With longtime bassist Steve Swallow, the return of drummer Roy Haynes, and the debut of guitarist Jerry Hahn, Gary Burton's second quartet continued his open-minded policy toward other styles of music. In addition to both melodic and advanced jazz, Burton incorporates elements of country, rock, pop and even classical music on this fairly rare LP, Country Roads and Other Places. Whether it be a "Ravel Prelude," "Wichita Breakdown" or "My Foolish Heart," the music is full of logical surprises that foreshadow the eclectic nature of much of '80s and '90s jazz.
Beethoven’s Triple Concerto, completed about the same time as the Eroica Symphony, has suddenly become popular. One reason for its previous lack of popularity was the fact that three soloists cost three times as much as one normally expensive pianist, violinist or cellist. Another reason is that the work seeks to be a popular success, hence the Rondo alla Polacca with which it concludes. The piano part was intended for Beethoven’s patron and pupil, the Archduke Rudolph von Habsburg, and hence is less technically demanding than the composer’s usual pianistic writing, destined for himself. The standard CD (previously LP) of the work was a spectacular performance and recording made by EMI many years ago with David Oistrakh, Rostropovich and Richter with the Berlin Philharmonic under Karajan. It was opulently played with the BPO’s luscious sound, but has little to do with what Beethoven would have heard in 1804. Another choice was the version of Stern, Rose and Serkin (Sony), less lush and not so high-powered as Karajan’s.
What a versatile artist Steven Isserlis is. Having made his name as a sympathetic interpreter of a wide variety of romantic and modern music, here he shows he can be just as persuasive in eighteenth-century repertoire. His stylistic awareness is evident in beautiful, elegant phrasing, selective use of vibrato and varied articulation, giving an expressive range that never conflicts with the music’s natural language. In the cello concertos he is helped by an extremely sensitive accompaniment, stressing the chamber musical aspects of Haydn’s pre-London orchestral writing. The soft, intimate sonority at 3'06'' in the first movement of the D major is a typical example. The Adagios are taken at a flowing speed, but Isserlis’s relaxed approach means they never sound hurried. The Allegro molto finale of the C major Concerto, on the other hand, sounds poised rather than the helter-skelter we often hear. In his understanding of the music, Isserlis is a long way ahead of Han-na Chang, whose version places the emphasis on fine, traditional-style cello playing. Mork’s vivacious, imaginative performances characterize the music very strongly, but my preference would be for Isserlis’s and Norrington’s lighter touch and greater refinement.