DeGaetani, Prokofiev, Mennin

There is a big pile of CDs stacked on a corner of my desk, items that I’d like to mention on this blog, but rarely get around to writing about. Here’s a first installment, some brief comments on recent and not so recent listening.

Berlioz: Les Nuits d’été, Mahler: Five Wunderhorm Songs, Five Rückert Songs; Jan DeGaetani, The Eastman Chamber Ensemble, David Effrom, conductor. This is a precious document, the last recording by the beloved mezzo for whom Carter, Crumb, Maxwell Davies, and Wernick, among others, all wrote pieces. She made this record in the midst of treatments and surgery for the leukemia that took her life at only 56. DeGaetani’s husband, oboist Philip West, made the chamber ensemble arrangements for these pieces, so elegantly done that you would never think they were anything other than the original version if you didn’t know better. DeGaetani’s voice retains its warmth, flexibility and tremendously affecting expression throughout.

Prokofiev: Romeo and Juliet, Suites 1 and 2; The Philadelphia Orchestra, Riccardo Muti. The dazzling splendor of the Philadelphia is not well served by this early digital recording (1981) that sounds a bit harsh. I do believe this score is one of the great 20th century masterpieces; I prefer it to any of Prokofiev’s symphonies, and to a lot of Shostakovich’s orchestral music as well.

Peter Mennin: Concertato “Moby Dick”, Symphony No. 5, Fantasia for String Orchestra, Symphony No. 6; Albany Symphony Orchestra, David Alan Miller. Nobody is a more committed advocate for American music past and present than David Alan Miller. Here is a 1997 album featuring music by one of the mid-20th century American symphonists who is so unjustly neglected. Attractive, often polytonal harmonies, and thoroughly contrapuntal textures pre-dominate. The counterpoint can sometimes be a bit boxed in rhythmically, but there is great energy here. The Albany sounds very well, aided by the superb acoustics of the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall. The album includes intelligent program notes by Walter Simmons, an expert on this repertoire.