GUBAIDULINA: The Canticle of the Sun. Preludes for Solo Cello. In Croce for Cello and Bajan.
Peter Wispelwey, cellist; Collegium Vocale Gent/Daniel Reuss, cond. An Raskin, bajan; Members of the Prometheus Ensemble
CHANNEL CLASSICS CCS SA 20904 (5 channel) TT: 67:02

"The Cello in My Life"
DENHOFF: Unreceding on, Op. 83e. Trace d'Etoile, Op. 87. when no words, Op. 77. Sobre tantas cuerdas, Op. 72a. Sieben Bagatellen, Op. 92.
Michael Denhoff, cello/campanula; Birgitta Wollenweber, klavier
CYBELE SACD 361.401 (5 channel) TT: 70:46

BACH-SKROWACZEWSKI: Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565. BACH-ORMANDY: Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring. BACH-LEINSDORF: Herzlich tut mich verlangen. BACH-WOOD: Suite No. 6 for Full Orchestra. BACH-SARGENT: Air on the G String. BACH-BARBIROLLI: Sheep May Safely Graze. BACH-MITROPOULOS: Fantasia and Fugue in G minor, BWV 542. BACH-GUI: Ich ruf' zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ. BACH-KLEMPERER: Bist du bei mir? BACH-DAMROSCH: A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.
BBC Philharmonic Orch/Leonard Slatkin, cond.

"The Essence of Viennese Music"
Music of Johann Strauss, Jr., Johann Strauss, Sr., Mozart, Franz Lehár, Franz Schubert, and Emerich Kálmán
Edith Lienbacher, soprano; Herbert Lippert, tenor; Bruckner Orchestra Linz/Peter Guth, cond.
CHESKY SACD 255 (5.1 channel) TT: 73:31


Gubydulina composed The Canticle Of The Sun in 1997 to honor the 70th birthday Mstistlav Rostropovich, a musician "with a sun-drenched personality whom she called "the greatest cellist of the 20th century," There are four movements to the lengthy (40:41) work (the first dedicated to the Creator of the sun and moon, the second to the Creator of the four lements, the third to life, and the fourth to death, with 19 tracks for the different sections. This actually is a cello concerto with a chorus, based on the Hymn to Brother Sun of Francis of Assisi—a song of praise dedicated to God, to the sun, to all of creation, and to death from which no man can escape. The chamber choir and kept it somewhat enigmatic, and delegated the most powerful expression to The cello part is extraordinarily demanding for the soloist, utilizing the entire range of the instrument, with some strange effects—scraping sounds by playing below the bridge, rattling a drum, and playing a flexatone with a double bass bow. The five preludes (Staccato-Legato, Legato-Staccato, Ricochet, Arco-Pizzicato, Pizzicato-Arco) are typical of the composer's latest style. In Croce (On the Cross), originally scored for cello and organ or bajan (Russian accordeon), is played in the version for cello and bajan, with the cello playing primarily in its lowest register, the bajan in its highest. The two instrumental lines cross each other symbolizing the form of a cross, ending quietly in a meditative atmosphere. Texts are provided for Canticle. Channel Classics is to be congratulated for its enterprise in recording these challenging works and for doing so in such exemplary fashion. The surround sound is superb, which marked separation.

Michael Denhoff, born in Ahaus, Westphalia, in 1955, studied cello with Siegfried Palm and composition with Hans Werner Henze. He has performed chamber music as a member of the Denoff Trio, taught music theory at the University of Mainz from 1984-85, and conducted the Akademisches Orchester from 1985-1992. He is now a member of a quartet (Ludwig Quartet), and often performers with pianist Birgitta Wollenweber, who is heard on this SACD. Denhoff has received a number of awards for his compositions. On this disk we hear a group of new pieceshe composed for both the cello and the campanula, which is a stringed instrument recently developed by Helmut Bleffert which resembles the cello but with "sixteen of the sympathetic strings." All of the works here are personal statements by the composer, usually meditative, often inspired by texts. There's no question of authenticity of performances, and the recorded sound is fine, but I imagine few, except the most curious cellists, will be interested in this repertory.

The fascinating Chandos CD offers music of Bach in transcriptions by various conductors, not a single one by Leopold Stokowski who, according to Oliver Daniels' biography, made 35 of them. Leonard Slatkin explains that these are already so well represented on recordings it was decided to focus on other conductor's efforts. Three of these had strong past associations with the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra (Eugene Ormandy, Dimitri Mitropoulos and Stanislav Skrowaczewski). Skrowaczewski's transcription of the famed Toccata and Fugue in D minor was made in the '60s and is even more flambuoyant than Stokowski's. The later, surprisingly, did not use a gong in his version; Skrowaczewski uses it often, and effectively. Wood's six-movement "for full orchestra" is sedate compared with his transcription of the D minor Toccata and Fugue (which is even showier than Skrowaczaewski's if you enjoy extreme orchestral textures). Mitropoulos' large-scale transcription of the Fantasia and Fugue in G minor was made in the '20s and he recorded it in Minneapolis in 1942. Slatkin and the fine BBC Philharmonic have a great time with all of these colorful scores, and the sound is what we have come to expect from Chandos. The orchestra is in front, ambient sound coming from rear speakers, which works well.

Chesky's Viennese SACD is a delight, a varied program that doesn't concentrate solely on chestnuts—although many are included. Soprano Edith Lienbacher is heard solo in music from Mozart's Marriage of Figaro, The Merry Widow and Die Fledermaus; tenor Herbert Lippert in music from A Night in Venice, The Magic Flute, The Land of Smiles and an excerpt from Das Dreimäderlhaus ("Blossom Time"), music of Schubert arranged by Heinrich Berte. Both singers collaborate on duets from Wiener Blut and Die Csárdásfürstin. Lienbacher and Lippert are excellent in this music and conductor Peter Guth (who has recorded several Viennese CDs for Naxos) elicits fine playing from the orchestra. SACD sound is excellent, with the performers in front. Generous playing time, too (73:31).

R.E.B. (October 2004)