1996 Records To Die For Page 12

Mortimer H. Frank

MENDELSSOHN: Symphony 5 ("Reformation")
Arturo Toscanini, NBC Symphony
RCA 60284-2 (mono CD only). John Pfeiffer, remastering prod.; Arthur Fiero, remastering eng. ADD. TT: 63:59

I have never heard anything like this 1953 broadcast performance of this symphony---not in the concert hall, on record, or even in any of Toscanini's other NBC broadcasts. In this, his last performance of the work, he took what is considered a second-rate exercise in Victorian propriety and transformed it into a major masterpiece, lending the first movement an unmatched fierceness, the second an uncommon lightness, and the finale---in its imposing breadth and emotionally shattering coda---an overwhelming power and grandeur. The monophonic engineering, if narrow in focus and flat in its close perspective, is more naturally balanced than many stereo productions and offers an excellent replica of the lean, brassy, detailed sonority that Toscanini favored. A 1954 Toscanini b! roadcast of Mendelssohn's "Italian" Symphony included on this CD is also magnificent, but cannot, like that of the "Reformation," command the tag "Unique." (XV-9)

MOZART: String Quartets
K.387, 421, 428, 458, 464, 465, 499, 575, 589, 590
Suske Quartet
Berlin Classics BC 2116-2 (4 CDs only). Heniz Wagner, prod.; Jorst Kunze, eng. AAD. TT: 4:23:48

Recorded in 1971 and '72 but not issued Stateside until last year, these miraculous readings seem right in every way: technically proficient with immaculate attacks, pinpoint intonation, and perfectly gauged balances. The Suske Quartet (which disbanded in the late '70s) conveys the many marvels of this music---its harmonic daring, melodic richness, contrapuntal intricacy, and dramatic tension---without violating its elegant surface and Classical poise. Utterly free of mannerisms and benefiting from natural string tone and sharply focused stereo imaging that assigns a specific place to each musician, this set, at mid-price, is especially attractive.

Jack English

Dave Brubeck, piano; Paul Desmond, alto sax; Joe Morello, drums; Eugene Wright, bass
Columbia CL 1397 (mono LP), CS 8192 (stereo LP), CK 40585 (CD), CK 52860 (SBM CD). Teo Macero, prod.; Fred Plaut, Robert Waller, engs. AAA/AAD. TT: 38:32

I've loved this recording since its original release as a "six-eye" Columbia back in 1959. The music touched me emotionally as well as intellectually, from the haunting alto sax of Paul Desmond to the shifting crossrhythms propelled by Eugene Wright's bass and Joe Morello's drums. With Time Out, Dave Brubeck introduced a radical array of compound tempos that broke entirely new ground for improvisational jazz exploration. The Super Bit Mapped (SBM) CD was one of the first realistic digital presentations of cymbals I had ever heard; the icing on the cake will no doubt be a Classic Records vinyl reissue of this blockbuster. (XVI-6)

SIMPLY RED: Picture Book
Elektra E1/E2-60452 (LP/CD). Stewart Levine, prod.; Femi J, eng. AAA/AAD. TT: 44:28

Musical taste, like cultural values, is heavily influenced by factors of time, age, and place. Born in 1946, I grew up with rock where we sang the songs and created the dances (the Chicken-Back, the Bullwinkle Bounce). Unfortunately, most early rock recordings had a characteristic 'garage' sound. Then, in 1985, Simply Red released this beautifully recorded throwback featuring the stunningly lovely vocals of Mick Hucknall. Picture Book is packed with slow songs, mini-raveups, and captivating story lines ("Heaven, a place where nothing ever happens"). While the album is admittedly soft for rock, closer to pop-fusion, I've continued to play and admire this spectacular recording for more than a decade.

Shannon Dickson

John Coltrane & Johnny HartmanJohn Coltrane, tenor sax; McCoy Tyner, piano; Jimmy Garrison, bass; Elvin Jones, drums; Johnny Hartman, vocals
MCA/Impulse GR-157 (LP). Bob Thiele, prod.; Rudy Van Gelder, eng.; Erick Labson, remastering. AAA. TT: 30:34

1995 saw a fitting revival of interest in John Coltrane's abbreviated but unforgettable career. Though perhaps best known for complex and intensely powerful improvisations, this album, along with Ballads---another recent MCA reissue from the same 1962-63 period---marks a more disciplined but no less brilliant phase in Coltrane's maturation. The interplay of Coltrane's direct and wonderfully melodic phrasings with the elixir-like richness and clarity of Hartman's voice is so seamless that, at times, you hardly notice when one takes over for the other. Music-making of the highest order, and the perfect way to unwind after a week of hard work. While a mint copy of the original is still a gem, the new 180gm MCA/Impulse reissue sounds great.

THE ROYAL BALLET:Gala Performances
Suites from The Nutcracker, La Boutique, Coppelia, Giselle, Swan Lake, Carnaval, Sleeping Beauty, Les Sylphides
Ernest Ansermet, Royal Opera House Orchestra, Covent Garden
Classic Records/RCA Living Stereo Soria Series LDS-6065 (2 LPs). TBA: Classic Records 45rpm limited edition. AAA. TT: 89:22

By the time you read this, Classic Records will have announced the release of a number of their RCA Living Stereo and Verve jazz reissues as 45rpm limited-edition blockbusters! It took only one listen to a selection of these albums, all of which are truly Records To Die For even at normal speed, to convince me I could easily fill my R2D4 quota---and then some---by randomly selecting any five of the bunch. However, these excerpts from some of the all-time favorite dance scores, elicited from The Royal Ballet by Ansermet at London's Kingsway Hall in 1957, stand as one of the true highlights of recorded music history. If you think this music is glorious at 331/3, wait 'til you hear it translated at 45rpm: major increases in dynamics, resolution, richness of timbre, and startling presence. (XVIII-6)

BILLIE HOLIDAY: Songs for Distingué Lovers
Harry "Sweets" Edison, trumpet; Ben Webster, tenor sax; Jimmy Rowles, piano; Barry Kessel, guitar; Red Mitchell, Alvin Stoller, bass; Joe Mondragon, Larry Bunker, drums
Classic Records/Verve MGVS-6021 (LP, 45rpm version preferred). Norman Granz, prod. AAA.

One of the few recordings of Billie Holiday captured in the early days of stereo (early 1957), this session was recorded direct to two-track at Capital studios in Hollywood. The original issue was cut using -3dB filters at 55Hz and around 12.5kHz, resulting in a midrange emphasis that sacrificed much of the dynamics and harmonic detail, regardless of how pretty it sounded. While revealing early stereo recording techniques, Classic's reissue is rich, full, and "there." I'd have no problem selecting this as an R2D4 at 331/3, both for its musical and historical qualities, but at 45rpm its a slam-dunk! Holiday and her able cohorts simply manifest in your living room on such beauties as "Stars Fell on Alabama." If the new high-rez CD format currently in the works has an impact on digital playback roughly proportional to that of a properly cut 45rpm compared with normal LP, we'll all be happy campers. (XVIII-9)

MADELEINE DRING: Shades of Dring
Music by Madeleine Dring, arranged by Lennie Niehaus and performed by Leigh Kaplan, piano; Ray Brown, bass; Shelly Manne, drums; Bud Shank, Bill Perkins, flute & alto sax
Cambria Records C-1016 (LP). Earl & Leigh Ann Kaplan, Lance Bowling, prods.; Rick Riccio, eng. AAA. TT: 31:52

Each track on Shades of Dring is aptly named for a color that English composer Madeleine Dring associated with a specific pitch---a quality she possessed perfectly (pitch, that is). The album is full of intricate counterpoint and rhythm, and wonderfully lyrical interpretations of the suites---try "Saxy Blue" and you'll see why I dig this album so much. The recording is direct to two-track, 30ips, with mixed-on-the-spot immediacy. Unopened copies of this 1981 release are still available from record dealers.

ZZ TOP: Tres Hombres
Billy Gibbons, guitar, vocals; Dusty Hill, bass, vocals; Frank "Rube" Beard, drums
London XPS 631 (LP). Bill Ham, prod.; Terry Manning, Robin Brian, engs. AAA. TT: 33:24

"In the Fine Texas Tradition," Tres Hombres displays a quintessential American rock band at full steam. Every cut is a knock-out of hard-drivin' yet intelligible rhythm underpinning Gibbons' virtuosic guitar, and with lyrics guaranteed to make you grin ("La Grange"). In any event, the London original of Tres Hombres is very well recorded with an clean, up-front, minimally processed sound. While good used copies can readily be found, here's hoping someone will do a killer reissue.