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CLASSICAL  CDs
Pt. 2 of 3  April 2003
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BEETHOVEN: Piano Trio in D Major, Op. 70, No. 1; Piano Trio in E flat Major, Op. 70, No. 2; Allegretto in B-flat Major - The Florestan Trio - Hyperion CDA 67327 60:23 (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi):

The Florestan Trio, founded 1995, is a splinter group formed from the ensemble Domus, now long-established and in residence at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in london. That their playing of the Beethoven trios does not displace my preferred rendition by Trio Fontanay on Teldec is no dishonor. This is still a great survey of the late Beethoven Trios: Florestan come out of the gate in a mad rush for opening of the "Ghost" Trio, with its anomalous high F in the cello that grudgingly permits D Major to return. The D Minor second movement achieves a kind of stasis or supspended animation: its extremely slow tempo has its roots, for my money, in the E-flat Sonata, Op. 7. The under-rated E-flat Trio gets stellar treatment, especially in its own second movement, a set of double variations in C, that keep alternating between major and minor. What captivates in all this is Florestan's brittle, quicksilver playing, that catches the flavor of original instruments without sacrificing the resonance of modern instruments. The 1812 Allegretto is a pastorale in 6/8 having no pretensions to Zeus, only to beguiling, Viennese charm. Precious cargo, this disc, in captivating sound. Purchase Here

--Gary Lemco

BEETHOVEN: Cello Sonatas Nos. 3, Op. 69, and Op. 64; Magic Flute Variations, Op. 66 - Marie Kliegel, cello; Nina Tichman, piano - Naxos 8.555786 (77 mins.):

This second installment in Maria Kliegel's complete traversal of Beethoven's music for cello and piano, including arrangements of works not originally written for cello, is distinguished by the same characteristics that made her first release in the series (Naxos 8.555785) so attractive: Fast, fluid speeds, deft phrasing; and incisive accents, setting off sparks of exhilarating poetry. Wonderfully partnered by American pianist Nina Tichman, the German cellist provides a surprisingly probing look at some of Beethoven's most instrumentally-innovative music.

The contents of this disc, however, pose somewhat of a problem. Not the A Major Sonata, perhaps the composer's greatest work in the medium, nor the variations on Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen from Mozart's opera, The Magic Flute, which are a well-known delight.

It is the so-called Sonata, Op. 64, which presents the problem, purporting to be an arrangement by the composer himself of his Op. 3 string trio. Whether it is, the result is no more than mildly interesting even for cellists, since the cellist plays an anonymously ambiguous role in music that most cellists will be familiar with in its original form for violin, viola and cello. In any event, the sound is rich and lively, while Naxos's house liner-note writer Keith Anderson provides informative if not interesting reading.

Even were the competition stronger, Kliegel's in-progress cycle is shaping up as a definite contender (the two Op. 102 sonatas are still come, plus who knows what else). Two of the best contending sets (Michal Kanka on Praga Digitals and Heinrich Schiff on Philips) are not available in the U.S., but those by Mstislav Rostropovich and Sviatoslav Richter (Philips) and Pieter Wispelwey and Paul Komen (Channel Classics) are, the latter especially fine on original instruments. Purchase Here

- Laurence Vittes

HEINRICH IGNAZ FRANZ VON BIBER (1644-1704): Virtuoso in the Making - Ricordo. Linn (HDCD) CKD 195 (69 mins.):

The six-member ensemble known as Ricordo's breathtaking performance of music by Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber (plus a pastorella by Johann Heinrich Schmelzer), in which the members of this dynamite young ensemble sketch with deconstructionist intensity and incredible flashes of virtuosity music which combines innovation and imagination in equal measure, benefits from a stunning HDCD recording that upholds Linn's reputation as a leading audiophile label.

Biber was responsible in part for shifting the focus of violin supremacy from Italy to Austria and Germany. His fame as a virtuoso violinist was, as he wrote himself in a successful petition for knighthood, "well known to great many courts." Born in Bohemia, he spent most of his life in Salzburg where he worked for the Prince-Archbishop. He became a well-published, successful and moderately wealthy musician. He planted a small garden and cultivated wine. He sounds like a musician who would have fit in well today. His music is spontaneous, intense, wide-ranging in mood intended to entertain a discriminating, highly-sophisticated audience.

When they were founded in 1997, Ricordo (violinists Kati Debretzeni and Penelope Spencer, viola da gambist Alison McGillivray, lutenist Matthew Wadsworth, keyboardist Robert Howarth and trombonist Adam Woolf) focused initially on the links between Austria and Italy and the flamboyant instrumental genre known as stylus phantasticus; their concerts have from the beginning featured violin sonatas by Marini, Walther, Schmelzer and Biber.

Transylvania-born Debretzeni supplies liner notes which reflect not only the ensemble's delicious obsession with the extravagant instrumental fantasies on the CD but contribute a new word to the language: Biberesque. The outstanding recording, engulfed in warmth yet clear as a bell, was made at the National Centre for Early Music in York, England, and was produced and engineered by Philip Hobbs. Purchase Here

- Laurence Vittes

A pair of organ discs from the same German source herewith...

MOZART: Complete Church Sonatas (17) - Elisabeth Ullmann, organ/Concilium Musicum Vienna/Paul Angerer - D&G Scene MDG 605 0298-2:

Mozart never called these works church sonatas and it is doubtful if some of them were ever performed in a church. Distinctions between music for concert hall, theater, church and other usages were blurred at this time. There is also no special order of the works, and D&G has decided to put them in groupings according to key, instrumentation and tempo - though every one of them is marked Allegro. (Some of the works are for solo organ.) They are all echt Mozart, delightfully tuneful little organ concertos that are nothing like Handel’s great organ concertos but great listening nevertheless. E. Power Biggs recorded most of these, but D&Gs clean and natural sonics far surpass that earlier effort. (Try ProLogic II for a fine churchy surround field generation.)

MAX BAUMANN: Organ Works Vol. 2 = Sonatine for Organ, Invocation for Organ, Organ Suite Op. 67, eight short pieces - Rosalinde Haas, Rieger Organ of the Vierzahnheiligen Basilica. - D&G Gold CD MDG 315 1085-2:

Baumann, who died only four years ago, wrote in a freely tonal style that occasionally delved into serialism but with an always recognizable tonal center. His many short chorale preludes included in this program are less like Bach’s in that form and more like free fantasias. His Germanic emphasis on form and construction is balanced by a French sense of the sensuality of sound and a Russian sort of spunk missing from much German music. The Organ Suite is the major work here, a cycle of five movements emphasizing a highly improvisational style and concluding with a brilliant toccata. The Basilica in which the recording was made is in the composer’s home town in which he heard many of his works premiered, and it appears to have a rich reverberation of six or seven seconds. I don’t know whether the gold pressing preserves the ambience any better since there is no aluminum to A/B with, but this is clearly an extremely well-recorded disc. Purchase Here

- John Sunier

CHARLES AVISON (1709-1770): Concertos in Seven Parts from the lessons of Domenico Scarlatti - Café Zimmermann. Alpha 031 (76 mins.):

While Domenico Scarlatti has become a Baroque icon, Charles Avison has become a footnote despite being an unusually popular composer in his day, particularly of concertos. At a time when an 18th century English publisher could expect to sell around 150 copies of a work, concertos by Avison would run to several editions of as many as 500 copies each.

Avison’s addictive arrangements of the keyboard sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti were especially popular, as shown by Laurence Sterne’s reference to Avison in Tristram Shandy, “ … and the devil and all had broke loose, the whole piece, Madam, must have been played off like the sixth of Avison Scarlatti-con furia, like mad … ”

There have been notable recordings of this seductive music by Neville Marriner and his Academy (sensuous) and by Roy Goodman on Hyperion (lovely). But these confident, exhilarating new performances by the Café Zimmermann are charged with even more sexy pleasure. Formed in 1998 by violinist Pablo Valetti and harpsichordist Céline Frisch, Café was named in homage of the Leipzig establishment of Gottfried Zimmermann where the Collegium Musicum founded by Telemann gave their weekly concerts. The superb sound, rich and plangent, has an edge that catches the bite of the strings like the great analogue triumphs from Harmonia mundi France in the early 1980s. Plenty of space around the sound, too, thanks to a perfectly natural soundstage (the recording by Dominique Daigremont and Hugues Deschaux was made in the chapelle de l'hôpital Notre Dame de Bon Secours in Paris).

The pleasure of this release is enhanced by excellent, absorbing liner notes by Dr. Jack Cassingham, Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, plus a provocative essay by Denis Grenier on Hogarth’s famous engraving, Shortly After the Marriage. Purchase Here

- Laurence Vittes

BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 6 in A Major - Sir Colin Davis conducts London Symphony Orchestra - LSO 0022 62:12 (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi):

Sir Colin Davis (b. 1927) has been Principal Conductor of the London Symphony since 1995, this after long experience in directing the orchestra intermittently since 1959. Given Davis' penchant for Mozart and the lighter (e.g. Ariadne auf Naxos) side of Richard Strauss, I have to grant some surprise upon thinking of Davis as a Brucknerian. This is not to deny the London Symphony's renditons of Bruckner: one of my fondest CD's is the Bruckner Romantic Symphony (BBC Carlton Classics 15656 91712) with this ensemble under the late Istvan Kertesz, a performance slated for reissue by Testament. The performance of the Sixth I wish would return, the deleted Keilberth version once available on Teldec--ravishing!!

After two auditions of this disc, I am still not convinced of Davis' authority in this music. For me, it has all the ingredients in the recipe, but the magic is not there. Unlike those Bruckner symphonies that begin with sustained pedal tones and hovering, modal supensions, this one establishes a treble gallop over mumbling cellos and basses. Davis gives his first movement speed, and he keeps the meditative sections from sagging. There are delicate moments of string work in the Adagio, too, with its cantilena that soon becomes a dirge. The last two movements enjoy light feet and some mighty triple fortes, some deft tonguing in the brass. So, what's the problem? Just too academic, too "contrived" in the sense of being "correct" rather than inspired. Brahms called Bruckner's symphonies "boa constrictors," and without the mystery, watching a long snake pass by can be slow going. Purchase Here

--Gary Lemco

TAVENER: Darkness into Light--The Bridegroom and Other Works--Anonymous 4/Chiliringian Quartet--Harmonia Mundi 90727:

I have to say that I find most medieval chant and its modern counterpart (or imitation) in the works of John Tavener rather boring, so I’m probably not the best person to review this disc, though I can understand how others find it moving and uplifting. I just don’t respond to it in that way. This disc offers five medieval selections and four Tavener works, including the long and recent (1999) “The Bridegroom”, all of them dealing in one way or another with the transition from darkness to light. Their devotional content and melismatic style makes them all sound pretty much alike. They are sung beautifully by the women of Anonymous 4, with two of the Tavener pieces skillfully accompanied by the Chiliringian Quartet. I suppose you can just sit back and let this serene mysticism flow over you, and if that’s to your taste, you will surely enjoy the disc. Purchase Here

--Alex Morin

MOZART: Clarinet Quintet in A Major, K. 581/BRAHMS: Clarinet Quintet in B Minor, Op. 115 - Eleanor Weingartner, clarinet/ Arianna String Quartet - Urtext Classics JBCC 063 68:48:

This is one of those new-musicians-of-the-next-generation CD's, all youngsters renegotiating the classics on their own terms. Ms. Weingartner is principal clarinet of Mexico's National Symphony, a former pupil of Robert Marcellus. The Arianna Quartet was established in 1992 and has gained the attention of Isaac Stern and the Chicago musical community, now the in-residence quartet at the University of Missouri, St. Louis. I found both the solos and the ensemble in both works very smooth, agreeably warm, well focussed. Weingartner's colors are strong, her chalumeau (lowest) register quite captivating, especially in the Brahms, where it is exploited to the full. The Mozart moves along without affectation, the outer two movements' enjoying a solid sense of architecture. Production qualities, acoustic balances, the packaging and the notes, are all top of the line. Need another version of these two masterpieces? If so, this is it. Purchase Here.

--Gary Lemco

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