Music can bring a new beauty to spring holidays

April 09, 1993|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,Contributing Writer

From the wonderful melodies of the Passover Haggada to the dramatic exultation of the Easter liturgy, this is truly a season bathed in the light of great music.

The spring holiday season will be capped off by the Annapolis Chorale's ascent to the towering heights of Beethoven's "Missa Solemnis" some two weeks hence.

Here are some musical offerings that might help bring alive the unique joys of the Easter-Passover season.

* Handel: "Messiah" -- Let us not forget that the familiar Christmas portion is but a fraction of the complete oratorio. "I Know That My Redeemer Liveth," "The Trumpet Shall Sound" and, or course, the great "Hallelujah" itself are all from the Easter section that stretches to nearly two-thirds of the piece.

It's still hard to beat Colin Davis' wonderfully satisfying account on the Philips Silver Line. I also enjoy the unpretentious but absolutely charming Raymond Leppard "Messiah" on the Erato label. If the hustle and bustle of early instruments is for you, the best of the "authentic performance" Messiahs comes from John Eliot Gardiner, also on Philips.

* "Passover Seder Festival:" Sony Masterworks has just released an anthology of liturgical selections composed by Sholom Secunda and sung by the great operatic tenor, Richard Tucker. Seder favorites like "Dayeinu" and "Chad Gad Ya" become spellbinding arias when sung by this remarkable performer.

* Brahms: "Ein deutsches Reguiem" -- The aforementioned German Requiem is one of the most poetically spiritual works ever composed. In grieving for both his mother and his dear friend Robert Schumann, Brahms abandoned the traditional Roman liturgy and selected instead an anthology of writings from both Testaments. Replete with glowing harmonies, unbelievable LTC counterpoint and melodic lines that stretch like taffy and then some, the Requiem is a one-of-a-kind affirmation of spirit.

Otto Klemperer's account on Angel EMI featuring Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Elizabeth Schwartzkopf as soloists dates from 1962 but has never been bettered.

* Beethoven: Missa Solemnis -- Beethoven put absolutely everything he had into this sprawling, 80-minute Solemn Mass and that alone makes it worth a listen. It's all but impossible to sing and it doesn't exactly charm the listener, either. But once you get to know it -- and sense Beethoven's longing to say musically what he could never express in any other way -- it grabs you for life.

The new James Levine (DG) could be a good bet and I respect immensely the rather sober but eminently musical account from Robert Shaw on Telarc.

* If at Easter time you yearn for the rustic simplicity of a scrubbed white New England church house, you might enjoy a new Erato disc titled "The American Vocalist: Spiritual Folk Hymns 1850-1870."

These church melodies -- many of them familiar -- are performed by the Boston Camarata under the able direction of Joel Cohen.

* For the secular humanists among us, music can serve to heighten seasonal awareness. Try the tuneful, robust "Spring" Symphony of Robert Schumann conducted by Wolfgang Sawallisch on Angel Studio EMI.

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