5 Classical Albums to Hear Right Now
Sigismondo d’India: ‘Lamenti e Sospiri’ Mariana Flores and Julie Roset, sopranos; Cappella Mediterranea; Leonardo García Alarcón, director …
Sigismondo d’India: ‘Lamenti e Sospiri’
Mariana Flores and Julie Roset, sopranos; Cappella Mediterranea; Leonardo García Alarcón, director (Ricercar)
Sigismondo d’India was a young Italian composer at the explosively creative dawn of the 17th century, the time of Gesualdo, Frescobaldi, Monteverdi and Caccini. With opera barely in its infancy, d’India was a master of what was then the primary progressive form of vocal expression: intimate chamber madrigals for one or two voices and a few instruments at most.
To set the texts — largely secular poems — with luminous clarity and to shape the music to the mood were the main goals, which d’India achieved with unexpected harmonies and startling evocations of emotional extremity. Listen, on this superb album of aching, elegant melancholy from Leonardo García Alarcón and his Cappella Mediterranea, to the shocking curt chords that accompany “Mentre che’l cor,” an intense depiction of a heart being ravaged by worms and flames, the organ exhaling eerie stillness. The sudden shift to the sprightly next track, “Pallidetta qual viola,” gives a concise index of d’India’s range. In “Io viddi in terra angelici costumi,” a setting of Petrarch, both piece and performance achieve hypnotic heights.
Joined by four other players and the sopranos Mariana Flores and Julie Roset — alternately feather-soft and piercingly strong — Alarcón offers 90 minutes of d’India, anchored by two grand laments from abandoned women, Virgil’s Dido and Ariosto’s Olympia. But even if the other works here are without named characters, they lack nothing in vividness of characterization. ZACHARY WOOLFE
Rafael Kubelik: The Mercury Masters
Chicago Symphony Orchestra; Rafael Kubelik, conductor (Eloquence)
Of the many, many box sets documenting the history of American orchestras and their conductors, this 10-disc package is among the most revealing. Rafael Kubelik’s spell as music director of the Chicago Symphony lasted just three fraught seasons after he arrived in 1950 to replace Artur Rodzinski; Kubelik was swiftly doomed by the barrage of negativity aimed at him by the Chicago Tribune critic Claudia Cassidy.
His time in the Midwest has been somewhat swamped by the intimidating excellence of his successor, Fritz Reiner. But he shouldn’t be forgotten: He was a powerful, often daring interpreter, and Mercury’s experiments with recording technology meant that he was captured from 1951 to ’53 in some of the finest mono around. Eloquence’s bundle is the first to collect those recordings in their own box, even including excerpts from early stereo tests, and they are all worthwhile: vibrant, atmospheric accounts of Mozart symphonies; a Brahms First that rivals any of Wilhelm Furtwängler’s for visionary intensity; Schoenberg’s “Five Pieces for Orchestra,” lovingly colored; performances of Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 and Smetana’s “Ma Vlast” as ardent as you’d expect from a Czech émigré. Treasurable. DAVID ALLEN
Gabriella Smith and Gabriel Cabezas (Bedroom Community)
To be from California, as the composer Gabriella Smith and I both are, is to grow up surrounded by dissonance. Along the state’s nearly 850 miles of coastline are extremes of urban sprawl and unsullied nature, a checkerboard pattern of reverence and reckless exploitation. And now climate change looms over it all.
Smith captures this moment with rage, elegy and wonder on “Lost Coast,” written for and recorded with the cellist Gabriel Cabezas, and sharply produced by the violist Nadia Sirota. The album opens with “Bard of a Wasteland,” a radio-ready song that joins Caroline Shaw and So Percussion’s recent “Let the Soil Play Its Simple Part” in a class of genre-defiant music that leans more toward the high-level pop of Anohni than traditional concert hall fare.
That track features extended technique and layered voicing, as do others — none more than the three-movement title work, which takes its name from a wild stretch in Northern California. It is a work of deceptive scale, feeling larger than its two musicians; and of constant momentum in the cello, atop which pass emotive outbursts, searching melodies and, by the end, a tension of entropy and resistance.
There is something of a bleak coda in “Swept,” but its exasperation is complicated by a return to liveliness in “Tarn,” and, in “Rise,” an awe-struck eye toward the beauty of nature, which inspired Smith in the first place. JOSHUA BARONE
‘A Secret Code’
Pamela Z (Neuma)
The pandemic rewarded musicians who could do their work at home. Thanks to Pamela Z’s electronically outfitted, live-looping practice, this singer and electronic artist could easily produce solo sets for colleges and soundscapes for European radio.
Serving as a kind of capstone for this moment is her long-awaited sophomore album, “A Secret Code.” (Her first full-length solo, “A Delay is Better,” came out in 2004.) Like that debut recording, the new one includes excerpts from larger works — yet because Z is such a skilled editor, “A Secret Code” never feels too fragmentary.
The first track, “Quatre Couches/Flare Stains,” blends two pieces. As a multitrack choir of Pamelas in the first piece gives way to the top line of vocalization that dominates the second half, the listener gets a handy encapsulation of her electronics-aided density and her pristine solo technique.
The album also leans heavily on another aspect of her practice, in which Z conducts interviews as fodder. In “Unknown Person (from ‘Baggage Allowance’),” she sings lulling renditions of lines from airport-security scripts — “Did any unknown person ask you to carry something?” — as the setup for sundry answers to the questions.
Nearly every track features surprising arrangement choices. While “Other Rooms” starts with some of that documentary-style use of other voices, it also includes some of Z’s most beautiful singing. And during “He Says Yes (from ‘Echo’),” a few upside-the-head percussive smacks serve as a reminder of her dramatic skill with mixing. Grab your best headphones for this one. SETH COLTER WALLS
‘When Do We Dance?’
Lise de la Salle, piano (Naïve)
The title of the French pianist Lise de la Salle’s new album is a question borrowed from a Gershwin song. In the 27 tracks of this engaging, imaginative, brilliantly played program, she answers, taking listeners on a musical journey through six countries.
She follows the title track with a giddily virtuosic performance of Art Tatum’s arrangement of “Tea for Two” and works by William Bolcom and Fats Waller. There are stopovers in Argentina (Piazzolla and Ginastera), Spain (Manuel de Falla) and France (Ravel’s “Valses Nobles et Sentimentales” and a waltzing étude by Saint-Saëns). Hungary is represented by Bartok’s familiar “Romanian Folk Dances.” But from Russia she offers novelties: a Stravinsky tango; a lilting Scriabin waltz (who knew?); and an Italian polka by Rachmaninoff (yes, you read that right). ANTHONY TOMMASINI