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Tuesday, May 31, 2005
Mostly Naxos
N.B. Ratings are from 0-11: trust me, you want to be on the "11" side of things.

The Complete Works for Solo Piano of Lukas Foss
Lukas Foss
Piano, Daniel Beliavsky

Daniel Beliavsky actually beat out Scott Dunn by a nose as the first pianist to record Foss’s complete works for solo piano. Beliavsky marches through the pieces in chronological order, and an interview with the composer caps off the tribute. While Dunn’s performances are more rhythmically convincing (and better recorded) than Beliavsky’s, some might prefer the latter’s edgier, more spontaneous readings. Still, I remain unconvinced that composing on the subway was a successful endeavor for Mr. Foss. Rating: 7.

Requiem in memoriam Stasys Lozoraitis
Osvaldas Balakauskas

Balakauskas (b.1937) is a Lithuanian composer, and Lozoraitis was a politician involved in Lithuania’s independence movement who died suddenly in 1994. The Requiem is filled with wide diatonic harmonies and distinctive moments of punctuated, appealing lyricism. Nice instrumental effects – a harpsichord, high string harmonics, a bass clarinet – abound as well, but somehow the work can’t quite shake its strangely pedestrian feel. It’s not helped by a recording that makes the choir and instrumentalists sound like they’re in different rooms. Worth checking out though. Rating: 7.

Violin Concerto and Sinfonietta No.4
George Frederick McKay

The "dean of Northwest composers" gets quite a tribute on this release. Violinist Brian Reagin, conductor John McLaughlin Williams, and the National Radio Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine dive into four of McKay’s (1899-1970) larger orchestral works with commitment and musicality to spare. Naxos returns the favor with excellent recording quality. The music itself isn’t the most imaginative stuff – we’re talking neo-Mendelssohnian sonata form here – but it’s never less than fully professional and well felt. Rating: 8.

Piano Concertos 1-3
Mozart Camargo Guarnieri

A must-have for enthusiasts of twentieth-century Brazilian music. Guarnieri (1907-1993) is apparently the "most important Brazilian composer after Villa-Lobos," and one can’t fault him for a lack of fire or reluctance to conjure a lovely tune. The music does get lost at times and descends to empty bombast and drippy sentimentality. But the fiercely committed performers, led by pianist Max Barros, give it all they got, and one finds oneself gradually giving in to Guarnieri’s beguiling sounds. Look out for a cameo appearance by the Concerto in F. Rating: 8.

Continuum Portrait Vols. 1-2
Henry Cowell

Continuum presents a two-volume survey of instrumental, chamber, and vocal music by American composer, musical innovator, and all-round go-getter Henry Cowell (1897-1965). Cowell’s music bears all the qualities of a good composition student: unfailingly curious, enthusiastic, and ready to try anything new. On these CDs, the compositions range from the irreverently faux-Baroque, to the furiously brash and experimental, to the unabashedly folkish and nostalgic. None of it’s bad, but most of it feels pretty quaint: rarely do his ravings feel truly uninhibited, and his more traditional side seems more meek than inspired. Still, the range of Cowell’s activities and the breadth of his interests remain an inspiration. Like a good composition student, even the best of teachers can learn from him. Rating: 8.


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