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By Glenn Loney, November 15, 2000

Glenn Loney
Caricature of Glenn Loney
by Sam Norkin.
[01] Operas
[02] Musicals/Original Cast Recordings
[03] Latino Rhythms
[04] Arias, Songs, & Singers
[05] Orchestras & Soloists
[06] Hänssler Classics

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CD Roundup at the OK Music Corral

NOTE: Stacks of CDs of operas & musicals—old & new, orchestras, instrumentalists, soloists, and cabaret artists have been piling up over the summer and into the autumn. Some of them are especially interesting, but there is simply no time to provide detailed appraisals. Here instead are listings of some of the more outstanding—or unusual—recordings. —GML


WERTHER [EMI 56820]: Grand opera's grand duo, Roberto Alagna and Angela Gheorghiu, are Goethe's hero and his Charlotte in this 2-CD album of Massenet's "lyric drama." Thomas Hampson is Albert in this recording—but he has also sung Werther at the Met. Antonio Pappano conducts the LSO.

DIE BRAUTWAHL [TELDEC 25250]: After you see Busoni's Doktor Faustus at the Met this season, you may well want to hear more of his work. This 2-CD album of Busoni's unjustly neglected opera is from the Berlin State Opera, with its GMD, Daniel Barenboim, conducting. Based on a neglected tale from E. T. A. Hoffmann, it features Graham Clark, Carola Höhn, Vinson Cole, and Günter von Kannen.

FRANCESCA DA RIMINI [ORF/KOCH/SCHWANN 3-1368-2 Y5]: This 2-CD album is the official ORF recording of the Bregenz Festival's brilliant revival of Zandonai's seldom-performed opera. Fabio Luisi conducts the Vienna Symphony, with powerful performances by Elena Filipova, Philippe Rouillon, and Kenneth Riegel. Zandonai's even more obscure Chiquita and I Cavalieri di Ekebu have recently been revived at Ireland's Wexford Festival, so a re-discovery of Zandonai may be waiting in the wings.

DER ROSENKAVALIER [DGG 453 200-2]: This 3-CD album is another gem in the Salzburg Festival Document series. With the Vienna Philharmonic conducted by the legendary Herbert von Karajan, the cast features the equally legendary Lisa della Casa, Sena Jurinac, Hilde Güden, Otto Edelmann, and Erich Kunz. These CDs are mono, but I was fortunate enough to hear this stunning production live [natural stereo] in 1960.

SAUL & DAVID [CHANDOS 8911/12]: Carl Nielsen's impressive musical vision of this strange biblical fable of bonding and alienation structurally works better as an oratorio than as an opera. Neeme Järvi conducts the Danish National Radio Orchestra in this 2-CD album, with Aage Haugland, Tina Kiberg, and Anne Gjevang featured in the cast.

LA FAVORITE [RCA VICTOR 66229]: This 2-CD album of Donizetti's neglected opera suggests it might be well worth a major revival. This is a so-called "live recording," with the Bavarian Radio Orchestra conducted by Marcello Viotti. Vesselina Kasarova and Ramón Vargas sing Léonor and Fernand.


Original Cast Recordings—

SWING [SK 89122]: Unfortunately, on this SONY CD you cannot see the frenetic Post-Depression "period" dancing which makes this Broadway show such a winner. But the vintage pop hits are all here, as well as the show's dynamic headline performers Ann Hampton Callaway. Everett Bradley, and Laura Benanti.

RAGTIME [BMG/RCA VICTOR 63167]: This handsome and ambitious show has long since closed—followed by a tacky Jesus Christ Superstar revival, which rapidly disappeared. But you can revive memories of Coalhouse Walker and the Ragtime Era with this two-disk set. There are 37 musical numbers, plus a bonus "Ragtime Symphonic Suite." Marin Mazzie and Brian Stokes Walker are featured, as on stage.

KISS ME, KATE [DRG 12988]: Marin Mazzie and Brian Stokes Walker are also featured on this new CD. Obviously it's not the original "original cast recording" of Cole Porter's vintage reworking of Shakespeare and Show Biz. But, if you live far from the Great White Way, this supercharged recording can give you at least the audio experience of this colorful revival's tremendous vitality.

Audra McDonald stars in original cast recording of Marie Christine.
MARIE CHRISTINE [BMG/RCA VICTOR 63593]: John Michael LaChiusa's musical updating of the Medea Myth, produced at Lincoln Center's Vivian Beaumont Theatre, did not have a long run, nor many rave reviews. Fans of Audra McDonald, however, will surely want to have this CD anyway. Those who missed the show can now discover whether the critics were right. Those who saw it might want to reconsider its qualities.

THE WILD PARTY [BMG/RCA VICTOR 63692]: Last season, there were two quite different productions of two versions of this piece of dated and jaded eroticism. One of them was by John Michael LaChiusa, but this two-CD set is not his show. Instead, it's the work of Andrew Lippa, who, like LaChiusa, did it all: book, lyrics, and music. Listening to these tracks—without having to look at the Manhattan Theatre Club staging—proved a provocative experience.

GUMBOOTS [BMG/RCA VICTOR 37242]: Less potently percussive than Stomp> or Tap-Dogs, the songs and dances of the South African Rishile Gumboot Dancers have a joy and urgency about them which both the Brits and the Aussies lacked in their noisy spectacles. One of the reasons is that these songs are really about something very close to the hearts and lives of the performers. "Nelson Mandela" means something—not only to these fine dancers and musicians—but to the entire world!

AFTER THE FAIR [Varèse Sarabande 302 066 075 2]: This is a precious little show, based on a fiction of Thomas Hardy. It's good that Stephen Cole—book & lyrics—didn't try his hand with Hardy's Far from the Madding Crowd. Premiered by the earnest York Theatre Company—founded by the late Janet Hayes Walker—it had a certain charm, although Matthew Ward's score was not compelling. Judge for yourself: It may be just what your community theatre is looking for!

HALF A SIXPENCE [BMG/RCA VICTOR 63691]: This long-ago Broadway show—and its star, Tommy Steele—had real charm, without being precious. It was nostalgic even then, and more so now on this reissue of the original cast album on CD. The show worked, not only because it was based on a story by H. G. Welles—instead of Thos. Hardy—but also because David Heneker's music & lyrics were first-rate.

SARATOGA [BMG/RCA VICTOR 63690]: Starring Carol Lawrence and Howard Keel, this lavish musical should have been a big hit. Even now, hearing the very professional music of Harold Arlen and the witty lyrics of Johnny Mercer, one longs for a revival. This reissue—part of an admirable RCA series—gives you at least the audio, if not the video.

WONDERFUL TOWN [EMI 5 56753]: This is a positive delight, but it is not like a cast recording. The fact that Sir Simon Rattle is conducting the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group—with opera's Thomas Hampson as Robert—indicates some of the "crossover" atmosphere. Audra McDonald and Kim Criswell give their Broadway best, however.

BLAST [BMG/RCA VICTOR 37232]: This is a show I have thus far missed, though it is coordinated in North America by Dodger Theatricals. The CD was recorded partly in London at the Apollo Hammersmith and partly at Indiana University. It's described as "an explosive musical celebration," which indicates a debt to Stomp. At least in decibel concepts. Fortunately, there is brass, as well as percussion. And the music is fairly tame until well into the program. The group pays its respects to modern masters such as Copland, Barber, Ravel, and Lecuona. From Mangione, there's "Land of Make Believe." From Bernstein, "Gee, Officer Krupke." In performance, Blast must be much more exciting than this CD suggests. The album photos show scowling young musicians brandishing drumsticks and trumpets, as well as waving colorful banners.


Keith Lockhart leads Boston Pops in CD of Latin Rhythms.
THE LATIN ALBUM [BMG/RCA VICTOR 63727]: Keith Lockhart conducts the Boston Pops, with some help from Mariachi Cobre and Inca Son. Copland's "El Salon México" and Villalobos' "Mi Cambio"—despite obvious differences in style and impulse—both seem to have been through the Mixmaster. You can safely listen to these tracks without getting high blood-pressure. Boston is only south of the Canadian Border.

SOUTH AMERICAN GETAWAY [EMI CLASSICS 56981]: This CD takes its title from the Burt Bacharach song of that name. Oddly enough, even the works of Villa-Lobos and Astor Piazzolla sound almost as bland and not very Latin. Juliane Banse is on hand. That the music is played by the Twelve Cellists of the Berlin Philharmonic explains this lack of fire and pulse. Where was the Tabasco sauce? They all needed to get away from Berlin before they recorded this pleasant musical wallpaper.


The following are all CDs I am pleased to add to my collection, as I'm sure other fans will as well!

VERDI PER DUE [EMI CLASSICS 56656]: The duo is of course the world-class operatic love-birds, Angela Gheorghiu and Roberto Alagna. Claudio Abbado leads the Berlin Philharmonic.

OPERETTA ARIAS [EMI CLASSICS 56578]: Thomas Hampson interprets Kálman, Lehár, Millöcker, Stolz, Tauber, Zeller, and Strauss Jr. When was the last time you heard a number from Bettelstudent, Obersteiger, or Trauminsel so liltingly sung? Trauminsel, bitte? Franz Welser-Möst conducts the London Philharmonic.

THE ENGLISH SONGBOOK [EMI CLASSICS 56830]: Tenor Ian Bostridge is the star of this collection of traditional and fairly modern songs. He's accompanied by Julius Drake. He's authoritative, but he looks so fragile in the album photo.

BRITTEN: SERENADE/OUR HUNTING FATHERS [EMI CLASSICS 56871]: Tenor Ian Bostridge again excels, this time backed by the Bamberg Symphony and by the Britten Sinfonia.

SERENADE [VIRGIN CLASSICS 45400]: This song collection features the amazing counter-tenor David Daniels. It also includes some English songs—Purcell and Vaughan Williams. But Poulenc, Gounod, Gluck, Beethoven, and Schubert are saluted as well. Martin Katz accompanies.

John Bucchino on his own CD album cover, his songs sung by celebrities.
GRATEFUL: THE SONGS OF JOHN BUCCHINO [BMG/RCA VICTOR 63594]: An impressive roster of artists interpret the cabaret songs of Bucchino, an obvious talent—whose name was not at all familiar to me. Not for me "a name to conjure with." But Patti LuPone, Art Garfunkel, Daisy Prince, Kristin Chenoweth, Judy Collins, Liza Minelli, and Michael Feinstein make magic with his creations. He's also at the piano, and he produced this CD as well!

DAS LIED VON DER ERDE [BMG/RCA VICTOR 67957]: Waltraud Meier and Ben Heppner are featured on this Lorin Maazel-conducted evocation of Mahler's haunting song-cycle. The Bavarian Radio Symphony is in good form.

RACHMANINOV: VESPERS [EMI CLASSICS 56752]: Stephen Cleobury leads the Anglican choir of King's College, Cambridge, in Sergei Rachmaninov's 16 sacred Russian Orthodox meditations.

HARMONIUM/THE KLINGHOFER CHORUSES [NONESUCH 79549]: Bay Area composer John Adams conducts the San Francisco Symphony in Harmonium, his work commissioned in 1980 for that orchestra and chorus. It's set to texts from John Donne and Emily Dickinson. The second section of this CD is devoted to choruses from Adams' militantly Minimalist opera, The Death of Klinghofer. When was the last time you saw that in production? As it's not in any major repertory, you can savor some its powers from these tracks. As Philip Glass is his inspiration, Adams' choruses have an incantory quality in their limited range and repetitions,


An Aaron Copland Triad—

Conductor Michael Tilson Thomas enjoyed a unique friendship with composer Aaron Copland. With the San Francisco Symphony on three BMG/RCA Victor CDs, he celebrates his love and understanding of Copland's genius.

FANFARE FOR THE COMMON MAN & ON AARON COPLAND: THE MAN AND HIS MUSIC [BMG/RCA 63719]: Framed by the Fanfare, Tilson Thomas introduces Copland and surveys his career, with musical nods to major compositions, with the conductor on piano. Thomas also shares his memories of this foreign-born but distinctively American composer.

AARON COPLAND 1900-90: THE POPULIST [BMG/RCA 63511]: This CD offers over an hour of the classics Rodeo, Appalachian Spring, and Billy the Kid.

COPLAND THE MODERNIST [BMG/RCA 68541]: The high point of this CD is Garrick Ohlsson's performance of Copland's Concerto for Piano and Orchestra.

PHILIP GLASS: SYMPHONY NO. 5: REQUIEM, BARDO, NIRMANAKAYA [NONESUCH]: This ambitious new work was premiered this fall as part of BAM's Next Wave Festival. Glass was inspired by various Creation Myths, but he follows Mankind through Life, Death, and Judgment. The haunting, incantory power of Glass's Minimalist repetitions make these two disks good New Age background listening. You do not have to pay close attention. Dennis Russell Davies conducts the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra. I am listening to two promotional—Not for Sale—CDs. So I have no catalogue numbers to cite.

LORIN MAAZEL CONDUCTS WAGNER: SIEGFRIED IDYLL [BMG/RCA 68717]: This is Volume 2 of the Maazel series with the Berlin Philharmonic, featuring overtures and preludes of the Master. Included are overtures from Rienzi and Faust, with preludes from Lohengrin and Die Meistersinger as well. Powerful!

KODALY, BARTOK, LISZT [BMG/RCA VICTOR 70352]: This is a CD of Music from Saratoga, with Martha Argerich, Nelson Freire, Chantal Juillet, Truls Mark, and Michael Collins composing this excellent chamber group.

RICHARD STRAUSS/SARAH CHANG [BMG/RCA VICTOR 68702]: Chang is brilliant—as usual—in the Concerto in D minor and the Sonata for violin and piano in E flat. Wolfgang Sawallisch conducts the Bavarian Radio Orchestra and accompanies at the keyboard.

SHCHEDRIN/STRAVINSKY/TCHAIKOVSKY [BMG/RCA VICTOR 57035]: Maxim Vengerov is amazing—as usual—in these two concertos and a serenade, with Mstislav Rostropovich conducting the London Symphony Orchestra. [Vengerov is also a charming interview subject!]

ADES: ASYLA [BMG/RCA VICTOR 68182]: Composer Thomas Adès is at the keyboard, with Sir Simon Rattle conducting the Birmingham Symphony. "Asyla" is followed by Adès' very brief "Concerto Conciso," "These Premises Are Alarmed," the brief "Chamber Symphony," and "…but all shall be well." The composer of "Powder Her Face" does not disappoint here either.


Are you familiar with the Houston Radio Symphony Orchestra? Or perhaps the Tacoma Radio Symphony? Not even the San Francisco Radio Symphony?


No wonder. Not since the great radio-days of Arturo Toscanini and the NBC Symphony, has a major or minor American city—or its broadcasters—subsidized a standing symphony orchestra through its local or regional radio-TV stations.

In Germany, however, some of the finest orchestras are maintained by major regional broadcasting networks, centered in major cities. They are frequently conducted by major talents as well.

Even in North America, the Bayerische Rundfunk Orchester is known through re-broadcasts on PBS and "good music" stations. But there are other radio symphony ensembles whose concerts are less widely disseminated.

Until fairly recently, it was legally impossible for such performances to be recorded and sold commercially on CDs. A decision from the German Federal High Court in Karlsrühe has changed all that.

That's the reason a relatively new classical record company—Hänssler Classics—has been able to present an amazing catalogue of important standards, in fine performances, conducted by such stalwarts as Michael Gielen, Sylvain Cambreling, Georges Prétre, Sir Roger Norrington, and Karl Böhm.

But Karl Böhm is long dead, isn't he? True, but some radio stations are sitting on a Fafner's Golden Hoard of vintage broadcast recordings. Thus, Hänssler Classics can also offer the legendary tenor Fritz Wunderlich in performances from 1954 to 1965.

These were made with the Radio Orchestra of Kaiserslautern. In the 1950s, Americans in Germany knew this city as the site of one of the best US Army PXs. Few discovered the city's own broadcast orchestra.

The dynamically Modernist conductor Michael Gielen made a great name for himself as General Music Director and Chief at the Frankfurt Opera. His experience and talents have in no way been diminished by his work with the Radio Symphony of Baden-Baden and Freiburg.

If anything, he has helped raise the performance level of this able ensemble.

That has also been the case with Sir Roger Norrington and the Radio Symphony in Stuttgart. All three radio orchestras—Stuttgart, Kaiserslautern, and Baden-Baden/Freiburg are under the regional auspices of the SWR, or Southwest Radio/TV.

This past summer at the Salzburg Festival, Hänssler Classics made a major presentation to the press at the Hotel Österreichischer Hof. Conductors Gielen, Cambreling, Rupert Huber, and Sir Roger were on hand to discuss the current releases and future plans.

Norrington was especially enthusiastic about working with the Stuttgart Orchestra, but found the city itself uninteresting. He actually indicated this on the panel, before all the music-critics and press.

I'd met him the previous summer at the Salzburg Mozarteum, where he also conducts its orchestra on occasion. I told him how surprised I was that he would dispraise the city where he's conducting and recording.

Especially because it is an important cultural center, which suffered great war damage to its historical buildings and institutions. But that was half a century ago, and Stuttgart has, phoenix-like, long ago risen from its flames.

Nonetheless, Hänssler Classics and Sir Roger now can let the wider world know of the strengths of musical life in Stuttgart.

Also on the panel was composer Wolfgang Rihm, whose post-modernist compositions are much admired in Mittel-Europa. His 2-CD album of Morphonie and Klangbeschreibung I-III was presented to the press. Ernest Bour conducts the first work, with Gielen explicating the latter three.

Other Hänssler Classics CD albums presented included Sir Roger conducting Elgar's Symphony No. 1; Gielen conducting Mahler's "Resurrection" Symphony, and Cambreling, leading the Baden-Baden/Freiburg orchestra through Berlioz. Roméo et Juliette and Messiaen's L'Ascension.

Hänssler's new label is titled faszination musik. The various works of Johann Sebastian Bach are a major focus of this new label's millennial offerings. The catalogue's listings of Bach recordings seems almost exhaustive.

If you want to know more about Hänssler Classics's CD repertory—and cannot find their albums in your local shop—you can get their catalogue five ways:

1) Hänssler Classics/Max-Eyth-Strasse 41/71088 Holzgerlingen/Germany.

2) Phone: 011-49-7031-7414-220.

3) Fax: 011-49-7031-7414-209.

4) e-mail: info@haenssler.de.

5) Web: http://www.haenssler-klassik.de.

Considering the declining market for classical recordings, Hänssler Classics is a welcome and courageous CD debutante. Fortunately, its CDs don't cost a fortune, as its artists and orchestras don't have ruinous contracts with the company.

Its presence in Salzburg was all the more encouraging as most of the major classical record labels have folded their tents and silently stolen away.

Formerly, big labels like SONY, RCA, Deutsche Gramaphone, Phillips, Teldec, and EMI all maintained festival-season showrooms—or special press-premises—for their new releases and backlists.

This past summer, only EMI was still on site, but that will soon end when its lease on the office in the heart of historic Salzburg is up.


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Copyright © Glenn Loney 2000. No re-publication or broadcast use without proper credit of authorship. Suggested credit line: "Glenn Loney, New York Theatre Wire." Reproduction rights please contact: jslaff@nytheatre-wire.com.

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