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Gordon GETTY (b.1933)
Joan and the Bells, Cantata for Soprano Baritone, Chorus & Orchestra (1998) (21.03)
Lisa Delan, s; Vladimir Chernov, bar; Eric Ericson Chamber Choir, Stockholm
Serge PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)

Romeo and Juliet, Suite #2, Op 64-ter (1936) (30.00)
Russian National Orchestra/Alexander Vedernikov
Recorded at the Maison de la Culture de Bourges, France, 7 October 2002
Composerís note and English text of Joan and the Bells.
Notes in English, Français and Deutsch. Photos of the artists and composer Getty.
Hybrid multi-channel Super Audio CD
PENTATONE CLASSICS 5186 017 [1 SACD: 51.00]

When a composer is one of the richest men in the world one naturally asks why his music is recorded. Did he pay off the orchestra? Is this music utter trash that no one would ever perform if they werenít bribed to do it? These are honest questions, and they can be answered quickly. Joan and the Bells is every bit as good as music written by composers who are starving and homeless. We should not discriminate against the very rich any more than against the very poor. And Getty is well known for his very generous philanthropy in the musical arts, even to artists and groups who donít play his music. For instance, he subsidised the re-release on CD of a number of classic Bach organ recordings by E. Power Biggs.

Joan and the Bells has been performed recently a number of times, often in concert with Barberís Prayers of Kirkegaard, but the world premier performance was with the artists who here present it. It is an English text sung straight through with no da capo arias. The vocal line is simply made up of repeated notes and interval jumps, not greatly different from the Alice series of Del Tredici, however the intervals lie more comfortably within the range of the artists and the result is less nervous and a little more tuneful. Soprano Lisa Delan sings beautifully and with absorbing drama. Chernov has a slight Russian accent, but he can be clearly understood, and the accent sort of adds to the unapproachability of his role character. It is, in fact, comfortable music throughout with a rising dramatic tension, a brilliant sonic resolution and a genuine emotional impact. I have heard it several times and look forward to hearing it again.

Acknowledgement must be given to Paul Claudel and Arthur Honegger in Jeanne DíArc au Bûcher (1955) for the idea of the dialogues between Joan and her voices. In that work the audience goes along with Joan to paradise and does not see her earthly death. In this work, however, she dies onstage.

I have recently had the privilege of reviewing several performances of Prokofievís complete Romeo and Juliet ballet. It of interest to note that the Suites are drawn from the original version, whereas the published complete version is that which was re-orchestrated to suit hall acoustics. It is a pity that the original version did not survive, because the orchestration in the suites is more transparent and superior for listening, if not for dancing. This performance is as good as any Iíve heard; previously in my reviews I commented that Prokofiev conceived his music so perfectly for the orchestra and expressed his wishes so clearly that most performances are fully capable. As Prokofievís music requires, the recorded sound here is superb.

This disk is a "hybrid" SACD which means that it contains CD tracks, playable on an ordinary CD player, as well as separate Stereo mix and Surround Sound mix SACD tracks, playable both on older two track and newer multiple track SACD players, on this single 5" disk at little or no additional cost. Is there any real difference between the regular CD version and the SACD version? Oh my yes, even to my 66 year old ears! The sound is significantly cleaner and wider range on the SACD tracks. Effective use is made of surround sound capability during the oratorio, whereas the Prokofiev is presented in a natural concert hall acoustic. In the SACD version the extreme percussion is not exaggerated, but rather the opposite is true; these instruments are recorded at a realistic moderate level yet are very clearly audible. It is a genuine advantage to be able to buy this disk and play it now on any CD player and then when you (or a friend) obtain an SACD player, you can enjoy the superior sound quality of the sound. And regular CDs will sound just a little bit better on a new SACD player. The disk comes in a CD jewelcase with subtly rounded corners but of ordinary proportions, so it will fit on the shelf with your regular CDs.

Do we have to worry about getting so spoiled with SACD sound we will be unable to enjoy regular CDs? Well, donít you play music on the car radio on the drive home from a concert hall? We have always had music available at various levels of quality and should be used to concentrating on the music apart from the sound. Itís just that now we can have a higher quality of sound at home for those works which can benefit from it.

Paul Shoemaker

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