Spring Into Five New Classical CDs!

Jun 2, 2015

WRTI's Mark Pinto, host of the Classical New Releases show, fills you in on the latest and the greatest classical music CDs every Saturday at 5 pm. Here are five newly released recordings he recommends:

Sokolov: The Salzburg Recital. Though celebrated for the breadth of his repertoire, epic interpretations, and boundless imagination, Russian-born pianist Grigory Sokolov has become something of a living legend and a well-kept secret in America. 

A frequent visitor to sold-out European concert halls, he has made few appearances here ,and has shunned the recording studio for the past two decades. Fortunately for us, Deutsche Grammophon has released this live recording of his 2008 recital in Salzburg. The performances reveal a formidable technique fused with a poet's sensitive touch, intense concentration, and keen awareness of the music's architecture.  

In the recital's first half, he performs two lyrical Mozart sonatas with an appropriately graceful, fortepiano-like touch.  Each of Chopin's 24 Preludes in the second half inhabits its own sound world and points up Sokolov's extraordinary ability to project both delicate calm and breathtaking drama in close succession while employing the clearest of articulation. 

Sokolov's newly signed contract with Deutsche Grammophon calls for more such recital releases. Lovers of the piano should await them eagerly, as they should shine even more light on this artist adored as one of the greatest living pianists.

Flutist Robert Stallman's latest CD

Mozart-Stallman: New Quintets for Flute & Strings. Mozart hasn't written a new composition in nearly 225 years. But you can enjoy an old favorite in a totally new way on this marvelous recording. The piece in question is Mozart's Sonata in D Major for Two Pianos, one of his most virtuosic and infectious works for keyboard, and a masterpiece by any regard. 

Eminent American flutist Robert Stallman - always seeking to expand the repertoire for his instrument - and the late English composer Stephen Dodgson have turned the work into what they call a Sinfonia Concertante (a double concerto, really) for two flutes and orchestra. The result is simply sublime. 

The transcription to flutes sounds so natural and fitting for the instruments, and the expansion to orchestra is so idiomatic, you'd swear Mozart wrote it that way himself. Similarly and just as effective, Stallman transcribes two movements from Mozart's "Haffner" Serenade from solo violin to solo flute and orchestra, with delightful results.  

And a graceful and splendid rendition of Mozart's Flute & Harp concerto caps off the recording. Stallman and his fellow soloists, flutist Isabelle Chapuis and harpist Katerina Englichova, are consummate musicians and make this one of the most charming Mozart encounters on disc.

Gregory W. Brown: Moonstrung Air. One need not know that the recurring motif in Gregory W. Brown's Missa Charles Darwin is based on the genetic sequence of one of Darwin's Finches to appreciate Brown's striking and original vocal writing.  The Massachusetts-based composer, who holds a degree from Westminster Choir College, among other institutions, effectively blends rhythmic, harmonic and stylistic techniques of early and contemporary music in ways that use the building blocks of the past to point the way into the future.  

This is especially evident in the Missa, the central work on this disc, and whose texts are drawn from Darwin's writings on evolution instead of the traditional Latin Mass.  The music unfolds as a modern madrigal, with unorthodox intervals and harmonies following a Renaissance-like structure and progression.  It's given a convincing performance by the four men of New York Polyphony (countertenor numbered among them), who chant the melodies with spot-on intonation and clear diction.  

Similarly, Brown's ever-ancient, ever-new settings of Three American Folk Hymns take on an otherworldly character with the ensemble's performances.  Elements of Gregorian chant find their way into some of the other compositions, both secular and religious, on this disc.  Philadelphia's own new-music chamber choir, The Crossing, appears too, and delivers a dreamy performance of a Richard Wilbur text (Five Women Bathing in Moonlight), whose beguiling music boasts modern dissonances and ancient harmonic resolutions in rapid succession.

Quire Cleveland: The Land of Harmony. Choral music has flourished in the United States since the time of the Pilgrims. This recording presents an enlightening and entertaining historical survey of short sacred and secular a cappella works by important American choral music composers. 

The recording is taken from a 2014 concert performance by Quire Cleveland, a solid band of singers under the firm direction of their Artistic Director Ross W. Duffin.  Choral settings are original or arrangements crafted to sound like the period.  Opening their concert with all four verses of the Star-Spangled Banner, Quire Cleveland convincingly navigates the stylistic evolution of this music composed over a period of nearly three centuries -- from the 1640 Bay Psalm Book (the first book printed in North America) to 1920. 

Highlights include four pieces from America's first great choral composer, William Billings, who was a master of texture and counterpoint.  The original arrangement of Amazing Grace by 19th-century singing master William Walker sounds rustic and quite lovely, with that wide-open-spaces, American feel. 

Stephen Foster, "the father of American music," is represented by Come Where My Love Lies Dreaming, which features a soprano line that floats above the lower parts, evoking long-ago happy times.  Edward MacDowell, America's first internationally renowned composer, contributed The Witch in 1898, mysteriously under the pseudonym "Edgar Thorn." It's an alternately humorous and suspenseful work for men's voices. 

One of the most successful black composers, R. Nathaniel Dett, pioneered the use of spirituals in classical compositions.  Quire Cleveland's performance of his Don't be weary, traveler of 1920 is goosebumps-inducing, aided by a soulful solo from bass Brian MacGilvray. 

Much of the music in this recording has lain dormant for years. With their warm and spirited performances, Quire Cleveland makes a strong case for uncovering and disseminating these American musical gems.

Built for Buffalo: Aguila, Hagen, Ewazen. Who says modern classical music takes some getting used to?  The three new concertos showcased on the newest release by the Buffalo Philharmonic have an immediate appeal. 

Commissioned by the orchestra from three top American composers for the ensemble's cello, violin, and trombone principals, the works eschew mere virtuosic display for a richness and beauty of tone and directness of expression of which these soloists are more than capable. 

Uruguayan-born Miguel del Aguila's Concierto en Tango for cellist Roman Mekinulov is a colorful piece that explores various old and new Latin dance rhythms and particularly exploits the cello's lower register.  Songbook for Solo Violin, Strings, Harp and Percussion by Curtis Institute alum Daron Hagen proffers violinist Michael Ludwig as the balladeer in this rhapsodic and dramatic work based on Irish and American folk songs (including variations on Amazing Grace). 

And you've likely never heard a more gorgeous blend of trombones than in Eric Ewazen's Triple Concerto for Three Trombones and Orchestra for trombonists Jonathan Lombardo and Timothy Smith, and bass trombonist Jeffrey Dee. Their sounds are perfectly matched in the rich harmonies of this beautiful and rhythmically propulsive work. 

Music Director JoAnn Falletta is justifiably proud of these works, commissioned for her orchestra; listeners will want to savor these attractive works again and again.