New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: classical music

An Old World Premiere and an Ambitious New Choral Work From New York Polyphony

New York Polyphony are pretty much unique in the world of choral music in that they sing world premieres from five hundred years ago as well as from the here and now. The quartet – countertenor Geoffrey Williams, tenor Steven Caldicott Wilson, baritone Christopher Dylan Herbert and bass Craig Phillips – are as expertly protean as protean gets. One reason why they’re able to find so much fascinating, previously unreleased early music – beyond simply being experts at sleuthing it out – is that they’re smaller than most choirs and focus on the most intimate side of medieval masses and motets. The other is that they have sufficiently formidable chops to tackle this material – some of which was sung by boys at the time it was written – and Herbert’s steely upper register has a lot to do with that.

Their latest album And the Sun Darkened: Music for Passiontide is streaming at Spotify. The group open with fifteenth century Flemish composer Loyset Compère’s stately, utterly otherworldly Crux Triumphans. The group’s resolute command of the pairing of highs against lows leaves the impression that they are a much larger ensemble: it’s a device that’s worked for everyone from Mozart to Gil Evans.

From there, the group shift seamlessly from a spaciously soaring, brief Josquin piece, to the hypnotic, swaying, terse echo effects and persistently unsettled ancient/modern harmonic juxtapositions of contemporary composer Andrew Smith‘s Salme 55.

A diptych by a slightly later fifteenth century Flemish composer, Adrian Willaert, features more dramatic upper register work. From there the group move on to alternately desolate and delicately rhythmic 20th century Estonian terrain for a psalm setting by Cyrillus Kreek.

Their latest old world premiere is Compère’s nine-part suite Officium de Cruce. It’s a Book of Hours meditation, its brief segments ranging from proto-operatic counterpoint to a mystical sway and back. The rather brooding sixth segment, where those rhythms intertwine, is the highlight. The quartet close the album with a thoughtful, spacious, benedictory work by a Compère contemporary, Pierre de la Rue [editor’s note – no relation :)].

The kinds of venues these guys would typically serenade a year ago are dragging their feet reopening, which only means that crowds are going to stick with the vastly less expensive speakeasy circuit when they do. A radical shift in how live music is presented in New York City is underway. The old venue-centric model is being replaced by a community and artist-based scene…and some would say that change is long overdue.

Obscure Treasures From the King of Dark, Wrenching, High Romantic Angst

In these perilous times, who better to spend an hour or so with than the king of High Romantic angst, Sergei Rachmaninoff? The repertoire is vast. There are so many obvious choices: one far less obvious collection is The Complete Rachmaninoff Works and Transcriptions for Piano and Violin, played with dynamic intensity by violinist Annelle Gregory and pianist Alexander Sinchuk and streaming at Spotify. Bridge Records put this out in 2017.

Although the iconic Russian composer only wrote three pieces (that we know of) for violin and piano, there are a grand total of seventeen other transcriptions of some of his most famous and haunting themes included here as well. The duo kick off the record with the first of his original three, the Romance in A minor. This waltz may be a student work, but it’s achingly gorgeous, laced with Asian tinges and occasional slashing chromatics.

His other two original arrangements, grouped together as Deux Morceaux de Salon, Op. 6, are an even more brooding Romance, with some of Gregory’s most richly resonant midrange playing, and a lickety-split Hungarian Dance with strangely bell-like piano.

Most of the other arrangements are either by the composer’s old violinist pal and occasional bandmate Fritz Kreisler, or by another violinist, Jascha Heifetz, a brilliant Rachmaninoff interpreter. Kreisler’s first is a stripped-down version of the famous, searching theme from the second movement of the Piano Concerto No. 2 (the godfather of all angst-ridden piano pieces). It seems a little fast.

The most irresistibly outside-the-box of the Heifetz versions is the reinvention of the immortal (and crushingly venomous) G Minor Prelude Op. 23, No. 5 with a subdued drive that could almost be cumbia, The Prelude, Op. 23, No. 9 is furtive and insectilishly creepy – this is the one for your Halloween mixtape.

Heifetz’ reinventions continue with the Romance, Op. 21, No. 7 “It’s Peaceful Here,” a fond miniature, then the Romance, Op. 21, No. 9 “Melody” with some arrestingly fluttery doublestops from Gregory. Sinchuk’s belltone phrasing in the Etude-Tableau, Op. 33, No. 2 is sublime, while Gregory has a jaunty good time with the lilting Etude-Tableau, Op. 33, No. 7. And a final morsel, Oriental Sketch, flits by with only hints of the pentatonic scale.

Kreisler’s version of the Italian Polka, a rarity, has unexpected klezmerish flair; the Romance, Op. 38, No. 3 “Daisies” has more than a hint of a Mediterranean pastorale. And the iconic romantic theme, the 18th Variation from Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini comes into clearer focus in this stripped-down treatment.

Another Romance, Rachmaninoff’s song It Was in April – reinvented as an instrumental by Konstantin Mostras – is an attractively Spanish-tinged miniature. The duo give a practically Satie-esque plaintiveness but also quasi-operatic drama to the Mikhail Press arrangement of the Morceaux de Fantaisie, Op. 3, No. 5 “Serenade.” Press – a violinist and Rachmaninoff contemporary – also recasts the iconic Vocalise with as much cantabile quality as a voice could conjure.

The two give a nocturnal restraint to Mikhail Erdenko’s chart for the Prelude, Op. 23, No. 4. Nobody seems to know who came up with the one for the version of the “Oriental Romance” Op. 4, No. 4 but it’s one of the most anthemic and vividly imploring songs here (the title is misleading – there’s no discernible Asian reference).

Pianist Simone Dinnerstein Debuts Richard Danielpour’s Haunting, Guardedly Hopeful, Historic Lockdown-Themed New Suite

Imagine your doctor telling you that because you have asthma, odds are seventy percent that you won’t survive the seasonal flu.

That’s what composer Richard Danielpour‘s doctor told him in the early days of the lockdown. The good news is that Danielpour, along with hundreds of millions of other asthmatics, emerged alive. But during those grim months a year ago when so many citizens around the world had no idea if they’d ever be able to leave their homes without being shot, Danielpour was understandably distraught. He was able to find solace in Simone Dinnerstein‘s recordings of J.S. Bach – and, inspired by those albums, wrote a suite of his own for her

The result, American Mosaic, is streaming at Spotify. It’s a visceral, intensely focused attempt to transcend the psychological torture pretty much everyone endured before the science debunking the lockdowners’ terror propaganda came to light. Not only is this riveting and often haunting music, it’s important history.

A spare miniature, the first of four “consolations,” opens the suite: Dinnerstein plays it with guarded hope, but horror erupts at the end. She gives the brief second and longer third variations a muted woundedness, a clock-chime theme moving along steadily, yet with all sense of time being lost. The final one has somewhat more robust harmonies but also more of a funereal atmosphere, Dinnerstein leaving plenty of breathing room for both the somber lefthand and the slow parade overhead to linger, quietly but eventfully.

Part of the lockdowner agenda, of course, involved arbitrarily deciding who was “essential,” and who was not, a practice taken from the Nazi death camps where able-bodied workers were sometimes initially spared, and women, children and the elderly were sent to the gas chamber.

Danielpour dedicates several of the suite’s segments to groups of hardworking individuals, both essential and worthless by lockdowner standards, who kept the world going, Caretakers and research physicians get a chiming, purposeful intertwining theme. Parents and their kids bound around in a momentary distraction, as do documentary filmmakers, photographers, teachers and students: at least someone’s having fun here! Rabbis and ministers receive a resonant but enigmatically expectant, Debussy-esque salute.

Dinnerstein gets to revel in some precise but difficult boogie-woogie in a shout-out to writers, journalists and poets: thanks, guys! The closest thing to a love theme here is dedicated to doctors and interns, yet trouble lurks just outside. Prophets and martyrs are acknowledged soberly, in the suite’s most spacious, Satie-esque moment.

The visible enemy is portrayed as very calm and determined in the beginning, but this illuminati of clowns can’t get their story straight. To Danielpour, at the time, the invisible one was just as steady but more phantasmagorical: it’s the suite’s most chilling interlude. An Elegy For Our Time comes across as more of a wistful reminiscence of better days.

Dinnerstein winds up the record with three Danielpour transcriptions of Bach works: a gentle, cautiously prayerful take of the Agnus Dei from the Mass in B minor, a famous Aria theme from the St. Matthew Passion reinvented as a delicate dirge, and a more heroic yet carefully paced epilogue from that same suite. After all we’ve been through in the past year, the hope Danielpour alludes to here seems within our reach.

Live Music Calendar for New York City and Brooklyn For April and May 2021

Audiences from Florida to the Dakotas are back to normal while we’re still stuck in lockdown hell. But there’s a growing number of shows here this month, almost all of them outdoors and free. Sorry, no speakeasy shows listed here: we can’t snitch on them!

New listings are being added, sporadically: it couldn’t hurt to bookmark this page and check back in about a week to see what else is on the schedule!

4/4. 11 AM alto saxophonist Sarah Hanahan, trumpeter Giveton Gelin, bassist Phil Norris, and drummer Robert Lotreck followed at 1:30ish by the Wayne Escoffery/Jeremy Pelt Quartet with Dezron Douglas on bass and Johnathan Blake on drums, wow, at the south end of the mall in Central Park, enter at 72nd St and go south when you see the Naumburg Bandshell

4/6, 5 PM the Regeneration Quintet – Ras Moshe (saxophones), Matt Lavelle (trumpet),Ayumi Ishito (saxophone), Evan Crane (bass), Dan Kurfirst (drums) improvise in Prospect Park near the 11th St. entrance off 7th Ave

4/10, 3 PM organist Gail Archer plays a rare program of Russian organ music at St. John Nepomucene church, 411 E 66th St at 1st Ave, sug don

4/10, noon AM alto saxophonist Sarah Hanahan,, bassist Phil Norris, and drummer Robert Lotreck followed at 1:30ish by bassist William Parker’s Trio with Cooper-Moore (on keys?) and Hamid Drake on percussion at Summit Rock in Seneca Village in Central Park, enter at 82nd St., follow the noise and look up

4/11, POSTPONED DUE TO THREAT OF RAIN alto saxophonist Sarah Hanahan,, bassist Phil Norris, and drummer Robert Lotreck followed at 1:30ish by tenor saxophonist Melissa Aldana leading her Trio with Pablo Menares on bass and Kush Abadey on drums at Summit Rock in Seneca Village in Central Park, enter at 82nd St., follow the noise and look up

4/14, 5:30 PM serious improvisation: Becoming and Return – Daniel Carter (woodwinds/trumpet), Roshni Samlal (tabla), Dan Kurfirst (drums) in Prospect Park near the 11th St. entrance off 7th Ave

4/15, 7 PM  poignant, eclectic, lyrical jazz bassist/composer Pedro Giraudo’s tango quartet at Terraza 7, sug don $10

4/17, 1:30ish saxophonist Chris Potter leads a trio with Joe Martin on bass and Nasheet Waits on drums at Summit Rock in Seneca Village in Central Park, enter at 82nd St., follow the noise and look up

4/17, 1:30 PM luminous, visionary vocalist/dancer Luisa Muhr, multi-reed legend Daniel Carter and a posse of many more improvise outside 166 N 12th St. in Williamsburg

4/18, 1:30ish drummer Antonio Sanchez leads his Trio with Donny McCaslin on tenor sax and Matt Brewer on bass at Summit Rock in Seneca Village in Central Park, enter at 82nd St., follow the noise and look up

4/20, 5:30 PM best show of the month: haunting Middle Eastern jazz with Ensemble Fanaa – Daro Behroozi (saxophone/bBass clarinet), John Murchison (double bass), Dan Kurfirst (drums/percussion) in Prospect Park near the 11th St. entrance off 7th Ave

4/23, 7 PM noirish, tunefully scruffy pastoral jazz guitarist Tom Csatari leads his pastoral noir Uncivilized band at the Flying Lobster, 144 Union St off Hicks, just over the BQE, outdoors, F to Smith/9th

4/24, 1:30ish trumpeter Marquis Hill‘s Quartet at Summit Rock in Seneca Village in Central Parkenter at 82nd St., follow the noise and look up

4/25, 1;30 ish saxophonist Michael Thomas leads his Quartet with Michael Rodriguez on trumpet, Edward Perez on bass, and Johnathan Blake on drums at Summit Rock in Seneca Village in Central Park, enter at 82nd St., follow the noise and look up

4/27, 5:30 PM stoner downtempo grooves with Lateef Beats – Fima Chupakhin (keys), John Merrit (bass), Dan Kurfirst (drums) in Prospect Park near the 11th St. entrance off 7th Ave

5/1, 11 AM saxophonist James Brandon Lewis‘ Freed Style Free Trio with Rashaan Carter on bass and Chad Taylor on drums followed at 1:30ish by sax player Aaron Burnett’s Quartet with Peter Evans on trumpet, Nick Jozwiak on bass, and Tyshawn Sorey on drums at Summit Rock in Seneca Village in Central Park, enter at 82nd St., follow the noise and look up

5/3-4, 5:30 PM the American Symphony Orchestra String Quartet play works from south of the border by Manuel Ponce, Silvestre Revueltas and Carlos Chávez at Bryant Park

5/5, 5:30 PM the American Symphony Orchestra Percussion ensemble play an all Javier Diaz program in the park at Herald Square. The program repeats on 5/12

5/8, 1;30ish cellist Marika Hughes‘ New String Quartet with Charlie Burnham on violin, Marvin Sewell on guitar, and Rashaan Carter on bass – hey, they’re all string players! – at Summit Rock in Seneca Village in Central Park, enter at 82nd St., follow the noise and look up

5/10-11, 5:30 PM jazz pianist Lee Musiker leads a quintet at Bryant Park

5/15, 1:30 PM powerhouse tenor saxophonist Mark Turner leads a chordless trio with Vicente Archer on bass and Johnathan Blake on drums at Summit Rock in Seneca Village in Central Park, enter at 82nd St., follow the noise and look up

5/15, time TBA avant garde chanteuse Jane LeCroy’s new punk cabaret duo project Shelter Puppy outdoors at City Reliquary, 370 Metropolitan Ave off Havemeyer, Williamsburg, free

5/17, 5:30 PM the American Symphony Orchestra brass quartet play works by Tcherepnin, Carlos Chavez, Strauss and others at Bryant Park. The program repeats on 5/19.

5/18, 5:30 PM oboeist Alexandra Knoll leads a wind trio playing an all-French program with works by Poulenc, Francaix and others at Bryant Park

5/22, 1:30 PM tsunami drummer Johnathan Blake leads a wild quartet with Mark Turner and Chris Potter on tenor sax and Dezron Douglas on bass, wow, at Summit Rock in Seneca Village in Central Park, enter at 82nd St., follow the noise and look up

5/23, 1:30 PM drummer Nasheet Waits leads a high-voltage quartet with Mark Turner and Steve Nelson on tenor sax, and Rashaan Carter on bass at Summit Rock in Seneca Village in Central Park, enter at 82nd St., follow the noise and look up

5/29, 1:30 PM alto saxophonist Abraham Burton leads a trio with Dezron Douglas on bass and Eric McPherson on drums at Summit Rock in Seneca Village in Central Park, enter at 82nd St., follow the noise and look up

5/31, 1:30 PM trumpeter Jason Palmer leads his Quartet with Mark Turner on tenor sax, Edward Perez on bass and Kendrick Scott on drums at Summit Rock in Seneca Village in Central Park, enter at 82nd St., follow the noise and look up

Savagely Brilliant Shostakovich Symphonies From the London Symphony Orchestra

In a time when global tyranny and repression have reached levels of terror not seen since the Middle Ages, it makes sense to revisit two great antifascist works from a composer who narrowly managed to survive under one of the world’s most evil regimes. Only Dmitri Shostakovich’s popularity saved him from the fate so many of his friends suffered under Stalin. Fortuituously, maestro Ginandrea Noseda and the London Symphony Orchestra have just released a live album of two completely different but equally relevant Shostakovich symphonies, No. 9 and No. 10, streaming at Spotify. The former is from 2018, the latter from performances at the Barbican in January and February of 2020, just a few weeks before music there was banned by the Boris Johnson regime.

During his lifetime, Shostakovich explained away the savage irony, caricatures and stricken horror in his music as reflecting on the evil of the Tsarist regime, even though it was clear that he was taking shots at Stalin and then Krushchev. Symphony No. 9 is an oddball, the only one of its kind in the composer’s repertoire. It’s a goofy little piece of music whose sarcasm is almost completely deadpan. It’s impossible to imagine a more dispassionate celebration.

Written ostensibly in tribute to the Soviet victory over the Nazis, the blithe little flourishes of the first movement seem to ask, “So we aren’t going to find out if life under Hitler would be any better than it was under Stalin? It couldn’t be any worse.” Ultimately, history would validate that gruesome premise. Noseda leads the orchestra through a very individualistic interpretation, muting the turbulent undercurrent and practically turning it into a concerto for flute and violin.

The conductor takes the second movement slowly, letting the brooding reflection of Juliana Koch’s oboe speak for the weariness of millions of Russians. This depleted, exhausted waltz really drags. Then in the third movement Noseda really picks up the phony pageantry, a familiar trope in the Shostakovich playbook: trumpeter Philip Cobb’s facsimile of a martial Russian victory riff is a hoot.

But it doesn’t last. Timothy Jones’ sotto-voce, lightly vibrato-laden horn brings back the sullen atmosphere in movement four. The sober oboe introduction to the conclusion foreshadows a familiar, troubled hook from Symphony No. 10. The coda is appropriately rote, a whole nation bustling through the motions.

No. 10 might be the greatest symphony ever written: Noseda and the ensemble go deep into its innumerable layers for gravitas and historical impact. Grounded in the low strings, the vast expanse of pain and anguish in the first movement is visceral, a requiem for the victims of Stalin’s reign of terror. Noseda’s choice to mute the flickers of hope against hope, as a pulsing sway grows more and more harrowing, is an apt template for the rest of the recording.

The furtive chase scene of the second movement gains coldly sleek momentum as it morphs into a danse macabre: holocausts throughout history are always carefully orchestrated. Movement three, in contrast, seems especially restrained in its most desolate moments, setting up the iconic, eerily syncopated, Scheherezade-like theme at the center.. Individually voices of mourning rise over a grim hush in the fourth movement: that brief, bubbly respite may only be a coded message to the composer’s girlfriend at the time, and it isn’t long before it becomes a completely different kind of pursuit theme.

Ultimately, Shostakovich’s best-known symphonies are cautionary tales. Look what happened in my country, he tells us. Don’t let this happen in yours. How crushingly ironic that an orchestra from the UK – sufffering under one of the most sadistic totalitarian regimes in the world at the moment – would be responsible for such deeply insightful performances.

Joy and Desolation From the Tesla Quartet

The Tesla Quartet have been around for more than a decade. In keeping with this century’s zeitgeist, artists release albums when they’re ready, not when some accountant says they have to in order to fulfill some sleazy record label contract. So their debut album, Joy and Desolation – streaming at their music page – was worth the wait. It’s a mix of very familiar repertoire and more adventurous material.

They open the record with a classical radio staple: Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet in A Major, with soloist Alexander Fiterstein. Let’s not kid ourselves: pensive third movement notwithstanding, this is wine-hour music for the thieving dukes and abbots and the gentry of suburban Vienna, such as suburbs existed in 1789. The more you drink, the easier it is to get lost in its lustre and exchanges of subdued revelry. But it’s gorgeously executed. Fiterstein maintains a stunning, wind-tunnel clarity, throughout both extended passages and bubbly staccato phrases. Violinists Ross Snyder and Michelle Lie, and violist Edwin Kaplan provide echoes and a strong backdrop, and cellist Serafim Smigelskiy switches seamlessly between resonant ballast and serving as bass player.

Next on the bill are Gerald Finzi’s innocuously neo-baroque Five Bagatelles. A drifting legato quickly transforms to leaps and bounds in the opening Prelude. Fiterstein’s moody vistas echo in Smigelskiy’s undercurrent in the nocturnal Romance, followed by a nostalgically snowy, waltzing carol of a third movement. The fourth relies more on stark pastoral textures from the strings; the concluding fughetta, on bubbly exchanges. Aaron Copland comes to mind often here: this music is facile, derivative – and seamlessly played.

So much for joy. There’s a slow, fugal contrast between icy, troubled, tectonically shifting close-harmonied strings, built around a creepy chromatic riff and the clarinet’s looming textures, in John Corigliano‘s Soliloquy. The windswept, ghostly outro is absolutely gorgeous. The group wind up the album with Carolina Heredia’s Ius in Bello, its haunted flickers and flutters behind plaintive clarinet up to a fire dance within the first couple of minutes. Demands on the ensemble increase from sudden shocked cadenzas to chilling mictrotonal interludes: what a piece de resistance to choose as a coda.

A Haunting Album For Our Time by Iconic Pianist Satoko Fujii

You can tell how serious people are by the extremes they go to. Pianist Satoko Fujii managed to finish her new solo album Hazuki – streaming at Bandcamp – with an icepack on her neck. That may not be as much of a display of superhuman endurance as the two Curt Schillling bloody sock games, but it’s in the same league. Yet, the Boston Red Sox pitcher humbly requested to be taken off the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot. Likewise, Fujii also doesn’t seem to want anything more than the opportunity to sell out a jazz club, as she routinely did before the lockdown. Undeterred, she keeps putting out brilliant albums as a way to stay current and maybe make a few bucks since live music has been criminalized in so many of the parts of the world where she used to play.

The album title is medieval Japanese for “August,” which is when she recorded the record in the unventilated music room in her Tokyo apartment in almost hundred-degree heat last year. How hot is this music? It’s a distinctive, elegantly articulated portrait of the desperation of a career on ice and a world slipping toward a holocaust. As usual, Fujii often goes under the piano lid for all kinds of unorthodox sonics: approximations of an autoharp, a koto or a monsoon crushing the coast, which she intermingles with increasingly portentous, menacing variations on a simple, ominous lefthand riff in the album’s opening track, Invisible.

The second number, Quarantined is part Messaienic, carrilonesque study in making do with what we have and part monstrous apocalyptic tableau: this record is one of Fujii’s most energetic, even explosive albums in recent memory and this is one of its most haunting interludes. She works those close-harmonied chords with even more of a funereal angst in Cluster (possibly a take on the concept of “COVID clusters,” real or imagined). Throughout her work, Fujii typically maintans a distance from the macabre, if only for the sake of suspense, but not here.

Hoffen (German for “hope”) is aptly titled, a matter-of-factly imploring atmosphere infusing this soberly cascading, crescendoing, relentlessly emphatic ballad without words. Fujii builds an even more tightly claustrophobic, raga-like, modal intensity in the next number, Beginning, perhaps ironically one of the album’s catchiest tunes.

She develops Ernesto, a Che Guevara homage, around an artful assemblage of climbing phrases, complete with looming, stygian atmospherics and a seemingly withering parody of generic ballad architecture. Expanding, an older but previously unrecorded tune, begins as a study in leapfrogging modalities but rises toward a hard-hitting, catchy, late 50s Miles Davis-style tableau. Fujii closes the album with Twenty-Four Degrees and its steady, Mompou-esque chimes, a cool settling in after the oppressive conditions under which Fujii made the record. Three months into 2021, and she’s already released two of the strongest contenders for best album of the year: this one, and her Prickly Pear Cactus duo collaboration with vibraphonist Taiko Saito.

Revisiting a Stunningly Orchestrated Piano Jazz Masterpiece

On one hand, the lockdown has been a nightmare on pretty much every level. On the other, sudden time away from work opened up a window for some serious spring cleaning. Beyond the chance to wipe the extraneous stuff off the hard drive, these past months have been an opportunity to spend quality time with some great albums which had been sitting around for a long time, sometimes years, and had always been on the bubble. Yet they never ended up making the front page here until now. This is one of them.

Pianist Danny Green‘s 2018 album One Day It Will – streaming at Spotify  – is one of the most unselfconsciously gorgeous releases in recent memory. The obvious comparison is the classic 1966 Bill Evans Trio with Symphony Orchestra record, although Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage Suite and Matt Ulery‘s recent work are also points of reference. Green really likes the high midrange: his soaring melodies have a rare glisten and gleam.

Jazz with a string section goes all the way back to Charlie Parker, but this is a landmark of the style. Here the pianist is joined by bassist Justin Grinnell and drummer Julien Cantelm from his long-running trio, plus a string quartet comprising San Diego Symphony violinists Kate Hatmaker and Igor Pandurski, violist Travis Maril and cellist Erica Erenyi. If breathtaking lushness is your thing, this is your holy grail.

The group open with the bright, chiming, anthemically Brubeckian Time Lapse to Fall, the strings leaping in swells and counterpoint. As the Parrot Flies has a dancing, tropical quality: it could be vintage Donald Fagen at his most elegant and erudite, at least until the tumbling, eerily modal bridge.

The album’s title track is a striking, achingly bittersweet ballad: one of the coolest things about this album is how the strings, or a violin, or the cello carry the melody as often as the piano does. In this case, it’s Grinnell’s muscular solo that signals a shift toward sunnier exchanges between Green and the strings.

View From the Sky, with its dancing ebullience and lyrical upper-register piano, makes a good segue. From the shimmering strings of the intro to its catchy, gospel-flavored dynamic shifts, Lemon Avenue is the album’s most expansive track. November Reveries, a fondly brisk ballad without words, has Grinnell adding gravitas over Cantelm’s flurries until the strings come sweeping back.

Green’s wistfully vamping variations in Sifting Through the Silence might be the most vivid distillation of where he’s going with all this. The saturnine, brooding October Ballad, a jazz waltz, is the album’s most darkly stunning track, with a stark, tantalizingly brief cello solo toward the end.

The memorably rippling Snowy Day in Boston evokes a steady trail of chilly South Station T riders looking forward to cozy Somerville apartments more than it does, say, dodging snowplows on Mass Ave. The album winds up with the imaginatively blustery orchestrated blues Down and Out.

An Individualistic, Alternate Take on a Rachmaninoff Classic

If you’re looking to hear Rachmaninoff’s foundationally haunting, sweeping Symphony No. 2 for the first time, the London Symphony Orchestra’s latest live recording, with Simon Rattle conducting from memory – streaming at Spotify – is not the place to start. Rattle has built a hall of fame career: his recording of Sibelius’ Symphony No. 3 with an earlier version of this orchestra is arguably the best ever. But this record is strictly for the diehards.

The skeleton key that unlocks the angst and grandeur of Rachmaninoff’s vindictive response to those who said he couldn’t write a symphony is a late 70s recording by the Russian National Opera Academy Orchestra with Yevgeny Svetlanov conducting. There have been plenty of insightful and enjoyable interpretations released since then: try Leonard Slatkin and the St. Louis Symphony’s version, if you can find it on vinyl, for a silkier, less ruggedly Russian take. But a battered cassette reissue of Svetlanov and his ensemble on the Russian Melodiya label remains a prized possession, something a worn-down subway rider could spin on a walkman week after week and find sustenance in every time.

This album, from concerts at the Barbican in London on successive September nights in 2019, occasionally emphasizes underlying harmonies, sometimes in the least likely places, like a remix. If you’ve listened to this symphony hundreds of times, or even a few times, they may strike you as fascinating, sometimes as odd or maybe fussy. If you haven’t listened to it hundreds of times, or even a few times, these comments may strike you as maybe marginally interesting, or odd or maybe fussy. Just keep in mind that music like this is why diehards exist.

Getting through to those moments is undeniably fun but occasionally maddening. Rattle has this in his fingers, literally, setting the bar low, volumewise to accommodate the explosive peaks. Listen closely as the first movement develops, through that exhilarating rise from wounded exchanges of strings to a first guarded triumph, and you’ll notice that Rattle is leading on the offbeat. Also, the brass and reeds – often complementary textures throughout this piece – are more prominent than usual. That’s ok – it never hurts to think outside the box.

Except when meaning is subsumed. It’s great to get that momentary violin cadenza in the first movement in high definition. But why, for example, are the horns signaling that crushing coda at 12:44 so far back in the mix? They ought to be front and center. And the ending is rushed, as is the second movement: the Dvorakian rumors of war across the plains are more of a battle among the scouts to see who can get back to the base first. Yeah, it’s a thrill to play.

Then there’s a turning point in the third movement where a furtive string riff sinks behind sustained brass, in an otherwise thoughtfully rapturous, transcendent interpretation of what could be the most beautiful portion of any symphony ever written. And there are a couple of places early in the fourth movement when a signal of crushing irony, as the composer’s ha-ha, told-you-so theme blusters in, simply goes AWOL. Under the right circumstances, this symphony should become the part of your DNA which immunizes you against pain. And this doesn’t.

Revisiting an Inviting, Convivial French Late Romantic Collection by the Neave Trio

The Neave Trio got high marks here last year for their album Her Voice, a collection of rare pieces by women composers (some might cynically say that even now, anything by a woman composer is rare). But the ensemble had done rewarding work before that record, including their 2018 release French Moments – streaming at Spotify – a collection of somewhat less obscure pieces from the Late Romantic period. This music doesn’t dissemble. It’s convivial, translucent and attractive and probably won’t satisfy those who fortify themselves with Bartok or Stravinsky. But the trio rise to this music’s warmly Romantic, finely polished level of craft.

One of these pieces is a nocturne, more or less. Another is wine-hour – or babysitting-hour – music for the idle classes of 19th century Europe. Another is a late composition by a favorite of the era who has fallen out of favor – and it’s good to see this group recording his work.

The nocturne, better known on its home turf than it is here, is Albert Roussel’s Trio, Op. 2. They open the first movement with a warmly but suspensefully crepuscular, almost tremoloing pulse. The music rises to an insistent, almost breathless peak that quickly fades away into pianist Eri Nakamura’s starry diminuendo. The strings – violinist Anna Williams and cellist Mikhail Veselov -carry the next upward drive to a lyrical rondo, some agitation and a whip of a coda.

There’s a wistful, vividly cantabilee quality to the second movement, the group really taking their time with it, Williams’ nimble flourishes contrasting with Nakamura’s emphatic underpinning. Veselov gets a welcome opportunity to darken the lustre in the moodily waltzing, dynamically shifting conclusion, ending almost like a palindrome.

The drinking music is Debussy’s Premier Trio, a student work written when he was 18, shlepping from country house to country house with one of Tschaikovsky’s patrons…and babysitting. It sure doesn’t sound anything like the Debussy we know and love. Schubertian counterpoint, anthemic opening credits-style hooks, a little prescient modal vamping and lighthearted phantasmagoria: pretty stuff, nothing too complicated or unsoothing. The trio are obviously having a good time with it.

Gabriel Fauré’s Trio, Op. 120 is a late work, and the three establish a rather saturnine mood in the initial exchanges of sober cello and glistening night-sky piano. A lush, lilting contentment gains momentum with Nakamura’s steady triplets and a real coup de grace at the end of the first movement. The second has more of an insistent unison pulse; everybody gets more of a workout in the third, Nakamura especially. The first and second, especially, have long interludes of sheer gorgeousness. Even though he managed to outlive Debussy, Faure stayed Romantic to the end.