Here I present five of ten albums in various genres, hand-picked from the very favorites of my music collection. Some of the hyperlinks are audio samples, powered by Amazon.com.
Musica Antiqua Köln (directed by Reinhard Goebel) – Musica Baltica (1999)
This could become an essential album to anyone whose music collection lacks obscure composers of the Baltic Mid-Baroque (late 17th Century). It is also, hands down, the finest early music violin playing I have ever encountered, led by savant-genius Reinhard Goebel. He guides his ensemble thru the frolicsome flares necessary to any well-researched project of period-instrument Baroque performance, but one never feels bogged down in the mordents. He has also introduced me to some of the most haunting & unusual music. It is a long album, but don’t miss the final tracks, with two by Johann Valentin Meder, the controversial Danzig Kapellmeister. The Sonata di Battaglia begins with triumphant C-major chord which saws away for a solid two minutes before changing! Also, the regal trumpets & bassoons on Vincenzo Albrici’s Sonata a 5 continue to move me, after years of repeated listenings, to minuetting around the room.
Stand up for the Crossover disc of the decade! The pairing of Berio's 1960's take on combining world folk genres with contemporary classical innovations, with Golijov's 21st Century attempt, leaves a lot to think about. Golijov is the Jewish-Argentinian-American who did all of those amazing, yet popularly denounced, arrangements for Kronos Quartet's Caravan (gypsy) & Nuevo (latin) crossover experiments. (Kronos fan-purists would prefer them to keep with the heady academic program, but really they're just keeping up with more realistic trends & innovations - their newest album is all from Bollywood soundtracks.) Golijov's own music, for instance in Ayre, has a ton of integrity whilst dipping into every imaginative world idiom. Clearly, if the 21st century offers any direction, it's welcoming inspiration from the sheer bulk of recorded music available, & relishing in its ability to be blended in the genre of notated concert music. Berio's Folk Songs have been recorded dozens of times, but this ensemble is especially tight, & the piece has really worn well during its transition from contemporary classic to over-preformed classic-proper. Dawn Upshaw, I think, is one of the most amazing vocalists alive. She can keep her day job at the conservative Metropolitan Opera while preforming the classiest new music & anything else she wants to: Weill, Bernstein, Ives, Berg, Adams, Purcell, Stravinsky, &c. Her voice is really just an instrument of her intelligence, tastely borrowing slides from jazz, an occasional hugeness from Wagner, & deepening it with her own gravity or lightening it with her wit. Golijov's music allows her to showcase a new breadth, replete with sufi trills, or whatever the music calls for. As for Berio, "I wonder as I wander" has never sounded so beautiful.
Kevin Volans - White Man Sleeps (1990)
1980s British Minimalism is one of the sadly neglected genres of 20th Century Music. Graham Fitkin, for instance, perhaps suffers from a contemporary embarrasment for cheezy synthesizers. His seminal Cud (1988) perhaps sounds a bit too much like The Muppets Take Manhatten. Many recordings by Fitkin have not been reissued - (Look for Argos CDs in used record stores!) Volans, however is the opposite in aestetic - his music is extremely earthy. A white South African native who moved to Dublin, several of the pieces on this album are for two harpsichords tuned liked African thumb pianos (a compositional risk, I assume, severely limiting performance possibilities). Kronos Quartet has recorded the string quartet version of White Man Sleeps, an arrangement of the version on this album for two harpsichords, viola da gamba, & percussion. The Smith Quartet preformance on this album, I cannot emphasize enough, rocks so much harder than Kronos. Really, man, this is some of my favorite music. Like Steve Reich, it clearly links '70s-'80s Minimalist form to traditional African counterpoint, written for early Western instruments, & performed with a lot of heart.