The Sacred, Profane And Placid: New Classical CDs From the mercurial twists in CPE Bach's keyboard sonatas to the sprawling, nearly empty canvas of Morton Feldman's Trio, NPR Music's Tom Huizenga and Weekend All Things Considered host Guy Raz spin an extra-wide variety of new classical CDs.

The Sacred, Profane And Placid: New Classical CDs

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(Soundbite of song, "Tudor City")

GUY RAZ, host:

This is a recording our classical music producer Tom Huizenga has been listening to lately. Every once in a while we check in with Tom to hear some of the music that lands on his desk. And Tom's walked down three flights of stairs to join us from his home at NPR Music.

Tom, welcome back.

TOM HUIZENGA: Hey. It's great to be back, Guy.

RAZ: Tell us what we're listening to now.

HUIZENGA: This band is from New York and they're called - amazingly enough -New York Polyphony.

RAZ: And it is a band.

HUIZENGA: It's a band of four guys, and I have to admit that I had never really heard of this group before their CD landed on my desk a couple of weeks ago. They're a relatively new group but they sound like they've been singing together for a long time.

RAZ: What do you mean by that?

HUIZENGA: It's the blend of the voices together that is really important. And I just think the tambour and the color of their voices sound so good together, like a beautiful tightly woven fabric.

(Soundbite of song, "Tudor City")

NEW YORK POLYPHONY: (Singing) (Unintelligible)

RAZ: And what about the title of this? It's "Tudor City." Is that not a double meaning? I mean, anyone who's been to New York knows there's a Tudor City.

HUIZENGA: There is a Tudor City in New York on the East Side, but it also refers to most of the music on this CD, which is from the English Tudor dynasty that ran from about 1480 to 1600 or so. So a lot of old, great polyphonic music. But they do have some compositions that are new by Andrew Smith, and you may have run across his music if you're a fan of yet another vocal group, the Trio Medieval because Andrew is married to one of those women that sings in the group.

And he tends to write in old style. And this music we're about to hear, I mean, I think you can tell that some of the harmonies are more modern but generally it's a very timeless and more importantly it's a gorgeous sound.

(Soundbite of music)

NEW YORK POLYPHONY: (Singing) (Unintelligible)

RAZ: Tom, the sound here is so resonant. Where did they record it?

HUIZENGA: They recorded it in a very big church, as you probably know, St. John the Divine up in the Upper West Side of New York.

RAZ: Oh, yeah. Yeah.

HUIZENGA: A huge - one of the biggest Christian churches in the world. And that's another important thing about how good this group is, I think. The music was built to be sung in these huge, resonant spaces. And I think these guys really know how to handle all the reverberant action that happens in a big space like that. Nice record.

RAZ: Okay, Tom. Up next, you've got a composer I've never heard of before.

(Soundbite of song, "Symphony No. 7 -- Allegro - Adagio sostenuto")

RAZ: This is a beautiful piece. Who is this?

HUIZENGA: Well, you have to kind of be a classical nerd to know about Mieczyslaw Weinberg. But I think actually more people should be paying attention to his music. I mean, there's a lot to pay attention to. We're listening to a little bit of his seventh symphony. He wrote 22 symphonies, 17 string quartets, sonatas, 40 film scores. There's a lot of music by Weinberg.

RAZ: Now, why haven't we heard more of his music?

HUIZENGA: I think some people might say that he was overshadowed by, you know, his contemporaries and he was a Soviet composer.

RAZ: Yeah.

HUIZENGA: And his contemporaries really were the biggest names in Soviet music. So we're talking Shostakovich, Prokofiev and Khachaturian.

RAZ: What about this piece we're hearing?

HUIZENGA: The seventh symphony was written in the, around mid-1960s. It's for string orchestra and harpsichord, of all things, a baroque instrument. And this kind of follows this old baroque formula called the concerto grosso, where you have different sets of instruments playing off of each other.

RAZ: You know, I was listening to this piece last night, Tom, and it was so sort of serene and calm and then I almost jumped out of my seat at this point.

(Soundbite of song, "Symphony No. 7 -- Allegro - Adagio sostenuto")

RAZ: It just came out of nowhere.

HUIZENGA: It does come out of nowhere. And I think it's really - there's nothing else in the entire symphony that sounds like this. And this is part of the last movement of the symphony, which is the longest. I think this is really the most experimental movement in some ways and it's the heart of the symphony. It's jarring but I think it's also Weinberg's synthesis of the baroque and the modern where you have different sections of the strings playing off of each other. There's a kind of a little demonic urgency here, but yet if you noticed, if you let it go for a little bit, this agitated section, it kind of slides in at the end into a kind of a relaxed groove.

RAZ: Yeah. This is not difficult to listen to.


(Soundbite of song, "Symphony No. 7 -- Allegro - Adagio sostenuto")

RAZ: Okay, Tom. You always bring something a little bit out there for us, and I think this next one is one of those. What do you have for us?

HUIZENGA: Well, it's music by Morton Feldman, whom we might think of it as quiet music for our bustling lifestyles.

RAZ: Oh, yeah.

HUIZENGA: I think really it's only "out there," quote, unquote, because it's so slow, it's so quiet and it's so long. It's Morton Feldman's Trio and it lasts an hour and a half without a break.

(Soundbite of song, "Trio")

RAZ: You know, Tom, what the hell? Let's just play the whole hour and a half of this.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HUIZENGA: We're going to break format.

RAZ: But seriously, tell me about Morton Feldman. He died back in the '80s, right?

HUIZENGA: He did. He wasn't that old. And I just love what Alex Ross said about Morton Feldman in and old New Yorker article. He said: Feldman was a big, brusque Jewish guy from Woodside, Queens - the son of a manufacturer of children's coats. He worked in the family business until he was 44 years old and later became a professor of music. And to almost everyone's surprise but his own, he turned out to be one of the major composers of the 20th century, a sovereign artist who opened up vast, quiet, agonizingly beautiful worlds of sound.

RAZ: Is he really one of the major 20th century composers?

HUIZENGA: Well, that's a pretty big statement by Alex Ross. And I can tell you that there's really no one remotely like Feldman and his music, and probably no one other than John Cage, who challenges our relationship to music like Feldman does.

(Soundbite of song, "Trio")

HUIZENGA: You know, Feldman was really into Turkish carpets and he loved these intricate patterns. And there are little self-contained patterns all through this 95-minute trio. So I think he's saying it doesn't matter if you hear the whole piece or whatever; it's just you can dip into little bits of it and get what you need.

RAZ: Yeah. Okay, Tom. I think it's fair to say that the next thing you brought for us is completely different.

(Soundbite of song, "Sonata in C minor -- Allegro")

RAZ: And, to me, this sounds like Bach.

HUIZENGA: It is Bach but it's not the Bach. It's Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, and he was the second eldest son of Johann Sebastian to become a musician and composer. And this is a new record by pianist Danny Driver that collects five of CPE Bach's keyboard sonatas.

And Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach is really, next to his dad, my favorite of the Bach musicians.

RAZ: Your favorite of the Bach musicians. Well, why is that?

HUIZENGA: I just don't think this guy wrote a dull piece. Everything seems fresh. And yet, during CPE Bach's time, people thought his music was a little strange.

RAZ: How so?

HUIZENGA: Well, there are these frequent wide swings in dynamics of things very soft and all of the sudden they get loud; some odd melodic swings and shifts, key changes in shifts, shifts in mood. And then his trademark, these jerky stops and starts. And I think we'll hear some of that right now in this piece.

(Soundbite of song, "Sonata in C minor -- Allegro")

RAZ: Tom, it could not have been easy for Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach to go into the family business. Must have been overshadowed by his dad his whole life.

HUIZENGA: I think only in his mind, though, because his dad wasn't so incredibly popular in his time as he is today. But I think Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach knew how wonderful and what a genius what his father was. And I think the interesting thing about CPE is that he draws all that from his father yet he was way ahead of his time. All these stops and starts, these quirks would become exactly what people like Mozart and later Beethoven would use throughout their music.

RAZ: I'm definitely going to pick this one up, Tom.

HUIZENGA: This is a good summer record, I think.

RAZ: That's NPR's classical music producer Tom Huizenga.

Tom, thanks so much.

HUIZENGA: Oh, thank you, Guy.

RAZ: And you can hear more of the pieces Tom's talked about at our website,, although probably not the whole hour and a half long Feldman piece. Right, Tom?

HUIZENGA: Yeah, I don't think we can quite squeeze it in.

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