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Listening Post / Brief reviews of select releases

>Classical

Schoenberg, Verklarte Nacht, Pelleas und Melisande and other works conducted by Daniel Barenboim, Sir John Barbirolli and Sir Simon Rattle (EMI, two discs); Five Pieces for Orchestra, Cello Concerto and Piano Quartet performed by Fred Sherry, London Symphony and Philharmonia Orchestras conducted by Robert Craft (Naxos). There will never be a compositional career more meaningful than Arnold Schoenberg's. The Late Romantic chromaticist composer of Olympian masterworks ("Verklarte Nacht", "Pelleas und Melisande") left tonality entirely and tapped into the unconscious for his epigrammatic "Five Pieces for Orchestra" in 1909 and then, almost in rejection of his own freedoms and gifts, created serialism and elaborately orchestrated the works of others. The EMI Gemini twofer presents the eternal enigma of it -- Daniel Barenboim's sumptuous recording of the magnificent "Verklarte Nacht," one of the greatest 20th century masterpieces, Sir John Barbirolli's reluctant, foursquare version of the hallucinatory "Pelleas und Melisande" and then, on another disc, Sir Simon Rattle's recording of two works which abjure the late Romantic genius entirely, the Chamber Symphony No. 1 and orchestral setting of Brahms' Piano Quartet No. 1. A great two-disc portrait of 20th century music's deeply tragic puzzle. Review: 3 1/2 stars (Out of 4)

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Robert Craft's recording of the "Five Pieces for Orchestra" -- which were clearly the next logical step after "Pelleas und Melisande" -- is completed with that Brahms Quartet adaptation and the Cello Concerto after G. W. Monn, two inventive works but virtual confessions of his 1930s creative retreat. Conductor Robert Craft would be the last to agree in these performances from 1994-2000 which are full of conviction. Review: 3 stars (Jeff Simon)

***

David Chaitkin, Poems of Love and Other Works, sopranos Christine Schadeberg and Angela Fout, pianists Richard Becker, Marie-France Lefebvre, Christopher Oldfather, Margo Garrett, cellist Nathaniel Chaitkin (Albany). David Chaitkin began his career as a jazz musician, and the vocal works on this disc reflect that beginning in their loose, relaxed qualities. The vocal lines are abstract and wandering. The pleasure lies in the piano accompaniments, which are delicate and lyrical. A setting of W.S. Merwin's "June Rain" warrants a gentle sprinkling of repeated notes, one on top of the other -- you can almost see them, they sparkle so much. A dance for solo piano strikes a whimsical tone with its clean, ringing counterpoint. Too much of this abstract music can be tiring, but in small doses it's refreshing, like stepping outside on a clear, cold day. Review: 3 stars (Mary Kunz Goldman)

***

>Children's music

Rockabye Baby! Lullaby Renditions of the Eagles and Lullaby Renditions of Queens of the Stone Age (Baby Rock). We're forever told that Mozart and Bach are good for the mental development of infants, but what about, say, Radiohead, Yes and Frank Zappa? Is there a way to share this music without fearing we're, frankly, warping our kids before they've even learned how to speak? For the past year, Baby Rock records has been releasing all-instrumental, lullaby versions of rock classics new and old, making "baby-friendly" everything from Pink Floyd, the Beatles and Led Zeppelin, to Metallica, Tool and the Cure. As ridiculous as this may sound, many of these albums have actually been wonderful. The two latest efforts in the series, comprised of fairly soothing but harmonically accurate readings of tunes by the Eagles and Queens of the Stone Age, may be the best yet. Hearing "Hotel California" being played by what sounds like a music box, with Mellotron strings for accompaniment, is actually quite delightful. The Queens of the Stone Age disc is occasionally a bit more sinister and complex than the smart but still quite friendly music of the Eagles; the tunes are just inherently darker, and thus, more emotionally complex. Still, this is beautiful music. On both albums, the timelessness of the melodies still manages to come through, and without the lyrics, worrying about prematurely troubling your kid with adult concepts is no longer an issue. Review: 3 stars for both. (Jeff Miers)

***

>Jazz

Matt Wilson's Arts and Crafts, "The Scenic Route" (Palmetto). These guys love to break the rules. And they're a hoot doing it. Not only is trumpet not the usual voice for quartet with keyboard/bass/drums, it's certainly not a trumpet player who plays with the big bright unmuted sound of Terrell Stafford (who, when a mute is called for, doesn't reach for a Harmon Mute, the trumpet player's favorite since Miles Davis). And then, on a lot of tunes, Gary Versace's keyboard instrument is sometimes organ (and, yes, once accordion). Before you get too much of a chance to register a polite "Huh? What gives?" Matt Wilson's finger-popping drumming has caused you to take a delightful ride with his musicians and "the Swayettes." They play Monk tunes, Ornette Coleman tunes, Wilson's own tunes and finish up with John Lennon's "Give Peace a Chance." Review: 3 1/2 stars (J.S.)

***

>Soundtrack

Philip Glass, Music for "Notes on a Scandal" (Rounder). The movie -- which opens here next Friday -- was one of last year's best with the year's most astonishing acting tandem by far in Oscar-winners Dame Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett. And Philip Glass' music for the movie is -- while you're watching it -- absolutely integral to the movie's emotional unity and narrative velocity. Unfortunately, though, that doesn't translate to this being one of Glass' better free-standing scores on the order of his music for "The Hours" or his extraordinary music for Godfrey Reggio's "Koyaanisqatsi" or "Powaqqatsi." On its own, it sounds like minimalist background music for domestic conflict and depression and not a lot else. Review: 2 stars (J.S.)

***

>Folk-Rock

Various Artists, "Forever Changing: The Golden Age of Elektra Records 1963-1973" (Rhino/Elektra, five discs). Jac Holzman founded Elektra Records in the '50s as a home for the folk music he so adored, but he'd ultimately leave a massive footprint on the popular music landscape with the folk-rock, experimental rock and primordial punk rock he'd sign to Elektra between the mid-'60s and 1973. "Forever Changing" is a five-CD box set paying tribute to Holzman's vision, and it offers an audio tour through Elektra's gradual morphing from earnest folk label (Judy Collins, Phil Ochs, Richard Farina) to purveyor of cutting-edge sounds, principal among them Love, the Doors, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and progressive jazz-folk genius Tim Buckley. All are heard here, as are, rather incongruously, Holzman's early '70s folk-pop signings Carly Simon and Bread. Holzman's daring and brilliance are made evident by the appearance of the Stooges, Queen and glam-rock casualty Jobriath, artists Holzman promoted concurrently with his "lite" fare. This box offers fitting tribute to the Elektra founder, whose wide-ranging tastes and willingness to take chances made his label one of the finest and most eclectic of its time. Review: 4 stars (J.M.)

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