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Tenors, Indie Sounds And Scarlatti: New Classical Albums

NOW Ensemble's new album <em>Awake</em> features five so-called indie classical composers.
New Amsterdam
NOW Ensemble's new album Awake features five so-called indie classical composers.

Dire predictions about classical music keep coming, and yet so do excellent recordings from all corners of the classical realm — a fact happily reflected in an eclectic mix of sounds that NPR Music's Tom Huizenga spins for Weekend All Things Considered host Guy Raz. Judd Greenstein's music cheerfully percolates with well-blended flavors from many genres. He's among the so-called indie classical composers who also heads up his own ensemble and record label. Then there's the awesomeness of French pianist Alexandre Tharaud, whose new Scarlatti disc ranges from ravishing to rollicking. The German tenor Jonas Kaufmann may be the opera geek's candidate for the next Placido Domingo; he's got matinee-idol looks and a rich, strong and charismatic voice to match. And finally, a forgotten Pole named Mieczyslaw Karlowicz, whose "Rebirth" symphony stands as dense and majestic as the composer's beloved Tatra Mountains.

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Tenors, Indie Sounds And Scarlatti: New Classical CDs

Change

Album art for NOW Ensemble
New Amsterdam Records
Album art for NOW Ensemble

From 'Awake'

By NOW Ensemble

What is this music — classical, jazz, rock? I'm not sure we need to label it, but some would place this effervescent, genre-busting piece squarely in the indie classical camp. Judd Greenstein is a 31-year-old composer from New York and a mover in the burgeoning indie classical scene. He's among a new generation of versatile composers who have absorbed the last big movement, minimalism, and are adept at borrowing from a broad range of styles. Along with strings and winds, they mix electric guitars, drums and electronics in their music, feeling equally comfortable performing their own pieces in concert halls or rock and jazz venues. Greenstein also has an entrepreneurial spirit; he composes, heads NOW Ensemble and is the co-founder of what most people consider the top indie-classical label, New Amsterdam. (Check out this amazing video by Joshua Frankel set to Greenstein's song "Change.")

Sonata in E Major, K. 380

Cover for Alexandre Tharaud
Virgin Classics
Cover for Alexandre Tharaud

From 'Scarlatti: Piano Sonatas'

By Alexandre Tharaud

Tharaud is a fine Chopin player, but he clearly loves Baroque keyboard music. He's recorded albums of Bach, Rameau and Couperin, and now a disc filled with 18 sparkling Scarlatti sonatas. The music was written for harpsichord, but Tharaud — always musical, always thoughtful — brings out great coloristic effects. In this E Major sonata, one of the most loved of Scarlatti's 600 such works, Tharaud seems to conjure all the quaintness of little Spanish street bands. You can almost hear the trumpets, guitars and drums.

Un di all'azzurro spazio (from Andrea Chenier)

Cover for Jonas Kaufmann.
Decca Classics
Cover for Jonas Kaufmann.

From 'Verismo arias'

By Jonas Kaufmann

As Placido Domingo — still the reigning king of tenors — ages, it's good to know there are some younger men out there ready to fill his shoes. German tenor Jonas Kaufmann is an exciting singer whose star is rising rapidly. He's released a string of impressive CDs and earned raves for his stage appearances, most recently at the Met in New York. The audience and the critics fell in love with his truly heroic, muscular voice — not to mention his rugged good looks — in Wagner's Die Walküre. His new album is an all-Italian disc of verismo arias. In this flashy number from Andre Chenier, listen to the richness of the voice, its virile power, and its dark, burnished baritone colorings.

Karlowicz: Rebirth Symphony — finale

Naxos Records

From 'Mieczyslaw Karlowicz: Rebirth Symphony, Op. 7; Bianca da Molena, Op. 6'

By Antoni Wit

Karlowicz was a Polish composer and avid mountain climber who died in 1909 at age 32 in an avalanche in the Tatra Mountains. His music is rarely played outside Poland, but thanks to a few adventurous record labels (like Naxos) willing to step off the beaten path, he's having a slight rebirth now. Karlowicz was an important figure at a time when young Polish composers were exploring new ground in their music, blending modern and traditional styles. This music shows the influence of Karlowicz's idols — Wagner, Strauss and Tchaikovsky — but it also displays his own style as an especially deft orchestrator, especially with brass instruments. Hear how he builds the finale of his symphony here (about 8:30 into the movement) and listen for the return of the luminous brass chorale.

Tom Huizenga is a producer for NPR Music. He contributes a wide range of stories about classical music to NPR's news programs and is the classical music reviewer for All Things Considered. He appears regularly on NPR Music podcasts and founded NPR's classical music blog Deceptive Cadence in 2010.

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