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By Glenn Loney, March 25, 2003

Glenn Loney
Caricature of Glenn Loney
by Sam Norkin.
[01] Broadway & Off-Broadway Musical CDs
[02] Nonesuch Ethnic Recordings
[03] Festival Time in Salzburg
[04] Musical Treasures from Hänssler Classics

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For some months, review copies of music CD recordings have been piling up on the desk. So it's now time to sort them out and make some lists of the best.

Broadway & Off-Broadway Musicals:

Curiously, few cast-recordings of new Broadway Musicals have reached this address. Time was when the post-box was frequently crammed with them. But then, there aren't so many blockbuster-musicals anymore. Not to mention original-cast recordings. But the producers of The Producers or Hairspray haven't yet seen fit to send me their CDs.

Nonesuch has just sent a great CD of the recent Broadway production of Sondheim's Into the Woods.

From Dreamworks Records comes a single CD of "Highlights" from Baz Luhrmann's Bohème on Broadway. This overview is especially attractive, for it offers all three of the principal casts in major musical moments from the opera.

All I have from Thoroughly Modern Millie is "Rough Mix Selections" single, which was a pre-Broadway promo…

From Hollywood comes Highlights of Disney on Broadway: Greatest Musical Moments from the Grammy & Tony Award-Winning Shows. The shows, of course, are The Lion King, Beauty & The Beast, & Aida. This is also a promo-single. It even carries the caveat: "Property of Walt Disney Records." Do I have to send it back now I've listened to it?

From Sh-K-Boom Records I've received a single of Jason Robert Brown's The Last 5 Years, a show and a score that I liked a lot. But the show didn't have the run it deserved.

Nonesuch Ethnic Recordings:

Having recently returned from Zimbabwe and South Africa, I was very impressed with Nonesuch's EXPLORER SERIES AFRICA. I have also traveled in Nigeria, Côte Ivoire, Senegal, and other West African lands, so other Nonesuch titles also appeal.

Here are some of the outstanding CD recordings in the Explorer Series: ZIMBABWE: Shona Mbira Music, GHANA: Ancient Ceremonies, EAST AFRICA: Ceremonial & Folk Music, BURUNDI: Music from the Heart of Africa, EAST AFRICA: Witchcraft & Ritual Music, GHANA: High-Life & Other Popular Music, WEST AFRICA: Drum, Chant, & Instrumental Music, ANIMALS OF AFRICA: Sounds of the Jungle, Plain, & Bush. This last CD is especially fascinating.

Festival Time in Salzburg:

In the Herbert Von Karajan Era, all the major classical recording companies were promoting their new CDs-and their backlists as well-at the Salzburg Festival. And it was no coincidence that their stars were often onstage in dazzling new opera productions-or in dynamic concerts-as well.

When Gerard Mortier became Festival Director, he put a stop to such apparent artistic collusion. In fact, the festival press was even discouraged from seeking out the temporary HQs of the various record companies.

Nonetheless, Teldec, Sony, RCA, BMG, HMV, EMI, Deutsche Grammophone, Philips, and other major labels continued to shower the critics with complimentary CDs and invitations to receptions-and even lunches in the Mozart House or historic hotels-with their recording stars.

In the past few seasons, however, many have folded their tents. Some labels have even come under a common umbrella, such as Universal Music. It now shelters Decca, Deutsche Grammophone, & Philips.

At this past summer's Salzburg Festival, those three labels offered the press stars @ salzburg 2002, featuring Bonney, Brendel, Mutter, Fleming, Domingo, Gergiev, Von Otter, among other luminaries.

Deutsche Grammophone also presented promo-singles as samplings of the recent recordings of Claudio Abbado, Thomas Quasthoff, Maria João Pires, & Placido Domingo-who got two CD promos: Sacred Songs & The Verdi Tenor.

Decca presented some excellent recordings. My gift CDs were Renée Fleming's Bel Canto and Cecilia Bartoli's Vivaldi Album.

Adding to the already long list of SALZBURGER FESTSPIELDOKUMENTE is the Edition 2002 CD of Wolfgang Schneiderhan and the Vienna Philharmonic in a 1973 Mozart concert.

EMI still presents a high profile at the Festival. It always offers an impressive CD sampler to the press-and not for sale: f: festival 2002. Among its outstanding artists in recent or vintage recordings: Kiri Te Kanawa & Jonathan Lemalu from Down Under, Kennedy, Ian Bostridge, Sarah Chang, Claudio Abbado, and even Maria Callas-in Callas Forever!

Major CD albums from EMI on offer at the Salzburg Festival included the following outstanding recordings, some of which are not so recent:

Gounod's Roméo et Juliette, with Roberto Alagna and Angela Gheorghiu. Michel Plasson conducts the Orchestre du Capitole de Toulouse.

Verdi's Il Trovatore, again with Alagna and Gheorghiu, plus Thomas Hampson and Larissa Diadkova.

Mozart's Idomeneo, with Ian Bostridge, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, and Sir Charles Mackerras conducting the Scottish Chamber Orchestra.

Schoenberg's Gurrelieder, featuring Karita Mattila, Anne Sofie von Otter, Thomas Moser, Philip Langridge, and Thomas Quasthoff. Simon Rattle conducts the Berlin Philharmonic.

Musical Treasures from Hänssler Classics:

I already have almost a Five-Foot-Shelf of splendid CD recordings from the estimable German firm of Hänssler. Two feet of the shelf have arrived in various postings over recent months. So it's long overdue that I list some of the most impressive recordings.

Many famed classical labels are having a difficult time selecting operas, symphonies, and other musical works to record for an increasingly saturated market. And there's the problem of a sky no longer filled with so many real stars. Not to mention the contract demands of those who are marketable…

Hänssler's advantage-which also explains why it can issue an amazing on-going list of new CDs-is that it now has access to important German radio-broadcast concerts and performances which were previously off-limits for commercial recordings.

This also encourages Hänssler to embark on large-scale projects, such as their Edition Bachakademie, which consists of no less than 172 CDs.

[If you are unable to find Hänssler's CDs in your local record-outlet, you can find out about them on the Internet: http://www. hänssler.de/classic]

If you are familiar with recordings of the Orchestra of the Bayerischer Rundfunk in Munich, you may well wonder why it is not represented in the Hänssler catalogue, which teems with recordings from orchestras and ensembles of Germany's SWR, or Sud-West Rundfunk. The answer is that Hänssler's access is principally to archival and contemporary SWR performances.

Hence, no CDs of performances from Radio Free Berlin. Or WDR -the West German Radio, based in Cologne-and NDR in Hamburg.

This regionalism in broadcasting was mandated in the aftermath of World War II. The Allied Armies of Occupation wanted to make sure there would never again be a Federal German Broadcast Network. That would be too easy for a latter-day Dr. Goebbels to seize and begin Neo-Nazi Thought-Control via Radio & TV.

[I know about this from first-hand as I used to write scripts for the US & Canada weekly radio-program, Germany Today. This program was sponsored by the Association of German Broadcasters -which of course included SWR, WDR, NDR, Bavarian Radio, & Radio Free Berlin. Some of my scripts-which centered on science, arts, social welfare, and religion in West Germany-were drawn from their own broadcast programs. This series was created by the late David Berger as a complement to his Music From Germany, also sponsored by the associated state broadcasters.]

One of Hänssler's stars is the distinguished conductor Michael Gielen. I first came to know his work when he was the innovative-even combative-General Music Director of the Frankfurt Opera, at a time of its most adventurous programming and production.

Gielen's collaboration with the late East German avant-garde opera-director Ruth Berghaus was extremely productive. Their Post-Modernist Wagnerian Ring was surely one of the most unusual in modern memory.

Berghaus-composer Paul Dessau's widow-was no respecter of Tradition. Or of Musical Sacred Cows. Gielen supported her all the way.

On the final night of the Frankfurt Ring-and the end of Gielen's tenure-youthful audiences erupted with a tempestuous mixture of admiration for the work and a very vocal sense of loss that this great but brief opera-era was definitively finished. It was now All Over: Jezt Ist Alles Vorbei! read the big banner students hung from the balcony.

Gielen's new post-as Conductor of the South West [German] Radio Symphony-may have come as a relief from so much Music-Theatre stress. Last season, he was 75 years old. And he was awarded the Cannes Classical Lifetime Achievement Award 2002!

To celebrate Gielen's honors & achievements, Hänssler is releasing-on their faszinationmusik/Hänssler label-all of Gustav Mahler's symphonies, conducted by Gielen, who is now Permanent Guest Conductor of the SWR Symphony.

Now on my own CD-shelf are Gielen's fine readings of Mahler's Symphony No. 4, Symphony No. 7, and of Symphony No. 8. The latter is coupled with Schoenberg's Jacob's Ladder. The first, with Franz Schreker's Prelude to a Drama.

But there are also three Gielen-conducted Anton Bruckner CDs: the Symphony No. 3, Symphony No. 6, & Symphony No. 8. The first is coupled with Wagner's Lohengrin Preludes; the second with the Bach/Schoenberg Prelude & Fugue for Organ, and the third, with Morton Feldman's Coptic Light.

But that's not the end of Hänssler's Gielen Largesse: Here is Alexander Scriabin's Symphony No. 3, plus selections by Busoni, Ravel, and Stravinsky. Followed by Gielen's sensitive interpretation of Ludwig van Beethoven's Symphony No. 8, plus two additional works.

Then there's Franz Schubert's Symphony No. 9, coupled with a Strauss waltz. Another Gielen CD, recorded with the SWR Symphony, offers his own Pflicht und Neigung, coupled with works by Berg, Schoenberg, Webern, and Steuermann.

Just as I was closing this file, another Gielen CD arrived from Hänssler: Mahler's Kindertotenlieder, with mezzo Cornelia Kallisch.

But Hänssler isn't playing favorites with Bruckner conductors. It also offers Ferdinand Leitner-leading the Stuttgart Radio-Symphony-Orchestra of SWR-in Bruckner's Symphony No. 6 and Symphony No. 9! The first of these includes Karl Amadeus Hartmann's own Symphony No. 6.

It has been a very long time since any American Radio or TV Network had an in-house symphony orchestra. And yet, this is the rule in Germany and Austria. Germany's South West Radio [SWR] has, in fact, two great symphony orchestras: Gielen's in Baden-Baden/Freiburg and the Stuttgart Radio-Symphony.

But-as these orchestras are not so well known outside Europe-neither Gielen nor Leitner has received the attention and acclaim they both deserved elsewhere.

For that matter, although I once lectured in Heidelberg-for the University of Maryland-I was not aware there's a Heidelberger Sinfoniker. But here's a Hänssler CD with both Symphonies No. 4 & No. 6 of Beethoven, played by that very orchestra, under the baton of Thomas Fey-a talent completely new to me…

At least I had known the talents-and the temperament-of the late Erich Leinsdorf. And here he is again for Hänssler, conducting Wagner and Schoenberg!

Even more historic are Carl Schuricht's readings of Wagner works, spanning the years 1950-66. He was conducting the Stuttgart orchestra. Just arrived: Schuricht conducting Mozart's piano concertos Nos. 9 & 19, with Clara Haskil at the keyboard. Another Hänssler CD showcases Karl Böhm conducting Mozart & Beethoven, also with the Stuttgart symphony.

Then there is a Hänssler CD featuring a historic Hans Rosbaud, with the SWR's Baden-Baden Orchestra, leading Beethoven's Symphony No. 8. He is also on a CD conducting three fine Mozart concertos with the same orchestra.

Hänssler offers Joseph Haydn on various CD recordings. My three acquisitions include the World Premiere of his Missa Solemnis, with the SWR Constance Philharmonic, under Mario Schwarz.

Thomas Fey and the Heidelbergers offer three Haydn Symphonies: Nos. 82, 88, & 95. The big surprise, however, is the CD with the Choir of Trinity Church/Wall Street and Owen Burdick conducting the REBEL Baroque Orchestra. They have recorded Haydn's Mass in F Major & Mass in C Major!

Mozart's Coronation Mass is on another Hänssler CD, with Helmut Rilling conducting the Bach Collegium Stuttgart.

Among Handel titles is his Dettinger Te Deum, with the Hannover Hofkapelle and the Siegen Bach-Choir, conducted by Ulrich Stötzel. In this era, the Hannoverians were on the English Throne-as well as their own.

Back in Stuttgart, the SWR's Vocal Ensemble recorded Rossini's Petite Messe solenelle, with Rupert Hubert conducting. This CD is in Hänssler's Vocal Arts series. This same SWR ensemble has also recorded for Hänssler a CD of Morton Feldman's The Rothko Chapel, For Stephan Wolpe, & Christian Wolff in Cambridge.

Cantate Domino features the Boys Choir Capella Vocalis, conducted by Eckhard Weyand. A variety of sacred songs are on the CD, including works by Grieg, Bach, Mendelssohn, Bruckner, and Poulenc. [Not a note about dominoes or checkers!]

Cantata, Concerto, & Sonata is a Hänssler CD featuring the Ensemble musica poetica Freiburg. Hans Bergmann conducts by works Bach and his contemporaries. These include a concerto by His Highness Johann Ernst, Prince of Saxon-Weimar.

From the SWR's Baden-Baden branch comes a collection of Bach, Handel, Locatelli, Conti, and Albinoni, with the Balthasar-Neumann Ensemble. Soprano Sibylla Rubens sings a Conti motet and Handel's Armida abbandonata.

Galante Kurzweyl is a delightful Hänssler suite of Court Dances of the Renaissance, Baroque, and Rococo. The Ensemble Buon Tempo elegantly interprets works of Lully, Playford, d'Estrée, Pécour, St. Flour, Feuillet, Bach, & Mozart.

Hänssler soloist CDs include Andreas Schmidt, singing the Schubert song-cycle, Die schöne Müllerin, and Thomas Quasthoff interpreting Handel & Bach. On another CD, soprano Christine Schäfer sings Haydn, Bach, and Mendelssohn.

Rather a change is mezzo-soprano Helene Schneiderman-accompanied by Jascha Nemtsov-illuminating On Wings of Jewish Songs. These are songs from the New Jewish School, with such composers as Gnesin, Krein, Milner, Rosowsky, Saminsky, Achron, and Lvov.

Hänssler offers a CD with the Klenke-Quartet playing both Goldmark's String Quarter in B Major and Mendelssohn's String Quarter in A Minor. This is from SWR in Baden-Baden

South West Radio also has a Rundfunkorchester in Kaiserslautern-which had a very good US Army PX in the 1950s. Jirí Stárek leads this symphony in Dr. Antonín Dvorák's Slavonic Dances, ops. 46 & 72. Also from Kaiserslautern is something altogether different: Best of James Bond! Ingrid Peters is soloist.

But Czech musical culture is not exactly evoked in Live in Prague, even with Ivan Moravec at the keyboard. The title means he was playing there live. Janácek is the only Czech composer on his program. Chopin was Polish; Debussy, French. And Haydn was at Eisenstadt…

Sir Roger Norrington-a Salzburg Mozarteum & SWR Stuttgart Radio-Symphony regular-is represented in Hänssler's catalogue by Holst's The Planets, paired with Elgar's Serenade for String Orchestra. Among other titles such as the just-arrived CD of his reading of Beethoven's Symphonies No. 5 & 6.

Also from the Stuttgart orchestra is Béla Bartók's one-act opera, Bluebeard's Castle. Peter Fried is Bluebeard, with Cornelia Kallisch as his unfortunate wife. Peter Oötvös conducts with verve.

An especially interesting Hänssler CD is passione italiana. This features string-music by Italian Opera Composers. Verdi and Puccini seem from a somewhat different world than Nino Rota, however. Patrick Straub conducts Stuttgart's Arcata Chamber Orchestra.

Fans of classical guitar will want to hear Dale Kavanagh on Hänssler's Rêverie CD. She is also on Guitar Gala Night, which includes the Amadeus & Eden-Stell Guitar Duos.

For collectors of American Jazz, Hänssler's SWR Big Band CD's may prove to be something unusual. Then there's Slide Hampton in Jazz Matinee and Bill Holman in Jazz in Concert.

If you find these many CD recordings to be very wide-ranging-and then some-get the Hänssler catalogue and be even more amazed.

Only occasionally-and almost only on WQXR-will you hear some of these able ensembles, soloists, and conductors on American broadcasts. And even less often on American concert stages, at least as far as Radio Symphony Orchestras are concerned! [Loney]

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Copyright © Glenn Loney 2003. 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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