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A Reluctant Prokofiev, an Energetic Williams

July 21, 2002|Chris Pasles; Richard S. Ginell; Daniel Cariaga;



Violin Concertos

Nikolaj Znaider, violin;

Bavarian Radio Symphony,

Mariss Jansons, conductor

RCA Victor

First-prize winner at the 1997 Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels, Nikolaj Znaider brings a fervent, full and rich tone to Prokofiev's bittersweet, reluctant farewell to 19th century Romanticism. The Andante soars as Znaider ranges from almost ethereal pianissimos to strong-bodied presence. Unfortunately, the young violinist is more perfunctory in the Glazunov Concerto. It may not be the greatest music, but it has many grand and tuneful moments and the last movement ought to be a joyful romp, which it isn't here. Tchaikovsky originally planned the Meditation, which is album filler here, as the slow movement of the Concerto in D, but the dedicatee soloist talked him out of it because of its length (10 minutes) and moodiness. Znaider plays it lyrically, but it remains minor Tchaikovsky. Throughout, Jansons is an alert and sensitive collaborator.

Chris Pasles



Christine Goerke, soprano;

Brett Polegato, baritone;

Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus,

Robert Spano, conductor


This vast choral work based on Walt Whitman poems is one of the most imposing first symphonies ever written. The ecstatic opening minutes alone--with the cry of "Behold, the sea itself" punctuated by a depth-charged orchestral chord--stamp it as a great work, even though the inspiration doesn't always reach this high later on. Sir Adrian Boult used to own this piece--and as Spano hurries through the first movement's proclamations, you miss the massive emotional effect that Boult could create just by slowing down at the right climactic points. Nor is Telarc's sound, though impressive on the stereo CD version, as detailed and spacious as EMI's engineering on Boult's and Haitink's recordings. Yet Spano does have a better chorus, sporting clearer diction; his soloists are excellent; and with his energetic conducting, he frequently makes a thrilling impression with this score.

Richard S. Ginell



Violin Concertos

Joshua Bell, violin;

Camerata Salzburg,

Roger Norrington, conductor

Sony Classical

Bell's playing of these familiar masterpieces is handsome, reserved and able, but missing that element of passion that would make them definitive. These performances are strong but they aren't memorable. One must, however, admire the inventiveness shown in Bell's new cadenza to the first movement of the Mendelssohn piece; it lights up this recording. The violinist also creates viable, attractive, if over-the-top cadenzas in the Beethoven concerto. Norrington and the ensemble aid modestly.

Daniel Cariaga


"Missa Mexicana"

The Harp Consort,

Andrew Lawrence-King, director

Harmonia Mundi

Here's an ingratiating cross-genre experiment that can be placed either on the early music shelf or in the world-music department. Lawrence-King has revived a setting of the Latin Mass by the Spanish-born, 17th century Mexican composer Juan Gutierrez de Padilla, prefacing each section with Latin American or African folk dances from the period. Most of the dances--some by Padilla, most from other sources--with the Harp Consort's voices backed by a battery of Mexican guitars and percussion instruments--are a lot of fun, often highly rhythmic, almost contemporary sounding, and they make the actual Mass seem a bit staid. Yet the experiment accomplishes its purpose: You can hear the rhythms of the dances echoed in portions of the Mass.




Complete Songs, Vol. 1

Victoria Evtodieva, soprano;

Natalia Biryukova, mezzo-soprano;

Mikhail Lukonin, baritone;

Fyodor Kuznetsov, bass;

Yuri Serov, piano


Shostakovich composed these lesser known songs and arrangements during the 1950s, when once again he was on the outs with Soviet officialdom. The style is deliberately simple in order to make them accessible to the working masses. Many are quite lovely. Still, there's a world of difference between the banal "The Motherland Hears" (later made famous when pioneering cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin sang it--badly--as he circled the Earth) and the weighty settings of four bitter and ominous texts by Pushkin. Songs to lyrics by E. Dolmatovsky vary from cute to catchy. The arrangements of six Spanish songs are irresistible. But the arrangements of four Greek songs show heroic sinew, backbone and spirit. The vocal soloists, from various Russian universities and opera houses, aren't world-class, but they do a respectable job, as does pianist Yuri Serov. Half the works are billed as world-premiere recordings; the others are first CD recordings.


*** 1/2


"Der Ring des Nibelungen"

Placido Domingo, tenor,

and others; Orchestra of the

Royal Opera House,

Covent Garden,

Antonio Pappano, conductor

EMI Classics

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