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CD Review

Musical Evenings with the Captain

Music from the novel "Master and Commander" and other books in the Aubrey-Maturin series by Patrick O'Brian
Mela Tenenbaum, violin
* Alexandr Tenenbaum, violin
Dorothy Lawson, cello
Richard Kapp, fortepiano
ESS.A.Y Recordings CD1047 1996 DDD 75:45
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Summary for the busy executive: Delightful

One of the more interesting recent ideas for marketing classical music has been the tie-in to "costume" literature. We've already had "Jane Austen's music," for example, and now ESS.A.Y Recordings presents us with a program tying into the Aubery-Maturin series, with liner notes from the author, Patrick O'Brian, himself. For some reason I can't really work out, this kind of strategy usually upsets me a little. Yes, I know that anything to hook people to classical music benefits the junkies among us and therefore me, but I somehow want the music loved for itself rather than as a bypath of some other thoroughfare. Still, we can distinguish between marketing and pandering, and this remains one lovely disc.

I listen to music in all sorts of moods for all kinds of reasons. I listen to trifles and monuments with equal pleasure, but of course different affect. To live on a high plane all the time just isn't possible for me. Fortunately, music speaks to my whole life, not just to those times when the planets align in some weird conjunction and I become my best, most spiritual and intelligent self. Those moments come along comparatively rarely, as a matter of fact, and most of the time I just want to hear something lively. The music here fits that bill. In fact, it can also function as a kind of Tafelmusik, just the sort of thing to accompany a civilized dinner, but then you miss the rewards of closer attention.

The four musicians here approach for me the chamber music ideal – not merely a unanimity of ensemble, but a congeniality of one. It reminds us, before we got all solemn and high-minded, that people made music for pleasure and a good, convivial time. It's still one of the best, most satisfying reasons to get together. Richard Kapp tickles whatever passes for the ivories on the fortepiano, but don't let that mislead you. These are not "historically-informed performances," à la Harnoncourt's Concentus Musicus, but fairly modern – that is to say, they stem from the late 19th-century Russian string tradition. Nor should that deter you. The Philharmonia Virtuosi are all terrific musicians. Although they're playing essentially "light" music, they bring that considerable musicianship to bear upon it, and they have the great good taste not to inflate the material besides.

Copyright © 1997, Steve Schwartz