A little while back, I wrote up Marc Minkowski's Rameau disc,
promising a series of capsule reviews of other outstanding releases. I
lied. I'll try to zip through the rest in telegraphic style. Links are
to Barnes & Noble, which, unlike some other online stores, does not
give money to morally disgusting politicians. Gidon Kremer's set of the
Bach Sonatas and Partitas
belongs among the classic recordings this cycle has received. In the notes
Kremer calls the Chaconne in D minor a "dance of life and death," and that is
what he plays: earthy accents on the beat in the opening recitation of
the theme, giving way to ever more ghostly, weightless, shivering sounds. The
recording was made at the Pfarrkirche in Lockenhaus, home of Kremer's
famous festival; you can almost smell the damp stone. (See Adam Baer for more.) Arvo Pärt's Lamentate,
also on ECM, finds the master of serenity in a severe, even
violent mood. I talked to Pärt around the time Lamentate was
conceived, in 2002, and, if the drift of our conversation was any guide, his
mind was on September 11th, which fell on his birthday. When I was at a Virgin Records last summer, this music came crashing over the loudspeakers on the pop floor, and everyone froze.
Andrew Manze, the Gidon Kremer of early music, has made a hugely vibrant recording of Mozart's 1781 violin sonatas, with Richard Egarr on fortepiano. The riot of contrasting timbres right at the start of K. 376, not only between violin and fortepiano but also between the fortepiano's upper and lower registers, had me thinking for a split second that Manze had done a crazy thing and transcribed the sonatas for chamber ensemble. A rival Mozart disc by the brilliant Hilary Hahn sounds drab by comparison. (Russell has more.) Boris Berezovsky delivers a barn-burning, chicken-devouring rendition of the Chopin-Godowsky Etudes; Chopin's originals and Godowsky's impossible transcriptions unfold side by side, in a sequence of parallax views. John Eliot Gardiner's cycle of Bach cantatas, recorded live in churches across England and Europe in the year 2000, goes from strength to strength. Volume 8 travels from the seductive melancholy of "Komm, du süße Todesstunde" (Mark Padmore singing "Mein Verlangen") to the muscular joy of "Jauchzet Gott."
Michael Finnissy, a composer formerly associated with the so-called New Complexity movement (q. v. the Holy Roman Empire), goes his own way in Maldon and companion choral pieces; in the title piece, riotous instrumental textures and extended vocal techniques (unsettling high glissando trombones at the beginning) mix with dark slabs of ancient Anglo-Saxon chant. Throughout the album, old sounds (folksongs, ballads, chorales, chant) intersect with modern ones, in fabulously eerie and transfixing ways. Hats off to the half-century-old Kyle Gann for brightening the planet with his Studies for Disklavier. I first encountered these pieces at the Sounds Like Now festival last year; some ("Texarkana," "Despotic Waltz") draw Chaplinesque comedy from the hyperkinetic action of the computerized piano, while others summon clouds of Ivesian mystery ("Unquiet Night") or simply make you happy ("Bud Ran Back Out"). Perhaps one day Berezovsky will try to play them live. Finally, Gimell's reissue of classic Tallis Scholars recordings of Iberian Requiems — works of Victoria, Lôbo, and Cardoso — has lately spent more time in my Denon than anything else. The Overgrown Path concurs, saying that if you buy one CD this year it should be this. I can't argue too strongly with that, although right now Gidon's Bach is at the top of my forthcoming best-of list.