Music can drive away chills Hot hits: From Argentine works to a Mahler symphony, there are sounds for all tastes.

January 12, 1996|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

With my two principal sources of amusement -- our school system and the local arts scene -- shut down by the blizzard of '96, I take pen in hand in the midst of one of the slowest weeks in recent memory.

Well, theaters may be dark and opera musicales canceled, but for well-stocked music lovers, even 22 inches of snow can't stop the hits from rolling in!

The week's lull afforded an opportunity to get to know a new anthology of works by the Argentine master Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983) recorded by the Annapolis Symphony's own Gisele Ben-Dor (Koch International 7149).

Ms. Ben-Dor continues her ascent through the orchestral ranks here, conducting the Israel Chamber Orchestra and the London Symphony.

The disc contains two versions of "Glosses on Themes of Pablo Casals," Ginastera's tribute to the great Spanish cellist who was one of the supreme musical figures of the 20th century. One version is arranged for string quintet and string orchestra; the other for full orchestra. Not surprisingly, both feature the solo cello.

The work is a feisty one, full of references to Catalonian folk dances and songs, as well as to Casals' own compositions and favorite encores. Anti-modernists might find the work's more strenuous passages a bit jarring, but "Glosses" is a hyperkinetic tour-de-force that is well worth a listen; especially with Ms. Ben-Dor up there on the podium whipping her "veddy British" troops into a hot Latin frenzy!

Rounding out the disc is Ginastera's "Variaciones Concertantes," colorful sequence of variations for chamber orchestra full of infectious "Gauchesco" rhythms and guitar figures played on the harp. The Israelis carry it off very well indeed.

When Leon Fleisher performed with the Annapolis Symphony in October, he brought with him Maurice Ravel's Concerto for the Left Hand, which has become a signature work since the great pianist's career was impeded by repetitive stress syndrome in his right hand.

Before the concert, I bought Fleisher's recording of the Ravel plus Prokofiev's Fourth Piano Concerto and Benjamin Britten's "Diversions," all accompanied by Seiji Ozawa and the Boston Symphony (Sony 47188).

Each of the three works, by the way, was composed for Swiss pianist Paul Wittgenstein, who lost his right arm in World War I.

I played the marvelous Ravel in advance of Fleisher's visit, but this week finally got around to the rest of the program.

What a marvelous concert it is! The Prokofiev -- such a dastardly little thing to play -- is spicy to a fault. The multiple variations that make up "Diversions" (the only one of the three works Wittgenstein actually liked) brim with colorful good humor.

Let me also recommend to you an extraordinary Mahler Sixth Symphony that comes from conductor Benjamin Zander and the Boston Philharmonic (IMP 93).

No, you heard right. It's not the Boston Symphony.

Founded in 1979, the Boston Philharmonic is a community orchestra consisting of professionals, amateurs and conservatory students. It's not unlike the Annapolis Symphony in this respect.

Under Mr. Zander's direction, they have turned in a Mahler performance that is world class.

From the grimly portentous opening march through the hair-raising hammer blows of the finale, the Bostonians had me on the edge of my seat the entire way.

What tremendous musical talent we have in this country when a semipro community orchestra can unleash a Mahler symphony this well.

A warming thought in the middle of a snow-filled week.

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