1996 Records To Die For Page 3

Sam Tellig

PROKOFIEV: Romeo and Juliet
Excerpts from Suites 1, 2, & 3
Myung-Whun Chung, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
DG 439 870-2 (CD only). Lennart Dehn, prod.; Wolfgang Mitlehner, Tonmeister; Reinhard Lagemann, eng. DDD. TT: 63:22

Since the mid-'80s, Myung-Whun Chung has conducted mainly opera. The experience shows. This performance/recording has everything: delicacy, subtlety, a wonderful way of bringing out details in the score---and, most of all, drama. What it avoids is bombast---the entire performance is very well thought out, with a real a sense of the story unfolding---not just a striving for effect.

The recording is remarkable. The Concertgebouw is one of the world's great concert halls and recording venues, which no doubt helps the recording. But DG's engineers can take credit for the natural, detailed, airy recording, and its natural soundstaging. Don't set your level too high when you play the first track: the dynamic range will be a shock.

Kurt Sanderling, Cleveland Orchestra
Erato 45815-2 (CD only). Friedemann Engelbrecht, prod.; Eberhard Sengpiel, Everett Porter, engs. DDD. TT: 50:38

This is a superb performance and a state-of-the-art recording---audiophiles will especially dig the soundstaging. The symphony, Shostakovich's last, may represent the cycle of human existence from childhood through mature adulthood. I'm reminded of Mahler's Ninth Symphony---a much different work, of course (the Shostakovich is much more sparingly scored, for one thing)---but also one with intimations of morality crowned by a certain acceptance and serenity. Heavy borrowing from Wagner in the finale's Adagio. Sanderling was 80 when he recorded this---his years are in the performance. Get this before it's deleted. (XVI-12)
With: Incidental Music to The Gadfly
Maxim Shostakovich, London Symphony
Collins Classics 12062 (CD only). Andrew Keener, prod.; Simon Rhodes, eng. DDD. TT: 80:54

Candor compels me to point out that the disc recommended above is a bit short on playing time. This Collins Classic CD also gets you The Gadfly, perhaps Shostakovich's most successful film score. The score's moments of bombast are offset by its moments of great lyrical beauty---especially the "Romance," with Peter Thomas's violin solo. Superb recordings of both Gadfly and Symphony 15, but the latter doesn't cast the same spell as the Sanderling version. Still, an indispensable disc for all lovers of Shostakovich. Gadfly's great dynamic range will test the limits of your system..

Steve Stoner

Verve 314 521 643-2 (CD only). Norman Granz, prod.; Gary Mayo, mastering. AAD. TT: 72:01
Originally recorded in November 1955, this long-out-of-print recording pairs two of the most popular drummers of all time in the studio. What makes it a must-have is its historical significance: not only do we get Krupa and Rich in the same studio working together instead of against each other. (Krupa and Rich were friendly rivals during the heyday of the big-band era; during the '50s and '60s both toured together with the Jazz at the Philharmonic concerts, the highlight being the famous "drum battle."). We also get jazz heavyweights Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Eldridge, and Oscar Peterson as sidemen. Killer! The original album cover says "a Panoramic True HI-FI Recording." It sounds like mono or, at the very best, "questionable" stereo. Check it out anyway; even if you're not a drum-head like me, you won't be disappointed.
THE WHO: Live at Leeds
MCA MCAD-11215 (CD). The Who, Jon Astley, prods.; Andy Macpherson, Jon Astley, remixing & remastering. A?D. TT: 77:08
This is the second time Leeds has made it to R2D4; Corey Greenberg recommended the original back in February '92. The new, improved version picks up where the original left off: eight more songs of the same caliber, high energy, and volume (sounds like everybody involved maxed their volume knobs to "11" and broke 'em off...yeah!) of the original six found on the 1970 issue, a better mix ("Crackling Noises Have Been Corrected!"), and some great quips from the usually silent (vocally, anyway) Keith Moon. For those of you who wonder what all the excitement of an original (before Moon's demise) Who concert was about, look no further than this disc. (XV-2, XVIII-5).

Steven Stone

PolyGram 314 526 699-2 (CD). Rick Chertoff, prod.; William Wittman, eng. TT: 61:19
Just what this world needs: another white-chick R&B singer. Rather than a female version of Michael Bolton, Joan Osborne combines Buffy St. Marie, Fontella Bass, and Ray Charles in one smokin' package. She wrote most of the material on Relish except for a Dylan tune, a ditty by her guitarist, and a cover of the Sonny Boy Williamson blues chestnut "Help Me." Her version sounds as if it comes from beyond the grave. Her own songs have wit, stylish hooks and bridges, and wicked rhythms. My favorite, "Spider Web" is a tribute to Ray Charles. Her fantasy revolves around what might happen if Ray woke up one morning with his vision intact. "Since I got my eyesight back, my voice has just deserted me. / No 'Georgia On My Mind' no more. / I stay in bed with MTV."

Trust me, the world needs Joan Osborne.

SUSAN WERNER: Last of the Good Straight Girls
Private Music 82126-2 (CD only). Fernando Saunders, prod.; Dan Grigsby, eng. TT: 48:30
Susan Werner's songs are emotionally honest, just like her unaffected alto voice and direct green-eyed gaze. Her music is intimate without being maudlin or exhibitionistic. A cover of Paul Simon's "Something So Right" is so perfectly realized that it makes all other versions, including Simon's own, superfluous. Fernando Saunders (ex-Lou Reed bass player) delivers a superb production job with sympathetic arrangements and judicious choices in sidemen. Marshall Crenshaw, Mitchell Froom, and Greg Leisz also grace this disc. Choice lyrical tidbits include "Gone are the days of the corduroy jumpers and your very first string of pearls. It's key in the hand and gun in the pocket for the last of the good straight girls."