Sunday, September 30, 2018

Bernstein: Complete Solo Works for Piano - Cooperstock's Nuanced Performances

Leonard Bernstein was an accomplished pianist and a prolific composer. And yet his oeuvre for solo piano is surprisingly small -- small enough to fit onto two CDs.

The first disc of this release collects all of Bernstein's "Anniversaries" - miniature gems written for friends and colleagues. The second features his more extended piano works.

Bernstein's twenty-nine Anniversaries span almost 50 years. Their dedicatees read like Who's Who of theater and classical music. There are brief portraits of Aaron Copland, Lukas Foss, David Sergei Koussevitzky, Stephen Sondheim, Helen Coates, and many more.

Bernstein built each piece around a characteristic of his subject. Andrew Cooperstock digs into these works, highlighting the unique aspect of each miniature. Each one is a delight to listen to.

Also included is Bernstein's student work, the Sonata for the Piano. This 1938 piece strives to sounds quite modern. But there are plenty of hints of the Bernstein-to-come buried in its pages. Cooperstock takes the work at face value, performing it in a straightforward fashion, leaving it to the listener to hear the promise of the composer.

Touches, Chorale, Eight Variations, and Coda was written as compulsory work for the Van Cliburn Competition. It's the most technically challenging work in the program, though Cooperstock performs it with seeming ease. Also included is Bernstein's arrangement of El Salón México. This version of Copland's score seems just a few steps away from "West Side Story."

The album ends with Bernstein's wedding gift to Adolph Green and Phyllis Newman. The Bridal Suite in 2 Parts with 3 Encores was written in fun, and that's how Cooperstock plays it. The work is for piano four-hands. Cooperstock playing both parts in this recording.

Andrew Cooperstock's interpretations of this material are as nuanced as Bernstein's works. Playful, serious, intense, delicate -- his playing is as varied as the material, and in every instance, spot on.

Leonard Bernstein: Complete Solo Works for Piano
Andrew Cooperstock, piano
Bridge Records 9485A/B
2 CD Set

Saturday, September 29, 2018

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalNine Week 4

September is the ninth month of the year. And so the #ClassicsaDay team decided to make the number the theme. For September 2018, the challenge is to post classical works that have to do with the number nine. 




I chose to alternate between nonets, opus nine compositions and works with a catalog number of nine. Here are my posts for the fourth and final week:

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - Piano Concerto No. 9 in E-flat major, K.271

Mozart wrote his ninth piano concerto in Salzburg when he was 21. It was written for pianist Victoire Jenamy. The concerto's nickname, "Jeunehomme," is a corruption (possibly a mondegreen) of "Jenamy."




Arnold Bax - Nonet for Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, Harp, String Quartet and Double Bass.

Bax didn't use the standard instrumentation for a nonet. He replaced the French horn and bassoon with harp and a second violin. The 1930 work was an arrangement of his 1928 Sonata in F for violin and piano.




Carl Nielsen - Violin Sonata No. 1 in A major, Op. 9

Nielsen completed the first of his two violin sonata in 1895. The 30-year-old composer was heavily influenced by Brahms, although the sonata shows much of Nielsen's personality as well. Nielsen was a violinist, and the music lays well on the instrument. Although cooly received initially, the sonata is now considered part of the repertoire.




Domenico Scarlatti - Sonata for keyboard in D minor, "Pastorale" K.9.

This work was in the "Essercizi per gravicembalo," published in 1738. the exact date of composition is unknown -- it may have been as early as 1728. Scarlatti's catalog numbers can be confusing. This sonata is listed as K. 9 (Kirkpatrick), L. 413 (Longo), P. 65 (Pestelli), and Cz. 14 (Czerny). Since there was a nine in at least one of the catalog numbers, I decided it was fair game for this month's theme.




Osvaldo Golijov - Last Round for String Nonet

Golivjov's 1996 work is for four violins, two violas, two cellos, and one contrabass. The work was written in tribute to Astor Piazzolla and incorporates some elements of tango.

Wesser-Renaissance Bremen Ideally Suited to Johann Rosenmüller

In the 1650s "The Amphion of his Century" was an up-and-coming musician in Leipzig. He was poised to take over as the cantor of St. Thomas' in 1653 (a position J.S. Bach would hold years later). Suddenly everything changed. A scandal forced Johann Rosenmüller to leave in haste.

While it was a setback for his career, it proved to be a boon for Baroque music in Germany. Rosenmüller went to Italy. when he returned, his music -- a blend of Italian and German traditions -- would become the model for Telemann, J.S. Bach, and Handel.

Rosenmüller landed at St. Mark's in Venice, and taught at the Ospedale della Pietà -- a post-Vivaldi would later hold. He fell under the influence of Legrenzi and Corelli. In 1682 Rosenmüller could safely return to Germany, entering the employ of Anthony Ulrich of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel. It was there that his music was collected, preserving it for future generations.

This release features Rosenmüller's settings of Psalm 30 and 31. There's great variety in Rosenmüller's treatments. There are settings for antiphonal choirs, solo arias, duets, and more. Some of the passages reminded me of Gabrieli, particularly in the way he uses voices to answer each other. I could also hear traces of Corelli, and perhaps some Schutz -- especially in the choral passages.

Some of the influences may be apparent, Rosenmüller's music is not derivative. This is music that preserves the Lutheran ideal of directness. While artfully set, the text is never obscured by the music. And it also embraces the Italian notion of melodiousness. At times the melodies seem to simply float above the basso continuo as a feather in the breeze.

The Wesser-Renaissance Bremen seem ideally suited to this music. Five vocalists and seven instrumentalists deliver very intimate performances. The recording is exceptionally well-done. There's just a hint of ambiance, with the voices in the front of the sound field. It makes the ensemble sound transparent and lets the sung texts come through with great clarity.

Johann Rosenmüller: In te Domine speravi
Sacred Concertos on Psalm 31
Weser-Renaissance Bremen
Manfred Cordes, director
CPO 555 165–2

Friday, September 28, 2018

Spam Roundup September 2018

Even with spam filters, some comments manage to make it through. Some of it's so oddly written, that it's oddly amusing. Here's a roundup of some of the "best" comments I received this month from spambots around the world.


The reviews are in!

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 - You ought to be apart of a contest for one of the best sites on the internet. I most certainly will highly recommend this site! [So if I'm apart from the contest, does that mean I'm not entered? I'm confused.]

This is what all the fuss is about.

"Lumbering along" rolls on

The Straco Express Layout, Part 23 - Lumbering Along continues to pull in the comments. None of them relevant, or even rational, but in they come! 

- Very energetic article. I liked that a lot. Will there be a part 2 [Dude - that was part 23. We're up to part 62. Try to keep up.]

- It's actually a nice and helpful piece of info. I am satisfied that you shared this helpful information with us. Please keep us up to date like this. [Keeping you satisfied is Job #1 - like this.]

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And then there's this

 - Within a day these details have bee verified because of the money bank and if your dog finds this review completely authenticated create immediately transactions money in credit seekers account. [I'm not sure my dog is up to authenticating anything right now.]

That's all for this month. I'll keep working on that whole canine authentication review process. Remember, in order to win, you need to be a part of a contest, not apart of it. 

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Halsam American Brick Build - Bungalow

In the mid-1950s' Halsam offered interlocking brick building toys made from pressed wood. I'm assembling each of the models shown in the instruction booklet for their 60/1 and 60/2 building sets. I'm calling it the Halsam American Brick Build.

The fourth build in the instruction book is for a very modern-looking bungalow. Well, an early mid-century modern-looking bungalow, that is.



This was perhaps the simplest structure to build so far. It's basically just a box with windows.



 If there was any new concept introduced, it was that roofs don't have to always be peaked. They can simply lay flat, too.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Heinrich Schütz: Schwanengesang - Flawlessly Performed

Schütz's massive setting of Psalm 119 (SWV 482-492) was completed a year before his death. Because of that, it's known as his Schwanengesang, or Swan Song. (There's some evidence that Schütz himself referred to this work this way).

Schütz set the text for two SATB choirs and organ. It might seem that such constrained resources might not sustain a 65-minute work. But this is Heinrich Schütz.

As always, Schütz follows the lead of the text. The ebb and flow of the words provide plenty of contrast in mood and melodic contour.

Schütz also uses his resources to great effect; both choirs sing in harmony and contrapuntally. Solo voices are also heard, as are smaller groupings of voices.

Schütz left instructions that one might add instrumental doublings as desired. Director Hans-Christoph Rademann did just that, to great effect.

Instruments not only help emphasize particular lines but also help provide contrast from section to section. The end result is a sacred work of exceeding beauty.

Also included are two other late works by Schütz; a setting of Psalm 100 and the German Magnificat.

As always, the Dresdner Kammerchor performs flawlessly. The ensemble blend is seamless.

Heinrich Schütz: Schwanengesang
Dresdner Kammerchor; Hans-Christoph Rademann, director
Schütz Complete Recording, Vol. 16
Carus 20.918


Sunday, September 23, 2018

F is for Fake - Copyleft in the 18th Century

I suspect the ubiquity of the term "fake news" inspired this compilation. But it does raise an interesting point. How much does authorship influence our assessment of a work? The Trio Glie Speziali present a variety of Baroque compositions that were attributed to others -- some famous, and some not.

Misattribution could be accidental. The Johann Sebastian Bach 1770 Sonata in G major, BWV 1021 (included here) was most likely composed by his son, Johann Christian.

Some misattributions were deliberate. Copyright was almost non-existent in the 18th Century. Music was sometimes published under a name guaranteed to boost sales (rather than the actual composer). Vivaldi's "Pastor Fido" sonatas were actually written by Nicolas Chédeville, one of which is included here.

Sometimes it went the other way. Georg Friedrich Händel's Sonata in D Major, HWV 378 was originally published as a work by Johann Sigismund Weisse. Francesco Geminiani appears in both roles. The album included a Geminiani Sonata in G Major attributed to someone else, and two sonatas by Pietro Castrucci presented as Geminiani's.

The Trio Gli Speziali performs these works with enthusiasm. And they play in a straight-forward manner. The music lightly trips along, seeking to do nothing more than entertain.

The review copy I received had no liner notes. I hope that Urania provided information about all of these pieces. Each one has its own interesting history. But at the end of the day, it's the sound that matters. And in that sense, this collection of fake music is authentically entertaining.

F for Fake - Copyleft in 18th Century Music
Trio Gli Speziali
Urania

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Sandro Volta Gives Unvarnished Performance of Petrucci Lute Music

Ottavio Petrucci was not the first music publisher. But he was the first to figure out how to print complex polyphonic scores. This release collects music from
This release collects from his Intavolatura di Liuto (lute tablatures) -- a genre that blossomed thanks in part to Petrucci's innovations.

Lutenist Sandro Volta performs music by Francesco Spinacino, Joan Ambrosio Dalza, and Franciscus Bossinensis. Each composer has a slightly different style. Each composer's works are presented in a block, so it's easy to hear those style changes as one moves through the recording.

Francesco Spinacino 's music was the subject of the Libro primo and Libro secondo of 1507. Spinacino wrote complex, free-flowing ricercares. Included is his most famous work, the "Recercare de tutti li toni" which modulates through all the modes.

The Libro quarto of 1508 collected music by Joan Ambrosio Dalza. Dalza wrote lute music in popular dance forms as well as more formal polyphonic compositions. Dalza's music is simpler than Sinacino's and has an appealing directness to it.

Franciscus Bossinensis had two volumes of Tenoir e contrabassi published in 1509 and 1511. Each of these selections was preceded by a short ricercare, that served as a prelude. Six of them are presented here.

Volta is a masterful player, a seasoned recording artist, and a Grand Prix du Disque winner. This is material he knows and plays well. And yet, I didn't like this recording as much as I thought I would.

I fault the recording. Listening through a high-performance system, I was distracted by extraneous sounds such as grunts, scrapes, and clicks. Sometimes such sounds can add to the authenticity of a performance. In this case, they didn't (at least for me).

When I played the recording through my everyday system, those issues became almost inaudible, and I enjoyed the music much more. It's a minor quibble, but one to be aware of if you have a high-performance audio system.

Otherwise, I recommend this recording for collecting some of the earliest and most influential lute music from the Petrucci catalog.

Petrucci - Intavolature di Liuto
Tablatures for Lute
Spinacino, Dalza, Bossinensis
Sandro Volta, renaissance lute
Brilliant Classics 95262



Friday, September 21, 2018

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalNine Week 3

September is the ninth month of the year. And so the #ClassicsaDay team decided to make the number the theme. For September 2018, the challenge is to post classical works that have to do with the number nine. 




I chose to alternate between nonets, opus nine compositions and works with a catalog number of nine. Here are my posts for the third week:


Sergei Rachmaninoff - Trio élégiaque No. 2, Op. 9

Rachmaninoff's second Trio élégiaque was written in 1893, in memory of Tchaikovsky. It parallels the structure of Tchaikovsky's Trio in A minor. Rachmaninoff revised the work for publication in 1906.




Alexander Scriabin - Piano Sonata No. 9, Op. 68

Scriabin's ninth piano sonata was completed in 1913. It was given the title "Black Mass," (not by Scriabin), and is in some ways seen as a companion sonata to his seventh, which he titled "White Mass." Both feature extreme chromaticism and dissonance, verging on atonality at times.




Georg Fridrich Handel: Overture to "Teseo" HWV 9 (1712)

"Teseo" is HWV 9. Händel-Werke-Verzeichnis catalog numbers aren't precisely chronological, so this isn't the ninth work Handel wrote. HWV groups compositions by type, then by date. Nos. 1-49 are operas, so "Tesso" is the ninth opera Handel wrote.




Bohuslav Martinu - Nonet No. 2 H. 374 (1959)

Martinu wrote three nonets. The first exists only as a fragment. The second, "Stowe pastorals" is for 5 recorders, clarinet, 2 violins, and cello. The third - Nonet No. 2 - is for the traditional 5 winds/4 strings configuration --flute, oboe, clarinet, horn, bassoon, violin, viola, cello, contrabass.




Samuel Barber - Symphony No. 1, Op. 9

Barber started work on his single-movement symphony in 1935 and completed it two years later. It was the first symphonic work by an American composer to be performed at the Salzburg Festival.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Halsam American Brick Build - Pavilion

In the mid-1950s' Halsam offered interlocking brick building toys made from pressed wood. I'm assembling each of the models shown in the instruction booklet for their 60/1 and 60/2 building sets. I'm calling it the Halsam American Brick Build.

The third build in the instruction book was for something they labeled a pavilion.



It's kind of an odd structure, with an open back and very house-like front.

Nice place to live -- if you don't mind the draft.
There were two key concepts featured in this structure. The first was how secure the roof supports in the back. If you follow the brick pattern exactly, they're quite stable.

The second is how to make the most of the yellow brick. Note its use above the door frame. And the yellow brick beneath the narrow windows. The yellow brick only comes in the 8-peg size, and yet it appears these are 4-peg bricks. 

How to have a narrow yellow brick.

Again, by following the instructions exactly, you can hide half of the yellow brick in the door frame.


I think this structure would have looked better with different door and window treatments, but only one kind came with the set. On the other hand, the open back of the pavilion gives it more play value -- almost like a dollhouse. 





Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Solistes Européens Debut with Farrenc

Louise Farrenc was a major figure of French music. She was both a pianist and composer and served on the faculty of the Paris Conservatory for over 30 years. During her lifetime, and for a while afterward, her chamber music was regularly performed.

Not so her symphonies. Beyond their debuts, each had only one or two additional performances. They remained unpublished and mostly forgotten until recently.

Symphony No. 2 premiered in 1845 and is a brawny, full-bodied work. I could hear the influence of Beethoven, especially in the finale's fugue. That's not to say the symphony's derivative. Far from it. Farrenc's melodies are original and memorable, even if her treatment of them is somewhat conventional.

Her 1847 Symphony No. 3 begins quietly and slowly builds, carried mostly by the winds. Some passages reminded me of Wagner, a few of Beethoven. On the whole, it seemed a much more mature and sophisticated work compared to the second symphony.

Farrenc's orchestration is much more varied (and sure-footed). I'm not sure why this wasn't performed more often - either during her lifetime or now.

The Solistes Européens has a fine ensemble blend. Christoph König leads them in fiery, committed performances. I would love to hear them perform Farrenc's first symphony. Actually, I'm looking forward to their next release - whatever the repertoire.

Louise Farrenc
Symphonies Nos. 2 and 3
Solistes Européens, Luxembourg; Christoph König, conductor
Naxos 8.573706

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Pelham Humfrey: Symphony Anthems - Music from a Life Cut Short

This release features a selection of the nineteen symphony anthems written by Pelham Humfrey. Humfrey was the first of several English composers to achieve fame during the Restoration. He was well-regarded by Henry Purcell, John Blow, and Matthew Locke. And like Purcell, he died young, at the age of 27.

Humfrey's Symphony Anthems were written in the 1670s for the enjoyment of Charles II in the Royal Chapel. The chapel was small, and so they were written for modest forces. The anthems usually consisted of a solo verse, sometimes with contrapuntal treatment, and full chorus.

Although all seven of these recorded works are all the same type of work -- symphony anthems -- there's a great deal of variety between them. The genre seems to have evolved over time. The counterpoint increases in complexity, and the chorus fades from prominence. Overall, it's an enjoyable program to listen to from start to finish.

The Oxford Concert of Voices sing with clarity and precision. The Instruments of Time and Truth provide appropriate accompaniment for these intimate works. Edward Higgenbottom's interpretation strikes the right balance between delicacy and strength (after all, these are anthems for the king!).

If you enjoy the music Henry Purcell, give these Symphony Anthems a listen. I think you'll detect the same high level of craftsmanship -- and another promise unfulfilled.

Pelham Humfrey: Symphony Anthems
Oxford Consort of Voices
Instruments of Time and Truth
Edward Higgenbottom, director
Pan Classics PC 10388

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Alan Hovhaness - Wind Music Vol. 3

There's still a lot of music by Alan Hovhaness yet to be recorded. With over 450 works in his catalog, there's plenty to choose from -- and many opportunities for world premiere recordings. This particular installment of Hovhaness' wind music has four.

Hovhaness' style was fairly consistent throughout his career. I can always count on meandering melodies, modal harmonies, complex fugal passages, and gorgeous hymn tunes.

Though the works in this release span four decades, all of those elements are there. But to me, they're what makes Hovhaness' music uniquely appealing.

The Central Washington Universty Wind Ensemble perform with accuracy and rock-solid precision. Often collegiate wind ensembles have some intonation problems (compared to ensembles of professional musicians). In this case, I heard none. The musicianship of these young performers served Hovhaness' music well.

If you only know Hovhaness through his symphonies, this release should be in your library. His use of wind instruments is creative and innovative. A wonderful addition to the Hovhaness discography.

Alan Hovhaness: Suite for Band; October Mountain; The Ruins of Ani
Central Washington University Wind Ensemble
Larry Gookin, Keith Brion, Mark Goodenberger, conductors
Naxos 8.559838

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Paul Chihara Takes the A Train and Mixes Genres

Paul Chihara composes for films. Film scores must support the narrative and communicate emotion. And it must do it in a way that instantly connects with the viewer. That skill set works well for Chihara in the classical world, too.

His compositions have a transparency to them that draws the listener in. The surface may be clear, but there's plenty of substance below it.

Chihara wrote that his piano trio is based on the Mobius strip images by MC. Escher. The music moves through a series of variations and transformations. As with a Mobius strip, it's easy to trace the journey, even though each turn adds a new revelation.

The Bagatelles are just pure fun. The average playing time of each bagatelle is around a minute. And each one concise and tightly constructed. Each one is appealing, and collectively they make an enjoyable listening experience.

The Girl for Yerevan was commissioned by Armenian violinist Movses Pogossian. The trio's name references Joao Gilberto's famous piece. It also mixes Armenian folk music into the Latino vibe, with a hint of Khachaturian for good mesure. Movses Pogossian and guitarist David Starbin -- two of the three premiering artists -- perform here.

"Ellington Fantasy" for string quartet is just that -- a weaving together of Duke Ellington tunes. Chihara does a masterful job. His writing works quite well for a string quartet, letting the performers have some fun with the material.

And its music with a purpose. Chihara worked with Mercer Ellington in the show Sophisticated Ladies." Mercer had wanted to arrange his father's music for string quartet, but ended up turning the project over to Chihara.

For audiences who enjoy the light classics of Canadian Brass, the Piano Guys, etc. this is a perfect string quartet piece. Personally, I'm not that enamoured of that genre, so it didn't do much for me. But I thought the rest of the album was terrific. 

Paul Chihara: Take the A Train
Gavin String Trio; Jerome Lowenthal, piano; Lark Quartet
Bridge Records

Friday, September 14, 2018

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalNine Week 2

September is the ninth month of the year. And so the #ClassicsaDay team decided to make the number the theme. For September 2018, the challenge is to post classical works that have to do with the number nine. I chose to alternate between nonets, opus nine compositions, and works with a catalog number of nine.


Here are my posts for the second week:

Johann Sebastian Bach: Cantata "Es ist das Heil uns kommen here?" BWV 9

Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis(BWV) organizes Bach's music by category first, then chronologically. BWV 1 through 224 are the cantatas. So BWV 9 isn't the ninth work Bach wrote, just the 9th cantata. BWV 9 was written between 1732 and 1735. It's based on the Lutheran hymn "It is our salvation come here to us."




Franz Lachner: Nonet in F major (1857)

Lachner was an important composer and conductor of the 19th Century. Lachner wrote in a style influenced by both his friend Schubert and his hero, Beethoven. His nonet follows the instrumentation established by Spohr, of a wind quintet plus 1 of each type of stringed instrument: violin, viola, cello, and contrabass.



Ludwig van Beethoven: String Trio in D major, Op. 9 No. 2

Beethoven completed the three Op. 9 string trios when he was 28. At the time, he considered them his best works. They were published in Vienna in 1799.



Heitor Villa-Lobos - String Quartet No. 9, 1945

Villa-Lobos wrote 17 string quartets over the course of his career. No. 9 was completed in 1945 in Rio de Janeiro. Musicologists have cited a number of influences for the work: Haydn, Stravinsky, Berg, Bartok. Bottom line, it's simply Villa-Lobos.



George Onslow - Nonet in A minor, Op. 77a (1848)

Onslow (1784-1853) was a French composer of English descent, a contemporary of Berlioz and Meyerbeer. Most of his substantial catalog is chamber music. His nonet also exists as a sextet for winds and strings.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Halsam American Brick Build - Two Story House

In the mid-1950s' Halsam offered interlocking brick building toys made from pressed wood. I'm assembling each of the models shown in the instruction booklet for their 60/1 and 60/2 building sets. I'm calling it the Halsam American Brick Build.

The second build in the instruction book was a two-story house.


The Halsam book is very carefully laid out. Each structure subtly introduces a core concept in block construction. For example: in the plans above, note that there is an extra yellow brick inside the house. The reason it's there is so you can place another brick on it that will connect it to the two bricks in the door frame. This ensures the exposed yellow bricks of the door don't pull apart.

Also, note the line of yellow bricks separating the two floors. All of the windows on the first floor have a course of red brick on top, then the yellow. All save the window on the left side of the house?

Why? Structural integrity. In order for a brick to span an opening, it needs to be secured with a brick that connects it to an adjacent brick.


In the photo above, you can see the red brick secures both the yellow brick spanning the door frame and the left side window frame. If the window was one course lower (as it is in the rest of the house), it wouldn't be possible to position an 8-peg brick that straddles two other 8-peg bricks to secure it.


Conversely, as you can see in the photo above, it's impossible to move the other windows up a course. There are no 4-peg yellow bricks, so the yellow brick would have to rest solely on the paper window.

Note the right side second story window. Its bottom frame is
yellow brick.

The end result is a house with windows that aren't completely symmetrical. But as you can't see the right and left sides at the same time, it doesn't matter that much. 

On the left side of the house, the first story window had to be moved up a
course. That meant the second story window also had to move up.
It's one row above the course of yellow brick.

The back of the structure. The windows are all in alignment. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

George Lloyd Symphonies in Definitive Live Performances

This release presents two live performances of George Lloyd symphonies. What performances -- and what symphonies!

George Lloyd was a rising star before the Second World War but was largely ignored afterward. Conductor Edward Downes became a champion of Lloyd's music.

 Symphony No. 6, written in 1956, is heard in its world-premiere broadcast from 1980. It's a quintessentially Britsh work, strongly reminding me of William Walton's "Crown Imperial." But it's a superficial similarity.

Lloyd's modestly-scored symphony features some wonderfully inventive melodies.  Fans of William Walton, Arthur Bliss -- and even Benjamin Britten -- will find much to like in Lloyd's score.

Lloyd's Symphony No. 7 is subtitled "Proserpine." According to Lloyd, Proserpine's story "seems to tell us something about the human condition of having one foot on this earth and another somewhere else – wherever that may be."

 The music is equally ambivalent. The first movement is light and cheerful, representing the maiden Proserpine dancing in the sun. The somber middle movement depicts Proserpine, now the wife of Hades, in the underworld. The turbulent finale seems to be a struggle between her worlds of light and darkness.

 Lloyd used an expanded orchestra for this work and uses it to great effect. Downes least the BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra in a compelling performance that makes the most of the tumultuous emotions embodied in this massive composition.

George Lloyd 
Symphony No. 6; Symphony No. 7 "Proserpine" 
BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra; Edward Downes, conductor 
Live performances 
Lyrita REM.1135

Sunday, September 09, 2018

Czech Choral Works by Martinu, Reznicek, and Fiala

This has to be one of the most unusual albums of choral music I've listened to. The concept is solid -- sacred music by 20th Century Czech composers. What's unusual is the relationship between the composers.

The Czech Philharmonic Choir of Brno performs two works by Bohuslav Martinu. Rounding out the album are works by the founder of the choir, and by its choirmaster and music director. But don't consider this filler. The compositions of Petr Reznicek and Petr Fiala compare favorably to Martinu's.

The Czech Philharmonic Choir of Brno has this music in their blood. I can't describe the ensemble sound any other way than it's 100% right for this music. The basses and tenors have a full-bodied sound that's fully articulated in the lower register. The sopranos and altos have an earthy coloration that's unique to Eastern Europe.

Martinu is represented by two works from 1954 -  The Hymn to St. James H.347 and the Mount of Three Lights H.349. Both feature a narrator, choir and organ. Martinu incorporates some folk elements into the Hymn. The Mount of Three Lights is more classically-oriented. Both are classic Martinu. The harmonic motion, the shifting syncopations and folk-inspired melodies are all there.

Fiala's Regina Coeli laetare sound quite different. The harmonies are more complex, while the rhythm is more regular. Here the choir is interspersed with a solo cello.

Reznicek's Dies Irae reminded me quite a bit of Messaien's choral music. Perhaps because it was the only work on the album resembled someone else's I found it the least interesting of the three. Reznicek is the ensemble's choirmaster and knows all its strengths. The Dies Irae receives a superb performance from the choir it was clearly written for.

This release is a case where the music is perfectly matched to the ensemble. And that's what made it so enjoyable for me.

Martinu/Reznicek/Fiala
Czech Philharmonic Choir of Brno
ArcoDiva UP0188

Saturday, September 08, 2018

Ignaz Brüll - Orchestral Works; Brahms' Friend in the Spotlight

Moravian composer Ignaz Brüll (1846-1907) moved to Vienna in 1856. He was an accomplished composer and pianist and was well-known for both talents. Brüll was a close friend of Brahms. Brahms' symphonies were often first heard in two-piano arrangements -- with Brahms and Brüll at the keyboards.

Although quite successful during his lifetime, his music declined in popularity after his death. Because of his Jewish background, the Nazis tried to erase Brüll from music history altogether. Only recently has his music enjoyed renewed interest and performances.

So what's it like? This adventurous collection from Cameo gives a fair representation. The shorter works are perhaps the most successful. The "Macbeth" Overture of 1884 is a thrilling eight-minute work that conveys the turbulent nature of the drama.

The Serenade No. 1 Op.29 was Brüll's first hit (as it were). This 1877 work is chock-full of appealing melodies, orchestrated in light textures. It reminded me somewhat of Mendelssohn's music.

The second serenade in E-flat major is equally delightful. The harmonies are a little thicker than the first. But that hint of Mendelssohn remains. keeping the music light and charming.

The large-scale works show some Brahmsian influence, I think. Although that influence is more along the lines of structure, rather than sound. Brüll's Symphony in E minor is laid out in proper four-movement form. Brüll uses his material effectively, developing ideas in logical, easy-to-follow lines.

For me, the best work was the Violin Concerto. It was written for Johann Lauterbach, who must have been a ferocious talent, judging by the solo part. While there are plenty of fireworks, there's also some solid music-making here, too. The slow movement is so poignantly beautiful, I'm surprised it's not played more often.

Violinist Ilya Hoffmann delivers a wonderful performance. His playing has an expressiveness to it that's pure Romanticism. His performance of the middle movements matches the beauty of the music. And that's saying something.

Both the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra and the Belarusian State Symphony perform well. The audience for the BSS was a little noisy, but not terribly so.

An excellent collection of an overlooked composer. And, judging by the quality of the compositions, an unjustly overlooked one at that.

Ignaz Brüll: Orchestral Works
Overture "Macbeth," Serenades Nos. 1 and 2, Violin Concerto, Symphony in E minor
Ilya Hoffmann, violin; Malta Philharmonic Orchestra; Belarusian State Symphony Orchestra; Marius Stravinsky, Michael Laus, conductors
Cameo Classics CC9103
2 CD Set

Friday, September 07, 2018

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalNine Week 1

September is the ninth month of the year. And so the #ClassicsaDay team decided to make the number the theme. For September 2018, the challenge is to post classical works that have to do with the number nine.




 I chose to alternate between nonets, opus nine compositions and works with a catalog number of nine. Here are my posts for the first week:


Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: Nonet in F minor, Op. 2 (1894)

The standard makeup of a nonet is for five winds and four strings. This nonet is for oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn, violin, viola, cello, contrabass, and piano. It was published when Coleridge-Taylor was only 19.



Anton Arensky: Marguerite Gautier, Fantasia for Orchestra, Op. 9 (1886)

Marguerite Gautier is the title character of "Camille" by Alexander Dumas. Arensky's tone-poem was inspired by similar works of Tchaikovsky.


Alan Hovhaness: Symphony No. 9 "Saint Vartan" Op. 180 (1951)

Vartan is a major saint in Armenia. It was a natural subject for Hovhaness, who was proud of his Armenian heritage. Written in 24 short sections, the work tells the story of the Armenian (led by Vartan) against the Persians.



Louis Spohr - Grand Nonetto in F major, Op. 31 (1813)

Spohr's Nonet was the first work for nine instruments to use the title "Nonet," His instrumental combination -- flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn, violin, viola, cello, and double bass -- became the model for nonets throughout the Romantic period.



Ludwig Schuncke - Caprice No. 1 in C major, Op. 9

Schuncke was an extremely talented pianist and composer. His close friend Robert Schumann predicted a brilliant career for Schuncke. But it was not to be. Schuncke died at age 23, leaving only a handful of works behind. His Op. 9 Caprice is dedicated to Clara Wieck.

Thursday, September 06, 2018

Halsam American Brick Build - Single Story House

In the mid-1950s' Halsam offered interlocking brick building toys made from pressed wood. I'm assembling each of the models shown in the instruction booklet for their 60/1 and 60/2 building sets. I'm calling it the Halsam American Brick Build.

The first build in the instruction book is a single story house.


It introduces a lot of basic building concepts. Note that the photo is processed to make it easy to pick out individual bricks. This is important. In order to ensure maximum stability for the upper window frames, the brick needs to be sitting on an 8-peg brick, not a 4-peg. 

And the 4-peg bricks are scored in such a way that they give the appearance of single bricks when used properly. Most of the builds favor alternating 8-peg and two 4-peg layers. As you can see from the example below, the alternating method (right) looks more realistic.



The build itself was pretty simple.

Single Story House (front)

Another important concept introduced was the chimney. It's basically three 8-peg bricks and two angled roof pieces. They're turned upside down. If you use three bricks (as the instructions indicate), there's enough weight to hold the angled pieces in place. And the whole assembly helps keep the roof angled properly.

Single Story House (back)

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Heinrich Schütz: Becker-Spalter, Op. 5 - Artistry on Every Page

In 1602 theologian Cornelius Becker wrote a German metrical psalter.  Der Psalter Dauids Gesangweis was published without melodies. The collection proved popular, and  Becker set all 150 psalms for the 1628 edition.

Psalmen Davids: Hiebevorn in Deutsche Reimen gebracht durch was reprinted in 1640 and revised and expanded in 1661.

Several early Lutheran composers set Becker's texts for liturgical use -- Heinrich Schutz being the most successful. Some of his settings still appear in modern hymnals.

The words -- and the music -- were meant for congregational singing. Schütz's artistry is present on every page, making the most of what would seem to be limited materials.

The melodies are tuneful and easy to sing. The harmonies are simple and transparent. These psalms follow the natural rhythms of the text. It gives these hymns a supple lightness.

Hans-Christoph Rademann's interpretation is spot-on. The Dresdner Kammerchor sings with unaffected simplicity, letting the inherent beauty of these settings shine through.

These works were never meant to be heard all in one sitting. Rademann wisely varies tempos and instrumental accompaniments to provide contrast. And it works. Most of the time I was quite happy to just hit play and listen through to the end.

Heinrich Schütz: Becker-Spalter, Op. 5
Dresdner Kammerchor; Hans-Christoph Rademann
Schütz Complete Recording, Vol. 15
Carus 83.276

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Franz Xaver Richter Sinfonias, Sonatas & Oboe Concerto - Mannheim School Masterpieces

This release presents a sampling of Franz Xaver Richter's work while attached to the Mannheim court. it's an interesting choice for a program. By some accounts, Richter was the odd man out at court.

Franz Ignaz Beck, Carl Stamitz, and the other court composers were interested in pushing boundaries. This Mannheim School developed the dramatic gestures and four-movement structure that would become the language of the classical symphony.

Richter was somewhat more conservative, and it's easy to hear that in this program. The Sinfonia in B major is a four-movement work, but the drama is somewhat understated. I had the same impression of the Sinfonia in G minor. Richter seems to build on Handel's foundation.

The Oboe Concerto in G minor also sounds modeled on Baroque templates. The two trio sonatas, on the other hand, seemed more lively. If the sinfonias are post-Baroque, then the trios are pre-Classical.

Wild dynamic contrasts are still missing, but there's a natural and less formal expressiveness in these works.

The Capricornus Consort Basel have a warm ensemble blend. Xenia Löffler playing of the baroque oboe is exceptional. The sound is smooth and full. Her expressive reading of the music makes the melodic lines seem to undulate at times.

Richter may not have been as cutting edge as his Mannheim colleagues, but he was still a skilled composer. Recommended to anyone interested in the music of the 1700s (early or late).

Franz Xaver Richter
Sinfonias, Sonatas & Oboe Concerto
Capricornus Consort Basel; Peter Barczi, conductor
Christophorus

Sunday, September 02, 2018

Clementi Piano Sonatas, Opp. 25, 33 & 46 - more than mechanical

Mozart wrote, "Clementi is a good clavicembalist and with this, there is no more to say. He plays well with his right hand, his strong point is the passages in thirds. For the rest he has no sentiment or taste, - in a word he is simply a mechanicus."

I'm not sure I entirely agree with that assessment -- especially after listening to this recording. Yes, Clementi often uses thirds. But his music is technically challenging. And in the right hands (as they are here), quite interesting.

Most of the sonatas on this release come from the early 1790s when Clementi was in direct competition with Mozart. The textures of the Op. 25 and Op. 33 sonatas are transparent. Clementi does favor the right hand, giving it the complicated runs while the left outlines the harmonies (or in some cases simple melodies).

I found the Op. 46 sonata especially interesting. It was written in 1820, fifteen years after the previous sonatas. It's a more complex work, with thicker textures and more of a balance between the hands. And yet, it's a sonata that was published the same year as Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 30 in E major, Op. 109. Clementi's sonata pales in comparison. It's a simpler work and one that almost sounds old-fashioned. Advanced for Clementi, but lagging compared to his contemporaries.

However, these works lack neither sentiment nor taste. All are skillfully constructed. And taken on their own merits, are quite attractive.

Stefan Chaplikov plays elegantly, and with a light touch. The rapid passages flow smoothly and seemingly without effort. Chaplikov favors soft rather than loud dynamics, but that's in keeping with the music. If you like Mozart and Haydn piano music, you should enjoy this release as well.

Muzio Clementi: Keyboard Sonatas
Op. 33, Nos. 2 & 3; Op. 46, Op. 25, Nos. 1 & 3
Stefan Chaplikov, piano
Naxos

Saturday, September 01, 2018

Havergal Brian Symphonic Series Concludes in Fine Style

The sales sheet for this release notes that "This issue completes the commercial recording of all 32 of Brian’s symphonies." Well, that may be true, but it's a little confusing.

First, not all the symphonies have been recorded by Naxos/Marco Polo. Although with 17 of Brian's 32 symphonies in their catalog, Naxos has definitely recorded the most.

There are a few others available on other labels, but eleven of the symphonies reside in out of print recordings. Here's hoping Naxos takes the extra step and finishes their own traversal of Brian's symphonies.

None of that diminishes this release. The three works presented represent three milestones in Brian's career. The Symphony No. 8, completed in 1949, was the first performed in public. Symphony No. 21 was the first to be commercially recorded, and Symphony No. 26 the last. This is its world premiere recording.

Brian may be best remembered for his 1919 record-breaking first symphony, the"Gothic." With over 200 performers and a playing time close to 2 hours, it's a massive work. But Brian's style evolved dramatically over time.

By the early 1950s, Brian had condensed his musical language into an efficient, compact form. Symphony No. 8 is one of three he completed in short order that consist of a single movement. It's a wonderfully succinct work, with no wasted motion.

Fast forward a decade, and Brian's language becomes more expansive, but not excessively so. The Symphony No. 21 is a model of classical form, with four distinct movements. Of the three symphonies in this program, I think it has the most innovative orchestration. To my ears, most of the symphony has a chamber music quality to it.

Symphony No. 26 from 1966 condenses the symphonic form from four movements to three. Brian pushes the limits of tonality with this work. And while it's highly chromatic, the lyrism that's the heart of Brian's style still shines through. The New Russia State Symphony Orchestra has a fine sound in these recordings. Alexander Walker knows what he's about. Each symphony has its own well-defined narrative flow.

Even if you're not especially interested in British music, these works are worth a listen.

Havergal Brian: Symphonies Nos. 8, 21, and 26
New Russia State Symphony Orchestra; Alexander Walker, conductor
Naxos