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Axel Corti film is the highlight of Jewish Film Festival

NEW CLASSICAL CDs

A variety of new compact discs

from Denon and Nimbus.

By JONATHAN RICHMOND

AT LAST YEAR'S Soviet-American Cultural Exchange Festival in Boston, many of the Soviets were claiming that Yuri Bashmet was the best viola player in the world. Having heard the absolute lyric beauty of his tone both during a festival concert and on record, I'd say they're probably right.

A new release of Berlioz' Harold in Italy from Denon (CO-73207) has Bashmet as viola soloist, and takes the work to a new dimension. The viola playing has a dynamic quality: Bashmet never misses a chance to flesh out the drama of this work. But it's the poetry of the music that comes first, and both the richness and subtlety of Bashmet's human-sounding viola-voice makes Berlioz' masterpiece into an odyssey of both grand and intimate dimensions.

Eliahu Inbal conducts the Frankfurt Symphony Orchestra in an alert performance. The recording is very vivid as well as natural: it puts the listener centerstage, gripping the attention for the duration of the drama.

The viola was a favorite instrument for Vaughan-Williams, and it is featured heavily in three works released in a new recording from Nimbus (NI 5191) with the Medici String Quartet. The Medicis are joined by violist Simon Rowland-Jones in the Phantasy Quintet, my favorite work on the disk and given a strong performance, too.

There is a poignant loneliness to the viola opening, a sense of timelessness to the performance as a whole. The strong rapport between the chamber players shows up in the seamless way they build up tension: the power develops naturally, and is then all-engulfing. The other works on this disc are well-done too.

It's hard not to quickly become a fan of the Austrian-Hungarian Haydn Orchestra and their recordings of Haydn Symphonies, made in the Haydnsaal of the Esterhazy Palace in Esterhazy, where many of Haydn's works were first performed.

The latest, just out from Nimbus (NI 5199), shows the orchestra -- under the baton of conductor Adam Fischer -- operating on levels of both sprightliness and intensity in recordings of the 27th, 97th and 98th symphonies.

Take the 98th: Fischer brings out the full flavor of its dark sturm und drang opening, then takes the orchestra on a brightly-colored and very lively jaunt through the carefree development of the movement. Listening to the orchestra in action is a very happy experience indeed, and this is definitely a disc you'll want to own.

Denon is currently issuing Mozart's complete works for violin and orchestra, including serenades and other works with substantial violin solo parts as well as the violin concertos. Jean-Jacques Kantarow plays Mozart with charm and style on the newest disc, which contains the Cassation in G, KV 63 and the Serenade in D, KV 203 (189b) (CO-73676). He evokes a sense of warmth without betraying the music's classicism. Leopold Hager leads the Orchestre d'Auvergne in sunny and altogether delightful performances, well-matched with Kantarow's solo work.

Not everyone is going to be taken with the Hanover Band's recordings of the Schubert first and fourth symphonies for Nimbus (NI 5198): the reverberance of All Saint's Church, Tooting (London) is simply a bit much. This said, I find this disc thoroughly enjoyable: the performances are marked by piquant coloration, energy and a joie de vivre that makes them winning. The muddling of the sound in several places is, nonetheless, unfortunate, preventing this issue from being a first choice for these works.

Denon, finally, has come out with two discs full of schlock. One of them has nice schlock: it's called "Sir Charles' Precious Music Box-I" (CO-73534) and features Sir Charles Groves leading the Philharmonia Orchestra in a series of well-loved goodies, including the Elgar Pomp and Circumstance marches Kabalevsky's The Comedians and Saint-Sa"ens' Carnival of the Animals. The sound is lively, the collection great entertainment. While these may not always be the very strongest performances of these works, this release is recommended if you want this particular combination.

But the other scholck-box -- entitled "Omba Mai F`u/Pachelbel:Canon (CO-73335) will have you reaching for the gag-bag. The disc contains thirteen tracks of baroque pops, each performed by I Solisti Italiani with a syrupy saccharine sweetness that drains the music of its life. This is very old-fashioned playing, dating from before the authentic instruments movement, and its misplaced romanticism robs character from works which display great imagination when done properly.

Take the Vivaldi Concerto in G for Strings and Basso Continuo, "Alla rustica." Trevor Pinnock's recording of this work with the English Concert (on DG Archiv) is thrilling, demanding attention. I Solisti Italiani, in contrast, produce something which, despite its refined outer appearance, is nonetheless mush, and which will send you to sleep if not to the bathroom.