NEW YORK PHILHARMONIC, BOSTON SYMPHONY, CHICAGO SYMPHONY, PHILADELPHIA ORCHESTRA. Legendary Strauss Recordings. RCA
This is a landmark historical recording, one of the most significant reissues of the CD era. Included are the first complete recordings of Richard Strauss's "Also sprach Zarathustra" and "Don Quixote," along with the first American recording of "Ein Heldenleben." It's vintage stuff, dating from 1928 to 1941, so sticklers for state-of-the-art digital surfaces will be put off by the unavoidable noise and occasionally thin recorded sound. The rest of us, however, can wallow in some absolutely splendid music making.
Serge Koussevitsky conducts the BSO in 1935 in a grand, slowly unfolding "Also sprach," while Leopold Stokowski leads the Philadelphia Orchestra in a "Death and Transfiguration" filled with fire and brimstone and mysterious beauty.
Also here is Sir Thomas Beecham's 1932 New York Philharmonic recording of "Don Quixote," with an exquisitely warm and poignant finale solo by principal cellist Alfred Wallenstein. Willem Mengelberg leads the same orchestra in "Ein Heldenleben," and Frederick Stock presides over the Chicago Symphony in the first recording of a segment of "Aus Italien." WENDY CARLOS. Switched-on Bach 2000. Telarc
It's hard to believe that a quarter-century has passed since Walter Carlos first recorded "Switched-on Bach."
In the intervening years, a good deal has happened on both personal and musical fronts. As to the former, Walter is now Wendy. As to the latter, the list of devices, both digital and analog, that Ms. Carlos used in making this disc runs 2 1/2 inches deep in the CD booklet - from a Macintosh computer to seven Kurzweil synthesizers to digital reverb to Dolby Surround encoders and decoders. This is quite a switch from the original disc, whose sole instrument of choice was the Moog synthesizer.
The new results, whether or not your playback system is equipped with surround sound, are mighty impressive. Carlos has essentially rerecorded the greatest hits on his first effort - "Air on a G String," "Wachet Auf," "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring," and the Third Brandenburg Concerto among them - and added a few surprises, including a Toccato & Fugue in D minor, that are guaranteed to shake the walls.
The pipe-organ sound Carlos synthesizes here, also showcased on the Sinfonia in D, sounds like the real McCoy, as does his harpsichord and, of all things, his Balinese gamelan. That may not have been exactly the instrument Bach had in mind when he wrote his Prelude No. 2 in C minor, but it works, especially with the terrifying tinge of the quarter-tone tunings.
The gamelan is only one of the vast array of both identifiable and off-the-wall sounds this electronic wizard of a composer has come up with. Far from a retread of the original, "Switched-On Bach 2000" is both fun and technologically mesmerizing. SEATTLE SYMPHONY, GERARD SCHWARZ, CONDUCTOR. A Tribute to William Schuman. Delos International, Inc.
William Schuman, who died last February, was one of America's great musical statesmen. The founding president of Lincoln Center, he served for many years as president of the Juilliard School, where, among numerous other achievements, he founded the Juilliard Quartet.
But Schuman was also a major and unjustly neglected composer and orchestrator.
This disc, parts of it recorded in the months just preceding his death, provides the evidence. Ably conducted by american-music champion Gerard Schwarz, it includes "New England Triptych," Schuman's apt orchestrations of three William Billings' hymns, and his clever adaptation of Charles Ives' "Variations on America."
If the latter is as spunky, eclectic, and all-stops-out as Ives could have wanted, the former is poignant, haunting, and contemplative in its approach to its most popular hymn, "When Jesus Wept."
Two of Schuman's own pieces are also here: the lushly tonal Symphony for Strings, and the dark, stark, and dramatic choreographic poem "Judith," a 1950 collaboration with Martha Graham. The performances are exceptionally clean, the string playing especially cohesive. Recording quality is stupendous, especially on the Ives. ANNE SOFIE VON OTTER, BARBARA BONNEY, BARBARA HENDRICKS. BAVARIAN RADIO SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA; JEFFREY TATE, COND. Humperdinck: "Hansel und Gretel" (Highlights). EMI
Here's an outstanding interpretation of a charming work, suitable for children of all ages. Compiled from the two-disc set EMI issued a year ago, it touches on all the highpoints of Humperdinck's sumptuously orchestrated opera, including "Brother, Come and Dance With Me." "There Stands a Little Man in the Wood Alone," and the classic "Fourteen Angels." It's sung in the original German, and there is no libretto or translation, though there is a brief synopsis.
Strong performances abound under Jeffrey Tate's tasteful interpretive guidance, and the vocal approach is refreshingly free of heavy vibrato. As Hansel and Gretel, Anne Sofie von Otter and Barbara Bonney - two of the finest young voices on the operatic stage today - blend beautifully. Ms. Bonney's tone is especially true and focused. Barbara Hendricks makes a lovely contribution as the Sandman, and Marjana Lipovsek is a wonderfully wicked witch. The recorded sound is excellent. BROADWAY CAST. Frank Loesser: "The Most Happy Fella.". RCA
Both the Broadway and opera worlds like to claim this touching, melodious score as their own. Either way, this recording represents the current revival on Broadway and is worth a listen. Spiro Malas as the Napa Vally vintner and Sophie Hayden as his mail-order bride soar over the arcing melodies of "My Heart Is So Full of You" with an easy grace, while Charles Pistone croons "Joey, Joey, Joey" as if he were Mel Torme in the flesh. As that lovable, like-everybody Herman and the sassy waitress Cleo, Scott Waara and Liz Larsen turn "Big D" into a celebration of mutual discovery.
The recording may come as a surprise since the show's producers have eschewed the original orchestral score for a two-piano arrangement, approved by Loesser. The ear quickly adjusts, and what emerges is a truly intimate chamber musical, at once endearingly sentimental and dazzlingly energetic.