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CLASSICAL MUSIC | RECORDINGS

Bocelli's indifferent 'Tosca'

May 11, 2003|Richard S. Ginell; Chris Pasles; Josef Woodard

Puccini: "Tosca"

Andrea Bocelli, tenor; Fiorenza Cedolins, soprano; Carlo Guelfi, baritone; Orchestra and Chorus of Maggio Musicale; Zubin Mehta, conductor. (Decca)

**

Into the heap of recorded "Toscas" lands this curious entry, which might outsell them all due to a certain wildly popular tenor attempting his second complete opera recording. This "Tosca" does have a few things on the ball: the graceful, magisterial, Karajan-like conducting of Mehta, who finds musical interest in even the tawdriest passages; Guelfi's properly malicious Scarpia; richly appointed sonics. Cedolins captures the coquettish side of Tosca best early on, while her "Vissi d'arte" sounds rather formal. And Bocelli? His portrayal of the painter Cavaradossi is as blank as one of the character's empty canvases: His silvery voice is beautiful and accurate but conveys hardly any emotion, meaning or differences in color. It's the vocal equivalent of an electronic sine wave, a disembodied presence that is balanced more loudly than the other voices.

-- Richard S. Ginell

Vivid playing lights up 'Rinaldo'

Handel: "Rinaldo"

Vivica Genaux, mezzo-soprano; Miah Persson, soprano; Inga Kalna, soprano; James Rutherford, baritone; Freiburger Barockorchester; Rene Jacobs, director. (Harmonia Mundi)

*** 1/2

This is the sumptuous opera, inexhaustible in its moods and ravishing tone painting, with which the 26-year-old Handel conquered London in 1711. Derived from Tasso's Crusade epic, "Jerusalem," the plot reduces the clash of Christian and Saracen armies to a love story involving humans and sorcerers. The Saracens get some wonderful music, as witness the blazing trumpets and drums that announce the entrance of Argante, king of Jerusalem. Vivica Genaux's pronounced vibrato in "Cara Sposa" detracts from the aria's beauty, but Miah Persson sings the hit tune of the work, "Lascia ch'io pianga," superbly. Selections often follow each other without pause, tightening dramatic impact. The orchestra plays vividly under Jacobs' inspiring leadership.

-- Chris Pasles

Modern pieces for

period instruments

"The Shock of the Old"

Common Sense Composer's Collective and American Baroque (Santa Fe Music Group)

***

The primary sensation here is less shock than sonic massage. The idea is simple yet deep enough: young composers (the Common Sense Composer's Collective) write for a period instrument group (American Baroque) while addressing natural affinities between contemporary musical thought and early music. The results are satisfying and just a bit subversive. Cross-referencing is the main game, as with the recurring linkage of Minimalism's fussy grids and Baroque formality, heard in works of Marc Meltlits, Carolyn Yarnelle and John Halle. Belinda Reynolds' opener is a sensuous textural experiment, and Dan Becker offers a contrapuntal Baroque-esque maze. Randall Woolf's "Artificial Light" features mysterious electro-acoustic textures. Drama enters via Melissa Hui's "Shall We Go?": Beckett-inspired, hypnotic by design. Ed Harsh's mock-operatic "Authentically Classic," a tragicomedy about composer Jean Baptiste Lully, ends the set on a light-headed note, seriously realized.

-- Josef Woodard

Requiem shines with optimism

John Rutter: Requiem and other sacred music

Choir of Clare College, Cambridge; City of London Sinfonia, Timothy Brown, director. (Naxos)

*** 1/2

Rutter's 1985 Requiem carries on the tradition of consoling requiems a la Brahms, Faure and Durufle -- as opposed to the wrath-of-God school of Mozart, Berlioz and Verdi. The language is consonant and melodic, the tone as uplifting as Bernstein at his most optimistic. Rutter led the premiere recording of the chamber orchestra version in 1986 (Collegium), and he produced this new budget-priced edition of the version for organ and instrumental sextet. The reduced version is paradoxically more imposing than the orchestral one -- thanks to the deep-bass organ underpinning -- and the brisker tempos, reduced instrumentation and clearer sound of this performance make Rutter's tunes shine more brightly. Naxos also throws in two blessings for choir and organ that sound like pop ballads, a trio of somewhat more austere choral anthems, and two flashy examples of Rutter's solo organ music.

-- R.S.G.

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