The Brecker Brothers Band Reunion
One of 2012's jazz highlights was trumpeter Randy Brecker paying tribute to his late brother, Michael, in the company of the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra.
The great saxophonist is inevitably recalled also on this recording, which reconvenes many of the players who facilitated the Brecker Brothers' rampaging, sophisticated and visceral jazz-fusion through the 1970s and 1980s and, after a break, on into the 1990s. It's like old times, with guitarist Mike Stern and Randy trading scorching lines on First Tune Of The Set, and Randy's wife, Ada Rovatti, filling the saxophone hot seat with soaring aplomb. There's depth as well as virtuosity. The Dipshit pays heartfelt homage to the Blue Note soul jazz classics that fed into the Breckers' style and Elegy For Mike delivers a thoughtful, fitting testimony.
If Randy's offbeat reappearances as his alter ego, Randroid, playing a Frank Zappa-esque rapper and a spouse-berating country blues singer, are more of an acquired taste, there's still much superior blowing to enjoy.
SWF Sinfonieorchester Baden Baden
Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique
Everybody, and I include conductors, especially student conductors, should study this wonderfully spacious recording made by Sir John Barbirolli the year before he died.
It is absolutely spellinding and contains many object lessons: the playing is fantastic, but listen to Barbirolli's flawless balancing of the orchestra and the phenomenal detailing of textures and dynamics which emerges from that, none of which interferes with the grand and wild sweep of Berlioz's mad creation, whether it's in the remorseless tread of the March To The Scaffold or the shrieking lunacies of the orgiastic witches' dance in the finale.
But, above all, the lesson in this great performance lies in Barbirolli's broad and unhurried pacing of the music.
It is so deep and warm, almost the antithesis of the fashionable tendency to strip everything down and speed it up in the name of "authenticity". The message? There is no rush to speed. This is an absolute joy.
Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi
In my experience, a thoroughgoing survey of classical music driven by a concept is unusual.
In this one, a double CD (volume one of a two-parter), the concept is driven by American conductor and pianist John Axelrod, with his Italian orchestra and a brace of sopranos (Indra Thomas and Nicole Cabell). It features performances of Brahms's Fourth and Second Symphonies alongside 10 songs by Clara Schumann (revelatory compositions every one).
Axelrod's thesis, briefly, centres on Brahms's love for Clara (probably reciprocated) and proposes that the symphonies fall into four broad moods, as do Clara's songs. Ergo, he argues, the symphonies might be thought of as "portraits of Clara: four different aspects of her".
Is Axelrod forcing the concept to fit? That's for another time. The orchestral performances here are fine, if a bit overly suave and ironed (Brahms was more mountainous than this). Clara's songs are riveting in performance, with at least one total masterpiece: Die stille Lotus blume, which ends on a heartstopping half breath.
Land Of The Standing Stones
(Paul Anderson Records)
On Tuesday, fiddler Paul Anderson spent the evening getting the citizens of Aberdeen in the mood to celebrate the arrival of 2014 in the Granite City's Music Hall.
As this release confirms, Anderson is a master of jigs, reels, marches and especially strathspeys, combining their rugged rhythms with a sublime sweetness of phrasing, and he doubtless had them dancing in the aisles.
What marks him out as a musician and composer, however, is his ability to channel the landscape and characters he sees into thrillingly soulful fiddle music.
The airs and pibrochs he plays here are startlingly evocative of the places and, aided by the stories provided in the liner notes, the subjects that inspired them.
The Beauty Of Cromar Before Me is an unspeakably gorgeous hymn of praise and Blawearie - from the closing suite inspired by Lewis Grassic Gibbon's Sunset Song and featuring Shona Donaldson's lovely, authentic Scots singing - calls up all manner of harsh beauty and unforgiving toil. Marvellous.