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Listening Post: Maestra Falletta tackles Stravinsky, jazz from Lisa Hilton, piano recitals from Grigory Sokolov


Lisa Hilton, “Nocturnal” (Ruby Slippers)

It’s unlikely that jazz pianist/composer Lisa Hilton will ever lead a group better than the quintet she has for a good part of this record – Antonio Sanchez on drums, J. D. Allen on tenor saxophone, Terrell Stafford on trumpet, and Gregg August on bass. Except for the Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind?” and Ann Ronnell’s “Willow Weep for Me,” all the compositions are by Hilton.

What is most impressive about Hilton, composer and player, is that she has no truck with the cliches of over-schooling by so many jazz composers of her generation, where harmonic complexity (because it can be taught in music schools) becomes the point of jazz instead of rhythmic or melodic invention (which can be studied but not really taught.) As a result, Hilton’s compositions are very much of a piece – an infectious left-hand ostinato figure often with a melody of notable beauty in the right hand (or treble).

Because she is blonde and beautiful, her image is used abundantly for marketing purposes on her records (which are from her own label) but what attracts players of this quality to make her music are, I think, her melodic gifts and song-form clarity, as both composer and player. Beauty of all sorts is abundant here.

3 stars (out of four)



Stravinsky “The Rite of Spring” and Elgar, “Overture: In the South” performed by the Virginia Symphony Orchestra conducted by Jo Ann Falletta (Hampton Road Classics)

Here, from JoAnn Falletta’s OTHER regular orchestra, is a good recording of a wonderfully odd pairing of works – Stravinsky’s revolutionary modernist masterpiece “The Rite of Spring” and Elgar’s relatively uncommon “Overture: In the South.”

Stravinsky, obviously, is the point of the record and Maestra Falletta’s recording of it is a very good one but there are some notable oddities of tempo and attack – quicker than usual on Part One “The Adoration of the Earth” (as if to make up for a lessening of percussion impact) and somewhat slower than usual in various parts of Part Two “The Sacrifice.” Falletta’s “Rite” is less redolent of the hair-raising savagery of Bernstein or Gergiev (where you can almost hear why the score’s first audience rioted) than of the work’s more logical exponents who would make of it the natural, if extreme, development in Russian music after Rimsky-Korsakov and Gliere (whose Third Symphony with the BPO is, thus far, the BPO’s standout recording.)

After such primitivism, Elgar’s musical tribute to Italy is a reassertion of order in the musical universe. All is right with the world; Europe will always be Europe and no one ever need disturb the children with unpleasant behavior. Falletta’s exceptional gifts as a conductor are not only undeniable here, they’re more than might have been expected.

3.5 stars (out of four)


Schubert and Beethoven, Piano Works, with encores by Rameau and Brahms, performed by pianist Grigory Sokolov (Deutsche Grammophon, two discs)

Live recordings from pianist Sokolov’s recent recitals in Warsaw collect the 65-year old Russian pianist playing Beethoven’s “Hammerklavier” Sonata, Schubert’s sublime Impromptus D. 899 and Three Piano Pieces D.946, piano transcriptions of harpsichord pieces by Rameau and Brahms’ B-Flat major Intermezzo. This is a full program from Sokolov, right from its magnificent opening with Schubert’s C-minor Impromptu.

Beethoven’s monumental and daunting “Hammerklavier” is performed by Sokolov not as the mind-and-digit buster that it can be bur rather as a supremely logical setting for its fiendish fugue. It’s a stellar two-disc compilation of live performances from a pianist who has sometimes been noted for both the paucity of his performances outside Russia and recordings. Not anymore.

3.5 stars (out of four)

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