1995 Records To Die For Page 3

Carl Baugher

BOB DYLAN: The Times They Are A-Changin'
Columbia CL 2105 (mono LP), CS 8905 (LP); Mobile Fidelity MFSL 1-114 (LP); Columbia CK 8905 (CD). Tom Wilson, prod. AAA/AAD. TT: 45:35
All of Dylan's early 1960s albums were well-recorded, but this one sounds especially natural. With the mix favoring vocals over the guitar/harmonica backing, this collection of stark, soul-piercing, allegorical and philosophical songs was seldom matched and never bettered by Dylan, and never even approached by the legions of folksters who followed in his wake. The Mobile Fidelity reissue is a better stereo release than the original 1964 LP or the 1989 CD, but the preferred version remains the first mono pressing (with the words "High Fidelity" in black letters at the bottom of the red Columbia label).

DOC WATSON: Doc Watson On Stage, Featuring Merle Watson
Vanguard VSD 9/10 (2 LPs); Vanguard VCD 9/10 (CD). Ed Friedner, Claude Karczmer, engs.; Jack Lothrop, prod. AAA/ADD. TT: 71:32
Widely acknowledged as the world's greatest acoustic guitarist, flat-picker Doc (Arthel) Watson is also a fine singer and a warm, ingratiating story-teller. This live set captures him and his late son Merle at their peak in 1970. Songs and performances are superb, and I've never heard a better recording of acoustic guitars. The order of preference as to discs is the original tan-label LP, followed by the 1988 CD reissue. Avoid the mid-'70s marble-label LPs and the inferior yellow-label Welk Group LPs from the early '80s.

Robert E. Benson

MALCOLM ARNOLD: Symphonies 3 & 4
Richard Hickox, London Symphony
Chandos CD 9290 (CD only). Brian Couzens, prod.; Ralph Couzens, Richard Smoker, engs. DDD. TT: 74:27

Fantasy on a Theme of John Field; Concert Suite Sweeney Todd; Tam O'Shanter Overture, Op.51
Vernon Hadley, Royal Philharmonic; John Lill, piano
Conifer CDCF 224 (CD only). Andrew Keener, prod.; Tryggvii Tryggvason, Mike Cox, engs. DDD. TT: 77:39

These CDs fill some major gaps in the Malcolm Arnold discography. In this music, Arnold can be heard at his most brilliant and imaginative, vividly contrasting humor and caprice with the pensive, the macabre, and the savage. The overall tragic mood of Symphony 3 is only partially alleviated by its bright final movement.

In contrast is Symphony 4, tongue-in-cheek with its use of marimba, bongos, tom-toms, and Caribbean rhythms. Symphony 6 has a jazzy first movement, a somber, funereal second movement, and a spectacular third movement of incredible energy. Fantasy for Piano and Orchestra is a one-movement piano concerto. Arnold's diabolically brilliant suite of music from his late-'50s ballet Sweeney Todd here receives its first recording. And never before has the Tam O'Shanter Overture, with its imitation bagpipes, sauntered with such drunken braggadocio.

All performances were recorded in Arnold's presence; he must have been delighted with the virtuoso playing of both orchestras. Sonic quality of both CDs is that rare combination of resonance, clarity, and presence missing in many of today's digital recordings

Les Berkley

LOREENA McKENNITT: The Mask and Mirror
Warner Bros. 45420-2 (CD only heard). Loreena McKennitt, prod.; Jeff Wolpert, eng. ADD? TT: 52:47
Definitely a sign of hope for the '90s, Loreena McKennitt combines genuine spirituality of a mystical sort with impressive literary and musical skills. Although many of the instruments sound extremely natural, some are indeed processed. The result is exactly what I expect the artist intended. I would rather listen to this than to all the audiophile pop in the world. R2D4 is not supposed to be about "desert island" records, but this is nevertheless definitely one. (XVII-6)

ARVO PÄRT: Miserere
ECM 78118-21430-2 (CD only). Manfred Eicher, prod.; Peter Laenger, Andreas Neubronner, engs. DDD. TT: 65:48
This is definitely not a "desert island" disc. Pärt's genius is in his spare and powerful settings of emotionally charged texts; Miserere is far too raw for comfort in some tropical paradise. As food for the souls of those involved in modern "civilization," however, it is pure ambrosia. If Arvo Pärt is not the savior of modern "classical" music, I may head for the islands anyway. (XIV-10)