CLASSICAL CDs   Pt. 1 - November 2001

TELEMANN: CHAMBER CANTATAS & TRIO SONATAS--Christine Brandes, sop/Jennifer Lane, mezzo/Musica Pacifica--Dorian 93239:

Telemann was required by his duties in Hamburg to produce more than 140 cantatas each year, and most of them are large-scale works. The five chamber cantatas on this disc are much smaller in scale. Intended for use by a wide audience of small churches and amateur groups, none of them is more than 15 minutes long, they are simple in construction (two arias connected by a brief recitative), scored for only one singer, one or two melodic instruments, and continuo, and place few demands on the performers. They are expertly written to match the words and the music and are often moving and very lovely.

The two trio sonatas are from Telemann's Sonates Corellisantes and are deft and charming imitations of Corelli's popular Italian style. Both singers here are excellent, with warm and expressive voices that avoid the bleached sound often produced by period specialists. In particular, Brandes effectively conveys the bright affirmation of Cantata 4 ("In gering- und rauben Schalen") and Lane's darker tones the mournful cadences of Cantata 53 ("Ergeuss dich zur Salbung"). The virtuoso members of the period-instrument ensemble Musica Pacific make pleasing sounds in the sonatas and as lively accompanists for the cantatas. A thoroughly enjoyable disc!

--Alex Morin


DREAMS & FABLES: Gluck: Italian Arias--Cecilia Bartoli, mezzo/Bernhard Forck, leader/Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin--Decca 457248:

Cecilia Bartoli seems to be increasingly interested in Baroque music; she sang Vivaldi in her previous Grammy-winning disc, and here she offers eight arias from Gluck operas, all to texts by the great librettist Metastasio and all of them rarely heard (six are billed as first recordings). I don't like watching this singer because of her constant mugging, but I've enjoyed her recordings for their accuracy, remarkable agility, and intelligent characterizations. However, I suspect she's been singing too much, or perhaps in the wrong roles, because her performances on this disc are less satisfactory--a bit mannered, with a tendency to squeeze out and swell the opening notes of a phrase instead of floating them evenly, squally at the top, and with a sometimes obtrusive vibrato. She's fine when she doesn't try too hard, as in the tender "Di questa cetra in seno" from Il Parnaso confuso, but her voice coarsens considerably in more demanding arias like "Ah, taci barbare...Come potesti, oh Dio!" from La Clemenza di Tito. Still, these are beautiful-written arias, alternately fierce and tender, dramatic and lyrical; their rarity makes the release valuable, and Bartoli's vitality and interpretive skills make it enjoyable. They benefit from excellent accompaniments by the period-instrument Akademie für Alte Musik and good sound.

- Alex Morin


The Glorious Sound of Strings Times Four...

Angèle Dubeau & La Pietà - Infernal Violins - Analekta AN 2 8718: Reviewing this one on Halloween seems really appropriate. There have been several solo violin albums centered on devilish doings in music but I think this is the first for an ensemble of violins. Eleven other violinists back up Dubeau in this Montreal-based "all-girl band," as they used to say about Phil Spitalny's orchestra. The 16 tracks mix the expected (Tartini's Devil's Trill, Liszt's Mephisto Waltz No. 1, Saint-Saens' Danse Macabre) with the unexpected (Falla's Ritual Dance of Fire, a Boccherini sinfonia titled "The House of the Devil," a devilish theme by Ennio Morricone, and The Rolling Stones' Sympathy for the Devil!) Great arrangements that often sound like many more than a dozen players, imaginative programming and good sound.
PIAZZOLLA: The Four Seasons; TCHAIKOVSKY: The Seasons - Philharmonic Cellists/Alfredo Marcucci, bandoneon - Orfeo C 128001A: Another classical concept album. Great - let's have more of them! This unique ensemble of six German cellists has been in existence for oer a quarter century now. They like to spice up their programs with crossover-leaning items, and the Piazzolla tango-oriented work with the bandoneon is an example. It was originally composed for bandoneon, piano, violin, electric guitar and double bass. The lead cellist (with the unique name of Werner Thomas-Mifune) takes the original solo violin part. It's so nice to hear music on the theme of the seasons that isn't by Vivaldi!
SIR WILLIAM WALTON: The String Quartets - the Emperor Quartet - Black Box BBM1035: Another winner from Black Box. The l922 quartet is from Walton's period as enfant terrible, a year after he introduced his Facade with the Sitwells, but almost a decade before his blockbuster Belshazzar's Feast. The l947 Quartet in A is a wonderfully bright and positive-sounding work, which additionally includes Walton's own special British version of Prokofiev's musical sarcasm. Some jazz influences are also heard, especially in the final which has a samba rhythm. If you think all string quartets are a bore, try these two.
EINOJUHANI RAUTAVAARA: Complete Works for String Orchestra - Ostrobothnian Chamber Orchestra/Juha Kangas, conductor - Ondine ODE 983-2D (2 CDs): So that's his first name. (Boy am I relieved I don't have to pronounce this on air anymore!) One might suspect two entire CDs of string orchestra works by the same composer would be a bit much, but that is not the case here. This is the composer of the wonderfully evocative Arctic Concerto with the bird sounds. The works range from Rautavaara's student days to as recent as l993. They are thoroughly modern in sound but accessible as well. Three are homages to other composers: to Liszt, Bartok and Kodaly, and some echoes of those latter two Hungarians are to be heard in several of the 13 string pieces in this collection. The opening work, Fiddlers, was inspired by folk tunes from the Ostrobothnian region of Finland, the homeland of the orchestra. Ballad for Harp and Strings is a gorgeous work that may remind listeners a bit of Debussy's piece for that aggregation.

- John Sunier

It's Flutes Times Four for This Quick Audition...

HOMAGE À RAMPAL - James & Jeanne Galway, flutes - DEVIENNE: Concerto No. 8 for flute & orchestra; Concerto No. 7; CIMAROSA; Concerto for Two Flutes & Chamber Orchestra - London Mozart Players/James Galway - RCA Red Seal 9026-63701-2: The late Jean-Pierre Rampal was a hero of Galway's and his homage consists of three works which the French virtuoso played and recorded in the past. Galway's wife Jeanne joins him on the double flute concerto, which is full of Mozartian snappy melodies and bright mood. Rampal recorded a number of double flute albums. Galway's liner notes about his meetings with Rampal are interesting reading.
AMERICAN LANDSCAPE - WALLACE: Toccata in Ten; COPLAND: Sonata for Flute & Piano; WILLEY: Duo for Flute & Piano; KENNAN: Threnody; A.M.C.BEACH: Sonata for Flute & Piano - Richard Sherman, fl./Ralph Votapek, p. - Summit DCD 270: This concept CD focuses on a wide range of American compositions for the duo of flute and piano. In addition, each work is either a world premiere recording or a first in a flute version of the music. The Copland is a transcription from his Violin/Piano Sonata and a wide-open-spaces piece from the time period of the composer's ballets Rodeo and Appalachian Spring. Amy Beach's (the first woman symphony composer) Sonata in A Minor comes from l896 and is a lush Romantic work in the style of the German teachers of American composers at the time.
JOHN GARDNER: Half Holiday Overture; Flute Concerto; Symphony No. 3; Prelude for Strings; Sinfonia Piccola; Irish Suite - Jennifer Stinton, flute/Royal Ballet Sinfonia/Gavin Sutherland - ASV CD WHL 2125: Contemporary composer Gardner writes in a very tonal and melodically accessible style. While the other works here don't heavily feature the flute, I found the Flute Concerto the most appealing work of them all. Even the Symphony is a rather lighter work than most, and the Irish Suite reminded me in some sections of similar Irish-themed music of Leroy Anderson. Both performing and audio levels are tops. Looking for something new that doesn't take a huge effort to really get into? Try Gardner.
TELEMANN: Fourth Book of Quartets - American Baroque/Stephen Schultz, flute & director - Music & Arts CD-1066: The makeup of this San Francisco-based sextet is as follows: flute, violin, viola, viola da gamba, triple harp, harpsichord. This is the World Premiere recording of these fresh and enjoyable works. Telemann experimented with the prevailing trio-sonata form and these six quartets of 1752 show many new chamber music possibilties. Among other developments, he eliminated the standard basso continuo and allowed for more melody instruments, achieving a fuller texture. All are four-movement works, mostly alternating Allegro and Adagio movements. This is a reissue of a CD originally on the Koch International label.

- John Sunier

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