Off the shelf

It has been a busy fall for live performances and equally busy for new, recommendable album releases.  A survey of some of the best, new recordings is overdue. One of the most notable releases, is the San Francisco Symphony’s recording of Gustav Mahler’s 8th Symphony. It is hard to get this piece to sound right in performance and on disk. So much is happening at all times where do a conductor, sound engineer and musicians begin? MTT seems to have a handle on all of the forces before him, and that allows him to proceed with an idiosyncratic performance, full of energy, which captures the spirit of the performance the recording is taken from. Whether you will enjoy this album depends on how you like your Mahler. If you want a performance which is straight faced and buttoned up then you should steer clear of MTT’s romp. However, if you like your Mahler, unpredictable and inventive then this disk is for you.

I was also happy to see three new releases in the Naxos: American Classics series. Michael Daugherty has created a musical idiom that is uniquely his own, rambunctious, and loads of fun. One of the first pieces I ever heard by the composer was Oh Lois (thank you Quad City Symphony), a movement from Daugherty’s Metropolis Symphony. Naxos’s new release of the Metropolis Symphony along with Daugherty’s piano concerto, Deus Ex Machina is a winner. Naxos and the Nashville Symphony have created a recording that highlights Daugherty’s unusual instrumentation and better than the Argo’s release of the Metropolis Symphony. Another Daugherty album, a recording of his violin concerto Fire and Blood, also stands out among the plethora of fall releases. Ida Kavafian is the soloist in the recording. She is assisted by Neeme Jarvi and the Detroit Symphony. All of the pieces on the CD were recorded in 2003 and it is somewhat odd that it took so long for the CD to appear on shelves. Finally, a new recording of Leonard Bernstein’s Mass is a welcome release. If you are like me Mass is both irresistible and frustrating. Truly, Leonard Bernstein’s best music isn’t found in melodramatic spectacles like the Kaddish Symphony or even the Mass, but this recording, on the strength of Jubilant Sykes’s wonderful baritone voice makes this recording of the Mass a far better choice than Bernstein’s own recording of the piece on DG.

Locally, Seattle Baroque released a CD titled Handel’s Harp. The album collects a number of works by Handel in one enjoyable program. According to the liner notes, the harp was a rarely used by composers because of its cost and the limited number of virtuosi harpists. GF Handel is the one composer who was the exception to this rule. The recording quality and performances by the orchestra and harpist Maxine Eilander are effulgent. Seattle Baroque should be proud. Another local release, Seattle Pro Musica’s Navidad, came just in time for the holiday season. Karen Thomas’s chorus sang this program last year for their 2008 holiday concert. All of the pieces hail from Mexico and South America. The works Thomas selects are real finds. You can hear and see Karen Thomas talk about this “new world” program in a video I did with her a few days before Pro Musica performed the pieces on their new CD in concert.

In contemporary music, Leif Ove Andsnes’s album, Shadows of Silence, is a unique collection of pieces for piano and orchestra and solo piano. Two piano concertos – Witold Lutoslawski and Marc-Andre Dalbavie’s – are given impressive and riveting performances. Two pieces by Bent Sorensen – Lullabies and Shadows of Silence – are interesting, but I prefer the selections from Gyorgy Kurtag’s Jatekok (Games). The Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble also released a new CD of Terry Riley’s classic minimalist piece, In C. The group didn’t just record Riley’s masterpiece, but they handed their recording over to some of the brightest musicians and artists working today. The result is eighteen remixes of GVSU’s performance by everyone from DJ Spooky and Mason Bates to Nico Muhly and David Lang. New music aficionados should definitely check out this release on the Innova label. To sample this project by the GVSO musicians, check out the video below.

Two additional CD’s are also worth mentioning: Murray Perahia’s latest Bach recording and Vasily Petrenko’s latest Shostakovich album. Perhaia’s Bach is customarily pristine and his latest recording of partitas one, five, and six finishes the pianist’s survey of the six partitas for keyboard. I have long liked Perahia’s Bach playing starting with his recording of the Goldberg Variations. This release continues that tradition. Petrenko’s recording of Shostakovich’s Fifth and Ninth Symphonies on Naxos is the follow up release to the Eleventh Symphony he recorded and released. Petrenko’s Shostakovich, especially in the Fifth is brooding and episodic. Petrenko seems to understand the dramatic thrust of Shostakovich’s music better than most, perhaps it is his Russian background? In any event, Petrenko’s Shostakovich cycle has been impressive so far, especially for a conductor so young, and is definitely worth keeping an eye on as the rest of the symphonies are committed to disk.

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4 thoughts on “Off the shelf

  1. I liked the Andsnes disc a lot – the Kurtag is (surprisingly) the most approachable music on the disc, but I really like the piece “Shadows of Silence”.

    And I seem to be quite a minority opinion on this one, but I found all the voices on Alsop’s recording of “Mass” to be too much in the Broadway “can-belto” style. For an alternative to Bernstein’s own recording, my vote is for Kristian Järvi on Chandos. A very impressive reading.

  2. Kurtag is an awesome composer. His music is smart but listenable. Very Solomon like how you cast off Alsop and Bernstein and prefer the Chandos/Jarvi recording. I haven’t heard it, so I can’t say. Even if we have different opinions on which recording is best, I am glad you like the Mass. Maybe Orchestra Seattle will program it some season? That would be a hoot.

  3. While I may borrow Solomon’s methods, I certainly wouldn’t say I possess his wisdom. Actually I think Jarvi complements rather than supercedes Bernstein’s. I’ll probably try to listen again to Alsop one of these days, but it’s going to be a while.

    I think if anyone here were to take that on, it would be George.

    If someone were to suggest it to George, and if he had access to the various groups of instrumentalists – and if it were properly advertised and sponsored – it might not be out of the question. I bet he would pull it off splendidly, too.

    Too bad you didn’t think of this in time to propose it to the sponsors of the Bernstein Festival in June!! They’re putting on Candide… wouldn’t “Mass” be a great counterpoint to that?

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