Conductor Michael Hofstetter does a beautiful job bringing out the nuances from the Orchestra of Ludwigsburg Schlossfestspiele in Il Trovatore. This is evident from the thunderous roll of the timpani at the beginning of the opera, and the careful phrasing throughout the album. Every dynamic is observed, and the result is the high drama crucial to Verdi. The famous "Anvil Chorus" is another example of the orchestra's power to rouse the listener, as are the dark brass chords in the "Finale ultimo." The chorus, under the direction of Jan Hoffman, deserves equal praise.
The two albums enclosed in At Town Hall/The Amazing Nina Simone bookend the remarkable summer of 1959 in the career of Nina Simone, when she recorded a studio session, The Amazing Nina Simone, in May, and in September appeared At Town Hall in a superlative performance that was recorded and soon issued. Just 26, Simone displayed great assurance, especially on the live date, casting off the cloak of the vocal jazz/standards singer and performing with her own trio featuring her lively piano. The studio date features an orchestra, but it too finds her early on in her recording career stamping her voice on standards "Willow Weep for Me" and "Blue Prelude".
Violinist and composer Joseph Joachim was a central figure of Romanticism, famous as a personal friend of Johannes Brahms and as an arbiter of musical taste who was professionally associated with many of the 19th century's greatest musicians. Daniel Hope's The Romantic Violinist: A Celebration of Joseph Joachim paints an appealing portrait through selections of Joachim's own music, as well as short pieces by Brahms, Clara Schumann, Antonin Dvorák, Franz Schubert, and the Violin Concerto No. 1 by Max Bruch.
"The trees are coming into leaf/Like something almost being said." Taking a cue from these lines of Philip Larkin, pianist Simone Dinnerstein casts her album of the music of J.S. Bach and Franz Schubert in poetic terms. Her understanding of the composers is summed up in her own words: "The music of Bach and Schubert share a distinctive quality, as if wordless voices were singing textless melodies." Of course, Bach and Schubert were masters of setting texts to profoundly expressive music, so it is fruitful to look for the lyrical impulse in their keyboard works and appropriate to find songful interpretations. Yet Dinnerstein doesn't merely serve up rhapsodic renditions or treat the music as some kind of tuneful vehicle for idiosyncratic or personal reveries. Her playing is quite in character for both composers, and her treatment of the material is far from self-indulgent. Indeed, counterpoint and harmony are carefully balanced against the upper lines, and Dinnerstein is completely in control of the inner parts in Bach's partitas and the rhythmic subtleties of Schubert impromptus. Dinnerstein's playing is well-rounded and skillful, and the care she lavishes on the smallest details of execution may well remind listeners of Glenn Gould (without his attendant eccentricities) or Angela Hewitt.
Nina Simone's live performances have a power and an intimacy all their own, and those qualities stand out in this 1987 recording from Vine Street. It's a stunning form of cabaret singing, dramatic without melodrama, and with roots that reach to Billie Holiday's surprising success with "Strange Fruit." Simone can add profundity to a usually carefree song like "My Baby Just Cares for Me," and the range of the performance broadens with the startling "Be My Husband," a simple pattern reduced to the naked force of a field holler, and the stark hymn "Balm in Gilead." Carefully chosen songs from Randy Newman, Bob Dylan, and Janis Ian achieve new dimensions in Simone's treatments…