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  Highly Reviewed Recordings

   December 1 - December 14, 2010



REGER, M.: Organ Works, Vol. 10 - 52 Easy Chorale Preludes, Op. 67: Nos. 39-52 / Chorale Fantasia Freu' dich sehr, o meine Seele (Welzel)
(Naxos: 8.570960)


REGER, M.: Organ Works, Vol. 10 - 52 Easy Chorale Preludes, Op. 67: Nos. 39-52 / Chorale Fantasia Freu' dich sehr, o meine Seele (Welzel)

The first thing you're likely to notice when you listen to this Volume 10 in Naxos' traversal of the organ works of Max Reger is how agreeable is the sound of this instrument, how well designed and compatible the array of stops--and of course how masterfully organist Martin Welzel employs them in the varied selections performed in this thoughtfully programmed recital. A look at the specifications of the Johannes Klais organ at Trier Cathedral, which Welzel plays here (built in 1974), shows it to be a kind of 4-manual cousin to the 3-manual cathedral organ at Wesel (built by Wilhelm Sauer), which was the instrument on which Karl Straube famously promoted Reger's works in the latter years of the 19th century. The numerous color stops, the string-type flues, and the finely-voiced reeds, such as the Schalmey, give this instrument a character that's ideal for exploiting Reger's often highly chromatic, intricately textured works. (Johannes Klais is one of the most respected and revered organ building firms in Germany--a family operation founded in the 19th century that today builds organs all over the world.)

Yes, Reger is touted as "the greatest German composer of organ music since Bach", and that is certainly arguable, but stylistically, he also didn't progress very far from the great master, which I suppose is not such a bad thing for Bach fans looking for a formidable and trustworthy disciple. While the chorale preludes are very satisfying tributes to Bach's definitive creations, the two preludes and fugues are significant, original repertoire pieces in their own right, as is the fantasia on "Freu dich sehr, o meine Seele" that closes the program. Welzel is fabulous, his commanding key- and pedal-board presence, his facile legato, and confident, clear articulation reminding us of why we are always so awed by the skills of this unique breed of instrumentalist.

And speaking of awe, for those who care about such things, the site of this recording, Trier Cathedral, is of great historical significance, as is the town of Trier. Both the cathedral, which dates back to the time of Constantine, and the town itself are the oldest in Germany, the town dating to before the time of Christ. Trier was one of the important seats of Roman church and state power and influence in the Middle Ages, playing a role in the intrigue and monumental struggles in the early Christian church during the 4th century. This is the sort of recording that encourages you to look into such things--but even at its most basic level it lifts your spirit while urging you to turn up the volume and simply revel in Reger's music.

David Vernier, ClassicsToday.com, October 21, 2010




PIAZZOLLA, A.: Sinfonia Buenos Aires / Aconcagua / 4 Seasons of Buenos Aires (Binelli, Tianwa Yang, Nashville Symphony, Guerrero)
(Naxos: 8.572271)


PIAZZOLLA, A.: Sinfonia Buenos Aires / Aconcagua / 4 Seasons of Buenos Aires (Binelli, Tianwa Yang, Nashville Symphony, Guerrero)

Nashville Symphony w/Daniel Binelli and Tianwa Yang Piazzolla: Sinfonía Buenos Aires
The posthumous reputation of Astor Piazzolla, the great Argentine composer who died in 1992, seems to increase with each passing year. His renown will no doubt grow more with the release of the Nashville Symphony's latest recording.

The disc, recorded for the Naxos label last year at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center and released last week, surveys the great Piazzolla's remarkable career. It includes the "Sinfonía Buenos Aires," a relatively youthful piece that receives an elegant and refined reading from the Nashville Symphony and its music director, Giancarlo Guerrero.

The CD also features a mature masterpiece, the Concerto for Bandoneón, String Orchestra and Percussion, "Aconcagua." This amazing piece manages to refine the music of the Argentine street into high art without losing any of the street's gritty sensuousness. Bandoneón player Daniel Binelli delivers a performance that is both breathtakingly virtuosic and unfailingly sensitive.

Piazzolla's "Las Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas" (The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires) may have found inspiration in Vivaldi's baroque violin concertos. But there's nothing antiquarian about The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires, which includes some of the sexiest tangos in the repertoire. Violinist Tianwa Yang and the Nashville Symphony give glistening performances.

John Pitcher, NashvilleScene.com, October 07, 2010




STRAUSS, R.: Bourgeois Gentilhomme (Le) / Ariadne auf Naxos [Opera] (Sung in English) (Armstrong)
(Chandos: CHAN3168-69)


STRAUSS, R.: Bourgeois Gentilhomme (Le) / Ariadne auf Naxos [Opera] (Sung in English) (Armstrong) England still has a tradition of doing operas in translation – and a performance of Richard Strauss' most delightful piece in English could hardly get better than this one. Christine Brewer, the world's reigning Strauss soprano, is majestic in the title role, the Cretan princess abandoned by Theseus on the island of Naxos. Robert Dean Smith makes a heroic but mellifluous Bacchus, her divinely hunky rescuer.

What makes Ariadne so much fun, though, are the two other layers of action. A rich patron insists that the opera seria be performed simultaneously with a comic dancing act. Zerbinetta, the coquettish dancer, is perhaps the greatest coloratura role of the 20th century. Canadian soprano Gillian Keith sounds terrific in the part, fresh-voiced and pert. The young composer outraged by the treatment of his latest masterpiece is another great role, and Alice Coote, a standout among British mezzos, sings it fervently.

It's too bad that conductor Charles Mackerras died before he got around to this project. The Scottish Chamber Orchestra under Richard Armstrong is on the bland side. The relaxed approach left me humming all Strauss' glorious tunes for days, anyway. The composer's Suite from Le bourgeois gentilhomme, paired with the opera before it got its prologue, makes a sweet bonus.

Lawson Taitte, DallasNews.com, November 8, 2010




SNIDER, S.K.: Penelope (Worden, Signal, Lubman)
(New Amsterdam: NWAM023)


SNIDER, S.K.: Penelope (Worden, Signal, Lubman) Homer's Odyssey has been a very deep well of inspiration for artists from centuries ago right up to today.

Sarah Kirkland Snider's new song cycle, Penelope, makes a modern twist on the ancient saga.

The compelling story of the Greek warrior Odysseus' trip home from the Trojan wars, has sparked movies, like the Coen Brothers' Oh Brother Where Art Thou, operas, such as Monteverdi's moving The Return of Ulysses, and even pop songs like Tim Buckley's haunting "Song to the Siren."

Kirkland Snider's new work, originally a theater piece, deftly weaves pop, jazz, and classical. The texts, by Ellen McLaughlin, are sung by Shara Worden from the band My Brightest Diamond.

Kirkland Snider's song cycle is told from the woman's point of view — Penelope, that is, Odysseus' faithful wife, who waits at home, wondering if her husband will ever return, dead or alive.

McLaughlin's poems update the story to modern times. Penelope's long-lost husband turns up unexpectedly, emotionally damaged after years spent at war. In an attempt to rebuild his memory, she reads aloud to him from Homer's Odyssey.

Kirkland's dark-hued score is inventive and subtle, with a mix of watery, undulating strings, guitars, percussion and electronics that submerges you completely within the story.

Some songs flaunt melodic hooks, others are atmospheric. And all are aided by Worden's vocals, mournful, urgent and expressive. Brad Lubman conducts the tight little chamber ensemble known as Signal.

The Shara Worden and the yMusic ensemble will perform the hour-long cycle in its entirety Oct. 18th at New York's Le Poisson Rouge.

Thomas Huizenga, npr.org, October 7, 2010




DUKAS, P.: Apprenti sorcier (L') / RAVEL, M.: Ma mere l'oye / KOECHLIN, C.: Les bandar-log (Strasbourg Philharmonic, M. Albrecht)
(Pentatone: PTC5186336)


DUKAS, P.: Apprenti sorcier (L') / RAVEL, M.: Ma mere l'oye / KOECHLIN, C.: Les bandar-log (Strasbourg Philharmonic, M. Albrecht)

Exceptionally natural SACD sonics grace this appealing program of French orchestral classics. The Sorcerer's Apprentice is a tremendously difficult piece to play, particularly rhythmically, but the Strasbourg orchestra under Marc Albrecht sounds absolutely world-class here, and he paces the piece perfectly. The Ravel also has all of the necessary magical atmosphere. Laideronette, Empress of the Pagodas, with scintillating percussion, dances brilliantly, while the diaphanous string textures of the concluding Fairy Garden leave the most pleasant impression.

It was enterprising to include Koechlin's Bandar-log in this collection; it's an odd piece, part funny, part serious, with its mockery of impressionism, dodecaphony, and Baroque fugal writing, all amid a riot of jungle colors. It's also another atrociously difficult work to play, and you could argue that it works best in the context of the composer's other "Jungle Book" tone poems. This is a very good performance, but next to the others on the disc it sounds a touch cautious at the climaxes, the trumpets and percussion not quite letting go as Koechlin's score suggests they should. Still, this a very, very minor point, and I can recommend this fine collection with complete confidence.

David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com, October 7, 2010









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