1995 Records To Die For Page 5

Robert Deutsch

CHRIS NORMAN: The Beauty of the North
Chris Norman, flute; Alisdair Fraser, fiddle; Billy McComiskey; accordion, concertina; Robin Bullock, guitar; Paul Wheaton, bass
Dorian DOR-90190 (CD only). Craig D. Dory, eng.; Ronn McFarlane, Chris Norman, Brian Levine, prods. DDD. TT: 60:05

A recording of "Traditional Favorites from Québec and Maritime Canada" is far from being up my alley, but I found The Beauty of the North quite irresistible. This is charming, tuneful music, played with technical ease and great affection by Norman and colleagues. Listen to "Valse Frontenac" and see if you don't start humming along. The lively reels and gigues may have you kicking up your heels. Dorian's "20-bit fiberoptic" recording is truly state-of-the-art: detailed without being over-analytical, natural timbres, and a great sense of ambience.

SYLVIA McNAIR: Sure Thing: The Jerome Kern Songbook
Sylvia McNair, soprano; André Previn, piano; David Finck, double-bass
Philips 442 129-2 (CD only). Henk Kooistra, John Newton, engs.; Phil Ramone, prod. DDD. TT: 69:59

Crossover albums by opera singers are not in short supply, but I can't think of a better one than this. McNair's voice is creamy-smooth, her diction perfect, and her involvement with each song's meaning seems total. Of course, it helps that she has great Jerome Kern songs to sing. André Previn and David Finck are ideal collaborators: supportive of the singer while adding their own distinctive contributions. The recording, produced by the legendary Phil Ramone, is one of the best-sounding I've heard from a non-audiophile source. (XVII-12)

Jack English

PHILIP GLASS: Glassworks
CBS FM 37265 (LP), MK 37265 (CD). Kurt Munkacsi, Michael Riesman, engs.; Kurt Munkacsi, Philip Glass, prods. DDA/DDD. TT: 39:31
For years, no one would perform Philip Glass's music, so he did it himself. In spite of ridicule, he persevered---thankfully. This glorious recording represents a high point of minimalism, and offers reasonably accessible entry into the style. It throbs, bombards, intrudes upon, and ultimately overwhelms the senses, leaving one in a hypnotic state. Glassworks is simultaneously rooted in classical, strongly related to rock, and sets the stage for trance/ambient music. Its wealth of unusual transients, complex, overlapping musical lines, and buried sonic detail makes it an audiophile bon-bon as well.

CHRIS ISAAK: Chris Isaak
Warner Bros. W1 25536 (LP), 25536-2 (CD). Tom Mallon, Dave Carlson, Lee Herschberg, engs.; Erik Jacobsen, prod. AAA/AAD. TT: 36:19
With a mix of Duane Eddy's lush guitar, Elvis Presley's good looks, James Brown's boxing background, an unabashed adoration of Roy Orbison's voice, and a lucrative contract from Warner Bros., Chris Isaak introduced an entire generation to roots rock, Sun Records, drive-ins, and sock hops with this, his second album. His "studio rat" attention to production detail has paid off in a wonderfully rich, clean recording of heartfelt lyrics and driving dance rhythms, with a nicely realistic guitar/bass/drum sound highlighting that marvelous voice.

Mortimer H. Frank

BACH: English Suites, French Suites*
András Schiff, piano
London 421 640-2 (2 CDs), 433 312-2* (2 CDs). Stanley Goodall, Jonathan Stokes, engs.; Christopher Raeburn, prod. DDD. TTs: 2:08:54; 2:07:07*

Here is Bach playing of uncommon stylishness and musicality. With a modern piano, Schiff favors limited color and restricted dynamics which approximate the impact and textural clarity that would be produced by the 18th-century keyboard for which these works were composed. In this regard, his approach is similar to Glenn Gould's. But it is more varied in terms of tempos and ethos, Schiff, far more than Gould, suggesting the contrasts in Affekt that lie at the heart of these pieces. Furthermore, he produces a more attractive tone that is beautifully captured in London's suave engineering. Only the staunchest (and possibly the most myopic) of purists may remain unmoved by these performances. (XII-8, XVII-3)

BEETHOVEN: The Five Piano Concertos
Leon Fleisher, piano; George Szell, Cleveland Orchestra
CBS M3K 42445 (3 CDs). Harold! Chapman, Bud Graham, engs.; Howard Scott, prod. AAD. TT: 3:18:31

More than any other cycle of these warhorses, this one echoes the landmark Schnabel traversal, superbly shaped in its freedom from mannerisms and command of structure, tonally full but never blurred in outline, and totally attuned to the music's blend of tender lyricism, explosive brashness, vibrant drama, and perky wit. Three decades have elapsed since Fleisher completed this traversal, yet it holds its own against all comers in conveying the quintessential Beethoven. The most recent CD reissue (Sony Essential Classics) alters the balance of the original LPs by moving the piano back slightly, and includes an unexceptional filler. The earlier transfer (cited above) is preferable for its filler: the magnificent Fleisher/Szell account of the Mozart Concerto, K.503. The ever-so-slight stridency of both editions suits the music, but is easily tamed.