Pt. 2 of 3   Sept. 2003

SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphony No. 7 in C Major “Leningrad” - Kirov Orchestra of the Marinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg/ Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra/Valery Gergiev - Philips B0000376-02:

Two orchestras? Doesn’t sound like it and other recordings of the Seventh don't list two orchestras. I realize it’s scored for large orchestra, but come on. Would be nice if Philips gave us an explanation of this; also of the fact that although this is promoted as a live recording, there is absolutely no applause at the end of the magnificent performance. Gergiev seems to prefer recording live and all of his recent recordings have been white-hot with dynamic energy - he’s one of the most exciting conductors around, at least in the Russian repertory. Both this and the Fifth of Shostakovich are considered “war symphonies,” but in addition to depicting the horrors of Fascism they also speak of events in Russia at the time, as well as totalitarianism in general. The booklet features a photo of the composer as a member of the volunteer fire-fighting brigade during the siege of Leningrad in l941; he reminded me of “fireman” Oscar Werner in the film Fahrenheit 491! The Seventh is a bit less bombastic and simplistic than the Fifth; the first movement is Mahleresque in concept, running nearly a half hour by itself. While the sonics are excellent for 44.1, this appears likely material for a multichannel SACD release soon, which I look forward to. Purchase here

- John Sunier

HAYDN: String Quartets, Opus 33 No. 3, Opus 77 No. 1 and 2 – Alban Berg Quartett; Gunther Pilcher, First Violin; Gerhard Schulz, Second Violin; Thomas Kakuska, Viola; Valentin Erben, Violoncello – EMI Classics 7243 5 57541 2 7

The Alban Berg Quartett surely ranks among the most distinguished of the current crop of chamber players out there, and this continuing traversal of the Haydn String Quartets only helps to secure their places at or near the top. The recorded sound is truly gorgeous – EMI just seems to have a knack for really well-recorded chamber music. All the instruments occupy firm places in the soundstage, and the string tone is supple and sweet throughout. The Opus 33 was recorded live in Vienna and the Opus 77 works were recorded in a Swiss church, but in credit to the skills of the recording engineers, there’s very little in the perspectives and recorded acoustics to tell much of a difference between the two venues. I started listening to the disc without first reading the accompanying booklet, and was startled when the conclusion of the Opus 33 Quartet was followed by a burst of applause!

This is one of those exceptional CDs that blurs the line between what Redbook CD and Hi-Res are capable of. Very highly recommended! Purchase here

– Tom Gibbs

Russian Cello Sonatas, Vol. II - BORODIN: Cello Sonata; STRAVINSKY: Italian Suite; PROKOFIEV: Cello Sonata Op. 119 - Michael Kanka, cello/Jaromir Klepac, piano - Praga Digitals PRD 250195:

Cellist Kanka has made many recordings for the Prague label and exhibits a rich and lovely tone with smooth phrasing. The youthful Borodin sonata has been little heard, having been reconstructed from sketches only in l982. Its first and third movements are homages to J.S. Bach, and in its center Andante movement one discerns hints of the composer’s later very melodic Second String Quartet. The Prokofiev and Stravinsky are more dry and quirky works but both abound in cello lyricism. Prokofiev’s many cello works grew out of his close friendship with Mstislav Rostropovich. The notes fail to give any information about Vol. I in the series, but this one is a winner even if you may already have the Stravinsky or Prokofiev in your collection. Purchase here

- John Sunier


Some of the most beautifully-presented recordings in early music are coming from this Spanish label, and this one is no exception. The 12-piece original instrument ensemble brings us 17 short works built around or influenced by the musical device known as the Ostinato. It is in its simplest form a repeated melody in the bass register that continues thru all or most of the piece. It is felt to have originated with instrumental music for dancing. Having a specific harmonic and rhythmic pattern in the bass line aided dances in doing the right steps to the music. The treble instruments could then freely improvise over the continuing bass ostinato. A wide variety of ostinato-based pieces are presented by Hesperion XXI in this program, and most show strong improvisatory elements. In the longest of the pieces - Canarios, at eight minutes - the ensemble does a total group improvisation on the basic bass line. Clean and detailed recording quality, in keeping with the superb art and presentation standards of this exemplary label. Purchase here

- John Sunier

FRANCK: Violin Sonata in A Major; RACHMANINOFF: Cello Sonata in G Minor - Renaud Capucon/Alexandre Gurning (Franck); Gautier Capucon/Lilya Zilberstein (Rachmaninoff) - EMI Classics 5 57505 2:

These are excellent live recordings from last year’s festival in Lugano Switzerland organized by pianist Martha Argerich. As with Casals’ Prades Festival and several others around Europe, Argerich felt that a location away from the major music centers would enable both performers and audiences to relish the music-making in a less distracted manner. If these two performances are any indication, she is right. Both are imbued with the same dynamism and heady excitement that characterize most of Argerich’s piano performances. Never heard of any of these performers previously, but their fresh-sounding and committed interpretations easily place them besides the Oistrakhs and the Mas in these two works. Both are jam packed with gorgeous melodic invention that never stops. Perhaps the Rachmaninoff overdoes the florid note-spinning just a bit, but this is still one of the great masterpieces for cello and piano. Purchase here

- John Sunier

American Works for Piano Duo - PERSICHETTI: Sonata for Two Pianos; Concerto for Piano Four Hands; BARBER: Souvenirs; DIAMOND: Concerto for Two Solo Pianos; JOSEPH FENNIMORE: Crystal Stairs for piano four hands - Georgia & Louise Mangos. Cedille Records CDR 90000 069:

If you’re a fan of two-piano literature you’ll have to pick up this one. Never mind that only two of the works are actually for two pianos with that wonderful left/right spatial effect. The Chicago-based sisters are giving the Labeque Sisters are run for the keyboards with this, their fifth recording for the Chicago-based label. The point is that all five works here have a distinctly American sound, and not one is by Copland either! Both the Barber and Fennimore works display a feeling of Broadway and Hollywood in some of their lighter tunes. The Barber may be familiar in its orchestral version, but this 4-hand version was the original article. Persichetti explores the nature of the piano as a percussion instrument in his Concerto. The David Diamond concerto is generally lively and spirited, except for a lyrical melody in the Adagio that may remind you of Claire de lune. Purchase here

Here’s a pair of pipe organ albums with unusual aspects...

Prologue; Sonate en Trio; Seven Miniatures; Suite Francaise - Improvisations by Marc Pinardel at the Mouzon Abbey Organ in France - Gallo CD-1109 (Distr. By Albany):

From the rather sketchy note booklet I get the impression that this is an 18th century organ which has gone thru much in its long life (including having all its metal pipes stolen by the Germans during the war!) and has now been painstakingly rebuilt with parchment bellows and mechanical works similar to the original. In spite of this it appears to sport lots of later stops aimed at bringing the instrument into line with the French symphonic organ style of the late 19th century. (One French organ-builder complained that Baroque organs could do nothing but “mew in the corner.”)

Pinardel writes some poetic comments on his recording these improvisations which explain better than I could these 25 tracks of imaginative creations from an organist who has a wide-ranging musical interest - encompassing jazz and light music as well as classical: “Here are the snapshots of these nightly strolls upon a thread, tied to the first note which unrolls itself under the feet. A dizzying and exhilarating trip, led by emotions which leave no room for words - a parallel and intimate language, both erratic and vectorial.” Purchase here

Piano et Orgue = DUPRE: Variations on Two Themes; Sinfonia; FLOR PEETERS: Concerto for Piano and Organ; LANGLAIS: Diptyque for piano and organ; LEDROIT: Recifs hatifs - Jean-Pierre Ferey, piano/Frederic Ledroit, Grand organs of the Cathedral of d’Angouleme. - Skarbo DSK 4027 (Distr. By Albany):

There are few recordings of the odd combination of grand piano and pipe organ because there are few works for this unusual duo. Some of the reasons given in the note booklet is that both are regarded as solo instruments but also as instruments of accompaniment, and they seem to compete rather than join forces. There is the problem of temperament with the tuning of Baroque organs, and the difficulty of the piano holding its own against the symphonic forces of the French organ school instruments. Also, in Europe most of the organ consoles are installed on a higher level of the church or hall than the ground floor where the grand piano is situated.

In the U.S. the consoles are more frequently on the main floor, and Marcel Dupre composed three works for the unusual combination for use during Americana tours, with his daughter playing the piano part. This CD presents two of them. His works make use of the variation principle and reduce the organ registration so as not to overpower the piano. The Peeters Concerto is different in that the organ takes the part of the orchestra, with the piano as the soloist. In the Langlais Diptych the two instruments dialog on the same level, but the piano has the technically more difficult part. Altogether a fascinating mix of multiple pipes and multiple strings that should appeal to any audiophile as well as to the standard music lover. Purchase here

- John Sunier

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