Classical music albums released this month tended to be all about the oddities. Even in the case of Joshua Bell's recording of a couple of Beethoven symphonies, the enterprise focused on the composer's sometimes-forgotten Symphony No. 4.
But investigating such releases is more than an academic duty -- it's also fun, if for no other reason than that such margins are where the truly unexpected treasures reside. While no one is going to tell you that the best works of American composer John Adams are to be found in his romps for string quartet with a prepared-piano backing track, the Attacca Quartet gave the tunes in "John's Book of Alleged Dances" an aggressive new kick.
French composer Darius Milhaud wrote a ton of music, and his ballet for the Ballets Russes is not among the few of his works that have entered their repertoire. But in a new recording by a German orchestra, the surrealist good humor of "Le Train Bleu" comes across with lots of style.
Meantime, Frankfurt School philosopher Theodor Adorno's own orchestral sketches also notched a spot here, as did the violin works of Ernst Krenek (a composer with whom Adorno often feuded). Add to this mix a healthy dose of post-minimalism (Mary Ellen Childs' Wreck), an archival recording of Lorraine Hunt Lieberson singing Bach (Lorraine) and the complete works for organ written by John Cage, and you've got an odd month with lots to recommend it.
It wasn't just a month of material from the margins, though: There was also one typical "major" classical premiere. Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho is one of the biggest names in classical music today, and her oratorio about the life of Simone Weil will show you why: La Passion de Simone is keenly balanced between passages of thrashing orchestral texture and subtle, contemplative moments for Dawn Upshaw's voice.