1994 Records To Die For Page 7

Robert Harley

KEI AKAGI: Playroom
Kei Akagi, piano; Rick Margitza, sax; John Patitucci, Bob Harrison, bass; Tom Brechtlein, drums
Bluemoon/Moo R2 79342 (CD only). Akira Yada, prod.; Duncan Aldrich, Robert Reed, engs. DDD. TT: 53:54

After years as a relatively unknown sideman, pianist Kei Akagi steps out on Playroom to showcase the full measure of his extraordinary keyboard and compositional talents. This all-acoustic set (except for electric bass on a few tracks) of Akagi's original compositions spans the range from the very accessible title track to the more adventurous "Hexenkessel" and "Vasanti Blues." It is these extended pieces---which are mostly solos---that allow the musicians to show their formidable improvisational skills. I hadn't heard Rick Margitza before; he delivers some blistering solos. As always, Patitucci is a joy to hear; and Brechtlein propels the music forward with energy, intensity, and sensitivity. The piano is recorded with a nice low-end warmth, and the recording has good top-to-bottom balance. The bass is well mixed and very articulate.

BILL EVANS: Quintessence
Bill Evans, piano; Kenny Burrell, guitar; Harold Land, tenor sax; Ray Brown, bass; Philly Joe Jones, drums
Fantasy OJCCD-698-1, -2 (LP/CD). Helen Keane, prod.; Phil Kaffel, eng. AAA/AAD. TT: 35:52

Quintessence finds Evans out of his usual trio and into a quintet, with magical results. Rather than crowd Evans's sparse style, these players bring an understated gentleness to the music that allows plenty of space for everyone.

What makes this record special is the synergistic empathy between these excellent players. They're all on the same musical wavelength, yet find room for individual expression. Moreover, Quintessence is a good example of technique in the service of expression---no one is flashy or shows off. Rather, Quintessence explores the quiet, introspective facets of each musician's personality. The sound is superb and fits the music: up-front, close, and personal.

Robert Hesson

BOLCOM: Violin Concerto in D
Sergiu Luca, violin; Dennis Russell Davies, American Composers Orchestra
Argo 433 077-2 (CD only). Chris Hazell, prod.; Simon Eadon, eng. DDD. TT: 61:54

Bolcom's concerto is wonderfully moody---foreboding one moment, whimsical the next. Infectiously mischievous at times, the work is spiced with jazz, especially in the exuberantly capricious finale. The second movement is a real beauty of a night-music piece, built on a touching, aria-like theme. With exquisite playing, sweet string sound, truthful timbres, and you-are-there ambience, this recording is exceptional in every way. Also included are Bolcom's "Fantasia Concertante" and Symphony 5; both have much to recommend them, but the Concerto is the real draw.

SCHUBERT: Piano Trio in E-Flat, D.929
Stuttgart Piano Trio
Naxos 8.550132 (CD only). Günter Appenheimer, prod. DDD. TT: 57:51

Those unfamiliar with the extraordinary Naxos label should hear what they've been missing---this Schubert disc is, to my knowledge, the best place to start. For about seven bucks, you can have this absolutely brilliant performance, recorded in equally superb sound. The Stuttgart Piano Trio is technically flawless, occasionally breathtaking. They play with intelligence, joy, and respectful understatement. The tone colors are captured in extraordinary fidelity, and the ambience is entirely realistic, without bloating in the lower ranges.

J. Gordon Holt

VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: Sinfonia antartica
Raymond Leppard, Indianapolis SO; Roger Allam, narrator; Dominique, soprano; Women of the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir
Koss Classics KC-2214 (CD only). Michael Koss, exec. prod.; Vic Muenzer, prod; Larry Rock, eng. DDD. TT: 52:14

My longtime favorite recording of this by Sir Adrian Boult (EMI 7 47216 2) has finally been surpassed. This recent release from a new label is a hands-down winner, and a resounding repudiation of Holt's First Law. The performance is deeply moving, and it certainly doesn't hurt that the narrative bridges between movements are all excerpted from Scott's diary. (VW's original score quoted Shelley, Donne, Coleridge, and the Book of Psalms, and the passages were not to be narrated, but read silently from the program notes during the performance.) I suspect the recording was multi-miked; if it was, it was done right for once---the sound comes closer to that of a real, live orchestra than any commercial symphonic recording I've heard, including even Reference Recordings' recent efforts. The dynamic range is immense! A doozy of a disc!

PETER SCHICKELE: An Evening with P.D.Q. Bach
Concerto for Horn & Hardart; Cantata, Iphegenia In Brooklyn; Quodlibet for Small Orchestra; Sinfonia Concertante
Jorge Mester, Chamber Orchestra
Vanguard VBD-79195 (CD only). ADD. TT: 51:05

What's this? A funny record for a desert island with electric service? Well, why not? In this age when everyone seems primed to be offended or outraged, Schickele's lighthearted send-ups of classical music pretensions are a breath of fresh air. And his hilarious paraphrasings of other well-known compositions often trigger my urge to drag out one or another of the abused works and relisten to it all the way through. If you don't take your "serious" music too seriously, and if you're willing to have some fun at its expense, you'll love this program. The sound is late-'80s Vanguard---a bit grainy, but otherwise unobtrusive.