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SOUNDS OF AMERICA

Eighth Symphony. The crack, idiomatic performances bode well for Inscape’s next Sono Luminus recording, David Plylar’s new transcription of Petrushka for the chamber orchestra’s 17 principal musicians. Laurence Vittes

‘Fantasticus’  ‘Extravagant and Virtuosic Music of the German 17th Century’ Anonymous Ciaconna Bertali Sonatas – a 3 in D minor; a 4 in D minor; No 10 Buxtehude Prelude, BuxWV163. Sonata, BuxWV271 Kerll Sonata a 2 Oswald Sonata a 3 Schmeltzer Polnische Sackpfeiffen Vierdanck Canzona No 21 Weckmann Sonatas – No 2 a 4; No 9 a 4 Quicksilver  Acis Productions F APL94710 (80’ • DDD)

Quicksilver signifies something unpredictable and swiftly responsive. It’s the perfect name for an ensemble that revels in celebrating early music of the highest quality – and that demands exceptional instrumental skills. The newest Quicksilver recording along these lines is ‘Fantasticus: Extravagant and Virtuosic Music of the German 17th Century’.

The disc’s title is no exaggeration. Many of the works contain surprises around every corner, as the composers let their imaginations soar through curious shifts in metre, harmony and form that jolt and delight the ears in equal measure. But extravagance and virtuosity also are employed to more subtle effect, with the players spinning long lines coloured by delicately applied ornaments, and altering dynamics and phrasing to highlight the music’s expressive beauty. Matthias Weckmann’s Sonata No 2 a 4 is a treasure in this respect.

Along with Weckmann, the programme includes pieces by such experts in the art of stylus fantasticus as Dieterich Buxtehude and lesser-known colleagues Antonio Bertali, Johann Kaspar Kerll, Andreas Oswald, Johann Schmeltzer and Johannes Vierdanck, as well as that most omnipresent of composers, Anonymous, who contributes a sprightly Ciaconna. Schmeltzer’s Polnische Sackpfeiffen is a particular joy, its juxtaposition of Polish folk tunes and elegant writing for bagpipers vivaciously conjured by violinists Robert Mealy and Julie Andrijeski – up until the music falls asleep at the end.

Everyone in Quicksilver commands attention, from Greg Ingles’s suave trombone and Dominc Teresi’s woodsy dulcian to the group’s basso continuo wizards: David Morris (viola da gamba), Avi Stein (harpsichord and organ) and Charles Weaver (theorbo and guitar). Fantasticus, indeed. Donald Rosenberg

‘Reflections’  Beethoven Piano Sonata No 28, Op 101 Guastavino Sonatina in G minor Liebermann Gargoyles, Op 29 Ravel Miroirs Rasa Vitkauskaite pf  Ongaku F 024 124 (73’ • DDD)

‘Reincarnations’  ‘A Century of American Choral Music’ Anonymous Followers of the Lamb (Shaker tune, arr Dietterich). Give good gifts one to another (Mount Lebanon Hymnal) Barber Reincarnations, Op 16 Britt As there are flowers Crabtree The Valley of Delight – Death and Resurrection Crouch Light of Common Day DiOrio I Am Forrest Good night, dear heart Lauridsen Mid‑Winter Songs Muhly I cannot attain unto it Runestad Fear not, dear friend Ticheli Earth Song Seraphic Fire / Patrick Dupré Quigley  with Anna Fateeva pf  Seraphic Fire F (74’ • DDD)

The Lithuanian pianist Rasa Vitkauskaite divides her newest recital between beloved works and more recent fare, all of which benefit from artistry of poetic and observant sensitivity. Pieces by Ravel and Beethoven show her to be a musician with a keen ear for colour and structure. In music by Lowell Liebermann and Carlos Guastavino, Vitkauskaite tames the varied demands and shapes vital, glowing performances.

The five movements of Ravel’s Miroirs are opportunities for a pianist to achieve clarity amid figurations thick with notes. Vitkauskaite brings delicate and vivid etching to these miniatures, especially the dreamy images of ‘Une barque sur l’océan’ and Spanish-inflected rhythms in ‘Alborado del gracioso’. She is equally illuminating and nuanced in Liebermann’s 1989 cycle Gargoyles, whose four dramatic movements evoke menacing, mysterious and fiery atmospheres.

Beethoven’s Sonata in A major, Op 101, poses altogether different challenges in terms of phrasing, architecture and pacing. Vitkauskaite finds a fine balance between lyricism and buoyancy, applying judicious flexibility to lines while maintaining narrative cohesion. The dotted rhythms and knotty harmonic twists in the second movement’s march have a welcome experimental edge and the pianist exudes celebratory zest in the finale.

Vitkauskaite pays high tribute to the Argentine composer Guastavino (1912-2000) by programming his Sonatina in G minor (1945). In three short, appealing movements, the music shows the influence of Romantic composers, notably the brooding lyricism of Rachmaninov, even as it sings in its own dynamic voice. Vitkauskaite caresses and animates every phrase. Donald Rosenberg

Seraphic Fire apply bounteous vocal heat to the music on their new disc,

‘Reincarnations’, a survey of American choral music from the late 19th century to today. The recording takes its name from the cycle of three songs Samuel Barber composed while a student at the Curtis Institute of Music. They are models of what might be termed an American style – poetic, proud, occasionally rooted in folk traditions. What sets the recording apart is Seraphic Fire’s attention to recent compositions. Of the 12 works, seven here receive worldpremiere recordings. They range from Nico Muhly’s intricately layered and oscillating I cannot attain unto it and Shawn Crouch’s shining Light of Common Day to Dan Forrest’s richly expressive Good night, dear heart and Colin Britt’s fervent As there are flowers, with its subterranean bass-lines.

Dominick DiOrio’s I Am is a haunting weave of clustered lines suggesting heaven, the voice of an angel emerging near the end. The aura is alternately hushed and urgent in Jake Runestad’s Fear not, dear friend, while mild dissonances give way to serene gestures in Frank Ticheli’s Earth Song. Following two traditional tunes from the 19th century, the final portion of Paul Crabtree’s cycle The Valley of Delight achieves glowing life through soaring lines and lilting rhythms. The disc is rounded out by Morten Lauridsen’s Mid-Winter Songs, eloquent settings of five poems by Robert Graves that juxtapose the heraldic with the lyrical, and occasionally stop singing for impassioned piano solos (superbly played by Anna Fateeva).

The South Florida-based ensemble bring mellifluous and crystalline artistry to everything as led by their Artistic Director, Patrick Dupré Quigley. Donald Rosenberg gramophone.co.uk

GRAMOPHONE APRIL 2015 V