Music in the Round #29 Recordings In The Round

Sidebar: Recordings In The Round

CONCERTGEBOUW BRASS ENSEMBLE: Brass
Music by Bourgeois, G. Gabrieli, Henze, Schmidt, van Otterloo, Woud
Ivan Mylermans, Concertgebouw Brass Ensemble
RCO Live 07002 (SACD).

This is simply glorious brass playing, and although most of the music was unfamiliar to me, it was all exciting and enjoyable. Except for Giovanni Gabrieli's familiar Canzon in echo duodecimi toni a 10, the works are from the late 20th century, but all are approachable and melodic. The Serenade by Willem van Otterloo (whom I knew, from my old Epic LPs, as the conductor of the Hague Residentie Orchestra) is of symphonic scope, and Hans Werner Henze's Ragtimes and Habaneras are simply charming. What makes this disc really special, though, are the wide-ranging sonorities of the individual and massed brasses: at times lithe, at times powerful, and at a few times simply hair-raising. The RCO engineers have provided a mid-hall perspective that permits the listener to appreciate the interaction of the horns with the acoustic in a wholly natural, wonderful way.

MOZART: Symphonies 19, 20, 21, 26
Adám Fischer, Danish Radio Sinfonietta
Dacapo 6.220541 (SACD)

From the moment it begins, this recording sounds just right, both musically and sonically. Fischer's tempos and balances fascinate me—from moment to moment, they confirm every anticipation I have when listening to these fairly familiar works. Nothing is out of place, but there are an underlying vigor and excitement that maintain my rapt attention. Dacapo's recordings seem to improve with each new batch, and this one epitomizes the sound of a first-rate classical chamber band in a warm but lightly resonant hall. I listed this among my "Records To Die For" last month, but of such perfection one can never say too much.

MOZART: Don Giovanni
Soloists: Johannes Weisser, Lorenzo Regazzo, Alexandrina Pendachanska, Olga Pasichnyk, Kenneth Tarver, Sunghae Im, Nikolay Borchev, Alessandro Guerzoni; René Jacobs, Berlin RIAS Chamber Chorus, Freiburg Baroque Orchestra
Harmonia Mundi HMC 801964.66 (3 SACDs)

This is among the most intensely dramatic Dons I have heard. While the singing is first-rate, there is also much more characterization from the singers than is typical. Weisser's young Don has many layers, from seductive to downright evil, and he and conductor René Jacobs peel away those layers in ways that are rarely heard. Jacobs also invests the orchestral playing, which is presented with remarkable detail and richness, with meaningful nuances that reflect the dramatic action. Voices are presented clearly and, when appropriate, placed quite forward without overwhelming the orchestra. I concluded my comments on Jacobs' recording of Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito with "If you liked Jacobs' Figaro, get this." Well, ditto.

BRUCKNER: Symphony 7
Bernard Haitink, Chicago Symphony Orchestra
CSO Resound CSOR 901 706 (SACD)

Another great orchestra, the Chicago Symphony, has joined the growing ranks of those ensembles that now issue their own performances on their own labels. Remarkably, most continue to issue these recordings in multichannel SACD, surely the most resounding affirmation that the medium is the best available at this moment and needs to be supported. Aside from business politics, it's wonderful to hear the CSO in Orchestra Hall, and for their first SACD they've given us a symphony that lets us revel in this orchestra's glorious brass. Haitink is, well, Haitink—sound, musical, consistent—and there are already many Sevenths on SACD. What makes this one special is the brilliance and strength of the CSO's unique sound. At moments, it can almost overwhelm.

YU HONG MEI: Erhu Chant
Yu Hong Mei, erhu; Liu Yin Xuan, yang qin; Wu Lin, Chinese harp; Chen Zhe, piano
Channel of China/Channel Classics CCS SA 80206 (SACD)

Out of my depth here, I can't offer much insight into this music, other than to tell you that it's delightful. The moods range from the exuberant to the sad, but all are appealing. The pieces, composed in the first three-fourths of the last century, probably bear little Western influence, yet fall comfortably on my Western ears. The composition of the ensemble varies from piece to piece, though Yu Hong Mei's erhu, or Chinese violin, is the constant solo voice. The sound quality is up to Channel Classics standards and thus lets us clearly hear the distinctive instrumental voices. I particularly liked the interaction between the erhu and the yang qin (described as a "cembalo") on A Bunch of Flowers. But for the not-quite-Western tonality, it reminded me of a Hungarian cimbalom-violin duo. Lovely stuff.—Kalman Rubinson

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