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SAHL, M. / SALZMAN, E.: Civilization and its Discontents [Opera] (Sahl, Salzman)
(Labor Records: LAB7089)

Reviewer: vh129169
Date Reviewed: 01/13/12
SAHL, M. / SALZMAN, E.: Civilization and its Discontents [Opera] (Sahl, Salzman)

Topical > Timeless

At least four years before the word Yuppie was coined, when laptops and cell phones were still sci-fi fantasies, New Yorkers were still getting used to the Twin Towers dominating their skyline, and the ink was barely dry on news of the Vietnam War and Watergate scandals, this little opera summed up the zeitgeist of America at the tail end of the 20th Century. It's all here in miniature.

Carlos Arachnid's Club Bide-a-Wee, where aggressive mantra-chants of "If It Feels Good Do It!" alternate with mellow refrains of "Serenity!", manages to encapsulate (a) the culture of cults like Scientology, est, and Tony Robbins, (b) the crazed spirit of one-night-stands and coke-snorting clubbers, and (c) the gently supportive atmosphere of twelve-stepping self-help groups — all this in a few moments of Arachnid's warbling arias superimposed on chaotic, incoherent ambient noise! Arachnid's Bide-a-Wee begins and ends the show. In between, we get a lovely, twisted tale of triangular love, ambition, frustration, and redemption. There's a gloriously erotic (and rudely interrupted) love duet -- as irresistible and memorable in its own way as Tristan und Isolde's act 2, but with a brevity and bounciness suited to meaningless casual lovemaking in a studio apartment. Then comes tragic melodrama when Jeremy Jive and Deryk Dude are discussing who should sing Miss Chicken in a fast-food commercial, and Jill Goodheart, who thought she had the role herself, can't take it anymore.

Did I mention the music is really good? At first it seems episodic and wildly eclectic, medieival-sounding melodies turning into zany ragtime, etc. With repeated listening you come to appreciate the underlying order and unity; everything fits, everything flows out of and into everything else. Take a chance on it.

Vihuela and Vocal Music (16th Century) - PISADOR, D. / MUDARRA, A. / WILLAERT, A. / FUENLLANA, M. de (Si me llaman) (El Cortesano)
(Carpe Diem: CD-16276)

Reviewer: DM96074
Date Reviewed: 01/11/12
Vihuela and Vocal Music (16th Century) - PISADOR, D. / MUDARRA, A. / WILLAERT, A. / FUENLLANA, M. de (Si me llaman) (El Cortesano)

Renaissance Beauty

Vocalist, Jose Hernandez-Pastor, and vihuelist, Ariel Abramovich, have provided a real public service in recording rarely heard selections from Diego Pisador’s “Libro de Musica de Vihuela”. Published in 1552, Pisador’s book was a collection of his own compositions drawing on early Spanish poetic forms like ‘romances’ (basically, love songs) and ‘villancicos’ (historic tales of Christians vs. Moors), and instrumental ‘fantasias’. 

Though I can’t claim any expertise regarding Renaissance poetry (in any language), I do know beauty when I hear it and both the singing and playing on this recording are stunningly beautiful. Mr. Hernandez-Pastor’s vocals are clear and pitch perfect, while Mr. Abramovich provides sympathetic accompaniment and, on the instrumentals, displays virtuoso technique.

Diego Pisador has been given short shrift in the “official” musical histories; the Grove encyclopedia calls his music 'mediocre' and the Oxford encyclopedia doesn’t bother to mention him at all. One may hope that “Si Me Llaman”, lovingly performed and flawlessly recorded, will begin to change the regard in which Mr. Pisador’s music is held.

Highly recommended to fans and students of early music, guitarists interested in the Spanish vihuela tradition, and anyone looking for a flat-out gorgeous listening experience.

10 out of 10

- Oscar O. Veterano

DEBUSSY: Marche ecossaise / Images (arr. for orchestra) / RAVEL: Le tombeau de Couperin
(Hungaroton: HCD32106)

Reviewer: DK64419
Date Reviewed: 01/08/12
DEBUSSY: Marche ecossaise / Images (arr. for orchestra) / RAVEL: Le tombeau de Couperin

Kocsis completes Ravel's masterpiece

I purchased this recording primarily because of the presence of Maurice Ravel's Le Tombeau de Couperin, one of my all-time favourite pieces of music. Ravel's music is often paired with Debussy's, as it is on this recording. Although their uses of tonality are similar, Ravel nevertheless follows classical forms and pays homage to a much older western musical tradition.

In its original piano version, written between 1914 and 1917, Ravel composed six movements: the Prélude, Fugue, Forlane, Rigaudon, Menuet and Toccata. Each was dedicated to the memory of a friend who had died during the Great War. Despite these personal losses, and despite the title's allusion to the tomb of baroque composer François Couperin, it is not at all a morose piece — except possibly for the melancholy Forlane.

In the months after the end of the war, Ravel scored four of the movements for orchestra: the Prélude, Forlane, Menuet and Rigaudon, changing their order so as to conclude with a moderately fast movement. Although Ravel was a master orchestrator (his version of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition is more frequently performed than the Russian composer's original piano version), he chose not to orchestrate the Fugue and Toccata, possibly because the latter would have required a larger number of instruments than he had envisioned for the piece. The orchestral version thus has a somewhat different feel from the piano version.

Now Zoltán Kocsis has orchestrated the Fugue and Toccata, restoring the original order of the movements. Remarkably, Kocsis has managed to capture the unique flavour of Ravel's own use of instrumentation and has thus completed one of Ravel's true masterpieces, which makes this performance an absolute delight to listen to. I highly recommend it, especially for lovers of Ravel's music.

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