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Sunday, February 29, 2004

Records are rated on a scale of one (poor) to four (excellent) stars.


BILLY PRICE: "Funky ... Funky Soul." BRBF (DVD).

There are two firsts here for Billy Price, longtime Pittsburgh blue-eyed soul guy: This is his first DVD, and this was his first European performance, coming at the Belgium Rhythm & Blues Festival last summer.

It's a strong, sweaty, 90-minute workout for an obviously appreciative festival crowd, fueled by an obviously enthusiastic performance by Price and his crackling-good band.

The music is basic soulful Price -- the set list is almost identical to his previous CD, the live double-album "Sworn Testimony" -- featuring R&B standards such as "Can I Change My Mind," "Nickel and a Nail" and "Further On Up the Road." But here you can actually watch him sweat.

Price says he didn't plan to make a DVD of the concert until he saw the videotape made by the festival producers: "It came out so good that I began to think about releasing it commercially."

European fans love their blues and jazz, and Price says these concert-goers were no exception. "They are surprisingly knowledgeable about American roots music," he says.

The DVD is a welcome addition to Price's growing body of work. He's one of the best at what he does: keeping alive the tradition of one of America's most enduring forms of classical music.

-- Jim White


FRITZ WUNDERLICH: "Rarities from Opera and Operetta." Hanssler Classic.

This is Hanssler Classic's third disc of historic recordings by the German tenor who died in September 1966, nine days before his 36th birthday, after falling down a staircase in a Heidelberg barroom. It was a great loss for the opera world, for Wunderlich was a versatile singer with a distinctively beautiful sound.

The materials in this collection, derived from Stuttgart radio archives, seem to have little rhyme or reason in context, but all are splendidly sung, beginning with Tamino's "Portrait Aria" from Mozart's "The Magic Flute" -- a signature piece for this performer.

The "Prisoner's Chorus" from Beethoven's "Fidelio" offers a rare glimpse of Wunderlich in the minor role of the First Prisoner, whose too-brief solo can hardly ever have been better vocalized. Four excerpts from Mozart's unfinished "Zaide" are brilliantly rendered, both in the tenor's two solo arias and ensembles including the Swiss soprano Maria Stader. Even rarer are excerpts from Cherubini's "The Water Carrier," stylistically just between Mozart and Beethoven, and Wilhelm Kienzl's musical play of 1911, "The Cows' Dance."

In songs from operettas by Emmerich Kalman, Wunderlich excels in the more familiar "Countess Maritza" but finds himself uncharacteristically strained for the high notes demanded for "Empress Josephine."

-- Robert Croan

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