The Sixteen, bright stars of the Baroque, have plenty to say on 20th-century repertoire (witness their excellent Britten series on Collins). Underpin them with the BBC Philharmonic and it might seem a magic formula. Ives’s unearthly The Unanswered Question holds few problems for instrumental players weaned on Maxwell Davies – no more than do the brilliant wind roulades of Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms. Deft BBC teamwork and a chamber articulation to woodwind and brass helps this Koussevitzky-commissioned masterpiece to shed its often hammy ‘big band’ sound, creeping closer to the subtle, leaner sonorities of his later choral works. It gains. The singing varies. Too many dynamic shifts sound prosaic or under-prepared; fortes are forced, with muddy results. The vocal blend (happier in lower voices) can seem haphazard and colours the Tippett, where the men’s roars – contrast the lovely, sensual soprano solo – seem crude. Get this disc, instead, for the rare, late Poulenc – his New York-commissioned Sept répons. It is a curiously under-recorded devotional work, bleeding with pathos yet pumping energy, its exoticism enhanced by slightly breathy, tender solos, and scintillatingly sung with just those crucial missing qualities of awe and freshness. A million times more refined than what goes before.
This album comprises two original LPs, now available together on CD for the first time. The first 12 tracks come from Patented by Edison, recorded in 1960, and the last 12 are from Sweetenings, recorded two years earlier. Despite the differing personnels on each album, the format is basically the same: mainly short tracks featuring Harry Edison himself, with the other players somewhat in the background. The results might threaten to be samey, except that Edison is always worth hearing, with his judicious choice of notes and his soft, unassertive tone. It is no surprise that Frank Sinatra wanted Harry to be on many of his recordings with Nelson Riddle's orchestra, because the trumpeter could always supply an inimitable touch of sophistication without overpowering the singer.
After 30 years, this is the reissue of the classic Columbia Masterworks recording from January 1969. It was one of the first commercially produced tapes of a Harry Partch tape performance, and the first opportunity most listeners ever had to hear a large-scale Partch music drama in fine sound.