Sunday, October 14, 2018

Johannes de Lublin Tablature - A snapshot of 16th Century keyboard music

The 1540 "Tablature of Jan de Lubin" is one of the largest collections of 16th Century keyboard music. It's possible that a good portion of it was written, transcribed, and/or arranged by Johann de Lublin. The bound collection includes many other pieces that added after the fact (and possibly after de Lublin's death).

Corina Marti sorts through it all, presenting a well-balanced selection of thirty-nine works from the book. Marti plays a Renaissance harpsichord, which has a substantially different sound than its Baroque descendant.

The range is smaller, and the sound much more robust. There's a roughness to the instrument that goes quite well with the modal harmonies of the music. (Not the best description, but that's my reaction to it.)

The album includes works from a variety of sources. There are settings of music by Antoine Brumel, Josquin des Prez, and Ludwig Senfl, just to name a few. Music from French, Italian and German sources are included, but to me, the most interesting pieces are the Polish ones. There's a folk-like vitality to these pieces that make them especially appealing.

If you're at all interested in early music, this disc should be in your library. It's a nice complement to other historic collections, such as the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book. A thoughtful program of historically important music well-performed -- of course I recommend it.

Johannes de Lublin: Tablature
Keyboard music from Renaissance Poland
Corina Marti, Renaissance harpsichord
Brilliant Classics 95556

Saturday, October 13, 2018

São Paulo Symphony and Karabtchevsky Deliver with Villa-Lobos Symphonie

Volume five of Naxos' Villa-Lobos Symphonies features three works written for American premieres. Symphony No. 8 was completed in 1950, No. 9 in 1952, and No. 11 in 1955.

Despite the five-year span, the three works share several similarities. All three are relatively short. Villa-Lobos' motifs are almost epigrams, and yet these are densely-compact works.

The symphonies are all neo-classical in general style, with just a trace of Stravinsky occasionally popping through.

The 8th Symphony was premiered at Carnegie Hall, with Villa-Lobos conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra. The 9th Symphony was also premiered by the Philadelphia Orchestra, this time under the direction of Eugene Ormandy. The 11th Symphony marked the 75th Anniversary of the Boston Symphony and was premiered with Charles Munch.

Of the three, the 11th is probably the most challenging. Villa-Lobos wrote to the strengths of the ensemble. To properly perform this work, an orchestra has to be nimble. The BSO was one such ensemble -- the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra is another.

At this point in their cycle, Isaac Karabtchevsky and the São Paulo Symphony have become Villa-Lobos experts. They manage to capture the essential Brazilian essence of his work that gives it such vitality.

Another solid addition to this important series from Naxos. I anticipate the next volume will maintain the same high quality set forth in the first four.

Heitor Villa-Lobos: Symphonies Nos. 8, 9, 11
São Paulo Symphony Orchestra; Isaac Karabtchevsky, conductor

Friday, October 12, 2018

#ClassicsaDay #FamousLastWorks Week 2

For the month of October, the #ClassicsaDay team (of which I'm a part), decided to go with a Halloween theme. The idea is to share works marked in some way with the composer's demise. It can be the last piece a composer completed before death, or one left incomplete at death.

For my part, I chose to narrow the focus a little bit. Not all incomplete works were deathbed projects. Schubert, for example, abandoned his "Unfinished" symphony six years before his death. For my contributions, I focussed on the last piece a composer wrote -- whether it was completed or not.  

From famous last words to #FamousLastWorks. Here are my posts for week 2.

Alban Berg - Violin Concerto

Berg was working on his opera "Lulu" in 1935. He interrupted the work to accept a rush commission from violinist Louis Krasner. The violin concerto was written in just a few months, and dedicated to the memory of Manon Gropius. The score was delivered in August of 1935, and Berg returned to work on "Lulu." He died in December 1935, leaving the opera uncompleted.

Johannes Brahms - Eleven Chorale Preludes for organ, Op. 122

Brahms' final completed works were written for his friend, Clara Schumann. In 1896 Clara died, and Brahms was diagnosed with liver cancer. Facing death (and the death of his friend), Brahms wrote a set of chorale preludes. The set was the final composition Brahms worked on.

Bela Bartok - Piano Concerto No. 3 in E major

Bartok's third piano concerto was to be a birthday surprise for his wife, pianist Ditta Pásztory-Bartók. Bartok worked on the piece as often as his health permitted. When he died, all but 17 measures had been completed. His friend Tibor Serly completed the work based on Bartok's sketches so it could be performed.

Giovanni Battista Pergolesi - Stabat mater

Italian composer Pergolesi was a brilliant composer of operas, some of which are still performed. He died at the age of 26 from tuberculosis. The final weeks of his life were devoted to composing the Stabat Mater. He was able to complete the work just before he died.

Gustav Mahler - Symphony No. 10

Mahler began work on his tenth symphony in May, 1910. By September, he had sketched out the entire symphony and had completed most of the orchestration of the first movement. And that's where he left it. Mahler left for New York in October to conduct the New York Philharmonic. He returned to Europe in April, 1911, and he died May, 11 without doing any more work on the symphony. Other composers have attempted to complete the work, with varying amounts of success.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Halsam American Brick Build - Country Villa

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 seventh build is a country villa. It looks sort of like a weekend home. This build introduced a couple of new concepts.

The first involved the roof over the "entrance hall" (looks more like a foyer to me). The roof consists of two bricks cantilevered over the opening, held in place by a few courses of brick. But to get there, I also had to span the interior doorway of the entrance hall. By studying the instructions carefully, I was able to puzzle out the configuration. A close-up would have been more helpful, though. 

The second new concept involved the chimney. Again, by studying the instructions, I determined that the bricks needed to alternate directions in each rows. This was definitely more stable than simply stacking up a tower of 8-peg bricks and sliding it up to the back of the house. 

The alternation of direction bound interlaced the chimney with the back wall, making it a stable structure that could be extended beyond the roof line. 

All in all a nice little structure. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Edmund Rubbra BBC Broadcasts - Flawed Musical Treasures

This release features three live performances broadcast by the BBC in the 1960s. the recordings are from the Richard Itter collection; professional-grade recordings of radio broadcasts.

Some of the Lyrita releases of this material have had amazing sound quality. In these performances, though, the sound seems somewhat lo-fi and closed in.

But the quality of the performances more than makes up for any deficiencies of the audio. Edmund Rubbra gives authoritative performances in two of the three works on this release.

Rubbra performs his Prelude and Fugue on a theme of Cyril Scott and one of Scott's own compositions in a 1967 broadcast. His playing clearly delineates each line of counterpoint, while keeping all the strands together in a cohesive whole.

Rubbra's Sinfonia Concertante for piano and orchestra was written in 1934-36, and revised six years later. The work isn't about technical fireworks, but rather lyrical expressiveness. Rubbra performances with both delicacy and power as the music demands. And in the process provides a model for how this work should be performed (and why it should be more often).

The recorded broadcast of the Violin Concerto is from 1960, a year after Rubbra completed the work. Ednré Wolf's interpretation infuses the music with his Hungarian heritage. And it works. This is a thrilling performance that brings out the melodic strengths of Rubbra's music.

Edmund Rubbra
Sinfonia Concertante - Edmund Rubbra, piano; City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra; Hugo Rignold, conductor
Prelude and Fugue on a theme of Cyril Scott, Op. 69 - Edmund Rubbra, piano
Violin Concerto, Op. 103 - EdnréWolf, violin; BBC Symphony Orchestra; Rudolf Schwarz, conductor

Sunday, October 07, 2018

Stanford String Quartets Nos. 3, 4, & 7 - Welcome additions to the canon

This new release continues the Dante Quartet's cycle of Charles Villiers Stanford string quartets. It features one published and two unpublished quartets.

The String Quartet No. 3 in D minor was written in 1896, five full years after the first two quartets. Stanford wrote it for his friend,  violinist Joseph Joachim, and his quartet. I've often characterized Stanford's music as Brahms with an Irish lilt. That very much applies in this case.

The quartet follows the classical pure music model laid out by Brahms in his own quartet. The music challenges the performers technically. But the music is well-crafted. Each motif is fully developed, logically expanding outward to create an inviting soundscape. This is a work that can yield additional insights with each hearing.

String Quartet No. 4 in G minor (1907) was also composed for a specific ensemble -- the Kruse Quartet. Johann Kruse was a student of Joachim and was extraordinarily agile across the range of the violin. The quartet exploits that talent, which makes it quite demanding for most violinists.

Structurally, the work seems less complex than the third quartet. To my ears, it seemed more akin to Middle Period Beethoven than Brahms.

String Quartet No. 7 in C minor is a late work, written for a student ensemble. The technical demands are lighter, and the work seems to have a thinner texture than the other two quartets. Nevertheless, Stanford thoroughly works through his material, creating work with plenty of melodic and harmonic inventiveness.

I was a little disappointed by the performance of the Dante Quartet. There seemed to be some minor pitch problems, particularly in the opening movement of Quartet No. 3. And sometimes the ensemble's blend seemed a little wobbly to me. Nevertheless, their interpretations were thoughtful and insightful, which served the music very well.

They've now recorded five of Stanford's eight quartets. In spite of my quibbles, I'm very much looking forward to the next installment in this series.

Charles Villiers Stanford: String Quartets Nos. 3, 4 & 7
Dante Quartet
Somm SOMMCD 0185
World premiere recordings

Friday, October 05, 2018

#ClassicsaDay #FamousLastWorks Week 1

For the month of October, the #ClassicsaDay team (of which I'm a part), decided to go with a Halloween theme. The idea is to share works marked in some way with the composer's demise. It can be the last piece a composer completed before death, or one left incomplete at death.

For my part, I chose to narrow the focus a little bit. Not all incomplete works were deathbed projects. Schubert, for example, abandoned his "Unfinished" symphony six years before his death. For my contributions, I focussed on the last piece a composer wrote -- whether it was completed or not.  

From famous last words to #FamousLastWorks. Here are my posts for week 1.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - Requiem in D minor, K. 626

Mozart only fully completed the first movement, Requiem aeternum, before his death, although he sketched out the entire work. His student Franz Xaver Süssmayr completed the Requiem so it could be delivered to its commissioner.

Ludwig van Beethoven - Op. 130 string quartet new finale

Beethoven completed his 13th string quartet in 1827. The final movement, the Große Fuge completely overshadows the rest of the work. Contemporaries called the finale "incomprehensible," "inaccessible" and even "Armaggedon."

Beethoven bowed to pressure from his publisher and wrote a new, lighter finale for the quartet. It was the last work completed by Beethoven before his death. The Große Fuge was then published as a separate, stand-alone work.

Franz Schubert - Winterreise, Op. 89 D.911

Schubert wrote the first part of this song cycle in 1827, and the second in October 1828 - a month before his death. He was making final revisions and correcting proofs on his deathbed. The final song, "Der Leiermann" was the last he worked on. "Curious old fellow, shall I go with you? When I sing my songs, will you play your hurdy-gurdy too?"

Franz Joseph Haydn - String Quartet in D minor, Op. 103, Hob.III:83

The Op. 103 quartet was the last piece Haydn worked on. Though he died in 1809, Haydn's health had so deteriorated that after 1803 he could no longer concentrate to compose. He had completed only the first two movements of the D minor quartet when his strength gave out.

Arnold Schoenberg - Modern Psalms, Op. 50c

In 1951 Schoednberg drafted his own texts based on the Psalms. The intent was to write a series of short, sacred works. Only the "Modern Psalm" was completed at the time of his death.

Thursday, October 04, 2018

Halsam American Brick Build - Monument

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 fifth build is a monument. After World War II, there was a change in the style of public art. Imposing Art Nouveau figures, either real or allegorical, seemed passe. Instead, monuments became abstract in design.

The one shown in the instruction book would have been a fairly typical early 1950s example.

And this build also introduces another important concept. Note the instructions so how the bricks intersect in the middle. By off-setting the bricks, the rows weave together, creating a strong center to the structure. 

I like to think of this as the Memorial to the Unknown Halsam American Brick Architect. 

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Franz Krommer Symphonies Inspired by Beethoven

This is the second volume of Krommer symphonies from Griffiths and the Orchestra della Svizzera italiana. The first volume covered Krommer's first three symphonies.

This release features three symphonies; only two of which were published.

Franz Krommer was based in Vienna, a younger contemporary of Ludwig van Beethoven. Krommer's 1819 Symphony No. 4 in C minor seems an attempt to meet the standards set by Beethoven. And in some ways, he succeeds.

The symphony is full of energy that threatens to break loose at any moment. Krommer marks sections with big orchestral gestures and dramatic contrasts. All in all, it's a well-crafted work.

The 1821 Symphony No. 5 in E-flat major also shows some Beethoven influence. It has some similarities to the "Eroica" symphony -- especially in the opening movement. But it's more festive and upbeat work. So add a dash of Haydn to the mix.

Krommer's Symphony No. 7 in G minor was never published. Only the first movement was given a reading during Krommer's lifetime. This 1824 work is the most ambitious of the three.

Krommer more fully explores the possibilities of motivic development. The final movement has a wonderful fugal section that leads to a rousing and satisfying finish.

Under Howard Griffiths, the Orchestra della Svizzera italiana delivers some high-energy performances. Even if you missed the first volume, this release is worth a listen. Franz Krommer may have worked in Beethoven's shadow, but he had something original to say in each of his symphonies.

Franz Krommer: Symphonies Nos. 4, 5, and 7
Orchestra della Svizzera italiana; Howard Griffiths, conductor

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Dussek Complete Piano Sonatas Volume 2 - Quality Performances

Brilliant Classics is using eight pianists for their traversal of Dussek piano sonatas. It's a, well, brilliant idea. It allows each pianist to dive deep into the works they're going to record.

Volume 2 of the series features pianist Piet Kuijken. His thoughtful liner notes show the amount of research he's applied to these sonatas -- and they clearly inform his performance.

Dussek's Op. 39 piano sonatas were published in 1799, while he was in London. They reflect the style preferred by English audiences -- light and elegant. Two of the three only have two movements.

Kuijken chose to record these works on a 1790s Longman and Clementi pianoforte -- which would have been in many London homes and venues at the time. It's a great choice. The music was written with the timbre and technical possibilities of this type of pianoforte.

The tone of the instrument is full. At the same time, in the forte passages, the chords sounded (to my ears) a little thin. But then these sonatas aren' t Beethoven. Dussek was writing pleasant, diverting music, and he succeeds.

As Kuijken points out though, these may be light works, but they're not slight. Dussek works with his melodies in some fairly sophisticated ways.

Also included is “La Matinée," the Piano Sonata in D, Op. 25 No. 2. This is also a London work, written in 1795. it seems to lean more towards the gallant style than the Op. 39 set. Still, there's a lot to enjoy in this modest little sonata.

Oh yes. I'm definitely looking forward to volume three.

Jan Ladislav Dussek: Complete Piano Sonatas, Vol. 2
Sonatas Op. 39. 1-3 & Op. 25, No. 2
Piet Kuijken, fortepiano
Brilliant Classics, 95599