AN ENTICING PREVIEW OF MUSIC SEASON ON NEW RECORDINGS
By Lawrence Budmen
In just a few weeks a new music season beckons. In a convergence of the artistic and commercial worlds, a series of new releases from classical record companies (large and small) provide an exciting preview of musical events to come. Both familiar artists and new faces dot the artistic landscape on these recent recordings.
One of the highlights of Festival Miami 2004 will be a three concert exploration of the chamber music of Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904) on October 8, 9, and 10 - a commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the composer's death. The series will feature the venerable Guarneri Quartet and the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio. The sterling combination of pianist Joseph Kalichstein, violinist Jaime Laredo, and cellist Sharon Robinson essays the early Piano Trios of Beethoven on a new Arabesque release
The threesome produces the sine qua non of Beethoven performances. The lightness of the E-flat Trio, the dark passions of the Trio No.3 in C Minor (so closely related to the romantic classicism of Mozart's 40th Symphony), and the nobility of the posthumous Allegretto from an unfinished Trio in B flat are all conveyed with fervor and fiery bravura - the perfect meeting of technique and musicianship. The lithe, supple musicality of Kalichstein's pianism, Laredo's incisive phrasing, and Robinson's rhapsodic embrace of the music's melodic and expressive contours are the essence of great artistry!
The symphonies of Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) have become signature works for conductor Michael Tilson Thomas; just as they were for his mentor Leonard Bernstein. On April 28, 2005 Tilson Thomas leads "A Musical Homecoming" as 20 New World Symphony alumni return to join the current orchestra for a performance of Mahler's visionary First Symphony. Tilson Thomas's series of Mahler recordings with the San Francisco Symphony have set new artistic standards - boldly committed, deeply personal interpretations in state of the art sound. This series just keeps getting better. After thrilling versions of the Third and Sixth Symphonies and a performance of the First Symphony that found the dark subtext beneath the music's pastoral surface, Tilson Thomas offers a delightful recording of Mahler's "Symphony No.4 in G Major"
. All the Viennese charm and sorrow of this music is vividly illuminated under Tilson Thomas's masterful baton. The San Francisco players are first rate and concertmaster Alexander Barantschik brings devilish brilliance to his 2nd movement solo. (Barantschik will be soloist with Tilson Thomas and the NWS on March 26, 2005 in a program of "New Music from Russia" - works by Alfred Schnittke, Viktor Kissine, Sofia Gubaidulina, and Valentin Silvestrov.) In the fourth movement of Mahler's symphony, soprano Laura Claycomb (a distinguished "Lucia di Lammermoor" and Gilda in "Rigoletto") sings the Wunderhorn setting (a child's vision of heaven) with shining tone and singular sweetness and simplicity of utterance. (On November 13, 2004 Ms. Claycomb will be featured in arias from the operas of Jean Philippe Rameau with the New World players under Baroque specialist Emmanuelle Haim.)
Often referred to as "the first lady of the flute," Paula Robison remains (in many ways) one of the music world's best kept secrets. This versatile artist is equally at home in the worlds of classical and contemporary flute scores and Latin jazz and salsa music. Her masterclasses and concert appearances with the New World Symphony are seasonal highlights. On February 13, 2005 Ms. Robison joins the NWS wind players in rarely heard works by Richard Strauss and Paul Hindemith. Her new Arabesque cd "Mozart in Love" is a real winner! A high spirited version of the "Flute Concerto in D Major," K.314 and transcriptions of operatic arias and movements from chamber works are marked by impeccable intonation, musicality, and the most pure, voluptuous instrumental sound imaginable. She is given lively, invigorating support by the Charleston Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Bundit Ungrangsee, winner of the Lorin Maazel Conducting Competition and a pupil of the great Finnish conductor and pedagogue Jorma Panula.
In recent seasons conductor James Conlon has devoted his career to scores that are rarely heard or virtually unknown. His two Miami appearances this season will be devoted to music by composers whose lives were destroyed or uprooted by the Holocaust. On December 29, 2004 Conlon conducts members of the Julliard Vocal Program in Viktor Ullmann's opera "The Emperor of Atlantis" (presented by the Concert Association of Florida) and on January 7 and 8, 2005, Conlon directs the New World Symphony in "Recovering A Musical Heritage" featuring scores by Ullmann, Schulhoff, Martinu, and Zemlinsky. On a new Telarc recording
Conlon directs a work that is a true discovery - the unfinished oratorio "St. Stanislaus" by Franz Liszt (1811-1886). The strange, atmospheric harmonies of this large scale musical fragment are fascinating. At the end of his life, Liszt was experimenting with polytonal and impressionistic techniques. The dramatic choral writing and delicate instrumental effects are impressive. Conlon leads the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and Cincinnati May Festival Chorus in a stellar performance. The powerful, sonorous singing of bass-baritone Donnie Ray Albert as King Boleslaw is a standout! This splendid singer is also a passionate exponent of the Verdi baritone roles. (Albert will be soloist in Carlisle Floyd's biblical song cycle "Pilgrimage" at the opening night of Festival Miami 2004 on September 25.) As the martyred Bishop Stanislaus's mother, Kristine Jepson is disappointing. Once a warm, vibrant toned Mozart-Strauss mezzo, Jepson's voice is now afflicted by a wide vibrato and grainy vocal quality. Nevertheless, an interesting release of an important score!
The Miami debut of the brilliant Uruguayan conductor Carlos Kalmar is eagerly awaited. On March 5 and 6, 2005 he takes the New World Symphony podium to lead a program of Latin influenced works by Maurice Ravel, Alberto Ginastera, and Manuel De Falla. The Chicago label Cedille
specializes in off beat repertoire and Chicago based artists. A terrific new release features Kalmar conducting music of the tragically short lived Chicago composer Robert Kurka (1921-1957). Kurka's "Symphony No.2," Opus 24 (1953) is an authentic American masterwork. Bright and ringing in the Aaron Copland-Roy Harris manner but also influenced by the subtle harmonies of Leos Janacek and Bohuslav Martinu, this score's surging lyricism deserves repertoire status. The symphonic poem "Julius Caesar" (1955) is pure Hollywood in the best sense of the term. "Serenade for Small Orchestra" (1954) is a deft neo-Stravinsky piece that could serve as a treatise on orchestration. Kalmar conducts Chicago's Grant Park Orchestra in dynamic, thrusting performances. (This ensemble has been called America's greatest freelance summer orchestra - a collection of musicians from the nation's best ensembles.) An exciting, important addition to the recorded repertoire! These new releases foretell a banner season to come!