Here is more evidence that fado is one of the great urban sounds, and Amalia herself, at her best, one of the finest singers this century has produced. No frills here, just enchantment backed by the equally classic duo of guitars, Portuguese (Jaime Santos) and six-stringed (Domingos Camarinha or Santos Moreira). Three cuts are in Spanish. The rest are pure Lisbon saudade.
The continuing revival of music written by Jewish composers imprisoned in Nazi concentration camps counts as a significant phenomenon in concert music at the beginning of the 21st century, having moved beyond memorial status to an exploration of a body of important works that were almost wholly lost for decades. Viktor Ullmann came from an Austro-Hungarian Jewish family that had converted to Roman Catholicism; this did not save him from the full impact of German cultural censorship in the late '30s, imprisonment at the Theresienstadt concentration camp, where he continued to compose, and finally the gas chambers at Auschwitz. The two symphonies recorded here are reconstructions by scholar Bernhard Wulff of two piano sonatas composed by Ullmann at Theresienstadt, the latter shortly before his deportation to Auschwitz. Notes by the composer on his handwritten scores indicate that he planned to turn them into orchestral works. They are marvelous pieces that would succeed on the concert stage entirely indepedently of their terrible story. Ullmann was a student of Schoenberg, but the models for these works are Strauss (in the two small comic overtures that frame the first symphony) and especially Mahler. If you can imagine Mahler in miniature -- a difficult task, but one that gives insight into the ingenuity of these pieces -- you have an idea of the flavor of Ullmann's music. The pieces juxtapose formal elements with dances, songs, and folk-like tunes in the way that Mahler did, but on a tight, formally cohesive canvas instead of Mahler's sprawling conception. Ullmann's harmonic language is generally more dissonant than Mahler's, but he does not follow Schoenberg toward the dissolution point of tonality. The music turns deadly serious in the final "Variations and Fugue on a Hebrew Folk Song" of the Symphony No. 2, a chilling piece that seems to indicate that the composer knew what was coming next. The performances here by the Brussels Philharmonic under Gerd Albrecht are obviously a labor of careful study and commitment. Strongly recommended.
Michio Kurihara's sublime solo debut is an impressionist concept record that refracts the golden radiance of the magic hour, its nine songs drawing inspiration from nine different sunsets spanning across the calendar year. A largely instrumental effort, Sunset Notes is foremost a showcase for Kurihara's remarkable guitar work -- his leads soar like exotic birds in flight, brilliantly evoking the moods and colors of the solitary moments in time the songs capture.