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Listening Post


The Pretty Reckless, “Going to Hell” (Razor & Tie). Taylor Momsen is currently best known for her acting, principally as part of the cast of the relentlessly dreadful ode to the narcissism of the 1 percent known as “Gossip Girl.” That’s about to change. Momsen grew up with a father who had no qualms about gifting her with copies of seminal rock records by the likes of Nirvana, Alice In Chains and Soundgarden when she was barely 7 years old. The education in grunge seems to have stuck. Momsen claims to have left acting behind in favor of her first love, which involves dressing like a stripper and acting like a female version of Iggy Pop in charcoal eyeliner, in front of her grimy and glammy buddies in the Pretty Reckless. The band’s second album, “Going to Hell,” lives up to its title – much of the allure here comes courtesy of the coquettish Momsen, who seems to take great pleasure in titillating her listeners with tales involving the psychologically debilitating remnants of Catholic guilt, and her desire to rock ’n’ roll all night and party at least part of every day. Musically, the band offers a grab bag of power-pop, the lovable glam of Sweet and T. Rex, and just a hint of the Runaways. Odes to troubled teens haven’t sounded this good since the ’70s. ΩΩΩ (Jeff Miers)


Haydn, Scottish Airs and Piano Trio Hob. XV:27 performed by Werner Gura, tenor, (Harmonia Mundi). Amazing, that Haydn would write these marvelous arrangements of 400 (!) Scottish songs, and no one ever hears them. Though saddled with that “Papa Haydn” nickname, Haydn was a worldly and romantic man, and the dozen or so songs on this disc reflect that, as well as the energy and creativity he had even near the end of his life. No joke or innuendo is lost on him. He seems to have reveled especially in the naughty “My love is still a lassie yet,” with words by Robert Burns. Gura has tremendous fun with the songs, to the point of throwing in falsetto. The fact that he is German probably doesn’t hurt his Scottish accent. The accompaniments, featuring violin, cello and fortepiano, show Haydn’s peculiar genius, and the musicians have a nimble, light touch. The simple beauty of a few songs, featuring a soft violin probably intended to suggest bagpipes, made me think of Appalachian fiddler Mark O’Connor. Completing the disc are two fascinating piano trios that sometimes made me think of Schubert. In short, this music can take you in a bunch of different directions. One of those directions could be back into the vaults. Can we hear some more of those 400 songs? ΩΩΩΩ (Mary Kunz Goldman)


Dvorak, Works for Violin and both Orchestra and Piano performed by Anne-Sophie Mutter and the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Manfred Honeck and accompanied by pianist Ayami Ikeba (Deutsche Grammophon). Whether or not the world was lined up single file and breathlessly awaiting violin virtuoso Anne-Sophie Mutter’s first recording of Dvorak’s A-minor Violin Concerto – not to mention her first recording with the Berlin Philharmonic in 30 years – no one’s likely to argue that the results are a smashing disc of violin music by Mutter and some of the best. What she says now of the Dvorak violin concerto – which is a great warhorse masterpiece from the second tier of classical warhorses (in terms of fame, not quality) – is “I’ve worked intensively on this piece. I went back to the orchestral score and revised almost everything I’d done previously: the fingerings, the bowings and phrasings. So it really is high time I recorded the violin concerto.” And, as long as she was in the neighborhood, it couldn’t hurt to throw in fine recordings of the E-minor Mazurek and F-minor Romance for violin and orchestra and G-flat major Humoresque for violin and piano. ΩΩΩ½ (Jeff Simon)


E.T.A. Hoffmann, “Missa” and “Miserere” performed by the WDR Radio Orchestra and Symphony Orchestras of Cologne conducted by Rupert Huber (WDR/CPO). Unfortunately, E.T.A. Hoffmann is probably best-known in the world for Offenbach’s opera “The Tales of Hoffman” – certainly much better known than he is for the tales themselves which are, tragically therefore, among the more marvelous specimens extant of German Romanticism. Neither he nor Kleist seem the slightest bit dated as writers in the 21st century. Dragging up the rear in Hoffman’s reputation, for obvious reasons, are his musical compositions. Get this now – nowhere in the notes to this disc of Hoffmann the composer will you find the information that, yes, this is THAT E.T.A. Hoffmann. Ah well. You’ll instantly notice here in what is likely your first acquaintance with Hoffmann as composer that whatever similarities Hoffmann’s “Missa” has to Mozart’s final Requiem Mass, Mozart’s is, well, just a wee bit better. Seriously, Hoffmann the composer was no genius – not much more than a curiosity (as was, for instance, the musical composition of Nietzsche) – but it’s certainly rather wonderful to have it to listen to for anyone who wants. ΩΩ½ (J.S.)


“Stabat Mater Dolorosa”: Music for Passiontide performed by Choir of Clare College, Cambridge, Graham Ross, director (Harmonia Mundi). The more grim segments of Christianity – the Puritans, for instance – would consider this disc a guilty pleasure. The cover shows a tearful Pieta but most of the music, which ranges from plainchant up into the 20th century, is rapturously beautiful. It’s often as bright and luminous as the music of Advent (which, centuries ago, was also a time of penitence). Orlande de Lassus’ “Tristis est anima mea,” its sorrowing title aside, is tremendously uplifting, as is William Byrd’s “Ave, Verum Corpus.” The chant is serene as only chant can be. The crisp counterpoint of Thomas Tallis and Tomas Luis de Victoria also shines in these seamless performances. The disc ends with an enchanting arrangement by Maurice Durufle of the traditional chant “Ubi Caritas.” On the minus side I had to roll my eyes encountering the old turkey “God So Loved the World.” I am afraid that was ruined for me by years of bad performances at Mass growing up. Oh well, I guess I will offer it up. ∆∆∆½ (M.K.G.)


Stacey Kent, “The Changing Light” (Warner). Well, sure, no one is going to be surprised to hear Kent’s paradoxical sophisticatedly girlish voice in a disc of Bossa Nova and Brazilian favorites – the “One Note Samba,” “Quiet Nights,” “How Insensitive,” “Meditation.” Why on earth wouldn’t a jazz singer of such nuzzling and intimate wit and consummate musicianship want to record a bunch of Jobim and other Brazilian masters? But no one expects a delectable jazz singer and her saxophonist husband to have a wonderful working relationship with a jazz-loving novelist. That’s what’s abundantly evident here in three songs Kent sings where her husband Jim Tomlinson’s music has been set to words by novelist Kazuo Ishiguro – the title song, “Waiter, Oh Waiter” and “The Summer We Crossed Europe in the Rain.” There is, of course, a major tradition of jazz singers with small voices that are eerily perfect mixtures of the sweet and the sour (most famously, the immortal Blossom Dearie) but Kent is, far and away, the best-known, best-connected and irresistibly conspicuous these days. A very tasty disc. ΩΩΩ½ (J.S.)

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