The gimmick at work on this delightful recording of four pieces by Philippe Gaubert and one by Debussy ("Syrinx") is that the flautist Immanuel Davis, the pianist Timothy Lovelace, and the violoncellist Käthe Jarka perform on instruments built during the period in which the music was composed. Many listeners probably wouldn't have noticed had the musicians used modern instruments with less of an "individual voice" (Davis' term) instead, but Davis, Lovelace, and Jarka clearly have, responding to the instruments' expressive sensitivity with a sensitive expressiveness of their own.
Of the making of Bach recordings there appears to be no end, but as long as they approach the standards adhered to by Heinz Holliger and the Swiss chamber orchestra Camerata Bern in these performances of Bach oboe showcases, nobody will complain. The only flaw, if a flaw it is, is the flawlessness of Holliger and Camerata. Not that one wants wrong notes, but there is a kind of perfection so breathtaking it leaves listeners with scarcely enough breath to express to others or themselves what they've just experienced.
Known for, among many other qualities, trying to be all things to all people that it may entertain some, the Kronos Quartet aims its bows this time at Finland and, with the compositions and playing of two genuine Fins (the electric percussionist Samuli Kosminen, the experimental accordionist and vocal noisemaker Kimmo Pohjonen), slashes and plucks its way toward its target. Does the Quartet hit it? Only Fins would know for sure. Is it fascinating whether what they evoke is Finland or some neighboring brand of Nordic severity? Yes.
One of these four world-premier recordings of works by the American composer Hampson Sisler features the mezzo-soprano Lori-Kaye Miller and the baritone Darnell Ishmel, another the soprano Melissa Cintron. And although the former sing an English translation of a 19th-century Czech love poem worth translating ("Music in the Soul") and the latter sings the Prayer of St. Francis, it's the wordless, four-movement, Stravinsky-inspired title suite as brought to life by the Czechoslovakian orchestra Praga Sinfionetta that speaks most eloquently about love, death, and being born to eternal life.
The exact nature of the epiphany that the Dutch composer and percussionist Dick Le Mair experienced recently while undertaking the "Way of St. James" pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain is unclear, but, judging from his latest album, Impressions of a Pilgrimage (Global Recording Artists), it apparently involved a profound encounter with the living Christ. The titles alone-"Sanctus," "Adoro Te," "The Monastery," "Cruz de Hierro," "Credo"-suggest intense paradigmatic shifts.
But it's the music, an ever-shifting panoply of reverent but eclectic styles, that transforms Le Mair's Way of St. James into St. Paul's Damascus Road. The Gregorian-chant motif that unifies the album's disparate parts lends the project a Catholic feel, but non-sectarian feelings are evoked too, from majestic sorrow ("The Road Is Long and Lonely") to otherworldly spookiness (a woman's mysterious whispering of devotional Latin throughout). And "No Greater Love Than This" sounds like an instrumental outtake from the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds that should've been an intake.