For a tune that is performed by, give to take, about a billion people a day throughout the world, it would be pretty tough to come up with a unique cover version. Yet the indefatigable Gidon Kremer has done just that. In fact, he gives us 11 of them, by way of the title track on this collection, Peter Heidrich's "Happy Birthday" Variations. The world's faniliar theme is given many new sets of stylistic clothes: Haydnesque, Mozartian, Beethovenian, Brahmsian, Schumannesque, Dvorak-ular (so to speak), and the form of a polka, a film theme, a rag, a tango, and a gypsy dance.
To celebrate its sixth anniversary as an ensemble, Kremerata Baltica presents a light, loving, and musically interesting confection. After an opening polka by Schnittke (who knew he could be so frothy?), we get 11 variations on the song "Happy Birthday" by Peter Heidrich, à la Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms, and some dance movements. Delightful. Elsewhere, Franz Waxman's Variations on "Auld lang syne" are as clever as they are unexpected and charming. More variations--this time on "God save the King" by the 19th century composers Ghys and Servais--afford Kremer and cellist Marta Sudraba a fine time, and Teddy Bor's brief riff on Mozart's omnipresent "Eine kleine nachtmusik" is a hoot. There's more, but the point is made: Classical music can be fun and sophisticated, and Kremer and his group remain virtuosi, one and all. --Robert Levine