Among the virtuosity warhorses in the piano repertory, the five concertos by Camille Saint-Saens have established an appealing reputation. The audiences worldwide are enchanted to attend performances by great virtuosos in utterly melodious and harmonic works with dazzling keyboard pyrotechnics and musical ideas of the most refined quality. Yet, a very few of the professional pianists dare to approach this pianistic output by one of the most prolific and multifaceted artists of the European culture (composer, playwright, philosopher, astronomer, archaeologist, poet etc). To find the proper touch, to balance the wild virtuosity with the subtle musical concept, to get the deepest level of significance in these works – are all difficult tasks that require a high level of artistry (not only in pianistic terms).
These are wonderful performances, full of the flair that made Stern famous. I was glad Sony chose this particular version of the Tchaikovsky with Ormandy and the Philadelphians for his "Life in Music" series, rather than Stern's later version with Berstein and the NYPO. This earlier recording captures Stern with more spontaneity and displays his virtuosity to greater effect. The faster passages of the Tchaikovsky are handled with ease, even at speeds faster than normally heard.
Recorded live at the Moscow Conservatory, this is a truly legendary performance. Any experienced veteran could be proud of it; that a boy of 12 should possess the necessary technique, the musical understanding and maturity, and the sustained concentration, is almost beyond belief. Reveling in his own limitless virtuosity, Kissin seems to be playing with as well as on the piano with elfin grace and delicacy; yet his command of the keyboard his warm, singing, powerful, varied tone are only tools for expressing his spontaneous response to the music.
Three tracks to note on this companion to the hit cyberthriller: 1) A funky and inconsequential debut by the David Byrne-less Talking Heads (now just The Heads) featuring Deborah Harry; 2) A mesmerizing, The The-like tune ("A Big Day in the North") marking the American debut of Black Grape, the promising new venture for Happy Mondays founder Shaun Ryder; and 3) "Party Man", a trademark mid-tempo Peter Gabriel yawner co-written to no apparent effect by Tori Amos.
In a futuristic, high-tech world run by huge corporations, Parker Barnes (Denzel Washington) is an L.A. policeman serving time for killing the psychotic who murdered his wife and child. Lindenmeyer (Stephen Spinella), a Dr. Frankenstein of the computer era, has created a monster, Sid 6.7 (Russell Crowe), a virtual reality entity which is programmed with the character traits of scores of mass murderers. Sid 6.7 has escaped the control of its creator and is now running amok. The privatized police force in charge of keeping the peace in the city is run by Elizabeth Deane (Louise Fletcher). Barnes has volunteered to test a new criminal tracking system based on a virtual reality device. His job is to find Sid 6.7, with the help of psychologist Madison Carter (Kelly Lynch). Barnes gets out of prison and reinstated to the police force to pursue his dangerous prey.
Dioclesian is the tale of a simple Roman private, Diocles, who fulfils the prophecy of Delphia (a prophetess, and hence Dioclesian's alternative title) that one day he will become emperor. In the meantime, Diocles avenges the slaying of the previous emperor and becomes a hero. With ambitions realized he discovers the he has over-played his hand by responding to Princess Aurelia's advances in the place of a nice homely girl called Drusilla, whom he had agreed to marry. The prophetess, who happens to be Drusilla's aunt, plans his come-uppance before he realizes the emptiness of his aspirations, abdicates and returns to nature and Drusilla. It is good to know the story of Purcell's first major theatre success, though not essential since this hotch-potch adaptation of older plays impinges little on the music and, moreover, none of the protagonists sings a note. Yet this production at Dorset Garden in 1690, with all the hallmarks of compromise and messiness, was a huge hit and made Purcell's name on the London stage instantly.
The cantate francaise flourished during the first half of the eighteenth century. Morin and Bernier were among the most interesting early exponents of it, Campra, Monteclair, Clerambault and Rameau among the most impressive. Indeed, it is generally recognized that the cantate francaise reached its zenith in the hands of Clerambault. He is represented on this new disc by Le Soleil, vainqueur des nuages. It appeared in none of the composer’s five published collections of chamber cantatas but was issued separately in 1721