A 'NEW' LIST
NEVER MIND the more provocative label "avant-garde." The relatively innocuous terms "modern music," "new music" and "contemporary music" are still enough to make some people cringe and shy away from any possible contact.
There's certainly no contention here that "new" automatically means "good." But to restrict oneself categorically to the old, the familiar, the tried and true is to draw an artificial horizon around one's experience. This limits personal growth and diminishes the potential for enjoying music -- and life -- to the fullest.
Would we find that all the music being composed today is good, if only we could open our ears and hearts to it?
Of course not. But then, neither was all the music written in Beethoven's day good. The winnowing process of public and critical opinion has consigned at least 95 percent of that era's musical output to the trash heap or the dustiest archives.
And the overwhelming majority of contemporary music will not survive to the year 2090.
But what "modern music" is there which does have something of substance to say to us today, and which seems likely to survive for a century?
That's the subject of this installment in Gusto's continuing Basic Recordings Series.
Here are the criteria used in compiling this list.
We will, of course, restrict ourselves to the 20th century. But don't be shocked by the omission of such universally accepted and revered names as Debussy, Ravel, Sibelius, Strauss and Rachmaninoff, or Barber, Copland and Britten. They were among the 20th century composers of great stature who were well-covered in our original list of recommended orchestral recordings, published on July 11, 1986. There will, inevitably, be some overlapping of that list and this one.
The objective is to stretch horizons a bit. Some of the composers are conservatives, neglected for many years for that very reason. Several are accepted as significant composers, but are still somewhat intimidating to many listeners because of lingering reputations for dissonance. And others have an individual voice, fitting easily into no single category.
And yes, we confess. It's inevitable that the writer's personal prejudices (for lesser-known composers like Atterberg, Bax, Pfitzner and others) will be reflected from time to time.
One final note before we wade in. For each work listed we'll recommend a specific recording currently listed in the Schwann Catalog, and we'll also give it an accessibility rating:
(E) means easily digestible and shouldn't offend anyone;
(C) means challenging, but should be appreciated in two or three hearings;
(T) means thorny, will take a lot of hearings but worth the effort.
John Adams (b. 1947) -- Harmonium (C), San Francisco Symphony Orch. & Chorus/De Waart, ECM 821465. Euphonious minimalism.
Dominick Argento (b. 1927) -- To Be Sung Upon the Water (E), tenor Stewart, Desto 6443. Fascinating song cycle.
Malcolm Arnold (b. 1921) -- Three Shanties for Wind Quintet (E), Tuckwell Wind Quintet, Nonesuch 78022. Romping good fun.
Kurt Atterberg (1887-1974) -- Suite No. 3 for Violin, Viola and Strings (E), Stockholm Sinfonia, Bis 165. Sweetly lyrical.
Milton Babbitt (b. 1916) -- Phonomena I & II (T), soprano Webber, New World 209. Tough, not for everyone.
Bela Bartok (1881-1945) -- Concerto for Orchestra (E), Chicago Symphony/Solti, London 400052. Six String Quartets (C to T), Emerson String Quartet, DGG 423 657 (2 CDs). Landmark quartets.
Arnold Bax (1883-1953) -- Symphony No. 3 (E), London Philharmonic/Thomson, Chandos CHAN 8454. Celtic influence.
Alban Berg (1885-1935) -- Violin Concerto (C), Kremer, Bavarian Radio Symphony/Davis, Philips 412523. Atonal yet heart-touching. Opera "Wozzeck" (T), soloists, Vienna Philharmonic/von Dohnanyi, London 417348 (2 CDs). Moving drama, tough music.
Leonard Bernstein (b. 1918) -- Mass (E), soloists, choirs and orchestra/Bernstein, CBS M2K-44593. Uneven but fascinating work.
Luciano Berio (b. 1925) -- Sinfonia (C), Swingle Singers, French National Orchestra/Boulez, Erato ECD-88151. Innovative vocal writing.
Ernest Bloch (1880-1959) -- Sacred Service (E), soloist, chorus and London Symphony/Simon, Chandos 1001. Crown of Jewish liturgical music.
Pierre Boulez (b. 1925) -- Rituel (T), Ensemble Intercontemporain/Boulez, CBS MT-37850. Serial works based on sonority progressions.
John Cage (b. 1912) -- Music for voice and/or piano and prepared piano (T), various artists, Wergo 60151. Weird, fascinating sounds.
Elliott Carter (b. 1908) -- String Quartets Nos. 1 & 4 (T), Arditti Quartet, Etcetera KTC-1065. Almost impenetrable.
Michael Colgrass (b. 1932) -- Variations for Four Drums and Viola (C), Epstein/Schotten, Crystal S-133. Tuneful percussion.
Henry Cowell (1897-1965) -- Tone Cluster Pieces for piano (C), Hymn and Fuguing Tune No. 2 (E), Symphony No. 7 (E), various performers, CRI ACS-6005. Highly original stuff.
George Crumb (b. 1929) -- Music for a Summer Evening (C), 2 amplified pianos and percussion, Nonesuch 79149. Music of vision and theatricality.
Jacob Druckman (b. 1928) -- Prism (C), New York Philharmonic/Mehta, New World NW-335. Musical kaleidoscope.
Maurice Durufle (1902-1986) -- Requiem (E), soloists, Atlanta Symphony & Chorus/Shaw, Telarc CD-80135. Lyrical like Faure.
Henri Dutilleux (b. 1916) -- Cello Concerto (C), Rostropovich, Orch. de Paris/Baudo, Angel CDC-49304. Difficult but utterly original.
Manuel de Falla (1876-1946) -- Harpsichord Concerto (C), members of Pennsylvania Sinfonia/Birney, Newport Classic NC-60017. Nights in the Gardens of Spain (E), De Larrocha, London Philharmonic/de Burgos, London 410289. Spain's most inventive voice.
Morton Feldman (1926-1987) -- The Viola in My Life and other works (C), Phillips and ensemble, CRI S-276. Apostle of pianissimo.
Gerald Finzi (1900-1956) -- Clarinet Concerto (E), Hacker, English String Orch./Boughton, Nimbus NI-5101. English folk tradition.
Lukas Foss (b. 1922) -- Renaissance Concerto for Flute (C), Wincenc, Brooklyn Philharmonic/Foss, New World NW-375. New with antique flavor.
Philip Glass (b. 1937) -- The Photographer (C) for violin, chorus and ensemble, Zukovsky, Glass Ensemble, CBS MK-37849. Minimal and monotonous to many.
Henryk Gorecki (b. 1933) -- Symphony of Sorrowful Songs (E), soprano Woyto-wicz, Polish Radio Orch./Katlewicz. Exquisitely lush minimalism.
Percy Grainger (1882-1961) -- Lincolnshire Posy (E), Cleveland Symphonic Winds/Fennell, Telarc DG-10050. Wind band masterpiece.
Enrique Granados (1867-1916) -- Goyescas (E), pianist De Larrocha, London 411958. Central Spanish literature.
Charles Tomlinson Griffes (1884-1920) -- Piano Sonata (C), pianist Lee, Nonesuch 71409. Important American sonata.
Howard Hanson (1896-1981) -- Symphony No. 2 (E), Seattle Symphony/Schwarz, Delos DCD-3073. Lushly, thickly romantic.
Roy Harris (1898-1979) -- Symphony No. 3 (E), New York Philharmonic/Bernstein, Deutsche Grammophon 419780. Great American symphony.
Lou Harrison (b. 1917) -- Suite for Violin, Piano and Small Orchestra (C), violinist Stoltzman, pianist Jarrett, Ensemble/Hughes, New World NW-366. Eastern influenced visionary.
Paul Hindemith (1895-1963) -- Mathis der Maler (C), complex, strong, beautiful; and Symphonic Metamorphosis (E), light-hearted and jocular; San Francisco Symphony/Blomstedt, London 421523.
Gustav Holst (1874-1934) -- Suites for Band Nos. 1 & 2 (E), Cleveland Symphonic Winds/Fennell, Telarc DG-10038. Concert band landmarks.
Arthur Honegger (1892-1955) -- Pacific 231 (C), Pastorale d'Ete (E), other works, Bavarian Radio Symphony/Dutoit, Erato ECD-88171. Descriptive mini-masterpieces.
Alan Hovhaness (b. 1911) -- Symphony No. 2 (E), Chicago Symphony/Reiner, RCA 5733. Seductively rich and romantic.
Karel Husa (b. 1921) -- Music for Prague 1968 (C), Louisville Orchestra/Mester, Louisville S-722. Eloquent, gritty protest.
Jacques Ibert (1890-1962) -- Divertissement (E), City of Birmingham Symphony/Fremaux, Angel CDC-49261. Music of great wit.
Charles Ives (1874-1954) -- Symphony No. 3 (C), The Unanswered Question (C), New York Philharmonic/Bernstein, CBS MPT-38777. America's unique voice.
Leos Janacek (1854-1928) -- Sinfonietta (E), Vienna Philharmonic/Mackerras, London 410138; Slavonic Mass (C), soloists, Czech Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus/Mackerras, Supraphon C37-7448. Summoning, heralding, visionary.
Aram Khachaturian (1903-1978) -- Piano Concerto (E), Orbelian,Scottish National Orchestra/Jarvi, Chandos CHAN-8542. Surging, lyrical, folk-tinged.
Zoltan Kodaly (1882-1967) -- Sonata for Cello Unaccompanied (C), Starker, Delos DCD-1015. Cello cornerstone, stunning.
Charles Koechlin (1867-1950) -- Jungle Book Suite (C), Rhenish Philharmonic/Segerstam, Cybelia CY-679-80 (2 CDs). Lushly descriptive and evocative.
Lars Erik Larsson (1908-1986) -- Pastoral Suite (E), Stockholm Sinfonia/Wedin, Bis 165. Sibelius-influenced.
Gyorgy Ligeti (b. 1923) -- Atmospheres (C), S.W. German Radio Orchestra/Bour, Wergo 60022. Cosmic spaces in sound.
Witold Lutoslawski (b. 1913) -- Concerto for Orchestra (E), Oregon Symphony/DePriest, Delos DCD-3070. Underrated orchestra showpiece.
Frank Martin (1890-1974) -- Petite Symphonie Concertante (E), soloists, Sydney Symphony/Van Otterloo, Chandos 1060. Delicately textured.
Bohuslav Martinu (1890-1959) -- Symphonies Nos. 5 & 6 (E), Bamberg Symphony/Jarvi, Bis CD-395. Successor to Smetana and Dvorak.
Olivier Messiaen (b. 1908) -- Quartet for the End of Time (C), Tashi, RCA 7835-2-RG. French mystic at his best.
Darius Milhaud (1892-1974) -- La Creation du Monde (C), Orchestre National/Bernstein, Angel CDC-47845. Part primitive, part jazz.
E. J. Moeran (1894-1950) -- Sinfonietta (E), Bournemouth Sinfonia/Del Mar, Chandos CHAN-8456. Neglected British conservative.
Conlon Nancarrow (b. 1912) -- Studies for Player Piano (C), Miller, New World 203. Piano too fast for human hands.
Carl Nielsen (1865-1931) -- Symphony No. 3 (E), Royal Danish Orchestra/Bernstein; Symphony No. 5 (C), New York Philharmonic/Bernstein, CBS MK-44708. One of the greatest symphonists.
Carl Orff (1895-1982) -- Carmina Burana (E), soloists, Atlanta Symphony & Chorus/Shaw, Telarc CD-80056. Simple, rhythmic, irresistible.
Arvo Part (b. 1935) -- Symphonies Nos. 1-3 (C), Bamberg Symphony/Jarvi, Bis CD-434. Original Estonian minimalist.
Krzysztof Penderecki (b. 1933) -- Cello Concerto No. 2 (T), Rostropovich, Philharmonic Orchestra/Penderecki, Erato ECD-75321. Prime voice of Poland today.
Hans Pfitzner (1869-1949) -- Palestrina (E, opera), Gedda, Fischer-Dieskau, Bavarian Radio Symphony & Chorus/Kubelik, Deutsche Grammophon 427417 (3 CDs). Music of reverence, humor and grandeur.
Walter Piston (1894-1976) -- Symphonies Nos. 5, 7 & 8 (E-C), Louisville Orchestra/Mester, Albany AR-011. Important, neglected American.
Francis Poulenc (1899-1963) -- Stabat Mater (E), Battle, Boston Symphony & Tanglewood Chorus/Ozawa, Deutsche Grammophon 427304. Great composer for voice.
Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953) -- Romeo & Juliet Ballet Suites Nos. 1 & 2 (E), National Symphony/Rostropovich, Deutsche Grammophon 410519. Thrillingly captures this tragedy.
Steve Reich (b. 1936) -- The Desert Music (C), Reich Ensemble, Brooklyn Philharmonic & Chorus/Thomas, Nonesuch 79101. Intriguingly varied minimalism. Wallingford Riegger (1885-1961) -- Symphony No. 3 (C), Eastman-Rochester Orchestra/Hanson, CRI SD-284. Spiky and inventive American, now nearly forgotten.
Terry Riley (b. 1935) -- In C, UB Center of Creative & Performing Arts (C), CBS MK-7178. Seminal, raw minimalism.
George Rochberg (b. 1918) -- Quintet for Piano & Strings (E-C), Marks, Concord Quartet, Nonesuch N-78011. Eclectic neoromantic.
Albert Roussel (1869-1937) -- Bacchus et Ariane (C); Suite in F (C); Orchestre de Paris/Dutoit, Erato ECD-75348. Attractive yet often machine-driven.
Franz Schmidt (1874-1939) -- The Book With Seven Seals (E), soloists, Austrian Radio Symphony, Vienna State Opera Chorus/Zagrosek, Orfeo C-143862. Exciting late romantic oratorio.
Alfred Schnittke (b. 1934) -- Symphony No. 5 (C), Gothenburg Symphony/Jarvi, Bis CD-427. Leading Soviet of today.
Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951) -- Five Pieces for Orchestra (C), Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra/Schwarz, Nonesuch D-79001. Seminal atonal composition.
Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915) -- Symphony No. 3 ("Poem of Ecstasy") (C), Cleveland Orchestra/Maazel, London 417252. Mystic and quasi-atonal.
Roger Sessions (1896-1985) -- Symphony No. 2 (C), N.Y. Philharmonic/Mitropoulos, CRI ACS-6002. Sessions' most accessible work.
Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) -- Symphony No. 8 (C), Leningrad Philharmonic/Mravinsky, Philips 422442. Eloquent, brutal protest and a glimmer of hope.
Wilhelm Stenhammar (1871-1927) -- Serenade for Large Orchestra (E), Gothenburg Symphony/Jarvi, Bis CD-310. Music of great beauty and assurance.
Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) -- Petrouchka (C); The Rite of Spring (T); Boston Symphony/Monteux, RCA 6529. Pivotal works of the century.
Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937 ) -- Violin Concerto No. 1 (E), Lachert, Polish Radio Symphony/Wit, Spectrum SR-318. Glittering, super-ripe lyricism.
Virgil Thomson (1896-1989) -- The River Suite (E), Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra/Marriner, Angel CDC-47715. Whimsical Americana.
Sir Michael Tippett (b. 1905) -- A Child of Our Time (E-C), soloists, Royal Philharmonic, Brighton Festival Chorus/Previn, MCA MCAD-6202. Strong oratorio using spirituals as chorales.
Eduard Tubin (1905-1982) -- Symphony No. 5 (C), Bamberg Symphony/Jarvi, Bis CD-306. Important Estonian, little-known here.
Edgard Varese (1883-1965) -- Octandre (T), Contemporary Chamber Ensemble/Weisberg, Nonesuch H-71269. Density, texture and energy rule here.
Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) -- Bachiana Brasiliera No. 5 (E), Auger, The Yale Cellos/Parisot, Delos DCD-3041. Voice and eight cellos, lovely.
Sir William Walton (1902-1983) -- Cello Concerto (E), passionately lyrical, Ma, London Symphony/Previn, CBS MK-39541; Facade (C), nonsense poems and witty music, Ashcroft/Irons, London Sinfonietta/Chailly, London 421717.
Anton Webern (1883-1945) -- Symphony for Chamber Orchestra (T), Berlin Philharmonic/Karajan, Deutsche Grammophon 423254. Tough listening.
Kurt Weill (1900-1950) -- American and Berlin Theater Songs, Lenya, orchestra (mono), CBS MK42658. Sardonic masterpieces.
Iannis Xenakis (b. 1922) -- Psappha for Solo Percussionist, Mortensen, Bis CD-256. Percussion whirlwind.
Ellen Taaffe Zwilich (b. 1939) -- Celebration, Indianapolis Symphony/Nelson, New World NW-336. Excellent work by Pulitzer Prize winner.