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Listening Post / Brief reviews of select releases

>Classical

Rachel Kolly D'Alba, "Passion Ysaye" (Warner Classics). Well, OK, if that's what a beautiful young violin virtuoso wants to call a disc that others might simply call Ysaye's Six Sonatas for Solo Violin Op. 27, more power to her. It certainly gets the idea across. And when you hear D'Alba's altogether joyously impetuous performance of the first movement of Ysaye's Second Sonata -- based on the old medieval chant "Dies Irae" -- you understand why she's calling this disc "Passion Ysaye." While Ysaye's unaccompanied violin sonatas are unquestionably lesser works than Bach's unaccompanied violin music, they're also, arguably, more interesting to modern ears than the unaccompanied violin music of Paganini. Ysaye (1858-1931) was, probably, the great violinist after Paganini. His quartet premiered the quartet of his friend Debussy. And, as a virtuoso, Pablo Casals was said to have told people that he was the first violinist he ever heard play in tune. D'Alba is a formidable interpreter. Review: 3 1/2 stars (out of four) (Jeff Simon)

*

Mahler, Des Knaben Wunderhorn performed by Thomas Hampson, baritone, and the Wiener Virtuosen (Deutsche Grammophon). "Des Knaben Wunderhorn," Mahler's haunting collection of songs set to folk poems, appear on this disc for the first time with a chamber orchestra, as he intended. You can hear the difference from the start, in the orchestra's fluid, responsive feel, in the different balance between instruments and voice. You can also feel better the silken, sensual sound of the orchestration, the occasionally jarring harmonies, the startling effects. Hampson never sounded better. His approach is natural and straightforward, just what you need for these songs, which take you into a dream world. He has a bit of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau's emotion and flexibility. I found these performances extremely affecting. Four stars (Mary Kunz Goldman)

*

Marie-Josee Lord, "Marie-Josee Lord" (ATMA Classique). I can't find much biographical information on Canadian soprano Marie-Josee Lord, but judging from the passionate thanks she gives to God in the liner notes to this handsome CD, the situation seems to be that she was born poor in Haiti and was adopted as a little girl and taken to Quebec, where she now lives. This fairy-tale background is completed by the portraits of her grown up and beautiful, clad in a stunning blue gown. (The gown is, in a way, her co-star.) Most of this album is the "greatest hits" variety, and I do not think we are yet seeing what will be the full range of Lord's talents. The "Habanera," for instance, sounds a bit cautious. Still she has a way of grabbing your attention. There is a soaring "Summertime," and the bewitching high note at the end of "Signore, Ascolta!" from Puccini's "Turandot." Though technically a soprano, Lord has the richness and depth of a mezzo. The Orchestre Metropolitain, led by Guiseppe Pietrarola, accompany her graciously with a clear, sensual sound. Two of the tracks are instrumentals. 3 1/2 stars (M.K.G.)

***

>Jazz

Perry Robinson Trio, "From A to Z" (Jazzwerkstatt). It would be wonderful to be a fly on the wall if the Perry Robinson who recorded this thoroughly genial, abstract pianoless trio disc with bassist Ernst Bier and drummer Ed Schuller in 2008 could to go back in time and have a conversation with his honking, squeaking, paint-peeling self from the time of John Coltrane's "Ascension." You'll find him on 40 discs of others' music from 1962 on but precious few under his own name. What you're hearing here isn't merely a clarinetist of enormous discipline, but one who sounds absolutely delighted to play in a trio with a European bassist who solos in the delightful old Slam Stewart way, i.e. playing notes on his bass and scat-singing at the same time. That he's been a studio musician for Allen Ginsberg and Pete Seeger should tell anyone that back when he used to accompany Archie Shepp and Sonny Murray in new jazz gigs in the rathskeller of the Student Union on UB's Main Street campus, he was more of a musical fellow traveler than a red-eyed revolutionary on the jazz barricades with Shepp, Murray and Cecil Taylor. The 70-year-old man who made this disc (he's now 72) is a brother under the skin with the great jazz clarinetist Jimmy Giuffre. (Listen, especially, to "Funky Giora" and his version of "Joe Hill.") Three stars (J.S.)

***

>Soundtrack

Michael Nyman, "Vertov Sounds" (MN Records). The great Russian filmmaker Dziga Vertov was one of the pioneer film theorists in the silent film era. Composer and wickedly astute former music critic Michael Nyman is famous as the first to apply the fine arts term "minimalist" to music. They meet on this disc, on the music that Nyman wrote as soundtrack music for Vertov's films "A Sixth Part of the World" (1926) and "The Eleventh Year" (1928). It all stems from a cup of tea Nyman had with a representative from the Austrian Film Museum wherein Nyman was challenged to write music for the two films Vertov had made before his legendary experimental film "Man with a Movie Camera" (for which Nyman had already written a soundtrack score). It's great film music and, because it's Nyman, it stands up as athletic and fascinating music entirely on its own. 3 1/2 stars (J.S.)

***

>Pop

T.I. "No Mercy" (Grand Hustle/Atlantic). For his nimble wordplay and loose bravado, T.I. was once nicknamed "Jay-Z of the South." He's made good on that comparison lately, in an odd way: Like Jay-Z, T.I.'s hit singles have been masking some otherwise mediocre albums. The best of the gospellike "No Mercy" offers hope, because it shows that T.I. might be learning from his mistakes, personal and otherwise. (The Atlanta rapper has been to jail twice since 2004, and was arrested in September on drug charges.) "Big Picture" and "Get Back Up" have a vulnerability we haven't seen before, and "Castle Walls" might be the best song T.I. has ever written. Mentor Scarface is featured on "How Life Changed"; maturity is in the air. So, too, is the old T.I., the one who visits strip clubs and reels off eye-rolling anatomical puns. These are minor derailments, but when finding redemption is this important, there's no room for relapse. 3 1/2 stars (Michael Pollock, Philadelphia Inquirer)

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