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Notable CDs

Notable CDs | Five recent classical releases reviewed by Arsenio Orteza

Issue: "Babies are back," Jan. 29, 2011

A Year At King's

Here we have 16 translucent choral performances of compositions that not only span 600 years (from Thomas Tallis, whose "Sem in allum" closes the album, to Arvo Pärt, whose "Magnificat Antiphons" open it) but that also, to quote the back cover, "[trace] the Church year-and the life of Jesus Christ-from Advent to Ascension." Sixteenth-century composers predominate, but it's "Agnus Dei," a vocal setting of Samuel Barber's 20th-century "Adagio for Strings" with lyrics taken from the Latin Mass, that most intensifies the music's worshipful nature.

Pieces in a Modern Style, Vol. 2

Projects like this one, in which well-known classical pieces are performed on and with the finest state-of-the-art electronics that money can buy, are nothing new. Wendy (née Walter) Carlos and Isao Tomita pioneered the genre four decades ago. But William Orbit (best known to pop fans for his production work on Madonna's Ray of Light album) is a worthy heir, and Disc One, thoroughly electronic though it is, glows with reverence (for Handel, Beethoven, Vivaldi, et al.). Only on Disc Two does he indulge his more dance-club-friendly inclinations.

Benyamin Nuss Plays Uematsu

Pianist Nuss is German and his record label Deutsche Grammophon, but it's still a shame this album is available online only through German sites (like Amazon.de): The composer whom Nuss is performing, Nobuo Uematsu, is Japanese, and fans of the medium for which Uematsu composes-video games (like the Final Fantasy series)-are everywhere. But the best reason for hoping this album gets wider distribution is that, unlikely as it seems, Uematsu performed by Nuss sounds like 19th-century French and American Romantic music at their most collectively charming.

Johann Sebastian Bach: Works and Transcriptions for Guitar

It's not a big step from the music that Bach composed for the keyboards of his day to these guitar transcriptions of that music by the internationally acclaimed classical guitarist Azusa Shimizu and Jun Hasegawa. The sounds produced by the main keyboards of Bach's day, after all, the clavichord and the harpsichord, were as percussive as they were melodic, sounding more liked plucked strings than tickled ivories. Not surprisingly, therefore, even Shimizu's rendition of the Suite for Lute in E Major sounds as "classical" as it does fresh.

Spotlight

If Azusa Shimizu's crisply glittering performances on Johann Sebastian Bach: Works and Transcriptions for Guitar (MSR Classics) of Bach's Partita in A Minor, Toccata in E Minor, and the "Sinfonia in E Minor" from Two and Three Part Inventions and Sinfonias capture the great composer's contrapuntal genius at its starkest, David Korevaar's recording of The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I (MSR Classics) captures that genius at its most mellifluous.

Shimizu emphasizes the hard-edged definition of each individual note with a diamond cutter's precision, creating an appreciation for the parts that make up Bach's whole. Korevaar, on the other hand, a member of the Boulder (Colo.) Piano Quartet and Clavier Trio, strings Bach's "diamonds" together by smoothing their edges until what stands out most is the parts-comprised sum. Shimizu's recording is more historically faithful reproduction, and classicists will prefer it. Korevaar, however, is equally virtuosic and, juxtaposed with Shimizu, makes for a compare-and-contrast exercise that's as enlightening as it is entertaining.

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