Off the shelf: Chicago bound

Next week I take off to Chicago for business and pleasure. The pleasure includes ushering in the Muti era with the CSO and Berlioz’s justly famous (and loved Symphonie Fantastique) and his less known Lelio. The Muti era is sure to build on the successes of Pierre Boulez and Bernard Haitink — the orchestra’s two post Barenboim placeholders. Neither will be gone from the Windy City’s classical music scene however. Boulez is slated to conduct a few weeks while Haitink returns for a series of Mahler concerts toward the end of the season.

Later this month CSO Resound will release a new recording of Verdi’s Requiem. The recording comes from a Muti led concert last season I believe. My favorite recording of the piece has always been Solti’s blazing performance on RCA. I expect this new recording to be as muscular, but with Muti’s signature elan.

I often become fixated on a single composer, piece, orchestra, conductor. This is exactly what happened earlier this year when Boulez jammed him self into my consciousness. There isn’t one reason for why Mr. Boulez occupied so much of many of my thoughts. I do think he first got a toe hold on my gray matter when I heard a CSO Resound release from earlier this year: Boulez and the CSO’s recording of Stravinsky’s Pulcinella and Symphony in Three Movements. Boulez has recored both pieces at least twice before. This isn’t new music. But unlike his earlier recordings, especially his first attempts for Sony, this new recording isn’t as icy. Stravinsky’s taut rhythms are rendered incisively (as usual with Boulez) but this time with (some) effusiveness.

I can’t say the same thing about Boulez’s DG recording of the Symphonie Fantastique. Boulez’s way with hyper-emotive scores like Mahler’s symphony isn’t to everyone’s liking. I am the rare listener who doesn’t mind Boulez’s antiseptic Mahler as an alternative to say Bernstein. But this older recording of Fantastique misses the boat entirely. I expect Muti will do better next week.

One final Chicago release. Cedille, a Chicago based label, released a new disk of cello music by Wendy Warner. The disk is being ripped into iTunes as I type. I’ll likely be giving it a listen for the first time somewhere over Montana or Minnesota. Included in the disk’s program is Nikolai Miaskovsky’s Second Cello Sonata.  According to the CD notes, it is the first time the piece has been recorded on American soil.

The summer’s chamber music festival is a distant memory these days. Fortunately, some of its musicians can be found in the record store new release section. Adam Neiman’s lucid disk of Anton Arensky piano music on Naxos is a welcome addition. Ever since I first heard Arensky’s Piano Concerto I have wondered why Arensky isn’t better known.

A musician who wasn’t at this year’s festival, Jeremy Denk, has released a downloadable album of Charles Ives’ two piano sonatas. There isn’t a pianist today who understands Ives’ music like Denk. The First Sonata has to be counted among the best available recordings. The Concord Sonata is passionately rendered. Listening to Denk’s recording is like discovering the piece for the first time. Denk’s album is currently available on iTunes as a download. The CD version will be available in October.

This year is also the five year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Memorializing the Katrina disaster is a brand new disk of music by Ted Hearne. Hearne has written one of the most provocative, unclassifiable albums I’ve ever heard. Hearne has taken a selection of speeches, comments, and interviews spoken in the days immediately following the disaster and set them to music. For example, Bush’s immortal exhortation “Brownie you’re doing a heck of a job” is set as a perfectly naive, jazzy optimistic number. Though I expect Hearne’s intent by using the actual words spoken by so many in the hurricane’s aftermath was to memorialize the tragedy of a city lost, lives disrupted, and innocence lost, for me he underscores a different type of tragedy: the failure of our country’s leaders to respond — through action and comforting words — when they had the chance

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