January 2001, Part 2 of 2
red line


Katja Phillabaum, piano/Robert Goodberg, flute

Gasparo GG-3-1004 3CD's TT: 209:50

"The Roumanian Jeanette MacDonald" was my first reaction to the voice of Yolanda Marcoulescou (d. 1991), the former star of the Bucharest Opera who taught voice at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee until her untimnely death from cancer. Absolutely unknown to me until I received this Gasparo set, which reissues select French-opera performances from Bucharest (with uncredited orchestra and conductor) as well as a host of French-language art-songs originally on Orion LP's, Marcoulescou's charming soprano is a grand coloratura instrument much in the tradition of light lyrics, like Pons, MacDonald, Sayao and even Sack and Korjus, with its mellifluous trills, roulades and falsetto scales and leaps. When Marcoulescou sings, "I am Titania, daughter of the air," she means it.

Frankly, I am not fond of "head-resonance music," that flighty, showy stable of music designed to lionize coloratura melismas and throaty warbles on nonsense syllables. Barnum and Bailey gone classic, so far as I am concerned. Mado Robin will likely remain the queen of this brand of empty-headed virtuosity, what Toscanini used to call 'stupid, stupidissimo!'

But Marcoulescou transcends these stereotypes, approaching Tourel and Steber in her choice of what Ned Rorem calls "smart music." The Seven Songs, Op. 15 by Enesco make a strong case for a canny merger of text and music that fuse emotion and sensibility and the utmost artistic awareness of harmonic-color. Those songs with flute, by Ibert and Roussel, for example, only make us long for her thoughts on Ravel's Sheherazade or Berlioz' Les Nuits d'Ete. Purity of tone, careful attention to syllabic detail, immaculate shifts of timbre and dynamics, every technical appurtenance contributes to the concentration of effect. Marcoulescou is a natural Ravel interpreter, with the clear delineation of the vocal line, its eclat, its freshness and agility. The rarity of repertory is no mean consideration, either; if one is to consider the number of Schmitt Ronsard settings one has ever heard in recital. . .For lovers of Gallic art and sheer vocal prowess, Marcoulescou is every bit a revelation as was Callas to hardened lovers of Verdi. This imposing collation is highly recommended.

-Gary Lemco


Arthur Rubinstein: Music of Spain: FALLA, MOMPOU, GRANADOS, ALBENIZ 

Vol 18 from "The Rubinstein Collection" RCA 09026-63018-2 66:03

Artur Rubinstein used to frequent the Mosque Theater in Newark, New Jersey, where someone in front of me asked him (subsequent to a vehement encore of the Ritual Fire Dance)about his love of Spanish music, especially Falla. "That little man, Manuel de Falla, looked like a village grocer," quipped Rubinstein, "but when he sat down to play his latest ideas for 'The 3-Cornered Hat' the very soul of his country came pouring out." Rubinstein loved Iberian music, and he had lifelong friendships with Picasso and Segovia. The inscriptions on this RCA disc range 1941-1955, and include his 1949 collaboration with Vladimir Golschmann and the St. Louis Symphony in Falla's Nights in the Gardens of Spain, whose re-mastering makes it sound like it was recorded yesterday!

Except for the addition of Mompou's Cancons danses No. 6, this entire disc has been previously available and long admired. Unfortunately, Rubinstein never recorded all of Albeniz' Iberia; though we have a wonderful legacy from Alicia de Larrocha, Rubinstein's outgoing temperament and sense of the grand passions in Romantic music would have been ideal. Instead, we have a suave Evocacion; we have a studied, languid Cordoba, a brisk, will o' the wisp feeling in Sevillanas, almost a Liszt etude. Nor, like de Larrocha, do we have a complete Spanish Dances of Granados, possibly the most intense of the great Spanish composers; but we have the popular E Minor dance and the familiar Maiden and the Nightingale from Goyescas, both played with deep feeling and loving care. The rest of the program is standard: Falla's Miller's Dance, Ritual Fire Dance, and Andaluza. The real find, for those that missed the LP or the earlier CD incarnation, is the Nights in the Gardens of Spain, in a performance that rivals the best interpretations by Casadesus, Lympany, Curzon, and Soriano. Possibly the best Golschmann assistance ever, including his work with Milstein!

-Gary Lemco



Levant was one of the most interesting musical figures of the past century and his recordings, movies, books and TV appearances had a strong effect on my young musical life. His book A Smattering of Ignorance gave me a greater appreciation of Levant's own idol, George Gershwin, as well as rolling me on the floor with his hilarious tales of the Marx Brothers. In his obsessive-compulsive behavior and hypochondria (which he unabashedly discussed on live TV) he seem like a brother to another later idiosyncratic pianist - Glenn Gould.

Levant's great version of Rhapsody in Blue and the Concerto in F are available on a Sony CD, but this collection concentrates on the solo piano recordings he made for the American Columbia label between l941 and 47. It is felt during this period he was at his peak, and later on - as a result of a fast-living Hollywood lifestyle and not enough practicing, he began to lose his chops. I cringe every time I listen again to his Gershwin Second Rhapsody, where he hits a painful clam that really stands out (recorded originally 78s - no editing!). There are many Debussy and Chopin selections among the 27 short tracks. He also shows a predilection for Russian composers. Seth Winner's restorations are serviceable, following Pearl's general policy of refraining from heavy scratch and noise reduction - they feel the user can reduce it with tone controls if wished. Right, those few of us that even have them...

- John Sunier

RIMSKY-KORSAKOV: Scheherazade; BORODIN; Polovtsian Dances from Prince Igor - Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Thomas Beecham (Beecham Choral Society added in Borodin) - EMI Classics Great Recordings of the Century 5 66998 2:

This 1957 stereo recording by Beecham has been one of the top Scheherazades to own ever since its original release on LP, but in this latest re-do via EMI's "ART" remastering techniques, it's better than ever. Beecham spins an exotic orchestral fabric here, with gorgeous playing by everyone concerned, including first violinist Steven Staryk. Here's yet another example of them making better recordings back in the late 50's and early 60's than what one usually hears nowadays. Fritz Reiner may still have the winning votes in the Scheherazade recordings election, but Beecham is a really hot runner-up and many may prefer his more humanistic and sensual approach. The Polovtsian Dances with the choral part is also a nice extra.

- John Sunier


RACHMANINOFF: VOCALISE - Versions by: Anna Moffo, soprano; Morton Gould & his Orchestra, Vladimir Spivakov, violin; Philadelphia Orch./Stokowski; Brian Asawa, countertenor with orch.; Evgeny Kissin, piano; James Galway, flute; Norman Luboff Choir; Tomita; Wolfram Husche, cello; Vronsky & Babin, piano duet; St. Petersburg Philharmonic/Temirkanov; Ruth Ann Swenson, soprano - Red Seal 09026 63669-2:

Now this is the sort of creative programming that the major labels need to do if they want to expand the classical market. It fits right in with their present scheme of re-issuing everything they have in their catalogs instead of recording new material. This mix of 13 tracks ranges from recordings made as early as 1929 (the Stoky instrumental version) to some done just a couple years ago. Each has its own special vision of this glorious melody that doesn't seem to get tired no matter how many repetitions of it one hears in succession. One of the most unusual is Isao Tomita electronic version from l984, and the idea of opening and closing the program with the vocal version is also a good one. They two are contrasted though: the first is an arrangement for soprano and orchestra while the concluding version is the original Rachmaninoff version with piano accompaniment. If this clever CD is your cup of musical tea, you have four other similar efforts to choose from: Multiple versions of Barber's lovely Adagio for Strings, the Ave Maria, Ravel's Bolero (careful...) and Pachelbel's Canon (oh my god, deliver me...)

- John Sunier


ANTONIO SOLER: Six Concerti for Two Keyboards - Erne Heiller & Anton Heiller, harpsichords & organ - Vanguard Classics SVC-135:

Soler came on the scene at the Spanish court after Domenico Scarlatti had been the teacher of Queen Maria Barbara since she was just a princess. Soler became the music teach to the royal prince Infante Gabriel. These six concerti were written as teaching material for Soler's work with Gabriel and were never published during the composer's lifetime - in fact none of his music was published. There were many different keyboard instruments available, especially at El Escorial where Soler taught: multiple clavichords, harpsichords, portable organs, chamber organs etc. The Heillers chose to play three of the concertos on two harpsichords, substituting a small organ for one of the harpsichords on the other three concertos. One hears many similarities to the older musician's harpsichord sonatas, but Soler completely recapitulates the opening theme when it is restated, unlike Scarlatti. The original 1964 tapes have been beautifully remastered with SBM techniques. I find music for two keyboards like this great for listening while driving where you get a more pronounced separation effect.

- John Sunier

Return to the Home Page for JAN.

Back to the Top of This Page

Back to Reissues Part 1

To Index of CD Reviews for Month