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RECORDINGS

Kremer provides integrity and a smile

March 16, 2003|Josef Woodard; Richard S. Ginell; Chris Pasles; Daniel Cariaga

"Happy Birthday"

Gidon Kremer and Kremerata Baltica (Nonesuch)

***

Violinist Gidon Kremer has long been a virtuoso with a sly mission or two, eager to explore fresh turf in and around the classical scene. For his latest artful trick, he takes a serious look at humor. With his bold and refined ensemble, Kremerata Baltica, he surveys sophisticated variations on such hummable fare as "Happy Birthday," Joseph Ghys/Francois Servais' "God Save the King" and Franz Waxman's variations on "Auld Lang Syne." Apart from an opening dose of Schnittke's playful "Polka" and Tchaikovsky's "Elegy," the material mostly comes from lesser-known composers, including Peter Heidrich, who has granted "Happy Birthday" a dignified wardrobe of cloaks. Funny as it seems, and sometimes sounds, Kremer's ultimate coup is the integrity he brings to even irony-flecked endeavors.

-- Josef Woodard

Genuine Pergolesi, tunefully rendered

Pergolesi: "Marian Vespers"

Sophie Daneman, Noemi Kiss, sopranos; Choir of New College, Oxford, Academy of Ancient Music, Edward Higginbottom, conductor. (Erato)

*** 1/2

This is not a composition per se but an anthology of music by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710-1736), cobbled together by musicologist Malcolm Bruno to form a vespers service. In doing so, he gives us an exuberant, tuneful portrait of the talented composer who died young, with works ranging from well-circulated pieces such as the Salve Regina to a little-known mini-masterpiece of a Magnificat, punctuated by brief violin and cello sonatas -- one of which is recognizable as source material for Stravinsky's "Pulcinella." Don't expect emaciated period performances here; the all-male choir is robust, the orchestra is comparatively large, the alternating sopranos have big operatic voices, and the sound is reverberant and bass-rich. And with two centuries of forgeries in mind, Bruno assures us that this two-CD set contains nothing but 100% Pergolesi. Or your money back.

-- Richard S. Ginell

Adding spice to seminal sonatas

Corelli: Violin Sonatas,

Opus 5

Andrew Manze, violin. Richard Egarr, harpsichord. (Harmonia Mundi)

****

Another home run from the team of Manze and Egarr, who recorded lively performances of all of Handel's and Pandolfi's violin sonatas on previous Harmonia Mundi discs. Here they recreate Corelli's 12 gorgeous, seminal violin sonatas, full of beautiful melodies and surprising turns of phrase. Manze and Egarr opt for their own improvised embellishments instead of those attributed to the composer in the second edition of the work. They do indeed sound created on the spur of the moment. Not all of them work equally well, but the spirit behind them is irresistible.

-- Chris Pasles

A formula that's ineffably affable

Telemann: Flute Concertos

Emmanuel Pahud, flute, Berlin Baroque Soloists, Rainer Kussmaul, violin, director (EMI Classics)

** 1/2

From out of the vast archive of Telemann concertos, the Berlin Philharmonic principal flutist chooses five examples and plays them with an unfailingly lush tone and fearlessly clean articulation. Among the harvest is a first recording of some quasi-authentic material, a 21st century reconstruction of a once unplayable concerto in G major whose raggedy manuscript pages, pictured in the CD booklet, look like they had been through a couple of wars. It turns out to be a nice, affable piece, on par with the other four nice, affable pieces here that mostly follow the Italian-based formulas of the day. The biggest pleasure of this CD is hearing these top-flight musicians -- all of whom play or once played in the Berlin Philharmonic -- sail through the concertos, where matters of Baroque style go hand-in-hand with beautiful tone production.

-- Richard S. Ginell

Productive partnership

Mozart: Violin Concerto

No. 3; Symphony No. 41, "Jupiter"; Adagio and Fugue in C minor, K. 546

Berlin Philharmonic; Itzhak Perlman, violin and conductor (EMI Classics)

***

The vaunted German orchestra and the veteran Israeli American violinist create a productive partnership in these charming, purposeful performances. Perlman's sweet tone and graceful phrasing may keep the concerto from genuine pungency, but the results are still compelling. And, led by Perlman, the Berliners bring nearly perfect execution to the great Adagio and Fugue and to the Olympian sweep of the "Jupiter."

-- Daniel Cariaga

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