Thursday, January 18, 2018
Features and More

John Fleming's CD picks: Leif Ove Andsnes, Kat Parra, Kenji Bunch, Poul Ruders

Leif Ove Andsnes

Album: Beethoven: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 3 (Sony Classical)

Why we care: Doesn't it seem as if there are more great pianists around than you can keep track of? The Norwegian Leif Ove Andsnes has a pretty low profile in the United States, but his first Beethoven recording should bring him new listeners.

Why we like it: Recorded live at the Prague Spring Festival, with Andsnes conducting the Mahler Chamber Orchestra from the keyboard, these are good, solid renditions of two building blocks of the piano repertoire. Especially captivating is the lyrical lightness of No. 3's slow movement.

Reminds us of: Why there's always room on the shelf for another CD of the Beethoven piano concertos.

Download this: Piano Concerto No. 3

Grade: A

Kat Parra

Album: Las Aventuras de Pasion (JazzMa)

Why we care: Kat Parra is a Latin jazz singer (and former graphic designer at Cisco Systems) from San Francisco, and her fourth album is a treat. It features excellent arrangements in a wide range of music, from Sephardic songs in the ancient Middle Eastern language Ladino, or Judeo-Español, to ballads that incorporate classical influences, such as Faure's Pavane and Satie's Gymnopedie No. 1, to infectious salsa rhythms.

Why we like it: Parra's voice brings an appealingly rough and ready, exposed quality to her performance of the Afro-jazz torch song Call Your Name. Other tracks just flat-out swing, like Iko Iko and Oye Papi.

Reminds us of: Linda Ronstadt in Latin mode

Download these: Iko Iko, Call Your Name, Lo Siento Mi Vida, Oye Papi

Grade: A

Kenji Bunch

Album: Boiling Point (Delos)

Why we care: Alias Chamber Ensemble has a knack for interesting projects, here following up its first album of music by Gabriela Lena Frank with a collection of five works by Kenji Bunch, a Japanese-American composer in Brooklyn. I've liked Bunch's music since hearing the Ahn Trio play his jazzy opus on New York at night, Swing Shift.

Why we like it: String Circle is Bunch's take on bluegrass fiddling, Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, and guitar picking, wrapped around a setting of Wayfaring Stranger. He pays tribute to running a marathon in 26.2. His influences in Boiling Point include comic book graphics and a whistling teakettle.

Reminds us of: Yo-Yo Ma's country crossover albums, such as The Goat Rodeo Sessions

Download these: String Circle, Boiling Point

Grade: B+

Poul Ruders

Album: Poul Ruders, Vol. 8 (Bridge)

Why we care: Susanna Phillips, an impressive young soprano from Alabama, is the soloist in the Offred Suite, drawn from Ruders' opera The Handmaid's Tale. Phillips, with pianist Myra Huang, gives a recital at the Historic Asolo Theater in Sarasota Jan. 12-13.

Why we like it: With its punishing blasts by Denmark's Odense Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Scott Yoo, the suite is not easy listening, but Phillips floats gorgeously above the fray. Ruders' 1990 opera, based on Margaret Atwood's novel, is a masterpiece. The CD also has an homage to Sibelius, Tundra, and Symphony No. 3, Dreamcatcher (named for the Native American "shamanic device" often seen hanging from rear-view mirrors).

Reminds us of: Bartok

Download this: Offred Suite

Grade: B

   
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