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Schubert: Goethe-Lieder

It is good to know that the succession to Fischer-Dieskau and Prey is being assured by a number of young singers, but Matthias Goerne may be at the top of the list. His voice is reminiscent of F-D, with its almost tenor-like top, its deep baritone, emphasis on a piano legato in the many songs that require it and a verbal attention which is perhaps unexcelled today. Songs such as Meeres Stille or Wanderers Nachtlied exude a hushed stillness, while the exuberance of An Schwager Kronos also finds a resounding echo. Andreas Haefliger's piano playing matches the singer every step of the way. Buy this disc!

Joel Kasow

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Strauss: Elektra

Listening to this new version of Strauss's Huis clos, one is occasionally impressed by the conducting, the playing and the performances, but Klytemnestra's tame shrieks of death are but a reflection of the tameness of the entire performance. Individual moments are impressive, but there is no sense of inexorability. Alessandra Marc would do well to consider trying to find vowel sounds that match the words and also not to forget that consonants are useful for comprehension. This is yet again an example of the foolishness of the record companies in casting a major role with a singer who has no stage experience in the part. Voigt does well in her interventions, singing with gleaming tone. Unfortunately Schwarz does not have the range for her role, while Ramey sounds out of place, the role of Orest calling for a voice with more velvet.

Joel Kasow

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Stravinsky: Apollon Musagète
Schoenberg: Verklärte Nacht
Strauss: Capriccio - Einleitung


What we are told is a performance of Arnold Schoenberg's setting of Richard Dehmel's expressionist poem, Transfigured Night, sounds more like an excessive film score of a grade B 1940's Hollywood melodrama--atypical of the conservative elegance one associates with this elite Japanese formation. The constant splurge of string tone and complete absence of delicacy and intimacy suggest a fundamental misunderstanding of the composer's intentions and of turn-of-the-century Vienna in general. Nor is the introduction to Richard Strauss' Capriccio, curiously omitted from the CD cover, particularly eloquent. Fortunately, Stravinsky's two-scene Apollon Musagète proves to be a better fit for the Saito Kinen Orchestra. Maestro Ozawa's stylish, well-delineated treatment brings into sharp focus the simplicity of rhythmic patterns inherent in the Stravinsky/Balanchine ballet.

Joseph E. Romero

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Dolorosa
Shostakovitch: Chamber Symphony op. 110. bis (orchestration: R. Barchaï - 1967)
Peteris Vasks: Musica dolorosa (1983)
Alfred Schnittke: Trio Sonata


As the title of this recording suggests, Dolorosa focuses on the wailing and lamentation aspects of funeral music, notably as understood by composers writing under the ex-Soviet empire. Chilling irony and a penchant for the acoustically grotesque mark the musical parodies of public grief heard in the Shostakovitch score and the lesser known, but equally striking Musica dolorosa by Latvian composer Peteris Vasks (b 1946) - music written following the death of his sister. Schnittke's music can often be like Proust and his madeleine - minus the devestating wit, for it is unlikely the Russian composer grew up à l'ombre des jeunes filles en fleur . Moreover, while the craftsmanship is sometimes remarkable as in the haunting adagio of Schnittke's Trio Sonata (1934), the aesthetic argument is not always convincing throughout the two-movement composition. All three works are nonetheless given excellent performances and deserve a place in today's mainstream concert repertoire. This ECM New Series release can be acquired without hesitation.

Joseph E. Romero

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George Dyson (1883 - 1964): The Canterbury Pilgrims; Overture: At the Tabard Inn; In Honour of the City.

You would be wrong to ignore this issue of music by one of Britain's lesser-known composers, slowly emerging from a lengthy period of benign neglect. Richard Hickox yet again puts us in his debt with his explorations into the major choral literature which was once so important in British musical life. The Canterbury Pilgrims is a setting of part of the Prologue to Chaucer's epic, with three soloists and large chorus. While Dyson might be accused of what the French call a first-degree approach, the music offers a perpetual reflection of the poet's changing moods and characters. Kenny, Tear and Roberts are persuasive in their solos, but it is the chorus which emerges with flying colors under the baton of the committed Hickox.

Joel Kasow

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Rameau:Ouvertures

Following a pattern established by Jean-Baptiste Lully in the 1650s, the French ouverture features a poised, majestic opening of dotted rhythms, suspensions and scales followed by a fugue and an eventual return to the noble opening flourish. Although Bach, Purcell, Telemann, and Handel among others were all influenced by this design, the most gifted composer of this baroque genre was Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764). His phenomenal accoustical and harmonic invention advanced considerably the instrumental language of woodwinds, brass, and percussion. Christophe Rousset and his Talens Lyriques offer spirited performances of the flamboyant but elegant orchestrations of overtures to Les Indes galantes, Zaïs, Castor et Pollux, Platée, Hippolyte et Aricie, Zorastre and Acante et Céphise among others. Admittedly, there is an occasional lack of precision in the strings but not enough to disrupt the drama, majesty and colour of the music. Ramellians and other baroque enthusiasts will be pleased to discover this 70-minute disc.

Joseph E. Romero

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Mendelssohn:Elijah

The period instruments, including ophicleide, of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment impart a very different flavor to that great favorite of choral societies, Mendelssohn's Elijah. The sound world is not the same as that encouraged for long years, and it is to the benefit of the work, giving it an additional bite which is too often obliterated. Paul Daniel is another versatile British conductor who is slowly forging a reputation for himself, unlike some of his colleagues who have been aggressively promoted by the record companies and have had little opportunity to develop and make mistakes away from the public eye. This is first-class work from someone who knows what he wants and also what is appropriate. He is fortunate in having the collaboration of Bryn Terfel who makes the most of his opportunities, occasionally allowing dramatic impulse to override musicality. The contributions of Renée Fleming and John Mark Ainsley are major attributes, only Patricia Bardon lacking the necessary eloquence for her solos. The Edinburgh Festival Chorus is capable of a wide dynamic range which is exploited here. An excellent recording, but don't forget that for half the price you can get Fischer-Dieskau, Jones, Baker and Gedda if it is the work rather than the particular singers which interests you.

Joel Kasow

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Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde

If you like your Mahler light, then this is perhaps for you. Sinopoli's wayward tempi, a sweet-voiced tenor without the power for the first or third songs, a so-called contralto who would be hard-pressed to make herself heard in the version for chamber orchestra which has proliferated recently on record, all contribute to the feeling that this is one recording project which was ill-conceived from the start and sheds little new light on a work which should offer a moving experience.

Joel Kasow

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Vaughan Williams: Songs, including "Five Mystical Songs" and "On Wenlock Edge"

This disc also bears the title, The English Song Series, Volume 1, and we can only hope that succeeding volumes (Warlock and Walton are Volumes 2 and 3) will maintain this level. The ubiquitous Graham Johnson has temporarily deserted Hyperion and once again demonstrates his versatility. The formula of alternating songs and singers is one that works, culminating with each singer presenting a major cycle. The string quartet not only graces On Wenlock Edge, but the violinist and violist are also given opportunities to accompany other songs. Anthony Rolfe Johnson sounds rejuvenated on this disc, almost matching the freshness of Simon Keenlyside, the other British baritone who once again demonstrates that media hype does not make an artist.

Joel Kasow

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Wilhelm Kempff: Chopin Vol. 1

Collectors and pianophiles will no doubt find this 1958 recording of interest, especially in terms of the orginality and delicacy of Wilhelm Kempff's aesthetics. Listen to the Impromptu in A flat Major, opus 29. Still, because of Kempff's idiosyncratic approach to Chopin which, at times, can sound more like Schubert or Debussy, this recording should not constitute a first choice when considering Chopin interpretation on disc.

Joseph E. Romero

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