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John Fleming's CD picks: John Miller, Eroica Trio, 'Defiance' soundtrack, Nokuthula Ngwenyama

John Miller

Album: Stage Door Johnny (PS Classics)

In stores: Now

Why we care: This is one of the most refreshing, purely musical CDs I've heard in a long time. Miller is a leading music contractor for Broadway shows and touring companies, as well as a terrific bass player and charming singer. Here he performs musical theater classics in delightfully offbeat style.

Why we like it: The jazz-pop arrangements by Miller and David Spinozza are wonderfully inventive, and you better believe Miller has New York's best musicians and backup singers playing with him.

Reminds us of: Miller's singing sounds a little like James Taylor.

Download these: Wouldn't It Be Loverly?, Hey There, Ol' Man River, Fugue for Tinhorns

Grade: A

Eroica Trio

Album: An American Journey (EMI)

In stores: Now

Why we care: The Eroica Trio — Erika Nickrenz, piano; Susie Park, violin; Sara Sant'Ambrogio, cello — are the glamor girls of classical music, but they can also play. This is their first CD since Park joined, replacing founding violinist Adele Pena.

Why we like it: New arrangements of familiar works by Kenji Bunch (Gershwin's Porgy and Bess) and Raimundo Penaforte (Bernstein's West Side Story) are outstanding contributions to the piano trio repertoire. Mark O'Connor's homage to Johnny Cash, Poets and Prophets, is less interesting.

Reminds us of: The piano trios of Beethoven, Schubert and Brahms

Download these: Porgy and Bess Fantasy, I Feel Pretty

Grade: B+

Defiance

Album: Defiance (Sony Classical)

In stores: Now

Why we care: The James Newton Howard score was nominated for an Oscar. Howard is one of the gold standards of modern film composing, with credits including Prince of Tides and Michael Clayton.

Why we like it: Listening to a movie soundtrack is odd. The music, after all, serves a supporting role and can be insubstantial on its own. It's meant to be felt as much as heard. Howard is a consummate craftsman, and you can almost imagine what the onscreen action is even if you haven't seen the movie.

Reminds us of: Apparently every Hollywood film on the Holocaust needs a virtuoso violinist on the soundtrack. Schindler's List had Itzhak Perlman, and Defiance features Joshua Bell.

Download these: Exodus, Escape the Ghetto

Grade: B

Nokuthula Ngwenyama

Album: Rubinstein Sonatas (EDI)

In stores: Now

Why we care: Ngwenyama (born in California of Zimbabwean and Japanese parents) is a fine young viola and violin player. Here she is joined by Canadian pianist Jennifer Lim in a pair of sonatas by Anton Rubinstein.

Why we like it: It's fun to dig into the music of Rubinstein (1829-1894), a Russian pianist, composer, conductor and teacher (Tchaikovsky was one of his students) who was a titan in his day but is now largely forgotten. His Op. 49 viola and Op. 13 violin sonatas are conventional romantic showpieces, though the viola sonata is a valuable discovery for an instrument that doesn't have much recital repertoire to choose from. Ngwenyama soars in the Andante.

Reminds us of: If you like Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky, give Rubinstein a listen.

Download this: Viola Sonata

Grade: B+

John Fleming's CD picks: John Miller, Eroica Trio, 'Defiance' soundtrack, Nokuthula Ngwenyama 01/31/09 [Last modified: Saturday, January 31, 2009 3:30am]

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