1992 Records To Die For Page 3

Denis Stevens

ENSEMBLE HUELGAS: O cieco mondo
The Italian Lauda, c.1400-1700
Ensemble Huelgas, Paul van Nevel, dir.

Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 7865-2-RC (CD only). Wolf Erichson, prod.; Andreas Neubronner, eng. DDD. TT: 60:53 I began producing broadcasts of early medieval music in 1949 on the UK's BBC Third Programme, and my standards, like its, became almost impossibly high. Because of this background I judge more recent attempts with severity, for beyond the expected excellence of sound quality, I await a superlative performance allied to program-building of impeccable taste. In this superb 1989 recording there is no single criterion, but there are instead three criteria which I find fully and completely satisfied. The vocal trio and a handful of early instruments emerge with startling clarity and force in such a way as to hypnotize the listener into following the musical and textual message: "O blind world, full of temptations, deadly poison in each of thy pleasures." This is a record about death, and well worth dying for.
DELIUS: Orchestral and Choral Music
Over the Hills and Far Away, Sleigh Ride, Brigg Fair, Florida Suite, Marche Caprice, Dance Rhapsody No.2, Summer Evening, On hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring, Summer Night on the River, A Song before Sunrise, Intermezzo from "Fennimore and Gerda," Prelude to "Irmelin," Songs of Sunset
Sir Thomas Beecham, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Beecham Choral Society; Maureen Forrester, contralto; John Cameron, baritone
EMI CDS 7 47509 8 (2 CDs only). Lawrance Collingwood, Victor Olof, prods.; Christopher Parker, eng. ADD. TT: 2:26:39

Sir Thomas first conducted music by Delius ("Paris: the Song of a Great City") in Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool, on January 11, 1908, in the presence of the composer. His last performance, a movement from the Florida Suite, took place at his farewell concert on May 7, 1960 in another British harbor---Portsmouth. Those 52 years, during which Delius's music was never far from Beecham's mind, seem to have imparted something intangible and magical to his interpretations, for they have never been equaled. Always enhanced by EMI's superb sound quality, these two CDs have an ageless impact which must be unique (though sadly, little known) in the entire repertoire.
BERLIOZ: Symphonie Fantastique
Roger Norrington, The London Classical Players
EMI CDC 7 49541 2 (CD only). David R. Murray, prod.; Mike Clements, eng. DDD. TT: 53:11

Roger Norrington has formed and trained an orchestra reliant on instruments and published tutors of Berlioz's age, with the result that this resplendent score leaps from its fettered frame looking for all the world like a cleaned painting. What we have in this 1989 CD is outstanding. It is new in color, balance, and thought; it has immense assurance and panache, and the overall impression is one of great energy. An almost total lack of vibrato in the strings takes us back to Paris in 1830, and the magical passage beginning at 3:40 in the first movement has never been bettered. The ballroom scene is done with a real sense of style, two Erard harps on each channel, and the four timpani near the end of the Scène aux champs suggest a distant storm with a vividness which is well-nigh uncanny. In the March the orchestral sounds are devastating and horrendous, while the Finale builds to a stupendous climax. Sonics and interpretation blend perfectly in this memorable record. (XII-7)
BEETHOVEN: Septet
Vienna Octet
London CS 6132 (LP), 421 092-2 (CD). John Culshaw, prod.; James Brown, eng. AAA/AAD. TT: 40:47

A remarkable separation of the seven instruments linked with an appealing warmth of tone gives the illusion that one is listening to a live performance, and this impression will be intensified if the lights are turned down. The spontaneity of the playing contributes greatly to this effect, and each sound seems to be spread naturally before our ears. There is a special feeling of presence in the attack of the clarinet, the "lip" of the horn, and the gruff but musical double-bass. All in all, a masterpiece both in performance and recording. [I agree.---Ed.]
FRANK MARTIN: Concerto for Seven Winds & Percussion, Études
Ernest Ansermet, Orchestre da la Suisse Romande
London CS 6241 (LP only). James Walker, prod.; Roy Wallace, eng. AAA. TT: 37:29

Both works are haunted by the restless emotional atmosphere which is a feature of atonalism, but both also have moments when the ear senses that a key is being established and the listener is more easily able to find his bearings. The Concerto is the easiest approach. Here the color of the instrumentation offsets the ascetic and angular qualities of the melodic lines. Of the Études, the second (pizzicato) movement is both highly original and diverting, while the remainder is not at all difficult to grasp. Uncompromisingly music of our time, these performances and recordings are of surpassing excellence.

Don A. Scott

JOHN LONGHURST: At the Mormon Tabernacle Organ
Works by J.S. Bach, Clarke, Franck, Gigout, Handel, Heron, Vierne, Widor
John Longhurst, organ
Philips 412 217-2 (CD only). DDD. TT: 51:39

This, one of the earliest CDs, still has audio and performance merit. I spent two days in Salt Lake in the summer of 1985 listening to the organ, and I'm fairly confident this CD manages to capture the power of the five-manual, 189-rank Aeolian-Skinner organ and the Tabernacle's unique acoustics. The auditorium is 250' long, 150' wide, and 80' high, with a many-paneled dome. The acoustics are such that multiple long reflected paths tend to broaden the pitch of the original note. This also gives the Mormon Tabernacle Choir its uniquely warm sound. All performances are topnotch. Particularly outstanding is the majestic ending of Vierne's Carillon de Westminster, which makes all but the best systems cry for mercy. Overall sound is perfect despite some analog tape noise on quiet passages.
JEAN GUILLOU: The Great Organ of St. Eustache, Paris
Works by J.S. Bach, Guillou, de Grigny, Liszt, Mozart, Widor
Jean Guillou, organ
Dorian DOR-90134 (CD only). Craig D. Dory, Brian C. Peters, engs.; Randall Fostvedt, prod. DDD. TT: 75:11

This entire CD is a sonic blockbuster. However, it becomes very tiring musically after one or two playings. The exception is Mozart's Fantasy in f, K.608, in which all-out sonic bashes are combined with Jean Guillou's keyboard skills. This work was designed to get the most from a small mechanical organ. As played by Guillou, it also taxes the great modern organ of St. Eustache. It is introduced by a powerful Allegro and ends with a magnificient, climactic speaker-killer. The DDD sound is very good, but lacks the sheer excellence of the early analog Mobile Fidelity recordings of the Chicago Stadium organ.
MEDITATION: Classical Relaxation, Vol.2
Works by Beethoven, Fibich, Grieg, Haydn, Massenet, Ponchielli, Svendsen, Tchaikovsky
Budapest Philharmonic, Andras Korodi; Budapest Strings; Hungarian State Orchestra, György Gyorivanyi-Rath; Dresden Philharmonic, Herbert Kegel; Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra
LaserLight 15 687 (CD only). DDD. TT: 52:40

The selections on this LaserLight sampler, mostly of Hungarian origin, are uniformly involving, and the levels of skill of the musicians and conductors are at least competitive with those of their US counterparts. The whole CD produces a mood of serenity and tranquility and will wring the best from high-resolution playback systems. Tonal balance, lack of noise and distortion, and other hi-fi attributes are present in abundance. Most notable is the Budapest Strings' Beethoven Minuet and Grieg's "I Love You," played with utmost skill in a well-defined recording.
SMOOTH AND EASY: Hits from the Quiet Storm
Songs by Ashford & Simpson, Peabo Bryson/Roberta Flack, Maze, Tania Maria, Freddie Jackson, Bernard Wright, Natalie Cole, Meli'sa Morgan, Peabo Bryson/Natalie Cole, R.J.'s Latest Arrival
Capitol CDL-57265-2 (CD only). Many engs. & prods. AAD. TT: 45:05

This is one of the cleanest CDs I have ever experienced. It demonstrates what good sound reproduction is all about. When the dynamic power of Natalie Cole's voice gets to you, you will know your system's right---"smooth and easy," just as the label says. Essential for the popular music enthusiast.
MUSICMASTERS CLASSICAL SAMPLER Works by 21 composers
MusicMasters 60217M (CD only). ADD/DDD. TT: 68:45

The audio quality of low-priced CDs is improving, and this sampler demonstrates that. It is quiet, and lacks the quantization noise, common to DDD CDs, usually heard on the trailing edges of low-level notes. With 21 selections, all superbly recorded, I don't think you can go wrong. Band 21, the third movement of Hovhaness's Symphony 2, is exceptionally clean and smooth, and conductor Dennis Russell Davies conveys involvement in the mysterious music.

Richard Schneider

WAGNER: Lohengrin
Sandor Konya, tenor; Lucine Amara, soprano; William Dooley, baritone; Rita Gorr, mezzo; Jerome Hines, bass; Calvin Marsh, baritone; Boston Chorus Pro Musica, Alfred Nash Patterson, Director; Boston Symphony, Erich Leinsdorf
RCA LSC-6710 (5 LPs only). Anthony Salvatore, eng.; Robert Zarbock, stereophonic stage manager; Richard Mohr, prod. AAA. TT: 3:35:30

I'm amazed by the non-inclusion of this truly audiophile production from 1965 on other "superdisc" lists. There isn't one side in ten which fails to offer a display to thrill those who thrive on the reproduction of dynamic living sound. Braces of trumpets from every distance and perspective imaginable, antiphonal choruses, anvil strokes, the clash of broadswords, and a pealing organ---what more could one want?! Fine singing, superb characterization, and a comfortable repertory company feel, swept along by Leinsdorf/BSO in an orchestral tour de force---all that too.

For the forseeable future it's out-of-print vinyl only wherever such obsessions may be satisfied. In addition to sonic and musical considerations are the purely aesthetic ones, such as excellent liner notes, illustrations, and photographs.


PISTON: Symphony 6
MARTINU: Fantaisies Symphoniques

Charles Munch, Boston Symphony
RCA AGL1-3794 (LP only). Lewis Layton, eng.; Richard Mohr, prod. AAA. TT: 49:13

RCA Gold Seal vinyl reissues of the 1970s tend to be undervalued as superdiscs. The recording in this instance was receiving its stereo debut, and is as super as any disc I know. Recent recordings of these two pieces cannot match the incandescent intensity radiated by Munch/BSO in this pair of BSO 75th Anniversary works, and the vintage 1956 Living Stereo production supports the music in the fashion we have come to expect. And you vinyl lovers can have something which remains unavailable to the CD crowd for the time being. For once, it may not cost an arm and a leg. And dig the cover---a photo montage of Munch/BSO, easily Gold Seal's best album cover.
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