DEBUSSY Piano Works performed by pianist Pascal Roge (London, two CDs, 443-021-2); RAVEL Piano Works performed by Pascal Roge (London, two CDs, 440-836-2). Obviously, the willingness to perform solo repertoire in such large, convenient recorded chunks removes a pianist somewhat from the rarefied Olympian elegance of the Giesekings and the Michelangelis -- pianists whose recordings of this music can be approached in humility by other pianists but never equaled. That being said, Roge -- who was just a soloist with the Buffalo Philharmonic last weekend -- is awfully good in these handy and relatively inexpensive sets (two discs for the price of one). In the Debussy set, only the second book of the Preludes is missing from Debussy's major piano output. The Ravel includes all that one would hope to have. Though not as much as Gieseking or Michelangeli, Roge knows the secret of Debussy -- that there is profoundly emotional music beneath the voluptuous and ravishing sound; that anyone who is content to delve, however gorgeously, into melody and color and dynamics has missed the magnificence of what's there, which is, arguably, the greatest piano music of this century. It's music of tragic dimension and grandeur but in miniature. Roge doesn't miss it. Rating: **** 1/2 . His Ravel is an impressive, if slightly lesser, matter. The gymnastic workout of "Gaspard de la Nuit" is more exciting in other hands, and the Sonatine and "Pavane pour une infante defunte" has more substance and less shadow there, too. But again, Roge is so well-attuned to the French impressionist masters that these performances never sink anywhere near academicism. Rating: ****
-- Jeff Simon
MILDRED BAILEY The Original Decca Recordings: The Rockin' Chair Lady (1931-1950). "Seems to me, I've got the sort of voice that should be listened to more than looked at," singer Mildred Bailey once said. Overweight, insecure, nasty-tempered and salty-mouthed, she wasn't a happy person, and probably hampered her own career. She died at 44, and by that time she was obscure, sick and broke. (Her plight was discovered by songwriter Jimmy van Heusen, who split her medical bills with Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby.) Bailey's voice, sweet and smooth as sherry, made it tough to tell if she was black or white. It shines on this CD, a terrific overview of her art. The survey begins with the best -- a set of 1935 recordings with nonpareil pianist Teddy Wilson and his combo: "Willow Tree," "Honeysuckle Rose," a sinuous "Squeeze Me" and a tough "Down-Hearted Blues." Most of the other numbers on the disc were recorded with orchestra. Ballads, blues, jump tunes -- Bailey was an ace with all of them, and they're all represented, from a reflective "Georgia on My Mind" to an oddly brisk, wide-awake "When It's Sleepy Time Down South." Included is also a novelty anti-Hitler ditty by Irving Berlin -- no masterpiece, but certainly a curiosity. Rating: ****
-- Mary Kunz
CARLA WHITE Listen Here (Evidence ECD 22109-2). Carla White sounds beat. When she sings "Darn That Dream" or "Devil May Care," it's with the sluggish morning-after disgust of a blowsy woman with curlers and a hangover. (You'll want to lower the volume on those two songs, lest the neighbors think you're considering ending it all.) Still, White's world-weary voice has a deep beauty and a humid smoothness. Hearing her intone the curvy opening lines of Duke Ellington's "Harlem Nocturne" is like listening to low, silky tones on a clarinet. The songs on "Listen Here" vary wildly, as if the singer were showing all she could do. Some listeners may find her chattery, calypso "It's Only a Paper Moon" a bit much -- I did -- but in surreal ballads, such as "Harlem Nocturne" and Billy Strayhorn's "Lotus Blossom," White's intensity is overwhelming. A subtle quartet, featuring saxophonist Lew Tabackin and pianist Peter Madsen, completes the mood. Rating: *** 1/2
ROSEMARY CLOONEY Demi-Centennial (Concord CCD-4633). The girl singer is all grown up. Rosemary Clooney has reached the enviable point where the gravity of her voice is her greatest charm. Her second-greatest charm is her reliability. Fans who know her straightforward approach to things, and know what to expect, won't be disappointed by "Demi-Centennial." It's terrific. There are no surprises, just lovely performances. Clooney is accompanied here by orchestra, big band and small combo. True to her generous nature, she serves up no fewer than 16 songs, which she sings with her characteristic natural grace. She begins with a grave "Danny Boy" alone with pianist John Oddo (who's always with her at her Artpark appearances), and continues through contemplative versions of "There Will Never Be Another You," "Sophisticated Lady" and "I'm Confessin' That I Love You." Included are a few welcome crowd-pleasers: "White Christmas," "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" and "Falling in Love Again" (which reminds one of Clooney's friendship with Marlene Dietrich). Rating: ****
(1) Take a Bow, Madonna (Maverick-Sire). (2) Candy Rain, Soul for Real (Uptown). (3) Run Away, Real McCoy (Arista). (4) Red Light Special, TLC (LaFace). (5) Strong Enough, Sheryl Crow (A&M).
(1) Me Against the World, 2Pac (Interscope). (2) Greatest Hits, Bruce Springsteen (Columbia). (3) Cracked Rear View, Hootie & the Blowfish (Atlantic). (4) Hell Freezes Over, The Eagles (Geffen). (5) "The Lion King" Soundtrack, (Disney).
(1) Thinkin' About You, Trisha Yearwood (MCA). (2) So Help Me Girl, Joe Diffie (Epic). (3) The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, Reba McEntire (MCA). (4) Which Bridge to Cross (Which Bridge to Burn), Vince Gill (MCA). (5) Give Me One More Shot, Alabama (RCA).