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Various Artists

A Different Prelude: a Contemporary Collection

(Decca)

Let’s speak of the whole first. A Different Prelude is a collection of classical preludes as interpreted by new age artists. Garry Trudeau may have had the last word in pinpointing new age’s weakness when he had one of his Doonesbury characters listening to the music for 45 minutes without realizing it. “Nonintrusive, isn’t it? This piece is called “Air Pudding,” says the characters’ girlfriend. That’s what this music is. Some of it is quite admirable, but to admire something and to be moved by it are two entirely different things.


I first want to mention three pieces that are far and away the best on this collection. They are, in ascending order: Chris Botti’s realization of Gershwin’s “Prelude No. 2,” for guitar, bass, drum and trumpet. This travels the well-beaten path between classical and jazz of Gershwin’s work, but does so with a simple strength that was the first head-turning moment in the listening experience for me. Tim Story’s magnificent blend of synthesizers, piano, violin and oboe on Satie’s “Prelude of the Heroic Gate of Heaven.” Keyboards kill some of the other renditions on this CD; Story knows how to use them. And at the very top of the mountain, Steve Erquiaga’s stunningly beautiful rendition of Rachmaninoff’s “Prelude in C sharp minor,” as played on the nylon string guitar. I am sorely tempted to tell you that this purchase would be worth it for this piece alone


Of the remainder, Bach and Chopin are the most covered here, with three works apiece. Unfortunately, neither of them comes out for the best. Patrick O’Hearn, Phillippe Saisse and Paul Hanson do keyboard-heavy takes on three Bach preludes. These sound like nothing more than Angelo Badalamenti or Vangelis soundtracks. Which would be fine, both those men did some of the best film and/or TV scores—except that that was 15 years ago, give or take a few. And this is a “contemporary” collection. This is the kind of music that inspires nasty jokes such as that “newage” actually rhymes with “sewage,” a sludge of murky, sound-alike music painfully lacking in soul.


Chopin fares a little better; at least there is more of a variety of sounds (percussion, guitar, violin, piano, vocals, keyboard) in Charlie Bisharat, Dawn Atkinson (who is also the originator and producer of this project) and Richard Schonherz’s versions of his preludes. Atkinson’s is probably the best, actually, a charming mixture of piano and wordless vocal. ValGardena’s reworking of Wagner’s “Prelude” from Tristan und Isolde weighs itself down with keyboards and Clara Ponty sheds little light on Debussy’s “The Girl with the Flaxen Hair” with her solo piano performance.


Collections of music by various artists have to be reviewed on two fronts: How do the individual contributors rate, and how does the collection stand up as a whole? As you’ve seen above, I rate some of these contributors very highly indeed. And I must say that even some of the contributors of whom I’ve spoken poorly are not without their moments. But on the whole, this collection does not linger in the mind, does not make you want to hold it close to your heart and say oh thank you, thank you, someone understands, the way some of the best music does. But you’ve really got to hear that Rachmaninoff “Prelude.”

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