A unique group in the Italian scene, Opus Avantra mixed together contemporary classical music with avantgarde and a light progressive rock inflience, giving an original result that's often considered too difficult to listen for straight prog rock ears. Their name was obtained from their three main interests, opera, avantgarde and traditional music. Formed in Veneto in 1973 around the nucleus of soprano Donella Del Monaco (the niece of famous tenor Mario Del Monaco), pianist-composer Alfredo Tisocco, philosopher Giorgio Bisotto and producer Renato Marengo, and aided in the years by many other musicians, the group released their first album in 1974, Opus Avantra - Donella Del Monaco (often referred to as Introspezione, from the title of the first track) on the collectible Trident label…
A work with a name like this can only be unusual. The opus in question is a three-part solo piano epic, lasting a shade under four hours and of a complexity to match. Combine an all-night raga sequence with Bach's Art of Fugue and you're getting close. Is it worth the listen? Yes, if you want to give your heart and mind–not just your brain–a real workout. For all his outsize demands, Sorabji was a front-rank pianist, who understood technique as a physical end to spiritual means. There are stretches of manic complexity here, but also passages of real poetry: try the lengthy "Interludium primum" which opens Part 2, or many of the 81(!) variations which follow the magisterial "Passacaglia" in Part 3. It's music which cries out for transcendental virtuosity, and Geoffrey Douglas Madge gives it just that. He gave four performances over six years and this Chicago one from 1983 assumed mythic status among those who heard it. Remastered for CD release, it is awe-inspiring in its grasp of what's gone into this music: the audience clearly living it with the pianist every step of the way. Hear it for yourself, then why not run the marathon or climb Everest for relaxation?
This Savoy CD is a duplicate of the original LP although it lacks the fine liner notes included on the Arista/Savoy 1978 LP. The four selections (which unfortunately total under 34 minutes) are excellent, particularly a fun version of Horace Silver's blues "Opus De Funk" in which vibraphonist Milt Jackson, flutist Frank Wess and pianist Hank Jones have a long tradeoff. The quintet (which also includes bassist Eddie Jones and drummer Kenny Clarke) swings nicely throughout the three blues and lone ballad ("You Leave Me Breathless"). This is not essential, but it is enjoyable music.
Dutch-born composer Johannes Schenck is another in a long line of Baroque composers whose works are only now being discovered and given their first modern performances. Thanks to the intrepid investigative work of harpsichordist Pieter Dirksen – a member of the ensemble La Suave Melodia heard here – a set of 12 trio sonatas of Schenck's Opus 3 that were thought to be lost have been unearthed.
José Cura, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Verónica Villarroel and Yvonne Naef lead the star cast of Verdi's blazingly passionate opera, in Elijah Moshinsky's new Royal Opera House production co-produced with Teatro Real Madrid, with sets by the noted film designer Dante Ferretti and costumes by Anne Tilby.