MUSIC / Classical releases

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Bryn Terfel (baritone),

Malcolm Martineau (piano)

(DG 445 294 2)

BUILT like a brick Baptist chapel, and sporting the perfect footballer's perm, the Welsh baritone Bryn Terfel is hardly the image of the Schubert Lieder-singer. Looks were rarely more deceptive. Terfel's voice is as big and round as his frame, but he's capable of astonishing variety of tone and expression. The three voices in the terrifying Erlkonig are tellingly characterised, and there's more than a hint of Victorian parlour- Gothic about the manner, but it never slips into parody. Perhaps Die Forelle is a little arch, but it comes after a wonderfully contrasted Gruppe aus dem Tartarus and Litanei auf das Fest Allerseelen - one all turbulence and darkness, the other confidential warmth and peace. And an old favourite like Du bist die Ruh' can still emerge afresh, the expression richly detailed and unmannered. Singing like this demands a first-rate accompanist, and Terfel has found one in Malcolm Martineau. His playing in Du bist die Ruh' is a model of eloquent simplicity, and he must have enjoyed not having to play down the stormy piano writing in Erlkonig - no need to pull your punches when you're contending with a voice like Terfel's. SJ

MARTLAND: Patrol; Danceworks; Principia

Martland Band,

Smith Quartet

(RCA Catalyst 09026 62670-2)

THE photo on the sleeve - an intimidating, bare-chested Steve Martland (rock-star, soldier or punk?) - won't prepare you for Patrol. You don't normally associate Martland with strings - still less a string quartet. 'No vibrato,' he writes over the score, and there at least is some concession to the defiant, let's-change-the-world Martland persona. Patrol is mellower, reflective even. It's about remembrance, the continuity between old and new, secretive and yet urgently communicative. Old voices emerge here through a slow, mysterious canon, feeling their way toward music, ideas, revelations unknown. One such revelation spirits us from glacial upper registers deep down into the heart and soul of the instruments - a genuinely surprising passage in rich, old-fashioned harmonies. It's exactly what is needed at that moment in the piece.

Martland has great timing, a listener's response to his music. Ideas don't outstay their welcome, he knows just when to break the spell, deflect the rhythm, shift the harmony or texture. You could say he's an impatient minimalist. The best kind. He's more dangerous, less predictable than the likes of Glass or Nyman. You get the feeling that even his relatively innocuous Danceworks could at any time be wilfully derailed. But it demands dancing, this funky baroque with de rigueur saxophones and electric guitars. Whack up the volume. ES

RACHMANINOV: Piano Concertos Nos 1 & 4

Mikhail Rudy, St Petersburg Philharmonic / Mariss Jansons

(EMI CDC 5 55188 2)

RACHMANINOV'S two un- popular piano concertos make an interesting, if not exactly commercial coupling. No 4 - the Cinderella of the cycle - makes the mistake of allowing its one good tune to flower majestically at the beginning, rather than at the end, and for British ears the slow movement theme's mournful resemblance to 'Two lovely black eyes' doesn't help. Rudy approaches it with missionary zeal, adding the earlier version of the finale for good measure. He didn't quite convert me, but I found the concerto surprisingly involving, the hints of finer things to come (the Paganini Rhapsody and the Symphonic Dances) nicely pointed.

Concerto No 1 is a much stronger work - brilliant, ardent, themes more sharply memorable. Recording balance and tone are as good here as in No 4, but, strangely, Rudy's playing doesn't have quite the same radiance or absorption, although Jansons squeezes as much emotional juice as possible from such gorgeous things as the violins' first tune. Perhaps this exhibitionist work simply needs an audience - there can't be much joy in trying to show off to a microphone. SJ