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John Fleming's CD picks: Berlin Philharmonic, Leon Fleisher, Steve Reich, Patrick Mason

Berlin Philharmonic

Album: Stravinsky: Symphonies (EMI)

In stores: Now

Why we care: Stravinsky was not, for the most part, a composer of symphonies. After Brahms, Bruckner and Mahler, the form was pretty much played out by the time he came along. This is a useful collection of his Symphony in Three Movements, Symphony of Psalms and Symphony in C in beautifully engineered performances, conducted by Simon Rattle.

Why we like it: All of Stravinsky's brilliant ingenuity is on display, but there's also an uncharacteristic burst of emotion in his setting of psalms, sung by the Berlin Radio Choir.

Reminds us of: Icons, candles and incense in a Russian Orthodox cathedral

Download these: Symphony of Psalms, Symphony in C

Grade: A

Leon Fleisher

Album: Debussy, Ravel Piano Works (Sony BMG Masterworks)

In stores: Now. Available exclusively on iTunes and other online services and on CD from

Why we care: Fleisher, who turned 80 in July, is one of America's great pianists, even though a hand affliction curtailed his career. This is part of a series of six reissues from his prime that also includes performances of Schubert, Mozart, Liszt, Copland and Brahms.

Why we like it: Though Fleisher is best known for his command of German repertoire — his Schubert Sonata in B-Flat Major is a classic — he also had the quicksilver touch required for Debussy and Ravel in a 1958 recital.

Reminds us of: Monet, Renoir, Degas

Download these: Clair de lune

Grade: A

Steve Reich

Album: Daniel Variations (Nonesuch)

In stores: Now

Why we care: Reich's choral memorial to the Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, who was murdered by Islamic fundamentalists in Pakistan in 2002, is not all sadness. Sung by the Los Angeles Master Chorale, it includes an exuberant movement on Pearl's love of music (he was a jazz and bluegrass fiddle player): "I sure hope Gabriel likes my music, when the day is done.''

Why we like it: The instantly recognizable trademark sound of Reich — the pulsating tempos, the catchy tonality.

Reminds us of: What Michael Tilson Thomas once called "the joyous, jazz-tinged American-Jewish melancholy that we all love in Gershwin, Copland and Bernstein.''

Download these: Daniel Variations

Grade: B

Patrick Mason

Album: American Orchestral Song (Bridge)

In stores: Now

Why we care: This is an important, engaging program of little-known works by Virgil Thomson, John Alden Carpenter, Roy Harris, Charles T. Griffes and Horatio Parker. Mason is a terrific baritone who adapts well to wide-ranging material. He's accompanied by Denmark's Odense Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Paul Mann.

Why we like it: Orchestral song is a neglected genre, and to hear such remarkable pieces as Harris' Give Me the Splendid Silent Sun (to a Walt Whitman poem) and Parker's Cahal Mor of the Wine-Red Hand (Celtic fantasy) comes as a revelation.

Reminds us of: How much great American music is yet to be discovered

Download these: The Feast of Love (Thomson), Water-Colors (Carpenter), Give Me the Splendid Silent Sun (Harris)

Grade: A

John Fleming's CD picks: Berlin Philharmonic, Leon Fleisher, Steve Reich, Patrick Mason 08/09/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 12, 2008 4:08pm]
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