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ISSUE:  Winter 1983

Ricardo Muti is a responsive exponent of Tchaikovsky’s music in his masterly account of the Manfred Symphony with the Philharmonia Orchestra (Angel DS-37752). Here is playing with real muscle, nobility, and fire—all in the right proportions.

Listeners will be stirred in a different way by The Tango Project (Nonesuch D-79030), a homage to the Latin American dance that had its heyday in the first half of this century. Visions of Vernon and Irene Castle and of Rudolph Valentine are summoned up by this baker’s dozen collection, of which “Jalousie” is the most familiar item. Michael Sahl, who arranged the music, fronts an ensemble consisting of strings, piano, and accordian.

The waltz is one of the oldest and most durable dance forms, and it’s celebrated in the first of a series of LP’s entitled Famous Waltzes (Philips 6514 067). Featured are composers familiar—Lanner, von Weber, and Josef Strauss—and unfamiliar—Ivanovici, Komzak, and Ziehrer—played to perfection by the Orchestra of the Vienna Volksoper led by Franz Bauer-Theussl.

Among Benjamin Britten’s works, neither the opera Gloriana nor the ballet The Prince of the Pagodas has entered the standard repertory. Luckily we have the suites from both works, which are accessible and musically inventive. In new performances by Uri Segal and the Bournemouth Symphony, we hear full measure of their verve and expressive warmth (Angel DS-37882).

Tashi’s recordings are consistently interesting, and the latest (RCA ARL1—4328) is no exception. The Weber Clarinet Quintet, Opus 34, has been recorded often, yet Tashi’s version makes it sound new, giving it a sparkle and freshness uniquely its own. Two works new to us round out the disc. Ingolf Dahl’s Concerto a Tre (1947) has a distinctive rhythmic swagger that recalls Stravinsky. Its broad range of colors and direct appeal are shared by Bill Douglas” Celebration II (1978), which has an ingratiating spontaneity.

Mahler’s Symphony No. 7 is a tricky fusion of some of his most lyrical and most densely constructed music. With the London Philharmonic, Klaus Tennstedt’s eloquent reading (Angel DSB-3908) offers an unerring sense of the score’s long line and of the continuity between and within movements. The James Levine/Chicago Symphony Orchestra version (RCA ATC24245) has many of the same qualities, seeming to linger even less over details and developing a slightly greater sense of orchestral power and momentum.

Eleven ceremonial pieces for large brass ensemble comprise Festive Brass, new from the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble (Argo ZRG-912). Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man, probably the best-known work in this genre, receives a top-notch digital workout, as does the “Sokol Fanfare” from Janáček’s Sinfonietta, the collection’s other standard item. The lessfamiliar works—from Franck to Britten— are consistently interesting, and the performances are authoritative.

Bellini’s La Sonnambula is a marvelous piece of operatic silliness permeated with a bountiful stock of tunes and melodies. The new all-star recording, featuring Sutherland, Pavarotti, and Ghiaurov, hits the mark on all accounts, with superb singing and a robust performance by the National Philharmonic led by Richard Bonynge (London LDR5—73004).

The Boccherini Ensemble finds much to admire in two of their namesake’s quintets (Nonesuch D-79025). Their playing is distinctive and especially sensitive in phrasing, with great warmth in the melodious Quintet No. 52 in A and true repose in the deeper-hued No. 19 in C Minor.

Saint-Saëns was one of the first French composers to embrace the symphonic poem as a musical form. His Danse Macabre, depicting Death playing a fiddle amidst clacking skeleton bones in a churchyard, is a repertory standard and one of his most popular works. Le Rouet d’Omphale, La Jeunesse d”Hercule, and Phaéton take their inspiration from classical legends, while the Marche Héroique honors a war hero friend of the composer. All five have plenty to say under the alert direction of Charles Dutoit at the podium of the Philharmonia Orchestra (London CS-7204).

Martinu’s final opera, The Greek Passion, is an accessible work with an intelligent libretto (in English) based on a novel of religious obsession by Nikos Kazantzakis. With Julietta and Ariadne, it is one of his three best works in this form. It offers some extremely attractive music, and a new production from the inventive Welsh National Opera, Sir Charles Mackerras conducting, shows it to best advantage (Supraphon 1116 3611/22).

Frederica von Stade’s new recital LP (CBS M-37231) has a delightful range and depth, and her singing is characterized by gorgeous tone and sensitivity to nuance. Ravel’s Cinq mélodies populaires grecques and two Canteloube songs, “Brezairola” and “L’aio de rotso,” are among our favorites, and the album also introduced us to several attractive songs by Richard Hundley and Virgil Thomson. The lively traditional Irish song “The Leprechaun” makes an upbeat ending, Martin Katz provides excellent accompaniment, and the digital recorded sound is clean and clear.

Virgil Thomson has been writing musical portraits of friends and acquaintances for more than 40 years, and last year, to celebrate his 85th birthday, 25 of these unique works were put to disc (Nonesuch D-79024). Most of them are vignettes for unaccompanied piano or violin, performed here by Paul Jacobs and Joseph Silverstein. On a larger scale, and more ambitious, is the Family Portrait for Brass Quintet, a technically demanding piece given a extroverted reading by the American Brass Quintet.

For many conductors, mastering the structural and expressive essences of Delius’ music remains an elusive goal. Beecham’s recordings set the pace and remain in a class by themselves. With the Royal Philharmonic, Richard Hickox creates a contemporary standard in two Delius works (Argo ZRG-934). The tableau Sea Drift, with a text by Walt Whitman, finds the full bloom of its inner detail and is well sung by John Shirley-Quirk. Appalachia shows Hickox’s formidable technical control over the score’s disparate musical threads and his ability to develop dark moods without losing the work’s symphonic breadth.

Handel’s Xerxes is a wonderful, humorous opera with a tangled plot concerning the lovers Romilda and Arsamene and those who would drive them apart, notably Arsamene’s brother, Xerxes. It deserves a better fate on disc than that provided by Jean-Claude Malgoire and his Grande Écurie et la Chambre du Roy, a production using period instruments, adhering to strict “authentic” performance practices, and lacking any semblence of real emotion (CBS M3—36914).

In contrast, the recordings of Christopher Hogwood and his Academy of Ancient Music consistently demonstrate that it is possible to capture the flavor of “authentic” performances without alienating contemporary audiences. Newly released are two volumes in their Purcell Theatre Music series. Volume Five offers incidental music from The Double Dealer, The Richmond Heiress, The Rival Sisters, Henry the Second, and Tyrannic Love (L”Oiseau Lyre DSLO-561). Volume Two features music from The Alchemist and Comus (L’Oiseau Lyre DSLO-598). In both cases, the performances, on period instruments, are vital and alive.

Neville Marriner and the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields give us not one but nine nights at the opera in the form of Mozart overtures (Angel DS-37879). From Così to Zauberflöte, the music is irresistible, and the performances are an amalgam of grace and charm.

Violinist Gidon Kremer is a master of the unexpected. His recording of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto (Philips 6514 075) is strongly accented and often electrifying. The use of the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields instead of a full-sized orchestra is an imaginative touch that gives the score a refreshing lightness without loss of the music’s lyrical power. The cadenzas, however, are a rude surprise. These grotesqueries were written by contemporary Russian composer Alfred Schnittke, and their appearance here is an unfortunate miscalculation.

There is much to commend the new LP by flutist Jean-Pierre Rampal (CBS M-37276). Dvoř´k’s Sonata in G was writ small in America for two of the composer’s children, though there’s nothing at all undeveloped or immature in the music, as performed in a sweetly expressive transcription for flute and piano. Nineteentwenties Paris jazz is the mood of Martinu’s Sextet (1929), of which we hear the lively third movement. And in a more contemporary work, Jindrich Feld’s Flute Sonata (1957), Rampal’s full array of technical skills are put to the test. John Steele Ritter is the accompanist.

The Symphony No. 14 is one of the least successful issues in Bernard Haitink’s Shostakovich cycle (London LDR-71032). The playing of the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra is extremely fine without getting beneath the surface of the music, and the interpretation has an orderliness and refinement the composer never intended. Julia Varady is in good voice, while Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau is not. The poems have been recast from the intended Russian to their original languages, accomplishing nothing.

Czech composer Zdenek Fibich was a contemporary of Smetana and Dv&ocaron;ŕak who was less influenced by them than he was by Wagner. His opera Sarka (1896) is a strongly characterized piece based on a Bohemian epic tale of a woman warrior. Though the work has its own distinctive voice, it’s not hard to find the Wagnerian influences. Jan Stych conducts the Brno State Philharmonic and a regional cast in a committed performance (Supraphon 1416 2781/3).

André Previn’s Ravel recordings for EMI are an impressive series. New is his Daphnis et Chloé (Angel DS-37868), in which clarity and emotional depth are emphasized more than luminosity. Ravel’s “children’s” opera, L’Enfant et les Sortilages, surrenders its sweet magic in Previn’s appropriately straightforward account featuring Jules Bastin and Jane Berbie, among other soloists (Angel DS-37869). The London Symphony performs on both discs.

New releases from ECM Records are always among the first to be heard in our house. New from the Pat Metheny group is Offramp (ECM 1—1218), a lyrical pastiche propelled by Metheny’s stylish guitar work on a battery of instruments, including the exotic synclavier. One of the pleasures of the ECM catalogue is its inventive pairings of its diverse artists. To Be Continued (ECM 1—1192) offers the effective collaboration of guitarist Terje Rypdal, Weather Report bassist Miroslav Vitous, and drummer Jack de Johnette in one of the best fusion records we’ve heard. Using recorded overlays and minimalist techniques, guitarist Steve Tibbets and percussionist Marc Anderson create the illusion of a much larger ensemble in the haunting Northern Song (ECM 1-1218). Both Codona 2 (ECM 1-1177) and Dawn Dance (ECM 1-1198) feature the chamber music sensibilities of Colin Walcott, whose compositions echo his work a decade ago with the Winter Consort, Another Consort veteran is Paul McCandless, now a featured player with Gallery (ECM 1-1206). Eventyr (ECM 1-1200) balances Jan Garbarek’s penetrating sax work with the smooth guitar playing of John Abecrombie, interwoven with the berimbau and other unusual percussion instruments played by Nana Vasconcelos. And on another LP, Folk Songs (ECM 1-1170), Garbarek is similarly tempered by the warmth generated by guitarist Egberto Gismonti for a fascinating disc also featuring bassist Charlie Haden.

Like the Mikrokosmos, Bartók’s 44 Duos for Two Violins (1931) were written as teaching aids. Their folk music roots are everywhere evident, and most of them are delightful, if difficult to digest at one sitting. Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman perform on Angel SZ-37540.

The peasant music Bartók and Kodaly field-collected in their native land found its way into their subsequent compositions but is seldom heard in its original form. The volume of songs they published in 1906 and the second volume, never published, are now performed in authentic style by soprano Terezia Csajbok, with pianist Lorant Szucs (Hungaroton SLPX-12114). Even more unusual a release is Hungaroton’s series offering performances, lectures, radio interviews, and private family recordings—virtually everything of Bartók’s ever recorded. Volume One (LPX-12326/33) features the commercial recordings, the piano rolls, and the live recordings, while Volume Two (LPX-12334/38) has the rare and more specialized material.

Tenor Robert White has recorded a wide range of material and has a special gift for the kind of Irish songs popularized by John McCormack. He’s caught up short, however, in performing the, songs that made his father a celebrity as the radio era’s “SilverMasked Tenor.” “My Blue Heaven” and the collection’s twelve other songs have rarely sounded as studied and over-orchestrated as in this collaboration with arranger Dick Hyman (RCA NFL1-8005).

A lighter touch guides violinist Stephane Grapelli and guitarist Martin Taylor in We’ve Got the World on a String (Angel DS-37886), a collection of romantic chestnuts evocative of tea at the Palm Court of the Plaza.

Although one doesn’t usually associate Sir Georg Solti with the music of Haydn, his new recordings, with the London Philharmonic, of the Miracle and Clock symphonies are spirited and direct in their appeal, if somewhat on the cool side (London LDR-71044). A conductor more closely associated with Haydn’s music is Neville

Marriner, whose Academy of St. Martin-inthe-Fields captures not only the Haydn symphonies’ élan but also their unique expressive warmth, most recently in the Symphonies Nos. 6—8 (Philips 6514 076).

Versatile pianist Ruth Laredo appears on two new LP’s. On Nonesuch D-79032 she performs three of Samuel Barber’s six works for solo piano. She gives plenty of intensity to the Sonata, Opus 26, one of Barber’s strongest works of any type, and there’s no lack of tenderness in the introspective Souvenirs or in the haunting Nocturne. Her sensitivity in these works is matched in her collection of Ravel piano pieces, consisting of Miroirs, La Valse, and Sonatine (CBS M-36734), each of which receives a reading of considerable subtlety and finesse.

As Chinese music begins to recover from the Cultural Revolution, China’s musicians are looking to their musical heritage as a source of inspiration. Many Westerners are unfamiliar with traditional Chinese music, which can be heard on Phases of the Moon (CBS M-36705), recorded in China by the China Record Company. Various artists are featured, but most of the selections are played by the Traditional Instruments Orchestra of the Central Conservatory. The music is uneven, but there’s nothing here that’s truly dull. The playing in any case is uniformly dazzling, and the disc offers an opportunity to hear such colorful and unusual instruments as the dizi, the erhu, and the wooden fish.

Aldo Ceccato conducts the Bamberg Symphony in a trio of seldom-heard works by Glazunov (Arabesque 8091). The familiar strains of “The Song of the Volga Boatman” open the tone poem Stenka Razin, written in honor of Borodin and depicting the Cossack hero of Russian folklore. In Memory of Gogol is a slight piece of music, but The Kremlin, honoring Mussorgsky, quotes Russian folk songs and is as festive and colorful as a summer fair.


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