Record Reviews

Bach: Concertos for 2, 3, and 4 Harpsichords, Volumes I and II

Antonia janigro conducting I Solisti di Zagreb, with Anton Heiller, Erna Heiller, Kurt Rapf, and Christa London, harpsichordists; Vanguard BGS-70659/60 (stereo) and BG-659/60: two records

These two records (available singly) contain six multiple harpsichord concertos by Johann Sebastian Bach, three of them for two harpsichords, two for three, and one for four. Bach took his ideas where he found them, so most of these are rewrites of works he composed for other instruments, and the four-harpsichord concerto is a rewrite of a four-violin concerto by Vivaldi. But whatever they may lack in originality they make up for in zest, exuberance, and sheer musical muscle. Some doubt has been cast upon the authenticity of the Concerto in C Major for Three Harpsichords, but this witness hereby deposes that Bach himself never wrote a more invigorating or healthy piece. These concertos must be tremendous fun to play for players with the requisite skills, and Mr. Janigro’s quartet of soloists performs them with gaiety, grace, and decisiveness. And in the vivid stereo on these recordings, four harpsichords sound like four, not one or two.

The Glory of Cremona

Ruggiero Ricci, violinist, and Leon Pommers, pianist; Decca DXSE-7179 (stereo) and DXE-179

Although Mr. Ricci is the only violinist heard on this record, its heroes really are Antonio Stradivari, Joseph Guarneri, Nicolo Amati, and other violin makers of Cremona. Mr. Ricci uses no fewer than fifteen different violins to demonstrate the differences in tone and character of these sixteenthand seventeenthcentury instruments. He plays them in a standard program of short pieces ranging from Vivaldi to Brahms, and then, to permit direct comparisons, in repeated performances of the opening theme of the Bruch G Minor Violin Concerto. (The fifteen repetitions of the Bruch are contained on a supplementary seven-inch LP included in the package.) Even a nonfiddler can detect distinct differences — the Stradivaris tend toward a feminine tone, the Guarneris a bit more masculine one. Violinists, of course, will find endless material for discussion and even dispute. The comprehensive jacket notes contain the information that among today’s fiddlers, Elman, Menuhin, and Oistrakh all play Strads, while Heifetz and Stern prefer Guarneris. Fritz Kreisler used both. Mr. Ricci is a Guarneri man himself.

Mozart: Sinfonia Concertante in E-flat for Violin and Viola, K. 364

Haydn: Violin Concerto No. 1 in C

Yehudi Menuhin, violinist, and Rudolf Barshai, violist, with Bath Festival Orchestra directed by Mr. Menuhin; Angel S-36190 (stereo) and 36190

The last previous collaboration by Messrs. Menuhin and Barshai found their respective orchestras — the Bath Festival and the Moscow Chamber — joining in a recording of Michael Tippett’s Concerto for Double String Orchestra. Now they combine as soloists, Menuhin taking the violin part and Barshai the viola, in one of the greatest of all double concertos, Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante. The American-born musician and his Russian associate establish a warm accord not only in their general approach to the music but in such detailed matters as bow strokes and phrasing. The result is a strong and exciting performance untroubled by any notions of superficial elegance. The rich, close-up stereo sound is in keeping with the vigorous and full-bodied playing. The Haydn concerto, which helps round out side two, is an amiable extra.

Dylan Thomas Reading His Complete Recorded Poetry

Caedmon TC-2014 (monaural only): two records

The voice of Dylan Thomas, like no other on records, is here heard reciting all his recorded poetry. Caedmon, which originally brought Thomas’ voice to the attention of record collectors, has assembled the entire output in a single two-disc album. Even when Thomas’ imagery is at its most richly obscure, his voice makes everything seem magnificently clear. Such poems as “Ballad of the Long-legged Bait,” “A Refusal to Mourn the Death, by Fire, of a Child in London,” “In Country Sleep,” and that biting and beautiful self-epitaph “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” have become staples of modern literature. This record preserves them with a life and lyricism beyond the printed page.

Grofe: Grand Canyon Suite

Stanley Black conducting London Festival Orchestra; London SPC-21002 (stereo)

Ferde Grofé’s popular suite is frankly treated here as a stereo spectacular, an approach which it sustains amiably and entertainingly. A Brobdingnagian violin solo leads into the graphic clip-clopping of “On the Trail”; from “Sunrise” through “Sunset” to “Cloudburst” the musical color pictures are larger, not to mention louder, than life. As a matter of fact, at times the Grand Canyon itself seems the only locale spacious enough for the proper playing of this recording.

Meyer Kupferman: Hallelujah the Hills

Original sound track from film written and directed by Adolfas Mekas and produced by David C. Slone, conducted by the composer; Fontana SRF-67524 (stereo) and MGF-27524

Meyer Kupferman, an accomplished American composer whose works range from string quartets to symphonies, has produced an exuberant score for the wildly comic film Hallelujah the Hills, which was filmed in the town of South Londonderry, Vermont, and has gone on to win a good deal of praise at film festivals abroad. Kupferman’s perky score for harpsichord, brass, winds, and percussion reflects the zany spirit of the film and makes for diverting listening by itself. The titles of some of the twenty-three sections (they range from thirty-one seconds to two and a half minutes in duration) indicate as well as anything the spirit of the music: “Frolic Fanfare,” “Nibelungen Walk,” “Girl Tree Twist,” “Breathless Jazz,” and “Scherzo Nose and Duel Fanfare.” Among the record’s attributes is its attractiveness for young children, who — at least in one household — invariably poke their heads into the room to see what’s going on and stay awhile to listen.