Pt. 3 of 3, Oct. 2003

CECILIA BARTOLI: The Salieri Album – Cecilia Bartoli, with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment conducted by Adam Fischer – Decca B0001097-2 (67 mins.):

After scoring triumphs with recitals devoted to Vivaldi and Gluck, Cecilia Bartoli has moved into even more surprisingly uncharted territory with this disc devoted to arias by Antonio Salieri, Mozart’s colleague and villain of the truth-distorting movie, Amadeus. In doing so, she does not merely go through the motions; instead, she has obviously studied each of the selections carefully and tears into each with all the emotional intensity and vocal virtuosity at her disposal.

It’s hard to evaluate a composer who is basically “new” in the sense that Salieri is, especially when hearing a selection of unfamiliar arias without the context of the operas they come from. Certainly, the arias selected by Bartoli are spectacular in their demands on the voice, and highly dramatic in their demands on the listener. And there are numerous resonances with Mozart; one of the arias was written for the singer who was the first Fiordiligi in Mozart’s Cosí in 1790. There are also musical parallels to be drawn to Mozart, but they are more superficial (Salieri’s impressive ability to flash into high registers, and to float a lovely cantabile melody) than they are profound: on the evidence of this disc, Mozart was simply more deeply authentic in the range and nature of his emotions. Of course, and this is what Decca has in mind, you may come to a different conclusion. One thing is certain: you will have a good time while making up your mind.

Recorded in London’s Air Studios, the sound is terrific, capturing the vivid, sharp-edged colors of Bartoli’s voice, as well as the broad range of orchestral sound. Scholar Claudio Osele, who served as musical consultant on the project, provides learned and insightful liner notes indispensable to gaining an understanding of what Salieri the opera composer was all about. The CD is packaged in a sumptuous, hard bound binding in which the notes and aria texts (and translations) are interleaved with photographs of the sensual work of sculptor Antonio Canova. Purchase here

- Laurence Vittes

Renaud Capuçon & Gauitier Capuçon: Face À Face = Music by JOHANN HALVORSEN: Passacaglia after Handel, KODALY: Duo, Op. 7, ERIC TANGUY: Sonata for violin and cello, ERWIN SCHULHOFF: Duo, and JOSEPH GHYS & ADRIEN FRANÇOIS SERVAIS: Variations brilliants on God Save the King – Virgin Classics 545576-2 (70 mins.):

There’s something about the combination of violin and cello that brings out either bland euphony or instrumental fireworks in most composers. In this stunning new recital from the French brothers Capuçon take aim and fire with a concert of music that packs dynamite.

The relatively familiar Halvorsen may be less suave and gleaming than in the classic Heifetz-Primrose recording, but it has an engaging truth that adds stature to what is usually merely a tour de force. The Kodaly, which follows, is less exhibitionist than recordings from the big guns like Lynn Harrell and Kennedy, but the brothers find a vein of warmth that humanizes the music and expands its emotional horizons. The 13-minute duo by the 35-year old Eric Tanguy is a winner with its furious, non-stop energy and exhilarating rhythms in the outer movements bookending rational calm in the middle. After the admirable Schulhoff, the recital concludes with a no holds barred set of variations on God Save the King which, at nearly ten minutes, is only two minutes too long.
Recorded in the Église Notre Dame du Liban in Paris, the sound is immediate and bold, bordering on antiseptically clean but strikingly successful nonetheless in capturing the bothers’ string tone, the impact of their pizzicatos, and the breathless musical excitement they create. (the Halvorsen in particular is ideal for comparing components). Adélaïde de Place’s program notes are quite excellent, and André Tubeuf’s extravagantly colorful biography of the artists (whom he calls Renaud the Fair and Gautier the Dark) deserves to be preserved in some marketing hall of fame.
Purchase here

- Laurence Vittes

ANTONIO ROSETTI (c.1750-1792): Concertos for Two Horns – Klaus Wallendorf and Sarah Willis, horns/The Bavarian Chamber Philharmonic/ Johannes Moesus – CPO 999 734-2 (80 mins.):

In the mid 1970s, one of the English audio magazines, in conjunction with a professional engineering society, ran an interesting test. They recorded all the instruments of the orchestra playing single notes for something like fifteen seconds each, then chopped off the beginning and endings of the fifteen seconds; robbed of their transients, each instrumental snippet was played for a panel made up of listeners, ranging from “qualified” professionals (i.e., critics and musicians) to just plain music lovers. With one exception, no instrument scored an identification rating of better than random—except for the French horn.

I was reminded of that test when listening to the impeccably pure sound of the soloists on CPO’s beautifully recorded disc of double French horn concertos by Mozart’s almost exact contemporary, Antonio Rosetti. Written for virtuosos in the court orchestra of the principality of Öttingen-Wallerstein who, according to a contemporary source, were able to produce on their valveless instruments, “excellent lipping, fluent tonguing, proper intonation, long-held breathing, and sweet-melancholy emotions,” each of the three double concertos on this CD is 15 to 20 minutes in length and sports orchestral introductions, gentle slow movements, and jaunty finales. They are actually more characterful than Mozart’s horn concertos, and less cookie cutter in nature. The program concludes with the first recording of a lovely four-movement Notturno which, like the concertos, Mozart might have been delighted to write himself.

The two soloists’ performances are quite brilliant, their thrilling virtuosity alternating with moments of gentle contemplation, while the orchestra plays with a surprisingly sensual touch. Add CPO’s usual warm sound gleaming with color, and absorbing liner notes by the conductor that might serve as an entry in an encyclopedia, CPO has once again scored a triumph in the byways of the 18th century.
Purchase here

- Laurence Vittes

Guitars and a world music slant with our next three discs...
El Diablo Suelto - Guitar Music of Venezuela - John Williams, guitar (with Alfonso Montes, cuatro, on 4 tracks) - Sony Classical SK 90451:

Guitarist Williams enthusiastically explores the various musics of the world in much the same way as does his label mate Yo-Yo Ma. Williams’ previous album, The Magic Box, was African-flavored and for the new one he turned to the distinctive musical culture of Venezuela. He describes it as actually a mix of three cultures: the indigenous Indians, the invading Spanish, and the Africans brought to Venezuela as slaves, as well as those who went there from other parts of the Caribbean. Though the guitar was brought in as a European instrument, it was embraced in the Spanish outposts of South America and has been central to the music for five centuries now.

Antonio Lauro will probably be the most familiar of the composers here. Others represented among the 26 tracks are Sojo, Fernandez, Figueredo, Canonico, Carillo, Riera, Lopez, Gutierrez, Borges and Montes. The CD’s title is a Venezuelan Waltz or Valse criollo by Fernandez, on which he is joined by the little cuatro guitar played by Alfonso Montes - as on three other selections. Williams finds the essence of the energy in Venezuelan music to be the combination of African body movement rhythms and the more earthbound Spanish and Indian dance forms. Among the dance forms heard in these pieces are: the pasqje, the golpe, the valse, the joropo, the aguinaldo, the galeron, the quirpa, the bambuco, and the gaita. This proves to be one of the most enjoyable guitar albums in some time and a revelation to those who have never heard any of this wonderful music. Williams received a medal of honor from the Venezuelan government for his in-depth work with Venezuelan music. Purchase here

- John Sunier

La Segunda - Será una Noche (Sextet with voice, percussion, mbira, clarinet, bass clarinet, flute, harmonica, guitar, guitarron, tiple, requinto, cello & bandoneon) - M-A Recordings M062A:

This is the second album for the Buenos Aires-based Sera una Noche ensemble. The idea they sought with MA producer Todd Garfinkle was a fusion of early tango with a variety of other musical languages including East Indian, ancient and contemporary music, Baroque and free improvisation. Most of the 17 pieces here are composed, although the composers will not be familiar to most listeners. They come from early in the 20th century and show the influence of older styles of music that came to the New World with the immigrants. The group expands freely on some of the themes, making their versions entirely their own. There are several vocals led by singer Lidia Borda. I found the milonga-based pieces the most interesting with their bubbling African rhythms. Garfinkle has moved up from his former 96K DAT master recordings to a digital system that delivers the rather odd figure of 176.4K; of course this must be converted with some sort of super-bit-mapping algorithm to 44.1K for the standard CD. Purchase here

In the Midst of Winds - Music of Dusan Bogdanovic (and George Barcos) played by the composer on guitar, gamelitar and guitarp (Sharon Wayne, 2nd guitar/gamelitar/guitarp) - M-A Recordings M023A:

Bogdanovic is one of the leading classical guitarists today and a member of the LA Guitar Quartet as well as a busy composer for the instrument. The title tune opens the CD with a Balkans flavor - the guitarist’s birthplace. He plays his guitarp on it, which is a homemade invented ethnic instrument related to the Arabic oud. The Little Cafe Suite follows, with each movement titled having to do with gourmet coffees. There’s a set of four brief Bagatelles that sound like exceptional improvisations, an arrangement of a Dowland piece originally for the lute - followed by a Raguette #2 inspired by it, and the closer of the CD is an extremely repetitive Meditation, which I would likely skip next time I listen to this disc. Also on the program are Barcos’ Four Pieces for Two Guitars, a combination that is one of my personal favorite duos of instruments. He is from Columbia and his pieces show inspirations from tropical settings, such as the closing homage to the huge Amazon forest. As is the norm from M-A, the sonics are super clean and in a natural acoustic setting. Purchase here

- John Sunier

ERNEST BLOCH: Piano Quintets Nos. 1 & 2 - Ivan Klansky, p./Kocian Quartet Praga Digitals PRD 250 185 (Distr. By Harmonia mundi):

The Swiss-born American Jewish composer Bloch wrote many orchestral and choral works - including the well-known Schelomo - but is not as well known for his large body of chamber works which one musicologist said allowed him to lay claim to being “the Berlioz of chamber music.” Bloch had a highly individual style which never followed a particular school, although in the First Quintet he experimented with quarter tones in the string parts, and late in life used some 12-note themes - but not the strict Schoenberg tone row. He loved bi-tonal relationships of two major chords but even his dissonant passages are not wrenching. He created convincingly exotic melodic turns in his many Jewish-flavored works without quoting actual Hebrew chants. There are exotic, mysterious and dreamy moods in the first quintet, together with some fine melodies. The Second is more abstract and serious, but its chromatic treatments belie the familiar Bloch style very quickly. The Prague musicians turn in a skilled and deeply-felt performance; if you don’t already have this important pair of chamber works this is the disc to get. Purchase here

The Golden Dove - Masterpieces from the Jewish Folk Music Society = works of RIMSKY-KORSAKOV, ENGEL, FELDMAN, ACHRON, WEINBERG, KREIN, GNIESSIN, ROSOWSKY & SAMINSKY - Zina Schiff, violin/Cameron Grant, piano - 4 Tay Records CD 4022:

The Jewish Folk Music Society was established in St. Petersburg in l908 as part of the rise in nationalistic feelings among the public. It organized concerts and published music until as late as 1928 (via a succeeding organization), and among its active members were Jascha Heifetz, Igor Stravinsky, Prokofiev and Mischa Elman. The opening contribution from the composer of Scheherazade was written a decade before that; it is a Hebrew love song. Others of the short works have titles such as Melody, Air, Dance, Cradle Song etc. The Dance by Krein was arranged by Heifetz. Saminsky’s work is a four-movement Chasidic Suite highlighted by a fiery Hamadvil - a prayer of separation. The recording was made at the SUNY Recital Hall in Purchase, NY. Detailed notes on the music, performers and the history of the Society are included. Purchase here

- John Sunier

RAFF: Sextet Op. 178, Piano Quintet Op. 107 – Ensemble Villa Musica – MDG 304 1181-2 (66 mins.):

Throughout most of the 20th century, Joseph Joachim Raff (1822-1882) led an regrettably shadowy life. Very popular in his own time, he fell by the wayside aside from a lovely Cavatina which became a frequent recital piece for instrumentalists. Equipped with all the compositional tools, his style might be described as a Mendelssohn who didn’t quite dare to go in the powerful regions where Brahms wound up so dramatically. Still, he wrote music of occasionally striking beauty (Hyperion, ASV, Chandos and Marco Polo have all been attracted by his music) and this new recording of two obscure chamber music works will appeal to lovers of Romantic music on the lookout for something new.

Phonographically speaking, the high point in Raff’s life came in the 1970s with a Unicorn recording (released on Nonesuch in the U.S.) of the programmatic Fifth Symphony, following a popular novel of the time called Lenore, played by the London Philharmonic conducted by Bernard Herrmann. The third movement, an imaginative march, was a tremendous audiophile demonstration piece (the CD reissue seems to be deleted; in any case it did not have the power of the original vinyl).

Though ultimately the two works on this CD lack a distinctive personal touch, they are unfailingly mellifluous, charming and often so ravishing that I would not part with this CD under any circumstances for just those moments. The playing is technically masterful and musically earnest, the liner notes by Michael Kube tell you more than you will probably want to know about Raff’s life - and the sound, as always with MDG, is glorious. Purchase here

- Laurence Vittes

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