1992 Records To Die For Page 6
GEORGE LLOYD: Symphony 5
George Lloyd, BBC Symphony Orchestra
Albany Records Troy 022-2 (CD only). Tony Faulkner, eng.; Martin Compton, prod. DDD. TT: 56:28
One of my colleagues in the National Symphony, Edward Skidmore, discovered this recording, for which I shall remain forever grateful. This five-movement symphonic masterpiece (completed in 1947) comes from the pen of a seriously underrated 20th-century composer. Faintly reminiscent of Vaughan-Williams's pastoral style, with a hint of Richard Strauss's rich orchestral scoring, the Fifth stands as one of the best of George Lloyd's numerous symphonies. Lloyd cleverly weaves a complex yet easily assimilated tapestry of thematic material without getting too verbose or repetitive. This disc is beautifully recorded, without any obvious technical gimmickery. Soundstaging is superb (in spite of the fact that this is a studio recording), with just enough natural ambience to give the music space to breathe. If you don't buy this recording (as well as Lloyd's Symphony 7 on Conifer CDCF-143), you'll be missing a great musical and sonic experience.
SAMUEL BARBER: Overture to The School for Scandal, Symphony 1
AMY BEACH: Symphony in e ("Gaelic") Neeme Järvi, Detroit Symphony Orchestra
Chandos CHAN 8958 (CD only). Dan Dene, eng.; Charles Greenwell, prod. DDD. TT: 71:52
Although Samuel Barber may not quite be a household name nowadays, several of his works are regarded as models of 20th-century American composition. Both of the Barber pieces on this disc fall into that cagetory, with the School for Scandal taking honors as one of the most oft-performed overtures in the modern orchestral repertoire. Barber's music is deceptively difficult to play (from my own personal experience), which may explain why most recorded renditions of these two works are mediocre. Not this time. The Detroit Symphony, under Järvi's superb direction, produces technically perfect and musically dazzling performances. The outstanding playing by the woodwinds and brass deserve special mention. Amy Beach's "Gaelic" Symphony (the only symphony from this American composer) receives similar treatment. A beautiful piece, both melodically and harmonically, it follows the standard four-movement form, using various Irish melodies throughout, with more than just a hint of Anton DvorÁk's compositional style. This recording was produced at Detroit's newly refurbished Symphony Hall, and represents about the finest marriage of music and sonics this musician has yet heard.
J.S. BACH: Mass in b
Maria Stader, soprano; Hertha Töpper, alto; Ernst Haefliger, tenor; Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Kieth Engen, basses; Münchener Bach-Chor, Münchener Bach-Orchester; Karl Richter
Archiv Galleria 427 155-2 (2 CDs only). Walther Alfred Weller, prod., eng. ADD. TT: 2:03:00
J.S. BACH: Mass in b
Soloists, The Monteverdi Choir, The English Baroque Soloists; John Eliot Gardiner
Archiv 415 514-2 (2 CDs only). Dr. Andreas Holschneider, Charlotte Kriesch, prods. DDD. TT: 106:22
These two performances of Bach's monumental B-minor Mass were recorded 24 years apart. The Richter was the first I ever heard, and, like the first of anything good, one always wants it to be as good years later. It almost always isn't, but this is the exception---it has actually aged excitingly. In 1985 came Gardiner's---which I did not hear until three years later---and I realized that it was as true to the spirit of the Mass as Richter's, and just as magnificent. In between were lots of big, modern performances from Karajan, Klemperer, and Shaw, to name three; and many small-scaled, "authentic" versions as well: from Rifkin and Parrott (almost tied for "littleness"), as well as Harnoncourt and Herreweghe. I liked many of them; Herreweghe's is gorgeous, one of Karajan's is smooth as silk, and Leonhardt's is devotional in the extreme---but only Richter's and Gardiner's sound "right."
They appear to have little in common. The 17-minute difference in the timings of the performances should be a tip-off to something, but isn't: Richter's doesn't seem slow, Gardiner's doesn't seem fast. The choral work in each is ravishing, although Gardiner uses, to my ears, about half the number of voices Richter uses. One never feels that Richter's group lumbers through the passagework despite their numbers; similarly, Gardiner's bunch never seem undernourished or cursory. The same could be said about the instrumentalists in each, too---both tutti and soli play like they're on a mission. Solo singing, with the exception of Richter's Töpper, is topnotch, with Fischer-Dieskau more than making up for Töpper, and Michael Chance singing like an angel for Gardiner. What they have in common, besides simply excellence, is that both touch on the strange combination which should be present in a performance of this work: It should be stirring, pious, exalted, and fancy---all at once. No other conductor and performers get all of these.
The recordings, too, are different. Gardiner's is warm, perfectly balanced, and realistic, with no gimmicks. Richter's, on the other hand, features a terrifically unrealistic placement of the trumpets---but they're precisely where you always want them to be, especially if they're played this gloriously. And every musical sound on each is as clear as a bell, with no interference.
Gardiner's, by the way, is at A=415, but with his quicker tempi, it doesn't miss the brightness of Richter's A=440. "To die for"? Well, I certainly wouldn't want to live without these two.
VAN MORRISON: Common One
Warner Brothers BSK 3462 (LP), 26399-2 (CD). Henry Lewy, Dave Burgess, Chris Martin, engs.; Van Morrison, Henry Lewy, prods. AAA/AAD. TT: 54:31
THIS IS THE ONE! Whenever I begin to feel morose over some piddly thing and my system sounds as if poltergeists are pitching horseshoes with the electrons, I clamp this album on my VPI. Calm settles over me and the imps are exorcised as soon as the stylus settles into the groove of the first song and David Hayes's bass and Mark Isham's muted trumpet waft about the room and into my head. A sojourn into a man's soul has begun, and my guide is The Man. Van touches all the bases here, from the introspective "Haunts of Ancient Peace" to the jaunty, quasi-symphonic "Summertime in England." When Van hits his stride and settles into that inimitable groove, there's nobody performing today who can touch him. NO ONE!! This 11-year-old recording puts to shame much of what you hear in popular music today, with more of the complex web of the music revealed with each system upgrade. Essential!
KODÁLY: Sonatas for Cello, Opp.4 & 8
Lluis Claret, cello; Rose-Marie Cabestany, piano
Harmonia Mundi HMC 901325 (CD only). Michel Pierre, eng.; Michel Bernard, prod. DDD(?). TT: 49:44
The unaccompanied Op.8 is timeless, demanding, and important music written in 1915 by the 33-year-old Zoltán Kodály. Not since János Starker's legendary (and incendiary) '50s recordings has this work received such an impassioned, incandescent, and scintillating interpretation. Claret, unlike most other cellists I've heard attempting to make music from this score, "gets" all the notes with an ease which lets the emotion contained in the music bubble up from the innards of his instrument and escape. Composed five years earlier, Op.4 definitely nods its head in the direction of the French Impressionists, especially Debussy. The contrast between the somber, elegiac, and darkly melodic first movement and the sprightly, almost coltish second movement is well conveyed by the performers. At times, it seems they are playing musical "tag" with one another. This recording of sublime composition and distinguished performance is captured in exemplary sound. The recording conveys the airy acoustic of the venue, yet does not get "swarmy." The images of the soloists are extremely well-focused; their presence in your room is palpable. Each nuance of the performance can thus be savored, especially the vivid tonal palette of Claret's glowing cello.