Gerard Schwarz, who came to town this week to rehearse Beethoven's "Fidelio"with the Washington Opera, is the newest American conductor moving into the international orbit established by Leonard Bernstein, Lorin Maazel and a few others.
Schwarzoriginally achieved international fame as a trumpet virtuoso, but has successfully made the transition to conducting. He has conducted in Washington most often with the "Mostly Mozart" Festival and the Washington Opera, but the 18th century is only the beginning of his repertoire. His recordings show him at home in styles that range up to contemporary music, and he is now the music director of the Seattle Symphony as well as chamber orchestras in New York and Los Angeles.
The Seattle Symphony is gaining recognition thanks to Schwarz's conducting and some superb Delos digital recordings. The Delos/Schwarz/Seattle discography includes three records that fall spectacularly into the showcase category: a brilliant Wagner program on Delos D/CD 3040, a Richard Strauss program headed by "Also Sprach Zarathustra" (D/CD 3052) and Stravinsky's "Firebird" and "Song of the Nightingale" (D/CD 3051). Schwarz's Stravinsky is also spectacular in "The Soldier's Tale," as performed by the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra (with Prokofiev's Classical Symphony and Shostakovich's Piano Concerto No. 1) on Delos D/CD 3021.
Schwarz's classical credentials are reasserted on an international scale in his latest recording project: an open-ended Haydn series (including symphonies and concertos) with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. The series mines one of the most abundant lodes in classical music. Among the major composers, only Bach, with his 200-plus cantatas, produced more works in a single genre than Haydn, with his 100-plus symphonies. The first two discs establish a high standard for the series.
These records buck the trend toward original instruments in recording 18th-century music, but they are brilliantly performed and recorded. On D/CD 3062, the bright, baroque-flavored Symphony No. 21 is coupled with Symphony 96 ("The Miracle") and the Cello Concerto in C, with a magnificent solo by Ja'nos Starker. The "London" Symphony, No. 104, is coupled on D/CD 3061 with No. 22 ("The Philosopher"), a haunting work whose opening, slow chorale for English and French horns seems to look simultaneously back to Bach and forward to Mahler. Carol Rosenberger is a fine soloist in the Piano Concerto No. 2 in D. The performances have the lightness of a chamber orchestra, but they are modern interpretations.
The important point about Haydn's music -- much more significant than the questions about whether you use old or modern instruments and whether you tune your A to 415 or 440 -- is whether you convey the music's pure sense of fun and its sudden, unexpected depths. Yes, it is wonderful to hear old music on gut strings and valveless horns and to imagine that we are hearing the exact sounds imagined by the composer. And it is great to have all the symphonies on our shelves, segregated from the concertos and chamber music and lined up in chronological order. But historical piety and scholarly tidiness can easily make us forget that we are dealing here with the basic stuff of human life, joys and passions, distilled into forms that can last for centuries and be shared with all humanity.
The thing that makes the Delos Haydn project special, besides the very distinguished musical direction of Schwarz and the high quality of his collaborators, is the skill with which it is focused on the color and feeling in Haydn's music. The project is not intended to record every note Haydn composed for orchestra; it will explore the works that are most appealing to audiences -- an enormous number, by the way. And these works will not be presented in chronological order but in the kind of mixture you might find in a concert -- an early symphony, for example, sharing the program with a concerto and a late symphony, the familiar placed next to the unfamiliar, the joys of familiarity linked to those of discovery. It is an approach well calculated to shake the dust off the music of Haydn and let its sparkle come through.
Other recording artists currently in or en route to Washington:
Arleen Auge'r, who will be singing at the Kennedy Center this afternoon with the Australian Chamber Orchestra, has recorded one of the most beautiful soprano works of the 20th century, the Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 of Villa-Lobos, with the "Yale Cellos" ensemble conducted by Aldo Parisot. In a superbly played and exquisitely balanced recording (Delos D/CD 3041), Auge'r's voice seems to float on a gentle cushion of sound made by massed cellos. She sings, as always, beautifully. The program also includes fine performances of Bachianas Brasileiras No. 1 and arrangements for massed cellos of five Bach works, including the "Air on the G String" and the great Chaconne in D Minor. But the participation of Auge'r is what gives this record its strongest appeal.
The Tokyo Quartet, which will be at American University Thursday and the Corcoran Gallery Friday, recently signed a long-term contract with RCA Victor that will include a complete recording of the Schubert Quartets. Meanwhile, this ensemble, one of the world's best, is joined by pianist Barry Douglas (who will be in the Terrace Theater on March 19) in a persuasively phrased and precisely balanced performance of the Brahms Piano Quintet in F Minor, Op. 34 (RCA 6673-2-RC). Douglas fills out the disc with well thought-out, technically impressive performances of the Brahms Ballade in B, Op. 10, No. 4; the Op. 116 Capriccios in G Minor (No. 3) and D Minor (No. 7); and the Intermezzo in E, Op. 116, No. 4.
Clarinetist Richard Stoltzman, a crossover classical and jazz artist as impressive as anyone named Marsalis, will be at the Kennedy Center Friday night with Woody Herman's Thundering Herd. By no coincidence at all, he performs with the Herd on an RCA Victor recording (6486-2-RC) in a program that includes Stravinsky's Ebony Concerto, a suite from "West Side Story," a wonderfully contemplative "American Medley" ("Amazing Grace," "America the Beautiful," "Battle Hymn of the Republic") and some fine jazz selections in the familiar Herman idiom. Stoltzman is equally impressive (on 6772-2-RC) with pianist Richard Goode in a performance of Schumann (the Fantasiestu cke, Op. 73 and three Romances, Op. 94) and Schubert (the Sonatinas in A Minor and D Major). Transcribed by Stoltzman from w1869769587(the Romances) or violin (the Sonatinas), he makes them all sound like little masterpieces for the clarinet.