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*** "Compassion: A Tribute to Sir Yehudi Menuhin" Edna Michell, Ulf Hoelscher, violins; Czech Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra, Lukas Foss, conductor; Karlsruhe Ensemble, Andreas Weiss, conductor,\o7 Angel\f7

July 22, 2001|RICHARD S. GINELL

A great violinist who became a great human being, Yehudi Menuhin was held in such esteem that he inspired 15 noted composers to produce meditations on the theme of compassion while he was still around to savor them.

Menuhin's protege Edna Michell came up with the idea in the mid-1990s--and although she and Menuhin performed most of the pieces during his last years, they weren't recorded until 1999, after his death. There are several newsmakers in the batch, among them John Tavener's austere mysticism over a drone, "Song of the Angel"; Hans Werner Henze's ambiguously lyrical "Adagio Adagio"; Philip Glass' usual recycled arpeggios in "chorus"--this time in gentle support of a tape of Allen Ginsberg reading his "Wales Visitation"--and Steve Reich's Duet, a bucolic winding road of a piece.

Menuhin intended all along for this cycle to be played as a whole, and he was right, for despite their differing languages and instrumentations, these little pieces do fit uncannily well together, with each seemingly growing out of its often unrelated predecessor. The major exception is Iannis Xenakis' "Hunem-Iduhey," which took a tougher, more acerbic, angular approach. But then, hear how comfortably Foss' pastoral "Romance" flows right out of Xenakis; one ends and the other begins with the note A. It's enough to make you believe in Menuhin's ideal of music as a unifying, healing force.

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