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Sound Advice: Classical Selections

Lars Borges / Courtesy

British cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason is just 18 and the winner of the 2016 BBC Young Artists competition.

Lars Borges / Courtesy

"Debussy: Preludes Book II"
Maurizio Pollini
"En Blanc et Noir (In Black and White)" - 15:30
with Daniele Pollini
Deutsche Grammophon

"Debussy: Preludes Book II" is the long-awaited follow-up to Maurizio Pollini’s recording of Debussy’s first book of preludes. The gem on the recording is a work for piano four-hands. It’s called "En Blanc et Noir or In Black and White" (referring to the keys of the piano).

Pollini plays with his 40-year-old son, Daniele. Debussy composed the piece during World War I and dedicated its second movement to his friend Jacques Charlot, a lieutenant killed in action during. The movement is dark, depicting a battle between France and Germany with the familiar Lutheran Hymn, “Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott” (A Mighty Fortress is our God) representing the Germans. Debussy had written in a letter to his publisher, “You’ll see what lies in wait for Luther’s hymn when it dare stray into a French Caprice.”

"Winterreise (A Winters Journey)"
Randall Scarlata and Gilbert Kalish
"Winterreise" by Franz Schubert - 70 minutes

In a world where symphony and opera reigned supreme, Schubert, who composed in all genres, was championing another more intimate art form entirely: German Lieder, otherwise known as art song. "Winterreise (A Winter’s Journey)" tells the story of a man who is trying to find himself after losing his beloved.

Our protagonist is alone and distraught pretty much the entire song cycle. In the final song, however, he meets a poor, unkempt Hurdy Gurdy player (Der Leierman) in the final tune. It’s up to the listener to decide what the Hurdy Gurdy player truly represents. The imagery and text painting throughout Winterreise are nothing short of exquisite.

McGill/Mchale Trio
"Portraits of Langston" by Valerie Coleman - 26 minutes

Valerie Coleman is a composer and flutist from Louisville, Kentucky, and the founder of the Grammy-nominated chamber group Imani Winds. She began her musical studies at 11 years old and had already written three symphonies by the time she was 14.

"Portraits of Langston," written in 2007 and based on the poetry of Langston Hughes, is receiving its world premiere recording with this album. The music is essentially six vignettes based on Hughes’ poetry and juxtaposed with readings of said poetry by Oscar-winning actor Mahershala Ali (Moonlight). The music is lively, frenetic, jazzy and downright beautiful at times. The tight and virtuosic ensemble along with Ali’s dulcet tones make for a very satisfying listening experience.

The McGill/McHale trio came together in 2014 during an artist residency at Bowling Green University in Ohio. This is their debut album and if Portraits is any indication, they are without questions a chamber group to watch.

Sheku Kanneh-Mason
"Evening of Roses" by Yosef Hardar - 3 minutes

Speaking of debut albums, British cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason said he never expected to be making an album so soon. He’s just 18 years old and he’s the winner of the 2016 BBC Young Artists competition. He comes from a family of seven, all musicians, and said he wanted to cooler than his big brother who is a violinist, so he chose a bigger instrument, the cello.

The centerpiece of "Inspiration" is the Shostakovich Cello Concerto performed with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, but the piece I’m choosing to showcase is gorgeous music that Kanneh-Mason learned while in a Klezmer band in High School. It’s called "Evening of Roses" by Israeli Composer Yosef Hadar. This version has been arranged for cello octet, clarinet and cello solo.


For more listening or to listen to some of these works in their entirety, check out the Apple Music Playlist.

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