It's not necessary to make extravagant claims for Francesco Cavalli's originality to recognize his absolute mastery of the style of mid-17th century Venetian opera perfected by Monteverdi in L'incoronazione di Poppea. The fact that he was able to keep the operatic form so fresh and vital (and most importantly, hugely entertaining) for more than a generation after Monteverdi's death is achievement enough.
The title A due alti does not carry any metaphorical meaning, but simply means "for two altos": these are little Baroque chamber songs for a pair of altos and a good-sized continuo group. This repertory is almost completely unknown, but as august a personage as Handel took it up in Caro autor di mia doglia, HWV 182, and cared enough about that piece to go back and rework it years later (it is the later version that is heard here).
There are three absolutely amazing performances on this set, and not because the voices are more or less beautiful than usual: those of Victoria de los Angeles, Marilyn Horne, and Sesto Bruscantini. The first-named sings here with dramatic expression, cleanly executed coloratura runs, and trills, none of which she was known for through most of her career. By dramatic expression I do not mean the generalized drama of her Butterfly, but word-painting and attention to text, of getting inside the character. Her coloratura runs here are far more cleanly executed than on her famous recording of Il Barbiere di Siviglia. As for trills, yes, she attempted a couple of imperfect ones on her recordings, but none in her Jewel Song from Faust, neither the mono recording from 1952 nor the stereo remake of 1957, neither in Nedda’s 1953 “Ballatella” nor in Antonia’s music in the 1965 Contes d’Hoffman. But here, suddenly, Victoria is loaded with trills—she even sings an ascending scale of them in her first-act aria—and they are cleanly defined trills, not that half-hearted little shake that she made pass for a trill in her earlier days.
Piano and tenor & soprano saxophone respectively, Filippini and Ionata, with Maurizio Rolli contrabass, Nicola Angelucci drums and an appearance of the drummer Giancarlo Alfani, present themselves in this their first CD with hints of great swing in the name of standard and original pieces. What is most striking to listen is the close understanding of the quartet in weaving the musical plots with the usual interplay: I love You by Cole Porter is the first of the examples, followed by nine others.
These fine performances constitute the only complete cycle currently available of the 17 string quartets that pepper Villa-Lobos' entire career. The suite-like, five-movement No. 1, with its adorable "like a jumping bean" finale, is deceptive. Most of these are resoundingly neo-classical works full of acerbic harmonies and typically busy counterpoint, with few overtly nationalistic elements. Of course they sound just like Villa-Lobos, who was himself something of a "nationalistic element" when you come right down to it. The series reaches its culmination in the large works composed around the time of the Second World War, Nos. 7-11, which really do constitute landmark 20th century contributions to the form on a par with those of Shostakovich and Bartók.
This 6-CD set of "Villa-Lobos par lui-même" ("Villa Lobos performed by himself") presents the complete recordings made for Pathé between 1954 and 1958 and conducted by, or (in the case of the occasional Bachianas Brasileiras or Chôros scored for piano or duet) made under the supervision of the composer. As many of his contemporaries who made Paris their second home (Enescu comes to mind), Villa-Lobos shared his life between his native Brazil and Paris. Thus it has an important historical value.
"Arrau's Chopin – now available in a six-CD box (Philips 432 303-2) as part of Philips's Arrau Edition – is as far from moonstruck "sentimentality" as any Chopin ever was. But no performance of the Preludes is more sentimental, in Schiller's sense, than the version Arrau recorded for Philips in 1973. Its premise – that the cycle is a grand tragedy, the darkest thing Chopin wrote – is unmistakable. Even the prefatory C-major Prelude heaves with orgasmic rubatos – more weight, it seems, than the music can possibly bear. And yet, as Arrau packs each small berth with a world of feeling, the weight grips and holds. At times, the sheer density of emotion can seem suffocatingly intense. The Prelude No. 22, a Stygian descent, is surely Hades; the plunging scales of No. 24 rip the thread of life."
The musical chapel of the Milan Cathedral is the choir, made up of adult singers and children (pueri cantores), with a musical patrimony that musically accompanies the celebrations in the cathedral of Milan. La cappella musicale del Duomo di Milano è il coro, formato da cantori adulti e bambini (pueri cantores), dotato di un patrimonio musicale proprio che accompagna musicalmente le celebrazioni nella cattedrale di Milano.