1993 Records To Die For Page 6
JOHN CALE: The Academy In Peril
Edsel Records ED CD 182 (CD import). Jean Bois, mix eng.; John Cale, prod. AAD. TT: 45:37
When classically trained pop stars try to prove it, they generally throw a few quotes of Mussorgsky into the mix. John Cale---whose career spans the foundation of the Velvet Underground through avant-garde modern composition, via La Monte Young---cooks from scratch.
Profoundly curious, a technical master, and genuinely off the wall, here Cale has fun with an orchestra. Concerned, as always, with diametrical opposition and sonic perfection, his third (1972) LP throws up the sash windows on the musical academy via original compositions interpreting figures (and themes) from Brahms to Henry VIII. Thus a UK-born musician is rendered indisputable heir to the French Impressionists, those first Continental scandaleuses who dared to take their subjects and their easels out into the natural light.
JOHN HIATT: Slow Turning
A&M 75021-5206-2 (CD only). Larry Hirsch, eng.; Glyn Johns, prod. AAD. TT: 49:06
From John Hiatt's "solo-esque" period before he joined up again with Ry Cooder et al, my favorite is 1988's Slow Turning.
Here it's just Hiatt, his occasional band "The Goners," and not-particularly-gawdalmighty-famous guests like one-time Eagle Bernie Leadon on National Resonator guitar and Dr. Hook vocalist Dennis Locorriere. Recorded 'round at Ronnie Milsap's place, this thankfully understated album is an acoustically pure Wall of Nashville Sound and a summation of Hiatt's hard-rocking hillbilly style.
Iron-edged, open-eyed, anecdotal, and laced with humor as well as sentiment, it's also Hiatt's rededication to a personal set of family values. For aging boomers who've had their own problems growing up and growing older, it's nice to know resurrection's in the cards. (XI-11)
ELGAR: Symphony 1, Pomp & Circumstance Marches 1, 3, & 4
Andrew Davis, BBC SO
Teldec 9031-73278-2 (CD only). Christopher Palmer, prod.; Tony Faulkner, eng. DDD. TT: 70:41
This was one of those discs that took me by surprise---I had predicted that the recording would be excellent, but the performances are really very special too. If this Symphony 1 had been around when I made my survey of the work for "Building a Library," I would have had no hesitation in choosing it has the most quintessential of all. But more than that, it is profoundly moving without being the slightest bit sentimental. Andrew Davis has Elgar's voice at the heart of every movement, but he has also found a path to the heart of this most introspective composer. Elgar was superb at hiding his feelings under a veneer of respectability, but for those who know where to look, there is a wealth of emotion waiting to be released. Davis does just that.
Just as impressive is the excitement he musters in the pot-boiler P & C Marches...the orchestra is having a good time!
NIELSEN: Wind Quintet
TAFFANEL: Wind Quintet
Sony SK 45996 (CD only). Josef Kamykokwski, eng.; Ulrich Kraus, prod. DDD. TT: 50:10
These pieces prove, without a shadow of doubt, that it's not always the blockbusters that ultimately force you to sit up and take notice. Unassuming though they may seem on the face of it, these are delightful works, played with great panache and sensibility and treated to an equally unaffected recording.
There are no instrumental gymnastics in the Nielsen Quintet---it is a very pure and simple piece. The Taffanel, by contrast, is a Romantically charged work of much warmer textures and bigger structure. The Ensemble Wien-Berlin handles both with the sort of virtuosity that makes everything sound easy. Try this disc---it will be a revelation. (XV-1)
I love Lehnert's little note to us writers: "Remember, this is supposed to be fun!" Yeah, right. Most audiophiles wouldn't know fun if it bit 'em in their tushies. High-end audio is religion if ever I saw it, and I'm damned if I'm going to perpetuate the "Sound Quality Über Alles" nonsense which plagues this hobby. Oh, and I refuse to include the playing times, which have absolutely no bearing whatsoever on musical worth, even though my selections are both full-length discs. Or is one hour's worth of Madonna worth one minute's worth of Aretha? So, take it or leave it, these are what rocked my socks in the past year.
TENNESSEE ERNIE FORD: Capitol Collectors Series
Capitol CDP 7 95291 2 (mono CD only). Wayne Watkins, exec. prod.; Ron Furmanek, prod. & research; digitally mastered by Bob Norberg.
Twenty-nine tracks from the deepest country voice I've ever heard. A glorious in-your-face presentation of the immortal "Sixteen Tons" to test your woofer, and "The Ballad of Davy Crockett" to prove whether or not you're over 40. And in mono. So there.
RADIO GOLD: Various Artists
Ace CDCHD 347 (CD only). Uncredited save for post-production by Duncan Cowell, from the original master tapes.
Thirty 1950s/early 1960s AM classics. Unbelievable stereo on Dion's immortal "The Wanderer" and "Runaround Sue." Perfect vocals and (mono) sonics to die for on the Chordettes' "Mr. Sandman." From 1954. Which I leave on the player in "repeat" mode. And which I'll put up against any of the boring audiophilia that my better-educated, po-faced, elitist, fun-hating colleagues will be recommending in these pages.
THE MUSIC OF PERCY GRAINGER, VOL. I
Molly on the Shore; Lincolnshire Posy; Colonial Song; Blithe Bells; Irish Tune from County Derry; Shepherd's Hey; The Duke of Marlborough Fanfare; Country Gardens (1953); The Power of Rome and the Christian Heart
Eddie Green, University of Houston Wind Ensemble; Noe Marmolejo (cond., Fanfare)
Mark Custom Recording Service MCD-1086 (CD only). David Burks, Joe Dixon, engs. & prods. ??D. TT: 53:39
Available from Mark Custom Recording Service, Inc., 10815 Bodine Rd., Clarence, NY 14031-0406, (716) 759-2600.
This remarkable Grainger collection, a real sleeper not available at normal record outlets and co-produced by the International Percy Grainger Society, features a crack 53-member band, impeccable precision, and a well-varied selection of pieces. Notable is the inclusion of a late, even slightly sardonic setting of the ubiquitous Country Gardens, as well as the 1953-published band version of the non-programmatic The Power of Rome and the Christian Heart, a work not often encountered. What makes all this so attractive is the moving yet unsentimental spirit of the playing, as well as the ensemble's exceptional scale of dynamics and mellow blend of instrumental colors. When necessary, too, the playing can be really rambunctious; except for Grainger at the piano himself, I've never heard Shepherd's Hey sound so cheeky. The whole has been very smoothly and warmly captured in a relatively dry setting, quite far from typical sharp-edged digital recording techniques. This disc should be considered one of the indispensable Grainger collections.
SCHUMANN: Davidsbündlertänze, Op.6; Waldscenen, Op.82; Fantasiestücke, Op.111
Andreas Haefliger, piano
Sony SK 48036 (CD only). Markus Heiland, eng.; Wolf Erichson, prod. DDD. TT: 65:29
This is one of the most beautifully performed Schumann discs I have had the pleasure of hearing, regardless of vintage---an absolute winner in all respects. Three multi-sectional pieces are involved, all of them difficult of mood and character to capture and sustain. Haefliger's marked rhythmic sense, vigorous in the extraverted movements but also sufficiently free, perfectly displays the gesture of mid-19th-century romanticism, but it is his tender side that for me so wonderfully conveys the lyricism of Schumann. Haefliger in fact plays the reflective pieces as though they were Lieder, highly appropriate considering the sterling abilities of the pianist's father, the tenor Ernst Haefliger. Therefore, I write of singing, soaring lines, hoping this will convey the kind of poetry one can hear on this gorgeously rendered and reproduced disc.