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Notable CDs

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

Greater Love

Style: Sacred compositions by Herbert Howells, Robert Pearsall, Michael Tippett, Benjamin Britten, and John Ireland, and a folk-song arrangement by Philip Wilby for 39-voice choir and Fisk organ.

Worldview: "Featuring works sacred and secular, folk-influenced, and even from the African-American spiritual tradition, the theme of selfless love-human and divine-serves as the primary unifying element of this recording" (conductor Daniel Bara's liner notes).

Overall quality: Not even the soft-focus Episcopal-church acoustics can ­subdue the grandeur of Britten's "Rejoice in the Lamb, Op. 30."

D'Amore

Style: Eleven eclectic songs (17th century, 18th century, traditional, ­contemporary) composed or arranged for viola d'amore and/or violoncello.

Worldview: "Once . . . a friend lent me a viola d'amore. . . . I was quickly seduced by the gentle, sweet sound of the seven playing strings . . . and intrigued by the mysterious presence of the seven sympathetic strings. . . . Each string has its 'unconscious' double which responds (or not) to the stimulations of the 'conscious' strings" (Knox's liner notes).

Overall quality: Stark, rough-hewn, jagged-a (good) Ingmar Bergman film in sound.

Mercurial Love

Style: Eight songs by John Dowland (1563-1626) and 12 by Henry Purcell (1659-1695), for soprano (Jandrokovic), harpsichord, lute, and viola de gamba.

Worldview: "What can we poor females do, / When pressing, teasing lovers sue? / . . . Fate affords, no other way, / But denying or complying, / And resenting, or consenting / Does alike our hopes betray" ("What Can We Poor Females Do?").

Overall quality: Sting's Grammy-winning Dowland albums made one wonder how Dowland would sound if sung by someone with a voice worthy of his songs; Jandrokovic is that someone.

The Word Became Flesh

Style: Traditional hymns and Christmas carols for orchestra and choir with intermittent Scripture readings (English Standard Version) emphasizing the meaning of Christ's birth.

Worldview: That Jesus is the Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, whose long-promised Incarnation embodied the love of God for man and is therefore cause for eternal celebration.

Overall quality: Because both the music and R.C. Sproul's readings are as reverent and crisp as they are familiar, the message speaks for itself; an impressively succinct and refreshingly unsentimental Advent soundtrack.

Spotlight

There are fewer poems stranger or more exhilarating than Christopher Smart's Jubilate Agno. Composed at least in part while Smart was confined in an asylum for the insane (between 1758 and 1763) and consisting of over 50 lines, the length and parallelism of which anticipated Walt Whitman by a century, the poem is both an exhortation to rejoice in God and a catalog of strikingly unusual reasons for doing so: namely, the movements of mice and Smart's cat Jeoffrey, the "language of flowers," and the letters H, K, L, and M.

Retitled "Rejoice in the Lamb" and arranged as a cantata for soloists, choir, and organ by the British composer Benjamin Britten in 1943, the poem has become best known for its increasing prominence in the canon of 20th-century choral lyrics. The decision of the conductor Daniel Bara to include Britten's composition on the East Carolina University Chamber Singers' Greater Love (Gothic) is reason enough to seek out the recording.

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