Sparkling Mozart, spellbinding Donizetti, and dancing Bach
HANDEL AND HAYDN SOCIETY,
Music of Haydn and Mozart
Artistic director Harry Christophers conducts Boston’s top-notch period-instrument orchestra in two Haydn symphonies and a sparkly Mozart concerto featuring firecracker concertmaster Aisslinn Nosky. It was recorded at Symphony Hall over the course of two evenings in 2017, and the gutsy spirit of the live performance is preserved on this album.
Christophers and Haydn are a match made in musical heaven, and under his direction the Handel and Haydn Society are true ambassadors of the music of their second namesake composer. Heady energy infuses the lithe, liturgically influenced lines of Symphony No. 26 and the capricious accents of Symphony No. 86.
And then there’s Nosky’s athletic take on Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 3, in which she displays enviable technical virtuosity and artistic flair in a shimmering, earthy tone. This recording treats classical music like a living tradition, and in that, it feels like a revelation.
MARTIN BOYKAN, “Rites of Passage: Chamber Music, 1993-2012”
“Silence and Slow Time” is the title of a book of essays by Boston-based composer Martin Boykan, but as primary ingredients in Boykan’s art, these terms apply equally well to this eloquent survey of his chamber works written between 1993 and 2012.
The opening Impromptu for solo violin weds contemplation and fantasy, and at seven minutes in length, is a recital-ready gem. Boykan’s Piano Trio No. 3, “Rites of Passage,” holds a sonic mirror to a silverpoint drawing by his wife, Susan Schwalb, and takes a recurring six-note kernel in the cello on a dramatic journey. And this striking disc closes with a haunting Hebrew-language setting of Psalm 121 for mezzo-soprano (here, a radiant Pamela Dellal) and string quartet. Instrumental performances throughout are top notch, and as in so much of Boykan’s music, the details shine brightly but never at the expense of the whole.
PRETTY YENDE, “Dreams”
With “Dreams,” South African lyric coloratura soprano Pretty Yende offers an album of jewel-toned arias and scenes, mostly from the bel canto repertoire in which she has ascended to the top rank of performers in recent years. The album was recorded in her current home base of Milan, where her international career launched from La Scala. The Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano “Giuseppe Verdi” provides a lush backdrop for her voice across all tracks.
Even if bel canto isn’t usually your taste, one can’t help but marvel at her extraordinary instrument. Most impressive are the sleepwalking scene from Bellini’s “La sonnambula,” the high-flying “Ombre legere” from Meyerbeer’s “Dinorah,” and a spellbinding mad scene from Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor,” featuring a new cadenza written for her by Kamal Khan.
Listening to her self-assured radiance, there’s no indication that she thought she’d never sing Lucia. She thought her warm voice was unsuited to it at first, she told liner note writer Warwick Thompson. There was also the fact that she hadn’t seen “so many Lucias who look like me.”
At present, she has sung the role at houses including Deutsche Oper Berlin and Opéra national de Paris, and she brings it to the Metropolitan Opera this spring. But if you can’t make it there, get “Dreams.”
JOHNNY GANDELSMAN, “Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin”
The violinist Johnny Gandelsman has a serious Russian violin pedigree, but he wears his training more lightly than just about any of his peers. You hear that in his playing and also see it in his career choices. Rather than spending his early years chasing soloist acclaim or yet one more recording of the Glazunov Violin Concerto, he cast his lot with independent-minded ventures like the Silk Road Ensemble and the quartet Brooklyn Rider — groups with ears wide open to folk and non-Western traditions, and very attuned to the music of the present.
And so, some three years ago, when Gandelsman finally arrived home to the keystone works of the violin literature — Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas — he came not by necessity but by choice. The results were worth the wait: sparklingly personal Bach, shorn of grandeur, lofted by a spirit of dance, and as predictable as the flight of a swallow.
JOHN LUTHER ADAMS,
“Canticles of the Holy Wind”
John Luther Adams’s work is anchored in the world’s wild places. The orchestral deep dive of “Become Ocean” netted him the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Music. Now his music has taken to the sky, utilizing the oldest instruments in the human repertoire: voices and percussion. The 14 movements in “Canticles of the Holy Wind” create sublime harmonic landscapes of wind, sky, and birds, all rendered in breathtaking color by Philadelphia chamber choir The Crossing, conducted by Donald Nally.
A canticle is religious by definition, and in the liner notes, the composer writes that he places his faith “in what we call ‘nature.” A halo of wonder encircles this album, from the crystalline dawn of “Sky with Four Suns” to the rippling textures of “The Blue Wind” and the free-flowing solo vocalizations of “Cadenza of the Mockingbird.” It’s meditative, spacious, and ever so slightly discordant.
“Sounds of Transformation”
The Israeli pianist David Greilsammer savors bold juxtapositions in his programming, as evidenced by a 2014 recording that placed the 18th-century keyboard works of Domenico Scarlatti in intimate dialogue with the music of John Cage. Now in this audacious new disc, Greilsammer has curated a conversation not only across centuries but also between genres — classical and jazz — by teaming up with jazz pianist Yaron Herman and the Geneva Camerata.
The album is cannily assembled from the center out; at its heart is a sensitively lucid account of Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G, a classical work with jazz gestures in its own DNA. But en route to the Ravel, and away from it, Greilsammer and colleagues take listeners on a wildly unpredictable ride through Ravel’s influences — Lully, Marais, Rameau — as grasped through both classical and jazz ears. This is in part an album about hearing the past through the scrim of the present — and, refreshingly, it’s more interested in unanswered questions (Ives is here too) than unquestioned answers.