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.

Recent Listening

These aren’t new releases, just some items I came across at my local library recently.

– Shostakovich, Liszt, Prokofiev: Piano Concertos. Lisa de la Salle, piano; Lisbon Gulbenkian Foundation Orchestra, Lawrence Foster, conductor. In this album of first piano concertos what is striking is the effect made by this juxtaposition of pieces:  after the goofy fanfares of the Shostakovich it is harder to take the sincere fanfares of the Liszt seriously. It is as though the later composer is influencing the earlier one. The performances are very good throughout if not quite top notch; the Prokofiev does not quite rise to the dazzling level of Kissin and the Berlin Phil. and Arrau commands a more profound poetry in the Liszt.

– Pat Metheny, with Christian McBride and Antonio Sanchez: Tokyo Day Trip. I am old enough to remember when the designation “EP” meant “extended play” and referred to a 7″ 45 rpm disc that had more than two songs on its two sides. Now an EP actually means a relatively short CD – long for a CD single, I guess, but short for a CD album; there is about 40 minutes of music here, all of it recorded live. The calmer moods  of Metheny’s music can seem slightly spacey – it’s that ECM thing, I guess (the present release is on Nonesuch, actually) – but the uptempo numbers here are fiery ripsnorters.

– Bach: Partitas 2, 3, and 4. Murray Perahia, piano. I love Perahia’s Bach playing for its characterfulness – he has a million shades of articulation, and deploys them in intelligent ways. This disc is very nearly at the level of his sublime Goldberg Variations.