Streams

WNYC's Fall Picks

Best Classical CD Releases

Monday, October 18, 2004





WNYC host Sara FishkoSara Fishko, WNYC Host

> Thomas Zehetmair plays Solo Violin Sonatas of Eugène Ysaÿe
(ECM New Series)

This fascinating recording explores repertoire that is VERY little known. The Belgian Violinist Ysaÿe's Solo Violin Sonatas, written in the 1920's, are almost never heard, and they're played magnificently here by Zehetmair, whose searching, virtuosic readings are extremely compelling. Especially interesting is the 2nd Sonata in A minor, dedicated to Jacques Thibaud, in which quotations from Bach's E minor Violin Partita are mixed with the Dies Irae melody, giving the piece a fragmented, haunting atmosphere.

Solo violin works are rare: there are the Bach Sonatas and Partitas, the Paganini Caprices...and now this set of opus 27 sonatas by Ysaÿe, a real discovery.
WNYC host David GarlandDavid Garland, WNYC Host

> Lou Harrison for Strings
Mode records, 140
The New Professionals Orchestra, London, conducted by Rebecca Miller. Pipa soloist Wu Man.

Most of the strings heard on this album are attached to violins, violas and cellos, but a few belong to the Pipa, a Chinese lute. Lou Harrison was an American composer who, as early as the 1940s, had his ears open to the music of non-Western cultures. In about 1997 I attended a concert of his music at Lincoln Center which included a performance of the Pipa Concerto recorded on this disc. Harrison was at the concert, too, looking very much like Santa Claus, with his white beard, sizable belly, red shirt, and jolly manner.

The gifts he left us (Harrison died in 2003) are musical, and it's great to see that more and more of his works are being recorded. The Concerto for Pipa with String Orchestra combines East and West and old and new. Its movements include Troika, Neapolitan, and Wind and Plum. This is music with a generous and adventurous spirit.
Margaret Juntwait, WNYC HostMargaret Juntwait, WNYC Host

> Handel: Messiah Remix

One of the classics of Western music gets treated by some of the top producers/DJs/musical minds today. Music from Charles Amirkhanian, Eve Beglarian, Dälek, Luke DuBois, Christian Fennesz, Phil Kline, Paul Lansky, Tod Machover, John Oswald, Scanner, Laetitia Sonami, and Nobukazu.

Some CDs go directly into the player as soon as I get them. Come up with an original idea and you have my ear. I’m looking forward to hearing what Handel sounds like through the artists on this CD.

> Leontyne Price and Samuel Barber: Historic Recordings: 1938 & 1953

The 1953 recording features the spectacular twenty-six-year-old Leontyne Price, accompanied by composer/pianist Samuel Barber at the Library of Congress. The rare 1938 recording, released here for the first time, has the 28-year-old baritone, Samuel Barber, singing 12 songs, accompanying himself at the piano.

The early collaboration of two great musical figures begs to be heard; bring on the magic. And the thought of hearing the youthful Barber sing is irresistible.
WNYC's George PrestonGeorge Preston, Music Director

> The Beaux Arts Trio: Dvorák, Mendelssohn Piano Trios

The Beaux Arts Trio has been around for a remarkable half a century, all of that time with the ageless Menahem Pressler at the piano.  The most recent configuration of the group features Brazilian cellist Antonio Menezes and—the most recent recruit—British violinist Daniel Hope.

Their new CD on the Warner Classics label features sparkling, revelatory recordings of Mendelssohn's Trio No. 1 and Dvorák's “Dumky” Trio.  There's some terrific alchemy in the combination of these three musicians from different generations and disparate cultural backgrounds.  The music making is always elegant, polished, and crystal-clear, but these qualities are infused with a thrilling sense of spontaneity and fiery spirit. 

This is one of those CDs that I keep going back to ever since it first crossed my desk a few weeks ago.  I hope you'll do yourself the favor of checking it out.
WNYC Senior Producer, On The Media, Arun RathArun Rath, Senior Producer / On the Media

> Messiaen: Éclairs sur l'au-delà...
(Illuminations of the Beyond...)
Sir Simon Rattle / Berlin Philharmonic
(EMI 57788)

The final orchestral masterpiece by the master of modern orchestral color—performed with devotion and vigor by the Berlin Philharmonic, sounding very agile under Sir Simon Rattle. This otherworldly music is undoubtedly very difficult, but you never get the impression the musicians are struggling with the material. “Éclairs” seems to contain everything one associates with Messiaen: birdsong, Hindustani rhythms, the most over-stacked yet crazily beautiful chords ever screamed out by a gargantuan orchestra supplemented with some heavy duty percussion. There's even a healthy dose of some jaunty humor not often associated with this devout Catholic mystic. For Messiaen fans this is a must-buy, and for those unfamiliar with the composer it's a great introduction (though the timid might want to start out with the composer's more accessible Quartet for the End of Time.)

While this is an amazing recording, the liner notes are dreadfully inadequate, and the titles of each movement are a mystery if you don't speak French. So let me use this forum to provide a translation: 1) Apparition of Christ in glory, 2) The Constellation of Sagittarius, 3) The Lyrebird and the Bridal City, 4) The Elect Marked with a Seal, 5) Abide in Love..., 6) The Seven Angels with the Seven Trumpets 7) And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes..., 8) The Stars and Glory, 9) Birds in the Tree of Life, 10) The Way of the Invisible, 11) Christ, Light of Paradise.
WNYC host John SchaefferJohn Schaefer, WNYC Host

> Tan Dun: The Map
(DVD/Video)

Concerto for Cello, Video and Orchestra
Live Recording from China: at the Northern Gate of Fenghuang Ancient Town
Anssi Karttunen, cello
Shanghai Symphony Orchestra / Tan Dun

This is a DVD release from Universal, and an amazing document of Chinese-American composer Tan Dun’s return to China with a piece that draws on traditional music of some of China’s minority groups (i.e., not the Han majority). The Map has layers of meaning—musical, cultural, and personal—that are amplified by the video, which shows Tan Dun's source material being performed and then juxtaposes that with the full orchestra performing the piece. To an audience that includes the villagers who performed that source material, a group that had never heard or seen an orchestra before. The whole thing is really quite astonishing, and it is a measure of The Map's success as a composition that it is somehow not overwhelmed by the multiple, intertwining stories that surround it.
WNYC Music Librarian Janet WaggenerJanet Waggener, Music Librarian

> Handel: Amor e gelosia

My attention has been caught recently by two recording artists: conductor Alan Curtis, whose recordings of Handel operas with his group Il Complesso Barrocco are outstanding; and soprano Patrizia Ciofi, the arresting Susanna in the much-praised René Jacobs version of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro from earlier this year. When I noticed Amor e gelosia on Virgin 45628, a compilation of duets from Handel operas that features Ms. Ciofi, along with mezzo Joyce Di Donato, under Curtis and his band, I jumped on it. To my delight, I found a CD full of enormous life, energy, unerring Handelian style and atmosphere, and two glorious voices soaring above Curtis's impeccable ensemble. I loved it so much that I downloaded it onto my ipod, to cheer me on my way to and from work.

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