1998 Records To Die For Page 6
ARGENTO: A Water Bird Talk
John Shirley-Quirk, baritone; Sara Watkins, Sinfonia of St. Cecilia
Koch International 3-7388-2 H1 (CD). 1997. Michael Fine, prod., eng. DDD. TT: 70:56
Dominick Argento has all but made a career of the monodrama, and this one offers a combination of humanity, pathos, and beauty that is profoundly affecting. In loosely combining a Chekhov play with Audubon's The Birds of America, Argento has crafted a work in which a lecturer attempts to enlighten his audience on waterfowl but ends up revealing much more about the human spirit, its failures, and its inexorable will to prevail despite the most severe limitations. This is, I believe, a work for the ages, and the performances and sound quality are of commensurate excellence.
MAHLER: Symphony 9
Jesús López-Cobos, Cincinnati Symphony
Telarc 2CD-80426 (2 CDs). 1997. Erica Brenner, prod.; Thomas Knab, eng. DDD. TT: 85:44
Into this supposedly death-riddled work Jesús López-Cobos breathes a spirit of life that affirms Mahler's belief that a symphony must contain the entire world. Descending into the depths of the music's soul, López-Cobos offers a reading that is both highly articulated and highly energized---a rare combination. This recording stands squarely among the finest performances of the composition, and adds sonic qualities that are among the finest I've ever heard. It is quite clearly the best combination of performance and sound I'm aware of among Mahler Ninths. Simply stunning. (XX-10)
J. Gordon Holt
Ernest Ansermet, L'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande
London/Classic CSCD-6009 (CD). 1967. ADD. TT: 34:00
Another superb CD from Classic Records, and this time of one of the most celebrated LPs of all time: Ernest Ansermet's Pétrouchka. CR has been doing this for so long that they should know how to do it right, so the quality of this transfer comes as no surprise. But it's still a little amazing just how much better it sounds than the original London LP (CS-6009). It's unmistakably the trademark ffss near-far sound, but it's smoother, more transparent, wider-ranged, and better balanced, although the soundstaging is no better (or worse) than the original. (I don't own a Decca pressing of it for comparison.)
Ansermet's reading treads a fine line between pathos and derisive humor, which is just right for this tragicomic Russian fairy tale of an animated marionette who's abused by his master, scorned by his beloved, and calamitously lovesick. This is the Pétrouchka that all other recordings get compared with. But at only 34 minutes, it's a helluvva short shrift. (XIX-6)
LAMBERT: The Rio Grande, Concerto for Piano and Nine Players, Horoscope
Kathryn Stott, piano; Della Jones, mezzo; BBC Singers, BBC Concert Orchestra, Barry Wordsworth
Argo 436 118-2 (CD). 1992. Chris Hazell, prod.; Simon Eadon, eng. DDD. TT: 68:51
English music isn't everyone's cuppa tea, but for those who like it, this is a treat. The CD is a good cross section of Lambert's works, and includes an extended suite from his sardonic one-act ballet Horoscope, a jazzy "concerto" (actually more of a cantata) for piano, chorus, and large orchestra based on text by Edith Sitwell, and an uncharacteristically bleak concerto for piano and nine assorted instruments. The multimiked sound is smooth, lush, and so natural you never notice it at all. The big brasses are glorious!
STEVE TIBBETTS: Yr
Steve Tibbetts, guitars, kalimba, synthesizer; Mark Anderson, congas, drums, percussion; Bob Hughes, bass; Steve Cochrane, tabla; Tim Weinhold, bongos, vase, bells
ECM 1355 (78118-21355-2, CD). 1980. Steve Tibbetts, prod., eng. AAD. TT: 34:08
Picking one or two R2D4 discs is not a rational pursuit, but those are the rules. Often, when/where one first hears an album makes it distinctive---which is likely the case for my choices. Back in 1980, this work was available only as an LP from Tibbetts's obscure label Frammis, but now it's procurable as a CD from ECM. Truth is, I'd choose every Tibbetts disc to date for R2D4s: inimitable, outside, yet rhythmic acoustic and electric guitar playing; aggressive global percussion locked tighter than Fort Knox; expansive compositions that work for the experimental, jazz, world, and rock'n'roll aficionado. Sounds decent too!
TERJE RYPDAL: Descendre
Terje Rypdal, guitar, keyboards, flute; Palle Mikkel-borg, trumpet, flugelhorn, keyboards; John Christensen, drums, percussion
ECM 1144 (78118-21144-2, CD). 1979. Manfred Eicher, prod. AAD. TT: 44:48
Now here's music you could take a bath in---which is not to say that this is tepid new age muck. Rypdal floats you with a rich, almost violinlike guitar set to some of the best spacey jazz/electronica to come out of the late '70s, influencing countless guitarists (Andy Summers, formerly of the Police, is a huge fan) with his "clouds" of textured sound. Here he demonstrates that unmistakable ability Norwegians have for coaxing warmth and depth from a typically flat, wintery surface.
SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES: Tinderbox
Geffen 24092-2 (CD). 1985. A Banshees production; Steve Churchyard, Hugh Jones, Julian Standen, Nick Air, engs. AAD? TT: 61:53
Siouxsie & the Banshees sound something like a cross between The Cure and Kate Bush, and this is their most engaging album. I was bouncing around on dance floors to "Cities in Dust" for years before I discovered that it shared an album with 11 other equally magnificent songs. Appropriate descriptives: ethereal, rhythmic, passionate, human, masterful, mysterious, fascinating, dark, brooding, sinister, gripping, insightful, vast, complex, expressive, advanced, driving, obsessive, touching, haunting, authentic. Strange how the music doesn't seem too depressing until you consider the morbidity of the words. They're all about the frailty of our existence.
BIG COUNTRY: The Seer
Mercury/London 532 325-2 (CD). 1986/1996. Robin Millar, Big Country, prods.; Will Gosling, Walter Turbitt, engs. AAD? TT: 67:13
"I found I could play this music and connect the guitar directly to my heart. I found others who could make the same connection, who could see the music as well as play it. The sound made pictures. It spread out wide landscapes. Great Dramas were played out under its turbulent skies. There was romance and reality, truth and dare. People being people, no heroes, just you and me, like it always is. The music told stories, little stories. Lands were not conquered, treasure was left in the tombs, the magic was in the everyday."---Stuart Adamson, vocals, guitar, E-bow