2005 Records To Die For Page 9


BEETHOVEN: Missa Solemnis
Teresa Stich-Randall, soprano; Norma Procter, contralto; Richard Lewis, tenor; Kim Borg, bass; BBC Chorus & Symphony Orchestra; Jascha Horenstein
BBC Music BBCL 4150-2 (2 CDs). 2004. Tony Faulkner, remastering. ADD. TT: 112:06
There comes a point where you close the book on particular artists from the past, having heard their studio recordings at every possible career stage, plus any number of live radio broadcasts. Yet the late, Russian-born conductor Jascha Horenstein continues to astonish from beyond the grave. The truly great recordings of Beethoven's gargantuan, multilayered Missa Solemnis can be counted on one hand, and this 1961 performance, now released in the US for the first time, is one of them—all parties concerned sound seized with near-superhuman fervor. In a live recording, that can also mean a loss of technical composure, but that doesn't happen here. The soloists are in particularly fresh voice, and the chorus copes with Beethoven's difficult vocal writing with exceptional resourcefulness. The sound has exceptional breadth for its time, considering that it came not from a concert hall but a radio studio. The second-disc fillers are Schubert's Symphony 8 ("Unfinished") and Wagner's Faust Overture, from concerts in 1971 and 1972, respectively; those performances are intense, too, though such music making is rather more common in this repertoire than in the Beethoven mass.

MONTEVERDI: Vespro della beata vergine da concerto (1610)
Roberta Invernizzi, Monica Piccinini, Anna Simboli, sopranos; Sara Mingardo, contralto; Francesco Ghelardini, alto; Vincenzo di Donato, Luca Dordolo, Gianluca Ferrarini, tenors; Pietro Spagnoli, Furio Zanasi, baritones; Antonio Abete, Daniele Carnovich, basses; Concerto Italiano, Rinaldo Alessandrini
Naïve Op 30403 (2 CDs). 2004. Lawrence Heym, prod.; Pierre-Antoine Signoret, eng. DDD. TT: 106:27
Recorded in April 2004, this latest Monteverdi Vespers signifies yet another advance in the performance practice of this great work, one that explores all manner of vocal, spatial, and instrumental pairings. If the rediscovery of this sprawling piece over the past several decades has been a continual process of accepting it on its own terms (which are often remote and difficult to understand), this performance does so by not inflating the choral sonorities (there's just one singer to a part) and replacing the slam-bang rhythmic propulsion of other recordings with a communicative urgency based on the words—which are projected with exceptional vocal robustness. Many of the singers (eg, Sara Mingardo) have considerable baroque opera careers, so there's not the kind of vocal timidity that's sometimes heard from the early-music community, and much of that energy is spent on revealing the strength of the music's lyricism. Alessandrini enjoys stretching the melodic lines for the sake of even greater effect. In preparing his edition of the piece and conducting the performance, Alessandrini also refuses to impose any modern sense of unity, instead celebrating the music's vast diversity. The recording quality is crucial here; the Farnese Palace in Rome provided the right balance of radiance, spaciousness, and sonic focus.


Cedar Walton, piano; Cucho Martinez, bass; Ray Mantilla, percussion
High Note HCD 7099 (CD). 2002. Don Sickler, prod.; Rudy Van Gelder, eng. DDD. TT: 53:42
Pianist Cedar Walton's 2002 look at the Latin side of jazz—an aspect of music the Dallas native has embraced since his early days in New York in the late 1950s—is luxurious, relaxed, and deeply musical. Working with conga drummer and bongoist Ray Mantilla, a former Walton colleague who has played with the likes of Art Blakey and Max Roach, and bassist Cucho Martinez, Walton creates dreamy renditions that result in the magical, hard-to-find blend of easy listening and high art. It all brims with quiet, alluring vigor, from the Latin standards "Besame Mucho," "Perfidia," and "Brazil" to the originals "Latin America" and "The Vision." In its modest way, a perfect recording.

SONNY ROLLINS: Saxophone Colossus
Sonny Rollins, tenor sax; Tommy Flanagan, piano; Doug Watkins, bass; Max Roach, drums
Prestige 7079 (CD). 1956. Bob Weinstock, prod.; Rudy Van Gelder, eng. AAD. TT: 39:45
June 22, 1956, was a day when Rollins, already a monster at three months shy of 26, was on—when, as he'd put it, the music played through him. And what glorious music it is. This album, which I have listened to hundreds of times since buying it around 1960, never loses its glow. Rollins' bravura tone, his driving, unshakable rhythm, his way of playing line after engaging line, lift everything. Four examples: the captivating "You Don't Know What Love Is," taken at three tempos, from slow to fast; the bubbling calypso "St. Thomas," with a song-like Roach solo; the sturdy, speeding "Strode Rode"; and the surprising heft of "Moritat," aka "Mack the Knife." A truly remarkable document. (XVIII-2, 9, 12, XX-2)


In the Red ITR056 (CD). 1998. Mick Collins, prod.; Jim Diamond, eng. DDD. TT: 50:44
My album of the year when it was released, this has become a party icon, a meeting of old-school R&B and hard rock that's exhilarating in an infinite number of ways, particularly while driving in an old car. Maybe that's because "Bring Me Back My Car Unstripped," the ultimate garage-rock blaxploitation anthem, has a rhythm section that includes people playing auto fenders, brake drums, and car bumpers. Other anthems, such as "Agile, Mobile & Hostile," "Car With the Star," and "I Wanna Be Your Favorite Pair of Pajamas," make this an album for the ages.

MARY McBRIDE: By Any Other Name
Rye 112 (CD). 2004. Lou Whitney, prod. and eng. AAD?. TT: 45:34
Mary McBride is an American original equally at home in the vast expanses of the heartland and the mean streets of New York. "Black-Eyed Strays," one of the outstanding pieces of writing she delivers on By Any Other Name, seems to embody this duality. Elsewhere she writes beautifully about love ("Falling"), lust ("Stop Don't Stop"), longing ("I Got Everything"), and her very being ("No Time" and the title track), but most tellingly, this accomplished playwright and actress has a jaw-dropping gift for character development and storytelling, as the remarkable "Toll Girl" and "Semi-Star" illustrate. Steve Wynn and Dan Baird are collaborators here.


With: Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture
Marin Alsop, Colorado Symphony Orchestra
Naxos 8.555714 (CD). 2002. Karen Chester, prod.; Marc Stedman, eng. DDD. TT: 63:56
This is the launch of Naxos' American Symphony Orchestra series, in which the spotlight is on the ensembles and the performers rather than the repertory. It took a nudge from Naxos for me to listen to this disc, and it took me completely by surprise. Marin Alsop (that's Marina with the last a deleted) is an excellent conductor, as we've heard with her Samuel Barber cycle for Naxos' American Classics series. This is a distinctly feminine reading of Symphony 4, but no flames, please—I love it! Most performances seem to be filled with male hormones running rampant. Not here. Alsop stops to smell the flowers, as it were, lingering over beautiful moments in the score, especially from the woodwinds. The orchestra, while not quite front-rank (ensemble playing is not up to Big Five standards), has many excellent soloists. Woodwind and brass players seem especially talented. Alsop takes 19:25 for the first movement—not that slow. Pletnev, on DG, takes 18:49, while Jansons on Chandos clocks in at 17:34. A must-have disc for lovers of Russian music.

CARTER: Symphony 1, Piano Concerto, Holiday Overture
Mark Wait, piano; Kenneth Schermerhorn, Nashville Symphony Orchestra
Naxos 8.559151 (CD). 2004. Peter Newbie, prod., ed.; Andrew Lang, eng. DDD. TT: 62:43
Another surprise disc from Naxos, this from their American Classics series, which is becoming (in criticspeak) indispensable. The program is interesting. The Holiday Overture and Symphony 1 date from a period when Elliott Carter was writing "approachable" music more or less in the "populist" style of Aaron Copland or Roy Harris. The Symphony, whose original version premiered in 1942 (this is the 1954 revision), has its roots in the 1930s. I find it a most appealing work, especially the second movement. Scored for small orchestra, the work's harmonics are mostly diatonic—a far cry from what we associate with the later Carter, and which we hear in the two-movement Piano Concerto (1964–65). That work is dedicated to Stravinsky, and sounds it. The rapid-fire, highly percussive sound of the piano is in stark contrast to what's going on in the orchestra. Cacophonies? Yes, a little—I hear distinct echoes of The Rite of Spring. But I find this work, too, more approachable than I might have two decades ago. A fascinating disc with excellent playing, and superbly recorded.


HAYDN: The Seasons
Marlis Petersen, soprano; Werner Güra, tenor; Dietrich Henschel, baritone; RIAS-Kammerchor, Freiburger Barockorchester; René Jacobs
Harmonia Mundi HMC 901829.30 (2 CDs). 2004. Martin Sauer, prod.; René Möller, eng. DDD. TT: 2:05:00
I never really liked this oratorio—until I heard Jacobs and this excellent choir and orchestra tear into the work, infusing it with compelling drama and vividly illuminating Haydn's colorful orchestration. It was worth waiting for—now if they can just do the same for The Creation...

VIVALDI: Sacred Music, Vol.9
Laudate pueri, RV 602; Salve Regina, RV 618; Ascende laeta, RV 635; Gaude mater Ecclesia, RV 613; Vos aurae per montes, RV 634; Gloria Patri, RV 602a (from Laudate pueri)
Carolyn Sampson, Susan Gritton, Joanne Lunn, soprano; Joyce DiDonato, mezzo-soprano; Nathalie Stutzmann, contralto; Choir of the King's Consort, The King's Consort, Robert King
Hyperion CDA66839 (CD). 2003. Ben Turner, prod.; Philip Hobbs, eng. DDD. TT: 66:42
This joins my list primarily because of the sensational young mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, whose rendition of the solo motet Ascende laeta alone is worth the price of this CD. Everything and everyone else on the program is great, too—but even in a world containing some wonderful mezzos, DiDonato is something special. Whenever anyone asks for a recommendation of phenomenal singing, I tell them to listen to this.


ANGELIQUE KIDJO: Keep On Moving: The Best of Angelique Kidjo
Wrasse CK 85758 (CD). 2001. Peter Mokran, Will Mowat, David Z., prods., engs.; Jean Hebrail, Joe Galdo, prods.; Christophe Dupouy, Ben A. Holt, Ron Lowe, Cesar Sogbe, Brian Poer, engs. DDD? TT: 74:10
Thank you, Sirius Satellite Radio. During a late-night drive, I discovered Angelique Kidjo on Sirius Disorder, the service's genre-free channel, and bought this disc the next day. A performer since childhood—as a preschooler, she was an actor-dancer in her mother's theater troupe—by age 20 Kidjo had become one of Benin's preeminent vocalists. Now based in Paris, she draws from a wide variety of influences for her deeply rooted African music, including sources as diverse as the Beatles, James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, Aretha Franklin, Fela Kuti, Miriam Makeba, and Carlos Santana. A distillation of Kidjo's first five albums, Keep On Moving is a gourmand's smorgasbord of vocal and rhythmic invention, haunting melodies, and compelling arrangements, all of it lushly recorded and lovingly rendered. "Summertime" and "Voodoo Child" are easy points of entry for listeners just beginning to explore the rich territory of world music.

MARVIN GAYE: What's Going On?
Motown 3746353392 (CD). 1971. Marvin Gaye, prod.; Lawrence Miles, Art Stewart, Joe Atkinson, James Green, engs. AAD. TT: 35:31
It's a rare work that both defines its time and proves timeless. That's the essence of What's Going On? , Marvin Gaye's groundbreaking 1971 masterpiece. Rejected by Motown executive Berry Gordy because it was conceived as a single piece rather than a collection of singles, the LP was first issued on the Tamla label. The outcome of a long period of personal and political turmoil—Gaye's singing partner, Tammi Terrell, had died of a brain tumor, he had gone through a divorce, and his brother Frankie had recently returned from combat in Vietnam— What's Going On? addresses the issues of war, poverty, environmental destruction, urban blight, and personal despair with an uplifting message of hope. The title song, "Mercy Mercy Me," and "Inner City Blues" remain as vibrant and relevant today as they were 34 years ago. Gaye's own tragic end—he was killed in 1984 by his preacher father during a family squabble—only underscores the poignancy of this disc. As Nick Lowe and Elvis Costello would repeat years later, "What's so funny about peace, love, and understanding?" Reissued and remastered several times, What's Going On? is available in many editions, including, reportedly, a hi-rez version. All are worth investigating. (XXV-11)