May 30, 2024


The Book of Radical Answers. By Sonya Renee Taylor. Dial. $17.99.

     About that title: this is not so much a book of radical answers as a book of answers given by a self-proclaimed radical. Many of the thoughts in the book are reasonable rather than radical, and some are quite useful, but what matters here is the context: Sonya Renee Taylor is virtue signaling as a radical, and young people who want to virtue signal in the same way are invited to join her in seeing things exactly the way she sees them (deviation not allowed).

     In his libretto for the operetta Patience, W.S. Gilbert amusingly and pithily wrote, “If you're anxious for to shine/ In the high aesthetic line/ As a man of culture rare,/ You must get up all the germs/ Of the transcendental terms/ And plant them ev'rywhere… The meaning doesn’t matter/ If it’s only idle chatter/ Of a transcendental kind.” Something analogous is the required context of Taylor’s book. If you want to be perceived as a cool radical, there are things you must say, positions you must take, things you must do. Some of those things have, for better or worse, actually become mainstream, such as always capitalizing “Black” when referring to one group of individuals (which means not seeing them as individuals) and never capitalizing “white” when referring to a different group (also not seeing them as individuals). Other matters must be extended by radicals because accepted terms do not go far enough – thus, “LGBTQ” is not the radically correct acronym, and even “LGBTQIA+” is insufficient: Taylor uses “LGBTQQIA2S+” (and, unsurprisingly, self-identifies as a member of that group).

     To pull young people who are “anxious for to shine” into her worldview, Taylor continually praises readers for asking the questions that, of course, Taylor herself has made up. “What a good question!” “I am so proud of you for asking this question.” “What a smart question!” “I know you can’t see me, but imagine me giving you a big old round of applause for this incredibly brave question.” And so on – and on and on.

     The questions Taylor asks herself (although purporting to come from “real kids just like you”) and then answers herself largely fall into categories as predictable as those of the 19th-century aesthetes parodied by Gilbert. Her answers, however, are anything but intended for amusement: they are highly serious and, again, often useful and even intelligent when take outside the framework she creates. The difficulty is that she refuses to take them outside that framework, instead insisting that readers enter fully into the self-proclaimed-radical world and then absorb the thoughts, ideas and suggestions. In discussing religion and spirituality, for example, she talks about pluralism, interfaith dialogue, and how religions explain why bad things happen in the world. And she tells readers, “you can always access your own spiritual guidance by learning to listen to your inner voice about what feels right and what doesn’t.” This is all well and good and sounds eminently reasonable – but what if one’s inner voice is not fully attuned to all the goals of the LGBTQetc. movement in regard to, say, bathroom privileges and sports competitions? Taylor does not even admit of that as a possibility: a reader’s inner voice must be fully synchronized to Taylor’s for guidance, anything else being literally (in the context of this book) unthinkable.

     And what of racism, one of the most intractable and divisive topics in society today? Taylor reasonably says we need “to collectively acknowledge its current role in society, be honest about our history, and make lifelong efforts to repair it through justice-based policies.” But, again, what matters is the context within which she makes the statement: “All the systems in the United States have been influenced by white supremacist delusion,” she categorically states, adding that “all folks in Western countries internalize anti-Black racism in one way or another because it’s become part of the very air we breathe.” Ignoring the reality that Africans enslaved other Africans long before Europeans showed up and made the slave trade immeasurably more horrific, Taylor places 100% of the blame for the pervasive racism that she believes in on lighter-skinned people as an undifferentiated group, thereby tarring them all with the same brush – something that would be labeled racist if done to all Africans, but that is fine in self-proclaimed-radical circles because, as Taylor states directly, “reverse racism” does not exist and is not even possible.

     The Book of Radical Answers is, as a whole, a frustrating mixture of thoughtfulness and self-induced blindness, requiring readers to buy fully into Taylor’s worldview before being allowed (by Taylor) to hear some recommendations for living one’s life in a better, more self-aware and more societally beneficial manner. “Making assumptions almost never turns out well. It doesn’t matter what we are assuming,” Taylor writes at one point. And she is quite right. It is unfortunate that one of her many blind spots is her own ongoing making of assumptions about the world, the people within it, the ills of society, and the ability of young people to try to make things better by the way they live their future lives.


Music for Piano and Speaking Pianist by Veronika Krausas, Schubert, Maya Miro Johnson, Mike Garson, Ljova Zhurbin, and Clarice Assad. Inna Faliks, piano and speaking pianist. Sono Luminus. $15.99.

Spanish Songs by Manuel Valis, Graciano Tarragó, Enrique Granados, Antón García Abril, Joaquin Turina, Alberto Ginastera, and anonymous composers. Christine Moore Vassallo, soprano; Jorge Robaina Pons, piano; Pablo Giménez Hecht, guitar; Anthony Robb, flute; Rachel Beckles Willson, oud; Philip Arditti, darbuka. Meridian. $15.

John Carmichael: Piano Concerto No. 2; Piano Trio “Toward the Light”; Aria for viola and piano; Contrasts; Short Cuts—Divertimento for flute, oboe, clarinet & piano; On the Green. Antony Gray, piano; St. Paul’s Sinfonia conducted by Andrew Morley. Divine Art. $16.

     The pluses and minuses of sincere, highly personalized music CDs flow from the same source: internal commitment by the performers. Recordings that take listeners on performer-focused musical voyages are inevitably highly meaningful for those offering them and, by extension, for audiences strongly attuned (for any of a myriad of reasons) to a performer’s concerns. This also means that audiences not so attuned tend to be left cold by recordings of this type, which speak so clearly to the participants but have little if anything to say to those outside the inner circle. A new Sono Luminus release featuring pianist Inna Faliks is a perfect example of extremely narrow targeting. The disc’s title, “Manuscripts Don’t Burn,” is a reference to a 1967 Russian satire by Mikhal Bulgakov called The Master and Margarita. Thus, it goes without saying that only listeners familiar with this not-particularly-well-known work will fully understand Faliks’ focus (“manuscripts don’t burn” is a crucial line in Bulgakov’s book). In addition, Faliks’ homeland is Ukraine, and several of the works on the disc relate to that country and the ongoing war there. On top of that, five of the pieces on the CD were actually written for Faliks – and six of the works receive world première recordings. Clearly there is a lot of freight riding on the CD; the issue for a general audience is to what extent, if any, the material speaks to listeners who are not deeply engaged in the exact same issues and concerns that motivate Faliks. Certainly she is a fine pianist, as is shown in her playing of three Liszt arrangements of Schubert songs that, however, fit distinctly oddly into the program: Gretchen am Spinnrade, Erlkönig, and Am Meer. Clearly these charming little pieces are nowhere near the main point here – in fact, between the first and second of them, Faliks inserts Manuscripts Don’t Burn, for speaking pianist, by Maya Miro Johnson (born 2001). This has the usual contemporary mixture of sound-cloud elements and dissonant chords, contrasted with single-note portions. What it is doing in the midst of the Schubert/Liszt material is anyone’s guess. The CD opens – before the Schubert/Liszt and Johnson pieces – with the seven movements of Master and Margarita Suite for Speaking Pianist by Veronika Krausas (born 1963). The Bulgakov words here, as in the Johnson piece, are translated by Faliks herself: “The horses are digging in the ground,” “Jerusalem vanished as though it had never been,” “She was carrying revolting yellow flowers,” and so on. Fraught with meaning for those familiar with Bulgakov’s work, these words and their accompanying piano embellishments have little to say to a wider audience. Later on the disc, after the last of the Schubert/Liszt elements, comes A Psalm for Odesa by Mike Garson (born 1945), which opens with extreme chordal dissonance before reaching rather unsuccessfully for something approaching lyricism. Next on the CD is Voices, a three-movement suite by Ljova Zhurbin (born 1978). This is a strangely conceived work “for piano and historical recordings,” which features not only the piano but also a considerable amount of tape hiss – a significant, distracting element of old recordings that modern remasterings usually eliminate rather than accentuate. The CD ends with music by Clarice Assad (born 1978): the four-movement suite Godai (The Five Elements) for speaking pianist, and the brief encore Hero for piano solo. The suite has four parts instead of five because the second movement, Absence, is about both fire and water – and it has five elements rather than the traditional four because the final movement is Ascension-Sky, an “element” all its own. The piano music here is interestingly varied, although the spoken elements seem more an intrusion than an addition. As for the concluding Hero, it has some of the feeling of a perpetuum mobile and a pleasantly straightforward intensity that contrasts well with some of the disc’s earlier esoterica. As a totality, this CD is very, very rarefied, a journey with Faliks into her highly personal concerns and viewpoints, the music seeming almost incidental to her inner thoughts even though it is supposed to be through the music that those thoughts are expressed and highlighted. The extent to which the disc displays Faliks’ inward focus is shown not only in the material but also in the fact that the external packaging does not even mention the names of the various composers, making it abundantly clear that Faliks is the be-all and end-all of the recording.

     The composers, when known, do get mentioned on a new Meridian disc featuring soprano Christine Moore Vassallo, but this too is a very performer-focused release. Called “An Odyssey of Spanish Song,” the CD is at least equally Vassallo’s own personal expressive odyssey, drawing on her Middle Eastern background and her sense of Arab sounds heard within Spanish music. Although presented as a journey through time, the disc is not actually chronological: Vassallo offers more of a trip through forms of expressiveness than a strict this-and-then-that presentation. The CD starts with an old Andalusian song set to a melody of the Ottoman era, then continues with an anonymous 16th-century Mudéjar song, from the Muslims who stayed in Iberia after the Christian reconquest of the area. Then there are nine Canciones Sefarditas (“Sephardic Songs”) arranged by Manuel Valls (1920-1984), most of them very brief (all but one lasting less than 80 seconds) and all flowing in gently melodic lines. Next are three anonymous Canciones Antiguas Españoles, arranged by Federico García Lorca (1898-1936); these are more extended and give Vassallo more opportunities to contrast expressive elements of the texts: she has a warm, pleasant, well-balanced voice that sounds particularly good in these pieces. After this Vassallo sings a short song by Graciano Tarragó (1892-1973) and then the three-song La Maja Dolorosa by Enrique Granados (1867-1916), one of three well-known composers on the disc. The high level of expressiveness of these songs comes through especially strongly in Vassallo’s near-operatic presentations. After this she presents the five Canciones del Jardín Segreto by Antón Garcia Abril (1933-2021), an extended cycle whose central and longest song, Elegia a la Perdida de la Alhambra, is especially moving. The CD concludes with works by the other two well-known composers. The five-song Poema en Forma de Canciones by Joaquín Turina (1882-1949) has an underlying gentleness interrupted from time to time by exclamatory elements, resulting in an overall unsettled atmosphere. And the Cinco Canciones Populares Argentinas by Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983), which really have nothing of significance to do with the Spanish focus of the rest of the disc, provide some moments of levity and straightforward emotionalism that contrast well with the greater intensity heard elsewhere on the CD. As a whole, the recording is a deep immersion in Spanish songs of many eras – 33 tracks in all – with suitable accompaniment (hence the use of the lutelike oud and darbuka goblet drum), the collection itself being a deep dive into Vassallo’s interests in her personal background and musical/historical concerns. It will be attractive almost entirely to listeners with a background similar to Vassallo’s or a very strong interest in the music and the musical history of the Iberian peninsula.

     The focused nature of a new Divine Art recording featuring the music of John Carpenter is clearly on the composer: the Faliks disc omits composers’ names, while this one’s outer packaging makes no reference to any performers. Carmichael (born 1930) has amassed a notable although not particularly large catalogue of works, most often focused on the piano – he himself is a concert pianist. He is also a music therapist – one of the first – and it can be interesting to listen to his own works with that in mind. However, the six variegated pieces on this CD are not especially therapeutic or, for that matter, especially closely related to each other – the disc is really an exploration of multiple aspects of Carmichael’s musical interests. Piano Concerto No. 2 features three well-balanced movements for piano and strings; echoes of Rachmaninoff are notable, but the overall impression is more intimate and altogether gentler, especially in the nicely flowing central Andante. The Piano Trio “Toward the Light” is also a three-movement work with a fine sense of balance among its elements, and here the neo-Romanticism is if anything a bit more pronounced, the passionate elements somewhat more heart-on-sleeve than in the concerto. Interestingly, the second and third movements of both works have the same tempo indications: Andante and Moderato ma molto ritmico. The trio’s third-movement pizzicato elements are especially engaging. Aria for viola and piano is a warmly expressive single movement, while Contrasts is a three-movement work that, true to its title, offers listeners significantly contrasting experiences that conclude with a bouncy Flamenco. The eight-movement divertimento Short Cuts is neatly titled – its components range in length from one minute to three – and is pleasant and lightweight. It neatly showcases Carmichael’s ability to write idiomatically for individual and paired woodwinds as well as piano and then, in the final movement, brings everyone together for an exuberant finale. The CD concludes with the mildly Impressionistic On the Green, its three movements first swaying gently, then emoting expressively, and finally tripping along jauntily and ebulliently. This Carmichael disc shows him, in a sense, as a miniaturist: there are 22 tracks on the CD, and most are short, as the composer makes his points with clarity and directness and then moves on to something else. The disc’s Carmichael-only focus makes it immediately appealing only to audiences that already know and enjoy this composer’s music, but the music itself, expertly crafted, tonal and accessible, has the potential to engage listeners who do not know the composer yet but are willing to open themselves up to a welcome set of new musical experiences.

May 23, 2024


Being Muslim Today: Reclaiming the Faith from Orthodoxy and Islamophobia. By Saqib Iqbal Qureshi. Rowman & Littlefield. $25.

     A scholarly First World work that never quite comes to grip with issues playing out daily, mostly in Third World countries, Being Muslim Today assiduously avoids the world’s numerous religion-fueled (or religion-stoked) geopolitical crises in favor of a “return to basics” approach that is extremely unlikely to make any headway against the forces of intolerance to which its subtitle refers.

     Saqib Iqbal Qureshi, a fellow at the London School of Economics, says the book is for people such as his 15-year-old son, who hear constant messages about the inherent violence of Islɑ̄m and do not know what to think about their own religion and its practitioners. Qureshi attributes the issue to non-Muslim Westerners who deliberately misrepresent Islɑ̄m; to “a handful of Muslims themselves” who feed the mislabeling; to “much of the Muslim establishment itself,” specifically “the orthodox leadership who demand unthinking adherence”; and to the “tiny minority,” the “lunatic fringe,” those who “seem obsessed with making Islɑ̄m live up to its reputation of cartoon villainy in the West.”

     To “reclaim” the religion, Qureshi returns to its roots in an exploration with 56 pages of small-type footnotes elucidating (for his fellow academics) a great deal that is abstruse, coupled with some genuinely helpful scholarship. He explains that the Qur’ɑ̄n is an assemblage over time of material passed down through oral traditions – not a carefully curated book. He points out that “nobody alive uses the vernacular Quraysh Arabic dialect [of the Qur’ɑ̄n], nor knows how it was used during the Prophetic era,” and therefore “the meaning of the Qur’ɑ̄n’s words aren’t [sic] obvious.” He discusses the messy emergence of Sharī’a (“the path”); the way Muhammad “initiated one of the most profound gender revolutions in history” that was later systematically undermined by a growing orthodoxy that suppressed women; the current insistence on killing anyone who is a murtadd (apostate), vs. what he says was originally a far more benign and nonviolent approach to ridda (apostasy); and many more specifics that mean, collectively, that “orthodoxy has crafted its own Islɑ̄m, out of shape from what we had some fourteen hundred years ago in ways that affect us across our entire lives.”

     Well, this is scarcely a surprise. Christianity, another ancient and widespread faith, has changed dramatically from the days of antipopes, priests fathering children with nuns, uncounted murders that included such abominations as guaranteeing safe conduct and then slaughtering people (notably Jan Hus), and to-the-death battles over rituals and interpretations – and Christianity at least had the formative doctrinal Council of Nicaea in the year 325, plus multiple successors, while Islɑ̄m had nothing comparable. It is a bit surprising that Qureshi appears to a be a bit surprised at the extent to which modern Islɑ̄m deviates from that in its formative centuries.

     Qureshi really dislikes the West on many levels. Media deliberately misrepresent Islɑ̄m, he says, because their “primary motivation” is attention, which they get by “demonizing different communities.” Although he does not overtly endorse terrorist mass-murder organizations that hide behind Islɑ̄m, such as Hamas – he is far too urbane for that – Qureshi states that “most of the Muslims I’ve met are incensed at the United States’s funding of Israeli brutality against Palestinians, and many resent the United States for propping up nasty dictators in Muslim countries.” And Qureshi certainly has his own thoughts on specific Western political figures, calling London mayor Sadiq Khan “the most successful London mayor in modern history” and Boris Johnson “the most embarrassing British prime minister in memory.”

     Qureshi seems to have more of an identity crisis than a crisis of faith. He goes into considerable detail about the depredations that the West has visited upon many countries at many times, even as he insists that “far from feeling foreign in the West, a Muslim should feel right at home, even inside a cathedral,” given the cross-pollination of civilizations in the distant past. He is right both about those interrelationships and interdependencies and about the horrors that have been committed both by and against Muslims. He frequently argues that misunderstanding of verses of the Qur’ɑ̄n – exaggerated, he says, by those with various axes to grind, sometimes literally – is responsible for misinformation that can lead to deadly encounters. Thus, he says verse 5:51, which warns against taking Jews or Christians as allies, refers only to “Muslims who took the protection of Jewish clans” and “is blown out of proportion.” And he adds, “The broader point the conspiracy theorists take from this – that Muḥammad or his followers should henceforth treat all Jews or Christians with suspicion – is simply not born [sic] out.”

     Qureshi is clear on where he stands about intransigent geopolitical situations: “The US political elite is quite good at closing its eyes, as we know, from Israel’s seven-decade illegal occupation of Palestine.” (Dodging a major issue, he does not opine on whether Israel has the right to exist.) He says “friction is inevitable” as Muslim populations grow in the West, since “first-generation immigrants in particular don’t wear jeans and T-shirts” and the West is quite judgmentally superficial about such matters. And he points approvingly to the lower homicide rate per capita in the most-populous Muslim countries, compared to that in the United States.

     All this may well make readers wonder if perhaps Qureshi would be happier if he lived in Indonesia, Pakistan, Iran, Egypt, Turkey, Bangladesh or Nigeria. Certainly he never fully explains why he remains in the West. Indeed, he specifically makes a distinction between religion-driven (or rather orthodoxy-driven) violence, which he condemns, and the politically motivated sort, which he at least understands: “Many former colonized countries thus not only failed to develop meaningful indigenous and inclusive political systems but lacked resources to deliver jobs, education, and all the rest of it. And the combination of those problems has resulted in political violence.”

     So why not live where Muslims are in the majority and are not shunned for everything from their beliefs to their clothing? “There is a lot of content in this book alone that if you were to publicly state in a Muslim-majority country, you could easily end up behind bars, beaten, or killed.” But would that not be understandable, perhaps even acceptable, since it would be political violence, not religious violence? The whole thing becomes a bit mixed-up, right down to the book’s very last, confusing words urging readers to “develop a deeper, cleaner, and more robust faith…and one which leads to you [sic] become [sic] a better human.”

     For all its erudition, which is attractively melded with narrative plainspokenness, Being Muslim Today has some obvious lacks if it is to be used as any sort of primer or spiritual map by Qureshi’s son or other young Muslims. There is nothing in it about the consequences (up to and including death) of mocking Muhammad or even portraying him – he was, after all, a real human being, and the reasons for disallowing his representation (given his status as the last Prophet, not an incarnation of divinity) are difficult to fathom (even more so in light of the innumerable portrayals of Christ, many of them far from respectful, despite the fact that Christ is deemed an incarnation of divinity by numerous faithful Christians). And why exactly do Muslims pray five times a day? The 16-page index has no entry for salah or salat. It would seem logical that “reclaiming the faith” would start with, or at least include, some analysis of its outward manifestations and expectations. Being Muslim Today is, in the final analysis, a curious book: extensively researched, clearly written within its self-defined limits, but ultimately conveying only the message that today’s Muslims would do better to return to the roots of their religion (despite those roots lying in an unknowable oral tradition, elements of which were later written down in a language that no one speaks anymore) than to accept what has grown from those roots through varying interpretations since the seventh century. The book basically uses 320 pages to admonish readers to “go back to basics” – and to be very careful how, when, where, and in what context they do so.


Dvořák: Cello Concerto; Klid (Silent Woods); Rondo in G minor; Romance in F minor; Mazurek in E minor. Zara Nelsova, cello; Ruggiero Ricci, violin; St. Louis Symphony Orchestra conducted by Walter Susskind. Vox. $18.99.

Johan Helmrich Roman: Assaggi per Violino Solo. Fabio Biondi, violin. Naïve. $16.99.

Pēteris Vasks: Violin Concerto No. 2, Vakara gaismā (“In Evening Light”); Vientuļais eņģelis (“Lonely Angel”); Schubert: Rondeau brillant in B minor. Sebastian Bohren, violin; Münchener Kammerorchester conducted by Sergej Bolkhovets. AVIE. $19.99.

     There is simply no cello concerto comparable to Dvořák’s for scale, emotional depth and intensity, and the intermingling of soloist with orchestra. So wide-ranging is the concerto that interpretations can differ very significantly indeed while still being equally convincing and equally true to the composer’s intentions. Zara Nelsova’s approach is one of warm lyricism throughout: the concerto becomes an extended song under her hands, exuding beauty and emotionalism from start to finish, the more dramatic elements (such as the martial opening of the finale) downplayed so as to bring the emotive ones always to the forefront. The Vox re-release of Nelsova’s 1974 recording with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra under Walter Susskind is very welcome, since no one else handles the concerto quite the way Nelsova did. Her cello, a 1726 Stradivarius, is remarkable for its evenness of tone from its lowest register to its highest, and Nelsova consistently brings forward the Romantic-era capabilities that this decidedly pre-Romantic instrument possesses. Susskind is a very able accompanist, aiding and abetting Nelsova’s approach by avoiding overwhelming orchestral tutti and allowing the concerto to come across as more of a collegial performance than one in which the soloist competes with the ensemble. Although the reading is, thankfully, shorn of excess, it remains appealingly expressive throughout. And Nelsova’s approach carries through to the two shorter cello-and-orchestra works here: Klid (Silent Woods) and Rondo in G minor. The first of these paints the forest in pastels, while the second, more-upbeat piece, originally for cello and piano, nicely caps this set of elegant readings. The CD also includes, a bit oddly, two short works for violin and orchestra, also in performances dating to 1974. Ruggiero Ricci’s songful melodiousness in the Romance in F minor neatly complements Nelsova’s approach for the cello works, but Ricci lets his virtuosity shine forth fully in the Mazurek in E minor, which Dvořák dedicated to Pablo de Sarasate. It would have made more sense musically to have the Ricci performances paired with the composer’s Violin Concerto, which Ricci recorded to very fine effect – but having these smaller gems as encores to the cello works still adds measurably to the overall pleasure of the re-release.

     The solo violin gets its due in a very different way on a Naïve recording in which Fabio Biondi offers all seven of the Assaggi by now-little-known Swedish composer Johan Helmrich Roman (1694-1758). These pieces prove to be fascinating little multi-movement fantasias (“assaggio” means a kind of tryout and is also Italian for “taste,” here indicating a taste of this-and-that in the compositional elements). In three or four movements, each of Roman’s pieces is a stylistic mixture – that is, providing a taste of traditional Baroque polyphony, a bit of melodic inventiveness, and a certain level of harmonic experimentation; all in all, a thoroughly appealing combination. Most of the movements of the Assaggi do not have tempo indications, only numbers, but Biondi seems to feel the underlying pulse of every element of these works perfectly. Roman was acquainted with and influenced by many of the great composers and performers of his time, including Tartini, Handel, Pisendel and Telemann, and the Assaggi from time to time display his familiarity with his contemporaries’ work. Yet Roman’s style is entirely his own and is often highly creative, as in the clever runs in the first movement of the G minor Assaggio catalogued as BeRI 320, and the same work’s brightly bouncy and very short finale; the effective double-stopping in the first movement of the B minor Assaggio, BeRI 324; the dancelike conclusion of the D minor Assaggio, BeRI 311, which features a series of wide leaps; the double-stopping in the second movement of the A major Assaggio, BeRI 301, one of only two of these works in a major key; and elsewhere. Biondi plays the pieces with considerable verve and a firm understanding of period style, and the music is so unceasingly attractive that it is difficult to understand why Roman now languishes in obscurity – perhaps this excellent disc will help lift him from it.

     The violin appears in thoroughly modern guise on a new AVIE disc featuring two works by Latvian composer Pēteris Vasks (born 1946), with a piece by Schubert rather incongruously sandwiched between them. The main attraction here is the world première recording of Violin Concerto No. 2, "Vakara gaismā" (“In Evening Light”), a companion piece of sorts to “Distant Light,” the violin concerto that Vasks composed in 1996-97. The new work features the sweeping emotion and aural beauty that characterize many pieces by Vasks, who has a distinctly Romantic temperament even when he employs post-Romantic harmonies and sound characteristics. Each of the concerto’s three movements has a tempo modifier that emphasizes the sweep and warmth that Vasks seeks in the music: con passione in the first movement, cantabile in the second, con amore in the last. There is something pleasantly old-fashioned and salutary in hearing a piece so unashamedly packed with emotional content that, however, never sounds like overwrought film music or an attempt to force the audience into visceral response. Indeed, the music is contemplative rather than emotionally insistent, reflecting its crepuscular title very well: everything is muted and shadowed but not actually dark, and the violin’s meanderings extend the beauty of the orchestral parts to very fine effect. If there is a weakness here, it is a kind of monochromatic insistence: although there are subtle distinctions in mood throughout the concerto, they are subtle, and the piece as a whole offers little in the way of relief or contrast – certainly no exuberance. Perhaps this is why it is followed on the disc by Schubert’s Rondeau brillant in B minor, originally for violin and piano and here arranged by Paul Suits for violin and strings. After the quiet not-quite-gloom of the Vasks concerto, which requires Sebastian Bohren to keep his emotions firmly in check, the Schubert allows – in fact, requires – that they be put fully on display, and the result is a dazzling contrast to Vasks’ quiet thoughtfulness. But then the Schubert ends and the moodiness of Vasks returns, this time in Vientuļais eņģelis, which Vasks labels “Meditation for violin and string orchestra.” A quieter and sadder piece than In Evening Light, this work is supposed to reflect an angel grieving from above at the cruelties that humans visit upon each other. It is an extended, melancholic Adagio in which the solo violin accentuates and expands upon the sound laid down by the string ensemble. This is very effective in small doses, but somewhat too spun-out at almost 14 minutes, although there is an attempt later in the piece to produce a feeling of comfort, as if the angel is helping heal humanity’s self-inflicted wounds. The CD as a whole is very well-played and certainly shows Vasks’ compositional strengths to good advantage. Listeners already familiar with the composer, and especially with his earlier concerto for violin, will find this a (++++) release that complements other recordings of his music very well. For a more-general audience, though, the sameness of mood through most of the disc, although not at the repetitive level of many minimalist compositions, makes it difficult to sustain front-of-mind interest in the music throughout and results in this being a (+++) offering that may serve more as background music than composer and performers would wish.