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CLASSICAL CDs   Pt. 1 - June 2001

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ENESCU: String Quartets Nos 1 & 2. Quatuor Ad Libitum. Naxos 8.554721:

Georges Enescu (1881-1955) was the Leonard Bernstein of his native Roumania, a multi-talented musician. He was one of the great violinists of his day, but also a superb conductor (the art he loved even more than playing the violin) and a composer whose gifts this CD brilliantly brings to light. One of his famous students, Yehudi Menuhin, called him "the greatest all-round musician I ever met in my entire life." His concert partner Pable Casals called him 'the greatest musical phenomenon since Mozart.' And if those of you who still collect records ever finds a mint copy of the three record set of Enescu's version of Bach's Sonatas and Partitias on the Continental label in mint condition, you've found one of the rarest and most valuable black discs ever made.

Enescu's Quartet No. 1 was written in the period 1916-20 and premiered by the Flonzelay Quartet in 1921. The 46 minute work is filled with thematic snippets of Roumanian origin. It's mood varies between the tranquil Andante pensurioso and a more energetic theme and variations of the final movement. Bartok and Kodaly come to mind, but Enescu is an original and sophisticated composer. It's a work with much beauty, a complexity that is solvable and worth hearing more than once.

The Second Quartet was finished in 1951, only four years before Enescu's death. It's a more profound composition, subtle in it's emotion. Its motivic Roumanian roots reveals itself in more fragmented, less obvious ways than its predecessor. The heart of the work is the slightly disturbed and mysterious Andante, its mood effectively portrayed by muted instruments. There is a nostalgic, longing violin solo at the conclusion that could only be written by someone at the end of life. The last movement is a marvellous pastiche of warmly sardonic statements that mock Roumanian musical history. If Ives had ever written a Roumanian quartet, it might have sounded like this.

The Quatuor Ad Libitum give brilliant, committed and idiomatic performances of these two quartets. The recorded sound is ideal: clear with a great sense of space and depth. These quartets are sure to raise the compositional stock of a great violinist. Don't miss them.

- Robert Moon

SAMUEL BARBER: Cello Concerto; Medea (Suite); Adagio for Strings. Wendy Warner, cello. Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Marin Alsop, conductor. Naxos 8.559088.

It's amazing that an accessible, lyrical yet thoroughly modern mid-twentieth century cello concerto had only two recordings before 1983. The last nineteen years has seen the situation remedied with several recordings, yet the work hasn't enjoyed the popularity of it's sister Violin Concerto, which is played and recorded often by today's violinists, knowing that today's audiences will love it. The Cello Concerto was written in 1945 and first performed by Raya Garbousova in 1946 with Koussevitsky and the Boston Symphony. It is structurally traditional (three movements ­ Allegro, Andante, Molto Allegro), with the emotional center of the work is the Andante, lyrical and touching in the best Barber tradition. The outer movements are written with vigor and just enough lyrical astringency to make it challenging and interesting. Wendy Warner, winner of the Fourth International Rostropovich Competition in Paris in 1990, plays competently, but I wanted more passion and intensity, especially in the middle movement. Marin Alsop and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra accompany her with a spirited performance. The balance of the recording favors the orchestra, but otherwise the sound is adequate if not exceptional.

Barber's ballet Medea was originally written for Martha Graham in 1946 under the title "The Serpent Heart," later changed to "Cave of the Heart," and then back again to the original title. Barber orchestrated the work in at least two versions, including a one movement piece called "Medea's Meditation and Dance of Vengeance." The version recorded here is a seven movement suite that uses ancient mythological figures "to project psychological states of jealously and vengeance which are timeless," in Barber's own words. Alsop's performance lacks the bite and manic extremes of Hanson's classic Mercury recording (aesthetically matched by the 42 year old, close, astringent recording). Her vision is more expansive, with a distant sonic picture that, ironically, reveals more orchestral detail. The performance by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra is excellent. Barber's most popular work, the Adagio for Strings, completes the disc ­ a well paced but rather tepid interpretation. This is a good place to start for those unfamiliar with Barber ­ and especially those not familiar with the wonderful Cello Concerto.

- Robert Moon

MOZART: The Complete Piano Concertos.

Malcolm Bilson, fortepiano. John Eliot Gardiner, conductor. The English Baroque Soloists.

Archiv 463:

This nine-volume set appears to be the only complete set of Mozart fortepiano concertos available. (Concertos one through four are omitted because they are early arrangements of other composer's piano sonatas.) The closest contender is Jos van Immerseel's 10-volume set (Channel Classics), from which--curiously--concertos 7 and 10 are missing.

But that isn't the most notable difference between these two collections. Malcolm Bilson plays with considerably more subtlety than Immerseel. In Concerto No. 24 his delicious use of rubato at the fortepiano's first entrance is coyly suggestive. In contrast, Immerseel's straight-forward approach lacks imagination. For the lovely Larghetto in II, Bilson gives each note its own character, even its own physiognomy. Some notes have craggy features, others are round and voluptuous. Although fortepianos have higher decay rates than their 20th Century cousins, Bilson manipulates that decay with such skill you can feel the tail of silence quiver. Immerseel plunks away as if he's being paid piece rate. John Eliot Gardiner's English Baroque Soloists are ideally mated with Bilson. The recording is so well engineered that the orchestra never overcomes the soloist. There is excellent harmonic balance, unlike the muffling that occasionally occurs between the Anima Eterna and Immerseel. The chromatic Piano Concerto No. 20, that stunning precursor to Romanticism so beloved by Beethoven, is never too romantic in Bilson's hands, a snare into which Steinway-wielding pianists often fall.

I don't care for the cardboard CD sleeves. While I applaud the abandonment of jewel boxes, I can't figure out how to extract the CD without sticking in my finger and dragging it by the hole. Too bad Mozart's early concertos appear so seldom in the repertory. Piano Concerto No. 15's opening allegro, for example, scintillates like sunlight on a choppy lake. Fortepiano virtuoso Robert Levin joins Bilson in performing the consistently dazzling Piano Concerto No. 10. Even the obscure Piano Concerto No. 16 rears up and addresses the heavens in its first two minutes.

--Peter Bates

KANCHELI: Magnum Ignotum. Mstislav Rostropovich, cello; Jansug Kak hidze, conductor; Koninkijk Filharmonisch Orkest van Vlaadderen.

ECM New Series 289 462 713-2:

Kacheli's best music is sad, dramatic, and intermittently terrifying. The piece Simi, which has the gloomy subtitle "joyless thoughts for violoncello and orchestra," admirably accomplishes these moods. Its opening adagio begins by suggesting a disquieting threat on the cello. Soon Mstislav Rostropovich's cello rides on exquisite rails of tension, as the thematically clotted adagio continues to tweak the listener's sense of dread. A crescendo rises and threatens to explode, but vanishes, leaving all but a ripple of sound. But there is no peace as fff chords crash suddenly, jolting and thrilling the ears. Such eruptions are standard in Kancheli's musical arsenal; in this piece, they work splendidly.

Unaccountably, like tragic accidents, they are over quickly. Conductor Jansung Kakhidze's Koninkijk Filharmonisch Orkest van Vlaadderen lurks in the background, providing a dark tone color accompanying the doleful cello. Like Webern's music, sometimes small tone rows carry the piece, subtly inferring emotional stress rather than plunging the listener into them (like Mahler often does). Later in the piece, other orchestral eruptions take place, each time more intense and severe. Simi grabs the listener by the lapels like a social reformer shouting "can't you see what's happening?" There are other ingenious effects in this piece, like Kancheli's skillful balancing of percussive effects with rests, which heightens the disquiet in this piece. The piece ends as it began, a poem of sorrow and regret that dissolves diminuendo, diluted like a homeopathic remedy down to ppp. This disturbing piece is difficult to ignore.

I wish I could summon the same enthusiasm for Magnum Ignotum ("the Great Forgiving"). It begins adagio, and soon an odd pallor settles over the piece. A taped voice half-chants Matthew 1:18-25 (This biblical citation recounts the angel's message to Joseph that Mary is pregnant and the man's subsequent reaction.) This four-minute segment sets a discomforting mood. Not dramatically spoken like the reading from Ezekiel 37:1-10 Penderecki uses in his Seventh Symphony, the segment is monotonous - it is also tonally and thematically irrelevant. Kancheli places the tape player so far back it's difficult to tell if the language is Latin or Georgian. Does he think by injecting religion into a piece it inures it from criticism? The middle segment is unremarkable, drifting on a placid chromatic sea until interrupted by a tantalizingly short and undocumented Gurian song. The piece concludes with a passage from the Georgian hymn Upalo Ghmerto - lovely but also undocumented - and clanging bells. While well played by the Koninkijk Filharmonisch Orkest van Vlaadderen orchestra, Magnum Ignotum ultimately fails. It is a noble attempt at what the composer calls "a formally enigmatic, mysteriously beautiful piece," but it lacks direction and sustained mood.

--Peter Bates

PENDERECKI: Selected Chamber Works. Deutsches Streichtrio, Eduard Brunner, Patrick O'Byrne.

CPO 999 730-2:

Try this disc when you're driving in your car. You will get to work energized, perhaps even early. The Deutsches Streichtrio plays the String Trio with taut energy laced with threat and dashed with melancholy. They remind me of the way the Emerson String Quartet plays Bartok. When they tire of hurling chromatic bolts of demi-melody, they lead you through a cavern of vague unease. I listened transfixed. So this is why Penderecki dedicated this piece to them. They know its inner secrets, unlike the Tale Quartet (BIS CD-652), who seem to be on less sure ground, particularly with the staccato opening chords. While the Deutsches Streichtrio speak them boldly, the Tale do so timidly, as if this music is so subtle it requires understatement. Similarly, clarinetist Eduard Brunner's Prelude for Clarinet solo begins less tenuously than Martin Fröst's, quickly getting to the point by stating its poetry in 2:34 rather than 3:21. Fröst's is still a compelling rendition, but Brunner plays closer to the sinews and bones. His legato of pain at the climax passes by quickly, like when a bullet grazes the skull, while Fröst dwells a moment too long.

Similarly the Deutsches Streichtrio performs the Quartet for Clarinet and String Trio with brisk keening and dark insinuation. While less spectacular, the Tale does a decent job; however their sound seems distantly miked, so the pp passages lose resonance. While these are the only three works these collections have in common, I would recommend the CPO disc if you want one volume of Penderecki's intensely personal chamber music. Violinist Hans Kalafusz and pianist Patrick O'Byrne play the composer's Sonata for Violin and Piano so well you'll see the influences of Bartok and Prokofiev Like the Bartok second Violin Sonata, this piece is a charmingly dissonant work spiked with off-kilter folk melodies.

--Peter Bates

ELGAR, FINZI, and WALTON: Violin Sonatas. Daniel Hope, violin; Simon Mulligan, piano.

Nimbus NI 5666:

If ever there was a chance for excess in performance, this CD could be it: three of the most intensely effusive violin sonatas ever to emerge from the British Isles.

Elgar's Sonata for Violin and Piano wastes no time asserting its allegiance to late Romanticism. Intense Brahmsian themes and legato figures alternate with serene figures. The opening bars burst into the room like partygoers tipsy from Liebfraumilch. Written at the end of World War I, this piece is a lament for what Elgar perceived as lost innocence. His approach involves great variation in tonal shades, producing fin de siècle motives like nostalgia and regret. At once point, the violin actually sounds like sobbing. Remarkably, violinist Daniel Hope and pianist Simon Mulligan elicit subtlety from Elgar where there is precious little. Hope twists mood and accent from the many scalar ascents, sometimes shaking them when they require melodrama, other times coaxing them onward like shy children. Movement II (Romance and Adagio) suggests a dance-like tune at first, but one that never breaks into exhilaration, as if content to sit on the sidelines and reflect. Through dominant chords and major key shifts, Elgar expresses courage in the last movement, but tempered by perplexity with the calamitous twentieth century. The musicians are utterly faithful to this music, giving it the melodic expression its calls for and deserves.

Gerald Finzi's 1940 Elegy for Violin and Piano keens for the lost pastoral and romantic spirit, both squashed by the encroaching of World War II. Romanticism runs thick in Finzi's blood. (He once wrote an ode called Intimations of Immortality.) This piece's melancholic first theme engenders images of youths pining for the unobtainable. There are several spontaneous shifts in tonality, such as the one about two minutes into the piece, then one a minute later. Such shifts keep the lyricism strong in the same way a lyric poem connects its nature description to the poet's psychological state. It returns several times to its first theme, varying the piano accompaniment only slightly. The performers expertly convey the dense layers of regret in this brief piece. It has a mid-nineteenth century feel, perhaps because Finzi believed he could "shake hands with a good friend over the centuries." There is no trace of dissonance. Even when the violin wails at its peak-the lament as the war intrudes-the music doesn't smooth its furrowed brow. Its ff strains rave on, but with a sharper sense of urgency. The penultimate melody doesn't depart radically in style from the opening one, but instead dwindles tastefully to its death, like a verismo opera heroine.

Like those of his compatriots Gerald Finzi and Edward Elgar, William Walton's Violin Sonata is a romantic piece, but one with dense layers of complexity. Although his piece crosses similar territory to theirs, it explores higher ground and deeper caverns. Its thirty minutes are like a thirty-day love affair, filled with tempests, ecstasy, and reflection. In the first movement, surprising shifts in tempo and volume make the music a poor candidate for a late night soporific. The lead melody never meanders, but instead changes its textures like a leaf through the seasons. Just when the intensity seems about to break, Walton slows it so it arches like a caressed cat. Violinist Daniel Hope and pianist Simon Mulligan play the variations in II with such skill that they don't seem like variations at all, but rather thinly connected themes. It begins with a lurking tension then explodes dramatically, with the melody propped by staccato chords. This is Waltonian drama rather than Elgarian melodrama. At one point, the violin plays a haunting pizzicato, a segment that Hope plays with the loopy abandon he learned from his Schnittke and Weill interpretations (NI 5582). Don't miss this one. It's one of the great twentieth century violin sonatas.

-- Peter Bates

SATIE: Complete Piano Works. Jean-Pierre Armengaud w/Dominique Merlet.

Mandala MAN 4975/79:

How thrilling to have nearly all of Satie's piano works in five volumes! How disappointing to hear Jean-Pierre Armengaud's sporadic renditions.

To its credit, the set sports an inventive organizational scheme. The discs are grouped thematically, such as Famous Pieces and First Recordings, and Surrrealistic and Childish Pieces. I enjoyed hearing Allegro and Petite Sonate for the first time. Like their subject, the liner notes are quirky and inconsistent. Sometimes they're entertaining with cute drawings and strange photographs, other times they're annoyingly impressionistic.

Most of this set is destined for my archives. I just can't get excited about Armengaud's style. It's too colorless, too gray. To be fair, he wears several shades of gray: the impassive slate gray of his Pieces Froids and the almost-not-there gray of his Quatres Preludes. Perhaps he took Satie's famous comment about "furniture music" too literally. Not just an impish composer, the composer produced pieces of sinuous subtlety. Armengaud has trouble finding it. In Surrealistic and Childish Pieces, he should be filling the fissures of Peccadilles Importunes with moody pastels instead of slow and fast, loud and soft. In some pieces, his playing displays technical ineptitude. In the finale to Jack-in-the-Box, Armengaud has trouble negotiating the tricky tempo changes, while Aldo Ciccolini (EMI Seraphim CDR 73705 ) blithely dances through them with his spirited rendition. Armengaud's rubato is virtually absent in his Pieces froides:Trois danses de travers, while Pascal Roge (London 421 713-2) consumes this piece as if nibbling a Napoleon on the Champs Elysées. Armengaud's interpretations pick up in Volume Five, Complete Works for Piano Duet. With Merlet sparking him along, we hear a spirited and variegated Parade and the whimsically off-center Trois Morceaux en Forme de Poire. The two produce a charming La Belle Excentrique, prancing vulgarly across the stage, especially in the two Grande ritournelles. Sometimes they even convey Satie's infatuation for ragtime. Too bad this Frenchman doesn't inject more élan into Satie's works.

--Peter Bates

BRUCKNER: Mass No. 1 in D Minor; Motets--Luba Organosova, sop/Bernarda Fink, alto/Christoph Prégardien, ten/Erik Wilm Schulte, bass/Julian Podger, ten/John Eliot Gardiner, cond/Monteverdi Choir/Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra--DGG 459674:

Bruckner's Mass No. 1, written in 1864, was his first large-scale composition. It's in the tradition of the Viennese masses of Haydn and Mozart, but marked by the composer's distinctive predilection for monumentality and by the depth of his religious feeling, dignified and solemn but rapturous in its intensity, with many moving passages. The soloists don't have much to do--most of the burden is carried by the chorus--but they're fine. Under Gardiner's understanding leadership, the Monteverdi Choir and Vienna Philharmonic, as you would expect, sing and play wonderfully, from the gentlest of pianissimos to the boldest fortes, and with obvious sympathy for the music. The five motets that fill out the disc are on a smaller scale but very similar to the Mass in style, with Julian Podger particularly effective in the tenor solos of "Tota pulchra es, Maria." Bruckner's long-winded sobriety isn't to everyone's taste, but the disc contains very beautiful music very well performed and is certainly worth your attention

--Alex Morin

ROSSINI: Cantatas--Elisabetta Scano, sop/Cecilia Bartoli, mezzo/Daniela Barcellona, cont/Juan Diego Flórez, ten/Luigi Petroni, ten/Paul Austin Kelly, ten/Riccardo Chailly, cond/La Scala Philharmonic Chorus & Orchestra

Decca 486328:

Vol. 2 of Decca's survey of Rossini's cantatas offers two works: Il Pianto d'Armonia, a brief student piece written when the composer was 16, and the longer and more complex Le Nozze di Teti e di Peleo, written in 1816 for the wedding of a Neapolitan princess and a French prince, after which it disappeared until its rediscovery in 1966. The first, on the conventional theme of Harmony lamenting the death of Orpheus, isn't much except for its well-written opening Sinfonia, though Kelly--among the best of our Rossini tenors--sings its two arias sweetly and expressively. Le Nozze, which borrows liberally from the composer's early operas (including Barber of Seville), is much more interesting and quite delightful. It deals--appropriately for its occasion--with the marriage of Thetis and Peleus, the parents of Achilles, and is full of charming arias, ensembles, and choruses. The cast is excellent, handling all the coloratura easily, with Bartoli as Ceres, given some exceedingly florid arias, singing somewhat coarsely but with remarkable agility. Chailly conducts briskly and knowledgeably, and the La Scala forces provide solid support. Good sound, useful program notes, and an all-around good time.

--Alex Morin

DVORAK: Stabat Mater--Mariana Zvetkova, sop/Ruxandra Donose, mezzo/Johan Botha, ten/Roberto Scandiuzzi, bass/Giuseppe Sinopoli, cond/Sächsichen Staatsoper Dresden Choir/Staatskapelle Dresden--DG 471033 (2 CDs):

Dvorak wrote his Stabat Mater in 1877, after the death of his three children, and it can be assumed to reflect his personal grief as well as the medieval lament of Mary at the death of Jesus. It was very successful at its premiere in 1880, and even more so in London, where it established the composer's reputation and led to a number of important commissions. It's very long, very moving, and very, very beautiful, filled with lovely arias, particularly effective ensemble numbers, and splendid choruses. Sinopoli, who died a few weeks ago, could sometimes be wayward in tempo, but not here; this performance is slow, tender, and lyrical, with skillfully pointed climaxes and an impressive overall sweep. The soloists are excellent, singing expressively and with genuine feeling, and the rich sound of the Dresden choir and orchestra is very well presented. This set offers glorious, enriching music and should not be missed.

--Alex Morin

**** QUICK AUDITIONS ****

Conga-Line in Hell = DEL AGUILA: Conga-line in Hell; MARQUEZ: Danzon No. 4; NANCARROW: First Piece for Small Orchestra; SIERRA: Cuentos; CATURIA: First Cuban Suite; GUARNIERI: Flor de Tremembe - Camerata de las Americas/ Joel Sachs; Duane Cochran, piano - Dorian COR-93230: Subtitled "Modern Classics from Latin America," this is a fresh and unexpected treat of highly original music from south of the border. Del Aguila is Uruguayan and his 12-minute devilish diversion must have had Ravel's Bolero as a model. Everything here is equally weird and delightful, and the performances and sonics are the best.

Capriccio - Instrumental Music from 17th-Century Italy - Tragicomedia - Harmonia mundi 907294: This early music quartet of performers among themselves play lutes, archlutes, baroque guitars, viola da gamba, charrone, baroque mandolin, harpsichord, organ and drone. The 15 instrumental works here are from both Scarlattis, Vitali, Bassano and other composers less well-known. Lots of variety of sprightly-sounding dance-flavored music, expertly and enthusiastically played.

DAVE HEATH: African Sunrise; Manhattan Rave - Evelyn Glennie, percussion; John Harle, saxophone; Philips Smith, piano; London Philharmonic Orchestra - Black Box BBM1051: Heath's compositions bring rock, funk, sampling and even rap influences into the classical world. Hearing percussionist Glennie hell bent at a drum set inspired Heath to create this work on which among other things she bangs away on oil cans, bottles and old pans, for the most part improvising her part in the score. If you're open to really new sounds in new music, this is it!

NICOLAS JACKSON: Works for Trumpets and Organ - Maurice Murphy & Rod Franks, trumpets/Nicholas Jackson at the Great Organ of Chartres Cathedral - Naxos 8.554773: New music from another British composer, but this time in a modern-Romantic style a la Durufle and Messiaen. Jackson has written many church works, including an acclaimed Mass. Many of his organ works were inspired by sitting in the loft of various French cathedrals watching organist-composers such as Dupre and Langlais improvise for services. The several shorter pieces here for trumpets and organ are joined by longer works for organ alone, such as the Organ Sonata and Organ Mass. The acoustics of Chartres are an important part of this music. While it's quite involving via matrix surround, I was wishing to hear this in multichannel SACD.

- John Sunier


Keyboard Concertos Times 4 =

ANTONI SOLER: Concertos Nos. 1 - 6 for Two Harpsichords - Marju Vatsel & Jordi Reguant - la mà de guido LMG2041: Soler's six concertos, originally written for two organs, are among the finest compositions ever created for two keyboard instruments. Unlike Soler's solo harpsichord sonatas they owe less of a debt to Domenico Scarlatti, Soler's predecessor at El Escorial. The first part in each concerto is the more difficult and flashy one and was designed for Soler's royal pupil, whereas the second part is more circumspect and was probably played by the composer. Perhaps it's because I'm a harpsichordist, but I prefer this version to the original for two organs.

J. C. BACH: Piano Concertos Op. 13 & 14 - Anthony Halstead, piano & conductor/The Hanover Band - CPO 999 691-2: J.C. Was the most famous and cosmopolitan of the Bachs during the 18th century. His piano concertos were well received, especially No. 4 in B Flat Major of Opus 13. Its fame was due to his use of a favorite Scottish song as the main theme of the final movement. Halstead plays a late 18th century Broadwood pianoforte, which seems to strike a perfect timbre between the often wiry and thin sound of fortepianos and a modern Steinway. I had always thought J.C.'s concertos a bit of a bore, but the sprightly approach of the Hanover ensemble makes them really sing.

GEIRR TVEITT: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 5 - Havard Gimse, piano/Royal Scottish Nat. Orch./Bjarte Engeset - Naxos 8.555077: Norwegian Tveitt, who lived until l981, was a prolific composer who lost most of his work when his home burned in l970. He had published six piano concertos, all brilliant and very pianistic works in the style of Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev. The two on this CD are welcome additions to the growing discography of obscure piano concertos. The Fifth begins with a theme that sounds like Uranus from The Planets.

FRANK MARTIN - Complete Music for Piano & Orchestra - Paul Badura-Skoda, Sebastian Benda, pianists/Italian Swiss Radio Orch./Christian Benda - ASV CD DCA 1082: Those who recall Badura-Skoda's many LPs for the Westminster label may be surprised to see his name here. With fellow pianist Benda he had recorded the Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 2 plus Martin's popular Ballade for piano and orchestra back in l970 with the composer himself conducting. For this CD the recording premiere of Martin's work for two pianos and small orchestra, Danse de la Peur, is also added. The Swiss composer had a unique compositional style unlike anyone else and these are some of his most accessible works.

- John Sunier


This quartet of new CDs is heavy on strings =

Ahn Trio - Ahn-Plugged (Lucia, piano; Angella, violin; Maria, cello) - EMI Classics 57022: Oh, now I get it...Un-Plugged. I'll forgive EMI for the terrible pun since this is another crossover classical CD that obviously had a lot of thought put into it and which offers some very worthwhile music. Seeing such composers are David Bowie, Pat Metheny, Astor Piazzolla and Michael Nyman should be a hint. Also seeing that the string trio of lovely Korean ladies enlisted the aid of two percussionists on several of the selections. Kenji Bunch was unknown to me but the two selections he wrote for the Ahns caught my ear with their great sense of fun. Bernstein's student-years 1937 Trio is the major work - it already has a jazzy second movement and hits of what's to come.

SCHOENBERG: Transfigured Night; SANDOR VERESS: 4 Transylvanian Dances; BARTOK: Divertimento - Camerata Bern/Thomas Zehetmair - ECM New Series 1714: There are plenty of recorded versions of Schoenberg's most popular work, but one hearing has made this new one my first choice. The clarity of the string orchestra lines makes this sound like a SACD recording, but Zehetmair also plays to the hilt the highly-strung, emotional lines of this programmatic post Wagnerian tone poem. Veress was a fellow Hungarian and associate of Bartok's. His folk-flavored dances offer a somewhat relaxed centerpiece before the heavier seriousness of the Bartok, which is also a superb rendition that is free of the string tone mush that afflicts the denser passages in most of the other performances.

Royal Strings - MENDELSSOHN: Allegro from Octet; VAUGHN WILLIAMS: Fantasia on Greensleeves; DVORAK: Moderato from Serenade in E Major; ALBINONI: Adagio; TCHAIKOVSKY: Waltz from Serenade in C Major; PURCELL: Dido's Lament; BRAHMS: Un poco Allegretto from Quintet in G Major; SCHUBERT: Serenade; BEETHOVEN: Presto from Quartet in C-Sharp Minor & Lento assai from Quartet in F Major - Royal Philharmonic Orchestra Strings/Charles Rosekrans - Telarc DC-80562: A great program of some of the core works for string orchestra, lovingly played and engineered. Classic gems for strings but no duds (thanks for leaving out the Air for the G String...). Should have a wide appeal to many different listeners. What's more to say?

JOSEPH BOULOGNE SAINT-GEORGES: Violin Concertos Nos. 1 & 2, Op. 5 and G Major, Op. 8 - Takako Nishizaki, violin/Cologne Chamber Orch./Helmut Müller-Brühl - Naxos 8.555040: The Chevalier de St.-Georges was a part-black composer, conductor, violinist, swordsman, military commander, huntsman, athlete of the second half of the 18th century. The concertos he wrote for his own concerts and are full of virtuosic display in the faster tempi but very appealing in the lyricism of their slower movements. Haydn seems to be a model; one of this remarkable personages' many accomplishments was conducting the premieres of Haydn's "Paris" Symphonies.

- John Sunier


Our last Quick Auditions are all music for solo keyboards =

TAKEMITSU - Complete Works for Solo Piano - Paul Crossley - GMN CO114: Toru Takemitsu - the first Japanese composer to gain fame in the West - was mostly self-taught. But he considered Debussy his teacher - very fitting considering that that composer's break from Western tradition was based strongly on Asian musical culture. Water, rain, trees, gardens, wind, dreams are the stuff of Takemitsu's short piano pieces. Included are two heard in their world premiere recordings, discovered since the composer's death six years ago. Pianist Crossley also contributes his own A Vision of Takemitsu.

LISZT: Piano Sonata in B Minor; CHOPIN: Sonata No. 3 - Alan Gampel, Fazioli piano - Mapleshade Productions 07382: The plucky jazz label hereby introduces their new Classical series. It benefits from the same ungimmicky, natural sonics that their technology so well serves in the jazz field. It also presents in the best possible fidelity the rich timbres of the Italian Fazioli concert grand which has made inroads in European concert halls. Steinway and Bosendorfer watch out, I say. Pianist Gampel is distantly related to Wanda Landowska. He has a fresh and passionate approach to both of these richly Romantic piano sonatas.

J.S. BACH: The Well-Tempered Clavier, Books 1 & II - Ralph Kirkpatrick, Clavichord - Archiv 289 463 601-2 & Archiv 289 463 623-2 (each 2 CDs): The WTC is central to Bach's voluminous output of keyboard music. Some of the rest of its title: Preludes and Fugues in all major and minor keys, in both major thirds and minor thirds; composed for young musicians desirous of instruction as well as those who are already acquainted with this art. Music notation was looser in earlier centuries and "clavier" probably meant any keyboard instrument that happened to be at hand. Harpsichord and piano are the most heard in these short works, but Kirkpatrick was the first to record all of them on the very expressive but very subtle clavichord - in l963. The CDs bear the same warning as the LP versions did - Don't run the volume up at normal level because the clavichord is an extremely soft instrument and shouldn't be amplified. "A still, small, poetic voice" is how one writer described the instrument. Since the digital remastering has cleaned up the noise and hiss of the LPs (though not the clavichord's own mechanical sounds), I would suggest this is the perfect source material for headphone listening... It takes one deeply into Bach's unique contrapuntal universe.

- John Sunier

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