For those who want to say it with compact discs this Valentine's Day, some interesting possibilities have recently become available.
Predictably, the most feverish attention will focus on discs by two of the century's major heartthrob tenors, both subtly titled "Be My Love" and both including that song and "O Sole Mio" among their numerous selections. The tenors are Placido Domingo (on EMI CDP 7 95468 2) and Mario Lanza (RCA 60720-2-RG), and the choice between them is as personal and irrational as one's preference for scotch or bourbon, strawberry ice cream or orange sherbet. Either should inspire a satisfactory level of romanticism in music lovers, and those who might be interested in both discs will be happy to know that despite the same title, duplication is minimal.
Lanza died tragically in 1959 while still in his thirties; Domingo passed his 50th birthday last month, but you would never guess it watching him onstage. His English is accented, but that probably makes him sound more romantic. He is at his best in the numbers sung in Spanish, which include "Quiereme Mucho," the "Jealousy" tango, "Valencia" and "La Golondrina," but hard-core fans will probably love him in "La Vie en Rose" and even "Over the Rainbow."
Lanza's collection lasts 70 minutes, a quarter-hour more than Domingo's, and has 24 selections compared with Domingo's 16. Several of Lanza's tracks (including "Danny Boy" and "My Wild Irish Rose," "Come Back to Sorrento" and "Maria Mari' ") have been released for the first time. Other items worth noting include "Arrivederci, Roma," "Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life," Schubert's "Ave Maria" and "You'll Never Walk Alone." Lanza is more at home than Domingo in American pop styles and his voice is of comparable quality, though nowhere near as well trained or intelligently used.
Another heartthrob tenor in a program with heavy romantic interest can be heard in "Franco Corelli: The Golden Years, 1962-66" (Legato SRO-812-1). Like Lanza, Corelli triumphed over lack of proper training with superb natural equipment -- at least for a while. Some of his finer moments can be heard in this odd collection, assembled from diverse sources and wildly variable in sound quality. Some numbers (the Neapolitan song "Tu ca nun chiagne," for example, and "Addio alla madre" from "Cavalleria Rusticana") are given in more than one performance for those who like to make comparative studies.
Those who enjoy Domingo's Spanish pop repertoire might also want to hear "Resolana: Songs From Argentina" (Nimbus NI 5281) by composer-singer-guitarist Eduardo Falu. In his photo, he is nowhere near as handsome as Domingo, Lanza or Corelli, but his voice is warm and vibrant and his music should awaken deep resonances in some listeners. The vocal numbers (seven out of 14 on the disc) are not all love songs, but the title song ("Resolana" = "That Warm Feeling") is a Latin-American equivalent of one of the great American songs of our time, "That Was the Last Thing on My Mind." Unlike RCA, EMI or Legato, Nimbus supplies texts and translations, a courtesy that greatly enhances enjoyment of its product.
Two of Richard Wagner's greatest love songs, "Mild und leise" from "Tristan und Isolde" and "Du bist der Lenz" from "Die Walkuere," can be heard in definitive performances with more than an hour of other prime material in "Kirsten Flagstad: Wagner Arias; Duets with Melchior" (RCA 7915-2-RG). They don't make sopranos like that any more. No true Wagnerian would miss this disc.
Instrumental Not all romantic music is vocal, as clarinetist Richard Stoltzman argues, wordlessly but eloquently, in a CD of French music provocatively but aptly titled "Romance." For instrumental music to be truly, deeply romantic, the solo instrument must be like a singing voice in its inflections and phrasing. Stoltzman certainly has that quality in music that includes Debussy's "The Girl With Flaxen Hair" and two arabesques as well as Satie's three intensely romantic "Gymnopedies," Poulenc's Sonata and a fine selection of Saint-Saens: Romance, Op. 37; "The Swan"; and the Sonata for Clarinet and Piano, Op. 167.
The singing quality you can hear in Stoltzman's work is harder to achieve on the piano than on a wind or string instrument, but one young American pianist who has it in his fingertips is Alan Feinberg. On the Argo label (which had a great tradition and is being revived as part of PolyGram Records), Feinberg brings a sensitive touch and, when needed, bravura technique to the music of three composers whose work spans more than a century, from Louis Moreau Gottschalk (born 1829) to Robert Helps (born 1928), with Amy Beach (1867-1944) in between. Titled "The American Romantic" (Argo 430 330-2), the disc does fine service to a tradition in American music that deserves to be better known.
A similar feeling for romantic values can be heard in "Imaginees" (Northeastern NR 238-CD), a collection of French music for cello and piano played by the Fischer Duo. Besides the familiar sonatas of Debussy and Poulenc, performed with delicacy and immaculate technique, the collection includes three short pieces by Nadia Boulanger, an ecstatic segment of Messiaen's "Quartet for the End of Time," the energetic, lyrical "Imaginees II" of Georges Auric and cellist Norman Fischer's expressive transcription of Ravel's song cycle "Don Quichotte a Dulcinee."
Now Playing Lambert Orkis, the National Symphony Orchestra's resident pianist and the soloist this week in the world premiere of Richard Wernick's Piano Concerto, has given much of his attention in recent years to the special challenges and satisfactions of the fortepiano, the smaller and less assertive ancestor of the modern concert grand, for which Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert wrote their keyboard music. Orkis is an artist of great stature in any music he performs, but in three new recordings for the Virgin Classics label, you might detect a new quality: the joy of discovery; the euphoria of a kid with a new toy. His buoyancy, spontaneity and wide-ranging emotional communication in eight Schubert impromptus, D. 899 and D. 935 (Virgin VC7 91131-2), suits the music with a fine precision, and he finds, among this versatile instrument's many voices, precisely the right ones to match each of the music's shifting moods.
The modern piano is likely to drown out a solo violin or cello unless great precautions are taken. The fortepiano is not, and its natural modesty fits in well with Orkis's style as an ensemble player in two new recordings with colleagues from the Smithsonian's excellent historic-instrument program. With violinist Jaap Schroeder (on VC 7 91131-2), he plays three of Mozart's late sonatas (K. 454, 481 and 526) with great delicacy and a sense of almost telepathic rapport. The same qualities and the same finely balanced sound can be heard on a disc (VC 791126-2) by the Castle Trio (Orkis with Marilyn McDonald, violin, and Kenneth Slowik, cello) containing the first and third piano trios of Beethoven's Op. 1 plus his Variations in E-flat, Op. 44. These discs are reportedly the beginning of complete sets -- good news for collectors.
Emanuel Ax, who will give a solo recital tomorrow at the University of Maryland for the benefit of University Community Concerts, is best known as a solo pianist but equally interesting as a chamber musician. In a recent recording (Sony S2K 45846, two CDs), he joins an ensemble of his peers for a recording of the three Brahms piano quartets (Op. 25, 26 and 60) that sometimes sounds larger than life but is truly chamber music -- i.e., a dialogue among equals. It is not easy to find equals for a pianist such as Ax, but in this case his partners are Isaac Stern on violin, Jaime Laredo on viola and Yo-Yo Ma on cello, each a star soloist who has never lost his interest in the more modest chamber repertoire. There are unusually vivid musical personalities submerging themselves (more or less) in this interaction, and they give a special electricity to the performances.
Those who missed pianist Oleg Volkov's dazzling performance Tuesday night at George Mason University, or who would like a reminder of his impressive showing as a runner-up in last year's Kapell Competition, should welcome his recording of "Personal Favorites" (MCA AED 10155). In Shostakovich's Sonata No. 1, Beethoven's No. 3, the wild "Sarcasms," Op. 17, of Prokofiev and the brilliant "Gnomenreigen" of Liszt, which was his final encore at GMU, his brilliant, carefully controlled technique sounds like that of a major artist.