In Stradivarius' Percussion Masterpieces, I Percussionisti della Scala leader Renato Rivolta coordinates a program made up of some of the classics of percussion literature, ranging from Edgard Varèse's pioneering Ionisation to a highly condensed version of Steve Reich's Drumming. Although the Reich is described as "frammento," or excerpt, this is like a Reader's Digest version of Drumming in that Reich's stated repetitions are taken in shorter durations than he specifies. The tempo is very fast, and the natural, acoustical phase patterning that results from playing the piece at the right speed doesn't get going. Carlos Chávez's percussion "symphony" Tambuco is also played a little quickly and the recording doesn't provide enough presence to allow the widely spaced events in the opening to meld together as they normally would; the recording is so quiet that at one point you can hardly tell what's going on at all.
One of the more interesting inclusions in this program is Zyklus by Karlheinz Stockhausen; long regarded as a major percussion piece, it isn't often recorded. As Zyklus is a solo work it is performed by I Percussionisti della Scala member Maurizio Ben Omar, and happily it is both a good recording and performance. The Cage 3rd Construction that follows is generally well done, whereas the Varèse is too slow and not well coordinated, in some places downright clumsy.
This program was recorded live at I Percussionisti della Scala's home, the La Scala Opera House in Milan. Although percussion groups can be loud, La Scala is a heck of a big hall to record in; even the sirens in Ionisation tend to get lost. Tempo choices in these familiar pieces are at issue, and overall it's hard to recommend Stradivarius' Percussion Masterpieces with more than a "nice try" kind of status. However, the Zyklus is very good, and if you are looking to fill that particular hole in your Stockhausen holdings, here's your chance.