Here are four of the best recent discs we're featuring this month on CPR Classical. See what else we've loved recently. Stream some of our current favorites on Spotify, and subscribe to the playlist for updates.
The composer has usually been the star artist on past releases by ACME, the American Contemporary Music Ensemble, with the group serving in a supporting role. “Thrive on Routine” appears to tweak that formula, with only ACME listed on the cover. But in truth the model still applies. Three of the four composers on the disc are members of the group. This is a small-scale affair, even for a chamber music album. The intimacy underscores a familiarity among the players and also highlights the emotional directness of the music. Caleb Burhans’ “Jahrzeit” is a standout track, tinged with grief and full of melancholic beauty. Like the best music, these pieces grow deeper and more affecting with each listen, revealing different shades of feeling coming to light.
Bela Fleck in 2013 released a his first classical disc pairing a banjo concerto with a banjo quintet. The result was an appealing blend of flexible virtuoso playing with both the orchestra and string quartet. This follow-up disc proves Fleck is serious about his side trip into the classical world and shows impressive development in his pure compositional skills. The “Juno” Concerto especially is a more integrated affair than his first concerto, with many more moments of satisfying interplay between the solo and full ensemble. The orchestral writing is more assured and the Colorado Symphony really shines in that added depth. Fleck’s first concerto had some truly wonderful moments. The works here go beyond individual moments and display an ability to create satisfying works on a larger scale. I’m already looking forward to Concerto. No 3 with the Colorado Symphony in April 2018.
Frederic Chopin was in his late teens when he performed his own works for piano and orchestra. These few pieces, along with his two concertos, contain his only orchestra writing, and they are often overshadowed by the concertos. Jan Lisiecki is now only a few years older than Chopin was when he wrote these pieces. Perhaps that similarity in age may contribute to the success of these recordings. The youth of both performer and composer become assets in readings that are confident -- and full of the delight that is at the center of these works.
Crossover is such a dirty word for many classical music listeners. And this looks a lot like a crossover record, with songs by Bjork, Elvis Costello, Kate Bush and Sting. But with songs by significant living composers Nico Muhly, Caroline Shaw and John Adams, this isn’t a typical crossover record. Mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter and string quartet Brooklyn Rider use their considerable sophistication as musicians to deliver a thoughtful recital of substance and emotional weight. The five musicians collaborate to bring out subtleties in each phrase, regardless of the genre expected from the songwriter. Records like this prove that musical truths do more than cross over genre boundaries. They transcend them.