Classical Crossover

Out of Africa and Around the World, performed by Denis Azabagic, guitar (Cedille Records). Every culture has stringed instruments that are cousin to the guitar: the balalaika, say, or the zither. This quirky, often sweet contemporary music approaches classical guitar from cultures not often associated with it. Vojislav Ivanovic is a Slavic composer, and Atanas Ourkouzounov’s set of variations is based on a Bulgarian folk song. It’s a change from the Spanish-inspired pieces we associate with the guitar. It is also extraordinarily listenable. The world premiere performance of “Cafe Pieces,” by Jovislav Ivanovic, a Slavic guitarist and composer, are especially appealing. His “Funny Valse” sounds like a circus waltz, and a tango pays homage to Astor Piazzolla. “Nostalgia” is lovely. “Out of Africa,” a suite by Alan Thomas, is also a world premiere recording. “Zenith,” the middle movement, has percussive effects, including tapping on the guitar, and the more straightforward other movements have an evocative loveliness. Dusan Bogdanovic’s “Blues and 7 Variations” is a colorful fusion of cultures. Carlos Rafael Rivera’s reflective “Cancion” is just a minute and a half long, and I wished it were longer. The future for classical guitar looks bright. Three and a half stars (Mary Kunz Goldman)


Vaughan Williams, Symphonies Nos. 5 and 7 performed by soprano Sheila Armstrong, the London Philharmonic and Choir conducted by Bernard Haitink (LPO). The nastiest – and, in truth, decidedly suspicious – wisecrack about another musician attributed to Aaron Copland is his supposed description of Vaughan Williams’ Symphony No. 5 as “like staring at a cow for 45 minutes.” It must be understood that Copland was not only no enemy of pastoralism in music, he wasn’t a Stravinskyan quick-draw artist shooting for the witty jugular all the time either. Whoever it was who said it (as some have said, it is better attributed to the music critic whose work was performed under the name Peter Warlock), Vaughan Williams’ Fifth is among the least bovine works in all of British music. It is, in fact, a radiant masterpiece whose major key excrescences are mystically powerful in the way some of Copland’s own music was. (Vaughan Williams adapted some of the music from his opera based on Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress.”) The difference, of course, is that whereas Vaughan Williams’ music couldn’t be more English, Copland’s couldn’t be more American. Here are two performances of great Vaughan Williams’ symphonies by the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Bernard Haitink – the fifth is from 1994, and the seventh “Sinfonia Antarctica” (taken from Vaughan Williams’ music for “Scott of the Antarctic”) was recorded a decade earlier. The sound, then, isn’t state of the art, but the performances by the Londoners and their deeply poetic conductor Haitink are close to ideal. Three and a half stars (Jeff Simon)


Mozart and Brydern, Duos for Violin and Viola performed by Duo Renard (Fleur de Son). This unusual little disc comes from Fleur de Son, the little Buffalo label owned by the Castellani-Andriaccio Guitar Duo and now being distributed by Naxos. There are two pieces by Mozart, and two by Benedikt Brydern, a violinist and composer born in Germany in 1966 who lives in Los Angeles. He has done work for the movies and also plays hip electric violin in clubs. Mozart wrote his two duos to help out Josef Haydn’s brother Michael, who had been commissioned by the Salzburg Archbishop to write six duos but had problems with the bottle and came up with only four. How lucky we are that Michael Haydn needed help. The Mozart violin and viola duos are sublime, even if he wrote them in haste and from time to time borrowed from himself. You never even wish for a piano. What a gift to violin/viola duos these two pieces are, as Duo Rehard touchingly acknowledges, writing: “Many extraordinary artists have lived in and shared this music. We are grateful for the influences passed on to us from respected players, teachers and scholars, and to all the listeners who choose to share it with us.” Brydern’s “Bebop for Beagles,” commissioned by Duo Renard, borrows from Monk, Brubeck, Scott Joplin and other masters for brief, witty sound portraits of the couple’s two dogs, Hoover and Roosevelt. “From My Notebook Vol 2” are four short, inspired pieces, touched by jazz and bluegrass. Violin/viola duos should all be grateful, because the music is cute, lively and witty, and, I imagine, a good addition to the repertoire. Duo Renard are the husband and wife team of violinist Mark Miller and violist Ute Miller. They were imported from Germany in 1995 by Chamber Music America and now play with orchestras in Texas. They play vigorously, in lightning sync. Listening to them, you think you are hearing more than a duo. Three and a half stars (M.K.G.)


Marty Ehrlich Large Ensemble, “A Trumpet in the Morning” (New World Records). You have no idea how very much this disc would have been improved by the elimination of Arthur Brown’s poem, spoken in the title composition of this disc by one of the now-venerable figures in America’s jazz avant-garde. Unfortunately, Ehrlich began listening to the Black Artist Group of St. Louis (and its greatest figure Julius Hemphill), and jazz and poetry, for him, go together like vinegar and french fries. The rest of this disc by Ehrlich’s large ensemble is an intermittently brilliant and wildly varied eclectic foray into one of the most versatile and veteran players of his generation (a few months younger than Buffalo’s Bobby Previte, he was one of Previte’s first cohorts when they both arrived in New York). Ehrlich says he calls himself “a pan stylist who doesn’t believe in musical styles,” and his disc, accordingly, is exhilaratingly sloppy and all over the map stylistically. Among his musicians here are Uri Caine, Jerome Harris, J.D. Parran, James Widman, Drew Gress, Howard Johnson, Eric McPherson and Matt Wilson. It’s the first disc anywhere composed exclusively of Ehrlich’s orchestral music and, in that sense, it’s both long overdue and completely auspicious. Three stars (J.S.)