This is not going to be an "objective" review, because I specifically asked that Australian Eloquence issue this compilation for the express purpose of bringing back into the catalog the Surinach Piano Concerto, a dazzling, hell-for-leather contemporary Spanish romp that would bring the house down in a live setting, and that has never been released on CD until now. The truth is, I heard it on my car radio in 1984 and sat transfixed in a parking lot, engine running, late for work, until it was done. Then I ran to my local Tower Records to buy it, only to find that it was out of print (it was recorded in 1977). I couldn't find it used, and never heard it again. I was extremely annoyed that Decca Legends released the equally gorgeous and little-known Montsalvatge Concerto Breve (which isn't so "breve" after all, lasting about 25 minutes) in tandem with a miscellany of solo works, when the Surinach would have made the perfect coupling. All of the material included here is vintage Larrocha. The Albéniz and Turina performances are famous and highly regarded anyway, making this CD the ultimate 20th-century Spanish piano concerto collection that does not include the ubiquitous Nights in the Gardens of Spain. So aside from saying that the performances are spectacular, the sonics are terrific, and coming clean about my complicity in this enterprise, I'm just going to limit myself to a heartfelt "Thank you!" I hope that you agree.
Duke Ellington recorded for Brunswick from 1926 to 1931, the period in which his great talent and great orchestra first flowered, whether the band was recording under his own name or such pseudonyms as the Washingtonians or the Jungle Band. The earliest recordings are highlighted by the presence of trumpeter Bubber Miley and trombonist "Tricky Sam" Nanton, whose brilliant work with plunger mutes for vocal effects did much to define the early sound–which, in turn, rapidly evolved and expanded with the additions of Harry Carney, Johnny Hodges, and Cootie Williams. While the band's repertoire included many blues and popular songs, its distinctive identity emerges from early renditions of such trademark pieces as "East St. Louis Toodle-O," "Black and Tan Fantasy," "The Mooche," and "Mood Indigo." By the end of the period covered in this set, Ellington's ambitious later suites–some of them CD-length–are portended in the elegant extended composition "Creole Rhapsody," his clearly superior contribution to the symphonic jazz movement.
Longtime fans of reclusive Romanian pianist Radu Lupu will no doubt already know his handful of recordings of Brahms' piano music made in the '70s and early '80s for Decca – his recklessly imperious F minor Sonata, romantically dramatic D minor Concerto, inwardly brooding D minor Variations, and richly autumnal late rhapsodies, ballades, and intermezzos. But fans of Brahms' piano music who don't already know Lupu's recordings will be overwhelmed by what they'd heretofore missed. Lupu's full, round tone, his effortless virtuosity, his poetic intensity, and his soulful expressivity combine in unified performances of consummate artistry.