Sacred Songs And DJs: New Classical CDs From the swirling sounds of 18th-century Ottoman court music to hypnotic, modern chants from Kiev, NPR Music's Tom Huizenga and Weekend All Things Considered host Guy Raz spin an extra-wide assortment of new classical music.

Sacred Songs And DJs: New Classical CDs

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(Soundbite of music)

THE KIEV CHAMBER CHOIR (Choir group): (Singing foreign language)

GUY RAZ, host:

You're hearing a recording of the Kiev Chamber Choir, singing at the Cathedral of the Ascension in the Ukrainian capital. It's a timeless sound; it could come from the 14th century, and yet this piece was written just a few years ago. And it's a brand new recording, one of several new releases our classical music producer Tom Huizenga has been listening to these past few weeks. And Tom's in the studio with me.

Good to have you back.

TOM HUIZENGA: Great to be here, Guy.

RAZ: So Tom, before we get to some of the other new recordings you brought in today, let's start with this amazing piece we're hearing by the Kiev Chamber Orchestra.

HUIZENGA: It's by Valentin Silvestrov, who's in his early '70s, and he's a Kiev native. Early in his career, he was a very competent avant-gardist. And he had a change of heart in the '70s and became a little more spiritual, a little more romantic, more lyrical. And just a few years ago, he wrote a bunch of sacred music for this choir.

And the great thing about it is the special effects that he gets. For one thing, he likes to set up these pieces antiphonally. So you have a single voice kind of emerging from the sonic ether that he creates by manipulating overtone singing and this very reverberant cathedral that they're in.

(Soundbite of music)

The KIEV CHAMBER CHOIR: (Singing foreign language)

RAZ: Tom, I was listening to this piece on my headphones last night, and it really took me back to a time when I covered Eastern Europe as a reporter, that sort of, that sound of Orthodox churches.

HUIZENGA: It does like you mentioned, it does have that timeless sound. And it is kind of like Brian Eno said about his ambient music is I find this as listenable as it is ignorable. So you can listen to it on headphones and really soak in all the odd and subtle effects that Silvestrov uses. And I was doing the dishes last night with it on the background. That was a kind of sonic wallpaper.

RAZ: It is a really magical sound, Tom. That's the Kiev Chamber Choir performing the music of Valentine Silvestrov. The album is called "Sacred Works."

(Soundbite of music)

RAZ: Tom, let's move a bit south from Ukraine now, down to Ottoman Istanbul and a new record by the Spanish musician Jordi Savall.

HUIZENGA: Well, Guy, I have a prepared a statement I would like to read.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RAZ: Okay, please do.

HUIZENGA: Jordi Savall is a god.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HUIZENGA: You know how you have these artists, maybe they're authors or movie stars or directors that you just, you're so in awe of their fierce intelligence that you practically worship them? Well, that's how I feel about Jordi Savall, who - he's a guy, actually, who's best known for playing this antiquated, old instrument called the viola da gamba, the precursor to our modern-day cello. And he plays a lot of Baroque music, Bach and some other unknown composers with his band, The Hesperion XXI, but this new record is something that is a very far cry from Johann Sebastian Bach.

(Soundbite of music)

RAZ: And Thomas, you say Jordi Savall is a composer and a musician who's really influenced by Baroque music, also by medieval music, primarily European music. What drew him to the music of the East or, you know, used to be called the Orient?

HUIZENGA: Well, he's always interesting in facilitating these dialogues between Eastern and Western traditions. And for this new record, what better locale to focus on than Istanbul, which is a city that sits half - literally half in Asia and half in Europe? And for centuries, it's been this incredible melting pot of ideas and religions and art.

And for this new record, he's gone back to this manuscript of 355 pieces collected by a guy named Cantemir who was active in Istanbul in about 1700, who collected and codified what is essentially Ottoman classical music of the time.

RAZ: So these are not original compositions by Jordi Savall.

HUIZENGA: No. These are compositions that date way, way back to the early 18th century. And it's just fascinating music, and it really moves out.

(Soundbite of music)

RAZ: That's Jordi Savall, leading his ensemble, Hesperion XXI, from his new album "Istanbul."

NPR's classical musical producer Tom Huizenga is in the studio with me, and he's playing some interesting new recordings that have crossed his desk recently.

And, Tom, I think we're already hearing the next piece you've picked.

(Soundbite of song, "September Canons")

HUIZENGA: It's by Ingram Marshall, who's in his early 60s, I think about now, and it's "September Canons" is the name of the piece. And the record collects four works that span about 30 years of Ingram Marshall's composing career, from 1972 to 2002. This music we're hearing now is Marshall's lament on the September 11 attacks.

But if you come to the piece without knowing that fact - like I did I just threw it in the CD player and thought, wow, this is a great piece from Ingram Marshall I haven't heard before, I think it works perfectly, powerfully on its own.

(Soundbite of song, "September Canons")

RAZ: It seems like there's some electronic processing going on here in this piece.

HUIZENGA: Absolutely. Marshall composes for normal symphony orchestras and everything, but he also embraces, like, new technology. So this piece is scored for amplified violin, just wonderfully played by Todd Reynolds in this recording, and then digital delays, digital loops and processing.

So even though it sounds like it has a big body of strings in it, these are all processed strings. And I love how the piece just kind of rises and falls throughout its 13 minutes. It's very hard to excerpt it, really. You need to let the whole piece wash over you. But Todd Reynolds' violin soars keeps soaring upward with these plucked notes, and then at one point, everything falls away. It kind of falls back to earth.

And then, later, there's a segment where tons of these little plucked notes start falling like shards of music back to the ground. It's quite stunning, actually. Very powerful music, I think.

(Soundbite of song, "September Canon")

RAZ: That's violinist Todd Reynolds, performing in a piece called "September Canons," composed by Ingram Marshall.

Tom, let's take a listen to something else you brought in.

(Soundbite of music)

RAZ: When I heard this, I thought Schubert.

RAZ: That's right. It is Schubert, a really great melody there, one of his impromptus, and it's played by Imogen Cooper, a British pianist. She gave a number of all Schubert recitals at the South Bank Center in London and they put them on CD. It's a two-CD set, and she plays some of Schubert's shorter pieces and a couple of his major late-career sonatas, and she plays them to perfection, I think.

(Soundbite of music)

RAZ: There are obviously thousands of Schubert recordings. What makes this unique? What's so different about Cooper's recording?

HUIZENGA: To me, she's a natural Schubert player. And one of the reasons is because she came to Schubert through his songs. He wrote 600 songs. And Cooper has accompanied many great Schubert leader singers, especially Wolfgang Holzmair. So she has like a mainline right into that lyric part, that songful part of Schubert part and also the bittersweet part also. So she really makes that piano sing.

(Soundbite of music)

RAZ: Tom, we have time for one more, and I begged you to bring this in because the story is so unbelievable.

(Soundbite of music)

HUIZENGA: Okay. Well, you remember the guy who wrote "Peter and the Wolf," right?

RAZ: Prokofiev.

HUIZENGA: Sergei Prokofiev. Well, this is Sergei Prokofiev's grandson, Gabriel Prokofiev, who is a performer, a DJ, a composer.

RAZ: A DJ and composer.

HUIZENGA: And composer. He's a classically trained composer, and he has written a "Concerto for Turntables & Orchestra" for the London-based artist called DJ Yoda.

(Soundbite of music)

RAZ: Tom, I just got to wonder what Grandpa Sergei would think: classical music on ecstasy?

HUIZENGA: Well, it's a collision of sorts, I guess, between hip hop and classical. But it's really not that much different, if you think of it, than Joseph Haydn, who wove in a Croatian folk song at the end of his 104th symphony. It's a contemporary composer working with a tradition and working with contemporary music.

RAZ: With DJ Yoda.

HUIZENGA: Yes. I think it works.

RAZ: That's NPR's classical music producer Tom Huizenga. He pops into our program from time to time to share some of the new recordings that cross his desk. You can hear all of the pieces we've discussed. They're at our Web site,

Tom, I think I'm going to crank up the base on this new Prokofiev.

HUIZENGA: Go for it, Guy.

(Soundbite of music)

RAZ: And for Sunday, that's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz. Thanks for listening, and have a great week.

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