1995 Records To Die For Page 7

J. Gordon Holt

BARTÓK: Concerto for Orchestra
Fritz Reiner, Chicago SymphonyClassic LSC-1934 (LP only). AAA. TT: 37:01

Audiophiles who think RCA's original Living Stereo LPs were among the best ever made are in for a surprise. This re-mastering by Classic Records (from the original tapes) is better than anyone could have imagined the original tapes to be: highs are gorgeously and sumptuously smooth without being bland or dulled; the sound has immense inner detail; dynamic range is far greater than on the original; surface noise---on the first playing, at least---was nonexistent; and the bass is deep and weighty. The performance is legendary, and now the sound is good enough to do it justice. (XIV-1)

WALTON: Belshazzar's Feast; Improvisations on an Impromptu by Benjamin Britten
André Previn, London Symphony Orchestra & Chorus
Wilson Audiophile/EMI WEMI-0001 (LP only). Christopher Bishop, prod.; Christopher Parker, eng. AAA. TT: 53:25

Another re-release, this, too, will come as a revelation to anyone who owns the original EMI LP.

Like the Classic Records Bartók Concerto, this was cut from the master instead of from a protection copy; but, because the original dates from 1972 instead of 1958, the sound is commensurately better. Tremendous dynamic range, awesome bass, effortlessly smooth and detailed middles and highs, a vast soundstage with almost palpable boundaries, and a stupendous performance make this a landmark recording that may never be surpassed. A treasure, and truly a Record To Die For. Analog doesn't get much better than this! (XIV-1)

Beth Jacques

MIKE OLDFIELD: Tubular Bells
Virgin V21S-86007 (CD). Mike Oldfield, Simon Heyworth, Tom Newman, prods. AAD. TT: 48:50
Before the Philip Glass Ensemble there was British guitarist Mike Oldfield, who backed both folk-singer sister Sally and ex-Soft Machine headcase Kevin Ayer before busting out with rock music's first-ever "minimalist" multitrack composition, Tubular Bells, in 1973---ages 'n ages before MIDI or the digital sampler. Nope, Mike did it the hard way---the analog way, layering 28 tracks of instrumentation (most of which he played himself), and a wacky vocal "soundscape" from the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band's Viv Stanshall, into an enduring, drop-dead piece of music as sharply defined as Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring. So, okay---over time, popsters voted with their feet for the Puccini-like "melodious surf" of Pink Floyd and Alan Parsons; but don't forget: no Mike Oldfield, no Richard Branson.

Angel CDC 55138 2 (CD only). Maria Francisca Bonmati, prod.; Angel Barco, eng. DDD. TT: 57:36

More guys who were country before it was cool. If new age has any capacity whatsoever of putting the "inner child" in touch with the trees and the flowers and the birds, man, this combination of medieval Gregorian chants' monophonic construction and liturgical material (loosely, the Roman Catholic interpretation of the greater glory of God) quietly but inexorably propels the human spirit much, much higher than that. Like the work of John Adams, plainchant as a form deploys the abstract melody, an avoidance of harmony, and a freeform use of rhythm to induce a zen-like state of contemplation; whether you get there through full symphonic giganticism (Mahler), innocent eccentricity (The Bulgarian Women's Vocal Choir), or a transcendant dose of the English Mystics, a state of grace is a state of grace.

Barbara Jahn

TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony 6, Romeo & Juliet
Andrew Litton, Bournemouth Symphony
Virgin CDC 59239 2 (CD only). Mike Hatch, eng.; Andrew Keener, prod. DDD. TT: 67:01

After hearing so many hackneyed versions of the "Pathétique," it was wonderful to have my love for it renewed by this splendid performance from the BSO. Litton is an absolute master at balancing the volatility of this score, pacing its changes of tempo and mood between sections and movements with disarming intuition. The BSO responds with complementary understanding, the menacing impact of the brass a perfect foil to the elegance and fluidity of the strings. This goes for Romeo & Juliet, too.

The Hatch/Keener recording team live up to their reputation, focusing the image with great clarity, maintaining a high degree of detail, and reproducing an authentic spread across the soundstage. (XVII-1)

HOLLIGER: Scardanelli-Zyklus
Aurèle Nicolet, flute; London Voices; Terry Edwards & Heinz Holliger, Ensemble Modern
ECM 78118-21472-2 (2 CDs only). Andreas Neubronner, Markus Keiland, engs.; Manfred Eicher, prod. DDD. TT: 2:19:33

The great oboist Heinz Holliger's compositional voice is indeniably unique, his vision one of daunting fantasy and imagination, his expression both intellectually informed and gripping. I found the breadth of ideas here awe-inspiring, Holliger's tonal palette boasting an enormous spectrum of color, from swaths of almost static, hypnotic harmonies to fragments of frenzied aleatoric dissonance---all expressing the mental instability of the work's inspiration, the 19th-century German lyric poet Hölderlin. These 22 fragments for solo flute, mixed choir, small orchestra, and tape put immense demands on both performers and sound team. The result is exceptional---beautiful at times, thoroughly frightening at others. (XVII-4)