J.S. Bach's Inventions & Sinfonias—the former in two parts, the latter in three—appear on the lesson plan for budding pianists everywhere. Karin Kei Nagano gives the bass lines lots of bounce, but the overall impression registers as smooth, uninflected, and glassy, like enamel. Though performing on a modern concert grand, Nagano works in an unvaried dynamic, not too soft, not too loud. That she performs the individual numbers out of sequence hints at a personal agenda, which I gather she touches on in a liner note. Having sampled the first four sinfonias in Nagano's order—C major, D minor, E minor, F major)—I have no clue what it is (Analekta AN 28771).
An affinity between baroque masters and the minimalists of our time is old news by now. Philip Glass asserts the connection in his two recent Partitas for Solo Cello, now available from the barnstorming, bar-hopping Matt Haimovitz, a former boy wonder classical superagents did their best to groom as the next Yo-Yo Ma. Judging by the first movement of the Partita No. I (2007) and the seventh and final movement of the Partita No. II (2010), I'm sure these must be searing performances—searing but pitch black. Plumbing the extreme depths of its range throughout, the cello might pass as its giant cousin, the double bass. In our excerpt from the first partita, we witness the repetitive, modular construction we associate with minimalism struggling to be born. At the far end of the arc, the elements are so solidly in place that the finale might just chug on forever. Happily, Glass shuts down his perpetual-motion machine before we tire of it, marking the end with five identical chords, unevenly timed, shimmering with elvish overtones. As an encore, we heard "The Paris Sky for Solo Cello (from Book of Longing)," a two-minute miniature that might have been written to evoke "Spleen," that anthology favorite by Baudelaire.
Quand le ciel bas et lourd pèse comme un couvercle
Sur l'esprit gémissant en proie aux longs ennuis...
(When the low, heavy sky weighs like a lid
on the groaning spirit, prey to long ennui...)
Yet by the end, the musical line is climbing higher and higher to vanishing into a twilit haze.
A substantial new chamber work by Terry Riley bears the title "Dark Queen Mantra," borrowed from a 12-minute fantasia-finale that does not, as mantras tend to do, exhaust itself spinning in place (SONO Luminus DSL 92215). It dances along at an easy allegro, shifting moods with casual abandon, yet with a hunted, flustered quality. Do we intuit something Celtic here, or something of the Roma? Thought succeeds thought like sketches in a notebook. Heard on their own in the two preceding movements, the players of the Del Sol String Quartet are joined at the close by Gyan Riley, guitar.
In our final segment, we challenged listeners to identify three tracks from an album we did not identify. Evidently, all the movie lovers had gone fishing. Our lines were silent as we gave a spin to "Hedwig's Flight," from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone; "The Asteroid Field," from The Empire Strikes Back; and "The Blue and the Gray," from Lincoln—all performed solo, , minus visuals and Technicolor orchestrations. by the Italian virtuoso Simone Pedroni. Is his album John Williams, Themes and Transcriptions for Piano (Varèse Sarabande302 067 478 8) a candidate for your Desert Island discography? Maybe not. Even so, Pedroni makes a seductive case for his free-standing vignettes. Hedwig, the Potter boy's pet owl, lifts off with a feathery grace that I think might have given Schubert himself a shiver. Give a listen to "Die Krähe" (The Crow), the 15th song of Schubert's incomparable cycle Winterreise, to see why I think so.