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John Fleming's CD picks: Terry Riley, James MacMillan, 'The Soloist,' Thomas Lanners

Terry Riley

Album: Terry Riley: In C (Sony Classical)

In stores: Now

Why we care: Riley's In C is a modern masterpiece. It laid the groundwork for minimalism and composers like Philip Glass, Steve Reich and John Adams, as well as countless German electronica bands like Tangerine Dream.

Why we like it: This digital remastering of the original 1968 recording, with the composer leading an 11-member ensemble and playing soprano sax, is a stoned trip. Riley himself puts it best: "To understand this piece, you have to think like you're lying in a field, and there are cloud formations just passing over, and you're just watching them form and re-form.''

Reminds us of: Baba O'Riley, the Who's homage to the composer (and Meher Baba)

Download this: All 41 minutes of it

Grade: A

James MacMillan

Album: James MacMillan: Seven Last Words from the Cross (Naxos)

In stores: Now

Why we care: This is one of a spate of recent releases of works by MacMillan, who turns 50 in July. He will conduct the Florida Orchestra next season in his The Sacrifice: Three Interludes. A pair of stellar pieces by the Scottish composer, The Confession of Isobel Gowdie and Veni, Veni Emmanuel, a percussion concerto, were previously performed by the orchestra.

Why we like it: Seven Last Words, which sets the last seven sentences uttered by Christ on the cross, and three other choral pieces by MacMillan are given fine performances by the Dmitri Ensemble, conducted by Graham Ross.

Reminds us of: Bach's Passions

Download this: It is finished

Grade: B+

The Soloist

Album: The Soloist: Music from the Motion Picture (Deutsche Grammophon)

In stores: Now

Why we care: Beethoven is the favorite composer of Nathaniel Ayers, the onetime Juilliard student who spent years on the streets of Los Angeles and is the subject of the movie The Soloist. Thus the soundtrack consists entirely of extracts of works by Mr. B with the exception of one cue from a Bach cello partita.

Why we like it: Sure, a purist would argue that it makes more sense simply to listen to great Beethoven recordings, but it's interesting to hear how producer Dario Marinelli chopped and channeled the music to fit the film.

Reminds us of: Beethoven's Eroica Symphony, which is excerpted the most

Download this: Sister (Triple Concerto)

Grade: B

Thomas Lanners

Album: Ned Rorem: Piano Works, Volume 2 (Centaur)

In stores: Now

Why we care: Lanners, a professor of piano at Oklahoma State University, lived in St. Petersburg from age 11 through 18. But this release is of more than local interest. Rorem is acclaimed for his art songs, but his piano music is much less well-known. With this recording and the previous volume, Lanners has recorded nearly all the composer's output for solo piano.

Why we like it: Lanners is an excellent, expressive interpreter of Rorem, whose piano music ranges from the fiendishly difficult Eight Etudes to the glamorously romantic Song & Dance. Curiosities include Sixty Notes for Judy, a 60th birthday present to Judy Collins.

Reminds us of: Rorem's amazing versatility

Download this: Barcarolles

Grade: A

John Fleming's CD picks: Terry Riley, James MacMillan, 'The Soloist,' Thomas Lanners 05/02/09 [Last modified: Saturday, May 2, 2009 4:30am]

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