Associate Professor of Old Testament Stephen Chapman doesn’t own a television, but music is always playing at his house. His tastes are broad, including jazz, folk, rhythm and blues, rock, and gospel, but his favorite is classical music.
“Classical music is highly vulnerable to the quality of its performance,” he says. “In an excellent performance, this music communicates like no other the emotional depth and conceptual complexity that are transformative for human life.”
Building a library of classical recordings became a hobby for him years ago, and he now enjoys listening to something from his collection every day. “I’m a singer at heart,” says Chapman, who is a popular performer at the Divinity School’s monthly lunchtime “Lampstand” performances. “I like rich melodies, tight harmonies, and overlapping musical lines.”
Finzi, Clarinet Concerto
Northern Sinfonia, 1998
If you think you don’t like 20th-century classical music, try this. Gerald Finzi (1901–56) was an English pastoralist (and pacifist). His Clarinet Concerto (1949) is a masterpiece, strikingly evocative and intensely melodic. His Five Bagatelles are not as weighty but even more haunting; he perfected them over almost 20 years. Both these and other clarinet pieces receive compelling treatment on this disc.
Handel, “As Steals the Morn”
Manze, conductor; Padmore, tenor
English Concert, 2007
Harmonia Mundi 907422
Is the only piece you know by Handel (1685–1759) The Messiah? This disc of tenor arias from other Handel operas and oratorios is an unalloyed joy from beginning to end. Mark Padmore is an accomplished singer with a tender, light voice. Here he sings some of Handel’s loveliest tunes. I have difficulty finishing this disc because I keep hitting the repeat button.
A Vaughn Williams Hymnal
Choir, Trinity College, 1996
If you enjoy English church music, then this is the disc for you. Vaughn Williams (1872–1958) wrote celebrated symphonies and operas, but he also edited the English Hymnal (1906). He collected traditional hymn tunes and wrote some new ones of his own, such as the well-known settings for “Come down, O love divine” and “For all the saints.” This recording is beautifully produced and spiritually stirring.
Rheinberger, Six Pieces for
Violin and Organ
Most, violin; Ziener, organ, 2004
Naxos 557383 Joseph
Joseph Rheinberger (1839–1901) is remembered today largely for his organ sonatas, but he also composed first-rate vocal music. These duets for violin and organ combine the best of both, with the violin “singing” dramatically yet sweetly above the organ’s rich tonal cushion of sound. The result is certainly Romantic, but not one note is hackneyed — each one rings true.
Capella Cantorum Konstanz
Basel Sinfonietta, 2001
Frank Martin (1890–1974), a Swiss Protestant, was one of the 20th century’s leading composers of sacred music, yet his music still does not receive the attention that it deserves. He described his Requiem (1972) as a “temple” in sound, an “ardent prayer in the hope of … true, eternal rest.” Many consider it the most beautiful requiem since Faure’s. Recordings of this moving work are sadly few and far between, but this disc gives it a satisfying and powerful presentation.
Hindemith, Ludus tonalis
McCabe, piano, 1996
Bach is my all-time favorite composer, so I’m also quite partial to Paul Hindemith (1895–1963) as a modern exponent of Bach-like counterpoint. A progressive, politically engaged German artist, Hindemith was boycotted by the Nazis, leading him to emigrate. In his Ludus tonalis, or “tonal game,” Hindemith composed 12 interlocking modern fugues in order to exemplify his own approach to music theory. However, nothing here is dry or ponderous. Hindemith’s goal was to demonstrate how music’s deep structures are affecting and entertaining on their own terms; in this he succeeded admirably.