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Best Classical CDs: Music Crossing Boundaries

Just as the 2008 presidential election exposed and ultimately crossed gender, racial and generational barriers, many of the year's notable recordings explored and wrestled with different kinds of boundaries — some musical, some cultural, and some almost unimaginable if not for the power of music.

Click here for more entries in the Best CDs of 2008 series.

Best Classical CDs: Music Crossing Boundaries

Cover for Bach: Six Concertos

Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in D major, BWV 1050

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Brandenburg Concerto No. 5

  • Song: Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in D major, BWV 1050
  • from Bach: Six Concertos
  • by Trevor Pinnock

The present-day ubiquity of these six pieces by J.S. Bach in no way diminishes their revolutionary impact in redefining the hierarchy of instruments. The emergence, literally, of the harpsichord -- from its workmanlike basso continuo role into the spotlight of virtuosity in the Concerto No. 5 -- is demonstrated with supreme warmth and clarity in Trevor Pinnock's collaboration with a handpicked ensemble, one of many such moments in this new recording.

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Song
Bach: Six Concertos
Album
Bach: Six Concertos
Artist
Trevor Pinnock
Label
Avie
Released
2007

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Cover for Gunther Schuller: Journey into jazz

Concertino for Jazz Quartet & Orchestra: III

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Concertino for Jazz Quartet & Orchestra

  • Song: Concertino for Jazz Quartet & Orchestra: III
  • from Gunther Schuller: Journey into jazz
  • by Gil Rose

Gunther Schuller breached a different kind of musical barrier in the late 1950s, bringing together the aesthetics of jazz and classical traditions. Third Stream music was the result, and the Boston Modern Orchestra Project has teamed up with a jazz quartet that includes Schuller's sons (Edwin and George) for an electrifying new recording of three landmark pieces.

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Song
Gunther Schuller: Journey into jazz
Album
Gunther Schuller: Journey into jazz
Artist
Gil Rose
Label
BMOP Sound
Released
2008

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Cover for An American Journey

Piano Trio No. 1 ("Poets and Prophets")

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O'Connor: Piano Trio No. 1 - I

  • Song: Piano Trio No. 1 ("Poets and Prophets")
  • from An American Journey
  • by Eroica Trio

The Eroica Trio's newest recording, its first with violinist Susie Park, crosses yet another musical boundary with the premiere recording of Mark O'Connor's homage to singer/songwriter/cultural icon Johnny Cash: the Piano Trio No. 1, "Poets and Prophets," featuring O'Connor's trademark deft weaving together of classical textures and the earthy drive of roots music.

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Song
An American Journey
Album
An American Journey
Artist
Eroica Trio
Label
EMI Classics
Released
2008

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Cover for In a State of Jazz

Sonate en etat de jazz: IV - Provocation de samba

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Sonate en etat de jazz: IV - Provocation de samba

  • from In a State of Jazz
  • by Marc-André Hamelin

Alexis Weissenberg, one of the great concert pianists of the last century, had his own way of exploring the cross-fertilization of jazz and classical forms, perhaps shown most clearly in his Sonate en état de jazz (Sonata in a State of Jazz). Marc-André Hamelin, whose playing always exhibits dynamism, grace, humor and, not least, technique to burn, borrowed that title for a recording that rips stylishly through jazz-influenced music by Weissenberg, Gulda, Kapustin and Antheil.

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Song
In a State of Jazz
Album
In a State of Jazz
Artist
Marc-André Hamelin
Label
Hyperion
Released
2008

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Cover for Francisco Javier - La Ruta de Oriente [Hybrid SACD]

Francicso Javier: O Gloriosa Domina

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Francisco Javier: O Gloriosa

  • Song: Francicso Javier: O Gloriosa Domina
  • from Francisco Javier - La Ruta de Oriente [Hybrid SACD]
  • by Jordi Savall

Catalonian gambist and scholar Jordi Savall has made a habit of venturing into the nether regions of early music. Inspired by the 16th-century missionary Francisco Javier, Savall combines two of his ensembles -- the instrumental Hespèrion XXI and the vocal La Capella Reial de Catalunya -- with guest soloists on Asian instruments to imagine the sounds that would have occurred along the route from Spain, through Africa and India, and on to Japan and China, supported by exhaustive and beautifully presented text.

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Song
Francisco Javier - La Ruta de Oriente
Album
Francisco Javier - La Ruta de Oriente
Artist
Jordi Savall
Label
Alia Vox
Released
2007

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Cover for Terry Riley: The Cusp of Magic

Royal Wedding

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The Cusp of Magic: IV

  • Song: Royal Wedding
  • from Terry Riley: The Cusp of Magic
  • by Kronos Quartet

Terry Riley begins with something like a contemporary take on similar East-West combinations, writing that "the pipa and the Western string quartet highlight the boundary regions of cultural reference," and that his "plan was to make these regions seamless so that the listener is carried between worlds without an awareness of how he/she ends up there."

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Song
Terry Riley: The Cusp of Magic
Album
Terry Riley: The Cusp of Magic
Artist
Kronos Quartet
Label
Nonesuch
Released
2008

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Cover for John Adams: A Flowering Tree

A Flowering Tree, opera

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A Flowering Tree

  • Song: A Flowering Tree, opera
  • from John Adams: A Flowering Tree
  • by John Adams

John Adams also finds inspiration by looking east, but the result is quite different. For A Flowering Tree, based on an Indian folk story, the composer tells a story of love and transformation. Rather than attempting a musical hybridization, Adams relies entirely on his own imaginative musical language. That the result is so convincing demonstrates how powerful that language is.

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Song
John Adams: A Flowering Tree
Album
John Adams: A Flowering Tree
Artist
John Adams
Label
Nonesuch
Released
2008

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Cover for Heavenly Harmonies

Byrd: Vigilate, motet for 5 voices

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Vigilate, motet for 5 voices

  • Song: Byrd: Vigilate, motet for 5 voices
  • from Heavenly Harmonies [Hybrid SACD]
  • by Stile Antico

Very real political and religious divisions and boundaries were central to the music written by Thomas Tallis and William Byrd at the time of the English Reformation. Stile Antico shows how the seemingly simple programming idea of alternating Psalm-tunes by Tallis and motets by Byrd can vibrantly illuminate the cultural arena that birthed two vastly different approaches to the expression of devotion. (In this example, Byrd's "Vigilate" is preceded by Tallis's Third Tune.)

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Song
Heavenly Harmonies [Hybrid SACD]
Album
Heavenly Harmonies [Hybrid SACD]
Artist
Stile Antico
Label
Harmonia Mundi
Released
2008

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Cover for Shostakovich: Symphony No. 4

Symphony No. 4 in C minor, Op. 43

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Symphony No. 4: III, excerpt

  • Song: Symphony No. 4 in C minor, Op. 43
  • from Shostakovich: Symphony No. 4 [Includes DVD]
  • by Various

Nineteen years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, it becomes increasingly difficult to imagine the boundaries, both explicitly stated and psychologically imposed, created by the Soviet state. This performance of Shostakovich 's wrenching Fourth Symphony not only brings out the best in a great orchestra, but also supports a fascinating video presentation (included on a bonus DVD) that hauntingly communicates the insidious nature of Soviet power and its effect on art.

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Song
Shostakovich: Symphony No. 4
Album
Shostakovich: Symphony No. 4
Artist
Various
Label
CSO Resound
Released
2008

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Cover for Terezín: Music from Theresienstadt

Brezulinka, Yiddish songs (3) for voice & piano

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Beryozkele, from Three Yiddish Songs, Op. 53

  • Song: Brezulinka, Yiddish songs (3) for voice & piano
  • from Terezín: Music from Theresienstadt
  • by Anne Sofie von Otter

Equally unfathomable are the boundaries placed on the prisoners confined to Theresienstadt, and Anne Sofie von Otter's personal connection to the story -- her father was a Swedish diplomat who attempted unsuccessfully to alert the world to the horrors of Nazi concentration camps -- adds compelling weight to her traversal of music written by those prisoners. Heartbreaking music, yes, but also consolingly transcendent.

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Song
Terezín: Music from Theresienstadt
Album
Terezín: Music from Theresienstadt
Artist
Anne Sofie von Otter
Label
Deutsche Grammophon
Released
2007

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