GRANVILLE BANTOCK Sappho (Prelude and nine fragments for mezzo and orchestra); Sapphic Poem (cello and orchestra); mezzo Susan Bickley, cellist Julian Lloyd Webber, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Vernon Handley (Hyperion 66899). Englishman Sir Granville Bantock (1868-1946) is little remembered these days, but he was one of the most assured and elegant composers, one whose every musical move bears the feeling of "rightness." He was also a resplendent orchestrator. His music bears no trace of effort, leading some to call him facile. Bantock's wife, Helen, reconstructed this cycle of nine poems from fragments left by the Greek poetess Sappho (flourished sixth century B.C., island of Lesbos). The 1907 song cycle "Sappho" is part of a continuing Bantock project by Hyperion that ought to be investigated. The poems are reflective, romantic and erotic, with Bantock's musical settings languorous and lush. Mezzo Susan Bickley, new to me, sings with a radiant affection for the songs, while Bantock's transparent orchestration and superior record engineering keep the soloist in ideal balance. The 1906 "Sapphic Poem" for cello and orchestra has no common themes with the song cycle, but is of a similar lovely, evocative ambience. Absolutely lovely! Rating:**** 1/2
-- Herman Trotter
VIVALDI Vivaldi Edition Vol. 1 Op. 1-6 including "L'Estro Armonica" and "La Stravaganza" performed by I Musici and soloists including Felix Ayo and Salvatore Accardo (Philips 10-CD set 456-185-2); Vivaldi Edition Vol. 2 Op. 7-12 including "Il Cimento Dell 'Armonia E Dell' Inventione" and La Cetra performed by I Musici with soloists including Heinz Holliger and Salvatore Accardo (Philips nine-CD set 456-186-2). It's not true that Vivaldi wrote 400 concertos, goes the old Stravinsky-Craft wisecrack, he wrote the same concerto 400 times. Coming from the ever-changing Proteus of modern music, it was the ultimate in condemnations. But in that infinitely variable sameness, there is sublimity approaching holiness. It wasn't, after all, given to many contemporaries to be so lovingly adapted by Bach. There are, perhaps, no better players of the great 18th century Venetian than I Musici, the conductorless string cooperative whose original recording of Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons" from 1959 was instrumental in the Baroque revival that was overtaking the classical world at the time and has never really abated. (If it was Mendelssohn who rediscovered Bach and reclaimed him for the ages, it was the recording virtuosos of the '50s -- Landowska, Casals, Gould -- that embedded him so deeply into musical consciousness that nothing could dislodge him.) With their warmth, clarity and glowing lyricism, these Vivaldi recordings by I Musici from the '60s and '70s -- all 19 discs of them -- could stand for all time as a monument to music-making for the love of it. Those who grew up with such a standard of Baroque musicianship would now have to concede their singular luck, especially in comparison to the reckless endangerments of current Baroque "authenticity" (and worse. There is a 1996 record of Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons" by Thomas Zehetmair and the Camerata Bern that is, perhaps, the most violent and deeply neurotic Baroque music performance I've ever heard). In a Baroque musical climate of flux and anxiety, I Musici, then, is the gold standard. These 19 discs of Vivaldi -- ranging from the spurious (some of Op. 7) to the exemplary -- are less wonderful boxed sets than a way of life or maybe an Rx for intellectual proportion and perspective, to be applied to a stressful life at the rate of one a week for almost five months (with the dosage repeated lifelong). These performances are that good. They stand up magnificently to any kind of reasonable scrutiny that can be applied to them. Rating:***** for both.
-- Jeff Simon
LORRIE MORGAN Shakin' Things Up (BNA 07863-67499-2). "I like shakin' things up. I like pushing the boundaries," Morgan sings in the title track. I don't think her new disc breaks any new ground in country music, but like everything else she does, it's well worth listening to. Morgan's songs always seem to come from deep in her soul, especially the ballads, like "You Can't Take That." The sensual "Crazy From the Heat" sounds like a hit, and Carole King's classic "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" sounds fresh and new in a country setting. Rating:****
-- Dan Herbeck
(1) Candle in the Wind 1997/Something About the Way You Look Tonight, Elton John (Rocket). (2) You Make Me Wanna . . . , Usher (LaFace). (3) How Do I Live, LeAnn Rimes (Curb). (4) 4 Seasons of Loneliness, Boyz II Men (Motown). (5) All Cried Out, Allure featuring 112 (Track Masters).
(1) The Velvet Rope, Janet (Virgin). (2) "Gang Related" Soundtrack (Death Row). (3) You Light Up My Life -- Inspirational Songs, LeAnn Rimes (Curb). (4) Evolution, Boyz II Men (Motown). (5) "Soul Food" Soundtrack (LaFace)
(1) Everywhere, Tim McGraw (Curb). (2) How Do I Get There, Deana Carter (Capitol Nashville). (3) In Another's Eyes, Trisha Yearwood and Garth Brooks (MCA Nashville). (4) If You Love Somebody, Kevin Sharp (143-Asylum). (5) Go Away, Lorrie Morgan (BNA).