Here, briefly, are some of the new CDs that have made me smile:
Latitude 41 Trio, "Schubert: Piano Trio Op. 100 & Notturno." Devoted Schubertian that I am, able to swallow the heavenly lengths of his music in massive gulps, there's one thing by Schubert that has consistently tried my patience: the Piano Trio No. 2 in E-flat major, Op. 100. Schubert's other great works, such as the String Quintet or "Great C Major" Symphony, can be described in critic-speak as expansive, leisurely, broadly-conceived. But man, this Trio is just too damned long. And oy, does it get repetitive, like in the development section of the first movement. So, kudos to the newly-formed Rhode Island-based Latitude 41 for making a stronger case for the E-flat Trio than...well, I can't think of an alternative. So sweet is their sound, so varied their tone colors, so natural and supple their phrasing, so light their step, that I found myself applauding at the end — for a CD! At that's even after the Trio restored some passages that Schubert had cut from his finale. It's coming up at 1:00 Friday afternoon on WFCR.
Freiburger BarockConsort: "Barockes Welttheater — Johann Heinrich Schmelzer Sonate & Balletti." If I had to vote for the most underrated musical century of the last millennium, it would have to be the 17th. While considered part of the Baroque, the music of the 1600s is not nearly as well-known or oft-heard as that of early 18th-century Baroque composers like Bach, Handel, Corelli, Vivaldi and Telemann. But not only did the 17th give us such immortals as Claudio Monteverdi, Heinrich Schütz, Jean-Baptiste Lully and Henry Purcell, it also spawned several interesting minor masters whose works are filled with a kind of no-rules, making-it-up-as-you-go-along invention sometimes missing from the more codified music of their successors. Among them was the Austrian violinist-composer Johann Heinrich Schmelzer, about whom little more can be said than he was born (in Scheibbs), he played (the violin, mostly in Vienna and Prague), he composed (Sonatas and other instrumentals), he died (of plague). However sketchy his biography, however, Schmelzer's clever, playful personality is nicely perserved in his delightful works. Filled with melody, animated by dance, and doing more imitations than a Las Vegas impressionist (birds, bagpipes, you name it), Schmelzer might have a closer kinship with early jazz violinists like Joe Venuti and Stéphane Grappelli than with romantic virtuosos. Well played.
Anais Mitchell, "Young Man in America." Vermont alt-folk singer-songwriter Mitchell first came to my attention with "Hadestown," a modern version of the Orpheus legend, with guest spots by Greg Brown, Ani DiFranco and others. Clever as that was, this is even better. The concept is looser, the songs richer. Some songs, such as "Coming Down" (watch the video) may end up haunting you for weeks. Please don't be put off by Mitchell's girlish Blossom Dearie-like voice — this is engaging, compelling grown-up stuff. In a world of disposable, ephemeral music, "Young Man in America" is a keeper.