September 11, 2008


Ives: Songs, Volume 3. Janna Baty, Lielle Berman, Daniel Trevor Bircher, Patrick Carfizzi, Jennifer Casey Cabot, Michael Cavalieri, Robert Gardner, Ian Howell, Sumi Kittelberger, Diego Matamoros, Tamara Mumford, Matthew Plenk and Kenneth Tarver, vocalists; Ayano Kabaoka, glockenspiel; Frederick Teardo, organ; Eric Trudel, J.J. Penna and Douglas Dickson, piano. Naxos. $8.99.

Bottesini: Concertino in C minor for double bass and strings; Passioni amorose for two doubles basses and orchestra; Elégie in D; Duo Concertante on Themes from Bellini’s “I Puritani” for cello, double bass and orchestra; Overtures to “Ero e Leandro,” “Il diavolo della notte” and “Ali Babà.” Thomas Martin and Franco Petracchi, double basses; Moray Welsh, cello; London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Franco Petracchi and Matthew Gibson. Naxos. $8.99.

Bériot: Violin Concertos Nos. 2, 3 and 5. Philippe Quint, violin; Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Kirk Trevor. Naxos. $8.99.

     It can be fascinating to hear the bits and pieces of composers’ lives coalesce through a series of recordings of their music, especially when the recordings include pieces that most listeners will rarely, if ever, have heard before. The third release in Naxos’ six-CD set of the complete songs of Charles Ives – arranged, rather oddly, in alphabetical order – continues exploring the one type of music that Ives produced throughout the 30-plus years of his composing career. As in the first two volumes, the performances, by young and generally little-known artists, are uniformly good if not necessarily definitive; but the point of this collection is to offer a survey of Ives’ songs, not to present the best possible version of every single one of them. The third volume runs from “Harpalus” of 1902 through the excellent “Luck and Work” of 1920, and includes such gems as “The Housatonic at Stockbridge” (1908), “In Flanders Fields” (1917), “Like a Sick Eagle” (1920), and the very late “In the Mornin’” (1929, after Ives had essentially stopped composing). Hearing these in close juxtaposition with lesser and usually earlier songs – such as “Hymn of Trust” (1898, with organ rather than piano), “In April-Tide” (1897), and “In the Alley” (1896) – clearly shows both Ives’ debt to the 19th-century lieder tradition and the many ways in which he moved beyond it.

     Among the star performers of the 19th century was Giovanni Bottesini, considered as adept on the double bass as Paganini was on the violin. Bottesini’s compositions, for his own instrument alone or in combination, are generally well-wrought display pieces, treating the largest member of the string family with the same virtuosity as smaller strings usually command. When Bottesini pairs the double bass with a cello – as in his Duo Concertante on Themes from Bellini’s “I Puritani” – he has high expectations of both soloists, which are well fulfilled on Naxos’ new CD (its second rerelease featuring Thomas Martin playing Bottesini). The Concertino in C minor fares particularly well here: it is the most popular Bottesini work among bassists today, and it is easy to see why, since it thoroughly exploits the instrument’s capabilities. Franco Petracchi conducts the CD – which includes the pleasant Elégie in D and the openings of three Bottesini operas as musical punctuation marks among the solo-oriented pieces – with skill and understanding, which is not surprising in someone who is himself a bassist (he solos with Martin in the Passioni amorose, which Matthew Gibson conducts). Bottesini is scarcely a great composer, but his work is certainly worth hearing for the unusual prominence he gives to an instrument rarely heard in a solo capacity.

     The usual solo string instrument is, of course, the violin, and one of its great 19th-century players was the Belgian virtuoso Charles-Auguste de Bériot. Naxos’ new CD of Bériot concertos is its second such release, and is actually better than the very good first one – which included Concertos Nos. 1, 8 and 9 played by Takako Nishizaki. On the new CD, Philippe Quint really goes to town with two concertos that clearly have Paganini as a model: No. 2 in B minor and No. 3 in E minor. Both feature lengthy first movements, brief slow movements that are touching rather than deep, and highly virtuosic finales; and both have a certain operatic quality in their themes. Concerto No. 5 in D major is a slighter work, lasting not much longer than the first movement of either earlier concerto; but it too is charming, and it has some attractive touches both in the solo part and in the orchestral one – such as a linkage between the first and second movements through a sustained note (along the lines of what Mendelssohn provided in his E minor concerto). Bériot, like Bottesini, wrote primarily for himself, and his 10 concertos are more effective as display pieces than as music of inherent profundity. Both Quint and conductor Kirk Trevor clearly know this, and do not attempt to make any of these pieces weightier than it is. The result is a highly listenable CD that nicely showcases Bériot’s skill as a composer and, by implication, as a violin virtuoso.

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