Robert R. Reilly
Senior Fellow, the American Foreign Policy Council
Naxos Records celebrated its 25th anniversary this year. It has a lot to celebrate. This budget label, the invention of Klaus Heymann, revolutionized the world of classical music recordings. It began by duplicating the basic repertoire with inexpensive recordings of second-tier, but still quite respectable orchestras, ensembles and soloists. Soon, it branched out into premiere recordings of older music and of new, contemporary compositions. The quality of performances and the sound kept improving, and Naxos soon left its competitors in the dust—including the high-price major labels. While everyone was screaming that classical music was dying, Naxos kept growing. Go to its website and you will see what I mean. The riches are staggering.
In celebration, I offer some of Naxos's 2012 releases of 20th-century and contemporary music that I enjoyed the most, with edited excerpts from my reviews in Crisis magazine.
Piano Trios Nos. 1-4 (Finisterra Piano Trio), by Daron A. Hagen
Daron Hagen has a very heartfelt quality in his Piano Trio No. 3, "Wayfaring Stranger." It is very touching and directly affecting. Anyone who thinks that modern American composers do not write music that, without condescending to any sloppy emotions, goes straight to the heart should listen to this work. The equally attractive Piano Trio No. 4, "Angel Band," has a strong Appalachian feel to it. It, too, is very moving and, at times, ecstatic. The Finsterra Trio delivers what sound like definitive performance. There is a real joy of discovery here.
Year in the Catskills (A) / Gardens / Dream Dances / Diversions (Blair Woodwind Quintet, Felix Wang, M. Rose), by Peter Schickele
The new Naxos CD of Peter Schickele's works for woodwind quintet is played beautifully by the Blair Woodwind Quintet. I have always enjoyed Schickele's "serious" music [he doubles as P.D.Q. Bach], particularly his enticing chamber music. His string quartets and piano quintets are quite wonderful. The title piece here is A Year in the Catskills, accompanied by Dream Dances, Diversions, and other pieces. These are sweet, genial musical musings that percolate pleasantly along. Much of it is gentle and reflective, capturing a poignant nostalgia. These are works of sheer delight and attractive fancy. There is simply not a mean bone in the body of this music.
Venice of the North Concerti-Violin Concerto, "Lines in Motion" / Ania's Song / Saxophone Concerto (Wetherbee, T. Sullivan, Lande), by James Aikman
The highly lyrical and rhapsodic Violin Concerto contains a very stirring Quasi una Fantasia, which achieves a Samuel Barber-like beauty. It is followed up by an exquisite Pavane for String Orchestra, called Aina's Song, and a Concerto for Saxophone and Orchestra. Music like this is a nail in the heart of the avant-garde. This CD is another winner in Naxos' "American Classics" series, and is done to perfection by the St. Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra, under Vladimir Lande, with the excellent violinist Charles Weatherbee.
Choral Music (In the Heart of Things) (G. Davidson, Commotio, M. Berry), by Francis Pott
The music of Francis Pott (b. 1957) includes a Mass for 8 Parts, Ubi Caritas, A Hymn to the Virgin, and other choral works, performed exquisitely by Commotio, under Matthew Berry. Of Thomas Tallis's 16th-century contrapuntal masterpiece, Spem in Alium, Pott writes, "the surface effect unashamedly seeks to capture and bottle eternity, mastering literal time to become spiritually timeless." This is what he tries to do, and achieves in these precious pieces. Lament, a setting of a poem by Wilfred Wilson Gibson (1878-1962), is dedicated to Staff Sergeant Olaf Schmid, who lost his life in Helmand province, Afghanistan. Shortly before he was to return home, he was killed while trying to defuse a bomb. I go to Great Britain often and am well aware of the signs of decline there. However, so long as there are men such as Schmid and composers such as Pott to memorialize their sacrifices, all is not lost. If you are moved by the music of Morten Lauridsen, you should try this.
Symphony No. 6 / Rhapsody on Moldavian Themes (Glinka Choral College Boys' Choir, St. Petersburg State Symphony, Lande), by Mieczyslaw Weinberg
Polish composer Mieczyslaw Weinberg (1919-1996) ran in the wrong direction from the Nazis and ended up spending most of his productive life in the Soviet Union, some of it under the sponsorship of Dmitri Shostakovich, by whom he was enormously influenced. He is one of the great unsung composers of the 20th century. (I also devoted a chapter to him in Surprised by Beauty). Naxos has issued a splendid new recording of Weinberg's Symphony No. 6, with the St. Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra, under Vladimir Lande. Shostakovich exclaimed, "I wish I signed my name to this [Weinberg] Symphony." It begins with a hauntingly beautiful horn theme, which recurs and is developed throughout. Several of its movements include a children's choir. Despite its gruesome subject matter, the murder of Jewish children, it is an ultimately affirmative work, suffused with faith and hope.
Atlantic Riband / American Rhapsody / Divinum Mysterium / Concerto Grosso (London Symphony, Falletta), by Kenneth Fuchs
I must bring to your attention the new Naxos CD of Kenneth Fuchs's orchestral works (8.559723), brilliantly played by the London Symphony Orchestra, under American conductor JoAnn Falletta. Like Aaron Copland, Fuchs (b. 1956) has a way of capturing the stirrings of the human heart and the yearnings of the soul in highly spirited, soaring music. His works express an inimitably American sense of expectancy, of horizons glimpsed and striven for, and, finally, of boldly announced arrivals. He achieves all this within the conventional means of tonality. Orchestrally, he employs a sparkling kind of American Impressionism, though I heard a dash of Benjamin Britten's Sea Interludes in Atlantic Riband. American Rhapsody is, according to Fuchs, a Romance for violin and orchestra. It has a Samuel Barber-like melodic appeal and orchestral lushness to it. This is unfailingly appealing and immediately accessible music.
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Bruce C. Sanborn
Chairman Emeritus, Claremont Institute Board of Directors
What The Federalist sets out to do for its readers' views of the U.S. Constitution: to refine and enlarge them, Pierre Manent's Tocqueville and the Nature of Democracy is able to do for readers' opinions of Tocqueville and democracy.
Out of the German lecture halls of Freiberg and Tübingen came two books, at least. Delivered in 1935 and published in 1953, Martin Heidegger's mesmerizing Introduction to Metaphysics opens with a nod toward Shakespeare and human tragedy: "Why are there beings at all instead of nothing? That is the question." My imagination puts Heidegger high up on the ramparts of Hamlet's Elsinore Castle locked in conversation with Joseph Ratzinger. Ratzinger delivered his lectures at Tübingen in 1967 and they were published in 1968 as Introduction to Christianity. From his title and text, my sense is Ratzinger was alert to, and in part responding to Heidegger. Early on Ratzinger speaks of a saint anxious that she glimpses an "abyss lurking...under the firm structure of the supporting conventions," and Ratzinger understands "what is at stake is the whole structure; it is a question of all or nothing." Both Heidegger and Ratzinger perceive doubt and questioning at the human core; just one of the two men, however, gives the nod to the divine comedy and chooses freely to believe God personally and truly gave us Christmas.
Xenophon reports Socrates was happy when reading with friends. Readers of Aristotle have a friend in Joe Sachs, thanks to his generous, learned, and intelligent introductions and notes to, glossaries for, and chapter summaries and translations of the Physics, Metaphysics, Nicomachean Ethics, Poetics, Rhetoric, and On the Soul and On Memory and Recollection. This year Sachs added the Politics, Aristotle's reflection on the different kinds of political rule, especially the kind that produces among different kinds of citizens fellow-feeling for the good.
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James R. Stoner, Jr.
Professor of Political Science, Louisiana State University
I read too few novels to pretend to be an able critic, and too much political theory to know what will draw the attention of anyone who is not obliged professionally to do the same. Nevertheless, here are four choices:
Snow, by Orhan Pamuk
Pamuk won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2006, and there is no doubt about his narrative skill. At issue here, presented with a complexity for which there is no easy summary—the focus is on the characters, not the concepts—are Islamicism and secularism, Asia (specifically, Turkey) and the West, poetry and theater, militarism and fanaticism, politics and love.
The Free World, by David Bezmozgis
A family of Lithuanian Jews escapes the Soviet Union in the late 1970s and stops in Italy on their way to whatever will be their new homes. Religion and individualism alternately beckon the liberated characters, the most poignant figure among whom is the former Communist official paterfamilias to the clan. A study of corruption and therefore a meditation on virtue.
Theodore Roosevelt and the American Political Tradition, by Jean M. Yarbrough
An author well-known to readers of the CRB takes a fresh look at the radicalism of T.R., fully on view in his Bull Moose campaign but seeded in his education at Harvard and Columbia and foreshadowed during his presidency. Interweaving biography with analysis of Roosevelt's writings and speeches, Professor Yarbough leaves us wondering whether he does not belong nestled on Mount Rushmore (pictured on the cover) after all. There is nothing short of scandal in T.R.'s ignorance of the founding, or his racially-tinged Progressivism, but there is also no denying that in spirit and in idea he helped shape the century from which we struggle to emerge.
Science and the Founding Fathers: Science in the Political Thought of Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and James Madison, by I. Bernard Cohen
This decade-and-a-half-old monograph by a pre-eminent historian of science who probably never heard of the Claremont Review of Books was provoked by his stumbling upon Woodrow Wilson's remark about the Newtonianism of the Constitution and his recognition that Wilson (emphatically unlike Cohen himself) had no understanding of Newton and thus was uttering nonsense. Cohen's analysis of what the founders understood as science and the different ways they thought it mattered for their political project is well worth attention, not least because it allows us to see Jefferson, Franklin, Adams, and Madison afresh.
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