One way you can intelligently approach this two-disc recording is to read the pianist Thomas Sauer’s erudite liner notes, which emphasize the 19 years of artistic development these compositions reveal, and listen along, seeing how many of the details that Sauer describes you can detect. (It’s easier than you think.) Another is to enjoy the five front-loaded sonatas as “heavy” entertainment and the three subsequent variations as “light” encores. Either way, you’ll be one up on the masses who know only Beethoven’s Fifth and “Für Elise.”
Under the conductor Edward Lundergan, these singers achieve one a cappella epiphany after another, showcasing not only the Hudson Valley composers mentioned in this album’s subtitle but also the Christian themes and classic poetry those composers set to music. Among the former: Aaron Copland’s “Thou, O Jehovah, Abideth Forever,” Panaiotis’ “Arise, My Love,” and James Fitzwilliam’s “A Rose of Sharon.” Among the latter: Jonathan Russell’s and Lundergan’s James Joyce and Walt Whitman poems respectively. And in Peter W. Sipple’s Gerard Manley Hopkins trilogy, faith and poetry merge.
The double dedication to Yehudi Menuhin and Stephane Grappelli foreshadows what the British violin virtuoso Kennedy and his guitar-bass-drums-violin/viola quartet are aiming for—namely, to establish once and for all (as Kennedy writes in the liner notes) “that music can be both serious and fun at the same time.” Four Fats Waller tunes and the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s “Take Five” meet the concept halfway, and Ze Gomez’s “Por Do Sol” is lovely. But it’s Kennedy’s Bach-inspired “Allegro” and “Vivace” that hit the target.
Don’t be fooled by the no-frills cover art or the indiscriminate inclinations of the RPO: Naxos of America (the label on which this album appears) hasn’t (yet) diversified to the extent that it will put its name on just anything. These faithfully rendered and creatively arranged soundtrack compositions from 13 famous films circa 1937-1984 exhilaratingly transcend both Muzak and nostalgia. And “Walk on the Wild Side: Suite” is a timely reminder that Elmer Bernstein beat Lou Reed to Nelson Algren’s best-known concept by a decade.
The attempt to help great poetry survive into the iPod age by setting it to classical music continues. And although the music to which it’s set on Tin Hat’s E.E. Cummings project the rain is a handsome animal (New Amsterdam) and Kristin Linklater and Martin Gonschorek’s Shakespeare Looking East: A Selection of Sonnets and Yun Flute Solos (Music Agents Red Label) isn’t “classical” per se—it’s serious enough (and, when necessary, playful enough) to keep this most deserving of trends going.
Linklater, a Scottish thespian and then some, and Gonschorek, a flautist, take the daring tack of juxtaposing the recitation of Shakespeare sonnets (Elizabethan West) with Isang Yun’s Korean flute music (20th-century East) and hoping the twain shall meet. They don’t, at least not obviously. But even that they could intimates eternity. Meanwhile, the virtuosic, avant-gardist flexibility of Tin Hat and its vocalist Carla Kihlstedt do Cummings’ greatest hits a justice that one has to hear to believe.