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SOUNDS OF AMERICA

University of South Florida) create an irresistible force field with percussion music for which the choice of instruments is left up to the players.

Smith’s own 20 minutes of liquid musical mobiles called Bones sets the tone and mood for what follows, while his 30-minute Winter is at once the most conventionally gorgeous and unconventionally scored, for speaker/ singer, percussion, bassoon, flute and violin.

Highlights include Robert Erickson’s mind-blowing Pacific Sirens, which may be the most awesome of an awesome lot, bombarding the ears with sounds ranging from fathoms-deep bass explosions to gradual climaxes whose intensity rivals the opening of Also sprach Zarathustra; Earle Brown’s exquisite December 1952, nine minutes of poetry played from an iconic example of graphic notation; Johanna Magdalena Beyer’s naive, early minimalist, refreshingly brash Percussion from 1935; and Herbert Brün’s title-track, a delicacylaced but definitely athletic tour de force which Chris Herman totally eats up.

The peformers are unnervingly in step with each piece’s different vibe. There is not one measure in anything they play that doesn’t come magically alive, as if it were being heard in the composer’s mind for the first exhilarating time. The recordings, made at the Springs Theatre Recording Studio in Tampa, are spectacularly detailed and full of punch. The epigrammatic booklet-notes also pack a lot of power. Laurence Vittes

‘Benita Valente, Vol 2’ Schubert Gretchen am Spinnrade, D118. Lied der Mignon, D877 Nos 2‑4. Romanze, D787 Schumann Myrthen, Op 25 – No 7, Die Lotosblume; No 24, Du bist wie eine Blume. Marienwürmchen, Op 79 No 13 R Strauss Drei Lieder der Ophelia, Op 67. Acht Gedichte aus Letzte Blätter, Op 10 – No 1, Zueignung; No 3, Die Nacht; No 8, Allerseelen. Heimkehr, Op 15 No 5. Ständchen, Op 17 No 2. Cäcilie, Op 27 No 2. Einerlei, Op 69 No 3 Wolf Er ist’s. In dem Schatten meiner Locken. Mausfallensprüchlein. Verborgenheit. Die verlassene Mägdlein. Verschwiegene Liebe Benita Valente sop Harold Wright cl Lydia Artymiw, Lee Luvisi, Cynthia Raim pf Bridge F BRIDGE9451 (62’ • DDD • T/t)

The cover of the first volume on Bridge Records devoted to performances by

A supreme artist: soprano Benita Valenta is captured in her prime in German song soprano Benita Valente contains the phrase ‘Great Singers of the 20th Century’. For some reason, the second volume does not, though it should. Listen to Valente shape songs by Schubert, Schumann, Strauss and Wolf and you know you’re in the presence of a supreme artist. The recordings featured on this volume were made in the 1980s, when Valente was in her prime. She maintained the gleam of her voice by singing repertoire suited to her light lyric soprano, both in concert and on the operatic stage.

But it isn’t just exquisite purity and plaintiveness that make Valente so special. As she inhabits the songs about women on this disc, she summons a spectrum of feelings from the melding of music and texts. Valente switches interpretative gears with seeming effortlessness. She can be girlish or complicated – or even addled, as in the little waltz in the third of Strauss’s Drei Lieder der Ophelia. She is an exceptional Schubertian with a gift for evoking the meaning of words (few sing ‘Gretchen am Sprinnrade’ more affectingly).

And Valente somehow brings out the best in the musicians with whom she collaborates. Her colleagues here are distinguished, to say the least: clarinettist Harold Wright and pianists Lydia Artimiw, Lee Luvisi and Cynthia Raim. They must have cherished the experience of making music with Valente as much as the audiences who heard them – and, thanks to these recordings, continue to do so. Donald Rosenberg gramophone.co.uk

GRAMOPHONE FEBRUARY 2016 VII

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