WRTI's Mark Pinto, host of the Classical New Releases show, fills you in on the latest and greatest classical music CDs every Saturday at 5 pm. Here are five newly released recordings he recommends:
Yo-Yo Ma and Kathryn Stott: Songs From the Arc of Life
Almost since the day Kathryn Stott laid eyes on Yo-Yo Ma in his underwear while practicing the cello in her London flat, the two have been making beautiful music together. Actually, the two really did meet that way accidentally but have not been romantically involved. But the way they perform together on this new recording will have you convinced that they are musical soul-mates. Good friends who have worked together for the past 30 years, the pianist and cellist breathe as one in their performances of these 19 miniatures which express, as Ma states, "the context of a life, of our lives… the soundtrack of life." The imaginatively-sequenced selections traverse a wide emotional terrain. Stott and Ma completely inhabit each piece and convey each work's unique personality, whether delicate (Brahms' Lullaby), playful (Gade's Tango Jalousie), dramatic (Sibelius' Was It a Dream?), primal (Sollima's Il bell'Antonio), wistful (Elgar's Salut d'amour), soul-searching (Messiaen's Praise to the Eternity of Jesus), or devout (Schubert's and Bach-Gounod's Ave Marias).
Itzhak Perlman and Emmanuel Ax: Faure & Strauss Violin Sonatas
Another pair of good friends and consummate musicians, Itzhak Perlman and Emmanuel Ax are perfectly matched here in these brilliantly played performances of youthful Romantic sonatas by Fauré and Strauss. Incredibly sensitive to each other, Perlman and Ax generate considerable heat and excitement in Fauré's sonata, and easily conquer Strauss' theatrical heroics. Though early works by these composers, each reflects masterly craftsmanship and extraordinary inspiration. Perlman's and Ax's intense, focused performances and the in-your-face miking of this Deutsche Grammophon release will have you galvanized.
Ravel Piano Concertos + Faur Ballade, Op. 19
The wonder that is pianist Yuja Wang is on amazing display in her blazing new recording of the Ravel concertos for one and two hands. In the G Major concerto, Wang is particularly adroit in the percussive effects and simply fearless in the fast passages and lightning-quick repeated notes. And almost miraculously in the Left Hand concerto, she keenly divines the melodic line from Ravel’s furious thickets of notes. As poetically sensitive as she is technically assured, Wang is also able to convincingly project Ravel’s moments of impressionistic delicacy and quiet reflection in these works. The Tonhalle Orchestra turns in a command performance of its own, whether digging in with Wang in the bluesy sections, matching her ferocity in the thunderous moments, or staying perfectly in sync with her through all the mad dashes. In between the concerto performances here, Wang tackles the seldom-heard solo version of Fauré’s Ballade in F# and beautifully captures all its inherent drama. With her clean passagework, clear articulation of every note, and sparing but effective use of rubato, Wang is simply poetry in motion.
Stephen Paulus: Far In The Heavens
With the death of Stephen Paulus in 2014, many of the works of this prolific American composer are finally seeing the light of day through new recordings, such as this one of his choral music. The disc’s title, Far in the Heavens, is a particularly apt description of his choral writing, with its meditative, chant-like melodies, unhurried tempos, gentle harmonic resolutions, and ecstatic forte climaxes. Paulus also sprinkles in enough dissonance and bitonality to keep things interesting. The highlight of the recording is the seven-movement Prayers and Remembrances. Though composed specifically for the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy, the work speaks to anyone dealing with the loss of loved ones. With sources as varied as William Blake, the Bible, Mohammed, St. Francis of Assisi, and the Navajo Indians, its texts “suggest hope, light and a future,” says Paulus. The music is comforting and soothing, with extended pianissimo sections, solo moments for harp, flutes, and chimes, and uplifting, affirming resolutions, especially at the end of movements. The work is clearly articulated and beautifully performed by the Arizona-based True Concord Voices & Orchestra, which commissioned the piece.
The Golden Age of Light Music: An Introduction
If the names Percy Faith, Morton Gould, Mantovani, George Melachrino, David Rose, and Robert Farnon mean something to you and conjure up nostalgic memories of the days when their orchestras routinely hit the pop charts, then this series of discs is for you. Begun by the Swiss Guild label in 2004 and comprising over 130 CDs, with more to come, The Golden Age of Light Music showcases recordings made from the 1920s through the 1960s by some of the best “mood music” or “light music” orchestras of the U.S., UK, Canada, and Europe. You don’t hear music like this anymore, and many of these recordings haven’t been heard in quite some time. Restored and re-mastered, most are making their first appearance on CD. You’ll delight in the conductors’ original compositions and arrangements of pop standards, smile at the toe-tapping novelty tunes, and relish the stylish arrangements of music from theater and film. If you long for the days of true “easy listening,” you’ll savor these CDs many times over.