5 Classical Albums to Hear Right Now
Sigismund of India: ‘Lamenti e Sospiri’
Mariana Flores and Julie Roset, sopranos; Mediterranean Cappella; Leonardo García Alarcón, director (Ricercar)
Sigismondo d’India was a young Italian composer at the explosively creative dawn of the 17th century, during the time of Gesualdo, Frescobaldi, Monteverdi and Caccini. While opera was still in its infancy, d’India mastered what was then the main progressive form of vocal expression: intimate chamber madrigals for one or two voices and a few instruments at most.
Fixing the lyrics – largely secular poems – with luminous clarity and shaping the music according to the mood were the main goals, which d’India achieved with unexpected harmonies and startling evocations of the emotional end. Listen, on this superb album of painful and elegant melancholy by Leonardo García Alarcón and his Cappella Mediterranea, the dry and shocking chords that accompany “Mentre che’l cor”, an intense representation of a heart ravaged by worms and flames, the organ exhaling a strange calm. The sudden switch to the next track, “Pallidetta qual viola”, gives a concise hint of the range of d’India. In “Io viddi in terra angelici costumi”, a production by Petrarch, the play and the performance reach hypnotic heights.
Joined by four other players and the sopranos Mariana Flores and Julie Roset – alternately soft as feathers and piercing – Alarcón offers 90 minutes of India, anchored by two great laments of abandoned women, Dido de Virgile and Olympia d’Arioste. But even if the other works here are without named characters, they lack nothing in liveliness of characterization. ZACHARY WOOLFE
Rafael Kubelik: The Mercury Masters
Chicago Symphony Orchestra; Rafael Kubelik, conductor (Éloquence)
Among the many boxes documenting the history of American orchestras and their conductors, this 10-disc box set is one of the most revealing. Rafael Kubelik’s fate as musical director of the Chicago Symphony lasted only three busy seasons after he arrived in 1950 to replace Artur Rodzinski; Kubelik was quickly doomed by the barrage of negativity directed at him by Chicago Tribune critic Claudia Cassidy.
His time in the Midwest was somewhat overwhelmed by the intimidating excellence of his successor, Fritz Reiner. But it should not be forgotten: he was a powerful, often daring performer, and Mercury’s experiments with recording technology meant that he was captured from 1951 to 1953 in some of the best mono in the world. moment. The Eloquence bundle is the first to put these recordings together in their own box, including even snippets from the first stereo tests, and they’re all worth the effort: vibrant, atmospheric accounts of Mozart’s symphonies; a Brahms First that rivals that of Wilhelm Furtwängler for its visionary intensity; Schoenberg’s “Five Pieces for Orchestra”, beautifully colored; performances of Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 and Smetana’s “Ma Vlast” as fiery as one might expect from a Czech emigrant. Very lovely. DAVID ALLEN
Gabriella Smith and Gabriel Cabezas (Chamber Community)
To be Californian, like composer Gabriella Smith and I are, is to grow up in dissonance. Along the state’s nearly 850 miles of coastline lie extremes of urban sprawl and unspoiled nature, a checkerboard pattern of respect and reckless exploitation. And now climate change is hanging over it all.
Smith captures this moment with rage, elegy and wonder on “Lost Coast”, written for and recorded with cellist Gabriel Cabezas, and heavily produced by violist Nadia Sirota. The album opens with “Bard of a Wasteland,” a radio-ready song that joins Caroline Shaw and So Percussion’s recent “Let the Soil Play Its Simple Part” in a genre-defying music class that leans more towards high level pop. Anohni than traditional concert hall dishes.
This track features extensive technique and layered vocals like others – nothing more than the three-movement track, which takes its name from a wild stretch of northern California. It is a work on a deceptive scale, feeling larger than its two musicians; and constant momentum on the cello, at the top of which pass emotional explosions, melodies in search and, at the end, a tension of entropy and resistance.
There is something of a dreary coda in “Swept”, but its exasperation is complicated by a return to liveliness in “Tarn” and, in “Rise”, a marveling eye towards the beauty of nature, which has inspired Smith in the first place. JOSHUA BARONE
“A secret code”
Pamela Z (Neuma)
The pandemic rewarded musicians who could do their work from home. Through Pamela Z’s electronically equipped live loop practice, this singer and electronic artist could easily produce solo sets for colleges and soundscapes for European radio.
His long-awaited second album, “A Secret Code”, serves as a kind of cornerstone for this moment. (His first full solo, “A Delay is Better”, was released in 2004.) Like that first recording, the new one includes excerpts from larger works – but because Z is such a gifted editor, “A Secret Code” never feels too fragmentary.
The first track, “Quatre Couches / Flare Stains”, combines two tracks. As a multitrack choir of Pamelas in the first piece gives way to the upper line of vocalization that dominates the second half, the listener gets a practical encapsulation of his electronically assisted density and pristine solo technique.
The album also leans heavily on another aspect of his practice, in which Z conducts interviews as fodder. In “Unknown Person (from ‘Baggage Allowance’)”, she sings soothing interpretations of airport security script lines – “Did an unknown person ask you to carry something?” – as configuration for various answers to questions.
Almost all the tracks offer surprisingly different arrangement choices. While “Other Rooms” begins with some of that documentary-style use of other voices, it also includes some of Z’s finest vocals. And during “He Says Yes (from ‘Echo’)”, a few percussive slaps to the reverse is reminiscent of his dramatic talent with the mixing. Grab your best headphones for this one. SETH COOLING WALLS
“When are we dancing? “
Lise de la Salle, piano (Naïf)
The title of French pianist Lise de la Salle’s new album is a question borrowed from a song by Gershwin. In the 27 tracks of this captivating, imaginative and brilliantly performed program, she responds, taking listeners on a musical journey through six countries.
She follows the title track with a stunning, virtuoso performance of the arrangement of “Tea for Two” by Art Tatum and works by William Bolcom and Fats Waller. There are stops in Argentina (Piazzolla and Ginastera), Spain (Manuel de Falla) and France (Valses Nobles et Sentimentales by Ravel and a waltz study by Saint-Saëns). Hungary is represented by Bartok’s familiar “Romanian Folk Dances”. But from Russia it offers novelties: a Stravinsky tango; a singing waltz by Scriabin (who knew?); and an Italian Rachmaninoff polka (yes, you read that right). ANTHONY TOMMASINI
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