Music in the Round #33 Recordings In The Round

Sidebar 2: Recordings In The Round

BIBER: Rosenkranz Sonatas
Riccardo Minasi, violin; Bizzarrie Armoniche
Arts Music 47735-8 (2 SACDs)

This glorious, ecstatic music is brilliantly performed and beautifully recorded. I have always been a fan of Biber's rich, spicy, chromatic flavorings, but this is the most colorful realization I have yet heard of these works, aka the Mystery Sonatas. Violinist Riccardo Minasi, recorded fairly close-up, exudes power and brilliance, recalling Jascha Heifetz's treatment of the Vitali Chaconne, but without overpowering the acoustic or the accompaniment. The latter, by Bizzarrie Armoniche, is varied and far more colorful than in Andrew Manze's excellent but more conservative recording (CD, Harmonia Mundi HMU 907321.22). A winner in every way.

ORLANDO CONSORT: Scattered Rhymes
Music of Gavin Bryars, Guillaume Dufay, Guillaume de Machaut, Tarik O'Regan
The Orlando Consort; Paul Hillier, dir.
Harmonia Mundi HMU 807469 (SACD)

TARIK O'REGAN: Threshold of Night
Craig Hella Johnson, Company of Voices, Conspirare
Harmonia Mundi HMU 807490 (SACD)

No beautiful and approachable new music in this new century? Placed in the historic context of Machaut and Dufay, the choral music of Gavin Bryars and, especially, Tarik O'Regan clearly proves otherwise. The polyphonic structures are modernized and endowed with a new clarity and new tonalities, but the choral sounds remain vaporously encompassing. The transparency of the recording reveals the individuality of the Orlando Consort's voices and places them in a large ambience.

Threshold of Night comprises settings for voices, with or without strings, of poems by Dickinson, Poe, Raine, Neruda, and Fletcher. In each piece, O'Regan has captured and underscored the meaning of the words. Although composed over a span of several years, the individual settings combine well to produce an eminently satisfying experience. The Poe poems, The Ecstasies Above, are particularly ripe and moving, and "Threnody" is effectively dramatic. The performances by this larger group share with the Orlando Consort a detailed clarity, but with a smoother, more integrated sound in a less engulfing acoustic. The strings are beautifully captured.

SCHMIDT: Das Buch mit Sieben Siegeln
Soloists; Kristjan Järvi, Wiener Singverein, Lower Austria Tonkünstler Orchestra
Chandos CHSA 5061(2) (2 SACDs)

This magnum opus of Franz Schmidt (1874–1939) is a monumental setting of the Book of Revelation, with all the attendant apocalyptic implications and calls for huge performing forces. Composed in the mid-1930s, its style combines those of early Richard Strauss and late Gustav Mahler, and cries out for high-resolution multichannel sound to convey it all. Kristjan Järvi paces and controls everything dramatically—the explosive setting of the opening of the Sixth Seal is nearly overwhelming. Much of this music is declarative and, ultimately, perorating, but the sounds are simply gorgeous. Chandos's sound is big, with a wide dynamic range, and greater presence than is usual from the label.

And a big heads up: By the time this issue appears, Universal will have released their first series of Deutsche Grammophon and Decca/London Blu-ray titles (estimated street date: October 28). I managed to get my hands and ears on a check disc of Massenet's Manon (DG), with Anna Netrebko and Rolando VillazÛn. The sound is outstandingly good, with a solid mid-hall perspective and excellent balance between singers and orchestra.—Kalman Rubinson