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Pop

Miley Cyrus

Bangerz

[RCA]

No STARS

Why? Seriously. Why?

Why do we care about Miley Cyrus? Why did her pathetic grotesque of a performance at the MTV Video Music Awards ceremony make her the most buzzed-about pop artist of the moment, increasing her social media profile by 112 percent, according to Forbes magazine? Why is Cyrus on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine, captured in a photo where she is apparently licking her own shoulder? And why, oh why, is RCA releasing an album of Cyrus fodder with the rather unfortunate title “Bangerz”?

The answer is a sad one, and it’s simply this – idiocy sells. And Cyrus seems to have no shame in this area. She is eagerly making a complete fool of herself, and sticking her tongue out all the way to the bank.

“Bangerz” is Cyrus’ fourth album. It represents the “artist” throwing the final shovel of dirt atop the coffin that houses her former kid-friendly, Disney-approved incarnation as Hannah Montana. All told, it’s a sonic manifestation of Cyrus’ VMA performance – desperate, contrived, eager to shock when it can’t communicate through artistic means (which is all the time) and frankly gross. It’s not worth the attention, but because Cyrus is the pop fool of the moment, we have little choice in the matter.

What’s truly sad about “Bangerz” isn’t just the hyper-cynical mash-up that constitutes its musical content. That’s pathetic, but really, no more so than the similar methodology employed on Rihanna’s most recent efforts. Cyrus does pop ballads, limp dubstep, electro, R&B and hip-hop, and none of them well. Her voice is consistently bathed in Auto-Tune. Her personality, as represented by routinely narcissistic lyrics and songs with gag-inducing titles like “Love Money Party,” “#GETITRIGHT,” and “Hands In the Air,” is only endearing if you enjoy watching someone speed through a red light in a residential neighborhood while openly babbling into their cellphone.

No, what’s truly disturbing about Cyrus in general and “Bangerz” in particular is the fact that it makes us long for the good old days of comparatively brilliant artists like Britney Spears. #God help us.

– Jeff Miers

Pop

Ray Charles

Forever

[Concord]

ΩΩΩ

Has there been a “Forever” stamp in recent memory that could cause more jubilation than the announcement of one featuring the image of Ray Charles?

Not likely.

In commemoration of the U.S. Post Office’s commemoration of Charles’ greatness in American music, here is a disc plus DVD of a half century of his music, from 1959’s “Come Rain or Come Shine,” one of the greatest ballad performances in all of American popular music, and 1961’s “I’m Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town” (from “Genius + Soul=Jazz”) to “Isn’t It Wonderful” from 2010.

There’s even one previously unreleased beauty on it, Charles singing the Gershwins’ “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” which the disc not only refuses to date for us, but also on which it refuses to identify arranger and soloists. Sure, that’s no doubt Charles on Fender Rhodes piano, but if you’re going to be in the business of celebrating how much we agree we always want to celebrate Charles, you’ve got to do a whole lot better in the information department.

Along with the superb stuff here, there is a fair amount of star-spangled shlock ending with “America the Beautiful,” which, because he was Charles and could carry anything off, he carries off but just barely. Couldn’t, instead of “Till There Was You” from 1974 or “So Help Me God” from 1994, the disc have reminded a world that he wasn’t just a balladeer, he was the proto-rocker whose “What’d I Say” and “I Got a Woman” turned blasphemy into sensuality, joy and some of the greatest R&B ever? Just asking.

– Jeff Simon

Classical

Lavrova Primakov Duo

Four-Hand Recital

[LP Classics 1010]

∆∆∆

Russian pianists Natalia Lavrova and Vassily Primakov cover a lot of ground in this appealing disc of music for four hands. Darius Milhaud’s “Le Boeuf Sur Le Toit” is fun, and plays games with your ears. (Listening to it on a computer, I kept thinking I had another window open and another piano piece was playing at the same time.) Carl Czerny’s Grand Sonata for Piano Four Hands in F Minor is lovely. We don’t hear that many of Czerny’s compositions. Too many of us, particularly those who have studied piano, know him as a pedagogue, a student of Beethoven, and a composer of those charming little piano exercises. The Czerny sonata’s Adagio is transparent and nostalgic. The Scherzo is an uneasy waltz. With its occasional rustic tone and forays into the high treble, the Czerny reminded me of Schubert’s more convivial piano music.

The “Gazebo Dances For Four Hands” by John Corigliano works a different part of your brain. It’s a pleasure to hear the duo pull off the music’s intricacies, the staccato and legato contrasting entertainingly in the percussive Overture. There’s a spiky Waltz, a ghostly Adagio and a clever Tarantella, which the duo plays with a good bounce.

The CD ends with Schubert’s searching Fantasie in F Minor, a masterpiece of the two-piano repertoire. It’s kind of weird to include this music because it is head and shoulders above everything else on the disc. The duo gives the music an endearing intimacy and some real beauty. Speaking of intimacy, I was assuming that Lavrova and Primakov, who are draped over each other in all the pictures, were some kind of item. Then a Google search turned up that no, she is married to someone else, they’re duo partners. These Russians and their romantic relationships to each other! Well, it doesn’t hurt the music.

– Mary Kunz Goldman

Classical

Dvorak

Cello Concertos performed by Steven Isserlis and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra under the direction of Daniel Harding

[Hyperion]

ΩΩΩ½

A preternaturally wise old colleague in the classical music critic’s trade was sometimes wont to observe after hearing some Dvorak chamber work or other in concert that there was scarcely a false note anywhere in the composer’s output. In the wonderful notes here by this new species of instrumental virtuoso who, a la Glenn Gould, Charles Rosen and Alfred Brendel, seem to write as well as they play, cellist Steven Isserlis tells us that Dvorak’s much-loved Cello Concerto in B-minor Op. 104 (his best-loved work, by far, after the “New World” Symphony), was almost written for violin or piano.

“According to his son Otakar, Dvorak disliked the cello ‘since it sounded too much like muttering.’ ” Instinct prevailed, resulting in one of the greatest of all works for cello and orchestra beautifully played here, along with its seldom-heard original ending and a new revision by Gunter Raphael of the equally rare first Dvorak Cello Concerto in A-major.

Of that concerto, Isserlis says Dvorak would surely have destroyed or revised it if he’d known that the manuscript for it had survived. It’s great to hear next to the B-minor masterpiece. As Isserlis asks, “Is it fair to lock up an older child just because their elder sibling is a genius?”

– J.S.