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Finding new joys in Vivaldi

August 24, 2003|Chris Pasles; Allan Ulrich; Daniel Cariaga; Josef Woodard

Vivaldi: "La Stravaganza"

Rachel Podger, violin. Arte dei Suonatori. (Channel Classics)

****

There seems to be no end to the joys musicians keep discovering in the music of Venice's fiery Red Priest. In this recording of the lesser-known set of 12 violin concertos -- the one that doesn't contain "The Four Seasons" -- there's a palpable sense of unearthing and reveling in the details. Arte dei Suonatori's period instruments add a melting tone to the sweet adagios without lessening in any way the rhythmically vital, exciting allegros. Podger sails, slides, scoots, skates and skedaddles like some kind of intoxicated Road Runner, dazzled by the limitless ways she can find of getting from this note to that, from here to there and anywhere, tilting precariously on a razor's edge but never losing balance or missing an exact pinpoint landing. The ensemble plays with as much incandescence and rhythmic snap as she does.

-- Chris Pasles

Larmore's plush voice miscast

"L'etoile'': French Arias

Jennifer Larmore, mezzo-soprano. Wiener Konzertchor; Radiosymphonieorchester Wien. Bertand de Billy, conductor. (Teldec Classics)

**

In this comprehensive collection of 11 numbers, Larmore's plush instrument delivers monumentality (Berlioz's Didon and Marguerite) more persuasively than antic wit (Ravel's Concepcion). Occluded vowels and hollow, back-of-the-throat projection rob Saint-Saens' Dalila of her wonted sensuality, while a grand manner gussies up the simple sentiment of Thomas' Mignon. Larmore sounds most impressive in Charlotte's Letter Scene and in rarely heard arias by Auber and Chabrier, where comparisons are fewer. But despite sympathetic work from the French conductor and Austrian orchestra, miscasting triumphs here.

-- Allan Ulrich

French pianist tackles Beethoven

Beethoven: Seven sets of Variations

Cedric Tiberghien, piano. (Harmonia Mundi)

**

Except for the daunting and massive "Eroica" Variations and the beloved-by-pianists 32 Variations in C minor, these are Beethovenian marginalia, amusing sidebars to the composer's mainstream works. Tiberghien, 28, a French musician with a strong technique, plays them with a modicum of confidence and skill, yet without the weight of true conviction. The piano sound sometimes becomes raucous and unattractive.

-- Daniel Cariaga

Brubeck's other life: composer

"Classical Brubeck"

Dave Brubeck Quartet. London Voices. Alan Opie, baritone. London Symphony. Russell Gloyd, conductor. (Telarc)

***

Though best known as an innovative jazz pianist, Dave Brubeck has long been leading a double life as a composer too. His alter ego is nicely showcased on this project, beautifully realized with the London Symphony and recorded at Abbey Road in May of last year.

Brubeck's longhair credentials are in order, including studies with Darius Milhaud at Mills College, and he has penned scores carefully melding jazz and classical ideas -- mostly without the usual merger pain. Fresher yet, in the oldest of the four compositions on this two-CD package, 1978's "Beloved Son," he manages to effectively blend sacred choral music, symphonic washes and jazz, as he also does on 1983's "Pange Lingua Variations." The juxtaposition gets a bit jarring on the otherwise ambitious 1985 piece "Voice of the Holy Spirit," as a swinging Brubeck Quartet oddly abuts Stravinsky-esque choral writing. The set closes with melancholic warmth with "Regret," a short string outing written in 2001, in which things Wagnerian and elegant Brubeckian improvisation somehow get along just fine.

-- Josef Woodard

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