CLASSICAL CDs,   Pt. 2 - July-August 2001

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We start off with Guitars Galore! =

Guitar Duets - "Nylon & Steel" - Classical guitarist Manuel Barrueco plays duets with Al Di Meola, Steve Morse and Andy Summers - Angel 7243 5 56941 2 6: Another thoughtful, unusual and exciting crossover album. The four guitarists come from different genres of music (Di Meola is one of the top jazz guitarists and Summers is a member of The Police), some use some nylon strings, some use steel and some of the them play electric guitars vs. Barrueco's classical acoustic guitar. Some of the 13 tracks originate with the three guest guitarists but others are by Copland, Nazareth, and Villa-Lobos (the last a delightful improvisation on an Etude by the Brazilian composer and titled "Wolfsville" - a backward translation of his name). The different styles mesh beautifully while retaining their individuality. What a kick to kick down the musical fences in this way!

SOR: Five Short Pieces; Fantasie; Six Lessons; GIULIANI: Garyowen; 12 Waltzes; Blue Bells of Scotland - David Starobin, guitar - Bridge 9107: Virtuoso guitarist Starobin here presents on his own label a program of works from the two most famous names in guitar performance in the first part of the l9th century. Their efforts in both composition and performance laid the groundwork for the later flowering of the classical guitar under Segovia in the 20th century. Both classical and operatic music were influences on these works, as well as a need to please the tastes of the bourgeoisie with grand waltzes and variations on folk melodies such as the Blue Bells of Scotland. Starobin plays a guitar built in the style of an 1830s Viennese guitar. All the selections are deftly played and cleanly reproduced.

GASPAR SANZ: Instruction of Music for Spanish Guitar - Orphenica Lyra/Jose Miguel Moreno, Baroque guitar and conductor - Glossa GCD 920206: This collection of 31 short pieces taken from a book designed for guitar playing instruction was written around l675 in Sargossa by a Spanish composer about whom little is known. There was a dearth of instrumental music in this period and his pieces have strong melodic content. The solo guitar is often backed by two other players on guitar-like instruments - the tiple, tiorba and another Baroque guitar. There is also a percussionist. Many of the pieces are Spanish dance forms and thus this early music can really swing!

The packaging is lavish and the booklet very informative, with illustrations Sanz provided on how the player was to hold his fingers on the strings.

The Well-Tempered KOSHKIN - Nikita Koshkin, guitar; with Frank Koonce, guitar - Soundset SR1015: OK, another photo of someone doing a J.S. Bach-in-drag bit, but what else does this CD offer. Well, quite a bit: Koshkin came to prominence with his guitar suite The Prince's Toys, which showed his empathy with fellow countrymen Prokofiev and Shostakovich as well as his playful sense of humor and love of parodies and paraphrases. The seven selections on his second CD demonstrate all of the above, with the assistance of a second guitarist on some of the pieces. In the Gershwinesque Parade he mimicks some of the instruments of a marching band. In The Ballads suite he reflects on his youthful experiences as a rock guitarist plus his impressions of folk music. Good fun.

- John Sunier


A Quartet of Spanish and Brazilian Music CDs =

MANUEL CASTILLO: Obertura festiva; Concierto para piano No. 2; Symphony No. 3 "Poemas de luz" - Ana Guijarro, piano/Real Sym. Orch. Of Sevilla/Juan Luis Perez - Ensayo ENY-2002: I believe some solo guitar pieces by this now-70-year old Spanish composer were my only exposure to his work. His orchestral works are a surprise and a delight - tuneful, rhythmic and accessible music with a feeling of fantasy and improvisation about much of it. The chromatic cast of the concerto doesn't dilute its accessibility. The 40-minute Symphony is the grande work here - described as a paean to Light, viewed from a poetic, lyrical and expressive perspective. The orchestration is brilliant and colorful, with the work's Scherzo movement portraying a sonic fiesta.

VILLA-LOBOS: Symphony No. 10 "Amerindia" - Soloists/Santa Barbara Choral Society/UCSB Chamber Choir/Donald Brinegar Singers/Santa Barbara Symphony/Gisele Ben-Dor - Koch International 3-7488-2 HI: This work, unique in the Brazilian composer's opera and a world premiere recording, is in effect an oratorio rather than a symphony. The instrumental forces alone include a very large orchestra with triple woodwinds, quadruple brass, a huge percussion section, two harps, piano and organ, and a large string section. Some exciting audiophile sounds are to be found in this exotic work! Three styles of music represent the three different cultures of Brazil: long melodies with repeated intervals for the natives, tonally ambiguous music for the Portuguese, and complexly-syncopated music to represent the Afro-Brazilian population. The text is a combination of Tupi dialect, modern Portuguese and ancient Latin. A complete libretto is provided.

ERNESTO HALFFTER: Habanera; Cavatina; Al Amanecer; Two Esquisses Symphoniques; Sinfonietta in D - Mikhail Vostokov, violin; Zdzislaw Tytlak, cello; Julio J. Hernandez, double-bass/Philharmonic Orchestra of Gran Canaria/Adrian Leaper -ASV CDDCA 1078: Halffter, who only died a dozen years ago, was a leader in 20th century Spanish music. The Ravel-Roussel French style was a strong influence on his earlier pieces, such as the Sinfonietta of 1925 which was dedicated to Falla. Some of the suite's section remind the listener of Falla's great El Amor brujo, and final of the work is super-colorful. Some of Ravel's Spanish pieces are also recalled in Halffter's darkly-colored Habanera.

Andalusian Composers After De Falla = CASTILLO: Sinfonietta Homejaje - Granada Orch./Josep Pons; GUERRERO: Coma Berenices - Cordoba Orch./Leo Brouwer; DIAZ: Concierto Andaluz - Carlos Cuellar, guitar/Malaga Orch./Jose Luis Temes - Almaviva DS 0129: With the 50 anniversary of the death of Falla, the Andalusian Regional Government commissioned these composers to create commemorative works. These three works are the result and demonstrate that several different styles of compositions are coming out of Andalusia recently. While the others are lyrical, rhythmic in a clearly Spanish way, the Diaz work skirts the avantgarde with realtime electronic manipulation of the guitar - quite a contrast to the Rodrigo Concierto Andaluz! Anyone with a penchant for Spanish music should find these recent works thoroughly listenable. Performances and sonics are without any problems and the packaging is of the deluxe sort.

- John Sunier


New Solo Piano CDs =

FREDERICK DELIUS Piano Music - Charles Abramovic, piano - Direct-to-Tape Recording Co. DTR2001: Delius wrote many types of compositions but piano music was far from his forte. Some of these come from his early years in Paris, his years in Florida on a plantation, and a few from toward the end of his life. While the composer wasn't much of pianist, some of the same harmonies and chord-leading are heard here as in his more representative orchestral and chamber works. Nearly all the originals are extremely short - some less than a minute. Five Piano Pieces were written for a child. Seven of the selections are heard in their premiere recordings, including a longish but lovely transcription of Delius' In a Summer Garden, done by Philip Heseltine (alias Peter Warlock) - probably the most successful piano version of orchestral Delius music. Any Delius fan would want to have this CD in their collection.

ALEXANDER GLAZUNOV Complete Piano Music, Vol. 1 - Duane Hulbert, p. - Bridge 9102: Glazunov was a major figure in Russian music and music pedagogy, having been director of the St. Petersburg Conservatory for 25 years. His conservative style was in many ways a continuation of Tchaikovsky and he amassed a large catalog of works, though mostly orchestral rather than piano-heavy as with Scriabin, Rachmaninoff or Prokofiev. His two 20-minute plus piano sonatas as the major items on this CD. Both are full of fine melodies and emotional depth. No. 1 in B Flat was a big hit with his colleagues when premiered and No. 2 in A Flat Major uses the same rising theme - treated in different ways - in each of its three movements.

ERNST VON DOHNANYI: Variations on a Hungarian Folk Song; Six Concert Etudes; Pastorale; Ruralia Hungarica - David Korevaar, piano - Ivory Classics 64405-71008: Dohnanyi, who lived until l960, was an important figure in his country's musical life, with great influence as a pianist, conductor, teacher and composer. Among his pupils were Geza Anda and Georg Solti. His style leans toward Hungarian nationalism with many settings of native folk songs and the pianistic heritage of both Brahms and Liszt can be heard in these four works which date from l916 to l924. The Variations may remind one of Bartok's earlier settings of folk melodies.

JEAN FRANÇAIX: Piano Music - Annette Middelbeek, p. - Koch Schwann Musica Mundi 3-6756-2: Francaix comes from a different tradition of French composers than the impressionists. He was trained in neo-classicism and his works - while perhaps not offering the depth of some other of his countrymen - nevertheless have their own most attractive qualities of clarity and light-hearted and yet elegant bounciness. While his sparkling chamber music seems to best display these qualities, these seven piano works are a complete delight on their own. There are five mini-portraits that could be Francaix's version of "Thank Heaven for Little Girls," Five Encores that get more lively as they progress - ending with some jazz licks, and the longest piece - the droll closing "An Eclectic Musicologist Takes a Stroll." Shades of Erik Satie here.

- John Sunier


More Solo Piano CDs =

SCHUBERT: Piano Sonatas D575, 894, 959 & 960 - Alfred Brendel - Philips 289 456 573-2 (2 CDs): These are not reissues but recent live recordings made during concerts by Brendel in London, Franfurt, Amsterdam and Aldeburgh. The noted Schubert interpreter had already released studio recordings of three of these sonatas - only the early 575 in B Major had not been recorded by him. While I didn't have the studio versions to compare, I don't see how they could beat the excitement and sense of risk communicated by these recordings. The pair of sonatas on the second CD were among the final works Schubert wrote - weeks before his death - and are the most advanced of his piano works. The first, in A Major, is a 38 minute-long work with a tragic slow movement and many arpeggiated chords. Though taped at four different halls and locations, the piano sonics are uniformly excellent with minimal audience hacks and coughs.

NORMAN DELLO JOIO: Piano Sonatas Nos. 1, 2 & 3; Suite for Piano; Introduction and Fantasies on a Chorale Tune; Nocturne in F-sharp minor - Jaemi Kim, piano - Elan CD 82320: Dello Joio, now 88 years old, is descended from three generations of Italian organists. Among his influences are his playing with a jazz group in his youth, his studies with Paul Hindemith, and his interest in ballet and dance. His music is eclectic but has a personality of its own and most is easily accessible. His First Piano Sonata was composed in a few days for a pianist acquaintance who asked him for something for his Carnegie Hall recital only two weeks hence! The Third Sonata is probably his best known piano work and employs Gregorian chant themes.

AMERICAN BALLADS - Lara Downes, piano - Postcards/Arkadia Entertainment 77 2002-2: A fine idea for a piano-centered concept album. Pianist Downes plays works from eight different 20th century American composers which explore the soul of the American Ballad. Some of the expected choices are Copland, Barber and Ives and the closest to the CD's title would be Frederic Rzewski's version of Down By the Riverside. A very unexpected piece by jazzman Benny Golson, On Gossamer Wings, is heard in its recording premiere. American Nocturne by the woman composer-pianist of the 1940s, Dana Suesse, closes out this most worthwhile CD.

VIRTUOSO PIANO TRANSCRIPTIONS - Earl Wild, p. - Ivory Classics HDCD 64405-70907: Wild is one of the last pianists in the grand old Romantic virtuoso tradition. He is now 86 and still recording for his own CD label, but this collection is actually reissued from a l995 Sony Classical release and is HDCD encoded. He has been called the finest transcriber of our time, and the 13 selections here are for the most part his own transcriptions of hits and encores by Handel, Chopin, Saint-Saens, Faure, Bach, Tchaikovsky, Kreisler, Rachmaninoff and others. The Serenade from Mozart's Don Giovanni is a delight, and Wild includes his own clever little suite of five tunes from Disney's Snow White. Eight of the transcriptions are world premiere recordings.

- John Sunier


You'll find tunes galore in this quartet of CDs! =

BENJAMIN LEES: Piano Concerto No. 2; ALLEN SHAWN: Piano Concerto; CRESTON: Dance Overture; ANDREW BISHOP: Crooning - Ian Hobson, p. (Lees)/Ursula Oppens, p. (Shawn)/Albany Sym. Orch./David Alan Miller - Albany TROY441: If Albany had packaged this seemingly catch-all collection as a concept album, with a title along the lines of "Ya' Want Tunes? We Got Tunes!," it could possibly be a big seller. It starts off with Bishop's short instrumental work, which is original but highly derivative of American popular song. He dedicated it to "shower soloists, radio serenaders, and the crooner in each of us." Paul Creston's overture really jumps- it's one of the best overtures from an American composer of the last century. Both piano concertos are super-tuneful, highly rhythmic and full of high energy. The first movement of the Lees work presents various short motives and elements which, when later joined together, form an extended musical phrase. The rondo finale has a smash-bang conclusion. Both soloists are superb in both the lyrical and virtuoso passages.

KURT ATTERBERG: Symphonies Nos. 7 ("Sinfonia Romantica") & 8 - SWR Radio Sym. Orch. of Stuttgart/Ari Rasilainen - CPO 999 641-2: Atterberg is the Swedish composer of the infamous "Dollar Symphony" - his Sixth, which won a worldwide contest sponsored by Columbia Records in l928. The worldwide attention that brought him helped his musical career, but he kept his day job in the patent office until retiring at age 81! His 7th Symphony came almost 15 years later, based on themes from an opera he had written on a 16th century historical subject. Swedish folk music provides the themes of his 8th Symphony, but you don't have to know them to enjoy this extremely attractive music. Both works are fairly simply in structure, use traditional symphonic forms and are full of fine melodies. Excellent performances and engineering.

The Music of PETER BOYER: Celebration Overture; Titanic; Three Olympians; The Phoenix; Ghosts of Troy - London Sym. Orch./Peter Boyer - Koch International 3-7523-2: Boyer is one of the leading young American composers today and his debut recording demonstrates why. He came to symphonic music via the worlds of rock and pop and he has done scores for a number of short films and animation. Titanic is his big hit so far, coming a couple years before the movie, and creating a most colorful and cinematic experience in under 13 minutes. Themes of the sinking ship's band playing Alexander's Ragtime Band and Nearer My God To Thee are woven into the score, calling up Charles Ives connections. The Three Olympians three movments for string orchestra were inspired by three Greek gods: Apollo, Aphrodite and Ares. The Grecian world also is involved in Ghosts of Troy, whose six short sections deal with key episodes of Homer's The Iliad. Boyer's music is immediately accessible and tuneful and yet has much density for repeated and deeper auditions.

BENJAMIN BRITTEN: Violin Concerto Op. 15; JOHN VEALE: Violin Concerto - Lydia Mordkovitch, v./BBC Sym. Orch./Richard Hickox - Chandos CHAN 9910: The early Britten concerto, later revised, had not made an impression on me in previous hearings, but perhaps due to the skill and lovely tone of violinist Mordkovitch and Chandos' choice sonics it caught my ear this time. It has more wit and unexpected turns than much of Britten. But the big discovery here is the roaringly tuneful concerto from heretofore unfamiliar current British composer John Veale. His super-Romantic, dance-like, outgoing style as heard here was out of favor for years in the UK due to the BBC Director of Music's embrace of serial composers. The concerto's undeniable air of high-quality movie music might have something to do with Veale having been a leading British film composer in the 50s.

- John Sunier


Unexpected Sounds in Chamber Music =

Piccolo Marmelade - Jean-Louis Beaumadier, piccolo, with ensemble - Calliope CAL 9290: You might think a whole CD potpourri of piccolo music might be a bit over the top, but this is a complete delight. There is plenty of variety and interesting arrangements - for example, the opening Bach Badinerie is for piccolo, vibes and marimbas. A Bach selection also closes the CD. Other arrangements feature accordion, double-bass and viole d'amore. There's a short march by Janacek, and the major work is a 14-minute set of variations for flute and piano by Vieuxtemps. But the other works are by not-famous composers. The Bohemian composer Erwin Schulhoff, who died in the Holocaust, is represented by two pieces.

Solus - Philip Epstein, solo soprano and alto saxophones - M-A Recordings M047A: This highly individualistic label has made many recordings in which the acoustic space was a major part of the resulting sound. This one placed saxist/composer Epstein in the magical acoustics of the San Martino Cathedral in Lucca, Italy. The entire program focused on the interesting possibilities that provided, without use of multitracking, reverb or any other studio gimmicks. There's a similarity here to the Deep Listening ensemble's recordings. Epstein begins with four excerpts from Bach's Partita No. 2 and also has fun with a theme from Verdi's La Forza del Destino, but the rest of the CD is primarily his own compositions and improvisations. The transparency of M-A's 96K tapings is superb and conveys the large space well (especially if you have a good matrix surround decoder), but I'd love to hear this in multichannel SACD!

Song + Distance - Miguel Frasconi - New Albion Records NA 111CD: Oddly, this CD seems exactly like the sort of music that would be found on the M-A label! Frasconi is described as a keyboard and glass musician. Since his youth he has been fascinated by the many different sounds derived from striking, rubbing, blowing across and breaking glass. While in studying music in college he and some friends formed the Glass Orchestra of improvised music entirely on glass instruments; they performed only by candlelight - totally unplugged. He has created many works in tandem with modern dance groups, puppet theater and for Balinese shadow plays. The glass instruments used on this CD are bellbowls, but there are also mbiras, toy pianos, sampled sounds and various "devolved" musical instruments, plus the wordless vocals of Eda Maxym. The notes call this "new exploratory world music" and that seems an accurate appellation of this consonant-sounding, subtle and tinkly sound journeys.

Forgetful Angel - Music of TAKASHI YOSHIMATSU performed by Joe Sakimoto, harmonica & ensemble - Camerata 30CM 556 (Distr. Albany): This unusual and lovely CD is a compilation of a 20-year collaboration of composer Yoshimatsu, an advocate of "new lyricism" in music, with classical harmonicist Sakimoto. Several of the works have piano accompaniment, four of them employ a string quartet, and there are two each for harmonica and accordion and harmonica and guitar - the latter instrument often played to sound like a Japanese koto. Three short suites inspired by Paul Klee's drawing Forgetful Angel open the CD. Some movements describe the angel, some are in impromptu form and others are clearly jazz-inspired. Alignment Romance is a version for harmonica and string quartet of a portion of the composer's Pleaides Dances for solo piano. Quiet and delicate chamber music sure to appeal to fans of classical harmonica as well those open to unique sounds.

- John Sunier


Still More Unexpected Sounds in Chamber Music =

A Night in the Village - The Virtual Consort with Peter Blanchette, ArchGuitar - ArchGuitar Music AGM-DVC2: Blanchette is the inventor of the archguitar, which greatly expands the normal range of the acoustic guitar with 11 instead of five or six strings. He is responsible for a growing multi-string guitar scene in the U.S. and has made several recordings of early music. The consort is actually a trio with the other two members being trumpeter Charlie Schneeweis and electric guitarist Jean Chaine. The selections on this album include five Hungarian-folk-influenced dances by Bartok, an Andante for piano by Stravinsky, and the Arab Dance from Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker - with the rest of the CD being originals by Blanchette or his cohorts. The idea is that the single archguitar can play things that most guitar duos can't, and with the electric guitar effects results in a very full sound, considering there are only three players.

Mandoline Galante - 18th Century Neapolitan Works - Christian Schneider, 1766 mandolin/Sylvie Pecot-Douatte, harpsichord - Calliope CAL 9274: The mandolin's popularity began in Italy but about 1760 became the rage in Parisian high society due to a number of visiting Neapolitan virtuosi. Advances were also made in the design, tuning and playing of mandolins at this time. Seven composers plus Anonymous are represented herein, of which the only name that leaps out is Michel Corrette. All have written short, mostly three movement sonatas of great beauty which especially benefit from the synergistic duo of two plucked string instruments - mandolin and harpsichord.

Pleyel and His Contemporaries - Works for two pianos played on the Pleyel Double Grand Piano - Duo Egri & Pertis - Hungaroton HCD 31930: The Pleyel piano factory in Paris (who later made Wanda Landowska's semi-harpsichord) built about 50 of this very curious instrument from around 1840 to around 1900. It's a sort of piano equivalent of the boombox version of normal separated stereo speakers. There is a normal keyboard at each end and the strings are laid out as though two grand pianos are nested especially closely for a duo-piano recital, but all in one big case! Each piano retains its own string system, pedals and action independently. The performers bought this piano and intend to record a series of CDs with it. On this first one they have focused on composer friends of the Pleyel family, including Mendelssohn (his Allegro and Allegro brillant), Thalberg (a Fantasie on Meyerbeer's Les Hugenots), Liszt (two-piano version of his Orpheus), Moscheles and Chopin. Ignace Pleyel, the Austrian-born founder of the company was a very active composer, and the CD opens with his Haydnesque Duo in B flat major, a 16-minute work of many contrasts and great virtuosity.

JOHN CAGE: Music for Prepared Piano, Vol. 2 - Boris Berman, p. - Naxos American Classics 8.559070: Cage didn't need to build a new type of piano to get the more percussive sounds he was looking for; he just jammed handfuls of hardware-store makings between the strings of a standard grand to create his Prepared Piano. While his Balinese-sounding Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano are his best-known works (and perhaps the mostly accessible to traditional audiences), the "Chance" composer created many other works for his altered keyboards. Each one required a different and often complex preparation using wooden and metal screws, bolts, weather stripping and pieces of rubber. One of the most involved is required for the ghostly sounds of Daughters of the Lonesome Isle on this CD. The six-short-movement The Perilous Night calls forth an amazing variety of timbres and effects from the prepared piano strings. While most of Cage's work seems to my ears more interesting in concept than in listening, I've always found his prepared piano pieces completely fascinating and so may you.

- John Sunier

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