Recording of the Month

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Richard Lehnert  |  Oct 30, 2018  |  4 comments
J.S. Bach: Six Suites for Viola Solo, BWV 1007–1012
Kim Kashkashian, four- & five-string violas
ECM New Series 2553/54 (2 CDs). 2018. Manfred Eicher, prod.; Judy Sherman, eng. DDD. TT: 2:22:35
Performance ****½
Sonics *****

Little is known of the origins of the Solo Suites, usually performed on the cello. No manuscript in Bach's hand survives, and in the copy produced by his second wife, Anna Magdalena, markings for slurs, articulation, and dynamics are sparse even by baroque standards. The suites may actually have been composed for the violoncello da spalla, an instrument smaller than the cello but larger than the viola, and played while held on the shoulder (some modern players use a neckstrap). But what are problems for the musicologist present a world of latitude to the interpreter, in this case master violist Kim Kashkashian, who takes full advantage of them.

Jason Victor Serinus  |  Oct 18, 2018  |  0 comments
Bernstein: Arias and Barcarolles
Isabel Leonard, mezzo-soprano; Ryan McKinny, bass-baritone; San Francisco Symphony, Michael Tilson Thomas
SFS Media SFS-0073 (24/96 download). 2018. Jack Vad, broadcast & mastering eng., postprod.; Jason O'Connell, post-prod. DDD. TT: 32:54
Performance ****½
Sonics ****

Why name this short digital download or streaming–only release of a live San Francisco Symphony performance from 2017—its native 24/96 PCM broadcast sound is a notch lower than the best-recorded titles in SFS Media's series of Davies Symphony Hall broadcasts— as our "Recording of the Month"? Because, as the centennial of the birth of Leonard Bernstein (1918–1990) draws to a close, this new recording of his eight Arias and Barcarolles from conductor Michael Tilson Thomas—whom Bernstein asked to play piano alongside him when the original version of the cycle, for four voices and piano four-hands, premiered in New York City in 1988—is definitive and essential listening.

Jason Victor Serinus  |  Sep 11, 2018  |  1 comments
Berio, Boulez, Ravel: Sinfonia, Notations I–IV, La Valse
Ludovic Morlot, Seattle Symphony Orchestra; Roomful of Teeth
Seattle Symphony Media SSM 1018 (CD, 2.0- and 5.1-channel downloads at 24/96). 2018. Rosalie Contreras, Elena Dubinets, exec. prods.; Dmitriy Lipay, prod., eng.; Alexander Lipay, eng. DDD. TT: 58:20
Performance ****½
Sonics *****

What ties Luciano Berio's boundary-breaking Sinfonia for Eight Voices and Orchestra (1968–69) to Pierre Boulez's out-there Notations I–IV for Orchestra (1945/1978) to Maurice Ravel's progressively off-kilter La Valse (1906–1920)? The Seattle Symphony's about-to-depart music director, Ludovic Morlot, cites their "ingenious transformation of pre-existing musical material or styles." I'm also inclined to say that it's their descent into chaos, even madness, which these performances transcend with an impeccably controlled, highly refined aesthetic, which I auditioned in 24/96 2-channel.

Richard Lehnert  |  Aug 28, 2018  |  3 comments
Bruckner & Wagner
Andris Nelsons, Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra
Bruckner: Symphony 4. Wagner: Lohengrin Prelude
Deutsche Grammophon 479 7577 (CD). TT: 79:24
Bruckner: Symphony 7. Wagner: Siegfried's Funeral March
Deutsche Grammophon 479 8494 (CD). TT: 76:48
Both: Everett Porter, prod., eng.; Lauran Jurrius, eng.; Polyhymnia International, mastering. DDD.
Performance ****½
Sonics ****½

In works as vast and challenging as the symphonies of Anton Bruckner, near perfection of interpretation and execution can come in different, even opposed forms. The slow meditations of Celibidache, the crisp classicism of Schaller, the precise power of Skrowaczewski: each is uniquely fulfilling and true to the scores, and none sounds anything like the others—or anything like the Bruckner of Andris Nelsons. Deutsche Grammophon has contracted with Nelsons and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra to record, in concert, Bruckner's symphonies 1–9. After beginning last year with a polished if impersonal account of Symphony 3, Nelsons's cycle is rapidly advancing in quality and pace of release.

Robert Levine  |  Aug 16, 2018  |  0 comments
Pärt: The Symphonies
Tõnu Kaljuste, NFM Wroclaw Philharmonic
ECM 2600 (CD). 2018. Manfred Eicher, prod.; Andrzej Sasin, Aleksandra Nagorko, engs. DDD. TT: 79:40
Performance *****
Sonics *****

Arvo Pärt is now so popular that it's no longer necessary to explain him. His piety is approachably beautiful and welcoming. He was not born composing his airy, contemplative, trademark "tintinnabular" (bell-like) music; up to the early 1970s, he cut his teeth on the 12-tone scale. His four symphonies, presented here on one CD for the first time, take us through that part of his career.

Kalman Rubinson  |  Jul 12, 2018  |  41 comments
Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue (1924 jazz-band version, orch. Grofé). 1 Piano Concerto in F. 2 "Summertime." 3 Gershwin-Wild: "Somebody Loves Me," "I Got Rhythm," "Embraceable You."4 Oscar Levant: "Blame It On My Youth." 5
Kirill Gerstein, piano; 1–5 Storm Large, vocal; 3 Gary Burton, vibraphone; 5 David Robertson, St. Louis Symphony Orchestra1, 2
Myrios Classics MYR022 (CD, 24/192 FLAC). 2018. Kirill Gerstein, prod.; Stephan Cahen, prod.,1-5 eng.; 1, 2, 4, 5 Paul Hennerich, 1, 2, 4 Doug Decker, 3 engs. DDD. TT: 73:45
Performance *****
Sonics *** (CD), **** (24/192 FLAC)

I grew up with Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. I was the youngest in a family not particularly interested in music, and whose record collection consisted of pop music and three oddly assorted classical recordings, all on 78rpm discs: Enrico Caruso singing "Vesti la giubba," Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring (on four 12" 78s), and the 1927 recording of Rhapsody in Blue with the Paul Whiteman Concert Orchestra and Gershwin at the keyboard.

Jon Iverson  |  Jun 12, 2018  |  6 comments
Steve Tibbetts: Life Of
Steve Tibbetts, 12-string guitar, piano; Michelle Kinney, cello, drones; Marc Anderson, percussion, handpan
ECM 2599 (CD). 2018. An ECM production; Steve Tibbetts, eng.; Greg Reierson, eng., mastering. DDD. TT: 50:40
Performance *****
Sonics *****

The sound of Steve Tibbetts's guitar music is unique—one need hear only a measure or two of his new album to identify the distinct tang of his playing. Common wisdom is that a guitarist's sound is in the hands and fingers, but Tibbetts has another trick: his weathered, 50-year-old Martin D12-20 12-string acoustic guitar.

Robert Baird  |  May 18, 2018  |  3 comments
Brad Mehldau: After Bach
Brad Mehldau, piano
Nonesuch 7559-79318-0 (CD). 2018. Robert Hurwitz, exec. prod.; Tom Korkidis, prod. coord.; Tom Lazarus, eng., mix, mastering; Brad Montgomery, mix. ADD? TT: 69:24
Performance *****
Sonics *****

That American jazz pianist Brad Mehldau has made a recording of J.S. Bach's music should come as no great surprise to anyone who's followed his extraordinarily varied career. In many ways, it seems a natural progression.

Having become one of the most important jazz pianists of this century, and dabbled in classical-flavored music, film scores, and even performances of popular music (by Oasis Soundgarden and Nick Drake, to name just a few of the artists he's covered), Mehldau has finally gotten around to recording this album of five pieces by one of the greatest keyboard improvisers in history. Mehldau's method here is to play a more or less straight version of a Bach prelude or fugue from The Well-Tempered Clavier, BWV 846–893, followed by his own "After Bach" reimagining of the same piece.

Robert Levine  |  Apr 20, 2018  |  2 comments
Monteverdi: Vespers 1610
Joanne Lunn, Esther Brazil, sopranos; Amy Lyddon, Rory McCleery, altos; Joshua Ellicott, Matthew Long, Nicholas Mulroy, Peter Harris, tenors; Peter Harvey, William Gaunt, bass; Dunedin Consort, His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts; John Butt
Linn CKD 569 (2 CDs). 2017. Phil Hobbs, prod.; Robert Cammidge, eng. DDD. TT: 94:00
Performance ****½
Sonics *****

As the old joke does not go, How do you get to the Papal Chapel? Audition, audition, audition. There you are, gifted and, for the early 1600s, relatively famous. You practically invented opera. You've worked for years at what seems a cushy job as the court composer to the Dukes of Gonzaga in Mantua, but you're underpaid, and feeling as if you need and deserve more. And so you self-publish, under the title Vespers 1610, a 90-minute collection—psalm settings, a motet, a hymn, a Magnificat—that highlights all of your compositional gifts.

John Atkinson  |  Mar 20, 2018  |  29 comments
Radka Toneff & Steve Dobrogosz: Fairytales: Original Master Edition (MQA)
Odin LP03 (original LP, 1982); Odin CD9561 (24-bit/48kHz MQA-encoded FLAC file; Tidal Masters stream; hybrid MQA-CD; original sample rate 192kHz; 2017). Arild Andersen, prod. (1982, 2017); Andreas Risanger Meland, exec. prod. (2017); Tore Skille, Tom Sætre, original engs.; Svein Vatshaug, Rune Sund Nordmark, recorder restoration; Thomas Baårdsen, Geir Iversen, digital transfer of original tapes; Morten Lindberg, Peter Craven, Bob Stuart, digital restoration; Erik Gard Amundsen, technical advisor. DAA (original LP); DDD (MQA). Except: "My Funny Valentine," ADA (LP), ADD (MQA). TT: 40:11
Performance ******
Sonics ******

"See her how she flies . . ." When I first heard that lyric, from Jim Webb's "The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress," sung by a hauntingly fragile woman's voice and supported by a sparse yet lyrical piano accompaniment, at an audio show in 1983, I got chills. Who was this empathetic singer? Back in my cabaret-musician days, more than four decades ago, I backed so many singers with beautiful-sounding pipes but who didn't seem to comprehend the meaning of the words—yet this unknown woman directly communicated the song's emotion.

Robert Baird  |  Feb 13, 2018  |  8 comments
Willie Nelson: Stardust
Columbia/Analogue Productions AAPP 116-45 (2 45rpm LPs). 1978/2017. Booker T. Jones, prod.; Donivan Cowart, Bradley Hartman, engs.; Bernie Grundman, mastering. AAA. TT: 43:28
Performance *****
Sonics *****

In Nashville in the early 1960s, Willie Nelson hit his low point. He'd failed at singing and writing country music, and one snowy night, after a liberal drowning of his troubles at Tootsie's Orchid Lounge, he decided to totter outside and lie down in the middle of Lower Broadway. In subsequent retellings of the tale, he's always maintained that he wasn't trying to kill himself. For that, he had a pistol.

Robert Baird  |  Jan 18, 2018  |  21 comments
Chopin's Last Waltz
Chopin: Ballade 4 in f, Op.52; Fantasie in f, Op.49; Mazurka in c-sharp, Op.63 No.3; Mazurka in f, Op.68 No.4; Nocturne in E-flat, Op.62 No.2; Prelude in c-sharp, Op.45; Valse in A-flat, Op.64 No.3
Robert Silverman, piano
IsoMike 5606 (LP). 2017. Available from Acoustic Sounds and other on-line retailers; DSD files available from NativeDSD, www.nativedsd.com. Ellen Silverman, prod.; Ray Kimber, Aaron Hubbard, engs. DDA TT: 50:05
Performance *****
Sonics *****

At the 2017 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, Ray Kimber was beginning to feel a little antsy. He'd just released his first LP, Chopin's Last Waltz, an all-Chopin program performed by pianist Robert Silverman, and while being part of the rush to re-embrace vinyl sounds great, pressing your first-ever long player can be a bit nerve-racking.

Robert Baird  |  Dec 21, 2017  |  12 comments
In 2010, down in the East Village, on Delancey Street, at the NYC debut party for Robert Plant's Band of Joy, the assembled rock press, assorted hangers-on, and wannabe VIPs patiently sipped drinks as we waited for the guest of honor. Suddenly, with no fanfare or even announcement, he stepped out of a closet or secret passage of sorts into a roomful of astonished smiles. He'd been there all along.
Robert Baird  |  Nov 14, 2017  |  1 comments
Christian McBride Big Band: Bringin' It
Mack Avenue Mac 1115 (CD). 2017. Gretchen Valade, exec prod.; Christian McBride, prod.; Todd Whitelock, assoc. prod., eng.; Timothy Marchiafava, asst. eng. ADD? TT: 68:59
Performance ****½
Sonics *****

As musical movements go, rock and jazz seem to be running out of new ideas, most of the stylistic pathways in both genres having been explored to their logical conclusions. In rock in particular, every stream of inspiration has been followed past its headwaters, every droplet of inspiration wrung from established forms.

Robert Baird  |  Oct 17, 2017  |  1 comments
Ahmad Jamal: Marseille
Ahmad Jamal, piano; James Cammack, double bass; Herlin Riley, drums; Manolo Badrena, percussion; Abd Al Malik (track 4), Mina Agossi (track 8), vocals
Jazz Book/Jazz Village [PIAS] JV 33570142.43 (2 LPs). 2017. Ahmad Jamal, Seydou Barry, Catherine Vallon-Barry, prods.; Vincent Mahey, eng. ADA? TT: 59:33
Performance *****
Sonics *****

While cities like New York, Detroit, and Philly all get more press for their jazz history and connections, Pittsburgh has a rich history as the birthplace of many notable swing and bebop jazz players. Bassist Ray Brown, drummers Art Blakey and Jeff "Tain" Watts, tenor saxman Stanley Turrentine, trumpeter Roy Eldridge, and the one and only Billy Strayhorn, famed collaborator of Duke Ellington and composer of "Take The 'A' Train," all came from The Burgh.

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