A sampling of new releases for winter listening
The '80s are off and spinning with a glorious new Aïda singing of passion and patriotism, a sinuous Donna Summer purring about loves lost and found, works by Vivaldi, Schubert, Stravinsky, Blondie, Talking Heads and Itzhak Perlman on the jazz violin.
Verdi: Aïda (Mirella Freni, soprano; José Carreras, tenor; Agnes Baltsa, mezzo-soprano; Piero Cappuccilli, baritone; Ruggero Raimondi, bass; é van Dam, bass; Katia Ricciarelli, soprano; Thomas Moser, tenor; Vienna State Opera Chorus and the Vienna Philharmonic, Herbert von Karajan, conductor; Angel; three LPs). That old Ethiopian slave girl and would-be war bride finds a new and glorious incarnation in Mirella Freni, whose voice may not move pyramids but finds its way to the heart of the role. This is particularly true in the Nile Scene, where Aïda tussles with her passion for Radames and her love of country. It is a surefire conflict that, after more than a century and countless productions, can easily turn into a theatrical and musical cliché. Von Karajan and his longtime protegee Freni make it new.
Maurizio Pollini: Piano Music of the 20th Century. Igor Stravinsky: Three Movements from "Petrushka. "Serge Prokofiev: Piano Sonata No. 7. Béla Bartók: Concertos for Piano and Orchestra Nos. I and 2. Arnold Schönberg: 17 short piano pieces. Anton Webern: Variations for Piano. Pierre Boulez: Second Sonata for Piano. Luigi Nono: Music for Soprano, Piano, Orchestra and Magnetic Tape (Slavka Taskova, soprano, and the Symphony Orchestra of the Bayerischen Rundfunks, Claudio Abbado, conductor; Deutsche Grammophon, five LPs). Pollini's herculean fingering stands out even in that select circle of great young pianists to which he belongs. His Chopin Etudes may set a new standard for his generation; his performance of Schubert's difficult late sonatas is a triumph of athletic as well as artistic ability. Pollini is also a leading interpreter of the modern keyboard classics. He handles Stravinsky and Prokofiev like a diamond cutter, concentrating profoundly yet striking with passion; he negotiates the atonal mazes of Bartók, Boulez and Webern with thoughtful ease, and provides the emphatic keyboard punctuation for Luigi Nono's unearthly enchantment.
Antonio Vivaldi: Works for Flute and Orchestra Vol. Ill (Jean Pierre Rampal and Joseph Rampal, flutes, with I Solisti Veneti, Claudio Scimone, director; Musical Heritage Society). Admirers of 18th century Italian music are indebted to Scimone and his group for their part in rekindling enthusiasm for the Mediterranean treasures of the period. The Rampals, of course, have been outstanding influences in the current popularity of classical flute. The mechanical clarity they bring to Vivaldi's refrains is another in a long line of Rampal victories through air power.