To celebrate the 150th issue of Copper I’m offering a list of 150 recommended recordings, most with hyperlinks to YouTube for instant listening gratification. Half of the entries are CDs and LPs I’ve written about in Copper before; the other half are new recommendations. I’ve provided a link when the entire recording is available on YouTube, and usually links to samples whether or not the entire recording is there. When recommended recordings aren’t accessible, I’ve indicated that in parentheses, although if you’re adventurous the work(s) might be found on YouTube performed by different artists.
American Angels: Songs of Hope, Redemption, and Glory/Anonymous 4 (Harmonia Mundi SACD) This is a different kind of disc for the Anonymous 4, four women vocalists who have specialized in performing and recording medieval music for over 20 years. Their Billboard review says it all: “A stunning disc of old-time Americana.”
Lynne Arriale/Inspiration/Lynne Arriale Trio (TCB CD) According to JazzTimes, “Lynne Arriale’s music lies at the synaptic intersection where brain meets heart, where body meets soul. She is one of jazzdom’s most intensely unique voices.” Her arrangements of pop songs and jazz tunes are intelligible and lyrical: I especially like “Mountain of the Night” on this disc.
“Mountain of the Night”
J.S. Bach/Bach Secular Cantatas: Coffee BWV 211 & Peasant BWV 212/Les Violons du Roy/Bernard Labadie, cond. (Dorian CD) During the 18th century, Starbucks would likely have competed with Gottfried Zimmermann’s coffee house, where live music was played and Bach’s Coffee Cantata was probably premiered. In Bach’s day, drinking coffee was controversial and this satire about the “insidious” beverage had promotional value as well as audience appeal. Drink a couple of treacherous cups so you’ll be alert for the piece’s enjoyable disc mate, the Peasant Cantata.
Coffee Cantata: “Ei! Wie schmeckt der Coffee susse”
J.S. Bach/Six Concertos for the Margrave of Brandenburg/European Brandenburg Ensemble/Trevor Pinnock, cond. (Avie CD) Pinnock recorded the Brandenburg Concertos once before with The English Concert on the Archiv label. It had been my favorite interpretation until he conducted it again on the Avie label which provoked a search for the “perfect” set of concertos. After investigating several performances on both modern and period instruments I decided the new Pinnock was the best recording. The Archiv performance is close…very close…but the tempo on the new set has a slight edge that’s very dance-like. All of the other recordings I heard were too murky, too slow, too fast, too boring, too….
Joan Baez in Concert: Part 1/Joan Baez, guitar (Vanguard/Cisco LP reissue) Not just for nostalgia seekers: It’s a great concert for all kinds of folks, especially if you missed it the first time around. This audiophile reissue comes in a glossy copy of the original album cover, has quiet surfaces, plenty of air, and excellent guitar/vocal detail.
Samuel Barber/Violin Concerto/Gil Shaham, violin/London Symphony Orchestra/André Previn, cond. (DGG CD) “Neo-Romantic” 20th century music with exquisite first and second movements and a breathless “perpetual motion” third movement. Shaham and Previn emphasize the music’s lyrical nature without gushing uncontrollably.
Samuel Barber/The Complete Solo Piano Music/John Browning, piano (MusicMasters CD) The center piece here is the Sonata for Piano, considered to be one of the best American piano sonatas. The Sonata incorporates more dissonance than the Violin Concerto but is still tonal and lyrical.
Baroque Reflections/Alessio Bax, piano (Warner CD) A guilty pleasure: Bax’s approach is more rhapsodic than authentic. At times he plays Baroque music without reasonable restraint, but who doesn’t like to get passionate every now and then?
Almira: “Sarabande” (Handel)
Bela Bartók/Concerto for Orchestra/Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Fritz Reiner, cond. (RCA Living Stereo LP reissue) A spectacular recording of the Concerto where individual sections of the orchestra are often treated in a “soloistic” manner, reissued from the famous Living Stereo series, which is valued for its superior sound quality and performances. Collectible first edition vinyl is expensive so consider buying an audiophile reissue. Reissues can be good investments because the vinyl is better (resulting in quieter surfaces that allow more detail to come through), the records are less likely to warp, and the highs and lows aren’t as limited as they were on some of the original pressings.
Bela Bartók/Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta/Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Fritz Reiner, cond. (RCA Living Stereo LP reissue) Unlike some of his other compositions which can be very dissonant, this is more popular Bartók: modern, chromatic, Hungarian folk-music influenced, and very approachable. One of Bartók’s masterpieces.
Bela Bartók/Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 3/Stephen Bishop, piano/London Symphony Orchestra/Sir Colin Davis, cond. (Philips LP) Bishop is particularly known for his recordings of works by Bartók, for his technical skill, clarity, and interpretations. These are terrific performances: edgy, percussive, exciting…the best I’ve heard.
Piano Concerto No. 1: “Allegro”
Luciano Berio/Ayre/Dawn Upshaw, vocals (DGG CD) Berio’s Folk Songs are derived from a variety of sources, and share a disc with Osvaldo Golijov’s multi-culturally influenced Ayre (see below). Unlike Berio’s usual avant-garde works, these songs are melodic and lovely while still incorporating a few experimental techniques.
Hector Berlioz/Symphonie Fantastique/Sir Colin Davis, cond. (Philips LP) Symphonie Fantastique is a famous symphony from 1830 that includes, in the final movement, the colorful portrayal of a dream filled with horrific figures. (Don’t expect music like the soundtrack to Jaws: this is early Romantic period music.) Davis was a Berlioz specialist and the recording is one of Philips’ best.
“Dream of a Witches’ Sabbath”
Leonard Bernstein/Peter Pan/Alexander Frey, cond. (Koch CD) Bernstein’s Peter Pan opened on Broadway in 1950. Although it was both a critical and financial success, the show was quickly obscured by other productions including Bernstein’s own. Despite being “lost” in time, Peter Pan is worth revisiting for its very appealing songs.
“Dream With Me”
Leonard Bernstein/Symphony No. 3/Leonard Bernstein, cond. (Columbia Masterworks LP) Felicia Montealegre (Mrs. Bernstein) is almost too dramatic as the speaker but the approach is in keeping with the rest of this first, sizzling recording: raucous, gripping, eclectic, engrossing, emotionally gratifying…and without the destructive cuts Bernstein made to the score later on.
Hildegard von Bingen/Symphoniae/Sequentia (BMG CD) Hildegard von Bingen (1098 – 1179) was an early feminist, composer, writer, and visionary, celebrated not only for her music but for her experimental contributions to holistic medicine and nutrition. (Her name has also inspired the creation of contemporary products like Hildegard bread and Hildegard’s naturopathic moisturizers and face creams.) Hildegard’s music is important because her melodies were freer, more wide-ranging, and elaborate than those used by her contemporaries, and she gave plainsong greater expression through the use of long, spiraling melismas and soaring melodies. Might not be the best choice for Karaoke night, but ideal music for relaxing while eating Hildegard bread.
“O quam mirabilis”
Hildegard von Bingen/A Feather on the Breath of God/Gothic Voices with Emma Kirkby, vocals/Christopher Page, dir. (Hyperion CD) Early Hyperion releases consisted of rarely recorded 20th century British music but the company’s success was actually built on the critically acclaimed Feather. And a good thing, too: Hyperion has given us many superb recordings since its original venture.
Marc Blitzstein/The Cradle Will Rock/Gershon Kingsley, musical director (MGM original LP or CRI LP reissue) Blitzstein’s compositions included theater/opera works that were deemed controversial because of their social content. His first production, The Cradle Will Rock, opened off-Broadway in the 1930s and received national attention for the political situation surrounding its premiere. Content aside, the music is first-rate.
“Nickel Under the Foot” from Scenes 6 – 7
Marc Blitzstein/Regina/New York City Opera Orchestra and Chorus (Columbia LP) Blitzstein’s tuneful opera based on Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes is very enjoyable. No Italian dictionaries needed: it’s in English. And if the music sounds like Bernstein in places, that’s because Bernstein was Blitzstein’s protege.
Ernest Bloch/Concerto Grosso 1 & 2, Schelomo/Eastman-Rochester Orchestra/Howard Hanson, cond. (Mercury Living Presence LP) Bloch was a 20th century composer whose works were basically conservative but incorporated some contemporary techniques. This LP, part of the historic Mercury Living Presence series, includes three of Bloch’s most popular compositions conducted by another conservative composer, Howard Hanson.
Schelomo: Hebraic Rhapsody for Violoncello and Orchestra
Johannes Brahms/Piano Concerto No. 1/Emil Gilels, piano/Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Eugen Jochum, cond. (DGG LP and CD) It’s a tension and release kind of thing. Sometimes I wait for a particular moment in a recording. If it’s handled well, the recording becomes a keeper. There’s a moment like that about 12 minutes into the first movement of the first piano concerto. After a quiet, lyrical section the piano enters vigorously, the tension builds to a peak, and is released by a descending sequence. Gilels and Jochum are responsible for performing it perfectly. (Note: On the CD, the second piano concerto is included as the first concerto’s playmate.)
Johannes Brahms/Clarinet Sonatas and Trio/Martin Fröst, clarinet (BIS SACD) While almost anything composed by Brahms is worth listening to, the pieces on this disc are especially noteworthy, because they feature a clarinet instead of one of the strings taking the lead in Romantic chamber music. The second movement of the second sonata is memorable and top-shelf.
Clarinet Sonata No. 2: “Allegro appassionato”
Johannes Brahms/Violin Concerto/Jascha Heifetz, violin/Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Fritz Reiner, cond. (RCA Living Stereo LP or SACD) Another virtuoso performance from the iconic Living Stereo series. The all-tube sound can be fantastic, but in these mid-to-late 1950s recordings the soloist was often placed unrealistically close to the front of the soundstage so listeners could hear the performer better.
Joseph Canteloube/Chants d’Auvergne Vol. 1/Véronique Gens, vocals/Orchestre National de Lille (Naxos CD) Canteloube was primarily interested in researching folk songs and wrote only a small number of orchestral and chamber pieces. These lush, sensual folk song arrangements have become widely known and are captivating, especially as sung by Véronique Gens. Volume 2 (now available in a two-disc set) is equally enjoyable.
www.youtube.com/watch?v=d5TVKT0HbVo (No. II)
Carmina Burana Vol. 1/ New London Consort (L’oiseau-Lyre/Decca CD) This isn’t the famous Carl Orff piece but the early text and music Orff based his composition on. The original manuscript, compiled in Bavaria during the first half of the 13th century, is an uninhibited celebration of life’s pleasures including sensuality and the physical excitement of love. (Note: To compare this selection with Orff’s version go to www.youtube.com/watch?v=0OGPso1rbx0.)
“Tempus est iocundum”
Bill Charlap/Live at the Village Vanguard/The Bill Charlap Trio (Blue Note CD) I usually don’t like orchestral music recorded in concert but do enjoy music recorded live in intimate jazz settings. Released on the celebrated Blue Note label, documented at the famous Village Vanguard, performed by one of the strongest jazz pianists and best interpreters of standards…this CD has notable credits and makes me want to be part of the audience.
Bill Charlap and Renee Rosnes/Double Portrait (Blue Note CD) And now for something completely different: two pianists improvising together on separate pianos. Bill Charlap and his wife Renee Rosnes play works by a variety of composers including Jobim, Shorter, Mulligan, and Gershwin.
Ernest Chausson and Guillaume Lekeu/Concerto for Violin, Piano and String Quartet (Chausson) & Sonata for Violin and Piano (Lekeu)/Elmar Oliveira, violin and Robert Koenig, piano (Artek CD) Two exquisite pieces of French chamber music…wonderful!
Ciaramella Dances: On Moveable Ground/Ciaramella Ensemble (Yarlung Records 45rpm LP) Michala Petri, a virtuoso recorder player, says on the album cover, “…dance tunes from the Baroque and Renaissance. It doesn’t get better than this! Ciaramella is magic….” Performed in high quality audiophile sound on a 12-inch 45rpm LP.
Aaron Copland/Symphony for Organ and Orchestra/Dallas Symphony Orchestra/Andrew Litton, cond. (Delos/Naxos CD) Move your calendar back a few seasons prior to the familiar Appalachian Spring and enjoy some of Copland’s early music. This symphony deserves better recognition: It’s more dissonant than some other works, but just as rewarding.
Aaron Copland/Symphony No. 3/New York Philharmonic/Leonard Bernstein, cond. (DGG CD) Move your calendar a few seasons ahead of the familiar Appalachian Spring and enjoy some of Copland’s later music. No. 3 is one of America’s greatest symphonies, conducted here by one of America’s best interpreters of modern music. It’s emotionally satisfying and worth every hearing.
John Corigliano/The Red Violin Concerto/Baltimore Symphony Orchestra/Joshua Bell, violin/Marin Alsop, cond. (Sony/BMG CD) The Concerto is Corigliano’s music for the film The Red Violin transformed into a composition that has an “earworm” – a catchy theme that stays in your mind long after the piece has ended.
George Crumb/Songs, Drones, and Refrains of Death/Ensemble New Art (Naxos CD) Crumb was well-known for incorporating extended instrumental and vocal techniques into his compositions. For example, “Death-Drone III” (not a Charles Bronson film) employs some of these techniques to create an eerie ambiance.
Dancing in the Isles/Musica Pacifica (Solimar CD) Not the Olympic airways ad from the 1960s where passengers listening to Greek music were told “please, no dancing in the aisles.” These selections of Baroque and traditional music from England, Scotland, and Ireland are performed on period instruments and every track is appealing. Do clear the aisles…just remember to dance the pandemic-approved six feet apart.
“English Country Dances”
Claude Debussy, Gabriel Fauré, Maurice Ravel/Piano Trios/Florestan Trio (Hyperion CD) When I first started listening to classical music, I only played orchestral music: The larger the forces, the better. (More is more.) Many years later I started focusing on chamber music and now favor that. (Less is more.) French chamber music in particular can be warm, elegant and graceful. These are beautiful examples that show off those qualities. (Not available on YouTube.)
Divertissements: Fantasies and Impromptus/Lavinia Meijer, harp (Channel Classics SACD) At first I was suspicious of 20th century classical music written specifically for the harp, but this is impressive. The superb resonance and remarkable flexibility of the instrument are qualities I wasn’t aware of. And the compositions are as pleasurable as music written for any other instrument. This is a great disc!
Trois Morceaux: Variations sur un thème dans le style ancien
Antonín Dvořák/Stabat Mater/Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra/Rafael Kubelik, cond. (DGG CD) Dvořák is one of those composers whose most famous works have sometimes obscured his other fine compositions. The Stabat Mater is sublime, especially the way the first movement is performed on this recording.
“Stabat mater dolorosa”
Early Italian Harpsichord Music (1520 – 1670)/Edward Parmentier, harpsichord (Wildboar CD) Music by a variety of composers performed by one of our foremost harpsichord players. An early Wildboar CD but the entire series consisted of high-quality recordings from first release to last.
The Elfin Knight: Ballads and Dances from Renaissance England/Joel Frederiksen, lute with Ensemble Phoenix Munich (Harmonia Mundi CD) Stories in song including popular ballads like “Greensleeves,” “Barbara Ellen,” and “Scarborough Faire.” According to Frederiksen, these songs belong to both English and American traditions and are “a collection of individual microcosms of life.”
“Whittingham Faire (The Elfin Knight)”
Sir Edward Elgar/Symphonies 1 & 2/London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult (Lyrita CD) The composer’s two symphonies conducted by Elgar specialist Adrian Boult, reissued on the superb Lyrita label. Have someone make you a cup of tea, perhaps English breakfast, and allow the music to draw you into Elgar’s world.
Symphony No. 1: “Andante”
Sir Edward Elgar/Violin Concerto & The Lark Ascending/London Symphony Orchestra/Hilary Hahn, violin/Sir Colin Davis, cond. (DGG SACD) If you’re already hooked on Elgar or just want to explore more of his music, try this superior performance of the Violin Concerto.
Ella in Hollywood/Ella Fitzgerald, vocals (Verve LP) This live recording has it all: Ella scatting, songs intelligently sequenced, and lively performances. It sounds like everyone including Ella is having a great time and whenever I listen I have one, too. Now that’s entertainment!
“Take the ‘A’ Train”
Entre Amigos/Rosa Passos, vocals and guitar with Ron Carter, bass (Chesky SACD) Latin American music can be invigorating and rousing (see La Cantata Criolla, below). It can also be soothing and understated with flexible rhythms that create an ebb and flow… a style typified by the Brazilian bossa nova. Of course “The Girl From Ipanema” makes an appearance and the popular “Desafinado” is on the program along with lesser known Brazilian songs – all performed with simplicity and grace rather than glitz. The tall and tan and lovely “Girl from Ipanema” walks at a slower pace than in the famous Getz/Byrd version which is more pop oriented; “Desafinado” is gentler than Getz/Gilberto’s take and just the thing I’m looking for when I want to relax.
Antonio Estévez/La Cantata Criolla: Florentino, el que cantó con el Diablo/Simón Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela/Eduardo Mata, cond. (Dorian Discovery CD) La Cantata is one of the most important works of choral-symphonic music in Latin America and it’s impressive: exotic, percussive, rhythmic, and exciting. It incorporates one vocal “duel,” two Gregorian chants, and occasionally sounds like Stravinsky in a good mood.
www.youtube.com/watch?v=07BeB4qUaD0 First movement
www.youtube.com/watch?v=5xsDFboYjcs Second movement
www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZC7gaYaGwFQ Third movement
David Fanshawe/African Sanctus/David Fanshawe, cond. (Philips LP) This piece incorporates music recorded in Africa that Fanshawe describes as fascinating, weird, wonderful, and rapidly vanishing…an attempt “to fuse different peoples and their music into a tightly knit unit of energy and praise.”
“Bwala Dance of Uganda”
“The Lord’s Prayer”
The Fantasticks/Original Cast Album (Ghostlight CD) This is the 2006 “New Off-Broadway Recording,” not the 1960 original cast of The Fantasticks that played in New York’s Greenwich Village for so many years it was called “the longest-running musical in the world.” Unfortunately the 1960 cast doesn’t seem to be hanging out on YouTube but a copy…any copy…of the musical is a “must have.”
Gabriel Fauré/Piano Quartets/Trio Wanderer (Harmonia Mundi CD) More “less is more” elegant French chamber music written by a famous Frenchman.
George Gershwin/Piano Concerto, Rhapsody in Blue, Cuban Overture/Jeff Tyzik, cond. (Harmonia Mundi CD) There are many recordings of the Piano Concerto and Rhapsody but not as many of the Overture. It’s a musical impression of what Gershwin heard while on vacation in Havana – maracas, claves, bongos, gourds and all. I always imagine a line of Carmen Miranda impersonators (even though “The Brazilian Bombshell” wasn’t Cuban) dancing in front of me when I listen to this. It’s a riotous treat recorded in excellent sound, like the other pieces on the disc.
W.S. Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan/The Mikado/Orchestra and Chorus of the Welsh National Opera/Sir Charles Mackerras (Telarc CD) As a former Savoyard I can’t create a list, long or short, without mentioning the ever-popular Mikado. The original D’Oyly Carte production on London LP is the standard but this slightly abbreviated performance in modern digital sound is a good second. Enjoy singing along with your favorites – texts provided!
www.youtube.com/watch?v=FYrF1MNNlMc Act 1
www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y7V3WAXdXro Act 2
Philip Glass/Metamorphosis/Lavinia Meijer, harp (Channel Classics SACD) Music by minimalist composer Philip Glass that’s haunting and somewhat mysterious…far from those familiar harps in heaven but otherworldly nevertheless.
Osvaldo Golijov/Ayre/Dawn Upshaw, vocals with The Andalucian Dogs (DGG CD) Ayre (“air” or “melody” in medieval Spanish), the companion to Berio’s Folk Songs described above, is influenced by the intermingling of Christian, Arab, and Jewish cultures. Golijov draws upon eclectic sources like Sephardic melodies, Semitic electronica, Arabic poetry, Roma (gypsy) music, sensual songs, and popular Mexican rock groups for his unusual and unique compositions.
Morton Gould/Fall River Legend/Latin-American Symphonette/Morton Gould, cond. (RCA LP) Gould conducts his own dramatic music for Agnes De Mille’s 1948 ballet based on the Lizzie Borden legend. The story is retold as it might have existed in the minds of people who were there at the time, and the “Epilogue” ties several story elements together.
Edvard Grieg, others/The Beauty of Two/Kennedy Center Chamber Players (Dorian CD) Consistently enjoyable duos written by Edvard Grieg (of Peer Gynt fame) and three 20th century composers: Poulenc, Hindemith, and Martinů. When I need to relax, I play these in addition to French chamber music – et voilá! (Not available on YouTube.)
Steve Grossman/Steve Grossman in New York/with McCoy Tyner, Avery Sharp, Art Taylor (Dreyfus Jazz CD) I’m a native New Yorker so any recording that reminds me of the Big Apple gets my attention. This live and varied set led by saxophonist Grossman was recorded at Sweet Basil, located in Greenwich Village. Founded in 1974, it was considered one of the most prominent jazz clubs in New York and the source for many outstanding jazz recordings like this one.
“Love for Sale”
Guardian Angel/Rachel Podger, violin (Channel Classics SACD) Solo works by Baroque composers Biber, J.S. Bach, Matteis, Tartini, and Pisendel played by Rachel Podger on an early18th century violin. Podger is one of our best period-instrument performers and just about any of her recordings is highly recommended.
George Friedrich Handel/Organ Concertos Op. 4/Academy of Ancient Music/Richard Egarr, dir. (Harmonia Mundi SACD) If you enjoy the sound of a large-scale organ, try the Saint-Saëns, Copland, or Poulenc organ concertos. English organs in Handel’s time (the early 18th century) had only one row of flue pipes that produced a sweet, warm, flute-like sound and were small enough to be portable. The Opus 4 (and Opus 6) concertos are refreshing and appealing – especially in SACD sound.
Howard Hanson/Symphony No. 2 (“Romantic”)/St. Louis Symphony/Leonard Slatkin, cond./ (EMI CD) A terrific double bill: Hanson’s lyrical symphony is paired with a performance of Barber’s melodic violin concerto that’s a bit cooler than Shaham’s performance listed above. These are two 20th century neo-Romantic compositions in the style of many pieces written by Bloch, Tippett, Walton, Del Tredici, and Corigliano.
Gene Harris/Like a Lover/Gene Harris Quartet (Concord CD) Keep your player set for replay: the title track is very upbeat and you’ll probably want to play it again. The rest of the disc will put you in a good mood, too.
“Like a Lover”
Roy Harris/Symphony No.3 and William Schuman Symphony No. 3/New York Philharmonic/Leonard Bernstein, cond. (DGG CD) Another great double bill of two symphonies by modern composers who don’t neglect the emotional element. The Schuman symphony is particular builds to a rewarding conclusion.
Haydn/Six String Quartets, Op. 76/Takács Quartet (Decca CD) No “surprises”: just outstanding chamber music, superbly played.
David Hazeltine/The Classic Trio/David Hazeltine Trio (Sharp Nine Records CD) The first volume of two “Classic Trio” CDs featuring the same musicians: David Hazeltine, Peter Washington, and Louis Hayes. Sharp Nine jazz discs almost sound like SACDs (they aren’t) which makes the music even more involving.
“These Foolish Things”
Bernard Herrmann/Music From the Great Movie Thrillers/Bernard Herrmann, cond. (Decca Phase 4 LP) The composer conducts his own film music on a Phase 4 recording that includes the thrilling “Overture” from North by Northwest and a suite from Psycho. Many Phase 4 LPs became collectors’ items because of their extremely wide right and left channels, emphasis on directional effects, and sound manipulations, although the results have little to do with what you would hear in a concert hall. Herrmann’s unique orchestrations do not require a natural hall perspective to sound good but do need to have their details clearly heard…a great match for Phase 4 technology.
“Psycho: A Narrative for Orchestra”
Fred Hersch/Dancing in the Dark/The Fred Hersch Trio (Chesky CD) One of Hersch’s best recordings. “Secret Love” is a great example of how traditional jazz evolves: The melody is introduced, then altered, solos are added, and the material develops in ways that are straightforward rather than free form.
Fred Hersch/Fred Hersch at Jordan Hall: Let Yourself Go/Fred Hersch, piano (Nonesuch CD) Years ago one of my English teachers told the class we should never describe something as “beautiful” because the word is too vague. I’m not so sure about that. Jazz pianist Fred Hersch’s performance of the traditional “Black is the Color,” combined with Alex North’s love theme from the film Spartacus is, quite simply, “beautiful” however you want to interpret the word. “Black…” might be the highlight but the rest of the disc is far above average, too.
“Black Is The Color—Love Theme From ‘Spartacus’”
Paul Hindemith/Mathis der Maler, others/São Paulo Symphony Orchestra/John Neschling, cond. (BIS SACD) Mathis der Maler (1934) has been described as lyrical, luminous, dramatic, spiritual…more so than Hindemith’s works of the 1920s. And that can be said about Nobilissima Visione as well. The Symphonic Metamorphosis is spirited to a greater degree but still sounds like it belongs with the other two pieces. An excellent recording of well programmed, satisfying music by a celebrated composer.
The Holly Hofmann Quartet Live at Birdland/Holly Hofmann, flute (Azica CD) With the exception of well-known musicians like Herbie Mann and Jean-Pierre Rampal, flutists don’t usually lead jazz trios or quartets (a saxophonist, trumpet player or pianist usually leads). This set highlights the artistry of Holly Hofmann, Ray Brown, Bill Cunliffe, and Victor Lewis…the results are all very entertaining.
Vagn Holmboe/Symphonies 6 & 7/Aarhus Symphony Orchestra/Owain Arwel Hughes, cond. (BIS CD) Holmboe was a little-known (in the US) Danish composer until the adventurous BIS label started promoting his music toward the end of the 20th century. He’s another composer influenced by East European folk music and especially its mystical, ecstatic, and magical qualities. The music in Symphony No. 6 grows organically from a few cells and has an inner energy that makes transformation possible; Symphony No. 7 uses a rhythmic motif throughout the work. Holmboe is a great find. Now you know, too.
Shirley Horne With Strings: Here’s to Life/Shirley Horne, vocals and piano (Verve Gitanes CD) I generally don’t care for solo vocals with band or orchestra but this disc is an exception. There’s nothing melodramatic here…just quietly expressive music making. It puts me in a better mood whenever I play it.
“Here’s to Life”
Instruments of the Middle Ages and Renaissance/The Early Music Consort of London/David Munrow, dir. (Angel LP) If you already enjoy, are curious about, or want to have anything to do with early music, keep an eye out for this item: a collectible box set consisting of two LPs and a 100-page book published by the Oxford University Press. Instruments are introduced by family and the book, written by Munrow, is very thorough. Want more music of the Middle Ages? See Music of the Gothic Era, below.
Virginals: “Variations on the Romanesca”
Italian Lute Virtuosi of the Renaissance/Jakob Lindberg, lute (BIS SACD) Music composed, according to Lindberg, by “arguably the greatest lutenists of the first half of the 16th century…whose touch on the lute produced such ravishing sounds that they moved their audiences in profound ways.” Lindberg is one of the greatest lutenists of our day. Try comparing his style of playing to the styles of other lutenists on this list.
Charles Ives/Symphony No. 4/Leopold Stokowski, cond. (Columbia LP) Ives’ Fourth Symphony is extraordinarily complex, usually requiring three conductors to hold things together. When it was written in 1916, sections of it were unlike anything else being composed at the time: a combination of Protestant hymns and overlapping bands (each band playing its own parade music) plus a crazy quilt of American parlor songs, marching tunes, ragtime melodies, and patriotic songs. When it was first performed in 1965, reviewer Harold C. Schonberg wrote in The New York Times “…it throws up spiky walls of sound and then sings the simplest of songs. It has wild polyrhythms, clumps of tonalities that clash like army against army, Whitmanesque yawps and – suddenly – the quiet of a New England church…the work is a masterpiece.”
Leoš Janáĉek/Sinfonietta, more/Czech State Philharmonic Brno/José Serebrier, cond. (Reference HDCD) The Sinfonietta isn’t a symphony in the traditional sense. It was composed for a gymnastic festival that celebrated youth, sports, and independent nationhood, begins and ends with military fanfares performed by an additional ensemble of 13 brass players, and has unpredictable textures that create a sense of surprise and suspense – the opposite of what occurs in conventional symphonies.
Leoš Janáĉek/Orchestral Works Vol. 3/Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus/Edward Gardner, cond. (Chandos SACD) If you enjoyed the previous Janáĉek selections, listen to the Glagolitic Mass included on this disc. Referred to by one Czech writer as more of an orgy than a mass, it was greatly influenced by the folklore of Janáček’s native Moravia and is filled with musical qualities that reflect the clipped dialect of northern Moravia. (Not available on YouTube.)
Karl Jenkins/The Armed Man: A Mass For Peace/Karl Jenkins, cond. (Virgin Records CD) Here’s another guilty pleasure. The music isn’t very challenging or complex. Some of it sounds like the score for a biblical movie or Battle of the Titans. However, The Armed Man is satisfyingly melodic, tonal, and catchy when Jenkins isn’t going overboard. Most critics thought the piece was derivative and eclectic but admitted they liked it anyway. “Good” or “bad” music aside, whenever I listen to it I’m glad I did.
Antônio Carlos Jobim and Luiz Bonfá/Black Orpheus: Original Soundtrack (Verve CD) The film tells the same story as Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo (below) but is set in a 1950s Rio de Janeiro Carnaval. The bossa nova selection “Manhã de Carnaval” became a jazz standard but the entire score is varied and appealing, beautiful and creepy parts alike.
Hymns of Kassiani/Cappella Romana (Cappella Records/Naxos SACD) Kassiani (aka Kassia c. 810 – c. 867) was a Ninth century nun, poet, and hymnist generally thought of as the first woman composer. She became famous partly because of her popular composition known as “The Hymn of Kassiani.” The Cappella Romana performs Kassia’s hymn in a traditional manner with the choir singing in unison supported by a Byzantine vocal bass drone. The hymn is melodic but also has occasional resolutions and chromatic changes that wouldn’t be out of place in some modern choral music. There are several examples of the composer’s music on the disc that haven’t been recorded before, all impeccably sung.
“The Hymn of Kassiani”
Constant Lambert, Arthur Bliss, William Walton/Three English Ballet Suites/English Northern Philharmonia/David Lloyd-Jones, cond. (Hyperion CD) Outstanding ballet music written by composers on the other side of the pond during the first half of the 20th century: William Walton’s Facade (minus the spoken poems by Edith Sitwell), Constant Lambert’s Horoscope (choreographer Sir Frederick Ashton considered Lambert to be the finest ballet conductor with whom he ever worked), and Arthur Bliss’ Checkmate – one of his best works. (Not avaiable on YouTube.)
Love’s Illusion: Music from the Montpellier Codex 13th-Century/The Anonymous 4 (Harmonia Mundi CD) Every album recorded by the Anonymous 4 treats listeners to little-known medieval repertoire in superb performances presented in superior sound. Love’s Illusion focuses on courtly love texts from the Montpellier Codex, the richest single source of 13th century French polyphony. The Codex spans the entire century and contains polyphonic works in all the major forms of its era, especially motets.
“Amours, dont je sui”
Witold Lutoslawski/Concerto for Orchestra/Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Daniel Barenboim, cond. (Erato CD) Like Bartók’s concerto, Lutoslawski’s concerto highlights different instruments of the orchestra instead of featuring only one instrument backed up by the other players. It’s enjoyable modern music presented in a top-notch performance by Daniel Barenboim and the CSO.
Gustav Mahler/Symphony No. 8: Symphony of a Thousand/Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Sir Georg Solti, cond. (Decca LP or CD) According to the original program prepared for the symphony’s premier in 1910, the work required 858 singers and 171 instrumentalists – a true symphony of a thousand. My favorite recording is the one made by Sir Georg Solti with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1971. It doesn’t have the natural perspective of more recent recordings and the organ part was dubbed, but it’s a dramatic reading in full-bodied sound. This rarely performed piece (due to artist and venue costs) is awesome: it holds my attention for the entire length of over an hour and leaves me richer for the experience.
Bohuslav Martinů/Sinfonietta La Jolla/Zelina State Chamber Orchestra/Jan Valta, cond. (Essential Media Group CD) Martinů is another of my favorite composers. He has a distinctive, rhythmically driven style I enjoy. This composition in particular demonstrates his character nicely. (Note: All three movements can be located using the YouTube guide on the right side of the screen.)
Bohuslav Martinů/Symphonies 1 & 2/Bamberger Symphoniker/Neeme Järvi, cond. (BIS CD) Even greater musical satisfaction, complements of Martinů. More compositions from the days when Järvi seemed to be conducting music by every composer on Earth, and doing it rather well.
Symphony No. 1
Symphony No. 2
Felix Mendelssohn/String Quartet No. 6 Op.80/Quatuor Èbène (Virgin CD) Unlike the composer’s enchanting A Midsummer Night’s Dream, this is angry and anguished music composed after Mendelssohn’s sister Fanny died. Some ensembles play it in a more measured manner but the Quatuor Èbène performs it with energy and heavily accented, syncopated rhythms…just what the music needs.
Darius Milhaud/La Création du monde & Suite Provençale/Charles Munch, cond. (RCA Victor Living Stereo Soria Series LP) The Soria series consisted of records in beautiful slip cases accompanied by equally beautiful LP-sized booklets produced by the famous Swiss art book publisher Skira. This is one of my favorites in the series: the pieces are lively and jazzy, and listening to the music while looking through the artsy booklet is always fun. (Not available on YouTube.)
Claudio Monteverdi/L’Orfeo/Emmanuelle Haïm, cond. (Virgin CD) The first true opera (1607), it tells the story of how Orfeo travels to the underworld, retrieves his betrothed Euridice who has died of a snake bite, only to lose her again on the way back to Earth by breaking his deal with the King of the Underworld (otherwise known as the Devil). “Tu se’ morta” is sung by Orfeo after Euridice’s death.
“Tu se’ morta, mia vita”
Byron Janis plays Moussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition/Byron Janis, piano (Mercury Living Presence SACD) The piano score is the original version of Pictures which was later orchestrated by Ravel – also included on the disc. I wouldn’t say I prefer the piano to the orchestral version but it’s every bit as good: colorful, absorbing, dramatic, and seems to have a better flow.
“The Hut on Fowl’s Legs (Baba-Yaga)”
W.A. Mozart/Complete Violin Sonatas vol. 2/Rachel Podger, violin (Channel SACD) Several years ago Channel Classics issued Mozart’s complete violin sonatas, performed on Baroque violin by Rachel Podger and fortepiano by Gary Cooper. I like the music on the earliest volumes best, but you can’t go wrong listening to anything from this set.
Sonata in C Major, KV 303: “Tempo di Menuetto”
Music from the Morning of the World: The Balinese Gamelan (Nonesuch LP) The highlight is the Balinese monkey dance (ketjak) with its polyrhythms and, yes, monkey-like chatter created by quickly chanting the word ketjak (pronounced “yak”). The cross-rhythms and accents are so complex I hear something new every time I play the chant – complexities that would challenge Western musicians but come easily to many people in non-Western cultures.
“Ketjak Dance” (excerpt)
Music of the Gothic Era/The Early Music Consort of London/David Munrow, dir. (Archiv LP) Another collector’s box set (three records and a 50-page LP-size book) from Munrow focusing on medieval music. The entire recording is on YouTube with a short video introduction presented by an unidentified person (someone from Authentic Sound?) talking enthusiastically about Munrow and his accomplishments but, unfortunately, not saying very much about the music.
Music of Spain: Julian Bream Plays Granados and Albéniz/Julian Bream, guitar (RCA CD) Masterful classic guitar music played by a master.
“Valses Poéticos” (Granados)
Carl Nielsen/Symphonies 4 & 5/San Francisco Symphony/Herbert Blomstedt, cond. (London CD) There are many recordings of the Nielsen symphonies but Blomstedt’s are among the best. Symphony No. 4: “The Inextinguishable” is famous for the finale’s “battling timpani”: two sets of timpani placed at opposite sides of the orchestra that seem to be attacking each other. The sound is striking and you can clearly hear the battle moving back and forth…riveting and engrossing like the rest of the piece.
Symphony No. 4
Nina’s Choice/Nina Simone, vocals and piano (Colpix LP) From “Trouble in Mind” to “Memphis in June” every selection is outstanding. I own several Simone albums, but this is my “go to” choice even if the sound quality is variable.
“Trouble in Mind”
“Li’l Liza Jane”
Ninna Nanna ca. 1500-2002/Montserrat Figueras, vocals (AliaVox SACD) An unusual album of lullabies from a variety of sources and time periods, performed by early music vocalist Montserrat Figueras accompanied by a period instrument ensemble. The first track, “José embala…” draws me into the program not only because of the music but the way it shows off Figueras’ lovely, clear voice.
“José embala o menino” (Joseph Rocks the Infant)
Michael Nyman/The Piano Concerto/Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/ Michael Nyman, cond. (Argo CD) Nyman, a minimalist composer, wrote a very attractive piano concerto based on his soundtrack for Jane Campion’s 1992 film The Piano. It’s catchy music (another “earworm”) that invites you to listen again and again.
Officium/The Hilliard Ensemble with Jan Garbarek, saxopohone (ECM CD) The combination of medieval/Renaissance vocal music and saxophone seems like an odd concept but is surprisingly successful. Garbarek’s instrument provides musical commentary as it weaves through the voices and brings words like spacious, ancient, primeval, and spiritual to mind. This distinctive style can be haunting. (Not available on YouTube.)
On Yoolis Night: Medieval Carols & Motets/The Anonymous 4 (Harmonia Mundi CD) The Anonymous 4 return for a program of carols, plainchant, songs, and motets using English sources from the 13th through the 15th centuries. You don’t have to wait for Christmas to listen: This lyrical, relaxing music is appropriate for all times of the year.
“Ther is no rose of swych vertu”
Orquesta Nova (Chesky CD) This is Latin American popular music originally played in dance halls, brothels, and silent-movie houses, performed here by the Orquesta Nova chamber ensemble. The instruments include the usual string quartet suspects (violin, viola, cello, bass) as well as flute, saxophone, clarinet, guitar, and harp. While the entire disc is exceptional, the syncopated and rhythmic “Wapango,” a Mexican folk dance, is my favorite. (Not available on YouTube but the selection here, from Chesky’s jazz sampler, is the same track that’s on the original disc.)
Harry Partch/Delusion of the Fury/Ensemble of Unique Instruments/Danlee Mitchell, cond. (Columbia LP) Harry Partch was famous for inventing his own instruments and integrating music with art, drama, and dance. His instruments are beautiful and tuned to a micro-tonal scale of 43 notes per octave instead of the standard 12 notes. The original 3-LP box set of Delusion of the Fury (a stage work based on a Japanese Noh drama and an Ethiopian folk tale concerning the reconciliation of life and death) is a collector’s item. It includes a complete performance of Delusion, an extra LP describing the instruments and sounds they produce, and a large-format booklet showing the instruments. A visual and aural treat!
“Treats with Death and with Life Despite Death: Cry from Another”
Walter Piston/Symphonies 2 & 6, Sinfonietta/Seattle Symphony, New York Chamber Symphony/Gerard Schwarz, cond. (Delos CD) Delos should be applauded for producing many discs of American music, including the compositions of Walter Piston, an award-winning composer (his Third Symphony won a Pulitzer Prize) who adhered to traditional and classical forms. Syncopated, sensuous, dark, unsettling, intense, lyrical, playful…Piston wrote music using a variety of textures.
Symphony No. 6 : “Allegro Energico”
Walter Piston/The Incredible Walter Piston/Seattle Symphony and Juilliard String Quartet/Gerard Schwarz, cond. (Delos CD) The Delos American series continues with additional Piston pieces including The Incredible Flutist (Suite), one of his most famous compositions. The complete Delos disc (reissued on Naxos) isn’t available in one place on YouTube but bits of pieces and most of the Flutist conducted by Schwarz, as well as Howard Hanson for the Mercury Living Presence series, can be found at the sites below.
Postcards/The Turtle Creek Chorale (Reference Recordings CD) Ernst Toch, one of the composers represented on the Turtle Creek’s program, is best known for his inventive “Geographical Fugue.” This spoken chorus, a style invented by Toch, is written in strict fugal form for four voices saying the names of various cities, countries, and other geographical landmarks. It became a sensation when it was first presented in 1930 and is now the composer’s most-performed choral work. The fugue is clearly spoken by the chorale in a tempo that, to borrow a phrase from Goldilocks, is just right – as are the other works on this disc.
Francis Poulenc/Chamber Music/Pentaèdre (ATMA CD) I bought this disc when I owned speakers from the French company Triangle and it was a perfect match for them. The disc, played through those sweet-sounding speakers, was captivating. This exceptional music still sounds wonderful played through my current system: transparent Audio Physics speakers, a hybrid Pathos amplifier, and a Marantz SACD player to warm things up (in case you were wondering). (Not available on YouTube.)
Sergei Prokofiev/Five Piano Concertos/London Symphony Orchestra/Vladimir Ashkenazy, piano/André Previn, cond. (London LP) A highly rated set that includes Piano Concerto No. 3, a listener favorite and favorite of mine.
Piano Concerto No. 3
Sergei Prokofiev/Romeo and Juliet/The Cleveland Orchestra/Lorin Maazel, cond. (Decca LP & CD) The famous score for the famous ballet, often performed by famous dancers like Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev. Maazel conducts one of the top recordings presented, as usual, in Decca’s full-bodied sound.
Sergei Prokofiev/Cinderella/The Cleveland Orchestra/Vladimir Ashkenazy, cond. (Decca CD) Anyone familiar with ballet has heard or is aware of Prokofiev’s great music for Romeo and Juliet. Cinderella could be considered the lesser-known stepsister of the more famous ballet and that’s too bad: the music is almost as extraordinary.
Giacomo Puccini/Madama Butterfly/Philharmonia Orchestra/Giuseppe Sinopoli, cond. (DGG CD) Get out your handkerchiefs. Sinopoli was famous for conducting pieces at a slower pace than usual and there are a couple of places here where that’s apparent. But Act III is special: It’s a genuine tear jerker that never fails to move me.
Giacomo Puccini/La Rondine/Kiri Te Kenewa and Placido Domingo/London Symphony Orchestra/Lorin Maazel, cond. (CBS CD) The renowned first act aria “Chi il bel sogno” is, well, marvelous, and Te Kenewa’s voice is perfect for the role. The rest of the music is charming but not as memorable.
“Chi il bel sogno di Doretta” (at approx. 5:12)
Giacomo Puccini/Turandot/London Philharmonic Orchestra/Zubin Mehta, cond. (London LP and CD) Terrific music, exemplary cast that includes Pavarotti and Sutherland, extraordinary sound…what more could you ask for in a Puccini recording?
Puccini Orchestral Music/RSO Berlin/Riccardo Chailly cond. (Decca CD) Need a Puccini fix? Can’t go out to the opera because your tuxedo is at the cleaners? Don’t have enough time to listen to a complete score at home? Try some Chrysanthemums. This string quartet in its orchestral arrangement is as lyrical as music from any Puccini opera. If it sounds familiar it’s because some of the music was subsequently incorporated into his third opera Manon Lescaut. In addition to the rare and beautiful Chrysanthemums the disc includes other lesser-known pieces plus selections from Puccini’s earliest operas.
Sergei Rachmaninoff/The Elégiaque Piano Trios/Beaux Arts Trio (Philips CD) Appealing chamber music by the prodigious Rachmaninoff performed by the sensational Beaux Arts Trio.
Trio Elégiaque No.1
Rachmaninoff/Piano Concerto No. 3/Byron Janis, piano/London Symphony Orchestra/Antal Dorati, cond. (Mercury Living Presence 35mm magnetic film recording and LP reissue) Another classic performance in analog sound from the “golden age” of acoustic recording (1950s – early 1960s).
Rachmaninoff/Symphony no. 2/London Symphony Orchestra/André Previn, cond. (EMI CD) Certainly one of the best recorded performances of this audience favorite. The crescendos, decrescendos, and pauses during the memorable third movement are just about perfect. The sound is excellent but a bit cramped by today’s standards.
Earl Wild Plays Rachmaninoff/Earl Wild, piano (Chesky CD) More Rachmaninoff including fine performances of the well-known Corelli Variations and Chopin Variations.
Ariel Ramirez/Misa Criolla/José Carreras, vocals (Decca digital LP) This popular mass sung to a Castilian text combines Ramirez’s own music with traditional Argentinian and Hispanic-American instruments, regional dances, and rhythms.
www.youtube.com/watch?v=14gqU4gnW3Y (Note: This site includes links to all five movements.)
Sonny Rollins/Way Out West/Sonny Rollins, saxophone (Original Jazz Classics LP reissue) Great music and playing from 1957 in amazing sound with depth and clarity. Get those wagon wheels rolling and check out the vinyl at your local record store.
Celedonio Romero/An Evening of Guitar Music/Celedonio Romero, guitar (Delos CD) Music by Giuliani, Sor, and Tarrega, played by the founder of The Romeros guitar quartet.
Nino Rota, others/Fellini Jazz/Enrico Pieranunzi Quintet (CAM CD) Nino Rota wrote the scores for almost every film directed by Federico Fellini. Here, in Fellini Jazz, Pieranunzi leads his group in relaxed interpretations of music from a handful of Fellini films including some of my favorites (like the theme from La Strada) but missing some others (like the theme from 8 ½). Rota also wrote orchestral and chamber music, although I don’t find those pieces as memorable as his film scores, which are always distinctive.
Miklós Rózsa/Three Hungarian Sketches, Cello Rhapsody, Hungarian Nocturne/Budapest Symphony Orchestra MÁV/Mariusz Smolij, cond. (Naxos CD) Yes, he’s the same composer of music for films including Ben Hur and King of Kings. Rózsa wrote a substantial amount of concert music and this CD contains several samples, all of them listener-friendly. The Three Hungarian Sketches are best: a jazzy, fast moving “Capriccio,” an attractive “Pastorale,” and spirited “Danza.”
Three Hungarian Sketches
Camille Saint-Saëns/Piano Trios 1 & 2/Florestan Trio (Hyperion CD) Saint-Saëns was best known for his large-scale works. He also wrote chamber music (besides the famous Carnival of the Animals) that’s lyrical and a pleasure to hear no matter how many times you listen to it. (Not available on YouTube.)
Sara K./Closer Than They Appear/Sara K., vocals (Chesky CD) Sara K. caught my attention on a Chesky jazz sampler because of her distinctive, angular sound: a combination of folk, blues, and pop with abrupt shifts, fragmented rhythms, and odd phrasing. I enjoyed the selection so much I bought the entire album. The rest of the songs on the CD, all written by Sara K., are just as interesting and entertaining.
Eric Satie/Avant-dernières pensées/Alexandre Tharaud, piano (Harmonia Mundi CD) There’s a good chance you’ve heard pieces by Erik Satie in movies, on various TV programs, and almost always on recordings that feature music for relaxation. His most famous piece is the languid “Gnossienne No. 3,” composed in 1888. With apologies once again to Goldilocks, Tharaud gets it just right: not too slow, not too fast, without trying to make it more dramatic or more interesting by breaking the flow with heavy accents. After all, the eccentric Satie referred to many of his compositions as “Furniture Music,” intended to be ignored like wallpaper.
“Gnossienne No. 3”
www.youtube.com/watch?v=E6O5ivRCec0 (track 3 at 4’50”)
Ferran Savall/Mireu el nostre mar/Ferran Savall, voice, piano, and guitar (AliaVox CD) A disc of arrangements, new compositions, South American pieces, traditional songs, and old Catalan melodies performed by Ferran Savall and his small group of musicians. According to Ferran (son of Jordi Savall and Montserrat Figueras), these pieces have been “reawakened by infusing them with the musical and multicultural influences of our own time.”
“La Cançó del Lladre”
Ahmed Adnan Saygun/Piano Concertos 1 & 2/Gülsin Onay, piano/ Rundfunkorchester Hannover/Gürer Aykal, cond. (Koch CD) If you enjoy Bartók you might like Saygun, a Turkish composer who was inspired by folk music and, like his colleague Bartók, conducted extensive folk-music studies. This is complex, driven music that combines Western genres with Eastern traditions. [N/A on YouTube.]
Stephen Sondheim/Sweeney Todd/Original Cast Album (RCA CD) Sweeney Todd, aka “The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” is a hit musical some refer to as an opera because there are only a few minutes of dialogue. It has both scary and beautiful music – e.g., the soothing “Not While I’m Around” sung by the character Tobias Ragg, an orphan who serves pies baked with very special ingredients by the ever-practical Mrs. Lovett. (The original Broadway cast album is not available on YouTube. This selection is a video from the film version of the play.)
“Not While I’m Around”
Songbird/Eva Cassidy, guitar and vocals (Blix Street LP) Songbird is a compilation album and, while the entire record is appealing, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” is exceptional. I first heard Cassidy’s interpretation of “Rainbow” on ABC’s Nightline in 2001 and was so moved I had to own a copy. It’s an especially touching arrangement and performance, and extremely poignant since Cassidy died at the age of 33 in 1996. At that time Cassidy wasn’t well known outside her native Washington, D.C. although she did achieve worldwide recognition after the Nightline broadcast and when her other albums were issued posthumously.
“Somewhere Over the Rainbow” (video of track 2 on Songbird)
Mary Stallings/Live at the Village Vanguard/Mary Stallings, vocals (Maxjazz CD) Great vocals, personality, and music directed at an audience having a great time. You’ll have a great time, too: Stallings is terrific!
“I Love Being Here with You”
Lyn Stanley/Potions: From the 50s/Lyn Stanley, vocals (A.T. Music LLC CD) I like well-performed vocal jazz and Stanley is the real thing, not an opera singer struggling to loosen up and sound jazzy. I especially like her second album, Potions because all of the songs are familiar and comfortable, and satisfying to listen to. Stanley’s discs are all audiophile recordings which makes listening even more enjoyable.
Lyn Stanley/The Moonlight Sessions Volume 1/Lyn Stanley, vocals (A.T. Music LLC SACD) Even greater musical satisfaction complements of Stanley.
“All or Nothing at All”
Igor Stravinsky/Le Sacre du Printemps/New York Philharmonic/Leonard Bernstein, cond. (Columbia Masterworks/Sony Classical LP reissue) This early recording is a fierce performance that, according to the album notes, “perfectly captures the raw power and rhythmic intensity of what many consider the finest recording of one of the most influential compositions of the twentieth century.” Upon hearing it, Stravinsky said “wow!” I agree. And the 1958 sound is spectacular.
Igor Stravinsky/The Soldier’s Tale/Igor Stravinsky, cond. (Sony CD) A theatrical work performed by a small group of actors, dancers, and instrumentalists – an innovative format when it was created during the early 20th century. It’s another tale where the Devil prevails after his contract with a mere mortal is broken (see L’Orfeo, above).
“Triumphal March of the Devil”
Alessandro Striggio/Missa sopra Ecco sì beato giorno/Le Concert Spirituel/Hervé Niquet, cond. (Glossa CD) Early music scholar Davitt Moroney has referred to Alessandro Striggio’s Missa sopra as the most extravagant piece of polyphony ever written in the history of Western music. The Mass is the largest and most complex work known to have been composed during the Renaissance and “one of the first great pieces to use architecture and space, with musical phrases physically moving around the ring from choir to choir… There are other large choral works, but Striggio’s Mass is unique with its five eight-part choirs. This is Florentine art at its most spectacular.”
Barbara Strozzi/Arias & Cantatas/La Risonanza (Glossa CD) Strozzi was said to be the most prolific composer – man or woman – of printed secular vocal music in Venice and had more music in print during the 17th century than any other composer. Most of her poetry centers on the theme of love, similar to the Marinist aesthetic of the time which valued wit, linguistic virtuosity, and erotic imagery.
Arie a voce sola, Op. 8: “E pazzo il mio core”
Josef Suk/Piano Quartet and Quintet/Nash Ensemble (Hyperion CD) Suk was Dvorak’s son in law. Like Saint-Saëns, he was better known for his orchestral works, but Suk’s chamber music is a melodic and attractive discovery. Who knew? (Not available on YouTube.)
Tierney Sutton/Blue in Green/Tierney Sutton, vocals (Telarc CD) Extraordinary jazz artist Tierney Sutton sings a swinging and sensual mix of mostly Bill Evans originals.
“Just Squeeze Me”
Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky/Violin Concerto/Jascha Heifetz, violin/Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Fritz Reiner, cond. (RCA Living Stereo LP or SACD) You have a choice of the classic Living Stereo recording on vinyl, or paired with the Brahms Violin Concerto on SACD.
Tippett/A Child of Our Time/BBC Symphony Orchestra/Sir Colin Davis, cond. (Philips LP) A Child was written before Tippett turned to a more atonal style. This work, composed during his neo-Romantic period, is absorbing and lyrical with spirituals interwoven throughout. Top drawer performers; opulent and warm sound.
David Del Tredici/Final Alice/Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Sir Georg Solti, cond. (Decca CD) Alice was commissioned by the CSO to celebrate the US Bicentennial: it consists of arias interspersed with dramatic episodes from the last two chapters of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and falls someplace between opera and symphonic music. According to Del Tredici (another Pulitzer prize winner and neo-Romantic composer) it tells two stories simultaneously: “…the tale of Wonderland itself, with all its bizarre and unpredictable happenings painted as vividly as possible. But between the lines, as it were, is the implied love of Lewis Carroll for Alice Liddell…”
Trobairitz: Poems of Women Troubadours/La Nef (Analekta CD) Although troubadours during the 12th and 13th centuries are usually associated with men, there were female troubadours (trobairitz) as well. The most common form used by the trobairitz was the canso, a song in stanza form restricted to topics of courtly love. These songs help us understand the trobairitz culture and how it influenced poetry and concepts of love for centuries to follow.
“Na Carenza” (Lady Carenza)
Two Lutes: Lute Duets from England’s Golden Age/Ronn McFarlane and William Simms (Sono Luminus CD) The lute is usually enjoyed as a solo instrument, so what could be better than one lutanist playing? Two lutenists of course, like frequent collaborators Ronn McFarlane and William Simms.
Una “Stravaganza” Dei Medici/Taverner Consort, Choir and Players/Andrew Parrott, cond. (EMI CD) This is a “must have” if you can find a copy. One of the best recordings of Renaissance music ever issued performed by top early music artists of the time.
“Jove’s Gift to Mortals of Rhythm and Harmony”
Ralph Vaughan Williams/Serenade to Music (choral version)/Rochester Philharmonic/Christopher Seaman, cond. (Harmonia Mundi CD) The lyrics (adapted from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice) where lovers revel in the magic of the night are reflected in Vaughan Williams’ sensuous sounds…a celebration of music so captivating that Rachmaninoff, who was also on the program at the Serenade’s premier, had reportedly been moved to tears.
Ralph Vaughan Williams and Sir Edward Elgar: Music for Strings/Orpheus Chamber Orchestra/ (DGG CD) The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra never disappoints and this selection is pure pleasure: five pieces for string orchestra that are calming and (there’s that word again) beautiful.
“Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis” (Vaughan Williams)
Heitor Villa-Lobos and Alberto Ginastera/The Little Train of the Caipira, Estancia, Panambi/The London Symphony Orchestra/Sir Eugene Goossens, cond. (Everest/Classic Records LP re-release) A reissue from the early Everest label, recorded on 35mm magnetic film instead of tape for more lifelike sound. Goossens has written that Villa-Lobos’ “little train puffs and chugs along, and save for a solitary emergency stop (with great squealing of brakes)…proceeds to its distant destination which it reaches safely in a process of gradual deceleration and much exhaust steam. A mighty and startling chord marks the end.” Ginastera’s Estancia and Panambi are ballets: the first, intended to reflect all aspects of Argentine ranch life; the second, based on a South American legend.
“The Little Train of the Caipira”
Antonio Vivaldi/Bajazet/Europa Galante/Fabio Biondi, cond. (Virgin CD) Vivaldi, composer of The Four Seasons, also wrote approximately 50 operas. The first complete recording of the opera Bajazet was issued by Virgin in 2005 and took most listeners by surprise because of its format. It’s very different from the Vivaldi we’re used to hearing but the music is just as special.
Volti/House of Voices/Robert Geary, cond. (Innova CD) A well-chosen program, flawlessly performed, of unaccompanied choral music by emerging and established composers that is challenging, stimulating, and always intriguing. The music is accessible, with harmonies and timbres that will likely draw you back for repeated hearings.
Luna, Nova Luna: No. 3 “The Moon-Dance” (Mark Winges)
Volti/The Color of There Seen From Here/Robert Geary, cond. (Innova CD) More unusual vocal techniques, still flawlessly performed, used in compositions that engage your mind and ears in a variety of soundscapes. For example, Mark Winges’ intriguing All Night is rich, dense, and sparse all at the same time and Lithuanian composer Žibuoklė Martinaitytė’s soft and atmospheric The Blue of Distance washes over you with speech sounds, humming, and open vowels.
From Ivory Depths: II. “Tuesday” (Tonia Ko)
Kurt Weill/Street Scene: An American Opera/Scottish Opera Orchestra & Chorus/John Mauceri, cond. (London/Decca CD) Is it a musical? An opera? A folk opera like Porgy and Bess? An urban folk opera because of its city tenement setting? Doesn’t matter. Whatever you call it, it’s one of Weill’s best works.
Kurt Weill/Mahagonny Songspiel, Violinkonzert, Happy End, more/The London Sinfonietta/David Atherton, cond. (DGG LP) A special Kurt Weill box set originally issued as three LPs of rarely performed works and first recordings. It was accompanied by a book with a chronology, Lotte Lenya interview, notes on the music, translations from the German…and is now available on CD. (Not available on YouTube, although parts of this recording can be found by using the guide on the screen at the site below.)
“Prologue” and “Alabama Song”
World Keys: Virtuoso Piano Music/Joel Fan, piano (Reference Recordings HDCD) Piano pieces by several international composers you’re not likely to discover in a collection elsewhere. Global variety (music from Turkey, Australia, Syria, Egypt, China, Latvia, etc.) and dazzling performances can be found here.
“La Nuit du Destin” (Syria)
4 comments on “150 Musical Offerings”
Leave a Reply
You must be logged in to post a comment.
Thanks, Don, for including “Steve Grossman in New York/with McCoy Tyner, Avery Sharp, Art Taylor,” a much overlooked live recording. I had the opportunity to capture this band at a golden and vibrant time of live recording in New York and, unfortunately, both people and establishments have passed from that scene.
Readers may be interested in knowing that some of the recordings are available on Japanese SACDs, such as the Solti Mahler 8, Maazel Prokofiev Romeo and Juliet, and Bernstein Stravinsky Rite of Spring. Perhaps there are others,
The original cast recording of the Fantasticks dates from 1960, I think, rather than 1979.
Hi jn, you are right; the 1979 date was a typo. I corrected it.
Thanks for the information about SACDs. I’m sorry about the confusion concerning The Fantasticks: Yes, it did open in 1960.