Music Reviews

Classical Music - Part 5 - April, 1999





"Holst' The Planets"

Yoel Levi; The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra

Telarc; CD-80466

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Now that DTS CDs are plentiful, and mass market receivers with DTS decoding built-in are available just about everywhere, we thought it would be appropriate to begin reviewing these CDs here. Remember, DTS CDs can be played on any CD player that has a digital output jack (either coax or optical), where the digital output is connected to a digital input on your DTS receiver or outboard DTS decoder. DD music discs are DVDs only, so you will need a DVD player to play them.

When Gustav Holst (1874 - 1934) visited Clifford Box in 1913 and viewed the stars with his friend, he became inspired to write a suite for orchestra based on the astrological signs. The project took several years, from 1914 to about 1917, and not in numerical order, with Mercury being composed last. Originally, all except for Neptune were scored for two pianos rather than full orchestra because Holst was suffering from arthritis in his writing hand. In 1917, all movements received full orchestral scoring with the help of faculty members at St. Paul's School in London.

Although the influence of Stravinsky, Dukas, Debussy, and Schoenberg are evident in the finished work, "The Planets" is still distinctly Holst. The music is moody, and represents human situations rather than Greek Mythology, even though they are suggested by Astrology.

Whereas the word "universe" implies a static vision of all that is, "Cosmos" represents dynamic relationships between galaxies, solar systems, planets, molecules, and atoms. Universe is to Cosmos, as two-channel recordings of this piece are to the 5.1 versions (at least this particular one). The depth of the orchestral presentation with full spectrum surround is stunning. Yes, there may be a little bit of body loss, due to compression inherent in all current 5.1 recording technology, but that will disappear when higher bit rate 5.1 becomes the norm. The point is that even the compressed 5.1 takes the breath away. While some popular music 5.1 recordings tend to have isolated channels for individual instruments or solo voices, orchestral pieces are much more blended among the various channels. This moves the sense of "being there" to a new plateau that simply cannot be reproduced by two-channel recordings, no matter how many bits they have. Holst' The Planets ranges from thunderous to mesmerizingly sweet, and 5.1 DTS plows deeper into the ancient portions of the brain. But that is not the reason to have this excellent disc. It's simpy terrific classical music.

For reference, full track-listing:

1. I. Mars, the Bringer of War
2. II. Venus, the Bringer of Peace
3. III. Mercury, the Winged Messenger
4. IV. Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity
5. V. Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age
6. VI. Uranus, the Magician
7. VII. Neptune, the Mystic

- JEJ -


"Bach: The Sonatas & Partitas for unaccompanied Violin, arranged for
8-string guitar"

Paul Galbraith

Delos; DE 3232

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To say this performance is flawless does no justice to Galbraith's creativity. Hundreds of years after Bach's death, Galbraith has presented the composer and his audience a gift of beauty. The sound of Galbraith's unique 8-string guitar is played with both amazing clarity and a huge dynamic range never before heard from any guitarist. Together with his intimate knowledge of the Sonatas and Partitas, he brings warmth and beauty to this wholly new interpretation of Bach's spiritual journey. Whatever one's religious preferences, listening to the six-part suite at a single setting cleanses one's mind and culminates in a feeling of shared celebration. No matter how familiar you believe you are with these classic works written for unaccompanied violin, you will discover something new and deeply satisfying in this version transcribed for the 8-string guitar.

For reference, full track-listing:

Disc 1:

1. Sonata No. 1 in A Minor
2. Partita No. 1 in B Minor
3. Sonata No. 2 in B Minor

Disc 2:

1. Partita No. 2 in E Minor
2. Sonata No. 3 in D Major
3. Partita No. 3 in E Major

- George and Manon Ruben -


"César Franck Piano Music"

Stephen Hough

Hyperion Records, Ltd.; CDA 66918

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Stephen Hough's interpretations of Cesar Franck's Piano Music are not only consistent with his award-winning performance standards but also illuminate the composer's artistic journey . In "Grand Caprice," Hough captures perfectly the energy and stylish virtuosity of the young Franck's competitive quest for favor among the Lizst-obsessed musical glitterati of Paris' mid-19th-century salons. Hough himself transcribed Franck's "Troisieme Choral" from the original for organ to the piano, and his intimate performance and touch conjure the progressively more spiritual qualities of the now mature, almost ascetic composer. "Prelude, Choral, et Fugue" and "Prelude, Aria et Final" are equally disciplined and lyrically delicate performances of Franck's late works. Hough's interpretation and sensitive touch rekindles a listener's appreciation for the composer as well as his compositions, and each repetition only enhances the experience of Houghs inspired playing and Franck's Lyrical composition.

For reference, opus-listing:

1. Prélude, Choral et Fugue M21 (1884)
2. Prélude, Aria et Finale M23 (1886 - 1887)
3. Troisième Choral M40 (1890)
4. Danse Lente (1885)
5. Grand Caprice (1843)
6. Les Plaintes d'une poupée (1865)

- George and Manon Ruben -

© Copyright 1999 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
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