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Sea Sketches
Manitoba Chamber Orchestra (Roy Goodman conducting)
CBC Records

While the folks at KCME recently let me pore through their stacks in search of new classical classics, we got into a conversation about why people listen to classical music. Apparently a recent marketing study found that the major reason is because people find classical music relaxing. Of course, if you also love it for the artistry, complexity or music theory as many hard-core classical fans do, you're likely to abhor collections with titles like Soothing Sounds or Relaxing Classics.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I actually found myself enjoying the abysmally titled Sea Sketches!

Exciting and entirely unpredictable, the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra's thrilling ensemble starts the CD off with Welsh composer Gareth Walters' Divertimento for Strings and never stops.

Selections from Sir William Walton, lover of low string sounds, include the eulogy "Death of Falstaff," the cello- and viola-heavy "Touch Her Soft Lips and Part," and Sonata for Strings. And the title piece, "Sea Sketches" by Grace Williams, is anything but relaxing; the soundtrack for a shipwreck, perhaps.

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To satisfy those who really do need to relax, there's also the soothing Serenade for Strings by Peter Warlock, who is not, as one might assume, a character in the new Harry Potter book, but the pseudonym of English composer Philip Heseltine.

Just goes to show you can't necessarily judge a CD by its title.


Joaquin Turina: " Sinfona Sevillana," "Danzas Fantsticas," "La Procesin del Rocio"
The Castile and Len Symphony Orchestra
Naxos

Don't you miss the good old days of cartoon violence accompanied by classical tunes? Half the fun in listening to classical music is making up a story in your head to go along with the music. And Spanish composer Joaquin Turina's flamenco-sounding rhythms and racing strings in the "Sinfona Sevilliana" make it easy to imagine Bugs Bunny in a toreador costume leading Elmer Fudd around with a big red cape.

Turina wrote much of the music on this disc after having spent time in France learning the impressionist style. However, instead of using the subtle tone color typical to impressionist music, these pieces are showy, triumphant and direct. Each note feels deliberate, but not forced.

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Like an American symphony orchestra playing Aaron Copeland, this recording makes it clear that the Castile and Len Symphony Orchestra players are proud to play music by a Spanish composer. Turina's music captures the spirit of vibrant southern Spain.


Amici
Amici Chamber Ensemble with Jean Stilwell, Mezzo-Soprano
CBC Records

Maybe it's all the government funding for the arts in the land of the maple leaf, but some extremely high-quality classical recordings are coming out on CBC Records these days.

There are few sounds more soothing than a clarinet, a piano and a cello playing together. Founded in 1985, the Amici trio is made up of Joaquin Valdepeas (principal clarinetist of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra), David Hetherington (principal cellist of the TSO), and pianist Patricia Parr, who debuted at age 10 with (who else?) the TSO. Because there isn't much repertoire for this particular instrumentation, the group is able to showcase some lesser-known pieces and composers.

Archduke Rudolph of Austria studied piano with Beethoven for over 20 years, and his influence is clear in the structure of his trio. Though the musicians play together beautifully; and their joy and love of music comes through, the piece isn't, on the whole, terribly memorable.

If, on the other hand, you're a fan of German chamber music and voice, you'll enjoy Mezzo-soprano Jean Stillwell as she joins Parr and Valdepeas for Ludwig Spohr's "Sechs deutsche Lieder," opus 103.

The trio reunites again for the final piece, a late-Romantic work by Carl Frhling -- a little-known and seldom-performed composer who is definitely worth adding to your list along with the more traditional Romantics like Sergei Rachmaninoff or Franz Liszt.

--Bettina Swigger

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