Maurizio Pollini, "Mozart: Piano concertos Nos. 12 and 24" (Deutsche Grammophon) HHHII
Leif Ove Andsnes, "Mozart: Piano concertos Nos. 17 and 20" (EMI Classics) HHHHI
For the best of Mozart, you could do worse than start with the music he made for himself: the piano concertos, most of which he wrote to play for paying customers in Vienna in the 1780s. About a dozen of these 27 concertos are considered standards, played regularly by most every classical pianist. Since they've been recorded so widely, with many versions available at bargain prices, new full-price discs had best be something special.
Maurizio Pollini, the elder Italian virtuoso, has been rated among the masters of this repertory since the 1970s. He doubles as solo pianist and conductor-from-the-keyboard of the Vienna Philharmonic in his latest set, contrasting the sparkling, tuneful Concerto No. 12 in A major with the brooding, starkly expressive Concerto No. 24 in C minor.
This disc stands apart from most recorded recently in its "big-band" treatment of Mozart concertos, placing them in a stylistic continuum that proceeds through Beethoven, the 19th-century romantics and even into the modern era. Pollini doesn't inflate Mozart's classical style, but he also doesn't pretend his concert grand is some woodsy toned 18th-century keyboard. And the Vienna Philharmonic doesn't attempt to tone down its rich, plush sonorities. This sound and scale suit the C minor Concerto, which anticipates the more outwardly emotive music that came after Mozart, than the A major, a sunnier creature of its time.
Norwegian Leif Ove Andsnes, meanwhile, plays with the lighter touch, percolating rhythmic energy and improvisatory sensibility characteristic of younger Mozart interpreters who've been exposed to the 18th-century, period-performance movement of recent decades. Leading the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra from the keyboard, Andsnes romps through the G major, and the orchestra's woodwind players show more individual character than their Viennese counterparts in the concerto's prominent wind parts.
In the Concerto No. 20 in D minor, the stormiest, most overtly romantic of the Mozart concertos, Andsnes and friends boost the intensity level — and volume — but keep the piece firmly within classical expressive constraints. Here, the D minor Concerto anticipates romanticism, but keeps a stylistically healthy distance. — Clarke Bustard
The Gibson Brothers, "Iron & Diamonds" (Sugar Hill) HHHII
Eric and Leigh Gibson — banjoist and guitarist (and namesakes) of the Gibson Brothers — have been forging a name in bluegrass for nearly 20 years and eight albums. They're recognized as modern purveyors of that most classic of bluegrass forms: the brother duet. Like the Louvins, Armstrong Twins, Jim & Jesse, and the many sibling acts in Americana history, the Gibsons are best when harmonizing.
The motivation for this album and title song refers to the mining and baseball town of Lyon Mountain, N.Y. (not far from their home). The Gibsons write a good deal of their own music, refreshing among modern bluegrass bands. But this album also features covers of Tom Petty, Steve Earle and the classic Bill Carlisle tune, "Gone Home." Besides the baseball theme, the songs don't stray far from bluegrass standard fare. Eric's high-lonesome voice and Leigh's smooth midrange resemble classic Everly Brothers' crooning. But it's the combination of musicianship and vocal purity that makes this album worthy for any fan of the bluegrass genre. — Josh Bearman
The Gibson Brothers perform Thursday, Aug. 21, at Ashland Coffee & Tea. Tickets range from $16 in advance to $21 on the day of the show. 798-1702.
CSS, "Donkey" (Sub Pop) HHHHI
If you can recall a ridiculously catchy iPod commercial that proclaimed: "Music is my boyfriend. Music is my girlfriend," you've heard Brazilian electro-rockers CSS. The infectious snippet came from the band's single "Music Is My Hot, Hot Sex." The group's sophomore disc offers much of the same, but it's a more fleshed-out sonic affair where raucous synth beats meet pure bass-drum kicks and furious guitar riffs that bounce between Funkadelic and straight rock 'n' roll. "Jager Yoga" cracks open a case of pulsing throbs and driving rhythms that spills over the entirety of the dance-centric track list, while cuts such as "Rat Is Dead" explore the band's indie-pop refrains and sharp hooks. Amidst handclaps and strutting bass leads, vocalist Lovefoxxx turns up the coy factor with sultry, spoken lyrics, but on occasion proves her pipes are golden with songs like "Air Painter," which is akin to the Sounds. CSS may catch flak for harnessing a more slick sound this go round, but the feel is still that of a debaucherous, all-night party that leaves you wondering where your pants are in the morning. — Hilary Langford
DVD: James Brown, "I Got the Feelin': James Brown in the '60s" [Three DVD set] (Shout Factory) HHHII
There's no question that the Godfather of Soul, James Brown, was one of the most influential musical figures of the 20th century. While listening to his songs offers its own unique joys, watching the man perform live, sweat-drenched and vibrating inside the pulse of the music, is even more telling. Therefore the relatively crude film quality of the early Brown performances on this three-DVD set — a shortened 1968 show from the Apollo in Harlem as well as a more complete, historic TV performance at Boston Garden from the same year — can be forgiven: It's still spine-tingling footage.
The centerpiece disc, however, is an evocative documentary by David Leaf called "The Night James Brown Saved Boston." It tells the tense story of how Brown played a vital role as musical peacekeeper in the wake of the Martin Luther King Jr. assassination, setting himself on a path to becoming a revolutionary cultural icon.
The live stuff here is not from my favorite Brown period (I'd rather hear the taut '70s grooves that more directly influenced hip-hop.) but it does catch the singer in his physical prime: an electrifying dancer and gritty crooner who paved the way for the Michael Jacksons, M.C. Hammers and Chris Browns. Even though many songs are repeated, this set is a valuable document chock-full of rare footage and interviews. Yet it likely will appeal mainly to old-school fans who don't mind a grainy, green-hued Brown singing the macho "It's a Man's Man's Man's World" with unimpeachable authority — those piercing shrieks and wild cries in the night sounding almost otherworldly.
— Brent Baldwin