Monthly Record Guide
Classical Hector Berlioz: ''Les nuits d'ete,'' with Kiri Te Kanawa, soprano. ''La mort de Cleopatre,'' with Jessye Norman, soprano. Orchestre de Paris, Daniel Barenboim, conductor. (Deutsche Grammophon digital 2532 047) - Barenboim's Berlioz cycle has been deeply disappointing on almost all counts. This single release is a lonely exception. Other singers plumb the depths of ''Les nuits d'ete'' more convincingly than Kiri Te Kanawa, but few sing the music as meltingly, gorgeously, limpidly. No one projects French dramatic texts with more majesty, fire, and power than Jessye Norman. Hearing her in this dramatic soliloquy is a staggering experience, for she encompasses all the multiple facets of Berlioz's Cleopatre in her final moments. Barenboim is actually the weak link here, though nothing so ill conceived as some of his earlier Berlioz on disc. The sound on both sides is rich and vital. - Thor Eckert Jr.
Mozart: Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K. 550; Symphony No. 41 in C, K. 551 (''Jupiter''). Chicago Symphony Orchestra, James Levine conductor. (RCA digital ARC1-4413) - This is an engineering feat of the first order - some 72 minutes of music on one LP, 35 on one side, 37 on the other. Since it is Mozart, the grooves are not overtaxed - no such timings could happen with a Mahler symphony, say. There is no real loss in sound quality, which is clean but a tad dry. This is a modern Mozart performance - crisp, energetic, superbly balanced, all the repeats taken. Levine never dawdles over favored phrases, does not try to knock one silly with opulence. The results are bracing, and vivid proof that repeats are meant to be honored in Mozart - the inner balance of each movement and the overall balance of each symphony are more satisfying this way. And by sweeping away the cobwebs of bad tradition, Levine refreshes the listener with a sort of Mozart that only increases one's respect for the composer's unique genius.- T. E. Jr.
Maurice Ravel: The Piano Concertos; ''Menuet antique''; ''Une barque sur l'ocean.'' Pascal Roge, pianist. Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal, Charles Dutoit, conductor. (London digital LDR 71092) - The Montreal/Dutoit phenomenon keeps growing. From nowhere, it seems, London began recording this combination, and there has not been a sour release to date. The Ravel piano concertos are performed spectacularly here. Roge's fingers have all the elasticity and accuracy needed, and he and Dutoit toe the Gallic line with taste and elan. The wit of the G-major concerto and the brooding, smoldering richness of the Concerto for the Left Hand have rarely been so elegantly, suavely captured. The sound is sensational, and these promise to be the standard-setting performances of the digital era. The two piano solo fillers - ''Menuet antique'' and ''Une barque sur l'ocean'' - are welcome additions to the release.
- T. E. Jr.
Stravinsky: ''The Firebird'' (complete ballet). Boston Symphony Orchestra, Seiji Ozawa, conductor. (Angel digital DS-38012) - Seiji Ozawa, long acclaimed for his Stravinsky, had a very fine ''Firebird'' on Angel with the Orchestre de Paris, marred in its domestic release by a soupy acoustic that blurred all detail. (The British pressing of that performance is quite different, and all for the better.) That Angel disc is now deleted, and this new digital with the Boston Symphony replaces it. Ozawa is in his most perfunctory mood here, and he elicits some distressingly crude playing from the orchestra. This is EMI/Angel's first attempt at recording in Symphony Hall, and it teeters on the verge of fiasco all too often. The sound is generally so dry that one would not believe this great orchestra was performing in one of the finest halls in the world. The climaxes are harsh and ugly. In short, a record that looks so promising and fails to deliver. - T. E. Jr.
Claude Bolling: ''Suite for Cello and Jazz Piano Trio,'' Yo-Yo Ma cello, Claude Bolling piano, Jean-Luc Dayan drums, Marc Michel bass. (CBS 7464-39059-1) - It is yet another classical/jazz formula from Bolling featuring a well-known classical concert artist. But although the formula is well worn with some such pressings to date, it has not lost its sparkle. As in his other suites, a variety of classical and jazz formats are juxtaposed in movements bearing such titles as ''Romantique'' and ''Cello Fan.'' Classical passages, featuring the soloist, build up to a climax, marked by the jazz sections, where the piano takes off on a written-out jazz solo. Bolling seems to enjoy mixing styles of music as much as the personified cartoon instruments on the cover do mixing their ''cake batter'' of notes. There seems a conscious mischievousness about his sudden leaps from slow, simple melodies to gutsy, almost orchestral-sounding sections that bound along, belying the numbers of notes. Bolling never quite lets you get used to a style before snatching it away from you and presenting you with another. Doing so prevents the relentlessly light and tongue-in-cheek nature of the music from becoming tedious. With full-bodied tone and lightning technique throughout the range of the instrument, Yo-Yo Ma ignites the suite with the same fire he brings to music of his own genre.
- Mel Cano
Alan Broadbent & Putter Smith: ''Continuity.'' (Revelation REV-40) - The selections don't exactly overflow with keen ideas, but this is fresh and friendly jazz supported by know-how and conviction. Though the backbone of the duo is pianist Broadbent, a one-time student of Lennie Tristano, he steps aside often for bassist Smith to show his energetic stuff. Like the proudly ''acoustic'' instruments themselves, the numbers show plenty of ''continuity'' with the past, the credits ranging from Tadd Dameron and Dizzy Gillespie to Dave Brubeck, and even Victor Young with the unquenchable ''Stella by Starlight''. - David Sterritt
Paquito D'Rivera: ''Live at Keystone Korner,'' D'Rivera, alto saxophone; Claudio Roditi, trumpet and valve trombone; Carlos Franzetti, keyboards; Steve Bailey, acoustic and electric bass; Ignaccio Berroa, drums; Daniel Ponce, congas , percussion. (Columbia Stereo FC 38899) - This has got to be one of the happiest, most dynamic, and brilliant albums of the year. D'Rivera himself is a bundle of creative energy, strong enough to hold his own even with a so-so band. But this band is simply outstanding. It's a fascinating cross-cultural ensemble, too, with three Cubans (D'Rivera, Ponce, and Berroa); an Argentine, Carlos Franzetti; and the only ''local'' - bassist Steve Bailey. D'Rivera's horn glides through a set of tunes that include two of his own compositions, a couple of Latin songs, and a tune each by Franzetti and Roditi. Although the Latin influence is strong, this is still unquestionably a jazz album. Among my favorites: Franzetti's up-tempo corker ''Deja Vu,'' to which he has added a technically astonishing and lovely ad lib introduction; and D'Rivera's beautiful and hauntingly traditional ''Song for Maura,'' written for his mother. The rhythm section is fiery, tight, and assertive. D'Rivera's wacky sense of humor is evident everywhere - he is unquestionably the ''Peck's bad boy'' of jazz! - Amy Duncan
Laurie Anderson: ''Mister Heartbreak.'' (Warner Bros. 1-25077) - It's as if Laurie Anderson gave a party on a desert island and only invited some backup musicians and her favorite authors. William S. Burroughs narrates ''Sharkey's Night,'' a murky monologue set ''deep in the heart of darkest America.'' Another cut, called ''Gravity's Angel,'' is dedicated to Thomas Pynchon, whose novels have an Anderson-like blend of poetry, humor, physics, and social comment. Such visitations aside, the album carries the special Anderson stamp throughout - the storylike lyrics, the wistful moods, the fascination with airplanes and telephones and tribal mysteries, all mixed up with exotic locales and a recurring shark motif. True, there's nothing here to equal the excellence of her masterpiece, ''O Superman,'' and there's nothing clever about borrowing quotes from standbys like ''The Tempest'' and ''Moby-Dick'' to boost the record's culture-quotient. But the instrumental arrangements are more inviting and virtuosic than on much of her respected ''Big Science'' album, and Anderson - who considers herself primarily a talker rather than a singer - puts her songs across with the assurance of a real rock star. In all, another step in the right direction for one of our most promising art-rockers. - David Sterritt
Eurythmics: ''Touch.'' (RCA Records AFL1-4917) - Annie Lennox can sound passionate and detached simultaneously: She incorporates the warmth of pop with the coolness of synth-pop. Together with co-Eurythmic Dave Stewart they've followed last year's successful ''Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)'' LP with a truly provocative ''Touch.'' Their music often has an edge of uneasiness to it - of danger, almost. ''My fist collides with your furniture,'' sings Annie Lennox on ''Regrets.'' You wouldn't want to use the nice china when she's over for dinner. But ''Touch'' is an album of subtle surprises: There's the strong Latin feel of ''Right By Your Side''; the crisp disco beat of ''Cool Blue''; and a brief, gorgeous vocal interlude in ''The First Cut.'' True, Eurythmics can have the programmed feel that other synth-pop has. But thanks to Lennox's voice and the duo's superior songwriting, they surpass this sound.
- David Hugh Smith
Dan Fogelberg: ''Windows and Walls.'' (Epic QE39004) - Dan Fogelberg has successfully repeated the role he's played so well in the past: the sensitive, intelligent bard of modern love. His high tenor mostly matches the material - and is capable of bleating emphasis. Though he can be mildly wearing if you're not ready for so much sensitivity, his work is so individual, so well crafted, that he's usually very welcome on my stereo. Fogelberg's previous ''Nether Lands'' is perhaps the most beautiful pop ballad I've ever heard. Yet on such songs on ''Windows and Walls,'' one feels he can try just a bit too hard for sensitivity. Nonetheless, the title track here is a remarkable song - one that only Dan Fogelberg would have the gumption to write. It's about a lonely woman with ''Children all married/ Husband's passed on/ Nothing but time one her hands . . . .'' You get the idea. Melodic, maudlin, but meritorious. ''The Language of Love'' is about as hard a rocker as Fogelberg supplies - which isn't too hard. It generates the warmth of recognition that comes from a song with a clear, pointed melody and creditable subject. Other cuts on this LP, though, seem pretty much in the Fogelberg formula. - D. H. S.
John Lennon/Yoko Ono: ''Milk and Honey.'' (PolyGram 817 160-1 Y-1)
John Lennon/Yoko Ono: ''Heart Play - Unfinished Dialogue.'' (PolyGram 817 238 -1 Y-1) To enjoy these two records you don't have to have a strong interest in the John Lennon-Yoko Ono romance, but it would certainly help. ''Milk and Honey'' is the second segment in a ''musical dialogue'' between Lennon and Ono. (Their 1980 ''Double Fantasy'' LP was the first part.) ''Heart Play'' is 42 minutes of conversation among Lennon, Ono, and an interviewer for Playboy magazine. Both albums have a rough, unfinished quality about them. Because Lennon was killed before his work on ''Milk and Honey'' was complete, several of the tracks are clearly much less refined than was intended. ''Milk and Honey'' contains a cut - ''Let Me Count the Ways'' - that is intended to be Ono's Elizabeth Barrett Browning for Lennon's Robert Browning on ''Grow Old With Me.'' The words for these are based on poetry by the Brownings; the songs have a simple, heartfelt appeal to them. ''I'm Stepping Out'' incorporates Lennon's humor into a view of his home life that seems unappealingly insular. While ''Stepping Out,'' along with some other Lennon cuts, is pleasant, it hardly has the bite of old. Overall, ''Milk and Honey'' is without the compelling lyrics and music needed to fulfill its promise. Meanwhile, ''Heart Play,'' while perhaps not worth the price of an album, is quite interesting as it gives their thoughts about marriage and home life -- and how their last LP was made. - D. H. S.
The Pretenders: ''Learining to Crawl.'' (Sire Records 23980-1) -- It's hard to regard the Pretenders dispassionately. The group's own grim, gripping history matches the insistent power of their music. The two surviving members of the Pretenders -- Chrissie Hynde and drummer Martin Chambers -- have been joined by Robbie McIntosh, guitar, and Malcolm Foster, bass, for most of ''Crawl.'' (Both Peter Farndon and James Honeyman-Scott passed an after completing the ''Pretenders II'' album.) There's the same raw '60s guitar sound and uncompromising Hynde's voice can at moments seem sweet, but always with at least a hint, simultaneously, of rejecting coolness.''Middle of the Road,'' on the charts a few weeks ago, truly announces that the group is back. There's the undercurrent of excitement, Hynde's stunning voice, and the raw retorts of the guitars. Beyond ''Road'' there is scarcely a weak cut. Last year's hit -- ''Back on the Chain Gang,'' recorded with Hynde, Chambers, and session musicians -- is followed by the classy ''Time the Avenger.'' And ''Watching the Clothes'' isn't pretty, it's just good. - D. H. S.