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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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)

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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