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Notable CDs

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

Beethoven, Sarasate, Shostakovich

Style: Beethoven's String Quartet No. 4 in C Minor, Op. 18 No. 4; Shostakovich's String Quartet No. 12, Op. 133; three pieces by Pablo de Sarasate.

Worldview: That these annual Seattle gatherings of "premiere string players" mark a high point in chamber-music performance.

Overall quality: Engineering excellence meets expressive virtuosity; you'd never know the performance was live without the concluding applause or that the Project is "conductorless" without the notes.

Aegean Counterpoint

Style: Six experimental chamber-music pieces by the contemporary composer.

Worldview: "The title of ['Mnimosinon' comes] from the name of a Greek Orthodox Church memorial service. . . . The hymn quotation, appearing in the cello and in the off-stage clarinet, is reflective of the union, through prayer, of the Church Militant . . . and the Church Triumphant" (Demos' notes).

Overall quality: A kaleidoscopic collage incorporating numerous influences including Stravinsky, minimalism, and Greek folk music.

J.S. Bach: Goldberg Variations

Style: A reverent and generally legato performance of J.S. Bach's oft-recorded 30 variations plus opening and closing arias (repeats included).

Worldview: "The Goldberg Variations . . . is as expressive as it is diverse. Each variation explores a distinctive mood, a particular sound world, and a unique shade of character and emotion" (Dinnerstein's liner notes).

Overall quality: Brings warmth, glow, and fluidity to a work usually appreciated for its more crystalline qualities.

Salzedo's Harp: The Music of Carlos Salzedo

Style: Nine compositions by the Spanish-Jewish harpist Carlos Salzedo (1885-1961) performed with a "New Age"-ishly gentle and fluid touch.

Worldview: "[Salzedo] was an extraordinary man with a strong vision. . . . His passion was the harp, and his vision was that of a powerful, unlimited instrument with an important voice in the 20th century" (Kondonassis' notes).

Overall quality: Delicately euphonious, but one wonders what these melodies would sound like played less dreamily.

Beethoven: The Piano Sonatas, Volume V

Style: A live recital of four "middle period" Beethoven sonatas (the three-part Op. 31 and Op. 53 ["Waldstein"]) by the acclaimed Hungarian pianist, conductor, and lecturer.

Worldview: "The 'Waldstein'-Sonata . . . occupies a special place in the history of piano music. . . . [It] is a milestone . . . that opened up new imaginative sound-worlds" (Schiff in the liner interview).

Overall quality: Schiff's playing thrillingly illuminates his erudite liner-note analyses, and vice versa.

Spotlight

Since its release in 1955, Glenn Gould's recording of Bach's Goldberg Variations has been the standard by which all subsequent recordings of the pieces have been judged (Gould's 1981 re-recording included). So it's no surprise that admirers of Simone Dinnerstein's J.S. Bach: Goldberg Variations (Telarc) have praised it, either explicitly or implicitly, in terms of its contrast to Gould.

A solitary perfectionist, Gould played the pieces briskly, dexterously chiseling the notes for maximum distinction and eliminating the repeated passages while de-emphasizing the inter-variation pauses. Dinnerstein, on the other hand, is a married mother from New York who not only retains Bach's repeats and pauses (her recording is twice as long as Gould's) but also plays the 32 brief pieces more slowly and softly. (One might even say "maternally": She made her recording while pregnant with her son.) While her Goldberg will probably not become the new standard, it constitutes a welcome "variation" on what is gradually becoming Bach's best-known composition.

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