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Classical Music - Part 25 - April, 2001


Jason Serinus

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Ratings:
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Good
Acceptable
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MURRAY PERAHIA • BACH: GOLDBERG VARIATIONS • SONY SK 89243

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Rarely does one encounter a performance so illuminated by genius as pianist Murray Perahia’s Grammy-nominated interpretation of the Goldberg Variations, BWV 988 by J.S. Bach (1685-1750).

Bach wrote his four-minute "aria" and 30 variations for his pupil, virtuoso harpsichordist J.G. Goldberg, and published them in 1742. The most famous piano recording of these gems, the 1955 monaural classic by the 22-year old Glenn Gould (now available in a Sony 20-bit reissue), brought the Goldberg Variations back into the harpsichord and piano repertoire, where they have remained ever since as benchmarks of keyboard prowess.

The Gould of 1955 played many of the Goldberg Variations at such a stunningly fast pace as to leave one’s mouth agape. What makes his recording so extraordinary is that his startling technique is married to interpretive insights that touch on emotional as well as visceral levels.

Perahia is less showy than Gould, his tempi more reasonable, but his depth of feeling is greater. By the time Perahia concluded Bach’s introductory aria, this reviewer found himself plunged into a metaphysical dimension whose multiple meanings transcend earthbound language. This is the kind of profundity for which many meditate for many years (or ingest many drugs) hoping to experience. Every variation’s tempo feels absolutely right. Whether Perahia expresses intimacy, sadness, grand majesty, ruminative introspection, or unconditional love, the gamut of emotions that can be fleshed out from Bach’s writing are with a fullness and integrity that shows the pianist’s genius in total service to the master composer. Perahia’s genius seems in total service to Bach’s, and they both shine wondrously. When Bach’s music calls for joy, Perahia’s joy is boundless, the kind that few artists allow themselves to express with such freedom. Throughout, Perahia’s sweetness and inherent goodness make for some of the most rewarding pianism you may ever experience.

By way of comparison, I played portions of both Glenn Gould recordings of the work plus the recent, critically lauded version by Angela Hewitt on Hyperion. While Gould’s first recording bowls one over with its combination of speed-of-lightning digitation and emotional depth, his elimination of repeats proves a frequent source of frustration. His second stereo version, recorded toward the end of his life, offers better sound, but reveals an artist whose technical proficiency seems detached from his emotional being.

Hewitt’s approach is far more contained than the playing of Gould and Perahia. She is not one for grand gestures, and does not always expand her playing to the dimensions necessary to capture the fullness of Bach’s largest scaled variations. But when the music calls for delicacy, there is a pristine fragility about her playing that is quite marvelous. You may not hear everything Bach has to say in her playing, but what you will hear is precious indeed.

Returning to Perahia, by the time he reached Bach’s final "Variation 30. Quodlibet," I found myself writing in my notes, "Tell me there isn’t a God!" The recapitulation of the simple aria that began the work 71 minutes earlier left me in a state of absolute reverence. I cannot recommend another recording I have heard in the past year as highly as this. Perahia’s more recent recording of Bach’s Keyboard Concertos Nos. 1, 2 &4 (Sony SK89245), in which he both plays piano and conducts the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, also receives an enthusiastic recommendation.

CHILLI CON TANGO: MUSIC FOR MANDOLIN AND GUITAR DANIEL AHLERT & BIRGIT SCHWAB ANTES  BM-CD 31.9153

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While one might expect a CD of six mandolin and guitar duos to sound like a cross between a serenade and a travelogue, the actual results make for absorbing listening. The young German team of Ahlert and Schwab is the most active ensemble of its kind, and has commissioned any number of composers to write especially for them. Two of these pieces on the disc are commissions: Hans Boll’s short, energetic Prelude, and Thomas Schmidt-Kowalski’s lovely, tonal Romeo und Julia Fantasie G-Dur, op. 82. Bay Area expatriate composer Beth Anderson, who studied at Mills and UC Davis before moving to New York (where she serves on the faculty of the Greenwich House Music School), contributes a special arrangement of her lovely September Swale, its delightful mixture of oriental tonalities and Kentuckian flashbacks sure to bring a smile to one’s face. The famed Egberto Gismonti’s Forrobodo offers the exciting rhythms and color one expects from him, while Robert Lombardo’s Sudden Departures, especially arranged for the duo, proves the most harmonically adventuresome and mysterious (if slightly melodramatic) work on the disc. The title work, Jaime Mirtenbaum Zenamon’s Chilli con Tango, op. 89, No. 2, offers a surfeit of melodic energy, albeit less tame than the notion of dancing hot peppers suggests. With several of the composers contributing their own liner notes, this well-recorded, definitive import comes warmly recommended.

MICHAEL NICOLELLA PUSH GALE 00-002

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From the first driving notes of Roberto Sierra’s Toccata y Lamento (1987), Seattle-based classical guitarist Michael Nicolella, a first prize winner in several solo classic guitar competitions, impresses with his virtuoso musicianship. Equally impressive is Nicollela’s immensely challenging modern program for acoustic and electric guitar, which pushes the boundaries of what one might consider technically playable.

The disc contains Piazzolla’s captivating Primavera Portena ((1970), Takemitsu’s Equinox (1993), Jimi Hendrix’s Little Wing (1967), John Fitz Rogers’ Push (1997 – written for Nicolella), two of Nicolella’s own compositions, plus works by Berio, Bryan Johanson, and Richard Kranjac. Nicolella’s Bridges (1990) for flute, violin, guitar and percussion is an especial wild and beautiful ride. Another highlight is the wonderful soprano Thomasa Eckert’s rendition of Berio’s chamber arrangement of the traditional “Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair,” her voice triumphing over an over-resonant acoustic to perfectly capture the innocence and purity of the verse. Berio brings a very different consciousness to this folk song than did Britten to his folk song arrangements.

When I shared Rogers’ driving, mile a minute, machine gun-like Push with eight-year old Morgan Saltz, she smilingly confided that it made her feel “excitement…like turning somersaults in my stomach.” After playing Berio’s challenging Sequenza XI (1988), whose uncompromising atonal outbursts, punctuated by hard raps on the guitar’s body, may remind you of neighbors banging on the door, shouting “Turn down that infernal racket,” I told her that some might not consider it music. “Why?,” she asked with puzzled countenance. “It has rhythm, it has melody – why would anyone say it’s not music?”

After Berio and Rogers, Jimi Hendrix’s contribution seems mellow indeed. With blessings to the young, I highly recommend this disc to music lovers with open minds and a taste for adventure.

BATTAGLIE & LAMENTI  1600-1660 • MONTEVERDI, PERI, FONTEI, STROZZI • MONSTSERRAT FIGUERAS   HESPERION XXI   JORDI SAVALL • ALIA VOX AL9815

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Impeccable musicianship marks this curious compilation of four vocal laments, recorded in 1981 and 1989 by soprano Montserrat Figueras, Ton Koopman, Jordi Savall, and others, and eight instrumental battaglie, recorded in 1997 and 1999 by the larger instrumental forces of Hesperion XXI. The laments, varying between 8 and 15 minutes in length, are convincingly morose, while the mostly shorter battaglie provide an uplifting contrast.

Figueras is superb in the lamenti. Filling her singing with feeling, the slight edge to her perfectly placed soprano drives home the suffering and pain at the heart of this music. Most outstanding is her performance of Nicolo Fontei’s 1639 operatic scena Pianto d’Erinna, graced by a plethora of accents and shadings that make her interpretation wholly convincing and moving. Equally fine is her performance of Claudio Monteverdi’s 1608 Lamento d’Arianna: Lasciatemi morire. Distinguished by its intensity of dramatic outcry, Figueras’ artistry in this famed work provides a telling contrast to a competing version by Emma Kirkby and The Consorte of Musicke. Though Kirkby’s singing is less overtly demonstrative, the sheer beauty of her heart-meltingly innocent soprano seems the ideal vehicle for conveying Ariadne’s quintessential victimhood. Figueras is wonderful; Kirkby is divine.

The battaglie, beautifully recorded in an acoustic which highlights the richness of instrumentation, attempt to present sound pictures of battles by means of trumpet fanfares, instrumental imitations of clashing swords and battle-cries, and other supposedly realistic touches. This is music from an earlier age, when a composer could apparently get away with conveying the bloody realities of war via sweet, stirring sounds. Perhaps the concern was less with realism than with getting the troops out and maintaining control of the Empire and the coffers of royalty. Nonetheless, it is hard to pretend that these battaglie actually convey the sounds of war when their harmonies are so readily undercut by the images and sounds we regularly encounter everyday in the media and the streets.

Realistic or not, I found myself grateful for the battaglie. Had they not been included, I might have found myself cautioning buyers against giving this CD as a gift to someone whose meds were not working. As it is, the balance of battaglie and lamenti makes for a most rewarding program.  

WHERE I LIVE DENVER WOMEN’S CHORUS DWC0002

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Written in 1999 as a commission for the Denver Women’s Chorus, Where I Live, Diane Benjamin’s (b. 1964) 35-minute oratorio about breast cancer, alternates seven choral movements with six passages for solo narrator. The profound text, drawn primarily from writings by women with breast cancer, brilliantly reflects the many dimensions of the disease, with sections devoted to diagnosis, caregiving, healing, and corporate complicity.

Benjamin created the oratorio while supporting her close friend Katherine who was healing breast cancer. In response to Katherine’s request, Benjamin wrote instructions for caregivers into the oratorio’s fourth vocal movement "Help Me." Similarly, "Somebody," one of two sections for which she wrote the lyrics, speaks directly of her friend’s experience.

The composer’s gentle music speaks to the core of the disease experience, employing simple harmonies that allow balance and peace to emerge from suffering. Without shirking the horror and pain of breast cancer, Benjamin addresses its physical, emotional, and political realities – she includes movements that address how pollution and corporate greed have contributed to the breast cancer epidemic – without hitting anyone over the head or in the gut.

Written for women’s community choruses, the slow-paced oratorio places only modest demands upon singers and instrumental accompanists. The music feels most accomplished in its tender lyrical passages, whose heartfelt sweetness and beauty is like a healing balm.

Because the performance is less than ideal, it does not allow for a full assessment of Benjamin’s achievement. To put it bluntly, the opening soloist’s voice, undoubtedly afflicted by nerves, is less than pleasant. The chorus, too, has its deficiencies. Mostly fine when singing sweetly, the women cannot generate the force that would benefit some of the music, with the higher-scored choral passages exposing vocal unsteadiness. The distracting tendency to intersperse exaggerated consonants with unclear enunciation is also in evidence. Nonetheless, the narration is generally excellent, and the disc most definitely touches the heart.

Sale of the recording supports several Colorado breast cancer organizations, and will help this worthy oratorio receive many performances. It is available for $15 (plus $3 shipping and handling) from Denver Women's Chorus, P. O. Box 2638, Denver, CO 80202 (303.274.4177) http://www.denverwomenschorus.org).  

COMPOSERS COLLABORATIVE • SOLO FLIGHTS • CRI CD 864

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What an opportunity for exploration: close to 75 minutes of mostly “new” piano music in wildly varying styles, with five out of thirteen pieces performed by the composers themselves! Originating from seven years of New York Solo Flights festivals, performed on different pianos in different venues, this disc highlights David Del Tredici, Robert Helps, Andrew Violette, and Jed Distler playing their own works and the works of others. In addition, Sara Laimon, Phillip Bush, Kathleen Supove, and the Bay Area’s own Sarah Cahill add their artistry to the mix by joining in the playing of works by Ursula Mamlok, Virgil Thomson, Eleanor Hovda, Laura Kaminsky, John Zorn, Molly Thompson, and Leopold Godowsky.

The oldest piece is Robert Helps’ unique interpretation of Leopold Godowsky’s Study on Chopin’s Etude No. 45, an elaboration of Chopin’s A-flat Nouvelle Etude; one of the newest is the brilliant David Del Tredici’s 1996 Opposites Attract, a freshly composed portrait of composer and critic Virgil Thomson. Del Tredici’s Thomson portrait complements his performance of Thomson’s Solitude: A Portrait of Lou Harrison (1945) and Violette’s rendition of Thomson’s Edges: A Portrait of Robert Indiana (1966). (Thomson derived his inspiration for the 151 musical portraits he composed between 1928 and 1988 from observing Gertrude Stein’s experiments in abstract literary portraiture).

Other highlights include Cahill’s wonderful playing of Ursula Mamlok’s Three Bagatelles (1987), and Jed Distler’s strumming, singing, whistling and breathing in Hovda’s beautiful Spring Music with Wind (1973). Though some pieces contain brief moments that may remind one of a child randomly thrashing a keyboard, much of these works contain great beauty that deserves a wide audience. Jed Distler’s closing The Anthem of Woodstock (1996) is sure to leave you smiling, and Jimi Hendrix strumming along in his grave.  

RHYMES WITH SILVER MUSIC BY LOU HARRISON NEW ALBION NA 110 CD

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A HOMAGE TO LOU HARRISON VOL. 2 THE TAMMITTAM PERCUSSION ENSEMBLE DYNAMIC CDS 263

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Lou Harrison has created another masterpiece. Born in 1917, Lou was a mere 80 when Rhymes with Silver was commissioned for the Mark Morris dance company and cellist Yo-Yo Ma. Imaginatively scored for cello, piano, vibraphone, violin, viola, and viola the piece is rich with fascinating, totally engaging Eastern-inspired harmonies and rhythms, take-offs on classic dance forms, and colorful contrasts of instrumental timbre. Sometimes joyous, sometimes evocatively sad, it is a score with the words "dance, create and play" resounding in every bar.

Rhymes with Silver is in 12 movements; all are new except for Gigue and Musette (1943), which impressed Arnold Schoenberg when Harrison was studying with him in Los Angeles in 1943. The Allegro and Five-Tone Kit movements utilize a compositional method which Harrison "absorbed from Henry Cowell in the late 1930s", one which Cowell developed during his San Quentin imprisonment. This form, which Harrison calls a kit ("a flexible performance score in which elements can be rearranged at the pleasure of the performer"), received "realization" by Morris, himself a trained musician.

The New Albion recording is as close to the source as you can get. Harrison spent 12 hours in total concentration supervising this performance, and wrote the short liner notes. Violinist David Abel, pianist Julie Steinberg, and percussion master William Winant have been closely associated with Harrison over the years, as has cellist Jean Jeanrenaud (formerly of the Kronos Quartet). Lou even stipulated that he wanted the acoustic to sound as though played in an intimate space that would hold 70 people.

Even before this recording was made, Italy’s Tammittam Percussion Ensemble, conducted by Guido Facchin, made a premiere recording of eight movements of the work – Harrison gave Mark Morris permission to use whichever movements he wished – on an Italian CD available from Qualiton imports. Their homage also includes First Recordings of The Clays’ Quintet (1987) for trumpet, horn, mandolin, harp, and percussion; A Majestic Fanfare (1963) for three trumpets, snare drum and bass drum; Bomba (1939) for percussion quintet; The Perilous Chapel (1948-49) for flute, drums, cello and harp (parts of which are also available on a New Albion disc); plus First Concerto (1939) for flute and percussion "Dedicated to Henry Cowell," and Ariadne (1987) for flute and percussion. (Ariadne, written for South-Indian dancer Eva Soltes, was recently performed, with Eva dancing and Lou seated in the first row, at the memorial service for poet James Broughton where this reviewer also performed).

There are major differences between the Rhymes with Silver performances. Acoustically, the Tammittams are set far back in their soundstage in what sounds like a much larger space, surrounded by pronounced reverberation absent from the more immediate New Albion recording. Tempi different greatly, a case in point being the short "Gigue & Musette," which varies between 3:07 and 3:41. The Tammittams frequently sound fierce, more driven by the music than a part of it; the Harrison-supervised ensemble, with its definitive connection to the source, not only engages more on visceral levels, but touches deeper emotionally. While the multiple recorded premieres by the Tammittams make their homage essential listening, the definitive rendition of Rhymes with Silver by the world class CA-based players makes the New Albion recording a must have.

SANCTE DEUS: A JOURNEY THROUGH THE RENAISSANCE • THE CHOIR OF NEW COLLEGE, OXFORD • EDWARD HIGGINBOTTOM • ERATO 8573-80239-2

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What at first glance looks like “another one of those endless compendiums of bits and snippets of Renaissance vocal music, comprised of excerpts from longer works,” turns out instead to be one of the most delightful assemblages of Renaissance vocal works I have encountered in a long time.

The Choir of New College, Oxford consists of sixteen choristers and clerks, many of whom are young boys ages 8 to 13. For over 600 years, the choir has performed sacred repertoire, combining music and education in a format largely unchanged in present times. The result is a timeless, angelic beauty of sound and a deep respect for the tradition from which sacred music draws its spiritual strength.

The disc contains thirteen selections, each of which can stand on its own as a great work of art. Most significant is a recording of Thomas Tallis’s Spem in alium, composed for eight five-part choirs. This gorgeous work, very difficult to pull off in person, often involves placing eight choirs in strategic places around a large church or hall. Although it would take surround sound to fully convey the sense of hearing this music in person, Erato and the augmented choirs do a superb job with this music. Hearing boy sopranos is an especial pleasure, adding to the sense that the space is resounding with choirs of angels.

The composers represented read like a major who’s-who of Renaissance vocal music. All were born between 1440 and 1580, with the majority incarnating in the mid 1500s. Tallis is represented by two selections, as is Orlande de Lassus. Tomas Luis de Victoria, Vincenzo Ugolini, Francisco  Guerrero, Nicolas Gombert, William Byrd, Alonso Lobo, Josquin Desprez, Manuel Cardoso, and Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina each receive a single airing. One could spend paragraphs attempting to dissect the differences between their styles, but that would miss the point, which is to experience the flow of different geniuses offering their all to God. This 71-minute compilation is an ideal introduction to Renaissance polyphony, and a wonderful accompaniment or main course for one’s day. Highly recommended.

A MAJOR COMPARATIVE REVIEW:

J.S. BACH: 6 SUITEN FUR VIOLONCELLO SOLO • DANIEL MULLER-SCHOTT • GLISSANDO 779 024-2  2 CDs

It is always exciting to discover a young cellist, in this case one of only 27 years of age, tackling six solo cello suites of Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-175), BWV 1007-1012. Written during the composer’s 35th year, these works represent the pinnacle of the solo cello literature.

Any number of legendary cellists have recorded these works, to varying degrees of success. Some perform wonderfully in the slow movements, but fail to dance on some of the faster ones. Some plumb the emotional depths, but fail to convey the joy. While there is so much to the six Cello Suites that declaring that any given performance gets it all “right” is sheer folly, there are some classic performances that have proven so convincing over time that they continue to serve as standards by which other performances are judged.

Each suite is comprised of a distinctive Prélude and five subsequent dance movements. Though timings vary greatly between available recordings, Muller-Schott plays the shortest, first suite in 17’14, and the longest sixth suite in 29’26.

To prepare for this review, I scheduled two extensive listening sessions with Albany, CA resident, cellist Elaine Kreston. She is a tall, thin young woman, somewhat like Muller-Schott in appearance, whose very carriage and being proclaim “cellist.” A member of several fine Bay Area ensembles, including the New Century Chamber Orchestra, Kreston is slowly recording Bach’s cello suites for eventual distribution.

Elaine and I assembled five recordings of Bach’s cello suites. Of these, her long-time favorites were Casals and Fournier. Neither of us had heard the Rostropovich before our second listening session. I had wanted to locate and add one of the classic Starker recordings, especially the version on Mercury Living Presence with which so many audiophiles are familiar, but Elaine emphatically nixed it as not in the same class as the others we chose. Our final selections, in addition to the main recording at hand, were:

1.      Pablo Casals recorded 1929-1939  New restorations by Ward Marston. Naxos 8.110915-16  This is a recent release, and comes highly recommended. Because Casals plays the suites quite fast, the 2-CD set includes five other Bach tracks he recorded around the same time as the Suites. Either this disc or the latest EMI issue (Great Recordings of the Century), which I have not heard, is essential for all lovers of this music.

2.      Jacqueline DuPre. Early BBC recordings of suites 1 and 2. A 1962 EMI release, Now available in EMI Studio - CDM 63165 and EMI Classics double fforte - CDFB 73377

3.      Mstislav Rostropovich EMI Classics - ZDCB 55363

4.      Pierre Fournier DG The Originals - 2GOR2 449711

Needless to say, even if Elaine and I had compared two versions of each suite, taken the time to discuss what we had heard, and taken breaks, we would have need to devote five to six hours to the project. Given our demanding schedules, we chose not to perform a “Vissi d’arte” on this one. We therefore confined our listening to one comparison per suite, and eliminated a few suites in order to remain fresh for the others.

We also found ourselves unable to fully assess instrumental tonal quality due to the state of my preamp. At first Elaine thought that Daniel Muller-Schott’s cello sound seemed artificially enhanced by his Glissando recording engineer. But shortly after we both commented on how rich Rostropovich sounded in his low range, but how thin and edgy he sounded on top, we discovered that my system’s bass was unnaturally reinforced, while its highs were totally off.

It seems that the Zycon resistors that had just been installed in my preamp’s recalibrated volume controls, which I had been breaking in 24 hours a day, had basically destroyed any semblance of tonal rightness. All it took was one listen to a stunning recording that received the last Grammy nomination for Engineering, the Reference Recordings Bolero, to convince me that something was really wrong. Until that moment, I had never before heard cymbals sound even worse than the applause captured live on a 1982 digital recording. The sound was hideous. Frankly, I have no idea what DM-S’s cello sounds like on record, or anyone else’s for that matter. But my sense is that it probably sounds quite good. 

We began by comparing DMS’s version of Suite No. 1 in G major BWV 1007 with the 1939 recording by Pablo Casals. Elaine found herself frustrated by M-S’s playing. “He doesn’t settle into the music enough,” she said. “Every time he seems begins to say something unique about the music the music, he moves away from it. These are dances, but they don’t sound like dance movements in his hands.” Frankly, while I heard a succession of lots of notes, I did not find many of the movements cohering into a unified statement. In marked contrast, there was an inherent rightness to Casals’ interpretation that immediately drew us to him. The playing was universally faster, with dynamic gradations between soft and loud being far more pronounced. Every movement sounded far more believably dance-like than Muller-Schott’s. Casals’s Courante was far more joyful, and the beginning of the Sarabande more touching. Wrong notes and all, we could not help but prefer Casals.

Comparisons of Suite No. 2 in D minor BWV 1008 began with Jacqueline Du Pré’s 1962 BBC version. Although it is hard to confidently make statements about a player’s tone, given the state of my preamp, Du Pre did not seem to possess M-S’s beauty of tone. Nor did she have his accuracy. There were lots of squeaks and squeals, and a fair share of less than beautiful notes. But what intensity and dynamics! Du Pre played as though she didn’t have much time to make her mark on the world, and had to put her all into everything she did. Her passion is unequalled. The end of the fourth Sarabande is gorgeous, a perfect conclusion to this movement. When the Suite had concluded, Elaine stated, “She breaks rules left and right, and she gets away with it.” DMS is very different, of course, but his first movement Prelude is very touching in how the sound hangs in the air. The Courante, however, comes up lacking: “He didn’t go for the right places, or any places,” said Elaine. The Sarabande I found quite depressing. “He doesn’t go for something fully – he’s a little early or late at times,” said my listening partner.

Skipping to Suite No. 6 in D major BWV 1012 revealed that Glissando’s recording techniques captured both the little ticking sounds of DMS’s bow or hand against the body of the cello, as well as the resonance of his beautiful sounding instrument. Quite impressive. The arpeggios in the Prélude, however, were a bit sloppy and rushed. The Alemande was musically quite coherent, and the third Courante, despite a little sloppiness, quite nice. The fifth Gavotte I - II actually sounded (at last) like a somewhat sprightly dance, quite gay, and a bit Scottish. The cello’s tone here was especially captivating. The final Gigue was even gayer. Though MS sometimes seemed to slam through things, we both found his playing of this movement, and the entire suite, quite winning. Mstislav Rostropovich’s 1994 recording, however, simply bowled us over. Set farther back in the soundstage, surrounded by far more reverberation, Rostropovich’s cello seemed to sing out far more than MS’s. There was something more formidable and substantial about his playing, as though he was making a major statement with each stroke of his bow. His second Allemande was very moving and tender, touching our hearts in a way that MS never even approached. The following Courante was more vigorous and cleaner in attack than his. Rostropovich’s tone was not always perfect, but the playing was wonderful. The Sarabande was infinitely musical, marked by an extraordinary generosity of sound. Its repeat was also quite different than the initial go-around, sounding softer and more touching. The fifth Gavotte I – II was played significantly slower than MS’s, and offered much more weight, nobility and grace. The final Gigue, again more profound in its impact, literally flooded the room with sound.

Of all the performances I heard during our two comparison sessions, Rostropovich, like Perahia in his Goldberg Variations, seemed most in touch with the emotion inherent in Bach’s score. His is a recording I would return to over and over again.

Rather than move on to another Suite, Elaine and I decided to end our comparisons by playing Fournier’s version of Suite No. 6, followed by Casals’s. The hour was late, so we skipped repeats. Elaine had always loved the Fournier version, but had only owned it on LP until I discovered that it has recently been reissued in the DG Originals series. Fournier’s tone seemed far more beautiful on top than Rostropovich’s (which, given how my preamp was butchering highs, means that it was beautiful indeed), but not as full. We were especially impressed with his very pronounced rhythms in the Gigue. In the end, while Elaine was thrilled to again hear this man she so greatly admired, we both had to admit that his playing made less of an impact on us than Rostropovich’s.

Casals’ playing, by contrast, seemed sloppy at times, but his arpeggios in the opening Prélude were fabulous indeed. His Sarabande was most beautiful, his Gavotte I – II quite exceptional, and his Gigue alternately gay, filled with gravity, child-like, and substantial. Casals again proved he was a master of this music.

Since we only listened to three of the suites, a final assessment of DMS’s playing is impossible. Based on what we heard, however, one can safely state that DMS is a cellist of great promise. His playing is quite accurate, his tone consistently beautiful, and his sensitivity apparent. There is much to enjoy in his performances. But for truly great renditions of these works, one would prove wise to explore recordings by other players. Those mentioned above may very well prove the best of the lot.

 

 - Jason Serinus -

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