Leroy Anderson Orchestral Music Volume OneA type of release which is difficult to highlight around year’s-end “toplist” season -– the bane of most music reviewers -– are those issued in series. If the whole series is good -– and in classical, good album series are produced with remarkable consistency -– then it is difficult to single out one disc from the whole in order to add it to a toplist. In this blog post, the intention is to briefly touch upon four series that are, so to speak, “serially good.”

Leroy Anderson Orchestral Music
American composer Leroy Anderson (1908-1975) is represented well in the ears of Christmas shoppers through his seasonal perennial Sleigh Ride; some may also recognize him as the force behind orchestral pops favorites such as Fiddle Faddle, The Syncopated Clock, Blue Tango, and The Typewriter. And if Anderson had his way, that is what he probably would have preferred. Anderson was a workaholic composer with extraordinarily high standards, who produced an enormous number of short orchestral pieces and arrangements for Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops, some meant for one or two uses and, to Anderson’s view, thankfully forgotten after their moment at Symphony Hall in Boston had expired. Given the overall quality of Anderson’s output, there’s reason to want to know every scrap of it, and thanks to Naxos’ Leroy Anderson: Orchestral Music series, we finally can. Performed by Leonard Slatkin -– a conductor whose expertise in Anderson is long-established -– and the BBC Concert Orchestra, these are lovingly made, top-quality recordings, whereby never-before-recorded obscurities such as Whistling Kettle (ca. 1966) and the early Harvard Sketches (1939) take pride of place alongside recognized favorites as Belle of the Ball and Horse and Buggy. Superb!

Leonard Slatkin and the BBC Concert Orchestra -
Leroy Anderson: Orchestral Music Vol. 3 - Sleigh Ride
Leroy Anderson: Orchestral Music Vol. 3 - The Syncopated Clock
Leroy Anderson: Orchestral Music Vol. 2 - Whistling Kettle
Leroy Anderson: Orchestral Music Vol. 3 - Melody on Two Notes

Charles Ives Songs
Charles Ives Songs Volume OneCharles Ives' output of right around 200 songs is widely viewed as his greatest contribution this side of the “Concord” Sonata and perhaps the most varied and significant body of art song by any American composer. Comprehensive recording of this treasure began in the 1950s, but it wasn’t until the 1990s that the first almost-but-not-quite-complete recording of the whole was undertaken. Naxos’ Charles Ives: Songs utilizes a novel approach to recording the cycle, likely to be completed in 2009 -– the songs are arranged alphabetically and performed by a wide variety of singers and accompanists, preserving the notion of “vox populi” that was on Ives’ agenda when he began collecting, considering, and publishing his songs in the early 1920s. The very strategy Naxos is employing in this series is more likely to yield a truly complete set than not, and so far, every performance has been top drawer.

Leah Wool, mezzo-soprano; Eric Trudel, piano -
Charles Ives Songs Vol. 1 - The Children's Hour
Patrick Carfizzi, baritone; Douglas Dickson, piano -
Charles Ives Songs Vol. 1 - Charlie Rutlage
David Pittsinger, bass; Douglas Dickson, piano -
Charles Ives Songs Vol. 2 - General William Booth Enters Into Heaven
Lielle Berman, soprano; Eric Trudel, piano -
Charles Ives Songs Vol. 5 - Soliloquy

Villa-Lobos Piano Music
Villa Lobos Piano Music Volume 6Brazil’s Heitor Villa-Lobos was apparently one of the most prolific composers of the 20th century, and works for piano take up a large part of his output. It’s an output well worth knowing, ranging from challenging, experimental masterworks such as Rudepoêma (1921) and New York Skyline Melody (1939) down to light and popularly oriented fare such as O Gato e o Rato (1914). Villa-Lobos’ piano music is colorful, impressionistic, rhythmically imaginative, and highly appealing, and by rights should be recorded entire. Nevertheless, even as published music it is very hard to come by in some cases and wholly lost in others. An earlier attempt to record Villa-Lobos’ output for piano came to naught after only four volumes. Naxos’ edition, featuring Brazilian pianist Sonia Rubinsky, began in 1999, and in 2008, is close to complete at seven volumes. Rubinsky really cares about this music and it seems each individual volume manages to be even better than its predecessor -- this series is so good, that one almost feels bad that Rubinsky will eventually run out of Villa-Lobos to play.

Sonia Rubinsky, piano -
Villa Lobos Piano Music Vol. 6 - O Gato e o Rato
Villa Lobos Piano Music Vol. 6 - Petizada: "A pobrezhinha sertaneja"
Villa Lobos Piano Music Vol. 4 - Guia Práctico: "Samba-Lele"
Villa Lobos Piano Music Vol. 1 - A Prole de bebê: "O polchinello"

Schubert Songs
Christoph Prégardien Schubert SchwanengesangThis is a “series” of just two recordings, but two is one too many for consideration on a toplist. Tenor Christoph Prégardien is an old hand with Franz Schubert, and has recorded many Schubert songs in the past for other labels. However, the years seem to have deepened his artistic focus in this literature, and Prégardien’s interpretive skills have never seemed as sharp as in the recordings of Die Schöne Mullerin and Schwanengesang for Challenge Classics. Partnered by longtime collaborators Michael Gees on the first disc and Andreas Staier on the second, Prégardien has attracted some controversy in the use of improvised ornamentation to Schubert’s lied, but the overall effect of Prégardien’s work in these discs is one of total comprehension in meaning, expression, and dramatic delivery. One does not know if he will go forward from here –- a “complete” survey with one singer is impossible, as Hyperion took 23 years and an army of singers to realize their Schubert Song Edition, which also included Prégardien, in 40 volumes. However, one more disc of Prégardien in Schubert certainly wouldn’t do anyone any harm.

Christoph Prégardien and Michael Gees -
Die Schöne Mullerin: Wohin?
Die Schöne Mullerin: Ungeduld

Christoph Prégardien and Andreas Staier -
Schwanengesang: Die Taubenpost
Schwanengesang: Ständchen