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Noteworthy CDs

Notable CDs | Five noteworthy classical-music CDs reviewed by Arsenio Orteza

John Adams: Complete Piano Music

Style: Four experimental piano compositions, circa 1977-2001.

Worldview: "[In 1974 Adams] found the solution to realizing an individual compositional language incorporating traditional harmony and making the return of direct emotional appeal possible: through minimal music. . . . [B]ut he . . . had to expand the language . . . to make it speak as he wished" (liner notes).

Overall quality: Riveting, perplexing; emotional extremes conveyed more by texture than by conventional means.

J.S. Bach: Motetten

Style: Seven sacred Bach motets as performed, mostly a cappella, by an eight-voice choir.

Worldview: "Jesus my treasure! / My heart / has long been troubled / and desirous of thee. / Lamb of God, my bridegroom, / without thee, nothing good / can be my earthly lot" (English translation of Johann Franck's 17th-century lyrics to "Jesu, meine Freude").

Overall quality: An intensely ethereal dissolving of the line between musical excellence and devotional sensitivity.

John Corigliano: String Quartet

Style: Three pieces by the American composer John Corigliano and one by his pupil Jefferson Friedman.

Worldview: "You must understand the importance of the past, but if you don't realize the importance of the present and the future, [. . .] it's like a tree that grows no new shoots" (Corigliano, the liner notes).

Overall quality: Fascinatingly severe and mysteriously violent, with helpfully detailed insights from the composers in the cover booklet.

Lux Aurumque

Style: Thirteen sacred pieces performed a cappella by a 68-voice choir.

Worldview: "Complete this work / which I began in hope / and with your name, so that my singing may become healing" (English translation of Gregory of Narek's 10th-century text in Alfred Schnittke's "Complete This Work").

Overall quality: To quote the liner description of the performance of Franz Biebl's "Ave Maria": "luxuriant to the point of sensuousness, yet also deeply reverent."

Scott Joplin: Piano Rags 2

Style: Sixteen "freely syncopated and extraordinarily inventive piano rags" by the "King of the Ragtime Writers."

Worldview: "[Joplin] died a broken man. His rags, however, live on and remain, whether reflective or joyous, a lasting document to a style in which he excelled" (the notes).

Overall quality: Although the subtleties of Loeb's renditions have provoked mixed critical examination, they likely will be irrelevant to those familiar mainly with "The Entertainer."

Spotlight

One angle of the illegal-immigration debate that seldom gets explored is the cultural one, but regular visits to the CD section of any "big box" store reveal an ever-growing space being given over to contemporary Mexican pop. They also reveal a miniscule "classical section" consisting mainly of a half-dozen famous composers' "greatest hits" and thematic crowd-pleasers ("romance," "for babies"). Yet the serious music composed (mostly) in Europe or by Europeans from, say, the 15th to the early 20th centuries had as much to do with the shaping of America as did the popularity of Shakespeare and the King James Bible.

Three recent Naxos albums-by the Corigliano Quartet, Ralph van Raat, and Benjamin Loeb-consist entirely of the works of three generations of American composers who, because they are "serious," were shaped by something other (or at least more) than the Beatles. Conceptually challenging, they show us our country in a light currently emanating from no other source.

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