Pasa Tem­pos

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Al­bums from Nels Cline and En­sem­ble Pyg­malion

The Rhine Maidens are the sis­ters who ca­vort in myth-laden cur­rents to get the ac­tion mov­ing in Wag­ner’s cy­cle — and then re­turn at the end as ev­ery­thing that has hap­pened gets washed away by those same wa­ters. Through­out cen­turies, the Rhine has been a cen­tral me­taphor for Ger­mans, and it in­forms a num­ber of the se­lec­tions on this de­li­cious al­bum of songs for women’s choir from 19th-cen­tury Ger­many. It was a fa­vorite medium at the time, and many of the great­est main­stream com­posers wrote works for such en­sem­bles. The reper­toire reaches its sum­mit in Brahms’ Four Songs (Op. 17) for women’s choir, two horns, and harp, which shines here in a grip­ping in­ter­pre­ta­tion. The Bordeaux-based En­sem­ble Pyg­malion, di­rected by Raphaël Pi­chon, spe­cial­izes in his­tor­i­cally in­formed per­for­mance, and the tim­bre of pe­riod horns makes a telling dif­fer­ence here com­pared to other recorded read­ings. That set is nearly ri­valed by Schu­bert’s fa­mous for women’s choir and solo mezzo-so­prano (here Bernarda Fink). Works by Schu­bert and Schu­mann take turns in the playlist, along with other se­lec­tions by Brahms, mostly “as writ­ten” but some­times in win­ning adap­ta­tions, as in a Brahms song about horns that here is ac­tu­ally re­cast for horn quar­tet. Pi­chon in­cludes some in­ter­est­ing but rarely heard canons by these com­posers, and Wag­ner’s Rhine Maidens make two ap­pear­ances to wrap the whole thing in their gauzy veils. — James M. Keller

Guitarist Nels Cline’s is a two-disc con­cept al­bum loosely ex­plor­ing the mis­ery that goes hand-in-hand with be­ing in love. Span­ning styles and emo­tions — and avail­able on vinyl as well as CD — its 18 se­lec­tions ad­dress love’s eter­nal di­chotomy, best rep­re­sented here by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart’s 1936 lament, “Glad To Be Un­happy” (“But for some­one you adore/It’s a plea­sure to be sad”). The mu­sic, too, finds the con­trast, cast­ing into the past, present, and fu­ture, lo­cat­ing the in­tense plea­sures that can come of melan­choly. Stan­dards from Sammy Fain and Bro­nis­law Kaper mix with Sonic Youth’s dreamy “Snare, Girl,” and sur­real sound­track mu­sic from two decades-old cult films star­ring Char­lotte Ram­pling. When songs have lyrics, those are in­cluded — there is also some heavy breath­ing — and the pres­ence of those lyrics seems to en­hance the moods Cline and ar­ranger Michael Leon­hart cap­ture with their en­twined or­ches­tral vari­a­tions and of­ten lyri­cal gui­tar and syn­the­sizer lines. Cline’s warm orig­i­nals serve as in­tro­duc­tion, in­ter­lude (the amaz­ing “Hair­pin & Hat­box”), and coda. Fans of the guitarist’s work with Wilco will rec­og­nize his tonal pal­ette, the sweet­ness of his pedal-steel, the fi­nesse of his acous­tic, and the ar­ray of pro­cessed sounds he trig­gers — some hot and fuzzy, some soft and dis­persed. But is about more than the gui­tar. It re­veals Cline’s tal­ents as con­cep­tu­al­izer, song­writer, and sonic dreamer. — Bill Kohlhaase

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