Style: Robert Dowland's 1610 collection of English, Italian, French, and Spanish lute songs, plus selections from Dowland's A Varietie of Lute Lessons and Gabriel Bataille's Airs de Différents Autheurs.
Worldview: Like father, like son: Robert, a lutenist himself and 19 when A Musical Banquet appeared, was the son of the perennially popular lutenist John Dowland (who may have been the volume's actual compiler).
Overall quality: Monika Mauch's soprano and Nigel North's lute comprise a marriage made if not in heaven then certainly in the court of Queen Elizabeth.
Style: Eighteen of the Russian soprano Anna Netrebko's favorite "operetta classics, salon songs, and other charming melodies."
Worldview: "In the tradition of such opera luminaries as Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Joan Sutherland, and Placido Domingo, [each] of whom produced acclaimed recitals of lighter music, Anna has put together this sparkling collection" (the liner notes).
Overall quality: Still in her 30s, Netrebko's burgeoning celebrity status threatens at times to obscure her talent; here the talent, enhanced only slightly by the photographs in the 25-page lyric booklet, gets the upper hand.
Style: Raines' "Echoes of Sarah (A Fantasy in One Movement for Nine Flutes)," "Ménage (Trio for Flute, Bass Clarinet, and Piano)," and "The Return of Odysseus (Complete Ballet)."
Worldview: That Homer's Odyssey-Everyman's day writ large-is as fit to be rendered as music and dance as it is to be rendered as O Brother, Where Art Thou?
Overall quality: Even those not enamored of serious music will enjoy mentally matching the sections of Raines' ballet ("The Cyclops," "The Sirens," etc.) to their respective Homeric episodes.
Style: Selections by Mendelssohn, Sweelinck, Bach, Schumann, Vierne, Widor, and William Albright as performed by the acclaimed Seattle organist and harpsichordist.
Worldview: "The pieces on this recording have been chosen to highlight the variety of musical styles possible on such a superb instrument" (liner notes).
Overall quality: That a concert organ can evoke solemnities isn't news; that it can also evoke Salvador Dali's The Persistence of Memory (Vierne's "Carillon de Westminster") and a Coney Island of the mind (Albright's "Sweet Sixteenths, a Rag for Organ") is.
Multi-sensual creatures that we are, we fool ourselves if we think our response to a vocal performance depends only on our ears, especially if the performer is a woman. When the performer is Anna Netrebko, a paparazzi-attracting international celebrity whose photogenic qualities guarantee her face a prominent place on her CD covers, the matter is especially complicated: Is she really the preeminent operatic soprano of the 21st century or simply the one who is easiest on the eyes and who because of her Old Hollywood-jet set lifestyle appeals the most to our latent aspirations?
Souvenirs (Deutsche Grammophon) doesn't answer the question. Rather, because "each of the tracks holds a cherished place in Anna's heart" (and because the lyrics are reprinted with English translations), it may invite further extra-musical curiosity. This much is certain: As a response to the observation of Netrebko's more disinterested critics that her tone is sometimes too "dark," there's nothing like a masterly "recital of lighter music."