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New Releases reviews by Michael Barone December 13, 2001
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"A Holy Solemnity" (music for the Christmas season)
RANDALL THOMPSON: "Heave ye not known—Ye shall have a song"
PAUL BRANDVIK: The Fairest Flower
PAUL LOHMAN: The Angel Gabriel
STEPHEN PAULUS: How far is it to Bethlehem?
National Lutheran Choir, various conductors; Anne Ransom, harp
National Lutheran Choir CD-162 (612-722-2301)
Based in the Twin Cities, this ensemble sings beautifully polished, warm-toned, respectful—lovely to hearm but a bit difficult to understand (either the choir's diction is smoothed over, or the recording bundles their words up in such a comfortable wrap of ambience that the meaning of the text is obscured). Even the harp has a soft "pluck," though elegantly played.

"A Ceremony of Carols and Other Christmas Music"
BENJAMIN BRITTEN: A Ceremony of Carols (selections broadcast)
Exultate Chorus Women/Thomas Rossin; Maren Drews, harp
Exultate CD-101 (
One of the season's most engaging choral suites, suitable for girls or women's voices, like a clean white snow. Another Twin Cities ensemble. Support the home team.

CHARLES-VALENTIN ALKAN: Etudes in the Major Keys, Op. 35, nos. 1-3
Bernard Ringeissen, piano
Naxos CD-8.555495 (

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This is fiendish music (to play) and fascinating music (to hear). Ringeissen is one of a growing number of digitally dexterous devotees for whom no technical hurdle is to high and who makes even complex, virtuosic etudes entertaining as music. Yes, there is a circus element to the excitement, too. Which is part of the fun. High art on the high wire.

FRANZ LISZT: Festklänge (Symphonic Poem)
Berlin Radio Symphony/Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, cond.
BIS CD-1117

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Liszt wrote this in 1853, intending for it to be part of his wedding celebration. The wedding never happened, because his princess could not get a Papal annulment. It does make a festival clangor, but "Les Preludes" and "Orpheus" (also on this CD) are more convincing and original. Superb playing.

RICK COX: "All the while toward us"; "Maria Falling Away"
Rick Cox and Friends
Cold Blue CD-006 (

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Guitarist Cox is a Los Angeles studio musician who uses electronic circuitry and synthesis to weave luscious, meditative soundscapes. Nothing much happens beyond the harmonious ebb and flow, but why complain—the view from here is lovely enough.

ALAN SCHMITZ: 1st movement, fr Bassoon Trio
David Rachor, Frank Leblois, George Hariton, bassoons
SCHMITZ: March and Serenade
Christopher Schmitz, trombone; Lee Schmitz, piano
Capstone CD-8683 (

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Faculty composer at the University of Northern Iowa, Schmitz enjoys writing music for people to share—as performers and listeners. This mixed collection of chamber pieces proves agreeable and friendly, with other works for wind quintet, guitar, string trio, and violin with marimba. High production standards.

"Cultivated Choruses" (seven different composers and performing ensembles)
KAREN TARLOW: Shaker Lyrics
University of Massachusetts, Amherst Chamber Choir/Wayne Abercrombie, cond.
ZAE MUNN: Animal Songs
Otterbein Vocal Ensemble/Craig Johnson, conductor
Capstone CD-8674 (
The universal urge to sing happily is encouraged by an ongoing stream of new music for choirs. These pieces are, as the title of the disc implies, cultivated without being hot-house plants. Nor are they simply cute. Contrary to expectation, Munn's "Animal Songs" (on poems by Wisconsin author Peg Lauber) explore some stark and provocative situations, but always with harmonious focus. Given the diversity of resources here assembled, production aspects are happily of uniformly high quality.

DANIELLE GASPARINI: Through the Looking Glass (variations)
London Symphony/Daniel Harding, conductor
EMI Classics CD-72826 (
Possibly already deleted even before I get around to reviewing it, this admirable disc celebrates the six finalists in a BBC-sponsored competition for orchestral compositions of significance yet with potential for broad-audience appeal. Gasparini, all of 23 when he entered, shows remarkable command of idea and orchestration. Other music by Stephen Hartke, Carl Vine, Zhou Long and (winner) Andrew March deserves to be heard.

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