The Itzhak Perlman/Gennady Rozhdesvetsky collaborations in the Prokofiev Violin Concertos are interpretations that truly scale the heights. Perlman’s strong characterizations couple a taut rhythmic vitality with a sure sense of the music’s lyric line, while the BBC Symphony Orchestra gets a rather lighter mood but maintains the composer’s often gruff swagger. A delicate balancing act that succeeds on all levels (Angel DS-37800).
The contemporary music of Swiss-born Andreas Vollenweider forms an aural collage that’s definitely more than the sum of its elemental ingredients. Playing a harp electronically altered to heighten its harmonic and rhythmic capabilities, he manages a variety of dazzling effects, alternately buoyant and meditative. What sounds like a bass player on Behind the Garden, Behind the Wall, Under the Tree (CBS FM-37793) is actually Vollenweider on the electric harp, sparingly augmented by synthesizer, percussion, and a touch of birdsong. A nice discovery.
Additional new music is found on a disc by flutist Ransom Wilson (Angel DS-37338). Minimalist composer Steve Reich’s Vermont Counterpoint is a mesmerizing piece in which the soloist plays against prerecorded tracks of eleven other instruments. Philip Glass’ Facades warms to Wilson’s arrangement in which the flute replaces the soprano sax. And Frank Becker’s Stonehenge, an attractive amalgam of musical effects for flute, synthesizer, and percussion, is atmospheric and gently persuasive.
The Fitzwilliam Quartet performs music of Sibelius and Delius on London CS-7238. Sibelius’ Quartet in D minor was the only full-scale chamber work he wrote during his maturity. The music is often intense and generally spare and inward-looking, though not in the manner of his best-known works. It gets a reading of real commitment, as does the Delius Quartet, which is gently ruminative but forgettable, save for the movement “Late Swallows,” familiar from the orchestrated concert version.
Jaromir Weinberger (1896—1967) was a Czech composer whose fate was to be remembered for a single work, the folk opera Schwanda the Bagpiper (1927), an international success in its time, all but forgotten today. The libretto tells an amusing tale of the hapless Schwanda and his adventures with the legendary Babinsky, a Robin Hood-like figure of Czech folklore. Hermann Prey, Siegfried Jerusalem, and Lucia Popp front a fine cast in a new recording, sung in German, that captures the music’s merry charm in good measure (CBS M3-36926).
Charles Dutoit conducts the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande in two Stravinsky works, the Symphony in C and the Symphony in Three Movements (London LDR-71043). Stravinsky’s own versions, of course, are still in the catalog and have long set the pace. Nonetheless, Dutoit’s interpretations have much to commend them. There is real bite to the Symphony in C, with brisk, pointed tempos and spectacular precision playing. Dutoit also gets maximum contrast between shadow and light and vitality and repose in the Three Movements Symphony. Digital sound provides superb sonics.
First recordings of early works by Benjamin Britten are featured on a disc with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Simon Rattle conducting (Angel DS-37919). The Four French Songs, after Hugo and Verlaine, give evidence of the composer’s promise at age 14, as heard in Jill Gomez’ sensitive interpretations. The Canadian Carnival (1939) and Scottish Ballad (1941), both composed in the United States, quote a variety of folk sources and are airy and direct in their appeal. And the poem Young Apollo, with its intricate scoring for piano, string quartet, and string orchestra, is lean-textured but colorful, sure in its sense of nobility.
Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto is the subject of three recent issues. Vladimir Spikavov’s richly detailed interpretation emphasizes the music’s dramatic weight over its graceful lines. Intense and soberpaced, the Philharmonia Orchestra is led by Seiji Ozawa (Angel DS-37849). Kyung Wha Chung, in contrast, makes this score sing, playing incisively and with great spirit. Generous in sentiment, her reading is tempered throughout by the Detroit Symphony’s brisk tempos, under the alert Charles Dutoit (London LDR-71058). The companion work is Mendelssohn’s Concerto in E minor, as it is in a half-speed-master reissue of the famous Heifetz/Munch/Boston Symphony collaborations of the late-1950’s, interpretations of considerable finesse, capturing the music’s sensitivity and intensity in proper balance (RCA ARP1-4567).
Lily Kraus was a student of Béla Bartók and became one of the first pianists to record and champion his music. Her special affinity for this composer can be heard on a new disc offering the Six Rumanian Folk Dances, selections from For Children, and a handful of others—all revealing playing of character and vitality, clean and authentic in style (Vanguard VSD-71249). Among the younger generation of pianists, Deszö Ránki has shown a similar strong sense of identification with Bartók’s works. The 20 Rumanian Christmas Songs and the three Burlesques are among the works brilliantly played on a recent Telefunken collection (6. 42822).
Mahler’s Fourth Symphony is one of his sunniest and most accessible works, with a texture the composer described as the “undifferentiated blue of the sky.” Klaus Tennstedt’s recording with the London Philharmonic (Angel DS-37954) has a natural musical flow and a grasp of the structural and expressive essences of the score that are second to none. Lucia Popp is the soloist.
Another new recording that eclipses previous favorite performances in our collection is the Philadelphia Orchestra’s version of Franck’s Symphony in D minor, Ricardo Muti conducting (Angel DS-37889). Muti gets the piece played well, with the opulent string sound for which this orchestra is famous. A reading of tremendous symphonic breadth and irresistible emotional power.
New to the catalog are trio sonatas from two of Bach’s sons, the G Major of C. P. E. Bach and the B-flat Major of J. C. Bach, coupled with a C Major Sonata by Johann Gottlieb Goldberg (Angel DS-37815). Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman perform with cellist Timothy Eddy, joined by Samuel Sanders on harpsichord, and their readings are in the contemporary manner, with firmness, warmth, and sprightly tempos.
The sprawling canvas that is Charles Ives’ Second Symphony has been ill-served on disc, where its disparate elements—musical quotes from bugle calls to hymns set within the context of 19th-century symphonic form—generally fail to coalesce as they should. Conductor Michael Tilson-Thomas makes the interpretive point that this music grew from essentially Romantic roots, a judgment that struck us as correct after hearing his new version with the Concertgebouw Orchestra (CBS IM-37300). Here at last is a performance with a fluidity and an inner power strong enough to soften the work’s cacophonous edges. Here also is the intense spirituality oft-mentioned in connection with this piece, yet seldom realized in performance. A real eye-opener.
With the same orchestra, the Concertgebouw, Bernard Haitink registers one of the most successful issues of his Shostakovich cycle with the Fifth Symphony (London LDR-71051). One senses the total involvement of the Amsterdam players from the first notes. Climaxes are naturally constructed, and the music has a natural flow without loss of its essential reflective qualities. Crisp digital sound helps in the overall effect.
The strong streak of sentimentality that distinguishes Offenbach’s La Perichole (1868) from its predecessors turns maudlin in a new French EMI version under conductor Michel Plasson (Angel DSBX-3923). In the title role, Teresa Berganza is too often ponderous when poignancy is required. José Carreras sounds correct as Paquillo: manly, robust, assured. The Orchestre de la Capitole de Toulouse may not be a world-class orchestra but surely is capable of more passionate playing than heard here.
Cats being a stage success on both sides of the Atlantic, EMI has been prompted into dusting off its 1956 recording of T. S. Eliot’s verses read by Robert Donat to incidental music written by Alan Rawsthorne (Angel 37927). Donat was not in top form for the session, but what he lacks in charm is more than compensated for in Rawsthorne’s airy music, possessed of just the right light touch. Overside, Dame Edith Evans reads 20 Shakespeare sonnets.
Young violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter is soloist in Mozart’s Concerto No. 2 in D and Concerto No. 4 in D, ably partnered by Ricardo Muti and the Philharmonia Orchestra (Angel DS-37904). Her interpretations are notable for their incisive balance of delicacy and expressiveness, just the right approach for these genial works.
Orlando Gibbons (1583—1625) is considered one of the most important musicians of the early 17th century, his compositional output small but noteworthy. Volume Two of the series Church Music of Jacobean England (Nonesuch H-71391) features a selection of anthems and songs performed in authentic style by the Clerkes of Oxenford.
The new Solti Marriage of Figaro, has much to commend it. Here is singing— Ramey, TeKanawa, Popp, Von Stade—with freshness and spontaneity, full of personality and character. Crisp tempos and an emotionally charged buoyancy are the order of the day on the part of the London Philharmonic. And the digital recorded sound rings clear as a bell (London LDR-74001).
Christopher Parkening’s Sacred Music for Guitar (Angel DS-37335) includes Bach’s “Präludium” from the Cantata No. 29, Humperdinck’s “Evening Prayer” from Hänsel und Gretel, and American hymns and spirituals. The guitar arrangements are elegant, and the playing is sensitive throughout.
Janáček’s piano music is so appealing, it’s a surprise and a disappointment that he didn’t write more of it. Several disparate strains within this tiny oeuvre are heard on a new Nonesuch recording (79041). The Sonata 1-X is an impassioned piece of music, dramatic and poignant, the composer’s homage to an innocent bystander killed in political turmoil in Brno, 1905, while Janáček’s lyrical side is shown in the pastoral work In the Mist and the refined excerpts from the long piece On an Over-grown Path. Ivan Moravec’s playing is idiomatic throughout, fresh and simple in style.
The suites Pelleas et Melisande and Masques et Bergamasques, the Pavane, and the Fantasie pour flute comprise a collection of familiar Fauré compositions performed by the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Neville Marriner conducting (Argo ZRDL-1003). The readings are exquisite: pure of tone, richly textured, unhurried.
For those whose appetites weren’t sated with the previous five volumes, EMI presents The Koto Connection (Angel S-37930), Volume Six in its collection of classical favorites arranged for and performed by massed koto players, Like its predecessors, Connection offers a potpourri of tunes, from Bach’s Little Fugue in G minor to Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez, all familiar, all hummable, all played on kotos. A novelty, of course, but one that seems to have struck a responsive public chord.
Though he seems to have been part of the American jazz scene for some time, New Zealand-born pianist Mike Nock is new to us. His Ondas (ECM 1—1220) has a warmth and cohesiveness that belie his music’s improvisational qualities. Bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Jon Christensen are part of the blend. The sardonic jester Lester Bowie is represented by The Great Pretender (ECM 1—1209), featuring an extra-long, gospel-like version of the perennial Platters hit, and equally unusual versions of classics such as “It’s Howdy Doody Time” and Kate Smith’s “When the Moon Comes over the Mountain.” Joe Sample’s concept LP, The Hunter (MCA 5397), is consistently upbeat and not as overarranged as his last disc, Tasty arrangements also characterize Incognito (MCA 5368), the latest from Spyro Gyra, ranging from pop to Latin jazz fusions. The haunting sax work of Jan Garbarek propels the soundscapes of Paths, Prints (ECM 1-1223), also featuring Bill Frisell on guitar, Eberhard Weber on bass, and Jon Christensen on drums. Garbarek is also heard on a record fronted by bassist Gary Peacock, whose quartet includes drummer Jack de Johnette and Tomasz Stanko on trumpet. It’s called Paradigm (ECM 1—1210). Cycles (ECM 1—1219) is cellist David Darling’s most ambitious disc to date, a wide spectrum of music using different combinations of instruments on each cut. Pianist Steve Kuhn, Colin Walcott on sitar and tabla, Arlid Anderson on bass, and Oscar Castro-Neves on guitar are heard. Among the reissues is the classic Night Lights from the Jerry Mulligan Sextet, available again through Polygram Classics (Japanese Philips EXPR-1037). Also available after a long absence is one of Phil Wood’s first large-scale compositions, Rites of Swing (Jazz-Man JAZ-5001). First American Records also has a reissue of Thelonious Monk’s last studio session, Something in Blue from 1971 (JazzMan 5019), and a collection of solo piano pieces by Art Tatum from the peak of his career, 1938—39 (JazzMan JAZ-5030).
In brief. Early recordings of short concert works, from Bach to Rodrigo, capture Jacqueline Du Pre’s charismatic performing style at the peak of her career, during the 1960’s, on Angel S-37900. Horowitz on Tour (RCA ARL1—4322) documents a variety of concert appearances the pianist made during 1979—80, the works including a beguiling Chopin étude and a Rachmaninoff polka. Seiji Ozawa conducts the Orchestre Nationale de France in a judiciously paced Bizet Symphony in C, coupled with the suite “Jeux d’Enfants” (Angel DS-37928). Carl Maria Von Weber is known mainly for his operas, so it’s a treat to hear his two symphonies in impeccably silky readings by the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields under Neville Marriner (Vanguard VA-25018). Emanuel Ax is sure-fingered in his urbane accounts of Mozart’s Piano Concertos Nos. 17 & 18, well-partnered by Pinchas Zukerman leading the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra (RCA ARC1-4522). Yehudi Menuhin’s version of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto may not eclipse better known issues, but his playing is alert and focused, while Kurt Mazur extracts a sparkling performance from the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra (Angel DS-37890).
Flutist Ransom Wilson offers his noted creative vitality to works by Blavet, Devienne, and Tartini, at the same time leading the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra (Angel DS-37338. Guitarist Angel Romero brings special insight to Spanish composer Federico Moreno Torroba’s flamenco-inspired Homenaje a la seguidilla, Torroba himself conducting the English Chamber Orchestra (Angel DS-37880). The Music Group of London shows a warm admiration for the music of Frank Bridge (1879—1941) in their recording of the Piano Quintet and the Phantasie Trio (Nonesuch 71405).
Richard Strauss’s Alpine Symphony unexpectedly warms to a straightforward account by Andrew Davis and the London Philharmonic, light years away from the usual bluster this music is subjected to (CBS IM-37292).