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Classical Music

Richard Dyer, The Boston Globe, December 8, 2002

The international classical-record business may be in a state of collapse, but smaller, cottage-industry companies seem to be holding their own, and new generations of composers and performers are finding alternative ways to communicate their work to the public.

So it was actually a busy year at the microphones for New England performers. To buy their recordings as presents for musical family and friends compliments the artists - and your own discriminating taste.

Composer Osvaldo Golijov dominates the list, with three releases. Haenssler Classics has issued the world premiere performance of his epochal ''Pasion Segun San Marcos,'' a recording that will interest everyone who rejoiced in the work in Symphony Hall and at Tanglewood (and many who couldn't make it). The performance, however, is inevitably not as assured as some of the later ones. ''Yiddishbbuk,'' with the St. Lawrence String Quartet, Todd Palmer, clarinet, and other artists (EMI), collects four of the chamber works that had already drawn international attention to Golijov's gifts. ''Nuevo'' (Nonesuch) presents the Kronos Quartet in Latin music; eight of the brilliant arrangements are by Golijov.

Those who enjoyed the Boston Lyric Opera's production of Tod Machover's opera ''Resurrection'' will want to know that the live recording made at the Houston premiere in 1999 has at last appeared on Albany Records. This is music that makes its greatest impact in the theater, but the recording presents an opportunity to know it better. The Houston cast is strong.

Benjamin Zander made an acclaimed recording of Mahler's Sixth Symphony with the Boston Philharmonic a few years ago. Now he's returned to the work in his ongoing cycle with London's Philharmonia Orchestra for Telarc, offering a more polished performance that has lost nothing in intensity. The set includes both versions of the finale and a discussion disc that lasts nearly as long as the symphony itself. The mixture of musical, biographical, and inspirational detail in Zander's talk seems better balanced than on some previous occasions.

A CPI disc presents Zander and the New England Conservatory Youth Philharmonic in Strauss's ''Ein Heldenleben'' along with two works featuring the wonderful violinist Stefan Jackiw - a dazzling Paganini Concerto and the hackneyed ''Meditation'' from Massenet's ''Thais,'' which sounds noble in his youthful hands.

James Yannatos and the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra earn our gratitude for their recording for Albany of three scores by area composers - Yannatos himself, represented by his Fifth Symphony, ''Son et lumiere''; Charles Fussell, also represented by his Fifth Symphony; and Yehudi Wyner, whose ''Prologue and Narrative'' for cello and orchestra features Andres Diaz as the expressive soloist.

For ASV, the Harvard University Choir under Murray Forbes Somerville has recorded an interesting album of choral music by two New England composers, Amy Beach and Randall Thompson. Some of the Thompson pieces will be familiar to anyone who has ever sung in a chorus, but Beach's well-made pieces are unusual and well worth reviving.

Pianist Russell Sherman has followed up his much-praised cycles of the Beethoven Piano Sonatas and Concertos for GM with a disc of works by Gunther Schuller, George Perle, Robert Helps, and Ralph Shapey premiered by or commissioned for him. These are all serious and substantial works, even when they are miniatures, like Schoenberg's Six Pieces for Piano, Op. 19, with which the disc opens. Sherman lives with and within the music he plays.

Geoffrey Burleson has recorded (for Centaur) the complete works for solo piano that Arthur Berger composed between 1933 and 1994 - performances of playful insight offered in tribute to the composer's richly lived 90 years.

Jonathan Bass's Americus recital offers the elegant and elusive Preludes by Daniel Pinkham in the context of lucid, intelligent, and original performances of works by Bach, Chopin, and Scriabin. Michael Lewin's ''Bamboula!'' (Centaur) is a selection of the delightful piano music by Louis Moreau Gottschalk, America's first international virtuoso/composer; Lewin has the chops and the charm for these pieces. Gabriel Chodos on Fleur de Son presents an austere but moving performance of Beethoven's Sonata, Op. 111, along with a specialty of the house, Schubert's ''Moments Musicaux,'' played with warmth, insight, and affection. Harpsichordist Irma Rogell offers a CD of her 1960 debut recital in Jordan Hall (Afka) - a very unusual event for its time. Rogell was a student of Wanda Landowska and, like her teacher, plays Pleyel's fantasy of a harpsichord, and in a style that seems dated. But it is also musical and on its own terms pleasing.

Roberto Poli, on Americus, plays the same Robert Helps piece as his teacher, Sherman, in the context of dance music by Elizabethan composers, Chopin, Ravel, Scriabin, and Richard Strauss. The programming is refreshing, and the playing is full of personality and assurance. For Naxos, Janice Weber offers a selection of the piano music of Leo Ornstein, who died last year at the age of 110. Ornstein's music ranges widely in style and quality but seldom in interest, because it is so idiomatically written for the instrument. Weber brings virtuoso keyboard skills, vitality, and abundant imagination to her varied tasks.

Another local artist on Naxos is Peter Zazofsky, who has recorded the complete violin music of Aaron Copland with pianist Paul Posnak. Zazofsky is a full-service violinist, alert to the various formal, ethnic, and national elements in this music - to its humor and to its heart.

The Borromeo String Quartet's second disc for Image Records features two quartets from the Beethoven cycle, Op. 59, No. 3, and Op. 95 (''Serioso''). The performances are on the exalted and eloquent level we have come to expect from this ensemble, and the recorded sound is superb.

Worcester's Maria Ferrante is one of the most interesting sopranos active in our area. Known best in opera (she sings ''Madama Butterfly'' with the Newton Symphony after the first of the year), Ferrante is also a vivid recitalist, as her record ''sea tides and time'' (Firestar) demonstrates. With Alys Terrien-Queen's strong piano accompaniments, Ferrante sings songs by Donizetti, Rachmaninoff, Debussy, Mompou, Ives, and others; the disc includes a searing performance of Kurt Weill's ''Surabaya Johnny.'' Annette Betanski is a musical soprano with an inquiring mind, and ''A Birthday Hansel: Music for Voice and Harp'' (Chandos) finds her in the agreeable company of harpist Susan Miron and with some attractive and unusual repertoire by French, English, and German composers.

Soprano Nancy Armstrong's Purcell/Handel recital appears in the current printed catalog from VAI (Video Artists International). I haven't seen the finished disc, but I have heard the master recording. It offers selections from a Purcell recording Armstrong began 20 years ago with the Boston Museum Trio but never finished - at the time The New Yorker proclaimed her ''the Purcell prima donna of the day,'' and a recent recording of the ''Lament'' from ''Dido and Aeneas'' proves the soprano still deserves the title; also on the disc is the cantata ''Lucrezia,'' which will recall the long series of triumphant performances of Handel heroines Armstrong presented with the Boston Cecilia. This disc is a wonderful souvenir of a much-loved artist.

This story ran on page N9 of the Boston Globe on 12/8/2002.
Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.


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