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BERT WECHSLER REVIEWS
BROADWAY AND CLASSICAL CDs
LANNER: Waltzes; J. STRAUSS, Sr: Polkas. Dresden State Orchestra, Otmar Suitner, conductor. Berlin Classics 0091452BC.
Let's start this survey off lightly, with a light, gentle touch such as Suitner gives this music. Recorded in 1971, this disc is delightful.
MOZART: Symphonies Nos. 39, 40, 41. London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Thomas Beecham. Dutton CDEA 5012.
The Desert Island Disc. Recorded 1940, 1937, 1934.
SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphony No. 7 "Leningrad." St. Petersburg Philharmonic, Yuri Temirkanov conducting. RCAVictor 62548-2. String Quartets Nos. 1, 2, 4. St. Petersburg String Quartet. Sony Classical SK 64584.
There is another conductor from St. Petersburg, indeed of the Kirov, who gets all the publicity and marketing opportunities, but for my money Temirkanov is his superior and the equal of any conductor today, live or on disc. His controlled management of the possibly hysterical repeated section builds far more tension than shoving it in your face, the way so much music is now presented. This is a powerful performance. (Also check RCAVictor 61701-2, The Sibelius Second Symphony and Violin Concerto with Vladimir Spivakov, Temirkanov and the St. Petersburg Phil.)
The young St. Petersburg Quartet was brought up on Shostakovich and play these early quartet works with as mother's milk with love and, again, control.
HAYDN: Complete Harpsichord Concertos with Divertimenti and Concertini. Ton Koopman, Musica Antiqua Amsterdam. Philips 446 542-2 (2 CDs).
First of all, I enjoyed this immensely. Budget-priced, I believe, the performances date from 1980 and 82: some are digitalized by the Bitstream process which is not so bothersome here as it is with Enrico Caruso's voice on RCA. The music, however, is glorious and Koopman is no pedantic Early Music practitioner. Smooth and lovely.
SCHOENBERG: Gurre-Lieder. Sharon Sweet, Marjana Lipovsek, Siegfried Jerusalem, Philip Langridge: Vienna Philharmonic, Claudio Abbado conducting. Musical Heritage Society 524378M (2 CDs). Gurre-Lieder. Eva-Maria Bundschuh, Rosemarie Lang, Manfred Jung; Dresden Philharmonic with members of the Leipzig Radio Symphony, Herbert Kegel conducting. Berlin Classics 0090172BC (2 CDs).
The MHS is from 1992: the BC from 1988. Both are deeply felt performances of this immense closing of the Romantic era, of Wagnerianism before Schoenberg's gutting of that system. A great work and a major undertaking. The Abbado has a name cast and, strangely, a female speaker (Barbara Sukowa), and is sweeping, as it should be. I prefer, however, the Kegel: he is a conductor who is on another level and it shows.
There is a very good performance on Sony S2K 48 077 with Zubin Mehta and the New York Philharmonic -- Hans Hotter is the Speaker -- and another on Sony SM2K 48 459 conducted by Pierre Boulez, but of course my favorite, and probably yours, too, is the old Stokowski. Typically, I have it, not on RCA, but on Pearl GEMM CDS 9066 (2 CDs). As a bonus that set also has Scriabin's Poems of Ecstasy and Fire. Can't miss with this one.
MASSENET: Thais. F. Carmen Forti, Ettore Bastianni; Trieste 1954, Luigi Toffolo conducting. Great Opera Performances 775 (2 CDs). Werther. Leyla Gencer, Ferruccio Tagliavini; Trieste 1959, Carlo Felice Cillario conducting. Memories HR 4554/55 (2 CDs).
This is not really a review as these sets have been around for a while and I don't know if they are still available but, on the evidence of them, the Teatro Verdi in Trieste must surely have basked in full-throated singing. Bastianni, as the desert Elmer Gantry, is overpowering, even sounding much like Ezio Pinza. Forti, otherwise unknown, matches him in power and passion, with added high notes. Toffolo, also otherwise unknown, brings out the color in the score and lets the principals have at each other.
Tagliavini is also recorded as Werther on Cetra but with a conductor who holds things down. Here he is all passion and ringing tones -- those who accuse him of crooning, and I heard that again recently -- should listen to this. Gencer, a top dramatic soprano, takes charge of the mezzo role of Charlotte and the third act especially is magnificently supercharged. Both French operas are sung here in Italian. I thought you'd like to hear about them.
BOLSHOI-GALA. Soloists, chorus, Orchestra of the Bolshoi Theater, Moscow, Peter Feranc conducting. Melodya BMG 50945-2.
On the evidence of this disc, the Bolshoi is doing quite well, thank you. Its Slovak-born music director, Feranc, seems born for this music: he lets it happen, never pushing for effect. The chorus is first-rate and the soloists, in their excerpts, impress. Very enjoyable.
ELEANOR STEBER: Berlioz songs, Sacred Songs. Columbia Symphony; Dimitri Mitropoulos, Jean Morel, Max Rudolf, conductors. Sony Classical (Masterwork Heritage) MHK 622356.
Sony, finally dipping into its Columbia Records vault, has re-released one of the classic recordings of all times: Steber's Berlioz "Les nuits d'ete" conducted by Mitropoulos. This, and the further three Berlioz songs conducted by Morel, are the apex of the vocal art, especially in French song. Other great sopranos have recorded this but this one is the one. The Sacred Songs: Bach, Handel, Haydn, Menedlssohn were always close to her heart.
Other Stebers are out and all are worthy for she was one of our greatest singers whose virtuosity and technique was quite unique. While I haven't found her Columbia Mozart conducted by Bruno Walter, RCA did bring out 16 cuts recorded for them, 60521-2-RG. Legtato BIM 712-1 is an eclectic collection, dates given but provenances not.
The rest are VAI Audio who has (or had) access to her private tapes. Listed as Volume I, 1072 are her "Early Career, 1938-1951 (no Volume 2); 1023 is opera scenes recorded in 1940 as a newspaper promotion with the singers anonymous but who included Steber, Rose Bampton, Leonard Warren, Armand Tokatyan. VAIA 1030 is Steber in Mozart with orchestra; 1021 is Strauss, two scenes from "Die Frau ohne Schatten" conducted by Karl Boehm with Set Svanholm and Christel Goltz (too short!) and the Four Last Songs from 1970 conducted by James Levine (there must be better conducted performances with Steber -- the same with Beethoven's "Ah, Perfido," also with Levine, which closes the disc). A 2-disc set, 1005-2, has concerts from 1956 and 1958 including her hilarious aria from Menotti's "The Telephone".
Speaking of hilarious, don't miss Karl Ditters von Dittersdorf's opera "Arcifanfano, King of Fools," VAIA 1010-2 (2 CDs), new libretto by Auden and Kallman, with Steber, Anna Russell (yes, Anna Russell!), and Patricia Brooks among the cast, conducted by Newell Jenkins. Russell is musical but god knows what keys she sings in and Steber often out Russells Russell. A cut but quite fulfilling Berlioz "Les Troyens" is on 1006-3 with Steber and Regina Resnik. Beecham was to conduct it but didn't.
Yes, Eleanor Steber can be remembered, and continuously enjoyed. But we want more, especially the Columbia operas "Faust," "Cosi," and "Butterfly."
EVA MEI: Bel Canto Arias. Munich Radio Orchestra, Janos Kovacs conducting. RCAVictor 68525-2.
Aside from having an unreadable front cover (who passes on designs?) and aside from Mei's unquestioned artistry, stylistic expertise and voice, the repertoire here is admirable. In its 11 cuts we do have the usual "Sonnambula" and "Puritani" arias, but how about ones from "Rita," "L'occasione fa il ladro," and the like. Mei has the floating quality and the timing necessary for successful transversals of this music. [Note: Eva Mei is not Sumi Jo. Or v-v.]
BRIAN ASAWA: 16th Century Lute Songs. with David Taylor, lute. RCAVictor 68818-2.
We seem to be in the Age of the countertenor, and good countertenors, too. If you enjoy the sound of that voice, this is a disc for you. There songs are, of course, by Dowland and Campion with a smattering of "popular" songs. Musical and quite beautiful.
LENA HORNE: Love is the Thing. Jazz Heritage 514375T.
Vintage Horne, a beautifully chosen compilation of 20 songs recorded from 1955 to 62. This is real singing: sit back, enjoy.
CHARLES TRENET: Anthologie. Angel EMI 8 31393 2.
Trenet was one of my favorite French Music Hall singers. I heard him long years ago at a star-packed benefit in the old Madison Square Garden and a lifetime later caught his farewell engagement at the Olympia in Paris (I secretly taped that but the tape is lost). This disc has 20 cuts, wonderful in itself with his ebullient spirit, but shouldn't an anthology be at least two discs? No bio or liner notes at all.
ELGAR, FRANCK: Violin Sonatas. Midori, violin; Robert McDonald, piano. Sony Classical SK 63331.
This is good: it has passion and drama. My favorite Franck Sonata recorded performance is the one by the Menuhins, there is more drama in their two instruments than in a full orchestra but this one is awfully good, surprisingly exciting.
LISZT: Works for Violin and Piano. Rachael Barton, violin; Thomas Labe, piano. Dorian 90251.
Unfamiliar music, unfamiliar artists, all quite wonderful. The musical line seems to be balanced on Barton's bow and Labe, who has the Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 to himself, is up to it all. I keep replaying this.
FRANZ SCHMIDT: String Quartets. Franz Schubert Quartet, Wein. Nimbus NI 5467.
I had always, without really knowing for sure, thought Schmidt a dullish conservative genre composer of his time (d. 1939) but his two quartets are soothing and involving. I keep listening to this, too. The performances seem to be definitive.
LISZT, BACH-BUSONI, CHOPIN. Ferrucio Busoni, piano. Nimbus Grand Piano 8810.
This Grand Piano Series, like all recordings of original piano rolls, arouses strong controversy. Some mavens like it, some revile it. I like it, and enjoy, for instance Saint-Saens playing for me on Archiphone 106. Nimbus uses the Duo-Art reproducing piano. Busoni was, of course, and original and searching musician: his performances are always rewarding. Each Grand Piano CD comes with informative articles on the pianists by David Dubal.
MOZART: B Major Sonata, 12 Variations in C; MENDELSSOHN: Serious Variations, Rondo capriccioso. Nina Marget Grimsdottir, piano. SKR SKREF 008.
A young pianist from Iceland who has a lovely touch, sense of style and strong musicality. One can relax to this.
CHOPIN: Works. Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, piano. Fonit Cetra CDO 122.
This Volume One of the official archives of the Italian radio RAI and why, when I like Michelangeli so much, I don't like this? Besides, the disc arrived with many flaws on it: it plays like an old 78rpm.
GIUSEPPE MARTUCCI: L canzone dei ricordi, Piano Concerto. Mirella Freni, soprano, Carlo Bruno, piano; Orchestra Filarmonico della Scala, Riccardo Muti conducting.
Martucci was a favored conductor of Toscanini whose proselytizing of his music didn't catch on, except perhaps for these seven gorgeous songs, here sung equally gorgeously by Freni. The concerto is a big one with big gestures and strong lyricism. I would invest in this disc if I were thee.
PAGANINI: Violin Concerto No. 1; TCHAIKOVSKY: Violin Concerto. Victor Tretyakov, violin; Moscow Philharmonic, Neeme Jarvi conducting. Melodiya 40720 2.
When these performances first came out, in the middle '60s, they gained excitement because we were discovering Tretyakov: now this is part of the "Neeme Jarvi, The Early Recordings" edition. Tempus might fuget but this still to be had for Tretyakov. Young and dashing.
JANACEK: Sinfonietta, Violin Concerto, Suite from "The Cunning Little Vixen." Christiane Edinger, violin, Southwest Radio Orchestra, Vaclav Neumann conducting. Arte Nova 30481 2.
The Concerto is dated 1926, reconstructed 1988, but there is nary a comment on it in the booklet. All three works are eminently approachable and conducted with clarity by Neumann, no stranger to Janacek. No bombast in the Sinfonietta. Nice work by Edinger, too. A good disc.
MENDELSSOHN: Elijah. Gwyneth Jones, Janet Baker, Nicolai Gedda, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau; New Philharmonia conducted by Rafael Frubeck de Burgos. EMI Classics 5 68601 2 (2 CDs). MENDELSSOHN: Elijah. Isobel Baillie, Gladys Ripley, James Johnston, Harold Williams; Huddersfield Choral Society; Liverpool Philharmonic, Malcolm Sargent conducting. Dutton Laboratories 2CDAX2004 (2 CDs).
I like "Elijah" and until recently preferred the EMI recording with its stellar cast and sympathetic conducting, finally out on CD. Then Dutton came with Sargent's 1947 performance which convinces you that this is the way the music was written to be heard. A different work and a greater one, its greatness unfolding as it goes along. You are at one of England's fabled choral festivals.
WAGNER: Tristan and Isolde. Helga Dernesch, Christa Ludwig, Jon Vickers, Walter Berry, Karl Ridderbusch; Berlin Philharmonic, Herbert Von Karajan conducting. Musical Heritage Society 544623T (4 CDs).
How often von Karajan is right and this is one of those times. A towering "Tristan." Vickers is unstoppable and Dernesch, before she turned mezzo, was a creamy Isolde. Having several favorite "Tristan" recordings (mostly "pirates," I did not intend to keep this one: I cannot consider passing it on and I won't.
PUCCINI: Madama Butterfly. Toti dal Monti, Beniamino Gigli; Orchestra of the Rome opera, Oliviero de Fabritiis, conductor. Pearl GEMM CDS 9290 (2 CDs)
It's a bit too late to debate the merits of this classic 1940 recording. The Pearl remastering is a shade less mellow then the EMI one, CHS 69990 2 and that makes a difference with dal Monte's idiosyncratic teen-age voice and Gigli's gold. EMI is thus more satisfying.
PROKOFIEV: War and Peace. Galina Vishnevskaya, Irina Arkhipova, Yevgeny Kibkalo, Vladimir Petrov, Pavel Lisitsian; Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow, Alexander Melik-Pashayev conducting.
If you like this opera, and its glories mostly escape me, this 1961 recording has passion and warmth. And voices. A modern Kirov performance, conducted by Valery Gergiev of course with his mostly in your face (where are the overtones?) stable of singers is out on Philips -- heard and seen on the Video cassette (440 070 527-3, 2 cassettes) -- is to me glitzy and cold in an awful British production better not seen. There is also a "War and Peace" on Erato, conducted by Rostropovich with Vishnevshaya, Ochman and Gedda never to forget (ECD-75480, 4 CDs).
THE DOMINGO COLLECTION. Placido Domingo, tenor; others. Sony Classical S2K 63027 (2CDs).
Sure, for tourists. No. I was surprised how much enjoyment I got out of this many faceted "portrait" of Domingo. Forget the Pop stuff and listen to the wide variety of opera (some more than just bleeding chunks) and songs which are included here. The Spanish music always opens an especial warmth in that never-ending voice.
DEBRA KITABJIAN EVERY: Songs by Mozart, Montsavatge, Respighi. Swedish Chamber Orchestra, Sixten Ehrling conducting. Bluebell ABCD 068.
This new voice from Sweden hails from Philadelphia. Her career at this point seems tied up with conductor Ehrling. A good choice on his part as she has a rich, appealing mezzo which makes music. The repertoire on this disc has its own interest so, if you can find it, I recommend you listen.
LOLITA. Film sound track. Turner Classic Movies Rhino 02 72841,
I don't really know why anyone would really want this but it's a hoot -- and James Mason's voice occasionally mellows the air. The music is by Nelson Riddle and the film dates from 1962.
MONTEVERDI: Ballo delle ingrate, Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda. Cappella Musicale di S. Petronio de Bologna, Sergio Vartolo, director. Naxos 8.553322. Vespro della Beata Vergine.Cantus Coln, Konrad Junghanel, artistic director. deutsche harmonia mundi 77332 2 (2 CDs).L'Ottavo Libro de Madrigali. The Consort of Musicke, Anthony Rooley, director. Musical Heritage Society 514165T.
When was the last time you went on a Monteverdi binge? It's worth it. I'm partial to "Tancredi" but all these performances are worthy.
HAYDN: Symphonies Nos. 97, 98, 99. George Szell conducting the Cleveland Orchestra. Sony Masterworks Heritage MHK 62979. SCHUMANN: The Four Symphonies.: George Szell conducting the Cleveland Orchestra. Sony Heritage MH2K 62349 (2 CDs). BEETHOVEN: Egmont. Pilar Lorengar, soprano; George Szell conducting the Vienna Philharmonic. Musical Heritage Society 514499Z.
Sleeping giants awake on re-issues. Szell was a giant and listen to all of these. MHS also has a 2 CD set of Szell with the Concertgebouw which includes Mozart's 34th, Beethoven's 5th, and Sibelius' 2nd. Before you talk about new conductors, listen to the older one.
BERLIOZ: Romeo and Juliet, The Damnation of Faust, L'Enfance du Christ, Harold in Italy, Requiem, Symphonie fantastique, Les nuits d'ete, others. Soloists, including Victoria de los Angeles, Boston Symphony, Charles Munch conducting. RCAVictor 68444-2 (8 CDs).
Talk about blockbusters! OK, Munch wasn't Monteux or maybe some (few) others but if you want a full collection of Berlioz as I do -- a revelation: I was in the mood for some music that encompassed the whole world and I thought, of course, of Mahler, then realized that Berlioz does this in a kinder, gentler way -- this is the collection to get. Philips has released a box of 6 CDs of Colin Davis in Berlioz, just the orchestral works (456 143-2), but the one I'd want is this Munch, with other individual recordings. And the packaging is intelligent: 8 CDs in a box only a tad wider than the old 2 CD boxes (the Philips is also thin). But I really want Albert Wolff. The glorious "L'Enfance" is re-released by EMI, 5 68586-2, conducted by Andre Cluytens with de los Angeles and Nicolai Gedda. Excerpts from "Romeo" are included, conducted by Giulini.
SCHUMANN: Das Paradies und die Peri. Soloists, Leipzig Radio Orchestra, Wolf-Dieter Hauschild, conducting. Berlin Classics 0091882BC.
I've never heard of any of the soloists nor the conductor but this is a warm, absolutely beautiful performance of fabulously lovely music. It is lush, melodic and obviously written with great love. It is communicated. The recording dates from 1984 and the libretto is only in German.
LISZT: Piano Concertos nos. 1 and 2, Totentanz, B minor Sonata, Dante Sonata, others. Alfred Brendel, piano; Vienna Symphony, Michael Gielen conducting. Vox Box CDX 5172 (2 CDs).
Remember when we first heard of Brendel from all those encompassing Vox Boxes on LP? I know how he plays Liszt today but had forgotten how well he played him in 1956 and 57. Excuse me while I put the B minor Sonata on again. And don't forget Vox' 3 CD Box of Brendel in Schubert, 3041. O, the infinite variety of Schubert! And then, for Liszt, there's Jorge Bolet (Everest 9015) and he has the advantage of Robert Irving, the great unrecognized conductor, as his colleague. I never heard Liszt One this way.
ZINO FRANCESCATTI. New York Philharmonic, Dimitri Mitropoulos conducting; Philadelphia Orchestra, Eugene Ormandy conducting. Sony Masterworks Heritage MH2K 62339 (2 CS). ZINO FRANCESCATTI. Columbia Symphony, Andre Cluytens conducting; Robert Casadesus, Max Lanner, piano. Pearl GEMM 9250.
Finally Francescatti has reached CD, even from Sony which has not been generous with its vault treasures. Five concertos and the Chausson "Poeme" make up this set: The Pearl's Lalo Symphonie espagnole and the Franck Sonata plus encore pieces all date from 1945 and they all are treasures. One of the most satisfying violinists of his time, it is good to have him back.
ANGELIKA KIRCHSCHLAGER: Lieder.Helmut Deutsch, piano. Sony Classical SK 68344.
It takes guts to release a debut album of a new mezzo-soprano but the Austrian-born Kirchschlage carries it off neatly. Most of the songs are of Mahler which she does with unassuming smoothness but the novelty is songs by Korngold and Alma Mahler. These, of course have an interest of their own. Diction could be better but I think we have a real singer here. I love designers. Kirchschlager's name is hard enough, and not yet well-known: try to read it on the cover. Or the pianist's. Or anything.
HE'LL BRING IT TO PASS: Spirituals and Americanegro Suite. Del-Louise Moyer, mezzo; Dean Williamson, piano. Alyssum ALY-9001.
In times past, Spirituals were on the regular recital programs of such singers as Helen Traubel and Ezio Pinza. They can be great music. Then, alas, the world became departmentalized. All hail to Moyer to release an album, sung heart-feltedly and nicely, of this repertoire. The "Americanegro Suite," six songs, is by Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler. Try to find this.
ISABEL MARENGO: Homenaja. Piscitelli P-008
No, I am sorry to say that I had never heard of Marengo, an Argentine soprano (1893-1977) until this disc. She sang important roles with stellar casts in South America and Europe but evidently not in America. The first note of the first cut ("Manon") put me in mind of Albanese but that passed. Marengo has her own tone and passion. There are 22 cuts here, opera in idiomatic Italian and songs in Spanish. I suggest you listen to this major talent.
AKSEL SCHIOTZ:The Complete Recordings 1933-1946. Eventual 10 volumes, Vols 1-8 Danacord CACODC 451-458.
Danacord, the Danish company that issued the complete European recordings of Lauritz Melchior (plus a "pirate" of Melchior's last Met "Lohengrin") and the historic Carl Nielsen performances is at it again. Schiotz wasn't only a Danish tenor, he was revered worldwide. His Schubert "Schone Mullerin" and Mozart especially are lauded. Well, everything is here, or will be. The remastering brings back the warmth in the voice that was missing in other pressings. Warning: unless you are Danish, the sheer number of Danish songs is daunting so you may want to choose your volumes.
JAN PEERCE: The Great American Tenor. Legato Classics 205-1
Once again Legato has done what BMG should have done: released superb recordings of American singers from RCA's vault. Do you remember how good Peerce was, he musicality, style, yes even his voice? These 15 cuts are well-chosen and superb. Get this. Aside from the others, if Peerce's "The Holy City" isn't an example of the greatest singing, I don't know what is. The Radio Years RY8 has Peerce's radio cuts, a wish-fulfillment disc that includes, among what you would expect, "Nessun Dorma" and "Di quella pira."
CARMEN. The 1915 Cecil B. de Mille film starring Geraldine Farrar. VAI 69222.
Yes, this is not a CD but a very important Video, restored and tinted magnificently. The Metropolitan opera soprano Farrar made 14 silent film of which "Carmen" was the first. de Mille's version is not the opera -- Don Jose is very much a business job for Carmen -- and the film runs about an hour (the Lenscrafter "Carmen?"). Farrar acts all out, and while her "unbridled sensuality" must be taken on faith, she is quite wonderful. The original symphony orchestra musical accompaniment is also restored. An important and historic document, one that is quite enjoyable, too.
CANDIDE. "New Broadway Cast Recording." RCAVictor 68835-2.
Why don't they leave "Candide" alone? The vocal lines are here simplified and there are jazzy new orchestral arrangements that often sound like a circus. Take the original, please.
STEEL PIER. Original Broadway cast recording. RCAVictor 68878-2.
Even more than on stage this score is relentless. It drives and drives and drives one a little mad. "Chicago" on coke; "Cabaret" on speed. And without Karen Ziemba's physical energy and teeth, there are few redeeming features here.
KURT WEILL ON BROADWAY. Steven Kimbrough; Cologne Radio orchestra, Victor Symonette conducting. Koch Schwann 3-1416-2.
Somehow I can't get excited about this disc but it's certainly one to have. Lesser (or unknown) songs from Weill's Broadway shows and one should know them. I'm especially glad to hear "Here I'll Stay" from "Love Life."
FRED ASTAIRE AT M-G-M. Rhino R2 72828-2 (2 CDs).
Now here is something. From 1933's "Dancing Lady" with Joan Crawford on, we have 39 cuts of Astaire, all at his best. Try not to dance on the walls and ceiling, just try.
SONGS & MORE SONGS BY TOM LEHRER Rhino R2 72776.
Will a whole new generation now know and love Tom Lehrer -- and forget his lesser imitators? But where are the topical songs, Werner von Braun, for instance? Certainly get this but I'll hold on to my LPs, the 12 inch and the 10 inch ones.
HELGE ROSVAENGE und die Leichte Muse 1927-1937. Lebendige Vergangenheit 89225 (2CDs)
One of the greatest tenors ever in 42 cuts of operetta, almost a lifetime's worth, full-throated and exciting. To hear Rosvaenge sing the original of the Dean Martin tango "I Get Ideas" is a trip! The Danish record company Danacord once released, but only on LP and I think on this writer's instigation, Rosvaenge's very early Danish popular songs. I only have a test cassette of them but they are fun. Opportunistic under Hitler, yes, but a superb tenor nonetheless.
ZWEI HERTZEN IM DREIVIERTELTAKT. Sylvia Geszty, Peter Schreier; Dresden Philharmonic conducted by Heinz Rogner. Berlin Classics 0020722BC.
Tenor Schreier, if not all things to all men, seems to be all things to Berlin Classics and so his open throat and full singing in this repertoire is really a surprise. Geszty is to the manner born and the songs and duets are not always the usual fare. I liked this and think you will.
PUCCINI: La Boheme. Rosanna Carteri, Ferruccio Tagliavini, Giuseppe Taddei, Cesare Siepi. Orchestra of Turin Radio, 1952, Gabriele Santini conducting. Cetra CDO 30 (2 CDs)
Next to the Toscanini, this has always been my favorite recording of "La Boheme." It's everything you want, and more. My third favorite is a live performance from New Orleans, 1959, with Licia Albanese (also on the Toscanini -- and the Gigli) and the young Giuseppe di Stefano, conducted by Renato Cellini on VAI Audio 1119-2.
MOZART: Cosi fan tutti. Elisabeth Schwartzkopf, Hanny Steffek, Christa Ludwig, Alfredo Kraus, Giuseppe Taddei, Walter Ludwig. Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Karl Boehm. Musical Heritage Society 534553W (3 CDs)
Funny, I've never heard a recording of "Cosi" I haven't liked and this is no exception. Great cast -- Schwartzkopf is not too mannered and Berry not too young (this is 1963) and everything works. Kraus, Taddei and Ludwig. What more do you want? How many recordings can one keep. And I'm still waiting for Sony to rerelease the Metropolitan Opera one with Steber and Thebom, conducted by Stiedry, in English.
DEBUSSY: Pelleas et Melisande. Mireille Delunsch, Gerard Theruel, Armand Arapian, Gabriel Bacquier; Lille Opera, Jean-Claude Casadesus, conducting. Naxos 8.660047-9 (3CDs)
>From Lille, from Naxos and with unfamiliar singers (except Bacquier who here sings Arkel), a serious, fully satisfying accomplishment, recorded well. I can't say enough good words about this - but don't forget the Metropolitan Opera 1945 performance released by Walhal (WHL 27). It has Sayao, Singher, Tibbett and Kipnis, conducted by Emil Cooper. Bacquier was a great Golaud; Arapian is a fine one, but Tibbett was the best. And that's only a "for instance."
NICOLAI GEDDA: The First Ten Years. Bluebell ABCD056
We seem to have always taken Swedish tenor Gedda for granted. Supreme in Mozart, French opera, Czech opera, operetta, Italian roles, everything: O, it's Gedda. These recordings, which even include a "Celeste Aida" rival any tenor, including the young di Stefano. Listen, enjoy, and marvel.
ALEXANDER KIPNIS: Opera, Lieder. Nimbus Prima Voce NI 7885/6 (2 CDs). ALEXANDER KIPNIS: Opera Arias & Songs. Sony MHK 62354. OMAGGIO AD ALEXANDER KIPNIS. Great Opera Performances 799 (2 CDs). Kipnis (1891-1978) owned a rolling bass voice and peerless artistry. I don't know why these three releases appeared almost simultaneously but welcome they are. In spite of a bit of repetition between them, I recommend all three, covering the length of his career. And don't forget the earlier RCA release, 60522-2. A Verdi heroic bass, maybe not, but everything else is profound singing.
BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 7. Berlin Philharmonic, 1971, Herbert von Karajan conducting. Musical Heritage Society 514557A.
Say7 what you will about Bruckner and/or about Herbert the K, this is a great performance, simply a great performance. You will hear meanings you never conceived of before in this music -- did Bruckner conceive of them?
NIELSEN: Just about everything: Danacord in many multi disc volumes. The Danish company Danacord has, for several years now, been reprocessing and releasing CD versions of historic recordings of the music of Carl Nielsen. We have volumes of the operas, symphonies, chamber works. This is a remarkable accomplishment and this writer strongly suggests you browse the Nielsen bin and consider all of these.
HINDEMITH: Das Marienleben, 19 piano Songs. Ruth Ziesak; Ulrich Eisenlahr; NDR Radio Philharmonic, Cord Gorben conducting. CPO999 331-2
Never have I heard "Das Marienleben" taken so seriously and given so persuasive performance from both singer and conductor. This whole disc is a triumph.
THE MUSIC OF PAUL BOWLES. EOS Ensemble, Jonathan Sheffer, conductor. Catalyst 68409-2.
Bowles is quite famous in some circles but few seem to really know for what. Here we have five of his music works and they all sound like Poulenc to me with an occasional gloss of Ravel. Satie would have helped. They're not in the least unpleasant, but neither is Poulenc.
RAPHAEL MOSTEL: Nightsongs. Tibetan Singing Bowl Ensemble, New Music For Old Instruments. Source Music 10008-2.
The singing bowls of Tibet are an ancient aid to religious rite and meditation. Other sound medium were added, like yak horn and human femur, and as such I was introduced to the form by a CD released by Musical Heritage Society a while back with Alqin Pressencer. Mostel knows his bowl and adds instruments like the didjeridoo, flutes, lyzarden. The performances here of "Jacob's Ladder" and "Nightsong" are live ones and they are special listening, still for meditation: certainly not for beer parties. Try.
WILEM MENGELBERG: A Portrait (1926-1941). New York Philharmonic, Concertgebouw Orchestra. Grammophono 2000 AB 78637.39 (3 CDs).
From Beethoven to Weber to Tchaikovsky to Wagner this set is a delight. Can you call Mengelberg's music making conversational? That's what it seems to be: he is talking to you in music. A superb set.
THE LIFE. Original Broadway cast. Sony SK 63312.
It's not a pleasant story, nasty even, but it is a real Broadway score. Cy Coleman sets Ira Gasman's lyrics the way lyrics should be set and the cast is faultless. Andrew Lloyd Webber and his imitators be damned. This is this season's the Broadway score to get.
TITANIC. Original Broadway cast. RCAVictor 68834-2.
When it opened on Broadway, the review of this musical by this writer, printed on these (electronic) pages was headed "It's Not Just the Iceberg" and I see no reason to revise my opinion. One begins with hope, and hope sinks, too. Maury Yeston's score has elements of everybody except, perhaps his successful "Phantom of the Opera," put in the shade by the other "Phantom." Is that why Andrew Lloyd Webber is the main inspiration for this one?
LADY IN THE DARK. Rise Stevens, John Reardon, Danny Kaye, Lehman Engel, conducting. Sony Classical MHK 62869.
From the point of view of today, Ira Gershwin's lyrics can be too cute for they're own good and psychoanalysis is more than passe, but the Kurt Weill score holds up and Rise Stevens is magnificent. Also on this disc is the Danny Kaye recording of the full score. Yes, a necessity.
SWINGTIME CANTEEN. Atlantic City cast plus "guests." Papa HF9798.
World War Two songs, nostalgic and fun. But to this old person they don't get the sound. The Andrew Sisters songs without the Andrew Sisters sound aren't quite the same. The Smithsonian has a great CD collection of the originals which, damn, I can't locate at the moment. If you also can't find it, try this disc.
VOICES OF LIGHT. Anonymous Four, others. Netherlands Radio Philharmonic, Steven Mercurio conducting. Sony Classical SK 62006.
Inspired by the Carl Dryer silent film, this Richard Einhorn score is haunting and beautiful. I have played it often, in many moods, and it satisfies. Try it.
BEI UNS UM DIE GEDACHTNISKIRCHE RUM...:Berlin Cabaret. Various. Edel 0011532TLR (2 CDs).
A bit esoteric perhaps for many, but these original recordings from the Berlin cabarets before the war are not only history but no little enjoyment. We have Dietrich of course, and also Hans Albers, Blandine Ebinger, Werner Finck, Friedrich Hollander, Heintz Ruhmann, the Comedian Harmonists, among others. The era is dead, many murdered by Nazis: relive it here.
THE ART OF THE TOY PIANO. Margaret Leng Tang. Point Music 456 346-2.
Just the way Tang can sit on her knees for so long playing her toy piano is amazing. She also makes it sing, but why? Her in 12 cuts, many written for her (but not the Beethoven), she employs a variety of other sounds but we still feel that we are listing to a music box at Christmas. You may want to try this perhaps.
SIGRID ONEGIN. Pearl GEMM 9274.
You want to talk about today's coloratura contraltos? Listen to the Swede Onegin (1889-1943). Here and on Lebendige Vergangenheit 89027 we hear an art form long lost. Pearl has 17 cuts; LV, 13. As one must have the Mozart Alleluja and the "Lucrezia Borgia" Drinking Song (the latter rivaling Schumann-Heink's), there is some duplication but get them both.
CHARLES KULLMAN: Serenade. Memoir Classic CDMOIR 429.
Kullman was an important tenor in Vienna, Berlin and then the Metropolitan but this is a genre disc, mostly popular romances of the day. While there are a few operatic arias, in English, try to get "I'm Only a Strolling Vagabond" out of your mind. Everything is stylistically impeccable. Fun. Romantic.
TORSTEN RALF II. Lebendige Vergangenheit 89152.
Ralf was an important if not particularly exciting Wagnerian tenor in Europe and at the Metropolitan in the '30s and 40s. The singing is always refined but not too varied. This is an American recorded all-Wagner disc -- the "Tristan" duet is with Helen Traubel and Herta Glaz. Added is the "Otello" duet -- Ralf was a famous Otello -- with Hilde Konetzni. The conductors are Fritz Busch (US) and Karl Bohm in the 1944 Berlin "Otello." I have not heard Volume I.
SCHUBERT: Die Schone Mullerin. Walter Ludwig, tenor; Walter Bohle, piano. Berlin Classics 0092872BC.
Ludwig was a popular German tenor but this recording must have been made too late in his career. He is too stentorian and not sweet enough, coloring his interpretation of the words. Not recommended.
WAGNER: Tannhauser. Kirsten Flagstad, Lauritz Melchior, Lawrence Tibbett. Metropolitan Opera January 1936, Artur Bodanzky conducting. Walhall Records WHL 30.
Yes, this what it says, a legendary performance with a legendary cast. Flagstad is peerless: but it is the song contest that really excites. Melchior and Tibbett take each other on as if they mean it. A great performance all in all. (This writer did the liner notes on Tibbett.)
RIMSKY-KORSAKOV: The Maid of Pskov. Kirov Production, Valery Gergiev, conducting. Philips 446678-2 (2 CDs)
In our personal musical masochism, we are convinced that we should learn every opera that Rimsky wrote. We are allowed to miss some and "The Maid" could be a candidate for that. And not everything that Gergiev manages to sell the world has to be bought. Galina Gorchakova is the Princess.
MOZART: Symphonies Nos. 38, 39, 41; Coronation Mass, Vesperae Solemnes. Vienna Symphony, Jascha Horenstein conducting. Vox Legends CDX2 5524 (2CDs).
Any Horenstein reissue is worth hearing and this, as are many, is special. He brings a fresh approach and a clarity to his music and this is Mozart. The vocal soloists are Wilma Lipp, a young Christa Ludwig, Murray Dickie and Walter Berry. Yes, get this.
r.STRAUSS: Orchestral works. Chicago Symphony, Fritz Reiner, conducting. RCAVictor 68635-2 (5 CDs, boxed).
RCA has collected the "Living Stereo" Strauss recordings by Reiner and the Chicago and reissued them beautifully. Byron Janis is the soloist in Burlesque; Inge Borkh (no Ljuba Welitsch) in the "Salome" and "Elektra" scenes. We have the Tone Poems and more. These CDs are available separately but I'm glad I have them all.
RUED LANGGAARD: Music of the Spheres, Four Tone Pictures. Danish Radio Symphony, Gennady Rozhdestvensky conducting. Chandos 9517.
Langgaard was the outcast of Danish music: he belonged to no clique and had few friends. He was also a unique composer, idiosyncratic and his own man. Through the efforts of Jesper Buhl and Danacord Records, all the works of Langgaard were forced upon the Danish public -- and then the world's -- in both historic recordings and new ones made for Danacord. While you can't beat Rozhdesvensky, I suggest the whole Danacord Langgaard inventory. There are too many to be listed here by number but there are all the symphonies and everything else. Discover Langgaard this Fall.
GUBAIDULINA: Seven Words, Silenzio, In Croce. Various. Naxos 8.553557.
Today, when every composer is a genius no matter what country he/she is from or emigrated from, there is the uniqueness of Sofia Gubaidulina. She has a personal voice not chained to a system (or chained to no system). Listen to her.
YIP SINGS HARBURG. Yip Harburg, others. Koch International 3-7386.
Harburg is the lyricist of "The Wizard of Oz," "Finian's Rainbow" and some great songs. He is no singer but his (unnamed) collaborators on this disc are and the songs are here. History of sorts.
THE PAJAMA GAME. Judy Kaye, Ron Gaines, National Symphony Orchestra, John Owen Edwards conducting. Jay2 1250 (2CDs).
I had forgotten what fun "Pajama Game" is and this set brings it all out. It's not the original Broadway cast, and not as good as they were, but you'll enjoy this.
MUSICALS! Various forces. EMI Classics Red Line 5 69875 2.
A budget priced rerun disc, well chosen but, while it tells you who sings, who have to guess who sings what. There are many Ethel Merman songs but no Merman. A fun disc, however.
THE BEST OF OPERETTA. Ingrid Kertesi, Zsuzsa Csonka, Janos Berkes. Hungarian Operetta Orchestra, Laszlo Kovacs conducting. Three volumes, Naxos 8.550941-43. Viennese operetta was never far from the other side of the Empire, Hungary and these forces really have the feeling for the music. Of course there is Tauber, et al, but this set is highly satisfying. Put on all three and relax.
VIENNESE OPERETTA ARIAS. Lucia Popp, Academy St.Martin in the Fields, Neville Marriner conducting.
Popp is absolutely wonderful in these 14 selections but who thought to hire this unindigenous orchestra and conductor? But Popp is so good, I'll keep the disc.
THE STUDENT PRINCE. Marilyn Hill Smith, David Rendall, Norman Bailey. Philharmonia Orchestra, John Owen Edwards, conductor. JAY2 1252 (2CDs).
Every note, I guess, and what a surefire tear-jerker this Romberg operetta is. And how lovely! Given a serious, almost operatic in the best sense treatment, I don't see how you will fail to love this set.
PAGANINI, GIUDITTA. Deborah Riedel, Jerry Hadley, others. English Chamber Orchestra, Richard Bonynge, conducting. Telarc 80435,80436.
These two Lehar operettas do not survive well the change to an English libretto and singers who are not born to the milieu. The great melodies come out as mere ditties and his two roles stretch Hadley's voice uncomfortably. Good try but no Sacher torte.
PUCCINI: La Rondine. Angela Gheorghiu, Roberto Alagna, London Symphony, Antonio Pappana conducting. EMI Classics 5 56338 2 (2 CDs)
Yes, this is an operetta, Puccini's take on the Viennese mode. It is a beautiful work, wistful and tinged with sadness. Unfortunately all that is missed here as it is presented straightforwardly, full face. There is a beautiful live recording in not too good sound with Licia Albanese, a perfect Magda, on Grand Tier ENGT #8 94 and the incomparable Ljuba Welitsch can be heard in German on a Melodram LP set.
THE DOMINGO COLLECTION. Placido Domingo, others. Sony Classical S2K 63027 (2CDs). Recorded from 1976 through 1996, this set is particularly well-chosen, 28 cuts from his extensive versatile repertoire. We have opera, Pop songs, Spanish songs, taken from many sources. I was surprised how much I enjoyed this.
JOHN MCCORMACK: More Rarities. REGO 3960.
Would you believe the CD label is in green ink? Of course. 16 cuts of his Irish and popular songs in his impeccable style and voice.
ALMA GLUCK. Pearl GEMM 9268.
Mother of Efrem Zimbalist and grandmother of Stephanie Zimbalist, Rumanian-born Gluck was one of America's greatest singers. She, with Caruso, popularized recorded music. All households had Caruso's "Pagliacci" aria and Gluck's "Old Folks at Home." This disc, especially well-chosen, has 19 cuts of her pure, beautiful singing. It includes duets with Caruso and Louise Homer, arias and a lot of beauty.
ERNA BERGER: Liederabend 1949. Koch Schwann 3-1164-2.
This is a previously unpublished concert given in Berlin's Titaniapalast given by one of our finest and most beloved coloraturas. It is a generous program, 21 numbers, and a lovely one. Gunther Weissenborn is the pianist and we even hear the audience being very pleased.
WALTRAUD MEIER: Sings Wagner. Bavarian Radio Orchestra, Loren Maazel conducting.
Meier has made a name for herself in both the soprano and mezzo repertoire but this disc won't help it. It's good enough but not good enough for historical competition and the conducting is not that interesting.
WALTRAUD MEIER: Sings Wagner. Bavarian Radio Orchestra, Loren Maazel conducting.
Meier has made a name for herself in both the soprano and mezzo repertoire but this disc won't help it. It's good enough but not good enough for historical competition and the conducting is not that interesting.
OLGA BORODINA: Arias. Welsh National Opera Orchestra, Carlo Rizzi conducting. Philips446 663-2.
Borodina is one of those many singers let loose around the world by the Kirov Opera. She is a good mezzo and here sings 12 arias including Purcell and Berlioz but it is all somewhat soporific. So is the conducting.
WAGNER: Die Meistersinger. Karita Mattila, Ben Heppner, Jose van Dam, others. Chicago Symphony, Georg Solti conducting. 4CDs. This came in a limited edition box from Musical Heritage Society and I think was recorded by London but no company credit is anywhere to be seen. I guess whoever thought this would be a blockbuster seller and it wasn't. It's good, it's clear but the music doesn't glow the way it can. I suggest sticking to either of the Rudolf Kempe recordings: they're not new but they can't be bettered.
PUCCINI: "Manon Lescaut." Mirella Freni, Cecilia Bartoli, Luciano Pavarotti, Ramon Vargas, Dwayne Croft, Giuseppe Taddei. Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, James Levine conducting. Musical Heritage Society 524497X (2CDs). A great cast who do their best but are undercut by Levine's slow, willful conducting. Stick to the Albanese/Bjorling on RCA 60573-2-RG.
BRAHMS: Symphony No. 1. Sergiu Celibidache conducting the Milan Radio Symphony. Cetra CDAR 2009.
The legendary conductor concentrates on the passion of Brahms in this persuasive, actually fabulous performance.
TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 5, Eugene Onegin excerpts. Rudolf Kempe conducting the Berlin Philharmonic. Testament SBT 1100. Symphony No. 6, Theme and Variations. Rudolf Kempe conducting the Vienna Philharmonic. Testament SBT 1104.
Recorded from 1958-62, Kempe, one of our finest conductors plays Tchaikovsky straight with no breast-heaving or heavy breathing. The music stands on its own. I can even take here (almost) the Theme and Variations, ruined for me years ago by Ballanchine's ballet.
MAHLER: Symphony No. 8. Heather Harper, Lucia Popp, Arleen Auger, Yvonne Minton, Helen Watts, Rene Kollo, John Shirley-Quirk, Martti Talvela. Chicago Symphony conducted by Georg Solti. Musical Heritage Society 514500W. Symphony No. 8.Alessandra Marc, Sharon Sweet, Elizabeth Norberg-Schulz, Vessalina Kasarova, Ning Liang, Ben Heppner, Sergei Leiferkus, Rene Pape. Bavarian Radio Symphony conducted by Colin Davis. RCAVictor 68348-2 (2 CDs). Das Lied von der Erde Peter Seiffert, Thomas Hampson. City of Birmingham Symphony conducted by Simon Rattle. EMI Classics 56200-2.
Solti's 1972 Mahler No. 8 is a classic and well returned to the market but Davis' new one is a surprise to me. Deeply felt, and with superior soloists, it is the experience this music should be. Rattle's Das Lied is also a fine reading with Hampson growing in the music usually sung by a mezzo. Seiffert is a perfect tenor for his music.
CHICAGO. Broadway revival cast. RCAVictor 68727-2.
While I thought this revival a non-show on stage, the recording is jazzy and fun. The songs may be formula but with a Scotch in hand at home I liked them.
WHEN PIGS FLY. Original off-Broadway cast. RCAVictor 68729-2
Or more correctly, "Howard Crabtree's When Pigs Fly." It won several awards. I haven't seen it but it sounds like a clever college show.
DEBUSSY: Preludes. Youri Egorov, piano. CFPSilver Doubles 68941 (2 CDs).
Egorov, who died tragically too young, is remembered by this fine set, reasoned beautifully, and by an earlier 4 CD boxed set, Legacy 0492. EMI, his original record label, doesn't seem interested in Egorov's legacy, but you should be.
VERDI: Otello. Miriam Gauci, Nicola Martinucci, Eduard Tumagian; Barcelona Symphony, Alexander Rahbari, Conductor. Discover International 920435-6 (2 CDs).
The reason to own this particular "Otello" is Gauci's luminous Desdemona. Her name is being made by performances like this one. Martinucci doesn't have the heft for Otello and Tumagian's Iago is not a stand out. Rahbari seems to be holding his orchestra down for his male leads.
SCHNITTKE: Historia von D. Johann Fausten. Cast of the Hamburg premiere, Gerd Albrecht, conductor. RCAVictor 68413 2 (2 CDs).
The music I heard of Alfred Schnittke seemed false to me until I heard his two operas. He is a real opera composer who writes in an accessible idiom and for voices. The two are decidedly weird but listen to them, they're involving. His "Life With an Idiot" was previously released by Sony, S2K 52495 and features Mstislav Rostropovich leading the Amsterdam premiere cast.
PUCCINI: Madame [sic] Butterfly. Film soundtrack, James Conlon conducting. Sony Classical S2X 69250 (2 CDs).
The film opened in New York with fairly a flutter but may, because of its visual opulence, have an effect not felt on the discs. Not that this is bad: it's good enough but still not good enough. All is sensitive, with young, healthy voices. Butterfly needs Albanese, not a student; it needs passion, Italian passion, not refinement. There are better recordings.
STRAUSS: Elektra. Deborah Polanski, Alessandra Marc, Waltraud Meier. Berlin State Orchestra conducted by Daniel Barenboim. Teldec 4509-99175-2 (2 CDs).
How can a performance of "Elektra" go by and a listener almost not notice? This does to me. Barenboim is willful, stretching phrases out of shape and/or meaning, and containing as if in a box the grand dissonances. Neither Polanski nor Marc make individual sounds or statements, leaving even some unfinished once the note count is up. How can "Elektra" be boring? This belabored performance is how.
WAGNER: Orchestral excerpts. Leningrad Philharmonic, Evgeny Mravinsky conducting. Melodia/BMG 25199 2.
I don't know the Wagner tradition in the former Leningrad, here 1965 and 1982, but this disc bodes dull for it. There are too many exciting discs - Toscanini, Furtwängler, Kempe, Tennstedt - to invest in this one. This is Volume 10 of the Mvarinsky Edition. I trust the others are more enjoyable.
BEETHOVEN: Missa Solemnis. Zinka Milanov, Bruna Castagna, Jussi Björling, Alexander Kipnis; NBC Symphony and Chorus, Arturo Toscanini conducting. Grammofono AB 78626.
This is, of course, the definitive performance of this beastly difficult Missa. However, I prefer the AS Disc transfer, AS 307. Get either.
MUSIC FOR VOICE AND GUITAR. Peter Pears, tenor; Julian Bream, guitar. RCA Victor 61601-2.
Volume 18 of RCA's Julian Bream Edition, enhanced by the artistry of Pears. Britten and Walton are the main fare. Also recently heard: Vol. 1, The Golden Age of English Lute Music and Vol. 25, Music of Granados and Albéniz. You can't go wrong.
SIBELIUS: Symphonies 3 and 5. Oslo Philharmonic, Mariss Jansons conducting. EMI Classics 5 55533 2.
Jansons and the Oslo's recordings get better and better. This is strong, virile Sibelius, both brooding and exciting. There is a feel of the North. Recommended highly.
BEETHOVEN: Symphonies Nos. 1 and 6. Nicolaus Esterházy Sinfonia, Bála Drahos conducting. Naxos 8.553474. Symphony No. 6. Dresden State Orchestra, Fritz Konwitschny conducting. Berlin Classics 0090392C.
The is the first disc of Naxos' new transversal of the Beethoven symphonies and bodes well for the project. The readings are not heaven-storming but loving, extremely musical, and fulfilling. They won't replace for me the complete sets by Toscanini, Krips, or Kletzki (on LP) - I don't have the Furtwängler - but at the price, you can't go wrong with Drahos. The Dresden, from 1955, is however a tried and true middle European rendition: big band, big sound, and very exciting. Beethoven has room for every (serious) musician.
MAHLER: Orchestral Songs. Jessye Norman, Janet Baker, Tames King, Hermann Prey, John Shirley Quirk; Concertgebouw Orchestra, Bernard Haitink conducting. Philips 454 014-2 (2 CDs).
Mahler was neurotic, OK, but it surfaced in passion, commitment, engagement, risk-taking, and the like: he was never placid or bland and Haitink makes him only that, even in "Das Lied von der Erde." The poor soloists, not all of whom are tops anyway. Sorry, forget this.
Wind in the Bamboo Grove. Evelyn Glennie, percussionist. Catalyst 68193-2.
Evelyn Glennie, here on the marimba, has a created a following not only in the East but in Japan and this CD pays tribute to that country's composers. She does her treatment of music by Abe, Yuyana, Yoshioka, and Miki. It's individual.
Sidney Bechet. Europe 1 RTE 1003-2.
The Saints really come marching in. Absolutely incomparable Sidney Bechet Paris concerts in 1956 and 1957. There are 10 extended cuts and it's hard to sit quietly while listening to them. This is exciting.
CHICAGO BLUES. DRIVE 3201.
The authentic Chicago Blues beat goes on and on with these 18 tracks from the film "Chicago Blues." Buddy Guy and Junior Wells, John Young, Muddy Waters, Mighty Joe Young, Koko Taylor, J.B. Hutto, and Johnny Lewis give their all. Catch the drumming in "We're Ready."
EILEEN FARRELL: Blues. DRG 91436.
Another kind of Blues, very personal Blues, are sung by Eileen Farrell. The fact that one of the greatest of American operatic dramatic sopranos is also a matchless Blues singer has been no secret. This is the real thing.
THE LIFE. All-star pre-production cast. RCAVictor 68001-2.
It might HAVE been only a gleam in its producers' eyes, but this when it was done non-show album features, in the catchy music of Cy Coleman and the brilliant lyrics of Ira Gasman George Burns (the only recording of a 100-year-old man: made just before he died?), Lesley Gore, Lou Rawls, Bobby Short, an unannoying Liza Minnelli, et al. I like it.
GOOD NEWS! Music Theatre of Wichita revival. Jay CDJAY 1291.
The title is from 1927 but here the script, although still in college, is new, and further DeSylva, Brown and Henderson hit songs are interpolated. It's well-done, it's fun, but should the title now be "New News!"?
THE MAN OF LA MANCHA. Placido Domingo; others. Sony Classical SK 46436.
Oh, yes, Don Quixote is Spanish and so is Domingo. But did you ever imagine the Knight of the Woeful Countenance as a heroic tenor, even to sell discs? Only Julia Migenes knows what she is doing with a Broadway show and is wonderful: Mandy Patinkin invests his usual annoying falsetto with a Spanish-Yiddish accent as Sancho. There are cameos by Samuel Ramey, Jerry Hadley, Robert White, and Domingo's two sons, all in Pop ballad arrangements. This was recorded in 1990 and recently released. Why?
BLACKWELL SINGS BERNSTEIN. Harolyn Blackwell, Vanessa Williams. RCAVictor 68321-2.
While still no one is allowing Blackwell to record opera, we have a most stylish, beautiful CD of Bernstein songs and scenes with her. Williams joins in the "West Side Story" sequence and is a matching talent. the disc only runs 48 minutes: Blackwell's talent runs longer and deeper than that!
THE BEST OF JULIE ANDREWS. Rhino 26680.
We all love Julie, of course, but her talent does flow a little thin when heard in 19 cuts from her Broadway shows and films. Actually Richard Burton steals the disc in "Camelot"'s "What Do the Simple Folk Do?".
BESSIE SMITH: Empress of the Blues. Magnum MCCD 002.ALBERTA HUNTER: Beale Street Blues. Magnum 003. ALBERTA HUNTER: with Love Austin's Blues Serenaders. Heritage Jazz 513432K. RUTH BROWN: Softly. Jazz Heritage 513370Z. JOSH WHITE: The Legendary... Magnum 004
The Empress and the Queen, Bessie and Alberta, in the '20s and '30s. 18 cuts of each and their collaborators are, in many cases, as great as they are. Draw a glass of bootleg and enjoy. The second Hunter disc is from 1961 and the Brown from 1964. Even in this company, Brown is fabulous. "You get no meat with one meat ball" - the relaxed, laid back (before that phrase was coined) folk blues genius White finally and finely recalled. What a series!
PAUL ROBESON: SONGS OF FREE MEN Pearl GEMM CD 9264
A fabulous collection of Robeson, including Ballad for Americans and the whole 10 inch 78rmp album Songs of Free Men, Russian songs, Chinese songs, Spirituals. Never forget Robeson. More are on Omega OCD 3007, ASV Living Era AJA 5047R, and ASV AJA 5027.
LEHAR: The Land of Smiles (80419), The Czarevitch (80395). Both Telarc. Nancy Gustafson, Jerry Hadley, others. English Chamber Orchestra, Richard Bonynge conducting.
Sincere tries at Lehar, in English, and enjoyable they be on their own terms. Hadley is more successful here than in his BMG "crossovers" -- and he did the translations. Thanks to Telarc for not forgetting both G&S and Lehar.
GIGI. Complete film soundtrack. Rhino Turner Classics 71962-2.
The perfect score, perfectly performed. Lerner and Loewe, Leslie Caron (dubbed but Caron's earnest original tries are here), Louis Jordan, Chevalier. Yes.
FOR ME AND MY GAL, THE HARVEY GIRLS. Judy Garland, original film soundtracks, complete. Rhino Turner Classics 72204-2 and 72151-2.
More irreplaceable Judys, "Gal" with Gene Kelly and Marta Eggerth (who has her five minute "The Spell of the Waltz" restored: it had been cut from the final film); "Harvey" with Ray Bolger, Virginia O'Brien, the Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe. More, much more than nostalgia.
THE ENVELOPE PLEASE: Academy Award Winning Songs. Rhino. Vol. 1 (1934-45), 72276-2; Vol. 2 (1946-57), 72277-2; Vol. 3 (1958-1969), 72278-2; Vol. 4 (1970-81), 72279-2; Vol. 5 (1982-93), 72280-2.
They're all here but how many do you actually remember? Few are from the soundtracks and some of the versions are great, i.e. Billie Holliday. There is certainly a marked deterioration in song quality with the advent of electrical instruments.
THE FABULOUS VICTORIA DE LOS ANGELES. Victoria de los Angeles, soprano; various colleagues. EMI Classics 5 65061 2 (4 CDs).
This set is not incorrectly titled. Almost five hours of the great singer in French and Spanish song literature plus a smattering of other art songs and duets (Fischer-Dieskau). The beauty of her voice, her interpretations, and her unique communication make this deserved retrospective a dream.
WALTZES. Alban Berg Quartet. EMI Classics 7 54881 2.
The Berg, arguably today's finest string quartet, here has especial fun with lilting Viennese waltzes by Lanner and Johann Strauss I and II, some in arrangements by Webern, Berg, and Schoenberg (with added instruments). I put this on for dinner music and it was perfect. Light the candles.
BERNARD HERMANN: Moby Dick. London Philharmonic, composer conducting. Unicorn-Kanchana UKCD2061. ADD.
Yes, it's the white whale. Hermann's cantata, with four soloists and chorus, is deadly serious, a 47 minute setting of Melville's deep novel. While it may not be entirely successful -- only Melville was -- it has a fascination that almost matches the book. The composer's "For The Fallen," a six-minute orchestral elegy, completes the disc. Again this is American music recorded in England, and originally in 1973.
MOZART: La Clemenza di Tito. Soloists; Orch.of the Zurich Opera; Nikolaus Harnoncourt, conductor. Teldec 4509-90852-2 (2 CDs).
Harnoncourt moves the opera along nicely. The cast is strong, headed by Phillip Langridge as Tito and Lucia Popp as Vitella. I recommend this.
D'ALBERT: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 2. Piers Lane, piano; BBC Scottish Sym.; Alun Francis, conductor. Hyperion CDA66747
When will the discovery of d'Albert finally begin? All right, the first concerto is a student work (!), but the second belongs in the repertoire. Fine performances.
HOLST: The Planets. BBC Symphony; Andrew Davis, conductor. Teldec 4509-94541-2
Once again Davis takes "big" music and diminishes it, not that it holds that much interest in the first place. Recorded sound is not that good either.
HAPPY HUNTING. Original Broadway Cast. RCAVictor 68091-2.
Ethel Merman and "Mutual Admiration Society." That can be enough from this 1956 show for us. In fact, that's what there is -- but there is Merman and that is fine with me. Jay Blackton conducts.
MISS SAIGON. National Tour Cast. Angel 555674 (2 CDs).
Two hours plus of garbage, not proto-Puccini, not neo-Asian, but pure garbage. Kevin Grey is a terrible engineer (Jonathan Pryce was awful in the New York original), but the Kim, Joanna Ampil, looks pretty in the program. Every last illiterate, false-rhyming, insincere lyric is reprinted in the booklet.
ZORBA. 1983 Broadway Revival Cast. RCAVictor 68377-2.
This disc doesn't say that it is the original Broadway cast recording, but it carefully doesn't say that it isn't. It isn't, and it is a pale reflection of the original, even as Anthony Quinn imitates his film portrayal of Anthony Quinn. The Kander and Ebb score creaks here. Stick to the real on Angel 7 64665 2 with Hershel Bernardi, Maria Karnilova, and Lorraine Serabian.
AIN'T MISBEHAVING. National Tour Cast. RCAVictor 68415-2.
With the Pointer sisters (not a litter of Irish Setters) and Fats Waller's music, this should be a good show when it hits your town.
JOHN RAITT: Broadway Legend. (With Bonnie Raitt.) Angel 55469-2.
Why, John, why did you do it? Let us rather remember the big, plummy tenor-baritone that easily sang "Carousel", "Pajama Game" and all the rest. Not the thin sound and the breath problems we have here. No. Daughter Bonnie, in duets, is dreadful, too.
ZARZUELA ARIAS AND DUETS. Monserrat Caballé, soprano; Bernabé Martí, tenor; Orchestra conducted by Eugenio Marco. RCA Victor 68148-2.
Spanish-made recordings from 1965 and 67, once and always beloved for the music and performances. But has the remastering hardened the glorious Caballé sound a bit?
WEILL: Seven Deadly Sins, Songs. Gisela May, Orchestras, Herbert Kegel, Heinz Rögner, Henry Krtschil, conductors. Berlin Classics 2069-2.
Gisela May is a rightly famous Weill interpreter. While whenever one listens to Weill, one hears Lotte Lenya, May holds her own, though you may prefer, as I do, Lenya or Migenes. The 11 added Weill songs are well-chosen and well-done.
THE GYPSY BARON. Gerda Scheyrer, Emmy Loose, sopranos; Hilde Rössl-Majdan, mezzo; Waldemar Kmentt, tenor; Kurt Preger, Erich Kunz, Eberhard Wächter, baritones; Vienna Volksoper Orchestra, conducted by Anton Paulik. Vanguard Classics OVC 8082/83 (2 CDs).
This 1956 recording of the greatest of Strauss operettas is what you would have heard in Vienna at that time, and fine enough that is. Idiomatic and smashing, and even a libretto. The other two recordings of the operetta, with Patzak and Gedda, have not been heard on CD so this is the one.
A NIGHT IN VENICE. 1952, 53 Mike Todd Jones Beach production. Everest EVC 9036.
This outdoor extravaganza, somewhat after Johann Strauss, was recorded indoors seven years later as a tribute to Todd after his death. It is a trifle, in English translation, but fun. Among the cast are Laurel Hurley, Thomas Hayward, and Kenneth Schon of the Met and the once ever-popular Enzo Stuardi.
VIENNA. Chicago Symphony, conducted by Fritz Reiner. RCA Victor 68160-2. EIN SYLVESTERKONZERT. Dresden State Orchestra, conducted by Rudolf Kempe. Berlin Classics 0090072BC.
Vienna isn't always voices: Reiner's light touch gives us four Strausses (including Richard), and Weber. Glistening performances from 1957 and 60. Even more fun, if possible is the Kempe concert, New Year's (almost) 1973. What sparkle!
OPERETTE MASTERS. Forlane UCD 16719.
The turn of the French, even though a little Lehár sneaks in. Numbers from operettes by Hahn, Messenger, Adam, and the like with Yvonne Printemps, George Thill, Villabella, Fanely Revail, Mireille Berthon, Fanny Heldy in Louise -- a bit of opera - and more, 18 cuts. Melody and style.
BYE BYE BIRDIE. Telecast soundtrack. RCAVictor 68356-2.
Another Elvis sighting? Birdie flies again and this is lots of fun. Vanessa Williams even sells "Spanish Rose," Marc Kudisch is believable as Conrad Birdie, and the kids are wonderful. I could do without Tyne Daly as a non-ethnic mother (only one song), and Jason Alexander is as ever bland as Albert.
MICKEY & JUDY. With Mickey and Judy. Turner Classic Movies Rhino R2 71921 (4 CDs).
Boxed like a book, and with program notes that would make the Smithsonian proud, we have Babes In Arms, Strike Up The Band, Babes On Broadway, and Girl Crazy: the full music soundtracks, with outtakes. A national treasure!
THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT!. With everybody who ever walked past the MGM lot. Turner Classic Movies Rhino 72182-2 (6 CDs).
Here are the soundtracks from the three That's Entertainment! blockbuster films: a triple blockbuster. Judy goes all through (and there is some repetition from the Mickey & Judy set, which is OK) but try to name a name who isn't on these discs. Clark Gable? He sings, too. Fantastic. As is the documentation.
THE WIZARD OF OZ. Original Motion Picture Soundtrack. Turner Classic Movies Rhino 71964-2 (2 CDs).
What a disappointment! What we know and love from The Wizard is here virtually swamped by every piece of music that was recorded for the film. It is not a symphony, just give us those songs and singers. Now we need a highlights album from this complete one.
CABIN IN THE SKY. Original Motion Picture Soundtrack. Turner Classic Movies Rhino 72245.
Again, everything. But Ethel Waters, Lena Horne, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington so we can sit through the purely musical transitions, actually pleasant in themselves. Historic and wonderful.
LENA HORNE: Motion Picture Soundtrack Anthology. Turner Classic Movies Rhino 72246.
OK, so some of these selections are also on the That's Entertainment and Cabin in the Sky discs but here we have that creamy voice and perfect diction all to ourselves. A thrill, all 23 cuts.
SCOTT JOPLIN: The Easy Winners. Itzhak Perlman, violin; André Previn, piano. Musical Heritage Society 513995K.
The Rag-Time Dance from Treemonisha begins this disc and it is arranged and played fabulously. It is more than just a lark Perlman and Previn are playing. But the disc can't hold up that enthusiasm and grows a bit dull. [Wex]
Copyright © Bert Wechsler 1997
BERT WECHSLER was active in the performing arts as an actor, singer, director, coach and manager before he turned to full time writing. As editor of Music Journal for eight years, he wrote about all aspects of music and dance. He was a music and dance critic for the New York Daily News and New York Concert Review, dance critic and associate editor for Attitude, video critic for video Review, music editor of High Performance Review, dance critic for Der Tanz der Dinge (Switzerland), recordings critic for High Fidelity, correspondent for the music magazine Rondo in Finland and newspapers in Norway (regular column) and Denmark as well as other free-lance activities. He was co-author of "Dear Rogue," the biography Lawrence Tibbett, published by Amadeus Press. He was also associate Editor of Computer Buyers' Guide. He was a member of the Music Critics Association, the Outer Critics Circle, The Bohemians, an honorary life member of the New York Mahlerites, and a founder of the Manhattan Festival Ballet and the Center for Contemporary Opera. Although officially retired from performing, he retained his membership in four theatrical unons. At the time of his death on November 30, 1997, he was critic-at-large for The New York Theatre Wire.
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