Subtitled "European Sacred Music of the Renaissance and Baroque Era," this 20-song collection combines the talents of an exemplary 31-voice choir (the Cambridge Singers), an exemplary early-music nonet (La Nuova Musica), 14 surpassingly gifted composers (more than one work apiece by Monteverdi, Palestrina, Orlande de Lassus, Tomás Luis de Victoria, and Heinrich Schütz is included), and the one man most responsible during the last 50 years for preserving and perpetuating Europe's sacred choral-music tradition, John Rutter, under whose direction the other strands form a multiply suggestive unity.
Perhaps it was to be expected, but the 2008 Scott Hicks film to which this belatedly released album functions as the "original motion picture soundtrack" received the same sort of mixed reviews that the music of its subject-the minimalist bellwether Philip Glass-has been receiving since its public debut over 30 years ago. "Fascinating," insist Glass' fans. "Mundane," insist his detractors. "Repetitive," say both, by which detractors mean the reductio ad absurdum of treating traditional Western notions such as beginning, middle, and end as arbitrary.
One hesitates to fault the great, but perhaps even a pianist such as András Schiff-one, in other words, whose recordings immediately prior to this sometimes impressive but at times almost perfunctory two-disc set were the complete Beethoven piano sonatas in eight volumes-should take a breath between the scaling of peaks, or at least give his audience the chance to. Whether by accident or design, it's still the demands made upon Schiff by Beethoven that seem to be governing his fingers and his mind.
Other than the fact that Cleveland (where the von Beckerath organ that Mustric plays is located) is west of Berlin, this album lives up to its title. Pictures at an Exhibition occupies the first 39 minutes and was composed by Mussorgsky, a Russian. Ben-Haim (whose "Prelude" occupies four minutes), Sokola (whose "Toccata" occupies five), and Sü da (whose Prelude and Fugue in G minor occupies 14) were from Israel, Czechoslovakia, and Estonia, respectively. The eccentricity of selecting a program based on geography is rendered (mostly) moot by Mustric's performance.
George Gershwin's best-known compositions-Porgy and Bess, Rhapsody in Blue-are heard so often in full-blown versions that encountering all or part of them in either skeletal or embryonic form is almost like hearing for the very first time what many consider the finest and most quintessentially American music of the 20th century. On George Gershwin: The Original Manuscripts (MSR Classics), the acclaimed pianist and Gershwin scholar Alicia Zizzo provides such an experience, stripping the songs of their subsequent orchestration and letting them breathe.
Working mainly with Gershwin's original handwritten manuscripts, Zizzo recreates the "20-minute opera" Blue Monday (in a 14-minute version), eight of the composer's brief piano preludes and seven of his equally brief "miniatures," and an 18-minute Rhapsody in Blue to which, in keeping with Gershwin's original "musical directives," Zizzo has restored its "lighthearted," "romantically jazzy" qualities. The idea, obviously, is to create the illusion of hearing Gershwin himself. And, to a large extent, Zizzo succeeds.