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As beautiful as classical music gets; Beethoven's Complete Sonatas

CLASSICAL

Rachmaninoff, "All-Night Vigil" Op. 37 performed by Gloriae Cantores and other choruses conducted by Peter Jermihov (Paraclete)

It is likely that no search for musical superlatives could possibly be more foolish than trying to name the most beautiful piece of music ever written for vocal chorus. So many contenders in the West since the Renaissance and going on through the Baroque, Classic, Romantic, Modern and Post-Modern Eras-- DesPrez, Gesualdo, Palestrina, Monteverdi, Bach, Beethoven, Faure. One top contender for any list, it seems to me, would be Rachmaninoff's "All-Night Vigil" which is also sometimes known as Rachmanioff's "Vespers." There is one catch to offering up the Rachmaninoff "Vigil" to sonic heaven and that is that both the performing chorus and the recording quality have to be just right or the celestial sumptuousness of the music doesn't quite register as it should. This recording conducted by Chicago conductor Peter Jermihov couldn't possibly make it clearer that his family has Russian roots when you listen to the voices that are the key to sublimity of the music --- the bass section which, in Russia, is a vocal tradition all its own. For those who have never heard Rachmaninoff's "All-Night Vigil" in an exemplary performance, this is a superlative recording of some of the superlative music in the entire history of the art. It is beyond glorious.

4 stars (out of four)

Beethoven, Complete Sonatas for Piano performed by Steven Masi (Albany, 10 discs)

What a disinguished congregation of pianists have recorded a complete Beethoven cycle. It's a virtual universe of pianists, with immense differences, often, from pianist to pianist. What is almost startling about Steven Masi's performances is hi almost complete avoidance of the sustaining pedal. To hear Sonatas like the Appassionata, Moonlight, Waldstein and Hammerklavier with little to no pedaling is to hear a sonic world almost unique.Producer Joseph Patrych  writes in the notes that the total number of complete Beethoven Sonata Cycles on record has now reached 89. So many great peaks of pianism in there and so often by pianists of lesser reputation--Frederick Gulda as much as Schnabel and Arrau, Claude Frank as much and Kempff. Among other major places Masi has performed in the Chautauqua Institution. Five years of effort went into this recording of the complete Beethoven cycle and it is a remarkable achievement. It is nothing if not distinctive which makes it a Beethoven cycle of major distinction.

3 1/2 stars (out of four)

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