Two of the Peabody Conservatory's finest faculty artists - Manuel Barrueco and Gary Louie - are featured on recent CDs worth seeking out.
Barrueco, the eminent classical guitarist, explores a sampling of arresting works for guitar and string quartet from the past two decades on a collection called Sounds of America, released by the Baltimore-based, Barrueco-centered Tonar Music label.
"Bay of Pigs," Michael Daugherty's "elegy for Cuba, past and present," opens with three guitar notes that evoke Joaquin Rodrigo's famous "Concierto de Aranjuez," drawing the listener into a moody, but very colorful, world. "100 Greatest Dance Hits" by Aaron Jay Kernis is a spicy, saucy work, a sort of affectionate deconstruction of pop music idioms, including vintage "easy listening," disco and salsa.
Gabriela Lena Frank's vivid "Inca Dances" and Roberto Sierra's "Triptico," with its nightly sounds (including an imitation of Puerto Rican tree frogs), fill out the disc, which finds Barrueco at his usual, brilliant best. The clarity of his articulation, not to mention the abundant nuance in his phrasing, gives each piece character and dimension. Throughout, Barrueco's collaborating ensemble, the Cuarteto Latinoamericano, likewise is in peak form.
Although invented with classical music in mind, the saxophone never quite landed securely in that milieu. Gary Louie provides a good reminder of what this instrument can bring to the genre in an attractive collection, Classic Saxophone Concertos, released by Kleos Classics.
Technically, there's only a single concerto on the CD, the eventful, often sparkling one for alto sax by Alexander Glazunov, but Frank Martin's richly layered "Ballade" comes close enough. It's even a little longer than the Glazunov score. Both receive suave performances from Louie, who produces a mellow tone and finely nuanced phrasing, and from the accompanying St. Petersburg State Academic Orchestra, ably led by Vladimir Lande.
For the most part, the virtuosic tricks in Louie's adaptation of Sarasate's famous violin fantasy on Bizet's Carmen are nimbly executed. More impressive still is the soloist's elegant playing of the third movement's "Flower Song" (complete with the pianissimo B-flat that tenors routinely ignore when singing the opera). Speaking of elegance, the CD also contains a transcription of Rachmaninoff's "Vocalise" that Louie shapes with exceptional finesse and warmth.
You'll find full reviews of the past week's performances on my blog (baltimoresun.com/clefnotes). But these events deserve some words in print as well:
Radu Lupu's return to the Shriver Hall Concert Series on Sunday evening, after more than 30 years, was a stunner. The Romanian-born pianist's recital, rich in fearless technique, prismatic articulation and incisive phrasing, included an account of Beethoven's Pathetique Sonata that inspired heights of expressive force and, in the Adagio, deep poignancy. Lupu also brought out all the drama, poetry and song of Schubert's expansive B-flat Sonata to mesmerizing effect. It just doesn't get much better than this.
Earlier Sunday, the National Symphony Orchestra's principal cellist, David Hardy, came back to his hometown for an all-Beethoven program with a fellow NSO member, pianist Lambert Orkis, at Catonsville Presbyterian Church. Using period instruments for half the concert and modern ones for the rest, the duo delivered dynamic, seamless music-making that highlighted Beethoven's genius.
On Monday night, the inimitable Barbara Cook reconfirmed her national-treasure status in a concert for the Washington Performing Arts Society at the Kennedy Center. Backed by a sensitive trio, the 81-year-old singer with the ageless voice got to the heart of familiar and rare items from Broadway, Tin Pan Alley and Hollywood. Cook caressed several ballads with particular beauty, among them "I'm Through With Love" and "Smile" in an affecting pairing. Her unamplified encore, "We'll Be Together Again," cast a lasting, haunting spell over the concert hall.