Say what you will against European experimentalists-Germany's Volker Bertelmann, aka Hauschka, included-but when they hit upon a bright idea just right, they know how to make it shine. Hauschka's bright idea is to "prepare" the piano (i.e., to alter its sound by tampering with its strings) and therefore to enhance its rhythmic components without altogether sacrificing its melodic ones. Anyone who thinks he's up to mere gimmickry is in for a pleasant surprise. There's nothing else quite like what he's doing. And it's delightful.
Philip Glass was already an art-household word due to his five-LP Einstein on the Beach when he released his one-LP album that made him a topic of water-cooler conversation, Glassworks, in 1982. Now Brad Lubman's new-music chamber orchestra Signal has replicated that album whole and appended Glass' early Music in Circular Motion as a 23-minute reason for minimalism fans to buy what's essentially just Glassworks otherwise-or for minimalism-fans-to-be to forgo Sony's reissues of the original and to experience the genre's constricted thrills at their most dithyrhambic.
English majors will relish the texts (Shakespeare, Keats, Whitman, Shelley, Stevenson), music majors will relish Stanley Wilson's tenor and Malcolm Halliday's piano accompaniment, and belated kudos to the composers (Frank Bridge, Edward Elgar, Roger Quilter, Ralph Vaughan Williams) for bringing sound and vision together. The poems stand on their own, of course, but they stand even taller when set to melodies that dip and soar in keeping with the emotionally adventurous sentiments to which they give voice. Even general-studies majors will thrill to "Is She Not Passing Fair?"
Released in April, National Poetry Month, this 48-minute collection of several centuries' worth of well-known verse read by time-tested actors (James Earl Jones, Jim Broadbent, Terence Stamp), actresses (Ruby Dee, Meryl Streep, Helena Bonham Carter), and others (Garrison Keillor, Amber Rose Johnson) and set to classical music hath its charms. It also hath its annoyances. Particularly, the inclusion of Khalil Gibran (!) and Garrison Keillor's reading Walt Whitman, Sharon Olds, and James Wright as if he were trying to turn anyone allergic to over-sensitivity off poetry forever.
On April 29, in what might be record time (no pun intended), Decca Records recorded then later that same day digitally released all 76 aurally reproducible minutes of the wedding ceremony of Prince William and Kate Middleton as The Royal Wedding Official Album, with hard-copy releases to follow mere weeks later.
The very existence of a record of such an event is a cause for rejoicing, for it's a banquet of Christian theology at its most dignified. There is, for instance, the music. Besides the overriding classical motif, which always serves to elevate the senses, there are hymns ("Guide Me, O Thou Great Redeemer," "Love Divine," "Jerusalem"), traditional vows (right down to "Holy Ghost" for "Holy Spirit"), James Middleton's reading from Romans 12, and a seven-minute sermon ("The Address"), with its eloquent orthodoxy: "Be who God meant you to be," it begins, "and you will set the world on fire." Then it gets better.