New York Music Daily

Love's the Only Engine of Survival

Category: classical music

Classical Pianist Ruth Slenczynska Releases a Thoughtfully Lyrical New Album With a Record-Breaking Backstory

Pianist Ruth Slenczynska’s new album My Life in Music – streaming at Spotify – is an attractive and individualistic mix of standard repertoire and a handful of surprises.

She opens with a thoughtfully opulent take of Rachmaninoff’s Daisies, from his Romances, Op. 18 and follows with his Prelude No.5 in G major with its dancing, glittery righthand clusters. She plays Samuel Barber’s Nocturne (Homage to John Field) with a considered, brooding simmer. She gives a deadpan steadiness but also a determined grit to a considerably different, ragtime-tinged Barber tune, Let’s Sit It Out and Wait, from his suite Fresh From West Chester.

Slenczynska opts for a balletesque grace in Chopin’s Grande Valse Brillante in Eb, op. 18, eschewing the floridness so many other pianists give it, an approach that works equally well a little later in Grieg’s Wedding Day in Trodhaugen. And in her hands, her tenderly yet playfully articulated version of Chopin’s famous Berceuse is a revelation: those echo effects are irresistible. As is her generous use of space in an unselfconsciously unhurried interpretation of Debussy’s The Girl With the Flaxen Hair.

The other Chopin pieces here have similarly distinctive insights. There’s a lowlit Etude No. 3 in E Major, and a cheery, strolling Prelude in G Major, Op. 18. The longest and most energetic work here is the Fantaisie in F Minor: Slenczynska slows much of it down practically to dirge speed and volume, an effect which is both comedic and enlightening, as she picks up a remarkable amount of detail and dramatic contrast. She closes the album with a methodically articulated version of Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in C# minor, BWV 849.

Now for the punchline: Slenczynska is 97 years old. It is astonishing how undiminished both her chops and her ideas are.

She made her stage debut at four, her European debut at five. Every major pianist of the 1930s including Sergei Rachmaninoff was eager to coach her. She is his last living student; she treasures the Faberge egg necklace he gave her. She would go on to record ten albums and tour the world, earning a reputation as a very colorful, entertaining performer. This new album is her first in sixty years, undoubtedly a record-breaking achievement. Let’s hope she got at least a two-album deal out of it.

The London Symphony Orchestra Return With an Epically Efficient Double Live Stravinsky Album

The London Symphony Orchestra‘s live recording of Vaughan Williams’ Fourth and Sixth Symphonies topped the list of the best albums of 2021 here, across all styles of music. Released at a moment when it was not clear whether they would ever play again, these harrowing, impassioned, often violent performances captured the state of the world in the months following the fateful events of March 2020 better than any other record last year.

So how beautiful is it to know that the orchestra are back together, performing again and releasing more live albums from their seemingly inexhaustible archives? Their latest is an epic double live album from two September, 2017 dates at the Barbican featuring Simon Rattle conducting Stravinsky’s three iconic ballet scores: The Firebird, Petrouchka and the Rite of Spring. While the 1961 Stravinsky Conducts Stravinsky studio recordings by what was essentially a pickup orchestra of A-list New York musicians remains this blog’s favorite, this one – streaming at Spotify – is distinctive and individualistic, and rewarding for many different reasons.

The Firebird is pillowy and on the brisk side. A dance troupe would get quite the workout spiraling across the stage to this. From the almost imperceptible fade up, Rattle makes it clear that this defining work of what would become noir cinematic music is first and foremost a nocturne. The pulse is stiletto-precise, especially in the few minutes leading up to the lush, starry capture scene. The exchanges between Olivier Stankiewicz’s oboe and Bryn Lewis’ harp are ghostly and fleeting, as are the high woodwinds in the scene with the princess and the golden apple. And yet, Stankiewicz’s approach is strikingly blunt in the famous interlude barely a minute later.

As Rattle saw it that night, the devil in the even more famous diabolical dance seems to be a mathematician, although those numbers are pixelated rather than crunched. That the orchestra manage to keep such a meticulous balance at this speed is breathtaking, although this version is several steps short of the blunderbuss attack Leonard Bernstein would follow in its most explosive moments.

The second work (spelled “Petrushka” if you’re looking to pull it up as a stand-alone piece) has welcome bluster in places, although Rattle also goes for lushness and precision more than febrile intensity: for all we know, a ballet company really could be pirouetting and leaping in front of them. The “Russian dance” is far more scintillating than rustic, but the scene after in the protagonist’s cell is as cinematic and majestically frantic as you could want. Mutedly striding mystery, clamoring brass, portentous low strings and devious winds all shine in this very high-definition portrait.

An enigmatic, mysterious sensibility lingers in the rare calmer moments of The Rite of Spring, an uncommon, welcome touch. There’s Slavic ruggedness but also a steely precision: f you want a fullscale bacchanal, sink your teeth into the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony’s live recording from 2015 – whoomp!

This is all about clarity and distinctive voices: hostages are seized, but with nimble choreography. Likewise, the series of string swells and pulsing low brass are revelatory late in the first movement, such that it is. Rattle’s attention to detail brings out unexpected humor in the occasional quirky curlicue or offbeat percussion riff: there are innumerable levels of meaning that may be new to a lot of listeners

The London Symphony Orchestra’s next symphonic performance is May 8 at 7 PM at the Barbican in London with Dima Slobodeniouk conducting Sofia Gubaidulina’s Offertorium and Sibelius’ Symphony No 2. Baiba Skride is the violin soloist; you can get in for £18. The orchestra also offer what they call a “wildcard” option for last-minute rush tickets for even less in case the concert isn’t sold out.

A Poignant, Rapturous, Gorgeous Armenian Classical Album by the Aznavoorian Duo

The most rapturously poignant album of the year so far is Gems From Armenia, by the Aznavoorian Duo, streaming at Spotify. Sisters Ani and Marta Aznavoorian – cello and piano, respectively – draw on their heritage for a lyrical playlist of material that spans from the 19th century to the present. It underscores the disproportionately rich influence this tiny nation’s music continues to make around the globe.

They open with a steady, spare, pensive theme, Chinar Es by foundational Romantic-era composer and musicologist Komitas. As she often does throughout the album, Ani plays in the high midrange, with a stark vibrato that sometimes evokes a kamancheh spike fiddle. A second Komitas tune, Tsirani Tsar comes across as a more nocturnal variation, lowlit by Marta’s distantly starry piano. The third, Garoun A, is a gorgeous solo piano work, more mysteriously modern and practically furtive in places. The duo continue with a balletesque grace in the fourth, Al Ailux, both hypnotic and pulsingly rhythmic.

The fifth, Krunk is not a drinking song but an achingly beautiful love ballad and a launching pad for some of Ani’s most incisive, soaringly lyrical work here. The best-known in a long line of great Armenian composers, Aram Khachaturian is represented first by the emotive miniature Ivan Sings and then his lively, pointillistic tribute to his hometown of Yerevan.

Marta plays Arno Babajanian’s Elegy with restraint but also close attention to ornamentation that mimics the microtones of Armenian folk music. Ani returns for his Aria and Dance, a fondly reflective ballad and variations.

The duo make their way methodically from a stern, tightly clustering intensity through more sparsely lyrical passages in the first movement of Avet Terterian’s Sonata for Cello and Piano. They let the allusive chromatics and poignancy speak for itself, understatedly, in the second movement and romp with a triumphant, acerbic glitter through the conclusion.

The two bring out High Romantic passion in Serouj Kradjian‘s arrangement of the traditional ballad Sari Siroun Yar and follow with Alexander Arutiunian’s Impromptu, a dynamic mashup of a levantine dance and Rachmaninovian lustre.

Vache Sharafyan’s Petrified Dance, an elegy for Armenian soldiers, is the most subdued and vividly sepulchral work on the program. The sisters conclude with the world-premiere of Peter Boyer’s Mount Ararat, climbing from a portentous cello melody to a syncopated gallop up the slope, with stunning, chromatically bristling breaks to view the scenery. This unselfconsciously beautiful collection deserves a second volume. For that matter, the Aznavoorians could have a franchise here if they felt like it.

A Colorful Environmentalist Playlist From Yolanda Kondonassis

Harpist Yolanda Kondonassis is a force of nature. The author of The Composer’s Guide to Writing Well for the Modern Harp has wide-ranging and impeccable taste in repertoire, from Satie to Hovhaness and just about all points in between. Her new solo album Five Minutes For Earth – streaming at Spotify – is a sparkling, dynamically rich collection of new works inspired by nature and the need to preserve our world from manmade disasters. Most of these pieces are on the short side, commissioned from an eclectic mix of well-known and up-and-coming composers.

The first number, Takuma Itoh’s Kohola Sings, traces the migration of humpbacked whales through the desolate depths, to a convivial, intricately woven crescendo. Kondonassis begins Michael Daugherty‘s Hear the Dust Blow, an Oklahoma Dust Bowl tableau. with gentle guitar-like voicings in a ballad without words that dissipates in cascades and frenetic flurries.

With its careful cadences and occasional enigmatic close harmonies, Aaron Jay Kernis‘ On Hearing Nightbirds at Dusk seems to focus more on the dusk than the birds. Kondonassis gets to revel in her instrument’s wide expanse throughout the elegant trajectories and sudden bursts in Chen Yi‘s Dark Mountains.

There’s muted mystery as Maximo Diego Pujol’s Milonga para mi Tierra unfolds, to a graceful tango. Reena Ismail‘s Inconvenient Wounds balances murk and sudden smoky smudges against a delicate lattice, a striking cautionary tale. Gary Schocker’s Memory of Trees shares a dichotomy, in this case between the catchy baroque melody at the center, and more unsettled passages.

As Earth Dreams, by Keith Fitch is not a portrait of troubled sleep, although its starry milieu is definitely restless. Jocelyn Chambers packs a lot of catchy, broodingly strolling riffage into her miniature Melting Point. In The Demise of the Shepard Glacier. Philip Maneval balances spacious phrases and steady rivulets to illustrate the slow disappearance of the Montana ice formation.

Kondonassis follows a brisk series of eighth-note passages and feathery interludes in Patrick Harlin‘s Time Lapse. Green, by Zhou Long is a spare and allusively Asian-tinged piece originally written for pipa and wood flute. Nathaniel Heyder‘s Earthview portrays a descent to earth through the atmosphere, an imperiled planet coming into clearer focus via insistent anchor notes and eerie, Messiaenic tonalities.

The album’s most verdantly minimalist number, complete with wry woodland sounds, is Meditation at Perkiomen Creek, a Pennsylvania tableau by Daniel Dorff. The final composition is Stephen Hartke‘s Fault Line, with its stabbing phantasmagoria and close-harmonied disquiet: it’s a strong closer.

Happily. greenwashing doesn’t seem to factor into Kondonassis’ agenda. She’s not endorsing any sinister schemes like the abolition of home or motor vehicle ownership, or the imposition of personal carbon allowances or Chinese communist-style social credit scores. She just loves the outdoors – which, in the context of 2022, is a welcome and genuinely radical concept.

A Darkly Memorable Duo Album by Saxophonist Thomas Giles and Pianist Liana Pailodze Harron

Under ordinary circumstances, an album titled Mysteries of the Macabre would be most likely to be found here during the annual, October-long Halloween celebration of all things dark and creepy. But these last several months have been all that. And it wouldn’t be fair to make you wait til this fall to hear saxophonist Thomas Giles and pianist Liana Pailodze Harron‘s album, streaming at Spotify. It’s a powerful and vivid reflection of our time.

Both artists dedicate themselves to popularizing the work of new and obscure artists: they make a good team. The album comprises four medium-length pieces, which are in general more haunting than outright macabre. The first work is Poeme for Saxophone and Piano, a partita by Asiya Korepanova. Giles enters on alto sax with just short of a shriek, then follows a steady, subtly dynamic series of allusively grim chromatic variations, employing a crystalline, oboe-like tone punctuated by foghorn trills. Harron doesn’t get to join the disquieted parade until the end. The obvious influence is Messiaen, a composer the duo will explore shortly.

They intertwine in a similarly somber, skeletal stroll in the next part, Harron fueling a turbulent drive and liquidly articulated cascades. Giles’ spacious, uneasily soaring minimalism finally lures Harron in to rise and fall, in an increasingly agitated theme. Korepanova may be best known as a pyrotechnic concert pianist, but this speaks mightily to her prowess as a composer.

Messiaen’s Theme et Variations is next, the two following a similarly determined if more muted path, Harron’s meticulous, icepick attack balanced by Giles’ floating legato, through the composer’s eerily chiming tonalities and an unexpectedly jaunty if enigmatic dance. Giles’ rise to a shivery, theremin-like timbre right before the piece winds down is breathtakng.

The two revel in the Gyorgi Ligeti piece from which the album takes its title, through initial poltergeist flickers, scrambling phantasmagoria, a dazzling display of circular breathing, from Giles, and some playful spoken word.

The concluding work is Jay Schwartz‘s Music for Saxophone and Piano. Giles parses spare, somber motives over just the hint of resonance from inside the piano, serving as an artful echo. From there Harron develops a bounding melody line as Giles’ tectonic sheets bend, weave and flurry. Rising and falling from a muted pavane to tense doppler sax and a grim quasi-boogie in the low lefthand, the musicians reach an ending that will take you by surprise. It’s a fitting conclusion to this darkly beguiling album.

A Celebration of Ukrainian Classical Music at a Pivotal Moment in History

In wartime, extremes always prevail in the public imagination. The fact is that the people of Ukraine had absolutely nothing to do with Vladimir Zelensky’s reckless provocation of the bellicose dictator next door, or the proliferation of American-built germ warfare labs which the Russians claim to have bombed into the stone age. Russian propaganda is no more trustworthy than MSNBC, so we don’t know if or to what degree their claim is true. At this moment in history, it seems like basic common sense to advocate for a rapid end to hostilities, not only for the sake of Ukraine’s diverse populations, but for all of us, considering what great musical contributions the country has given the world over the centuries.

One Ukrainian musician who’s given us great beauty lately is violinist Solomiya Ivakhiv. Her latest album Poems and Rhapsodies with the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine under Volodymyr Sirenko is streaming at Spotify. It’s a mix of standard repertoire along with some fascinating rarities from her home turf.

She joins forces with cellist Sophie Shao in a lush, rapturous, tersely lyrical take of Saint-Saëns’ La muse et le poète to open the record. Ivakhiv’s elegant, downwardly stairstepping interlude draws sober reflection from Shao and pillowy ambience from the orchestra. From there Ivakhiv parses the dreamy atmosphere with a spun-steel precision, Shao holding down her role as brooding foil.

The drifting, enveloping ambience continues with Chausson’s Poème symphonique, Ivakhiv cutting through acerbically in this showcase for both her lower register and dynamics, Sirenko deftly exercising restraint until the magnificently determined peak before the end.

The centerpiece is a nimbly evocative take of Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending. Sirenko opts for mystery and dancing precision as Ivakhiv mines the subtly enigmatic corners of the piece: this is a remarkably restless interpretation. Them again, that perception might be colored by having listened to the composer’s harrowing Symphony No. 6 on loop for much of last year: it’s no less relevant now.

The first of the rarities here is Anatol Kos-Anatolsky’s Poem for Violin and Orchestra in D Minor, a moody, captivatingly Romantic kaleidoscope of Carpathian-tinged violin riffage, with moments of blustery brass and persistently wary lustre. It ought to be better known: Ivakhiv deserves props for unearthing it.

Kenneth Fuchs‘ American Rhapsody (Romance for Violin and Orchestra), a Robert Motherwell-inspired tone poem, has panoramic sweep and interweave between orchestral voices and Ivakhiv’s alternately stark and soaring lines. The ensemble close the album with another Ukrainian gem, Myroslav Skoryk’s Carpathian Rhapsody, making Bach and then phantasmagorical hi-de-ho jazz out of an ancient-sounding chromatic folk theme, All this underscores the need to preserve the culture that incubated this music

Springtime Blossoms in Boston With a Concert of Vivid World Premieres

Last night at the Multicultural Art Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Juventas New Music Ensemble played eight verdant world premieres celebrating the Frederick Law Olmsted bicentennial. In a spot-on example of post-March 2020 programming, the bill was titled Lungs of the City. It was a breath of fresh air on many levels.

A subset of the ensemble – which comprised flutist Wei Zhao, clarinetist Wolcott Humphrey, horn player Anne Howarth, violinist Ryan Shannon, cellist Minjin Chung, violist Lu Yu and percussionist Thomas Schmidt – went off script to open with a sober arrangement the Ukrainian national anthem. With the stark cello introduction, it seemed like more of an elegy than a celebration of solidarity. Such are the times we live in.

The first piece on the program was The Forest and the Architect, by Christina Rusnak. The Portland, Oregon tableau began with elegantly cheerful passages spotted with moments of more somber reflection, moody clarinet over a gently emphatic march and a visceral sense of relief. Burred woodwind timbres and a dancing, enigmatic, circular theme quickly gave way to a lush pastorale and then a dance kicked off by woody flute tones. A terse interweave with lower pitches developed to mingle with the initial theme: this music breathed, deeply.

Ryan Suleiman‘s still, meditative Piece of Mind was inspired by Olmsted’s Brookline home workshop, as well as the Japanese concept of a park coexisting with nature rather than being imposed on its milieu. Subtly breathtaking long tones and circular breathing from the wind players were first punctuated by momentary sprouts in the ether, then the group slowly unfolded a calm series of harmonies. Like a muezzin, Chung’s cello sounded a bracing trill before the whole group returned to calmly shifting tectonic sheets.

That work’s minimalism was echoed more playfully by Libby Meyer‘s diptych Beauty of the Fields. Butterfly weed was brought to life by minutely oscillating overtones from Schmidt’s vibraphone behind a minimalistically balmy flute theme sailing on the breeze. With echoey percussion through a buzzy haze, evocations of muted insect activity and birdsong, her portrait of milkweed just might have involved somebody plucking a ripe stalk and blowing it on an unsuspecting neighbor.

Ayumi Okada‘s tantalizingly brief partita Golden Hour Walk at Fort Tryon Park traced the Washington Heights composer’s 2021 winter solstice stroll through her favorite spots there just as the sun was about to go down over the Hudson. It was characteristically evocative, beginning as a wistful pavane and growing more animated, with Carl Nielsen-esque echo phrases bouncing from voice to voice. Baroque inflections, elegantly intertwined horn and flute, and colorfully squirrelly pizzicato rose to a lushness that contrasted with shivery strings and silken flute lines. The final sunset theme became a gently wafting, Dvorakian singalong.

Composer Justin Ralls related that prior to creating parks, Olmsted worked as an undercover journalist chronicling the horrors of slavery in the American south, and that those experiences informed the democratic aspect of his designs. Ralls’ Olmsted 200: Theme and Variations reflected the bustle of the landscape assembled around Seattle’s Lincoln Reservoir. Somewhat akin to Peer Gynt taking a stroll in the garden, the group’s long tones coalesced from echoes of a familiar, sunny morning theme to a rather triumphant, steady, circular pulse fueled by the highs. Tight polyrhythmic counterpoint receded to a reflective, echoing quiet signaled by Schmidt’s lingering vibes.

The most unselfconsciously catchy piece on the bill was Michael-Thomas Foumai’s Indian-flavored mini-suite Olmsted Gardens. Anticipatory sprouts of melody pushed up, to a cheery carnatic flute theme followed by a deliciously coy, suspenseful interlude with film noir bongos, furtive individual voicings having devious fun in the shadows. The group took it out with an anthemic return to the initial dance.

Also on the bill were an unhurried, warmly crescendoing Oliver Caplan ballad without words, and a similarly fond summer pageant by Nell Shaw Cohen bookended around a cautious dance.

Those who missed the concert can catch the video of the entire performance here. Juventas New Music Ensemble’s next scheduled concert is June 5 at 6 PM at the Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston, Massachusetts. Tickets are $18, ages 4-12 get in for $12.

Raphaël Pannier Puts Out a Gorgeously Edgy, Genre-Defying Album

Miguel Zenon was a synergistic choice as musical director for drummer Raphaël Pannier‘s latest album, Fuane, streaming at Bandcamp. Pannier has just as much fun pushing the boundaries of classical music as he does with jazz. While Zenon may be best known for his Puerto Rican jazz roots, he’s also recorded bracing, paradigm-shifting, Bartokian works for alto sax and string quartet. François Moutin joins them on bass, with Aaron Goldberg handling piano on the more straightforwardly jazz-oriented numbers, handing off to Giorgi Mikadze on the more classically-flavored tracks. It’s not every day you hear a drummer on an Olivier Messien composition – although it’s a fair bet that the composer would approve.

They open with an aptly desolate, expansive take of Ornette Coleman’s Lonely Woman. Zenon floats mournfully over Goldberg’s judiciously glittering chords as Pannier and Moutin flicker and flutter, drawing the sax down into the morass. The impressionistic lustre in Goldbedrg’s solo is a side of him we too seldom get to see on record, Zenon scampering and wailing to angst-fueled heights, then making way for Moutin’s furtive concluding dash.

Moutain stays out front for his scrambling chords and wryly dancing lines in Midtown Blues: more comedic moments ensue in what seems to be a spot-on portrait of self-important Manhattan lunch-hour madness. The quartet expand on variations on a distinctly uneasy, Middle Eastern-tinged theme in Lullaby, a deliciously pointillistic, insistent Zenon solo at the center.

Mikadze takes over piano in Pannier’s trio arrangement of Messiaen’s Le Baiser de l’Enfant Jésus, one of the final segments of his Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant Jésus suite. Zenon wafts tenderly and descends gently as the piano shifts between a warmly emphatic intensity and the composer’s signature icy, otherworldly tonalities, Pannier subtly coloring in the center.

Pannier and Goldberg bookend Wayne Shorter’s ESP with a clenched-teeth menace; in between, Zenon takes a terse, airy approach at a distance from the underlying phantasmagoria, Goldberg sprinting far from the shadows. Mikadze returns for a a reinvention of Ravel’s Forlane, Zenon switched out for Moutin. With its eerie marionettish theme and flamenco allusions, it’s a good counterpart to the Messiaen piece, Pannier setting loose waves of epic grandeur and then moments of puckish humor.

The group return to Pannier originals with Fauna, moving from uneasy, kinetically loopy phrases to a rhythmically tricky, bittersweet ballad at escape velocity, Goldberg at his lyrical peak with his ripples and cascades, Moutin spinning around frantically at the center: it’s a showstopper and the best song on the album..

They ramp up the nocturnal mood in the fugal exchanges and glittering soca party vibe of Capricho de Raphael, by Brazilian bandolinist Hamilton de Holanda. Mikadze takes over piano again on the concluding diptych, Monkey Puzzle Tree, with its carnivalesque stairstepping, Zenon a dancing pierrot in between disquieting, energetic rises and falls. They take it out on a jaunty, dancing note.

Pannier’s next gig as a leader on his home turf in France is April 23 at the Jazz in Noyon Festival. And Goldberg is playing with edgy violinist Zach Brock and bassist Matt Penman at Mezzrow on March 23, with sets at 7:30 and 9 PM. Cover is $25 cash at the door.

A Magical Midnight Stroll With Harpist Magdalena Hoffmann

Absent any central concept, harpist Magdalena Hoffmann’s new album Nightscapes – streaming at Spotify – is a gorgeous playlist of both original works for harp and imaginative transcriptions of solo piano pieces. How shadowy is it? As you would expect, it’s more on the slow and starry side, although Hoffmann hardly shies away from material whose technical demands push the limits of what’s usually expected of a classical concert harpist – or from nocturnes, for that matter. On some of the piano pieces, she essentially plays a dual role akin to rhythm guitarist and lead guitarist all at once, with bright melody over strummed rhythm.

The album opens with Respighi’s Notturno in G flat major, arranged for harp with a spare, warmly incisive melody above mutedly strummy chords. Hoffmann follows a very steady trajectory, finally cutting loose with some jaunty flourishes at the end. Her take of Chopin’s A Minor Waltz – the first of three of those pieces – is amazingly close to the piano version, complete with spiky grace notes. She gives a steady, sober grace to the E Minor Waltz, but watch out – that flurry before the third “verse” has an unexpectedly wild, flamenco tinge, hardly what you’d expect to hear on a concert harp. And her spare, poignant, clear-eyed interpretation of the A Minor Waltz, Op. 48 is a revelation, especially in contrast to some of the florid piano versions that have circulated over the years.

In Hoffmann’s hands, John Field’s Nocturnes in B flat and G major as well as Ildebrando Pizzetti’s Sogno for Harp come across as cheerily attractive lullabies. 20th century French harpist-composer Henriette Renié’s Danse des Lutins is one of the album’s rare gems: courtly rhythms, an architecture that looks back the baroque, but also a devious acerbity. Hoffmann then returns to more rapturous territory with Clara Schumann’s Notturno, Op. 6, rising to an unexpectedly emphatic intensity.

Britten’s Suite for Harp, a partita of miniatures, gives Hoffmann a launching pad for demanding leaps and bounds across the length of the harp, through some thorny basslines and moments of phantasmagoria. The most colorful and bewitching piece on the program is Marcel Tournier’s La Danse du Moujik, with its kaleidoscopic dynamics and ominously allusive chromatics.

The most outside-the-box arrangement here is the Nocturne for the Left Hand Alone, a methodically lyrical Romantic ballad by jazz pianist Fred Hersch. Hoffmann gets a workout after that, with Jean-Michel Damase’s dramatically ornamented Fantaisie on Motifs from Les Contes d’Hoffmann. All in the family maybe?

She closes the record with an incisive, methodical reworking of Chopin’s Nocturne in F sharp minor. Op. 48 No. 2, bringing the lights down, but not all the way.

Joyce DiDonato Salutes Environmentalist Consciousness Through the Ages

Although global warming persists as a threat to our survival, the World Economic Forum’s attempts to hijack environmentalism as a pretext for more lockdowns, surveillance and divide-and conquer schemes has sabotaged grassroots movements trying to restore climate stability. Our situation would be more dire if trees weren’t so resilient: they’re consuming more carbon dioxide than any 20th century doomsayers ever believed possible. Mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato offers a commonsensical solution in the liner notes to her latest release, Eden, which isn’t online yet. “In this time of upheaval, which seed will you plant today?”

With the new album, she’s pulled together a playlist of eco-friendly songs and cautionary tales from over the centuries, backed lushly and verdantly by orchestra Il Pomo d’Oro, conducted from the harpsichord by Maxim Emelyanychev. Their eclectic collection makes a solid springboard for her signature blend of dynamism and subtlety.

They open with The Unanswered Question, by Charles Ives, channeling a slowly drifting, organ-like rapture punctuated by moments of disquiet. DiDonato brings a vividly searching quality to Gene Scheer’s contemplation of the need to reconnect with our surroundings in the world premiere recording of Rachel Portman‘s First Morning of the World, the orchestra evoking wind in the trees with gentle, pastoral wave motion.

DiDonato follows with a matter-of-factly soaring rendition of Mahler’s Ich atmet’ einen linden Duft (I Breathed a Gentle Fragrance) and then early 17th century Italian composer Biaggio Marini’s Con le stelle in Ciel che mai (rough translation: Have You Seen the Sun?), an energetically swaying art-folk dance of sorts featuring a starkly emphatic Dmitri Lepekhov violin solo.

A rare 18th century Josef Myslivecek aria has a lively Italian baroque bounce, in considerable contrast to its message of divine retribution, “sure destruction and bitter plagues.” Yikes! A blithe Aaron Copland setting of Emily Dickinson poetry is next.

Baroque composer Giovanni Valentini’s hazy, summery miniature, Sonata enharmonica makes a bridge to a sobering Francesco Cavalli aria from his opera La Callisto. “Does the god of thunder so mercilessly scorch the earth?? For sure. From there, the ensemble flurry through a bracing Gluck dance from the opera Orpheus and Euridice, DiDonato then parsing two increasingly agitated songs of gloom and heartbreak under “the cruelty of a wicked monarch.”

There are three Handel works here: a stately aria from the oratorio Theodora and two fond interludes from the opera Serse. celebrating the enduring beauty of plant life. By contrast, DiDonato pulls back with a lingering angst, “lost to the world,” in the second Mahler song: in its understated way, it packs the biggest punch on the album.  And in Agonies, by Wagner, she speaks directly to the horrors that might await if we don’t stop setting things onfire.