No matter how brilliantly played, how beautifully recorded, how enthusiastically performed, a disc of joke encores is still a disc of joke encores. No one could complain that the KREMERata BALTICA is a less than superb chamber orchestra or that Gidon Kremer is less than a spectacular violinist or that Nonesuch has not given Kremer and the KREMERata stunning sound. No one could complain that the pieces are not fun and funny and sometimes a little touching.
Monteverdi was seventy-one when he published his Eighth Book of madrigals. This collection, a monumental work of remarkable beauty, is a synthesis of all Monteverdi's experience in the realm of secular music. It is the culmination of a genre, the Italian madrigal, which here achieves a rare state of perfection. INDISPENSABLE!
Alarm Will Sound's recording of Steve Reich's monumental orchestral/choral works The Desert Music and Tehillim, released on the Cantaloupe label in 2002, greatly benefits from the group's close connections with the composer: the ensemble's conductor, Alan Pierson, and several of the performers studied at the Eastman School with Brad Lubman, a conductor frequently enlisted by Reich. Also, Pierson's arrangements, which reconcile the chamber and orchestral versions that exist for both works, were prepared in close consultation with the composer; thus, this may well be the definitive recording of these pieces. Brilliantly sonorous in their climaxes – the burst of light near the end of Desert Music, the "Alleluias" that close Tehillim – the players also articulate Reich's intricate canonic textures with nimble precision. Voices and strings are always an Achilles heel within Reich's percussive textures (leading him to eliminate part doublings in favor of giving each line to a lone, amplified performer), but here the singers and strings maintain an impressive rhythmic vitality. This knack for precision carries over to the pristine recording, as well, which, for good or ill, was digitally recorded and heavily edited. Still, it makes up in energy and clarity what it might lack in performative spontaneity.