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Mixing match

Recent releases offer very different pop-classical hybrids

Dinnerstein Lisa-Marie Mazzuco

Mixing match
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Like most terms invented by musical taxonomists, “classical crossover” has its limits.

Generally, it means pop-friendly music with one foot or at least a few toes in the Classical, Baroque, Romantic, or operatic repertoire. Specifically, it can mean almost anything, as demonstrated by fascinating recent releases from the pianist Simone Dinnerstein, 2Cellos, and the London Symphony Orchestra.

They’re fascinating for strikingly different reasons.

Dinnerstein’s Broadway-Lafayette: Ravel, Lasser, Gershwin (Sony Classical) is the most high-minded of the lot. It identifies motific links between George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue (Track Seven) and Maurice Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G Minor (Tracks One through Three), then explores them with a world-premiere recording of the contemporary composer Philip Lasser’s The Circle and the Child: Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (Tracks Four through Six).

The logic is plain. Gershwin, an American, composed Rhapsody in 1924. He and Ravel met in 1928, after which Ravel, a Frenchman, composed his concerto in 1929. And Lasser is of French-American parentage—the missing link as it were. These connections give listeners a reason to concentrate and an opportunity to interact by assessing just how airtight the logic is.

But what brings the project to life is Dinnerstein’s commitment to it and the MDR Leipzig Radio Orchestra’s commitment to Dinnerstein. In the end, one needn’t agree with what’s essentially a musical argument to enjoy the obvious joy or virtuosity with which the argument is being made.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is 2Cellos, a.k.a. the youthful Croatian duo Luka Šulić and Stjepan Hauser. Unlike Dinnerstein, their intention is not to unite high-cultural strains but high culture and low.

Celloverse (Sony Masterworks), 2Cellos’ third album, finds them adding Mumford & Sons (“I Will Wait”), Paul McCartney (“Live and Let Die”), Radiohead (“Street Spirit”), and Iron Maiden (“The Trooper” medleyed with Rossini’s “William Tell Overture”) to an oeuvre that already includes U2, Dick Dale, Guns N’ Roses, Coldplay, Sonny & Cher, Racer X, and Magnetic Fields.

AC/DC, Michael Jackson, and Sting they reprise.

Is the playing of pop songs on cellos a gimmick? Of course. Can pop-classical-fertilization gimmicks produce enduringly entertaining hybrids? The perennial popularity of Walter Murphy Band’s “A Fifth of Beethoven,” Wendy Carlos’ Switched-On Bach, and Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s Pictures at an Exhibition suggests that the answer is yes.

But whereas Murphy, Carlos, and ELP lowered their source material, Šulić and Hauser elevate theirs, suggesting that even if its pop-era composers had lived during the 17th or 18th century their God-given musical instincts would’ve secured them the necessary patrons.

2Cellos also demonstrate and expand the expressive capacities of their instrument, both sonically and, on Celloverse’s “deluxe edition” videos, visually. If the Electric Light Orchestra’s Jeff Lynne should ever enlist them for a tour, they’ll steal the show.

Somewhere between Dinnerstein and 2Cellos falls the 58-year-old Japanese video-game composer Nobuo Uematsu. His music has been given the symphonic treatment before, but the London Symphony Orchestra’s Final Symphony (Merregnon Studios/X5 Music Group) refurbishes the music’s stand-alone luster.

One needn’t, in other words, know anything about the popular Final Fantasy video-game series to respond to Uematsu’s compositions.

Stylistically, Uematsu borrows from sources as varied as Grieg, Bernstein, and Berlioz. But he does so with an ear toward cutting to the quick of the thrills that only an orchestra can provide. And provide such thrills the LSO and its conductor Eckehard Stier certainly do.

They might even manage to turn gamers on to the richness of the world beyond their computer screens.

Arsenio Orteza

Arsenio is a music reviewer for WORLD Magazine and one of its original contributors from 1986.



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