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Notable CDs

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

Myths & Legends

Style: Three contemporary compositions and arrangements of "Rule Britannia!" and "Barbara Allen" (by Eric Ewazen, Kerry Turner, and Kazimierz Machala) for four French horns.

Worldview: That even without lyrics music can articulate the majesty and grandeur of "myths and legends."

Overall quality: One listens in vain for those slightly muffed notes common to brass performances, ultimately admitting that the American Record Guide blurb on the back cover ("The finest brass chamber ensemble in the world") may be as accurate (if by no means as moving) as the playing.

Audivi Vocem

Style: A cappella arrangements of liturgical Latin compositions by Thomas Tallis (1505-1585), Christopher Tye (1505-1572), and John Sheppard (1515-1558) for male quintet.

Worldview: A "survey of the earliest examples of the impact of [Archbishop Thomas Cranmer's] reform on musical composition. . . . These formative years shaped what was to become the 'Golden Age' of musical composition under Elizabeth some three decades later" (the liner notes).

Overall quality: Spectral incandescence; listeners lacking the rudimentary Latin necessary to understand the lyrics will be moved to acquire it.

Bach, Improvisations & The Liturgical Year

Style: Organ improvisations on and performances of compositions by J.S. Bach for Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost.

Worldview: "[I]mprovisation has been associated with a mysterious gift that drops from the sky . . . , like the rapture-in-reverse. In reality . . . , improvising is akin to learning a foreign language: one must study grammar, syntax, and vocabulary."

Overall quality: The improvisations, which outnumber the compositions on which they're based 10 to nine, demonstrate the fluency with which Ruiter-Feenstra "speaks" Bach.

Beethoven Piano Sonatas

Style: No. 28 in A Major, Op. 101 (1816); No. 29 in B Flat Major, Op. 106 "Hammerklavier" (1819).

Worldview: That "[n]one of Beethoven's sonatas exerted a greater influence on later 19th-century composers of the Romantic generation than Op. 101" and that Op. 106, which Beethoven intended to be the "greatest work of its kind," is a "work whose stature, grandeur and beauty ha[s] lost none of [its] power to overwhelm."

Overall quality: If Beethoven were an automobile, Uchida would be one of Hollywood's greatest stunt drivers.

Spotlight

According to the liner notes, the 18 selections comprising Concert Gems for Violoncello (MSR Classics) by Ashley Sandor Sidon and her accompanists Nicholas Roth (piano) and Luis Millán (guitar) seek to "add variety, grace and beauty to the cellist's concert fare." While the grace and beauty are never in question, it's the variety that one notices first. Surely few if any other recordings juxtapose-and juxtapose so effectively-works by Handel, Vittorio Monti, Enrigue Granados, Frédéric Burgmüller, and Ernest Bloch.

Two selections in particular stand out: Arvo Pärt's "Spiegel im Spiegel" and Millán's transcription of the late Ástor Piazolla's "Café 1930." If the latter is, to quote the liner notes again, "a conversation and a reminiscence of the tango experience" (and therefore as beautiful and graceful as Agentinean ballroom dance), the latter, whose title means "mirror in a mirror," is a soliloquy that will speak to anyone who has ever been moved by the remembrance of things past.

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