CAMILO:  Piano Concerto.  Suite for Piano, Strings and Harp.  Caribe.
Michel Camilo, pianist; BBC Symphony Orch/Leonard Slatkin, cond.

DECCA 468 817 (F) (DDD)  TT:  59:27
"Cristal" - Glass Music through the Ages
MOZART:  Adagio in C, K. 356.  Adagio and Rondo in C, K. 617.  EISTER:  Quintet for Glass and Strings.  SCHMITTBAUER:  Allegro.  SCHNAUBELT:  Caprice.  Petite Impression. FAURE:  Pavane, Op. 50.  APELL:  "Non temere alma immortale."  SCHULTZ:  Largo in G Minor.  SCARLATTI:  "O cessate di piagarmi."  HASSE:  "L'armonica."  Trad:  Irish Lullaby
SONY CLASSICAL SK 89047 (F) (DDD) TT:  70:29

Here we have two recent "crossover" issues, recordings that possibly could appeal to both classical and pop audiences. Santo Domingo-born Michel Camilo studied at the National Conservatory, later at Mannes College and Juilliard in New York. He has achieved fame for his work in the jazz world and rightfully so, with several best-selling recordings over the past decade, some with Flamenco guitarist Tomatito.  A fine pianist, he frequently performs concerts, and his music has been played by some leading artists of our time including duo-pianists Katia and Marielle Labèque who premiered his Rhapsody for Two Pianos and Orchestra.  Accolades have poured his way including an Honorary Doctorate from Berklee College of Music, a piano scholarship in his name at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, and he was made a Knight of the Heraldic Order of Christopher Columbus by the Dominican government. 

Leonard Slatkin has championed Camilo's music ever since 1995 when he first heard him at the Blue Note Jazz Club in New York.  Slatkin was so impressed he invited Camilo to co-direct a Latin Festival with the National SO, and commissioned the piano concerto heard here, conducting the premiere in Washington.  There are three movements:  Religiosamente -- Allegretto -- Allegro, Andante and Allegro.  The half-hour "concerto" is replete with bold, jazzy gestures, but there's little in the way of melodic invention.  I've listened to it four times and cannot recall a memorable tune, although there's always quite a bit of busy-work going on.  The composer states his Suite  is based on his "other musical worlds."  The colorful titles are Tropical Jam, Tango for Ten, In Love and Journey.  The tango originally was a ten-piano piece commissioned by Slatkin and the NSO for their Piano 2000 festival at the Kennedy Center. Camila doesn't  seem to have left his original "musical world."  The CD ends with Camilo's "signature tune," Caribe, a virtuoso five-minute solo which according to the CD notes was recorded in one take.  Slatkin is quoted as saying, "it was one of the most astonishing performances of anything I have ever heard..."  He's got to be kidding!  Camilo is fortunate to have Slatkin's support in the "classical" world; he needs it.

CRISTAL is another "crossover" recording with infinitely more appeal. Called Glass Music Through the Ages, it includes music from the 16th Century to the present performed on the glass armonica, a unique instrument that has been around for 9,000 years in its most primitive form.  In 1761 Benjamin Franklin, entranced by the lovely sound of the instrument, designed a device employing thirty-seven tuned glass bowls which he called the "armonica," derived from the Italian word for harmony: "armonia."  The instrument gained credibility in the 18th Century when Hassel, Mozart and Beethoven wrote music for it. Donizetti used it in 1835 for the "mad scene" in his opera Lucia di Lammermoor although very seldom is it actually used probably because of its delicate sound which could be difficult to hear in an opera house, and the difficulty of finding someone to play the instrument.

Linda Ronstadt, who sings in three selections on this CD, was a prime mover in this project.  Dennis James is an adept performer on the armonica, also playing the Cristal Baschet (a French version of the instrument) as well as the Seraphim.  The Emerson String Quartet performs the Eisler and Mozart K. 617, with soprano June Anderson joining Ronstadt and a small chorus with chamber ensemble in the Faure.  The crystalline sounds of the instrument have been beautifully recorded.  It was said in the 17th Century that the instrument had curative powers - also that if you listened to it too much it could drive you insane. Perhaps it could - if you played it played it at too high a volume! 

If you have a keen interest in the glass armonica you may wish to investigate a Naxos issue of performances by Thomas Bloch (Naxos 8.555295).  Playing time is generous (70:56) and price is budget. It includes several of the works on the Cristal CD, as well as music of Schulz, Sombach, Reichardt, Naumann,  Beethoven and Röllig. The longest work is the Lucia "mad scene," with soprano Monserrat Sanromˆ  severely overtaxed by this demanding music, decidedly unpleasant to hear.  Skip this and go to the intriguing final track, the performer's Sancta Maria dedicated to male soprano Fabrice di Falco who, through multiple-track recording sings all four vocal parts which range from baritone to castrato - a fascinating listening experience.

R.E.B. (March 2002)