Fall 2011 classical record round-up
New releases from So Percussion, Quatuor Diotima, David Lang and more. Plus, Nigel Kennedy drops a new album. “Drops” seems like the appropriate word.
London Philharmonic Orchestra
The 50 Greatest Pieces of Classical Music (X5 Music Group)
The expected fare—Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, Orff’s “Carmina Burana” and the rest—finds the London Philharmonic Orchestra buried in a bass-dominated mix and excessive reverb. While much of the playing is passable, as in Vivaldi’s “Spring (Allegro)” from Four Seasons, the lack of rhythmic flexibility nearly conjures an audible metronome click. “The 50 Greatest Pieces of Classical Music”? Lies! They are not. The LPO finds one measly post–World War II piece throughout the four-disc set, Stanley Myers’s “Cavatina” (famously used in The Deer Hunter), and the entire catalogs of Shostakovich, Berg and Bartók are inexplicably absent.
David Lang, Andrew Zolinsky
This Was Written By Hand (Cantaloupe)
With a hypnotic ritornello of ascending A-minor scales, Lang evokes the image of the artist at the page, fleshing out a compositional gesture with varying levels of harmonic complexity. Pianist Zolinsky holds any romantic impulse at bay, effectively exploring a more extemporaneous, drier sound. Composed without the use of a computer, Written by Hand plays like an intimate glimpse into the composer’s dialogue with his muse. Just as deeply personal, the piano vignettes rounding out the album, written for deceased friends, project less as epitaphs than affectionate impressions.
So Percussion, Lisa Moore
Caprichos Enfáticos (Cantaloupe)
The terrifying Francisco Goya detail on the cover rivals anything found on a black-metal album. Caprichos Enfáticos is formed around the ancient chain dance, the farandole. Bresnik’s eight-movement work explores the politics, religion and aftermath of war. While So Percussion and Lisa Moore’s handling of the divided spectrum of piano and militaristic drumming is acute and well-executed, the collaborative work is better suited to a live setting in which the dynamic choreography of unison percussion attacks are allowed visual impact.
The Four Elements (Sony Classical)
Through the first years of the new millennium, classical music discovered that adding amplification and drum kits was doing little to win new converts. Nigel Kennedy has not received the message. On one of the most irrelevant albums we’ve heard, the violinist ostensibly responds to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons with a glut of soft-rock beats, tired harmonic vocabulary and lyrics more appropriate for Billy Idol: “Gimme gimme fire now / C’mon baby / It’s a revolution fire / C’mon baby.” Did we mention they’re croaked in a Cockney accent? From the pseudo-prog meanderings of “Earth” to the interminable spa sounds of “Water,” The Four Elements fails to offer anything sonically new, let alone unrepulsive. It’s Mannheim Steamroller meets a Cleveland steamer.
American Music (Naive)
Counting Pierre Boulez and Helmut Lachenmann among its collaborators, foursome Quatuor Diotima isn’t a stranger to the new-music scene. For American Music, the Frenchmen tackle Crumb, Reich and Barber. Compelling performances of Reich’s “Different Trains” and Barber’s Quartet in B Minor, Op. 11 (from which the ubiquitous “Adagio for Strings” was extracted) open the proceedings, but the compelling reason to seek out the album is the spectral, demonic rituals of George Crumb’s anti-war masterpiece, “Black Angels.” Listeners will find it difficult to listen to anything shorter than the entire work here, as Diotima adroitly balances on the precipice of the audible, conjuring wraiths with its spectacularly ethereal tremolos and seamless glissandi.