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Highly Reviewed Recordings

July 13 - July 26, 2011

MOZART, W.A.: Divertimento in E flat major, K. 563 (Kraggerud, Tomter, C. Richter)
(Naxos: 8.572258)

MOZART, W.A.: Divertimento in E flat major, K. 563 (Kraggerud, Tomter, C. Richter)

It's great to see this work, incomparably the most magnificent string trio ever written, getting increasing attention on disc. We recently welcomed a splendid new recording on BIS, and now here's another, equally fine. It seems that the music brings out the best in its performers, as well it must. Anyone attempting a nearly 50-minute-long string trio had better have the chops to carry it off. Perhaps the outstanding quality of this performance is its rhythmic thrust, combined with the ability of the players to characterize their musical lines in an independent but still effectively coordinated way.

I'm thinking in particular of cellist Christoph Richter's delightful, swooping comments at the end of the first-movement exposition, the almost "parlante" phrasing of the finale's principal rondo theme, and the generously lyrical phrasing of the grand second-movement Adagio. In music bursting with some of Mozart's catchiest tunes, there's never a moment that turns dull or static in this performance, and the sonics let the music breathe in a warm but ideally intimate setting. You really can't have too many versions of this piece, one of the glories of the chamber music literature. Let this be one of them.

David Hurwitz,, June 22, 2011

Opera Arias (Baritone): Mattei, Peter - MOZART, W.A. / TCHAIKOVSKY, P.I. / WAGNER, R. / GOUNOD, C.-F. / ROSSINI, G. (Great Baritone Arias)
(BIS: BIS-SACD-1749)

Opera Arias (Baritone): Mattei, Peter - MOZART, W.A. / TCHAIKOVSKY, P.I. / WAGNER, R. / GOUNOD, C.-F. / ROSSINI, G. (Great Baritone Arias) Peter Mattei, Great Baritone Arias
A passionate singer impresses in a wide-ranging recital program on disc.

Swedish baritone Peter Mattei, who dazzles audiences with his silken voice and towering, offbeat presence, here offers a genuinely impressive aria recital. One of the greatest Don Giovannis around, Mattei broke hearts in a completely different mode in last season’s From the House of the Dead at the Metropolitan Opera. This spring, Mattei scored another Met triumph as Yeletsky in Queen of Spades, and on this disc he knocks the prince’s irresistibly desperate you’re-just-not-that-into-me lament out of the park.

Mattei’s Russian is a match for his English in the ravishing—and ravishingly sung—Prison Scene from Britten’s Billy Budd: Everything is comprehensible and uttered with feeling, but here and there a consonant or vowel goes wrong—“seelvehrz” for silvers, “yazno” for yasno. As Verdi’s noble Posa (in his two-part Death Scene) and Wagner’s uptight Wolfram (both arias are given here), Mattei is pretty much ideal; the same is true in Mozart’s tricky aria for Count Almaviva, the role of Mattei’s stellar 2002 Met debut.

A few selections—Don Giovanni’s traffic-directing “Metà di voi” and Onegin’s Act III arioso—don’t have maximal effect outside of their stage context, but they are as well performed as everything else. Lawrence Renes and the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic sound slightly cheesy in the lead-in to Figaro’s self-introduction, but they carry their weight everywhere else.

David Shengold,

HAYDN, J.: 7 letzten Worte unseres Erlosers am Kreuze (Die) (The 7 Last Words) (Milne, Donose, Kennedy, Maltman, London Philharmonic, V. Jurowski)
(LPO: LPO-0051)

HAYDN, J.: 7 letzten Worte unseres Erlosers am Kreuze (Die) (The 7 Last Words) (Milne, Donose, Kennedy, Maltman, London Philharmonic, V. Jurowski) This sonically pleasing issue from the London Philharmonic's own label preserves a November 2009 live performance under principal conductor Vladimir Jurowski's inspired baton at Royal Festival Hall. I would seriously contest booklet annotator Alexander Ivashkin's contention that it is "often forgotten" that Haydn composed oratorios: this is not the case in anglophone and Germanic musical cultures, where The Creation and The Seasons remain staples. But certainly the comparatively short work presented here, The Seven Last Words of Our Savior on the Cross, is often overlooked, in part due to its curious and unique gestation. Initially (1785) Haydn wrote an introduction, seven orchestral "sonatas" and an uptempo concluding earthquake ("terramota") for a Cádiz Good Friday service. Two years later, he produced the adaptation for string quartet (Op. 51) most commonly played today. In 1794, the Passau composer Joseph Friebert arranged the original piece for chorus and added the texts, drawn from the Gospels (mainly John and Luke, with one "word" from Matthew). Haydn liked the concept but, underwhelmed by Friebert's adaptation, arranged his own the next year, unveiling it in Schwarzenburg in March 1796. That version adds unaccompanied chorales between the movements, plus an intriguingly scored (solely brass and woodwind) second Introduction before the fifth "word."

What Jurowski presents here is itself a compromise version, juxtaposing the original instrumental movements with the later choral adaptations. It's certainly more imposing and varied in sound than the work in its 1796 redaction. Most of the oratorio is choral work, which arrives well-shaped, precise and sonorous from the LPO forces. The solo quartet has no arias or duets, unlike in the more famous oratorios. Haydn assigns them lines here and there; just once (in the fifth "word," "Jesus ruft: Ach, mich dürstet") the tenor starts the movement before the chorus offers its chorale-style part.

Jurowski's noble reading deploys singers who have all made fine impressions in their fleeting Met appearances — Lisa Milne, Ruxandra Donose and Christopher Maltman, plus tenor Andrew Kennedy, who has appeared in Britten roles at Houston Grand Opera. Milne's voice has grown in compass since her Marzelline/Susanna days; her contributions have a bright, soaring projection reminiscent of the late Margaret Price. Donose, whose American opera career has centered on Philadelphia and San Francisco, has an attractive, aptly soulful-sounding mezzo, cleanly produced. Kennedy lacks individuality of timbre, and Maltman — a bit less tonally focused than the other three — sounds more baritone than bass; but their work is always musical. One can sample Haydn's 1796 version — the last work he conducted in public, seven years later, at seventy-one — on Teldec, with Nikolaus Harnoncourt leading singers including Anthony Rolfe Johnson. Those in search of a string-quartet version for comparison might consider the Kodály Quartet's fine traversal on Naxos. 

David Shengold,

LAWRENCE, D.H.: Virgin and the Gypsy (The) (Unabriged)
(Naxos AudioBooks: NA0028)

LAWRENCE, D.H.: Virgin and the Gypsy (The) (Unabriged) Lucille and Yvette Saywell are young girls who feel oppressed in their middle class home in the rectory. The girls are irritated by their old grandmother and angry aunt, and they feel doomed to a life of boredom and middle class existence. But when Yvette meets a gypsy, strange feelings rise in her that threaten all accepted morality of the family and society.

As expected, of D.H Lawrence questions and casts aside all accepted morality and societal norms in this short novella.

Lucille and Yvette live until the dark cloud of their mother who abandoned her husband and children and ran away with a younger man.

Yvette has never been in love and scorns the attention of the young men of her social circle. She is disdainful of her family and her home and openly flouts rules and their idea of morality. These young girls are full of life and promise and feel that they are wasting away in their prison-like home. This is a short novel, but Lawrence packs a lot into it. The characters are well drawn, and easy to recognize: the old grandmother who holds onto her position of power in the house, the frustrated aunt who is angry about wasting away her life and her sex in service to her mother, the loving, ineffective father who wants to be liked.

A big part of the problem is that the young boys and girls in this small town actually have everything. What they lack is intellectual stimulation and real difficulties. This brings about a sense of ennui and disdain for their families. Which is why when Yvette meets the gypsy, her interest is piqued. He represents freedom, virility and earthiness. Only at the end does she realise how she feels about him and learns his name and sees him more than a romantic concept.

The end seemed a little rushed and incomplete (this novella was published posthumously) and a little overly dramatic.

The audiobook: I suggest that you do listen to this novella in audio. Georgina Sutton does a great job of creating the ethereal Yvette, the old grandmother, the choleric aunt and the gruff and real gypsy. I only listened to it once, but bits of dialogue stand out in my memory for which the audio production is the reason.

I will definitely be looking for more classics to consume in audio. Having someone interpret the material intelligently adds so much to my absorption and enjoyment of the book.

Highly recommended for anyone who enjoys classics, especially D.H Lawrence. I do suggest you try the audiobook, it greatly added to my appreciation of this short novel.

Pujitha Krishnan Fernandes,

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