1996 Records To Die For Page 9
MOZART: Le Nozze di Figaro
Alastair Miles, bass-baritone (Figaro); Nuccia Focile, soprano (Susanna); Alessandro Corbelli, baritone (Count Almaviva); Carol Vaness, soprano (Countess Almaviva); Susanne Mentzer, mezzo (Cherubino); others; Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Chorus, Sir Charles Mackerras
Telarc CD-80388 (3 CDs only). James Mallinson, prod.; Jack Renner, eng. DDD. TT: 3:28:33
When Charles Mackerras conducted a Marriage of Figaro at the Sadler's Wells in 1966 to great critical acclaim and interest because of such stylistic vocal additions as ornaments and cadenzas, I regretted that no company then sought to capture his interpretation---he was far ahead of most conductors interested in late-18th-century performance practice. Telarc's new version, imbued with those same intriguing adornments (hardly what we're used to hearing), is a splendid document, and is even supplemented with alternate versions of arias and embellishments. If the cast i! s good rather than superb (as in many other recordings, from the historic Busch and Erich Kleiber on down), Mackerras himself provides a vivid, scintillatingly paced performance.
RACHMANINOFF: Piano Concerto 3
TCHAIKOVKSY: Piano Concerto 1
Martha Argerich, piano; Riccardo Chailly, Berlin RSO (Rachmaninoff); Kirill Kondrashin, Bavarian RSO (Tchaikovsky)
Philips 446 673-2 (CD only). ADD. TT: 73:12
Of these live radio performances, the electrifying 1980 Tchaikovsky had only been available previously on LP(1) the equally astonishing 1982 Rachmaninoff being a first in any commercial form. Argerich, a pianistic hurricane, does not entirely efface one's recall of Horowitz, but it's a close enough call to warrant a R2D4 listing, especially if you need an adrenaline lift. The sonics, however, are generally superior (though the Berlin-made Rachmaninoff is cloudy and less well defined than the earlier, more transparent Tchaikovsky from Munich). For elemental excitement it woul! d be hard to match either of her performances. Kondrashin, too, is excellent.
(1) Long a favorite of mine, this high-dynamic-range recording was briefly released in Europe in the early '80s as a very short CD (Philips 411 057-2, TT: 32:35), entitled Hommage to Kirill Kondrashin.---JA
None of my recommendations could be said to have state-of-the-art sound. They all sound pretty great by Rock music standards, but that roughly corresponds to pretty crummy by purist-miked audiophile standards. Still, the sound of one of these admittedly flawed rock recordings on a high-end system is better than the sound of the same group in concert. Besides, how many of you would rather listen to the Beatles through the "speakers" in the supermarket ceiling than Paula Abdul through the Cello system? Exactly.
Recording quality is often irrelevant in rock---there's usually only one version of a particular song or album available. If you like the music, that's the recording you have to live with. I made my choices here because of their incredible musical content. Concern over recording quality was less important, although it did help narrow down the possibilities.
STEVE REICH: Music for 18 Musicians
ECM 1129 (78118-21129-2, CD). Rudolph Werner, prod.; Klaus Hiemann, eng. AAD. TT: 56:31
18 is a magic number. Magically this avant-garde composer brought Western classical music, African drumming, and many other musical ideas together into one concert hall back in the mid-'70s. It was a high point---the optimism in this performance, the sense of the human universe expanding, may never be equaled. Though a complex theoretical and mathematical construct, this music lives and breathes in a most organic way.
THE POLICE: Message in a Box (The Complete Recordings)
A&M 31454 0150 2 (4 CDs). David Collins, mastering; many prods., engs. TT: 4:45:34
Every song the Police ever wrote is a greatest hit---you'll want them all. Even the B-sides and rarities in this boxed set are absolutely wonderful. The whole shebang was remastered in 1993 and sounds a little clearer than the original CDs. Though Sting, Stewart Copeland, and Andy Summers have all done some cool stuff since they broke up, none of it can quite compare to what they produced together. Definitely a case of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts. Will anyone be listening to rock'n'roll in 100 years? Right.
MIDNIGHT OIL: 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1
Columbia CK 38996 (CD). Midnight Oil, prods.; Nick Launay, prod., eng. TT: 48:20
This bunch of wild Australians is one of my all-time favorite groups, and their fourth album is their best. They've had a sickeningly good, long string of albums, any of which I would heartily recommend. Alas, Rush Limbaugh fans will not approve of their biting social commentary, for it contains too much truth about the real problems of the world. Despite my great respect for MO's insightful lyrics, I'm more impressed by the quality and inventiveness of their music.
SIMPLE MINDS: Street Fighting Years
A&M 75021-3927-2 (CD). Stephen Lipson, Trevor Horn, prods.; Heff Moraes, Robin Hancock, engs. AAD. TT: 61:13
Simple Minds normally plays gigantic stadiums in Europe, where their concerts sell out. Here in the States they play...smaller venues, like Denver's Ogden Theatre. (I've played the Ogden, and my band is to Simple Minds as the NHT Super Zero is to Wilson Audio's X-1/Grand SLAMM.) You owe it to yourself to have better taste than the American public at large. This album has great sound, and marks a transition in their repertory. (Actually, all their albums are transition albums.) [You should also check out the 1990 multi-volume Themes CD collections of Simple Minds' 12" singles on Virgin.---Ed.]
FISHBONE: Give a Monkey a Brain...and He'll Swear He's the Center of the Universe
Columbia CK 52764 (CD). Fishbone, prods.; Terry Date, prod., eng. TT: 63:58
The first song on this album is about slam dancing and swimming on top of the crowd. From there Fishbone goes on to provide a funky variety of music, and they play all of it well. Imagine an alternative rock band with beautiful, melodic singing, screaming heavy metal guitars, and a heaping scoop of soul thrown in. Yes, it's that good. They have one hell of a rhythm thing goin' on! The sound is better than most heavy-duty music, so you won't need a muffled lo-fi system to bring the treble down to levels that humans can actually tolerate.
APOLLO SAXOPHONE QUARTET: First & Foremost
Argo 443 903-2 (CD only). Christopher Pope, John Harle, prods.; Neil Hutchinson, John Harle, engs. DDD. TT: 52:19
This wonderful disc features an ensemble the like of which I haven't heard in a long time. Their virtuosity is second to none, their immaculate co-ordination, versatility, and incredible range of tone color are stunning...and then there's their infectious enthusiasm. With the exception of their excellent arrangement of Chick Corea's Children's Songs, all the pieces here---by Michael Nyman, David Bedford, Will Gregory, and Roy Powell---have been written especially for saxophones with or without percussion. If this sounds limiting, try it---then you'll have sleepless nights thinking that you might have missed it.
HAROLD BUDD: She is a Phantom, In Delius' Sleep
Harold Budd, piano, voice; Zeitgeist
New Albion NA066CD (CD only). Russ Borud, eng. DDD. TT: 47:37
I'm bowled over by t! his disc every time I play it. It's beautiful, mesmeric, haunting, and intoxicating. Its 17 short sections have the most provocative titles: "Tiny hands, big ideas; Handsome. The spineless little prick was handsome???" And then there's Harold Budd's sensual voice occasionally reciting above the immaculate performance of the Zeitgeist Quartet, for whom the piece was written. With the warmth of the recording acoustic further enhancing the intimate, hypnotic aura of the work, I defy you not to be taken in by its spell. (XVIII-8)