An Arbitrary Selection of 1994 Releases

My access to new classsical releases is constrained by my checkbook, though periodically my fundamental insanity breaks through. I'll certainly give others' suggestions a fair shake. In no particular order:

Gillian Weir: Messiaen Organ Works
Performance by the organist who Olivier Messiaen chose to convey his complete oeuvre. Weir's playing is lyrical, declamatory, or fluid as the music demands. Buyers beware of the unusual 7-CD case; apparently the packing machines routinely break the inner supporting teeth, making the jewel box unusable.

Paul Lansky: More Than Idle Chatter
Lansky persists with his exploration of the continuum between speech and song, as well as varying levels of sonic entropy. This disc demonstrates the aural range offered by digital techniques, guided by the discipline of classical composition not to lose sight of its organic roots. In 1995, look for the first digital release of Lansky's groundbreaking 1978 computer composition, Six Fantasies on a Poem of Thomas Campion.

Balanescu String Quartet: Kevin Volans String Quartets
The "Hunter-Gatherer" quartet, which uses Zulu rhythms and melodies, astounds me with the way the string quartet sonorities and textures are idiomatically employed in a nontraditional context.

Rachel Barton: Homage to Sarasate
Fine, secure violin technique with lipid, sweet phrasing that would make Sarasate smile. A welcome change from the guts 'n' gore fiddlers and repertoire that are so common these days.

Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge: Miserere
Extremely fine choral music in the Anglican tradition, with sensitive phrasing and absolute control. Highlight: the choral version of Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings" is sculpted out to nearly 9 1/2 minutes, which many string ensembles could not effectively manage.

Pierre Hantaïaut;: Goldberg Variations (J. S. Bach)
Marvelous, tuneful sonorities that I've never before heard from a harpsichord, with a well-honed global sense of pace.

Dallas Symphony Orchestra with Jean Guillou: Jongen Symphonie Concertante and Saint-Saëaut;ns Symphony No. 3
Part of the beginning of a stream of fine organ/symphonic works that will be coming out of Meyerson Symphonic Center in Dallas, arguably the best venue for such literature on the planet, not to mention a treat for die hard audiophiles. A fitting tribute as one of the last releases for the late Maestro Eduardo Mata, who built up the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and made Meyerson possible.

Sonos Handbell Ensemble
From a standpoint of sonics and execution, one of the best handbell performances available in this rather limited field, from a group based in the East Bay. The chromatic runs in Khachaturian's "Sabre Dance" should boggle the mind of anyone who's ever tried ringing a handbell.

Mary Chapin Carpenter: Stones in the Road
What MCC does best is to depict the numinousness of everyday people and places with unquestionable integrity. It gives me great hope for the music industry and the public at large that such songs and artists can still succeed commercially. One highlight: "John Doe No. 24", with Branford Marsalis lending a soprano sax obbligato line.

Nanci Griffith: Flyer
Like Mary Chapin Carpenter, Griffith is good at extracting some poignant particles of memory; her literary and poetic lyrics yield layer upon layer of meaning. It's still fun to mine her songs, though the production polishes away some of the immediacy and charm of her earlier releases.