1998 Records To Die For Page 5

Shannon Dickson

CHARLIE HADEN & PAT METHENY: Beyond the Missouri Sky
Charlie Haden, bass; Pat Metheny, acoustic guitars, all other instruments.
Verve 537-130-2 (CD). 1997. Charlie Haden, Pat Metheny, prods.; J. Newland, eng.; Ted Jensen, mastering eng. DDD. TT: 66:71

Beautiful, soothing, uplifting, and evocative music-making of the highest order. This collaboration between two of the very best string musicians anywhere can't help but inspire any listener with a sense of sublime awe. A rare gift of music, able to manifest so effortlessly a sense of space and place from the musicians' minds and hearts that they obviously hold dear. The stress of life got you down? Spin this one and that necktie will loosen considerably. Texture, tone, and masterful skill abound through the 13 "short stories" presented here.

Though Missouri Sky originally was planned as a simple duet, Haden and Metheny wisely fleshed out a number of these tunes with additional instruments where called for, but only after the original duet versions were in the can. The result is a true record to die for in any year.

STRAVINSKY: The Firebird
Antal Dorati, The London Symphony Orchestra
Mercury Living Presence/Classic Records SR90226 (LP). 1960/1997. Wilma Cozart, C.R. Fine, Harold Lawrence, prods. Bernie Grundman, re-issue mastering eng. AAD? No time listed.

An audiophile LP every music lover with a turntable should own. The spectacular sonics that Mercury Living Presence recordings are renowned for have been resurrected in full glory here by the Classic Records team with the invaluable contributions of Wilma Cozart Fine. It's the performance, though, that really sets this one apart. While I'm not an authority on Stravinsky's Firebird discography, this one surely must stand near the top. Colorful harmonic flavor and often startling rhythmic changes create an enthralling and beautiful tapestry from which the dance, no doubt, sprang with natural ease. The dynamics galore will challenge many a high-end system's resolving power and composure.

Mortimer H. Frank

HAYDN: The Paris Symphonies (Nos. 82-87)
Leonard Bernstein, New York Philharmonic
Sony Classical SM2K 47550 (2 CDs). 1963-68. John McClure, prod.; Fred Flaut, Ed Michalski, engs. ADD. TT: 2:24:50

These performances---with a big orchestra that surely echoes the nearly 100-piece Paris ensemble for which they were composed---are among Bernstein's finest achievements. Scholarly in their use of the most up-to-date editions and observance of such 18th-century customs as beginning trills from the upper-auxiliary note, they remain free of pedantry in their wide-ranging emotional impact. Outer movements are aptly vibrant; slow movements and minuets judiciously paced according to Haydn's tempo instructions; and the composer's pointed orchestrations, stark dramatic contrasts, and witty surprises are fully clarified. Moreover, the CDs transfer sound more open and less cramped than their LP antecedents.
With: Meerestille und glückliche Fahrt
Charlotte Margiono, soprano; Catherine Robbin, mezzo; William Kendall, tenor; Alastair Miles, bass; The Monteverdi Choir, Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique, John Eliot Gardiner
Archiv 435 391-2 (CD). 1993. Werner Mayer, prod.; Klaus Scheibe, eng. DDD. TT: 50:00

Overshadowed by the later Missa Solemnis, this earlier setting of the Mass remains one of Beethoven's finest middle-period works---one blending delicate lyricism, brash dissonance, and eruptive grandeur in a way that foreshadows not only the Missa, but also Schubert's two late Masses. As heard in this period-instrument account, the Mass in C emerges with a color, animation, and haunting beauty unmatched in any other recording of this work I have heard. And unlike some "authentic" ensembles, Gardiner's is free of the pinched nasality that makes so many period-instrument orchestras sound ugly. An exceptionally wide dynamic range provides a fine argument for the superiority of digital technology. The CD is filled out with another fine Gardiner-led performance: that of Beethoven's brief, little-known choral work, Meerestille und glückliche Fahrt.

Michael Fremer

Drag City DC134 (LP). 1997. Scott Walker, prod.; Peter Walsh, prod., eng. AAA/AAD. TT: 54:58

Yes, it's the Scott of The Walker Brothers, but no Righteous Brothers cum Phil Spector pop album this. It's a dark, forbidding, but strangely beautiful song cycle dealing with isolation, torture, and yes, madness. Sort of like writing for Stereophile, though we do it without the beneficial backwash of a fabulous string section, which Walker employs to great dramatic effect, along with a host of acoustic instruments and a big pipe organ.

Walker describes his distinctive baritone here as "strangled Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau"; for non-lieder fans, how about "Bryan Ferry on 'Ludes" or "The Moody Blues on a really bad acid trip"? Totally original and not to be missed.

ATAULFO ARGENTA: Ataulfo Argenta Edition
Music of Bretón, Falla, Halffter, Rodrigo, Turina, others
Ataulfo Argenta, National Orchestra of Spain, Gran Orquesta Sinfonica
Alto Analogue AA006 (5 LPs, 1 12" 45rpm). 1997. Nick Webb, remastering eng. AAA. TT: 4:35:26

Like your classical music served up on a bed of "rich Corinthian leather"? Then you'll devour whole this gorgeous-sounding reissue box. Argenta, the handsome, dashing Spaniard, succumbed to carbon-monoxide poisoning in 1958 at age 44, having gotten his motor running but forgotten to head out on the highway. Fortunately he left behind a bountiful legacy of recordings featuring Spanish composers, the most famous of whom are Rodrigo and Falla. This limited-edition set, mastered from original tapes at Abbey Road, is worth owning just for the exquisite Concierto de Aranjuez with guitarist Narciso Yepes, but the rest ain't chopped paella, either. Sets new sonic standards for classical music reissues. Buy, or die regretting it. (XX-12)

Larry Greenhill

VERDI: Rigoletto
Sherill Milnes, Rigoletto; Joan Sutherland, Gilda; Luciano Pavarotti, Duke of Mantua; Martti Talvela, Sparafucile; Gillian Knight, Giovanna; John Gibbs, Count Ceprano; Kiri Te Kanawa, Countess Ceprano; London Symphony, Richard Bonynge
London 414 269-2 (2 CDs). 1971. David Harvey, Michael Woolcock, prods.; Kenneth Wilkinson, Stanley Goodall, engs. AAD. TT: 118:38

This is a stunning recording, even after 26 years. Richard Bonynge's interpretation of Verdi's score is intuitive, knowledgeable, and enlightening. Soloists, chorus, and orchestra are talented and inspired, delivering highly dramatic and involving performances. This recording best demonstrates the range, timbre, power, dynamics, and soundstaging of voices. Sutherland's interpretation of "Gualtier Malde...nome di lui si amato") is so beguiling and lovely that I never tire of its quiet sweetness. Sherill Milnes' voice is deep, rich, and glowing ("melts me like butter," my notes state), particularly in the Act I, ii duet with Giovanna, "Ah! Veglia, o donna, questo fiore." The younger Pavarotti heard here has amazing range, power, and clarity, so much so that his high note in "Questa o quella per me pari sono" has become a make-or-break test for midrange drivers.

Old as it is, this recording has it all: sonics, soundstaging, dynamics, vocal timbre, and the best example of the beauty of the human voice I have in my collection of recordings.

Reprise 46702-2 (CD). 1997. Lindsey Buckingham, prod.; Elliot Scheiner, prod., eng.; Barry Goldberg, eng. DDD. TT: 79:15

As I get older, I think about those exciting performers in their mid-20s who captivated me in my 20s and early 30s. They've aged with me, but can they still deliver? Most definitely yes! Besides a tendency to avoid the very high notes, Stevie Nicks' raw, wistful vocals have the accurate pitch and musicianship she displayed years ago. Her new version of "Rhiannon" is slightly slower in tempo, but has more raw sexual energy than she brought to it years ago. I always liked Christine McVie's voice the best, and she continues to deliver her superb phrasing, pace, and vocal color to "Say You Love Me." Best are the vocal harmonies and blending achieved when the whole band joins in, as in the opening "The Chain." Overall, the production values of the staging, orchestration, background vocals, mixing, and mastering make this album the equal of the band's original albums.