by: Hobert Taylor
Laura Karpman - Ask Your Mama (inspired by the poetry of Langston Hughes) - (Avie Records)
Nominated for three Grammy's including producer of the year (classical) for Karpman, this ambitious pastische incorporates recordings of Langston Hughes reading from the poem cycle "Ask Your Mama: 12 Moods for Jazz" as well as Bessie Smith, Louis Armstrong, Marian Anderson, Pigmeat Markham, and other African American cultural icons floating on a bed of various jazz, blues, soul, hip hip, and gospel melodies as well as 20th century neo-classical compositions and performed by the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra, The Roots, Nnenna Freelon, Janai Brugger, Angela Brown, and Medusa. Karpman is a composer of great scope and range. Previously she has written for the L.A. Opera and for the soundtrack of Halo 3. Here she holds nothing back. This is a bold and dramatic recording celebrating the permeable nature of this admixture of popular cultural influences and profound lyrical and compositional sophistication. I can't think of any other piece that shifts so suddenly and successfully from the operatic to the soulful, from the concert hall to the broken down and funky cab waiting outside and according each with their due respect.
Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal-Kent Nagano - Beethoven Nine Symphonies - (Analekta)
I have been a fan of Nagano's conducting since his early days with the Berekley Symphony Orchestra and his work with Frank Zappa, both with that orchestra and with the London Symphony. He has a precise and fluid touch that feels to me direct and contemporary. So far I have only listened to the war horses, # 5 and # 9, but they are engaging and gently nuanced. A note on the recording itself. It sounds focused more on the upper register to me, brighter that the woody richness of say the Von Karjian or Szell recordings.
Andrew Wan-Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal - Complete Violin Concertos of Saint-Saens - (Analekta)
Violinist Wan's tone often trembles like birch leaves in the tenderest breeze. I am particularly enamoured of the allegro section of the First concerto and of the entire Third.
Symphony # 4 Pure, Cool (Water) - Judith Lang Zaimont (composer)-Janacek Philharmonic Orchestra - (Subito Music)
Solidly at the center of 20th century tonal exploration, this is a rich and satisfying meditation. Also on this recording is a lighter and more romantic piece, a piano trio entitled "Russian Summer".
Alisa Weilerstein/Inon Barnatan Rachmaninov/Chopin Cello sonatas - (Decca)
Cellist Weilerstein and pianist Barnatan perform Rachmaninov's Sonata, Op. 19 and Chopin's Sonata, Op. 65. Richly romantic and full of heart tugging swells this is what most folks think of when they say they just "love the classics". This is not just ear candy (not that there is any wrong with that), but it certainly is accessible.
Even so, Weilerstein gets edgy at times, after lulling you in with the expected moves.
Quadriga Consort - Winter's Delights - (Sony)
Christmas music from the British Isles. A bit too treaclely for me, smoothed over with a pop vocal style, but the songs shine through. Check out "Tune 172", "The Three Kings","On This Day""Sweet Baby, Sleep", and "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel".