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Notable CDs

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

Bacchanale

Style: A meeting of the early 20th century (Shostakovich, Hindemith), the middle 20th century (Vincent Persichetti), and the early 21st century (Mathieu Lussier) facilitated by Few (trumpet), Jackson (bassoon), and the Toronto Chamber Orchestra.

Worldview: The CD's title, which suggests drunken revelry, is ironic, as such sensual stimulation as the music simultaneously provides and celebrates could only result from a most intense sobriety.

Overall quality: Seductively and shimmeringly gorgeous, with the six Lussier compositions proving an ideal frame for the six more difficult older works.

Franz Liszt: Romantic Works for Piano and Orchestra

Style: A truly multicultural Romantic program: Wanderer Fantasy by Schubert (an Austrian) and three compositions by Liszt (a Hungarian), including Rhapsodie Espagnole, performed by Pierce (an American) and two Russian orchestras.

Worldview: "Stimulated by Paganini's fabulous technical virtuosity, Liszt determined to accomplish similar miracles with the piano" (Donald Jay Grout, A History of Western Music).

Overall quality: While Pierce's own "fabulous technical virtuosity" is on thrilling display, it's the early composition Malediction that best demonstrates the capacity of Liszt's music.

The Trio Sonatas of Johann Sebastian Bach

Style: "Performed on a Diverse Collection of Period Instruments," including six different organs (both large and chamber sized), harpsichord, cello, viola de gamba, violin, and flute.

Worldview: "I wanted . . . to realize the sonatas as chamber music: to imbue the organ playing with the essence of instrumentalism, and to play in ensemble with the interpretation of an organist" (Rakich's liner notes).

Overall quality: Clocking in at an hour and 45 minutes, an embarrassment of exquisitely wrought riches, like golden crowns cast down around the glassy sea.

The Alphabet of Revelation

Style: Three thematically related orchestral works by the prolific Christian composer best known for his film and TV-soundtrack music (The Trip to Bountiful, Coach).

Worldview: That the images and emotions evoked by autumn, Daniel's apocalyptic visions, and the paintings of Magritte, Dali, de Chirico, and Matisse can be enhanced by the music they inspire.

Overall quality: R.C. Sproul's narration turns "The Ancient of Days" into an eschatological Peter and the Wolf, but "October Overtures" is a lyrical joy, the paintings-inspired "The Alphabet of Revelation" a masterly, modernistic suite.

Spotlight

Have you ever stayed put in a theater, sitting through a film's concluding credits, no matter how lengthy, just to listen to the soundtrack music accompanying them, either because it was arresting in and of itself or because it provided a coda without which the preceding drama would've seemed somehow incomplete? Taken together, the six contemporary pieces of the Canadian bassoonist and composer Mathieu Lussier as performed by the trumpeter Guy Few, the bassoonist Nadina Mackie Jackson, and the Toronto Chamber Orchestra on Bacchanale (MSR Classics) have that kind of evocative power.

Implicit in the foregoing scenario is an acknowledgment that, in contrast to the Shostakovich, Hindemith, and Persichetti compositions amid which they are sequenced, Lussier's compositions are relatively simple, both structurally and harmonically. (The title piece is something of an exception.) That their simplicity serves as a complement to, rather than a respite from, the complexities of Bacchanale's more daunting works makes them as fascinating as they are beautiful.

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