CD review: A magical 500-year leap backwards into the wonders of the Eton Choirbook

A page from the Eton Choirbook representing a motet by composer John Browne, whose reationship with the fabled school started as a choirboy in the 1460s.

There was an in-joke among English choristers in the late 15th century: “The French sing, Italians shake, Germans wail and the Enlish rejoice” (Galli cantant, Italiae capriant, Germani ululant, Anglici jublilant, in the original Latin).

The national slurs are silly, of course, but it’s pretty much impossible not to reach a state of bliss after listening to a new album featuring seven pieces chosen by English a capella choir Tonus Peregrinus from the Eton Choirbook, one of the rare sources of English sacred music from the closing decades of the 1400s. Continue reading


CD Review: Martha Argerich pours out life force in 2011 summer festival album

For 11 straight years, pianist Martha Argerich has assembled her personal dream team of musicians for a festival in Switzerland — captured in an album of highlights.

Live from Lugano 201 (EMI Classics)

A half-century of musicmaking seems only to have been a warmup for Argentinean pianist Martha Argerich, who continues to wow with the immediacy and love she pours into every note she plays. There is life force in everything she touches. Continue reading

CD Reviews: Two dashes of passion and finesse from Argentina

New York pianist Mirian Conti (Nan Melville photo).

Nostalgias Argentinas (Steinway & Sons)

Here is music made for the dog days of summer — meditative and melancholy pieces for a shady hammock in the afternoon, tangos for twilight pleasure — from New York City-based pianist Mirian Conti. A native of Argentina, Conti has spent many years championing young pianists as well as the rich store of tuneful music written for her instrument in that country. Continue reading

CD Reviews: Colin Eatock’s compelling atmospheres; a Finn’s accordionized Bach

Colin Eatock, Chamber Music (Centrediscs)

Composers like Toronto’s Colin Eatock remind us that Western culture had not exhausted the possibilities of traditional art music forms a century ago, but merely needed to take a scenic detour through sonic abstraction for awhile. Continue reading

CD Review: Beware the deceptive charms of England’s Opera Babes

Silent Noon (Warner Classics)

There are so many amazing artists putting out great albums every month that I usually cast aside the mediocre stuff and focus on the music that is most worth sharing.

But I’m making an exception with the Opera Babes’ latest release, which is more about sappy sentimentality and clever marketing than about fine music. Continue reading

CD Reviews: Bostonians’ Haydn Creation impresses; viola stands out in hands of Sarah-Jane Bradley

Joseph Haydn, The Creation (Linn)

Boston Baroque and its founding artistic director Martin Pearlman have done Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) proud in a sparkling new recording of The Creation, one of the masterworks of the oratorio repertoire.

The Viennese composer was so impressed by the oratorios of George Frideric Handel, that he had to write one of his own. The 1798 result, based on the Book of Genesis and John Milton’s Paradise Lost, was an instant hit, its popularity quickly spreading to other parts of Europe. Continue reading

Keyboard works of C.P.E. Bach show how messy rules of interpretation really are

C.P.E. Bach signed a guestbook with a clever little play on the famous family name.

Musicologists, historians and performers like to believe that interpretation is based on pretty clear rules. But when it comes to any music written before Thomas Edison invented his wax cylinder, interpretation is really the product of educated guesswork, sometimes handed down from composer to pupil to pupil to pupil.

But we’ve all played the telephone game, right?

So, back to guesswork. Continue reading