Alan Parsons delivered a detailed blueprint for his Project on their 1975 debut, Tales of Mystery and Imagination, but it was on its 1977 follow-up, I Robot, that the outfit reached its true potential. Borrowing not just its title but concept from Isaac Asimov's classic sci-fi Robot trilogy, this album explores many of the philosophies regarding artificial intelligence - will it overtake man, what does it mean to be man, what responsibilities do mechanical beings have to their creators, and so on and so forth - with enough knotty intelligence to make it a seminal text of late-'70s geeks, and while it is also true that appreciating I Robot does require a love of either sci-fi or art rock, it is also true that sci-fi art rock never came any better than this…
Following the success of her 2011 album, Diva Divo, mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato presents an exciting collection of virtuosic arias in her 2012 release on Virgin, Drama Queens. Drawing on royal roles in Baroque operas by Handel, Monteverdi, and Haydn, as well as selections from such minor composers as Orlandini, Porta, Keiser, Hasse, Cesti, and Giacomelli, DiDonato demonstrates both her impressive vocal abilities and a wide range of characterizations. Supported by the period ensemble Il Complesso Barocco, conducted by Alan Curtis, DiDonato sings with dynamic power and exquisite embellishments, executing runs and ornaments with sparkling brilliance and projecting her voice with ease. But even more important than her technical prowess is her charismatic presentation of these 17th and 18th century opera heroines, whose passionate emotions and exaggerated behavior are wonderfully realized in DiDonato's dramatic interpretations. Since Baroque opera has become something of a specialized interest of early music connoisseurs, DiDonato's album is a welcome introduction for listeners less familiar with this period, and her faithful performances make the era come to life with appealing freshness and vitality.
John Carpenter is a rarity among film directors in that he is also a composer who writes the musical scores for his movies as well. Carpenter's 1981 film Escape From New York was a kind of genre hybrid, a science-fiction crime thriller with suggestions of a spaghetti western thrown in. Set in a near future when Manhattan has been converted into a no-man's-land prison, the movie needed an appropriately futuristic soundtrack, and Carpenter came up with a score for synthesizer that he played with his sound designer Alan Howarth. Despite the instrumentation, however, the composer retained a style familiar from such earlier works as Halloween. He favored simple, repetitive keyboard figures, generally two per sequence, set in a fast-slow counterpoint. The Escape From New York score had a few changes of pace, notably a borrowing from Debussy and an ersatz Broadway show tune, "Everyone's Coming to New York" ("Shoot a cop with a gun/The Big Apple is plenty of fun"), but most of the music sounded like earlier Carpenter scores, similarly creating a tense, ominous tone much of the time.
Heard here in a composer-conducted disc-mate to the première recording of Hovhaness’s early Cello Concerto (1936), City of Light (1970) has some lovely ideas, like the surprisingly sweet and simple string melody in the middle of the ‘Angel of Light’ movement (beginning at 1'30"), and the third movement, Allegretto grazioso, which sounds like a minuet in oriental garb. The outer movements, however, outstay their welcome.
The world of early 18th century opera was very different to that of, say, Mozart. The story was the thing. Librettos were offered to musicians as a means of getting the poetic drama before the public. Thus the great librettists were set multiple times. So it was with Vienna's imperial poet Metastasio's Catone in Utica. This story, set in the ancient Numidian city of Utica - now a ruin in Tunisia - involves the Roman Cato the Younger and his conflict with Julius Caesar. The plot itself is the usual mixture of love and betrayal, but because it was by Metastasio there were at least two settings, by Vinci and Hasse, even before Vivaldi composed the present piece.
Listening to a work of Armenian-American composer Alan Hovhaness, you recognize his characteristic style in a few measures. His music is often broadly expansive, painting sonorous landscapes that often use brass instruments to blend with and accentuate the strings. Also, while his peers experimented with serialism or highly intellectually challenging styles, Hovhaness maintained his world music-infused neo-Romantic style throughout his life. The result is an enormous body of work that are all a joy to listen to.