Friday, February 14, 2020

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalFilmScore Week 2

For February 2020, the #ClassicsaDay team chose film music as its theme. What exactly is the intersection of classical and film music? Share your answers with a post on Twitter or Facebook, with a link to musical examples. Some film composers began in the classical world. And some film composers have transitioned to classical music.

For my selections this month, I focused on composers in the classical world who also wrote for film, and the musical selections exclusively from their movie work. Here were my selections for the second week of #ClassicaDay #ClassicalFilmScore.

02/10/20 George Antheil: In a Lonely Place

This 1947 film noir starred and was produced by Humphrey Bogart. Originally a modest success, it's since been entered on the National Film Registry. Bogart's performance is considered to be one of his best.

02/11/20 Elisabeth Lutyens: Doctor Terror's House of Horrors

This 1965 anthology film starred Peter Cushing as Dr. Schreck ("terror" in German). Also cast in the five stories were Christopher Lee and Donald Sutherland.

02/12/20 Benjamin Britten: Night Mail

The 1936 film is considered one of the most important and influential British documentaries. Britten's score provides accompaniment to verse commentary written by W.H. Auden.

02/13/20 Pierre Boulez: La symphonie mécanique

French film theorist Jean Mitry produced this 1955 movie. Six years earlier, he directed Pacific 231, for which Arthur Honegger provided the score.

02/14/20 Hugo Alfven: Mans kvinna

"Man's Woman" was a 1933 novel by Swedish novelist Vilhelm Mogerg. The film adaptation premiered in 1945.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Peteris Vasks - Works for Piano Trio work for me

What I admire most about Peteris Vasks is his deep spirituality. It permeates all of his music, even his early avant-garde compositions. This release features three of his works for piano trio. All three are quintessentially Vasks.

They radiate an aura of serenity, even during the fastest and loudest passages. The music seems far removed from the concerns of tonality (or lack of it), motivic development, and other musical considerations. It simply is, expressing the intangible.

Three of Latvia's best chamber musicians comprise the Trio Palladio. Their performances of their compatriot's music plumb the depths of Vasks' works. The trio plays not just beautifully, but lovingly. And that makes this an album I'll revisit time and again.

The first selection is Lonely Angel (Vientulais engelis). I described this to a friend as a Latvian Barber's "Adagio." Like the "Adagio," it was originally part of a string quartet. Vask arranged the slow movement for violin and string orchestra in 2006.

Like that version, this 2019 piano trio work is more than just a rearrangement. Vasks uses the instrumental combination to great advantage, shifting the balance of the various melodic strands. The piano, for example, gives prominence to a fluttering figure that to me suggested wings.

The major work on the release is the 1985 Episodi e canto perpetuo. Dedicated to Olivier Messiaen, it uses the structure of his "Quartet for the End of Time" without directly referencing it. As Vasks explains, "“It is like the difficult road through evil, delusion, and suffering to a song of love." And it's worth the journey.

The 2011 Plainscapes (Lidzenuma ainavas) was originally composed for violin, cello, and choir. In this version, the piano does more than just substitute for the choir. As with Lonely Angel, it seemed almost a different work. And one just as evocative of the Latvian plains as night falls and the stars appear.

If you're familiar with Vasks' work, you should own this. And if you're not, let this release serve as an introduction. It's that good.

Peteris Vasks; Works for Piano Trio
Trio Palladio

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Homilius Christmas Cantatas beat the rush

This release had me scratching my head. Why was an album of Advent and Christmas music released in February? Most folks (even me) have our Christmas decorations dismantled and packed away for another year.

Of course, these cantatas by Gottfried August Homilius don't really have a Christmassy sound. Homilius wrote in the empfindsamer style, which supplanted the high Baroque style of Bach and Handel. With the exception of the texts, the music would have been appropriate for any church service throughout the year.

The empfindsamer (or sensitive) style meant to be a more natural form of musical expression. Counterpoint was minimized. Melodies had a fluid character to them. Homilius was the pre-eminent practitioner of empfindsamer in the Lutheran church. His music remained popular through the mid-19th Century.

The four cantatas in this release were written for Advent and Christmas, 1776. Choruses are mostly homophonic, though the structure for each cantata varies.

"Siehe, der Herr kömmt mit viel tausend Heiligen" (Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of
his saints), features a soprano recitative and aria (matched with flutes).  "So du mit deinem Munde bekennest Jesum" (If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus) opens with the bass soloist declaiming a phrase, then the choir responding in stretto several times.

The Christmas cantata "Merk auf, mein Herz, und sieh dorthin"(Give heed, my heart, lift up thine eyes) quotes the hymn "Vom Himmel hoch" The alto soloist has a substantial role, with some demanding vocal passages.

The four soloists perform well both together and separately. The Kölner Akademie has a smooth ensemble sound. The basso continuo is kept well in the background, as befitting the empfindsamer style. With the distinctively Baroque elements downplayed, it's easy to understand how Homilius' music retained its popularity. It's tuneful and straightforward music that readily appeals to the ear.

And, I guess if you don't speak German, you can enjoy this music at any time of the year. Even in February.

Gottfried August Homilius: Siehe, der Herr kömmt
Christmas & Advent Cantatas
Hanna Herfurtner, soprano; Franziska Gottwald, alto; Georg Poplutz, tenor; Mauro Borgioni
Kölner Akademie; Michael Alexander Willens, director

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Walter Braunfels Piano Music presents a different face

Capriccio continues its survey of Walter Braunfels' music. This installment features music for the piano -- mostly piano four-hand music. Braunfels was a concert pianist, so these works lay well on the keyboards. And they also demand a lot from the players.

Tatjana Blome and Holger Groschopp perform with distinction. Their interpretation of Braunfels Post-Romantic music leans into the drama and the emotion. And their technical skills ensure the complex counterpoints Braunfels weaves between the instruments is clearly articulated.

The Variations on an Old French Song for two pianos get the program off to a lively start. The tune is simple enough. Through 18 variations Braunfels transforms it, sometimes using the melody as the foundation for entirely new music. At times it seemed as if each performer was playing something different that still managed to blend together harmonically.

Also impressive were Little Pieces for Four-Hand Piano. Blome and Groschopp dial back the intensity, letting the simplicity of this suite come through.

Tatjana Blome takes center stage for the Bagatelles. Baker's defines a bagatelle as "a trifle; usually a short, fairly easy piece." Braunfels' bagatelles are certainly short. And the melodies are easy to follow. But the thick textures and independent lines make me think they are anything but easy. Nevertheless, Blome seems to just glide through these works.

Braunfels was a pianist who achieved recognition as a symphonic composer. I heard both aspects in these works. Braunfels uses the piano effectively, and the four-hands music seemed to have an expansive symphonic quality to it.
A nice edition to Capriccio's series.

Walter Braunfels: Piano Music
Variations on an Old French Song for 2 pianos, Op. 46; Little Pieces for Four-Hand Piano, Op. 24; Bagatellen, Op. 5
Tatjana Blome, Holger Groschopp, piano
Capriccio C5361

Monday, February 10, 2020

Guitar Double Concertos Showcase Spanish Composers

I was a little surprised when this album crossed my desk. I thought it was an album of concertos for two guitars. Not quite. It's an album of concertos for two instruments, one of which is always a guitar.

Each concerto pairs the guitar with a different instrument. Each is written by a different composer, presenting three different takes on how to showcase the guitar plus one. It's a refreshing blend of instrumental timbres and styles.

Miguel Trápaga performs on all three concertos. His guitar technique is virtually flawless (at least to my ears), especially in rapid, complex passages. He also seems at home with the three different styles of these concertos.

Trápaga and accordion player Angel Luis Castano jointly commissioned a double concerto from David del Puerto. Puerto used the complimentary sounds of the two instruments as the basis for his work. Though written in a contemporary style, the work is quite consonant throughout.

What I especially enjoyed was the work's originality. The accordion part doesn't sound like Piazzolla, and the guitar part doesn't sound like Rodrigo. Instead, we get a conversation between two instruments in a cosmopolitan setting.

by contrast, the Concierto de Gibralfaro for two guitars and orchestra doubles down on the Iberian influences. Antón García Abril's 2003 work is based on folk songs, and it's just as tuneful and appealing as any Rodrigo work.

Guitarist Teresa Folgueira joins Trápaga in this work. Their two instruments blend nicely, creating a sound of exceptional beauty.

The Concierto ecuánime for guitar, vibraphone, and orchestra is the newest work on the album. Antón García Abril completed the concerto in 2017. The score begins in a serious, post-tonal fashion that gradually becomes more consonant. It finishes in a modernist jazz style, celebrating the vibraphone's primary genre.

This album wasn't what I thought it would be. It was better.

Guitar Double Concertos
Garcia Abril; Lopez de Guerena; Del Puerto
Miguel Trápaga, Teresa Folgueira, guitars
Angel Luis Canstano, accordian; Fernando Arias, vibraphone
Oviedo Filamonia; Oliver Diaz, conductor