“Eternal Echoes: Songs and Dances for the Soul,” performed by Itzhak Perlman, violin, Cantor Yitzchak Meir Helfgot (Sony Classical). Helfgot, the cantor at Manhattan’s Park East Synagogue, is the third tenor to make a disc with great violinist Itzhak Perlman. He is in good company; the first two were Placido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti. Perlman sees his crossover collaboration as following in the footsteps of other offbeat teams: Bing Crosby and Jascha Heifetz; Mischa Elman and John McCormack. This is a religious album, of traditional khazones, or traditional music sung at Jewish religious services. The notes say that this traditional music has been heard less in the years following World War II, as congregations wanted to put Eastern European roots behind them. Now they are being rediscovered, particularly among the young. (The Catholic Church has a parallel situation, with younger worshipers discovering the power of the Tridentine Mass.) Though religious and ancient, this music is not oppressively pious or dark. Light and humor shines through: “A Dudele” (“You”), addresses God with words that translate to: “When something is good … you! And, God forbid, when something’s bad, it’s also You!” A psalm sounds like a folk song, with Perlman’s violin playing obbligato. Perlman gets to play the part of the fiddler on the roof throughout the album, which ends with the Kol Nidre, and you can tell he is reveling in this chance. Helfgot has an amazing voice, bright and flexible. You hear him and marvel. The notes quote Perlman as hoping that listeners new to khazones may well be receptive to its universal appeal. As one of those listeners, I can say he is right. ∆∆∆∆ (Mary Kunz Goldman)
Medtner, Complete Piano Sonatas, Vol. 1 performed by Paul Stewart, piano (Grand Piano). What surprises me about this music by Russian composer Nikolay Medtner is not that it is so good. I had known Medtner was good. What surprised me was how easy the music went down. This music will engage you immediately. The Sonatina in G Minor, written in 1898, is a delight. Dance rhythms contrasts with an expansive, romantic middle interlude. The Sonata in F Minor has gorgeous melodies and romantic lushness. Its slow movement has an uplifting chorale theme. The next movement, though slow and restless, is not morose, and the last movement is a tapestry of contrasting voices and harmonies, always beautiful to hear. The Sonata-Reminiscenza is an extended reflection, brooding but lovely. If this music does not enter the mainstream repertoire pretty quickly, it will probably be because it sounds challenging to play. Canadian pianist Paul Stewart gives it broad, well-pedaled, romantic expression. ∆∆∆∆ (M.K.G.)
Richard Strauss, Three Hymns and Opera Arias, performed by Soile Isokoski and the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, Okko Kamu, conductor (Ondine). Finnish soprano Soile Isokoski is wonderful for these ecstatic excerpts from three Strauss operas – “Ariadne auf Naxos,” “Der Rosenkavalier” and “Capriccio” – in addition to Three Hymns, Op. 71. Her voice is strong but it is also bright. She sails easily over the orchestra. The final scene from “Capriccio,” complete with the luminous “Moonlight Music,” is a treat, and for me the highlight are the Three Hymns, Op. 71. They aren’t religious – the first one is “Hymn to Love,” and you can imagine where Strauss is going with that. This is the kind of hyper-romantic music we love Strauss for, and Isokoski and the orchestra revel in its overt sensuality. ∆∆∆ø (M.K.G.)
American Violin Concertos by Gian Carlo Menotti, Samuel Barber and Theodore Wiprud performed by violinist Ittai Shapra and the Russian Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Thomas Sanderling and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Neil Thomson (Champshill). It’s less violinist Shapira’s capable performance that is the feature here than the music itself, which not only pairs the violin concerti of Barber and Menotti on the same disc but openly mentions the long and stable life partnership of the two composers in the notes. In a small way, then, we are routinely seeing previously closed subjects open to the sort of transparency the world long needed. The Barber is probably the greatest American violin concerto. The violin concerto of living composer Theodore Wiprud was meant to reflect “on the devastation (Hurricane Katrina) and the flood wrought on the musical life of the whole Delta, the cradle of so much American music.” It’s an effective piece in its way though by no means in the same category as the masterful Barber. ∆∆ø (Jeff Simon)


Esprit D’Armenie: Armenian Spirit performed by Jordi Savall and soloists with Hesperion XXI (Alia Vox, disc plus book). It seems to me these disc books by early music specialist and viol virtuoso Jordi Savall are among the proudest acclaims of the international recording world these days. What we have here is the Middle Eastern influence on Armenia over many centuries performed with passion, precision and truly gorgeous sonics, all of it accompanied by a beautifully illustrated multilingual 300-page book of introductory notes on what you’re listening to (25 pages of which are English, supplemented by French, Catalonian Spanish, German, Italian and, of course, Armenian). All of these Savall disc books are music and record making of remarkable, perhaps even singular, love. ∆∆∆∆ (J.S.)


Marc Johnson and Eliane Elias, “Swept Away” (ECM). In the current spate of conjugal bliss recordings in current jazz and popular music (hear the new Diana Krall, which seems as much a celebration of her marriage to Elvis Costello as a remembrance of 78’s past and a collaboration with T-Bone Burnett) what we have here is Eliane Elias playing piano (not singing) with her great bass playing husband Marc Johnson. Whatever they’re “swept away by” it doesn’t seem to be a very canny piece of disc-making. It begins with dreaminess and doesn’t really get to a proclamatory “Listen to This!” tune until it’s third tune, the ostinato “One Thousand and One Nights,” which, it seems to me, should have been a disc opener if ever there was one. Joined by family friend Joe Lovano on some tunes, it’s certainly pretty and sweet and dreamy and full of conjugal tenderness with two fine players. The title probably refers to their conjugal feelings, not to those of the listener. ∆∆∆ (J.S.)