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Notable CDs

Music | New or recent classical albums

Issue: "Day of reckoning," June 14, 2014

Animals in Music

By Various artists

These 45 selections coming in at two hours and 38 minutes overstress the compilers’ point, which is that composers the world over have long striven to capture the variety and vibrancy of the animal and insect kingdom in song. What the selections don’t over-stress is the consistency with which the 19 composers represented herein succeeded. Rimsky-Korsakov’s bumble bee and Prokofiev’s wolf, bird, and duck you know. Prepare to meet Elisabetta Brusa’s ant and grasshopper. And save a special place for Ralph Vaughan Williams’ ascending lark.

On the Horizon: New Music for Trumpet and Piano 

By Jason Bergman, William Campbell, Ellen Elder

Jason Bergman’s trumpet is as clear, bold, and bright as the gloriously sunlit sky on the album cover, doing justice and then some to the sharply defined melody lines of the six 21st-century compositions referred to in the subtitle. It’s to William Campbell’s credit that when he joins Bergman for Erik Morales’ Concerto for Two Trumpets and José Pasqual-Vilaplana’s “Les Noces Del Manyà” there’s no loss of expressiveness or quality—and to the pianist Ellen Elder’s credit that she doesn’t so much accompany as complement.

Rome, Paris, Madrid: European Baroque Guitar Music

By Pierre Pitzl

Listeners wishing to add understanding to their enjoyment of this exquisite recording of 17th-century compositions for guitar will appreciate Pitzl’s liner interview, which ranges from the historical to the technical to the plainspoken. (His goal, he says, was simply to “present the guitar in its most varied ways of playing ... just as it was presented in the various European centres at that time.”) Listeners well adjusted enough to accept that the 17th century has passed will appreciate the soft-focus engineering, which adds an appropriately ghostly touch.

Scarlatti Recreated: Transcriptions and Hommages

By Sandro Russo

The Scarlatti is Domenico, the baroque composer of over 500 keyboard sonatas. The keyboard is the piano. And the pianist is a Sicilian who has racked up numerous accomplishments since, as his website proclaims, graduating in 1995 “summa cum laude from the V. Bellini Conservatory and [earning] the Pianoforte Performing Diploma from the Royal College of Music in London ‘with honors.’” Six long-deceased virtuoso composer-pianists provide the transcriptions; two relatively recently deceased and two still-living ones the homages. How could Russo go wrong? He doesn’t.


Ulf Andersen/Getty Images

Since its inception, electronic music has tended to be regarded as “serious” (i.e., “classical”) even when there was little perceptible difference between it and the equally pioneering (i.e., weird) experiments of “rock” musicians. Consider Iannis Xenakis’s GRM Works 1957-1962 (Recollection GRM) and New Music Collection: Electronic (NMC). Although separated by several decades, both still feel as if they’re contemporaneously rushing in where people who can’t stand Einstürzende Neubauten or Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music fear to tread.

Xenakis was no fool. There was method in his madness. Yet neither knowing nor understanding it will much enhance or reduce the visceral pleasure of simply absorbing his middle-period “musique concrète.” (Normal people will be content to call it “exhilaratingly otherworldly racket,” and they’ll be right too.) The composers represented on New Music Collection: Electronic obviously owe Xenakis a lot. The worst that you can say about them is that at their occasionally self-defeatingly abstract they obviously owe him more. 


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