussoin of "the new complexity" movement. (Read: composers writing mostly unplayable music out of some misguided recycled 60s notion of elitism and identity.)

This new Rorem disc arrived less than a week later, so I racked my brain trying to think of when and how I had heard about Rorrem in the last couple of years. It seems to me he has always occupied a place in the world of "new" music - a massive presence, but dismissed for his stubborn refusal to jump on an "ism" bandwagon and not performed with the frequency he deseres- an avuncular, tolerated presence acknowledged but held at arms's length. For six decades, Rorem has maintained a singular niche while all sorts of new ideas came and went around him. To complicate matters further, his books and essays are also imbued with the same single-minded "this is what I am" attitude, which some find arrogant and distasteful. Unlike other American compsers who are a legend in their own mind, Rorem is actually a gifted, original composer whose music will probably outlast them all.

Other reviewers have already heaped praise on this disc (see, so I do not feel compelled to throw around words here. I like it, and I'm sure anyone who appreciates the lyrical beauty of Rorem's music will too. The performers are spectacular, especially Philippe Quint. Buy it, talk about it, and please, let us make sure it is played somewhere else than New York.

SAMMARTINI: Pianto degli Angeli della Pace (Il) / Symphony in E Flat Major

Various Artists


Review by Barker
American Record Guide, October 2006

This release is a follow-up to Naxos 557431 (J/A 2005). Giovanni Battista Sammartini (c.1700­75) composed a series of spiritually uplifting cantatas for a confraternity in Milan, of which eight survive, five from a cycle for 1751. Newell Jenkins had been a champion of those cantatas, recording two of them in early LP days. Daniele Ferrari has now assumed that cause, having presented four of the 1751 cycle (two of them in the previous Naxos release). Herewith he completes that cycle with the one remaining - one that Jenkins had recorded way back.

This Plaint of the Angels of Peace is built on one of those texts of contemplative exchange between allegorical figures, the Angel of Grace (tenor), the Angel of Alliance (mezzo-soprano), and the Angel of the Testament (soprano), who project various perspectives on the agony and triumph of the Saviour's sacrifice on the cross. The music, which runs over 45 minutes, is expressively apt, though one could fit it out with completely different words and still find it satisfying listening - a not-uncommon 18th Century phenomenon.

Of the three soloists, the most reliable is Mapelli, who has been Ferrari's collaborator through all these Sammartini ventures so far: a clear and attractive voice. Tenor Tiboni has a somewhat strangulated tone, but is musically reliable; mezzo Soraluze, however, is rather heavy and wobbly in sound - the least persuasive of the team.

I am not sure if Ferrari's orchestra is a period-instrument group - sometimes it is difficult to tell these days - but it is a smooth-sounding one. It delivers an amiable reading of the short three-movement E-flat Symphony. But a more probing, and more richly-toned rendition of the work may be had in a program of the composer's orchestral music under Roberto Gini from Dynamic (414; not reviewed). It is noteworthy, though, that each conductor opposes the two violin sections, to revealing effect.

SCHOENBERG, ARNOLD: Serenade / Variations for Orchestra / Bach Orchestrations

Twentieth Century Classics Ensemble; Philharmonia Orchestra/ Craft, Robert
Appel, Toby; Kay, Alan R; Neidich, Charles; Press, Peter; Schulte, Rolf; Sherry, Fred; Starobin, David; Varcoe, Stephen


Review by Chakwin
American Record Guide, October 2006

I reviewed the performance of the Serenade (Nov/Dec 1995) and wished it had been a reis­sue of the Shirley-Quirk with the London Sin­fonietta under David Atherton that Decca recorded long ago. Boulez on Sony is a very good and available alternative. This one offers some fine playing by New York free-lancers, most notably clarinettist Charles Neidich, and a commendable vocal rendition by baritone Stephen Varcoe (called a bass here) but the Boulez has more character.

The Variations have been recorded in performances of incredible insight and refinement by such conductors as Dohnanyi, Karajan, and Boulez. The Philharmonia playing is quite good, but Craft's interpretation is not compelling when compared with the others. All three are available mid-priced.

The Bach pieces are presented in orchestrations by Schoenberg. The fugue is the famous St Anne in E- flat, and the other two are chorale preludes. Schoenberg was a master orchestrator and loved Bach's music. These are light, undemanding works.

Craft, who is a perceptive and eloquent writer on music, wrote the excellent booklet notes here, and like all good notes, they made me wish they were langer. The sound is more than acceptable.

At Naxos's price, this is a good introduction to Schoenberg or a good supplement for a listener who already knows some of his music and wants more.

SHOSTAKOVICH, DMITRI: The Execution of Stepan Razin, October, Five Fragments

Charles Robert Austin, bass-baritone

Seattle Symphony Symphony & Chorale/ Gerard Schwarz


Review by Hansen
American Record Guide, October 2006

Stepan Razin is getting increased attention of late. Not so long after I reviewed Polyansky's fine recording (May/June 2002), the Chicago Symphony presented it at its Ravinia summer home under James Conlon. Now Naxos brings us Schwarz's hair-raising interpretation of startling intensity that almost meets Conlon and exceeds Polyansky. From the tense, driving opening section to the volcanic force of the piece's bone-crushing ending, Schwarz and his players and singers take the listener for a heart­stopping ride of remarkable drama and power. Half-way competently done, Stepan will have a great effect on an audience; performed with as much intensity as it is here, few listeners will argue that its compact, 28-minute form is not the equal of the 13th Symphony. (For a fuller discussion of the music, see my earlier review.)

The Seattle Symphony's recording staff has captured Stepan in rich, clear recorded sound that outdoes the excellent sonics that Chandos gave Polyansky. Stepan was recorded in the closer, warmer sound of the Seattle Opera House, which gives it a slight technical edge over the other two works here. The others were recorded later, in Benaroya Hall, which may account for the slightly more cavernous, less distinct sound, which is not out of place in the vast scope of the somber, late tone poem, October, written in 1967 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Revolution.

The Five Fragments, Op. 42, date from 1935 and remind one of the short orchestral sketches by Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern. Steven Lowe's excellent album notes describe them as "practice runs" for the Fourth Symphony. A concert performance under Rostropovich has been issued by Andante, but Schwarz brings greater substance to this somewhat equivocal music.

This disc is well worth its modest asking price for Stepan Razin alone. That you can get it coupled with other rare, interesting works that you may not even have in your collection is a bonus. Best of all, we get an all-too-rare chance to hear one of our outstanding American orchestras in top form.

STOCK: Little Miracle (A) / Yizkor / Tekiah / Y'rusha

Various Artists


Review by Quinn
American Record Guide, October 2006

The Pittsburgh composer David Stock (b 1939) is the subject of this installment of the Milken Archive of American Jewish Music. In a departure of sorts from the Archive's usual formula, the program contains no liturgical music, unless you count the insertion of the Ashkenazi tunes for Avinu Malkenu and Oseh Shalom into Y'rusha, a clarinet concerto. The last three pieces are purely orchestral, and the first, A Little Miracle, is a solo cantata for mezzo and orchestra. (In keeping with the Milken formula, the cantata is on Holocaust themes.)

Stock's preternaturally youthful music is simple and accessible without pandering too much to its audience; this is the sort of music I'd feel good about giving to my less musically sophisticated relatives, who would get all the musical references and maybe even be able to talk about the clear, neoclassical structures. As a composer, Stock has the clarity (but not the austerity) of a latter-day minimalist like Part and Adams together, and the heart of a Joe Sixpackstein; there's no fancy stuff, no hamhanded sophistication and pretentions, to get in the way of the music's simple expression.

Texts and excellent, extensive notes are included.

VIVALDI: Sacred Music, Vol. 2

Aradia Ensemble/Kevin Mallon
Tracy Smith Bessette; Marion Newman


Review by Gatens
American Record Guide, October 2006

Although vastly outnumbered by his instrumental compositions, the sacred vocal music of Antonio Vivaldi is a substantial body of work that is claiming its due attention from outstand­ing early-music ensembles. The competition among recordings is pretty stiff, with the II-disc compilation by Robert King and The King's Consort holding a special place. Ardella Crawford, reviewing the boxed set (Hyperion 44171; May/June 2006) called it "the perfect collection of Vivaldi's sacred music", and she seconded my enthusiasm for individual volumes as they appeared over the past few years. There are, of course, many recordings of The Gloria (R 589), but artists are delving into the other choral works as well as the solo motets and liturgical settings for solo voices. The two discs now under consideration are worthy examples.

The recording from Ottavio Dantone and Accademia Bizantina is Volume 5 of the sacred works-in this case including sacred instrumental pieces as well as vocal music-but also a subset of a larger project, namely the recording of some 450 Vivaldi manuscripts now in the National University Library at Turin. This is Volume 31 of that series.

The vocal works on this program are one of two settings for solo voice of the Vesper psalm Laudate Pueri (R 601) and the solo motet In Furore (R 626). The solo motets are described in the notes as "paraliturgical compositions" that might be sung at the Offertory of the mass or as a substitute for an antiphon at Vespers. They consist of two da capo arias (a form considered inappropriate for legitimate liturgical texts) joined by a recitative and concluding with an Alleluia. The Latin texts, most often written by contemporary clergy or patrons, rarely have much literary or devotional distinc­tion. In Furore is one of the better known and most virtuosic of these pieces. Soprano Sandrine Piau displays almost superhuman clarity and precision in the daunting vocal gymnastics of this work and in the comparably chal­lenging Laudate Pueri. These are finely nuanced performances from a singer who has sometimes struck me in the past as mannered. Here she sings with great authority.

The playing by Accademia Bizantina is noteworthy for its gusto and energy, though the quieter and more reflective movements are also impressive. There is much vehemence, but these players never cross the line into ugli­ness or harshness. Going beyond mere techni­cal polish, they convince us that they are speaking their native musical language and understand its gestures from the inside. This is how I feel about Robert King in Purcell and Handel, and while I would be the last to dis­parage his Vivaldi, the flavor is different from what Dantone and his ensemble have to offer. There are some dazzlingly impressive Italian early-music ensembles currently active, and Accademia Bizantina is clearly one of the best. Their string tone is unabashedly "period", so those who cannot abide it will need to look elsewhere for their Vivaldi. The recording is intimate but not excessively close, though one can hear a preparatory sniff from Dantone (who directs from the harpsichord) at the start of nearly every movement.

The instrumental works include a Sinfonia Al Santo Sepolcro, a brief and somber two­movement work most likely played in connection with the placement of the Reserved Sacrament on the Altar of Repose on Maundy Thursday. Vivaldi wrote four concertos for violin and organ with strings. Two are known to be reworkings of concertos for two violins. The other two, including the one recorded here (R 541), show the earmarks of a similar adaptation. The Concerto for the Solemnity of San Lorenzo - it is not certain whether the saint is Laurence the Martyr or the Venetian Lorenzo Giustiniani - survives in several copies besides the Turin manuscript, attesting to its popularity in Vivaldi's lifetime. Stefano Montanari, the lead violinist in Accademia Bizantina, is the soloist in both concertos. Dantone plays the organ in R 54 I.

The recording from Kevin Mallon and the Toronto-based Aradia Ensemble is very different. It is the second volume in a project to record all of Vivaldi's sacred music. I was immediately impressed by the very warm sound of the period strings-not as "ultra" as Accademia Bizantina-enhanced by the moderately reverberant acoustic of the Toronto church. The Canadians are not nearly as emphatic as Dantone's ensemble- a quality I might not have noted had I not come directly from the other recording. Mallon's performances are estimable, but if he is aspiring to the elegant polish of Robert King, he does not quite achieve it.

This program includes the other solo setting of Laudate Pueri (R 600) and the solo motet Canta in Prato (R 623) sung by the young soprano Tracy Smith Bessette, whose tone is clear and lithe with a gentle but pervasive vibrato. Her style is not as overtly "early-music" as Sandrine Piau. The other two works are the Stabat Mater (R 621) and the solo motet Clarae Stellae, Scintillate (R 625) for the Feast of the Visitation (May 31). They are sung by contralto Marion Newman, whose tone is clear and warm. The Stabat Mater is one of Vivaldi's earliest sacred works, commissioned in 1712 by an oratory in Brescia. There were many compositional stipulations, among them that only the first half of the text was to be set. The original soloist would probably have been a countertenor or castrato. It is worth noting that countertenor David Daniels has recorded the piece brilliantly with Fabio Biondi and Europa Galante, another out­standing Italian early-music ensemble (Virgin 45474; May/June 2002).

The first volume of Mallon's Vivaldi series (Naxos 557445) does not appear to have been reviewed here. It includes choral pieces-Dixit Dominus (R 595) and the less familiar of the two Glorias (R 488)-as well as the solo motel Nulla in Mundo Pax Sincera (R 630).

HEYMANN, WERNER RICHARD; KREUDER, PETER; WINKLER GERHARD: Salon Orchestra Favourites IV- German Hit Songs of the 1930s

Annette Postel, vocals

Salonorchester Schwanen/ Georg Huber


Review by Traubner
American Record Guide, October 2006

The title of this collection is a bit misleading, or else weighted oddly. There are songs hits of the 30s here, to be sure, but there are also eight mood-music pieces by a certain Gerhard Winkler that were popular in pops concerts and on radio.

Six of the numbers were written before 1933 by the eminent film-musical composer Werner Richard Heymann, now enjoying a renaissance in Germany and Austria. He fled to Hollywood and wrote the music for such films as The Shop Around the Corner, for Lubtisch. The other 13 tracks are in large part from the Nazi era, by Winkler and a composer who straddled several decades, Peter Kreuder.

Kreuder was an able tune smith and pianist, with such enduring film hits as the senti­mental, very Viennese 'Sag' Beim Abschied Leise Servus' from the Willi Forst film Burgtheater (1936) and the rowdier Fuer eine Nacht Voller Frohlichkeit' from the weird Kora Terry (1940), a mystery musical with Marika Rokk playing twins!

However, Kreuder is listed as the composer of 'Das Muss ein Stueck vom Himmel Sein' from the great 1931 film musical Der Kongress Tanzt: he was not; Heymann was - and he based it on a waltz by Josef Strauss (I have the sheet music from the film in front of me).

Heymann's other standards are represented, including 'Liebling, Mein Herz Lasst dich Gruessen' and 'Das Gibt's nur Einmal', but they are not helped by Fr. Postel. Her voice alone would not have given her a UFA contract in the 1930s; it is ordinary. She has had several numbers transposed up for her, and she tends to end her songs with unnecessary high notes. Lilian Harvey may not have had the world's greatest voice, but her endearing delicacy was far preferable in the Heymann numbers to Postel's. And Postel isn't right for the Roekk material, either. (I think I'll stick to my original film recordings of these songs, thank you.)

In the end, the non-vocal tracks are the most period-sounding, the ones by Winkler with such titles as the 'Witches' Dance' and the 'Romanian Gypsy Festival'. If these sound to you like the evocative mood-music titles of Ketelbey, you would be right on the button.


Richard Hayman and His Orchestra


Review by Traubner
American Record Guide, October 2006

I'm not of Irish extraction, but I have always fallen for "that cheap Irish music" (as they call it in the great musical comedy Pinian's Rainbow). Mention John McCormack, and tears well in me eyes, and hum 'Danny Boy'-well, I'm fair done for. This 1989 recording is a delight for all lovers of Irish tunes, and Peter Dempsey's excellent liner notes chart their fascinating progression from actual folk songs to ersatz parlor ballads or operetta songs, and later to orchestral medleys like the ones represented here.

The notes also properly credit the collectors and arrangers of Irish song in the 19th Century, who are in their way partly responsible for Irish music being in the forefront of world music today (think of the Chieftains and other groups).

Richard Hayman was an arranger for the Boston Pops and a prolific pops conductor, and that is the kind of treatment you get here for these Irish melodies - do not think you are getting the true sound of a musical evening at a pub in County Wicklow.

"Rhapsody" is the key word here, with lots of strings and lush arrangements of what are, in many cases, the simplest of tunes. But they can stand the aggrandization, if they are done by arrangers of taste. Leroy Anderson was cer­tainly one, and his Irish Suite is a darlin' collection of familiar ballads like 'The Wearing of the Green' and 'The Last Rose of Summer'. Hayman's own orchestrations can be more characteristically 1950s, easy-listening soupy. The George M Cohan medley is very much an orchestral pops arrangement, without the period zing of the vocal renditions in the terrific Cohan film Yankee Doodle Dandy.

Victor Herbert, that Son of Erin who has been getting new recordings of his orchestral material in the last few years, is represented by his wistful Irish Rhapsody and a heavy- handed, bandy rendition of that rouser from his 1917 operetta Eileen, 'The Irish Have a Great Day Tonight'.

What is it that makes this music so appealing? The minor keys? The sad stories told in their lyrics? The sentimentality? The bald patriotism? Some ancient Celtic harmonic scale? Probably all of the above. Excellent for St Patrick's Day gifts, and the image on the cover is lovely.

HEIFETZ: Transcriptions for Violin and Piano: Irish Rhapsody

Michael Chertock; SuYeon Lee


Review by Magil
American Record Guide, October 2006

In keeping with their policy of recording young, prize-winning violinists, Naxos has released this disc of Heifetz transcriptions played by the 17-year-old Korean Su Yeon Lee.

Heifetz was an inveterate transcriber, and his interests ranged widely enough so a disc of his transcriptions is not at all monotonous. The works on this disc range from Chopin's Nocturne, Op. 55:2, Stephen Foster's 'Jeanie With the Light Brown Hair', Gluck's 'Dance of the Blessed Spirits', Debussy's Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, Ponce's 'Estrellita', Prokofieff's 'Masks' from Romeo and Juliet, and Gershwin's 'Summertime' and 'A Woman Is a Sometime Thing'.

Unfortunately, these performances are not quite up to snuff. I've heard many of these pieces played by Heifetz himself, and I find it hard to get his sound out of my mind. Aaron Rosand and Itzhak Perlman have issued fine compilations of Heifetz arrangements, but the virtuosity of each is consummate enough and their personalities are strong enough to let me enjoy the program. Lee is wanting in those departments. Despite the fact that she used a Stradivarius for this recording, her tone is weak and pale. Her vibrato is also weak and often peters out. There is nothing special about her playing. She has enough talent to win a couple of competitions, but whether she has enough to make a career as a soloist is a question that may have to wait a few years for an answer. I'd say her trip to the recording studio was premature.


Oni Wytars Ensemble


Review by Brewer
American Record Guide, October 2006

This recording could be the response to a request for a multi-cultural course on medieval music with special attention to the Mediterranean basin. While the selected music, derived from both oral and written traditions, comes from Lebanon, Turkey, Italy, Spain, and Aquitania, it does not include any music of the Byzantine traditions. The only song in Greek is actually a polyglot mixture of Greek and Arabic. The most effective aspect of this recording is that it demonstrates the shared musical heritage of these very different cultures.

Superficially, the common musical characteristics are emphasized by the consistent use of what I call the Moroccan night -club band approach to medieval performance: a large band of instruments (including duduk, ud, zarb, and other traditional instruments from a variety of cultures) accompanying one to three singers. In addition, the performers add the ubiquitous drones and improvised polyphony that is currently fashionable in medieval performances. It is questionable whether this consistent performance style does justice to the unique aspects of these different cultures and musical styles, and it may also wear on the listener after a few tracks, but it allows closer attention to be paid to the melodies themselves, and I was surprised to hear the similarities between the songs of the Turkish Dervish poet, Yunus Emre, and the anonymous Italian laude from the Cortona manuscript.

The main menu is six laude, many unfortunately cut in these performances. Other songs (many also labeled "fragments") are taken from the Sephardic oral traditions, Andalusian folksong, a Latin dance-song from the Cat­alonian Llibre Vermell, and a 12th Century Hebrew song attributed to Obadiah the Proselyte. Original texts are supplied in the booklet, and translations for most of the pieces can be found on a website, but the single Hebrew song, 'Keh Moshe', is missing. Within this performance tradition, these are all imaginative interpretations, and except the laude and the song, 'Stella Splendens in Monte', most of these works are not available elsewhere. This is for someone who is curious about non-European medieval song.

PARTITURBUCH (DAS) - Instrumental Music at the Courts of 17th Century Germany

Echo du Danube Ensemble


Review by Loewen
American Record Guide, October 2006

This includes 11 lovely sonatas and chaconnes by German, Austrian, and Italian composers of the early baroque. The best-known among them is Johann Heinrich Schmelzer (c 1623­80). violinist at the imperial court of Vienna. He served as vice-kapellmeister there and then kapellmeister after the death of Giovanni Felice Sances in 1679. Schmelzer's sonatas have undergone a recent revival in the hands of several very fine musicians who specialize in the music of the period. Noteworthy among them are Romanesca (Harmonia Mundi 907143, March/April 1997) and Holloway (Musicaphon 56832, Jan/Feb 2001). The works of Antonio Bertali (1605-69), a predecessor of Schmelzer's, have also been well received by critics through recordings by the Freiburg Baroque (Carus 83303, March/April 2002) and Musica Fiata (CPO 999545, Jan/Feb 1999). Three of his works appear on this release, more than any other single composer.

Samuel Capricornus (1628-65) was one of the most prolific composers of his time, but most of his secular music is no longer extant. He briefly served at the imperial court with Bertali before moving on to the post of kapellmeister to the Wurttemberg court at Stuttgart. Johann Michael Nicolai (1629-85) and Adam Drese (c. 1620-1701) were both Thuringian viol players and composers whose careers were in service to nobility in Weimar, Jena, Brandenburg, and Arnstadt. Drese's residency in Arn­stadt, beginning 1678, brought him into contact with the Bach family. The program ends with a chaconne by Nathanael Schnittelbach (1633-67), who served as civic musician at Lubeck and, despite his short career, became one of the most renowned violin virtuosos of his day.

All of the sonatas and chaconnes are for violin(s) and continuo, which includes various configurations of dulcian, viola da gamba, double harp, harpsichord, and organ. The rhapsodic character of this music strongly reflects these composers' taste for the stile moderno. It is highly ornamental and dramatic. Each work is through-composed, not like the several-movement sonatas one finds in the high baroque (Corelli, for example). They are multi-sectional pieces that shift without pause from one passage to another. Each passage is distinguished by a new tempo, melody, and style of ornamentation.

One will note some interesting repetition on this recording. Bertali's Sonata in G for two violins and bassoon and Schnittelbach's Ciaconna in A for violin both use a descending tetrachord (four-note ground). Simple as they are, I never tire of these seemingly endless sequences of variations. It must result from composers' genius for invention and performers' sensitive ornamentation. The Ciaconna by Schnittelbach brings the recording to a delicate conclusion. The light, wistful performance of this virtuosic piece offers a pleasant contrast to the robust performance of the Bertali sonata. This is the first recording of Schnittelbach's music that I am aware of. What a pleasant surprise that was!

This is a brilliant recording- very strong playing of subtlety and virtuosity. And this is not limited to the violinists Martin Jopp and Jörn Sebastian Kuhlmann. Rainer Johannsen's dulcian playing is intense and quite supple. The continuo playing of the pluckers, viol, and keyboard players furnish a sound foundation for the dazzling display going on above them.

WAGNER: Meistersinger von Nurnberg (Die) (Schoeffler, Gueden, VPO, Knappertsbusch) (1950-1951)

Various Artists


Review by McKelvey
American Record Guide, October 2006

This is a low-cost reissue of a monaural re­cording originally issued on LP in 1951 by Decca-London. It is not the first complete recording of Meistersinger, that honor goes to Hermann Abendroth's 1943 Bayreuth set (now on Preiser). Also available on Preiser is the 1944 issue by Karl Bohm with Vienna Opera forces. Both these earlier sets also employ Paul Schoffler as Sachs. Around 1950, three other complete recordings appeared, almost simultaneously. The first, as I recall, was issued by Urania, derived from a Dresden Staatsoper performance conducted by Rudolf Kempe. The others were an EMI set (still available on CD) recorded at the 1951 Bayreuth Festival under Karajan and the present Knappertsbusch.

This is about the longest operatic work in the standard repertoire, but it is also one of the most often recorded. I first became acquainted with the music from Bohm's Dresden Act III on 15 78-rpm discs, but the Knappertsbusch set on LPs, purchased 54 years ago, was my first complete recording.

It would be pleasing to bestow unqualified praise on it, for it is strongly cast and played by a great orchestra under a legendary Wagner conductor. Things are not that simple, however. First of all, there is the problem of Decca's 1951 ffrr sound. The initials mean "full frequency range recording", which in that era meant 50Hz to 14KHz. Fine, but it also relied on equalization that would make its high end sound good to listeners whose amplifiers were really poor- and there were lots of them.

Many record buyers in that era listened to their 78s and LPs using the audio systems of broadcast band radios. Since AM radio signals had to cut off at 5KHz in order to stay in the assigned frequency slots, most AM radios, even those equipped with record players, had poor response above 4KHz and died off gradually to essentially zero above about 8KHz. Dec­ca's fix was to boost their levels strongly above normal equalization required in the range 2 to 8 KHz Their records sounded fine on poor audio equipment, but very sharp, steely, and fizzy on really good equipment.

This Naxos release was remastered by Mark Obert-Thorn, one of the industry's most accomplished technologists. I can't imagine that he could be unaware of this ffir sonic oddity, but if he tried to restore its uneven frequency spectrum he has clearly not gone far enough, for the VPO's strings sound notably steely.

The famous Prelude to Act I is performed and recorded as poorly as any I can recall. At 8:38 it is much too fast, and orchestra balances are poorly managed, most conspicuously in the initial statement of the Guild motive at 1:34, where horns and trombones sound fuzzy, out of focus, and indistinct, and the trumpets are hardly there at all. There seems to be no mid-range in the sound, and the bass is boomy and way out of control. Once past the prelude the sound becomes somewhat better. The sonic quality of this recording is markedly infe­rior to the Bohm, recorded seven years earlier on tape for radio broadcast. Bohm's prelude (at 9:24) is in perfect tempo, well-balanced sonically, and much better in all respects.

This set employs a cast with no conspicuous weakness- actually quite outstanding. The Vienna Philharmonic plays well once past the prelude, the chorus is excellent, but the conductor, though his Wagnerian credentials are well-known, is slack, lackadaisical, insensitive, and in general well below his usual form.

Discover Music of the Twentieth Century

Various Artists


Review by Gimbel
American Record Guide, October 2006

This set, part of Naxos's ambitious "Discover" series, seeks to "demystify the whole subject of 'modern' music" in a "comprehensive and easily digestible" manner. There is a little over 2-1/2 hours of music on these CDs (all from the Naxos catalog), a 25,000 word (127 -page) essay by musicologist David McCleery, a timeline, glossary, maps, and ample photographs in the beautifully produced booklet. There are no examples in musical notation; the material is obviously geared to people with no musical background.

Let me state at the outset that this is an outstanding job. The musical selections and esthetic point of view are extremely fair-minded, remarkably free of prejudice, and meticulously researched. Mr McCleery's tone is engaging and non-academic, his prose readable and inviting. His worthy aim is to fight "intimidation" through "understanding", and his mission is accomplished with flying colors. I have taught this material at the university level for many years, and would have no problem using this set as an introductory resource.

Many today will wonder what "music of the 20th Century" requires "discovery": after all, music is all around us. McCleery calls the material collected here "great music" on p. 11 and "classical music" on p. 12. What this set actually deals with is "composed" music reproducible by performers skilled in instrumental and vocal techniques developed in post-renaissance Europe. There is no American popular music here, no rock, "alternative", rap, or any such music produced by modern commerce and aimed at adolescents. (The only exception is a pass at movie music with a sample of John Williams.) In other words, this is "Not-Pop" music (my term), and most of what this set documents will be new to most of the novice listeners to whom the release is presumably addressed. It's difficult for me to remember encountering any of this music for the very first time (at least the standard reper­toire pieces), but I can't imagine a clearer way of introducing such a potentially turbulent topic to willing listeners.

Disc 1 opens with a lovely performance of Debussy's Afternoon of a Faun and moves through three samples of the Second Viennese School, Ravel, and Stravinsky (Petrouchka and Pulcinella, but no Sacre), the English (Vaughan Williams and Britten), and some prominent Eastern European and Russian Nationalists (Janacek, Bartok, Prokofieff, Shostakovich). Disc 2 begins in America with Gershwin and John Williams; Ives acts as a bridge to the avant-garde (Varese and Cage for America; Messiaen, Boulez and Stockhausen for Europe).

Anti-modernist reactionaries are represented by Steve Reich (for minimalism), John Adams (for "postminimalism"), Tavener and Gorecki (for "holy minimalism"). The British neomodernists (the "Manchester group") get a hearing with a selection from Harrison Birtwistle and three pages on Peter Maxwell Davies. The set closes with a nod to distant shores, a little avant-garde flute piece from 1971 by Takemitsu.

It's easy to throw darts at a project like this, but I'd like to repeat that this really does a rea­sonable job at what it sets out to do. The booklet offers plenty of names for further exploration. Surely a more detailed text like Eric Salzman's 20th Century Music: an Introduction (Prentice-Hall) will build on what is offered here; more recent developments may be studied in texts like Kyle Gann's American Music in the 20th Century or this magazine, for that matter.

RUTTER, JOHN: Mass of the Children/ Shadows/ Wedding Canticle

Various Artists


Review by Greenfield
American Record Guide, October 2006

In his Mass for the Children, John Rutter incorporates a youth choir into the choral mix and assigns it extra-liturgical interludes, most notably Thomas Ken's 'Awake My Soul' in the Kyrie and William Blake's 'Little Lamb' in (where else?) the Agnus Dei. But, clocking in at just under 36 minutes, the Mass (Rutter's first­ever setting of the liturgy) is no Missa Brevis; each of the five sections lasts from 6 to 9 min­utes. Rutter skips the Credo. His Finale is a Dona Nobis Pacem that puts the soloists to work with sacred texts from the 5th and 16th centuries before superimposing 'Praise God, From Whom All Blessings Flow' from the children atop a choral Agnus Dei. It works very well-the most affecting portion of the Mass by far. Good things lurk elsewhere too, though grumpier souls will have to endure some glaringly bright orchestration (like the showbizzy opening of the Kyrie); a cuddly 'Little Lamb', and a foray or two into the soft-rock idiom to find them. (Speaking of which, the arpeggiated figure that opens the Sanctus might remind you of Chicago's golden oldie, 'Color My World'.) Inventory your spiritual tastes and act accordingly.

Composed for baritone and guitar, Shadows is Rutter's first and only song cycle. The more upbeat of the eight songs seem the most assured -Dowlandesque in a couple of cases- though there are things to like in the introspective ones, too. We've come to know Rutter so well chorally that it's odd to hear him as a writer of songs. But a melodist is a melodist, and Rutter is that in spades. The choir is joined by the guitar and flute for the short, gentle, rather innocuous Wedding Canticle inspired by the 128th Psalm .

Everything is brilliantly performed and caught in plush, colorful sound. Rutter is listed as both producer and engineer for this project, which makes me wonder if Naxos might consider bringing him in to consult on other releases. Choral sonics here have infinitely more presence than in, say, the Finzi Intimations (Naxos 8.557863) reviewed elsewhere in this issue. How blah those singers sound compared to these. Believe me, a Rutter on that rudder could only have helped.


Royal Swedish Airforce Band / Jerker Johansson


Review by Kilpatrick
American Record Guide, October 2006

An enjoyable program of 21 marches from many lands. Old favorites include Julius Fucik's 'Florentiner' and 'Entry of the Gladiators', Carl Teike's 'Old Comrades', JF Wagner's 'Under the Double Eagle', Alford's 'Colonel Bogey', Zimmermann's 'Anchors Aweigh', and Sousa's 'Liberty Bell'. This account of Johannes Hanssen's 'Valdres' has a lovely trumpet solo and little details I've never noticed before. Familiar pieces from the 19th Century are Schubert's 'Marche Militaire 1' and Gounod's 'Funeral March of a Marionette'. One of the more stirring marches (with a beautiful moment of chamber music at 0:41) is 'Prussia's Glory', by JF Piefke. Gershwin's 'Strike Up the Band' and Herbert's 'March of the Toys' are bright and full of personality. And then there are a slew of unfamiliar ones, including Schrammel's 'Vienna Will Always Be Vienna', Noack's 'Brownies Guard Parade', and Ganne's 'Marche Lorraine'.

The Royal Swedish Air Force Band is a fine outfit with excellent blend and dynamic range. Conductor Johansson's tempos are sometimes fast, as in 'Liberty Bell', but I like the fact that these marches go at different speeds.

Classical Music Reviews and Classical Music Write-ups–

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group