Heedless of the holidays, we cast a wide net in our final shows of the year and brought in a very mixed haul. This post covers our tracks for December 6; the playlist is available on Apple Music. Our selections for December 27 are the subject of my next post, which is imminent. Stay tuned!
A clean sweep--top picks all...
Voices in the Wilderness (Bright Shiny Things 2020)
Elizabeth Bates, Clifton Massey, Nils Neubert, Steven Hrycelak; Christon Dylan Herbert, music director
- Herzog unserer Seligkeiten
- Wann Gott sein Zion lösen wird
- Formier, mein Töpfer
A cappella hymns by members of the eighteenth-century celibate community of Ephrata Cloister in Lancaster Country, Pennsylvania. As to harmony and counterpoint, the invention of the German immigrant Johann Conrad Beissel and his followersis homespun (you were expecting maybe Thomas Tallis? Palestrina?). Yet these ardent performances hit home, especially where the lambent soprano line beams in the empyrean over the rock-solid, jet-black bass. Aside: Readers of Thomas Mann's spell-binding Doctor Faustus: The Life of the German Composer Adrian Leverkühn, Told by a Friend, may remember that the hero has quite a bit to say about Beissel's technique. Yet opportunities to hear his music and that of his coreligionists are rare in the extreme. I've been waiting for this album ever since I read Mann's novel, over three decades ago.
Frederic Rzewski: Songs of Insurrection (Coviello Classics 2020)
Thomas Kotcheff, piano
- No. 1, Die Moorsoldaten (Germany)
- No. 6, Los Cuatro Generales (Spain)
Though a well-nigh definitive interpreter of his own politically supercharged, pianistically encyclopedic keyboard catalogue, Frederic Rzewski encourages a spirit of independent adventure in his disciples, among whom the youthful Thomas Kotcheff claims a place of honor with this first commercial recording of the composer's recent suite. So much so, that the album comes blurbed by the composer. "Superb," Rzewski declares, adding that he loves Kotcheff's improvisations. Roger that.
Bestiary on Ivory: Music from the Animal Kingdom (Bridge 2020)
Hsiang Tu, piano
- William Bolcom, 3 Popular Rags: No. 2, Tabby Cat Walk
- Franz Liszt, 2 Légendes, S. 175: No. 1, St. Francis of Assisi's Sermon to the Birds
- Béla Bartók, Mikrokosmos, Sz. 107, Vol. 6: From the Diary of a Fly
To his brilliantly curated program, the Taiwan-born Hsiang Tu brings magisterial chops and fabulous flair in pictorial and acoustic nuance. In the Bolcom vignette, he evokes a pianola, while the Liszt opens out with organlike majesty. The Bartók tiptoes in curiously "spidery" fashion; is the fly in question a fly that got away?
Carnival (Decca 2020)
The Kanneh-Masons, Michael Morpurgo & Olivia Colman
From Camille Saint-Saëns, Carnival of the Animals
- Introduction and Royal March of the Lion
- The Swan (Narration), Olivia Colman
- The Swan
The masterly young cellist Skeku Kanneh-Mason shot onto the world's radar playing that pensive solo at the church where Prince Harry tied the knot with Meghan Markle. This album finds Sheku's large and talented brood of siblings riding his coattails onto the charts. The Introduction and Royal March of the Lion comes off with Oriental zing and zest to spare. One hopes for stardust from the arresting Olivia Colman (Queen Anne in "The Favourite" Queen Elizabeth in seasons 3 and 4 of "The Crown"), but in truth her fascination is lost on mere snippets. Sheku glides through the cantilena known to balletomanes from "The Dying Swan" at a clip Anna Pavlova and her innumerable followers might wish to rein in, but that's fine. Their job is to dance, to linger, perchance to dream; his is to make it sing.
David Hertzberg, The Rose Elf (Meyer Media LLC 2020)
Robert Kahn, Sydney Mancasola & Samantha Hankey
- Part I, "Rose—beautiful, blooming rose!"
- Part I, "The tale you tell"
- Part II, "I cannot leave her... Drift, darling, drift"
The story, after Andersen after Boccaccio, tingles the spine. Unfortunately, for unknown reasons, we could barely make out the singers' voices. The orchestral fabric, however, shimmered and glistened and tingled like Richard Strauss at his most delirious (think Die Ägyptische Helena), exerting an undertow of fascination hard to resist. Technology failed us, David. We couldn't do you justice. We'll try again.