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Classical Crossover

Simone Dinnerstein and Tift Merritt,Night” (Sony Classical). I was OK with Schubert’s “Nacht und Traume” until they brought in the harmonica. Singer/songwriter Tift Merritt seems to have some kind of following, so she must have something on the ball, even if she is not my cup of tea (I was never a singer/songwriter type of person). Plus I admire pianist Simone Dinnerstein. I like how she has built her own unique career, going through unusual channels, and I am a fan of her Bach. However, this new album, a collaboration between Dinnerstein and Merritt, just seems pointless. Merritt’s originals are the same drab, tuneless strummers you can hear at any open mic. Her voice is thin and irritating. As an artist she is not Dinnerstein’s equal. At first I took a charitable view of the collaboration. Some of the songs are pleasant. If they want to play “It’s Going To Be a Bright, Sunshiny Day,” well, fine. Billie Holiday’s “Don’t Explain,” it sounded ugly, but what was the harm? Even the “Nacht und Traume,” I kept an open mind. If it sounds silly, so what? If it brings a new crowd to Schubert, well, sure. But then to take a song this sublime and put this wheezy harmonica to it – if Dinnerstein thought this was cool, it makes me question her relationship with music. One and a half stars (Mary Kunz Goldman)

Classical

Roxanna Panufnik,Love Abide” (Warner Classics). Roxanna Panufnik is a British composer of Polish descent. She appears to be centered in the Catholic Church (her most famous work seems to be a Mass written for Westminster Cathedral) but has an interest in reaching out to other religions. This disc has several Jewish-inspired choral pieces and also a fusion of the Catholic “Hail Mary” with the “Magnificat,” a prayer beloved by Anglicans as well as Catholics. There is even a lullaby called “Zen Love Song.” Dominating are two treatments of the Mass of the Angels, one in Latin and one in English. This is the famous Gregorian chant Mass setting whose Gloria inspired the “St. Gregory the Great” section of Respighi’s “Church Windows.” Panufnik’s music has the gratuitous dissonance I have come to expect in cutting-edge choral music. But at least you can follow it. You can hear where it is going and it is a thrill when the music, after making a series of restless twists, intermittently broadens out into light and clarity. I know the Mass of the Angels by heart and was interested in how Panufnik saw it. Her queasy harmonies are against the spirit of the music and complicate it needlessly, but it seems clear that she feels the music, and the ancient chant holds up to the experimentation. The London Oratory School Schola ring out with magnificence, and the London Mozart Players add just the right textures. Two and a half stars. (M.K.G.)

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Erasmus Von Rotterdam, Eloge de la Folie (In Praise of Folly) with contemporaneous music performed by soloists, La Capella Real de Catalunya and Hesperion XXI conducted by Jordi Savall (Alia Vox Book plus six discs). Every time I see one of these extraordinary “book discs” from Jordi Savall, it occurs to me how lamentable it is that there is no equivalent in music to the Nobel Prize in Literature. If there were, Savall’s achievement in these extraordinary tributes to European civilization of the Renaissance and Baroque Eras would surely put him into major contention. This is perhaps the most elaborate thus far – three discs of contemporaneous text and music (including Erasmus’ own words) as well as three discs of just the contemporaneous music alone by composers including Woodcock, Janequin, Josquin des Prez, Dufay, Ockeghem, Gesualdo, Isaac and John Dowland. It isn’t enough for Savall that the performance on these discs is so irresistible, the artifacts, themselves, occupy an area where education stops and true cultural enlightenment begins. Four stars (Jeff Simon)

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Beethoven, Emil Gilels Plays Beethoven, Historical Recordings 1980, Sonatas Nos. 7 in D-Major, 25 in G-Major and 26 in E-Flat Major (Les Adieux) and 15 (Eroica) Variations for Piano Op.35 performed by pianist Emil Gilels (Hanssler Classic). It was Emil Gilels who, on being lionized while becoming one of the first Russian pianists to concertize widely in the West in the ’50s famously said of American audiences “wait until they hear Richter.” And true enough, the advent of Sviatoslav Richter in the West began waves of reverence that have never abated. These Beethoven performances from 1980 date from a concert in Ludwigsburg in which Gilels, like Richter and other Russian pianists, has no truck with the almost inhuman automaton perfection which is expected of modern pianists but rather exhibits all manner of transient flaws, large and small, in service to musical passion that seems Beethovenian to the max. (Wait until people get a load of the 13th of the Eroica Variations.) There is leisurely grandeur here despite the convention of Gilels’ approach with his final performance of the E-flat major Sonata “Les Adieux” the disc’s crowning achievement. Three and a half stars (J.S.)

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Constantine Orbellian, Shostakovich, Mozart and Bach Piano Concertos, the Moscow Chamber Orchestra (Delos). Pianist Constantine Orbelian is from San Francisco but in the 1980s, visiting the Soviet Union, he forged a friendship with the Moscow Chamber Orchestra. One thing led to another and in 1991, when the orchestra found itself broke and without a leader, he became its new director and turned its fortunes around. Subsequently he was awarded the Russian Order of Friendship Medal, following in the footsteps of Van Cliburn, the only American musician to receive the medal before. After all this heavy press, Orbelian sounds refreshingly unselfconscious. He gives a bright, percussive, humorous performance of the Shostakovich, which requires just that touch. Transparent, exhilarating performances of Mozart’s 12th Piano Concerto and Two-Piano Concerto follow. Orbelian does not conduct from the keyboard, instead he leaves it to others, in this case conductors Andre Korsakov and Nanse Gum. The disc ends with a robust take on Bach’s Concerto No. 5 for Keyboard and Strings (it has a complicated history, but you will recognize its gorgeous slow movement). This is a lot of music, and these musicians have a history of generosity. They came to UB for a concert in 1999, and News Critic Herman Trotter, while describing most of the concert as “flat-out superb,” mentioned that it clocked in at two and a half hours. Three and a half stars. (M.K.G.)

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Jazz

Jacky Terrasson, “Gouache” (Sunnyside). Though the official release date of this long-awaited disc isn’t until the first week of April, Toronto’s CJRT-FM – the only jazz station Buffalonians have within easy reach now – has been featuring Terrasson’s funky, pawky and witty version of Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab” for almost a month now. Terrasson is one of the great young originals of jazz piano these days and it has really been far too long since we’ve had a new Terrasson disc, so you can understand the station’s jumping the gun a bit. Are you ready for so much jazz creativity applied to Justin Bieber’s “Baby” on the same disc that there’s an adapted song by Erik Satie? Let’s not forget John Lennon’s “Oh My Love” either or a Jarretesque grunting, groaning trio version of Sonny Rollins’ “Valse Hot,” with ripping intro that might have instilled envy even in Bud Powell. The version of Lennon’s “Oh My Love” is sung by Cecile McLorin Salvant who, if you weren’t told her identity, would almost unfailingly elicit guesses of Madeline Peyroux (whose new disc “The Blue Room” is among the bigger jazz news these days). This is a gorgeous record in Terrasson’s delicious neo-Jamal mode, full of virtuoso technique when necessary and, when not, irresistible rhythms and acres of musical space to let them all breathe. Major new Terrasson discs are an event in jazz. If only they happened more often. Four stars (J.S.)

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Antonio Sanchez, “New Life” (Cam Jazz). No one should ever be surprised when a jazz drummer’s disc goes out of its way to show us how lyrical and melodic a composer a drummer or percussionist might also be. (Think of the great Brazilian Nana Vasconcelos, a composer of some sublime tunes.) The great Mexican drummer Antonio Sanchez is one of the drummers of choice for Chick Corea and Pat Metheny (he’s been in Buffalo once each with each one of them). He’s also a rather brilliant jazz leader, as is proven abundantly by his young New York all-star band on his third disc – saxophonists Donny McCaslin and David Binney, pianist John Escreet and bassist Matt Brewer (with vocalist Thana Alexa – Sanchez’s fiancee – providing some Methenyesque vocals). Among the many high points of the disc is the counterpoint of the saxophonists. Especially on the spare, pianoless, expressionistic introduction to “The Real McDaddy.” There is so much more to Sanchez, as a composer and leader than rhythmic power and agility. Every new disc that proves it is an enormous pleasure. Three and a half stars (J.S.)

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Jaleel Shaw, “The Soundtrack of Things to Come” (Changu). Alto and soprano saxophonist Jaleel Shaw is a stalwart with both Roy Haynes’ Quartet and the Mingus Big Band. He’s had the working quartet heard here since 2011 – pianist Lawrence Fields, bassist Boris Kozlov (the music director of the Mingus Big Band) and drummer Jonathan Blake. It’s a solid disc in the modern jazz mainstream, with allusions to everything from ballerinas whom Shaw saw performing on TV and Buddhist doctrine (“The Wheel of Life” whose melody sounds weirdly like a Scottish reel) to the title track, which was commissioned to celebrate the artwork in some Brooklyn museums. It’s by no means in a class with Sanchez’s new disc but it’s a strong showing in the modern mainstream by a good younger New York player. Three stars. (J.S.)