BACH Cantatas BWV 140 ``Wachet auf ruft uns die Stimme'' and BWV 51 ``Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen.'' Julianne Baird, soprano; Drew Minter, countertenor; Jeffrey Thomas, tenor; Jan Opalach, bass. The Bach Ensemble, Joshua Rifkin, conductor. (L'Oiseau Lyre/Florilegium 417 616-2, digital, 1 CD, 50 minutes) - This not terribly generous CD gives a solid sample of one musicologist/performer's current hypotheses about Bach performance practice. Joshua Rifkin uses the smallest possible number of instrumentalists in order to allow for chamber-like textures and musical responsiveness. It's a handsome recording, if one is ready to accept the girlish pipings of soprano Julianne Baird in the ``Jauchzet Gott'' cantata. Otherwise the soloists are good, the sound first-rate, the performances spirited and communicative. DEBUSSY, CAPLET, SCHMITT Debussy: La Chute de la Maison Usher. Caplet: Le Masque de la mort rouge. Schmitt: Le Palais hant'e. Various soloists. Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo, Georges Pr^etre, conductor. (EMI/Angel 7479212, digital, 1 CD, 53 minutes) - Three works inspired by Edgar Allan Poe comprise this provocative 1985 release, just now issued on CD. The Debussy is a series of fragments from the unfinished ``Fall of the House of Usher'' opera that he toyed with for his last 15 years. It is interesting for a feeling of what might have been. Caplet's ``Mask of Red Death'' is a musically searching instrumental telling of the tale for string orchestra and harp. ``The Haunted Palace'' is an early, but unmistakable, work by the underestimated Florent Schmitt - richly orchestrated, dramatically conceived. Pr^etre brings all the scores vividly to life.
LISZT Songs. John Aler, tenor; Daniel Blumenthal, piano. (Newport Classic NC 60028, digital, 1 CD, 73 minutes) - A most generous CD of 19 Liszt songs, from the popular (``Oh, quand je dors'') to the lesser-known. They all require a tenor of musical cultivation, linguistic accuracy, and interpretive communicative powers. In John Aler, this CD has just such a tenor. The voice is a bit closely miked, and there is a metallic buzz around it at times, but the performances are all heartfelt. Daniel Blumenthal brings the needed virtuoso's strength to the accompaniments without ignoring the sensitivity needed as well.
WORKS FOR PIANO Thomas Richner - Retrospective. Thomas Richner, piano. (Towerhill - CD-900102, digital, 1 CD, 63 minutes) - If you think the idea of a generous CD of old favorites is questionable, then you simply must hear this enchanting release. Thomas Richner caresses the B"osendorfer more effectively than most of his colleagues with more prominent names. To have all these favorites on one CD is, finally, a treat. And the real affection with which Richner plays both his instrument and these pieces makes this CD a release that I, for one, will go back to often, and with pleasure.