Composers – Sa/Sc

girl-penguinSaint-Saëns, Camille

SAINT-SAËNS: Allegro appasionato. Le Carnaval des Animaux: The Swan / Emanuel Feuermann, cellist; Michael Taube, pianist / available for free streaming on You Tube by clicking on individual titles above

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SAINT-SAËNS: Cello Concerto No. 1 in A min.: Part 1; Part 2 / Emanuel Feuermann, cellist; New York Philharmonic Orchestra; Alexander Smallens, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking links above

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There will be many other recordings by the great Emanuel Feuermann recommended throughout this guide, but these are surely among his most affecting, beautifully played without bathos or exaggeration.

SAINT-SAËNS: Cello Concerto No. 1 in A min. / Leonard Rose, cellist; Radio Luxembourg Orchestra; Louis de Froment, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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In the era after Feuermann’s death and Casals’ retirement, French and Slavic cellists tended to dominate the scene (Fournier, Piatagorsky, Rostropovich and Starker), thus for some reason the great Leonard Rose somehow fell to the back of the pack. Today, he is recognized as their peer in tone and technique and the true successor to Feuermann in elegance without overdone emotional histrionics.

SAINT-SAËNS: Danse Macabre / Daniel Guilet, violinist; NBC Symphony Orchestra; Arturo Toscanini, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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Almost everyone else who conducts this piece sounds glib and emotionally uninvolved. Toscanini shows you what “macabre” really sounds like while bringing out orchestral details that no one else even notices.

SAINT-SAËNS: Étude en forme de Valse. Piano Concerto No. 4 in C min.* / Alfred Cortot, pianist; *Charles Munch, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking titles above

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Matchless performances of these piano classics by the unique pianist Cortot, whose rich, deep-in-the-keys touch was unmatched by any other pianist in his lifetime and after.

SAINT-SAËNS: La flûte invisible / Kathleen Battle, soprano; Jean-Pierre Rampal, flautist; Margo Garrett, pianist / Guitares et Mandolines / Stephany Ortega, soprano; Lena Kollmeier, pianist / The Nightingale and the Rose / Rita Streich, soprano; unidentified orchestra and conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking titles above

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Kathleen Battle’s stormy and controversial exit from world stages in the mid-1990s have all but obscured her very real talents and abilities. I’ve never heard a more beautiful soubrette voice in all of my life. Stephany Ortega lacks Battle’s crystalline, sensuous tone, but she does a splendid job on this song. The great Rita Streich had some of Battle’s crystal sound if not quite the sensuousness.

SAINT-SAËNS: Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso / David Oistrakh, violinist; Boston Symphony Orchestra; Charles Munch, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking title

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The matchless Oistrakh is accompanied here by the superb Alsatian conductor Munch for a perfect reading of this score.

SAINT-SAËNS: Phaeton / Paris Conservatory Orchestra; Piero Coppola, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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A great performance of this little-known tone poem by a splendid but forgotten conductor.

SAINT-SAËNS: Piano Quartet in B-flat. Piano Quintet in A min. Barcarolle / Cristina Ortiz, pianist; Fine Arts Quintet / Naxos 8.572904 or available for free streaming in small bits on YouTube

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Saint-Saëns’ finest chamber works are played here with a nice blend of swagger and sensuality.

SAINT-SAËNS: Samson et Dalila / Rita Gorr, mezzo-soprano (Dalila); Jon Vickers, tenor (Samson); Ernest Blanc, baritone (High Priest); Anton Diakov, bass (Abimélech/Old Jew); Rémy Corazza, tenor (Messenger); René Duclos Chorus; Théâtre National de l’Opera Paris Orchestra; Georges Prêtre, conductor / EMI Classics 67602

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The unmatchable Rita Gorr and wholly unique Jon Vickers inhabited these roles as no one else ever has or probably ever will, and they didn’t wiggle or wave their arms on stage when they sang. They were actors, not carnival barkers. Georges Prêtre conducts, as he usually did, with white-hot intensity, and the stereo sound is just good enough to capture it all without too much of an apology for its date.

SAINT-SAËNS: Symphony No. 3 in C min., Op. 78, “Organ”: Part I; Part II; Part III; Part IV / George Cook, organist; Joseph Kahn, pianist; NBC Symphony Orchestra; Arturo Toscanini, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on individual movements above

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This newly remastered version of Toscanini’s classic 1952 performance gives a true stereo perspective, making it now the preferred version of this stupendous work.

SAINT-SAËNS: Violin Concerto No. 3 in B min. / Henry Merckel, violinist; Orchestre de Concerts Pasdeloup; Piero Coppola, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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An exciting, outstanding early recording of this classic by the very fine but vastly underrated violinist Henry Merckel with Coppola doing a fine job conducting.

SAINT-SAËNS: Violin Sonata No. 1 in D min. / Maria Bachmann, violinist; Adam Neiman, pianist / part of Bridge 9394

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A fantastic performance of this sonata by the vastly underrated Bachmann.

Salzedo, Leonard

SALZEDO: Capriccio for Brass Quintet. Divertimento: 1. Prelude; 2. Scherzo; 3. Interlude; 4. March / Philip Jones Brass Quintet / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking links above

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SALZEDO: Concerto Fervido for Piano & Strings / Rucky van Mill, pianist; The London Soloists’ Ensemble; Nicholas Roth, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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SALZEDO: The Witch Boy (ballet suite) / London Philharmonic Orchestra; Leonard Salzedo, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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SALZEDO-LINDUP: Rendezvous for Jazz Band & Orchestra / Johnny Dankworth Band; London Philharmonic Orchestra; Hugo Rignold, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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SALZEDO: Viola Concerto / Richard Crabtree, violist; Helmsley Festival Orchestra; Leonard Salzedo, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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SALZEDO: Symphony No. 2 / The Rehearsal Orchestra; Harry Legge, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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The fascinating and often quirky music of British conductor Leonard Salzedo has been almost entirely ignored in recent decades except for his brass quintet pieces, but his constant juxtaposition of jazz-based themes with classical structure remains unique and fascinating. In addition to the above pieces, Salzedo also wrote several film scores for British horror films of the 1950s, such as The Glass Tomb and The Revenge of Frankenstein, which of course were simply commercial work and may have hurt his reputation as a serious composer.

Santiago, Felipe Perez

SANTIAGO: El Ansia (original version for saxophones) / Anacrusax Saxophone Quartet / El Ansia (version for string quartet) / Apelron String Quartet / La Candesauria. Mal Timing / Camerata Metropolitana; Felipe Perez Santiago, conductor / Exoesqueleto / Anacrusax Saxophone Quartet; Sofia Zumbardo, alto saxist / Hospital Suite / Omix Ensemble; Felipe Perez Santiago, conductor / Manqui / Ismael Sanchez, clarinetist; Abdel Hadi Sabag, pianist / Pengamat Bulan / Tamayo Ensemble / Navona NV-6129 or available for free streaming on YouTube beginning here

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The highly rhythmic, almost manic music of Mexican composer Felipe Perez Santiago will grab you by the throat and not let you go. These are amazing scores, brilliantly played.

Sarasate, Pablo de

SARASATE: Caprice Basque. Introduction and Caprice-Jota. Tarantelle. Miramar-Zortico. Ziguenerweisen / Pablo de Sarasate, violinist / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking titles above

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Nobody, but nobody, played or plays Sarasate like Sarasate did. He made the violin sound as if it were playing itself. Absolutely incredible despite the dated 1904 sound!

SARASATE: Carmen Fantasy. Jota Navarra / Bronislaw Huberman, violinist; Siegfried Schultze, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking titles above

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Huberman didn’t quite possess the delicacy that Sarasate could achieve in his soft playing, but otherwise had the same verve and drive. Phenomenal recordings, with spiccato rarely heard or duplicated nowadays!

SARASATE: Malagueña. Zapateado / Jascha Heifetz, violinist; Andre Benoist, pianist / Ziguenerweisen / Jascha Heifetz, violinist; RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra; William Steinberg, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on titles above

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Heifetz was an even more “muscular” violinist than Huberman, but he had the same dazzling technique as both Huberman and Sarasate, and these are very satisfying readings.

Satie, Erik

SATIE: La Dive de l’Empire. Chanson. Adieu Air de poète. Daphénéo / Cathy Berberian, mezzo-soprano; Dario Müller, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube

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Absolutely no one on the face of the earth ever sang like Cathy Berberian. No one.

SATIE: Avant-dernières pensées. La belle excentrique. Caresse. Chapitres tournés en tous sens. Croquis et agaceries d’un gros bonhumme en bois. Danse de travers. Descriptions automatique. Deux oeuvres de jeunesse. Embryons desséchés. Gnossiennes (6). Heures séculaires et instantanées. Les pantins dansent. Passacaglia. Petite ouverture à danser. Le Piccadilly – Marche. Pièces froides – Airs à faire fuir. Pièces froides – Danses de travers. Poudre d’or. Prélude de la porte héroïque du ciel. Prélude en tapisserie. Première pensée rose+croix. Sonatine bureaucratique. Sports et divertissements. 3 valses distinguées du précieux dégoûté. Trois Gymnopédies. Trois morceaux en forme de poire. Vértables préludes flasques (pour un chien). Vieux sequins et vieilles cuirasses / Anne Queffélec, pianist / Virgin Classics 22050

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Some people hate Satie’s music, some love it, and some like it. I happen to like it very much, and so did Claude Debussy and Francis Poulenc, so I think I’m in good company. Of the various recordings out there, I prefer Queffélec’s performances of the solo piano works best of all.

SATIE: Deux morceau en Forme de Poire. Parade (version for piano 4 hands) / Georges Auric, Francis Poulenc, pianists / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking titles above

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Outstanding historic recordings of two French composers paying tribute to Satie.

SATIE: En Habit de Cheval. Parade (orchestral version) / Orchestre National de France; Manuel Rosenthal, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking titles above

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My absolute favorite versions of these wonderful scores, despite the slightly dated sound.

SATIE: Socrate / Hughes Cuenod, tenor; Geoffrey Parsons, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube

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Virgil Thomson considered this monodrama to be Satie’s masterpiece. This is an outstanding late recording (1977) by the great Hughes Cuenod, a tenor who apparently kept his singing voice forever.

Saygun, Ahmed Adnan

SAYGUN: Cello Concerto, Op. 74 / Tim Hugh, cellist; Bilkent Senfoni Orkestrasi; Howard Griffiths, conductor / CPO 7290 or available for free streaming on YouTube

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SAYGUN: From Anatolia, Op. 25. Inci’s Book, Op. 10. Selected Etudes on Aksak Rhythms, Op. 38. Suite, Op. 2: Theme and Variations. 10 Sketches on Aksak Rhythms, Op. 58 / Kathryn Woodard, pianist / Albany 1168

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SAYGUN: Piano Concerto No. 2, Op. 71 / Gülsin Onay, pianist; Bilkent Senfoni Orkestrasi; Howard Griffiths, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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SAYGUN: Viola Concerto, Op. 59 / Mirjam Tschopp, violist; Bilkent Senfoni Orkestrasi; Howard Griffiths, conductor / CPO 7290 or available for free streaming on YouTube

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The fascinating music of Turkish composer Ahmed Saygun is still relatively unknown in the West, but these pieces, played very well by the above performers, make a strong case for his music. He managed to combine folk themes from his native country, with their fascinating harmonies, with Western form and melodic structure, creating a perfect balance between the two.

Scarlatti, Alessandro

A. SCARLATTI: Ammore, brutto figlio de portana / Pino di Vittorio, tenor; I Turchini; Antonio Florio, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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A. SCARLATTI: Arie con Tromba Sola: Nos. 1, 3, 4, 6 / Kathleen Battle, soprano; Wynton Marsalis, trumpeter; Marc Goldberg, bassoonist; Anthony Newman, harpsichordist; Orchestra of St. Luke’s; John Nelson, conductor / part of Sony Classical 46672 or available for free streaming on YouTube

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A. SCARLATTI: Cafra e dolce. Difesa non ha. O dolcissino speranza. La speranza. Toglietemi la vita ancor / Jon Vickers, tenor; Leo Barkin, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube

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A. SCARLATTI: Che vuole inamorarsi / Ezio Pinza, bass; Fritz Kinzinger, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube

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A. SCARLATTI: Già il sole dal Gange / Ramón Vargas, tenor; Roberto Negri, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube

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A. SCARLATTI: Il giardino di Rose: Mentr’io godo in dolce oblio; Ecco negl’orti tuoi..Che dolce simpatia / Cecilia Bartoli, mezzo-soprano; Les Musiciens de Louvre Grenoble; Marc Minkowski, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on titles above

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A. SCARLATTI: Griselda: Se il mio dolor t’offende. Sedecia, Re di Gerusalemme: Caldo sangue / Patricia Petibon, soprano; Venice Baroque Orchestra; Andrea Marcon, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on titles above

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A. SCARLATTI: Io vi miro ancor vestite / Roberta Peters, soprano; Harold Bennett, flautist; George Trovillo, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube

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A. SCARLATTI: Il Pirro e Demetrio: Le violette. Il Pompeo: O cessate di piagarmi / Tito Schipa, tenor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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A. SCARLATTI: Su venite un consiglio / Magda Laszlo, soprano; Luigi Cortese, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube

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I’m sure the HIP crowd will cringe at most of my selections above, except perhaps for the pure voices of Tito Schipa and Roberta Peters, and even they would be lambasted for singing the “improper style.” But as far as the right feeling for each song goes, these performances are supreme, and I for one have no problems with any of them…even the “folk song” style of Pino di Vittorio.

Scarlatti, Domenico

D. SCARLATTI: 40 Sonatas for Harpsichord / Wanda Landowska, harpsichordist / Pearl 106, some of them available for free streaming on YouTube

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Absolutely no one plays these sonatas as well as Landowska did. Once available on a 2-LP Seraphim set, EMI stupidly cut several sonatas out when issuing it on a single CD. This is the complete series, happily cleaned up a bit by Ward Marston.

Scelsi, Giacinto

SCELSI: Khoom for soprano, horn, string quartet & percussion. Okanagon for harp, tom-tom and bass. Pranam I for mezzo, 12 instruments & tape. Pranam II for 9 instruments. Riti: il funerali di Alesssandro Magno / Marianne Schuppe, soprano; Bruno Schneider, French hornist; Friedermann Treiber, Daniel Haptmann, violinists; Patrick Jüdt, violist; Martin Jaggi, cellist; Daniel Buess, Daniel Staider, percussionists; Consuelo Giulianelli, harpist; Aleksander Gabrys, bassist; Daniel Buess, tom-tom; Christoph Bösch, Tamara Venuti, flautists; Petar Hristov, English hornist; Toshiko Sakakibara, clarinet/bs-cl; Povilas Bingelis, bassoonist; Raphael Carmenisch, alto saxist; Bruno Schneider, French hornist; Nenad Markovic, trumpeter; Michael Büttler, trombonist; Thomas Peter, electronics; Jürg Henneberger, conductor / Telos Music 191

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Scelsi was one of the earliest composers to write in the kind of mixed atonal style that was later associated with György Ligeti, but his naturally laid-back, low-key personality, combined with the difficulty of his music, kept him from getting the credit for it for decades. These outstanding performances are a great introduction to his work.

Schifrin, Lalo

SCHIFRIN: La calle y la luna. Danza de los Montes. Jazz Piano Sonata. Lullaby for Jack. Mission: Impossible Main Theme. Pampas. Tango a Borges. Tango: Main Theme. Theme & 10 Variations on an Original Theme / Mirian Conti, pianist / Grand Piano GP776

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An astoundingly gifted musician, Lalo Schifrin is still not entirely taken “seriously” by the arts community because of his long-time association with movie music, TV themes and jazz, but the above CD will open your ears to the extraordinary talent of this amazing man.

Schimmel, Carl

ROADSHOW: MUSIC OF CARL SCHIMMEL / SCHIMMEL: Roadshow for Otto1-3. Roadshow for Thora4. 4 Nocturnes from “The Oblivion Ha-Ha.”5 String Quartet No. 2, “Six Faces.”6 The Pismirist’s Congeries1,7 / 1Alex Sopp, flautist; 2Romie de Guise-Langlois, clarinetist; 3Sumire Kudo, cellist; 1Steven Beck, pianist; 4SOLI Chamber Ensemble; 5Lucy Shelton, soprano; 5Da Capo Chamber Players; 6Left Coast Chamber Ensemble; 7Sharon Roffman, violinist; 7Wendy Law, cellist / New Focus Recordings FCR167

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Columbia University graduate Carl Schimmel’s music has been described by The New York Times as “vivid and dramatic,” but it’s also humorous, combining an intense “expression with a structural rigor which draws upon his mathematics background.” Yet for all its wackiness and humor, the music is resolutely tonal and, for all its asymmetric moments, highly rhythmic. Aside from its entertainment value, the music makes you think as you listen, perhaps because of those stops and pauses.

Schmidt, Franz

SCHMIDT: Chaconne for Orchestra in d min. Phantasiestücke for Klavier und Orchester in Bb. Variations on a Hussar’s Song / Jasminca Stančul, pianist; German State Philharmonic Rheinland-Pfalz; Alexander Rumpf, conductor / Capriccio C5274 or available for free streaming in small bits on YouTube

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I was very impressed by Schmidt’s unusual way with music. Particularly in the Variations on a Hussar’s Song (written 1930-31), one hears a very personal means of expression: decidedly German in structure, yet using several “crushed” or extended chords in the manner of French composers (one thinks not only of Ravel but also of Kochelin). Unlike his teacher Bruckner who, as an acquaintance of mine put it, only wrote “a series of endings,” Schmidt’s score shows real development, albeit in a very personal and somewhat strange vein. In some places the shifting orchestral chords put me in mind of Scriabin a little bit…one wonders if he heard any of the Russian’s music. The bottom line is a sort of “German impressionism”; one might say the stepchild of Wagner and Debussy, but it is very attractive; note, for instance, how in the “Theme and Variations” Schmidt makes the melodic line move the harmony rather than the other way round. This is the kind of harmonic-melodic interaction once often hears from very advanced jazz musicians but almost never from classical composers of Schmidt’s generation.

Schmitt, Florent

SCHMITT: Antoine et Cléopâtre –Six épisodes symphoniques. Le Palais Hanté, Op. 49 / Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra; JoAnn Falletta, conductor / Naxos 8.573521 or available for free streaming in small bits on YouTube

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SCHMITT: Habyssée for Violin & Orchestra, Op. 110. Rêves, Op. 65 / Rheinland-Pfalz State Philharmonic Orchestra; Leif Segerstam, conductor / Piano Quintet, Op. 51 / Birgitta Wollenweber, pianist; Matthias Wollong, violinists; Ulrich Knörzer, violist; Andreas Grünkorn, cellist / À tour d’anches, Op. 97 / Matthias Bäcker, oboist; Richard Obermayer, clarinetist; Frank Forst, bassoonist / Naxos 8.570489

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SCHMITT: Rêves. Soirs. Symphonie Concertante* / *Hüseyin Sermet, pianist; Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo; David Robertson, conductor / Naïve V4909

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SCHMITT: La Tragédie de Salomé, Op. 50 / Natália Áurea, soprano; Cely Kozuki, Cristiane Minczuk, Fabiana Portas, Maria Angélica Leutwiler, Monica Weber Bronzati, Vesna Bankovic, mezzo-sopranos; São Paolo Symphony Orchestra; Yan Pascal Tortelier, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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The music of Florent Schmitt occupies a strange niche between the German and French styles of the 1920s and ‘30s, but he was ignored for decades because of his irascible and somewhat nasty personality (he once shouted out “Viva Hitler!” at a concert of Kurt Weill’s music at which the composer was present), but talent is talent and Schmitt had it in spades. These performances will give you a good idea of his diversity and excellence; only the early (1920) Antoine et Cléopâtre suite is rather functional, having been written as incidental music for the Shakespeare play.

Schnabel, Artur

SCHNABEL: Notturno for Contralto & Piano / Noa Frenkel, contralto; Irmela Roelcke, pianist / String Quartet No. 1: I, II, III, IV / Pellegrini String Quartet / CPO 777 622

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SCHNABEL: Symphony No. 2: I. Andante – Allegro; II. Vivacissimo; III. Largo; IV. Misterioso; Allegretto energico / Royal Philharmonic Orchestra; Paul Zukovsky, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking links above

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SCHNABEL: Violin Sonata: I & II; III & IV / Paul Zukovsky, violinist; Ursula Oppens, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking links above

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It always surprises people when they learn that famed Austrian pianist Artur Schnabel, mostly renowned for his playing of Beethoven, Mozart and Schubert, was an outstanding composer of modernistic German works. The irony lay not just in the fact that he seldom played his own works in public, but that his busy performing career curtailed this creative side of him, thus his output was very small. These two works are, I think, his very best of those I’ve heard (not that many recordings out there, however), and the performances are first-rate as well.

Schnyder, Daniel

SCHNYDER: African Fanfare. Symphony No. 4, “Colossus of Sound.” Trumpet Concerto. Little Songbook. subZERO, Concerto for Bass Trombone & Chamber Orchestra / Reinhold Friedrich, trumpeter; David Taylor, bass trombonist; Absolute Ensemble; NDR Radio Philharmonic Orchestra; Kristjan Järvi, conductor / Enja 9460

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SCHNYDER: Baroquelochness. The Four Elements. Melousine. Sailing.Suite Provençale for Flute & Bass Flute. Teirisias / Magda Schwerzmann, flautist; James Alexander, pianist / Neuklang 4051

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SCHNYDER: Concerto for Flute, Percussion & Strings / Kalina Majewska, flautist; Magdalena Myrczik, percussionist; Wroclaw Academy of Music Chamber Ensemble; Artur Koza, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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SCHNYDER: Septets Nos. 1 & 2. Secret Cosmos. Song for my Grandfather. Blues Variations. Isabelle. Sailing / The Modern Art Septet / Enja 5055, also available for streaming in small bits on YouTube

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Daniel Schnyder’s brilliant classical-jazz hybrids tend to confuse audiences but delight musicians, combining well-ordered compositions with jazz inflections and style. He has an entire chapter to himself in my book, From Baroque to Bop and Beyond, which you should read for a detailed analysis of his work.

Schoeck, Othmar

SCHOECK: Penthesilea / Martha Mödl, soprano (Penthesilea); Paula Brivkalne, soprano (Prothoe); Paula Lenchner-Schmidt, soprano (Meroe); Res Fischer, contralto (High Priestess); Eberhard Wächter, baritone (Achilles); Stefan Scwer, tenor (Diomedes); Gustaf Grefe, baritone (Herald); Stuttgart State Opera Chorus & Orchestra; Ferdinand Leitner, conductor / Walhall Eternity WLCD0225

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Apparently impressed by Strauss’ Elektra and wanting to write an opera in the same vein, Swiss composer Othmar Schoeck, then in his late 30s, set about composing this gory tale of Penthesilea, the Queen of the Amazons, and her love/hate relationship with Achilles. Into this brutal tale Schoeck packed some of his densest and most concise music, a score that is utterly brilliant and unhackneyed. Gone are any allusions to arias: the vocalists perform in a sequence of orchestral-accompanied recitative with occasional curses and screams, intermittently reverting to speech for certain passages. The only truly lyrical passage in the entire opera, and the most conventional music, is the Penthesilea-Achilles love duet, which has a certain Richard Strauss-like feel to it.

Schoenberg, Arnold

SCHOENBERG: Brettl-Lieder Nos. 1-3. Erwärtung / Jessye Norman, soprano; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra; James Levine, pianist/conductor / Philips 426 261-2, also available for free streaming on YouTube in small bits

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This is one of those recordings I referred to in my article, The Strange Case of James Levine. Norman’s performance of this eerie monodrama is untouchable, vocally and dramatically, and the orchestra matches her mood perfectly. Just ignore who the conductor is. It’s fabulous in every respect.

SCHOENBERG: Das Buch des hangenden garten. Gedanken / Helen Vanni, mezzo-soprano; Glenn Gould, pianist / available for free streaming in small bits on YouTube

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Vanni didn’t have the most beautiful voice in the world, but her singing here is highly expressive and Gould’s pianism helps her carry the emotion in the music. Another landmark recording.

SCHOENBERG: Five Pieces for Orchestra / Columbia Symphony Orchestra; Robert Craft, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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SCHOENBERG: Die gluckliche hand / Simon Joly Chorus; Philharmonia Orchestra; Robert Craft, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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SCHOENBERG: Pelleas und Mélisande. Pierrot Lunaire / Bethany Beardslee, soprano; CBC Symphony Orchestra; Columbia Chamber Ensemble; Robert Craft, conductor / currently out of print and unavailable for free streaming

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Robert Craft’s recordings of Schoenberg’s music, both the original series for Columbia and the later series for Naxos, are outstanding in every way. You can find the later recording of the first piece with the Philharmonia Orchestra on a Naxos release, and it’s pretty good, too, but alas, the Beardslee-Craft Pierrot Lunaire seems to have sunk without a trace.

SCHOENBERG: Gurre-Lieder / Ethel Semser, soprano (Tove); Nell Tangeman, mezzo (Waldtraube); Richard Lewis, tenor (Waldemar); Ferry Gruber, tenor (Klaus the Jester); John Riley, bass (Bauer); Morris Gesell, speaker; New Symphony Society & Chorus; Rene Leibowitz, conductor / Preiser 90575

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SCHOENBERG: Gurre-Lieder / Eva-Maria Bundschuh, soprano (Tove); Rosemarie Lang, contralto (Wood-Dove); Manfred Jung, tenor (Waldemar); Wolf Appel, tenor (Klaus-Knarr); Ulrik Cold, bass (Farmer/Bauer); Gert Westphal, speaker; Berlin & Leipzig Radio Choruses; Prague Men’s Choir; Members of Leipzig Symphony Orchestra; Herbert Kegel, conductor / Brilliant Classics 94724, also available for streaming in small bits on YouTube

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Schoenberg’s orchestral-vocal masterpiece has had many good recordings, but few have the right voices for the music. The Rene Leibowitz version from c. 1952 is still, to my mind, the very finest all-around performance ever recorded, but the mono sound—though very good—doesn’t quite reveal the splendor of Schoenberg’s colorful orchestration, which is why I only give it 4 ½ fish. The vastly underrated conductor Herbert Kegel, much better known in Germany than in America or England, produced the best stereo recording of this masterpiece, due to the fact that all of the singers are superb as well.

SCHOENBERG: Die Jakobsleiter / Hanno Müller-Brachmann, baritone (Gabriel); Glenn Winslade, tenor; Guy Renard, tenor (The Monk); Laurin Aikin, soprano (The Soul); SWR Orch. & Chorus Baden-Baden & Freiburg; Michael Gielen, conductor / available for streaming in small bits on YouTube

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A vastly underrated work, brilliantly sung and well-conducted by the great Michael Gielen.

SCHOENBERG: 3 Klavierstücke. 5 Klavierstücke. 6 Kleine Klavierstücke. Phantasy for Violin & Piano. Piano Concerto* / Glenn Gould, pianist; Yehudi Menuhin, violinist (in Phantasy); *CBC Symphony Orchestra; *Robert Craft, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking titles above

5-fish

 

Although he played music of other composers, particularly Beethoven who he admired (and Mozart, who he didn’t), Glenn Gould’s twin gods were J.S. Bach and Arnold Schoenberg. Guess which one the public wishes he hadn’t liked playing.

SCHOENBERG: Moses und Aron / Franz Grundheber, baritone (Moses); Andreas Conrad, tenor (Aron); Johanna Winkel, soprano (Young girl); Jean-Noël Briend, tenor (Young man); Elvira Bill, mezzo (Sick woman); Friedemann Röhlig. bass (A priest); Andreas Wolf, baritone (Ephraimite); Europa Chor Akademie; SWR Symphony Orch. Baden-Baden & Freiburg; Sylvain Cambreling, conductor / Hänssler Classic 93314, available for free streaming in small bits on YouTube

6-fish

 

This is the operatic masterpiece that Schoenberg was too lazy to complete. He finished the first two acts by 1930, but although he lived another 21 years and really didn’t write many full-length works thereafter, he became uninterested in finishing this work. Nonetheless, it has a visceral impact that few of his works possess. There are a few other good recordings of it available, including Pierre Boulez’ second version for Deutche Grammophon, but the Cambreling performance is superbly conducted and the singers—particularly tenor Andreas Conrad as Aron—are superior to Boulez’ cast.

SCHOENBERG: Ode to Napoleon Bonaparte / Mack Harrell, narrator; Members of New York Philharmonic Orchestra; Artur Rodziński, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

4-and-a-half-fish

 

The best and most intense performance, in terms of both narration and conducting, ever recorded despite the dated sound quality.

SCHOENBERG: Prelude to the Genesis Suite / Columbia Chamber Ensemble; Robert Craft, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking title above

6-fish

 

Another outstanding performance from Craft’s early Columbia recordings.

SCHOENBERG: String Quartet in D. String Quartets Nos. 1-4. Verklärte Nacht. Ode to Napoleon Bonaparte.* Chamber Symphony No. 1 (quintet vers. By Webern).* Concerto for String Quartet & Orchestra after Handel.# String Trio / Schoenberg Quartet; *Sepp Grotenhuis, pianist; Michael Grandage, speaker (Ode to Napoleon); #Arnhem Philharmonic Orchestra; #Roberto Benzi, conductor / Chandos 9939-43

6-fish

 

Absolutely the best versions available of Schoenberg’s complete works for string quartet, trio and quintet.

SCHOENBERG: Violin Concerto, Op. 36 / Rolf Schulte, violinist; Philharmonia Orchestra; Robert Craft, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube in small bits

5-fish

 

Although I personally prefer Craft’s earlier recording with violinist Israel Baker, it is not currently available, and this Naxos recording has superior, digital sound.

Schubert, Franz

Everyone has a different view of Franz Schubert’s music. The most prevalent is that of the warm, gooshy Romantic who, sadly, had an affair with a prostitute at age 17, contracted syphilis, and then died at age 32, and they carry that into their perceptions of how they want his music to sound. Happily, there is an alternate view, based on the fact that he idolized Beethoven, whose music was anything but warm and gooshy. That is my view, and thus I seek out the performances and recordings that reflect that aesthetic.

SCHUBERT: Alfonso und Estrella / Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, baritone (Froila); Magdalena Falewicz, soprano (Maiden); Eberhard Büchner, tenor (A youth); Peter Schreier, tenor (Alfonso); Edith Mathis, soprano (Estrella); Hermann Prey, baritone (Mauregato); Theo Adam, bass-baritone (Adolfo); Horst Gebhardt, tenor (Bodyguard); Berlin Radio Choir & State Orchestra; Otmar Suitner, conductor / Brilliant Classics 94689 or available for free streaming on YouTube

6-fish

Schubert’s operas tend to be well written but dramatically boring. This is the best of them, musically speaking, and it shows a surprisingly dramatic side of his style. This performance simply cannot be bettered in any way.

LIEDER:

SCHUBERT: Die Allmacht: Gross ist Jehova / Jussi Björling, tenor; Frederick Schauwecker, pianist / part of RCA Victor 60520 or available for free streaming on YouTube

6-fish

Absolutely the best version of this song you’ll ever hear, taken from a live Carnegie Hall concert in 1958. Honest to God, no one even comes close: not James King (dramatic but not soft enough in the middle section), Christa Ludwig (too slow and inward) or Jessye Norman (similar to King).

SCHUBERT: An die Freunde. Fischerweise. Prometheus. Der Wanderer. Auf der Donau. Der Wanderer an den Mond. Aus Heliopolis II / Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, baritone; Benjamin Britten, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on titles above

5-fish

Forget the Schubert recordings that Fischer-Dieskau made with Gerald Moore. These are his most intense versions of these songs, accompanied by one of the greatest and  possibly most underrated Schubert pianists of all time.

SCHUBERT: An die Musik. Der Tod und das Mädchen / Rosa Ponselle, soprano; Igor Chicagov, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube

4-and-a-half-fish

Criticized for her sloppy musicianship during the latter part of her active career, Ponselle took to studying lieder in retirement and became exceptionally good at it. These are two of the finest examples of her late singing. The low range in “Der Tod und das Mädchen” will take your breath away.

SCHUBERT: Ave Maria / Barbara Bonney, soprano; Geoffrey Parsons, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube

6-fish

SCHUBERT: Seligkeit. Gretchen am Spinnrade. Der Einsame. An die Nachtigall. Waldesnacht. Die Gefangenen Sänger. An die Musik / Bethany Beardslee, soprano; Lois Shapiro, pianist / part of Bridge 9504, also available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on titles above

5-fish

Modern-music specialist also sang a lot of early music in her career, even including a stint with the New York Pro Musica. These late-period recordings, made in the 1980s, show her interpretive and musical instincts still intact.

SCHUBERT: Auf dem Ström / Jung Eun Oh, soprano; Richard King, French hornist; Orli Shaham, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube

6-fish

SCHUBERT: Der Hirt aus dem Felsen / Barbara Bonney, soprano; David Schifrin, clarinetist; André Watts, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube

6-fish

These two songs, lyrical and demanding of sweet voices and perfect legato, also demand that the instrumental soloists be as good as the singers. These two examples are stupendous.

SCHUBERT: Hark Hark, the Lark! / Alma Gluck, soprano; unidentified orchestra / available for free streaming on YouTube

3-and-a-half-fish

SCHUBERT: Nacht und Traume / Leo Slezak, tenor; Michael Raucheisen, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube

4-fish

SCHUBERT: Erlkönig / Ernestine Schumann-Heink, contralto; Katherine Hoffmann, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube; move cursor to 4:23 to begin

4-fish

SCHUBERT: Aufenthalt / Alexander Kipnis, bass; Frank Bibb, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube

4-fish

SCHUBERT: Die Forelle / Gérard Souzay, baritone; Jacqueline Bonneau, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube

4-and-a-half-fish

SCHUBERT: Der Doppelgänger / Louis Graveure, tenor; Waldemar von Vultée, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube

4-fish

SCHUBERT: Die Schöne Müllerin / Aksel Schiøtz, tenor; Gerald Moore, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube

4-and-a-half-fish

Seven older, classic recordings that I don’t think have ever been surpassed, despite the ancient sound.

SCHUBERT: Die Winterreise / Peter Pears, tenor; Benjamin Britten, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube

6-fish

SCHUBERT: Die Winterreise / Jonas Kaufmann, tenor; Helmut Deutsch, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube

6-fish

Absolutely the best recordings of this difficult song cycle; each complements the other. Mezzo Mitsuko Shirai has also done a great job on this piece if you’d like to hear a female singer in it.

SCHUBERT: Auf dem Wasser zu Singen. Heidenröslein. Seligkeit / Karita Mattila, soprano; Ilmo Ranta, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking titles

5-fish

 CHAMBER MUSIC

SCHUBERT: Arpeggione Sonata in a min. / Emanuel Feuermann, cellist; Gerald Moore, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube

4-and-a-half-fish

Despite the dated sound, the best combination of elegance, warmth and dynamic contrasts in this music.

SCHUBERT: Impromptus, D. 899 & 935 / Artur Schnabel, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube

4-and-a-half-fish

SCHUBERT: Moments Musicaux, Op. 94 / Artur Schnabel, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube

4-and-a-half-fish

SCHUBERT: Piano Quintet in A, “Die Forelle” / Artur Schnabel, pianist; Pro Arte Quartet / available for free streaming on YouTube in individual bits

4-and-a-half-fish

SCHUBERT: Piano Sonata in D, D. 850 / Artur Schnabel, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube

4-and-a-half-fish

No one is better than Schnabel in Schubert. No one.

SCHUBERT: Octet / Consortium Classicum / MDG Gold 3010768

6-fish

The best performance I’ve ever heard, and I’ve heard a bunch of them.

SCHUBERT: Piano Sonatas: in c min., D. 958; in A, D. 959; in Bb, D. 960 / Craig Sheppard, pianist / Roméo 7283, also available for free streaming in small bits on YouTube

5-fish

Outstanding modern recordings of these great works, Schubert’s finest and most moving sonatas.

SCHUBERT: Piano Trio No. 1 in Bb: I. Allegro moderato; II. Andante un poco mosso; III. Scherzo: Allegro; IV. Rondo: Allegro Vivace / Jacques Thibaud, violinist; Pablo Casals, cellist; Alfred Cortot, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on individual movements above

4-fish

THE classic recording. No one else comes close for their combination of elegance and drive.

SCHUBERT: Piano Trio No. 1 in Bb / Jascha Heifetz, violinist; Emanuel Feuermann, cellist; Arthur Rubinstein, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube

4-fish

A more muscular version of this work, lacking some of the elegance of the older recording but still featuring the outstanding work of Feuermann and Rubinstein.

SCHUBERT: String Quartet in d min., “Tod und das Mädchen” / Capet Quartet / available for free streaming on YouTube

4-fish

The sound is old—this performance was recorded in 1928—but except for a few brief portamento slides, the style is surprisingly modern: clean, fast and emotionally powerful.

SCHUBERT: String Quartet No. 15, D. 887 / Busch String Quartet / available for free streaming on YouTube

5-fish

One of the deepest, darkest performances you’ll ever hear.

SCHUBERT: String Quintet in C: I. Allegro ma non troppo; II. Adagio; III. Scherzo – Trio; IV. Finale: Allegretto / Lindsay String Quartet; Douglas Cummings, cellist / available for free streaming on YouTube

6-fish

The most elegant, flexible and emotional performance of this great work I’ve ever heard. When I die, I want this played for me In Memoriam.

ORCHESTRAL MUSIC

SCHUBERT: Symphonies Nos. 1-6, 8, 9 / Concertgebouw Orchestra; Nikolaus Harnoncourt, conductor / Teldec 91184

6-fish

Harnoncourt’s tempi are a bit on the slow side except for the last two symphonies, but his incisive, transparent orchestral sound and dramatic readings are nonpareil.

SCHUBERT: Symphony No. 7, D. 729: I. Adagio – Allegro; II. Andante; III. Scherzo: Allegro deciso; IV. Finale – Allegro / Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra; Heinz Rögner, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on the movements above

4-and-a-half-fish

And here is the long-missing Seventh Symphony, which Schubert left in piano score and only Felix Weingartner had the brains to orchestrate. No, it’s not a great masterpiece, but it is the missing symphony, in a fine performance.

SCHUBERT: “Gastein Symphony” (Grand Duo in C, orch. Joachim) / NBC Symphony Orchestra; Arturo Toscanini, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

4-and-a-half-fish

This was passed off, for some time, as the missing Seventh Symphony. By the time Toscanini performed it in the early 1940s, he knew it wasn’t, but he liked its drama anyway. A great performance.

SCHUBERT: Symphony No. 2 / NBC Symphony Orchestra; Arturo Toscanini, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

4-fish

A performance guaranteed to give an Austrian Schubert-lover cardiac arrest, but very much in keeping with the idea of Schubert as an acolyte of Beethoven!

Schulhoff, Erwin

SCHULHOFF: Concertino for Flute or Piccolo, Viola & Bass / Ensemble Villa Musica / part of MDG Gold 3040617, or available for free streaming on YouTube

5-fish

SCHULHOFF: Concertino for Flute, Piano, Strings & 2 Horns. Concerto for Piano & Small Orchestra. Concerto for String Quartet & Wind Ensemble. Cinq Études de Jazz, Nos. 2-4. Esquisses de Jazz, Nos. 4 & 5. Rag: Music for Pianoforte, Nos. 3, 4, 7, 8. / Bettina Wild, flautist; Aleksandar Madzar, pianist; Hawthorne Quartet; Deutsche Chamber Philharmonic; Andreas Delfs, conductor / Decca 4448192 or available for free streaming in small bits on YouTube

5-fish

Erwin Schulhoff’s rabid Communist propaganda—he even wrote a cantata based on the original text of  The Communist Manifesto—made him an unwelcome guest in nearly every country he went to, including America, but his composing skills were astounding and rather unique. These four concerti show his ability in large-scale works to great effect.

SCHULHOFF: Esquisses de Jazz. 5 Études de Jazz. Partita for Piano. 5 Pittoresken. Suite Dansant en Jazz / Caroline Weichert, pianist / Grand Piano GP723 or available for free streaming in small bits on YouTube

6-fish

SCHULHOFF: 5 Études de Jazz. Hot Music: 12 Syncopated Études. 11 Inventions. Piano Sonata No. 1. Second Suite for Piano. Suite Dansant en Jazz / Kathryn Stott, pianist / Bis 1249

5-fish

Schulhoff was infatuated with “jazz” in the 1920s, and wrote a number of piano pieces showing that influence, but to him jazz was more of a peppy ragtime, as evidenced by the fact that he thought Paul Whiteman a jazz and “blues” artist. Where he excelled, and probably had an influence on the growth of jazz, was in his use of extended chords and bitonal passages. Both of these collections are superb; although Kathryn Stott was first, several of Caroline Weichert’s performances are actually looser in rhythm and thus somewhat jazzier in feeling.

SCHULHOFF: Duo for Violin & Cello. 5 Études de Jazz. Sonata No. 2 for Violin & Piano. String Sextet / Valeriy Sokolov, Boris Brovtsyn, violinists; Eldar Nebolsin, pianist; Spectrum Concerts Berlin / Naxos 8.573525 or available for free streaming in small bits on YouTube

5-fish

Outstanding chamber works played by a collection of Russian and German artists, with yet another recording of the 5 Études de Jazz.

Schuman, William

SCHUMAN: New England Triptych: I. Be Glad Then, America; II. When Jesus Wept; III. Chester / Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra; Max Rudolf, conductor / Prayer in Time of War / New York Philharmonic Orchestra; Fritz Reiner, conductor / Undertow – Ballet Suite / NBC Symphony Orchestra; Guido Cantelli, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on titles above

4-and-a-half-fish

William Schuman, considered for nearly 30 years one of America’s greatest composers, has somehow fallen out of favor in recent decades. Part of the problem, as I see it, is the lack of emotionally powerful and committed performances. The three historic recordings above, though varying in sound (the Rudolf has the best quality), are all outstanding readings of his music.

SCHUMAN: Symphony No. 3 / New York Philharmonic Orchestra; Leonard Bernstein, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

6-fish

SCHUMAN: Symphony No. 6. Symphony No. 9 / Philadelphia Orchestra; Eugene Ormandy, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on titles above

5-fish

SCHUMAN: Symphony No. 7 / Utah Symphony Orchestra; Maurice Abravanel, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

5-fish

SCHUMAN: Symphony No. 10, “American Muse”: I. Con fuoco; II. Larghissimo; III. Presto – Andantino – Leggero Pesante / St. Louis Symphony Orchestra; Leonard Slatkin, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on movement titles above

5-fish

These are the best of Schuman’s symphonies, in my view, in their best performances. Happily, only the Ormandy performance on No. 6 is in mono sound, but it’s a fantastic recording.

SCHUMAN: Violin Concerto: I. Allegro risoluto – Cadenza; II. Introduzione; Adagio – Allegretto / Paul Zukofsky, violinist; Boston Symphony Orchestra; Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking movement titles above

6-fish

Clearly one of the most exciting and original of modern violin concerti in a stunning performance by the young Michael Tilson Thomas, whose talents have sadly waned in recent decades. I haven’t heard another recording to match this one.

Schumann, Robert

SCHUMANN: Adagio & Allegro for Horn & Piano / Dennis Brain, French hornist; Gerald Moore, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube

4-fish

The classic recording of this piece, played to perfection by the late Dennis Brain.

LIEDER

SCHUMANN: An der Mond. Volksliedchen. Mein schöner Stern. Die Soldatenbraut / Eileen Farrell, soprano; George Trujillo, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube

4-and-a-half-fish

Surprisingly excellent lieder performances by an American icon.

SCHUMANN: Aufträge. Der Nussbaum / Maggie Teyte, soprano; Rita Mackey, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on titles above

4-fish

SCHUMANN: Mondnacht. Der Nussbaum / Leo Slezak, tenor; Heinrich Schacker, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube

4-fish

SCHUMANN: Der Contrabandiste. An die Türen will ich schleichen. Ballade des Harfners. Die beiden Grenadiere / Johannes Martin Kränzle, baritone / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on titles above

6-fish

Why is this man only famous for singing Beckmesser in Die Meistersinger? He has one of the most beautiful baritone voices in the world, and is an expressive and musical singer to boot.

SCHUMANN: Dein Angesicht so lieb und schöne / Peter Schreier, tenor; Norman Shetler, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube

6-fish

SCHUMANN: Dichterliebe: Part 1; Part 2; Part 3 / Gérard Souzay, baritone; Alfred Cortot, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking titles above

4-and-a-half-fish

When asked why he never authorized an official release of this magnificent 1956 recording, Souzay said that he was too young and Cortot was too old. Nonsense. Despite a couple of keyboard slips, Cortot’s touch and tone are magical, as is Souzay’s singing. A masterpiece.

SCHUMANN: Dichterliebe / Thomas Hampson, baritone; Geoffrey Parsons, pianist / EMI 555147

5-fish

The best of the modern recordings of this great song cycle.

SCHUMANN: Tanzlied. Er und sie. Ich denke sein. Wiegenlied am Lager eines kranken Kindes / Julia Varady, soprano; Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, baritone; Christoph Eschenbach, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube

6-fish

A match made in heaven: the bright soprano voice of Varady, the mellow timbre of Fischer-Dieskau and the pianism of Eschenbach.

SCHUMANN: Liederkreis. Frauenliebe und Leben. 4 Rückert Songs / Sharon Rostorf-Zamir, soprano; Jonathan Zak, pianist / Roméo 7260, also available for free streaming in small bits on YouTube

6-fish

A phonographic classic: Rostorf-Zamir’s mellow, expressive voice and Zak’s superb pianism. I’ve never heard a better Frauenliebe und Leben in my entire life.

SCHUMANN: Die Lotosblume / Elfreide Trotschel, soprano; Hans Löwlein, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube

4-fish

SCHUMANN: Meine Rose / Carolyn Sampson, soprano; Joseph Middleton, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube

5-fish

SCHUMANN: Röselein, Röselein / Roberta Peters, soprano; George Trovillo, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube

4-and-a-half-fish

SCHUMANN: Der Sandmann / Gérard Souzay, baritone; Jacqueline Bonneau, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube

4-and-a-half-fish

SCHUMANN: Der Schatzgräber / Bethany Beardslee, soprano; Lois Shapiro, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube

6-fish

SCHUMANN: Saengers trost. Meine Rose. Ihre Stemme / Russell Oberlin, countertenor / available for free streaming on YouTube

4-fish

Outstanding performances of Schumann lieder from some unlikely sources.

Scriabin, Alexander

SCRIABIN: Piano Sonatas Nos. 1-10 / Garrick Ohlsson, pianist / Bridge 9468A/B

5-fish

 

SCRIABIN: Piano Sonatas Nos. 5, 9, 10 / Vladimir Horowitz, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on numbers above.

4-fish

 

For decades, Ruth Laredo’s complete set of Scriabin’s sonatas on Nonesuch (along with some incidental pieces) was the best there was, but to my ears Garrick Ohlsson, whose early recordings never impressed me very much, gets further into the music and provides even more variety of phrasing. But neither Laredo nor Ohlsson quite matched Horowitz’ intensity in the three sonatas listed here. I normally dislike nearly everything Horowitz played, but not Scriabin. He knew the composer in his younger days and got straight to the heart of his music in these classic recordings. Only 4 ½ fish, however, due to the boxy mono sound.

SCRIABIN: 8 Études / Ruth Laredo, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking titles above.

5-fish

 

Although Laredo’s sonata recordings have been superseded by Ohlsson, her recordings of these short works are still quite stunning.

SCRIABIN: 2 Danses, Op. 73. Études Op. 42, Nos. 4 & 5. Morceaux: Op. 49, No. 3; Op. 51, Nos. 3 & 4; Op. 57, Nos. 1 & 2. Vers la flamme. Various Preludes. Various Preludes. Sonata No. 4. Valses / Vladimir Feltsman, pianist / Nimbus Alliance 6198Feltsman’s superb performances of these shorter works are also superb.

5-fish

 

SCRIABIN: Piano Concerto in f# min. / Vladimir Ashkenazy, pianist; London Philharmonic Orchestra; Lorin Maazel, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

6-fish

 

Absolutely the best performance I’ve heard of this concerto.

SCRIABIN: Complete Symphonies, 1-5 / Fausto Tenzi, tenor; Doris Soffel, mezzo (Symph. 1); Wolfgang Saschowa, pianist (Symph. 5); Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra; Eliahu Inbal, conductor / Philips 420785, also available for free streaming on YouTube (check current availability)

6-fish

 

In recent years, this magnificent set of the symphonies (the only real problem is Fausto Tennzi’s tight, nasal voice in the first) has come under criticism from, in my view, ignorant critics who want to hear “Tchaikovsky-isms” in his work, but no one has come close to this achievement in toto.

SCRIABIN: Symphony No. 4, “Poeme de l’Extase.” Symphony No. 5, “Prometheus, Poem of Fire” / available for free streaming or download at http://www.stokowski.org/1932_Electrical_Recordings_Stokowski.htm

4-fish

 

Despite the fact that Stokowski spent great pains to make sure his recordings always had the best possible sound for their time, there is no escaping the fact that 1932 sound is 1932 sound, which is why I gave these performances only 4 fish.

Still, William Grant

STILL: Africa: III. Land of Superstition / American Symphony Orchestra; Leon Botstein, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking title

5-fish

 

The first two parts of this suite are rather romantic-sounding and unremarkable, but the third section is highly imaginative. Today it is often played by solo pianists who don’t have a clue what to do with the music. Botstein doesn’t always capture the “feel” of Still’s music right, but in this performance he is really very good.

STILL: Danzas de Panama: 4. Cumbia e Congo (1953) / Cincinnati Conservatory of Music Encore Advanced Chamber Orchestra; Jaime Morales-Matos, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking title above

5-fish

 

A fine performance of one of Still’s lighter works.

STILL: Ennanga (1956) / Ann Hobson Pilot, harpist; Videmus Ensemble / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking title

4-and-a-half-fish

 

This performance is not quite as African-sounding as I might have liked, but spirited enough to give the right impression.

STILL: Frisco Jazz Band Blues / The Azusa Pacific University Chamber Wind Ensemble / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking title

4-and-a-half-fish

 

A little-known and unusual work by Still, simulating the slightly off-kilter rhythmic playing of West Coast black blues bands of the 1920s and ‘30s.

STILL: Lenox Avenue: Spiritual and Blues (1937) / The Los Angeles WPA Symphony Orchestra; William Grant Still, conductor

4-and-a-half-fish

 

Go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-w3CRWAlMtY, move the cursor to about 11:16, and listen to the remaining music, which is the best in this ballet. I have no way of knowing how many Africa-American musicians were in this orchestra, but the gospel choir certainly sounds black.

 

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Composers – R

girl-penguinRachmaninov, Sergei

RACHMANINOV: Aleko: Song of the young gypsy. Fragment from A. de Musset.* In the Silence of the Night.* How Fair This Spot. O Cease Thy Singing, Maiden Fair. Vocalise* / Nicolai Gedda, ten; Gerald Moore, *Alexis Weissenberg, pn / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on titles above

5-fish

RACHMANINOV: Christ is Risen. Bliss. The Boy’s Song / Nicolai Gedda, ten; Erik Werba, pn / available for free streaming on YouTube

5-fish

RACHMANINOV: All Things Depart. The Answer. Before My Window. The Drooping Corn. Floods of Spring. In the Silence of the Night. Lilacs. O Cease Thy Singing, Maiden Fair. The Soldier’s Bride. Sorrow in Springtime / Jennie Tourel, mezzo; Erich Itor Kahn, pn / part of Preiser 89733 or available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking titles above

4-and-a-half-fish

RACHMANINOV: Child! Thou Art as Beautiful as a Flower. The Dream. In the Silence of the Night. I Wait for Thee. Lilacs / Irina Arphipova, alto; John Wustman, pn / part of Melodiya 102123 or available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking titles above

5-fish

RACHMANINOV: Cello Sonata in G min.: I. Lento. II. Allegro scherzando. III. Andante. IV. Allegro mosso / Joel Krosnick, cel; Nadia Reisenberg, pn / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on movement titles above

5-fish

RACHMANINOV: Piano Concerto No. 2 in C min. / William Kapell, pn; Robin Hood Dell Orchestra; William Steinberg, cond / available for free streaming on YouTube

5-fish

RACHMANINOV: Piano Sonata No. 2 / Van Cliburn, pn / available for free streaming on YouTube

4-fish

RACHMANINOV: Prelude in C-sharp minor / Sergei Rachmaninov, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube

6-fish

RACHMANINOV: The Isle of the Dead / Russian National Orchestra; Mikhail Pletnev, cond / available for free streaming on YouTube

5-fish

RACHMANINOV: Vespers / Swedish Radio Choir; Tōnu Kaljuste, dir / Virgin Classics 61845

6-fish

Sergei Rachmaninov was an outstanding pianist and an often self-indulgent composer, much of whose music is mooshy, gooshy romantic drivel. He did, however, compose one pretty good piano concerto (the second) which, when performed without sentimentality, is not too bad to hear; one good piano sonata (also the second); a very good and very famous Prelude in C-sharp minor; one fine orchestral work, The Isle of the Dead; the superb Vespers; and a surprisingly large series of outstanding Russian songs, which form the bulk of his legacy.

Rameau, Jean-Philippe

RAMEAU: Castor et Pollux / Jeffrey Thompson, haut-contre (Castor); Hadleigh Adams, bass (Pollux); Celeste Lazarenko, soprano (Télaïre); Margaret Plummer, soprano (Phœbe); Paul Goodwin-Groen, bass (Jupiter); Anna Fraser, soprano (Cléone/A Spirit); Pascal Herington, tenor (Mercury/Athlete); Mark Donnelly, baritone (High Priest); Cantillation; Orchestra of the Antipodes; Antony Walker, conductor / Pinchgut Live PG003

5-fish

RAMEAU: Les Fêtes de l’Hymen et de l’Amour / Chantal Santon-Jeffery, soprano (Orthésie/Orie); Carolyn Sampson, soprano (L’Amour/Memphis/Egyptian Priestess); Blandine Staskiewicz, mezzo (l’Hymen/an Egyptian/Shepherdess); Jennifer Borghi, mezzo (Mirrine); Mathias Vidal, tenor (Un Plaisir/Agéris/Aruéris); Reinoud van Mechelen, tenor (Osiris/an Egyptian shepherd); Tassis Christoyannis, baritone (Canope/an Egyptian); Alain Buet, bass (High Priest/an Egyptian); Concert Spirituel Orchestra & Chorus; Hervé Niquet, conductor / Glossa GCD921629 or available for free streaming in small bits on YouTube

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RAMEAU: Hippolyte et Aricie / Mark Padmore, tenor (Hippolyte); Anna-Mari Panzarella, soprano (Aricie); Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, mezzo (Phèdre); Laurent Naori, bass (Thésée); Eirian James, mezzo (Diana); Gaëlle Mechaly, soprano (Cupid/Sailor); Nathan Berg, bass (Jupiter/Pluto/Neptune); Paul Agnew, tenor (Amor) / Patricia Petibon, soprano (Priestess/Shepherdess); Mirielle Delunch, soprano (High Priestess); Katalin Károlyi, mezzo-soprano (Oenone); François Piolino, tenor (Tisiphone); David Le Monnier, baritone (A hunter); Les Arts Florissants; William Christie, conductor / Erato 663052, available for free streaming on YouTube in small bits

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RAMEAU: Les Indes Galantes / Anne-Marie Rodde, soprano (Hébé/Fatima/Italian song); Sonia Nigoghossian, soprano (Phani/Zaïre); Rachel Yakar, soprano (Émilie); Jeanine Micheau, soprano (Zima); Bruce Brewer, countertenor (Valère/Carlos/Tacmas/Damon); Christian Tréguier, baritone (Bellone/Osman/Don Alvar); Pierre-Yves Le Magiat, bass (Huascar); Jean-Christophe Benoît, bass (Ali); Jean-Marie Gouélou, tenor (Adario); Ensemble Vocal Raphaël Passaquet; La Grande Ècurie et la Chambre du Roy; Jean-Claude Malgoire, conductor / Sony Classical 88985338292

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RAMEAU: Thésis (Cantata) / Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, baritone; Jean-Pierre Rampal, flautist; Robert Veyron-Lacroix, harpsichordist; Jacques Neilz, cellist / part of DG Archiv 2533058 or available for free streaming on YouTube

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Pretty much ignored for 200 years after his death, Rameau is now viewed as one of the most original and important composers of his day, a precursor to Gluck. The plots (such as they are) are based on mythology, but the music—though florid—is highly creative, individual and unpredictable, unlike most of Handel’s operas. I just wish more of them recorded complete. These are, by a wide margin, the best performances available of each opera.

Rathaus, Karol

RATHAUS: Suite for Violin & Piano. Violin Sonatas Nos. 1 & 2 / Karolina Piatkowska-Nowicka, violinist; Bogumiła Weretka-Bajdor, pianist / Dux 1347 or available for free streaming in small bits on YouTube

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RATHAUS: Symphony No. 2, Op. 7 / Brandenburgisches Staatsorchester Frankfurt; Israel Yinon, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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RATHAUS: Symphony No. 3, Op. 50 / Brandenburgisches Staatsorchester Frankfurt; Israel Yinon, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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Karol Rathaus (1895-1954) is a great composer waiting to be discovered. I did. Will you? His music, though essentially tonal, is full of unusual chord positions and modulations; it’s original, dramatic, and will keep you on the edge of your seat. It’s also beautifully constructed. What are you waiting for?

Rautavaara, Einojuhani

RAUTAVAARA: Before the Icons. A Tapestry of Life / Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra; Leif Segerstam, conductor / Ondine 1149 or available for free streaming on YouTube

6-fish

RAUTAVAARA: In the Beginning (for orchestra) / Deutsche Radio Philharmonie Saarbrücken Kaiserslautern; Pietari Inkinen, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

5-fish

RAUTAVAARA: Cello Concerto No. 2, “Beyond the Horizon.” Modificata. Percussion Concerto, “Incantations” / Truls Mørk, cellist; Colin Currie, percussionist; Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra; John Storgårds, conductor / Ondine 1178 or available for free streaming in small bits on YouTube

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RAUTAVAARA: Suite for Strings / Burlington Chamber Orchestra; Michael Hopkins, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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RAUTAVAARA: Symphony No. 7, “Angel of Light” / Norrköping Symphony Orchestra; Anna-Maria Helsing, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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The music of Einojuani Rautavaara (1928-2016) is often overrated, particularly his works of the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s, which consisted of a lot of empty rhetoric, pretentious post-romanticism and pointless repeated arpeggios, but in his last 22 years he wrote a few truly interesting works. These are listed above with my preferred recordings of them.

Ravel, Maurice

RAVEL: Alborado del grazioso (piano version) / Dinu Lipatti, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube

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RAVEL: Alborado del grazioso. Une barque sur l’océan / Boston Symphony Orchestra; Seiji Ozawa, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on titles above

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RAVEL: Bolero / City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra; Sir Simon Rattle, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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RAVEL: Chansons madécasses. Don Quichotte à Dulcinée. Épigrammes de Clément Marot. Histoires naturelles. Mélodies hébraïques. Cinq Mélodies populaires Grecques / Gérard Souzay, baritone; Dalton Baldwin, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on titles above

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RAVEL: Vocalise en forme de habanera / Jennie Tourel, mezzo; Paul Ulanovsky, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube

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The song recordings listed above are magnificent, as are these instrumental versions. Ravel’s Bolero is often the most poorly-played of his famous pieces; only Rattle, Ravel himself, and Toscanini in his 1939 NBC broadcast capture the jazzy swagger in the music that he insisted on.

RAVEL: Concerto for Piano Left Hand & Orchestra / Florian Uhlig, pianist; Deutsche Radio Philharmonie Saarbrücken; Pablo Gonzalez, conductor / part of SWR Music 19027 or available for free streaming on YouTube

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This concerto was written for Paul Wittgenstein, who lost his right arm in World War I, but ironically he was a lousy pianist who played it very badly. Ravel was constantly berating him in rehearsal because he couldn’t even phrase the music correctly. (A live performance from 1938 exists, proving just how terrible he was.) Florian Uhlig will simply blow you away.

RAVEL: Daphnis et Chloe (Complete) / SWR Symphony Orchestra of Baden-Baden und Freiburg; Michael Gielen, conductor / Hänssler Classic 93.197, or available for free streaming in small bits on YouTube

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RAVEL: Daphnis et Chloe, Suite No. 2 / NBC Symphony Orchestra; Arturo Toscanini, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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Classic performances of the complete ballet and the Suite No. 2 by two of the greatest conductors of all time. Yes, there’s a nice version of the ballet by Charles Dutoit as well, but for me Gielen is a shade better, and the Toscanini recording of the suite is one of his most beautiful recordings.

RAVEL: L’Enfant et les Sotrilèges / Marie-Lise de Montmollin, mezzo (Mother/Cup); Flore Wend, mezzo-soprano (Child); Lucien Lovano, bass (Armchair/Tree); Hughes Cuénod, tenor (Teapot/Math Book/Frog); Pierre Mollet, baritone (Broken Clock/Cat); Juliette Bise, mezzo (Bergère/Father/Owl); Adrienne Migliette, soprano (The Fire/Nightingale); Suzanne Danco, soprano (Princess/Squirrel); Gisèle Bobilier, soprano (Shepherd); Geneviève Touraine, mezzo (Cat/Widower Bat); The Motet Chorus of Geneva; l’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande; Ernest Ansermet, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

5-fish

This is undoubtedly the greatest recording of Ravel’s weird yet fascinating children’s opera. The libretto, by Colette, is the story of a naughty child punished by only getting tea and toast for supper. Alone in his room, he smashes the teapot, tears up the wallpaper and hurts his pet squirrel with a poker. All of these objects and more, including a cat, a bat, the fire in the fireplace, a fairy princess in a book he loves and the numbers in his arithmetic book, come to life and chastise him. The music may be a bit over the heads of most children, but it’s still one of Ravel’s most imaginative works.

RAVEL: Gaspard de na nuit. Sonatine. Le tombeau de Couperin / John Browning, pianist / Sony/RCA 886446381886 or available for free streaming in small bits on YouTube

6-fish

Absolutely the greatest performances you’ll ever hear of these works. Fabulous technique as well as nuance hold you spellbound.

RAVEL: L’Heure Espagnole / Gaëlle Arquez, mezzo-soprano (Concepción); Julien Behr, tenor (Gonzalve); Mathias Vidal, tenor (Torquemada); Alexandre Duhamel, baritone (Ramiro); Lionel Lhote, baritone (Don Iñigo Gomez); Münchner Rundfunkorchester; Asher Fisch, conductor / BR Klassik 900317 or available for free streaming on YouTube in small bits

6-fish

Ravel’s other short opera, equally charming and superbly crafted, in a relatively new recording with superb singing and conducting.

RAVEL: Introduction & Allegro for Harp, Flute, Clarinet & String Quartet / Nicanor Zabaleta, harpist; Christian Larde, flautist; Guy Deplus, clarinetist; Monique Frasca-Colombier, Marguerite Vidal, violinists; Anka Moraver, violist; Hamisa Dor, cellist / part of Ermitage ERM1034 or available for free streaming on YouTube

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An outstanding and oft-overlooked piece by Ravel, played to perfection by one of the most exciting harpists of the 20th century.

RAVEL: Ma Mère l’Oye. Valses nobles et sentimentales / Boston Symphony Orchestra; Seiji Ozawa, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on titles above

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RAVEL: Pavane pour une infante défunte. La Valse / Montreal Symphony Orchestra; Charles Dutoit, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on titles above

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RAVEL: Piano Concerto in G / Natalia Kogan, pianist; University of Chicago Symphony Orchestra; Barbara Schubert, conductor / available for free streaming on Internet Archive

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Ravel’s late piano concerto, influenced by jazz, is rarely played that way. This is one of the very few recordings of the work that infuse the performance with a bit of jazziness.

RAVEL: Pièce en forme de Habanera. Tzigane / Ginette Neveu, violinist; Jean Neveu, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube by clickng on titles above

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Outstanding performances of these two violin showpieces by the late, great Ginette Neveu.

RAVEL: Violin Sonata No. 2 in G: I. Allegretto; II. Blues; III. Perpetuum mobile / Ursula Schoch, violinist; Marcel Worms, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube by clocking on movement titles above

6-fish

Another jazz-based Ravel work, particularly the first two movements. This is one of the very few recordings to present it with some jazz swagger.

Rawsthorne, Alan

RAWSTHORNE: Practical Cats: Overture; 1. The Naming of Cats; 2. The Od Gumbie Cat; 3. Gus, the Theatre Cat; 4. Bustopher Jones – The Cat About Town; 5. Old Deuteronomy; 6. The Song of the Jellicles. / Alexander Armstrong, narrator; Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra; Vasily Petrenko, conductor

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Alan Rawsthorne was a good composer who wrote some decent music, but nothing with the wit and sparkle of Practical Cats, based on T.S. Eliot’s whimsical poetry. This recording isn’t as sparkling as the original version, conducted by Rawsthorne himself and featuring Robert Donat as the narrator, but it’s easier to find and good to have in stereo.

Rebikov, Vladimir

REBIKOV: Chansons blanches, Op. 48. Dans leur pays, Op. 27: Les géants dansent. Esclavage et liberté, Op. 22. Une fête, Op. 38. Feuilles d’automne. Parmi eux. Les rêves, Op. 15: Les demons s’amusent. Scènes bucoliques. Tableaux pour enfants. Trois idylles. Two episodes from Yolka (The Christmas Tree) / Anthony Goldstone, pianist / Divine Art 25081 or available for free streaming in small bits on YouTube

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Late-Romantic Russian composer Vladimir Rebikov had his own style of integrating melody, harmony and rhythm that was based on Baroque principles but brought forward in time. These fascinating pieces are played superbly by the late pianist Anthony Goldstone.

Reger, Max

REGER: A Ballet Suite, Op. 130. Variations & Fugue on a Theme of Mozart, Op. 132 / Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam; Eduard van Beinum, conductor / Ein Lustspielouvertüre, Op. 120. A Romantic Suite* / Staatskapelle Dresden; *Groot Sinfinoeorkest; Fritz Lehmann, conductor / Serenade in G / Berlin Philharmonic; Eugen Jochum, conductor / Ein Vaterländische Ouvertüre, Op. 140 / Städtische Orchester Berlin; Robert Heger, conductor / Des Kindes Gebet. Schlichte Weisen Op. 76: Waldeinsamkeit, No. 3 / Anni Frind, soprano; Bruno Seidler-Winkler, conductor / Guild 2400/01

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Max Reger, academic composer deluxe, is often looked upon by Germans as the sine qua non of composers, but most of his music follows similar patterns and some of it gets bogged down in formal structures. These are among his best pieces of music, lovingly played and sung by the various performers listed above. The mono sound precludes a higher rating.

Respighi, Ottorino

RESPIGHI: Bella porta di rubini / Nicolai Gedda, tenor; Erik Wereba, pianist / 5 Lirische: No. 1, Tempi assai lontani / Mitsuko Shirai, mezzo; Heltmut Holl, pianist / Stornellatrice / Anna Moffo, soprano; unidentified pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking titles above

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Three of Respighi’s best songs sung by three superb singers.

RESPIGHI: Feste Romane. The Fountains of Rome. The Pines of Rome / NBC Symphony Orchestra; Arturo Toscanini, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on individual titles above

5-fish

When Toscanini first conducted Respighi’s Pines and Fountains of Rome in the early 1920s, the composer was astonished: music which had gone nowhere in the concert halls suddenly became beloved works. In gratitude, he wrote Feste Romane specifically for Toscanini. Yes, the music is somewhat gaudy in places, but Toscanini was the only conductor who performed these works with structural integrity and backbone. In his hands, they almost achieve the level of great music.

RESPIGHI: Sinfonia Drammatica / BBC Philharmonic Orchestra; Edward Downes, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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Unlike the above tone poems, this little-known symphony by Respighi is a masterpiece. Edward Downes conducts a brilliant performance that is likely to be unsurpassed.

RESPIGHI: Gli uccelli (The Birds) / Chicago Symphony Orchestra; Désiré Defauw, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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Respighi’s loving tribute to Baroque music is one of his most charming pieces, and this is certainly the sprightliest recording of it.

Reveultas, Silvestre

REVUELTAS: Caminos. Cuauhnáhuac. Janitzio. Musica para charlar. La Noche de los Mayas. Ocho por radio. Redes – Suite: part 1, part 2. Sensemayá. Toccata. Ventanas / Orquesta Filarmónica de la cuidad de Mexico; Enrique Batiz, conductor / part of Brilliant Classics 8771; available for free streaming by clicking on titles above

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REVUELTAS: Colorines. La Coronela – Ballet. Itineraros / English Chamber Orchestra; Santa Barbara Symphony Orchestra; Gisèle Ben-Dor, conductor / Naxos 8.572250

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The sadly short-lived Mexican composer Silvestre Revueltas (1899-1940) was highly eclectic and quite original in his musical construction. Much of his music starts out as typically colorful Latin music, but quickly turns corners and down alleys you never expect. All of the above pieces are worth hearing.

Rey Alfonso X el Sabio

REY ALFONSO X: Cantigas de Santa Maria / Russell Oberlin, countertenor; Joseph Iadone, lutenist / available for free streaming on YouTube

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Very early music of the 13th century, sung to perfection by the greatest countertenor of them all.

Rieti, Vittorio

RIETI: Concerto per Clavicembalo e Orchestre / Sylvia Marlowe, harpsichordist; Chamber Orchestra; Paul Baron, conductor / Partita / Sylvia Marlowe, harpsichordist; Julius Baker, flautist; Mitch Miller, oboist; Kroll String Quartet / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on titles above

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The post-Romantic lyricism of Vittorio Rieti was tempered by his use of modern harmonies, which gave the music an odd quality, as if it were both ancient and modern at the same time. These are two of his best compositions, both commissioned by American harpsichordist Sylvia Marlowe.

Rimsky-Korsakov, Nikolai

RIMSKY-KORSAKOV: Christmas Eve Suite / Scottish National Orchestra; Neeme Järvi, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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Rimsky-Korsakov was a mediocre composer but a master orchestrator. This marvelous piece is actually one of his better compositions; a shame it isn’t better known.

RIMSKY-KORSAKOV: The Nightingale and the Rose / Rosa Ponselle, soprano; Romano Romani, pianist / Sadko: Song of the Indian Guest / Segeri Lemeshev, tenor; unidentified pianist / available for free streaming by clicking titles above

4-fish

Two of Rimsky’s loveliest and most memorable tunes, sung to perfection.

RIMSKY-KORSAKOV: Scheherazade / Josef Fuchs, violinist; Cleveland Orchestra; Artur Rodzinski, conductor / available for free streaming on Internet Archive

4-fish

The sound is old but the performance sounds modern. No one draws as much transparency of texture out of Scheherazade than Rodzinski did, nor does anyone conduct it with such strength and guts. A fabulous reading!

Rorem, Ned

ROREM: Alleluia. As Adam in the New Morning. Ask Me No More. Early in the Morning. Far-Far-Away. Full of Life Now. I Am Rose. I Strolled Across an Open Field. Little Elegy. Love in a Life. Lullaby of the Woman of the Mountain. Memory. My Papa. Nantucket. Night Crow. Nightingale. Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal. O You Whom I Often and Silently Come. Orchida. Root Cellar. Sally’s Smile. See How They Love Me. The Serpent. The Snake. Spring. Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening. Such Beauty as Hurts to Behold. Visit to St. Elizabeth’s. Waking. What if some little pain… Youth, Day, Old Age and Night / Carole Farley, soprano; Ned Rorem, pianist / Naxos 8.559084

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ROREM: Alleluia. Clouds. Do I Love You More Than a Day? Early in the Morning. Far-Far-Away. Ferry Me Across the Water. For Poulenc. For Susan. I Am Rose. I Strolled Across an Open Field. I Will Always Love You. Jeannie With the Light Brown Hair. A Journey. Little Elegy. Look Down, Fair Moon. The Lordly Hudson. Love. Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal. O Do Not Love Too Long. Ode: Je te salue, hereuse Paix. Orchids. Santa Fe Songs: Opus 101; Sonnet; The Wintry Mind; The Sowers. The Serpent. Sometimes With One I Love. Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening. That Shadow, My Likeness. To a Young Girl. The Tulip Tree / Susan Graham, mezzo-soprano; Malcolm Martineau, pianist; Ensemble Oriol / Warner Classics 68625

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ROREM: For Poulenc. Little Elegy. The Tulip Tree. What Sparks and Wiry Cries / Phyllis Curtin, soprano; Ned Rorem, pianist / Look Down, Fair Moon. Night Crow / Donald Gramm, baritone; Ned Rorem, pianist / The Nantucket Songs / Phyllis Bryn-Julson, soprano; Ned Rorem, pianist / Some Trees / Curtin, soprano; Beverly Wolff, contralto; Gramm, baritone; Rorem, pianist / Women’s Voices / Katherine Ciesinski, mezzo; Rorem, pianist / CRI 657

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One of the greatest and most prolific of American songwriters, Ned Rorem is an American treasure. The three albums listed above are among the greatest made, and two of them have Rorem himself as accompanist.

Roslavets, Nikolai

ROSLAVETS: Chamber Symphony No. 1 / Bolshoi Theater Soloists Ensemble; Alexander Lazarev, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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ROSLAVETS: 3 Compositions. 3 Études. 2 Poems. Prelude. 5 Preludes / Olga Andryushchenko, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube in small bits

5-fish

ROSLAVETS: In the House of the New Moon / Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra; James Judd, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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ROSLAVETS: Komsomoliya / Mariinsky Theater Chorus & Orchestra; Valery Gergiev, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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ROSLAVETS: Nocturne (for harp, oboe, 2 violas & cello) / Soloists of the Bolshoi Theater Orchestra / available for free streaming on YouTube

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ROSLAVETS: Piano Sonata No. 1 / Irina Emeliantseva, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube

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ROSLAVETS: Piano Sonata No. 2 / Anya Alexeyev, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube

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ROSLAVETS: Piano Sonata No. 5 / Natalia Pankova, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube

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ROSLAVETS: Piano Trio No. 3 / Trio Fontenay / available for free streaming on YouTube

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ROSLAVETS: String Quartets Nos. 1 & 3 / Novosibirsk “Filarmonica” String Quartet / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on individual titles above

5-fish

Nikolai Roslavets (1881-1944) is probably the greatest Russian composer you’ve never heard of. A confirmed modernist, his music was often suppressed by the Soviet regime, yet he persisted and never gave up his principles. Strongly influenced by Alexander Scriabin and his “mystic chord,” he organized a new system of sound organization” by creating “synthetic chords” consisting of six to nine tones. He then expanded his style to include counterpoint, rhythm and musical form. The pieces and performances listed above will simply astound you.

Rosseter, Philip

ROSSETER: If She Forsakes Me. When Laura Smiles / Alice Babs, soprano; Åke Leven, organist / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on titles above

5-fish

ROSSETER: Sweet Come Again. What Is a Day? What Then is Love But Mourning? When Laura Smiles. Whether Men Do Laugh or Weep / Peter Pears, tenor; Julian Bream, lutenist / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on titles above

5-fish

Philip Rosseter was one of the finest but least prolific of the great Elizabethan lute song composers. Above are some of the finest performances of his music.

Rossini, Gioacchino

ROSSINI: Il Barbiere di Siviglia / Mercedes Capsir, soprano (Rosina); Dino Borgioli, tenor (Almaviva); Riccardo Stracciari, baritone (Figaro); Attilio Bordonali, baritone (Fiorello); Salvatore Baccaloni, bass (Dr. Bartolo); Vincenzo Bettoni, bass (Don Basilio); Cesira Ferrari, mezzo (Berta); Teatro alla Scala, Milan Orchestra & Chorus; Cav. Lorenzo Molajoli, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

4-fish

Despite the boxy, dated sound,some odd cuts and at least one substituted aria—“Manca al foglio” for Dr. Bartolo instead of “Un dottor della mia sorte”—there are few, if any, recordings of Rossini’s comic masterpiece as funny as this one.

ROSSINI: Il Barbiere di Siviglia / Kathleen Battle, soprano (Rosina); Frank Lopardo, tenor (Almaviva); Placido Domingo, baritone (Figaro); Carlos Chausson, baritone (Fiorello); Lucio Gallo, bass (Dr. Bartolo); Ruggero Raimondi, bass (Don Baslio); Gabriele Sima, mezzo (Berta); Members of Teatre la Fenice Chorus; The Chamber Orchestra of Europe; Claudio Abbado, conductor / DGG 435763 or available for free streaming in small bits on YouTube

5-fish

This is my personal favorite of all the stereo and/or digital recordings. It’s the most sparkling and lively by a wide margin, and the singing is simply spectacular.

ROSSINI: La Cenerentola / Jennifer Larmore, mezzo (Cenerentola); Raúl Giménez, tenor (Don Ramiro); Gino Quilico, baritone (Dandini); Alessandro Corbelli, bass (Don Magnifico); Adelina Scarabelli, soprano (Clorinda); Laura Polverelli, mezzo (Tisbe); Alaistair Miles, bass (Alidoro); Royal Opera, Covent Garden Orch & Chorus; Carlo Rizzi, conductor / Warner Classics 4672662

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Absolutely the warmest and funniest recording of this usually-middling Rossini comedy, the performances here will convince you it is one of his better operas. May be out of print, but I think you can stream it on Spotify if you can download their stupid app.

ROSSINI: La Danza / Jussi Björling, tenor; Ford Motor Symphony Orchestra; Eugene Ormandy, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

3-and-a-half-fish

It’s sung in Swedish rather than Italian, and the radio sonics are mediocre at best, but you will NEVER hear another tenor hit every freaking note dead on the screws the way Björling does. Unbelievable!

ROSSINI: Guillaume Tell / Judith Howarth, soprano (Mathilde); Tara Stafford, soprano (Jemmy); Andrew Foster-Williams, baritone (Tell); Michael Spyres, tenor (Arnold); Raffaele Facciolà, bass (Gesler); Nahuel Di Pierro, bass (Walter/Melcthal); Artavazd Sargsyan, tenor (Ruodi); Alessandra Volpe, mezzo (Hedwige); Giulio Pelligra, tenor (Rodolphe); Marco Filippo Romano, bass (Leuthold); Camerata Bach Choir, Poznań; Virtuosi Brunensis; Antonino Fogliani, conductor / Naxos 8.660363-66

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Forget Nicolai Gedda or Luciano Pavarotti…Michael Spyres sings the hellacious role of Arnold better than anyone else on records, plus Antonino Fogliani’s conducting pulls this rambling, four-hour monstrosity of an opera into focus better than anyone else. Granted, I prefer Sherrill Milnes’ voice as Tell a bit better than Foster-Williams, but the latter is not bad…plus this recording, like the Gedda, is in the original French. This same performance also exists on a DVD, but don’t bother to get it…the stage production is another one of those idiotic Regietheater horrors. When Tell shoots the apple off Jemmy’s head, the soprano is standing between two toilet seats nailed to the wall behind her. You get the drift.

ROSSINI: Li Marinari / John McCormack, tenor; G. Mario Sammarco, baritone / available for free streaming on YouTube

4-fish

If you only know or think of John McCormack as a singer of Irish songs, Mozart, Handel and arie antiche, you’re going to be stunned by this recording. He nails all the high notes and sounds fully Italianate. Only 3 ½ fish, however, for the 1911 acoustic sound quality.

ROSSINI: L’Italiana in Algeri / Agnes Baltsa, mezzo (Isabella); Frank Lopardo, tenor (Lindoro); Enza Dara, bass (Taddeo); Ruggero Raimondi, bass (Mustafà); Patricia Pace, soprano (Elvira); Anna Gonda, mezzo (Zulma); Alessandro Corbelli, bass (Haly); Vienna State Opera Chorus; Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra; Claudio Abbado, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

6-fish

Agnes Baltsa’s performance of Isabella will have you rolling on the floor with laughter, as will Ruggero Raimondi’s Mustafà, and Abbado conducts with humor and brio. A great performance of what is probably Rossini’s funniest comic opera (sorry, Barbiere fans).

ROSSINI: Moisë et Pharaon / Ildar Abdrazakhov, bass (Moïse); Erwin Schrott, baritone (Pharaon); Giuseppe Filianoti, tenor (Aménophis); Tomislav Mužek, tenor (Éliézer); Giorgio Giuseppini, bass (Osiride); Antonello Ceron, tenor (Aufide); Sonia Ganassi, mezzo (Sinaïde); Barbara Frittoli, soprano (Anaï); Nino Surguladze, contralto (Marie); Maurizio Muraro, bass (Mysterious Voice); Teatro alla Scala, Milan Orchestra & Chorus; Riccardo Muti, conductor / Arthaus Musik 107149, DVD

5-fish

One of the very few modern productions of an old opera that isn’t insulting to your intelligence, this is also the finest cast and conducting I’ve heard in this work, which is Rossini’s greatest serious opera. Why it’s not more popular than his dreadful Semiramide or Tancredi, I have no idea. By the way, Ildar Abdrazakhov is Mr. Olga Borodina, and a much more interesting singer and better actor than his wife.

ROSSINI: Petite Messe Solennelle / Françoise Pollet, soprano; Jacqueline Mayeur, mezzo-soprano; Jean-Luc Viala, tenor; Michel Piquemal, baritone/director; Ensemble Michel Piquemal; Raymond Alessandrini, pianist; Emmanuel Mandrin, harmonium / Accord 4760602

5-fish

Except for soprano Pollet, none of the singers here are well-known, but tenor Jean-Luc Viala will stun you with his secure, brilliant voice, and the overall performance is by far the liveliest I’ve ever heard.

ROSSINI: Stabat Mater / Helen Field, soprano; Della Jones, mezzo-soprano; Arthur Davies, tenor; Roderick Earle, bass; London Symphony Chorus; City of London Sinfonietta; Richard Hickox, conductor / Chandos 10781

5-fish

You’ll never hear a more exciting or beautifully conducted performance of this late religious work by Rossini than this. Bass Roderick Earle is just a shade unsteady, but his singing is deeply felt, and the other singers are simply fantastic.

Roussel, Albert

ROUSSEL: Bacchus et Ariane (Ballet). Symphony No. 3 / Royal Scottish National Orchestra; Stéphane Denève, conductor / Naxos 8.570245, or available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on titles above

5-fish

ROUSSEL: Évocations, Op. 15. Résurrection, Op. 4 (Symphonic Prelude after Tolstoy) / Nathalie Stutzmann, mezzo-soprano; Nicolai Gedda, tenor; José van Dam, baritone; Orféon Donostiarra; Orchestre du Capitole de Toulouse; Michel Plasson, conductor / EMI 65564, or available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on titles above

5-fish

ROUSSEL: Le Festin de l’araignée / Royal Scottish National Orchestra; Stéphane Denève, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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ROUSSEL: Jazz dans la nuit / Gabrielle Ritter-Ciampi, soprano; Albert Roussel, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube

4-fish

ROUSSEL: Le marchand de sable qui passe. Resurrection. Symphony No. 1 / Royal Scottish Symphony Orchestra; Stéphane Denève, conductor / Naxos 8.570323 or available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on individual titles above

5-fish

ROUSSEL: Pour une fête de printemps. Symphony No. 2 / Royal Scottish Symphony Orchestra; Stéphane Denève, conductor / Naxos 8.570529 or available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on individual titles above

5-fish

ROUSSEL: Sinfonietta. Symphony No. 4 / Royal Scottish Symphony Orchestra; Stéphane Denève, conductor / Naxos 8.572135, symphony available for free streaming by clicking on link above

5-fish

Albert Roussel was a late-Romantic French composer in the vein of Duparc, Fauré and Chausson who did not embrace the harmonic revolution of Debussy, Ravel and Koechlin, but his scores are imbued with Eastern mysticism and are rarely very conventional. His ballet Le Festin de l’araignée (The Spider’s Feast) was even a great favorite of Arturo Toscanini, who recorded the suite from it with the NBC Symphony Orchestra. Happily, his music has been revived in recent decades by some first-class French conductors, including Ernest Ansermet (not represented here, although I prefer his Le Festin d’araignée to Denève’s performance), Michel Plasson and Stéphane Denève. All of the above recordings are very fine readings of his music.

Ruggiero, Charles

RUGGIERO: Boppish Blue-Tinged: I. Tinged; II. Blue; III. Boppish / Joseph Lulloff, alto saxophonist; Musique 21 Ensemble; Raphael Jiménez, conductor / Chobim: I. Dark Samba; II. Nocturne-Etude; III. Bossa Nova Sentimental; IV. Nocturne – Changing Topics; V. Bossa à la Brubeck / Joseph Lulloff, alto saxophonist; Michael Kroth, bassoonist; Deborah Moriarty, pianist / Night Songs and Flights of Fancy: I. Under Sun and Moon; II. Late Night Romp; III. Shaw’s Mare; IV. Stars and Moon Aglow / Joseph Lulloff, alto saxophonist; Jun Okada, pianist / Blue Griffin 333, or available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on movement titles above

6-fish

RUGGIERO: Tenor Attitudes: I. Disciples; II. Pathfinders; III. Master Storytellers / Jonathan Nichol, tenor saxist; Michael Kirkendoll, pianist / part of BGR 433 or available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on movement titles above

6-fish

Charles Ruggiero is one of the most fascinating of those composers who combine classical music with jazz because he uses rigorous classical forms to expound his influence. I only wish there were more recordings of his music.

Ruggles, Carl

RUGGLES: Sun-Treader / Boston Symphony Orchestra; Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor / available for free streaming in small bits on YouTube

6-fish

RUGGLES: Angels (trumpet version); Angels (trumpet-trombone version). Evocations (piano version). Evocations (orchestral version). Exaltation. Men. Men and Mountains. Organum. Portals. Sun-Treader. Vox Clamans in Deserto / Gerard Schwarz, trumpeter; John Kirkpatrick, pianist; Gregg Smith Singers; Leonard Raver, organist; Beverly Morgan, mezzo-soprano; Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra; Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor / Toys / Judith Blegen, soprano; Michael Tilson Thomas, pianist / Other Minds 1020/21 or available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on individual titles above

5-fish

Carl Ruggles, a friend and disciple of Charles Ives, wrote far less music. In fact, the works listed above comprise his entire output. Not all the pieces are of equal quality, but all are interesting. Michael Tilson Thomas’ 1970 recording of Sun-Treader with the Boston Symphony is a far more intense performance than the one with the Buffalo Philharmonic.

Rzewski, Frederic

RZEWSKI: Les Moutons des Panurge / Taller Atlántico Contemporáneo / available for free streaming on YouTube

5-fish

RZEWSKI: North American Ballads: No. 4, Winnsboro Cotton Mill. The People United Shall Never Be Defeated / Ralph van Raat, pianist / Naxos 8.559360

6-fish

The unconventional avant-garde composer Frederic Rzewski has written some remarkable pieces; these are the three with which I am most familiar, and love the most.

Composers – O

girl-penguinOffenbach, Jacques

OFFENBACH: Gaîte Parisienne (compiled & edited by M. Rosenthal) / Boston Pops Orchestra; Arthur Fiedler, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

5-fish

OFFENBACH: Gaîte Parisienne (compiled & edited by M. Rosenthal) / New Philharmonia Orchestra; Charles Munch, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

5-fish

Many people enjoy the Offenbach operettas. I don’t. I find the music gauche and cheap and the usually ribald plots offensive and stereotypical. But I do enjoy the orchestral suite that Manuel Rosenthal compiled and scored in 1938 for the ballet by Leonid Massine. Here are two versions of it, both superb in their own way. The Fiedler recording, from 1954, was an early stereo classic that stayed in the catalog for generations. It still holds up extremely well, although to my ears the tempi are just a shade fast for a ballet. The Munch recording, made in spectacular Phase 4 Stereo sound 14 years later (it was one of his very last recordings) may lack some of the manic feel of the Fiedler but has more realistic sound and better tempi for dancing. The choice is yours.

OFFENBACH: Les contes d’Hoffmann

Neil Shicoff, tenor (Hoffmann); Ann Murray, mezzo-soprano (Muse/Micklausse); José van Dam, bass-baritone (Lindorf/Coppélius/Dapertutto/Dr. Miracle); Luciana Serra, soprano (Olympia); Rosalind Plowright, soprano (Antonia); Jessye Norman, soprano (Giulietta); Kurt Rydl, bass (Luther/Crespel); Alexander Oliver, tenor (Spalanzani); Robert Tear, tenor (Andrès/Cochenille/Pitichinaccio/Frantz); Dale Duesing, baritone (Schlemil); Théâtre de la Monnaie, Brussels Chorus & Orchestra; Sylvain Cambreling, conductor / EMI 58613, also available for free streaming in small bits on YouTube

4-and-a-half-fish    or  6-fish (see below)

Rolando Villazón, tenor (Hoffmann); Angela Brower, mezzo-soprano (Muse/Nicklausse); John Relyea, bass-baritone (Lindorf/Coppélius/Dapertutto/Dr. Miracle); Diana Damrau, soprano (Olympia/Antonia/Giulietta); Christoph Stephinger, bass (Luther/Crespel); Kevin Connors, tenor (Andrés/Cochenille/Frantz/Pitichinaccio); Ulrich Reß, tenor (Spalanzani); Christian Rieger, baritone (Schlemil); Bavarian State Chorus & Orchestra; Constantinos Carydis, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube (live performance, November 2011)

5-fish

“Poor Hoffmann!” bewails Nicklausse/the Muse in Offenbach’s strange masterpiece, and I echo the sentiment but for different reasons. Left unfinished at the composer’s death, it was tidied up for production by good old Ernest Giuraud, the same man who wrote those nasty, unauthentic recitatives for Bizet’s Carmen (which I happen to like). In 1907, some guy named Choudens cobbled together a different version for a performance in Monte Carlo, and this was the one that was performed for most of the next 65 years. It was given in the order of the Prologue, Act I Olympia, Act II Giulietta, Act III Antonia and an Epilogue. It ran a little over two hours (normal for most operas) and included such inauthentic but popular numbers as Dappertutto’s aria “Scintille, diamant” and a sextet in the same act (sometimes called a septet because the chorus is counted as an unnamed character—don’t ask). Everyone loved it. It worked.

The first change—a minor one—came about in the early 1970s when conductor Richard Bonynge decided to drop the Guiraud recitatives and revert to spoken dialogue. Well, OK, people had already done this with Carmen, so I guess that’s OK. But then here came the musicolologists (yes, I purposely misspelled that) with newly-found music that they decided to stick into the opera. One of the first was Oeser, and for the most part I really did like everything he put back in except for a superfluous aria for Giulietta that was obviously inferior music and didn’t fit. But in the process people lost “Scintille, diamant” and instead had to listen to “Tourneau, tourneau diamant” which is a much shorter and less lyrical aria that Offenbach actually wrote, and the beloved sextet/septet was replaced by an authentic one. This is the version performed and recorded by Sylvain Cambreling (more on that later). But this wasn’t all. Then came a new edition by Michael Kaye with even more different music, including a (to me) apocryphal aria for Giulietta which, as sung here by Sumi Jo with buckets of coloraura nonsense thrown in, was even worse than the one Oeser came up with. Then more music was found in the late 1990s, so of course THAT had to be stuck in as well. After a while, Hoffmann became the operatic equivalent of Mr. Potato Head, with eyes, ears, arms and legs added and subtracted at whim. It just seems to get nuttier all the time.

The first is a studio recording of the Oeser version from 1988 with a superlative cast—only Robert Tear seems wrong as Franz, as he sings with no humor—all of whom really seem into their roles. The drawback is Cambreling’s unbelievably slow conducting. He drags through the opera like Hans Knappertsbusch conducting Parsifal, which puts a damper on the proceedings. So why do I recommend it? Because we now live in the age of digital downloads, and if you also have an audio editor on your computer you can use it to speed up each track by three to six percent (the “Barcarolle” and the final scene should be sped up by 12 percent). Once you do this, you’ll discover one of the greatest performances of the opera ever preserved, which is why this recording has the rare distinction of getting not one but two ratings (4 ½ fish as is, 6 fish if sped up). This recording also has the advantage of including both “Scintille, diamant” and “Tourneau diamant” as well as both the ersatz sextet (as a bonus track) and the authentic scene in the body of the act.

The second is a live performance from Bavaria in 2011 that has assumed legendary proportions, partly due to the remarkable singing of Brower as Nicklausse and Villazón as Hoffmann but mostly because of Diana Damrau’s stupendous singing of the three heroines (if you can accurately use that term for a life-sized female robot and a Satanic courtesan as two of them). She also performs the mute role of Stella to round out the proceedings. Damrau’s achievement is nothing short of miraculous, although it may have been performance like these that led to the decline of her vocal powers six years later. The one downside to this performance is John Relyea as the four villains (Lindorf, Coppelius, Dr. Miracle, Dappertutto). Once the possessor of a wonderfully firm, rounded voice, by 2011 he sang with a good amount of loose vibrato, especially in the high range under pressure, but I really like his dark tone—somewhat like that of Gustav Neidlinger, the great Alberich of the 1950s and ‘60s—and his sinister interpretation is spot-on. The version used here seems to be a compromise between all of the existing versions, including Choudens. Dappertutto’s “Scintille, diamant” is preserved, and for whatever reason Relyea marshals his vocal forces to give a splendid performance of this, but Giulietta sings the Michael Kaye-discovered aria. Happily, Damrau does not over-gild the lily here with too much coloratura fireworks as Sumi Jo did in the Alagna-Nagano recording, so it comes out well. But neither the original sextet nor the new scene are given, so the act runs rather short. So too does the Epilogue, although it does end with the gorgeous aria “Des cendres de ton cœur.” Brower is absolutely the finest Nicklausse/Muse I’ve ever heard and Damrau ditto as the three female foils. Constantinos Carydis, a name unfamiliar to me, conducts fairly well except for the famous “Barcarolle,” which he rushes in the introduction and then slows down too much for the singing.

So there you go. The choice is up to you, but I would put by two cents in by saying that once I downloaded and genetically modified the Cambreling recording I got rid of the Peter Maag. Why? Well, one because of the sound quality; two because Ann Murray is a far greater Nicklausse than Souza, third because van Dam is surprisingly sinister here as the villains (much more so than in the later Erato set with Roberto Alagna of the Kaye edition), and fourth because most of the extra music (except for the aforementioned aria) in the Giulietta act makes a lot more sense to me than the Choudens edition. Every time I heard Hoffmann in the old edition I always felt that most of the music following Dappertutto’s aria sounded disjointed, as if it didn’t really fit or as if the various numbers didn’t fit together. In the Oeser version, most of it makes perfect sense to me. Another reason I like it is that “Scintille, diamant” and the original, inauthentic version of the sextet are included as appendices. So all in all, you get more than your money’s worth of Offenbach’s music.

Onslow, George

ONSLOW: Cello Sonatas Nos. 1-3 / Maria Kliegel, cellist; Nina Tichman, pianist / Naxos 8.572830 or available in small bits on YouTube.

6-fish

George Onslow (1784-1853) was a French composer of English descent who was heavily influenced by the Austrian Beethoven. His cello sonatas are well-written, exciting and elegant all at the same time. There are also recordings of these works available by cellist Emmanuel Jacques and pianist Maude Gratton, but the tempi are far too slow and Gratton plays on a crappy-sounding 1822 Broadwood piano of the kind Beethoven pushed out of his house once the “Hammerklavier” came along. Kliegel and Tichman are absolutely riveting in this music.

Orff, Carl

ORFF: Antigonae / Martha Mödl, soprano (Antigonae); Carlos Alexander, baritone (Creon); William Dooley, baritone (Chorus Leader); Fritz Uhl, tenor (Haemon); Marianne Radev, soprano (Ismene); Paul Kuen, tenor (Guard); Joseph Traxel, tenor (Tiresias); Kurt Böhme, bass (Messenger); Lilian Benningsen, alto (Eurydice); Bavarian Radio Chorus & Orch. Percussion Section; Wolfgang Sawallisch, conductor / Profil 09066 or available for streaming in small bits on YouTube

6-fish

Known primarily for his triad of Roman-influenced cantatas (Carmina Burana, Catulli Carmina and Trionfo di Afrodite), Carl Orff wrote some very good music both before and after this trilogy. The Greek drama Antigonae inspired him to some of his most powerful and dramatic music. Although there is an earlier recording of this work out there with Martha Mödl in the title role, in which she is in fresher voice, neither her performance nor the conducting of Ferdinand Leitner are a match for this red-hot powerhouse recording, and the sound is a sort of “half-breed” ambient stereo that wears its age very well indeed.

ORFF: Carmina Burana / Arleen Augér, soprano; John van Kesteren, tenor; Jonathan Summers, baritone; Southend Boys’ Choir; Philharmonia Orchestra & Chorus; Riccardo Muti, conductor / EMI 47100 or available for free streaming on YouTube or Spotify

5-fish

For many people, “the” recording of this masterwork is the old Seiji Ozawa recording on RCA with Evelyn Mandac, baritone Sherrill Milnes and the Boston Symphony, but although I like it I do not love it. Ozawa is, for me, a bit too glib and heavy-handed, missing much of the detail and railroading his musical forces, and Milnes’ voice, great though it was, just sounds wrong. This recording goes a long way towards fulfilling what Orff actually wrote, and both Arleen Augér and Jonathan Summers are better than their counterparts on the RCA recording.

ORFF: Gisei – Der Opfer / Kathryn Lewek, soprano (Kwan Shusai); Ryan McKinny, bass-baritone (Genzo); Ulrike Helzel, mezzo-soprano (Tonami); Markus Brück, baritone (Matsuo); Elena Zhidkova, soprano (Chiyo); Jana Kurucová, mezzo (Kataro); Burkhard Ulrich, tenor (Gemba); Deutschen Oper Berlin Chorus & Orchestra; Jacques Lacombe, conductor / CPO 777819-2, also available for free streaming on YouTube in small bits.

4-and-a-half-fish

As I pointed out in my review of this recording when it was first issued, Gisei – Der Opfer owes as much if not more to Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande than to Wagner’s Parsifal which inspired both works. The plot concerns the temple schoolteacher Genzo (bass-baritone Ryan McKinny) who instructs peasant boys and his own eight-year-old Kwan Shusai (soprano Kathryn Lewek) in geography. The secret, however, is that Kwan Shusai is not their biological son but but the progeny of the Chancellor of the Right, banished following an intrigue by his opponents in exile. The adherents of the Chancellor, however, have found Kwan, realizing that he is the last hope of the country as the heir of the banished leader.

I’ve only given this recording four and a half fish due to the incipient wobbles in the voices of Ryan McKinny and Markus Brück, though the rest of the cast is fine and Lacombe conducts with considerable passion.

ORFF: Die Kluge / Thomas Stewart, baritone (King); Gottlob Frick, bass (Farmer); Lucia Popp, soprano (Farmer’s daughter); Richard Kogel, bass (Jailer); Manfred Schmidt, tenor (Donkey man); Claudio Nicolai, baritone (Mule man); Ferry Gruber, tenor (Vagabond 1); Heinz Friedrich, baritone (Vagabond 2); Kurt Böhme, bass (Vagabond 3); Munich Radio Orchestra; Kurt Eichhorn, conductor / RCA 74321 24792 2 (also includes Der Mond), or available for streaming in small bits on YouTube

6-fish

Orff’s 1943 satirical opera Die Kluge has a rather convoluted plot. A poor peasant finds on his land a mortar made of gold and decides to take it to the king, thinking that he will be rewarded for being a loyal subject. His wise daughter, however, tells him not to, because the king will throw him in the dungeons thinking that he has stolen the pestle, which in truth he didn’t find. And this is what happens, starting a chain of improbable events into motion.

There are other very fine recordings of this opera—see the Orff Collection listed below—but this one has the most outstanding cast and most energetic and involved singing, and the vastly underrated Kurt Eichhorn conducts with brio.

ORFF: Carmina Burana / Celestina Casapietra, soprano; Horst Hiestermann, tenor; Karl-Heinz Stryczek, baritone; Dresden Boys’ Chorus; Rundfunkchor & Sinfonirorchester Leipzig; Herbert Kegel, conductor / part of Berlin Classics set 0300927BC or available for free streaming on YouTube

ORFF: Catulli Carmina / Ute Mai, soprano (Lesbia); Eberhard Büchner, tenor (Catullus); Jutta Czapski, Günter Philipp, Wolfgang Wappler, Gerhard Erber, pianists; Rundfunkchor Leipzig; Sinfonieorchester Leipzig Percussion; Herbert Kegel, conductor / part of Berlin Classics set 0300927BC or available for free streaming on YouTube

ORFF: Trionfo di Afrodite / Isabella Nawe, soprano (La Sposa); Eberhard Büchner, tenor (La Sposo); Renate Krahmer, soprano (Corifea/Soprano I) Horst Hiesterman, tenor (Corifeo); Reiner Süss, bass (Corifeo); Regina Werner, soprano (Soprano II); Karl-Heinz Stryczek, baritone (Baritone solo); Rundfunkchor Leipzig & Berlin; Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Leipzig; Herbert Kegel, conductor / part of Berlin Classics set 0300927BC or available for free streaming on YouTube

5-fish

Although I still have a slight preference for the Muti Carmina Burana, this is clearly the finest recording of the three works of the Triofi because they are the best versions of Catulli Carmina and Trionfo you will ever hear (yes, even better than the Eugen Jochum recordings made in the presence of the composer). The only caveat I have is of Heinz Stryczek’s rather light, almost comprimario-sounding baritone in the Carmina Burana, yet he points up the rhythm of the music better than anyone else. Kegel had a fine ear for the overall structure of these works and did an outstanding job of pulling them together.

ORFF: Die Kluge / Karl-Heinz Stryczek, baritone (King); Reiner Süss, bass (Peasant); Magdalena Falewicz, soprano (Peasant’s Daughter); Horand Friedrich, bass (Jailer); Eberhard Büchner, tenor (Man with Donkey); Siegfried Lorenz, baritone (Man with Mule); Harald Neukirch, tenor (1st Vagabond); Wolfgang Hellmich, baritone (2nd Vagabond); Hermann Christian Polster, bass (3rd Vagabond); Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Leipzig; Herbert Kegel, conductor / part of Berlin Classics set 0300927BC; available for free streaming on YouTube in small bits.

5-fish

ORFF: Der Mond / Eberhard Büchner, tenor (Narrator); Fred Teschler, bass (Young Man 1); Horst Lunow, baritone (Young Man 2); Helmut Klotz, tenor (Young Man 3); Armin Terzibaschian, bass (Young Man 4); Wilfried Schaal, baritone (Peasant); Hans-Joachim Hegewald, speaker (Mayor); Paul Glahn, speaker (Innkeeper); Reiner Süss, bass (St. Peter); Rundfunkchor & Sinfonirorchester Leipzig; Herbert Kegel, conductor / part of Berlin Classics set 0300927BC; available for free streaming on YouTube in small bits.

6-fish

These are the remaining performances from Herbert Kegel’s great Orff collection. Although I slightly prefer the Eichhorn version of Die Kluge, this recording is mesmerizing in its own way and Kegel’s Der Mond, a satiric comedy about four young men who steal the moon, has an almost magical aura about it that makes it, for me, the finest of all performances.

Ornstein, Leo

ORNSTEIN: Cossack Impressions, s55; Four Impromptus, s300A; In the Country, s63; Piano Sonata No. 4 / Arsentiy Kharitonov, pianist / Toccata Classics 141 or available for free streaming on YouTube in small bits.

5-fish

The music of Leo Ornstein is late-Romantic, somewhat in the school of Rachmaninov but to my ears even more advanced and imaginative. This CD is a wonderful introduction to his unique sound world.

Ortiz, Arúan

ORTIZ: Coralaia. Cuban Cubism. Density. Dominant Force. Inrtervals [Closer to the Edge]. Louverture, Op. 1 [Château de Joux]. Monochrome [Yubá]. Passage. Sacred Chronology. Yambú / Arúan Ortiz, pianist / Intakt CD 290

6-fish

Arúan Ortiz is a phenomenal Cuban pianist who works primarily in the jazz field, yet whose deep love and knowledge of classical form leads him to consistently work within that framework. The end result is music that sounds both structured and improvised, and you’ll have a hard time figuring out where the first leaves off and the second begins! This is superb music in every respect, essentially tonal but with such unusual harmonic leanings, using rootless chords and other harmonies borrowed from the jazz vernacular, that you’ll be entranced from first to last.

Composers – Mi/Mu

girl-penguinMilhaud, Darius

Darius Milhaud, the best-known and most prolific member of that group of French composers known as “Les Six,” wrote in several highly personal and eclectic styles, some of them influenced by Brazilian music and American jazz. Indeed, during the late 1940s he taught in California, and several of his prize pupils became famous jazz musicians, most notably Dave Brubeck, Cal Tjader, Dick Collins and Dave van Kreidt. His rather aloof exterior masked a warm personality which often came out in his music—although he always claimed that the off-key band playing in Le Boeuf sur la Toit was not meant to be humorous, but merely a reflection of what he actually heard in the playing of local Latino bands.

MILHAUD: Le Boeuf Sur la Toit / Orchestre de Théâtre des Champs-Elysées; Darius Milhaud, conductor / La Creation du Monde / ad hoc orchestra; Milhaud, conductor / Saudades do Brasil. Suite Provençale / The Concert Arts Orchestra; Milhaud, conductor / Scaramouche / Marcelle Meyer, Darius Milhaud, pianists / EMI 54604

4-and-a-half-fish

MILHAUD: Le Boeuf Sur la Toit. La Creation du Monde. Suite Provençale. L’Homme et son Désir / Lille National Orchestra; Jean-Claude Casedesus, conductor / Naxos 8.557287

5-fish

Although it’s extremely difficult to find the original Milhaud recordings nowadays, you should seek them out for their authenticity of style, particularly La Creation du Monde which is much jazzier than anyone else’s performance, even Leonard Bernstein’s. (Le Boeuf Sur la Toit and a stereo version—the best one—of La Creation du Monde conducted by Milhaud have also been issued on Charlin SLC-17.) As a consolation, however, Casedesus brings out the brashness of the orchestration splendidly, and his performances of the other pieces are nearly as good as Milhaud’s own, but in digital sound.

MILHAUD: Le Boeuf Sur la Toit / Radio Luxembourg Orchestra; Louis de Froment, conductor / Le carnaval d’Aix.1 Chamber Symphonies: No. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. Concerto for Percussionist & Chamber Orchestra.2 L’Homme et son Désir3 Violin Concerto No. 14 & 25 / 1Carl Seeman, pianist; 2Faure Daniel, percussionist; 3Josette Doerner, soprano; 3Marie-Jeanne Klein, contralto; 3Venent Arend, tenor; 3Raymond Koster, bass; 3Norbert Matern, oboist; 3George Mallach, cellist; 4Ulrich Koch, 5Louis Kaufman, violinists; 5French National Orchestra, Radio Luxembourg Orchestra; Darius Milhaud, conductor / Piano Concerto No. 2.* Suite cisalpine sur des airs populaires piedmontain+ / *Grant Johannesen, pianist; +Thomas Blees, cellist; Radio Luxembourg Orchestra; Bernard Kontarsky, conductor / Brilliant Classics 94862 or most tracks available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on individual titles above

5-fish

More wonderful recordings directed by the composer himself and a splendid version of Le Boeuf sur la Toit conducted by Louis de Froment. This time, most of them are available for free streaming.

MILHAUD: Chamber Symphony No. 3 / Jean Pougnet, violinist; Anthony Pini, cellist; Reginald Kell, clarinetist; Paul Draper, bassoonist; George Eskdale, trumpeter; Darius Milhaud, conductor / 5 Studies for Piano & Orchestra. Serenade for Orchestra. Suite from “Maximilien” / Paul Badura-Skoda, pianist; Vienna Symphony Orchestra; Henry Swoboda, conductor / Suite for Violin, Clarinet & Piano / Jacques Parrenin, violinist; Ulysse Delécluse, clarinetist; Annette Haass-Hamburber, pianist / Symphony Suite No. 2, “Protée” / San Francisco Symphony Orchestra; Pierre Monteux, conductor / Divine Art 27807

4-and-a-half-fish

Several gems here from the historic catalog that have never been surpassed in terms of authentic style and zest.

MILHAUD: L’Orestie d’Eschyle / Lori Phillips, soprano (Clytemnestra); Dan Kempson, baritone (Orestes); Sidney Outlaw, baritone (Apollo); Sophie Delphis, speaker (Leader of Slaves); Brenda Rae, soprano; Tamara Mumford, mezzo; Jennifer Lane, contralto (Athena); Julianna di Giacomo, soprano (Pythia); Kristin Eder, mezzo-soprano (Electra); Percussion Ensemble; Chamber Choir; University of Michigan Choir & Symphony Orchestra; Orpheus Singers; UMS Choral Union; Kenneth Kiesler, conductor / Naxos 8.660349

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Milhaud’s huge, sprawling, complex opera based on Greek tragedy is almost never performed even in concert, let alone staged, but this outstanding recording will give you a good enough idea of its value to appreciate the fullness and scope of his vision.

Millöcker, Carl

MILLÖCKER: Der Bettelstudent / Linda Plech, mezzo (Countess Nowalska); Cornelia Zink, soprano (Laura); Daniela Kälin, soprano (Bronislava); Milko Milev, baritone (Oberst Ollendorf); Mirko Roschkowski, tenor (Symon Rymanovicz); Gerd Henning Jensen, tenor (Jan Janicki); Steven Scheschareg, tenor (Bogumil); Rui dos Santos, tenor (Bogmil); Michael Zehe, bass (Von Henrici); Yuri Dmytruk, bass (Von Schweinitz); Franziska Stanner, contralto (Eva); Mörbisch Festival Chorus & Orchestra; Uwe Theimer, conductor / Oehms Classics OC432

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Without question, the most fun performance you’ll ever hear of this most fun operetta. There’s also a DVD of the production, but it’s hard to watch because it’s filmed mostly from mid-range on an outdoor stage, and when they do endulge in close-ups the microphones taped to every singer’s face is a major distraction (not to mention the minimalist and seedy-looking stage production), therefore I recommend the audio recording.

Monk, Meredith

MONK: Atlas / Dina Emerson, soprano (Alexandra at 13); Wendy Hill, mezzo (Mother); Thomas Bogdan, baritone (Father); Robert Een, voice (Erik Magnussen); Meredith Monk, soprano (Alexandra); Randall K. Wong, countertenor (Spirit); Stephen Kalm, tenor (Franco Hartmann); Dana Hanchard, mezzo (Gwen St. Clair); Shi-Zheng Chen, voice (Cheng Qing); Victoria Boomsma, voice (Guide, Ghost); ad hoc orchestra; Wayne Hankin, conductor / ECM 21491

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Meredith Monk is the great genius of wordless classical music that almost sounds minimalist but has varied rhythms and changing harmonies. This, her one and only opera, was written for Houston many moons ago (the early 1990s) but still stands up well with age. It tells the story of a young woman who, once she comes of age, indulges in her desire to travel the world in the company of well-chosen and selected friends, but who eventually comes to realize that she can find contentment and peace in her own back yard. I once saw portions of a video made at one of the Houston performances, but alas it appears that was a private tape and never issued on VHS or DVD.

MONK: Book of Days. / Robert Een, voice; Ching Gonzales, voice; Andrea Goodman, voice; Wayne Hankin, voice; Naaz Hosseini, voice; Meredith Monk, voice; Nicky Paraiso, voice; Nurit Tilles, voice / ECM 21399 or available for free streaming on YouTube

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MONK: Dolmen Music. Gotham Lullaby. The Tale. Travelling. / Meredith Monk, voice & pianist; Andrea Goodman, voice; Monica Solem, voice; Julius Eastman, voice & percussionist; Robert Een, voice & cellist; Paul Langland, voice / ECM 825459, or available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on individual titles above.

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MONK: Do You Be. Astronaut Anthem. Double Fiesta. I Don’t Know. Memory Song. Panda Chant I. Panda Chant II. Quarry Lullaby. Scared Song. Shadow Song. Wheel. Window in 7’s / Robert Een, voice; Ching Gonzales, voice; Andrea Goodman, voice; Wayne Hankin, voice/bagpipes; Naaz Hosseini, voice/pianist; Meredith Monk, voice; Nicky Paraiso, voice; Nurit Tilles, voice/pianist; Johanna Arnold, voice / ECM 831782; most titles available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on individual titles above

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MONK: Facing North. Recent Ruins. Vessel: An Opera Epic. / Robert Een, voice; Meredith Monk, voice / ECM 21482

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Monk recorded quite a few albums for ECM during the 1980s and ‘90s; these are my favorite, revealing her varied, multi-faceted composition style and sometimes her sense of humor. Her music is clearly not for everyone’s taste, but I love it!

Monsigny, Pierre-Alexandre

MONSIGNY: Le Roi et le Fermier / Thomas Michael Allen, tenor (King); William Sharp, baritone (Richard); Dominique Labelle, soprano (Jenny); Thomas Dolié, baritone (Rustaut); Jeffrey Thompson, tenor (Lurewel); Delores Ziegler, mezzo (Mother); Yulia van Doren, soprano (Betsy); David Newman, baritone (Charlot); Tony Boutté, tenor (Le Courtisan); Opera Lafayette; Ryan Brown, conductor / Naxos 8.660322

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This surprisingly neglected opera, composed in 1762, prefaces some of the musical and dramatic reforms of Gluck in a simple story showing the King of England siding with a humble farmer against one of his own Lords, who abducts the farmer’s sweetheart, Jenny, and holds her prisoner in a tower to force her to marry him. Richard, the farmer, fears that Lord Lurewel has seduced her, but Jenny escapes the tower, returns to Richard, and pledges her loyalty to him.

Monsigny used some unexpectedly powerful orchestral bursts that prefaced the work of Gluck and Cherubini later in the 18th century. He also had a way of weaving vocal runs and trills into the vocal line in a way that sounds dramatic and musical but not extraneous, as such fiddly bits so often do. The very funny and rhythmically pointed duo between the other two tenors, Lurewel and the Courtesan, immediately follows the King’s aria and shows us another, different side of Monsigny’s musical arsenal. One could go on and on about the music, which just keeps surprising and delighting the listener throughout the rest of the opera. Except for a surprisingly sluggish performance of the overture, this is a splendid recording.

Montemezzi, Italo

MONTEMEZZI: L’Amore dei Tre Re / Anna Moffo, soprano (Flora); Placido Domingo, tenor (Avito); Pablo Elvira, baritone (Manfredo); Cesare Siepi, bass (Archibaldo); Ryland Davies, tenor (Flaminio); Alison MacGregor, soprano (Handmaiden); Elaine Tomlinson, soprano (Young Woman); Elizabeth Bainbridge, mezzo (Old Woman); Ambrosian Opera Chorus; London Symphony Orchestra; Nello Santi, conductor / RCA Red Seal 50166 or available for free streaming on YouTube

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I would be remiss if I did not thank Rabbi Ivan Caine for introducing me to this superb opera and particularly this recording of it. He later sent me a live Italian performance from the late 1950s or early 1960s, but the musical style was all wrong and the music did not make the same impact. Montemezzi’s intriguing tale of the blind Germanic king Archibaldo, whose rule over Altura is deeply resented by its residents. Archibaldo’s son Manfredo has been married to the native Alturan princess Fiora. But Fiora is having an affair with another Alturan prince, Avito. Although Archibaldo suspects Fiora of infidelity, he falls short of proof, since he is blind, and his own Alturan servants do not cooperate with him in uncovering the affair. Finally, enraged, Archibaldo strangles her at the end of the second act. Fiora’s body lies in a crypt as the people of Altura mourn her. Archibaldo has secretly poisoned Fiora’s lips, so that her lover will die. Avito kisses Fiora’s lips. As he dies from the poison, Avito reveals to Manfredo that he was Fiora’s lover, and that Archibaldo has laid the poison. Stricken with grief at the loss of the woman he loved, Manfredo also kisses Fiora’s lips. Finally, Archibaldo enters to see if his trap has caught Fiora’s lover, and despairs as he hears the voice of his dying son.

The music is outstanding and surprisingly modern for its time of composition (1913), with an extremely colorful score. For many years it was a favorite at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, but after World War II performances of it dropped off to nothing. Undoubtedly a big part of this is due to its unusual length; at an hour and 40 minutes it’s too short to fill a full evening’s entertainment and too long to pair with, say, an 80-minute opera like Pagliacci. This is a shame, particularly as there are any number of outstanding modern operas short enough to pair with it, such as Szymon Laks” L’Hirondelle Inattendue or Arthur Honegger’s Judith.

Monteverdi, Claudio

MONTEVERDI: Amor [Lamento della Ninfa]. Chiome d’Oro. Ecco mormorar l’onde. Hor che’l cel e la terre. Zefiro torna. Ardo. Ohime, dov’è il mio ben. Il ballo dell’ingrate. Lasciatemi morire / Nadia Boulanger Singers; Nadia Boulanger, director / available for free streaming on YouTube

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Although recorded as far back as 1937 and using a piano accompaniment instead of a harpsichord, the magic created by Boulanger and her small group of singers not only marked the very start of the Monteverdi renaissance in the world but still casts its spell today. These marvelous recordings need a bit of treble boost to be maximally effective, but they are still superb. Only 4 ½ fish, however, due to the dry, boxy sound.

MONTEVERDI: Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda. Bel Pastore. Con che suavita. Et è per Dunque Vero. Interrote Speranza. Quel squardo sdegnosetto / Cettina Cadelo, soprano; Carlo Gaifa, tenor; Vincenzo Manno, tenor; Ensemble “CONCERTO”; Roberto Gini, director / Tactus 561301, most titles available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on each individual title above

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An outstanding album that proves one thing: Monteverdi sounds best when the performance is Italianate. Although all the singers are excellent, it’s largely due to the conducting of Roberto Gini that everything clicks in these performances.

MONTEVERDI: Con che suavita. L’Incoronazione di Poppea: A Dio Roma; Disprezzata Regina. Lamento d’Arianna. La lettera amorosa. Tu che dagli avi miei…Maestade, che prega / Cathy Berberian, mezzo-soprano; Concentus Musicus Wien; Nikolaus Harnoncourt, conductor / Teldec 561301, some titles available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on individual names above

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The late Cathy Berberian was noted mostly for her campy performances of early 20th-century ballads, classical arrangements of Beatles songs and outré modern music, but as this album proves she could be, and was, a superb interpreter whose musicality allowed her to sing virtually anything, including Monteverdi. Another must-have album.

MONTEVERDI: L’Orfeo / Victor Torres, baritone (Orfeo); Adriana Fernandez, soprano (Euridice); Gloria Banditelli, soprano (Sylvia/Messenger); Maria Kristina Kiehr, mezzo-soprano (Speranza/La Musica); Antonio Abete, bass (Caronte); Furio Zanasi, tenor (Pluto/4th Shepherd); Roberta Invernizzi, soprano (Prosperina/Ninfa); Maurizio Rossano, tenor (Apollo); Gerd Türk, countertenor (Shepherd 1); Fabian Schofrin, countertenor (Shepherd 2); Giovanni Caccamo, baritone (Shepherd 3/Spirit 1); Salvatore Suttera, baritone (Spirit 2); Coro Antonio il Verso; Ensemble Elyma; Gabriel Garrido, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

MONTEVERDI: Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria / Gloria Banditelli, soprano (Penelope); Furio Zanasi, baritone (Ulisse); Maria Cristina Kiehr, mezzo-soprano (Minerva/Fortuna); Jean-Paul Fouchécourt, bass (Telemaco); Fabian Schofrin, countertenor (Pisandro/Umana Fragilità); Marcello Vargetto, baritone (Antino/Tempo); Adriana Fernandez, soprano (Giunone/Amore); Guillemette Laurens, soprano (Melanto); Gian Paolo Fagotto, countertenor (Iro); Giovanni Caccamo, tenor (Giove); Pablo Pollitzer, countertenor (Anfinomo); Mario Cecchetti, tenor (Eurimaco); Roberto Abbondanza, tenor (Eumete); Alicia Borges, mezzo-soprano (Ericlea); Antonio Abete, bass (Nettuno); Salvatore Sutera, tenor (A Physician); Coro Antonio il Verso; Ensemble Euphonia; Gabriel Garrido, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

MONTEVERDI: L’Incoronazione di Poppea / Guillemette Laurens, soprano (Poppea); Flavio Oliver, countertenor (Nerone); Fabian Schofrin, countertenor (Ottone); Emanuela Galli, soprano (Drusilla/La Virtú); Gloria Banditelli, soprano (Ottavia); Ivan Garcia, bass (Seneca); Adriana Fernandez, soprano (Damigella/Amore/Coro di Amori); Martin Oro, countertenor (Arnalta); Alicia Borges, mezzo-soprano (Nutrice/Pallade); Mario Cecchetti, tenor (Lucano/Soldier 1/Tribune 1); Elena Cecchi Fedi, soprano (Valletto/Coro di Amori); Phlippe Jaroussky, countertenor (Mercurio/Friend of Seneca/Coro di Amori); Beatriz Lanza, soprano (Fortuna/Venere); Furio Zanasi, tenor (Liberto/Consolo 1/Soldier 2); Marcello Vargetto, bass (Littore/Consolo 2/Friend of Seneca); Giovanni Caccamo, tenor (Friend of Seneca/Tribune 2); Coro Antonio il Verso; Ensemble Elyma; Gabriel Garrido, conductor / final duet available for free streaming on YouTube

MONTEVERDI: Vespro della Beata Vergine / Emanuela Galli, Adriana Fernandez, sopranos; Martin Oro, Fabian Shofrin, countertenors; Mario Cecchetti, Rodrigo del Pozo, Pablo Pollitzer, Francesco Garrigoso, tenors; Furio Zanasi, baritone; Daniele Carnovich, Ivan Garcia, basses; Coro Antonio il Verso; Coro Madrigalia; Ensemble Elyma; Gabriel Garrido, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

MONTEVERDI: Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda / Alicia Borges, mezzo-soprano (Armida); Adriana Fernandez, soprano (Sinfonia); Marinella Pennicchi, soprano (Clorinda/Erminia); Giovanni Caccamo, tenor (Tancredi); Daniele Carnovich, bass (King Aladin); Mario Cecchetti, tenor (Olindo); Furio Zanasi, baritone (Testo); Martin Oro, countertenor; Ensemble Elyma; Gabriel Garrido, conductor / BERNARDI: Sinfonia Prima à 6. NEGRI: Armida in stile recitativo. MONTEVERDI: Sinfonia. Vattene pur, crudele. La tra’l sangue. Poi eh ‘ella in se torno. Piagn’e sospiro. EREDI: L’Armida del Tasso. D’INDIA: La tra ‘l sanguee le morti. Ma che? Squallido e oscura. MAZZOCCHI: Chiudesti i lumi Armida. MARINI: Canzon VIII. Le Lagrime d’Erminia. La Bella Erminia. FIAMENGO: Dialogo di Sofronia e Olindo. GRILLO: Sonata Primo à 7. CIFRA: Era la notte / Ensemble Elyma; Gabriel Garrido, conductor / Accent ACC24328 (12 CDs)

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This massive set includes all of the superb recordings of Monteverdi’s music made by conductor Gabriel Garrido in the 1990s. Of all of them, only the L’Incoronazione di Poppea and Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda are bettered elsewhere (see other listings). No one has ever conducted the other operas or the Vespers better than he, although there is a terrific video performance available of Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria that is equally fine (also see below). One of the reasons I dislike his Poppea is the use of a very feminine-sounding mezzo-soprano as Nero. Although this is historically correct (apparently, Monteverdi ran out of male voices at the theater where this opera premiered), her voice just sounds too much like Poppea’s to make much of an impact, and in addition the cast doesn’t characterize as strongly as they should, but these are minor flaws. If you love Monteverdi, this is the set you have to start with; it is, easily, the liveliest and most emotionally engaging overall set of his operas and Vespers ever.

MONTEVERDI: L’Incoronazione di Poppea (slightly abridged) / Rachel Yakar, soprano (Poppea); Trudeleise Schmidt, mezzo (Ottavia); Eric Tappy, tenor (Nerone); Paul Esswood, countertenor (Ottone); Matti Salminen, bass (Seneca); Janet Perry, soprano (Drusilla); Helrun Gardow, mezzo (Virtú); Alexander Oliver, tenor (Arnalta); Peter Keller, tenor (Valletto); Renate Lenhart, soprano (La Fortuna); Klaus Brettschneider, countertenor (Amore); Monteverdi-Ensemble der Opernhauses Zurich; Nikolaus Harnoncourt, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube: part 1, part 2

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Due to time constraints, Nikolaus Harnoncourt was forced to chop about 40 minutes’ worth of music from this performance of Poppea in order to have it broadcast on TV in the late 1970s, but the gorgeous sets and costumes—not to mention the consistently outstanding singing and conducting—make this one of the premier performances of Monteverdi’s greatest surviving opera.

MONTEVERDI: L’Incoronazione di Poppea / Pamela Lucciarini, soprano (La Fortuna); Francesca Cassinari, mezzo (Virtù/Drusilla); Alena Dantcheva, soprano (Amore); José Maria Lo Monaco, countertenor (Ottone); Emanuela Galli, soprano (Poppea); Roberta Mameli, soprano (Nerone); Ian Honeyman, tenor (Arnalta); Xenia Meijer, mezzo-soprano (Ottavia); Raffaele Costantini, bass (Seneca); La Venexiana; Claudio Cavina, conductor / Glossa 920916

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With just a few very small cuts, this is the complete Poppea you should acquire. Soprano Roberta Mameli’s slightly acidic voice as Nero makes an effective contrast with Emanuela Galli as Poppea. Some critics have dumped all over character tenor Ian Honeyman for his rather garish and outré performance of Arnalta, but this is a travesty role and thus in character. Claudio Cavina’s conducting is almost as exciting as Harnoncourt’s, and the whole performance jumps to vivid life.

MONTEVERDI: Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria / Vesselina Kasarova, mezzo-soprano (Penelope); Dietrich Henschel, baritone (Ulisse/Human Fragility); Isabel Rey, mezzo-soprano (Minerva/Amorel); Jonas Kaufmann, tenor (Telemaco); Martin Zysset, countertenor (Pisandro); Reinhard Mayr, baritone (Antino); Giuseppe Scorsin, baritone (Tempo); Martina Jankova, soprano (Giunone/Fortuna); Malin Hartelius, soprano (Melanto); Rudolf Schasching, countertenor (Iro); Anton Scharinger, baritone (Giove); Martin Oro, countertenor (Anfinomo); Boguslav Bidzinski, tenor (Eurimaco); Thomas Mohr, tenor (Eumete); Cornelia Kallisch, mezzo-soprano (Ericlea); Pavel Daniluk, bass (Nettuno); Orchestra :La Scintilla; Nikolaus Harnoncourt, conductor / Arthaus Musik DVD 101 660

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Although the stage production is a little silly at times, this 2002 performance is lively and holds your interest through Monteverdi’s longest score. Kasarova is stupendous as the faithful, long-suffering Penelope, Dietrich Henschel is excellent as Ulysses, and we have the pleasure of seeing a very young Jonas Kaufmann as Telemaco. Harnoncourt’s conducting is also quite fine, and the sound quality excellent.

MONTEVERDI: Zefiro torna / Russell Oberlin, countertenor; Charles Bressler, tenor; New York Pro Musica / available for free streaming on YouTube

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One of the most hauntingly beautiful recordings ever made, in which Oberlin’s amazing upper extension in natural voice blends perfectly with the high tenor voice of Bressler.

Montsalvatge, Xavier

MONTSALVATGE: A la Española. Cinco canciones Negras: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.* Concerto Breve for Piano & Orchestra: I. Energico breve; II. Dolce; III. Vivo.+ Poema Concertante# / *Lucia Duchoňová, mezzo-soprano; +Jenny Lin, pianist; #Rachel Barton Pine, violinist; NDR Radio Philharmonic Orchestra; Celso Antunes, conductor / Hänssler Classic 98.642 or available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on individual titles above

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MONTSALVATGE: Alehi. Bergerette. Cançó Amorosa. Canciones par Niños. Cinco canciones Negras. Nana. No t’abandonaré. Pastor hacia el puerto / Marisa Martins, mezzo-soprano; Mac McClure, pianist / Columna Musica 80

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MONTSALVATGE: Paráfrasis Concertante. Cinco canciones negras: Canto negro. Piano Trio. Spanish Sketch. Tres Policromiás. Variaciones sobre un tema de “La Spagnoletta” de Giles Farnaby / Eva Léon, violinist; José Ramos Santata, pianist; Sibylle Johner, cellist / Naxos 8.572621

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For many people, unfortunately, Xavier Montsalvatge is a one-piece composer, that single piece being the “Cancion de Negro” from his Cinco canciones Negras As the above CDs will prove, however, he was a much more complex and interesting composer than that. He began as a devotee of the 12-tone school but eventually branched out to include influences from his local Catalan heritage as well as by polytonality.

Moondog (Hardin, Louis)

MOONDOG: Theme. Stamping Ground. Symphoniques #1, 3, 6. Cuplet. Minisym #1. Lament 1, “Bird’s Lament.” Witch of Endor / Harold Bennett, flautist; Harold Jones, piccolo; Henry Shuman, English hornist; Jimmy Buffington, Richard Berg, French hornists; Jimmy Abato, Phil Bodner, clarinetists; Ernie Bright, bass clarinetist; Joe Wilder, Teddy Weiss, trumpeter; Don Butterfield, tubist; Buddy Morrow, Tony Studd, trombonists; Paul Gershman, Aaron Rosand, violinists; Emanuel Vardi, David Schwartz, violists; George Ricci, Charles McCracken, cellists; George Duvivier, Ron Carter, bassists; Jack Jennings, percussionist / Madrigals: Rounds and Canons / Unidentified vocal ensemble / BGO Records CD510, or available for free streaming on YouTube: first half of Vol. 1, all of Vol. 2 (Madrigals)

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MOONDOG: Single Foot. Bumbo. Sextet. Dog Trot. All is Loneliness. Voices of Spring. Rabbit Hop. Invocation. Reedroy. Double Bass Duo. Symphonique #6: Good for Goodie. Bird’s Lament. Theme and Variations. Heath on the Heather / Joanna MacGregor, pianist.conductor; Andy Sheppard, saxophones; Kuljit Bhamra, tabla/percussionist; Shri Sriram, Indian flautist; Neville Malcolm, bassist; Seb Rochford, drummer; Britten Sinfonia / Sound Circus 2564 68437-4 or available for free streaming on YouTube by starting HERE

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MOONDOG: Bird’s Lament. Pigmy Pig. Viking I. Dog Trot. High on a Rocky Ledge. Log in B. Marimba Mondo. Paris. In Vienna. EEC Lied. Fujiyama. Heimdall Fanfare. Sea Horse. Single Foot. Do Your Thing. Bumbo. Dark Eyes. Logrundr XII. I’m This I’m That. Frost Flower. The Message. Introduction & Overtone Continuum / A compilation of recordings that Moondog produced in New York in Germany. Almost all pieces are from the five albums released by Roof Music (plus “Bumbo” from the album Big Band (Trimba), as well as for the first time on CD “Dark Eyes”, from the album BRACELLI (KPH, Sweden)). Each album represents a self-contained creative period, so this title composition provides a representative insight into MOONDOG’s compositional versatility. / No personnel available; available for free streaming on YouTube

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MOONDOG: New Amsterdam / The London Saxophonic, available for free streaming on YouTube

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Surely Louis Hardin, who worked his entire professional career under the name of Moondog, is the strangest and most iconoclastic composer who ever lived. Blinded as a child by exploding dynamite, he learned music at a school for the blind and moved to New York City in 1947 where he decided to become a street performer. Clad in a personally modified Viking costume, which started out fairly rough-hewn but eventually morphed into a luxurious red satin cape and well-crafted horned helmet, he set up shop on 6th Avenue between 53rd and 54th Streets playing a bewildering array of homemade percussion instruments. He was also a poet and a philosopher, making a little money by selling copies of his poetry. His music was tonally conservative but rhythmically complex, often shifting rhythms from bar to bar and using what he called “snaketime.” Oddly enough, he became friendly with conductors Arturo Toscanini and Artue Rodzinski. The latter, during his tenure as music director of the New York Philharomonic, invited him to attend rehearsals so he could learn both the classics and orchestration by ear. He even offered to let him conduct one of his own compositions with the Philharmonic, but beling blind and broke, Moondog never quite got around to it.

Somehow Moondog also became friendly with jazz legends Charlie Parker and Benny Goodman. In 1954 he won a famous lawsuit against disk jockey Alan Freed for using his name on his radio program. Freed had run across a 78-rpm disc from 1949 titled Moondog’s Symphony, an all-percussion piece, and assumed that the name was a pseudonym. Among the luminaries who appeared as witnesses for the prosecution against Freed were Toscanini, Goodman and Igor Stravinsky. Around 1958, he was apparently heard, and liked, by Julie Andrews, who made an album using both him and Gilbert & Sullivan comedian Martyn Green, Songs of Fun and Nonsense. Ironically, it has since been reissued with Moondog’s name prominently displayed in huge letters on the cover, with Andrews and Green in tinier print underneath.

During the 1960s, Moondog appeared on the live Alan Burke TV show fairly regularly but never as a musician. He usually read some of his poems or complained about certain laws that affected his life as a street performer. That was where I saw him; I was too young then to go to New York unaccompanied, and so never caught him in performance. After having made a series of live recordings (Moondog playing his percussion instruments and reading his poetry in his street environment) for Prestige, he finally caught a break. In 1969, Columbia Masterworks signed him to record his music using conventional instruments, played by some of New York’s finest free-lance musicians. The records sold surprisingly well, although mostly within the tri-state area (NY, NJ & CT); by the late 1970s they were out of print. By then, however, Moondog had moved to Münster, Germany, because as a lifelong devotee of Bach he viewed Germany as a “holy land” for musicians (and the Rhine as a “holy river”). He continued to write and occasionally record his music, which remained fascinating and hypnotic. Some writers have viewed him as the godfather of minimalism, but as Moondog often pointed out, his music was strictly based on canon and fugue form. (In one televised interview on German TV, he claimed to be a much purer writer of canons than Bach himself.) The above CDs are an excellent representation of his music.

I included the brilliant Joanna MacGregor album in addition to Moondog’s original recordings because she caught the spirit of his music perfectly without copying his original arrangements slavishly. This gives one an idea of what a Moondog concert could possibly sound like. One will note that among the studio musicians who played on the original Columbia Moondog album were jazz musicians (including clarinetist Jimmy Abato, who had been with Glenn Miller), but Moondog, though he greatly admired jazz, was always quick to point out that his music wasn’t really jazz although jazz musicians were more easily able to play his complex rhythms.

Morley, Thomas

MORLEY: Around the Maypole New. Cease, Mine Eyes. Clorinda False, Adieu. The Fields Abroad. Fire! Fire! My Heart! I Go Before My Darling. I Saw My Ladye Weeping. Lady, Those Cherries Plenty. Leave This Tormenting and Strange Anguish. Lo, She Flies When I Woo Her. Miraculous Love’s Wounding. My Bonnie Lass She Smileth. Now is the Gentle Season. Now is the Month of Maying. Phyllis, I Would Fain Die Now. Sing We and Chant It / The Primavera Singers of the New York Pro Musica; Noah Greenberg, director / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on individual titles above.

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These superb recordings were made in the 1950s when the New York Pro Musica included the greatest countertenor of all time, Russell Oberlin, and high tenor Charles Bressler. Their solo and ensemble singing is of an exceptionally high vocal and artistic level, and make these indispensable recordings.

MORLEY: Come Sorrow, Come. I Saw My Ladye Weeping. It Was a Lover and his Lass. Mistress Mine, Well May You Fare. Thyrsis and Milla. What of My Mistress Now. With My Love My Life was Nestled / Peter Pears, tenor; Julian Bream, lutenist / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on individual titles above.

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Hard-to-find but very worthwhile recordings featuring two of England’s greatest interpreters of lute songs. Fortunately, most of it is currently online for free listening.

Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus

Well, here we go: The Mozart Experience! If he isn’t the most celebrated and beloved composer of all time, he’s got to be close. Even Beethoven and Brahms have taken a back set to him in recent decades.

But is all his music that great? No, it is not. A great deal of it is formulaic and, as Toscanini once said, “Is all very pretty but is always the same.” Unfortunately, in order to get the gems you often have to buy complete sets: of the symphonies, the piano concertos, the string quartets and the piano sonatas. All of the string quintets are excellent. Most, but not all, of the operas are likewise excellent. So let’s jump in and see where this leads us, shall we?

MOZART: Abendempfindung an Laura. An Chloe. Die betrogene Welt. Dans un bois solitaire. Eine kleine Gigue in G, K. 574. Fantasy in d min., K. 397. Der Frühling. Das Lied der Trennung. Lied zur Gesellenreise. Rondo in F for Keyboard, K. 494. Sei du mein Trost. Sehnsucht nach dem Frühlinge. Das Traumbild. Wie unglücklich bin ich nit. Variations on “Mio caro Adone,” K. 180. Das Veilchen. Die Verschweigung. Die Zufriedenheit / Werner Güra, tenor; Christoph Berner, fortepianist / Harmonia Mundi 901979, or most titles available for free streaming by clicking above

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An absolutely charming and engaging traversal of Mozart’s songs by the sweet-voiced but little-known tenor Werner Güra and the lively fortepianist Christoph Berner.

MOZART: Ah! Se in ciel, K. 538. Bella mia fiamma, K. 528. Così fan Tutte: Come scoglio; Per pieta, ben mio. Idomeneo: Se il padre perdei; Zeffiretti lusinghieri.* Le nozze di Figaro: Porgi amor; Dove sono.* Die Zauberflöte: Ach, ich fühls* / Terresa Stich-Randall, soprano; Concert Société du Conservatoire Orchestre; André Cluytens, conductor; *Orch. du Théatre des Champs-Elysées; *André Jouve, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on individual titles above.

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Teresa Stich-Randall (1927-2007) was the original Straight-Toned Mozart Soprano the world had been waiting for. Unfortunately, the American opera world wanted nothing to do with her because straight-toned singers, especially sopranos, were considered “weird” with “white” voices. Thus, after getting a terrific start to her career—she sang in the world premiere of Virgil Thomson’s The Mother of Us All and was used by Arturo Toscanini in his broadcasts of Aida (Priestess) and Falstaff (Nannetta), she was forced to go to Europe, specifically France and Germany, where she was celebrated a quarter-century as a peerless Mozart interpreter. Her recordings still hold up not only because of her wonderful voice, but also because she was a first-rate musician.

MOZART: Bassoon Concerto in B-flat, K. 191 / Leonard Sharrow, bassoonist; NBC Symphony Orchestra; Arturo Toscanini, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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One of the least well-known and most-neglected of Mozart’s concerti, this is a wonderful piece of music. For decades, however, this performance was shunned by purists because conductor Toscanini wrote Leonard Sharrow’s first-movement cadenza, which was considered so bad that Sharrow supposedly denied having made the recording. Going back and listening to it, however, I find that the cadenza isn’t half as bad as legend made it out to be—in fact, I’ve heard far worse from modern-day performers (violinists, pianists and cellists) who think they’re so clever that they can outdo Mozart. An electrifying performance and surprisingly good sound.

MOZART: Clarinet Concerto.* Clarinet Quintet in A: 1. Allegro; 2. Larghetto; 3. Menuetto – Trio; 4. Allegretto con variazioni+ / Benny Goodman, clarinetist; *Boston Symphony Orchestra; *Charles Munch, conductor; +Boston Symphony String Quartet / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking individual titles above.

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No, it’s not historically informed by any means, but these are the warmest-sounding and most rhythmically flexible performances of these great works out there. Goodman was given little slack by the classical critics of his day (see my article, “Hating on Benny”) because of his woody low range and manner of distinguishing his upper range by means of a brighter, reedier sound, but ever since Richard Stoltzman and David Schifrin been around clarinetists now try to fall over each other in imitating Goodman. None of the imitators, not even Stoltzman or Schifrin, come close.

MOZART: La Clemenza di Tito / Stuart Burrows, tenor (Tito Vespasiano); Janet Baker, mezzo (Vitellia); Lucia Popp, soprano (Servilia); Yvonne Minton, mezzo (Sesto); Frederica von Stade, mezzo (Annio); Robert Lloyd, bass (Publio); Royal Opera, Covent Garden Orch & Chorus; Sir Colin Davis, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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Mozart’s last opera is rather a hit-and-miss affair—he was too ill and too busy with other projects (particularly the Requiem) to spend much time on it, so he farmed out parts of it to friends of his to write arias and work on the orchestration—but there’s about 50 minutes of really great music in it. You won’t find any performance better than this eye-popping cast, in which every role features a star singer and the whole is pulled together splendidly by Colin Davis.

MOZART: Così fan Tutte / Heddle Nash, ten (Ferrando); Willi Domgraf-Fassbaender, bar (Guglielmo); John Brownlee, bar (Don Alfonso); Ina Souez, sop (Fiordiligi); Irene Eisinger, sop (Despina); Luise Helletsgruber, sop (Dorabella); Glyndebourne Festival Orchestra & Chorus; Fritz Busch, cond / part of Warner Classics 0190295801748

5-fish

Although in very old (1935) mono sound and missing four numbers from Act II, this is clearly the finest performance of Così fan Tutte available on CDs. Its only real drawback is that Souez doesn’t sing a trill in “Come scoglio,” but rather just kind of waves at it in passing—although, surprisingly, she does give us an acceptable trill at the end of “Per pieta.” Yet everyone sounds like a “character” and not like a singer singing music, which is often what you get nowadays, and this is especially true of the two “devils” who initiate this crazy masquerade, Don Alfonso (Brownlee) and Despina (sung by the fantastic German-Jewish soubrette Irene Eisinger). Nowadays the trend is to cast lyric sopranos as Despina (Teresa Stratas under Alain Lombard, Marie McLaughlin under James Levine, Nancy Argenta under Sigiswald Kuijken, Graciela Oddone under René Jacobs) which doesn’t make them sound different from Fiordiligi, and in addition they don’t sound very funny. Eisinger is not only bright-voiced and pert but a laugh riot, chuckling her way through the Act I ensembles and “In uomini, in soldati,” and acting up a storm with her mock-serious “doctor” voice in both acts. Heddle Nash is surprisingly lively, as is his sidekick Domgraf-Fassbaender. Souez is undoubtedly the strongest-voiced Fiordiligi I’ve ever heard; I think she might have been performing this role and Donna Anna at about the same time, because she definitely has some of the latter’s gutsy sound in her singing. Add it all up, and despite the cuts noted above (and the use of a piano for the recitatives), this is absolutely the best Così fan Tutte ever recorded. Now that the sound has been improved—the voices are as clear as a bell, bouncing around in natural hall resonance—it goes straight to the top as the preferred version on records (yes, even better than René Jacobs, though his is the finest of the complete modern recordings).

MOZART: Cosi fan Tutte / Veronique Gens, soprano (Fiordiligi); Bernarda Fink, mezzo (Dorabella); Werner Güra, tenor (Fernando); Marcel Boone, baritone (Guglielmo); Graciela Oddone, soprano (Despina); Pietro Spagnoli, baritone (Don Alfonso); Kölner Kammerchor; Concerto Köln; René Jacobs, conductor / Harmonia Mundi 901663/65

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I’ve heard a ton of Cosis: Fritz Busch, Karajan, Rosbaud, Krips, Böhm, Leinsdorf, Colin Davis (two of them), Theodor Currentzis, Levine, Muti, Barenboim, Suitner, Gardiner and Kuhn. Is that enough for you? And of all of these others (we’ll get to the Jacobs in a moment), all but the Busch either race to the finish line or drag so badly that you almost want to commit suicide before you reach “Come scoglio.” In addition, I hear too many vocally or interpretively insufficient voices slogging through this music. Of all these others, the Levine comes closest to my ideal, but Ann Murray was in such wobbly voice that “Smanie implacabili” emerges as a garbled mess of loose vibrato and no discernible, individual notes. And “Soave sia il vento” doesn’t float because Kiri te Kanawa’s voice was too bright and couldn’t float. So there went that one.

There are a few problems with this Jacobs recording in terms of tempo. Stanley Sadie of Gramophone complained that the fast passages are sped up while the slow ones are even slower, but this is not an entirely accurate description of the performance. In actuality, the fast passages are not much faster than Currentzis (who is actually quicker in many places) or Gardiner, and many of the slow numbers—“Ah, guarda, sorella,” “Soave sia,” “Un’aura amorosa” etc.—are actually conducted at nearly the same pace as many old-school conductors such as Böhm and Karajan. The difference is that they sound slower because the surrounding material is so sprightly. In a couple of places, however, Jacobs does conduct more slowly than anyone else. They are the little quintet (“Di scrivermi”) played before the men depart for war, taken slowly so that you can feel the drama, and the final toast in which Guglielmo wishes the women would drink poison. This is taken at a snail’s pace, which temporarily holds up the headlong pace of the finale, though the listener can feel his pain.

But why did Jacobs make such great distinctions in tempo? Partly, as I say, to emphasize the drama and the meaning of the words over what Mozart actually wrote. This strikes me as willful if theatrically motivated; I don’t approve very much of conductors imposing temps or phrasing not clearly indicated by the score. But the other reason, I think, is because he is German-trained (albeit via Belgium), and no matter how much some German-oriented conductors want to be at the forefront of the modern trends towards quicker tempos in Baroque and Classical works, there is always that Teutonic streak of sentimentality. It’s the same sentimentality that Fritz Busch injected into his recording of Cosi and that Bruno Walter injected into almost everything he conducted. Arturo Toscanini used to complain that “When Walter comes to something beautiful, he melts!”, but the same condemnation could be leveled at virtually every German conductor of Mozart in those days with the exceptions of Erich Kleiber and Josef Krips.

And neither Kleiber nor Krips ever injected as much life into Mozart as Jacobs does here. This is a performance that practically leaps out of the speakers with life and vivacity; as one reviewer stated, it almost seems to be taking place in real time and not a spliced-together studio tape. Even those two or three exaggerated slow-downs cannot entirely spoil the fun and depth of feeling of this Cosi; it grabs you from the beginning and doesn’t let go ‘til the end. The real question one needs to ask oneself, then, is whether or not the opera is as misogynist as it has been accused of being over the centuries.

I held the opinion that it was until I saw a production directed by a woman, Isabel Milenski, at Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music in February 2004. Milenski updated the opera to the early Hippie movement of the 1960s, with Fiordiligi and Dorabella as typical white suburban housewives trained to follow their men blindly and not think for themselves—but they wake up a through the course of the opera. Seen in this context, it dawned on me that da Ponte and Mozart were mocking well-off, higher class women, i.e. the “affluenza” girls of their day, and not all women. After all, Despina is in on the joke and not only a willing accomplice but also smarter and hipper than the other two women; and truth to tell, neither Fernando nor Guglielmo are 75-watt light bulbs.

Mozart’s music is far too subtle and sophisticated to suggest so low a comedy as the surface plot represents and, after all, it is the musical treatment of an opera that say a great deal about it. That being said, I don’t think that much of the music in the opening 20 minutes of Act II is really very inspired. It sounds well-crafted to me, but not on the same level as the generally sizzling Act I until you get further into it.

A work like Cosi needs a cast that is committed to fleshing out the characters as well as possessing attractive, well-trained voices. Here, everyone lives up to expectations, which as I mentioned is not the same in most other recordings. One of the more unusual moments in the performance is Veronique Gens’ performance of “Come scoglio.” In order to encompass the extraordinarily wide range of the music, she places her voice in her larynx somewhat lower than normal, which gives her the ability to go both up and down without sounding as if she is hammering her chest voice or screaming out her high range, but the trade-off is that she temporarily loses her lovely tone. In addition, Jacobs capriciously decided to use trumpets instead of French horns in the accompaniment. Yet these are small, if noticeable, anomalies in an otherwise splendid performance full of frisson, and the trade-off to Gens’ low voice placement is that “Come scoglio” emerges without the least bit of technical strain.

Yet it is the involvement of the orchestra in every note and phrase of his performance that helps tip the balance in its favor. Jacobs guides his orchestral forces through the music like a top-notch jazz orchestra conductor; every note and rhythm in the score supports the voices in a way that resembles a jazz band behind a great soloist. There is, simply, not another performance like it and certainly none I have heard that is finer. Four and a half stars, only because of the two really overly-slow sections in the performance. No one else even rates that high.

MOZART: Don Giovanni / Martina Arroyo, soprano (Donna Anna); Ingvar Wixell, baritone (Don Giovanni); Luigi Roni, bass (Il Commendatore); Wladimiro Ganzarolli, baritone (Leporello); Stuart Burrows, tenor (Don Ottavio); Kiri te Kanawa, soprano (Donna Elvira); Mirella Freni, soprano (Zerlina); Richard van Allen, bass (Masetto); Sir Royal Opera, Covent Garden Orch & Chorus; Colin Davis, conductor / Philips 422541

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MOZART: Don Giovanni / William Shimell, baritone (Don Giovanni); Samuel Ramey, bass (Leporello); Cheryl Studer, soprano (Donna Anna); Jan-Hendrik Rootering, bass (Commendatore); Frank Lopardo, tenor (Don Ottavio); Carol Vaness, soprano (Donna Elvira); Suzanne Mentzer, mezzo-soprano (Zerlina); Natale De Carolis, baritone (Masetto); Vienna Staatsopernchor; Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra; Riccardo Muti, conductor / EMI 542552

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Two stupendous recordings of Mozart’s operatic masterpiece, both in stereo and one in digital. The Davis recording has another eye-popping cast, in my view the strongest ever assembled for this great work, and Davis keeps things dramatic and moving, but when it came out the British critics looked down their noses at it. To them, the old 1959 Giulini recording was THE Don Giovanni because their Penguin Guide said so. Many still think that is the reference recording for this opera, but the Penguin’s Girlfriend is here to tell you it just isn’t so. Sutherland can’t touch Arroyo for drama, Eberhard Wächter’s voice was much harder and uglier than Wixell’s, and both Stuart Burrows and Mirella Freni could sing rings around Luigi Alva and Graziella Sciutti.

The Muti recording got mostly positive but mixed reviews when it came out, mostly because he took the slow arias and scenes at their “traditional” slow pace but properly sped up the faster sections, which heightened the tension. I find it riveting despite the somewhat odd, over-reverberant sound. I think many people overlooked it because they had never heard of William Shimell, the Don in this recording, but he is an absolutely splendid singing actor who shades and colors his voice with stupendous control. If I was forced to choose just one, I might actually pick the Muti, but I’ve loved this Davis recording since it first came out in the early 1970s.

MOZART: Die Entführung aus dem Serail / Valerie Masterson, soprano (Konstanze); Joachim Bissmeier, speaker (Pasha Selim); Lillian Watson, soprano (Blonde); Ryland Davies, tenor (Belmonte); James Hoback, tenor (Pedrillo); Willard White, bass (Osmin); Glyndebourne Opera Chorus; London Philharmonic Orchestra; Gustav Kuhn, conductor / Arthaus Musik DVD 102310

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This 1980 Glyndebourne performance of Mozart’s early, effervescent comedy is absolutely delightful on two counts: one, great singing, acting and conducting, and two, a really great and NORMAL production. No tough-looking whores playing Constanze and Blonde, no half-naked Nazis playing Selim and Osmin. Just actors and actresses clad as the characters they are supposed to be. How novel! Gustav Kuhn isn’t the most scintillating of Entführung conductors but he keeps things moving, and his cast is impeccable. Everyone can sing their part perfectly, all the trills, turns, high notes (sopranos) and low notes (bass). No one is struggling to get through “Martern aller arten” or “O wie will ich triumphieren.” It all flows perfectly. Willard White, Valerie Masterson and Ryland Davies never sang better. You’ll love it.

MOZART: Et incarnatus est / Eileen di Tullio, soprano; unidentified orchestra & conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

5-fish

Eileen di Tullio may just be the greatest light soprano you’ve never heard of. Her voice sounded a bit like Beverly Sills’ but it had more body and a more beautiful, silvery timbre. So why didn’t she make it? Well, because she had the misfortune to be the “cover” soprano at the Metropolitan Opera for Joan Sutherland, who never canceled a performance in her life. therefore she never set foot on the Met stage. But she was well known within the New York City arts community and fans waited for months to hear her sing at one of her infrequent recitals. Now you can hear her for free.

MOZART: Exsultate, Jubilate / Judith Raskin, soprano; Cleveland Orchestra; George Szell, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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MOZART: Exsultate, Jubilate / Alice Babs, soprano; Medlemmar ur Kungl. Hovkapellet; Ake Leven, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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There are many fine recordings of this great motet, including a splendid one by Kathleen Battle, and you may indeed have a favorite version different from mine, which is fine. But I like the two above most of all, the Raskin-Szell because singer, conductor and orchestra are in such perfect synch and the Babs-Leven version because her light, virginal sound is just perfect for the music. And there’s an extra special reason for my liking the Babs recording, and that’s because she was primarily a jazz singer. Take that, Ella Fitzgerald! (Just joking; I love Ella, but she couldn’t sing these runs and trills like Babs did.)

MOZART: Great Mass in C Minor. Ave Verum Corpus. Exsultate, Jubilate / Arleen Augér, soprano; Frederika von Stade, mezzo-soprano; Frank Lopardo, tenor; Cornelius Hauptmann, bass; Bavarian Radio Chorus & Orchestra; Leonard Bernstein, conductor / DGG 0649209 (DVD) or available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking individual titles above

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Leonard Bernstein wasn’t a particularly great conductor of the standard symphonic repertoire (Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms etc.), but in the music of Bach, Haydn and Mozart (but not Handel!) he was often superb. This 1990 concert captures him in his late prime with an all-star quartet of singers who are just perfect for the music. The album also includes yet another fine recording of Exsultate, Jubilate for Augér’s angelic singing, although the tempo is a little slow and the instrumental attacks a bit sluggish in the first movement.

MOZART: Horn Concerti Nos. 1-4 / Hermann Baumann, French hornist; Concentus Musicus Wien; Nikolaus Harnoncourt, conductor / Teldec 17429, or available for free streaming in small bits on YouTube

6-fish

Baumann recorded the Mozart Horn Concerti three times, but it’s this early version with Nikolaus Harnoncourt that’s really spectacular in every way—including his lipping chords on the horn!

MOZART: Idomeneo / Francisco Araiza, tenor (Idomeneo); Susanne Mentzer, mezzo (Idamante); Barbara Hendricks, soprano (Ilia); Roberta Alexander, mezzo (Elettra); Uwe Heilmann, bass (Arbace); Werner Hollweg, tenor (High Priest); Bavarian Radio Symphony Orch. & Chorus; Sir Colin Davis, conductor / Philips 422537 or available for free streaming in small bits on YouTube

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Mozart’s most Gluckian opera is not quite as dramatic or as finely-tuned as Gluck, but about 75% of it is really excellent music—though the famous tenor aria, “Fuor del mar,” is really just a filler piece that stops the action. This outstanding cast under Davis’ direction has never been equaled, not even by the equally all-star James Levine recording.

MOZART: Le Nozze di Figaro / Heinz Blankenburg, baritone (Figaro); Rita Streich, soprano (Susanna); Vito Susca, bass (Dr. Bartolo); Nicola Monti, tenor (Don Basilio); Bianca Maria Casoni, mezzo (Cherubino); Renato Cesare, baritone (Count Almaviva); Marcella Pobbe, soprano (Countess Almaviva); Fernanda Cadoni, mezzo (Marcellina); Amilcare Blafford, tenor (Don Curzio); Elvina Ramella, soprano (Barbarina); Leonardo Monreale, tenor (Antonio); Nelly Pucci, soprano (Peasant); Vera Presti, soprano (Peasant); Chorus of Teatro San Carlo, Naples; Orch. “Alessandro Scarlatti” di Napoli della RAI; Peter Maag, conductor / Arts Archives 43070-2 or available for free streaming on YouTube

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Here’s one of those rare surprise recordings that come out of nowhere and bowl you over: a live, 1958 stereo broadcast from Italian Radio with an orchestra and chorus that sound historically-informed and a cast that absolutely sizzles. Perhaps this recording was overlooked over the decades because neither American baritone Heinz Blankenburg, the Figaro, nor Itlaian mezzo Bianca Maria Casoni, the Cherubino, were well known outside of Europe, thus other recordings with “star names” in those roles took precedence, but one of the glories of this reading is that it sizzles like an Italian buffo opera, which to all intents and purposes it is. One warning, however, if you stream it on YouTube: whoever uploaded it made the top end too shrill, which results in some really thin-sounding string playing.

MOZART: Piano Concertos

If you want to hear the most intense, artistic and fascinating performances of nearly all of the Mozart Concertos, albeit with mono sound and sometimes scrappy orchestral playing, you can do no better than to write to the University of Maryland and offer to make a donation in exchange for CDs of these works by pianist Nadia Reisenberg (you can get the details here). These are three ½ to four-fish performances, the rating limited mostly by the boxy sound. That being said, there are some individual discs of certain of the concertos that I prize very highly.

MOZART: Piano Concertos Nos. 9 & 19 / Clara Haskil, pianist; Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra; Carl Schuricht, conductor / Philharmonie 6017 or available for free streaming by clicking on numbers above.

4-and-a-half-fish

MOZART: Piano Concertos Nos. 20 & 24 / Clara Haskil, pianist; Orchestre des Concerts Lamoreaux; Igor Markevitch, pianist / Philips 412254 or available for free streaming by clicking on numbers above.

5-fish

Clara Haskil, once highly prized internationally as one of the finest pianists of her day, has somehow slipped through the cracks over the years, but her recorded performances—particularly of Mozart—remain as vital and fresh as ever. The first disc gets only 4 ½ fish because it’s in mono sound, but the second clearly merits six.

MOZART: Piano Concertos Nos. 12-14 (arr. Mozart for piano & string quartet)/Anne-Marie McDermott, pianist; Calder Quartet / Bridge 9403, or available for streaming in individual movements on YouTube.

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Mozart’s own arrangements of these early-middle concertos for piano and string quartet reveal the fine texture of his writing and are excellently pereformed by Anne-Marie McDermott.

MOZART: Piano Concerto No. 21 / Dinu Lipatti, pianist; Lucerne Festival Orchestra; Herbert von Karajan, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

4-and-a-half-fish

Karajan’s conducting in this concerto is just a bit heavy and slow, but not draggy or ponderous, and Lipatti’s playing is absolutely stunning, light but not emasculated. Clearly one of the best performances ever recorded.

MOZART: Piano Concertos Nos. 22* & 23+: I. Allegro; II. Adagio; III. Allegro assai / *Wanda Landowska, +Artur Schnabel, pianists; New York Philharmonic Orchestra; Artur Rodziński, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on links above.

4-fish

Here we have no reason to complain of sluggish tempi or unclear textures; Rodziński was bettered only by Toscanini in that department. The one complaint comes from Schnabel in the last movement of the Concerto No. 23, coming to a halt around 5:10 before Rodziński starts him up again. But you talk about an exciting performance! Landowska, more controlled in her performance of the Concerto No. 22, is still fairly animated. Low ratings due only to the boxy mono sound.

MOZART: Piano Concerto No. 26, “Coronation” / Friedrich Gulda, pianist/conductor; Munich Philharmonic Orchestra / available for free streaming on YouTube

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The eccentric but often exciting Friedrich Gulda at his absolute best. Six fish aren’t enough to praise this fabulous performance!

MOZART: Piano Sonatas (complete) / Ronald Brautigam, pianist / Bis 835/37 (portions of this set available for free streaming on YouTube).

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Not all of Mozart’s piano sonatas were created equal, but you’d scarcely know it from listening to Brautigam’s brilliant, penetrating performances. Nearly every movement of each sonata is a gem, and by the time you’re finished listening you wish Mozart had written a few more sonatas for him to play…it’s that good.

MOZART: Requiem / Maria Stader, soprano; Hertha Töpper, mezzo-soprano; John van Kesteren, tenor; Karl Christian Kohn, bass; Münchener Bach-Chor & Orchester; Karl Richter, conductor / Teldec 97926, available for free streaming on YouTube

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MOZART: Requiem / Jutta Böhnert, soprano; Susanne Krumbiegel, mezzo-soprano; Martin Petzold, tenor; Gotthold Schwarz, bass; St. Thomas Boys’ Choir, Leipzig; Gewandhaus Orchestra; Georg Christoph Biller, conductor / Rondeau 4019, available for free streaming in individual bits on YouTube.

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If you live to be 100, you’ll not hear another Mozart Requiem conducted and sung at such white heat as this legendary 1962 recording by Karl Richter. Töpper was not in good voice and sometimes sags a bit in pitch, but no matter; this is a Requiem for the ages. Biller’s recording for Rondeau is, to my mind, the finest of all historically-informed versions, featuring a chorus that sings its heart out and an orchestra that sounds like a real orchestra (kinda diffeent from most HIP performances). Both get six fish for different reasons.

MOZART: Songs: Abendempfindung an Laura; An Chloe; Die betrogene Welt; Dans un bois solitaire; Der Frühling; Das Lied der Trennung; Lied zur Gesellenreise; Sei du mein Trost; Sehnsucht nach dem Frühlinge; Das Traumbild; Wie unglücklich bin ich nit; Das Veilchen; Die Verschweigung; Die Zufriedenheit / Werner Güra, tenor; Christoph Berner, fortepianist / Harmonia Mundi 901979

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Absolutely the liveliest album of Mozart’s songs you’ll ever hear, sung and played to a T by Güra (who is also the tenor on René Jacobs’ recording of Cosi fan tutte recommended above) and fortepianist Christoph Berner.

MOZART: Ridente la calma / Kathleen Battle, soprano; James Levine, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube

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Most beautiful version. Ever. The End.

MOZART: String Quartets Nos. 14-16, 18, 19, 21-23. String Quintets Nos. 3-6 / Amadeus Quartet; Cecil Arnowitz, viola 2 / Audite 21.427

4-and-a-half-fish

It’s not so much that the Amadeus Quartet was perfect but, on the contrary, because they were so human that these performances work so well. And yes, these are among Mozart’s best string quartets.

MOZART: String Quintets Nos. 1*-6 (complete); Clarinet Quintet; Serenade No. 13, “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” / Budapest String Quartet; *Walter Trampler, Milton Katims, viola 2; David Oppenheim, clarinetist / Sony 46527

5-fish

A double oddity: Mozart’s string quartets are uneven, but his string quintets are all masterpieces; and the Budapest String Quartet, normally correct but somewhat cold in performing other music, came to life when playing these quintets. This set also includes the best (to me) small-group version of the famous Eine Kleine Nachtmusik and a very good performance of the Clarinet Quartet, the latter with David Oppenheim.

MOZART: Symphonies Nos. 1, 4-31, 33-36, 38-41; K. 19a, 42a, 45a-b, 73l-n, 111b / Danish National Chamber Orchestra; Adám Fischer, conductor / Dacapo 8.201201

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Yes, there are individual performances of various symphonies that you probably love more, but no other conductor in the history of recording has done such a fine job with all of Mozart’s verified symphonies (meaning the ones not written by his old man and passed off as his). Fischer is consistently exciting and involved in every movement of each symphony, and the Danish Chamber Orchestra plays splendidly for him. Below are some of my personal favorites among individual recordings.

MOZART: Symphony No. 30 in D: I. Molto allegro; II. Andantino con moto; III. Menuetto; IV. Presto / SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden ubnd Freiburg; Michael Gielen, conductor / available for free streaming by clicking on movement titles above.

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MOZART: Symphonies Nos. 33 & 36 (“Linz”) / Bavarian State Orchestra (No. 33); Vienna Philharmonic (No. 36); Carlos Kleiber, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking symphony numbers above.

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MOZART: Symphony No. 35, “Haffner”: I. Allegro con spirito; II. Andante; III. Menuetto; IV. Presto / BBC Symphony Orchestra; Arturo Toscanini, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on movement titles above.

4-fish

MOZART: Symphonies Nos. 38 (“Prague”), 39, 41 (“Jupiter”) / Columbia Symphony Orchestra; Bruno Walter, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking symphony numbers above.

5-fish

MOZART: Symphony No. 40 / NBC Symphony Orchestra; Arturo Toscanini, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube.

5-fish

Brilliant, priceless performances by three legendary conductors (Toscanini, Walter and C. Kleiber) and a fourth who, in my mind, is nearly their equal, Michael Gielen, and happily all of the Bruno Walter recordings here are in stereo sound. In the case of the Toscanini No. 40, this comes from one of his famous television broadcasts which gives us a rare chance to watch a genius in action. All very highly recommended.

MOZART: Thamos, König in Ägypten, K. 345 / Edda Moser, soprano; Julia Hamari, contralto; Werner Hollweg, tenor; Barry McDaniel, baritone; Stuttgart State Opera Chorus; Southwest German Radio Chorus; Michael Gielen, conductor; SWR Symph Orchestra Baden-Baden & Freiburg / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking title above

5-fish

A relatively obscure dramatic cantata by Mozart, brilliantly sung and conducted. A must-have for the true Mozartian.

MOZART: Violin Concerti Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4 & 5 / Arthur Grumiaux, violinist; London Symphony Orchestra; Colin Davis, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking individual numbers above

5-fish

No one yet can touch Grumiaux in Mozart, although a few modern violinists come close. He had spunk, elegance and insight in his playing, and the accompaniments by Colin Davis and the London Symphony still resonate. Sorry, HIP-sters!

MOZART: Violin Concerto No. 6 / Alfred Dubois, violinist; Brussels Royal Conservatory Orchestra; Desirée Defauw, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube: part 1, part 2

4-fish

A fascinating performance of a Mozart concerto not always credited to Mozart. Dubois’ playing has a bit of portamento in it—it was, after all, recorded in 1932 when this was considered the height of cultured playing—but is otherwise quite stylish and beautiful.

MOZART: Violin Concerto No. 7 / Yehudi Menuhin, violinist; unidentified orch. conducted by George Enescu / available for free streaming on YouTube

4-fish

A surprisingly bracing, straightforward reading of one of the rarest of Mozart’s concerti; only the boxy mono sound demotes its ranking here.

MOZART: Die Zauberflöte / Peter Schreier, tenor (Tamino); Walter Berry, baritone (Papageno); Edda Moser, soprano (Queen of the Night); Theo Adam, bass-baritone (Speaker); Willi Brokmeier, tenor (Monastatos); Anneliese Rothenberger, soprano (Pamina); Kurt Moll, bass (Sarastro); Olivera Miljakovic, soprano (Papagena); Leonore Kirschstein, soprano (First Lady); Ilse Gramatzki, soprano (Second Lady); Brigitte Fassbaender, mezzo (Third Lady); Wilfried Badorek, tenor (First Armored Man); Günter Wewel, bass (Second Armored Man); Wolfgang Sawallisch, conductor; Bavarian State Opera Orchestra & Chorus / EMI Classics 93266 (2 CDs, no libretto)

5-fish

How on earth did I miss this recording when it came out? Zauberflote is one of my favorite operas and I’ve listened to and/or owned nearly every recording of it that ever came out, from the 1937 Beecham version to the Gardiner recording, and never even saw this when it came out on LP in 1973. But there was a caveat: it was never issued in the U.K. on HMV but only available as an import on the German EMI-Electrola label (nowadays Warner Classics/Parlophone). It was also, believe it or not, issued in Quadraphonic sound—another reason many LP-buyers stayed away from it. (Contrary to the record companies’ belief, most people did NOT have Quad equipment.) It was issued on the American “Angel” label, but only fir a brief time and NOT in Quadraphonic, so it wasn’t marketed very well. In addition, at the time of its release the only singers well known to Americans were Berry, Rothenberger, Adam and Moser, who along with Cristina Deutekom was the Metropolitan Opera’s resident Queen of the Night in the late 1960s-early ‘70s. I saw and heard them both, and can attest that Moser’s voice in person (as opposed to on records, where she was very close-miked) was much smaller than Deutekom’s, in fact almost inaudible beyond the tenth row of orchestra, but she was still a great proponent of the role and catches the character’s menace perfectly. In fact, she is the only soprano I’ve ever heard who sings her two arias in a different voice. “O zittre nicht” is sung here in her normal lovely lyric coloratura style, but in “Der Hölle Rache” she narrows her focus, intensifies her tone, and almost shrieks at times. The effect is spine-chilling: every note is like an ice dagger. She really understands the character! (Think of Hillary Clinton on a bad day.)

Moreover, this is the only recording of the opera I’ve ever heard in which every single singer is in good voice and suited to their role. Theo Adam had a very powerful bass-baritone voice, but by the early ‘60s picked up a wobble that never left him. Happily, the role of the Speaker is brief and only encompasses a narrow range, and he was such a great actor that he compensates for any vocal shortcomings. Schreier (who was still operating behind the Iron Curtain in East Germany) gives a splendid performance. His voice was always a shade on the dry side, a bit “sandpapery” in timbre, but in a pleasant way, and he was a consummate musician and a great interpreter. Rothenberger, Berry and Moll (who at the time was still a repertoire singer in Hamburg—on the 1973 “Zauberflote” he is the second armored man while Hans Sotin sings Sarastro) are all magnificent, and except for three moments (“Bei mannern,” “O Isis und Osiris” and “Ach, ich fühls”) Sawallisch’s conducting is lively and on the quick side. Moreover, he captures a really happy mood in the orchestra and soloists…you can almost imagine them smiling as they were recording the opera. Sawallisch also keep the second act moving at a good clip, something many other conductors failed to do. And there is a duet in this recording between Tamino and Papageno (“Pamina, wo bist du?”) that I’ve never heard before and does not appear on most recordings, so you get a bonus! (Schickenader put this piece into a production of the opera a decade after its premiere, claiming it was by Mozart and that the composer gave it to him. Stanley Sadie in The Gramophone savaged it, but it is a delightful piece and fits in very well.)

When you think of the other near-misses among “Zauberflote” recordings (Fricsay with a very wobbly Josef Griendl as Sarastro, Böhm with his sluggish tempos and Roberta Peters’ squally Queen, the first Solti set with the fluttery, gets-on-your-nerves voice of Pilar Lorengar as Pamina, Sawallisch’s later recording with the hideous voice of Edita Gruberova as the Queen, Gardiner with the equally fluttery and annoying Harry Peeters as Sarastro), this set really fills the gap beautifully. The only other performance that comes close to it is the 1973 Hamburg DVD, but that one is spoiled by Nicolai Gedda’s overloud and occasionally slight flat singing as Tamino (he was entering his period of vocal decline at that point and never really recovered his beautiful voice). You absolutely can’t go wrong with this recording. Even the Three Ladies are good, and a bit of luxury casting features the then-up-and-coming Brigitte Fassbaender as the Third Lady!

Muczynski, Robert

MUCZYNSKI: Cello Sonata: I. Theme & variations; II. Scherzo – Allegro grazioso; III. Andante sostenuto; IV. Allegro con spirito / Dorotea Pacz, cellist; Dmitry Samogray, pianist / Duos for Flute & Clarinet / Ginevra Petrucci, flautist; Gleb Kanasevitch, clarinetist / Fantasy Trio: I. Allegro energico; II. Andante con espressione; III. Allegro deciso; IV. Introduction & Finale / Gleb Kanasevitch, clarinetist; Dorotea Pacz, cellist; Dmitry Samogray, pianist / Time Pieces: I. Allegro risoluto; II. Andante espressivo; III. Allegro moderato / Gleb Kanasevitch, clarinetist; Dmitry Samogray, pianist / Brilliant Classics 95433, or available for free streaming by clicking on individual movements above.

5-fish

Robert Muczynski (1929-2010) was an American composer who somehow managed to fly under the radar of the classical music scene for most of his career. This album consists of some of his very best works, beautifully played by this talented quartet of performers.

Mussorgsky, Modest

MUSSORGSKY: Boris Godunov: 1869 version / Nikolai Putilin, bass (Boris Godunov); Olga Trifonova, soprano (Xenia); Zlata Bulycheva, soprano (Feodor); Viktor Lutsuk, tenor (Grigory); Nikolai Ohotnikov, bass (Pimen); Konstantin Pluznikov, tenor (Shuisky); Feodor Kuznetsov, bass (Varlaam); Nikolai Gassiev, tenor (Missail); Luibov Sokolova, mezzo (Innkeeper); Evgeny Akimov, tenor (Fool) / 1872 version / Vladimir Vaneev, bass (Boris Godunov); Vladimir Galusin, tenor (Grigory); Olga Borodina, mezzo (Marina); Evgeny Nikitin, baritone (Rangoni); others the same as 1869 version / Philips 462230 or available for free streaming in small bits on YouTube

5-fish

Although there are some stronger basses to sing the title role than Vladimir Vaneev in the final 1872 version presented here, he is actually pretty good in his interpretation and both the conducting and the fact that we get exactly what Mussorgsky wrote without any extra orchestration from Rimsky-Korsakov, Dmitri Shostakovich or yo’ mama, make this the essential set. My lone caveat is that Olga Borodina, though possessing a gorgeous voice, does not present the character of the conniving, power-hungry Princess Marina as well as, for instance, Irina Arkhipova or Marjana Lipovšek, but that is a small price to pay for what were clearly the benchmark recordings of MUSSORGSKY’s Boris.

MUSSORGSKY: Boris Godunov / Robert Lloyd, bass (Boris Godunov); Alexander Morosov, bass (Pimen); Alexei Steblianko, tenor (Grigory/Dimitri); Ludmila Filarova, mezzo-soprano (Innkeeper); Vladimir Ognovenko, bass (Varlaam); Igor Yan, tenor (Missail); Olga Kandina, soprano (Xenia); Larissa Diadkova, mezzo-soprano (Feodor); Evgenia Perlasova, mezzo-soprano (Nurse); Evgeny Bobisov, tenor (Shuisky); Olga Borodina, mezzo (Marina); Sergei Leiferkus, baritone (Rangoni); Mikhail Kit, baritone (Schehelkalov); Evgeny Fedotov, bass (Nikitich); Grigori Karasyov, bass (Mityukha); Vladimir Solodovnikov, tenor (Simpleton); Kirov Opera Orchestra and Chorus; Valery Gergiev, conductor / Philips DVD 075 089-9 or available for free streaming on YouTube

6-fish

I’ve just recently (January 2018) discovered this magnificent live performance from 1990, and it is even more dramatically powerful and convincing than the commercial recording of the 1872 version noted above. The only vocal weak link in the cast is tenor Evgeny Bobisov, who has both a wobble and strained high range, as Shuisky. Everyone else ranges from good to excellent; even Olga Borodina is more involved here than in the 1997 recording, and the great Sergei Leiferkus is Rangoni. More importantly, Robert Lloyd’s dramatically incisive and beautifully sung Boris anchors the performance better than Vaneev. This is clearly the premier version of the later version of the opera.

MUSSORGSKY: Khovantshchina (slightly abridged) / Mario Petri, bass (Ivan Khovansky); Amedeo Berdini, tenor (Andrey Khovansky); Mirto Picchi, tenor (Vasily Golitsyn); Gianpiero Malaspina, bass-baritone (Shaklovity); Boris Christoff, bass (Dosifey); Irene Companéez, mezzo-soprano (Marfa); Herbert Handt, tenor (Scribe); Jolanda Mancini, soprano (Emma); Dmitri Lopatto, baritone (Varsonofiev); Andrea Mineo, tenor (Kutscha); Dimitri Lopatto, baritone (Strelets I); Giorgio Canello, bass (Strelets II); Artur Rodziński, conductor; RAI Rome Chorus & Orchestra / available for free streaming on YouTube

4-and-a-half-fish

There are several stereo and/or digital recordings of this opera, left as an unfinished mess by Mussorgsky when he died, but to be honest none of them come up to the power and riveting drama of this hoary old Italian broadcast from 1958. And it’s not just Boris Christoff’s Dosifey that impresses, but virtually the entire cast, including Mario Petri’s Ivan Khovansky and the superb Marfa of the little-remembered Ireme Companéez. Yet inevitably it’s also Artur Rodzinski’s conducting that makes this performance so great. Shortly after completing this performance, Rodzinski was invited to conduct the prestigious Chicago Symphony. His doctors told him to reject the offer because he was suffering from a bad heart, but Rodzinski wanted badly to be back in the American spotlight, so he accepted. He completed the performances but died of heart failure shortly thereafter, thus this recording may be seen as his last will and testament as a musician.

MUSSORGSKY: A Night on Bald Mountain / Chicago Symphony Orchestra; Fritz Reiner, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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A great and glorious recording of this popular evergreen. Reiner wasn’t always this spectacular, but here he almost outdoes himself and the Chicago Symphony is captured in state-of-the-art 1957 Living Stereo (as opposed, I guess, to everyone else’s Dead Stereo).

MUSSORGSKY: Pictures at an Exhibition / Michael Korstick, pianist / Gramola 99074 or available for free streaming in small bits on YouTube

6-fish

MUSSORGSKY: Pictures at an Exhibition (orch. Ravel, ed. Toscanini) / NBC Symphony Orchestra; Arturo Toscanini, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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MUSSORGSKY: Pictures at an Exhibition (orch. Ravel) / Royal Philharmonic Orchestra; Yuri Temirkanov, conductor / available for free streaming in small bits on YouTube

5-fish

This is undoubtedly one of Mussorgsky’s crowning achievements as a composer; its proliferation on records and in the concert hall has diluted its genius to some degree. These are my absolute favorite performances. Michael Korstick, one of the few great piano geniuses of our time, lays into it with the power of a Richter, the suavity of Yefim Bronfman, and a style all his own. No one else even comes close. The Toscanini recording of the Ravel orchestration is slightly edited here and there by the Maestro to bring out a bit more Russian grit and a little less French suavity, and it works superbly. This is one of his most relaxed and brilliantly conceived recordings, despite being made with a single microphone in Carnegie Hall. If you really want or need a digital stereo recording, however, the Temirkanov is my pick.

MUSSORGSKY: Songs (including Sunless Cycle, The Nursery, Songs and Dances of Death) / Sergei Leiferkus, baritone; Semyon Skigin, pianist; in Song & Dances of Death, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra; Yuri Temirkanov, conductor / Brilliant Classics 94928

6-fish

FABULOUS FABULOUS FABULOUS performances, from start to finish, of most of Mussorgsky’s song oeuvre. Leiferkus strikes the right mood and tone for all of them, although I also recommend the following for those who would like alternative performances:

MUSSORGSKY: Songs and Dances of Death / Jennie Tourel, mezzo-soprnao; Leonard Bernstein, pianist / part of Preiser 89733, also available for free streaming on YouTube: Trepak; Lullaby; Serenade; Field Marshal Death

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MUSSORGSKY: The Flea / Feodor Chaliapin, bass; unidentified orchestra; Roario Bourdon, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

4-fish

Composers – L

girl-penguinLaks, Szymon

LAKS: L’Hirondelle Inattendue / Kevin Amiel, tenor (Journalist); Patrick Agard, baritone (Pilot); Eduarda Meto, soprano (Dove of Noah’s Ark); Sandrine Eygler, soprano (Prochne); Ute Gfrerer, mezzo (The Swallow); Eugènie Danglade, alto (Aeschylus’ Tortoise); Grzegorz Pazik, baritone (Snake of Eden); Daniel Borowski, basso buffo (Bear of Bern); Cyril Rovery, bass (The Voice of Heaven); Agnieszka Makówa, mezzo (Swallow 2/Goose 2); Anna Karasińska, soprano (Goose 1); Katarzyna Trylnik, mezzo (Goose 3); Polish Radio Choir, Krakow; Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra Warsaw; Łukasz Borowicz, conductor / EDA 35

4-and-a-half-fish

Polish-born Szymon Laks was extremely talented and, more to the point, individual and interesting. L’Hirondelle Inattendue or The Secret Swallow is his only opera, a 37-minute bit of wildly creative music built around a surrealist plot by Claude Aveline (an early surrealist and friend of Anatole France). A journalist and the pilot of a space ship make an emergency landing on a strange planet that turns out to be inhabited by famous animals and birds (see role descriptions above), but are puzzled by the arrival of a young human woman who claims to be a swallow but can only sing two lines. After a half-hour’s confusion, the journalist informs them all that the “secret swallow” is really a song. Yes, the plot is silly but the music is glorious, witty and fascinating! Only 4 1/2 fish, however, because a few of the lead voices are somewhat infirm.

LAKS: String Quartet No. 4. Divertimento for Violin, Clarinet, Bassoon & Piano. Sonatina. Concertino for Oboe, Clarinet & Bassoon. Passacaille, arr. of Vocalise for Clarinet & Piano. Piano Quintet / ARC Ensemble with Sarah Jeffrey, oboist; Frank Morelli, bassoonist / Chandos CHAN 10983

6-fish

His String Quartet No. 4 begins with quirky atonal counterpoint, above which one of the solo violins comes in to play a similarly quirky melody. Throughout the brief (4:27) first movement, Laks continues to play this cat-and-mouse game, and in the slow movement he shows us his own method of writing moody music with a harmonic “edge” to it. This is truly innovative stuff. The third movement seems to be in an irregular meter, albeit an edgy one with a ferocious forward drive to it. The liner notes call the music “jazz-inflected” but as a lifelong student of jazz I can assure you it most certainly is not. Nevertheless, this is a CD well worth seeking out.

Lalo, Edouard

LALO: Symphonie Espagnole (complete) / Henry Merckel, violinist; Orchestre de Concerts Pasdeloup; Piero Coppola, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube: 1st mvt, 2nd mvt, 3rd mvt, 4th mvt, 5th mvt

4-fish

LALO: Symphonie Espagnole (3rd mvt omitted) / Bronislaw Huberman, violinist; Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra; George Szell, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube: part 1, part 2

4-and-a-half-fish

Lalo was a minor composer who wrote one great work, and this is it. Forget most modern recordings; they’re dull and lifeless compared to these. I prefer Huberman to everyone else, but since his was one of several recording that omitted the third movement I also recommend Merckel, who is virtually forgotten today.

Larsen, Libby

LARSEN: Deep Summer Music. Solo Symphony: 1, 2, 3, 4. Marimba Concerto: After Hampton*1st, 2nd, 3rd / *John Kinzie, marimbist; Colorado Symphony Orchestra; Marin Alsop, conductor / Koch 7520 or available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on individual titles above

5-fish

LARSEN: Overture: Parachute Dancing. Symphony: Water Music. Symphony No. 3, “Lyric.” Symphony No. 4, String Symphony* / London Symphony Orchestra, *Scottish Chamber Orchestra; Joel Revzen, conductor / Koch 7481

5-fish

LARSEN: Sonnets from the Portuguese / Arleen Augér, soprano; Members of St. Paul Chamber Orchestra; Joel Revzen, conductor / part of Koch 7248, also available for free streaming on YouTube in individual bits

5-fish

The music of Libby Larsen, while not emotionally deep, is exquisitely well crafted, interesting and highly entertaining without pandering to po music tastes. The pieces listed above are among my favorites of her output, and all of the performances are of a very high order.

Lassus, Orlando de

LASSUS: Adoramus te. Resonet in Laudibus. Salve Regina / New York Pro Musica; Noah Greenberg, director / look for them in reissues

5-fish

LASSUS: Gallans qui par terre in mer. Je l’aime bien. Mon cœur se recommande à vous / Vocal Arts Ensemble; Richard Levitt, countertenor/director / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on individual titles

5-fish

LASSUS: Meslanges: Bon jour, mon coeur. Quand mon mary vient de dehors / Nadia Boulanger Vocal & Instrumental Ensemble / part of Pristine Classical PACO 22

4-and-a-half-fish

You may find some performances of de Lassus’ music as good as these, but somehow I doubt it. These older groups just had a certain fondness and warmth for this music that today’s historically-informed performers usually lack. I was pleasantly surprised to find the Richard Levitt-Vocal Arts Ensemble tracks available on YouTube!

Le Jeune, Claude

LE JEUNE: Le Printemps: Revecy venir du Printemps. Second livre des Meslanges: Psalm. Tu ne l’enten pas, c’est latin / Nadia Boulanger Vocal & Instrumental Ensemble / part of Pristine Classical PACO 22

4-and-a-half-fish

How fortunate that three of the better pieces by Claude Le Jeune are also on the same CD with the Lassus pieces! These are by far the best performances of them.

Lekeu, Guillaume

LEKEU: Piano Trio: 1st mvmt; 2nd mvmt; 3rd mvmt; 4th mvmt. Quartet for Piano & Strings*: part 1; part 2 / Trio Hochelaga; *Teng Li, violist / Atma Classique 2651 or available for streaming on YouTube by clicking on movements above

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The tragically short-lived French composer Lekeu (1870-1894) is largely known for his very romantic Violin Sonata, but these works are far meatier and show him in a better light. Trio Hochelaga’s performances are also meaty, with strong attacks and penetrating insight into the music.

Leoncavallo, Ruggiero

LEONCAVALLO: Pagliacci / Rosetta Pampanini, soprano (Nedda); Francesco Merli, tenor (Canio); Carlo Galeffi, baritone (Tonio); Gino Vanelli, baritone (Silvio); Giuseppe Nessi, tenor (Beppe); Teatro alla Scala Orchestra & Chorus; Cav. Lorenzo Molajoli, conductor / Preiser 20060 or available for free streaming on YouTube

4-and-a-half-fish

LEONCAVALLO: Pagliacci / Raina Kabaivanska, soprano (Nedda); Jon Vickers, tenor (Canio); Peter Glossop, baritone (Tonio); Rolando Panerai, baritone (Silvio); Sergio Lorenzi, tenor (Beppe); Teatro alla Scala Orchestra & Chorus; Herbert von Karajan, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

6-fish

Absolutely the two greatest performances you’ll ever hear (or, in the case of the Karajan also see) of this overworked operatic warhorse. It’s become so easy to ruin Pagliacci with overacting and so-so singing that it’s almost become a caricature of itself, but when performed by a cast and conductor fully committed to the drama, as it is in these two recordings, you’ll find yourself pinned to the wall. Pampanini is the most intense of Neddas, though Kabaivanska comes close, while Vickers is so deep in the character he may even scare you when he starts his “No, Pagliacco non son.” The only other performance that comes close is the aged Met broadcast with Ramon Vinay as Canio, Leonard Warren as Tonio and the sadly forgotten Florence Quarteraro as Nedda, but the orchestra playing is so absolutely miserable that it pushes it aside as a curiosity for hardcore collectors only. Karajan’s tempos are slower than Molajoli’s, but he does a better job at knitting the score together as a cohesive whole, and Glossop, whose singing is a bit on the rough side, is absolutely the most intense Tonio you’ll ever experience.

Ligeti, György

LIGETI: Apparitions / Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra; Jonathan Nott, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

LIGETI: Atmospheres / Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra; Claudio Abbado, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

LIGETI: Aventures / Sarah Leonard, soprano; Linda Hirst, mezzo-soprano; Omar Ebrahim, baritone; Players of the Schoenberg Ensemble / available for free streaming on YouTube

LIGETI: Lux Aeterna / Cappella Amsterdam; Daniel Reuss, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

LIGETI: Ramifications / Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra; Bruno Maderna, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

LIGETI: Requiem / Liliana Poli, soprano; Barbro Ericson, mezzo-soprano; Bavarian Radio Chorus; Hessian Radio Symphony Orchestra Frankfurt; Michael Gielen, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

All of the above: 5-fish

György Ligeti’s music occupies a unique place in the world of music. Seemingly made up of several parallel streams of sound, each on a different but closely related key, it strikes the ear like the buzzing of hornets or, as some have described it, like the sound of the universe. This was one reason why some of his pieces made such a good fit in Stanley Kubrick’s groundbreaking 1968 film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, which pretty much introduced Ligeti to a large and unsuspecting audience. It’s also the reason why so many of his works have titles related to spirits or space. Aventures shows the other side of Ligeti, a surprisingly wild and humorous undercurrent that suck works as Atmospheres or the Requiem would not lead you to suspect. These are all the finest performances I have heard of each of these works

Liszt, Ferenc

LISZT: Orpheus, Symphonic Poem. Von der Wiege bis zum Grabe / NBC Symphony Orchestra; Arturo Toscanini, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking links above

4-fish

Two of Liszt’s more underrated orchestral works, brought to vivid life in Toscanini’s lively performances.

LISZT: Années de Pélérinage, Book III: No. 3, Les jeux d’eaux. Concert Etudes: No. 1, “La leggierezza;” No. 3, “Un sospiro;” “Ronde des Lutins” First Valse oubliée, R. 37. Grand galop chromatique, R. 41. Hungarian Rhapsodies: No. 2 in c# min; No. 6 in Db; No. 9 in Eb; No. 10, “Preludio;No. 11; No. 13; No. 15, “Rakoczy March.” Liebestraum. Mephisto Waltz No. 1. Fantasy on Hungarian Folk Themes, S123.* Piano Concerto No. 1 in E-flat, S. 124* Polonaise No. 2. / György Cziffra, pianist; *Orchestre National de l’ORTF; *André Cluytens, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on individual links above

6-fish

The Hungarian Gypsy pianist György Cziffra was not very well known in America, partly because he was so closely identified with the music of Liszt above all others (though he also played very good Beethoven and Scarlatti, and sometimes excellent Chopin) and partly because the American “king of the piano,” Vladimir Horowitz, was insanely jealous of him. And well he should be, because Cziffa was one of the few super-virtuosos who also had superb phrasing and sensitivity in his playing. American pianist William Kapell also played very fine Liszt, particularly the Mephisto Waltz, but I think you will find in Cziffra’s performances everything you ever wanted out of this composer’s solo piano works.

LISZT: Nuages Gris / Martin Tchiba, pianist / part of Challenge 72562 or available for free streaming on YouTube

5-fish

Liszt’s atypically atmospheric piano piece, a forerunner of Debussy and Ravel, in a stunning modern recording.

LISZT: Piano Sonata in b min. / Annie Fischer, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube

5-fish

Of the various recordings of this masterpiece, Fischer has, for me, the best combination of technique, power and musical sensitivity.

LISZT: Les Preludes / Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra; Willem Mengelberg, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

4-fish

This is absolutely the greatest performance of this Liszt tone poem you will ever hear, or hope to hear, despite the severely limited 1929 sound quality.

LISZT: 3 Petratch Sonnets: I. Pace non trovo; II. Benedetto sia’l giorno; III. I’ vidi in terra Angelici / Francesco Meli, tenor; Matteo Pais, pianist . part of Opus Arte 9019, or available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on individual titles above

4-and-a-half-fish

LISZT: Songs: Áldjon ég! Angiolin dal biondo crin. “Comment,” disaient-ils. Do not rebuke me, my friend. Die drei Ziguener. Einst. Enfant, si j’étais roi. Es muß ein Wunderbares sein. Es war ein König in Thule. Ein Fichtenbaum steht einsam. Go not, happy day. Ich liebe dich. Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher. J’ai perdu ma force et ma vie. Mignons Lied (Kennst du das land). O Meer im Abendstrahl. La perla. S’il est un charmant gazon. Tombe et la rose. Über allen Gipfeln ist Ruh. Vergiftet sind meiner Lieder. Verlassen. Was Liebe sei? / Elisabeth Kulman, mezzo-soprano; Eduard Kutrowatz, pianist / Preiser 91197 or available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking individual titles above

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LISZT: Songs: Es muß ein Wunderbares sein. Es rauschen die Winde. Go not, happy day. Ihr Auge. Im Rhein, im schönen Strome. O quand je dors. Tombe et la rose. Die Vätergruft. Über allen Gipfeln ist Ruh (Wanderers Nachtlied) / Thomas Hampson, baritone; Geoffrey Parsons, pianist / part of EMI 55047

5-fish

Liszt’s vocal music is among the very best ever written, and unlike so many song composers he wrote songs in a number of languages: German (of course), French, Italian, Russian and English. O quand je dors may be his all-time best-known song, but as the above recordings will prove, he had an endless fund of melodic lines at his disposal to spin around almost any sort of lyric. Tenor Meli is quite good, baritone Hampson is excellent but mezzo Kulman is absolutely phenomenal. This may be the finest album of Liszt songs ever recorded by anyone at any time in recording history.

Little, Jonathan

LITTLE: Duo Sonata for Percussion Soloists / Graham Bradley, Andrea McLaren, percussionists / Kyrie, Op. 5 / Thomas Tallis Chamber Choir; Philip Simms, director / Sacred Prelude for String Quartet / String Soloists of Czech Philharmonic Orchestra / Fanfare for Brass and Percussion. Terpsichore: “The Whirler” or Muse of Dance, Op. 7 / Kiev Philharmonic Orchestra; Robert Ian Winstin, conductor / That Time of Year, Op. 2 / Vox Moderne; Robert Ian Winstin, conductor / Dilute 002

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The music of Jonathan Little is tonal but extraordinarily interesting and moving, among the most creative modern music being written today—yet he remains little know and under-appreciated. This CD, and the works on it, are a splendid introduction to his art.

Loewe, Carl

LOEWE: Edward / Lawrence Tibbett, baritone; Stewart Wille, pianist / Das Erkennen / Kurt Moll, bass; Cord Garben, pianist / Heinrich der Vögler / Hermann Prey, baritone; Karl Engel, pianist / Herr Oluf. Hochzeitlied. Der Mohrenfürst auf der Messe / Johann Martin Kränzle, baritone; Hilko Dumno, pianist / Findlay / Thomas Hampson, baritone; Geoffrey Parsons, pianist / Der Mummelsee / Wilhelm Strienz, bass; Michael Raucheisen, pianist / Tom der Reimer / Leo Slezak, tenor; Heinrich Schacker, pianist / Erlkönig / Thomas Quasthoff, baritone; Norman Shetler, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on individual titles above

All titles between 4-fishand 6-fish

LOEWE: Piano Concerto No. 2 / Eva Kupiec, pianist; Orchestre National de Lorraine; Jacques Hartmann, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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LOEWE: Symphony No. 1 in D min. / Philharmonie de Lorraine; Jacques Hartmann, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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LOEWE: Symphony No. 2 in E min. / Anhaltische Philharmonie, Dessau; Golo Berg, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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Though mostly known for his marvelous songs, generally longer and more dramatic than Schubert’s and with tempo shifts to portray changes of mood, Carl Loewe also wrote some superb instrumental works as well that remind one of Schubert crossed with mid-period Beethoven. These are the three most interesting of them, the first two in superb, electrifying performances.

Lourié, Arthur

LOURIÉ: Berceuse de la Chevrette. Daily Pattern. Death’s Mistake.* Formes en l’Air. Gigue. Intermezzo. Marche. Minuet in the Manner of Gluck. Nocturne. Our March.* Petite Suite in F. Phoenix Park Nocturne. The Piano in the Nursery. Piano Sonatina No. 3. Synthèses. Toccata. Upmann, a Smoking Sketch. Valse / Moritz Ernst, pianist; *Oskar Ansuli, speaker / Capriccio C5281

5-fish

LOURIÉ: Dialogue. 2 Estampes, Op. 2. Formes en l’Air. Masques. Mazurkas, Op. 7. Petite Suite in F. 4 Poèmes. 5 Preludes Fragiles. Upmann, a Smoking Sketch / Giorgio Koukl, pianist / Grand Piano GP737

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LOURIÉ: Symphony No. 1, “Sinfonia Dialectica” (1930) / Residentie-Orchestre of the Hague; Lucas Vis, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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LOURIÉ: Symphony No. 2, “Kormtchaia” (1939) / Orchestra de la Suisse Romance; Ernest Ansermet, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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To a certain extent, Arthur Lourié—the enigmatic, eccentric Russian-turned-French, Jewish-turned-Catholic composer—was a descendant of both Mussorgsky and Alkan. He wrote strange, oddly-rhythmed piano pieces that both puzzle and delight the ear yet sound like no other composer on earth. These two albums are a perfect introduction to his sound-world. The two symphonies, though not as densely packed or as surprising in structure, are still excellent works that are in desperate need of rediscovery. The two performances listed above are from early 1950s radio broadcasts and, unfortunately, suffer from cramped sound, but the performances are quite good.

Loussier, Jacques

LOUSSIER: Concerto No. 1 for Violin & Percussion. Concerto No. 2 for Violin & Tabla / Adam Kostecki, violinist/conductor; Piotr Iwicki, percussionist/tabla; Polish Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra / Naxos 8.573200

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Jacques Loussier, the highly gifted French pianist who has devoted most of his life to combining his two musical loves, Bach and jazz, also wrote these two extraordinary violin concertos. This music is not to be missed; they are extraordinary, and extraordinarily underrated, works, superbly played and conducted by Kostecki.

Lyapunov, Sergei

LYAPUNOV: 12 Études d’Exécution Transendante, Op. 11: I. Berceuse; Complete performance. Also see Mili Balakirev / Louis Kentner, pianist / APR 6020

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Although there is a good chance that a modern recording of this extraordinary set of etudes may appear soon, there was a reason why Kentner’s 1949 (the one presented here) and 1962  recordings have been the only commercial performance of this music, at least up through October 30, 2016. There’s a reason for this. In terms of both technical adroitness and interpretive acumen, this is the performance that will likely stand for all eternity.

Composers – K

girl-penguinKabalevsky, Dmitri

KABALEVSKY: Colas Breugnon: Overture / NBC Symphony Orchestra; Arturo Toscanini, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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KABALEVSKY: 24 Preludes / Nadia Reisenberg, pianist / part of Roméo 7309/10, also available for streaming as individual files on YouTube

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KABALEVSKY: Symphony No. 2 / NBC Symphony Orchestra; Arturo Toscanini, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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Dmitri Kabalevsky has the bad reputation of being a flashy, shallow composer at a time when Prokofiev, Shostakovich and other Russians were writing much more meaningful music. To a certain extent this is true—his ubiquitous Colas Breugnon Overture is based on circus music—but the piano Preludes and the Second Symphony have some really nice, substantial things about them that make them well worth listening to.

Kalinnikov, Vasily

KALINNIKOV: Symphony No. 1 in G min. / Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra; Evgeny Svetlanov, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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Although Kalinnikov wrote other works, this first symphony is often considered his masterpiece, and justly so. I’ve only heard two performances that really do it justice, however: the ancient broadcast by Toscanini and this equally exciting 1982 recording by the great Evgeny Svetlanov.

Kaprálova, Vítězslava

KAPRÁLOVA: Piano Music: April Preludes. 2 Bouquets of Flowers. Dance for Piano. Grotesque Passacaglia. Little Song. Ostinato Fox. 5 Piano compositions. 3 Piano Pieces. Sonata Appassionata. Variations sur le Carillon de l’Eglise St-Etienne-du-Mont / Giorgio Koukl, pianist; Grand Piano GP708

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KAPRÁLOVA: Suita Rustica / Brno Philharmonic Orchestra; Jiři Pinkas, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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The amazing but sadly short life of Vítězslava Kapráliva included her triple threat as composer, conductor and virtuoso pianist. Her music is only recently being re-evaluated in light of her quite considerable achievements. Her music mixed elements of neo-Classicism with Slavic folk influences, as can be heard in the works above. Giorgio Koukl’s CD of her piano music is not to be missed, and despite its light character the Suita Rustica shows her innate grasp of form and attention to detail.

Kapustin, Nikolai

KAPUSTIN: Cello Sonata No. 2, Op. 84 / Eckart Runge, cellist; Jacques Ammon, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube: 1st mvt, 2nd mvt, 3rd mvmt

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KAPUSTIN: Concerto for Alto Saxophone & Orchestra, Op. 50 / Alexey Volkov, alto saxist; New Russian Orchestra; Mark Gorenstein, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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KAPUSTIN: Concerto for 2 Pianos & Percussion / Daniel del Pino, Ludmil Angelov, pianists; Juanjo Guillem, Rafael Galvéz, percussionists / available for free streaming on YouTube: 1st mvt, 2nd mvt, 3rd mvt

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KAPUSTIN: Divertissement / Trio Arbós / available for free streaming on YouTube: 1st mvt, 2nd mvt, 3rd mvt, 4th mvt

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KAPUSTIN: 8 Concert Etudes, Op. 40. 5 Concert Etudes in Different Intervals. Suite in the Old Style / Nikolai Kapustin, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on titles above

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KAPUSTIN: Paraphrase on Dizzy Gillespie’s “Manteca” for 2 Pianos / Daniel del Pino, Ludmil Angelov, pianists / available for free streaming on YouTube

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KAPUSTIN: Piano Sonatas Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 12, 16 / Nikolai Kapustin, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on individual titles above

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KAPUSTIN: String Quartet No. 1 / Alexander Chernov, Vladimir Spektor, violinists; Svetlana Stepchenko, violist; Alexander Zagorinsky, cellist / available for free streaming on YouTube: 1st mvt, 2nd mvt, 3rd mvt, 4th mvt

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KAPUSTIN: Trio, Op. 86 / Trio Arbós / available for free streaming on YouTube: 1st mvt, 2nd mvt, 3rd mvt

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The astounding music of Nikolai Kapustin occupies a universe all its own; for a detailed description of his music and composing style, see Chapter XV of my book, From Baroque to Bop and Beyond. In essence, Kapustin was completely wrapped up in bebop jazz and specifically the piano stylings of Oscar Peterson at a time when he was learning formal composition at the conservatory. The result was his fusing the two in such a way that it sounds like extended (and quite brilliant) jazz compositions when in fact it is all pre-written and organized. But the perfomer(s) have to have an affinity for jazz rhythm before playing it, otherwise the music falls flat. That is why I turn, whenever possible, to Kapustin himself for interpretations of his piano music. All of the performances above are highly recommended both as compositions and performances. Once you become accustomed to Kapustin’s music, you become hooked on it!

Khachaturian, Aram

KHACHATURIAN: Cello Concerto-Rhapsody / Mstislav Rostropovich, cellist; State Symphony of the USSR; Aram Khachaturian, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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This is undoubtedly Khachaturian’s finest work, written for Rostropovich in 1963. This, the world premiere performance, is splendid except for the boxy mono television sound.

Kisilewski, Stefan

KISILEWSKI: Berceuse. Capriccio Rustico. Danse vive. Moto Perpetuo. Prelude and Fugue. Piano Sonata No. 2: 1st mvt, 2nd mvt, 3rd mvt. Suite for Piano: 1st mvt, 2nd mvt, 3rd mvt, 4th mvt, 5th mvt, 6th mvt. Three Stormy Scenes: No. 1, No. 2, No. 3. Toccata / Magdalena Lisak, pianist / Accord 210 or available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on individual titles above

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The fast-paced yet fascinating piano music of Stefan Kisilewski occupies a world all its own. Everything spins on the head of a pin like whirling dervish on acid, yet it’s beautifully constructed and holds your attention because of its tremendous propulsion and interesting construction. Kisliewski was also a political writer who coined two famous quotes: “A depressed economy [in a socialist state] is not a crisis; it’s a direct result,” and “Socialism heroically overcomes crises not found in any other system because it creates them.” Warning: Don’t play this CD if you’re not in a good mood, because the music is so manic that it may escape your attention!

Kletzki, Paul

KLETZKI: Orchestervariationen. Symphony No. 3, “In Memoriam” / Bavarian State Philharmonic Orchestra; Thomas Rösner, conductor / BR Klassik 6272

5-fish

KLETZKI: Symphony No. 2. MAREK: Sinfonia / Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra; Thomas Rösner, conductor / Musiques Suisses CD6289

5-fish

Many classical collectors are familiar with Paul Kletzki’s recordings as a conductor, always of others’ music, particularly his Berlioz Overtures, Beethoven Symphonies and Mahler’s Dad Lied von der Erde with Murray Dickie and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, but few know that he was an exceptionally fine composer as well. Conductor Thomas Rösner has made it his mission to preserve some of Kletzki’s best compositions on CDs, and these two are superb. His style was sort of a mixture of Bartók and Stravinsky, only with a Polish flavor.

Knussen, Oliver

KNUSSEN: Cantata for Oboe and String Trio / Nash Ensemble / available for free streaming on YouTube

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KNUSSEN: Coursing (for Chamber Orchestra) / London Sinfonietta; Oliver Knussen, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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KNUSSEN: Flourish With Fireworks. The Way to Castle Yonder. Two Organa. Horn Concerto* Music for a Puppet Court. Whitman Settings.+ …upon one note / *Barry Tuckwell, hornist; +Lucy Shelton, soprano; London Sinfonietta; Oliver Knussen, conductor / DGG 449 572-2, or available for free streaming on YouTube beginning here

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KNUSSEN: Symphony No. 2 / Elaine Barry, soprano; London Sinfonietta; Oliver Knussen, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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KNUSSEN: Symphony No. 3 / Philharmonia Orchestra; Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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KNUSSEN: Trumpets (for Soprano & 3 Clarinets) / Linda Hirst, soprano; Michael Collins, Edward Pillinger, Ian Mitchell, clarinetists; Oliver Knussen, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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KNUSSEN: Where the Wild Things Are / Lisa Saffer, soprano (Max); Mary King, mezzo (Mother/Female wild thing); Christopher Gillet, tenor (Moishe/Bear wild thing); Quentin Hayes, bass (Wild thing with horns); Stephen Richardson, bass (Emile/Wild Rooster); David Wilson-Johnson, bass (Bernard/Wild bull); London Sinfonietta; Oliver Knussen, conductor / DGG 0289 469 5562 8 GH 2 (release also includes Higglety Pigglety Pop)

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It’s almost a shame that Oliver Knussen is so well known for his fantastic children’s opera, Where the Wild Things Are—a much better opera for children than Humperdinck’s sugary, drecky Hansel und Gretel—not because it isn’t good (it is) but because it has come to overshadow much of his other work. Influenced in part by Stravinsky, Ravel and Schoenberg, in no particular order, Knussen’s music is nonetheless highly original and endlessly fascinating. In fact, I would boldly proclaim him the greatest British composer of the post-Britten generation (sorry, Thomas Àdes or Peter Maxwell Davies). Nothing he writes is perfunctory, or boring, or uninteresting. A big, genial bear of a man, he has cut a swath through life and music in such a way as have few before him. I urge you to listen to all of the works above in order to gauge the full measure of his talent. Note: The only reason I don’t list his other kiddy opera, Higglety Piggety Pop, is because it alone tends to play down his enormous talent and get bogged down in some really childish silliness that I don’t even find particularly funny. But then, I’m not British.

Kodály, Zoltán

In their rush to canonize Béla Bartók, too many listeners and critics overlook his good friend Zoltán Kodály because Kodály lived much longer and came to be appreciated during his lifetime, but he was a terrific composer in his own right.

KODÁLY: Budvári Te Deum / Irén Szecsődy, soprano; Magda Tiszay, contralto; Tibor Udvardy, tenor; András Faragó, bass; Budapest Chorus; Hungarian State Orchestra; Zoltán Kodály, conductor / Concerto for Orchestra: 1. Allegro risoluto. 2. Largo. 3. Tempo primo. 4. Largo. Summer Evening (Nyári Este Zenekarra) / Budapest Philharmonic Society Orchestra; Zoltán Kodály, conductor / Missa Brevis: 1. Introitus. 2. Kyrie. 3. Gloria. 4. Credo. 5. Sanctus. 6. Benedictus. 7. Agnus Dei. 8. Ite Missa Est  / Mária Gyurkovics, Edit Gáncs, Tímea Cser, sopranos; Magda Tiszay, contralto; Endre Rösler, tenor; György Littasy, bass; Budapest Chorus; Hungarian State Orchestra; Zoltán Kodály, conductor / Psalmus Hungaricus / Endre Rösler, tenor; Budapest Chorus; Hungarian State Orchestra; Zoltán Kodály, conductor / Hungaroton 32677-78 or available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on individual titles above

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Kodály liked to say that he wasn’t a great conductor but he knew how he wanted his music to go. To a certain extent, he was overly modest; these are wonderful performances for the most part, with only the great Psalmus Hungaricus exceeded by another recording (see below), and that largely due to his choice of tenor soloist. Endre Rösler was a very musical tenor who had started out as a lyric spinto singing roles like Calaf in Turandot, but over the years he lost some volume and power and began singing more Mozart. Still, Kodály liked him and he does a fine job. In the other works, I’ve heard very few conductors who get as much out of the music as Kodály does here.

KODÁLY: Háry János Suite / NBC Symphony Orchestra; Arturo Toscanini, conductor / available for streaming in 6 parts on YouTube

5-fish

KODÁLY: Háry János Suite / London Philharmonic Orchestra; Klaus Tennstedt, conductor / available for free streaming in 6 parts on YouTube

5-fish

Two fantastic performances, one in mono and the other in digital stereo. Both get 5 fish because the Toscanini performance, given in the presence of the composer, is the best ever whereas Tennstedt’s reveals a bit more orchestral detail.

KODÁLY: Hungarian Folk Music / Mária Basilides, contralto; Béla Bartók, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube

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Only the dated sound quality keeps this from being a five or even a six-fish performance. Basilides and Bartók get to the heart of the music superbly.

KODÁLY: Psalmus Hungaricus / Lajos Kozma, tenor; Brighton Festival Chorus; London Symphony Orchestra; Istvan Kertesz, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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This is the definitive recording of Kodály’s masterpiece, as much for the strong-voiced contribution of tenor Lajos Kozma as for Kertesz’s stupendous conducting. The tenor’s contribution is key in any good performance of this work, and it’s a shame that the work’s creator, Ferenc Szekelyhidy, never recorded it.

KODÁLY: String Quartets Nos. 1 & 2 / Alexander String Quartet / Foghorn Classics 2009

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Kodály’s string quartets aren’t as well known as Bartók’s or Janáček’s, but they’re awfully good and these performances by the Alexander String Quartet, which I consider to be the premier ensemble of its kind today, are penetrating and emotionally moving.

KODÁLY: Theatre Overture. Variations on a Czech folk song, “The Peacock.” Dances of Galánta. Symphony in C / Philharmonia Hungarica; Antal Doráti, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on individual titles above

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Superb performances of core pieces in Kodály’s output played by one of the greatest, but nowadays little regarded, of Hungarian conductors.

Koechlin, Charles

KOECHLIN: Le Buisson Ardent, Poème Symphonique d’après un épisode de “Jean-Christophe” de Romain Rolland, Op. 203 / Rheinland-Pfalz Philharmonic Orchestra; Leif Segerstam, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

5-fish

KOECHLIN: 4 Mélodies, Op. 28: Accompagnement; L’Astre Rouge. 5 Mélodies, Op. 5: Chanson d’Amour; Si tu le veux. Poèmes d’Ajutomne, Op. 13: Déclin d’Amour; Les Rêves Morts. 5 Rondels, Op. 1: L’Été; Le Printemps. 9 Rondels, Op. 14: Le Jour. Le Vin. 7 Rondels, Op. 8: La Lune. 4 Mélodies, Op. 22: Novembre. 3 Mélodies, Op. 15: Nox. 5 Rondels, Op. 5: La Nuit. 4 Poèmes d’E. Haraucourt: Pleine Eau. 3 Mélodies, Op. 17: La Prière du Mort. 6 Mélodies, Op. 31: Le Repas Prépare. 4 Mélodies, Op. 35: Soir Païen. Villanelle, Op. 21 No. 1 / Michèle Command, soprano; Christophe Durrant, pianist / Maguelone 111.113 or available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on individual titles above

4-and-a-half-fish

KOECHLIN: CHAMBER MUSIC / SWR Music 19047CD

CD 1: First & Second Clarinet Sonatas.1 Les Confidence d’un joueur de Clarinette.2Idyll for 2 Clarinets.3 14 Pieces for Clarinet & Piano.1 Monodies for Solo Clarinet / Dirk Altmann, 3Rudolf Koenig, clarinetists; 1Florian Henschel, pianist; 2Sibylle Mahni Haas, French hornist; 2Gunter Teuffel, violist; 2Johanna Busch, cellist

CD 2: Flute Sonata.2 Épitaph de Jean Harlow.1,4. 6 Trio (Divertissement for 2 Flutes & Clarinet).1,3,7 Suite en Quatuor.1, 6,8 Trio for Clarinet, Flute & Bassoon.1, 5, 7 Sonata for 2 Flutes.1 2 Nocturnes for Flute, Horn & Piano.1, 6, 9 Sonatine Modale for Flute & Clarinet.1, 7 Piece for Flute & Piano (pour lecture à vue)1, 6 / 1Tatjana Ruhland, 2Barbara Hank, 3Christina Singer, flautists; 2Michael Baumann, 6Yaara Tal, pianist; Libor Sima, 4alto saxophonist/5bassoonist; 7Dirk Altmann, clarinetist; 8Mila Georgieva, violinist; 8Ingrid Philippi, violist; 9Joachim Bansch, French hornist

CD 3: Le Portrait de Daisy Hamilton.1 Oboe Sonata.2 Bassoon Sonata.3 Suite for Solo English Horn.4 Stèle funéraire for 3 Flutes in Turn5 / 1Dirk Altmann, clarinetist; 1Mako Okamoto, 2Hans-Georg Gaydoul, 3Inge-Susann Römhild, pianists; 2Alexander Ott, oboist; 3Eckart Hübner, bassoonist; 4Lajos Lencsés, English horn; 5Peter Thalheimer, alto flue/piccolo/flute

CD 4: Viola Sonata.1 Cello Sonata.2 20 Breton Songs for Cello & Piano2 / 1Paul Pesthy, violist; 1Chia Chou, 2Roglit Ishay, pianists; 2Peter Bruns, cellist

CD 5: Andante quasi Adagio. Nouvelles Sonatines, Opp. 20 & 87. L’Album de Lilian: Book I, Nos. 2, 3 & 5; Book II, Nos. 2, 4 & 8. Sonatine, Op. 87. Paysages et Marines / Michael Korstick, pianist

CD 6: Les Heures Persanes / Michael Korstick, pianist

CD 7: Danses pour Ginger, 2 excerpts. Sonatines, Op. 59 Nos. 2 & 3. Andante con moto. L’Ancienne Maison de campagne. Pièce pour piano, Op. 83b. Esquisses Op. 41, First Series / Michael Korstick, pianist

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KOECHLIN: ORCHESTRAL WORKS / SWR Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart; Heinz Holliger, conductor on all tracks / SWR Music 19046CD

CD 1: KOECHLIN: Quatre Poèmes de Edmond Haraucourt.3 Deux Poèmes Symphoniques: II. Vers la plage lontaine. Poèmes d’Automne.1,2 2 Poems d’André Chenier: I. La Jeune Tarantine. 2 FAURÉ: Chanson de Mélisande (orch. Koechlin)3 / 1Gunter Tueffel, vla d’amore; 2Tatjana Ruhland, fl; 2Libor Sima, bsn; 2Joachim Bänsch, Fr-hn; 2Renie Yamahata, hrp; 2Mila Giorgieva, David Ma, vln; 2Paul Pesthy, vla; 2Ansgar Schneider, cel; 3Juliane Banse, sop

CD 2: KOECHLIN: Trois Mélodies: I & II.1 Études Antiques. 6 Mélodies sur des Poésies a’Albert Samain: Le sommeil de Canope.1 Chant funèbre à la mémoire des jeunes femmes défuntes2 / 1Juliane Banse, sop; 2SWR Vocal Ensemble

CD 3: KOECHLIN: The Jungle Book: La Course de printemps. Le Buisson ardent1 / 1Christine Simonin, ondes Martenot

CD 4: KOECHLIN: The Jungle Book: La Méditation de Purun Bhagat. Les Heures Persanes (orch. 1921)

CD 5: KOECHLIN: The Jungle Book: Les Bandar-log. Offrande musicale sur le nom de BACH 1 / 1Bernard Haas, org; 1Michael Korstick, pn; 1Christine Simonin, ondes Martenot

CD 6: DEBUSSY: Khamma (orch. Koechlin). KOECHLIN: Sur les Flots lontains. FAURÉ: Pelléas et Mélisande (orch. Koechlin).1 SCHUBERT: Wanderer Fantasy, D. 760 (orch. Koechlin).2 CHABRIER: Bourrée Fantasque (orch. Koechlin) / 1Sarah Wegener, sop; 2Florian Hoelscher, pn

CD 7: KOECHLIN: Vers la voûte étoilée. Le Docteur Fabricius1 / 1Christine Simonin, ondes Martenot

5-fish

For those interested in a detailed description of these CDs, see my reviews (under Older Blog Posts). In a nutshell, Charles Koechlin was one of tbe original French impressionists who lived much longer than any of the others, not dying until 1950. Although his style was pretty much in the Debussy-Ravel-Dukas school harmonically, he had his own quirky way of writing music, often wandering off the beaten path to discover musical flora and fauna off in the bushes. As a result, he had no “hit tunes” as the others did and in fact was not very well known outside of France during his lifetime. He developed a fascination for movies after seeing Marlene Dietrich and Emil Jannings in The Blue Angel in 1933, and shortly after became fixated on three very pretty blonde actresses, Lilian Harvey, Jean Harlow and Ginger Rogers, for whom he wrote pieces dedicated to them. Most of the music in the above multi-disc sets is superb, but particularly his piano suite Les Heures Persanes, his various sonatas for wind instruments, his late work Le Docteur Fabricius. Offrande musicale sur le nom de BACH and the various pieces that were inspired by Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. In addition to the above, the following works are also highly recommended:

KOECHLIN: Le Livre de la Jungle / Iris Vermillion, mezzo-soprano; Johan Botha, tenor; Ralf Lukas, baritone; RIAS Kammerchor; Radio-Symphonie-Orchester Berlin; David Zinman, conductor / RCA Red Seal 09026 61955 2; most of it available for free streaming on YouTube: part 1; part 2; part 3; part 4; part 5; part 6

5-fish

KOECHLIN: The Seven Stars Symphony / BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra; Ilan Volkov, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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KOECHLIN: Symphony No. 1 / Orchestre National de l’ORTF; Manuel Rosenthal, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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KOECHLIN: Symphony No. 2 / London Symphony Orchestra; Constantin Silvestri, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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All quite excellent performances; the only reason I gave four fish to the two numbered symphonies is due to the mediocre 1950s radio sound, not to the quality of the performances.

Kolb, Barbara

KOLB: Appello / Jay Gottlieb, pianist / Looking for Claudio / David Starobin, guitarist; Alexandra Ivanoff, soprano; Patrick Mason, baritone; Gordon Gottlieb, percussion / Soundings / L’ensemble Intercontemporain; Arturo Tamayo, conductor / Spring River Flowers Moon Night / Robert Phillips, Franco Renzulli, pianists; David Starobin, guitarist/mandolinist; Brooklyn College Percussion Ensemble; Barbara Kolb, conductor / Toccata / Igor Kipnis, harpsichordist / CRI 576

5-fish

The strange music of Barbara Kolb almost tells its stories by allegory, using a wide variety of styles and methods. This is the only album I’ve run across of her music, but it is well worth acquiring.

Korngold, Erich

KORNGOLD: Piano Quintet in E, Op. 15 / Kirill Kobantschenko, Bernie Malinger, violinists; Aurure Cany, violist; Florian Eggner, cellist; Christoph Eggner, pianist / part of Neos 21306 (see Altman, Laurie)

5-fish

KORNGOLD: Violin Sonata / Bojidara Kouzmanova, violinist; Marialena Fernandez, pianist / part of Divox CDX20904

5-fish

Before he wrote his junky opera Die Tote Stadt, and after that his even junkier film music, Korngold showed some real promise with these early chamber works. No wonder his father got mad at him when he heard Die Tote Stadt. There are several recordings available of these works, but these are my favorite performances.

Composers – J

girl-penguinJanáček, Leoš

My take on Janáček is different from many critics in that I love his instrumental works but hate his operas…not because of the plots, which are marvelous, but because I find the music arid and ugly. Therefore, if you’re looking for a recommended recording of Jenufa, The Makropulos Case or The Cunning Little Vixen, you’re on your own.

JANÁČEK: Nine Songs on Moravian Poetry (sung in German) / Lucia Popp, soprano; Geoffrey Parsons, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube: song 1, song 2, song 3, song 4, song 5, song 6

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This was once part of a splendid Lucia Popp CD that has since sunk beneath the waves, and the series of songs was complete, but as of right now you can gear 6 of the 9 songs for free on YouTube.

JANÁČEK: String Quartets Nos. 1 & 2. On an Overgrown Path / Quartetto Energie Nove / Dynamic CDS7708

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Janáček’s two string quartets are gems, and these are by far the most emotionally powerful and intense readings of them you’ll ever hear.

JANÁČEK: Sinfonietta (Sokol Festival) / Czech Philharmonic Orchestra; Karel Ancerl, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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One of the underrated gems of the catalog. An incredibly intense, blistering performance of a piece generally given in a laissez-faire fashion.

JANÁČEK: Violin Sonata / David Oistrakh, violinist; Frida Bauer, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube: 1st & 2nd mvmts; 3rd & 4th mvmts

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A superb performance of this excellent sonata by the legendary David Oistrakh.

Jiménez, Miguel Bernal

JIMÉNEZ: Tres cartas de México, Symphonic Suite / Cecilia López, Juan Reves, Jesus Ruiz, Alfredo Sanchez Oviedo, guitarists; Orquesta Filarmónica de la cuidad de Mexico; Enrique Batiz, conductor / part of Brilliant Classics 8771

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An often-overlooked piece by an even more often-overlooked composer, part of the superb set of orchestral music by Mexican composers conducted by Batiz.

Jones, Robert

JONES: As I Lay Lately in a Dream. Goe to Bed,m Sweet Muze. Ite, Caldi Sospiri. Love is a Bable / Russell Oberlin, countertenor; Joseph Iadone, lutenist / part of “A Russell Oberlin Recital” on Decca LP

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This thing is going to $211 on eBay. It’s not worth that much, of course, but these are superb performances of songs by one of the more underrated and forgotten of English lute song composers.

JONES: What If I Seek for Love? Goe to Bed, Sweet Muze / Alice Babs, soprano; Musica Holmiæ / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on titles

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Classical listeners have probably never heard of Alice Babs. It’s their loss. She was one of the greatest singers of the 20th century, largely working in jazz and pop, but she had classical training in the mid-1950s and a pure, expressive voice.

Joplin, Scott

JOPLIN: Original Rags. Maple Leaf Rag. Peacherine Rag. Elite Syncopations. Cleopha. The Easy Winners. Pine Apple Rag. Binks’ Waltz. The Strenuous Life. Sunflower Slow Drag / E. Power Biggs, pedal harpsichordist / available for free streaming on YouTube / The Cascades. The Chrysanthemum. Something Doing. Magnetic Rag. Felicity Rag. The Entertainer. Paragon Rag. Sugar Cane. Scott Joplin’s New Rag. Great Crush Collision March / E. Power Biggs, pedal harpsichordist / available for free streaming on YouTube

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The question has raged for a half-century now: Is Joplin’s music popular or classical? It certainly has classical form, mostly the A-A-B-A-C structure, but the tunes are relatively simple. On the other hand, there is a peculiar charm about his music, and that of the oft-neglected Joseph Lamb, that lifts it above the average popular music of its day. And to be honest, his rags were really only popular through sheet music for people to play in their parlors; very few of his rags were issued on commercial recordings during his lifetime. So I would categorize them as top-drawer light classical music, certainly better than some of the piffles that Mozart wrote (and critics faint over). Famed organist E. Power Biggs is heard here in a rare outing on the pedal harpsichord, and he lavishes the full extent of his considerable talent on them, further lifting most of this music above the mundane.

Jurowski, Vladimir

JUROWSKI: Russian Painters: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7. Symphony No. 5 / Norrköping Symphony Orchestra; Michael Jurowski, conductor / CPO 777875, or available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on links above

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Vladimir Jurowski, one of the most neglected and forgotten of Soviet-era composers, was also the father of the conductor here and grandfather of another conductor who bears his name (and is probably more famous than the other two, particularly in England). His music, at least as presented on this CD, is passionate and interesting, well-conceived and sometimes surprising. These performances are fully up to the challenges of the music.

Composers – I

girl-penguinIbert, Jacques

IBERT: Capriccio / Thomas Peter, trumpeter; Chloé Ducray, harpist; Alexandra Soumm, violinist; Ensemble Initium; Clément Mao-Takacs, conductor / Cinq Pièces en trio / Armel Descotte, oboist; Frank Sibold, bassoonist; François Tissot, clarinetist / Concerto for Cello and Winds, 1st mvmt; 2nd mvmt; 3rd mvmt / Henri Demarquette, cellist; Ensemble Initium; Clément Mao-Takacs, conductor / Deux Mouvements / Ensemble Initium / Le Jardinier de Samos / Thomas Peter, trumpeter; Edouard Samos, flautist; François Lemoine, clarinetist; Sarah Sultan, cellist; Adrian Salloum, drums / Trois Pièces Brèves: 1st piece, 2nd piece, 3rd piece / Edouard Sabo, flautist; François Lemoine, clarinetist; Frank Sibold, bassoonist; Stéphane Bridoux, hornist / Timpani 1210, or most pieces available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on individual titles above

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IBERT: Escales (Ports of Call): I. Rome, Palermo; II. Tunis, Nefta; III. Valencia / Boston Symphony Orchestra; Charles Munch, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on titles above

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Jacques Ibert and his enigmatic, harmonically ambiguous music were once highly prized and admired, but somehow over time he has become the “forgotten” French composer except for his Escales or Ports of Call. The above recordings give you an excellent overview of his work Also see collections: Chaliapin.

Ives, Charles

IVES: Piano Sonata No. 2, “Concord, Mass., 1840-1860” / John Kirkpatrick, pianist / IVES: Excerpts from the “Concord” Sonata / Charles Ives, pianist / Sony Classical 886444044349

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IVES: Piano Sonata No. 2, “Concord, Mass., 1840-1860”: Emerson; Hawthorne; The Alcotts; Thoreau. Four Transcriptions from “Emerson”: I. II. III. IV. Three-Page Sonata / Donna Coleman, pianist; Jonathan C. Sills, flautist / Etcetera 1049, also available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on individual titles above

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A rarity: two six-fish ratings for two entirely different readings of Ives’ infamously difficult Sonata, which has daunted many a pianist. John Kirkpatrick gave the world premiere performance of it in 1938 and, in 1945, made the first recording. Twenty-three years later, he made this superb stereo remake for the same company (Columbia Records). The performance is best described as craggy in sound and style, but as the accompanying recordings of Ives himself playing parts of it prove, this is the way it was intended to go. Donna Coleman tames it a bit, introducing a bit more legato and making it both powerful and beautiful. Hers is also one of the very few recordings to use the optional flute obbligato that Ives wrote.

IVES: Songs: “1, 2, 3.” Ann Street. The Cage. Circus Band. A Farewell to Land. The Housatonic at Stockbridge. The Indians. Like a Sick Eagle. Memories. September. Serenity (A Unison Chant). Soliloquy (or a Study in Sevenths & Other Things). Songs My Mother Taught Me. “A Sound of a Distant Horn.” Swimmers. The Things Our Fathers Loved. Thoreau / Susan Graham, mezzo-soprano; Pierre-Laurent Aimard, pianist / part of Warner Classics 2564 68625

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IVES: Songs: Afterglow. The Cage. Canon. Charlie Rutlage. Mirage. The New River. A Night Thought.There is a Lane. Those Evening Bells. Through Night and Day / Paul Sperry, tenor; Irma Vallecillo, pianist / Ballad from Rosamunde. Berceuse. A Farewell to Land. The Love Song of Har Dyal. Memories. Mists. A Perefect Day. Qu’ikl M’irait Bien. Religion. Romanza di Central Park. Soliloquy (or a Study in Sevenths & Other Things). World’s Wanderers / Dora Ohrenstein, soprano; Phillip Bush, pianist / Chanson de Florian. The Children’s Hour. Evidence. Far From My Heavenly Home. Feldensamkeit. From “The Swimmers.” Harpalus. A Night Song. Slugging a Vampire. There is a Certain Garden. The Things Our Fathers Loved. Walking. Watchman! / Mary Ann Hart, mezzo-soprano; Dennis Helmrich, pianist / Gen. William Booth Enters Into Heaven. Circus Band. Flag Song. I Traveled Among Unknown Men. Luck and Work. My Native Land. Slow March. Tarrant Moss / William Sharp, baritone; Steven Blier, pianist / issued on various Albany CDs in their Ives Songs series

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IVES: Du bist wie ein Blume. Ein Ton. Feldeinsamkeit. Frühlingslied. Gruß. Ich Grolle Nicht. Ilmenau (Wanderers Nachtlied). In Flanders Fields. Walt Whitman. Wiegenlied / Thomas Hampson, baritone; Armen Guzelimian, pianist / part of Teldec 98825

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Charles Ives’ massive song output is by far one of his most impressive achievements, yet only about a dozen of his songs are widely known, with Memories probably being number one. The songs listed above are splendidly sung by the various singers, and the Thomas Hampson CD is interesting for his wonderfully sensitive renditions of his German songs in particular. Also look for soprano Radiana Pazmor’s stupendous early recording (1934) of Ives’ greatest song, Gen. William Booth Enters Into Heaven for free streaming on YouTube.

IVES: Symphonies Nos. 1 & 4 / Chicago Symphony Orchestra; Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor / Sony Classical SKU 5726

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IVES: Symphony No. 2. The Unanswered Question. Central Park in the Dark. Tone Roads No. 1 / New York Philharmonic Orchestra; Leonard Bernstein, conductor / DGG 429220 or available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on individual titles

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IVES: Symphony No. 3, “The Camp Meeting”: 1st mvmt. 2nd mvmt. 3rd mvmt. Set No. 1: I. II. III. IV. V. VI. A Set of Pieces. Three Places in New England. The Unanswered Question / Orpheus Chamber Orchestra; Gilbert Kalish, pianist / DGG 439869, or available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on individual titles above

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IVES: Universe Symphony (completed by Larry Austin). Orchestral Set No. 2: I. II. III. The Unanswered Question / CCM Percussion Ensemble and Chamber Choir; Cincinnati Philharmonia Orchestra; Gerhard Samuel, conductor / Centaur 2205, or available for free streaming by clicking on individual titles above

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Ives’ orchestral works run the gamut from small suites to full-sized symphonies, but amazingly enough, no concerti. The Unanswered Question is one of those rare pieces that can be performed literally hundreds of times without repeating the same sequence of notes, since both the “question” and the “answer” can be inserted by the performers against the soft string backdrop any time they feel like it, which moves the music around.

Of his five symphonies, the weakest is clearly the fourth. There are some good musical ideas here, but Ives kept hitting mental roadblocks and never quite achieved a consistent musical progression. On the other hand, his unfinished Universe Symphony, particularly in the superb completed edition by Larry Austin, is one of his masterpieces. So too is his better-known (and well-loved) Three Places in New England. Some of the other works presented here, particularly the Orchestral Sets Nos. 1 and 2, are also quite good. Their lack of public acclaim is a bit surprising.

Composers – G

girl-penguinGershwin, George

Gershwin was actually a composer who, like Puccini, was more clever than truly inspired, but he did create a handful of fascinating pieces that have persisted in the public mind for nearly a century. These are my favorite recordings of them.

GERSHWIN: An American in Paris. Rhapsody in Blue. Cuban Overture / Paul Whiteman and his Concert Orchestra; George Gershwin, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on individual titles

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There wasn’t much that Paul Whiteman really did well, but playing Gershwin was one of them. But even so, you have to sort through his different performances of Gershwin to find the ones that really jump out at you. The three listed above are all gems and indispensable to anyone who loves Gershwin. The American in Paris comes from a 1951 Capitol recording session with a really frisky-sounding studio orchestra; this Rhapsody in Blue is the abridged acoustic recording from June 10, 1924 with Gershwin himself at the piano; and the Cuban Overture, too often overlooked as one of the composer’s best pieces, is a 1944 V-Disc recording that really takes off.

GERSHWIN: Piano Concerto in F / Ian Parker, pianist; London Symphony Orchestra; Michael Francis, conductor /part of Atma 2656 or available for free streaming on YouTube: 1st mvmt, 2nd mvmt, 3rd mvmt

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This oft-overlooked gem is the liveliest and best-played of all performances of this hybrid concerto I’ve ever heard, the reason for the success largely due to the fantastic conducting of one Michael Francis who owns this music. Don’t miss it!

GERSHWIN: Preludes for Piano (3) / George Gershwin, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube

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Once you’ve heard Gershwin himself play these preludes, you won’t want to hear anyone else. It’s not that his technique per se is better than anyone else’s—it’s not—but rather the forward press of the music and the way he “crushes” notes and chords. You will also be surprised at how much faster he played the central “Blues” than most other pianists.

GERSHWIN: Rhapsody in Blue / Bratislava Hot Serenaders; Ladislav Fanzowitz, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube

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The Bratislava who? You’ll be surprised, that’s all I have to say. Next to the abridged 1924 Whiteman-Gershwin recording, this is the hottest Rhapsody in Blue you’ll ever hear. Everyone else sounds pale by comparison.

GERSHWIN: Second Rhapsody [Rhapsody in Rivets] / Oscar Levant, pianist; Morton Gould and his Orchestra / available for free streaming on YouTube

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The oft-overlooked Second Rhapsody is actually better than the first, even better than the Piano Concerto. This mid-1940s recording is the definitive performance.

Gesualdo, Don Carlo

GESUALDO: Complete Madrigals / Delitiæ Musicæ; Marco Longhini, conductor / Naxos 8.507013

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The personally sleazy but musically brilliant Carlo Gesualdo wrote some of the most intricate, forward-looking and innovative music of his time, and these performances are absolutely superb.

Getty, Gordon

GETTY: 4 Emily Dickinson Songs / Lisa Delan, soprano; Kristen Pankonin, pianist / part of PentaTone 5186459 or available for free streaming on YouTube: Safe in their alabaster chambers, There’s a certain slant of light, A bird came down the walk, Because I could not stop for death

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GETTY: Joan and the Bells / Lisa Delan, soprano;Vladimir Chernov, baritone; Eric Ericson Chamber Choir; Russian National Orchestra; Alexander Vedernikov, conductor / PentaTone 5186017 or available for free streaming on YouTube: part 1, part 2, part 3,

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GETTY: Usher House / Christian Elsner, tenor (Poe); Etienne Dupuis, baritone (Roderick); Philip Ens, bass (Dr. Primus); Lisa Delan, soprano (Madeline); Benedict Cumberbatch, narrator (Attendant); Gulbenkian Orchestra; Lawrence Foster, conductor / PentaTone 5186451 or available in separate pieces for free streaming on YouTube

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GETTY: The White Election / Lisa Delan, soprano; Fritz Steinegger, pianist; Francesco LaVecchia, conductor / PentaTone 5186451 or available for free streaming in separate pieces on YouTube

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Gordon Getty is often slighted by critics (and audiences) because he is a billionaire, which to me is like shunning the late violinist Albert Spaulding because his father was a millionaire. So what? Either you have the talent or you don’t, and from the first time I heard Getty’s 4 Emily Dickinson Songs, at an open-air operatic and vocal concert in Cincinnati back in the 1980s, I know he was a really fine composer.

The other reason Getty was shunned for decades had nothing to do with his wealth, but because he writes melodic, tonal music. Well, once again…open your ears and stop your prejudices. Getty’s music, as you will hear, is not merely beautiful to hear but extremely well written. It is by no means “purely pretty” music, and in fact I find it more challenging than many an avant-garde composer who just writes unintelligible musical questions with no answers. His operatic treatment of Usher House is not quite as fine as Debussy’s, but then again, Dukas’ Ariane et Barbe-Bleue isn’t quite as great as Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande. The point is that Getty approached the text and an operatic treatment of it in an entirely original way and came up with a work that is satisfying and dramatic. His dramatic cantata on the life of Joan of Arc, Joan and the Bells, is as concise and dramatically effective as anything you are likely to hear, and his later, much longer series of Dickinson songs, The White Election, is equally as brilliant as his earlier work.

I only gave four and a half fish to the solo vocal recordings by soprano Lisa Delan because, though she has fairly good diction and is an interesting singer, she has an unsteady flutter in her voice, thus I can well imagine them better sung by others. But will they be? That remains to be seen. As of this writing, these are the only recordings of these splendid works.

Ghedini, Giorgio Federico

GHEDINI: Architetture. Concerto of the Albatross, part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5*. Contrappunti. Marinaresca e Bacchanale / Paolo Ghidoni, violinist; Pietro Bosna, cellist; Emanuela Piedmonti, pianist; Carlo Doglioni, Majer, speaker; *Orchestra I Pomeriggi Musicali; *Damian Iorio, conductor; Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma; Francesco La Vecchia, conductor / Naxos 8.573006 or available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on individual titles

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GHEDINI: Concerto Spirituale for 2 Sopranos, Women’s Chorus and Orchestra / Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Ls Fenice; Dmitrij Kitayenko, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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GHEDINI: Musica da Concerto for Viola and Strings / Augusto Vismara, violist; Instrumental Group “Musica d’Oggi”; Karl Martin, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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GHEDINI: Studi per un Affresco di Battaglia / Orchestra Haydn di Trento e Bolzano; Claudio Abbado, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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Giorgio Ghedini was one of a number of Italian composers dedicated to writing modern music, and particularly instrumental music, in the style of Mahler and Stravinsky, and it is a real shame that his work is not better known. Each of these pieces has something striking and interesting to say, and each performance is well played and interesting, although for some reason Claudio Abbado’s 1962 performance of the Studi per un Affresco di Battaglia is in mono rather than stereo. I don’t believe your collection of classical music is complete without some Ghedini in it.

Gilbert & Sullivan

GILBERT-SULLIVAN: H.M.S. Pinafore (without dialogue) / Henry Lytton, baritone (Sir Joseph Porter); George Baker, baritone (Capt. Corcoran); Charles Goulding, tenor (Ralph Rackstraw); Darrell Fancourt, baritone (Dick Deadeye); Sydney Granville, bass (Bill Bobstay); Elsie Griffin, soprano (Josephine); Bertha Lewis, contralto (Little Buttercup); Nellie Briercliffe, soprano (Hebe); D’Oyly Carte Opera Chorus; London Symphony Orchestra; Sir Malcolm Sargent, conductor / available for free streaming or download here

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GILBERT-SULLIVAN: Iolanthe (without dialogue) / George Baker, baritone (Lord Chancellor); Darrell Fancourt, baritone (George); Derek Oldham, tenor (Earl Tolloller); Sydney Granville, bass (Private Willis); Nellie Briercliffe, soprano (Iolanthe); Bertha Lewis, contralto (Fairy Queen); Leslie Rands, baritone (Strephon); Nellie Walker, mezzo-soprano (A Fairy); D’Oyly Carte Opera Chorus; London Symphony Orchestra; Sir Malcolm Sargent, conductor / available for free streaming or download here

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GILBERT-SULLIVAN: The Mikado (without dialogue) / Derek Oldham, tenor (Nanki-Poo); Henry Lytton, baritone (Ko-Ko); Leo Sheffield, baritone (Pooh-Bah); George Baker, baritone (Pish-Tush); Elsie Griffin, soprano (Yum-Yum); Beatrice Elburn, soprano (Peep-Bo); Darrell Fancourt, baritone (Mikado); Bertha Lewis, contralto (Katisha); D’Oyly-Carte Opera Orchestra & Chorus; Harry Norris, conductor / available for free streaming or download here

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GILBERT-SULLIVAN: Patience (without dialogue) / Winifred Lawson, soprano (Patience); Darrell Fancourt, baritone (Colonel); Martyn Green, baritone (Major); Derek Oldham, tenor (Duke); George Baker, baritone (Bunthorne); Leslie Rands, baritone (Grosvenor); Nellie Briercliffe, soprano (Lady Angela); Bertha Lewis, contralto (Lady Jane); D’Oyle-Carte Opera Chorus; London Symphony Orchestra; Sir Malcolm Sargent, conductor / available for free streaming or download here

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GILBERT-SULLIVAN: The Pirates of Penzance (without dialogue) / Derek Oldham, tenor (Frederic); Stuart Robinson, baritone (Samuel); George Baker, baritone (Maj.-Gen. Stanley); Peter Dawson, bass-baritone (Pirate King); Elsie Griffin, soprano (Mabel); Leo Sheffield, baritone (Police Sergeant); Nellie Briercliffe, soprano (Edith); Dorothy Gill, contralto (Ruth); D’Oyle-Carte Opera Chorus; London Symphony Orchestra; Sir Malcolm Sargent, conductor / available for free streaming or download here

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Trivia time: Did you know that Sir Arthur Sullivan actualy wrote operettas without librettos by William Schwenck Gilbert? It’s true. After the poor reception of their last joint work, The Grand Duke, in 1896, Gilbert announced his retirement, but Sullivan went on writing music until his death in 1900. But even before then, the pair had a falling out over the cost of carpet. Richard d’Oyly Carte, who owned the theater where the operettas played, realized that the rich red carpeting in the lobby was wearing out after years of happy audiences tromping in and out, but since the replacement price was rather costly he approached both Gilbert and Sullivan and asked them to chip in a bit. The easy-going Sullivan had no problem with it, but the more prickly Gilbert balked, flatly stating that Carte had made a series of financial blunders over the years and it wasn’t his reponsibility to pay for replacement parts. And yet, after Sullivan’s death, Gilbert surprisingly came out of retirement and acted as stage director of the D’Oyly-Carte Company for a few years.

The Gilbert & Sullivan comic operettas were all the rage in London during the 1880s and ‘90s despite the carping of music critic George Bernard Shaw, who thought them too “churchy” and not as ribald and unbuttoned as the French operettas of Offenbach. Over the years, however, they retained their appeal, primarily to English-speaking audiences, due to the extremely witty texts that Gilbert wrote. Since the 1970s, however, interest in their work has fallen off.

I’ve heard a fairly large number of G&S operetta recordings, and to my mind the ones conducted by Harry Norris and especially Sir Malcolm Sargent are by far the best, despite the fact that most of these recordings lack the sparkling dialogue which explains the story and adds to the hilarity. The reason is not nostalgia for a bunch of old recordings but, rather, the fact that these performances have the feel of authenticity about them. Sir Henry Lytton was a favorite performer of both composer and librettist, and though he is clearly past his vocal prime here (from about 1907 onward, British critics complained that he served Gilbert much better than Sullivan), his wry, tongue-in-cheek delivery is clearly appealing. So too are the performances of staff singers Darrell Fancourt, tenor Derek Oldham, contraltos Bertha Lewis and Dorothy Gill, and as I said earlier, the taut, musical leadership of Sargent. One should also not overlook the splendid singing of soprano Elsie Griffin, who was so good that Oldham used to hang around rehearsals even when he wasn’t performing just to hear her sing (he called her “the operetta Nellie Melba”), and d’Oyly Carte paid her extra to rehearse the ladies’ chorus because she had perfect pitch. Ironically, Griffin was the singer who introduced one of the most famous songs of all time, Roses of Picardy, yet she never recorded it. Extremely shy offstage, Griffin left the company shortly after the 1926 recording of The Mikado but was so highly admired by Sargent that he kept bringing her back for further recordings.

Many people also tend to think, based on his presence on so many of the recordings, that baritone George Baker was a member of the company, but he wasn’t. He was simply a singer who Rupert d’Oyly Carte and Sargent greatly admired for his lovely tone and crisp diction, and so they kept recording him in the studio. But Baker never actually performed in public except on the radio until the late 1950s, when he finally agreed to play a small role onstage in one of the G&S operettas. Bass-baritone Peter Dawson, who makes a guest appearance as the Pirate King in The Pirates of Penzance, was also a ringer.

I’ve only given these recordings 4 ½ fish (the Mikado only four) because of the dated sound, plus the fact that the dialogue is missing, but you can always splice in the dialogue from one of the later G&S operetta recordings if you like. Still, these are by far the most musical and enjoyable performances of these classic works.

Ginastera, Alberto

GINASTERA: Cancion al arbol del olvido, Op. 3. Triste / Stephanie Houtzeel, mezzo-soprano; Charles Spencer, pianist / part of Capriccio C5262 (see collections: Houtzeel) or available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on individual titles

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GINASTERA: Cinco cancions populares Argentinas / Lawrence Brownlee, tenor; Ian Burnside, pianist / part of Opus Arte 9015 (see collections: Brownlee) or available for free streaming on YouTube: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5

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GINASTERA: Danzas Argentinas, part 1, part 2, part 3 Suite de Danzas Criollas, part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5 / Katarzyna Musiał, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on parts listed above (also see collections: Musiał)

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GINASTERA: Estancia, Op. 8 (complete ballet)/ Luis Gaeta, narrator; London Symphony Orchestra; Gisèle Ben-Dor, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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GINASTERA: Harp Concerto / Vera Badings, harpist; Concertgebouw Orchestra; Jésus Lopez-Cobos, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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GINASTERA: Panambi, Op. 1 (complete ballet). Piano Concerto No. 2 /Xiayin Wang, pianist; BBC Philharmonic Orchestra; Juanjo Mena, conductor / Chandos 10923

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GINASTERA: Piano Sonata No. 1 / Barbara Nissman, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube: 1st mvmt, 2nd mvmt, 3rd mvmt, 4th mvmt

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GINASTERA: Popul Vuh: The Mayan Creation / BBC National Orchestra of Wales; Gisèle Ben-Dor, conductor / part of Naxos 8.570999 or available for free streaming on YouTube in small segments

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Alberto Ginastera was one of the most inventive and original musical minds of the 20th century, and it is criminal to my mind that he is not thought of in the same category as Bartók or Prokofiev, at the very least. The music listed above does not include all of his finest works, but a great many of them. I have omitted his opera Bomarzo because, despite his ingenuity and inspiration, the music just doesn’t work that well—but then, writing an opera is a far more difficult task than most people realize, and many a great composer has failed at the task (among them George Gershwin, Kaija Saariaho and Daniel Schnyder).

Principal among Ginestera’s great works, for me, are his two ballets Estancia and Panambi, the Harp Concerto and Popul Vuh. All of these are given splendid performances in the recordings listed above, particularly the Harp Concerto which was written for the great British artist Osian Ellis. I heard Ellis play this concerto in person and can attest that he, like Vera Badings, played with tremendous verve and energy whereas so many other harpists don’t. I am also enamored of the playing of both Katarzyna Musiał and Barbara Nissman in the solo piano pieces, and both Gisèle Ben-Dor and Juanjo Mena conduct his ballets and Popul Vuh with tremendous energy and insight. These are splendid recordings, and if you think I went overboard here with the six-fish recommendations, listen to the performances before you judge.

Giordano, Umberto

GIORDANO: Andrea Chenier / Beniamino Gigli, tenor (Andrea Chénier); Gino Bechi, baritone (Carlos Gérard); Maria Caniglia, soprano (Maddalena); Maria Huder, mezzo-soprano (Bersi); Giulietta Simionato, mezzo (Contessa); Vittoria Palombini, mezzo (Madelon); Italo Tajo, bass (Roucher); Giuseppe Taddei, baritone (Flevile/Fouquier); Teatro alla Scala, Milan Orchestra & Chorus; Oliviero de Fabritiis, conductor / EMI Studio 69996 or available for free streaming on YouTube: Act 1, Act 2, Act 3 pt 1, Act 3 pt 2, Act 4

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Although Fedora and Siberia also have their admirers (though not many), Giordano has remained essentially a one-hit opera composer though he never understood why it was Andrea Chenier. I can explain it to him in one word: sincerity. This opera takes a true story, brings it to vivid life, and dresses it up in music which is Puccini-like yet in many ways far better than most of Puccini’s operas. There have been many fine recordings over the decades, but this one is the touchstone performance. Beniamino Gigli, the possessor of a gorgeous voice who often sang in a sloppy, over-glotted style, never sang more cleanly or more hinestly than he does here, and the rest of the cast—Caniglia, Bechi, and the young singers Giulietta Simionato and Italo Tajo in supporting roles—bring very character to life with astonishing verve. Actually, though the tenor is the star of the show, the crux of the drama actually revolves around Gérard and his fluctuating moods and desires. It’s truly a great work.

Gluck, Christoph Willibald

GLUCK: Alceste / Robert Tear, tenor (Admète); Janet Baker, mezzo-soprano (Alceste); John Shirley-Quirk, bass-bar (Grand Prêtre); Maldwyn Davies, tenor (Évandre); Philip Gelling, bass (Heraut d’armes/Apollon); Jonathan Summers, bass (Hercule); Matthew Best, bass-baritone (L’Oracle); Janice Hooper Roe, mezzo (Coryphee); Elaine Mary Hall, soprano (Coryphee); Royal Opera, Covent Garden Orch. & Chorus; Sir Charles Mackerras, conductor / Royal Opera House Heritage Series 10 (live: December 12, 1981)

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The Historically-Informed Historical crowd has a cow over a performance like this: not enough of their God-awful Straight Tone in the strings, and not fast enough tempos in some places. They can have it. This is the greatest performance of Alceste you will ever hope to hear, with Janet Baker sounding surprisingly youthful for 1981 and Charles Mackerras leading a scintillating performance from the orchestra pit. A true Desert Island recording.

GLUCK: Armide / Mireille Delunsch, soprano (Armide); Charles Workman, tenor (Renaud); Laurent Naouri, bass (Hidraot); Ewa Podles, contralto (La Haine); Françoise Masset, sop. (Phénice/Mélisse); Nicole Heaston, soprano (Sidonie/Lucinde); Magdalena Kožena, mezzo (Un Plaisir); Brett Polegato, tenor (Ubalde); Orch. & Chorus of Les Musiciens du Louvre; Marc Minkowski, conductor / DG Archiv 459616

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Armide is far less known to Gluck aficionados than Orfeo, Alceste or Iphigénie en Tauride, but Toscanini thought enough of it to stage a production at the Metropolitan Opera in 1910 with Olive Fremstad and Enrico Caruso (it flopped). This recording led by Marc Minkowski brings the music to vivid life, and the singers are adequate enough to make the score work.

GLUCK: Iphigénie en Aulide (in German) / Elisabeth Steiner, soprano (Artemis); Walter Berry, baritone (Agamemnon); Inge Borkh, soprano (Klytämnestra); Christa Ludwig, contralto (Iphigenie); James King, tenor (Achilles); Otto Edelmann, baritone (Kalchas); Alois Pernerstorfer, baritone (Arkas); Vienna State Opera Chorus; Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra; Karl Böhm, conductor / Orfeo 428962

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This earlier Iphigénie opera is often considered weaker than Iphigénie en Tauride, largely because of its more lyrical style and weaker orchestra, but this wholly non-authentic performance from the early 1960s brings the music to vivid Gluckian life. Particularly superb in this cast are Inge Borkh as Klytämnestra, Christa Ludwig as Iphigénie, and James King as Achilles, but everyone pitches in and Karl Böhm conducts with fire and verve.

GLUCK: Iphigénie en Tauride / Carol Vaness, soprano (Iphigénie); Giorgio Surian, baritone (Thoas); Thomas Allen, baritione (Oreste); Gösta Winbergh, tenor (Pylade); Anna Zoroberto, soprano (First Priestess); Michaela Remor, mezzo (Second Priestess); Teatro alla Scala, Milan Orchestra & Chorus; Riccardo Muti, conductor / Sony Classical 52492

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Gluck’s greatest dramatic masterpiece, starting with one of the most thrilling entrance arias of all time by the title character but eventually evolving into a psychological drama of survival and self-sacrifice offered by Pylade and Oreste to each other. This recording led by Riccardo Muti has an almost flawless cast and is the best stereo or digital version available.

GLUCK: Orphée et Eurydice (arr. Berlioz) / Vesselina Kasarova, mezzo (Orphée); Rosemary Joshua, soprano (Eurydice); Deborah York, soprano (Amour); Bavarian State Orchestra and Chorus; Ivor Bolton, conductor / Farao 108045, DVD

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A visually OK but vocally stunning performance of Gluck’s first acknowledged masterpiece, with both the mezzo and the conductor riveting your attention to the musical detail.

Gomes, Antonio Carlos

GOMES: Il Guarany / José Perrota, bass (Don Antonio de Mariz); Niza de Castro Tank, soprano (Cecilia); Manrico Patassini, tenor (Pery); Paschoal Raymundo, tenor (Don Alvaro); Paulo Fortes, baritone (Gonzales); Juan Carlos Ortiz, bass (Il Cacico); Roque Lotti, tenor (Ruy Bento); Waldimiro Furlan, bass (Alonso); Orquestra Sinfónica e Coro de São Paulo; Armando Belardi, conductor / Andromeda 9115, available for free streaming on YouTube in small bits

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Now all but forgotten outside Gomes’ native Brazil, Il Guarany is an interesting and often exciting opera, but only in the hands of singers to the manner born. In 1994 Sony Classical put out a brand spanking new digital recording of it with Veronica Villarel and Placido Domingo, but the performance completely failed to catch fire. This 1959 mono recording, with a cast of virtual unknowns, is absolutely mesmerizing from start to finish.

Górecki, Henryk

GÓRECKI: Beatus Vir, Op. 38. Symphony No. 2, “Copernicus*” / Andrzej Dobber, baritone; *Zofia Kilanowicz, soprano; Polish Radio Choir; Silesian Philharmonic Choir; Polish National Radio Symphony Orch.; Antoni Wit, conductor / Naxos 8.555375, also available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking titles above

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GÓRECKI: Concerto for Five Instruments and String Quartet: 1st mvmt; 2nd mvmt; 3rd mvmt; 4th mvmt. Requiem für Eine Polka for Piano & 13 Instruments. Three Songs, Op. 3: song 1, song 2, song 3. Toccata for 2 Pianos. Two Sacred Songs: song 1, song 2. Valentine Piece for Solo Flute & Little Bell. Variations for Violin & Piano / Anna Wolstenholme, flautist; Duncan Prescott, clarinetist; Thomas Kemp, Fiona McNaught, violinists; Joel Hunter, violist; Ronan Collett, baritone; Stephen de Pledge, pianist; Owen Gunnell, handbells / Landor 287, or available for free streaming by clicking on individual titles above

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GÓRECKI: Concerto-Cantata for Flute & Orchestra: 1st mvmt, 2nd mvmt, 3rd mvmt, 4th mvmt. 3 Dances, Op. 34: no. 1, no. 2, no. 3. Harpsichord Concerto (version for piano). Little Requiem for a Certain Polka: 1st mvmt, 2nd mvmt, 3rd mvmt, 4th mvmt / Carol Wincenc, flautist; Anna Górecka, pianist; Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra; Antoni Wit, conductor / Naxos 8.572872 or available for free streaming by clicking on titles above

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GÓRECKI: Symphony No. 3, Op. 36, “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs.” 3 Olden Style Pieces: piece 1, piece 2, piece 3 / Zofia Kilanowicz, soprano; Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra; Antoni Wit, conductor / Naxos 8.550822 or available for free streaming by clicking on titles above

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The deceptively simple yet deeply-felt music of the late Henryk Górecki occupies a unique place in both Polish and world culture, but in the case of the latter this only covers one work, the Symphony No. 3 or “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs.” This piece became a best-seller when Nobnesuch issued a recording of it with soprano Dawn Upshaw and conductor David Zinman, but Górecki was neither very pleased with the slick, rather shallow performance nor the fact that people were using his music to “mellow out.” He wrote the symphony as a requiem for all those who lost their mothers, or mothers who lost children, in the Holocaust or in World War II, not as a means of zoning out after a stressful day at work. As a result of this, Górecki steadfastly refused to allow any of his other works to be recorded or issued for the same purpose. The recording listed here, by soprano Zofia Kilanowicz and conductor Antoni Wit, was his preferred performance of this great symphony.

But as you can see from the above listing, Górecki’s talent scarcely stopped with symphonies. He also wrote solo piano music, chamber music and other orchestral pieces including concertos. All of his music shares the same deep, soulful passion that one hears in the Third Symphony, though expressed in different ways in his other works. All of these performances are splendid and the whole series will give you a much wider window into the mind of this magnificent composer.

Gossec, François-Joseph

GOSSEC: Grande Messe de Morts*. Symphony in 17 Parts# / Roberta Invernizzi, soprano; Maite Arruabarrena, mezzo-soprano; Howard Crook, tenor; Claude Darbellay, bass; Gruppo Vocale Cantemus; Swiss Radio Chorus; Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana; *Diego Fasolis, conductor; #Wolf-Dieter Hauschild, conductor / Naxos 8.554750-51, also available in small bits for streaming on YouTube

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The music of François-Joseph Gossec was highly unusual for its day, the mid-18th century,being quite harmonically advanced and melodically interesting. His Requiem Mass is the longest and most extreme example of this. There is another excellent performance of this work available for streaming on YouTube conducted by Francis-Xavier Roth, but this one features the incomparable soprano Roberta Invernizzi at an early stage of her career.

Gould, Glenn

G. GOULD: Lieberson Madrigal / Claron McFadden, soprano; Marie Thérèse Keller, mezzo-soprano; Jean-Paul Fouchécourt, tenor; Harry van der Kamp, bass; Emile Naoumoff, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube: part 1, part 2, parts 3 & 4

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G. GOULD: Two Pieces for Piano: piece 1, piece 2 / Emile Naumoff, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on selections above

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G. GOULD: So You Want to Write a Fugue? / Elisabeth Benson-Guy, soprano; Anita Darian, mezzo-soprano; Charles Bressler, tenor; Donald Gramm, bass; Juilliard String Quartet / available for free streaming on YouTube

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G. GOULD: String Quartet, Op. 1 / Catalyst Quartet / available for free streaming on YouTube

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Back in the 1960s, I happened to chance upon a used copy of an issue of High Fidelity magazine with the legend on the front cover: “Included inside: Glenn Gould’s ‘So You Want to Write a Fugue?’” And by golly, there it was: one of those cardboard records that have since gone the way of the dinosaur, which had a bit of trouble tracking on my stereo system, but it played. A really cute, tongue-in-cheek fugue written by Glenn Gould.

Composition was always one of Gould’s strongest interests, but because of his busy playing and recording schedules he never had enough time to pursue it as he really wished. By and large, the String Quartet is his one fully-formed, monumental work, and it is extraordinarily interesting, largely tonal but always veering off into Schoenbergian harmonies… quintessential Glenn Gould. The Two Piano Pieces, though brief, are also quite fine, as is the Lieberson Madrigal. In short, though he wrote very little, everything Gould wrote was of a very high quality. Would that I could say the same about many other modern composers!

Gould, Morton

M. GOULD: Boogie Woogie Etude / José Iturbi, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube (also see collections: Iturbi)

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M. GOULD: Dance Variations / Arthur Whittemore & Jack Lowe, duo-pianists; San Francisco Symphony Orchestra; Leopold Stokowski, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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M. GOULD: Fall River Legend – Ballet Suite / Eastman-Rochester Orchestra; Howard Hanson, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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M. GOULD: Harvest / New Russia Orchestra; David Amos, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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M. GOULD: Interplay / Cor de Groot, pianist; Hague Philharmonic Orchestra; Willem van Otterloo, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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M. GOULD: Pavanne / Morton Gold and his Orchestra / available for free streaming on YouTube

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Just as I sometimes feel that Aaron Copland was an overrated composer, I think that Morton Gould was underrated, but in a sense he had himself to blame for that. Like the great German tenor Richard Tauber, Gould produced a lot of pop music junk, including arrangements of Rodgers & Hammerstein that no one asked him to write. He just had a strong populist streak in him that sometimes overcame his better instincts; yet he did write one piece that because a pop hit, the Pavanne (recorded by Glenn Miller and his Orchestra even before Gould himself recorded it), and several of his other pieces showed a strong jazz flavor, particularly in the ballet Interplay written for Agnes de Mille. Harvest is one of his most interesting and introspective works, light and delicate, with a harmonic feeling about it comparable to the music of his contemporary Roy Harris. All of the performances above are good and interesting; ratings often depend on the sound quality.

Gounod, Charles

GOUNOD: Faust / Jerry Hadley, tenor (Faust); Samuel Ramey, bass (Méphistophéles); Alexander Agache, baritone (Valentin); Cecilia Gasdia, soprano (Marguerite); Susanne Mentzer, mezzo (Siebel); Brigitte Fassbaender, mezzo (Marthe); Welsh National Opera Orchestra & Chorus; Carlo Rizzi, conductor / Warner Classics 2564 67691-5

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Although Gounod wrote some fine songs, among them L’Absent and O Divine Redeemer, not to mention the popular operas Mirielle and Roméo et Juliette, it is Faust on which most of his reputation rests. Enormously and perennially popular, the tunefulness of the work tends to mask just how beautifully constructed the whole thing is. Of course, it needs a top-flight cast and conductor to bring out its best qualities, and these are not always present even in “all star” recordings.

This set conducted by Carlo Rizzi truly makes the entire work sound fresh and new. How he did it remains a bit of a mystery, but to some extent it was because he chose to de-emphasize the “rat-a-tat-tat” of the dance rhythms in several numbers and concentrate on pulling the whole thing together as a musico-dramatic work. It also didn’t hurt that Jerry Hadley is the most lyrically sensitive and dramatically interesting Faust on records, or that Cecilia Gasdia, Suzanne Mentzer and Alexendru Agache make real, three-dimensional characters out of their oft-tossed-off roles. This is truly a performance in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and I can’t say enough good things about it. The only drawback is that Gasdia’s trill in the “Jewel Song” is rather sketchy, and Samuel Ramey doesn’t even attempt any of his trills, but these are small complaints against the greatness of the entire project.

Granados, Enrique

GRANADOS: Danse Espagnole, excerpts: No. 2, Oriental / José Iturbi, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube
No. 5: Andaluza / Emanuel Feuermann, cellist; Michael Taube, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube

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GRANADOS: Goyescas / Nikita Magaloff, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube

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A minor but interesting composer, Granados left us a handful of songs and instrumental pieces of great beauty, none as good as the complete Goyescas, played here by the great Georgian pianist Nikita Magaloff.

Grétry, André Modeste Ernest

GRÉTRY: L’Épreuve Villageoise (Complete opera) / Sophie Junker, soprano (Denise); Talise Trevigne, soprano (Madame Hubert); Thomas Dolié, baritone (Monsieur de la France); Francisco Fernández-Rueda, tenor (André); Opera Lafayette; Ryan Brown, conductor / Naxos 8.660377

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Grétry, once considered not only a popular but an enormously talented composer, has somehow been pushed aside in the course of history, but this utterly charming comic opera—surely the equal of anything Pergolesi ever wrote—remained in the repertoire for nearly a century after its premiere. It receives here a splendid performance, sporting both excellent singing and lively interpretation.

GRÉTRY: Flute Concerto in C / Jean-Pierre Rampal, flautist; Armand Birbaum, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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Another fine example of how Grétry could sound like Mozart. His flute concerto is justly famous for its witty inventions and sprightly rhythms, and compared to what we generally get nowadays, Jean-Pierre Rampal sounds like Jimmy Galway.

Grieg, Edvard

GRIEG: Lyric Pieces: Book I, Waltz; Album Leaf. Book II, Cradle Song; Melody. Book III: Butterfly; Lonely Wanderer; In My Native Land; Little Bird; Erotic; To the Spring. Book IV: Album Leaf; Melody; Norwegian Dance. Book V: Shepherd Boy; March of the Dwarfs; Notturno; Bellringing. Book VI: Homesickness. Book VII: French Serenade; Phantom; Homeward. Book VIII: From Days of Youth; Peasant’s Song; Wedding Day at Troldhaugen. Book IX: Grandmother’s Minuet; At Your Feet; At the Cradle. Book X: Summer Evening; Puck; Peace of the Woods; Remembrances / Walter Gieseking, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube

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GRIEG: Holberg Suite / Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra; Herbert von Karajan, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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GRIEG: Piano Concerto in A minor / Dinu Lipatti, pianist; Philharmonia Orchestra; Alceo Galliera, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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With the exception of his famous Piano Concerto, a really fine piece, Grieg was essentially a miniaturist. His books of Lyric Pieces for Piano are justly famous; the Holberg Suite is not nearly as well known as his vastly overrated Peer Gynt Suite. These are my favorite performances of all of these, although I also like Toscanini’s version of the Holberg Suite as much as I do Karajan’s.

GRIEG: Piano Sonata in E minor, Op. 7 / Daria Gloukhova, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube: 1st mvmt, 2nd mvmt, 3rd mvmt, 4th mvmt

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The Grieg Piano Sonata is one of the not-as-well-lnown gems of his output. I really like Daria Gloukhova’s performance for its non-sentimental approach.

GRIEG: Songs – see Collections: Björling, Schiøtz, Schumann-Heink, Hampson, Nezhdanova

GRIEG: String Quartet in G minor / Budapest String Quartet / available for free streaming on YouTube

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The Grieg String Quartet needs a certain approach in order to make it work: brisk, but also very intense, with a string sound bordering on folk violins. This early Budapest Quartet recording—made when there were still Hungarians in the ensemble and not all Russians—was considered a classic for decades, but has now fallen on hard times. Note the use of portamento here, now a decided no-no among string quartets. It needs to be heard more often.

GRIEG: Violin Sonata No. 3 in C min., Op. 45 / Fritz Kreisler, violinist; Sergei Rachmaninov, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube: 1st mvmt, 2nd mvmt, 3rd mvmt

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Too many listeners tend to think of Fritz Kreisler as a somewhat shallow interpreter,concerned more with beauty of tone than real interpretation, but in this recording—particularly the third movement—he achieves the kind of folk-music style so necessary to Grieg’s music, and Sergei Rachmaninov plays with his usual brisk energy.

Griffes, Charles Tomlinson

GRIFFES: Songs / see collections: Hampson. By a Lonely Forest Pathway / Elisabeth Rethberg, soprano; unknown pianist / click on title for free streaming

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GRIFFES: Fantasy Pieces / Lenore Engdahl, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube, move cursor to 29:29

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GRIFFES: Four German Songs: Auf geheimem Waldespfade; An den Wind; Meeres Stille; Am Kreuzweg wird Brgraben. Song of the Dagger / Sherrill Milnes, baritone; Jon Spong, pianist / Four Impressions: Le Jardin; Impression du Matin; La Mer; Le Réveillon / Olivia Stapp, mezzo-soprano; Diane Richardson, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube by clocking on individual titles

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GRIFFES: The Kairn of Koridwen / Sato Moughalian, flautist; Alan R. Kay, Jo-Ann Sternberg, clarinetists’ David Jolley, Christopher Komer, hornists; Barbara Allen, harpist;
Diane Walsh, pianist; Yves Abel, celeste / available for free streaming on YouTube

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GRIFFES: Nocturne for Orchestra (orchestrated version of 2nd mvmt of Piano Sonata) Notturno für Orchester / American Arts Orchestra; Karl Kreuger, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking individual titles

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GRIFFES: Piano Sonata. 3 Tone-Pictures. Winter Landscape. Fantasy Pieces. Rhapsody in B minor. De Profundis. Roman Sketches / Emanuele Torquati, pianist / Brilliant Classics BC95349

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GRIFFES: The Pleasure-Dome of Kubla Khan / Boston Symphony Orchestra; Seiji Ozawa, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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GRIFFES: Poeme for Flute and Orchestra / Scott Goff, flautist; Seattle Symphony Orchestra; Gerard Schwarz, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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GRIFFES: Three Poems of Fiona McLeod: The Lament of Ian the Proud; Thy Dark Eyes to Mine; The Rose of the Night / Phyllis Bryn-Julson, soprano; Boston Symphony Orchestra; Seiji Ozawa, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on individual titles

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GRIFFES: Two Sketches on Indian Themes / Coolidge Quartet / available for free streaming on YouTube

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GRIFFES: Three Tone Pictures: The Veil of Dreams; The Night Winds; The Lake at Evening / New York Chamber Ensemble; Stephen Rogers Radcliffe, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on individual titles

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The music of Charles T. Griffes had little vogue or popularity during his lifetime except for The Pleasure-Dome of Kubla Khan, which created a sensation at its Boston Symphony premiere, but he had the misfortune of dying at age 36 before he could really savor his newfound fame and capitalize on it. In the previous 13 years, he had composed a surprisingly large body of quality music based first on German Romantic models and then on the French impressionists. He eventually found his own voice with The Kairn of Kuridwen, a pantomime-ballet he directed himself from the piano in New York in the late ‘teens. It bombed. So too did his surprisingly modern, Stravinsky-ish Piano Sonata. After his death, his delicate, French-styled Poeme for Flute and Orchestra became the one piece of his that established itself as a concert favorite.

During the period from about 1956 to 1975, various pieces of Griffes had their vogue, particularly the songs and the impressionistic piano works. In the early 1970s New World Records released a true masterpiece of an album featuring all the songs listed above by Sherrill Milnes, Olivia Stapp and Phyllis Bryn-Julson, along with orchestal performances of the Three Tone Pictures and The Pleasure-Dome of Kubla Khan. Happily, most of that album is available digitally for free streaming on YouTube. Eventually, Ensemble M released a splendid recording of The Kairn of Koridwen, but since that is not available online I have substituted the recording listed above. I personally prefer James Tocco’s performance of the Piano Sonata above all others, but since that, too, seems to have disappeared, I recommend the one by Emanuele Torquati which is excellent in every respect. In addition, Torquati’s performances of the other works are excellent, and this CD includes some pieces seldom heard elsewhere (such as Winter Landscape, De Profundis and the Rhapsody in B minor).

Griffes’ growth as an artist between 1907 and 1920 was steady and astonishing, and he rarely wrote a single piece that was banal or uninteresting. Check out the collections section of this guide (when published) for Thomas Hampson’s performances of his songs. Finally, I would like to point out that the first of the Four German Songs, “Auf Geheimem Waldespfade,” is a German-language version of “By a Lonely Forest Pathway,” which works much better for a soprano sung in English. Of the two early recordings I’ve heard, I actually prefer Elisabeth Rethberg’s version to that by Eleanor Steber. Steber’s voice, though beautiful, is a bit too thick in tone for the delicate tracery of this song, and she doesn’t sing the rhythms exactly as written.

Gudmondsen-Holmgreen, Pelle

GUDMUNDSEN-HOLMGREEN: Double: part 1, part 2 / Kate Stenberg, violinist; Eva-Marie Zimmermann, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on individual titles above

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GUDMUNDSEN-HOLMGREEN: Mirror II for Orchestra. Symphony, Antiphony. Incontri / BBC Symphony Orchestra; Thomas Dausgaard, conductor / Dacapo 8.226120 or available for free streaming on YouTube in small segments

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GUDMUNDSEN-HOLMGREEN: No Ground (String Quartet No. 11)*. Green (To the greenwood must we go)+. No Ground Green*+. New Ground (String Quartet No. 10)*. New Ground Green*+ / *Kronos Quartet; +Theater of Voices, dir. Paul Hillier / Dacapo 8.226153, available for free streaming on YouTube in small segments

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If you read my reviews for 2016, you will know that Pelle Gudmondsen-Holmgreen was one of my more recent “discoveries,” though he had been around for decades. Some of his music I found to be a bit too over-the-top, bordering on silly, but the pieces listed above will give one a fair sampling of his absurdist musical art. Gudmundsen-Holmgreen is a joker, like John Cage, the difference being that he never tried to pass off his music as serious, the way Cage did. His way of chopping up bits of his own music and mixing the different parts together in unusual ways may confuse some listeners, but I find it delightful within bounds.

Gurdjieff, George

GURDJIEFF: Armenian Song. Sayyid Chants and Dances: No. 10, No. 29 / Seouj Kradjian, pianist / part of Atma Classique 2655

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The music of George Gurdjieff creates its own aura of meditation about it. The pieces above are excellent examples of his miniaturist art.

Composers – F

girl-penguinFairouz, Mohammed

FAIROUZ: Chorale Fantasy. For Victims / Borromeo String Quartet / Jebel Lebnan / Imani Winds / Native Informant – Sonata for Solo Violin / Rachel Barton Pine, violinist / Posh / Christopher Thompson, baritenor; Steven Spooner, pianist / Tawidah / Melissa Hughes, soprano; David Krakauer, clarinetist / Naxos 8.559744

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FAIROUZ: Symphony No. 3, “Poems and Prayers” / Sasha Cooke, mezzo-soprano; James Callon, tenor; David Kravitz, baritone; Nicole Sauder, violinist; UCLA Chorale &University Chorus, Philharmonia Orchestra; Neal Stulberg, conductor / Tahrir / David Krakauer, clarinetist; UCLA Philharmonia; Neal Stulberg, conductor / Sono Luminus 92177

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FAIROUZ: Symphony No. 4, “In the Shadow of No Towers.” P. GLASS: Concerto Fantasy for 2 Timpanists & Orchestra / University of Kansas Wind Ensemble; Paul W. Popeil, conductor / Naxos 8.573205

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FAIROUZ: Zabur / Dann Coakwell, tenor; Michael Kelly, baritone; Indianapolis Children’s Choir; Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra & Chorus; Eric Stark, conductor / Naxos 8.559803

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Mohammed Fairouz, born in 1985, is certainly one of the youngest great composers of today. His music uses Western classical forms, but within those forms he employs a wide variety of influences, not just—as would be expected—Middle Eastern ones. In fact, I would go so far as to say that his music utilizes Eastern melodies and harmonies but not normally Eastern rhythms, as for instance the music of jazz/world musician Rabih Abou-Khalil. These four CDs give a superb overview of his work in a variety of forms, ranging from chamber music to the fully-scored symphonies and the remarkable oratorio Zabur. In my review of the latter I commented on the fact that “he doesn’t so much vacillate between them as he constantly keeps them inextricably bound together. Fairouz’ abilities as a composer also extend to his talent for scoring an orchestra and writing for chorus. His use of color in his music is extraordinary; so too his clever use of alternating rhythms to enhance the emotional impact of the music…I was constantly surprised and delighted by his ability to keep morphing and changing the music, melodically and rhythmically, while retaining a musical flow in which the disparate elements coalesce into a swirling whole.” All of these performances are remarkable for their emotional intensity as well as their technical precision. The Glass Concerto, on the other hand, is rubbish.

Falla, Manuel de

FALLA: El Amor Brujo (complete) / Shirley Verrett, mezzo-soprano; Philadelphia Orchestra; Leopold Stokowski, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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FALLA: El Amor Brujo (complete) / Josefina Burzio, contralto; NBC Symphony Orchestra; Arturo Toscanini, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube (live: January 28, 1939)

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FALLA: El Amor Brujo: Pantomime / Nicholas Zumbro, pianist (part of Concert Artist 9004) / Ritual Fire Dance / José Iturbi, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube

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Two remarkable performances by seasoned, mature conductors in their advanced years. The Stokowski is not quite as cleanly played and Shirley Verrett doesn’t sound very Spanish, but it is in stereo and quite beautiful. The Toscanini performance is a little-known gem from 1939, although he takes the liberty of repeating the “cantad campenas” an octave higher at the very end. The Spanish contralto Josefina Burzio, who I had never heard before, is earthy and intense as is Toscanini’s conducting. I’m giving it five fish despite the dated, boxy sound just because it is so freaking good. Ataúlfo Argenta’s 1957 performance is almost as intense as Toscanini’s, but mezzo Teresa Berganza’s voice is too smooth and rounded to convey the raw feelings of the text (though she tries her best).

The pianistic excerpts of the Pantomime by Nicholas Zumbro and the Ritual Fire Dance by José Iturbi are my favorite versions of these pieces. I saw Arthur Rubinstein play a fabulous version live in 1968, but his filmed performance from the movie Carnegie Hall is ridiculously rushed.

FALLA: Concerto for Harpsichord, Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, Violin & Cello / Zuzana Růžičková, harpsichordist; František Cech, flautist; Jaroslav Chvapil, oboist; Karel Dlouhý, clarinetist; Lubomir Novosad, violinist; Karel Vik, cellist / available for free streaming on YouTube

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An absolutely terrific yet little-known piece by de Falla, played to perfection by the great harpsichordist Zuzana Růžičková and her equally excellent colleagues.

FALLA: Homenajes (Suite for Orchestra). Noches en los Jardines de España / Orchestre de la Suisse Romande; Ernest Ansermet, conductor / Cascavelle 3134

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Since I’m not in touch with a lot of modern-day classical listeners, I don’t know if Ernest Ansermet has become a forgotten conductor, but if he has it must be one of the greatest travesties in music history. This man was a deeply committed and serious artist who had the respect and admiration of Charles Munch, Pierre Monteux, Artur Rodzinski and Arturo Toscanini, who insisted that he be re-hired as a guest conductor of his NBC Symphony Orchestra. Ansermet could conduct a wide range of musical styles, and this is yet another proof of that.

FALLA: Seven Popular Spanish Songs / Conchita Supervia, mezzo-soprano; Frank Marshall, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube

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Nobody, but nobody, comes close to Conchita Supervia in these songs. Yes, she had the most vibrato-ridden voice in human history, but she controlled it wonderfully well and her interpretation is so intense that it’ll knock you over. The recording is old (recorded March 10, 1930) but the interpretation is electrifying.

FALLA: The Three-Cornered Hat (complete ballet) / Teresa Berganza, mezzo-soprano; Orchestre de la SuisseRomande; Ernest Ansermet, conductor / available for free streaming in 8 parts on YouTube

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Another outstanding performance of Falla’s music, in this case his ballet The Three-Cornered Hat. Ansermet’s 1961 recording has become legendary for its edginess, clarity and superb evocation of mood. It also doesn’t hurt that he was an old hand at conducting ballet, having worked for Serge Diaghelev’s Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo in the 1910s and early ‘20s. The stereo sonics are good enough to warrant its six fish.

Faure, Gabriel

FAURÉ: A Clymène. Arpège. Aurore. Les Berceaux. La Bonne Chanson, Op. 61. La Chanson du Pêcheur. C’est l’extase. Crépuscle. Dans la forêt de Septembre. Le Don Silencieux. Eau Vivante. Fleur Jetèe. La Fleur qui va sur l’eau. Green. L’Horizon Chimérique, Op. 118. Je me poserai sur ton cœur. Madrigal. Mandoline. Mirages, Op. 113. Le Parfum impérissable. Poème. Prison. La Rose. Le Secret. Soir. En Sourdine. Spleen. Tristesse / Gérard Souzay, baritone; Dalton Baldwin, pianist / Newton 8802007

5-fish

Superb performances of Fauré’s songs by the great Gérard Souzay, in decent stereo sound. For other Fauré songs, also see under Collections: Maggie Teyte, Karina Gauvin, Renée Fleming.

FAURÉ: Cantique de Jean Racine. Pavane in F-harp minor, Op. 50. Élegíe in C minor. Salmo “Super flumina Babylonis.” Requiem in De minor, Op. 4 / Chen Reiss, soprano; Matthias Goerne, baritone; Philippe Aiche, violinist; Chœur et l’Orchestra de Paris; Paavo Järvi, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

6-fish

This is the greatest concert or recording I’ve evr hear by Paavo Järvi, who spent several years as principal conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony and produced a string of faceless, uninteresting performances. I attribute it in part to the fact that he was conducting the Orchestra of Paris, which has this musical style in their blood (an earlier incarnation of this orchestra also gave a fabulous performance of the Berlioz Requiem). In addition, soiprano Chen Reiss and baritone Matthias Goerne have exactly the right voices for the ethereal Requiem. A six-fish gem!

FAURÉ: La Chanson d’Eve / Jan de Gaetani, mezzo-soprano; Lee Luvisi, pianist / Bridge 9023, or available for free streaming on YouTube: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7, part 8, part 9, part 10

5-fish

A magnificent performance of Fauré’s great song cycle by the fantastic Jan de Gaetani. Idoubt if this one will ever be surpassed.

FAURÉ: Pelléas et Mélisande Suite / Boston Symphony Orchestra; Charles Munch, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4

5-fish

An oft-overlooked gem, given here a classic performance by the great Charles Munch, a conductor I hold in high esteem for the passion and elegance of his interpretations.

FAURÉ: Piano Quartet in C minor, Op. 15 / Nadia Reisenberg, pianist; Robert Mann, violinist; Samuel Rhodes, violist; Joel Krosnick, cellist / part of Roméo 7293-94 or available for free streaming on YouTube: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4

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An absolutely rapturous performance of this early Fauré quartet featuring the remarkable pianist Nadia Reisenberg, whose star has risen surprisingly high in the past decade.

FAURÉ: Piano Quintets Nos. 1 & 2 / Eric le Sage, pianist; Quatuor Ebène / Alpha Outhere 602 or available for free streaming on YouTube in pieces

5-fish

Superb renditions of the piano quintets by this young pianist and a string quartet emotionally committed to this music.

Ferroud, Pierre-Octave

FERROUD: Au Parc Monceau. Fables. Prélude et Forlane.  Sonatine for Piano. Types / Marie-Catherine Girod, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on titles above

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FERROUD: Symphony in A: I. Vivace; II. Andante expressivo assai; III. Allegro con brio. Types (orchestral version): I. Vieux beau; 2. Bourgeoise de qualité; 3. Businessman. Foules, Tone Poem for Orchestra. Serenade: I. Berceuse; 2. Pavane; 3. Spiritual / Orchestre National de Lyon; Emmanuel Krivine, conductor / Naive V4909 or available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on individual titles and movements above

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The brilliant but little-known Ferroud probably owes his obscurity to the fact that he died in a tragic auto accident at the age of 36, but he was highly admired by Poulenc, Prokofiev, Milhaud, Dukas and Florent Schmitt. His music combined elements of modern French music with bits of Bartok and Stravinsky, was brilliantly developed as well as attractive to the ear. The performances listed above are well realized and performed with exuberance.

Field, John

FIELD: Nocturnes: No. 4 in A; No. 10 in E min.; No. 18 in E. Variations on a Russian Folk Song in A min. / Daria Gloukhova, pianist / part of Centaur 3145 or available for free streaming on YouTube by clocking on the individual titles

5-fish

John Field is most famous for having created the Nocturne form later exploited so well by Chopin. The problem with all Nocturnes is that they are often played in a mushy, overly-romantic manner that excoriates the backbone of the music. Russian pianist Daria Gloukhova performs them better than most.

 

Fischer, Clare

C. FISCHER: Pensiamente for Alto Saxophone & Chamber Orchestra. Realización for String Orchestra / Studio orchestra; Gary Foster, a-sax/conductor / Miniature / Brent Fischer, vibes/marimbas; Clare Fischer, shakers; String orchestra / Interlude for Piano. Reflection for Piano / Bryan Pezzone, pianist / Coming Home / Studio orch.; Clare Fischer, conductor / Suddenly. A Moment of Silence / Studio orch.; Brent Fischer, conductor /B. FISCHER: Weekend in Stockholm. Retrograde Orbits for Vibraphone / Brent Fischer, vibes / MANCINI: Two for the Road (arr. C. Fischer) / Studio orch.; Clare Fischer, conductor / Clavo Records 201309

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The late Dr. Clare Fischer, originally a West Coast jazz pianist in the Lennie Tristano mold and writer-arranger for the jazz vocal group The Hi-Lo’s, eventually morphed into one of the most interesting of jazz-classical composers. A great many of his jazz pieces were in Latin rhythm, and after a short time he became very busy for decades as a writer of commercial tunes and arrangements for several pop music performers, but he spent a great deal of the money he made from these endeavors recording his jazz and classical works. This album, released posthumously by his son Brent, is certainly one of the finest, containing a number of pieces that Clare Fischer composed. A few were conducted by him before his death, the others performed by his friends and colleagues Bryan Pezzone (piano) and Gary Foster (alto sax and conductor) as well as by his son Brent (vibes, marimbas and conductor). Strongly influenced by both the modern French school of composition (Milhaud, Poulenc, etc.) and a bit of Stravinsky, Fischer’s music follows its own internal logic. It also has the strong undercurrent of jazz about it, even when the music is entirely written out. Very interesting music!

Flagello, Nicolas

FLAGELLO: Odyssey. Valse Noire. Symphony No. 2. Concerto Sinfonico / University of Houston Saxophone Quartet & Wind Ensemble; David Bertman, conductor / also see: ROSNER / Naxos 8.573060

5-fish

Nicolas Flagello, the brother of famed American bass Ezio Flagello, was one of the more underrated composers of his generation. Essentially a tonalist who worked in parallel or overlapping harmonies, Flagello carved out his own niche in the music world using Holst-like orchestral timbres and unusual melodic lines. The Symphony No. 2 is a particularly fascinating and creative work, using a number of interesting rhythms and colors.

Fleischer, Tsippi

FLEISCHER: Galbi Malan Yumma (My Heart is Full Mother) (in Yemenite Arabic) / Reuma Nahum Abbas, voice / Ethnic Silhouettes: Bedouin Children, Eskimo women, Georgian men, a Croatian girl / Jelena Sotric, voice; Barbaros Erköse, clarinetist; Cory Gatry, Ofer Waldeman, Barak Yeivin, hornists; Michael Melzer, recorder / Four Old Stories: I. The Goddess Anath (sung in Urgaritic) II. The Judgment of Solomon (in Biblical Hebrew) III. Appeal to the Stars (in Old Babylonian) IV. Daniel in the Den of Lions (in Coptic) / Mira Zakai, contralto; Daniel Ettinger, baritone; Ronen Ravid, bass; Gilad Hildesheim, violinist; Aharon Yaron, violist; Raz Cohen, cellist; Peter Marck, bassist; Irena Friedlander, pianist; Oron Schwarz, percussionist; Men’s Chorus; Eva Pitlik, Dietburg Spohr, conductors / Opus One 181, available for free download here

5-fish

ARABISCHE TEXTUREN / FLEISCHER: Ballad of Expected Death in Cairo / Isabelle Ganz, mezzo-soprano; 2 violins, viola & piano / A Girl Dreamed She Was a Butterfly. Like Two Branches / Israel Kibbutz Choir; 2 oboes, prepared piano, cello & percussion; Avner Itai, Gerard Wilgowicz, conductors / Aulos [Koch-Schwann] 3-1420-2, available for free download here

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FLEISCHER: Cain & Abel, A Grand Chamber Opera in Five Scenes / Doron Tavori, baritone (Cain); David Sebba, baritone (Abel); Adi Even-Or, mezzo-soprano; (Cain’s lamb); Chen Reiss, soprano (Avel’s lamb); Jiri Mikula, director / Vienna Modern Masters 4005, available for free download here

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The music of Tsippi Fleischer occupies its own unique universe in the musical world. Part of the symbolist or, one might say, deconstructionist school of music, Fleischer combines odd instruments, percussion, prepared tape and real-time voices and choruses to create almost an ambient sound world, yet one in which the underlying structure is always perceptible. It is delicate, often with strange textures and using voices instrumentally, with melodic structures that sound at once both ancient and modern. Her musical progression juxtaposes themes, using development sections for further exploration of sounds. Born in Israel, her heritage is both Jewish and Arabic, thus she combines features of both cultures in her sound world. Although I also like some of her instrumental music, particularly her first symphony (subtitled “Salt Crystals”), I find that she works best in writing for voices, both solo and in choirs. Thus the above recommended list concentrates on this aspect of her oeuvre. Of note is the fact that she was one of the first composers to record such now-revered singers as mezzo Isabelle Ganz and coloratura soprano Chen Reiss, whose work is now highly prized internationally, but Fleischer has always had great instincts in finding singers well suited to her musical imagination.

The chamber opera Cain & Abel is particularly interesting in that each of its five scenes is a self-contained unit that could be performed independently of the others, yet together they make a fascinating musical mosaic. The video production of the opera uploaded on YouTube (click here) is, however, a bit bizarre and typical of the scourge of Regietheater that has overtaken the opera world, despite its fine musical qualities.

Flotow, Friedrich von

FLOTOW: Martha / Maria Bengtsson, sop (Lady Harriet/Martha); Katharina Magiera, mezzo (Nancy/Julia); Barnaby Rea, bass (Lord Tristan Mickleford); AJ Glueckert, ten (Lionel); Björn Bürger, bass-bar (Plunkett); Franz Mayer, bass (Sheriff of Richmond); Frankfurt Opera Chorus & Orchestra; Sebastian Weigle, cond / Oehms Classics OC 972 (live: Frankfurt, October 2016)

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FLOTOW: Martha (highlights) / Annaliese Rothenberger, soprano (Harriet/Martha); Hetty Plümacher, mezzo (Nancy); Fritz Wunderlich, tenor (Lionel); Georg Völker, bass (Lord Tristan); Gottlob Frick, bass (Plunkett); Robert Koffmane, baritone (Sherriff); Berlin Municipal Opera Orch. & Chorus; Berislav Klobucar, conductor / EMI CDZ 25 2215 (out of print)

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Friedrich von Flotow was a one-hit composer, but what a hit! Martha was once one of the world’s most beloved and oft-performed comic operas, but in recent years it has fallen to the level of a stage rarity. This is a shame, because the music is unfailingly interesting and colorful.

For more than seven decades, the 1944 Johannes Schüler recording with Erna Berger, Else Tegethoff, Peter Anders and Josef Greindl won by default, but it has now finally been surpassed in almost every way (mezzo Katharina Magiera is not quite as dazzling as Tegethoff and doesn’t possess a trill) by the Oehms Classics recording, in fine digital stereo. This is a performance that will put a smile on your face that won’t come off until the very last chord.

This 1960 album of highlights from the opera—which, for some strange reason, omits the “spinning quartet” which is one of the work’s great moments—is now sadly hard to find, although excerpts from it appear to be scattered on YouTube. But it’s well worth seeking out. Wunderlich’s voice is perfect for Lionel and Berislav Klobucar’s conducting is as sparking and lively as one could imagine. A real gem!

Françaix, Jean

FRANÇAIX: Canon in Octave / BernhardScully, hornist; Joanne Minnetti, pianist / part of Albany 1321, also available for free streaming on YouTube

5-fish

FRANÇAIX: Élégie. L’Heure du Berger, part 1, part 2, part 3. Quatuor (for Cor Anglais & Strings), part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5. Sixtuour, part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5. Variations sur un theme plaisant / Anthony Robb, Sandra Skipper, flautists; Jeremy Polmear, Christopher Hooker, English horn/oboists; Neyire Ashworth, Alan Andrews, clarinetists; Philip Gibbon, bassoonist; Damian Brasington, bsn/contra-bsn; Susan Dent, Alexia Cammish, hornists; Diana Ambache, pianist / Oboe Classics 2029

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FRANÇAIX: Piano Concerto in D / Jean Françaix, pianist; L’Orchestre Philharmonique de Paris; Nadia Boulanger, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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FRANÇAIX: Quintet for Winds / Farkas Quintet Amsterdam / available for free streaming on YouTube

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Jean Françaix was a composer of light but superbly crafted music in the Satie-Poulenc mold who lived much longer than either of them. The above works are my absolute favorites, but of course you are welcome to discover your own if you poke around enough. My favorite performance of the Quintet is actually the one by the old New York Woodwind Quintet back in the day when the jolly John Barrows was their horn player, issued in the U.S. on the now-defunct Everest label, but alas it seems to have disappeared. This version by the Farkas Quintet is almost as good, lacking only some definition in the rather wild inner lines played by the quintet members.

Franck, Cesar

FRANCK: A cette terre où l’on ploie sa tente. Aimer. L’Ange et l’Enfant. Les cloches du soir. L’Émir de Bengador. Lied. Le mariage des roses. Ninon. Nocturne. Passez! Passez toujours! La Procession. Robin Grey. Roses et Papillons. S’il est un charmant gazon. Souvenance. Le vase brisé / Francesca Scaini, soprano; Mattia Ornetto, pianist / Brilliant Classics 94457, some of these available for free streaming on YouTube

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Francesca Scaini is a fairly good singer, certainly not one of the greats, but finding collections of Franck’s gorgeous songs—beyond La Procession, Nocturne and Panis Angelicus—is so difficult that you have to like what she does here, and pianist Ornetto plays with both passion and elegance.

FRANCK: Panis Angelicus / Kiri te Kanawa, soprano / available for free streaming on YouTube

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Many singers have recorded this song; te Kanawa is my pick for the freshest-sounding and most lively interpretation.

FRANCK: Cello Sonata in A minor / Jacqueline du Pré, cellist; Daniel Barenboim, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube: parts 1 & 2, part 3, part 4

6-fish

I’m not sure which is more painful: listening to Jackie du Pré play the cello like a goddess and think of how MS destroyed her career and then her life, or to think that, for whatever reason, her star has faded and is in danger of going out. No music lover with a brain and a heart could not be affected by the sublimity of her sound, her deep feeling, and her passion for music.

FRANCK: Le Chausseur Maudit / Boston Symphony Orchestra; Charles Munch, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

5-fish

There are many fine recordings of this piece by Ansermet, Muti and others, but none as inspired as this version by Charles Munch.

FRANCK: Pièce Héroique / Virgil Fox, organist / available for free streaming on YouTube

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If you have an allergy to Virgil Fox, you are free to find your favorite version of this piece, but to my mind there was no one in the entire world who could bring music like this to life the way Fox did. Beneath his showman façade, he was a master musician, and don’t you ever forget that.

FRANCK: Psyche et Eros. Les Eolides. Redemption / NBC Symphony Orchestra; Arturo Toscanini, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking the individual titles above

4-and-a-half-fish

Fantastic performances of three relatively little-known Franck orchestral pieces. Les Eolides, which dates from 1938, has the most dated sound; the other two, dating from the early 1950s in Carnegie Hall, are quite good in sound quality.

FRANCK: Symphony in D minor / Boston Symphony Orchestra; Charles Munch, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube: part 1, part 2

5-fish

Only one conductor could conduct this symphony with such a combination of passion, elegance, clarity and in stereo, and that was Charles Munch. No one else in the stereo or digital era even comes close.

FRANCK: Violin Sonata in A / Maria Bachmann, violinist; Adam Nieman, pianist / part of Bridge 9394

5-fish

Absolutely the most exciting and intense performance of this classic work you will ever hear.