1991 Records To Die For Page 8
BRITISH MUSIC FOR CONCERT BAND
Music by Holst, Vaughan Williams, Grainger Wing Commander Eric Banks, Central Band of the Royal Air Force
EMI CDC 7 49608 2 (CD only). Brian B. Culverhouse, eng. & prod. DDD. TT: 71:31
This thoroughly rousing compilation of British Music for Concert Band (the album title) contains some extremely popular pieces, notably the Vaughan Williams English Folk Song Suite and the majority of the exuberant Grainger works, of which the latter take about half of the playing time. Planets aficionados will without doubt be delighted to meet Holst back on earth but in an equally sophisticated manner that quite gorgeously reveals his expert knowledge of band scoring. The full-bodied reproduction, reveling in low brasses and tangible percussion, is a worthy demonstration disc, and the performances could easily make Anglophiles out of most listeners.
HOROWITZ: The Last Recording
Piano works by Haydn, Chopin, Liszt, Wagner-Liszt
Vladimir Horowitz, piano
Sony Classical SK 45818 (CD only). Tom Lazarus, eng.; Thomas Frost, prod. DDD. TT: 57:51
The pianist's many years of recording activity (1926-89) have not always produced a gratifying piano sound; in general, the live performances of recent years have often tended to sound clattery, while some of the important early Horowitz 78s have suffered in CD transfers from misguided processing (especially EMI's Cedar system). These warm, natural-sounding final tapings are not only among the absolute best that Horowitz ever received, but the playing itself, autumnal in mood, is remarkably free overall from many of the interpretive mannerisms of his later years. The Liszt and the Liebestod arrangement are especially to be treasured. (XIII-9)
THE LOS ANGELES GUITAR QUARTET
Works for guitars by de Falla, Sciammarella, Copland, Brouwer, Krouse
The Los Angeles Guitar Quartet: William Kanengiser, Anisa Angarola, Scott Tennant, John Dearman
GHA CD 126.001 (CD only). André Defossez, eng.; Fran;kcoise-Emmanuelle Denis, prod. DDD. TT: 53:24
Although I'm not overly undisposed to transcriptions, the original orchestral (and vocal) version of Manuel de Falla's El Amor Brujo would ordinarily have been my listening preference, as would the Copland. Such fabulous playing by these four guitarists, passionately intense, often darkly atmospheric, and above all rhythmically vital, as heard here has enabled me to enjoy to the fullest both the music and the splendid ensemble, nowhere more so than in the de Falla. In contrast to most record companies' predilections for tunnel acoustics through distant miking, this showcase standout is quite dry, intimately but not oppressively close-up, and well separated.
Ravel: Ma Mere l'Oye; Debussy: Sarabande; Danse (Tarantelle styrienne); Schumann: Carnaval: Préambule; Valse allemende---Paganini; Marche des "Davidsbündler contre les Philistins"; Chabrier: Menuet pompeux
Julian Reynolds, European Chamber Orchestra Per Musica
Etcetera KTC 1040 (CD only). Klaas A. Posthuma, prod. DDD. TT: 56:54
As a longstanding Ravelian, I was intrigued by this disc's promise of the rare orchestration of several movements from Schumann's Carnaval. Actually, the latter was not more than an interesting curiosity, but the standout is an unusually tender, beautifully shaped, and atmospheric Mother Goose in its complete ballet form. It is a performance that I have turned to innumerable times and, most especially, whose Laideronette, Impératrice des Pagodes section, with its delectable far-eastern sounds, continues to serve as an eye-opening system demonstration. Especially admirable are the bright instrumental colors and unusual clarity, wide dynamic range, plus a superior soundstage.
Organ music by Dupré, Bonnet, Gigout, Reger
Marcel Dupré, Joseph Bonnet, Eugéne Gigout, Max Reger (Welte-Philharmonie organ and Welte organ rolls)
Intercord INT 860.857 (CD only). Urs Metzger, eng.; Andreas Speer, prod. DDD. TT: 53:23
The startling fact: these performances date from between 1911 and 1928, the earliest of them six Reger organ works, played by none other than their composers. The medium, of course, is the organ roll, here played back on a 21-stop, 1000-pipe chamber instrument housed in a museum at Linz Rhein but originally built in 1925 for a French villa (the sound, with its many reeds, is very French). Piano rolls more often than not dissatisfy in their mechanical reproduction, but these organ rolls are astonishingly natural. The sonics, with excellent imaging in a small auditorium, are exceptionally realistic.
Of course, my first choice is Solti's recording of Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen (London 414 100-2), all 14:37:42 of it, but as both Gary Galo and Robert Levine have placed that recording at the top of their lists, I'll let it go. All I can say is, when listening to recordings made since Solti's---and with the strong exception of Karl Böhm's---I can never help thinking, "Why did they even bother?" Multi-miking at its best.
As for my other almosts: Joni Mitchell's eponymous first album (Reprise 6293, LP; the CD is worse), which, even though virtually the entire top end was simply peeled off due to serious equipment malfunctions during taping, is still a delicious sonic, vocal, musical, and emotional experience, not to mention that great rarity: a tastefully distantly miked pop recording (thanks, producer David Crosby). Jesse Colin Young's very first record, the pre-Youngbloods Soul of a City Boy, Capitol SN-16129 (1964, LP only, out of print, abridged), is a minimally miked recording of acoustic guitar and voice, this young kid singing with astounding maturity, artistry, and passion. And last but not least, the record I play more than any other, German Christmas Music of the High Renaissance, Musical Heritage Society OR 320 (LP only, out of print) (XI-12): incredibly moving performances by Elly Ameling, among other vocalists, and a small baroque combo including Hans-Martin Linde and Walter Gerwig. The recording is lusciously warm and intimately distant.
BRAHMS: Symphony 1
Jascha Horenstein, London Symphony
Chesky CD19 (CD only). Kenneth G. Wilkinson, eng.; Charles Gerhardt, prod. (Reissue: Bob Katz, technical dir.; David & Norman Chesky, exec. prods.) A?D. TT: 57:56
Probably the finest interpretation of this symphony ever recorded, and in such remarkable sound! Horenstein's passion infuses that of Brahms, and the combination is staggering. His control of crescendo and rhythm are godlike, the overall architecture monumental and intimate at once, the emotions evoked so powerful that I haven't always felt myself able to finish listening to the complete symphony. Sound is ripe, rich, and resonant to the point of dropping off the vine. One of the Cheskys' (and Wilkinson/Gerhardt's) greatest sonic achievements. (XII-7)
COPLAND: Symphony 3, Music for the Theatre
Yoel Levi, Atlanta Symphony
Telarc CD-80201 (CD only). Jack Renner, eng.; Robert Woods, prod. DDD. TT: 65:05
This most popular of Copland's symphonies---from whose final movement Fanfare for the Common Man was later excerpted---is represented by only four recordings, of which Yoel Levi's is by far the best: meditative, earnest, sumptuous, and overwhelming by turns, this is a definitive performance.
As is Telarc's recording, not nearly as too-much-of-a-good-thing as usual: the bass drum in the Fanfare section is accurately stupendous. Squarely in the "stellar" category. (XIII-3)
BOBBY KING & TERRY EVANS: Live and Let Live!
Rounder 2089 (LP), CD 2089 (CD). Larry Hirsch, eng.; Ry Cooder, prod. AAA/AAD. TT: 44:40
This one was almost beat out by the Persuasions' Live in the Whispering Gallery (Hammer n' Nails HNCD 1988), but I finally chose King & Evans because not only the voices but the band as well are so gorgeously recorded, live in the studio. This is a record of big, openhearted gospel blues from a couple of vibrantly alive, large-scaled men. Producer Ry Cooder plays his uniquely soulful slide guitar on every cut, and...what can I say? Music you can live with the rest of your life. (XII-1)
ARVO PÄRT: Arbos
The Hilliard Ensemble; brass ensemble; Gidon Kremer, violin; others
ECM 1325 (831 959-2, CD only). Peter Laenger, Andreas Neubronner, engs.; Manfred Eicher, prod. DDD. TT: 59:19
Virtually everything that Bob Levine has said about Pärt's Passio is even more true of his Stabat Mater, my primary reason for recommending this disc. Pärt's medieval sensibilities in both theology and music are anything but affectations or throwbacks: the man is capable of a depth of musical profundity that is both harrowing and comforting. I simply cannot imagine a better performance of the work than The Hilliard Ensemble's, and Manfred Eicher's much-maligned ECM recording style is here taken to the sublimity of its supra-rational conclusion: a very "wet," sumptuously reverberant (if multi-miked) recording in which the venue's acoustic (St. John's, London) is nearly as important as the written notes. Let this one into your heart and you'll be a different person. (X-8)
Jess Thomas, Lohengrin; Elisabeth Grümmer, Elsa; Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Telramund; Christa Ludwig, Ortrud; Gottlob Frick, Heinrich; Otto Wiener, Herald; Vienna State Opera Chorus, Vienna Philharmonic, Rudolf Kempe
EMI CDCC 49017 (3 CDs only). Francis Dillnutt, eng.; Victor Olof, prod. ADD. TT: 3:38:36
This 1962-63 Lohengrin is one of the finest operatic recordings ever made. If Solti's Ring cast was nearly perfect, Kempe's Lohengrin roster is perfect: Thomas is a stately, impassioned Lohengrin, Grümmer the purest and most womanly Elsa we will probably ever hear, Fischer-Dieskau a tortured Macbeth of a Telramund, Ludwig at the peak of her art, and Frick a vital, involved Heinrich. And all are in excellent voice. The VPO and Chorus are impeccable in force and discipline, and Kempe's direction is ethereal and impassioned at once---you'll know why this opera induced Ludwig II to virtually abandon his throne and devote his life to Wagner. EMI's studio recording---refreshingly hiss-free on the CD---is spacious, accurate, entirely believable, with a minimum of spot-miking. One of the timeless great ones.
BACH: Sonatas & Partitas for Solo Violin, BWV 1001-1006
Gidon Kremer, violin
Philips 6769 053 (3 LPs), 416 651-2 (2 CDs). AAA/AAD. TT: 93:18
Partita No.2 in a, BWV 1003, is as close as one can get to musical nirvana. I have rarely heard more spirituality in music---it's as if I am bonding to a greater reality. True "space music," it takes the listener on a celestial voyage not soon forgotten. How anyone can sit through the Ciaccona and not be visibly moved escapes me. Gidon Kremer brings this music to life. In his hands, the notes sing, dance, reach for the sky. I marvel at Kremer's artistry, sensitivity, and technical skills. He is aggressive in his approach, yet not flamboyant. He can back off and settle into a calm space when necessary. The recording is close, yet retains a sense of ambience so notes can be heard bouncing off nearby walls. Details of the performance are outstanding, especially the visceral impact of the gut on the strings. The resonating cavity of the violin is clearly heard. The Sarabanda is especially sweet---the broken chords shimmering, like a kaleidoscope, with tonal colors.
BOB MARLEY & THE WAILERS: Exodus (side 2)
Island Records ILPS 9498 (LP), ISL 90034-2 (CD). Bob Marley & the Wailers, prods. AAA/AAD. TT: 38:15
No politics here, just good old love songs. Bob Marley did it better than anyone. The beat is mesmerizing, captivating you after just a few bars. (If you can remain still while this music plays, there's something wrong with either you or your system!) That voice! Even my rough Tuff Gong pressing cannot obscure the beauty in that voice and the soul of the man attached to it. In true reggae fashion, the mix places the bass, drum, and percussion up front, sharing space with the vocals. The guitars and keyboard are mixed way down. The soundstage is wide and deep, instrumental and vocal forces precisely focused therein.
RADKA TONEFF/STEVE DOBROGOSZ: Fairytales
Radka Toneff, vocals; Steve Dobrogosz, piano
Odin LP-03 (LP), CD-03 (CD). Arild Anderson, prod.; Tom Saetre, eng. DDA/DDD. TT: 41:12
A light-year distant from the gloom of Raincoat (see below)---a disc to play when you want to relax and feel good. The recording is as intimate as any I have ever heard---the inner harmonics of the piano, in particular, ring out and sparkle like aural snowflakes. On several cuts the sound of the hammers striking the strings can be heard---a level of detail rarely captured. The rendering of Radka Toneff's voice is exquisite---perfectly focused in space, the image never wandering. Each detail of the singing process is revealed: intakes of breath, the parting of lips to form a word, etc. If you feel female vocals with piano accompaniment are boring, prepare to be surprised. I guarantee you'll sit spellbound by the intensity and beauty of this recording.
URUBAMBA: Urubamba (side 1)
Warner Bros. BSK 3553 (LP only). Paul Simon, prod.; Phil Ramone, eng. AAA. TT: 27:34
This quartet of Peruvian musicians performs on a variety of folk instruments. The music is glorious---a celebration of life. The recording captures the unique timbres of the instruments perfectly. Soundstaging is three-dimensional, with an almost uncanny palpability in places. Soft voices emerge from the background---you turn your head to locate them. When the drum is struck, you feel its resonance. The moisture in the pipes of the various flutes and panpipes is sensed. The charango sounds its size. A rare blend of a realistic recording of small-scale music with large-scale emotional and sonic rewards.
JENNIFER WARNES: Famous Blue Raincoat
Cypress Records 661 111-1 (LP), Attic ACD-1227 (CD). C. Roscoe Beck, Jennifer Warnes, prods.; Bill Youdelman, eng. DDA/DDD. TT: 41:38
Leonard Cohen's songs cut deep into the soul, leaving behind shards of emotions---the listener is left in a blue funk. Jennifer Warnes's voice is the perfect instrument for communicating the messages in this music---its purity and control are captured in a recording which reveals new musical nuances with each improvement in your system. The bass, on certain cuts, seems to extend through the floor of my listening room into my neighbor's apartment. Jennifer's presence is palpable, the voice attached to a flesh-and-blood human. There are moments when you feel compelled to get up and give her a great big bear-hug. A dynamic recording deserving of the praise it's received.
JOHN WILLIAMS: The Missouri Breaks(soundtrack)
United Artists UAS 29971 (LP only). Robert M. Sherman, prod.; John Norman, eng. AAA. TT: 35:10
Unsurpassed at conveying, musically, the dark side of the human psyche (portrayed, on the screen, with chilling sinistry by Marlon Brando). In stark contrast, Williams pens a love theme which he hasn't matched since. The arrangements are studies in tonal color. Timbres of instruments, especially the harpsichord and harmonica, are utilized in unique ways. Soundstaging is wide and deep, instruments having an uncanny three-dimensionality. You are drawn into this music and the emotions it evokes through a combination of creative composition, skillful arranging, imaginative use of instrumental forces, and pristine sound. It beats Casino Royale, in my book.