Bach: ‘The Well-Tempered Clavier,’ Book II
Piotr Anderszewski, piano (Warner Classics)
Piotr Anderszewski might be the most convincingly unconventional Bach pianist since Glenn Gould, and he has certainly taken a creative approach to his first, mesmerizing recording of preludes and fugues from “The Well-Tempered Clavier.” Not for him the typical, step-by-step climb through each of the keys from C to B minor; instead, a jumbled selection of contrasts and complements, one that raises eyebrows but persuades the ears.
And how! Anderszewski’s playing is a miracle of touch and temperament. When there is a chance for something offbeat, something unexpected, Anderszewski takes it, as in the puckish F minor Prelude or the percussive, spiky Fugue in F. Whatever his ability to dance, he has always been a dreamer at heart, and it is in the anguish of the minor-key fugues that his concentrated intensity enthralls and overwhelms. The one in D sharp minor evokes the most forlorn loneliness you can bear to imagine, and then some; the B flat minor somehow turns anxiety into rage; the G sharp minor wanders, bereft, ruminating as if it were the darkest Schumann. This is one of the great Bach recordings, period. DAVID ALLEN
Brahms: Sonatas (Op. 120), Two Songs (Op. 91), “Wiegenlied”
Antoine Tamestit, viola; Cédric Tiberghien, piano; Matthias Goerne, baritone (Harmonia Mundi)
“Autumnal” is the word most often used in association with Brahms’s viola sonatas. True, these intimate, ruminative works, originally written for clarinet, are the last chamber pieces Brahms wrote. And there’s the muted glow of the viola’s timbre, its range comfortably tracking a human voice. In duet, the viola’s sound nestles modestly inside the piano’s, with none of the aspirational flights and flashes of a violin or clarinet.
Yet there’s no cozy pathos in this deeply affecting recording by Antoine Tamestit, a violist with a rare combination of stage magnetism and bookish devotion to historical-performance practice. He approaches the opening of the Sonata in E flat like a consummate dancer — lithe, elegant and attentive. In slow movements like the dreamy Andante of the Sonata in F minor, he spins lines of effortless radiance, equal parts light and air. Playing an 1899 Bechstein piano with a pearlescent, mellow tone, Cédric Tiberghien is a responsive and expressive partner.
The vocal quality of Tamestit’s viola lends itself well to two arrangements of songs by Brahms: “Nachtigall” (“Nightingale”) and the famous lullaby “Wiegenlied,” rendered with sweet undulating swiftness. For the final two tracks, Matthias Goerne lends his silky baritone to the “Zwei Gesänge” (Op. 91), two songs in which voice and viola entwine like lines drawn with a calligraphy brush. CORINNA da FONSECA-WOLLHEIM
Imani Winds (Bright Shiny Things)
The metaphor at the heart of this new album by the quintet Imani Winds is spelled out on the cover: “Bruits” in large, boldface type, above a pronunciation guide and a definition: “Noises made by blood moving through obstructed arteries indicating the body is at risk.” As a homophone it also brings to mind “brutes” — brute force, brutality.
“Bruits” takes its name from a work by Vijay Iyer, which, like Reena Esmail’s “The Light Is the Same” and Frederic Rzewski’s “Sometimes,” is given its premiere recording on the album. Iyer wrote it in 2014, for Imani Winds and the pianist Cory Smythe, responding to the killing of Trayvon Martin with a score that smoothly straddles fluid improvisation and taut intricacy, building toward a climactic, unified outburst.
Esmail’s piece — its title inspired by a Rumi poem’s observation that in a world of many religions “the lamps may be different, but the light is the same” — gorgeously intertwines two contrasting Hindustani ragas. One dark and the other light, their sounds flowingly inhabit the same space before coming together in a blissful dance.
There are contrasts, too, in the Rzewski, which plays the hopeful words of the Reconstruction scholar John Hope Franklin (spoken by his son, John Whittington Franklin) against the hopeless lines of Langston Hughes’s poem “God to Hungry Child” (sung by the soprano Janai Brugger). Between the two, the spiritual “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child” is deconstructed through a series of variations in which the theme never returns, and the ending is denied a clean resolution. JOSHUA BARONE
Robert Carl: ‘White Heron’
Boston Çağdaş Orchestra Project; Gil Rose, conductor (BMOP/sound)
The four recent works by Robert Carl on “White Heron” all deal in various ways with space, as the composer points out in the liner notes. The album’s title piece emerged from Carl’s intimate observation of avian life in the Florida Keys. “Rocking Chair Serenade,” for string orchestra, is an elegy to, in his words, “front-porch conversation and communion in the Appalachian Mountains,” inspired by memories of his youth.
The concept of space is conveyed during extended stretches of these scores that unfold in spacious, quivering, tart sonorities, often built from what Carl describes as a personalized harmony that creates “ladders” (a term I like) of all 12 chromatic pitches. This technique comes through especially in “What’s Underfoot.” Yet even in seemingly tranquil episodes, below the surface Carl’s music is restless with riffs that stir up internal intensity and thrust.
It’s gripping, almost a relief, when a piece really takes off, as in sections of the Symphony No. 5, “Land,” that teem with hurtling energy, streams of notes and slashing bursts. The performances under Gil Rose capture both the sonic allure and multilayered intricacy of the music. ANTHONY TOMMASINI
George Lewis: ‘The Recombinant Trilogy’
Claire Chase, flute; Seth Parker Woods, cello; Dana Jessen, bassoon (New Focus)
If you’re well aware of the work of the composer and improviser George E. Lewis, you might wonder whether you’ve already heard a substantial portion of his latest album, “The Recombinant Trilogy,” which focuses on pieces for solo players plus electronics. (The software used on all these works employs, according to the notes, “interactive digital delays, spatialization and timbre transformation” in response to each instrument.)
And it’s true, two of the pieces have been issued before, on albums by the same players represented here. “Emergent” appeared on the flutist Claire Chase’s album “Density 2036: Parts I and II.” And “Not Alone” was part of a 2016 recording by cellist Seth Parker Woods.
That Woods recording, which was pretty definitive, is simply duplicated (though remastered) on “The Recombinant Trilogy.” But Chase has taken another swing at “Emergent” here, and she’s found a newly lyrical approach to its whispery polyphony. While her earlier take was punchy and harsh — both in its electronic timbres and in the acoustic playing — this one sounds warmer.
The premiere recording on the album — “Seismologic,” for the bassoonist Dana Jessen — is a fitting close to the trilogy. Some of the piece’s early motifs, gloomy yet seductive, could have emerged from Wagnerian woods. But subsequent flights into extended technique bring the piece into a zone where the influence of Stockhausen and jaunty American jazz can both be felt. SETH COLTER WALLS