Monday, April 23, 2018
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John Fleming's CD picks: Alison Balsom, Minnesota Orchestra, Andreas Scholl, Mikel Rouse

Alison Balsom

Album: Seraph (EMI)

Why we care: You'd think classical composers would find inspiration in jazz trumpet, but apparently not, since the Hummel and Haydn trumpet concertos are still what you mostly hear at symphony orchestra concerts. Balsom, an English trumpet star, is doing her part by putting the spotlight on contemporary concertos for her instrument by James Macmillan (Seraph), Alexander Arutiunian and Bernd Alois Zimmermann (Nobody Knows de Trouble I See).

Why we like it: There's a bracing contrast between the Arutiunian concerto, with its bravado trumpet, and the edgier works by Macmillan and, especially, Zimmermann's 12-tone treatment of the African-American spiritual.

Reminds us of: The puzzlement of why trumpet concertos are so rare

Download this: Seraph

Grade: A-

Minnesota Orchestra

Album: Sibelius: Symphonies Nos. 2 and 5 (Bis)

Why we care: Osmo Vanska, the music director in Minnesota, returns to Nordic repertoire he recorded before, with the Lahti Symphony Orchestra of Finland, on the same Swedish label. The Sibelius symphonies seem to be back in vogue, and this is the start of what promises to be a fine cycle.

Why we like it: There's a certain logic in Vanska and his orchestra staking their claim with the Finnish composer's symphonies, given Minnesota's Scandinavian ties. However, the competition is stiff, with no shortage of definitive Sibelius recordings under conductors such as Simon Rattle, Colin Davis, Herbert von Karajan and Vanska himself.

Reminds us of: Minnesota's Beethoven cycle

Download this: Symphony No. 2

Grade: B+

Andreas Scholl

Album: Bach: Cantatas (Decca)

Why we care: Scholl's countertenor is an otherworldy force of nature in Bach's church music, on superb display in solo cantatas for alto voice, Cantatas 169 and 200, with the Basel Chamber Orchestra. Also here are Cantata 82, written for bass voice but transposed up; an aria from Cantata 53 (probably not by Bach); a recitative from Cantata 161; and a sinfonia from Cantata 150.

Why we like it: Though not written for a high voice, Cantata 82, or Ich habe genug (It is enough), is one of the highlights, along with Cantata 169, which features lively organ playing (uncredited) in the opening.

Reminds us of: The Bach cantatas with John Eliot Gardiner conducting the English Baroque Soloists and the Monteverdi Choir

Download this: Cantata 169

Grade: A-

Mikel Rouse

Album: Boost/False Doors (Exit Music)

Why we care: Rouse is the thinking man's singer-songwriter. His double album, released on May 1, includes Boost, which features steel guitar and has a financial meltdown theme combined with trenchant observations on dating ("At what point in the dating process/Does the guy no longer suck in his gut?" in Hardwired Superstition). False Doors is "my Buddhist record," Rouse says.

Why we like it: This is a consummate headphone listening experience; a lot goes on in Rouse's music, and the lyrics are hilarious.

Reminds us of: Brian Wilson in his Pet Sounds days; the lyrics of Van Dyke Parks (cited in the acknowledgements); the offbeat rhythms of Talking Heads

Download these: Hurdle Rate, Side Pockets, Prosperity Gospel, Face Around

Grade: A

   
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