PA-born pianist Degen has a hell of a resume: in the 60's, he lived in Germany, playing with expatriates Art Farmer & Leo Wright, returned to the USA where he had a trio with Paul Motian & Gary Peacock (unrecorded) and played in Buddy DeFranco's Glenn Miller Band, then returned to Germany & joined Albert Mangelsdorf's group. In '97, he braved Brooklyn to make this fine trio date. The easiest way to sum up Degen's style is a cross between early-to-mid-'70s Bill Evans with late 60's / early '70s McCoy Tyner: full-bodied, two-handed sound and consistently lyrical without ever being predictable. He's at his most Evans-esque on "Ode to Sammy Davis Jr." and recalls Herbie Nichols on "Round Trip". Formanek rules, playing Scott Lafaro to Degen's Evans (though neither are mere knock-offs).
Charles Burney described Johann Adolf Hasse, his contemporary, as ‘the most natural, elegant and judicious composer of vocal music, as well as the most voluminous now alive…’ His output includes 63 operas, but only two are currently recorded, yet inexplicably this is the second Piramo, albeit markedly livelier and with the bonus of its two ballet suites. Schneider’s perceptive booklet note comments that too readily we find such composers immature – ‘almost like Mozart’, rather than excitingly expressive and individual. Here even the subtitle Intermezzo tragico is novel, implying a fusion of two traditions, comic and serious. The music is equally unconventional. Recitatives slip seamlessly into and out of arias, creating a strong sense of dramatic continuity. Colours are imaginative: flutes and bassoons paint a beautiful description of Piramo’s Utopia; natural horns roar rudely as the lion approaches – though he proves a rather likeable beast in his subsequent sinfonia. The performance is excellent. Monoyios, a gentle Tisbe, floats effortlessly in melting vocalises; Schlick’s Piramo contrasts, yet matches in their love duets; while Jochens, the domineering father, confirms in his remarkably jolly suicide aria that the final tragico stage, littered with the corpses of all three characters, is not to be taken too seriously.-George Pratt
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.