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Sampling Several Martinu Miniatures

Martinu’s cheeky music remains engaging for its rhythmic vitality and melodic invention. The selections include the perky, jazz-age inspired ballet “La Revue de Cuisine” (The Kitchen Review), composed in 1927, and the first commercial recording of “Pastorals (Stowe),” scored for an enchanting combination of five recorders, clarinet, two violins and cello, and composed in 1951 for the Trapp Family of “Sound of Music” fame.

Zukovsky, principal clarinetist of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, produced this CD and promises two more Martinu recordings. The players--all familiar from the Los Angeles concert scene--play expertly and with verve, making this a delightful disc of miniatures.

*** 1/2 “The Last Recording,” Budapest Festival Orchestra, Georg Solti, conductor. (London)

Fortunately, there is far more than nostalgia value to this disc, the last recording Georg Solti made. The eminent conductor devised the program--played and later recorded in Budapest--as a tribute to his three teachers at the Liszt Academy--Kodaly, Bartok and the all but forgotten Leo Weiner.

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He offers magisterial readings of Bartok’s haunting and electrifying “Cantata Profana,” Kodaly’s majestic “Psalmus Hungaricus” and Weiner’s pleasing Serenade for Small Orchestra. (Weiner’s four-movement Serenade harks back to Brahms, but it is an engaging, even touching take on a familiar style and form.)

The Hungarian orchestra and chorus are powerful and responsive. Tenor Tamas Daroczy has trouble with Bartok’s high-lying line, which ascends to near inhuman heights, but is far more comfortable and expressive as David in Kodaly’s Psalm.

** 1/2 SCHUBERT: Choral Works, Monteverdi Choir, John Eliot Gardiner, conductor. (Philips)

The Schubert touch is everywhere evident in this charming and touching collection of 12 minor “part songs,” homophonic rather than contrapuntal works. The composer delivers the expected beguiling melodies, sensitive word painting and ravishingly apt instrumental introductions and postludes. Still, only the aficionado of Schubert or the art of choir singing is likely to find this disc essential.

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Gems include the lilting Gondolier’s song, a rapt 23rd Psalm and the serious, symphonic “Gesang der Geister uber den Wassern.”

Under Gardiner’s affectionate direction, the choir sings with impeccable intonation and warmth of ensemble. Various vocal and instrumental soloists execute their duties splendidly. Fortepianist Malcolm Bilson provides always supportive and well-judged accompaniment.

*

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good), four stars (excellent).

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