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John Fleming's classical CD picks

Leonard Bernstein

Album: Bernstein Conducts Bernstein (Sony)

In stores: Now

Why we care: Bernstein was America's greatest arts educator in his Young People's Concerts on TV. Nobody broke down the wall between classical music and pop culture like him.

Why we like it: The 10-CD set is an invaluable documentation of Bernstein conducting mainly the New York Philharmonic in his own works, including three symphonies, a violin concerto, musical theater, film and ballet scores, art song, opera, jazz and a Mass.

Reminds us of: Tom Wolfe's demolition of Bernstein's political pretensions in Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers. Liberalism never recovered.

Download these: On the Waterfront, Serenade and On theTown

Grade: B

Brooklyn Rider

Album: Silent City (World Village)

In stores: Now

Why we care: Brooklyn Rider is a fine young string quartet whose members play in Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Project. Here they join with Kayhan Kalhor, a virtuoso on the kamancheh, an upright four-stringed Persian fiddle.

Why we like it: The somber title piece, of symphonic proportions at more than 29 minutes, is a masterpiece for our time. It evokes a Kurdish town destroyed by poison gas during the Iran-Iraq war, but it could also (as a program note suggests) memorialize other fallen cities such as New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

Reminds us of: A heady brew of jazz fusion, Ravi Shankar's East-meets-West collaborations and Iranian folk music.

Download this: Ascending Bird

Grade: A

J.S. Bach

Album: Music for Lute-Harpsichord (Naxos)

In stores: Now

Why we care: Elizabeth Farr plays the lute-harpsichord, a two-keyboard instrument with a combination of gut and brass strings. It was built for her by Keith Hill.

Why we like it: Bach is always addictive, but this two-CD set has a wonderfully serene effect that provides ideal accompaniment for anything from meditation to being stuck in a traffic jam. It includes suites and other works written for lute-harpsichord as well as transcriptions. The lute-harpsichord sounds like a harpsichord with just a hint of the lute.

Reminds us of: Why Bach's cosmic genius may be best realized in his keyboard works.

Download this: Gavotte en Rondeau from the Suite in E major, BWV 1006a

Grade: A


Benjamin Britten

DVD: Peter Grimes (EMI)

In stores: Now

Why we care: This season's series of Metropolitan Opera simulcasts to movie theaters begins Monday night with a gala featuring Renee Fleming. Peter Grimes and five other productions from the first two seasons are now on video. The others are Hansel and Gretel, Macbeth, The First Emperor, Manon Lescaut and La Boheme.

Why we like it: Anthony Dean Griffey is superb as the outcast fisherman. The John Doyle staging is more abstract — the set is dominated by a massive rough-hewn wall — than the romantic realism preferred by Britten. The Met orchestra, conducted by Donald Runnicles, plays spectacularly in the orchestral interludes.

Reminds us of: The definitive Grimes of Britten's partner, Peter Pears, whose 1969 performance has been released on DVD by Decca.

Grade: B

John Fleming's classical CD picks 09/20/08 [Last modified: Saturday, September 20, 2008 4:30am]
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