Finnish Accordions, Schubert's Blues: New Classical CDs : Deceptive Cadence From Argentine improvisations to the dark night of a Viennese songwriter, NPR Music's Tom Huizenga and host Guy Raz spin a multifarious mix of new releases.
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Finnish Accordions, Schubert's Blues And A Soviet Concerto: New Classical CDs

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Finnish Accordions, Schubert's Blues And A Soviet Concerto: New Classical CDs

Finnish Accordions, Schubert's Blues And A Soviet Concerto: New Classical CDs

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(Soundbite of music)

GUY RAZ, host:

The sound of a lonely accordion, add a few electronics and a string quartet, and you've got a new album by the Kronos Quartet. That is an NPR introduction, if I've ever heard one, Tom, isn't it?

THOMAS HUIZENGA: Certainly is.

RAZ: That's my colleague, Tom Huizenga. He's the classical editor for NPR Music. And he comes on this program periodically to share a few cool new classical recordings with us.

Tom, it's great to have you back.

HUIZENGA: Great to be here, Guy.

RAZ: So this is - I should mention, this is a beautiful piece of music. Tell me about this new record.

HUIZENGA: Well, it's beautiful here, but there's a kind of bold, burly physicality to a lot of the music. It's the Kronos Quartet, and they've teamed up with a duo from Finland made up of accordionist Kimmo Pohjonen and electronics wiz and percussionist Samuli Kosminen.

And there's a lot of atmospheric music on the CD. I feel like, kind of it could be soundtrack to some thriller set during a blizzard in Lapland or some such place.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HUIZENGA: The music builds and builds in a lot of these tunes. It's a seven-movement suite. Music builds into these giant avalanches of sound, you know, aided by these tricked out accordions and all the sampling, and then poof, near silence.

(Soundbite of music)

HUIZENGA: Poof, we've just fallen off the cliff, floating downwards.

RAZ: I think I'm going to stay out of Lapland in the winter, Tom.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RAZ: That's the new CD by the Kronos Quartet. It's called "Uniko."

(Soundbite of song, "A La Argentina")

RAZ: All right, Tom. I hear you mixing in something else underneath us right now. This is pretty different, quiet, pretty delicate. I like this.

HUIZENGA: It's Gabriela Montero's new CD. She calls it "Solatino," which I think you could probably break up into, like, So Latino, I suppose. She pays homage to her native Venezuela and a few other countries here. But also on the record, Guy, she does what she does best, and that is improvising. Here's her kind of off-the-cuff take on the country of Argentina.

(Soundbite of song, "A La Argentina")

HUIZENGA: She is an amazing improviser. She, at her concerts, she'll ask for people to sing a tune, and she'll improvise on it almost immediately.

RAZ: Wow.

HUIZENGA: So actually, if you search on our NPR website under her name, you'll find this series that we did with her quite a few years ago called "Sing it and Wing It."

We had people call in, they sing her a tune, her at the piano in our studio. She sits, and she waits for like, 10 seconds in silence. And then she launches into something. You know, let's say you sang "Take Me Out to the Ball Game."

RAZ: Or Kesha(ph).

HUIZENGA: Whatever. You know, it starts out like Bach, it moves through, like bebop and Thelonius Monk, and it ends up sounding like Claude Debussy. It's amazing, Gabriela Montero.

(Soundbite of music)

RAZ: I'm speaking with Tom Huizenga. He's a classical producer with NPR Music. And he joins us on this program pretty regularly to share some new recordings that have crossed his desk.

Tom, what do you have next for us?

HUIZENGA: Well, you might call it the long and winding road of Matthias Goerne.

RAZ: What road?

HUIZENGA: Well, he's on some kind of - I guess you could call it the Franz Schubert superhighway.

RAZ: I've been on that one.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HUIZENGA: It's a long one because Matthias is in the midst of recording 11 CDs' worth of Schubert's songs.

RAZ: Oh, my gosh.

HUIZENGA: He's really a terrific singer, Guy. He's a baritone from Germany with this warm, black cherry, velvety voice. Sings a lot of opera, but he's also one of the best interpreters of German art song, which we call Lieder in German. And here's the title track from his new CD called "Night and Dreams." The opening lines go: Holy night, you sink down on us. Down, too, float dreams. And here, Goerne's voice just floats in like a gentle night breeze.

(Soundbite of song, "Nacht und Traume")

Mr. MATTHIAS GOERNE (Singer): (Singing in foreign language)

RAZ: This is really beautiful. It's almost like a lullaby. I might try to use this to put my kid to sleep, Tom. In the best way, I say that. You say he's releasing 11 CDs' worth of Schubert's music. That's probably not even - I mean, that's a lot but probably not even half of what Schubert put out in his lifetime, right?

HUIZENGA: It's a lot. It's a commitment. But yeah, you're right. Schubert wrote about 600 songs.

RAZ: Wow.

HUIZENGA: So Goerne has been grouping these recordings in themes. And you're right note the lullaby nature of this, because the new album is an exploration of all things kind of nocturnal, even deathly.

RAZ: And did Schubert have some thoughts on death?

HUIZENGA: He had a few. I mean, you know, he only lived to be 31. And the last few years of his life, he was not doing too well.

RAZ: He wasn't well. Yeah.

HUIZENGA: But, you know, especially in his later music, I think you can kind of feel a certain bittersweet resignation.

(Soundbite of song, "Nacht und Traume")

Mr. MATTHIAS GOERNE (Singer): (Singing in foreign language).

RAZ: The song is called "Nacht und Traume," "Night and Dreams." It's a title track from another all-Schubert CD from baritone Matthias Goerne.

HUIZENGA: Yeah. Can't get enough of Matthias Goerne and Schubert. Killer combination there.

RAZ: Tom, we have room for just one more.

HUIZENGA: All right. I don't know if you've been keeping score, but Universal Classics has been signing all these young female fiddlers lately. There's...

RAZ: I haven't been keeping score. No, I haven't.

HUIZENGA: There's Janine Jansen from Holland...

RAZ: Okay.

HUIZENGA: ...Nicola Benedetti from Scotland.

RAZ: Right.

HUIZENGA: That's quite the name. And I want to play you something now from 31-year-old Lisa Batiashvili. And here's the geography quiz, Guy. With a name like that, she's got to be from...

RAZ: Georgia, like Saakashvili, the president.


(Soundbite of music)

HUIZENGA: At the center of Batiashvili's new record is Violin Concerto Number One by Dmitri Shostakovich. And it's music that he wrote in 1948, the same time he's being lambasted by Stalin's culture police.

So he didn't publish it then. He shoved the concerto in a drawer, wait until after Stalin died and published it in the mid-1950s.

RAZ: And what was he worried about?

HUIZENGA: Well, Shostakovich had already been heavily criticized before in the 1930s for his opera. And in 1948, he and a bunch of other composers were really criticized very heavily by the government. And he must have thought there was something in this concerto, maybe this sarcastic little scherzo that would further offend the Soviet officials.

(Soundbite of music)

RAZ: So, Tom, I'm flipping through the liner notes here, and it becomes very clear that it's not just Shostakovich that she tackles on this record.

HUIZENGA: No. It's really a tasty combination of things. There's four other pieces on the record. She plays music from her homeland by probably, you know, the greatest living composer in Georgia, Giya Kancheli, also Estonian Arvo Part's "Spiegel im Spiegel," a very haunting, slow piece with Ellen Grimaud joining her at the piano. And then she closes the disc with Rachmaninov's popular "Vocalise."

RAZ: Well, let's hear some of that Rachmaninov, Tom. This is a new recording from violinist Lisa Batiashvili. Tom Huizenga has been my guest here in the studio. He's our classical producer at NPR Music. You can read his blog, Deceptive Cadence - cool title, by the way...

HUIZENGA: Thank you.

RAZ: That's at

Tom, always a pleasure.

HUIZENGA: Always a pleasure, Guy. Thanks.

(Soundbite of music)

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