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Notable CDs

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

Issue: "Ghost streets," Feb. 27, 2010

Poems & Fairy Tales

The only "poems" on this album are "Two Poems, Op. 32" and "Poem 'Vers La Flamme,' Op. 72," three of the 15 Alexander Scriabin pieces that comprise the majority of this Russian-born pianist's program. The only "fairy tale" is the "Fairy Tale in B Flat Minor, Op. 20, No. 1," one of the two Nikolai Medtner compositions that serve as a kind of opening act for the more exotic Scriabin to follow. The title Poems & Fairy Tales nevertheless fits: Feoktistova is an enchantress of the first rank.

Innocent Wasteland

"My definition," says the Austrian prog-rock veteran Gerald Krampl of this music, "would simply be 'classic and minimalism meet electronic.'" And he's right, except that, other than the number of notes, instruments, or words, there's not much "simple" about it, least of all why it plays as well front and center as it does in the background. He also describes it as "dark and melancholic" (no argument there) and as being "about the endless cycle of destruction and reawakening" (concepts are in the ear of the beholder).

A Fantasy Through Time

The DVD accompanying this album contains footage of the organist Kimberly Marshall playing the recently constructed (and very large) Richards-Fowkes organ at the Pinnacle Presbyterian Church in Scottsdale, Ariz., and discussing the instrument's many and varied capabilities. The tech talk will go over laymen's heads, but the awe-inspiring sound (of which there is plenty more on the 59-minute CD) won't-or, rather, it will, but in such a way as to convince the listener both that there's something over his head and that it's worth further investigation.

Elliott Carter, Aaron Copland, John Patitucci

That this mainly solo-piano album has not one title but four (Piano Sonata [Carter], Piano Variations, Sonata for Violin & Piano [Copland], Lakes [Patitucci]) might make it hard to find. It is worth the effort. That each of the pieces sounds like America (even Patitucci's, which was inspired by England) is no shock-the composers, Schein and her violinist husband Earl Carlyss, are Americans. The shock is how inexhaustibly rich the America that it sounds like seems, as if the very expression "final frontier" were an oxymoron.

Spotlight

Like A State of Wonder (Sony's 2002 bundling of Glenn Gould's 1955 and 1981 Goldberg Variations), Deutsche Harmonia Mundi's Bach Cantatas bundles two recordings of Bach's Cantatas BWV 140, 61, and 29 recorded under the baton of the Austrian conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt. The older was recorded between 1973 and 1984 and features Harnoncourt's period-instrument ensemble, the Concentus Musicus Wien, and two boys' choirs. The newer was recorded in 2007 and replaces the youthful voices with those of the Arnold Schoenberg Choir. One obvious result of enlisting more experienced singers, says Harnoncourt in the liner interview, is the downplaying of overt emotion (or "pathos"), a difference that he likens to the shift in the poetry of the last century from emphasizing rhythm and rhyme to simulating natural speech. And, yes, listening for this contrast is a worthwhile exercise-but, many would argue, not nearly as worthwhile as simply getting to hear these three Bach cantatas twice in a row.

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