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November 10, 2002|Richard S. Ginell; Josef Woodard

Amid aging tunes, words that amuse

"The Noel Coward Songbook"

Ian Bostridge, tenor; Sophie Daneman, soprano; Jeffrey Tate, piano

** 1/2 (EMI Classics)

Armed with meticulous diction and plenty of affection for the material, Bostridge takes a break from classical repertory with 19 Noel Coward songs from the 1920s and '30s, arranged chronologically. Daneman sweetly helps out in the duets, and Tate plays Corin Buckeridge's elegantly turned, occasionally jazz-tinged accompaniments.

Coward's range is wide -- from the cleverest and most detached of ditties, with plenty of delicious interior rhymes, to the insufferable sentimentality of "I'll See You Again" (from "Bitter Sweet") and disillusionment of "Twentieth Century Blues."

Still, the music doesn't hold up today as well as the wordplay. Ultimately, the most self-defining Coward song in the collection, in title as well as verse, is "I Travel Alone." It's pulled out of chronological order to serve as a fitting introduction to the album.

-- Richard S. Ginell

In brief

Arvo Part

Johannes-Passion Candomino Choir, Tauno Satomaa, director

** 1/2 (Finlandia)

Estonian composer Arvo Part's music gains much of its power from a unique mixture of spiritual resonance and intellectual approach, which seeks to align contemporary and ancient musical ideas. That blend is in ample evidence in his 1982 St. John's Passion, given a quietly stunning, lucid performance in this Finnish recording. It's written in his mature style, in which time seems to if not stop, then operate on a parallel track, making for an entirely suitable meditative musical discourse. The performance is an elegant one, but with a proper veneer of objectivity in the cool finish. Solo roles, with Jorma Hynninen as Jesus and Topi Letipuu as Pilate, are smartly done, but the sum effect is what mainly counts, and the short chorus segment at the end is a typical Part-ian finale, rich in ensemble sound, but also punctuated with sententious silences.

-- Josef Woodard

Holst: "The Planets" (with Matthews' "Pluto"), "The Mystic Trumpeter"

Claire Rutter, soprano; Royal Scottish National Orchestra, David Lloyd-Jones, conductor

**** (Naxos)

The obvious hook for this release is "Pluto," Colin Matthews' fascinating, recently composed appendix to Holst's "The Planet," that takes over where Holst left off in "Neptune." Despite Matthews' dissonant idiom, the supplement makes sense; it conjures up images of meteor bombardments, swirling solar winds and other effects that suggest a plunge into the unknown terrors and splendors of outer space. This is the second recording of "Pluto" but the first at a bargain price, and it is fortuitously attached to an outstanding performance of the original "Planets," astutely paced, full of vehemence and mystery, superbly recorded. You also get an early Holst rarity, "The Mystic Trumpeter," an 18-minute setting of Walt Whitman's words that looks backward to Wagner and forward to "The Planets." For those who don't mind a challenge to tradition, this is a must-buy.

-- R.S.G.

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