1999 Records To Die For Page 13

Richard Schneider

SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphonies 4, 5
BRITTEN: Sinfonia da Requiem, Four Sea Interludes & Passacaglia from Peter Grimes

André Previn, Chicago Symphony (Shostakovich), London Symphony (Britten)
EMI 72658 (2 CDs). 1977/1998. Christopher Bishop, prod.; Christopher Palmer, eng. ADD. TT: 2:32:40

The Britten and Shostakovich Fifth notwithstanding, the R2D4 here is the Shostakovich Fourth. Voluntarily suppressed by the composer for nearly a quarter century, the piece is a living journey into the mind and soul of Shostakovich—a deeply haunted and disturbing view of the tarnished utopia in which he lived. Stalin and his apparatchiks would have hated it. Previn/CSO play out this complex and disturbing fabric as though they were improvising it on the spot. The perennial underrating of this 1977 recording is probably due to its initial release during the nadir of quality vinyl; it didn't appear on CD until late summer 1998, in EMI's Double Forte series. The excellent transfer allows the listener to focus on the details as well as the big picture, and the production provides a rare vindication for the Medinah Temple as a recording site. Those unfamiliar with this recording have no idea what they've been missing.

STRAUSS: Elektra
Alessandra Marc, Elektra; Deborah Voigt, Chrysothemis; Hanna Schwarz, Klytämnestra; Siegfried Jerusalem, Aegisth; Samuel Ramey, Orest; others; Vienna Philharmonic, Giuseppe Sinopoli
DG 453 429-2 (CD). 1997. Werner Mayer, prod.; Klaus Hiemann, Hans-Rudolf Muller, Jurgen Bulgrin, engs. DDD. TT: 103:10

For some operatic partisans, the golden age of Elektra climaxed with Birgit Nilsson on the Solti/London recording. No Klytämnestra will ever freak out as Jean Madeira did for Böhm/DG. And we'll never part with the superbly played, sung, led, and recorded excerpts by Reiner/ Borkh, et al, on RCA. But we live in the present, and every now and then the present gives us a gift. Here the cast interacts like a fully developed repertory company, the VPO has never in its long history been more finely polished (at no sacrifice to its traditional style), and Sinopoli has got to be on some kind of roll. Together they produce a seamless musical and sonic drama that will nail you to your seat. Performance and audio are inseparable phenomena in this case, and the DG production team has shown us what they can do when ears, taste, and common sense rule the technology. (XXI-1)

Jonathan Scull

Patricia Barber, vocals, piano, table knives on strings; John McLean, guitar; Michael Arnopol, bass; Mark Walker, drums; Dave Douglas, trumpet; Jeff Stitely, udu; Choral Thunder Vocal Choir
Premonition PREM-741-2 (CD). 1998. Patricia Barber, prod.; Jim Anderson, eng. AAD? TT: 67:49

Patricia Barber has struck my heart chakra with this recording, and it won't stop ringing. Thoughtful, extremely intelligent lyrics are mated to fabulous production values. The plucky bass lines, harmonic richness, the amazing speed and transparency, deliver a sound that's vivid and alive with impact and meaning. The bongos on my new theme song, "Postmodern Blues," will slay you, as will Barber's vocals, palpable beyond description. Set up on "Let it Rain" and feel the swing of the chorus's arms as they feelingly let fly with the lyrics. Gender-bend with Barber as she feelingly wraps her soul around "She's A Lady"—shades of Tom Jones—and kvell to "Light My Fire" as you've never heard it before. Amazing and wonderful, don't miss it, out in January 1999 on LP, hooray!

SCHUMANN: Symphonies 1-4, Manfred Overture
George Szell, Cleveland Orchestra
Sony Classical Masterworks Heritage MH2K 62349 (2 CDs). 1958-59/1996. Louise de la Fuente, reissue prod.; Ellen Fitton, Dawn Frank, reissue engs. ADD. TT: 2:15:47

Originally recorded in 1958 and '59 at Severance Hall in Cleveland, Ohio (won't Jack Renner be pleased), these tapes were optimized on a Studer transport modified with Cello electronics, then transferred by Sony engineers to Sonic Solutions' 20-bit digital format. The sound is phenomenal, the music sweeping and romantic, touching, powerful, and visceral. The beautifully done bound-in booklet contains ruminations by George Szell (in three languages) on the composer that should be required reading for anyone fancying themselves a romantic. When you kick back and let your long hair down for an evening of classical music, there are precious few better recordings to spin than these two CDs. (XXI-5)

David Sokol

'TIL TUESDAY: Everything's Different Now
Epic EK 44041 (CD). 1988. Rhett Davies, prod., eng.; Bruce Lampcov, Rob Jaczko, Steve Rinkoff, Mike Denneen, engs. AAD? TT: 39:48
Aimee Mann struck gold early, when she and her band 'Til Tuesday reached the Top 10 with their first single, "Voices Carry." Strangely, though, as Mann's commercial fortunes declined, her music got better—startlingly so. Mann has made two scrumptiously melodic solo albums in the '90s, but this, her final 'Til Tuesday album, is death-defyingly gorgeous. As she chronicles the breakup of a relationship from every conceivable angle, Mann is hopeful, resigned, strong, sad, even devastated, but always deeply human and compassionate. Her voice, one of the most angelic in all of popular music, falls somewhere between Sandy Denny's and Chrissie Hynde's, and her songs are as durable and dimensional as anything the Beatles ever recorded. Add guest songwriters like Elvis Costello, Matthew Sweet, and Jules Shear, and this record'll make you smile even as it breaks your heart.

JULES SHEAR: The Great Puzzle
Polydor 314 511 200-2 (CD). 1992. Stewart Lerman, Jules Shear, prods.; John Agnello, eng. AAD. TT: 51:05
Ever since his days with Jules and the Polar Bears in the late '70s, Jules Shear has been writing clever, personal songs that probe romance and life's other mysteries with passion and depth. Over the years he's scored a handful of pop breakthroughs, with songs recorded by Cyndi Lauper, Roger McGuinn, and the Bangles, but his own records do him proudest, and none is better or more solidly consistent than The Great Puzzle. Shear is a stellar storyteller with a keen sense of melody, so even as he mourns the loss of an eccentric old girlfriend, or ponders his desperation on a highway bound for Mendocino, he does so with an infectious jangle. And while his voice is something of a Jackson-Browne-meets-Bob-Dylan acquired taste, it's every bit as convincing, and even more intimate.