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Moonlight, Lullabies And Barn Owls: New Classical CDs

The days are getting shorter. And there's a little chill in the air as leaves fall and nature begins to slow down -- at least here in Washington. That feeling is reflected in a mellow mix of new releases that NPR Music's Tom Huizenga spins for Weekend All Things Considered host Guy Raz. Violinist Anne Akiko Meyers' version of Debussy's "Clair de Lune" sets the mood, aided by a Spanish lullaby from soprano Measha Bruggergosman and the prickly yet passionate sounds of a barn owl, as imagined by composer Leos Janacek.

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Moonlight, Lullabies And Barn Owls: New Classical CDs

Claude Debussy: "Clair de Lune"

Anne Akiko Meyers likes to make her violin sing. At the heart of her new disc, Seasons…Dreams, are songs -- singable tunes from Wagner to Gershwin to Vernon Duke's "Autumn in New York." There are no vocals here, except Meyers' 1730 "Royal Spanish" Stradivarius. But now she'll have to learn how to sing with a brand new instrument. As of last week, Meyers is the proud, new owner of another Stradivarius, the 1697 "Molitor" instrument, once owned by Napoleon. It earned a world-record price at auction -- 3.6 million.

Manuel De Falla: "Nana"

Measha Brueggergosman's personality seems to be as multicolored as her voice. The Canadian soprano sports a wild head of hair, a "fabulous" wardrobe, a sassy attitude and a caramel-cream voice that glows beautifully in this lullaby by Manuel de Falla.  She "lights" this song with a soft glow. It's one of many nocturnal-themed, slow-moving songs on this new disc, Night and Dreams, with music by 16 different composers. A really smart selection of tunes, very impressively sung.

Lera Auerbach: "Sogno di Stabat Mater" (excerpt)

This new CD, De Profundis, by violinist Gidon Kremer, plays through like a fascinating mix tape, with a surprise around every corner. Kremer carefully juxtaposes short pieces by 12 very different composers -- from Schubert and Schumann to Piazzolla, Schnittke and Arvo Part -- and crafted an odd blend of music and politics, applying an overall theme: greed and oil. Lera Auerbach's "Sogno di Stabat Mater" ("Dream of Stabat Mater") is a take-off on 18th-century Italian composer Giovanni Pergolesi's famous choral work, Stabat Mater. But Auerbach transforms it into a kind of mini concerto for violin, viola and chamber orchestra, filtering the old baroque style through a contemporary lens.

"The Barn Owl has not Flown Away"

"The Barn Owl has not Flown Away" is one of my favorite pieces by Janacek. It's from a cycle of atmospheric solo piano pieces called On An Overgrown Path. The title of this section refers to the superstition that when someone is about to die, the barn owl will linger. This is classic Janacek -- prickly one moment, then pivoting to sweeping passion. Listen for the fluttering of owl wings, moods that hang in the claustrophobic air, and many other quirky renderings.  Pechocova's idiomatic performance is one of the very best.

Tom Huizenga
Tom Huizenga is a producer for NPR Music. He contributes a wide range of stories about classical music to NPR's news programs and is the classical music reviewer for All Things Considered. He appears regularly on NPR Music podcasts and founded NPR's classical music blog Deceptive Cadence in 2010.