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Noteworthy CDs

Notable CDs | Five new or recent classical CDs reviewed by Arsenio Orteza

Songs America Loves to Sing

Style: A Mozart trio, a Norman Dello Joio trio, Kenji Bunch's "Slow Dance," and John Harrison's 10-part title suite arranged for piano, flute, piccolo, clarinet, violin, viola, cello, and/or harmonicas.

Worldview: "It is a distant, quaint vision: the family around the piano singing familiar songs. . . . [This is a] collection of solos and canons on some of these still-familiar melodies" (Harrison's notes on the title suite).

Overall quality: Diaphanous diversity.

Be Still My Soul

Style: Fourteen sacred songs (some long established within, others newly composed under the influence of, the Episcopal/Anglican choral tradition) for 34-voice choir and organ.

Worldview: That, unlike many of her theologians, the Episcopal church's musicians remain rooted in rich Christian traditions.

Overall quality: Intensely contemplative and worshipful; Inklings fans will be pleased to encounter "Jesus, So Lowly," the setting of a poem by Charles Williams' sister Edith.

Beloved Clara

Style: The compositions of Robert Schumann, Clara Schumann, and Brahms, with dramatic readings from their diaries and letters.

Worldview: Clara Schumann "was the first female 'concert pianist,' an outstanding composer, and a standard bearer for Robert Schumann's music. . . . [And] there is no doubt she was [Brahms'] true love. A muse to two giants of the Romantic school" (Parham's notes).

Overall quality: Movingly insightful; tastefully non-voyeuristic.

Bagatellen und Serenaden

Style: Fourteen brief, interconnected pieces for solo piano (the bagatellen, 2005) and four longer orchestral works (the serenaden, 1996-2003).

Worldview: "Music as a 'collection of resonances,' as a response to things already said, sung or sounded: this is the connecting thread that runs through Silvestrov's entire oeuvre" (Tatjana Frumkis' notes).

Overall quality: Yet more of the ghostly beauty that the world has come to expect from the prolific Ukrainian composer.

Dvor?ák for Winds

Windscape, with Jeremy Denk and Daniel Phillips

Style: Dvor˘ák's Piano Quintet in A Major (1887), Romance for Violin and Orchestra (1875), and String Quartet in E-Flat (1879) transcribed and arranged for five-piece wind ensemble and soloists (pianist Denk, violinist Phillips).

Worldview: That "in the late 1870s Dvor˘ák came of age as an artist" by "tam[ing] the sentimentality that came naturally to him."

Overall quality: Diaphanous grandeur.


The individual lives and accomplishments of Robert Schumann (1810-1856), Clara Schumann (1819-1896), and Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) have long made rich subjects for study. It is, nevertheless, perhaps inevitable that what will most interest the classical-music-loving man on the street is their intertwining (Robert and Clara were married; Brahms was Robert's protégé and Clara's chief provider of succor after Robert's death) and the influence of their mutual affection upon their music and compositions.

Beloved Clara (Sanctuary Classics) tastefully brings the story to life by blending chronologically arranged readings from their diaries and letters (by the British thespians Joanna David and Martin Jarvis) and performances of their music (by the British pianist Lucy Parham). Like the film 84 Charing Cross Road, another full-bodied drama built upon the skeleton of private writings, Beloved Clara imaginatively unifies thought and emotion-and reminds us, albeit indirectly, how much we might lose of the latter by consigning the former to email and text messages.


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