Some musical forms—the fugue, say, or the passacaglia—prescribe strict rules. Among those that do not, none wears its liberties more proudly on its sleeve than the fantasia. For a recent example, look to the title track of the new release from Anne Akiko Meyers, on Avie. The composer is the prolific Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara (1928-2016). Like his great countryman Jean Sibelius, Rautavaara knew how to conjure up, through grand as well as through sparse gestures, a sense of lonely, wide-open Nordic landscapes haunted by ancient memories. Against just such a background, the soloist in his symphonic "Fantasia" (2015) concentrates on the violin's middle to lower range to searching effect. Though the piece runs a quarter hour, the unanticipated shifts of mood that often characterize a fantasia come into play hardly at all. The mood is meditative, yet the momentum never falters. Joined by the Philharmonia Orchestra under Kristjan Järvi, Meyers weaves a potent spell. The balance of her program is given over to Szymanowski's Violin Concerto No. 1 and the Ravel showpiece "Tzigane."
Setting a new precedent, I next slipped in an encore from one of last week's catches, New Worlds, which finds the actor Bill Murray in tandem with the cellist Jan Vogler and Friends (Decca Gold). The program, according to a website devoted to the album and the associated world tour, "showcases the core of the American values in literature and music." How exactly their rendition of "I Feel Pretty," from West Side Story, fulfills this agenda, who knows. Suffice it to say his very pointed, yet oddly halting recitation crosses the line to the lunatic. (Maybe it's fleas.)
Setting another precedent, we returned to the thrilling, newly commissioned Toccata on "L'homme armé," required of all contestants in the preliminary round of this year's Cliburn piano competition. Decca Gold has released a CD documenting selections from the programs of each of the three medalists. Last week, we heard the 28-year-old gold winner Yekwon Sunwoo, from South Korea, render the piece to lacy if abstract perfection. This time we checked out the performance of the 19-year-old American winner of the bronze, Daniel Hsu (Decca Gold), who prioritizes a singing line and greater personal mystery, in the Lisztian manner. Given that Hamelin's piece takes baroque form as a springboard romantic keyboard virtuosity, either approach makes complete sense. (The toccata does not appear on the album of Kenneth Broberg, the 23-year-old American winner of the silver.)
Debussy: Sonates & Trios (Erato) showcases a half dozen top-of-the-line instrumentalists of the French school in chamber music conceived as musical conversation among friends. Our selection was the summery, languorous second movement ("Interlude") from the Sonata for Flute, Viola, and Harp. Apart from the responsive give-and-take in the phrasing, the almost tactile sensation of the Swiss star flautist Emmanuel Pahud's breath on his flute, of Marie-Pierre Langlamet's fingertips on the strings of her harp, and the violist Gérard Caussé's bow on the strings of his viola make for a reading of exceptional intimacy.
To close, we turned to a pair of tracks from Mirages: Opera Arias and Songs (Erato), a new release from the French soprano Sabine Devielhe. Her hallmarks, from what we heard, would seem to be sweet, fresh tone and an easy grace, free of contrivance, even in material shot through with exotic inflection. Our selections, for the record, were "La mort d'Ophélie" (The Death of Ophelia), by Hector Berlioz, and the Song of the Nightingale from Act 2 of Igor Stravinsky's miniature fable Le rossignol. Elsewhere, Devielhe ranges from Messager, Delibes, and Debussy to Delage, Thomas, Massenet, and Koechlin, a list that hints at a sensibility of considerable sophistication.