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CDs for a Sizzling Summer

June 2, 2009

Summer, they say, is the time to unwind and relax. Whether you choose to do so at the beach, in your garden hammock, or at the top of Yosemite’s Half Dome, you’ll certainly welcome music to carry you one step farther toward infinite bliss. Here, then, is a Critic’s Choice classical potpourri specially tailored for the summer season. J.S. Bach: Six Concertos for the Margrave of Brandenburg • Trevor Pinnock: European Brandenburg Ensemble • Avie (AV 2119)

Anything but more of the same, this award-winning two-CD set of the "Brandenburgs" from harpsichordist and conductor Trevor Pinnock and this period-instrument ensemble is filled with unexpected revelations. Many passages in these wonderful pieces emerge stately and elegant.

Others are filled with joy and delightfully danceable melodies. Woodwinds sparkle and colors abound, as Bach’s mastery of invention bubbles forth in every phrase. Even if you think you’ve heard enough of the "Brandenburgs" for the rest of your life, this set may rekindle your passion.


The Record of Singing: The Very Best of Volumes 1-4 From 1899 to the end of the 78 era • EMI 50999 2 28956 2

Academic? Hardly. For those who love the glories of the human voice, these 10 CDs, savored at the rate of one per week, will sustain you through most of the summer. They also may inspire a major reevaluation of well-worn pronouncements. Take the very first track, for example, the Bach-Gounod Ave Maria sung by the last surviving castrato, Alessandro Moreschi.

Often dismissed as a bleating freak, Moreschi instead emerges as a strangely endearing if nonetheless hilariously overemoting artist. From famous 19th-century soprano Adelina Patti (past retirement in 1904, but still with fabulous trills) to soprano Zinka Milanov in 1946 (her glamorous voice reflecting an oversized ego!), with a host of great singers of every voice type in between, the beauty of this set may have you hunting the Internet for used copies of the original four volumes. It will certainly have you listening to today’s divos and divas with a far more critical ear.

Trio Solisti: Café Music • Bridge 9296

Those fortunate enough to have heard Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg and the New Century Chamber Orchestra perform Astor Piazzolla’s Four Seasons of Buenos Aires at the start of the past season know how vibrant the Argentinean master’s music can sound in the right hands. In this arrangement for piano trio, violinist Maria Bachmann, cellist Alexis Pia Gerlach, and pianist Jon Klibonoff play the music’s socks off.

You’ll love Bachmann’s special effects. Paul Schoenfield’s Café Music is delightful, Piazzolla’s Le Grand Tango is as zippy as you’d expect, and Gershwin’s It Ain’t Necessarily So seemingly as necessary as The Rite of Spring.

In the middle of all this comes Joaquin Turina’s exquisite Trio No. 2 in B Minor, Op. 76, which will likely dance and charm its way into your heart. This group just makes great music.

Stile Antico: Song of Songs • Harmonia Mundi HMU 807489

I recall driving from the coast over Mt. Tam one pitch-black evening, in a state of near ecstasy as I listened to the the Tallis Scholars sing Renaissance masses. The smoother, warmer, oft-sensual voices of Stile Antico may do the same for you. Interspersing plainchant with motets by Guerrero, Victoria, Gombert, and Palestrina that are based on King Solomon’s Song of Songs, this young British ensemble manages to bring out the passion beneath the piety. This could be the perfect nighttime music for curling up by the fire in your cabin on the Russian River.

Mozart: Colloredo Serenade & Divertimento • Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Alexander Janiczek director/violin • Linn CKD 320

I recently went looking for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra’s surround-sound traversal of Mozart’s final four symphonies. Instead, I stumbled upon a more recent Mozart release from the same orchestra and label. Both chamber works on this wonderfully recorded, hybrid SACD, which can yield extra delights on surround-sound systems, were designed as summer entertainment. Entertaining they are, filled with sunny themes that remind you that joy is anything but inconsequential. If the music is ultimately a no-brainer, so is the decision to buy the CD.

[email protected]: Season Six: The Unfolding of Music II[email protected] LIVE 2008 (five CDs)

Here is the latest five-CD set from the Bay Area’s summer chamber music paradise, [email protected].

Although I wish the acoustic was a bit wetter and the box sturdier, the huge range of repertoire — from J.S. Bach’s "Brandenburg" Concerto No. 4 to Gabriella Lena Frank’s Selections from Songs of Cifar and the Sweet Sea — makes Music at Menlo’s five-century survey self-recommending.

If you’re still not sated after listening to all five CDs, there are five more sets to be had from the Music at Menlo Web site.

Aquarelle Guitar Quartet: Spirit of Brazil • Chandos 10512

The guitar may be closely associated with the music of Spain, but it has also inspired a host of Brazilian composers. Clarice Assad, daughter of famed guitarist Sergio Assad and composer in residence of the New Century Chamber Orchestra, makes two appearances on this CD from the UK-based Aquarelle Guitar Quartet: Bluzilian, her first work for guitar quartet, and the premier recording of Danças Nativas.

Her father contributes an excellent compostion of his own, Uarekena. Two transcriptions of music by Heitor Villa-Lobos, the famous aria from Bachianas Brasileiras No.5 and “Brincadeira” from the String Quartet No. 1, are included. While the performance of the Bachianas Brasileiras sounds too much like a parcel of cockroaches chewing their way through the melody line, the rest of the program is quite successful. It’s hard not to fall in love with Paulo Bellinati’s A Furiosa, or the two contributions by the great Egberto Gismonti. Roland Dyens’ Brésils also has a lot going for it.

Percy Grainger: Lincolnshire Posy • Dallas Wind Symphony / Jerry Junkin • Reference Recordings RR-117

This wonderfully recorded CD offers unique, colorful arrangements of Percy Grainger’s British Folk Music Settings and Room-Music Tidbits. Who can help but smile at the “Children’s March,” in which the Dallas Wind Symphony joins forces with the Arts District Chorale? “Mock Morris,” intended to be played “at fast jog trotting speed,” is a joy, while "The Gum-Suckers March" should have you dancing in no time. America even receives token representation with the arrangement of “Spoon River.”

There are 13 selections in all, including the six-movement Lincolnshire Posy. Grainger’s music is made to order for summer indulgence.

Baroque and Blue: Silver Poetry • Profil (Hänssler) PH08021

No, the title is not a pun on how many of us are feeling down in this economy; this is a CD of jazz-tinged, classical music by Claude Bolling (Jazz-Suite No.1), Alan Weinberg (Salsa Suite), and Elena Katz-Chernin (Silver Poetry Suite). Chernin’s piece is dedicated to the flutist of the Baroque and Blue ensemble, Christiane Meininger, for whom it was written as a birthday present.

Joined by pianist Rainer Gepp, bass and arranger Roger Goldberg, and drummer André Schubert, Meininger and crew give us a most delightful five-movement work that begins by showcasing Australian landscapes (with a nod to Chopin). In this age where genres intermix, closets burst open, and Mason Bates goes from DJing in clubs to writing for the San Francisco Symphony and Chanticleer, the time for parsing categories has passed.

This is really lovely stuff, perfect for taking on vacation.

Dvořák / Herbert Cello Concertos • Gautier Capuçon, Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra/Paavo Järvi • Virgin Classics 50999 519035 2 7

For SFCVers who feel that every day is the right day for romantic repertoire, here are two great cello concertos. While there are many great recordings of the Dvořák concerto, certainly there must be a place for the deep beauty and tenderness of Gautier Capuçon’s yearning Adagio and the heartfelt, oft-thrilling Finale. As for Victor Herbert’s concerto, its final movement may remind you of the way that Wolfgang Korngold’s Violin Concerto mixes American classical and popular idioms. Played after the Dvořák, which is how it’s programmed on his CD, it makes a perfect cap to a summer’s day.


A few other suggestions:

  • Jason Vieaux: Bach Vol. 1 —• Azica ACD-71250. Works for lute, transcribed for guitar
  • Florilegium: Bolivian Baroque Vol. 1 and 2 • Channel Classics
  • These marvelous recordings feature the somewhat naive voices of Bolivian singers alongside seasoned, European, early music instrumentalists. Ever since Vol. 1 came out a few years back, I’ve wanted to find a way to turn people on to these fabulous, high-resolution recordings of delightful Baroque music from the missions of Bolivia.

  • Dvořák: Cypresses / Terzetto • The English String Quartet • Alto ALC 1038
  • When I recently heard one of Dvořák’s miniatures Cypresses, I told my husband that it was so lovely that I’d like it played at my memorial service. On this CD, this extremely charming music is heard both in the original song versions, sung by tenor Philip Langridge, and in the more familiar, graceful arrangements for string quartet.

  • Irasema Terrazas: Voces de Tierra • Urtext JBCC 068
  • You may have never heard of any of the composers on this CD, but once you take a listen, you will want to hear more of them sung by this lovely artist.

  • Anne Akiko Meyers: Smile • Koch KIC-CD 7762.
  • Anne Akiko Meyers’ recital begins with Charlie Chaplin’s Smile and ends with Somewhere Over the Rainbow, making for an irresistible summer CD. The more conventionally classical repertoire fares equally well.

  • George Gershwin: Complete Music for Piano and Orchestra • Anne-Marie McDermott, piano • Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Justin Brown, cond. • Bridge 9252
  • Fine, well-recorded performances of Rhapsody in Blue, I Got Rhythm Variations, and other great Gershwin works.

  • Gershwin: He Loves and She Loves • Songs and Duets by Judy Kaye, William Sharp, and Stephen Blier • Koch KIC-CD-7772
  • A just-reissued classic recording of 20 irreplaceable Gershwin gems.

  • Sharon Isbin: Journey to the New World • Joan Baez, Mark O’Connor • Sony 88697-45456-2
  • The Grammy-winning guitarist plays Renaissance lute works and English folk songs, accompanies two newly recorded classics by the great Joan Baez, and premieres John Duarte’s Joan Baez Suite and Mark O’Connor’s Strings and Threads Suite.

And finally a little World Music:

  • Uxía: Eterno Navigar • World Village WV 498024
  • A marvelous singer from Galicia, joined by superb musicians, sets sails on a voyage of the heart, with oft-haunting music from Portugal, Brazil, and the African continent.

  • Jacques Loussier Plays Bach: The 50th Anniversary Recording • Telarc CD-83693
  • The Jacques Loussier Trio plays joyful, sparklingly light, jazz arrangements of Bach masterpieces. Their freshness and verve is perfect for the season.

Jason Victor Serinus regularly reviews music and audio for Stereophile, SFCV, Classical Voice North America, AudioStream, American Record Guide, and other publications. The whistling voice of Woodstock in She’s a Good Skate, Charlie Brown, the longtime Oakland resident now resides in Port Townsend, Washington.