Classical: The Compact Collection

Rob Cowan on the Week's CD Releases

INTEREST IN Astor Piazzolla's tango extravaganzas continues to gain momentum, though the fiercely propulsive rhythms that open Tango Ballet on Gidon Kremer's latest all-Piazzolla CD are not entirely typical. Beam up track three and the solo violin line suddenly takes on a melancholy twist, subtly supported by quietly shuddering strings. Piazzolla's music is rich in contrasting allusions - joyfulness tinged with ineffable sadness, extraversion that unexpectedly turns in on itself, or breezy tango tunes that take on a ghostly pallour. Kremer understands this double-edged language more profoundly than most and I doubt that anyone living interprets it with more heart and soul than he does here. The programme includes, in addition to the ballet (which is presented in a Stravinskyian arrangement by Leonid Desyatnikov), Three Pieces for Chamber Orchestra and a Concierto del Angel where Kremer and his virtuoso KremerATA Baltica are joined by a double bass, piano and the bewitching tones of a bandoneon (or Argentine accordion). You might think of it as a Latin-American near-relation to Kurt Weill, music full of temperament and foreboding, popularist on the surface but with a serious side that holds fast to your imagination.

Taking a Tardis-trip from 20th-century Argentina to ancient Greece is easily facilitated when the first port of call is Ravel's sensual ballet masterpiece Daphnis et Chloe. Michael Gielen's atmospheric new recording of the whole score for the budget-price Arte Nova label clocks up a generous 58 minutes, so prepare for an orgiastic wallow. The playing of the South West German Radio Symphony Orchestra (not to mention the singing of the Europa Academy Chorus) has a limpid, unforced quality that suits the music, and there are countless illuminating details that shade - though never spoil - the score's smoky surface. The recording favours a centre-stalls brand of realism rather than homing on particular instruments, and my only complaint is that Arte Nova provides just the one tracking point. This means that if you want to sample the unaccompanied choral interlude that opens the second half of the ballet, you have to fast-forward to 27'00", whereas the music known as the "second suite" starts at 40'34". To be honest, it's all a bit of a bother, but in other respects this is a handsome production and an astonishing bargain.

More budget-price Ravel has arrived from EMI in the context of another of its splendid Debut CDs, this time featuring the hugely talented young chamber group Mobius. Ravel's playful Introduction and Allegro is performed with disarming spontaneity, and so is Debussy's exotic Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp. The disc starts off in fine style with Mozart's Flute Quartet in C, K285b, but the high point of the programme is undoubtedly the charming, witty and memorably tuneful Clarinet Quintet by Weber in which Robert Plane makes a tasty meal of the solo line. If you need cheering up, then go straight to Weber's last two movements (on tracks 5 and 6). The Menuet is rich in zany decorations and features the kind of hilarious "false finishes" that would have delighted Haydn. The sound, like the playing, is pleasingly immediate.

Piazzolla/Kremer Teldec Classics 3984-22661-2

Ravel/Gielen Arte Nova 74321 63641 2

Ravel, Weber, Mozart/Mobius EMI "Debut" CDZ5 73162 2

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