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CLASSICAL CDs , Pt. 1 of 2 - February 2002

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JANACEK: Diary of One Who Disappeared. EMI 5 57219.2. Ian Bostridge, tenor, Ruby Philogene, messo-soprano, Thomas Adès, piano.

Leos Janácek's "The Diary of One Who Disappeared," half chamber opera, half song cycle, is based on a literary hoax whose origins have just recently been discovered. Everyone ­ including Janácek-thought an obscure "unlettered son of the soil" had written the poems, but in 1997 a historian discovered a letter in which the poet Josef Kalda bragged that he had penned them. No matter, for Janácek's crafting of these romantic songs of yearning is brilliant. In VI, for example, the poet/plowman chides his oxen in harsh staccato notes to keep their eyes from the elder trees. Then the song abruptly shifts tone to a tender portamento reverie, as he tries to keep his own eyes from the branches through which he can see his beloved. The piano ends the song with the same driving phrases as it began. The beloved enters the cycle in IX and has a seductive dialog with the poet, who is now addressed as "Janácek." (Apparently the composer wanted to make it perfectly clear to Kamila Stöslová, his own unrequited love, whom the songs were about.) Tenor Ian Bostridge creates the same sense of frustration and awe as he did in Schubert's "Die Schöne Mullerin" cycle six years ago, although his voice has grown less callow over the years. While the interchange between him and sultry mezzo-soprano Ruby Philogene generates smoldering heat, the distant chorus describing the seduction is cool and detatched because it is miked too subtly. In fact, whenever the chorus appears, you can barely hear it. Otherwise, this is an excellent recording of a long-neglected work. Earlier versions of two of the songs are included, providing some historical interest. Pianist Thomas Adès performs the Moravian Folksongs with the same careful workmanship that he applies as accompanist to the song cycle. There is not much idiosyncrasy in his playing, yet there is style as he faithfully records Janácek's lyrical, rhythmic, and sometimes humorous pieces. Most of them are charming miniatures less than a minute long. A final piano cycle includes more popular pieces, including the somber "In Memorium," the ten-second "The Golden Ring," and a devotional song about as "sacred" as the Glagolitic Mass.

- Peter Bates

Two collections of works for organ and orchestra next...

Triumphal Music for Organ & Orchestra - ST.SAENS: Romance for violin, harp and organ; Serenade for organ, harp, violin & viola; ALEXANDRE GUILMANT: Marche elegiaque for organ & orch.; 2nd Marche funebre for organ & orch.; Symphonie en La Majeur for organ & orch.; GOUNOD: Hymn to St. Cecilia for violin, harp & organ; THEODORE DUBOIS: Nuptial Hymn for violin, harp & organ - Franz Hauk, organ/Philharmonic Ingolstadt/Alfredo Ibarra - Guild GMCD 7187:

The French organ school began with the more symphonic pipe organs created by builder Cavaille-Coll to fulfill commissions to replace the many organs destroyed or allowed to fall into disrepair during the French revolution. Composers soon began to take advantage of the wider range of timbres available with these more complex instruments. The greater versatility of timbres made it possible for various solo instruments to mate more pleasingly with the pipe organ. These seven selections are some examples, and all of them except the closing Guilmant symphony are world premiere recordings. Some are for just a few solo instruments and organ while the others pit the organ against a chamber symphony. The French prediliction for la gloire in such music is heard in all of these works, and with the first-rate sonics of this CD the effect is quite thrilling.

ATSUTADA OTAKA: Fantasy for Organ and Orchestra; TAKEMITSU: Nami no Bon; Ran; TOSHIO HOSOKAWA: Memory of the Sea - Bryan Ashley, organ/Sapporo Sym. Orch./Tadaki Otaka - Chandos CHAN 9876:

An unexpected quartet of works for organ and orchestra from Japanese composers - the first and last works are also world premiere recordings. The half-hour-length Fantasy was inspired by works of the French organ school and the composer is the older brother of conductor Otaka. The real gems of the CD are the two works by the late Takemitsu, who was one of the most prolific of serious composers writing for the films. The first selection is music from a TV drama that he scored, and the second is from his score for the epic Kurasawa film Ran. Both are absolutely magnificent pieces.

- John Sunier

JOHN WILLIAMS: Treesong, Violin Concerto, Three Pieces from Schindler's List - Gil Shaham, violin/Boston Sym. Orch./John Williams - DGG 2894713262:

Williams took time out from his busy film-score-writing schedule to compose the first two of these three works featuring violin and orchestra. TreeSong is not programmatic but inspired by a very old tree in the Boston Public Gardens. The violin melodies float over a shimmering orchestral background picturing the dappled sunlit interior of the woods. The work is in three movements as with a violin concerto, but in the order slow-fast slow. The real violin concerto is a bit more active and both make use of the widest range possible on the violin. Both also possess an individual voice not often heard in Williams' film music. The three Schindler's List selections will be familiar to all who saw the film; they conclude with the touching Remembrances theme.

Mystical Mountains - HOVHANESS: Vision from High Rock; Symphony No.15 - Silver Pilgrimage; Mountain of Prophecy; MICHAEL YOUNG: Secrets; GREGORY SHORT: Mount Takhoma - Northwest Sym. Orch./Anthony Spain - Koch Schwann 3-7399-2:

When I first received this CD I had thought it contained as the main work Hovhaness "Mysterious Mountain" Symphony No. 2 - one of his most popular works. Instead, it does contain three works of Hovhaness, but not that one. The composer's mystical music often found mountains as its subject it turns out. The subject of High Rock is a ...high rock somewhere in Massachusetts. The lyrical work hints at church bell sounds, as do many of the composer's works. The other two composers seem strongly influenced by Hovhaness and both of their works have a strong mystical, nature-celebrating feeling to them. Young even includes wind chimes in his orchestra. An imaginative theme for a most enjoyable album.

- John Sunier

A couple of really exciting composers from the Iberian peninsula...

LEONARD BALADA: Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 3; Concierto Magico for Guitar and Orchestra; Music for Flute and Orchestra - Rosa Torres-Pardo, piano/Eliot Fisk, guitar/Magdalena Martinez, flute/Barcelona Sym. And Catalonia National Orch./Jose Serebrier - Naxos 8.555039:

Sorry I hadn't auditioned this one sooner or it would surely have been on my Best of 2001 List. Balada's works are full of strikingly colorful sounds and compelling rhythms. His highly individual style blends fairly avant compositional techniques with ethnic music of a strong Spanish flavor. The piano concerto, composed just a couple years ago, is a perfect example of Balada's approach. The guitar concerto is even more Spanish in mood and quite experimental in design but keeps the listener's ears attuned with this unique mix. The flute nearly-concerto employs Catalan folk melodies transformed in various unexpected ways. The 24-bit recording is clean and impactful. This is new music that should appeal to many listeners/collectors - truly 21st Century Classics.

JOLI BRAGA SANTOS: Concerto for Strings in D; Sinfonietta for Strings; Variations Concertantes for Strings and Harp, Concerto for Violin, Cello, Strings and Harp - Bradley Creswick, v./Alexander Somov, cello/Sue Blair, hp/Northern Sinfonia/Alvaro Cassuto - Marco Polo 8.225186:

Now to Portugal and another composer new to most listeners. Santos, who lived until l988, wrote in a traditional style but with an emphasis on counterpoint and modal keys. Four of his many works involving strings are displayed here in skilled performances recorded in England. A strong sense of musical architecture and structure is found in Santos' works, allowing for a more wide-ranging melodic chromaticism. The often dense string sounds are beautifully realized in this new 24-bit recording. This sort of music didn't fare very well in the 44.1 world a decade ago, but recent improvements to CDs can handle such string tone with perfect aplomb.

- John Sunier

BACH: 7 Harpsichord Concertos; Triple Concerto BWV 1044 - Richard Egarr, harpsichord/The Academy of Ancient Music/Andrew Manze - Harmonia mundi 097283.84 - 2 CDs:

To identify this pair of CDs as the Solo Harpsichord Concertos would have been more informative. I had a tinge of disappointment upon finding out that this collection eschewed the wonderful concertos for two, three and four harpsichords. Being a sometime harpsichordist myself I have just about every version of those - especially the stirring four-harpsichord concerto. There are several choices for all of those, so with almost any of those CDs and this set you have everything Bach did in the genre, which provided the basis for keyboard concertos ever since, as well as freeing the instrument from its previous role in ensembles as only supplying the continuo part.

I had forgotten there was a total of seven of the solo concertos. Manze speaks in the note booklet about whether or not to include the Triple Concerto, which is felt not to be entirely from Bach's hand. It was included due to the harpsichord part being so similar to the other concertos and the instrumentation and feeling so similar to the sprightly Brandenburg Concerto No. 5. Manze also talks at length about the concerns with the inability of the harpsichord to make itself heard in large modern concert halls when in combination with the orchestra. He feels that for such situations the piano might be appropriate, but to keep everything on the side of authenticity to the original intent it would be best to just perform and record in a smaller hall with a smaller ensemble similar to that used in Bach's time. These are fresh and lively interpretations, not bogged down in any way by the "authenticity/original instrument" concerns. Achieving proper balance between the harpsichord and chamber orchestra is even more important than in a piano concerto. Some recordings have a clanky, too close harpsichord sound and others drown out the subtle instrument with the orchestra. Manse, his performers and engineers get it right.

- John Sunier

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