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Notable CDs

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

Anna Bon Di Venezia: Six Sonatas for Harpsichord, Opus 2

Style: "These inventive, charming [18th-century] sonatas for harpsichord give a glimpse of . . . the transition period from the Baroque to the Classical" (liner notes).

Worldview: That neither the age of a composer (Bon composed these sonatas in her teens) nor her obscurity (she vanishes from history in 1767) matter where music of genuine timelessness is concerned.

Overall quality: Arresting. One needn't be a "feminist" in the contemporary sense to join Harbach in celebrating the women composers whose music she has made it her mission to rediscover.

Bach: Inventions & Partita

Style: Violin, viola, and cello transcriptions of Bach's "Two-part inventions," BWV 772-786; "Partita No. 2 in D minor for solo violin," BWV 1004; and "Three-part inventions," BWV 787-801.

Worldview: "[Chamber music] is one of my great loves, and, of course, the repertoire is incredible" (Jansen, the liner notes).

Overall quality: By performing on a 1727 Stradivarius violin, Jansen not only brings these Bach favorites to life for those who prefer strings to keyboards but also does so with an instrument created during (and obviously lovingly preserved since) Bach's lifetime.

Friedrich Cerha/Franz Schreker

Style: Twentieth-century Austrian music represented by two of its greatest composers, one living (Cerha: "Konzert für Violoncello und Orchester", c. 1989-1996), one long deceased (Schreker: "Kammersymphonie in einem Satz," 1916).

Worldview: Implicitly, that in Austrian music composed during World War I and during the dying days of Eastern European communism one can discern a spirit in rich rebellion against machinations of dehumanization.

Overall quality: Endlessly fascinating, suggestive less of the beatific or of the sinister than of their seemingly endless conflict.

Opera Fantasies for Violin

Livia Sohn, Benjamin Loeb

Style: Instrumental variations on musical themes from operas both well known (Carmen, Lohengrin, The Threepenny Opera) and less so (Stravinsky's Mavra, Bizet's The Pearl Fishers).

Worldview: That operas contain, embedded within trappings that are by no means to everyone's taste, much wonderful music-"trees," as it were, that the "forest" sometimes makes it easy to overlook.

Overall quality: The violinist Livia Sohn earns her top billing, but her accompanist Benjamin Loeb, fresh from his latest album of Scott Joplin rags, demonstrates an impressive virtuosity as well.


"I can resist everything," says a character in a Wilde play, "except temptation." Likewise, there are people who can enjoy everything about opera except the costumes, the plots, the librettos, and the singing. What's left? The music, and it is the music, as well as the virtuosity of its performers, that the 19th-century genre known as "operatic fantasy" sought to emphasize, thus making it a favorite among those who believe that opera should be heard and not seen.

A particularly charming introduction is Opera Fantasies for Violin (Naxos) by the violinist Livia Sohn and the pianist Benjamin Loeb. Aside from their musicality, Sohn and Loeb have recorded a program containing enough familiar melodies (Hubay's "Fantasie brillante on Bizet's Carmen, Op. 3, No.3"; Raff's "Duo on themes from Wagner's Lohengin, Op. 63, No. 3," aka "The Wedding March"; Weill's "Song of Human Insufficiency/Mack the Knife") to attract listeners to such less-known delights by composers such as Osvaldo Golijov and Stephen Prutsman.


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