THE UNICORN: MYTH AND MIRACLE IN MEDIEVAL FRANCE, 1200-1300. Anne Azema, soprano; Cheryl Ann Fulton, harpist; Jesse Lepkoff, flutist; Shira Kammen, rebec and vielle player. Erato 4509-94830-2; CD.
When it comes to allegory, layers of meaning and richness of symbolism, there is no age or place to touch medieval France. Its arts, both verbal and visual, abound with fantastic beasts, representing Christ or the devil, chaste love or carnality.The French soprano Anne Azema, best known for her work with Joel Cohen and the Boston Camerata, has the cool, pure voice to bring these tales to life. She speaks some texts and, more effectively, sings others, dealing with love, anthropomorphic animals and the odd miracle.
There are tunes both sprightly and haunting, including, among the latter, the lovely "Ensement com la panthere" ("Just like the panther"), an anonymous 13th-century composition; "Sour cest rivage" ("On this shore"), and "L'Unicorne," which tells the familiar story of the unicorn's betrayal by a maiden whom it trusts. The disk is an effective evocation of another time and sensibility.
- Sarah Bryan Miller
SYMPHONIC BATTLE SCENES. Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Lorin Maazel. RCA Red Seal 09026-68471-2; CD.
Is this a hi-fi riot or just a laugher? The answer may lie in the soul and sound system of the beholder. Of the four works offered here, three are obvious: Beethoven's "Wellington's Victory," Tchaikovsky's "1812" and Liszt's "Battle of the Huns." The fourth is Tchaikovsky's "Capriccio Italien." Go figure.
If the smartly fashioned "Capriccio" was thrown in for respectability, the ploy is nullified by Lorin Maazel's rather casual, hasty reading. But when we leave civility behind and get into the trenches, the real fireworks begin. Maazel sets off a musical barrage, and so does RCA's recording crew, delivering the Bavarian orchestra's sonic salvos in Dolby Surround Sound.
If nothing else, this blazing program confirms that it takes roughly 15 minutes to wage symphonic war. That is the duration of the three main battles. Liszt's vision of the clashing Huns is warfare to test your speakers, and "1812" emerges in sonic triumph. But even in this Technicolor setting, "Wellington's Victory" remains the essence of dubious bat-tle.
The suave and stalwart band from Bavaria everywhere fights the good fight.
- Lawrence B. Johnson