The young, American, all-female Lark Quartet have been gathering prizes and critical encomia over the past ten years or so, and these sensitively prepared performances of three of Schnittke’s most memorable chamber pieces show just why. I’m pretty sure I’ve not heard a better focused or more full-blooded account of the Second Quartet, nor one which held my attention more consistently.
Lovers of Il trovatore a work famous for its perennially popular cavatinas and cabalettas rightly expect the singers to be at the very top of their vocal game and particularly look forward to the top C at the end of Manrico s stretta, a true do di petto produced not from the head but from the chest. Yet the production of the work that was staged at the end of 2013 by the Staatsoper Unter den Linden in Berlin jointly run by Daniel Barenboim and Jürgen Flimm deliberately flouted these expectations and traded familiarity for astonishment. Such a reaction was due not only to the two most famous singers of our age, both of whom were appearing onstage for the first time in their respective roles, but also to the company s music director, who made it abundantly clear that he was concerned with more than just a feast for the ears and rousing rum-ti-tum rhythms.
Writer-director Guy Ritchie's street-tough look at London's decrepit underworld and the unsavory dealings of four best friends whose cockiness is undercut by some serious trouble features a soundtrack of quick dialogue sound clips, a smattering of classic rock, pop, and reggae, and a few current submissions as well. Junior Murvin's "Police and Thieves," known most to rock audiences by the Clash cover, is a great piece of political resistance and laidback dub groove. James Brown's "The Payback" and "The Boss" and Iggy and the Stooges' "I Wanna Be Your Dog" stake out the sharp end, while the late Dusty Springfield paints the softer corner with "Spooky." Ocean Colour Scene delivers the backwards guitar driven "100 Mile High City," and Stretch's "Why Did You Do It?" is a great recreation of early '70s soul.
Few ensembles are as difficult to write about as the incomparable Tallis Scholars. Inevitably, you just string together an array of superlatives and hope that other reviewers haven't gushed about the same attributes using the same words in precisely the same order. The ensemble's recording of the Christmas Mass and the antiphon Ave Dei patris filia marks both its fourth recording of works by Renaissance master Thomas Tallis and one of Gimell's last albums to be made during an unhappy affiliation with Universal Classics. (The label has since reverted to independent status, distributed in the United States by Harmonia Mundi.) As has been the case with other Tallis Scholars projects, the singers have rediscovered missing manuscripts and have put together the first modern performance editions of both of these works. Their complete mastery of their chosen subject, combining keen scholarship and transcendent beauty, makes this a radiant recording. The clarity and luminescent tone that conductor Peter Phillips achieves with his singers are simply superb. The recording, made at their frequent locale of the Church of Saints Peter and Paul in Norfolk, is a faithful one–but don't miss any opportunity to hear them live.
Rob McConnell & the Boss Brass add plenty of spice to this Christmas jazz CD, not only with superb, fresh charts but a few surprising selections. The rich brass and reeds carry the deliberate rendition of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," which segues into a perky Latin-flavored chart of "I'll Be Home for Christmas." "Away in a Manger" is not the commonly heard melody but one first written in 1887, though the music will likely be familiar, even if one doesn't associate it with the well-known lyrics. The lush setting of "The Christmas Song," which likely set Mel Tormé and Bob Wells for life with royalty checks due to its many recordings, showcases the leader's valve trombone and pianist David Restivo. "My Favorite Things," originally written for The Sound of Music, has gradually been transformed into double duty as a Christmas carol; this swinging interpretation works very well. Johnny Mandel, the composer of many memorable melodies, deserves greater recognition for his gorgeous piece "A Christmas Love Song"; this arrangement deserved to help put it on the jazz map. Rob McConnell & the Boss Brass consistently delivered first-rate music throughout their existence, this holiday CD no exception.