Like any professional, the classical music journalist must constantly keep abreast of new developments. Odd, then, how rarely such discipline appears in print. Odder still, the musician who, having taken up the pen, often disdains the obvious benefits of recordings, preferring to wither in the dust of old habits than to grow in the light of new knowledge.
While the classical music recording industry continues to shrink, new classical life, ironically remains most readily available through CDs. If anything, we seem to have entered a recording era which favors new music, "early" music of distant "centuries and the frontiers of style."
In looking back, for example, Paul van Nevel and his Huelgas Ensemble have just released a two-disc set called La Pellegrina--Music for the Wedding of Fredinando d Medici and Christine de Lorraine, Princess of France (Sony-Vivarte S2K 63362). This 16th-century collection of dramatic Florentine music grew out of the avant-garde Camerata tradition, and relates specifically to events that followed the assassination in a Medici villa of Francesco d Medici and his consort, purportedly at the hand of Francesco''s younger brother, Ferdinando. La Pellegrina, the high point of a multiple-day marriage festival, was conducted on May 2, 1589. Luckily, much is known of the events that day, including remarkable details about the music and its production. In keeping with his growing legacy of early-music recordings, van Nevel energizes his material with exquisite urgency; anxious harmonies, colorful instrumentation, brooding rhythms and the clash of contemporaneous vocal styles seem to infuse political tensions right into the music itself.
Martin Pearlman and his Boston Baroque have turned in a stylish rediscovery of music by the American Moravians. Called Lost Music of Early America (Telarc CD 80482), Pearlman has gathered vocal and instrumental settings into three categories-- "Lovefeasts"--for Christmas, Lent and Thanksgiving, by 18th-century Americans Johann Friedrich Peter, Simon Peter, Johannes Herbst, John Antes, Jeremiah Dencke and others. These men, who lived primarily in rural Pennsylvania and North Carolina, were often the first in this hemisphere to produce--and imitate--new works by Handel, Haydn and Mozart. For them and their communities, music was both an everyday activity and an expression of God''s love. Boston Baroque''s 18th-century instruments and performance practices underscore the robust, unequivocal and rich character of these settings. Moreover, Pearlman provides a second CD devoted to a discussion, with music examples, of the American Moravian tradition.
Last week''s column referred to string orchestra arrangements by Rudolf Barshai of Shostakovich string quartets. As arranged by A. Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich''s single-movement String Quartet 13 in B flat Minor appears as Sinfonia for Viola and Strings on a new collection by violist Yuri Bashmet and the Moscow Soloists (Sony SK 60550). Bashmet, who makes a glorious and impassioned sound, has also included his own transcription for viola and strings of Brahms'' Clarinet Quintet in B Minor. The recording was made in London last spring.
Also, from Shostakovich, both the well-known Piano Trio 2, Op. 67 and the early, virtually unknown, Piano Trio 1, Op. 8 get first-class readings by the Vienna Piano Trio (Nimbus NI 5572), on a generous disc that includes Piano Trio by Alfred Schnittke. The VPT has enriched and enlarged the Nimbus catalog and quickly moved to the forefront of world-class specialists in their repertoire.
Fans of William Zeitler, for several years Church in the Forest music director, will want to collect his new CD, Midwinter Phantasy, a savory program of 12th- to 17th-century Christmas carols and original music for glass armonica, harp, piano and other instruments. The CD can be ordered by phoning toll-free 1-877-ARMONICA. For information on the glass armonica and Zeitler''s previously released The Passionate Quest, see the Website, www.glassarmonica.com.
Last Week''s Quiz What 16th-century cleric, wrote, "In truth we know by experience that song has great force and vigour to move and inflame the hearts of men to invoke and praise God with a more vehement and ardent zeal"? Answer: John Calvin
This Week''s Quiz: In a 1903 speech, what Scandinavian composer said, "I am sure my music has a taste of codfish in it"? cw