Classical 91.5

Major Themes: Our top classical picks, from moms to mermaids to 'Mass'

Jun 5, 2018

Welcome to Major Themes for May 2018, a monthly feature in which classical music experts recommend a must-hear recording based on what's happening at classical stations and programs around the country. For this month's installment, we checked in with friends in Ohio, Vermont and Minnesota, as well as the host of Pipedreams. Here are their picks, with an emphasis on piano, moms, mermaids and Mass.

Martha Argerich & Sergei Babayan, Prokofiev for Two (Deutsche Grammophon)

In October 2017, the Cleveland International Piano Competition presented these two great artists in an unforgettable recital in Severance Hall. The recording session for this CD followed soon after. The disc contains selections from Sergei Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet, plus some of his seldom-heard pieces for stage and screen, in terrific two-piano transcriptions by Sergei Babayan, who is on the faculty of the Cleveland Institute of Music. "This project happened because of my love for Prokofiev, my love for Martha and my love for the ballet Romeo and Juliet," Babayan says. The sense of mutual inspiration felt by these kindred spirits, palpable in their live performances together, is captured for posterity in these recordings. Wait until you hear The Death of Tybalt in the hands of these two amazing virtuosos! — Bill O'Connell, program director, WCLV 104.9 ideastream (Cleveland, Ohio)

Anderson & Roe, Mother: A Musical Tribute (SWR Music)

Having just returned from a two-week adventure amid historic pipe organs in Belgium, I decided to listen to non-organ music for a change. By chance, from an intimidating and diverse pile awaiting my attention, I picked Mother: A Musical Tribute, by the American piano duo Greg Anderson and Elizabeth Joy Roe, Juilliard graduates who have been making waves internationally with their scintillating playing and adventurous repertoire choices. Paying tribute to the diverse aspects of motherhood, the album includes arrangements of classical selections by Dvorak ("Songs My Mother Taught Me"), Grieg ("A Mother's Grief"), Schubert ("Ave Maria"), Puccini ("Humming Chorus" from Madama Butterfly) and Brahms ("Wiegenlied"), plus delightful excursions in other directions such as Freddy Mercury's "Bohemian Rhapsody" (in which the protagonist laments to his mother) and Simon & Garfunkel's "Mrs. Robinson." The centerpiece is Rachmaninoff's Suite No. 1, with its tolling Easter bells finale — perhaps reminding that this is one "mother of a piece" to play? I'll await another opportunity to pitch some organ music to you, but this album cannot fail to please. Enjoy! — Michael Barone, host and producer, Pipedreams (American Public Media)

Dvorak: Rusalka; Georg Solti conducting the London Symphony Orchestra, with Renée Fleming (Decca)

What if we could hip the next generation of listeners to the classical music we love — while giving their parents an occasional break at bedtime? Welcome to Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Kids Storytime, which brings children's stories to life with voice-acting, sound effects and our not-so-secret weapon: classical music! Our most recent feature, The Little Mermaid, dives deeper than your basic fish-out-of-water story, with themes of bullying, water pollution, bigotry and friendship. Instrumental mermusic from Antonin Dvorak's opera Rusalka creates the perfect under-the-sea atmosphere for this sweet story. It's nearly impossible to talk about Rusalka and not mention Renée Fleming, who has sung the opera's iconic aria, "O Silver Moon," so often and for so many years that it's become her signature. Well, it's one of her signatures, according to the 1997 recording with Georg Solti and the London Symphony. — Valerie Kahler, national producer and host, Minnesota Public Radio (St. Paul, Minn.)

Simone Dinnerstein, Mozart in Havana (Sony Classical)

Pianist Simone Dinnerstein has been a great friend to Vermont Public Radio over the years. She has performed live in our studio numerous times when in the state. She even helped us choose our new Steinway D concert grand, then inaugurated it with a program of Schubert and Glass, some of which has been featured on Performance Today. When she was here for that, she spoke enthusiastically about her Havana trip, which resulted in the album Mozart in Havana, containing Piano Concertos 21 and 23. Simone plays beautifully, of course; the surprise is the superb playing of the Havana Lyceum Orchestra. She brought the orchestra to the United States and toured with it; and the Crisantemi Quartet, associated with the orchestra, visited our studio. The Crisantemi Quartet will return to the Green Mountain State to participate in the Vermont Mozart Festival later this summer — and we'll gladly encore Simone's Mozart in Havana. — Walter Parker, senior music host, Vermont Public Radio (Colchester, Vt.)

Bernstein: Mass; Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra and others (Deutsche Grammophon)

Leonard Bernstein was a man with a profound impact on American music — not just as a composer and conductor, but as an educator, thinker and mentor. From June through August, Classical 101 is celebrating a Bernstein Summer to mark the 100th anniversary of his birth. In addition to featuring Bernstein in all our local programs, we'll be producing special content for online and on air, including a series of "Bernstein Minutes" focusing on just a few of the many facets of this fascinating character. We'll also have book reviews, a suggested recordings list, and some reminiscences from musicians who worked with him. One of the recent records we'll be sampling is the new recording of Bernstein's Mass, with Yannick Nézet-Séguin and the Philadelphia Orchestra. It is, admittedly, a polarizing work. But as Gramophone critic Edward Seckerson noted, "Music as a shared, communal experience can in itself take us that much closer to the divine." And any new recording from the next music director of the Metropolitan Opera is worth a listen! — Cheryl Dring, program director at WOSU Public Media's Classical 101 (Columbus, Ohio)