1995 Records To Die For Page 6

Larry Greenhill

JAMES HORNER: Clear and Present Danger(original soundtrack)
Milan 73138-35679-2 (CD only). James Horner, prod.; Shawn Murphy, eng. AAD. TT: 48:35

Clear and Present Danger is full of musical fireworks---percussive pianos, chimes, raspy flutes, and the most powerful bass-drum on any current recording I've heard. The main theme, evocative of Richard Rodgers' Victory at Sea, combines lyrical melodies with majestic military march tempos in an uplifting, expansive backdrop to the movie's opening scene: the rolling sea viewed from the bridge of a Coast Guard cutter.

Horner's hallmarks are awesome, suspense-laden musical motifs enhanced by superb recording---brass, chimes, winds, and thunderous bass-drum are here clearly separated throughout. In "The Ambush," Horner uses pianos, chimes, harp, and pipes to pump the adrenaline, and "The Laser-Guided Missile" is a reworking of Patriot Games' soft, lyrical, but ultimately sinister "Electronic Battlefield." Still, not just a rehash of Patriot Games, but a booster shot of Horner's driving, riveting, pulsing orchestral genius.

ELMER BERNSTEIN: The Magnificent Seven
James Sedares, Phoenix Symphony
Koch 3-7222-2HI (CD only). Michael Fine, prod.; Michael Fine, Andy Seagle, engs. DDD. TT: 64:25

This re-recording of the score of a classic Hollywood western from 1960 captures the movie's energy, dynamics, color, and violence, the melodies instantly evoking images of Western deserts and men on horseback. The romantic melodies and sinister chords may sound clichéd today, but they're woven into a pulsing, dynamic, lively orchestral texture that is totally captivating.

Individual instruments stand out with great clarity---listen for the whips, castanets, and double-bass in "After the Brawl," Bernstein's variation on Copland's Rodeo (but more melodic and catchy). The wall of double-bass, snare drum, timpani, and bass-drum on "Calvera's Return" will stretch your woofers to the limit, and the cymbal crash will clip your amp. This disc's sensational rendition of orchestral energy and dynamics, plus its many lyric and melodic moments, win it my vote for "1994 Orchestral Powerhouse."

Robert Harley

ZAPPA: The Yellow Shark
Peter Rundel, Frank Zappa, Ensemble Modern
Barking Pumpkin R2 71600 (CD only). Frank Zappa, prod.; Spencer Chrislu, Harry Andronis, Dave Dondorf, engs.; Todd Yvega, Synclavier asst. DDD. TT: 72:03

The Yellow Shark is undoubtedly the pinnacle of Zappa's extraordinarily rich musical legacy. For the first time, Zappa's orchestral music has been performed with technical skill and an obvious love for the music, and Ensemble Modern, the European contemporary-music chamber orchestra, brings out an expressiveness in these compositions long missing from Zappa's own recorded catalog.

These 19 compositions, some of which have been warhorses of Zappa's touring rock bands for decades, were selected from a series of triumphant September 1992 European concerts. I suspect that the very different treatment they receive here is what Zappa had envisioned all along, but had to wait for a group like Ensemble Modern to fully realize the music's potential. It's astonishing to consider that the beautiful, Stravinsky-esque "Exercise #4" was written the year Zappa graduated from high school.

The sound is spectacular. The multi-miked production lets you hear exactly what every instrument is doing (essential to this dense music), yet still has a tremendous sense of space, beautiful rendering of instrumental timbre, and startling dynamics. (XVII-2)

John McLaughlin, guitars; Dominique Di Piazza, bass; Trilok Gurtu, percussion
Verve 837 280-2 (CD only). John McLaughlin, prod.; Carlos Albrecht, Thomas Schmidt, engs. DDD? TT: 64:40

The chameleon-like McLaughlin plays mostly acoustic guitar here, but, unlike most trios, in which bass and percussion support the lead instrument, Qué Alegría features the three instruments as musical and sonic equals. The result is an irresistible combination of sympathetic ensemble playing and extended, soaring solo excursions. At times the music is abstract and introspective, requiring repeated and concentrated listening---not a record for background music or casual listening. Still, McLaughlin's playing continues to amaze; he evokes such a wide range of expression from the guitar, and his immense technical skill is always at the service of the music.

The recording quality is superb. The acoustic guitar has just the right combination of edge and delicacy; the mix between instruments is spot-on; dynamic contrast is very wide; and, best of all, the recording has a huge sense of space and depth.

Robert Hesson

BLOCH: Works for Piano & Orchestra
Concerto Symphonique for Piano and Orchestra, Scherzo Fantasque for Piano and Orchestra, Concerto Grosso 2
Micah Yui, piano; David Amos, London Symphony
Laurel LR-851CD (CD only). Dick Lewsey, eng.; Hershel Burke Gilbert, prod. ADD. TT: 68:33

Each year, this disc is among the few I consider as one to die for. Perhaps it has grown on me over time, because now I consider it a rather obvious choice. All three works are rarely recorded, and that makes the collection all the more precious. But the obvious love and dedication that have gone into both the performances and the recording are what really put this in an elite class. Micah Yui displays ample gifts and a powerful yet sensitive touch. Amos and the LSO are equally impressive, and the clear, robust sound is absolutely magnificent. (XVI-1)

BARTÓK: Concerto for Orchestra
Antal Dorati, London Symphony
Mercury Living Presence 432 017-2 (CD only). C. Robert ! Fine, chief eng.; Dennis Drake, CD mastering eng.; Wilma Cozart Fine, prod. ADD. TT: 71:33

Reiner or Dorati? Dorati or Reiner? What about Christoph von Dohnányi? For me, the question of who has conducted the finest performance of Bartók's Concerto always comes down to these three. And while I sense that the majority would probably go with Reiner, I cast my lot with Dorati---his rich Magyar rhythms and shadings present the work in its most dramatic and exotic light. Add in the historic Mercury sonics, and this rendering of the work is powerfully convincing. (XV-1)