The latest in my one-album-at-a-time survey of my CD collection.
I’ll keep this one short. Celebrity-packed recordings usually swing between extremes: They’re either a slam dunk or a total misfire. This one—featuring Kathleen Battle, Wynton Marsalis, Anthony Newman on continuo, and the Orchestra of St. Luke’s—is the an absolute success. Simply stated, I can’t imagine this music sounding any better.
I’m going through my classical CD collection, one day at a time, and writing short reviews of each. Here’s the latest.
I bought this CD years ago, mostly because I have a passing familiarity with the Eaken Piano Trio. (John Eaken is, or at least was, based in my hometown, and his wife was an occasional substitute teacher in my school district.) But I’ve never listened to it in its entirety until now. When I’ve put it on in the past, I usually found it underwhelming, and my assumption was that some combination of the music or the performance was fairly lackluster. And wow, was I ever mistaken. The first piece on the album—Lalo Schifrin’s Hommage à Ravel—gets off to a bit of a slow start, but it builds to a terrific climax. Gunther Schuller’s Piano Trio is wonderfully angular and jazzy, a wonderful listen. But the real find here is Gerald M. Shapiro’s Piano Trio. I’m not familiar with Shapiro’s work apart from this, but this is a really terrific piece, and a great opportunity for the ensemble to shine. The recording could be a bit clearer, but the performances throughout are wonderful.
This album is a great example of why I’ve set this goal of listening through everything, beginning to end. There’s great music here, but I’ve gone years without finding it. Highly recommended.
I've spent the last several years building what is, to be honest, an absurdly large CD collection. The classical section is particularly ridiculous: I can't give you an exact number, but it rivals some libraries. I've decided to give myself a goal: Listen to one classical CD a day until I've listened to all of them. In addition to listening to them, I'll post a little blurb here. I may skip a few here or there, but for the most part, this will be my classical CD collection. A lot of it will be hopelessly obscure and esoteric, but you may also find a few things that you'll want to listen to. And so it begins...
First, a confession: John Adams—the contemporary American composer, not the founding father—has never been my favorite, and in some ways, this CD highlights both the best and the worst things about Adams’s music. My issue is that his music often takes a while to get going, as if he’s fumbling around for an idea for 10 minutes, waiting for the piece to take shape. What this CD argues is that, once it gets into gear, the results can be stunning. In other words, there’s some very good music here, particularly the two-piano juggernaut that is “Hallelujah Junction.” This disc doesn’t get my highest recommendation, but it’s definitely worth a listen.
What is clear is that Ralph van Raat (and the same should be said for Maarten van Veen, who joins him on “Hallelujah Junction”) is an outstanding pianist. This music challenges both technique and physical endurance (“Phrygian Gates,” for example, is almost 25 minutes long), and van Raat is more than up to the challenge. An outstandingly clear recording rounds out a solid disc of generally satisfying music.
Chris Massa is a musician based in Pittsburgh, PA. You are on his site right now.
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