Skeptics who cite the alleged omnipresence of harps in heaven as a reason for not wanting to spend eternity there may have second thoughts after listening to these seamlessly sequenced, ethereally exquisite works: 15 composers-three centuries' worth, both the famous and the perhaps-never-to-be-as brought to life by the Utah Valley University faculty members Donna Fairbanks (violin) and Lysa Rytting (harp). Nicanor Zabaleta fans may wish the overall texture were more rugged. Even they, however, would be nitpicking to want more precision. Or more beauty.
The pursuit of "perfect sound" may seem like a cul-de-sac, but there's something to be said for the clarity of this CD when played on players equipped to decode its "Super Audio" layer. (It plays on standard-issue players as well.) The grain of Julia Fischer's violin in the first movement of Sonata for Violin and Piano in A Minor, D. 385, for instance, is practically three dimensional. But the true marvel, of course, is that Schubert composed these simultaneously world-weary and eternity-conscious pieces before the age of 21.
By itself, the fact that Benjamin Britten was a close friend of Gustav Holst's daughter Imogen may not be reason enough to juxtapose Holst's The Planets (1914-1916) with Britten's semi-pedagogical Young Person's Guide (1946), but, taken together with the facts that both composers were British and that the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra is performing both works, it will do. As for the seven planets that Holst set to music, "Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity" still sounds like the grandest one to visit by far.
While Sadin may be correct in saying that the "performing style of [Guillaume Machaut's] time [1300-1377] was not as pristine or as 'classical' as once was believed" (the liner notes), one can't help wondering whether the stylistic liberties he admits taking with these 13 pieces are the most authentic way to make this Medieval French composer's acquaintance. They are not, however, a bad way of making the acquaintance of world music with a Middle Eastern-North African flavor or of reacquainting oneself with the concept of "courtly love."
At over 900 lines, Alfred, Lord Tennyson's narrative blank-verse poem "Enoch Arden" taxes the contemporary attention span, even accompanied by the piano music Richard Strauss composed for it in 1897. But, like other long works whose plots it echoes ("Rip Van Winkle," Robinson Crusoe, Homer's Odyssey), Tennyson's tale of the shipwrecked sailor who returns home after 10 years only to discover his wife remarried to his former rival rewards those who immerse themselves in its rhythms and imagery.
The latest recording of Strauss' Enoch Arden (JRI) features the pianist Chad R. Bowles and, as narrator, the bass-baritone David Ripley. Listeners fond of such better-known narrations as those by the actors Claude Rains and Patrick Stewart may consider the operatically trained Ripley's somewhat over-declamatory style an example of gilding the lily-of making up in obviousness what the poem lacks in subtlety. They will also welcome the further proof of this melodrama's apparently inexhaustible appeal that Bowles and Ripley provide.