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CLASSICAL CDs , Pt. 2 of 2 - February 2002

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We continue our Bach kick from Part 1 with the following set ...

BACH: The Six Sonatas for Violin & Harpsichord - Vol. 1 & 2 - Micaela Comberti, Baroque violin/Colin Tilney, harpsichord - Dorian DOR-93233 & 34 (2 separate CDs):

This duo of CDs presents the works as follows: The Sonatas 1, 2 and 3 are on Volume 1 together with the Suite in A Minor BVW 818a. On Volume 2 are Nos. 4, 5 and 6 plus the Suite in E Flat Major BWV 819a. Both suites are for solo harpsichord and fit in well with the keys of their surrounding violin sonatas. (The violin sonatas alone are too long for an 80-minute CD and too short for two CDs.) The Sonatas are the first real masterworks in this form, and a part of equal importance given to the keyboard rather than just acting as the continuo to the violin. The violin part, felt to be inspired by some of the Italian violin composers familiar to Bach, requires a master player. It is thought they were composed for a visiting virtuoso or the concertmaster of a local orchestra. Dorian's superbly clean and transparent sonics are a perfect match for this impeccable music making.

- John Sunier

HANDEL Overtures: Jeptha, Lotario, Judas Maccabeaus, Alcina, Ottone, Athalia, Il pastor fido - Montreal Baroque Orechestra/Joël Thiffault - ATMA ACD 22157:

With nearly 70 vocal works for the stage to his credit, George Frideric Handel created many instrumental overtures which often took on a life of their own as stand-along orchestral works. Although he came long before the Romantic period, Handel intended in these works to give the audiences of the time a sort of psychological overview of what was happening with the characters during the following opera - often using extremely programmatic tone painting in the process. There is a great range of expression shown by Handel in these works, no two of which are alike. All the passions of his operatic dramas are found in these instrumental gems. An unusual feature of the CD is the division of most of the overtures into sections for access - there are seven overtures but 18 separate tracks.

- John Sunier

Two collections of unknown but very deserving American music from conductor Paul Freeman..

LOUIS GRUENBERG: Symphony No. 2, Marcia, Enchanted Isle - Czech National Sym. Orch./Paul Freeman - Albany Records TROY467:

Russian-born American composer Gruenberg lived until 1964 and was best known for his 1933 Met opera staging of The Emperor Jones and the jazz elements in his The Daniel Jazz. The three works on the CD show less jazz influence and more of European concert music. His three-movement symphony is very traditional, with catchy melodies and a Big Finish. His short piece Marcia is subtitled Serenade to a Beauteous Lady. The work is surprisingly a march - that's not the lady's name! Perhaps it is the suitor who is marching rather than the lady. Gruenberg's music possesses a sensuous quality and a predelication for interesting use of percussion as well as good melodies. An audiophile composer for sure.

- John Sunier

African Heritage Symphonic Series, Vol. II - ULYSSES KAY: Overture to Theater Set, GEORGE WALKER: Lyric for Strings, ROQUE CORDERO: Eight Minatures, ADOLPHUS HAILSTORK: An American Port of Call, Epitaph for a Man Who Dreamed, HALE SMITH: Ritual and Incantations - Chicago Sinfonietta/Paul Freeman - Cedille Records CDR 90000 061:

Noted black conductor Freeman founded the Sinfonietta in l987. This series of CD honors American composers of African ancestry. While the first group in the late 19th century were heeding Dvorak's call for development of a distinctly American concert music, this group of composers are all living today (except Kay) and some follow - like Kay - a more abstract neo-classical model rather than incorporating spirituals and other strongly ethnic characteristics in their works. The major work here, Ritual and Incantations, is from a composer who reject racial designations. However, Hale Smith states "The fact that a lot of my music would come off much better if played by performers with jazz backgrounds doesn't mean that I'm writing jazz, but it does mean that it's written by a person who had that type of experience..." The Eight Miniatures are from a composer who hails from Panama, and in them he attempts to synthesis serial techniques with ethnic/folk influences, much as composer Joli Santos did (in the new CD reviewed in Part 1 this month). The Epitaph by Hailstork was composed in memoriam to Martin Luther King. All fascinating works definitely worth hearing.

- John Sunier

RESPIGHI: Belkis, Queen of Sheba Suite; Dance of the Gnomes; The Pines of Rome - Minnesota Orchestra/Eiji Oue - Reference Recordings RR-95CD - HDCD:

A Grammy nominee, this is one of the best releases yet from Oue and the RR label. Instead of pairing the familiar Pines with the also-familiar Fountains, we have two almost unknown Respighi works which are just as exotic, colorful and hi-fi-ish. The Biblical setting of the story of the Queen of Sheba's visit to King Solomon gave the composer plenty of opportunity for creativity. He researched ancient Arabic and Jewish music, used an array of percussion instruments, added to the already large orchestra an offstage band, a wind machine, sitars and other Eastern instruments, a large chorus and a narrator. His 80-minute ballet only got 11 performances and later Respighi created the suite of four movements. The queen might be regarded as a more modern descendent of Scheherazade. Even the chestnut The Pines seems more exotic and colorful than I recall hearing previously. Respighi's Technicolor widescreen tone painting seems to stretch the 16:9 dimensions of classic versions such as Reiner's.

RICHARD DANIELPOUR: An American Requiem - Soloists/Pacific Chorale/Pacific Symphony Orchestra/Carl St. Clair - Reference Recordings RR-97CD - HDCD:

This may be the first major work commemorating the tragic events of September 11. Danielpour wrote it as a memory to those who lost their lives in the event as well as a tribute to the American Soldier - part, present and future - and an examination of war in general. The world premiere recording was made immediately following the world premiere performances in Costa Mesa, California last November. Danielpour is one of the top composers of today and represented by a number of CDs. His strongly Romantic music and brilliant orchestral writing has been heard in performances by Yo-Yo Ma, Emanuel Ax, The New York Philharmonic and many others.

The Requiem uses three solo voices and the 150-voice choir and is in two languages. The Roman Catholic Requiem Mass sections in Latin are given to the chorus and the soloists usually sing the English portions, which come from Whitman, Emerson and others, including an anonymous spiritual. This deeply moving and dramatic work strikes me as a sort of contemporary corollary to Benjamin Britten's War Requiem.

- John Sunier

TELEMANN: Six Overtures for Harpsichord; Concerto in B Minor - Harald Hoeren, harpsichord - CPO 999 645-2:

Bach gets all the attention today for the first half of the 18th century, but in fact at that time Georg Philipp Telemann was by far the most famous composer. We marvel at the 188 sacred canatas Bach had to write as part of his duties, but Telemann turned out 1410 cantatas! He preferred a lighter counterpoint than Bach in his harpsichord works. A light fugue is followed by a contrasting non-fugal piece in the two-part structure than make up these keyboard overtures. Many of the second sections who the influence of Polish folk dances such as the Polonaise. The fugues are in two-part style, and when a new voice enters an earlier voice drops out, so that the texture is always a simple and clear two-part design. All the overtures are about ten or 11 minutes length and the amount of variety from one to another reminded me of the many harpsichord sonatas of Scarlatti, which also show strong folk dance influences, though of Spain rather than Poland.

- John Sunier

Il Giardino Corrupto - Italian Influence in German & Austrian Chamber Music 1650-85 - Works of KERLL, SCHMELZER, WECKMANN, ROSENMULLER, BERTALI, KINDERMANN, MUFFAT & ANON. - La Luna Ensemble (two Baroque violins, viola da gamba & harpsichord) - Wildboar WLBR 9903:

In spite of the rather scholarly titles on this CD it holds on its 11 tracks a very enjoyable concert of early music showing the marriage of serious Germanic style with the freedom of the lighter, more expressive Italian approach. German music at this time was heavily influenced by the more passionate and theatrical music coming from Italy, and many German composers studied in the country to the south, absorbing the fresh new ideas. Heinrich Schutz was prominent among these. Muffat's Sonata in D for violin and continuo is at 12 minutes the longest work on the album and reminds one of the style of Italian virtuosi such as Corelli and Vivaldi.

- John Sunier

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