In this week’s edition of Sound Advice, Morning Classical host Kevin Doherty focuses on recent releases in the world of classical music.
From new releases to new takes on old favorites to the most recent recording on the Organ at Notre Dame, Kevin Doherty highlights some of his favorite albums from the past several months. We'll hear singers from different ends of the vocal spectrum, an Oingo Boingo songwriter and Simpson’s composer's violin concerto, Beethoven, and Bach.
Here’s what’s new and noteworthy in the world of classical music:
"Piece d'Orgue" performed by Olivier Latry on the Organ of Notre Dame
Composed by J.S. Bach
In the wake of the fire at Notre Dame de Paris, I have with me the last recording on the organ before the fire. The organ did not fall victim to the fire, thankfully.
Olivier Latry’s newest album “Bach to the Future” was recorded at Notre Dame in January and released in March of this year. Latry has been one of the four organists in residence at Notre Dame since 1985. So you know he has a very special connection with this instrument.
The instrument is one of the most iconic in the world with its nearly 8,000 pipes. The current organ has been there since the 1730s, and some even say it is one of the only organs that can be identified by its sound. I am not one of those people, but I believe organ aficionados.
Here’s a piece, simply called an Organ Piece or the Fantasy in G minor, that Bach wrote probably only a decade or so before this incredible organ was built. No doubt this work has gotten a few spins on the iconic instrument in the last 300 years.
"Fourth Movement from Eleven Eleven" performed by Sandy Cameron and conducted by John Mauceri
Composed by Danny Elfman
Most of us know Danny Elfman as a film composer and frequent collaborator of Tim Burton or the Simpsons' theme scribe. Some of us probably remember him from his days as the front man for the quirk rock group Oingo Boingo.
But about 15 years ago, Elfman decided to try his luck as a composer for the concert hall, hence his most recent work, a violin concerto called "Eleven Eleven." Like any great film composer, his music is driven by narrative even though there technically is no story to be had.
He loves to create a sonic fantasy world for the listener. Musically, Elfman taps into everything from cinematic to neo-romantic to Shostakovich (after whom he claims to have modeled the concerto), and his own quirky sensibilities.
We'll play a snippet from the fourth movement toward the end that’s got a little bit of everything, including violinist Sandy Cameron’s virtuosity. Cameron is a Tour de force. She barely lets up during this entire 45-minute concerto that was written for her.
"Second Movement: Tranquilissimo" performed by Beth Gibbons and the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra and conducted by Krzysztof Penderecki
Composed by Henryk Gorecki from his Symphony of Sorrowful Songs
First of all, Beth Gibbons is not a classically trained singer nor does she know Polish, the native language of composer Henryk Gorecki and the language in which the songs of this symphony are written.
Learning a new language is part of the job description of a classical singer, but it is most certainly not required for most lead singers of an alt-rock melancholic electronica band from the UK. Gibbons is the lead singer of Portishead, and while she doesn’t bring the vocal strength and agility of someone like Dawn Upshaw, whose 1992 recording helped this symphony achieve fame uncharacteristic of new classical music, she definitely brings overwhelming sadness and sincere vulnerability to this piece.
Gorecki’s Symphony of Sorrowful Songs was composed in 1976 and caught serious fire in the late '80s/early 90s within the art and popular genres alike. It was unlikely that it should break into any sort of mainstream musical canon and yet, that is precisely what happened. It’s been recorded many times.
Gibbon’s rendition is haunting and beautiful and a refreshing interpretation of an iconic work in my opinion.
Here's a taste of Gibbons singing with Portishead:
Watch Gibbons perform the symphony with the orchestra:
"Heiliger Dankgesang" performed by A Far Cry
Composed by Ludwig van Beethoven for his String Quartet, No. 15
I was introduced to the Boston-based chamber ensemble A Far Cry last year when they recorded an album with pianist Simone Dinnerstein featuring the world premiere of Philip Glass’s most recent piano concerto. I started to follow them a bit and stumbled across this recording from 2014.
Now it’s not new per se, but it’s new to me and it’s going to be appearing on KXPR from time to time. They have recorded a stunning arrangement of the third and longest movement of Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 15 — Holy Song of Thanksgiving, or Heiliger Dankgesang.
I think what I really love about this piece is how modern it sounds. It has this long, slow beautiful introduction like something out the 20th century holy minimalism that you just heard from Gorecki and then opens up into this joyful section that almost sounds like it could be from the Lord of the Rings score.
I'm not trying to minimize this for Beethoven fans. The genius of Beethoven is always how he develops his themes. But for that, one needs more than a minute excerpt. Beethoven was just getting over a serious illness when he wrote this. So we'll play the transition from a chorale that sounds like a solemn prayer from Beethoven into that jovial first morning of feeling better.
“Ah! Fuggi Rapido” from Orlando Furioso performed by Cecilia Bartoli & Ensemble Matheus
Composed by Antonio Vivaldi
Cecilia Bartoli has released a brand new Vivaldi album. What’s interesting about this is that Vivaldi is known for his instrumental works as he wrote over 200 concertos for violin.
He wrote a significant number of operas but they garnered little to no recognition until Cecilia Bartoli released her first album of Vivaldi songs 20 years ago. That album sparked a renewed interest in the vocal works of Vivaldi and here Bartoli is, two decades later, with a new batch of songs.
If nothing else, I want to remind listeners of the artistry and incredible flexibility of Bartoli’s voice. Her command of Vivaldi’s melismatic material is uncanny. The precision is amazing.
Listen to Doherty's playlist here: