There’s no doubt that classical-crossover has seen a popularity bump in the past few years, thanks to Andrea Bocelli, Josh Groban and even Paul Potts. The Grammys have recognized the category since 1999 and Billboard charts its best-sellers. Much further below the radar than those heavy-hitters, but certainly helping to push the trend, are guitarist Lee Ritenour and pianist Dave Grusin, who in 2000 offered the Grammy-nominated Two Worlds, which spent a full year on Billboard’s new chart.
Ritenour and Grusin are back with Amparo, which interprets classical standards, includes two originals, and overall is inspired by a romantic South American sensibility. Do they pull it off? Yes, with a big assist from the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, as Grusin transcribes and arranges Faure, Ravel, Albinoni and Handel, all of whom, if they were alive today, might also be composing the lush movie scores that Grusin composes with ease. Renee Fleming returns for a haunting version of “Pavane, Op. 50” in a duet with another guest, violinist Joshua Bell. James Taylor’s familiar voice graces Thomas Ford’s “Since I First Saw Your Face,” a popular air from the 1700s, and trumpeter Chris Botti guests on Albinoni’s “Adagio in G minor,” whose mournful strains bring tears when featured in the Peter Weir film Gallipoli. Botti shines.
Ritenour’s original “Échos” is a minimalistic, meter-shifting piece with a big sound provided simply by Ritenour, Grusin and some shakers and triangles. And Grusin’s original “Three Latin American Dances,” in three parts, is dramatic, whimsical and completely charming.