2002 Records To Die For Page 11

David Vernier

CORNELIUS: The Three Kings & Other Choral Works
Stephen Layton, Polyphony
Hyperion CDA67206 (CD). 2000. Mark Brown, prod.; Tony Faulkner, eng. DDD. TT: 72:26

Most choral listeners will know 19th-century German composer Peter Cornelius as the author of the beautiful Epiphany piece The Three Kings, but this disc proves that he had a great deal more music in his head of the caliber (and sometimes the sound) of Brahms—and some even more adventurous ideas, such as transforming instrumental pieces by Bach and Schubert into appealing, sometimes astonishing choral settings. The works for male chorus and Liebe, a set of three choral songs, should be more widely heard, and The Three Kings seems never to overstay its welcome. Combine this engaging a cappella music with performances by Stephen Layton's Polyphony ensemble—among the finest, most versatile of today's vocal groups—and sound that gives both clarity and fullness to the often dense textures of these scores, and you have a disc that will surprise the first time and reward every return visit.

HEINICHEN: Missa No.9 in D
ZELENKA: Te Deum, ZWV 146
Hans-Christoph Rademann, Dresden Chamber Choir & Baroque Orchestra
Carus 83.148 (CD). 2000. Dirk Homann, prod. DDD. TT: 73:10

The barely noticeable subtitle of this outstanding disc is Music in Dresden at the time of Augustus the Strong. If you know your music history, you know that, in the first half of the 18th century, Dresden was one of the most artistically vital places on earth. Jan Dismas Zelenka was one of the most talented contributors to that vitality, yet in modern times his work hasn't received nearly the attention it deserves. If you're a fan of Bach—who isn't?—this Te Deum will not only remind you of the fast-paced, colorfully scored, tuneful, and just plain exciting Magnificat of Johann Sebastian, it will also compel you to ask why this work isn't just as popular. It's got everything: lovely solos and duets, rousing choruses, and dynamic orchestral accompaniment. The Heinichen Missa No.9 is equally impressive, a majestic and powerful work with some terrific fugal sections.

The performances are nothing short of world-class: affecting interpretations, artful, technically sound ensemble singing, and ideal pacing throughout, thanks to conductor Hans-Christoph Rademann. The sound brings it all to life, successfully balancing the varied forces. After hearing this, you'll hesitate before passing over a Zelenka recording again.

Barry Willis

KCRW: KCRW's Rare on Air Collection
Mammoth MR0074-2, MR0107-2, MR0182-2, 354 980 193-2 (4 CDs). 1994-1998. Chris Douridas, Bob Carlson, prods.; Scot Fritz, Theo Mondle, Jerry Summers, Lee Van Vliet, Paul Dieter, Chris Douridas, Bob Carlson, engs. TT: ca 4:00:00
A four-disc set, each disc available separately, KCRW's Rare on Air Collection is a sampling of the best recordings from KCRW's excellent program Morning Becomes Eclectic, heard in L.A. on 89.9 FM and online at www.kcrw.org. Featuring performers as diverse as Radiohead, Philip Glass, Betty Serveert, Ani DiFranco, Me'Shell Ndegeocello, John Cale, Los Lobos, Vic Chesnutt, Tom Waits, Aimee Mann, and Tori Amos, these annual samplers are a superb introduction to artists you may be curious about and perhaps eager to hear. Listeners who already know them will enjoy alternate versions of familiar songs recorded live in KCRW's studio, many better than the original commercial releases. The mixes also make for great driving music. The unanswered question: Where are the discs for 1999, 2000, and 2001? (MR0074-2 only: XVII-10)

PINK MARTINI: Sympathique
Heinz HNZ001-2 (CD). 1997. Pink Martini, prods.; Pete Plympton, Clark Stiles, Dave Friedlander, engs.; Bernie Grundman, mastering. AAD? TT: 53:03
Portland, Oregon seems an unlikely place to spawn a group like Pink Martini, self-described as "a fortuitous accident, thrown together as the opener for the 3-gal, 3-guitar ensemble The Del Rubio Triplets in the fall of 1994." Since then, the large ensemble—whose musical influences include Xavier Cugat, Tito Puente, Edith Piaf, Maurice Ravel, and Manos Hadjidakis—has opened for many top-tier acts and performed with numerous symphony orchestras, in addition to putting on an annual waltz extravaganza. Sympathique is a sophisticated blend of jazz, classical, Latin, and Cuban tunes, ranging from the kitschy-ironic title song to the irrepressibly upbeat "Donde Estas, Yolanda?" to the hauntingly evocative "Song of the Black Lizard." Pink Martini's first album should be a fortuitous discovery for fans of eclectic music; a second album is due in spring 2002.