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CLASSICAL CDs , Pt. 2 of 2 -May 2002

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String Quartet sounds you probably haven't heard before on the next pair of CDs...

NUEVO - Kronos Quartet & guests - Nonesuch 79649-2:

A cornucopia of Mexican music covering close to a century is the theme of the latest "concept album" from the leading contemporary string quartet. Nothing here is the standard acoustic string quartet sound - the Kronos are transformed in a variety of ways on each track through the efforts of a co-producer from Argentina, arrangements by three different composers, and many guest performers. Kronos leader David Harrington was inspired to make the album by a walk thru Mexico City in which he heard a fantastic variety of sounds and music. The 14 selections include such disparate items as a piece of "space-age bachelor pad music" from the late Esquivel, an exciting arrangement of Revueltas' Sensemaya pairing the Kronos with a percussion ensemble, a piece for a religious festival introducing a marimba with the quartet, and an arrangement of the pop tune Perfidia played by a virtuoso on the musical leaf. The final longish (:30 would be too long for my ears) track is a remix by "Plankton Man" DJ from Tijuana of one of the Kronos' tracks.

LEONARD SALZEDO: String Quartets No. 2 Op. 3 and No. 7 Op. 76; Violin-Viola Sonata Op. 132 - Archaeus Quartet - Dutton CDLX 7113:

Have to admit I requested this one thinking these were works by Carlos Salzedo the harpist, but I'm glad I did anyway. Turns out there's no connection except perhaps the Sephardic Jewish lineage. This Salzedo, who lived in Britain most of his life, just died last year. He wrote some lovely tonal music by the strength of these three chamber works. There are hints of the Spanish guitar here and there, some jazzy syncopations, and melodies that often show a Moorish/Jewish tinge. But light music they are not; they have a great deal of depth. This is part of Dutton's recent series of new recordings departing from their excellent reissues of old 78s.

- John Sunier

FRANZ SCHREKER: Overtures - Ekkehard, Die Gezeichneten, Das Spielwerk, Fantastic Overture, Interlude from Der Schatzgraber - Slovak Philharmonic/Edgar Seipenbusch - Naxos 8.555246:

Another of the many composers who was a victim of Hitler and is only now being appreciated via recordings. These five instrumental works come from his several operas written in the teens and 20s of the last century. Most of them dealt with deep psychological conflicts, and Schreker led the post-Romantic movement in the direction of Expressionism. However, his music is still tonal with sensuous harmonies, but often angst-ridden.

CHARLES WAKEFIELD CADMAN: Piano Trio in D Major, Sonata for Violin and Piano, Piano Quintet in G Minor - Paul Posnak, p./Peter Zazoffsky,v./Ross Harbough,cello/Bergonzi String Quartet - Naxos American Classics 8.559067:

Cadman, who lived until l946, was one of the first American composers to eschew the standard European schooling and follow an independent course influenced by Native American sources. The last movement of his Romantic-style Piano Trio is thought to be the first inclusion of ragtime elements into a chamber work by an American composer. Cadman described his Violin Sonata as having "a bit of the Pacific Coast and desert country in it." There are two encores for violin and piano on the disc: The Legend of the Canyon and From the Land of the Sky-Blue Water. Peter McGrath was recording engineer for these performances recorded at the University of Miami.

- John Sunier

Two Cello & Piano albums up next...

JOHN WILLIAMS: Concerto for Cello and Orchestra, Elegy for Cello and Orchestra, Three Pieces for Solo Cello, Heartwood - Yo-Yo Ma, cello/Recording Arts Orch. Of Los Angeles/John Williams - Sony Classical SK 89670:

Williams took a break from his almost non-stop film scoring to write a cello concerto especially for Ma to be performed at the dedication of a revamped Tanglewood venue in l994. The result was four continuous movements: the first putting Ma clearly in the spotlight as soloist and giving him an extensive cadenza, the second inspired by "the ghosts of Ellington and Strayhorn," the third a speedy Scherzo with interchanges between the cello and orchestra, and the finale boasting long lyrical lines and called therefore Song. The jazz connection comes up again with Heartwood, in which Williams tried to recreate the impressionistic and reflective harmonies of some of the arrangements of the Claude Thornhill Orchestra, which often featured the French horn.

ALKAN: Sonata de concert for piano & cello, LISZT: Five Pieces for Cello and Piano - Emmanuelle Bertrand, cello/Pascal Amoyel, piano - Harmonia mundi HMC 901758:

The idea of this unusual repertory is that although both of these composers were known for extremely extroverted virtuoso works, in some of their chamber music they strove for a more meditative and spiritual musical vision. These works for cello and piano illustrate that side of the two Parisian composers (in fact in l835 they share a stage there to take part in a work for four pianos). The initial movement of the Alkan sonata, which thoroughly exploits the cello's potential, sounds as though it could have been by Franck. The third of its four movements has sacred references and is sweetly delicate in nature. The Liszt works were all adaptations of earlier pieces for different instruments. Best known would be the elegiac La lugubre gondole (which an announcer once translated on the fly as "the lousy gondolier."

- John Sunier

Now here's some Russian symphonic music to stretch your drivers and your ears!...

STRAVINSKY: The Rite of Spring, SCRIABIN: The Poem of Ecstasy - Kirov Orchestra of the Marinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg/ Valery Gergiev - Philips 289 468 035-2:

Most readers won't require an analysis of either of these popular works - the best-known of each of their respective composers. All I can say about the recording is...Wow. I don't recall any Russian recordings from the Soviet era pinning my ears back (in a good way) like this one - and I'm taking into account the greatly improved fidelity since that period. Having recently seen/heard a "data-reduced" version of Rite (chamber ensemble and a single dancer!) I was definitely ready for the full orchestral onslaught, enabling my mind's eye to conjure of lots of dancers. Of the ecstatic classic by Scriabin, I just want to quote Rimsky-Korsakoff after he first heard the work: "Isn't he going out of his mind with this religious-erotic craze of his?" Right.

ARTYOMOV: "Awakening" - Concert of the 13, Awakening, Morning Songs, A Garland of Recitations - soloists/State Sym. Orch./Gennadi Rozhdestvensky; also Moscow Philharmonic/Virko Baley - Music Boheme CDBMR010127:

For some Russian critics, Artyomov is the most important Russian composer since Shostakovich. Rostropovich said "Artyomov brings Glory for our country," and several U.S. critics have found him a genius. Listen to this line from a statement the composer has in the notes to this sampling of his music: "Music is a mediator between God and the world." Sound a bit like Scriabin? Anyway, he thinks Big and his works employ a variety of approaches ranging from the tonal to wild cataclysms of sound. Some of these archive recordings date back a ways and quality could be better. There was once a release on Mobile Fidelity in very good sound. There are said to be about a dozen CDs of Artyomov's music out, but they are difficult to find, so this one may be the curious collector's best hope.

- John Sunier

Historic Organs of Portland - 35 Pipe Organs in Oregon and Washington - The Organ Historical Society OHS-97 (4 CDs for price of 2) (Distr. by Albany):

What a package for the organ aficionado! The 35 organs range from one dating from around 1790! to one just dedicated six years ago and the composers range from Anon. thru Walther. There are 36 organists, and some of the instruments are a bit out of Portland city limits, being in Eugene, Vancouver Washington, Corvallis and suburbs of Portland. The 44 page note booklet has photos of each organ and their history and ranks. (One of the more spectacular ones happens to be installed in an opera house located on the grounds of a diary, just up the road from where I live!) It turns out there is a group called The Organ Clearing House which acts as a central source for churches all over the U.S. to buy and sell pipe organs. The notes also have a paragraph on each of the organists. The selections - often two or three on each organ - were chosen with an ear to what would be most appropriate to each particular instrument. Bach and Buxtehude are well represented of course, and the French organ school is heard in works of Franck, Tournemire, Dupre and others. About half of the composers will probably be unknown to most listeners however.

The range of timbres is extreme - a few of the organs are chamber instruments and one is powered only by foot pedals. It is evidently a candidate for one of the restorations that organs sometimes require, since it is described as having the first dozen notes in the bass on at all times! That certainly gives a distinctive timbre. Some of the recordings were made at live concerts or services and a couple have choirs and other solo instruments participating. It's difficult to give an overview of this collection, but it will provide much fascinating listening and study for organ buffs, most especially those living in the Portland area.

- John Sunier

Schumann and more Schumann on the next two new releases...

SCHUMANN: Fantasy in E Major, Etudes Symphoniques, Piano Sonata No. 2 - Marc-Andre Hamelin - Hyperion CDA67166:

Sonata and Fantasia elements fascinated Schumann and they are in evidence in much of his considerable piano music output. I wasn't that familiar with the major work here, the Fantasie. It is a strong work that seems to show a bit more muscle than much of Schumann's piano writing, parts and reminded me of Schubert's very masculine "Wanderer" Fantasia. The Etudes is the other big work here at 25 minutes length. (Hamelin must have either made some cuts or adopted a more more sprightly tempi than an Epic LP I recall from my early days on the air - the Etudes ran 30 minutes on one side, which was perfect for going out for a quick lunch or restroom break - while courting disaster due to the narrow grooves and possibility of the stylus sticking!).

SCHUMANN: Humoreske Op. 20, Novelletten Op. 21, Sonata in F Op. 14, Nachtstucke Op. 23, No. 4 - Andres Schiff, piano - ECM New Series 1806/07 (2 CDs):

Schiff is one of the foremost interpreters of Schumann's piano music today, and this album is a record of a live all-Schumann concert in Zurich in l999. Schumann's music is not of the virtuoso ilk but more intimate and private - almost like conversation with a loved one. There is a great deal going on in Schumann's piano works, and including constant transitions from one mood to another. Only a truly sensitive pianist (such as Horowitz and Richter in the past) can handle the difficult phrasing in such a way that it doesn't seem choppy or disorganized. Schiff is brilliant in communicating both the delicate poetic passages and the occasional stormy Schumannesque passion. This is a recorded concert that requires attentive dedicated listening to appreciate - it's definitely not background music. ECM's sonics are up to the task, and there's no distracting coughers in this attentive audience.

- John Sunier

The violin is the focus for our final three new CDs...

HANDEL: Complete Violin Sonatas - Andrew Manze, v./Richard Egarr, harpsichord - Harmonia mundi HMU 907259:

These eight sonatas are intimate gems from the creator of so many impressive operas and oratorios. Most have four movements, beginning with a slow movement and ending with an Allegro. Two sonata fragments are included. Manze did much research in authenticating which sonatas seemed to be truly from Handel's hand. Questionable ones were not included. on the disc. The Manze/Egarrr duo won acclaim for their previous recording of the complete Bach Violin Sonatas, and they uphold their superb quality with this new release.

Hebrew Melodies - JOSEPH ACHRON: 7-pieeces (incl. Suite from Scholom Aleicham's play "Stempenyu the Fiddler'), ALEXANDER WEPRIK: Suite Op.l 7, JOEL ENGEL; Freilechs, :LAZARE SAMINSKY: Hebrew Rhapsody, ALEXANDER KREJN: Aria, Caprice hebraique, Second Araia - Ingold Turban, v./Jascha Nemtsov, p. - Hänssler Classic CD 93.028:

While the booklet is full of information about Jewish music in Russia and elsewhere and composers who incorporated Hebrew melodies in their works, the star here is Joseph Achron. At the age of 11 he performed for the Tzar's brothers, Jascha Heifetz made him known by playing one of his Hebrew melodies frequently, and he ended up in Hollywood in the 40s, where in his obituary Schoenberg stated he was one of the most underrated modern composers and that he had great originality and profound elaboration of his ideas. I'm sure these lovely old world melodies will have strong nostalgia qualities for some, and the rest of us can just revel in their exotic tonal turns.

BACH: Sonatas for Violin & Harpsichord - Giuliano Carmignola, v./Andrea Marcon, harpsichord - Sony Classical S2K 89469 (2 CDs):

Last month I praised these six Bach sonatas on a pair of CDs from another label. Scratch that one - this double CD is better in every respect. Though both violinists play the baroque violin the edgy tone on the other is little short of annoying while Carmignola's sings with a silky and captivating tone. His phrasing is also much smoother and engaging. Finally, the acoustics of the historic hall in Venice where Sony recorded give this new recording a wonderfully natural soundspace (that ProLogic II decoding can put you in the middle of).

- John Sunier

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