COVER :NEAR MINT
Percussion! Milhaud: Concerto for Percussion & Small Orchestra; Chavez; Toccata for Percussion; Bartok: Music for String Instruments, Percussion, & Celesta. The Concert Arts Orchestra, Felix Slatkin, conductor. Capitol P8299
This is a record we would want to have for the cover art alone. But when we play it we discover gems of all shapes and sizes. The Bartok is justly famous and has been given its due elsewhere in stereo. The performance here is quite good, though it sheds no new light on the subject. Now let's cut to the rubies. Both the Milhaud and Chavez are as unjustly neglected as the Bartok is celebrated. They are studies in bodacious contrasts, unlike the Bartok, which by comparison is a study in reserved contrasts. Darius Milhaud was a staggeringly prolific composer of a remarkably long life span, much of which was spent at Mills College (1940-71). I was once accepted there for graduate study in musical composition, when Milhaud was in his early seventies. Alas, I chose the relative safety of UC Berkeley. Milhaud's music is often characterized by jazz and Latin American references such as he picked up during a stay in Brazil. His Concerto for Percussion & Small Orchestra was written in 1930, and is chock full of southern hemispherical paraphernalia. Carlos Chavez's Toccata is an exceptionally colorful work, which at the time of its composition in 1942 firmly positioned Chavez as the leading musical figure among his contemporaries. Even prior to the artistic success of Frida Kahlo, Chavez gave Mexico a boost in the eyes of European and American snobbery. The Toccata is the one piece on this record that regards percussion as a sufficiently complete ensemble to convey concert-size ideas. Slatkin's rendering tends to be more considered than expressive, but it certainly is sufficiently percussive. The Capitol engineers have done exceedingly well at picking up the range of delicate nuances and the percussive power, to say nothing of the weight and voluptuousness of the bass drum. There is an entertaining note on the back of the jacket directed to "High Fidelity Enthusiasts" which expresses their intent. Long gone are the days when such sweet, unabashed claims were made; so for the sake of nostalgia, I'd like to quote it in full: "High Fidelity Enthusiasts will find this album unusually rewarding. Percussive sound, to be reproduced with brilliance and definition, must be recorded with the utmost in technique and finesse. When percussion instruments constitute the very basis of a fine musical composition, then engineers and producer face a special challenge—one which has been met, in the recording of these three works, with results that are extremely gratifying from musical and technical points of view."