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Noteworthy CDs

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

Praise the Spirit: Sacred Music of David Ashley White

Style: Twenty-seven sacred compositions performed by Houston's finest "non-auditioned, semi-professional" choir.

Worldview: "Working with words has always given me the greatest pleasure. . . . The texts I have set range from the ancient-Psalms of David and a hymn by Clement of Alexandria, first century-to some of the best hymns by today's active writers" (the composer's notes).

Overall quality: Evocative of heavenly glory, whether accompanied or a cappella.

Asturiana: Songs from Spain and Argentina

Style: The 19th- and 20th-century music of Spain (de Falla, Granados, Montsalvatge) and Argentina (Ginastera, Guastavino) transcribed for viola and piano.

Worldview: That songs with lyrics can "sing" as instrumentals when performed by a violist as intuitive as Kashkashian and an accompanist as sensitive as Levin.

Overall quality: The majority of these exquisite pieces are brief (average length: 3:16) and moving, even sad; a significant minority are lively, even playful.

Devienne, Poulenc, Saint-Saëns, Milhaud

Style: Three French clarinet sonatas (Saint-Saëns, 1921; Poulenc, 1962; Devienne, the 1790s) and Milhaud's arrangement of Scaramouche for clarinet and piano (1941).

Worldview: That, contrary to the Berlioz quotation that leads off the liner notes, the clarinet is as suited to the "idyllic" as to the "epic."

Overall quality: Among other worthy things, a technically unassailable and delicately beautiful soundtrack to America's budding love affair with Sarkozy-era France.

The Grand Tradition

Style: Major Baroque and Romantic organ works, including Handel's Concerto No. 2 in B-flat major, Op. 4; Wagner's Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde; and Bach's Prelude and Fugue in D major, BWV, 532.

Worldview: That the music of Bach, Handel, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Wagner, Guilmant, Widor, and Durufle is a sine qua non of Western civilization.

Overall quality: An awe-inspiring program resulting from a skillful blend of virtuosity and reverence.

Sacred Treasures V: From a Russian Cathedral

Style: Sixteen a cappella performances of sacred music from or inspired by the Russian Orthodox choral tradition.

Worldview: "The intention was to weave hymns and verses into a seamless tapestry in which . . . the individual elements of the compilation become movements in a choral symphony of timeless beauty" (the producer's notes).

Overall quality: English titles and the singing's otherworldly beauty will ease the devotionally inclined over the language barrier.

Spotlight

The title of the latest CD by the organist Richard Morris, The Grand Tradition (MSR), is somewhat misleading in that the recording belongs to more grand traditions than one. The program draws from the German Baroque tradition (J.S. Bach, Handel), the German Romantic tradition (Mendelssohn, Wagner), and the 19th- and 20th-century French-organ-music traditions (Guilmant, Widor, Duruflé). Morris himself has long been an enthusiastic participant in extending the tradition of the late popular 20th-century organist Virgil Fox. And the Georgia-based A.E. Schlueter Pipe Organ Company, which built the instrument on which Morris performs, prides itself on its 34-year tradition of organ-building (and re-building) excellence.

The Schlueter company also lists as its motto "Soli Deo Gloria," thus extending the tradition, begun by Bach, of giving "God alone" the musical "glory." That Morris, a traditionalist Roman Catholic who decries the musical impoverishment of the contemporary Catholic Mass, is able to spin such traditional "straw" into musical "gold" is an accomplishment worthy of celebration.

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