Proving the versatility of accordion music, Polands Motion Trio evokes Fellini music and explores the tango tradition of South America.
Going global in the new year
From South Africa to Poland, plenty of musical talent seeks to soothe the ears
By Jason Victor Serinus
As we begin another increasingly globally-interconnected year, world music continues to offer a greater variety of refreshing sounds. The following CDs are this critics menu for some of the most interesting offerings, even with some imperfections, for 2005.
LADYSMITH BLACK MAMBAZO
Heads Up 15
In more than 30 years of performing, South Africas a cappella male ensemble Ladysmith Black Mambazo has achieved renown for their tight, sonorous harmonies and uplifting performances. Thanks to their 1986 Graceland collaboration with Paul Simon, they achieved the worldwide recognition that led to one much-deserved Grammy Award and seven additional nominations, the most recent in 2004.
Now the singers team up with the strings of the English Chamber Orchestra conducted by Ralf Gothoni for a gorgeous, soulful excursion that mixes original compositions by group founder Joseph Shabalala and album arranger Isak Roux with classics by Mozart, Schubert and Bach.
As improbable as this may sound, the projects precedent was the boundary breaking Shabalala, Simons arrangement of Amazing Grace that initially catapulted them to fame. Heard here in orchestrated form, Amazing Grace joins a beautiful Jesu, Joy of Mans Desiring, a curious, gospel-like Ave Verum Corpus, and a Zulu version of Schuberts Sanctus, melding faith and spirit in performances that smack less of crossover than of heart fire.
The group performs at New Yorks Town Hall on April 10. Tickets are $25-$45 at ticketmaster.com.
Pictures from the Street
Preconceptions of accordion music as trite or limited vanish upon playing this mind-opening disc.
Featuring original compositions by members of Polands Motion Trio, the music ranges from up-tempo, high-spirited affairs to others that bubble along in a manner reminiscent of Nino Rotas music for Fellini. In keeping with South American accordion tradition, there are several original tangos. But theres also a unique version of the classic folk dance Aide Jano, works that show the influence of jazz and rock, and a bonus Stars video playable on both PC and Mac.
The video is especially wild, with space music sounds and Philip Glass-like minimalist repetition accompanying equally outré, unabashedly self-promoting images.
The trio has won the Grand Prix at the Fourth Krzysztof Penderecki International Competition of Contemporary Chamber Music in Kraków. Each of its members, ranging in age from 26 to 34, has also won a handful of prizes as a soloist. The years theyve spent honing their craft on the streets pays off in this stunning recorded début.
When it comes to amour, high-flying soprano Natalie Dessays new recital of opera scenes and liederor songsby Richard Strauss swept me head over heals. From Zerbinettas delightful, impossible-to-sing coloratura showpiece from Ariadne auf Naxos, complete with a perfect, rarely attempted stratospheric trill, to the two great silver- and pink-hued duets and transcendent trio from Strauss great romantic opera Der Rosenkavalier, Dessays beautiful tone, apt phrasing and infectious spirit illumine Strauss soaring melodies with love and joy.
If youve ever wondered why some people wax ecstatic over opera, give this CD a listen.
For those who know the music of Strauss only from the thunderous chords of his early tone poem Also Sprach Zarathustra played at the opening of the movie 2001,uncovering his vocal music may bring as much pleasure as opening a gift of expensive chocolate.
The four Brentano Lieder, capped by the bubbly Amor, are among the composers many gifts to the soprano voice of which he was enamored. The Arabella duet, originally composed for the very different voiced Lotte Lehmann, combines beauty and nostalgia in Strauss inimitable soaring manner.
As for the Rosenkavalier Trio, soloists Dessay, Felicity Lott and Angelika Kirschschlager receive such ideal support from Antonio Pappano and the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House Covent Garden that this offering renders laughable a recent, impossibly slow version from the soppy Renée Fleming and the valiant Barbara Bonney and Susan Graham, accompanied by the overly indulgent conductor Christoph Eschenbach.
Wisdom of the World
Called a masterpiece of healing music by New Age author Jack Canfield, Unspeakable Grace contains music originally composed to accompany the words of wisdom offered by Ram Dass, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, Thich Nhat Hanh, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi and other spiritual teachers in the book/CD combo Graceful Passages: A Companion for Living and Dying.
A majority of listeners will undoubtedly receive as much comfort from this music as does Joan Borysenko, who finds it a deep experience of essence. Given that Graceful Passages offers invaluable support in accepting mortality, and has received glowing endorsements from an imposing array of renowned teachers and musiciansincluding Larry Dossey, Christiane Northrup, Kenny Loggins and John Robbinsone might expect critical comments only from someone begging for truly bad karma.
But I will dive in nonetheless.
Gary Malkins background as a Hollywood professional who has earned seven Emmys and six ASCAP awards for his film and TV music shows through. I could not listen to the opening track, Letting Yourself Be Loved, without first seeing two heterosexual lovers bidding each other a final adieu on a seaside cliff, the womans scarf and long, perfectly coifed hair blowing in the air during the tearful parting, with an immediate if incongruous segue to an animated clip in which mother tucks her adorable little toy tot into bed and gives him a goodnight kiss on the forehead.
As soothing and meditative as this music may be, its curious intersection of Tinseltown mythology, New Age teaching and a pervasive tendency to homogenize everything, save for heavy metal, hip-hop, and modern classical-experimental fare into major chords, must be acknowledged in any serious consideration of Malkins work.