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Notable CDs

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

Musical Banquet

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.

The Return of Odysseus

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.

Carole Terry Plays the Watjen Concert Organ

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."


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