HOLST: "THE PLANETS." Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal and Women's Chorus conducted by Charles Dutoit. London 417-553-2 (compact disc). Dutoit provides a reasonable and often powerful alternative to other recordings of Holst's seven-part astrological suite. Rather than placing the work within the English pastoral-pictorial tradition, the Swiss conductor emphasizes the continental influences shaping Holst's sensibility, the Debussyan textures of "Venus," the Mendelssohnian ethereality of "Mercury." Ideally, one might prefer a more inexorable tread for Mars, a more instinctive swagger for Jupiter. But where Holst's writing rises to its peak, in the opulent colors and dynamic extremes of Saturn and Uranus, Dutoit blazes his way through the score. The CD sound, not least in the spatial depth of Neptune, should satisfy all corners of the galaxy.
LISZT: PRELUDE AND FUGUE ON B-A-C-H," "AD NOS, AD SALUTAREM UNDAM," "MISSA PRO ORGANO," "EVOCATION A LA CHAPELLE SIXTINE," OTHERS. Zgismond Szathmary, organ. EMI-Deutsche Haromonia Mundi 47533 8 (two compact discs). Billed as "Volume One," this sorely needed survey of 15 works takes the composer from the large-scale 1850 "Ad nos, ad salutarem" fantasia to the modal harmonies of "Ave Maris Stella" (1880), although several of the works here are, in reality, composer-approved arrangements from other formats. Performing on the 1909 Seifert organ in the basilica at Kevelaer (the second largest church organ in Germany), Szathmary adopts a quietly virtuosic approach, taking Liszt's brand of religiosity at face value, exposing the often lush chromaticism of the writing with consummate taste and a heady sense of propulsion. The recording captures both the organ and the acoustical ambiance with understated brilliance.
FALLA: "THE THREE-CORNERED HAT"; "HOMENAJES"; INTERLUDE AND SPANISH DANCE FROM "LA VIDA BREVE." Florence Quivar, mezzo-soprano; Men of the May Festival Chorus; Cincinnati Symphony conducted by Jesus Lopez-Cobos. Telarc CD-80149 (compact disc). Lopez-Cobos, who became Cincinatti's music director this past season, yields his Spanish passport much too readily in this plodding performance of the complete score from the 1919 Massine ballet. Telarc's worthy policy of recording overlooked American orchestras reaps few rewards in the lackluster bassoon and timpani contributions. The slack rhythms and Quivar's two unidiomatic solos convey precious little of the infectious potential of this music. Telarc's sound is ravishing and the four "homages" in their orchestrated 1939 guises make an attractive bonus.
SAINT-SAENS: PIANO CONCERTOS NOS. 2, 4. Francois Duchable, piano; Strasbourg Philharmonic conducted by Alain Lombard. Erato ECD-88002 (compact disc). An ultra-sober approach is not a quality these amiable, fluent, occasionally portentous but hardly earthshaking concert favorites can endure without succumbing to charges of pretension. Yet, Duchable brings Brahmsian weight and square phrasing to the French salon with uneventful results. He could be performing Franck. The sound of Duchable's Boesendorfer often overbalances Lombard's undernourished orchestra, while a duration of 47 minutes can no longer be considered adequate value for a premium-priced CD.
CURRAN: "FOR CORNELIUS"; "ERA ORA." Ursula Oppens, Frederic Rzewski, pianos. New Albion NA-011 (digital). Curran terms this pair of acoustic keyboard works "spontaneous improvisations," but the sound that issues from the record seems excessively controlled and even manipulative. "For Cornelius (Cardew)" (1981) recalls that composer's attempts to democratize music by juxtaposing a lyrical aria with slowly evolving harmonies in the minimalist vein. The two-piano "Era Ora" (1985) employs quotations and slightly out-of-phase repetitions. Neither, despite the ferocious advocacy of the performances, sustains interest unti the end. New Albion's sonics are exceptional.
ARIAS BY DONIZETTI, BELLINI, VERDI, ROSSINI, MEYERBEER. Joan Sutherland, soprano; Welsh National Opera Orchestra conducted by Richard Bonynge. London 417 253-2 (compact disc). Sutherland adds to her already extensive discography with selections from such rarities as "Betly" and "Il Castello di Kenilworth" and from such disparate material as "Il Barbiere di Siviglia" and "La Favorite" (negotiated by means of a half-tone transposition). The diva's enunciation has improved over the decades, but time has exacted its price levee on her formidable gifts, especially in the dry, lower register, the smeared passagework and the quick vibrato on sustained notes. An excerpt from "Attila" shows the same old, fearless attack; "Una voce poco fa" suggests that minxishness is still not Sutherland's forte. Bonynge's sluggish accompaniments accommodate the soprano, rather than the composers.