Natural Selection, Department of Musical Instruments. Musical instruments are a lot like Darwin's theory of evolution: Along the way to the species we have today, some less successful designs fell to the wayside. You get a nice sense of the sweep of this idea in Four Centuries of Musical Instruments by Albert R. Rice, an illustrated catalog of the Marlowe A. Sigal Collection (Schiffer Publishing) near Boston. Pipe organs, grand pianos, flutes of ivory and silver, an elaborate 17-key nickel oboe, and others appear in primitive form, awaiting the advancements we know today. But also among the 756 photos are exotic specimens that fire the imagination. What if today's orchestra, instead of being stocked with trumpets and bassoons, were made of sarrusophones (a saxophone cousin), octavins (a single-reed woodwind), slide saxophones, and a tarogato (single-reed) in B flat from Budapest, c. 1895? Maybe it's just an accident of evolution that we didn't end up with a modern orchestra considerably more Suessical than it is.  

   - Peter Dobrin

Clearfield meets Brahms. Living composers always risk unflattering comparisons with dead ones, but on the new Bridge-label disc Convergences by violist Barbara Westphal and pianist Christian Ruvolo, Philadelphia composer Andrea Clearfield is sandwiched between two Brahms sonatas with no ill effects. Much like Brahms, Clearfield's Convergences balances formal rigor with a more flowing lyricism and stark emotional intensity that feels downright expressionistic. The rest of the disc has more subtle wild cards. Brahms' Violin Sonata Op. 78 and Cello Sonata Op. 38 are transcribed for viola, the latter being especially interesting.

   - David Patrick Stearns

Bells are ringing - mostly. The sound of the Founder's Bell atop the former PNB building is back, if not in perfect form. Technicians recently installed a new controller, and, though it has tolled, the 17-ton bell has sometimes struck the wrong number of times for the hour, or with less pause between strikes than had been the case originally. Tweaking continues on the bell, which many mistake as emanating from City Hall, and its keepers hope to have it operating normally soon.

 

- P.D.

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