company logo

Find a Teacher

Find Students


About Us
LearningMusician Features >> Reviews

New Music Roundup: A Few Quick Picks

Michael Connolly
Staff Writer

Michael Connolly writes:

If you're a music teacher and you're like me, your teaching and performance schedule can leave you little or no time to actually sit down and listen to new music! I keep trying to remember to expose myself to new music, especially in unfamiliar genres. So this month, I'm doing my part by sharing some musical starting points with you -- maybe they'll be inspirational to you as well!

We asked Shulamit Kleinerman, Matt McGuire, and Michele Horwitz to come together and share their favorite new albums with us. Here's what they came up with.

See reviews for: Classical - Indie - Jazz

Classical Music

Shulamit Kleinerman's favorites this time around include:

Lorraine Hunt Lieberson
Recital at Ravinia
Harmonia Mundi

Some of Lorraine Hunt Lieberson's fans knew the acclaimed mezzo mainly from her roles and recordings in Baroque opera, and when she died too young in 2006, it was a revelation to discover just how much broader both her work and her audience were. Last year saw the release of two more posthumous albums and the awarding of a second posthumous Grammy. This spring's new CD is a live recital, on a program devoted to themes of love, that Hunt Lieberson gave with Peter Serkin in August 2004. The music ranges from Handel to Mozart to Brahms to Debussy, plus three encores: the grieving maternal love duo from Handel's Giulio Cesare with countertenor Drew Minter, the arrangement of "Deep River" by Henry Thacker Burleigh, and the arty, sad pop song "Calling You" from the movie Baghdad Cafe.

Hunt Lieberson had recorded most of this material previously, but the mixed recital format brings out new aspects. The Mozart songs sound like Schubert Lieder, and the Handel arias are drawn out slowly, with more reserve than in the singer's brilliant collaborations with period-instrument orchestras. The miraculous bloom of her voice, from silence to a cascade of sound, has always been unlike anything else, and it transforms the encores. Her outpouring of anguish in the wail of "I am calling you" turns an eighties pop melisma into something almost unnervingly her own. To me, the most beautiful moments on the album come in the duo with Minter, "Son nata a lagrimar," where the two singers lean achingly into each other's voices at the cadences and where Hunt Lieberson's tremulous cries of "Ah" over Minter's line reveal the deep, detailed intelligence behind her ravishingly expressive sound.

Brooklyn Rider
In a Circle Records

From the ensemble's name, you'd never know they're a classical string quartet. It's all part of the boundary-defying venture of these four innovative young players, who in addition to maintaining a claim on the mainstream classical repertoire have worked together on cross-cultural, cross-genre projects such as Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Ensemble. They're hip in a geeky Brooklyn way (suspenders, facial hair). They're passionate and knowledgeable about art: their ensemble's name makes reference to the Blue Rider group in expressionist painting nearly a century ago. They do shows in clubs, galleries, and the occasional Buddhist temple. Everyone but the cellist plays standing up, and when the music calls for it, they dig into their instruments with the exuberance of racehorses let out of the barn.

The quartet's repertoire runs to new music with world-music flavors. Passport opens with an arrangement of five Armenian folk songs. One is broad and muscular, Copland for the South Caucasus; another is an elusive old-world sing-song. The thirteen-minute album centerpiece, second violinist Colin Jacobsen's "Brooklesca," begins with one of the most exhilarating half-minutes of chamber music I've heard. A touch of percussion sharpens the groove that's already there. The highlight of Passport is its last two tracks, by composer and fellow adventurous string player Lev "Ljova" Zhurbin. On "Crosstown," the upper strings ride a slinky plucked cello ostinato into a landscape of almost embarrassingly rich harmonies, vista after vista unfolding. The string quartet is traveling well in the 21st century, and you don't even need a classical-music passport to rock out with this one.

Richard Egarr, harpsichord
Henry Purcell: Keyboard Suites and Grounds
Harmonia Mundi

It's not just for harpsichord lovers: The prolific Richard Egarr brings to life Purcell's eight keyboard suites with warmth, sparkle, and tunefulness. The suites offer a kaleidoscopic view of all the French Baroque dance forms in miniature, along with an airy, frivolous English hornpipe or two. The style of the whole thing is gently theatrical and luxurious, from the lovely halting delicacy of the "Bell-Barr" Almand in Suite No. 7 to the cocky swagger of the same suite's Hornpipe.

The suites are interspersed with seven longer pieces on repeating ground bass patterns -- a wonderful programming touch that anchors the shifting dance movements with moments of gravity. Where Egarr highlights the dance movements' unfolding harmonic twists and turns, particularly in the short preludes that unspool to a single expectant cadence, he allows the grounds to lay out their more measured grandeur. A poignant aria from Welcome to all the pleasures turns a soprano solo into a thin, high harpsichord voice, which somehow makes it only more exquisite. The range and scope of the instrument is well plumbed in the playing and well preserved in the recording. Turn up the volume or you'll miss the last track, a dreamlike time-travel to a private musical moment, you might imagine, in some 17th-century London parlor.

Matt Haimovitz (cello), Jonathan Crow (violin), Douglas McNabney (viola)
J.S. Bach, Goldberg Variations
Oxingale Records

Matt Haimovitz gets top billing here -- a few years ago the world-class young cellist won applause for his mission to play solo Bach across small-town America. But the three musicians on this album are equals. Colleagues in the string department at McGill University who had already recorded a Mozart album together, they share the kind of warm, congenial chamber-music interplay that rarely happens all the way. Beyond their lovely technique and sound and their exquisite musical sensitivity, the recording manages to capture a really special musical intimacy. You can literally hear the players listening to each other.

Their camaraderie is all the more remarkable given that the piece is Bach's Goldberg Variations, ordinarily the epitome of solitary music (not least when it came to the reclusive Glenn Gould). In the keyboard original, the music's "plot" lies in moving from the plainness of the opening Aria theme into the increasing complexity of the variations, and the reprise of the Aria at the end sounds a bit empty, as if all that decoration was just a dream. Dmitri Sitkovetsky's little-known arrangement for string trio turns the monologue into a conversation. In this performance, the Aria is rich and subtle and full of life. The musicians honor the transparency of the writing, hovering with delicate vibrato in its spaciously breathed phrases. When it comes back after the variations' bustle and grandeur, the reprise is all the sweeter.

See reviews for: Classical - Indie - Jazz


Michael Connolly teaches and performs traditional American and Irish music on fiddle and mandolin. He lives in Seattle, Washington.

If you enjoyed this feature article, click the button below to email the article to a friend!