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Listening Post / Brief reviews of select releases

>Classical

Berg, Beethoven, Violin Concertos, Isabelle Faust, violin, the Orchestra Mozart, Claudio Abbado, conductor (Harmonia Mundi). Isabelle Faust, an engaging violinist, brings out the bittersweet lyricism of the visceral, fragmented violin concerto of Alban Berg. The music hooks you like a suspenseful movie -- Faust leans into the haunting, caressing phrases, and at times, it sounds as if the violin is actually groaning, like a branch in the wind. Berg wrote it in response to the death of a close friend, 18-year-old Manon Gropius, the daughter of Alma Mahler and Walter Gropius. The Beethoven has a blissfully quiet and unhurried slow movement and a low-key virtuosity. The liner notes are a stretch likening the two concertos. Harmonia Mundi can get kind of glib about this. But Faust does a good job of filling the pieces with passion and exuberance and making the case for them both. 3 stars (out of 4) (Mary Kunz Goldman)

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Dialogues en Francais, French Masterpieces for Horn and Piano, Bernard Scully, French Horn, Joanne Minnetti, Piano (Albany). Minnetti and Scully are a mother-and-son team who won a McKnight Fellowship in Minnesota and decided to make this recording of lovely music off the beaten Gallic path. It's a great little grab bag. Starting it off is Eugene Bozza's "En Foret," -- a witty seven-minute miniature that tells the story of St. Hubert, a medieval story complete with hunting song and Easter Gregorian chant. Six Melodies by Charles Gounod are enchanting and full of romanticism, with interesting parts for both piano and horn. I love the spiky, quirky "The Canon in Octave," by 20th century composer Jean Francais, and the minute-long, neo-Baroque "Le Basque" by Marin Marais. Dennis Brain used to use it as a quick encore, and you can just imagine it bringing the house down. 3 1/2 stars (M.K.G.)

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Bartok, Complete String Quartets performed by the Guarneri Quartet (Newton Classics, two discs). The sound on these classic mid-'70s performances for Columbia is still good and the performances of the greatest 20th century string quartets (only those of Shostakovich rival them) are the only ones of the time that really rival the classic performances of them by the Juilliard Quartet. One of the great integral Bartok sets. 4 stars (Jeff Simon)

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Bruckner, Symphony No. 7 performed by Staatskapelle Berlin, conducted by Daniel Barenboim (Deutsche Grammophon). A live recording from a hugely ambitious June 2010 week in which Daniel Barenboim conducted -- within a single week -- six Bruckner symphonies and then performed as piano soloist in Beethoven's five concertos. That it wasn't some sort of utterly absurd "Iron Man of Classical Music" stunt is more than evident in this glowing and fine performance of the seventh symphony of Anton Bruckner, a composer whose works benefit so much more than most from those slow tempos that Barenboim found so transfixing in music conducted by Furtwangler. 3 1/2 stars (J.S.)

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>Jazz

Bobby Broom, "Upper West Side Story" (Origin). He's best known as Sonny Rollins' guitarist. He's made a few discs on his own but this is his first guitar trio disc as the composer of every tune. He's never as interesting as a composer as he is as a player -- really only interesting at all on three tunes here (especially the set opener "D's Blues" and "Call Me a Cab"). He's much more evocative as a soloist -- mostly single note solos without the declamatory power of each note that Pat Martino has or the laid-back thoughtfulness of John Scofield but with a loquacity of his own which is always racing over bar lines and trying to fit long phrases into short musical spaces they were never meant for (and, therefore, racing madly through every note). He's a good player who relishes asymmetry -- just as any guitarist might who's spent so much time hanging around a tenor colossus who learned his art from, among others, Thelonious Monk. 3 stars (J.S.)

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Stacey Kent, "Dreamer in Concert" (Blue Note). It seems that those of us who were completely smitten with the unique sound of Kat Edmonson's voice (the only thing I could compare it to was pop star Joanie Summers a long Dick Clark time ago) now have to revise our ears and our ideas about jazz singing. Here is singer/guitarist Stacey Kent -- who sounds as if she shares Edmonson's sonic DNA (a cousin at the very least) -- recorded live in Parisian concert from a year ago and it's almost as beguiling as (and much looser than) the first Edmonson disc. Kent's chief soloist is saxophonist Jim Tomlinson and he gets a lot of space to stretch out. Her taste in what to perform is exquisite -- along with very standard standards, like "It Might As Well Be Spring" and "If I Were a Bell," such smart bossa novas as "Quiet Nights and Quiet Stars" and the lung-exercising "Waters of March" by Antonio Carlos Jobim. In the current glut of female jazz singers, Kent too deserves to stand out from a very large pack. 3 1/2 stars (J.S.)

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>Pop

Mariah Carey, "The Essential Mariah Carey" (Columbia Legacy, two discs). As Mel Brooks pointed out in "The History of the World, Part One," "it's good to be the king." It's good to be the king's girlfriend (and then wife) too. For a good part of this two-disc set, Mariah Carey was the Queen of Columbia records, as the inamorata and then wife of record executive Tommy Mottola. What's interesting about it is that the premarital Mariah isn't, as one might think, where one finds appealing purity and youth, it's the later Mariah with all of the kingdom's musical and publicity resources behind her that served her music best. Other than her beauty and her Minnie Riperton ability to sing in vocal ranges that can only be heard by Beagles and Weimaraners, there was nothing about her entire early career that was the equal of one good song by Patti Labelle (or one mediocre one by Aretha Franklin). She's still showing off her high notes toward the end of her Columbia career but with all of that ultra-professional production, even her duet with Whitney Houston on some music for the Dreamworks cartoon "The Prince of Egypt" almost sounds substantive. Still to come after this music was finished (and her divorce was final) -- the contract that almost bankrupted EMI. Suggestion for high school English teachers: Play the final song on disc two -- "Can't Take That Away" (modestly subtitled "Mariah's Theme") and then Lady GaGa's "Born This Way" and ask which pop diva is a narcissist wallowing in painful megalomania and show business privilege and which one actually has a conception of what might be good for her entire species? Discuss. 2 1/2 stars (J.S.)

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>Classical/Pop

Joel Frederiksen and the Ensemble Phoenix Munich, "Requiem for a Pink Moon: An Elizabethan Tribute to Nick Drake" (Harmonia Mundi). A clever idea that doesn't quite work out as fully as you hope that it will: What if you treated the beautiful songs of Nick Drake as if they'd been written in the Elizabethan era and had them performed by an ensemble of Elizabethan specialists alongside songs by Dowland, Campion and Cavendish? The result doesn't really place Drake in the company of the great Elizabethan composers in England, but, in fact, underscores the differences between Drake's relative harmonic simplicities and the great composers for lute, etc. Still, the disc is loaded with charm. 3 stars (J.S.)