Roel Dieltiens Plays C.P.E. Bach Concerti

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C.P.E. BACH: Cello Concerti WQ 170-72 / Roel Dieltiens, cel; Orch. of the 18th Century; Marc Destrubé, concertmaster / Glossa GCD921127

My regular readers are aware that I don’t review many new recordings of Baroque, Classical or early Romantic repertoire because the historically-informed-historical crowd has literally ruined my listening by imposing their across-the-board—and historically unsupported—religion of constant straight tone, but my admiration for the music of C.P.E. Bach led me to investigate this new release, and all things considered, it’s excellent.

To reiterate what I’ve been saying for more than 30 years now, the best string players of the 18th and 19th centuries—not the losers who played in municipal orchestras—never played with constant straight tone. They used straight tone in the fast passages because trying to create vibrato and playing quickly was too difficult. But they most certainly did use a light vibrato on sustained notes. So too did singers; they had no choice, because no one can drain the voice of vibrato and still sustain a well-nourished tone. Try it yourself if you think I’m exaggerating. And writer after writer after writer in the 18th century insisted, time and again, that the best instrumentalists of their day imitated the great singers. In addition, both instrumentalists and singers in the 18th and 19th centuries used portamento to go from note to note, particularly in slow passages, because it was considered expressive. Moreover, many singers and players approached their trills from the note above, not the note below. But of course such things are just not done nowadays, so the historically-informed crowd omits portamento and approaching trills from above in both vocal and instrumental music, thus eliminating one of the things that helped make music expressive in that era.

On this recording, Belgian cellist Roel Dieltiens adheres strictly to the false religion of consistent straight tone, and that is a shame because it makes his instrument—ironically, built in 1999—sound hollow at times. But—and this is important—he compensates for this defect by playing with great expression within the limitations he has set for himself. Indeed, I found his playing more expressive than that of the late Anner Bylsma, whose performances of these concerti I have on CD conducted by Gustav Leonhardt with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. In addition, Dieltiens, who is also a composer, plays here simply extraordinary cadenzas that fit the music and are interesting in their own right.

As for his accompaniment, I simply can’t say enough about the Orchestra of the 18th Century. For a 12-piece string band with harpsichord, they play with an astonishingly rich sound; in fact, whatever they’re doing they seem to be doing right, because I found their sound richer and more attractive than that of Leonhardt’s Age of Enlightenment Orchestra. Perhaps microphone placement had something to do with it, but whatever the reason the results are spectacular. But sheer sound is not all they have to offer. They also play with a wonderful control of dynamics, which makes their performances sound almost modern (yes, I know, heaven perish the thought). I made an A-B comparison between the last movement of the Concerto in A, Wq 172, and there was really no contest. The 18th Century Orchestra had much more sheen and sounded far more involved in the music, and Dieltiens’ playing, though a little rougher in timbre than Bylsma’s, had much more character and a livelier sense of rhythm.

From a musical standpoint, it has always surprised me that the first movement of the Concerto in Bb, which followed the one in A by a year, has a much more conventional sound that its predecessor. Who knows? Maybe the A minor concerto didn’t go over too well with audiences and Carl was asked to cool his jets a little when writing the sequel. It’s still good music, of course, but the daring harmonies we associate with his scores are absent here. Yet this is exactly the kind of music that shows how good these musicians are, because they still hold our interest despite the much more conventional progression. There’s a particularly tricks passage for the solo cellist around the 3:50 mark that Dieltiens handles particularly well, and by that I don’t just mean that he plays it without a hitch—most cellists do—but rather than he makes it stand out without exaggerating the notes or the rhythm. That is the mark of a real artist and not just a technician. Nonetheless, despite a few interesting key shifts, this movement is fairly conservative, sounding like a cross between Handel and Mozart. The second movement is equally conservative harmonically, but here Bach uses his unusual metric accents to liven things up and the solo cello part is really very expressive, almost Romantic in feel and scope.

The A major concerto is also more conservative than the one in A minor, but not as much as the one the middle. This piece still has what I would call the C.P.E. Bach “fingerprint” on it, particularly in the strangely terraced dynamics in which he would explode a couple of notes loudly, then drop down to a whisper for the third and fourth. And, as I mentioned earlier in this review, Dieltiens plays very expressively indeed. There’s also a strange “spaciness” in the way the orchestra performs the second movement, as if the music were floating across the ether without any forward push.

An excellent release, then. This recording will supplant the Bylsma version in my collection.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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Moondog Revisited

Moondog Piano Trimba

PIANO AND TRIMBA MUSIC / MOONDOG: Für Fritz. Fleur de Lis. Barn Dance. Canon 2 Opus 67. Divisi (1st mvmt). Canons 1, 2, 4 & 6, Book II. First Look, Then Sound. Ma Petite. Caribea. Deuce 1 (2nd mvmt). Canons 5, 8, 10, 18, 22, Book III. Mother’s Whistler. I’ll Tell You a Story. Ambideque. Canons 4, 12, 16, 17, Book V. Short Spot. Mazurka. Rue Lette. The Square Monkey. Ma Petite. Archey Says / Dominique Ponty, pno; Stefan Lakatos, trimba/perc. / Shiin/Outhere 11

Twenty years after his death in 1999, we still don’t really know how to characterize Moondog’s music. That he was very serious about it is unquestionable; after his blindness at age 16, the result of an exploding dynamite cap, he was 100% committed to writing and performing his uncategorizable music, and he was taken quite seriously as a composer by such musical luminaries as Igor Stravinsky, Arturo Toscanini, Benny Goodman and Artur Rodziński. The first three of these, in fact, testified in his behalf at a trial in the early 1950s when rock ‘n’ roll disc jockey Allan Freed took to calling himself “Moondog” on the radio. He was an absolute purist when it came to writing canons; in fact, he often said that his canons were “purer” than Bach’s. Yet the extreme brevity of nearly all of his pieces—only a handful last more than two minutes, and several are shorter than that—plus the fact that he worked as a street musician for three decades, inventing and playing a bewildering array of percussion instruments (such as the trimba featured on this release)—have always made him a marginal figure at best. Add to that the fact that he dressed in bizarre clothing like a “street Viking,” recorded an album of “silly songs” with Julie Andrews and Martyn Green in the late 1950s, often appeared on the Allan Burke TV show of the 1960s complaining about conditions and politics in New York City, and that he emigrated to Germany for the rest of his life in 1974, and you have an enigma wrapped in a conundrum.

And yet the music persists because it was, and is, attractive. Its very simplicity and secure tonality make it appeal to almost anyone who listens to it. The question is, how best to perform it?

Moondog and Ponty

Moondog and Ponty

On this disc we have Dominique Ponty, a very classical pianist with a light touch suited to Mozart, playing his music with Stefan Lakatos on the trimba and other percussion instruments. To my ears, Lakatos has the proper feel for the music, exactly the right rhythmic touch to the percussion, but Ponty sounds a bit inhibited. She gets the rhythm right but somehow misses the energy that one heard from Joanna MacGregor, the splendid British pianist, on her album of Moondog pieces released several years ago by Sound Circus. Yet, on the other hand, MacGregor rearranged some of the Moondog pieces she recorded (though I very much like her arrangements) whereas Ponty, who actually played with Moondog, sticks to the scores. The one performance that I found lively in the right Moondog feel was Ambideque I.

But much of this music hasn’t been recorded before, thus the real Moondog collector will surely want it, and I can certainly recommend it for that reason. As for me, I hope that Joanna MacGregor will revisit Moondog and release another album of his music.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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Gardony Makes the “Marseillaise” Jump!

Gardony La Marseillaise Cover

De LISLE-GARDONY: Revolution. Di CAPUA: O Sole Mio. GARDONY: Four Notes Given. On the Spot. Mockingbird. Bourdon Street Boogie. GARNER: Misty. ZEITLIN: Quiet Now / Laszlo Gardony, pno / Sunnyside SSC 4034 (live: Berklee College, Boston, March 12, 2019)

Pianist Laszlo Gardony, who also leads his own jazz group, has issued two solo CDs in the past seven years. This disc, Revolution, is his third such outing.

I was immediately taken by his rewriting of Roger de Lisle’s La Marsaillaise, the French national anthem, as a sort of a gospel blues-cum-boogie piece. I only hope that the French don’t take offense to it, as they did of Stéphane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt’s swing version of their anthem recorded in 1945 after VE day. There’s a lot of Errol Garner in this performance, including a whimsical sense of humor, which I liked. Reading the publicity sheet accompanying this album, however, I was a  bit shocked to read that Gardony apparently took this performance more seriously and less lightly than it sounds. He sees the Marseillaise as “a very serious piece of music, about standing up to tyranny and against various abuses of human rights.” Hmmm, I wonder if that includes the bloody reign of terror headed by Robespierre that followed the French revolution, or the even bloodier wars then fought by Napoleon? (You’ve got to take the consequences along with the initial action, folks.)

This is followed by his rewriting of yet another old piece, Ernesto di Capua’s O Sole Mio, taking it uptempo and driving it downtown. In this case I don’t think that the hipper Italians will take any offense to it at all, but I know a classical vocal record collector who would think it a desecration. (I can never get the point across to him that a lot of these Italian songs of the late 19th-earyl 20th century were actually a slightly more highbrow form of pop music.) In this piece, Gardony lets his imagination run freely, throwing in a plethora of blues licks along with some very advanced harmonies for spice.

Next up is a piece improvised on a four-note sequence, thus titled Four Notes Given. This almost has a quasi-Latin beat to it, and is a lot of fun to listen to. Not surprisingly, Errol Garner’s Misty is then played, with great affection and an almost out-of-tempo feel to it. I’ve always felt badly that Misty became such an iconic “bar song,” since it really is a good piece of music. Gardony throws in some single-note lines in his improvisation, sort of Bud Powell in reductio, as well as a few more blues chords.

By the time one reaches Denny Zeitlin’s Quiet Now, you realize that Gardony loves the blues and a simpler approach to jazz piano than is currently in fashion. I found it refreshing, however; there’s only so much of the far-out stuff one can take, and I particularly liked the fact that Gardony’s left hand provides a consistently driving rhythm to his playing that makes you not really miss no bass and drums behind him.

On the Spot is another improvisation, here using a simple little motif, not even really a theme, yet getting the most out of it. With Mockingbird, Gardony is back to the blues, but in this one piece I felt as if he rambled a bit too much. We finish up with Bourbon Street Boogie, a piece that recalls Dr. John or even Allen Toussaint, a fun, rolling-rhythm sort of piece with good variations on the middle.

If you want a fun CD of good old-fashioned barroom boogie-blues jazz piano, this CD is for you. I enjoyed it thoroughly!

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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Paul Wee Plays Alkan

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ALKAN: Symphony for Solo Piano. Concerto for Solo Piano / Paul Wee, pno /Bis SACD-2465

Australian pianist Paul Wee has chosen to make his recording debut playing two of the most interesting yet difficult of all Romantic-era piano works, Charles-Valentin Alkan’s (nee Morhange) Symphony and Concerto for solo piano.

Alkan is still mentioned in liner notes as a little-known composer. I’m not so sure that’s true any more, as it was in the 1960s when Raymond Lewenthal unleashed his music on an unsuspecting world. He is, however, a seldom,-performed composer in a live concert setting, and that is simply because his music is so daunting that few pianists want to tackle it. Of course, since the 1980s we have had Alkan recordings a-plenty from Bernard Ringeissen, Marc-André Hamelin, Vincenzo Maltempo , Mark Viner and Laurent Martin, and they all sell pretty well, so there’s definitely a market for Alkan, whether or not people can go and hear the music in person.

I own both Lewenthal’s and Maltempo’s recordings of the Symphonie pour piano, and so was able to make some A/B comparisons. To put it in general terms, Wee’s performances take the approach that most modern pianists take towards the Romantic repertoire, which is to eliminate much of the Romantic effusion left over from the days when pianists played every 19th-century piano work as if it were either Schubert or Chopin. His is pretty much a straightahead interpretation of these works, similar to those of Hamelin, but the attentive listener will also note that he does introduce moments of rubato, which are also marked in the score, and unlike many pianists today he manages to make these moments sound natural and flowing. If you listen to Maltempo’s recording, it is entirely different and, in many places, almost sounds like different music. It’s not just because he plays it slower, which he does, and not because his approach is more “Romantic” in the bad sense of the word; rather, Maltempo simply eases up on the incessant, overriding drive that one hears from Hamelin and Wee. He makes the music “sing” whereas Wee makes it shoot out as if the notes were fired from a cannon.

It is most certainly an exciting approach, and valid in its own way, but if you go back to Lewenthal’s original recording from the 1960s you’ll find that he, too, played the music with more energy than Maltempo but also used rubato tastefully—in fact, more frequent rubato touches than Wee provides. If one were to compare this work to an orchestral performance, I’d say that Wee resembles Arturo Toscanini in one of his impatient moods while Lewenthal resembles Toscanini in an imaginative and intuitive mood. Maltempo’s performance is closer to Bruno Walter: more relaxed, yet interesting and valid in its own way without hammering the structure of the music into your mind.

And nowhere is Wee more structural and less imaginative than in the fourth and last movement of the Symphonie. This, in particular, struck me as less of an interpretation than simply a pile driver hammering the notes into the ground to make damn sure they won’t get up and walk away. It has tremendous surface excitement, to be sure, and Wee doesn’t miss a single note, but a computerized piano MIDI could play it the same way. It lacks a touch of humanity.

Indeed I felt that, if anything, Wee’s performance of the Concerto pour piano was even more pile-driving than the Symphonie. Yes, there’s a tremendous amount of excitement generated by this sort of performance, and for those who only listen to Alkan for that, this will suffice, but we must remember that Alkan considered himself first and foremost a French composer, though as a virtuoso pianist he was Liszt’s only real competitor after the decline of Kalkbrenner. Although we have no way of knowing how Alkan himself really played, research into the scores of French virtuosi pianist-composers of his era will reveal a rather subtler approach to piano composition and playing than one hears in this CD.

In short, Wee gives us very modern Alkan; I got the feeling that Hamelin, whose playing I like but do not love, was one of his models. It’s thrilling in its own way, so if this is what you want he will certainly fulfill your expectations, and the SACD sound quality is stupendous (though I only had downloadable sound files to go by). As for me, I prefer Lewenthal and, in his own way, Maltempo.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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Perelman & Shipp Explore Their “Efflorescence”

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WP 2019 - 2EFFLORESCENCE. Vol. 1 / PERELMAN-SHIPP: Hibiscus. Cosmos. Rose. Lotus. Amaryllis. Zinnia. Iris. Bleeding Heart. Moonflower. Peony. Clematis. Tiger Lily. Mandevilla. Cape Primrose. Quince. Columbine. Hydrangea. Jacob’s Ladder. Yellow Bell. Trilliun. Nigella. Helenium. Goldenrod. Forsythia. Sage. Clover. Heather. Sweet Pea. Veronica. Strawflower. Aster. Catmint. Honeysuckle. Impatiens. Globeflower. Jasmine. Sweet William. Nightshade. Lilac. Snapdragon. Heath. Narcissus. Lupine. Shasta’s Daisy. Rosilla. Snowdrop. Carnation. Orchid. Tiger Flower / Ivo Perelman, t-sax; Matthew Shipp, pno / Leo Records CDLR 866/69

From the publicity sheet for this set:

Limited edition, spectacular 4-CD box…In 2018, when the saxophonist and pianist released a 3-CD set entitled ONENESS< they made an emphatic statement that there would be no more duo recording in the near future: “for now there is nothing more to day.” Yet, several months later they found themselves in the studio bursting with creativity…

Apparently so, because in addition to the fact that we now have this 4-CD set, it is labeled as “Volume 1,” which indicates to me that there is a Volume 2 to follow. Moreover, since I don’t recall their 2018 3-CD set I probably felt lost by the extreme far-outness of it all (often the case for me with “free jazz”), but in this set I found myself drawn in to their sound world from the very first track.

As a pianist, Shipp of course has the ability to play both single-note lines and chords, though most of the time here he sticks to the former. Perelman, whose work sometimes thrills me and at other times strikes me as hyper-extreme, really seemed to be listening to his piano partner on this occasion and decided to go with the flow instead of fighting it. Indeed, on track 2 of the first CD (Cosmos) and track 12 of the third (Sweet William) the saxist actually plays something akin to a melody, making the work more attractive and, in my view, more effective.

Each of the 49 pieces on this set is named after a flower. At first I thought that Cosmos might be an exception, but lo and behold, there is a Cosmos flower which is a member of the sunflower family. But of course the titles are arbitrary anyway; I doubt that either musician consulted a conservatory and selected flowers to meditate on musically. But I will say this: apparently the experience that both musicians have gotten from playing with each other frequently in live concerts has had a positive effect on their musical conversation. Shipp seems to know how to lead Perelman, and Perelman seems to know, almost intuitively, where Shipp is going. The saxist also appears here to be listening to the specific tonalities or chords played by the pianist, which somewhat controls his “flyaway” tendencies. I know that there are free-jazz aficionados who enjoy the squawking and squealing sounds that Perelman often makes on the tenor sax, and he doesn’t completely eliminate them on this set, but rather uses them in moderation. The lines played by the saxist, at least on this set, all seem to go somewhere. None of them reach for the stars but end up missing them.

Much of the time, in fact, Perelman sticks to his middle range, which produces a warm sound that I find very appealing. At certain moments, such as the beginning of Moonflower, Perelman’s tenor almost sounds like a French horn. Sadly, this track was defective on my CD; the last 10 seconds cut off the music and produced only silence. For his part, Shipp does not play figures as outré or as abstract as those that Cecil Taylor played, choosing to tie most of his improvisations to a specific scale or mode (actually the same thing for those who really know music, since a “mode” is just one of the scales used by the Greeks before our modern-day tempered scale was worked out). Nonetheless, I recommend listening to only one CD at a time if you’re really paying attention to what is going on, which you should be anyway.

There is another reason why I liked these performances, and that is their lack of pretentiousness. I find that in much of the modern free jazz I hear, there seems to be an exhibitionist tendency as if to say, “Wow, just listen to the noises I can make! Aren’t they avant-garde?” Well, no, not really. When one sleeps, the synapses in the brain work themselves loose from their moorings as random thoughts go flying through your subconscious, creating a pattern that we call a dream. Although based on reality, a dream generally includes many ridiculous or impossible scenarios. If you can remember these after you wake up, they may make for some entertaining stories to tell your friends or significant other, but although based on something that may have actually happened to you they are not reality. The same thing is true of free jazz. If it’s not based on at least some elements that one can hold onto as sensible or logical, it is nothing more than loose synapses flying out of control to produce a scattergun effect. I’m not into scattergun effects.

By the time I reached Iris on CD 1, I was firmly convinced of this music’s worth. There are indeed some flyaway subconscious patterns that crop up here and there, but for the most part this is real music. The question, however, is whether or not it is really “jazz.” Although it is all improvised, not a single piece in this set has what I would call a jazz beat except for the very opening of Quince on CD 2, though Perelman’s playing occasionally leans in that direction. Of course, we encountered this question for the first time in the 1960s when free jazz first firmly established itself as a form of the music, but to me it has always been, and remains, an extension of the music we call jazz and not necessarily jazz itself. At least, that’s my perception of it, and I stand by it because for me all music has to have some semblance of shape or form in order to be appealing. If the music never actually goes anywhere, what you have is just a sequence of sounds that I call “schlumph.” This set is different. Each track on each of these four CDs bears careful listening, because each is a gem in its own right. Listen, for instance, to the passage beginning at about 1:25 on Triullium, where Shipp suddenly increases the tempo, playing fast quadruple-time figures. Perelman follows him almost immediately, knowing intuitively where he is going and what he is going to do. Another good example is Goldenrod, where the duo sets up a gentle rocking motion in the rhythm and go with it for another minute or so before moving on to the next idea. And even when Shipp starts the music off in a dark, almost ominous mood, as in Heather (misnamed if you ask me…I think Venus Fly Trap would have been more appropriate, or better yet, Little Shop of Horrors), Perelman is able to fit right in and help him move the musical ideas forward rather than get bogged down. At other moments, such as in Veronica, some of these pieces almost sound like modern classical music. In the opening of Honeysuckle the duo almost create a swing tune in the first few bars before going outside to explore their surroundings. On Impatiens, Shipp’s tapping on the body of the piano almost sounds as if there is a bass present. By and large, in each and every track you get the feeling that something new and interesting is about to happen, and it usually does.

Bottom line, I really believe that this set is strong testimony to the advantage of two musicians who have worked together for a long time. Recently, I tried to review a free jazz concert in which a dozen avant-gardists were thrown together for the very first time. None of their music made any sense to me. This set makes a lot of sense, and I liked each and every track. Good job, Ivo and Matt!

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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Wallfisch Sings Schumann

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SONGS OF LOVE AND DEATH / SCHUMANN: 12 Poems of Justinus Kerner. 5 Lieder, Op. 40. Dichterliebe /Simon Wallfisch, bar; Edward Rushton, pno / Resonus Classics RES10247

Despite his German-sounding last name, Simon Wallfisch is a British baritone, born into a musical family and studying voice with Russell Smythe and cello with Leonid Gorokhov, then later moving to Berlin and Leipzig with Jeanette Favaro-Reuter. I wonder if she is any relation to the Italian soprano of yore, Mafalda Favero.

Wallfisch’s voice is light and pleasant, with a bright tone and very little baritone “depth” to the timbre. It reminded me quite a bit of Heinrich Rehkemper, a German baritone of yore (pre-Nazi-era Germany) who made some superb recordings but never sang much outside his native country. The only flaw I heard in his voice was a tendency for the tone to flutter a bit unsteadily on sustained notes in any part of his range except when singing high falsetto or head voice.

Some of the lyrics of the Kerner songs convey general feelings of peace and love, but some of them, particularly Wanderlied and Wanderung, are pretty well known. Wallfisch has a good sense of the meaning of words as well as a good legato line, which helps these songs considerably, and I was particularly impressed by the playing of pianist Edward Rushton. He is exactly the kind of pianist one needs in Schumann’s music, in which the piano takes on an important role in the proceedings. His interpretations of Stille Tränen and Wer machte dich so krank? are particularly good despite the uneven flutter on his sustained notes.

The five Op. 40 songs are also interpreted well, particularly Der Soldat and Der Spielman, but of course the biggest and most testing work on this CD is Dichterliebe. I wasn’t sure how Wallfisch would compare in this cycle to Gerard Souzay, Jon Vickers, Aksel Schiøtz or Thomas Hampson, the four best performances I’ve ever heard. Wallfisch does a very credible job, his ability to connecting lines and floating certain notes being impaired only by his unsteadiness. Rushton is quite good here but, again, not as good as Alfred Cortot (with Souzay) or Geoffrey Parsons (with Hampson). Still, if this were a live performance I was attending, I certainly wouldn’t walk out. Wallfisch does a very credible job, understands the poetry, and holds your attention.

A pretty good CD, then. If Wallfisch were to work on his unsteadiness and correct it, he would be a fine singer indeed. Then he could hone his interpretive skills just that extra notch that would make him a great lieder singer.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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Santoro and Battstone Play “Dream Notes”

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WP 2019 - 2DREAM NOTES / SANTORO-BATTSTONE: l’Albero dell’Incantatore. The Forest Within (Pts 1 & 2). Beyond the River Banks. Attraverso i Rami. The Flowers of Benten. Window Into the Night (Pts 1 & 2). Blue/Ocean of Hearts. The Mist of Morning Waters. Song of Daphne / Giorgia Santoro, fl/Jew’s harp; Pat Battstone, pno / Leo Records LR 874

This unusual CD presents 11 spontaneous improvisations inspired by nine paintings by artist Daniela Chionna. One’s appreciation of the music, then, is somewhat dependent upon one’s knowing the artwork that inspired it, and fortunately the full-color booklet accompanying this CD includes most of the paintings that did so.

The one thing the booklet did not impart to me is who Daniela Chionna is. Looking online, I found nothing in English, only in Italian (which I do not read or speak), in which she is simply described as an “Artist designer.” Her paintings for this series, as you can judge from the cover artwork reproduced above, are all watercolors in soft dark blues, blacks and grays. The paintings are impressionistic and convey moods rather than concrete objects, even when one can discern a tree branch or something that looks like a flower in them.

In the opening selection, Giorgia Santoro appeared to be playing an alto flute very low in its register. Unlike much free jazz, however, she creates actual lines of music—melodic snippets but melodic just the same. When pianist Pat Battstone came in behind her, he too was playing somewhat tonal music. Both musicians seem to me to be strongly influenced by the French impressionist composers, but this is not a bad thing. Unlike most free jazz I have heard, this music has form and substance. It develops; it goes somewhere; and although the rhythm is not strongly accented, it is still felt.

This, in itself, is a great improvement over most free jazz, which has neither a direction nor form. I suppose that those who are most thrilled by free jazz hear something that I do not, but even in a “free jazz” setting, I want to hear music that has some semblance of order and meaning. In the second piece, Santoro sings into her flute in a way that produces a breathy resonance or “after-sound,” if you will. The music here is less melodic than the opener, and uses more glissando passages that are not so much atonal as microtonal. Battstone, whose piano is tuned regularly, contributes just a few light notes here and there, some of them produced by plucking the inside strings of his instrument. Santoro responds by making breathy sounds by blowing across the mouthpiece of her instrument. Then, suddenly, the music becomes more concrete and rhythmic, with Battstone playing a strong rhythm at the keyboard and Santoro following him with melodic-rhythmic ideas of her own. This is really wonderful music. This piece, The Forest Within, continues into the next track, which features Santoro playing a cappella flute in a manner reminiscent of some of Paul Horn’s meditation recordings, though even here she makes edgy sounds by blowing sharply across her mouthpiece, and when she does—adding some loud vocal “ah!”s here and there—Battstone comes in behind her, beating out a Middle Eastern sort of rhythm on his piano.

The Forest Within

In Beyond the River Banks we move from Middle Eastern influences to those of Chinese flute music in Santoro’s playing and American jazz in Battstone’s; somehow, they mesh together.  But the jazz feel does not last long; Battstone moves in and out of it as Santoro switches from a conventional flute to a sopranino recorder, and now she, too, channels a bit of jazz feeling in her playing. This, too, is a wonderful piece of music which I thoroughly enjoyed.

With Attraverso i Rami, Santoro returns to a conventional flute but again plays it in a way that resembles Chinese flute music. This is rather appropriate since Chionna’s artwork has a quasi-Oriental feel to it. Battstone’s delicate traceries on the keyboard eventually expand into minor mode flourishes as the two musicians find common ground. And once again, the pianist tosses in a few jazz-like licks in which he doubles the tempo. Santoro plays a few comments of her own during the silences before they continue as a duo, playing almost an improvised double cadenza.

Flowers of Benten

The Flowers of Benten features solo piano for the first minute before Santoro plays along with Battstone, sometimes following him and sometimes leading. And “play” is the operative word here; their music-making is very playful indeed as they enter into a medium brisk tempo and evidently have fun just creating music together. At the 4:10 mark, the music becomes even more animated as both flautist and pianist are clearly enjoying each other and responding positively to the call-and-response set up.

Much to my surprise, Part 1 of Window Into the Night begins with Santoro playing a Jew’s harp in a non-melodic fashion, following which Battstone plays edgy piano with paper stuck between the instrument’s strings to produce an eerie sound. Eventually Santoro sings an eerie, atonal melody while still playing the Jew’s harp, now also intoning a few notes. Quite amazing material. In Part 2, Battstone plays what I would characterize as a modified folk-rock beat on repeating piano chords while Santoro plays choppy, breathy notes on the flute, added to which she occasionally coughs. Battstone then takes off on a solo improvisation of his own, but after a while Santoro cannot hold back, thus she joins the fray as they play a nice little chase chorus.

In the opening of Blue/Ocean of Hearts, Battstone plays some of the richest music on the disc. It comes dangerously close to sounding like lounge jazz, but there is something about it—the continuous if slight forward push of the beat, the unusual melodic and harmonic structure—that keeps one from calling it so. At the 2:30 mark, he again tosses in some jazzy and bluesy licks, upping the tempo briefly as well as the volume level. Finally, around 3:12, Santoro comes in to join him, playing a melodic line in which she, too, tosses in some flatted thirds as the music becomes more animated.

The Mist of Morning Waters opens with ominous rumbles in the contrabass section of the piano, along with thumps on the instrument’s body, as Santoro blows soft, edgy notes across her mouthpiece. Then the pianist indulges in some actual free jazz, sprinkling notes up and down the middle and upper portion of the keyboard as Santoro jumps in to provide some lines of her owb, here also tossing in some soft, edgy notes here and there. We end with Song of Daphne, in which Santoro hums a strange melody very softly as Battstone plays some repeating, rambling figures. Eventually Santoro moves into her higher vocal register and sings wordless notes in a sort of Eastern-modal framework as the pianist plays a few slow right-hand tremolos to accompany her. Eventually Santoro switches to the alto flute, which she played in the opener, to bring the music on this disc full circle as the music ends in the middle of a phrase.

For me, this is one of the brightest stars in the entire Leo Record catalogue. I could listen to this CD endlessly and never grow tired of it. Two thumbs up!

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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Cathy Segal-Garcia Revisits Two Old Flames

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STRAIGHT AHEAD TO THE U.K. / FRISHBERG: Wheelers and Dealers.8 COREA-COHAN: Highwire.1,5 ABERCROMBIE-SEGAL GARCIA: Hippityville (2 vers).1,5,6,9 ADDERLY-HENDRICKS: Sermonette.4,7,8 CARMICHAEL: I Get Along Without You Very Well.3,6 SEGAL-GARCIA: Shake it Down.4,8 Recipe of Love.2,4,6 Song 4 Sandy.2,4 FLINT: Something We May Never Know.1,4,6 MANCINI-LIVINGSTON-EVANS: Dreamsville.4 BOLAND-JAFFE: Gypsy in My Soul.4,8 ARLEN-HARBURG: Last Night When We Were Young2,5,6 / Cathy Segal-Garcia, voc; Simon Gardner, tpt; Andy MacIntosh, a-sax; Katisse Buckingham, s-sax; 1Cliff Hall, 2John Pearce, 3Roy Hilton, pno; 4Paul Morgan, 5Laurence Cottle, 6John Leftwich, bs; Isamu McGregor, 7pno/Rhodes; 8Carey Frank, pno/Hammond B3 org; Ian Thomas, dm; 9Norma Winstone, voc; Brad Dutz, perc / Dash Hoffman Records DHR 1024

Now, here’s a record with a complicated history. Buckle your seat belts for this one, sports fans. It’s going to be a bumpy ride!

To begin, Cathy Garcia-Segal was born in 1953 and grew up in the Boston area, where her father played saxophone in local bands and her mother was a singer. Cathy studied flute, guitar and piano as a child and attended the Berklee College of Music from 1972 to 1975. In the latter year, she traveled to the U.K. to sing, and when there she dated alto saxist Andy MacIntosh, who came to the U.S. when Segal returned and played with Maynard Ferguson, Louie Bellson and others. But they broke up, MacIntosh returned to England, and they lost touch for many years until 2011, when he found her on Facebook, now as Segal-Garcia. Their friendship was rekindled, and they made this album.

For some reason, however, Segal-Garcia let the master tapes sit on a shelf and never released the album, and in 2013 MacIntosh died. That might have been the end of it, but Dan Davilla, a friend and executive producer, heard her talking about the album one day on a radio interview and encouraged her to “revisit” it. In doing so, she decided to do something different with the music. She brought in John Leftwich, a bass player, engineer, producer and arranger. Segal-Garcia also decided that she wanted to bring the vocals up-to-date, so she re-sang almost the entire album. Leftwich also hired some top studio pros from the L.A. area like Isamu McGregor, Carey Frank, Katisse Buckingham and Brad Dutz to bolster up the sound. This CD is the result of all this activity.

Whew! Now that that’s out of the way, we can talk about the music.

One of the things I liked about Segal-Garcia is that she sings out. She’s not one of these “soulful whisperers” who pass as jazz singers nowadays, but remember, she came up in the 1970s when being a jazz singer meant swinging hard and using all of your voice. At age 66, her timbre isn’t what it had been in her prime, but she can still swing, and the electronically-assembled band, which includes both the original musicians from 2011 (including the now-deceased MacIntosh) and the new ones brought in by John Leftwich. Of these, I was particularly impressed by Cary Frank on the Hammond B3 organ; he’s quite a player.

Another thing I really liked about the album is that Segal-Garcia doesn’t let the ballads sag. They’re sung and played with a jazz beat that really moves; in fact, I’d say that this is the overriding feeling of the entire album: .it moves. I also liked Leftwich’s arrangements; he knows exactly how to use a trumpet here, a Fender Rhodes there, a soprano sax there, and in the end it all works together.

About the only thing that disappointed me about the album was the fact that there aren’t that many instrumental solos. Heck, even Annette Hanshaw, way back in the late 1920s/early ‘30s, allowed her musicians a lot more solo room on her records. Just saying. Fortunately, when we do get solos, they’re all first rate. The only song I really disliked was Hippityville, despite a duo-scat chorus by Segal-Garcia and Norma Winstone. The song really doesn’t have much going for it in terms of tune construction or lyrics, it goes on too long, and Winstone, unfortunately, is one of those whispery lounge jazz singers I normally ignore.

Segal-Garcia’s performance of Sermonette, originally adapted from Cannonball Adderly’s original instrumental by Jon Hendricks for the super-group of Lambert, Hendricks & Ross, is a very good one, and here we get a nice trumpet-alto sax duet with wonderful backup vocals by Bill Redd and Irene Cathaway. There’s also a really bluesy, swinging bass solo by Paul Morgan. This one’s so good that it makes up for Hippityville.

I Get Along Without You Very Well is a perfect example of what I meant regarding her ability to keep “moving the beat forward” even in a ballad. It’s exactly the sort of thing that Nat Cole did so successfully throughout his 37-year career as a jazz singer and pianist. I strongly urge all young prospective jazz singers to listen carefully to this track and study what she does; you’ll learn a LOT even from such normally ignored lines as “to think my breaking heart” when you hear what Segal-Garcia does with it. This, folks, is masterly jazz phrasing. It keeps the song from “sagging” and losing shape.

Following this is another self-composed song, Shake it Down, and this one swings nicely from first note to last. Yet again, listen to the way she throws in those off-beat accents when she sings. The late Andy MacIntosh plays an excellent alto solo on this one, as does pianist Carey Frank. Recipe of Love is that rarity, a jazz waltz, and although the lyrics are fairly silly the tune is a good one and MacIntosh sounds particularly good here in his solo. Song 4 Sandy was written for Segal-Garcia’s niece when she was eight years old. The lyrics are cute, the song a swinger with a nice scat chorus and an excellent solo by MacIntosh.

Dreansville is a ballad by Henry Mancini. Again, listen to the way Segal-Garcia links the lines and the words. This is jazz singers used to do it, and should return to ASAP. Gypsy in My Soul is a medium-slow piece written by Clay Boland; it’s a nice song, but not a very interesting one. Happily, the closer is a nice uptempo version of Harold Arlen’s Gypsy in My Soul, and both Segal-Garcia and the band have a ball on this one. At long last, we finally get a trumpet solo (after the organ), and Simon Gardner acquits himself well with nice, clean bop lines. Segal-Garcia also sings a full chorus in scat. An abridged version of Hippityville closes out the CD.

Taken all together, this is a wonderfully upbeat CD with some really outstanding singing and killer playing from the band as a whole.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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Liebreich’s Great Szymanowski & Lutosławski

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WP 2019 - 2LUTOSŁAWSKI: Concerto for Orchestra. Livre pour Orchestre. Musique funèbre à la memoire de Béla Bartók. Cello Concerto.+ Symphony No. 4. SZYMANOWSKI: 3 Fragments from Poems of Jan Kasprowicz.* Concert Overture. Symphony No. 2 / *Ewa Podleś, alto; +Gautier Capuçon, cel; Polish National Radio Orch.; Alexander Liebreich, cond / Accentus ACC80498

This lavishly-produced boxed set, which includes three fairly thick fold-over cardboard containers, each containing a CD and a fairly thick booklet with notes in Polish, German, French and English, contrasts and compares the music of the two best Polish composers of the 20th century. The liner notes are written in a fairly generic, conversational style and don’t really explain or explore the contrasts or connections between Szymanowski and Lutosławski; rather, they merely extol the virtues of both composers while explaining how Lutosławski became a part of Katowice, all of which is well and good but doesn’t help us regarding the actual music.

Each CD is actually split between the two composers. The contents of each disc is as follows:

CD 1
Lutosławski: Concerto for Orchestra (1954)
Szymanowski: 3 Fragments from Poems by Jan Kasprowicz (1902)

CD 2
Szymanowski: Symphony No. 2 (1909-10)
Lutosławski: Livre pour Orchestre (1968)
Lutosławski: Musique funèbre à la mémoire de Béla Bartók (1958)

CD 3
Szymanowski: Concert Overture in E (1904-05/1910-13)
Lutosławski: Cello Concerto (1969-70)
Lutosławski: Symphony No. 4 (1988-92)

As you can seem then, it is Lutosławski who receives the lion’s share of the CDs. The only large-scale Szymanowski work included here is his Second Symphony, the other two being relatively smaller works while Lutosławski gets two concerti, a symphony and at least one other large-scale orchestral work (the Livre pour Orchestre) in addition to the relatively smaller Bartók funeral music. Yet I’m happy to have these works in my collection; the only one of these I already had was the Cello Concerto, in a fine performance by soloist Johannes Moser with the Berlin Radio Symphony conducted by Thomas Sondergård, and to be honest, this performance is even better. In fact, I was literally bowled over by the power and emotionally-charged energy of Liebreich’s conducting in work after work and movement after movement. Everything about these performances have the feel of an event about them, thus I was not surprised to discover that they were taped during live performances for Polish Radio.

Listening to Lutosławski’s music, one can hear an even more “Polish” influence in them than in the works of his predecessor, great though he was. Like Bartók, Lutosławski had a knack for using traditional folk melodies or of writing melodic lines that sounded like folk melodies and then transforming them with modern harmonies. Compared to the dodecaphonic school or the abrasive, clashing and often harsh harmonies of his successor, Penderecki, Lutosławski’s music is practically lyrical. Granted, there are some abrasive chords here and there, i.e. in the second movement of his Concerto for Orchestra, but by and large the overall impression is of consonance because he always returns to a tonal or modal home key. Moreover, by using folk-like tunes and particularly folk-like rhythms, his music is actually less impressionistic and more appealing to the general listener, for whom rhythm is the soul of music.

The Concerto for Orchestra, in fact, concludes with a huge Passacaglia that runs longer than the first two movements combined. Lutosławski vacillated between bright colors and soft textures, walking a tightrope between two most dominant trends of the mid-20th century. He was, indeed, the Polish Bartók, thus it made perfect sense that he would dedicate a piece of funeral music to a man he considered his musical guide. With that being said, his own Concerto for Orchestra lacks the immediate popular appeal of Bartók’s, simply because when the music becomes dense it is denser and less easily digested than the music of the Hungarian composer.

But appealing to populist tastes and appealing to me are two different things, and I found all of his music on this set endlessly fascinating. Young composers today who like to fall into the popular style of writing edgy, abrasive music that sounds like a boiler factory exploding would do well to study his scores (as well as those of the sadly-neglected American composer William Schuman). Beneath the sometimes abrasive harmonies, Lutosławski was very strict in his formal structures. He didn’t like or want his music to end up being a series of cheap “effects” over real musical substance, thus he always tied form to sound, as Stravinsky did. Indeed, one can compare his orchestral works on this set to some of the music of Stravinsky, except that he was more emotionally effusive than the great Russian composer.

Considering the year of its performance (2014) and the number of years she has spent singing, Ewa Podleś’ voice is in remarkably good shape for Szymanowski’s 3 Fragments from Poems by Jan Kasparowicz. I can only ascribe this to the fact that, because she is an undisputedly great singer yet chooses her operatic and concert dates very carefully, Podleś does not fly all over the world like a chicken with her head cut off as her peers do. Listening to her sing here is like listening to Schumann-Heink or Irina Arkhipova in their sixties, singing with still-firm and well-controlled voices. The comparison is apt in yet another sense, since all three contraltos are as famous for their interpretive skills as for their voices. A former friend of mine, the late Dr. Louis A. Leslie—co-founder of the Gregg Shorthand Method and successor to John Gregg when he died—had seen and heard Schumann-Heink at age 71 sing Erda in Das Rheingold at the Metropolitan Opera, and was utterly amazed by the power, beauty and drama of her voice. I could echo those sentiments while listening here to the 62-year-old Podleś. May she go on as long as Ernestine and Irina did! Being early pieces by Szymanowski, the 3 Fragments are more tonal and less amorphous in form than his later music, though still showing us the Szymanowski to come, particularly in his often opaque orchestral scoring which owed much to Debussy, Duparc and late Wagner.

I was particularly fascinated by Liebreich’s performance of Szymanowski’s second symphony, as it was considerably different from that of Antoni Wit with the Warsaw Philharmonic. The German-born Liebreich takes a more tightly structured view of this music where Wit is more impressionistic. Both approaches are valid, however, particularly since this is still in the composer’s earlier style, before he became imbued by the music of Scriabin. And once again, Liebreich’s conducting is emotionally alive; it gets under your skin and moves you. I’m willing to bet that he has more than a cursory knowledge of how Toscanini conducted; the only thing he lacks is the ultra-clarity of texture that the Italian produced. Otherwise, you hear the same “long view” of the works he performs, developed logically from first note to last, the same excellent top-to-bottom orchestral balance in every note and phrase, the same consistent forward movement and, as already mentioned, the same emotional energy without becoming sentimental. For an example of what I mean, compare Toscanini’s performance of the Sibelius Fourth Symphony to the one by Sir Thomas Beecham or any of his performances of Debussy’s La Mer (the late NBC recording being the best) to those of such French conductors as Désiré-Émile Engelbrecht. Without sacrificing a good legato, Toscanini is consistently more energized, more personally invested in the music-making process than the others, and this is how I feel when listening to Liebreich.

Compared to the Szymanowski symphony, Lutosławski’s late (1968) Livre pour orchestre almost sounds like something from outer space. Here, the structural clarity one heard in the Concerto for Orchestra is bent and blurred; careful listening reveals the structure underneath, but it requires greater concentration to detect. Falling chromatics, diminished chords and whole-tone scales also find their way into this music. Indeed, there are moments here where Lutosławski sounds prescient of early Leif Segerstam or, perhaps, somewhat influenced by George Crumb. The earlier Marcia funèbre for Bartók is in his earlier, Bartók-influenced style, and here, in fact, Lutosławski’s music does bear a strong resemblance to the earlier composer’s Concerto for Orchestra.

Interestingly, Szymanowski’s Concert Overture sounds much like one of the large orchestral tone poems of Richard Strauss—or perhaps that’s because Liebreich is conducting it, as Antoni Wit’s performance is less taut and more amorphic in contour. Yet I couldn’t get away from the similarities, not only in his use of a very large orchestra but also in his use of a few of Strauss’ trademark sounds, i.e. the soft, high violins , the swooping horns and the manner in which he dropped from the upper stratosphere to suddenly “build up” his orchestral sound from the basses and cellos, slowly working his way through low trumpets and winds as the violins again start soaring overhead…and even spot violin solos. I daresay that, if played for a classical lover with little or no knowledge of Szymanowski without saying who the composer is, many will guess Strauss without being able to pinpoint the name of the work. And once again, the conducting is simply exuberant.

By contrast, Lutosławski’s Cello Concerto almost sounds like something from another planet: a handful of soft, low strings introduce it, and when the solo cello enters he is playing strange figures, really little more than gestures, some of the notes purposely distorted. Eventually we hear some wacky, atonal trumpet fanfares, almost as a distraction, before returning to the solo cello, now playing a bit more of a melodic line while soft clarinets, basses and percussion rumble in the background. This is a piece that takes all of Liebreich’s conducting skills to pull together due to its odd juxtaposition of what sound like disparate sections, yet he manages to do a pretty good job of it. In places, Lutosławski’s use of sirens and raucous percussion and brass almost reminds you of George Antheil.

The late Symphony No. 4 is, oddly enough, both more modern and more tightly structured than the Cello Concerto, although the composer’s use of several spot solos almost make it sound like a concerto grosso or another concerto for orchestra. Here, too, the structure is tighter and clearer, which plays into Liebreich’s skilled hands very well.

No two ways about it, this set is one of the sleepers of the year. Very highly recommended!

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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Behle’s Fine Mozart Recital

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ZERO TO HERO / MOZART: Don Giovanni: Overture; Dalla sua pace; Il mio tesoro. Die Entführung aus dem Serail: Hier soll ich dich den sehen…Konstanze, Konstanze; Wenn der Freude Tränen fliessen; Ich baue ganz. Die Zauberflöte: Dies bildnis. Così fan Tutte: Overture; Un’aura amorosa; Ah, lo veggio. La Betulia Liberata: D’ogni colpa la colpa maggiore. La Clemenza di Tito: Se all’impero, amici Dei. Idomeneo: Fuor del mar / Daniel Behle, ten; L’Orfeo Barockorchester; Michi Gaigg, cond / Sony 19075864582

Daniel Behle, one of my favorite modern tenors, presents here a recital of Mozart arias which he raised money for via crowdfunding. I’m a little surprised that he chose to record an album of music done so many times by so many other tenors when other, less-well-traveled repertoire awaits him, but he probably wanted to make his mark.

The good news is that he’s in excellent voice and sings these arias superbly. The bad news is that he’s accompanied by one of those generic HIP orchestras that sound like a MIDI and bulldoze their way through the music with tempi that are too fast and phrasing that has no feeling. Indeed, they have chosen to underscore their lameness by including two of Mozart’s overtures on this disc, and neither one is very good. They sound like a 12-piece band trying to convince us that this is what Mozart heard in his day, As Baron Munchausen once said, “Vas you dere, Sharlie?”

Conductor Michi Gaigg also rushes the tempo in “Dalla sua pace,” which didn’t thrill me a lot, but as I said, Behle sings beautifully, shaping the musical line and being able to affect fine dynamics shadings while still maintaining a firm voice regardless of volume level. His forte singing does not become hard, and his piano singing still has body to the tone. “Il mio tesoro” gallops along at a very brisk pace, which makes the aria sound more like a Presto. At this tempo, Behle is easily able to sing the long run on “tornar” in one breath, though the note separation almost sounds like “Di quella pira”—clean but fast. Mind you, I have some Mozart tenor recitals in my collection that certainly could have been conducted at a brisker clip, particularly the Stuart Burrows album on which he is accompanied by the stodgy John Pritchard, but there is a happy medium that can be found between Pritchard and Gaigg. I should also note that the hall acoustics are much too dry and airless, making this album almost sound like something recorded in NBC’s notorious Studio 8-H.

Much to my surprise, “Hier soll ich dich den sehen” from Die Entführung opens at a sensible tempo, but as soon as we get into the aria proper the tempo is pressed a bit too much. Nonetheless, Behle interprets this well, even adding a little cadenza at one point that I’d never heard before but which made perfect musical sense. He also imbues “Wenn der Freude Tränen fliessen” with considerable charm thus offsetting the coldness of his accompaniment to some degree. Happily, Gaigg takes the fiendishly difficult “Ich baue ganz” at a somewhat moderate pace, thus allowing Behle the opportunity to get through his runs without sounding too pressed. Both conductor and tenor also take a sensible tempo for “Dies bildnis” from Die Zauberflöte; this is one of the real gems of this album, strange orchestral sound aside.

“Un’aura amorosa” also comes out well, with Behle singing the slow descending scale passage between verses in one breath, connecting the words as well as the music. He even attempts the seldom-sung trill in the final phrase. “Ah, lo veggio” is also taken at a fast pace, but here the quicker tempo actually helps the aria. Following this is a real rarity, an aria from the very early La betulia Liberata. It’s basically a fast, florid piece with tricky runs and, yes, yet another trill, which he sings perfectly.

We end this recital with an aria from Mozart’s last opera, La clemenza di Tito, and his most Gluck-like opera, Idomeneo. The latter is, of course, the now-justly-famous “Fuor del mar” which was once considered a great rarity. This latter aria is again taken at a moderate pace, and although the small (40-piece) orchestra again sounds rather anemic Behle does not, singing with a fuller tone and a rather heroic attack. He does, however, drop his voice to half volume for the runs—listen to Ben Heppner or Hermann Jadlowker if you want to hear them sung at full voice.

But here’s something very weird: about two minutes after the aria ends, if you haven’t already taken the CD off your player, you’ll hear someone (Behle?) talking in German. It sounds like stage dialogue, but since it’s in German, is not mentioned in the booklet at all or identified on the inlay, I have no idea what it is or what it means.

All in all, a good album for Behle despite the dry, claustrophobic sound, but only just acceptable (if that) for the orchestra.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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