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ISSUE:  Summer 1977

In our tendency to focus on America’s largest and best-known orchestras, we too often overlook the country’s second-line ensembles, the abilities of which are amply evident in a trio of new releases. The Louisville Orchestra uses its less massive, more intimate sound to advantage in capturing the village-like atmosphere of Walter Piston’s exuberant ballet score The Incredible Flutist (Louisville LS-755). Milton Katims leads soloist Bela Siki and a full-sounding Seattle Symphony Orchestra in a vibrant, energetic performance of Robert Suderburg’s surprisingly accessible 1974 Piano Concerto (Odyssey Y-34140). And Sergiu Comissona conducts the players of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in an interpretation of Mendelssohn’s “Scotch” symphony that is notable for its forthrightness and clarity of line (Turn-about QTV-S 34604),

An event of major importance for American Elgarians is the appearance here of The Apostles and The Kingdom (Connoisseur CS3—2094; CS-2089), two full-length sections of a never completed post-Gerontius oratorio trilogy based on the lives of the Apostles. Far more adventurous than their predecessor in terms of musical expression and dramatic content, though lacking somewhat in the kind of emotional unity provided by Gerontius’s Cardinal Newman text, these two works were a marked departure for Elgar—one that foreshadowed many of his late-career orchestral compositions. Both sets feature committed English casts, with particularly fine singing by Sheila Armstrong in The Apostles and John Shirley-Quirk in The Kingdom, and the London Symphony Orchestra which, under Sir Adrian Boult’s direction, expertly delineates the composer’s striking leitmotifs.

Angel has added a third Delius opera to its catalog with the premiere recording of Fennimore & Gerda (SBLX-3825), an austere, fragmented work based on the writings of Danish novelist Jens Peter Jacobsen. Notable in 1920 for its bareboned musical and theatrical construction, the work today seems merely empty, capturing a feeling more of superficial broodiness than of the intended texture of philosophical melancholy. Robert Tear and Elisabeth S8derstrom do their best to bring emotional strength to the rather thin principal roles, and the Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra, under Meredith Davies, performs with appropriately grim determination.

Of all the promising recording projects of the past few months, few have turned out as disappointingly as Columbia’s taping of Berlioz’s massive Requiem at Les Invalides, Paris, where the composer premiered the work in 1836. The resultant disc (M2—34302) offers uncharacteristically bland singing by Stuart Burrows and the French Radio Chorus and uninspired playing by two orchestras, the French National and the French Radio Philharmonic. As conductor, Leonard Bernstein should have been able to extract far better from such a distinguished roster of principals.

Also disappointing are recordings of two liturgical works entering the catalog for the first time. Saint-SaSns’s Requiem Mass is a delightful blend of the stately and the lyrical with many effective moments, especially those written for mixed chorus. On its premiere disc (RCA AGL1—1968), the spacious sound and refined playing by the Orchestre Lyrique de 1’ORTF, with Jean-Gabriel Gaussens conducting, set off the work to best advantage, though the effort is marred by the pale singing of the French soloists, particularly tenor Francis Bardot. The second work, Alessandro Scarlatti’s Stabat Mater, is never especially moving in either the secular or musical senses, and the dispassionate performance it receives from Teresa Berganza and Mirella Freni doesn’t help (Archive 2533 324).

Listed among the new releases are several which feature familiar Russian orchestral works, Angel/Melodiya’s offering (SR-40273) includes a number of excerpts from Mussorgsky’s Kovanschina and Boris Godunov in adequate, though hardly exciting or persuasive performances by the USSR Symphony Orchestra directed by Yevgeny Svetlanov. Charles Mackerras and the New Philharmonia Orchestra fare far better in their reading of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, an interpretation that has all of the grandness we expect of this work without the usual display of heavy-handed dramatic affectation (Vanguard VCS 10116), Mackerras is also featured, this time with the London Symphony Orchestra, in a vigorous, rhythmically sure performance of Stravinsky’s 1911 scoring of Petrouchka (Vanguard VCS 10113).

Allan Petterson’s Concerto #1 for String Orchestra (1949) is a powerful work combining moody, dream-like passages and driving, Stravinskian rhythms that blend and shift to form a broad tonal canvas of exceptional beauty and vitality—precisely the type of composition that causes one to wonder why the works of this prolific contemporary Swedish composer have been but sporadically available in the United States. Stig Westerberg and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra perform it flawlessly on an imported disc that also features Elisabeth Söderström’s stunning interpretation of Ingvar Lidholm’s expressionistic Nausicaa alone (Caprice CAP-1110).

If they fall short of making an indelible impression, the dance suites that comprise Francois Couperin’s Concerts Royaux (1722) and Nouveau Concerts (1724) are, at least, pleasantly diverting works that reflect the composer’s attempted synthesis of French melodic line and the harmonic and rhythmic elements of the period’s Italian musical style. Instrumented to include viola, flute, and oboe, they are zestily performed on an Archive set (2712 003) by an excellent ensemble that includes Christiane Jacottet and Thomas Brandis.

Although neither the first nor the third movement of Samuel Barber’s 1936 String Quartet is of exceptional musical interest, the second movement “Adagio” has become a standard work in the American repertory in its string orchestra version, the haunting Adagio for Strings. The appearance of a recording of the seldom-recorded original work (RCA ARL1—1599) shows the unadorned “Adagio” to have an appealing simplicity of line that compares favorably with its more familiar counterpart. Unfortunately, the performance it receives from the Cleveland Quartet is both colorless and timid, missing at every turn the music’s dramatic possibilities. In a general sense, the disc’s flaws are also those of the group’s more recent handling, with Philip Stoltzman, of Brahms’s op. 115 Clarinet Quintet (RCA ARL1—1993).

A number of discs offering unfamiliar and infrequently performed music are now available, one of which features a collection of works for tuba, including Walter Ross’s Fancy Dances for Three Tubas (1972), performed with impressive control and rhythmic verve by the New York Tuba Ensemble (Crystal S-221). Though it occupies but a small space within the composer’s oeuvre, the piano music of Bedrich Smetana shares with his better-known orchestral works a pastoral charm and nationalistic sensibility. A number of these pieces, including Reveries, appear on a Citadel release (CT 6010) performed with grace and obvious commitment by Antonin Kubalek. Pianist Paul Jacobs’s sequel to his recording of Debussy’s neglected Etudes is a similar, though far less interesting collection of study pieces by, among others, Stravinsky, Bartok, and Messiaen. As on the earlier disc, the performances are polished and impressively assured (None-such H-71334).

Examples of music “A due con”—for two choirs of instruments—are found on two new releases. Handel’s double concertos #1 in B-flat and #3 in F are combined with the overtures to “Agrippina” and “Arianna” and given an attractive light texture by Neville Marriner and the durable Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields Orchestra (Angel S-37176). The second disc offers a selection of Vivaldi’s concertos in which parts for organ, flute, oboe, and harpsichord are specified. The spirited performances in this case are by the Orchestre de Chambre Paul Kuentz and organist André Isoir (DG 2530 652).

The 1929 Dance Symphony may never attain great stature among Aaron Copland’s works but repeated hearings show it to be a marvelous early work, full of youthful vigor, and clearly marked with signs of the eclectic fusion of rhythmic motifs and melodic lyricism that characterize the composer’s later ballet scores. Morton Gould’s 1965 reading of this work with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, one of the first recorded performances, is a surprisingly sonic one with plenty of punch. It’s coupled with Gould’s own Spirituals for Orchestra on a recent RCA reissue (AGL1-1965).

Amazingly, in the matter of Haydn’s op. 50 “Prussian” quartets, the Tokyo String Quartet’s recent issue (DG 2709 060) has the stereo field all to itself. An ensemble that has improved immeasurably since their initial recordings for DG, the TSQ is at its respective and collective best here, with radiant-toned soloistic work and superb articulation that gently but incisively underscores the line without exaggeration—elements that bring to the fore all of the color and atmosphere of Haydn’s music,

Given that Handel’s Messiah has been shaped countless times to suit individual performance needs over the years, it is not surprising that someone has at last pieced together a score based on the one Handel used at the premiere in 1743. For the most part, the differences between this version and contemporary scores are minor, although a small amount of previously deleted music has been restored and some familiar passages have been extended, reduced, or eliminated, changes that will predictably appeal to or distress listeners according to personal taste and preference, Aside from all this, the performance here is undeniably sterling, with Neville Marriner leading the Academy of St, Martin-in-the-Fields Orchestra & Chorus in comfortably brisk tempos, and Elly Ameling and Philip Langridge, among others, providing glorious, in fact definitive soloistic efforts (Argo D18D3).

Rarely heard music by American composers is offered on four recent issues. Orion has the premiere recording of Arthur Foote’s engagingly tuneful Sonata for Violin & Piano (1890) in a serviceable performance by Arthur Gratovich and Regis Benoit (ORS-76243). Works for concert band by six individuals, including Persichetti and Piston, are superbly delineated by the Eastman Wind Ensemble under Frederick Fennell (Mercury SRI-75086). Charles Griffes’s Sonata, Robert Nathaniel Dett’s In the Bottom, and Charles Ives’s Three-page Sonata comprise a recording of early 20th-century piano music played with precision by Clive Lythgoe (Philips 9500 096). And Deems Taylor’s slyly humorous work of programmatic puffery, Through the Looking Glass (1923), is performed by the Eastman Rochester Symphony Orchestra under Howard Hanson, one of a number of long-deleted Mercury recordings being reissued on the Eastman Rochester Archives label (ERA-1008).

Sir Adrian Boult continues his long association with the music of Ralph Vaughn Williams on two Angel collections, one of which (S-37211) features the only currently available version of the 1950 Concerto Grosso— an evocative, if repetitive piece possessed of the composer’s typically strong dynamic contrasts and high tremolandi, though without the usual sustained melodic interest—and a performance of the Partita for Double String Orchestra that is superior in tempo and sonics to Boult’s 1959 reading for London. The London Symphony Orchestra, heard on the first disc, alternates with the London Philharmonic on the second (S-37276) which gathers together solid performances of several standard Vaughn Williams works, including the English Folk Song Suite and the Fantasia on the “Old 104th” Psalm Tune,

That Bernard Haitink seems to have had some reservations about recording the Beethoven symphonic cycle is evidenced by his remark that the present effort marks not his final interpretation but, rather, merely his interpretation as of this moment in his career. Sadly, his candor in this matter is well-taken, for the resultant performances (Philips 6747 307) are unremarkable—expansively lyrical, though almost totally lacking in dramatic emphasis in tempo and phrasing. This sense of inelasticity, in combination with the legato playing and mundane soloistic work of the London Symphony Orchestra, limits the set’s expressive range to the unsatisfying area between the ineffectual and the unconvincing.

One may likewise detect a certain lack of drive in Colin Davis’s recordings, with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, of Beethoven’s 4th and 6th symphonies (Philips 9500 032; 6500 463), though it is impossible to quibble seriously with the overall exquisite expressiveness of these readings. In another single disc issue, Carlos Kleiber leads the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra in an interpretation of Beethoven’s 7th symphony in which drama and beauty have been sacrificed for the excitement of furious tempos (DG 2530 706).

The late Bernard Herrmann, though he was known chiefly for his enormously successful film scores, was also a composer of music in the more traditional forms, an excellent sampling of which appears on a collection entitled “A Garland of the Seasons” (Unicorn RHS 340). Included are The Fantasticks, a somber song cycle based on the poetry of the Elizabethan Nicolas Breton, movingly performed with a proper sense of introspection by Gillian Humphries and Michael Rippon, and the World War II berceuse, For the Fallen, with the composer leading the National Philharmonic Orchestra. Very English and very satisfying.

We have never lacked for excellent readings of the Tchaikovsky symphonies, so it is not surprising that Antal Dorati’s recordings of the first three of those works with the London Symphony Orchestra (Mercury SRI-77009), though well-sculpted, fail to measure up to the fiery versions by, for example, Bernstein and Rozhdesvensky. Dorati is also heard in an agreeable, if not terribly adventurous performance of the complete score of The Nutcracker with the Amsterdam Concertgebrouw Orchestra (Philips 6747 257). Neville Marriner’s Tchaikovsky entry is a cloyingly lush interpretation of the Serenade in E for Strings with the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields Orchestra (Argo ZRG 848).

Though they are actually pressed and printed in the United States, ABC’s Seon recordings—acquired from German Seon, an outfit specializing in music of the period 1500 to 1800—have the physical appearance of high-quality European imports, right down to their trilingual liner notes. Only the list price is recognizably native, at several dollars less than what the real article would cost. Musically, the quality of these new issues is a bit more variable, though there are several unqualified gems, including a poignant performance of John Blow’s 1696 Ode on the Death of Mr. Henry Purcell, with James Bowman, René Jacobs, and members of the Leonhardt Consort (ABCL-67004), and Eugen Dombois’s elegant recital of Baroque lute works by, among others, J. S. Bach and Sylvius Weiss (ABCL-67006).

    David Litchfield Smith


Shostakovich’s Second Concerto for Cello and Orchestra was composed only seven years after the completion of his first cello concerto, yet they are totally different works. The earlier piece is eloquent and emotional, with both soloist and orchestra as integral agents of the musical dialogue. The later work, now available in a bravura performance by Mstislav Rostropovich, with the Boston Symphony Orchesta conducted by Seiji Ozawa (DG 2530 653), is highly formal and unemotional, with the orchestra relegated to the role of accompaniment while the soloist displays his technical virtuosity. There is simply not another cellist in the world who can show off the versatility of the cello as well as Rostropovich, who waltzes through the most incredibly difficult pyrotechnics as if they were all in first position.

Rostropovich’s skill as a conductor is evidenced by his impassioned interpretation of Shostakovich’s Symphony No.14 (Columbia/Melodiya M-34507), an intense work that is less a symphony than a set of orchestrated songs and dances of death. Galina Vishnevskaya is at her best here, displaying that beautifully pellucid sound which made her one of the Soviet Union’s leading sopranos, and Mark Reshetin is powerful and commanding as bass soloist. The performance as a whole is rough-hewn and seems more authentically macabre than the more refined Ormandy-Curtin-Estes version, now available in a boxed set (RCA CRL3—1284) with the Symphonies Nos.13 and 15.

Shostakovich’s fifth and tenth symphonies provide dramatic examples of the major turning points in the composer’s life. The fifth, written the year after official vilification of his opera Lady Macbeth of Mtensk, and subtitled “A Soviet artist’s answer to just criticism,” marks a complete adoption of the populist principles which characterized acceptable Soviet music. The tenth symphony, on the other hand, written just after Stalin’s death and the subsequent liberalization of artistic expression, is generally acknowledged to be a highly emotional depiction in experimental musical forms of the ordeals Shostakovich experienced between 1938 and 1948. Both these symphonies have been recorded by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, with Paavo Berglund conducting. Berglund’s interpretation of the Symphony No.5 (Angel S-37279) is competent, but he offers no new insights into this familiar score. His version of the Symphony No.10 (Angel S-37280), though, is energetic and ardent, alternatingly elegaic and ferocious as the music demands.

Karl Böhm, on the other hand, seems not up to the task of bringing the four Brahms symphonies to life (DG 2711 017). Bohm’s tempi are unendurably lethargic, and the music simply loses all its momentum. The Vienna Philharmonic sounds here as if its members all suffered from severe anemia. Fritz Reiner’s more energetic performance of Brahms’ Symphony No.4 (RCA AGL1—1961) is ruined by some very sloppy playing by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Equally as energetic and equally as sloppy is Leopold Stokowski’s recent recording with the National Philharmonic Orchestra of Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No.3 and the orchestral version of the Vocalise (Desmar DSM-1007).

Three magnificent recordings of classic performances figure among the highlights of this year’s releases. ABC has reissued Hermann Scherchen’s fervent reading of Haydn’s The Seven Last Words of Christ (Westminster Gold WGS-8342). Scherchen’s heavily dramatic approach to this work may seem too earnestly solemn for listeners accustomed to a more Classical approach to Haydn’s music, but he milks every line, every phrase, every note for its last iota of passion yet without being melo-dramatic. The solo, ensemble, and choral singing as well as the orchestral playing by the Vienna State Opera Orchestra are uniformly excellent. Jascha Horenstein’s controversial performance of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No.6 is now available in America on Vanguard (VCS 10114). In Horenstein’s unusually understated interpretation, the pathos that lies at the core of this work becomes an agony of the tormented soul and not just an outpouring of the lonely heart. Finally, on RCA (AVM1-2019) is a truly legendary 1928 performance of Richard Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben by Willem Mengelberg and the New York Philharmonic-Symphony. This is simply one of the most excitingly exuberant recordings of all time, with both Mengelberg and the orchestra at their best.

RCA has also issued a five-record set of Arturo Toscanini’s only recordings with the Philadelphia Orchestra, made in 1941-42 (CRM5—1900). The set includes performances of Schubert’s Symphony No. 9, the complete incidental music to Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6, Debussy’s La Mer and Ibéria, Respighi’s Feste Romane, and Strauss’s Death and Trans-figuration. The Philadelphia Orchestra never played with either the precision or the energy of the NBC Symphony, and much of the breathless excitement that comes from the perfection of Toscanini’s collaborations with the NBC Symphony is missing on these discs. This is made all the more unfortunate by the creativity of these interpretations, which for the most part exhibit a greater freedom and expansiveness than Toscanini’s later recordings.

Columbia has reissued the Budapest Quartet’s historic performances of Haydn’s Opus 76 string quartets (Y3-33324), recorded at the Library of Congress in 1954. The Opus 76 quartets comprise the most emotionally mature, most structurally complex works in the catalogue of Haydn’s chamber music, and require from performers both an extraordinary sense of grace and a unity of stylistic approach. Both qualities characterize these discs, recorded at the height of the Budapest Quartet’s career. Few chamber groups can play with such precision and cohesiveness.

Of all the current chamber groups, perhaps the Guarneri Quartet best exemplifies that cohesiveness and unity once associated with the Budapest, but the Guarneri plays with a fullness and warmth that is far more suitable to Romantic than to Classical music. Their recordings of Mozart’s six quartets dedicated to Haydn, available now in a boxed set (RCA CRL3—1988), provide lush, emotional performances of works which would have benefited from a somewhat less ponderous interpretation. However, their Romantic style is completely appropriate for Schubert’s Quartet No.14, “ Death and the Maiden,” (RCA ARL1—1994). Also on RCA (ARL1—1882) is a reading of Schubert’s Trout Quintet by Tashi, a performance which contains some interesting moments but which is too disorganized to be effective.

Ivan Moravec continues his catalogue of Chopin piano recordings with a recital of mazurkas, nocturnes, and preludes on Connoisseur (CS-2122). His performances are clean and exciting; but while he displays a nice sense of melodic line, he does not carry the sweep of that line through extended phrases, choosing instead to delineate smaller musical ideas. The end result is that, although individual parts of the performance are quite satisfying, the performance as a whole lacks unity. Yakov Flier’s Chopin recital (Westminster Gold WGS-8341), his first recording issued in America, provides quite a contrast to Moravec’s. Flier’s approach to Chopin is far more understated and introverted than is typical and is gratifyingly free of the adolescent Sturm und Drang emotionality which mars so many interpretations of Chopin’s music.

There is always the danger with four-hand piano music that the listener will find himself lulled to sleep by a monotonous sameness of sound, unrelieved by technical fireworks. This is emphatically not the case with DG’s recording (2530 710) of Brahms’s Hungarian Dances Nos.1—21 as performed by Alfons and Aloys Kontarsky.

The Kontarskys play with an almost orchestral sound, coaxing a wide range of effects and nuances from the piano. Their ensemble is remarkable, and they command a wonderful sense of timing and phrasing. Their performance is carefully thought out in every detail but displays a refreshingly spontaneous and folksy flavor.

Claus Adam, a cellist himself, should have been able to write a concerto that exploits more of the instrument’s possibilities than does the one recorded by Stephen Kates and the Louisville Orchestra under the direction of Jorge Mester (Louisville LS-745). The work is so busy, so full of notes and clusters of jumpy intervals that despite Kates’s gutsy rendition it sounds entirely monochromatic. The other side of this disc holds a performance of Samuel Barber’s Die Natali, a glorified medley of everybody’s favorite Christmas carols, with fancy rhythms and a few dissonances thrown in for good measure.

In the Baroque period, there were prescribed harmonic and rhythmic devices for the expression of emotion, and one would expect a performance of Baroque music to attempt to reflect these critical stylistic features. However, the presentation on Oryx (3C 313) of six of Alessandro Scarlatti’s lovely and little heard sinfonias for winds and strings, with the Paris Instrumental Ensemble under the direction of Charles Ravier, while lyrical enough, displays little sense of the rhythmic pulse, harmonic structure, and dynamic variations which would have brought a sense of drama and excitement to the music.

Suor Angelica is certainly one of Puccini’s least interesting operas, a work of maudlin sentiment which requires two strong singers who can sing both beautifully and dramatically. A new version on Columbia (M-34505) comprises what is without doubt the finest recorded version of this work. Marilyn Home brings a remarkable forcefulness to the role of the princess, and Renata Scotto sings the title role with a warmth and depth that raises Suor Angelica above the level of cardboard caricature. Lorin Maazel conducts with a magnificent sense of architecture and orchestral coloration.

Marilyn Home and Renata Scotto are also featured in the world premiere recording of Meyerbeer’s Le Prophète (Columbia M 4—34340), and once again their singing is dramatically effective as well as lyrical. James McCracken, as the charismatic revolutionary, and Jerome Hines, as the Anabaptist agitator, are both in fine voice. Unfortunately, however, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra sounds flaccid under the direction of Henry Lewis.

Contemporary American operas are recorded so infrequently that the release of the Kansas City Lyric Theater’s performance of Jack Beeson’s romantic comedy, Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines (RCA ARL2—1727), is a special treat. Though Beeson is best known as a composer of tragic character portraits—Lizzie Borden and Carry Nation, for example—in Captain Jinks he has created a clever, unpretentious work of ebullient frivolity. Carol Wilcox’s singing in the role of Aurelia Trentoni is lyrical and lovely; Robert Owen Jones is an appropriately likeable and spirited Jonathan Jinks; the whole performance has a captivating charm.

One of the most prominent features of Verdi’s operatic scores is the plethora of minute musical directions by which the singers are instructed exactly how to produce specific emotional effects required by the text. But these details are often extremely difficult to observe accurately, and more often than not performers overlook the composer’s specifications in their pursuit of a beautiful sound. One singer today manages to accomplish both. Sherrill Milnes, performing the title role in Angel’s new Macbeth (SCLX-3833) and the role of Don Carlo in RCA’s La Forza del Destino (ARL4—1864), pays careful attention to every detail in the score, thereby adding immeasurably to the depth and realism of his characterizations. His singing is always sensitive and musical; and although he tenses up during passages in the higher tessitura, his is a beautiful, well-controlled instrument. Regrettably, the same cannot be said of his leading ladies on these discs. Fiorenza Cossotto makes a very unpleasant Lady Macbeth. She pays little attention to specifics in the score and produces a painfully shrill sound. As Preziosilla, on the RCA disc, her shrillness is compounded by flat high notes and a very noticeable break in vocal registers. Leontyne Price, as Leonora in La Forza, fares somewhat better. Although hampered by muddy diction and inconsistent singing, she is always musical and often produces marvelously lush or shimmering sounds. The remaining casts of both recordings do a fine job, with RCA’s Domingo singing especially well. As one would expect from conductor James Levine, the London Symphony Orchestra plays a more prominent, more dramatic role in La Forza than does the New Philharmonia Orchestra under Riccardo Muti in Macbeth,

Of the many recordings of solo vocal recitals that have appeared recently, four discs of rarities are especially intriguing. Janet Baker has recorded thirteen arias from the operas of Christoph Willibald von Gluck (Philips 9500 023), a composer of great importance in the historical development of opera whose music is unfortunately underrepresented in the recordings catalogue. Indeed, Baker’s recital is presently the only disc devoted exclusively to Gluck’s arias. This is extraordinarily moving music, and Baker eloquently captures the different emotions of each aria. Selections from 19th-century French operas comprise a Columbia recording (M-34206) featuring the young American mezzo-so-prano, Frederica von Stade, whose voice is equally well-suited to both lyrical and florid passages. Russian singing at its finest can be found on a Westminster Gold recording of soprano Irina Arkhipova performing excerpts from Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Tsar’s Bride and The Snow Maiden (WGS-8333), originally recorded in 1963, when her voice had a pureness of tone and a sensuousness that is all too rare. One of the most promising young tenors of our time, Jose Carreras, is represented by his first solo disc, a recording of Italian operatic rarities by Verdi, Bellini, Donizetti, Mercadante, and Ponchielli (Philips 9500 203). Carreras sings with a verve and electricity that bring even the most pedestrian cavatina-cabaletta to life.

Not so appealing, however, is a recent recording of highlights from Puccini’s Tosco, featuring tenor Vladimir Atlantov and soprano Tamara Milashkina (Columbia/Melodiya M-34516), Atlantov made a giant splash in the United States when he appeared as Lensky in Eugen Onegin during the Bolshoi Opera’s first American tour two years ago. It is difficult, listening to this recording, to tell why. Certainly, the instrument he possesses has a sheen and a vibrancy that characterize the best tenor voices, but he sings with an amazing array of bad habits. Hardly a single note is hit cleanly or in tune, the only emotion he seems capable of expressing is that of a sobbing child, and musical finesse and style are almost completely lacking. Milashkina also has a lovely voice, but she is just as given to indiscriminate scooping as Atlantov. A thoroughly unpleasant experience.

Paula Robison’s interpretations of the complete Sonatas for Flute and Harpsichord and the Partita for Solo Flute by Johann Sebastian Bach (Vanguard VSD 71215/6) may be too Romantically expansive and lyrical for some tastes, but she plays with such a beautiful sense of melodic line, rhythmic proportion and structural architecture, with such a firm sense of intelligent musicality, that it is hard not to be totally captivated. Miss Robison may not play on a gold flute, but she certainly has a Midas touch.

    —Stephanie and Stanley Walens


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