In 27 Pieces: the Hilary Hahn Encores by Hilary Hahn

27MusicIn 27 Pieces: the Hilary Hahn Encores by Hilary Hahn, violin, is Hahn’s brilliant new 2-CD recording of 27 short pieces (“encores”) by contemporary composers. She is accompanied by pianist Cory Smythe. The album topped the Billboard classical charts and will likely win Hilary her third Grammy Award (she already has two). The individual pieces of new music have never been recorded before, and it’s likely you’ve never heard of the composers.  The album ranges from romantic to post-modern, from jazzy Hollywood film noir to the rural, folksy and obscure, from the purely abstract to the objective.  I liked the post-romantic “Whispering” by Einojuhani Rautavaara, and the meditative “Blue Curve of the Earth” by Tina Davidson, as well as the frenetic “Angry Birds of Kauai” by Jeff Myers.  All of the pieces struck me as intellectual, thoughtful, technically challenging “art” pieces. Hahn started her career as a soloist at age 16, and to date she has recorded 14 albums, three DVDs, an Oscar-nominated soundtrack and an award winning album for children.  She is known as the foremost American classical musician in promoting new post-modern music.  She performs worldwide, and as of June 2014 is completing a tour of 50 cities in 14 countries throughout North America, Europe and Asia. Her violin is an 1864 copy of Paganini’s Cannone made by Vuillaume. (She never lets it out of her sight!) The violin case comments on her life on Twitter at @violincase. By the way, Hahn’s recording of Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto was used extensively in The Deep Blue Sea starring Rachel Weisz.

Beyonce by Beyonce

beyonceBeyoncé Music This is the new smash hit album from Beyoncé (Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter), and it has 14 new songs plus a DVD with 17 tracks. It is a hip-hop/R&B album with a fresh new sound (her fifth studio album). Some of the songs feature her singing with Drake, Jay Z (her husband), Justin Timberlake and The-Dream. She is a modern-day feminist, and her songs are often characterized by themes of love, relationships, monogamy, female sexuality and empowerment. Her songs propose the idea that a woman’s prime –personal, professional, and especially sexual – can occur within a stable romantic partnership. Monogamy has never sounded more seductive or less retrograde as when dictated on Beyoncé’s terms. The vibe on Beyoncé is moodily futuristic R&B and full-grown electro soul with an artsy boho edge. The ballads are about believing in your dreams and reaching your goals. I liked the song “Flawless” which features a speech from Nigerian feminist author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and I also liked the song “Blue,” which has a cameo in it from Beyonce’s daughter Blue Ivy. Beyonce, as of 2014, is the highest earning black musician in history. She has won 17 Grammy Awards and has sold over 118 million records worldwide. On stage she is known as the sexy, seductive, sassy, provocative “Sasha Fierce,” but she isn’t like that at all in her personal life. Beyoncé is an album that is definitely worth your time; it’s sexy, tender and artistic – a “visual” album from music’s glossiest mega-star.

Night Songs by Barry Manilow

manilowMusic – This is the new CD from Barry with just him singing and playing piano (and bass) by himself. It features 16 lesser-known standards and is the perfect album for relaxing after work, or creating the mood for a romantic evening at home. It’s his most intimate, calming album of all time with beautiful melodies and well-written lyrics. I loved all of the songs and was especially touched by “Here’s that Rainy Day,” “While We’re Young,” and “Alone Together.” Manilow is Radio & Records No. 1 adult contemporary artist, and he is the top Adult Contemporary artist of all time. He has 29 platinum albums (two of them triple platinum) and has sold over 80 million albums worldwide. Not bad for a poor kid from Brooklyn, who had to work his way through Juilliard. Barry is great at introducing the wonderful songs of a different era to a new generation, and he appeals to every cross-section of society. He has Grammy, Emmy and Tony Awards, many film credits, and his concerts sell out instantly worldwide. He has cultivated a lush, sentimental, melodic, romantic musical style which I find easy to love and easy to listen to. By the way, he was Bette Midler’s music director, arranger and pianist for many years, when they were both young and unknown; both became big stars to be sure. I always loved his hit songs like “Copacabana,” “Mandy,” and “I Write the Songs,” and he’s still got the magic.

Love in Portofino by Andrea Bocelli

Love in PortofinoMovie - Love in Portofino by Andrea Bocelli is a CD/DVD set which is THE perfect date night, romantic, video.  On this release, Andrea delivers the performance of a lifetime from the beautiful surroundings of the Pizzetta in Portofino, Italy.  Playing to an intimate crowd at sunset, the legendary tenor sings the most famous love songs in the world accompanied by 16-time Grammy Award winner David Foster and a 40 piece orchestra.  Bocelli has sold over 80 million albums worldwide, making him the biggest-selling singer in the history of Classical music. He holds the 1, 2 and 3 positions in the Guinness Book of World Records on the Classical music charts, and a record six of his albums have reached the Top 10 on the Billboard 200, and a record-setting eight have topped the classical albums charts in the United States. Andrea, who has a law degree and plays many musical instruments, has been blind since age 12. Although the PBS special of this performance has more songs on it, and many of the songs were previously recorded on his album Passione, the background of the truly picturesque harbor on the Italian Riviera just takes your heart away.  I loved the songs like “Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars,” “Love in Portofino,” and “Champagne,” but all of the songs are wonderful and the night could not have been more romantic.  Andrea has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (as of 2010). Take this DVD/CD set along on your next date.

Guilty Pleasures by Renée Fleming

Guilty PleasuresMusic - Guilty Pleasures by Renėe Fleming with Sebastian Lang-Lessing conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra is the luscious new album following her Grammy Award winning album Poėmes. It is an album of very beautiful songs and arias, many of them rarely recorded, selected by Renėe and sung in eight different languages. Out of the 17 choices, I especially loved “La Delaissádo,” by Canteloube, “Once There was a Golden Bird,” by Corigliano and “Dóme ėpaís” (Flower Duet, Lakmé) by Delibes (sung with Susan Graham, mezzo-soprano). Former CSO conductor Sir Georg Solti said that in his life he had only heard two sopranos with such great quality: Fleming and Renata Tebaldi! Renėe is a four-time Grammy winner and our national treasure, traveling all over the world and performing with every major opera company and symphony. She is an advocate for literacy and has been featured in the Association of American Publishers campaign (Get Caught Reading), as well as the READ poster campaign for the American Library Association. Renėe is a product of both Eastman and Juilliard, but also sings jazz and pop songs. In fact, she recorded the jazz album Haunted Heart, and the soundtrack of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. She is known as the “people’s diva,” but speaks fluent German and French. She is from Indiana, Pennsylvania. The New York Public Library has designated her as a “Library Lion.” By the way, she has written a book titled The Inner Voice.

After Blue by Tierney Sutton

after blueMusic – Tierney Sutton’s new CD, After Blue, definitely has my vote for this year’s Grammy for “Best Jazz Vocal Album.”  Tierney has been nominated the last four years, and her band, the Tierney Sutton Band, has nine CDs – each of which has consistently topped the US jazz charts.  After Blue is a tribute album; it is an intimate, jazz-inspired re-imagining of the legacy of singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell. In After Blue, Sutton expands the scope of Joni Mitchell’s songs and recasts them in new and refreshing ways. It is Sutton’s first solo album without the Tierney Sutton Band, and it features Al Jarreau, Hubert Laws, and the Turtle Island String Quartet. All twelve tracks on the album are excellent. I like the dreamy “Both Sides Now,” and the lush, intimate “Don’t Go to Strangers.” The Turtle Island Quartet string arrangements are splendid, and the great Larry Golding’s moody piano on “Court and Spark” and “Woodstock” is the perfect touch. Tierney has won Jazzweek’s Vocalist of the Year,and she has headlined at The Hollywood Bowl, Carnegie Hall, The Kennedy Center and Jazz at Lincoln Center.  She is also an active educator and is currently head of the vocal department at the Los Angeles Music Academy in Pasadena, CA.

Verdi by Placido Domingo

verdiMusic – This is the new 2013 CD recorded by Placido Domingo. The album, simply titled Verdi, is the first time the world-renowned tenor has released an album of baritone arias. Domingo is certainly still capable of singing all the tenor arias, having recorded every major tenor aria there is, but these baritone arias are a fabulous tribute to Giuseppe Verdi. The album is a celebration of Verdi arias, with selections from Macbeth, Rigoletto, La Traviata, Simon Boccanegra, Il trovatore, Don Carlo and others. It is well over an hour of music with eighteen tracks from nine different Verdi operas. Placido Domingo may be both the greatest tenor AND the greatest baritone of all time! He has opened the Met season 21 times, surpassing Caruso’s record of 17 opening nights. He has performed in every major opera house in the world, and has made an unparalleled number of recordings, of which 101 are full-length operas. He has earned nine Grammy’s and two Grammy’s in the Latin Division. He also conducts operas in all the important theaters, from the Metropolitan to London’s Covert Garden and the Vienna State Opera. He has conducted purely symphonic concerts with such renowned orchestras as the Berlin and the Vienna Philharmonic, the London Symphony, and the Chicago Symphony. As of the end of 2013, he has sung 144 different roles! Verdi was recorded in 2012-2013 at the Palau de les Arts “Reina Sofia” Auditiori, Valencia Spain and Angel Recording Studios, London, England.

How Mercy Looks From Here by Amy Grant

how mercyMusic – How Mercy Looks From Here is the new bestselling Christian album from Amy Grant. It’s her first full length album with all new songs in 10 years. It’s a stellar collection of songs and includes duets with Vince Gill (her husband), James Taylor, Sheryl Crow and Carole King. The songs are soft and introspective, reflecting on faith and family. She also draws on her experiences of the last decade, including her parents’ aging and declining health. Amy Grant is known as “The Queen of Christian Pop,” and she is the best-selling contemporary Christian music singer ever, having sold 30 million albums worldwide. She has won six Grammy awards, and has six Platinum and four Gold albums, plus a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The song “Don’t Try So Hard” is a tender ballad about resting in God’s grace, that features James Taylor, and the song “Better Not to Know” is a prayer-song about finding courage in God’s faithful mercy. Carole King joins Amy on the song “Our Time is Now,” which features Amy’s children and her father. This is Grant’s masterpiece; she sings about real life with messages about the glories and mysteries of faith, mercy, grace and life lessons for young and old. I was moved by the album and quickly noticed how polished the arrangements were played by the Nashville Session Players, a string orchestra. Do you know that Amy’s album Lead Me On is still considered the number one all-time Christian music record?

The Best of Burt Bacharach: anyone who had a heart

Music – The Best of Burt Bacharach: anyone who had a heart is a two CD-set of 40 hit pop songs; all of them composed by Burt Bacharach, with lyrics by Hal David. Each selection is sung by a famous singer, including: Dionne Warwick, Neil Diamond, Tom Jones, Barbara Streisand, and many others. Bacharach’s music is characterized by deeply felt emotions. His arrangements evoke strong feelings of love, joy, sorrow, yearning and loss. The music has unusual chord progressions, striking syncopated rhythmic patterns, irregular phrasing, frequent modulation and odd, changing meters. He has composed 73 Top 40 hits, won six Grammys and three Academy awards. He is one of the most important composers of popular music in the 20th century, almost equal to George Gershwin, or Irving Berlin. I like all of these songs, but especially “One Less Bell to Answer,” “This Guy’s in Love with You,” “A House is not a Home,” “Arthur’s Theme (Best that You can Do).” The album coincides with the publication of Burt’s memoir titled Anyone Who Had a Heart: my life and music by Burt Bacharach.

Ultimate Love Songs – the very best of Jim Brickman

Music – Ultimate Love Songs is a pleasant and wonderful collection of ballads and melodies with lyrics to touch your heart and inspire your mind to recall your most lovely and in love moments! It is a collection of duets taken from the best selections of Brickman’s many CDs. He is the most commercially successful instrumental pop pianist of the last two decades. Four of his albums have been certified Gold (sales of more than 500,000 copies):  By Heart, Picture This, The Gift, and Destiny. Overall, he’s sold more than 7 million albums and amassed 27 Top 40 singles on the adult contemporary charts, including 14 Top 10 smashes.  Ultimate Love Songs features pop and country songs, but is classified as New Age, like all of his other albums. Brickman’s style and his music are great for quiet times. I liked “Valentine” featuring Martina McBride, “Never Alone” featuring Lady Antebellum, “Hear Me” featuring Michael Bolton, and “A Mother’s Love” with Mark Masri. Christmas 2013 will mark his 18th holiday tour! He hosts an annual fan cruise, PBS specials, and a weekly radio show “Your Weekend with Jim Brickman.” He was born and raised in Shaker Heights, Ohio.