Tuesday, November 04, 2003


October saw a further batch of intriguing releases from low-price classical label Naxos, whose commitment to English and American music (and less well-known, but high quality performers) continues. Among the recordings that have grabbed my attention are a superb collection of 'Chamber Music' by Toru Takemitsu (New Music Concert Ensemble, N855859) focusing on pieces for flute and small ensemble. This is a scale to which Takemitsu is well suited. His music suspends time and carries its conviction through subtley shifting shape, texture and form. 'Toward The Sea', 'Rain Tree', 'Rain Spell' and 'Bryce' are the featured works.

Also noteworthy: the collection of Lennox Berkeley 'Sacred Choral Music' (N8557227) to coincide with his anniversary; the Ned Rorem 'Symphonies Nos 1-3' (N8559149) -- which give us a chance to hear what all the recent fuss is about concerning the re-discovery of an American voice nurtured from song to composition by Leonard Bernstein; and Einojuhani Rautavaara's 'Piano Concertos Nos 2 and 3' (N8557009), Ah yes, Nordic themes also loom large on Naxos.

The release of Samuel Barber's slightly old-fashioned but charming opera 'Vanessa' should not go unremarked (N8669140 - 2CDs), either. The National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine and soloists generate a rich tapestry of sound from the Pulitzer Prize winning work -- and show that Barber is not the one-trick pony he is often caricatured as (through the current obsession with 'Adagio for Strings').

Talking of which, the ubiquitous 'Adagio' features in an a cappella choral version on the new CD from Laurence Equilbey's Accentus Chamber Choir, in a rendition created by the composer. This is certainly a good way of unfamiliarising ourselves with the over-familiar. 'Transcriptions' (Naive V4965) also features an interesting range of pieces not originally intended for vocal performance, including the Adagietto from Mahler's Fifth and works by Chopin and songmeister Hugo Wolf.

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