Music Reviews

Classical Music - Part 7 - January, 2000

Jason Serinus





Eroica Trio

EMI Classics 7243 5 56873 2 6

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Twentieth century romantic rearrangements of baroque music played on a violin, cello, and modern piano? How absolutely inauthentic. And, in the hands of the three women of the Eroica trio, how delightfully delicious. 

There is some historical precedent for the Eroica Trio’s wonderful presentation of these arrangements. Baroque composers frequently rewrote their works for various combinations of instruments, and expected individualized interpretation and improvisation from performers. And, when the composers wrote trio sonatas, they assigned the top two lines to individual instruments, but assigned the third line to various “continuo” combinations of keyboard, string, or even wind instruments. Nevertheless, while the late 20th century renaissance in original instrument performance has revealed that baroque music need never sound fossilized, it is a safe bet that nothing performed in the baroque era ever sounded anything like this.

Are you ready for Bach’s D-Minor Chaconne, the closing of his glorious Second Partita for Unaccompanied Violin, rearranged by Anne Dudley, composer of the film scores for "The Crying Game" and "The Full Monty", and sounding for all the world like it was Beethoven played by an overwrought musician in a film from the ‘40s? Even if you don’t think you are, I urge you to give the Eroica’s rendition a listen. If you’re a romantic at heart, there’s a good chance you’ll love it as much as I love everything on this album, including arrangements of Vivaldi, Buxtehude, Lotti, not quite Loeillet, and pretty phony Albinoni.

My only reservation concerns the sound. The acoustic, and especially the piano, sound over-resonant and somewhat hazy. Its soft focus complements the soft-focus album cover, but it does not sound real to these ears. The piano especially blurs on many occasions. Thankfully, the performances are so good that the music wins out.

As enticing as the music is, wait until you see the album art. Clearly intent on breaking convention and getting attention, the three gorgeous women who comprise the trio, and who have made music together since childhood, let it all hang out. Looking for all the world like the Erotica trio, they appear in soft focus on the album cover variously wearing cocktail dresses and a corset (borrowed from Madonna?), and anoint the back of the liner notes with a rear-view garden shot, offering us their shapely rear ends and graceful backs covered by full length evening gowns. No faces, no instruments, just three black-clad figures viewed from the rear. Exactly what music they were thinking about as this was shot, I dare not venture to guess.

The Eroica Trio offers no apologies, either for the arrangements or their dress. They do it their way, playing the music – and playing with us – for all it’s worth. And it is worth, in my opinion, a whole lot. The slow movements of these pieces are especially moving. This CD offers one delight after another. Three cheers and bravos. I love this disc.

- Jason Serinus -


"Sento amor"

David Daniels

Virgin Veritas 7243 5 45365 2 6

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The resurgence of authentic period music performance has created a demand for countertenors, those men whose voices sound natural and full in the alto, mezzo, and even soprano ranges normally assigned to women. It is these voices that are believed to most clearly resemble the sounds of the castrati for whom much 18th century vocal music was written.

In the five years since his professional debut, American countertenor David Daniels has become among the most sought after countertenors on the planet. Every sound he makes is gorgeous. His lowest notes have great beauty, the highest astounding power. His runs are amazingly fluid, and he is fully the equal of the great technical demands of this music. Though his trill does not equal that of Sutherland or Sills, and the midvoice lacks the power of the tenors, mezzos, and sopranos who sometimes sing this music, Daniels’ voice is completely smooth from top to bottom. I hear absolutely no strain, no indication that his voice is doing anything other than what it was naturally intended to do. If you didn’t know this was the voice of a countertenor, you could easily think it was a woman’s.

This, David Daniels’ second solo album, is devoted to arias by Gluck, Handel, and Mozart, all except one of which were composed for castrati. Often the music and lyrics convey pain, suffering, sorrow, and loss. There are lots of cruel people, some anger, and lots of reasons for florid runs and heartfelt utterances. While Daniels’ tone does not vary a great deal, it is perfectly suited to the more tender utterances. Gluck’s “Che puro ciel” from Orfeo ed Euridice is especially touching.

It is undoubtedly unfair to compare Daniels’ performances to those of women known for this repertoire. Yet neither I, nor a friend who brought over a recording of the wondrous Marilyn Horne convincingly portraying a male (aka "trouser") role in Handel in order to demonstrate the dramatic force he felt lacking in Daniel’s interpretation of the same aria, can help thinking of others performing some of Daniels' selections. Take his performance of Gluck’s famous "Che faro senza Euridice?" sung in the composer’s rarely-heard original version for countertenor. As lovely as it is, in my heart it will never supplant renditions of Gluck’s later arrangements of this aria by the incomparable Maria Callas and Kathleen Ferrier (her live versions, not the studio recording). On the other hand, Daniels’ exquisitely modulated rendition of Mozart’s only castrato concert aria, "Ombra felice! – Io ti lascio, e questo addio," serves Mozart’s music far better than mezzo Brigitte Fassbaender’s live 1972 Salzburg performance.

Reservations aside, David Daniels is a wonder. If you’re drawn to this repertoire, you owe it to yourself to hear this disc.

- Jason Serinus -



The Hilliard Ensemble and Jan Garbarek

ECM New Series 1700/01 (2 discs)

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Recorded four a half years after Officium, the first collaboration between the four-voiced men’s Hillard Ensemble and soprano and tenor saxophone player Jan Garbarek, this welcome reunion gets its name from a translation of the first strophe of the second version of a work by Friedrich Holderlin (1770-1843).

            A sign we are, inexplicable

            Without pain we are…

…For when the heavens quarrel

Over humans and moons proceed

In force…there is One,

            Without doubt, who

            Can change this any day….

Though the time

            Be long, truth

            Will come to pass.

The Hilliard Ensemble and Jan Garbarek’s first collaboration was “broadly based on early music principles.” Mnemosyne contains two very different sorts of music. The first are conventionally noted pieces in which the saxophone improvises around the singers. The others repertoire consists of minimally notated, rarely complete pieces, often scraps recovered from old books or previously buried ruins, on which all five musicians improvise. As such, this CD captures performances that, like the music of John Cage and many other contemporary composers, will never again sound exactly like this.

And how do they sound? Wonderful. While some of the selections on the second CD occasionally unsettle, this collection for the most part consists of harmonious, elevating collaborations in which the saxophone’s soaring lines become a fifth voice with the potential to carry the listener beyond the realm of thought. We not only hear from such early  music luminaries as Guillaume Dufay, Thomas Tallis, Antoine Brumel, and Hildegard von Bingen, but also folksongs from Peru, a psalm from 16th century Russia, Estonian lullabies by contemporary composer Veljo Tormis, Iriquois fragments, and a delphic paean from 127 BC.

As a bodyworker, I often search for the right accompaniment for my work. I bought Officium five years ago, but found its early music textures a bit too ascetic for the energy I wish to create. Much of this second compilation, however, is perfect. A dear friend and I ate December 24 dinner with it playing in the background, and felt much kinship and peace. Like the work from which it derives its title, the music on this CD moves from the realm of words and ideas to that of a greater truth. Great stuff, beautifully recorded. Enjoy the journey.

 - Jason Serinus -

Copyright 2000 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
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