girl-penguinCaccini, Giulio

CACCINI: Amarilli / various versions by Tito Schipa, Emma Kirkby and Cecilia Bartoli (see Collections)

4 to 5 fish

CACCINI: Dalla porta d’Oriente. Dolcissimo sospiro. Torna, deh’ torna / CARISSIMI: Piangete, aure, piangete / CASTALDI: Tasteggio soave FERRARI: Son ruinato, appassionato / D’INDIA: Cruda Amarilli. Intenerite voi, lagrime mie / KAPSBERGER: Ciaccona. Ninna Nanna. Toccata VI / MERULA: Folle è ben che si crede / MONTEVERDI: Ecco di dolce raggi. Eri già tutta mia. Voglio di vita uscir / Roberta Invernizzi, soprano; Craig Marchitelli, archlute/theorbo / Glossa 922902

5-fish

Yes, I know that Caccini wrote operas, but every one I’ve heard has been mediocre at best. These songs are really among his best work. The Roberta Invernizzi CD is a gem from start to finish, thus I’ve listed the complete contents here.

Campion, Thomas

CAMPION: Come, Let Us Sound With Melody*. Fair If You Expect Admiring*. Here She Her Sacred Bower Adornes#. Jack and Joan, They Think No Ill+. Shall I Come, Sweet Love?*# / performances by *Peter Pears, tenor with Julian Bream, lutenist; #Alice Babs, soprano; +The Nadia Boulanger Singers / various issues

4 to 5 fish

Thomas Campion was one of the five or six best British lute song composers, of which group John Dowland was the undisputed king. The above songs and performers are unquestionably the best.

Cantaloube, Joseph

CANTALOUBE: Songs of the Auvergne
Arlene Augér, soprano; English Chamber Orchestra; Yan Pascal Tortelier, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

6-fish

Madeleine Grey, soprano; Unidentified orchestra; M. Elie Cohen, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube: part 1, part 2

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Joseph Cantaloube is a one-work composer in the minds of most listeners, but his Songs of the Auvergne are just so compelling and fascinating that they still exert a tremendous pull on audiences. The Madeleine Grey recording is the work’s first, and her folk-singer-like voice remains perfect for the music. Of the various later recordings by conventional sopranos, I prefer the late Arlene Augér to all others, and Yan Pascal Tortelier’s conducting captures the spirit of the music perfectly.

Carollo, John

CAROLLO: Starry Night for String Orchestra. Anguish (in Every Household). Transcendence (in the Age of War)* Nothing Shall Come of This / Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra; Peter Vronsky, *Jan Kucéra, conductors / Quartet No. 1: A Worded Grey Enigma / Vit Muzik, violinist; Marian Pavlik, cellist; Lucie Kaucka, pianist; Ales Janecek, clarinetist / Moravian Sax in the Afternoon / Brno Saxophone Quartet / Navona Records NV5844

5-fish

A superb collection of diverse and creative music by Italo-American composer John Carollo, who worked as a mental health counselor for the State of Hawaii for many years before turning his attentions full-time to composing. The works performed on this CD vary widely in style and technique, primarily but not consistently tonal, and all of them are excellent and highly recommended. His music skirts the feeling of edginess while consistently attracting the ear to its underlying structure, and he employs clarity of texture, openness of sound and a method of bouncing the notes off one another, almost in hocket style.

Carpenter, John Alden

CARPENTER: Adventures in a Perambulator. Symphony No. 2 / National Symphony Orchestra of the Ukraine; John McLaughlin Williams, conductor / Naxos 8.559065

4-and-a-half-fish

CARPENTER: Gitanji (Song offerings) by Rabindrath Tagore. 2 Songs by Siegfried Sassoon / Carole Bogard, soprano; John Moriarty, pianist (see Bogard under Collections) / Parnassus 96021/22

5-fish

CARPENTER: Seven Ages / NBC Symphony Orchestra; Artur Rodzinski, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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CARPENTER: Skyscrapers / London Symphony Orchestra; Kenneth Klein, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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John Alden Carpenter, scion of the historic Pilgrim family that settled on these shores in the 17th century, has never gotten his due as the excellent composer he was. These four works (the Adventures in a Perambulator is a lightweight “pops” sort of piece, not very substantial) display his talent quite well. Particular attention should be paid to Skyscrapers, the first truly successful fusion of jazz and classical music. It was composed in early 1924, about the same time as George Gershwin’s overrated Rhapsody in Blue, but Carpenter had a difficult time getting it performed because it was a ballet which meant paying a fair number of dancers and a set designer in addition to an orchestra and conductor. It finally premiered on a Sunday night concert at the Metropolitan Opera two years later to mixed reviews, but has since come to be recognized as the masterpiece it is. There is also a recording of it available conducted by Leon Botstein with a chorus (omitted in the Klein performance), but Botstein’s tempos are slow and his phrasing stodgy and plodding. The little song cycle Gitanji is sung beautifully by Carole Bogard, one of the most underrated sopranos of her time, while Seven Ages, Carpenter’s last major work, was premiered in December 1945 by Artur Rodzinski and the NBC Symphony Orchestra. All of the above are worth investigating.

Casella, Alfredo

CASELLA: Cinque Pezzi, Op. 34. Concerto per Archi, Op. 40 / Quartetto di Venezia / Naxos 8.573019, also available for free streaming on YouTube (click on the titles for links)

5-fish

CASELLA: Concerto for Piano, Violin, Cello & Orchestra / GHEDINI: Concerto of the Albatross / Paolo Ghidoni, violinist; Emanuela Piedmonti, pianist; Pietro Bosna, cellist; Orchestra i Pomeriggi Musicali; Damian Iorio, conductor / Naxos 8.573180

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At a time when the plebeian public was falling all over the retro-Romantic music of Puccini and Cilea, there was a new movement underfoot in Italy to produce modern works of high quality. Casella and Ghedini were two such, although the latter’s reputation suffered because he seemed to be a Fascist collaborator. Nonetheless, the tight structures and fascinating innovation of their music are easy to hear and appreciate in the above works (and, of course, Ghedini will get his own listing). All of these recordings are superbly performed and recorded, and Naxos’ budget price is just right.

CASELLA: La Donna Serpente / Magda Laszló, soprano (Miranda); Mirto Picchi, tenor (Altidòr); Renata Mattioli, soprano (Farzana); Guido Mazzini, baritone (Demogorgòn); Laura Londi, soprano (Armilla); Luisella Ciaffi, mezzo-soprano (Canzade); Mario Borriello, baritone (Albigòr); Giorgio Giorgetti, bass (Pantùl / Secondo messo / Voce interna); Renato Ercolani, tenor (Tartagil); Plinio Clabassi, bass (Torgùl / La voce del Mago); Carla Vannini, mezzo-soprano (La Corifea / Una voce nel deserto); Nelly Pucci, mezzo-soprano (La fatina Smeraldina); Andrea Mineo, baritone (Badur); Enzo Mori, baritone (Primo messo); RAI Milan Chorus & Symphony Orchestra; Fernando Previtali, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube (live: Milan, June 6, 1959)

5-fish

If you ever wondered what it might have sounded like if Stravinsky had written a “real” Italian opera, this is it. Some commentators have wondered how Casella managed to get this work staged in Mussolini’s Italy, but somehow he did in 1932. It was mercilessly panned by the critics, forcing him to reduce the work to two brief orchestral suites, and was never performed in Italy again until this 1959 performance, twelve years after the composer’s death. The complex plot is based on a fantastic story by Carlo Gozzi, whose work also inspired Wagner (Die Feen), Puccini and Busoni (Turandot) and Prokofiev (Love for Three Oranges). Fairy Princess Miranda is in love with a mortal, King Altidòr of Teflis. Her king Demogorgòn allows her to marry him on condition that she never reveal her true identity. Miranda is also ordered to put Altidòr through some dreadful tests, after which he must swear not to curse her. If he fails, Miranda will be turned into a snake for 200 years. Inevitably, things go wrong in the kingdom of Teflis: large crowds march, sometimes cheering, sometimes rebellious, and Altidor believes his wife has killed their children, so he does curse her, turning Miranda into a snake. In Act III Altidòr, with help from a magician, succeeds in winning her back, after defeating three monsters and overcoming a wall of fire.

There have been a few revivals in the 21st century, but none of them can match the peerless group of singers on this live June 1959 performance, particlarly the great Hungarian soprano Magda Laszló as Miranda, the Italian dramatic tenor Mirto Picchi as Altidòr, mezzo Luisella Ciaffi as Canzade and the splendid baritone Guido Mazzini as Demogorgòn. In addition, Fernando Previtali conducts the music with an excitement and drive you just don’t hear nowadays. The only reason this doesn’t get six fish is the mono sound, clear as a bell but not quite top-drawer.

CASELLA: Introduzione, Aria e Toccata, Op. 55. La Donna Serpente [The Snake Woman], orchestral fragments. Partita for Piano & Small Orchestra / Sun Hee You, pianist; Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma; Francesco La Vecchia, conductor / Naxos 8.573005, or available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on titles above

5-fish

CASELLA: Symphony No. 2. La Donna Serpente, Suite No. 1 / Münster Symphony Orchestra; Fabrizio Ventura, conductor / Ars Produktion ARS38232

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Casella’s orchestral music is fascinating, showing influences of Strauss and Mahler (his second symphony premiered in Paris a week after Mahler’s “Resurrection” Symphony in 1910), but approach makes all the difference in the world. Francesco La Vecchia takes a softer, more Romantic approach but does a good job on the lesser works while Fabrizio Ventura gives us a strongly emotional, Mahlerian reading of the great Second Symphony. Both conductors also perform some of the instrumental snippets from La Donna Serpente.

Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Mario

CASTELNUOVO-TEDESCO: The Fairy Tale, Symphonic Overture. The Taming of the Shrew, Symphonic Overture / NBC Symphony Orchestra; Arturo Toscanini, conductor / available for free streaming at YouTube by clicking on the titles

4-and-a-half-fish

Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s music is more conservative harmonically than that of Casella or Ghedini, but very fine nonetheless, particularly in these two short works, beautifully played by the NBC Symphony under Toscanini.

Catel, Charles-Simon

CATEL: Les Bayadères / Chantal Santon, soprano (Laméa); Philippe Do, tenor (Démaly); André Heyboer, baritone (Olkar); Mathias Vidal, tenor (Rustan); Katia Velleraz, soprano (Ixora); Jennifer Borghi, soprano (Divané); Mélodie Ruvio, soprano (Dévéda); Frédéric Caton, bass (The Brahmin Hydérane); Thomas Bettinger, tenor (Rutrem); Éric Martin-Bonnet, bass (Salem/Iranés); Thill Mantero, bass (Narséa); Kareen Durand, soprano (Coryphée/Bayadère); Nat’l Bulgarian Choir Svetoslav Obretenov; Solamente Naturali; Musica Florea; Didier Talpain, conductor / Ediciones Singulaires 1016

6-fish

CATEL: Sémiramis / Maria Riccarda Wesseling, mezzo (Sémiramis); Gabrielle Philiponet, soprano (Azéma); Mathias Vidal, tenor (Arzace); Nicolas Courjal, bass (Assur); Andrew Foster-Williams, bass (Oroès); Nicolas Maire, tenor (Cédar); Chorus & Orchestra du Concert Spirituel; Hervé Niquet, conductor / Glossa 921625

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The name of Charles-Simon Catel (1773-1830) is scarcely known today, even by French opera loving enthusiasts. In his own lifetime this was partially due to the fact that he was arrogant and sucked up to both the directors of the Paris Conservatoire and Napoleon; by 1814 he was completely broke and living hand to mouth. Yet he was a brilliant and innovative composer who thought outside the box and wrote at least these two outstanding operas (he was also the teacher of the better-known Joseph Méhul). In both works one hears moments of conventional construction but also a great many sections of forward-looking music that were far from ordinary in their time. I cannot recommend his music enough to lovers of Napoleonic-era French opera, particularly his Sémiramis which is far superior music to Rossini’s rattletrap version of this story.

Cecconi-Bates, Augusta

CECCONI-BATES: Cello Sonatina / Carol Redford, cellist; Augusta Cecconi-Bates, pianist / Nei Giardini Medici / Cynthia Aaronson, soprano; James Shults, tenor; Augusta Cecconi-Bates, pianist / Essences of the North Country / Mark L. Pierce, narrator; Members of the Utica Symphony Orchestra; Charles Schneider, conductor / Tug Hill Suite / Augusta Cecconi-Bates, Edwin John Schroll, narrator; ; Members of the Utica Symphony Orchestra; Charles Schneider, conductor / Privately issued CD, available for sale here

4-and-a-half-fish

Augusta Cecconi-Bates is a wholly American composer, in the tradition of Aaron Copland but with a unique voice entirely her own. These wonderful pieces will draw you in to her world of modern melodic creation. All of the performances are excellent and give a good impression of her style.

Cesti, Antonio

CESTI: Orontea: Intorno all’idol mio; Vieni alidoro; Dormi, ben mio. L’Argia: Sinfonia; Alma mia; Disserratevi ablissi; Sù lieti scherzati. Non si parli piùd’Amore. Il Tito: Che mi consigli Amor; Berenice. La Dori: Sinfonia; Amor se la palma. Ò Quanti Concorso / Raquel Andueza, soprano; La Galania; Jésus Fernández Baena, conductor / Anima e Corpo 3

5-fish

To those in the know, soprano Raquel Andueza is the Spanish counterpart to Italian mezzo and soprano Cecilia Bartoli in her unique combination of superb voice, enlivening interpretations and musicological research. This was one of three CDs she released in 2014 to rave reviews. Cesti, a leading musician of the 17th century, was so admired by the Medicis that they hired him as official court composer. His music is unusually interesting in its handling of both rhythm and harmony for its time. Highly recommended.

Chabrier, Emmanuel

CHABRIER: Chanson Pour Jeanne. Nelodie No. 5: Les Cigales / Gérard Souzay, baritone; Dalton Baldwin, pianist / part of Newton 8802007 / L’Ile Hereuse / Carole Bogard, soprano; John Moriarty, pianist / part of Parnassus 96036-37

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Chabrier’s songs are actually a lightweight part of his output but charmingly crafted and attractive. The above areexcellent examples of his art.

CHABRIER: Espana / BBC Symphony Orchestra; Leonard Slatkin, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

5-fish

Espana, Rhapsody for Orchestra is undoubtedly Chabrier’s most popular piece, his version of Alfven’s Swedish Rhapsody or the ubiquitous Malagnena of Lecuona. Although the above recording is inexplicably in mono, Slatkin brings so much more out in terms of texture that I recommend it.

CHABRIER: L’Étoile / Christophe Mortagne, tenor (King Ouf the 1st); Hélène Guilmette, soprano (Princesse Laoula); Jérôme Varnier, bass (Siroco, Astrologer); Stéphanie d’Oustrac, mezzo (Lazuli, a peddler); Elliot Madore, baritone (Prince Hérisson); Julie Boulianne, mezzo (Aloès, Hérisson’s wife); François Piolino, tenor (Tapioca, secretary); François Soons, tenor (Patacha); Harry Teeuwen, baritone (Zalzal); Richard Prada, speaker (Le Chef de la Police); Dutch National Opera Chorus; Residentie Orkest; Patrick Fournillier, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

5-fish

Chabrier’s enigmatic, subtle and superbly-written comic opera, which set off several French surrealist movements such as the Incoherents, received a puzzled reception when it was premiered in 1877 because of the extreme sophistication of the orchestral and vocal writing. By the time it was revived in 1941, Stravinsky proclaimed it “a little masterpiece” but it took another 60 years to start finding a home in various opera houses. This live performance is the best going. Please see the main part of my blog for further information on this opera as well as both a French and English-language libretto.

CHABRIER: Habanera (1885). Bourrée fantasque (1891). Joyeuse Marche. 10 Pièces Pittoresques (1881). Cinq Morceau (Op. posthumous). Impromptu. Air de ballet / Marcelle Meyer, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube

4-fish

Chabrier’s piano music, light, airy and well-crafted, is as charming as his comic operas. Marcelle Meyer (1897-1958) is scarcely known in America, yet she was not only a child prodigy and the favorite pianist of the group of French composers known as “Les Six,” but also one of Alfred Cortot’s prize pupils. Her playing had much in common with Cortot: the rich, deep-in-the-keys tone, the easy but not affected-sounding sense of poetry, and a wonderful singing tone. Most of her recordings center on six composers: Bach, Scarlatti, Couperin, Ravel, Debussy and Chabrier. Fortunately, she recorded a fairly large number of Chabrier’s pieces which can easily fit onto a single CD. The performances are mesmerizing, and the music exudes the same sort of charm and brio that one finds in his operas. Only four fish, however, due to the boxy sound.

CHABRIER: Le Roi Malgre Lui / Barbara Hendricks, soprano (Minka); Isabel Garcisanz, soprano (Alexina); Gino Quilico, baritone (Henri de Valois); Peter Jeffes, tenor (Comte de Nangis); Jean-Philippe Lafont, baritone (Duc de Fritelli); Chris de Moor, bass (Lasky, a Polish Noble); Chœurs de Radio France; Nouvel Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France; Charles Dutoit, conductor / Erato 2564662133

6-fish

Le Roi Malgre Lui, or The King in Spite of Himself, may be the greatest opera you’ve necver heard. From start to finish, the music is so exciting, enticing, original and engrossing that you won’t even notice the passage of time as you listen. So why isn’t it performed often? Because the plot is so convoluted and confusing that sometimes even the performers can’t follow it. To quote from the Gramophone review for this recording, “The original libretto, based by two hacks on an old vaudeville, was so confused that Chabrier took it out of their hands and gave it to his friend the poet Jean Richepin, who revised the greater part of the text before giving up in despair, whereupon the composer was obliged to finish the job himself as best he could.” Thus it is one of those very rare “operas” more strongly recommended for the aural treat it provides and not at all for the drama it represents.

Chaminade, Cécile

CHAMINADE: Tout les fleurs! / Carolyn Sampson, soprano; Joseph Middleton, pianist / Bis 2102
Si j’êtais jardinier / Nathalie Paulin, soprano; Joshua Grunmann, pianist / listen for free on YouTube

5-fish

CHAMINADE: Mazurk’ Suedoise. Piano Trio in G min., Op. 11. Piano Trio in A min., Op. 34 / KMW Trio / db Productions 149

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Possibly due to the astonishing innovation of Lili Boulanger, poor Cécile Chaminade has fallen through the cracks of history a bit, but she was a serious and quite fine composer in the Fauré/Saint-Saëns mold with a touch of early Ravel about her. The two songs are utterly delightful, but the Piano Trios are her real meat and potatoes, showing just how good a composer she really was.

Charpentier, Gustav

CHARPENTIER: Didon / Manon Feubel, soprano; Julien Dran, tenor; Marc Barrard, baritone; Flemish Radio Choir; Brussels Philharmonic, the Orch. of Flanders; Hervé Niquet, conductor / La Fête des Myrtes. Impressions d’Italie / Brussels Philharmonic, the Orch. of Flanders; Hervé Niquet, conductor / La Vie du Poèete / Sabine Devieilhe, soprano; Helena Bohuszewicz, contralto; Bernard Richter, tenor; Alain Buet, baritone; Brussels Philharmonic, the Orch. of Flanders; Royal Symphonic Band of Belgian Guides; Flemish Radio Choir; Hervé Niquet, conductor / Glossa 922211

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Charpentier is primarily remembered as the composer of Louise, a dramatically interesting but musically boring opera about a young woman from a lower-class working family lured by the suave, artistic Julien into the Bohemian world of French café society. These works, written as his competition works to win the Pris de Rome, are far better music if less well-known, and these performances are simply splendid.

As for Louise, there is one lovely aria from it, the soprano’s “Depuis le jour,” and you can find any number of fine recorings of it ranging from Mary Garden and Lucrezia Bori to Eleanor Steber, Lucia Popp and Kathleen Battle.

Chausson, Ernest

CHAUSSON: Cantique à la Épouse. La Charme. La Colibri. Nanny. Les Papillons. Sérénade Italienne. Le Temps des Lilas / Gérard Souzay, baritone; Jacqueline Bonneau, pianist / part of Decca 425975

4-and-a-half-fish

CHAUSSON: Piano Trio in G minor, Op. 3 / RAVEL: Piano Trio in A minor / Trio Solisti / Bridge 9440

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CHAUSSON: Poème de l’Amour et de la Mer / Janet Baker, mezzo-soprano; London Symphony Orchestra; André Previn, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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CHAUSSON: Poème for Violin and Orchestra / Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, violinist; London Symphony Orchestra; Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor / EMI 54855 (also see: Sibelius Violin Concerto)

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CHAUSSON: Symphony in B-flat / Boston Symphony Orchestra; Charles Munch, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube: part 1, part 2, part 3

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Ernest Chausson’s talent was relatively modest, yet within his own limitations he wrote some interesting and charming music. The songs by Gérard Souzay will give you a fair indiction of his abilities in that genre, although the Piano Trio and the Symphony in B-flat remain his masterpieces. The Poème de l’Amour et de la Mer has never been sung with such depth of expression that it was by Janet Baker, although if the American mezzo Stephanie Houtzeel makes a recording of it I would definitely give that a spin.

Chávez, Carlos

CHÁVEZ: Baile (Cuadro Sinfónico, 1953). Cantos de México. Chapultepec “Republican Overture.” La Hila de Cólquide (Suite Sinfónica). Paisajes Mexicanos (Variaciones Sinfónicas). Sinfonia de Antigona. Symphony No. 2, “Sinfonia India.” Symphony No. 4, “Sinfonia Romántica.” Toccata for Orchestra. Zarabanda / The State of Mexico Symphony Orchestra; Royal Philharmonic Orchestra; Enrique Batiz, conductor / part of Brilliant Classics 8771

5-fish

Carlos Chávez (1899-1978) is one of several Mexican composers, like Silvestre Revueltas, whose name has fallen between the cracks of American concert life, yet even a cursory listen to his music reveals not only its wonderful rhythmic energy but also his cogent mind for structure. Interestingly, Chávez was a Creole born in Mexico and studied with another outstanding Mexican composer, Manuel Ponce, who wrote the ubiquitous song Estrellita. In 1928 he was appointed director of the National Conservatory of Music and spent the next six years heading up several long-ranging projects, including the collection of authentic aboriginal folk music. Like his Hungarian counterparts Bartók and Kodály, then, he was instrumental in incorporating native folk music into modern classical forms.

All of these works are of tremendous interest and impact, but especially the two Symphonies which are among Chávez’s finest compositions. Enrique Batiz, who at one time was music director of the State of Mexico Symphony Orchestra and guest conductor of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London, gives vivid, vibrant accounts of all these works. We will revisit this marvelous set of records in the music of the others included therein when their time comes.

Cherubini, Luigi

Talented but contentious, edgy and neurotic, Cherubini was a very fine and extremely important composer whose reputation unfortunately circles around one opera, Medea, and that primarily due to Maria Callas who made the title role one of her specialties. As you will see, however, he wrote a fair number of important works, each of which had its own special character.

CHERUBINI: Ali Baba: Overture. Anacréon: Overture / NBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Arturo Toscanini / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on the titles above.

4-and-a-half-fish

Each of these two overtures reveal a rather different composer: the Ali Baba humorous and a bit galumphing while the Anacréon is more serious and classically strict in style. Both are played beautifully by Toscanini and the NBC Symphony.

CHERUBINI: Cantatas: Amphion*. Circé#. Clytemnestra+ / *Andreas Karasiak, tenor; #Ursula Eittinger, contralto; +Mailys de Villoutreys, soprano; Kölner Akademie; Michael Alexander Willens, conductor / CPO 777776

5-fish

These three superb cantatas are in an entirely different style from his operas and show just how skilled Cherubini was at adapting his art to various types of music. He made a great impression on the young Hector Berlioz, despite the fact that when he actually studied with Cherubini the older man detested his music and used to chase him around the classroom!

CHERUBINI: Les Deux Journées / Yann Beuron, tenor (Armand); Mireille Delunsch, soprano (Constance); Andreas Schmidt, bass (Mikeli); Kwangchul Youn, bass (Daniel); Olga Pasichnyk, soprano; Étienne Lescroart, tenor (Antonio); Vera Schoenenberg, soprano (Angelina); Miljenko Turk, bass (Semos); Musicus Köln Chorus; Das Neue Orchester; Christoph Spering, conductor / Opus111 30306

5-fish

Les Deux Journées, a relatively brief opera, had a very strong influence on Beethoven when he was composing Leonore (later Fidelio). Beethoven also praised Cherubini’s Medea, saying it was the sort of opera only a musician could fully appreciate. The performance here is generally splendid despite the presence of the consistently wobbly Korean bass Kwangchul Youn.

CHERUBINI: Gli Abencerragi / Anita Cerquetti, soprano (Noraima); Louis Roney, tenor (Almansor); Alvino Misciano, baritone (Gonzalvo); Mario Petri, bass (Alemar); Augusto Frati, baritone (Octair); Paolo Washington, bass (Alamir); Lidia Toncelli, mezzo (Egilona); Lorenzo Tesi, bass (Araldo); Teatro Comunale, Florence Orch. & Chorus; Carlo Maria Giulini, conductor / Gala 100 577 or available for free streaming on YouTube: part 1; part 2

4-fish

Despite being a mono Italian broadcast from the 1950s, this performance of a rare late opera by Cherubini is literally bursting with life, thanks in large measure to the superb singing by Cerquetti, Roney and Petri. Giulini’s conducting is also quite good. Four stars only because of the cramped, limited sonics.

CHERUBINI: Eliza, ou Le voyage aux glaciers du Mont St Bernard (in Italian) / Gabriella Tucci, soprano (Elisa); Flora Rafanelli, soprano (Laure); Gianni Raimondi, tenor (Florindo); Mario Zanasi, baritone (Germano); Paolo Washington, bass (Il Priore); Luigi Tavolari, tenor (Michele); Giorgio Giorgetti, tenor (A guide); Franco Pagliazzi, bass (Un converso); Agusto Frati, bass (Un valdostano); Maggio Musicale Fiorentino Orch. & Chorus; Franco Capuana, conductor / Myto 00322

4-fish

This opera, in Cherubini’s earlier, more Gluck-like style, shares so many features in common with the great composer that parts of it could easily be taken for Gluck. Once again the cramped mono sound forces me to limit the number of fish I give to it, but the singing and conducting are absolutely wonderful, as is the music.

CHERUBINI: Lodoïska / Mariella Devia, soprano (Lodoïska); Francesca Pedaci, soprano (Lysinka); Bernard Lombardo, tenor (Floreski); Thomas Moser, tenor (Titzikan); Alessandro Corbelli, baritone (Varbel); William Shimell, baritone (Count Dourlinski); Mario Luperi, bass (Altamoras); Danile Serraiocco, baritone (Talma); Pietro Spina, baritone (First emissary); Ernesto Panariello, bass (Second emissary); Enzo Capuano, bass (Third emissary); Renato Cazzaniga, baritone (First Tartar); Aldo Bramante, bass (Second Tartar); Teatro alla Scala, Milan Orchestra & Chorus; Riccardo Muti, conductor / Sony Classical S2K-47290

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Lodoïska was perhaps the first of Chereubini’s Gluckian operas. Stephen Wills claims that “With Lodoïska Cherubini turned his back on his training as an Italian composer of opera seria, choosing the freer form of opéra comique over the more stilted and confining tragédie lyrique and embarking on a course of development of opéra comique which was to lead to the eradication of almost all differences between the two genres, except for the spoken dialogue.” He also hails the opera’s originality in its “psychological insight, dramatic tension, and musical depth.” Cherubini would write even better operas later on, but there is tremendous nobility in Lodoïska and, thankfully, we have here a fine cast and conductor to make the case for it.

CHERUBINI: Medea (in Italian) / Maria Callas, soprano (Medea); Jon Vickers, tenor (Giasone); Fiorenza Cossotto, mezzo (Neris); Nicola Zaccaria, bass (Creonte); Joan Carlyle, soprano (Glauce); Mary Wells, soprano (First Maid); Elizabeth Rust, contralto (Second Maid); David Allen, tenor (Captain of the Guard); Royal Opera, Covent Garden Orch. & Chorus; Nicola Rescigno, conductor / ICA Classics 5110 or available for free streaming on YouTube

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CHERUBINI: Medée / Jano Tamar, soprano (Médée); Luca Lombardo, tenor (Jason); Jean-Philippe Courtis, bass (Créon); Patrizia Ciofi, soprano (Dircé); Magali Damonte, mezzo (Néris); Rosanna Casucci, soprano (First Maid); Maria Grazia Pani, contralto (Second Maid); Coro di Camera Sluk di Bratislava; Orchestra d’Internazione d’Italia Opera; Patrick Fournillier, conductor / Nuovo Era 7253

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Well, this is the one you’ve been waiting for, right? Cherubini’s most famous opera, and the one Maria Callas rode like a Derby-winning jockey down the stretch of her career. One should keep in mind that Callas’ performing edition of Medea, in addition to being in Itlaian (she didn’t like singing in French and avoided it as much as possible), is slightly abridged and rearranged from the French original. This was an edition she had worked with Leonard Bernstein on back in 1953 when he conducted her in her first run of performances of it. Tenor Jon Vickers was, without question, her greatest Giasone. He sang it with her both in Dallas in June 1958, a performance of raw power but little subtlety, and again in London in this performance from June 1959. Many opera lovers prefer the former for her fiery reading, but I think the 1959 version is more interesting because of the way she caps her smoldering passion until it finally bursts out in the last act. In addition, this recording is one of the very few that captures Callas’ voice the way it sounded in person, a steely sound with a diffuse halo of light around it. Most of her recordings and live performances captured only the steely center, which exacerbated her strange tone.

In the French-language recording Luca Lombardo is certainly no Vickers; in fact, he sounds like a Jason that Medea would chew up and spit out for breakfast. Yet within his limitations he gives a fine reading, and soprano Jano Tamar is simply fabulous. At the time of writing this performance was also available for streaming on YouTube, but only in little bitty snippets which make it frustrating to listen to. In closing I’d simply like to point out that not even such great sopranos as Eileen Farrell, Magda Olivero or Cristina Deutekom, wonderful as they were, came close to matching the achievements of Callas and Tamar in the title role.

CHERUBINI: Requiem in C minor / Robert Shaw Chorale; NBC Symphony Orchestra; Arturo Toscanini, conductor / RCA Red Seal 72373 or available for free streaming on YouTube

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Those who only think of Toscanini as a fire-breathing dragon will be mightily surprised by this suave, sensitive reading of a greatly underrated Requiem Mass. Nearly every facet of this performance is perfect in every respect, and Toscanini imbues the whole with a glowing warmth.

CHERUBINI: Symphony in D / NBC Symphony Orchestra; Arturo Toscanini, conductor / RCA Red Seal 59481 or available for free streaming on YouTube

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Although he bolstered the music and orchestration with a few ideas from Cherubini’s String Quartet, Toscanini’s reading of this symphony is the only one with drive, energy and excitement worthy of the music. It’s not a masterpiece by any means, but surprisingly good from a composer who wasn’t a symphonic composer by nature. The 1952 sound from Carnegie Hall is surprisingly good, too.

Chihara, Paul

CHIHARA: Clair de Lune / BEETHOVEN: Elegiac Song / BRAHMS: Ballade in D. 4 Quartets. Intermezzo in A / GANDOLFI: Winter Light / KRAUSAS: language of the birds / LEEK: Hollow Stone / San Francisco Choral Artists; Magen Solomon, director; Alexander String Quartet / Foghorn Classics 2006

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Japanese-American composer Paul Chihara is especially adept at writing beautifully crafted small works that have a tremendous emotional impact on the listener. This album places his Clair de Lune in the company of similar short works by Beetehoven, Brahms, Krausas and Leek, performed by the San Francisco Choral Artists and the wonderful Alexander String Quartet.

CHIHARA: Yulan (Ballet score) / International Chief Philharmonic Orchestra of Beijing; Paul Chihara, conductor / Albany 1446 or available for free streaming in 12 portions on YouTube

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Chihara’s superb ballet Yulan is one of his finest creations, music that dances through your mind in unusual rhythms and harmonies yet remains essentially tonal (or at least modal). Chihara shows here a proclivity towards bright sounds and textures, writing very high up for his strings and winds and mixing in a wealth of percussion for color.

Chopin, Frydryk

When I was growing up, the “three Bs” of classical music, Bach, Beethoven and Brahms, were considered dominant. Later on, Berlioz replaced Brahms. But no one ever seemed to include Chopin, the most echt-romantic composer in history, in their pantheon of greats, despite the fact that he was and remains the single most popular composer of all time.

I’ve had a love-hate relationship with Chopin and his music all of my life, in part because of my Polish heritage. He was not someone my parents listened to—my father was much more of a polka kind of guy—but he was always revered in a sort of shadow way. So I began exploring him: the waltzes, nocturnes, mazurkas etc. Some of them I liked very much, and some of them, for me, went in one ear and out the other. Of course, a lot of what I was listening to were what I call “prissy performances,” i.e. soft, delicate playing with lots of rubato and rallentando, achieving not so much interesting or structurally valid performances as background music to a candlelit dinner. For all I knew, Liberace could have been playing Chopin and get praised by certain critics (as Eddy Duchin and Carmen Cavallaro once were).

So anyway, here we are at the Chopin portion of our listener’s guide. Please don’t take my recommendations as completely final, however. For one thing I haven’t heard all Chopin recordings or even half of them: there are just too damn many of them to get through. And secondly, I always reserve the right to replace a selection on my list with a new recording, or a reissue of a recording I hadn’t previously heard, if that recording is superior. One case in point here is the complete set of Nocturnes. For nearly 40 years by preferred version of these pieces were the late stereo recordings (c. 1963) by Arthur Rubinstein, but then I heard Nadia Reisenberg’s mono recordings from the 1950s and they just pushed Rubinstein out of my collection (well, at least for the Chopin Nocturnes).

CHOPIN: Ballades 1-4. Nocturne in E-flat, Op. 9 No. 2. Piano Sonatas Nos. 2 & 3 / Alfred Cortot, pianist / Biddulph 001, also available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on individual titles above

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CHOPIN: Ballades 1-4 / SCHUBERT: Wanderer Fantasy in C, Op. 15 / Sophia Agranovich, pianist / Centaur CRC-3427. Ballades also available for free streaming (individually) on YouTube.

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The sound is old on the Cortot records, but the feeling is magical. It’s so seldom that critics have a consensus on any one particular artist, but I have yet to meet the music critic who dislikes Cortot—or the professional pianist. Even young Friedrich Gulda sneaked into one of Cortot’s rehearsals just to see what the man did…but this was late in his career (the mid-1950s), and by that time Cortot’s technique was so erratic that all he did was to practice scales. But I digress. These recordings of the Ballades are magical; the sonatas are a shade less so, and even at this early period Cortot’s lack of a solid technique shows itself.

Sophia Agranovich is one of my favorite of modern pianists, and I find her versions of the Ballades to be superb in ways equal to but different from Cortot’s. Her version of the Schubert Wanderer Fantasy is also played with tremendous energy and insight.

CHOPIN: Barcarolle in F-sharp / Walter Gieseking, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube

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I’ve heard dozens of performances of this piece, but none has the same magical feeling as this early 1938 recording by Gieseking.

CHOPIN: Cello Sonata in G minor / Jacqueline du Pré, cellist; Daniel Barenboim, pianist / part of EMI 68132, also available for free streaming on YouTube

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The late Jackie du Pré was another one of those rare performers who were universally loved and admired by virtually everyone. Her cello tone tended to be on the light side, but her intensity of interpretation was generally overwhelming. I don’t think anyone will ever surpass this performance.

CHOPIN: Études, Opp. 10 & 25 (Complete). Preludes, Op. 28 (Complete). Fantasy in F minor. Barcarolle in F-sharp. Fantaisie-Impromptu in C-sharp minor. Nocturne in F minor, Op. 55 No. 1. Piano Sonata No. 3 in B minor / Shura Cherkassky, pianist / Philips 456742

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Those who have read my appreciation of the late Shura Cherkassky will know how much I admired him, but also how fussy I am about his commercial recordings. These performances of the Études, Preludes and the Fantaisie-Impromptu are simply the most magical I’ve ever heard, combining a light, fluttery touch with backbone and drive. The other pieces on this set are also well played albeit not my favorite versions.

CHOPIN: Mazurkas (Complete). Nocturnes (Complete). Barcarolle in F-sharp, Op. 60. Piano Sonata No.3 in B minor. Allegro de Concert in A. Berceuse, Op. 50 / Nadia Reisenberg, pianist / Bridge 9276A/D parts of this set available in small bits on YouTube

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This is the set I referenced above, where Reisenberg excels over nearly everyone I’ve heard in both the Mazurkas and the Nocturnes. As for the Barcarolle and the third Piano Sonata, she gives outstanding performances although I still prefer Walter Gieseking’s early 78 recording of the former and Dinu Lipatti’s recording of the latter. Nevertheless, I guarantee that you will be stunned and delighted with the extraordinarily high quality of these performances.

CHOPIN: Piano Concertos Nos. 1* & 2# / Shura Cherkassky, pianist; *BBC Scottish Symphony Orch.; Christopher Adey, conductor; #BBC Symphony Orch.; Richard Hickox, conductor / ICA Classics 5085, or available in individual movements on YouTube

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CHOPIN: Piano Concerto No. 1 / Arthur Rubinstein, pianist; New York Philharmonic Orch.; Bruno Walter, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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So far as stereo or digital recordings of the Chopin Concerti go, these live Cherkassky performances are absolutely the best, but I still have a soft spot in my heart for this stupendous 1947 performance by Rubinstein and Bruno Walter.

CHOPIN: Polonaise No. 6 in A-flat, “Heroic” / José Iturbi, pianist – available for free streaming at YouTube / György Cziffra, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube

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I’m not a big fan of all the Polonaises, but I do like the “Heroic” polonaise very much. Both Iturbi and Cziffra provide, for me, the most heroic of all performances, one in mono and the other in stereo.

CHOPIN: Scherzos / Marta Deyanova, pianist / Nimbus 5297

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The Scherzos are far from Chopin’s flashiest or most meltingly beautiful music, but they are structurally interesting. The little-known pianist Deyanova gives what I felt were the tautest and most interesting performances.

CHOPIN: Songs (Complete) / Olga Pasichnyk, soprano; Natalya Pasichnyk, pianist / Naxos 8. 572499 or available for free streaming on YouTube

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A simply wonderful and exuberant set of Chopin’s songs, which still remain a relatively lesser-known aspect of his output (except for a few, such as The Maiden’s Wish). Soprano Pasichnyk has both a lovely voice and good interpretive skills, and her sister Natalya is equally exuberant at the piano.

CHOPIN: Waltzes. Piano Sonata No. 3. Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor / Dinu Lipatti, pianist; Tonhalle-Orchester Zurich; Otto Ackermann, conductor / part of EMI 7318

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It’s hard to imagine how our conception of the Chopin Waltzes might be today if Dinu Lipatti’s recordings did not exist. During his brief lifetime, Lipatti enjoyed almost the status of an idol among performing musicians: Toscanini was broken-hearted that he never got to perform with him. This is also, for me, the all-time greatest performance of the third Piano Sonata.

CHOPIN: Ecossaises Nos. 1 & 2. Étude Op. 10, No. 5. Fantasy in F minor. Fantaisie-Impromptu in C-sharp minor. Impromptu in A-flat. Mazurkas Nos. 25 & 31. Nocturnes in B-flat min.; in B; in E min. Piano Sonata No. 3 in B min. Polonaise No. 3 in A, “Military.” Prelude in C-sharp min. / Raoul Koczalski, pianist / Music & Arts Programs 1261

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Raoul (von) Koczalski (1884-1948) was one of the most celebrated of all Chopin interpreters in Europe but highly controversial in England and America. The reason for this was that, in his studies with Karol Mikuli, Chopin’s favorite Polish student and assistant, he was taught to play the composer’s music with a fairly wide range of tempo liberties, including unwritten accelerandi and decelerandi as well as a generous amount of rubato. Because of this Koczalski came under heavy attack, not only from music critics but also from Arthur Rubinstein who felt that his playing was mannered and invalid. But Koczalski always maintained that Mikuli had made very detailed and specific notations in his scores as to the way Chopin himself played his own music, and we know from actual recordings that both Claude Debussy and Serge Prokofiev played their own music quite differently at times from the written score. So who’s to say that what Koczalski did was wrong? Vas you dere, Sharlie? I sure wasn’t.

The bottom line, however, is that Koczalski’s Chopin is remarkably fluid and flowing despite the odd tempo shifts. I therefore recommend this album as an excursion if nothing else. You may feel free to completely ignore it if you wish, but I personally find it fascinating.

Cilea, Francesco

CILEA: Adriana Lecouvreur / Magda Olivero, soprano (Adriana); Franco Corelli, tenor (Maurizio); Giulietta Simionato, mezzo (Princess de Bouillon); Ettore Bastianini, baritone (Michonnet); Mariano Caruso, tenor (Abbe de Chazeuil); Augusto Frati, baritone (Quinault); Teatro San Carlo Orchestra & Chorus; Mario Rossi, conductor / Opera d’Oro 7037

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It took me a long time to warm up to Adriana Lecouvreur because of the lightweight, frou-frou quality of the music, but as time has gone on I’ve found myself enjoying it because it wraps a fairly dramatic story in the trappings of comic opera (much better than, for instance, Puccini’s Manon Lescaut). Maybe because I saw Olivero sing the title role in person, I have a soft spot in my heart for her portrayal of Adriana. You may be surprised at my endorsement for any Franco Corelli performance, because in my view he was a total loser as a musician (couldn’t even keep a steady tempo in a standard aria), but here the conductor, Rossi, keeps him in line, and how could you not be bowled away by Simionato and Bastianini? Only four fish, however, because of the boxy mono sound.

Colbran, Isabella

COLBRAN: Abbellimenti sopra “O nume tutelar” da “La Vestale” di Spontini. Barcarola in Passatempi musicali. Cavatina o Canzonetta di partenza o ultimo addio. 6 Canzoncine ou petits airs italiens (1805). 6 Canzoncine ou petits airs italiens (1808). 6 Petits air italiens de differents caractères à M.r Crescentini. 6 Petits Airs italiens avec paroles francaises (1809) / Maria Chiara Pizzoli, soprano; Marianne Gubri, harpist / Tactus 780302

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Isabella Colbran, a great and famous soprano before she became Signora Gioacchino Rossini, wrote these pieces including a set of variations on Spontini’s great aria from La Vestale. The variations on “O nume tutelar” are a bit overdone (much like listening to some early 20th-century sopranos overdo the variants in Rossini’s “Una voce poco fa”), but musically sensible and tasteful. They would never do in a stage performance of the opera, of course, but as a concert piece with piano or harp accompaniment (and all of these pieces give that option), it makes a fine set-piece.

The real surprise comes in the remaining pieces. They are elegant chamber works, very well written and, in fact, similar to Rossini’s music—but she wrote these pieces between 1805 and 1809, long before she even met, or possibly even heard, Rossini. Perhaps she had a musical influence on him that will never be proven? The point, however, is that these songs are much more like violin music of the period than innocuous songs. This makes sense when you read in the liner notes that her initial musical education was with her father, Juan, who was the violinist in the Capilla Real. In short, Colbran was a musician first and a singer second, not the usual career route for someone of her profession in those days.

We also know from the descriptions of her voice that Colbran was particularly noted for the extreme beauty of her voice and the accuracy of her intonation and embellishments. In short, she used her voice like an instrument, which was exactly the opposite of what we read about Giuditta Pasta or the even more fiery Maria Malibran. These are surprisingly good works composed by a “mere” soprano.

Coleman, Ornette

COLEMAN: Dedication to Poets and Writers / Selwart Clarke, Nathan Goldstein, violinists; Julien Barber, violist; Kermit Moore, cellist / available for free streaming on YouTube

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COLEMAN: Forms and Sounds for Wind Quintet / Virtuoso Ensemble: Edward Walker, flautist; John Burden, English hornist; Derek Wickers, oboist; Cecil James, bassoonist; Sidney Fell, clarinetist / available free streaming on YouTube

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COLEMAN: Skies of America / Ornette Coleman, alto saxist; London Symphony Orchestra; David Measham, conductor / Columbia Legacy 63568 or available for free streaming on YouTube

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COLEMAN: Skies of America / Ornette Coleman, alto saxist; Bern Nix, Charlie Ellerbee, guitarists; Albert MacDowell, De’Marcus Walker, bass guitarists; Grant Calvin Weston, Denardo Coleman, drummers; Verona Arena Symphony Orchestra; John Giordano, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube (live: Verona, 1987)

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The late Ornette Coleman had one of the most creative and original musical minds of the 20th century, yet those who heard his music—whether classical or jazz—either hated it or loved it. This was primarily because he viewed harmony as a fluid rather than a solid set of rules. He believed that the notes one played on one’s instrument, even (or especially) within an improvised solo, should lead rather than follow the harmony. This is now an accepted alternative composition method, but in 1959-61, when his band was playign at the Five Spot in New York, it was so radical—and remained so for almost 20 more years—that even avant-garde jazz musicians often said he was “crazy.” Yet among his supporters were such formal-music-trained musicians as Gunther Schuller, Charles Mingus and John Lewis. In his approach to writing for string quartet and wind quintet, Coleman had to think in terms of concrete music since none of these musicians (or those who might play his scores in the future) were improvisors. Forms and Sounds goes on a bit too long, in my opinion, but much of what he wrote is fascinating.

In his “interactive” jazz symphony, Skies of America, Coleman had the double challenge of writing concrete music for the orchestra (largely strings) while still keeping large holes in the score open for his improvising sextet (which included two bass guitarists and two drummers). When he came to record it commercially in England, however, he was barred from using his working jazz group because of all ofthem only he had been given clearance by the British musicians’ union to broadcast or record, thus only his alto sax is heard. This version, which was issued commercially on Columbia Records, is actually fairly interesting and in fact you may prefer it because the score is more concise. I personally prefer the full live version with all of the inserts by Coleman’s band because it comes closer to his ideal, thus this is the version I have recommended here.

Colina, Michael Dalmau

COLINA: Baba Yaga, Fantasia for Violin & Orchestra1, 3, 5. Isle of Shoals, Concerto for Flute & Orchestra2, 3, 6. Quinta del Sordo, Symphonic Poem for Orchestra3, 6. The Unbearable Lightness of Being for String Orchestra1, 3, 6 / 1Anastasia Khirtuk, violinist; 2Lukasz Dlugosz, flautist; 3London Symphony Orchestra; 4Royal Scottish National Orchestra & Chorus; 5Ransom Wilson, 6Ira Levin, conductors / Fleur de Son 58018

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Michael Colina’s music is resolutely tonal. In fact, Baba Yaga so closely resembles a late-romantic Russian violin concerto that it might have been written by Glazunov or Rachmaninoff, despite the occasional veering into “sideways” tonalities that suggest a slightly more modern bent. But I must quickly add that this is good music—it is not “classics lite,” nor is it repetitive or predictable. Perhaps his jazz musician’s training led him to insert moments of the unexpected into his scores. In The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Colina’s music is slow-moving and harmonically related to the sound worlds of Mahler and Roy Harris; after a relatively quiet opening, it builds to large orchestral climaxes, somewhat muted here in that they are played exclusively by strings. The soloists are all excellent and the conducting spot-on. Here is modern music that is not only tonal but also intellectually intriguing, often happy and life-affirming, a kind of music you scarcely if ever hear nowadays.

Constant, Marius

CONSTANT: 103 Regards dan l’eau*. Brevissima. Turner / *Olivier Charlier, violinist; Riverside Symphony Orchestra; George Rothman, conductor / Riverside Symphony 1401

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Marius Constant, best known as the composer of The Twilight Zone theme song, was actually a quite serious and fascinating composer of modern music that did not subscribe to the 12-tone dogma imposed on the scene by Pierre Boulez. Constant tended to work with small “cells” or motifs, which he then wove into long forms; thus 103 Visions of Water is indeed made up of 103 little musical sketches woven into four movements. Although his music is not tonal, it does have a certain beauty to it, as anyone who can recall the Twilight Zone theme will attest. But this is music difficult to describe and fascinating to listen to!

Copland, Aaron

Handy with a tune and just interesting enough to pass muster, Aaron Copland was America’s most beloved composer from the late 1930s through the 1980s. His music lacked depth but was generally interesting despite his proclivity towards saccharine melodies. I don’t care much for his ballets Rodeo and Billy the Kid because he just basically stole a clutch of fiddle tunes (the famous opening melody is actually titled Bonaparte’s Retreat, which he didn’t write), but I do enjoy the brief suites.

COPLAND: Appalachian Spring / Boston Symphony Orchestra; Serge Koussevitzky, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube 

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Park Avenue Chamber Symphony Orchestra; David Bernard, conductor / PACS CD

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As far as I’m concerned, roughly 90% of recordings of this piece sound fine to me: nice, pretty music, well crafted and non-challenging to the listener. But it is nicely crafted. These are my two favorite versions.

COPLAND: Billy the Kid Suite. Piano Concerto*. Rodeo: 4 Dance Episodes. / *Lorin Hollander, pianist; Seattle Symphony Orchestra; Gerard Schwarz, conductor / Naxos 8.571202

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The Piano Concerto is an often-overlooked gem, and these suites contain the most music I ever want to hear from his two popular ballets.

COPLAND: Concerto for Clarinet and String Orchestra / Benny Goodman, clarinetist; Columbia Symphony Orchestra; Aaron Copland, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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Copland’s Clarinet Concerto is another one of his finer works, and to my mind no one has ever played it better than Benny Goodman did on this recording.

COPLAND: Dance Panels. Eight Poems of Emily Dickinson*. Short Symphony / *Helene Schneiderman, mezzo-soprano; Orchestra of St. Luke’s; Dennis Russell Davies, conductor / Nimbus 2545

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Excellent performances of some of Copland’s best and least-known works. Dance Panels is especially creative.

COPLAND: Folk Songs: At the River. Ching-a-Ring Chaw. The Boatmen’s Dance. The Dodger. The Golden Willow Tree. I Bought Me a Cat. The Little Horses. Long Time Ago. Simple Gifts. Zion’s Walls / Thomas Hampson, baritone; St. Paul Chamber Orchestra; Hugo Wolf, conductor / part of Teldec 98825

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Copland’s folk song settings are among his most attractive and popular works, and these are among my favorite versions of just about all of them.

COPLAND: The Tender Land / Elisabeth Comeaux, soprano (Laurie); Janis Hardy, mezzo-soprano (Ma Moss); Maria Jette, soprano (Beth); LeRoy Lehr, bass (Grandpa Moss); Dan Dressen, tenor (Martin); James Bohn, baritone (Top); Vern Sutton, baritone (Mr. Splinters); Agnes Smuda, contralto (Mrs. Smuda); Plymouth Music Series Orch. & Chorus; Philip Brunelle, conductor / Virgin Classics 91113

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With all the fuss made over Appalachian Spring and his ballets, Copland’s opera The Tender Land has continually gotten short shrift from both opera companies and critics. Why, I don’t know, because this is clearly Copland’s greatest and most mature score. The music is both pretty and dazzling in an understated way; he matches the mood of each scene and the personality of each character as few opera composers have ever done; and this performance, made early in Philip Brunelle’s career, is superb from first note to last.

Cordero, Ernesto

CORDERO: Caribbean Concertos: Concierto Festivo for Guitar and Strings*. Insula: Suite Concertante for Violin and Strings#. Concertino Tropical for Violin and Strings# / *Pepe Romero, guitarist; #Guillermo Figueroa, violinist; I Solisti di Zagreb / Nacos 8.572707

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Puerto Rican composer (and guitarist) Ernesto Cordero’s music is particularly lively in rhythm but also exceptionally colorful in scoring, fascinating and wildly inventive. These three concertos display his talents at their best, and we have the added pleasure of hearing the great guitarist Pepe Romero in the first work.

Couperin, François

COUPERIN: Concerts Royeaux: excerpts. Les Nations, Deuxième Ordre; Quatrième Ordre. Pièces de Clavecin: Second et Troisième Livre, excerpts / Jochewed Schwarz, Emer Buckley, harpsichordists / Toccata Classics 0203

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COUPERIN: Concerts Royeaux, Quatrième Concert: Forlane. Les Nations, Premiere Ordre; Troisième Ordre. Pièces de Clavecin: Second et Troisième Livre, excerpts / Jochewed Schwarz, Emer Buckley, harpsichordists / Toccata Classics 0258

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COUPERIN: Le Dodo ou l’amour au berceau, Book 3: Le Dodo. Les fastes de la Grande et Ancienne ménestrandise:   No. 2: Les viéleux et les Gueux;   No. 3: Les jongleurs, sauteurs et saltimbanques; La Favorite, Book I No. 12 in c min. Les folies Françaises, ou les Dominos, Book 3 / Wanda Landowska, harpsichordist / part of Documents 953

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COUPERIN: Le Parnasse ou l’Apotheose de Corelli / Claude Monteux, flautist; Harry Schulman, oboist; Bernard Greenhouse, cellist; Sylvia Marlowe, harpsichordist / available for free streaming on YouTube

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François Couperin was a master keyboard player and a highly inventive composer known primarily for his keyboard and chamber music. His largest and most famous work, Les Nations, can be played by either duo-harpsichords, as it is here, or by small chamber groups. I tend to prefer these duo-harpsichord versions because of the wonderful musical treatment that Jochewed Schwarz and Emer Buckley give to them.

The Landowska album, taken from live performances in the early 1950s, is sadly out of print, but happily the remarkable performance of Le Parnasse ou l’Apotheose de Corelli with Claude Monteux on flute (the son of conductor Pierre Monteux) is available on YouTube. Despite the excellence of this this performance, it only gets 3 ½ fish because of the relatively poor sonics which all but bury Sylvia Marlowe’s harpsichord.

Crumb, George

CRUMB: Ancient Voices of Children / Jan DeGaetani, mezzo-soprano; Michael Dash, boy soprano; The Contemporary Chamber Ensemble: George Haas, oboist/harmonica; Stephen Bell, mandolin; Susan Jolles, harpist; Jacob Glick, musical saw; Howard van Hyning, Raymond Des Roches, Richard Fitz, percussion / available for free streaming on YouTube: part 1, part 2 / Lux Aeterna / Jan DeGaetani, mezzo-soprano; The Penn Contemporary Players / available for free streaming on YouTube

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George Crumb’s eerie yet ethereal modern music, using a great deal of space between intervals as well as moments of silence between notes, was perfectly suited to Fernando Garcia Lorca’s surrealist poetry. The recording is old and analog (1971), and the transfers here have a great deal of the surface noise, ticks and pops that makes me tear my hair out trying to understand why we have a “vinyl revival” nowadays, but if you have a halfway decent audio editor much of the noise can be filtered out. The performance of Lux Aeterna, made around the same time, has better sound. For my tribute to the late, great de Gaetani, click here. Also see Christine Schäfer under Collections.

CRUMB: Star Child, A Parable for Soprano, Orchestra etc. / Susan Narucki, soprano; Joseph Alessi, trombone; George Crumb, bell ringer; Warsaw Boys’ Choir; Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra & Chorus; Thomas Conlin, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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Though less well-known than Ancient Voices, Star Child is, if anything, an even more extraordinary work, more “fleshed-out” so to speak and riveting to listen to. This performance obviously has the composer’s imprimatur, as he appears on it as a bell ringer, but it only gets four stars because the soprano has an unsteady flutter in her voice and her diction is poor.

Currier, Sebastian

CURRIER: Clockwork. Entanglement. Aftersong / Yehonatan Berick, violinist; Laura Melton, pianist / Albany 1351, or available for free streaming on YouTube (click on a title to listen).

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Sebastian Currier uses the same sort of harmonic language as George Crumb but far less space. On the contrary, most of his works are extremely busy and almost kaleidoscopic in mood. His music exhibits a remarkable tendency to “play” with time and, in doing so, to somewhat taunt the listener into paying close attention in order to delight with him in his strange and sometimes humorous shifts in tempo or feeling. Yet despite his music’s “busyness,” he selects his notes very carefully and judiciously, and there is always a sense of drama. There are, simply, no wasted gestures or superfluous passages in his scores, and they haunt the mind long after they’re finished. In the opening piece, for instance, Currier alternates busy, complex yet mechanical-sounding passages with others of a dark, almost haunting beauty. Yet here, as in Entanglement and Aftersong, mere verbal description is too inexact to convey what he does; one must simply hear it to understand it. The ideas trip across each other so rapidly that although the ear can catch them, one simply doesn’t have the space to record them all.

CURRIER: Time Machines / Anne-Sophie Mutter, violinist; New York Philharmonic Orchestra; Alan Gilbert, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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CURRIER: Next Atlantis / Ying Quartet / available for free streaming on YouTube

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CURRIER: Verge for Clarinet, Violin & Piano / Franklin Cohen, clarinetist; Diane Cohen, violinist; Matan Porat, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube: part 1, part 2

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Here are three more superb Currier compositions, each a little different yet all of them exhibiting his busy, almost frantic style. In the first, one of his rare works for a full orchestra, we are treated to world-renowned performers, violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter with the New York Philharmonic under Alan Gilbert, yet even in this orchestral score one can clearly hear that Currier is thinking in terms of individual instrumental relationships, thus the orchestra part is almost always fragmented, the sections used discretely (with an emphasis on the percussion and brass), rather than playing together in a unified way. Next Atlantis is one of his most beautiful works, almost ethereal in the way he handles his musical material, while Verge consists of nine short pieces always on the “verge” of going wrong. The titles are “Almost too fast, “ “Almost too slow,” “Almost too mechanical,” “Almost too dark,” “Almost too light,” “Almost too fractured,” etc. I tell you, you just can’t beat the old songs!

 

 

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