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CD of the Week: Road Trip Edition

Some spot reactions to recordings that have recently come in over the transom.

Cherry Ripe was a popular song by Charles Edward Horn, one of the rare selections on this CD from Richard Bonynge's archive.
Cherry Ripe, a survey of 18th- and 19th-century vocal music as it might have been sung in Britain at that period, is a delightful idea; an interesting assortment of music, from British composers like Stephen Storace or Thomas Arne to international luminaries like Simone Mayr or Johann Adolf Hasse; strikingly well curated and conducted by no less a luminary than Richard Bonynge, in world-premiere recordings; and well packaged by the Australian record label Melba, which recently sent it to my attention. Unfortunately it suffers from a certain degree of sameness – there are no real greatest hits here – and even more from the frankly inadequate vocal endowment of the soprano, Deborah Riedel, who barely gets through some of the selections on pitch.

In a podcast on the Naxos blog, JoAnn Falletta discusses her unusual Schubert recording.

The latest from JoAnn Falletta and the Buffalo Philharmonic, who like many Naxos artists record at an impressive pace, is an unusual Schubert pairing that’s billed as two unknown Schubert symphonies: a recasting of “Death and the Maiden” for full orchestra, and a reconstructed, finished version of the “Unfinished Symphony.” The “Death and a Maiden” arrangement is not the familiar Mahler one, but a more symphonic reconfiguration by Andy Stein, which highlights the piece’s drama without blurring the clarity of its lines. As for the "Unfinished," Falletta leads the two familiar movements along at a rapid clip – particularly the first, which is so light as to be veritably a chamber work. This gives her room to emphasize the new movements: a rather bombastic scherzo reconstructed from notebook sketches by the Schubert historian Brian Newbould followed by a finale created by the conductor Mario Venzago out of the music Schubert wrote for “Rosamunde” shortly after the first two movements of the “Unfinished.” It's an odd recording, but an intriguing one, and Falletta's brisk conducting helps make it worth a listen.

I’ve been a fan of Yuja Wang since I heard her DC debut recital at the Kennedy Center in January of 2008. And I’ve since been concerned that she may succumb to the allure of mere virtuosity. Happily, her debut CD, on Deutsche Grammophon, shows her at her best: it echoes much of that fine recital program, including the massive Liszt b-minor sonata, and captures not only her dexterity but some impressive artistry. She’s still only 21, and she plays like a 21-year-old, which is to say that she’s musically smart, quick, wonderfully intuitive, and has room to develop in terms of her understanding (the Chopin Sonata No. 2 that opens the disc to me shows the most impetuosity, or willfulness). But the fact that she held out for this program – which includes the two Ligeti etudes and Scriabin's second sonata that she played in Washington – and plays it so well is a good indicator that there’s artistic integrity to go along with the brilliance. An auspicious beginning.

By Anne Midgette  |  April 29, 2009; 6:30 AM ET
Categories:  CD reviews  
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I'm looking forward to hearing the Andy Stein orchestration of Death and the Maiden. Stein is a real Renaissance man...he often plays the fiddle for Garrison Keillor on Prairie Home Companion, has scored a film or two, and I can recall hearing Stein's reworking of Schubert's F Minor Fantasy for piano four-hands into a concerted piece for piano and orchestra on an NSO subscription concert with André Watts as the soloist.

Posted by: 74umgrad1 | April 29, 2009 8:35 AM | Report abuse

Yuja Wang is good-looking. The publicity photo of her in the NSO's subscription catalogue is weirdly mesmerizing to me. All them Chiclet teeth lined up. Good to hear she's a playa, too.

Posted by: Lindemann777 | April 29, 2009 7:38 PM | Report abuse

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