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Invoking Improv: Best Classical CDs Of 2008

Detail from the cover of Jordi Savall's <em>Invocation a la Nuit</em>, which features Henri Rousseau's <em>The Sleeping Gypsy</em>.
Detail from the cover of Jordi Savall's Invocation a la Nuit, which features Henri Rousseau's The Sleeping Gypsy.

A composer writes the notes; musicians play the notes.

That's the current arrangement in the world of classical music, but it wasn't always so. Bach, Beethoven and Mozart were great composers, but they were also master improvisers. For centuries, it was a given that if you played music well, you improvised well.

Improvisation is now making a comeback in certain corners of the classical world. Some who play music from the 17th and 18th centuries have revived the tradition of improvising around what the composer wrote. And some young classical musicians who grew up with jazz, rock and world music feel as comfortable with improv as they do with interpretation.

Here are some of the choice 2008 classical CDs that include improvisation — or at least invoke its sound.

Click here for more entries in the Best CDs of 2008 series.

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Fred Child