Great Sacred Choruses
EMI 5 85758 2
June is the month for mega-compilations, apparently. EMI has three, and they're all in their different ways worth listening to, the first rather more than the others.
Hallelujah: Great Sacred Choruses is three CDs containing some magnificent music. And all the great composers wrote this kind of music -- Bach, of course, but also the freemason Mozart, the deist Beethoven and the unbelieving Brahms. None of them could resist it.
These CDs in fact converted me to this art-form -- previously I'd thought it was too loud, and frequently sanctimonious into the bargain. But the incisive splendor of the polyphonic chorus Unto Us a Child is Born from Handel's Messiah as performed by the Ambrosian Singers, especially when they explode with 'Wonderful! Counselor!' with the violins going ecstatic in a high register, is supremely life-affirming.
As so often when companies like EMI issue compilations such as this, re-using the most spectacular tracks from their vast stock of older recordings, the result is a huge bargain. And they're all here -- Giulini conducting part of the staggering Dies Irae from the Verdi Requiem, Jochum with the Crucifixus from Bach's B Minor Mass, David Willcocks with the choir of King's College, Cambridge in several pre-classical items. All my life (to date) paraded before my eyes as I listened to these spectacular CDs, sometimes reducing me to tears. Through Stennheiser headphones they lift you straight out of this dusty life and into the stratosphere. They're wonderful beyond measure and very highly
Live from the Concertgebouw
EMI 5 629172 0
Much-lionized Argentine-born pianist Martha Argerich has a new album coming out in August with cellist Mischa Maisky, so EMI is
currently promoting her 3-CD set, Live From the Concertgebouw, first issued in 2000. It consists of some of her concerts in Amsterdam in the late 1970s, plus a Beethoven concerto from 1992, all taken from tapes in the possession of The Netherlands' NPS Radio.
It would be nice to be able to report that I can distinguish Argerich's playing of Mozart's Piano Concerto K.503 and Beethoven's Piano Concerto No:1 from anyone else's. Quite frankly, I can't. With her Bach, though, let alone her Chopin, it's another matter. She plays the former's Partita No:2, and later, as an encore, the Bouree from the Second English Suite, with a wonderful Romantic intensity light years away from the punctiliousness of the period authenticity specialists. Chopin's Nocturne No:13, which ends in such passionate desperation, is here played with a wild willfulness, but the classic version by Fou Ts'ong [reviewed Taipei Times July 18, 2003] is more restrained, and surely more beautiful. Argerich seems more in her element with such prickly geniuses as Prokofiev and Scarlatti, both represented in this collection, albeit the latter only briefly. But the incandescent Bach items remain the ones to get this set for.
The Best Gregorian Chant Album in the World...Ever!
EMI 5 76904 2
For some reason the youth culture has latched onto Gregorian chant as an ancient example of ambient music. The Best Gregorian Chant Album in the World ... Ever! is clearly designed to appeal to that market. The notes are skimpy, though they do tell you that there were many kinds of chanting around in the Middle Ages, and that it's the oldest form of European music we possess, in other words the first type to be written down. It probably represents the music sung by the earliest Christians, and as such may go back to