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CLASSICAL  CDs
Pt. 2 of 2  January 2003

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BIBER: Battalia à 10; Requiem à 15 in Concerto - La Capella Reial de Catalunya/Le Concert des Nations/Jordi Savall - AliaVox AV 9825:

Combining the humorous and the serious, this release is a world premiere of the Requiem - recorded live in Salzburg Cathedral. The opening battle music was created for a court celebration of Carnival and Biber has lots of fun with imitating the sounds of fife and drum, plus mixing various popular songs together in an almost Charles Ives manner to portray drunken soldiers bellowing different tunes. The Requiem is a solemn work written for the funeral of Biber’s patron and actually designed as a piece of very spatial music especially for performance in Salzburg Cathedral. The photos in the booklet show four groups of musicians in the four different organ lofts on the sides of the great cathedral interior. This is another natural for multichannel surround - surely the masters were recorded this way! Two of the groups feature a vocal ensemble plus oboe and organ, and another features three trombones plus organ. There is even tympani a la the Berlioz requiem (but not 16 of them!). Actually the Requiem is not nearly as subdued as most such works in the earlier period; it is in A Major and often almost joyful - in anticipation of the rewards the soul may expect in heaven.

- John Sunier

A trio of VW Symphonies plus a Mass on the next two 44.1Ks...

VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: Symphony No 4 in F Minor; Mass in G Minor; Six Choral Songs to be Sung in Time of War - Richard Hickox Singers/London Sym. Chorus/London Sym. Orch./Richard Hickox - Chandos CHAN 9984:

Britain’s answer to Debussy turned surprisingly hard and dissonant in his Fourth of l935. There was conjecture that it reflected the increasingly dangerous European situation happening in Germany, but VW denied this, saying the work just occurred to him like that. The Fourth has many connections with Beethoven’s Fifth. His friends saw in it the composer’s temper outbursts and gusty humor - also shared with Beethoven. The Mass looks back to the 16th century while using modern compositional means. The Choral Songs come from 1940 and the words of Shelley. How appropriate the work is found on this newly released CD. The 24bit recording is up to Chandos highest sonic standards.

VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: Symphony No. 8 in D Minor; Symphony No. 9 in E Minor - London Philharmonic Orch./Bernard Haitink - EMI Classics 5570862 5:

The Eighth differs from VW’s earlier symphonies in employing all sorts of exotic instruments, including vibes, tubular bells, glockenspiel and three tuned gongs. He called the first movement “seven variations in search of a theme,” adding that “there is no definite theme.” The Scherzo is for winds only, and the third movement Cavatina for strings only. The exuberant finale is said to be a tribute to human heroism. The Ninth is more somber and mysterious in mood. It’s second movement evokes the scene of the arrest at Stonehenge of Thomas Hardy’s character Tess. Saxophones and xylophone dominate in the work. Recorded in an Abbey Road large studio rather than the Concertgebouw venue, the orchestra sounds closer and drier, pointing up instrumental details that might be missed in the more zoftig acoustics of their home hall in Amsterdam. Still, SACD reproduction would be even nicer, and would put all of these VW Symphonies on a sonic par with the still-reigning standard of Sir Adrian Boult's classic complete set on EMI LPs .

- John Sunier

BACH: The Art Of Fugue - Fretwork - Harmonic mundi HMU 907296:

Many different versions of Bach’s great sonic treatise on the fugal form have been recorded and performed, using a wide variety of instrumentation since the original is laid out with an open score that doesn’t prescribe any particular instruments. Having all the voices similar can bring out the equality of the different lines; a previous recording by a saxophone quintet did just that. In the present case we have six viols. Frankly, with almost any other music that would spell instant snooze for me, but Fretwork’s vivid performance is perfect and holds one’s interest through all 20 sections of the work. Just as with the sax family, there are both low and high viols. The ensemble uses the earliest published version of the work, before a long history of additions and changes to the score.

From viols to lutes in our next CD...

Amours amours amours - Lute Duos c.1500 - Karl-Ernst Schröder & Crawford Young - Harmonia mundi HMC 905253:

Very early music for pairs of lutes has been largely unknown, but the form was a popular one at the courts of medieval Europe. This is an hour’s taste of the sweet melodies of composers such as Isaac, Desprez, Busnois, and of course good ol’ Anonymous. In some the second lute merely accompanies the first, but in others - such as the path-breaking arrangements of Alexander Agricola - some pretty wild (for the period) virtuoso techniques are indicated. 31 separate short selections; first-rate sonics.

- John Sunier

A pair of rather different pipe organ CDs next...

The Romantic Organ - Works of LUNDKVIST, VIERNE, SKOLD, OLSSON, & AHLEN - Erik Lundkvist and Waldemar Ahleen at the organ of Gustaf Vasa Church, Stockholm - Proprius PRCD 2007:

The rich symphonic sounds of this pipe organ is due to its being the only large French-style organ in Sweden. And it is the same organ performed on my leading Swedish composer Otto Olsson for five decades. Two of his works are in this program - a Prelude and Fugue and a lovely Adagio. The Aria and Finale from Vierne’s Symphony No. 6 for Organ is included as a prime example of the French organ school. Unfamiliar to most listeners will be the six works by Waldemar Ahlen which conclude the program. This composer, who died in l982, writes in a more modern mode that still owes much to the great French school of the symphonic organ. The first half of the program features one of the two organists and the second half the other player. There is an apology on the back cover for some “unavoided traffic noise” - see if your system is resolving enough to pick it out - it’s plenty subtle (but then I live next to constant traffic noise myself!)

Organ Music Of PETR EBEN, Vol. 3 - Hommage to Henry Purcell, Ten Chorale Preludes, Momenti d’Organo, Kleine Choralpartita, Versetti, Two Festive Preludes, Mutationes for one or two organs - Halgeir Schiager at organ of Oslo Cathedral, Norway - Hyperion DCA67196:

Eben is a Czech composer for organ who expresses a strong interest in both the reverberant sounds of the organ in a large cathedral and especially in those installations in which two or more organs can create fascinating spatial effects in the space. The final work on this CD makes use of a second Chancel organ in the Oslo Cathedral, and again would be an excellent candidate for release as a Hyperion multichannel SACD. The opening work is a joyful 11 minutes which quotes three of Purcell’s themes. The others are interesting works often combining archaic modal melodies with modern freely tonal techniques. As expected from Hyperion, sonic quality is first rate. Try this one with ProLogic II for a fine recreation of the cathedral acoustics.

- John Sunier

Less familiar but not less important American Music on the next pair of CDs...

ROY HARRIS: Symphony No. 7 (1955); WM. SCHUMAN: Symphony No. 6 - New Zealand Symphony orch./Hugh Keelan - Koch International Classics 3 7290-2 HI:

Both these works are one-movement symphonies, but the two American composers were quite different from one another. Harris was the farm boy come late to music and determined to forge his own individual style. Schuman was the sophisticated city boy, who among other things wrote pop tunes for Tin Pan Alley. Harris loved Beethoven’s dance-like Seventh Symphony and sought to create a similar dance-like feeling in the middle section of this own Seventh. Schuman has created a dense intensity in his symphony while varying from sparse chamber-music-like sections to forceful orchestral climaxes. British conductor Keelan also leads the Northeastern Pennsylvania Philharmonic and is thus quite familiar with such American composers as Harris and Schuman. I remember an Ormandy recording of the Harris Symphony reissued on LP from the 78 rpm originals with execrable sonics. It’s a pleasure to hear this important work properly reproduced for once.

The American Clarinet = SIEGMEISTER: Clarinet Concerto; TUTHILL: Rhapsody for Clarinet and Orchestra; DELLO JOIO: Concertante for Clarinet and Orchestra; CONVERSE: Rhapsody for Clarinet and Orchestra; AVSHALOMOV: Evocations Concerto for Clarinet and Ch. Orch. - Robert Alemany, clarinet/Czech National Symphony/JoAnn Falletta - Albany Records TROY502:

A welcome program bringing together five tuneful, easily-accessible and very American-vernacular concertos featuring the clarinet. Siegmeister is known for his very catchy tunes - his work on Broadway with a folks and blues artists such as Woody Guthrie colors his delightful four-movement concerto. Tuthill’s short rhapsody is also fun; this composer’s father designed Carnegie Hall. Composer Avshalomov was connected with first Columbia University and then the Oregon Symphony. The three movements of his concerto are intended to evoke first Exuberant mischief, then grief, and finally grace and suppleness. Clarinetist Alemany has appeared on many recordings and presents each of the works in their best light.

- John Sunier

A couple very different collections of piano music up next...

LEO ORNSTEIN: Suicide in an Airplane, A la Chinoise, Danse sauvage, Poems of 1917, Arabesques, Impressions de la Tamise, Piano Sonata No. 8 - Marc Andre Hamelin, piano - Hyperion DCA67320:

Iconoclastic pianist and composer Ornstein was born in the Ukraine and died earlier this year at the supposed age of 109. His avant style developed during early studies at Juillard, resembles in some ways another pianistic iconoclast - George Antheil - in emphasizing the piano’s nature as primarily a percussion instrument. The half-hour-long Eighth Sonata was composed when he was 90 and shows no diminution of his creative abilities. The Savage Dance savages a basic waltz in a sort of Readers Digest version of Ravel’s La Valse. And the title tune of the album - Suicide in an Airplane - imitates the sound of the plane’s engine but strangely continues them to the end, fading out slowly, as if the pilot decided not to do himself in after all.

JOE UTTERBACK: Concerto Fantasy on Gershwin’s Porgy & Bess, Three Spirituals, Jazz Bagatelles, Moods & Blues, Jazz Suite for Young Pianists, Piano Jazz Starter Set, 8 other short pieces. - David Allen Wehr, piano - Connoisseur Society CD 4228:

Composer-pianist Utterback hails from Kansas City and has made several recordings of his own performances for this label. His style shows influences of Art Tatum, Erroll Garner, Oscar Peterson and Bill Evans. His composing style is defined by his improvisations, often based on an existing tune such as the four Gershwin selections or the three spirituals. All two dozen tracks are a delight for jazz piano buffs, bringing together the very best aspects of both creative jazz improvisations and composed works. Pianist Wehr’s interpretations are superb and so is the richly detailed - though rather distant - piano sound.

- John Sunier

CORELLI: Violin Sonatas Op. 5 - Andrew Manze, violin/Richard Egarr, harpsichord - Harmonic mundi HMU 907298.99 (2 CDs):

We have here the same duo who won acclaim for their recording on this label of the complete Handel Violin Sonatas, now offering the set of Baroque violin sonatas which some critics feel to be the very best ever. The composer’s two-part writing is very clear and simple, with no ornamentation noted in the first published edition used for this recording. The performers in the Baroque were expected to come up with their own decorations to the basic lines, and that is what Manze and Egarr do there. They also eschew other basso continuo instrumental additions, feeling that the purist approach of just the two instruments allows the lines to stand out more clearly. There are a dozen sonatas total, most running 11 or 12 minutes; the first several are church sonatas without dance-based movements, and the later ones get a bit more rhythmic. The closing sonata, nicknamed “Follia,” is a real tour de force. Recorded at George Lucas’ Skywalk Ranch studios, the noise floor is w-a-y down, as appropriate for this delicate music.

- John Sunier

The White Peacock = Contemporary Works for Flute & Guitar - The Harris Coates Duo, with guest Russell Peterson, bassoon - Barking Dog Records BDR022:

From the somewhat unlikely source of Fargo, North Dakota comes this tasty collection of works by seven different composers either written originally for flute and guitar or transcribed especially for this album. (The duo dubs their area a wonderful environment for the arts in general.) The familiar Griffes impressionistic gem was arranged to include the performer’s bassoonist friend. Two Debussy Preludes were transcribed by the Duo for the album. Another French composer, Damase, is represented by his only work for guitar and flute, which shows his main interest in composing for harp and flute. The lovely Serenade by Rodrigo is a rare work by the blind Spanish composer. Two other modern composers are included: Salvador Brotons and Daniel Dorff. If you find yourself barking up the wrong tree trying to find this CD at your local store, try the Duo’s website: www.barkingdogrecords.com

- John Sunier

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