The World of Compact Discs

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One of the most exciting opera recordings in 1996 was Puccini's Tosca from TELDEC (O63O-12372-2) in a two CD set at full price. This recording is a newly edited and remixed version of the original soundtrack of the film of the opera made on location in Rome. Placido Domingo sings Cavaradossi and Catherine Malfitano, Tosca. Scarpia is sung by Ruggero Raimondi and the Orchestra Sinfonica e Coro di Roma della Rai are conducted by Zubin Mehta. Tosca, like Aida, stands as one of the monumental verismo operas of the nineteenth century and this production captures the grandeur and vastness of the operatic canvas on which Puccini created his first fully symphonic opera. This is Puccini at his grandest and most theatrical. Because the recording was first made for the film, recordings took place in various parts of Rome. This adds a tremendous sense of verisimilitude to an opera that is set in Rome at the opening of the nineteenth century. The singing is excellent throughout. Domingo's Cavaradossi is compelling listening and Catherine Malfitano's Tosca reaches the depth of tragedy and, at times, reminds one of the performances of Maria Callas. Ruggero Raimondi's Scarpia haunts the recording with a sense of looming evil, just as the character haunts the production.

New releases featuring the piano include NIMBUS Records six CD set of Mendelssohn's Complete Piano Music (NI 1772) at a most reasonable price. On these recordings the soloist is Martin Jones who won the Dame Myra Hess Award in 1968 and went on to become a concert pianist in Britain, Europe and America. He is now a professor at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. This is a tremendous undertaking because Mendelssohn's music for the piano includes sonatas, songs without words, fugues, preludes, caprices, fantasies and variations and because the pieces were composed over many years. In addition they range from the reasonably simple score to the elaborate. Martin Jones' musicianship is perhaps seen at its best in his playing of the 'Songs Without Words.' For many years Mendelssohn's music for the keyboard was neglected but this six CD set, so beautifully played by Martin Jones, will do much to earn Mendelssohn's music for the keyboard the attention it deserves. VoxBox has issued the third volume in its Beethoven Sonatas series with the incomparable Alfred Brendel at the piano. This is a two CD set (CDX 5-56) which contains sonatas 1,5,6,9,10,13,14 ('The Moonlight'), 15 ('Pastorale') and 25. The composition of these sonatas began when Beethoven was unknown outside Vienna and end when he had become one of Europe's leading composers. The collection gives us not only some of the most beautiful music ever written but an object lesson in the composer's development. The final selection comes from CARLTON CLASSICS and features Cristina Ortiz playing Clara Schumann's Piano Music (30366 00292). Clara Wieck's love affair with Robert Schumann is one of the great stories of musical history as is her own reputation as a concert pianist. Her compositions for the keyboard are much less well known and almost all date from her early years. They range from the delightful Scherzo in D Minor to the subtleties of her Variations on a Theme of Robert Schumann (Opus 20). The pianist here is the Brazilian born Cristina Ortiz who made the recordings on a Bosendorfer piano in London's Conway Hall. This type of piano gives the music a welcome lilt. This is a most welcome addition to our repertoire of nineteenth century piano music.

A new CD of Beethoven's Overtures has recently been released by TELDEC at full price (0630-13140-2). The Chamber Orchestra of Europe is conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt in this 'limited edition'. The eight tracts contain the overtures to Coriolanus, The Creatures of Prometheus, The Ruins of Athens, Fidelio, Egmont and Leonore (all three versions). Except for the Coriolanus overture all the tracks are live recordings made in Vienna, Athens and Graz, the conductor's home. …