For the Record
From time to time in these pages, I mention new recording projects by local groups, fully intending to give them the same critical attention that I give to live concerts and events. With live events at a bit of a lull this weekand several local classical releases either out or out soonit’s time to make good on those intentions.
One of the considerable perks in the critic biz is getting to hear things before they’re released to the general public. Among these is the upcoming, self-titled release by the Nashville Chamber Orchestra. The disc contains all the best works that the NCO has commissioned, along with a couple of rarities by well-known composers. With only a few exceptions, the recorded performances are clearly superior to the ones done in concert. The sound, without demur, is excellent.
First, the repertoire: Conni Ellisor’s Conversations in Silence and Blackberry Winter, J. Mark Scearce’s Endymion’s Sleep, John Mock’s “The Stone,” Barber’s “Canzonetta” for oboe, and Zoltan Kodaly’s “Adagio for Cello” all have both substance and popular appeal. It would be hard to find much more new music in so accessible a vein on any recent release. The Scearce and Kodaly pieces are particularly moving, and if Conni Ellisor’s Blackberry Winter gets a wide enough hearing from this recording, it could well become an American classic.
In terms of performance, this recording really does surpass the NCO’s concerts. With the possible exception of Ellisor’s Conversations in Silence, the ensemble is in even better control of the material. Gone is the rush that frequently popped up in a live setting, yet the infectious enthusiasm for the music remains. This greater control results in a more subtle phrase, a better settled line, and considerably improved intonation. This is especially the case with the solo parts for Kodaly’s “Adagio” and Mock’s “The Stone.”
The greatest suprise about the NCO’s new release is how much better these pieces sound as recordings. The folks at Warner Bros. may not do a lot of classical work, but they certainly knew what to do with this group. The sound is at all times warm and balanced, with the critical equilibrium between soloist and ensemble particularly apt. This is important for all the works, but it’s crucial for Ellisor’s Blackberry Winter. In concert, the NCO has had problems conveying the subtlety of the dulcimer solos and allowing the ensemble to have its say as well. This studio recording sets the balances to rights.
No matter how considerable these studio players’ reputations are within the industry, this recording is a great gamble. Here’s wishing fiscal success to a debut CD that has managed such an artistic success. We can only hope this caliber of music-making continues.
Hell to pay
A particularly mordant cartoon, titled “Bird in Hell,” shows a pair of demons dragging Charlie Parker off to a sound booth lined with Mantovani records. My own personal hell would be an eternity of trio sonataswhich will explain my lack of cheer at the Palladian Ensemble’s latest release, Trios for 4. It’s not that this quartet, which records for Nashville-based Honest Entertainment, is in any way a less than stellar group. They do bring to bear a lightness and good humor on pieces by Handel, Telemann, LeClair, and Quantz that is seldom encountered in this repertoire. And repeated listening does bring out new felicities of phrase and ornament. But this CD is still “caviar to the masses”in other words, if you’re a connoisseur, this might be for you.
Speaking of honest entertainment, I cannot honestly recommend Mark Goodwin and Robert Thompson’s un duet poètique to serious listeners. Though there are some more than adequate arrangements and some occasional attempts at technical poetry on this collection of guitar duets, much of the playing is coarse, especially in the strictly classical pieces. What’s more, the close miking reveals every passage of skin across string, and some very peculiar harmonics besides. Given the audible gaffes that can be heard upon close listening, this recording of works by Lennon and McCartney, Handel, Debussy, Celso Machado, and others sounds best at a low volumein other words, put it on while you’re eating dinner or at work. For more information on the Goodwin-Thompson Duo’s CD, contact Forte Booking at 615-227-1771
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