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Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble 'Against the Emptiness' (New Dynamic Records)

3 1/2 stars = Very good
Ratings explained

While this disc will be justly celebrated for the first commercial recording of Kevin Puts' expansive "Einstein on Mercer Street," its other works shine, too.

It is hard to explain exactly why "Einstein on Mercer Street," for PNME's Pierrot-style ensemble and sung by baritone Timothy Jones, is such an appealing and satisfying work. Fleda Brown's nine poems are imagined first-person ruminations and richly descriptive accounts of Albert Einstein's innermost feelings. But this is not the heroic Einstein of the miracle year of 1905 -- writing papers that would turn the scientific world on its head -- but the reflective older man, saddened about how his discoveries have been used, frustrated by his inability to find a unified field theory and lonely after the death of his second wife.

Puts' tonal score captures the sweetness inherent in the poems and treats the text with remarkable freshness. His setting slides effortlessly from unaffected phrasing to unexpected episodes to glorious climaxes. It adds up to lyrical music that tends to leap spectacularly out of the bounds of the routine song cycle, not unlike how Einstein's thought process in regards to Newtonian physics.

Fusing it all together is Jones, whose flexible, radiant voice captures the nuances of the text in uncanny fashion. Opinions are relative, too, but in mine, "Einstein on Mercer Street," is nothing short of a modern masterpiece.

Russell Pinkston's "Lizamander" finds flutist Lindsey Goodman dialoguing with and being supported by computer processing. Listening to it with earphones at home gives the futuristic effect of somehow having the pulsing accompaniment sound in the foreground with the musings of the solo flute in the background. Ryan Francis' "Consolations" is a compelling journey for solo piano that is full of remorse, mystery and duality (it often sounds as if two pieces are playing at the same time). Pianist Daniel Spiegel performs here with razor-sharp clarity in high notes and ambiguous fuzziness in the lower.

Pierre Jalbert's "Visual Abstract" opens the disc with three mini tone poems describing bells, domes of churches and dance.

To hear some tracks from "Against the Emptiness," visit

PNME concludes its season with a program of works by Thomas Ades, David Lang, John Anthony Lennon, John Fitz Rogers, Jacob Ter Veldhuis and Alejandro Vinao at 8 p.m. Fri. and Sat. at City Theatre, South Side. $10-$15; 412-431-CITY.

-- Andrew Druckenbrod,

Post-Gazette classical music critic

Elly Ameling, with Pianist Jorg Demus 'Haydn: Complete Songs

' (Pentatone Classics)

4 stars = Outstanding
Ratings explained

Austrian composer Haydn, who died 200 years ago, only visited England for brief periods in his lifetime. But the canzonettas he wrote to English texts in 1794 and 1795 (during the same period that produced his greatest symphonies) are not only delightful music, but also rank among the most subtle and sensitive musical settings of the English language. They range from simple delineation of lines from Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night" to passionate settings of lyrics by poetess Anne Hunter and a raucous sailors song. Each of these songs is a unique gem with character of its own.

Dutch soprano Elly Ameling, in her prime in 1980 when this set was recorded, projects the words with hardly a trace of foreignness, and a purity of sound and vowel formation that is a voice lesson in itself. With the superb collaboration of pianist Jorg Demus, the singer applies no less tender-loving-care to Haydn's less distinctive settings of texts in his native German, as well as two grandiose, quasi-operatic Italian-language outpourings. It's dangerous to call any item definitive, but it would be safe to say that Haydn's song output is unlikely to receive a superior or more compelling recorded documentation.

-- Robert Croan

Eric Moe 'Strange Exclaiming Music' Various performers (Naxos)

3 1/2 stars = Very good
Ratings explained

This disc of collected chamber works is the last of a remarkable run of albums by Pitt composer Eric Moe (eight discs released in roughly two years). The Naxos disc ranges from violin works ("Strange Exclaiming Music" and "Flex Time") to percussion pieces ("Teeth of the Sea," "I Have Only One Itching Desire" and "down the stream, merrily") to saxophone quartet music ("Market Forces" and "Rough Winds Do Shake the Darling Buds").

Moe could use this album as a CV, but the rest of us can just sit back and enjoy his vibrant and creative music. Performers include the Rascher Saxophone Quartet, violinist Curtis Macomber and pianist Stephen Gosling.

-- Druckenbrod


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