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Notable CDs

Notable CDs | Five new 'neoclassical'/New Age CDs reviewed by Arsenio Orteza

Issue: "Finding their way," Oct. 8, 2011


The solo-piano notes of this Japanese ivory tickler trickle like raindrops down a windowpane. And if that simile warms your cockles, you'll love this album, especially when the weather turns cold and you're pondering your solitude wrapped in a blanket and nursing a mug of hot cocoa. What elevates him a notch above George Winston? His touch, his ability to suggest that he really could do better if there were more money in it, and a "Favorite Things" that makes solitude seem desirable.

Islands: Essential Einaudi

Many a bored mid-level piano student has composed melodies only somewhat less complex than these 27 highlights from the 23-year oeuvre of this Italian film-and-television composer and pianist. But with Einaudi, complexity isn't the point so much as providing tabulae rasae upon which all but the most unsophisticated can write their innermost thoughts. (The most unsophisticated get Kenny G.) The corollary: The more sophisticated you are, the less Einaudi you'll want. But if you want no Einaudi at all, you're probably too sophisticated.

Charles Rendition

This imminently rich style-and-sound pastiche is why the genre category "Misc." was introduced: How else does one label a recording that sounds like the Kronos Quartet's Black Angels without the Kronos Quartet? Suffice it to say that, given three or four listens, what may have originated as an experiment in randomness and found sound coheres into a reverie that's part dream and part nightmare-and enjoyable on its own merits whether one buys FJORDNE's claim that it all somehow relates to Dickens' Great Expectations or not.

Earthsong & Stardance

In choosing his pseudonym from Tolkien, Austria's Heinz Strobl demonstrates better taste in literature than he demonstrates in music by opting for lush, castle-in-the-sky grandeur on this, his 33rd album. The annoying chanting of what sounds like Middle Earth monks notwithstanding, Strobl's melodies are at least pretty enough for the credits of the forthcoming Hobbit film to roll over. And if he'd shortened them and played them on acoustic instruments, he might have made people believe that 'tis a gift to be simple.


Fairy Tale (Ricco Label), the latest album by the Tokyo-based composer, recording engineer, and web designer Takahiro Kido, is an electronica wonderland, temporal-spatial light years away from the grimier uses to which his Western counterparts put their facility with computer-based musical technology. A slightly out of tune piano at the heart of his instrumentation tugs even his most densely layered songs away from the recording studio and toward the parlor rooms of yore.

Other traditional elements help as well-the waltz tempo of "3-Sized PF," for instance, and the twinkly music-box ambience created by string trio, glockenspiel, flute, organ, accordion, cembalo, melodion, and harmonic pipe. Central to the overall effect is "Oranges & Lemons," the very title of which evokes memories of '80s British art-pop (XTC), dystopianism (Orwell's 1984), and the churches of England in the days that England cherished churches. The music follows suit. And there aren't any words or vocals to get in the way.

Listen to Arsenio Orteza discuss these neoclassical CDs on The World and Everything in It.


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