Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Harry Partch Sonata Dementia - More, Please

I've always loved the music of Harry Partch. These new recordings by Bridge Records do a tremendous service to the world of music. Hearing the Partch ensemble perform with copies of Partch's original hand-made instruments.

That's important because it means these instruments can really be played, not handled like irreplaceable museum pieces. And the Partch ensemble digs into the music with gusto.

Plus, these new recordings sound clearer and better-defined than Harry Partch's originals. And that means it's easier to hear the subtle distinctions between microtones and the unusual overtones of the instruments.

This volume includes "Ulysses at the Edge of the World," written in 1951 for Chet Baker. The original version included trumpet, string bass, and Partch instruments. Baker never played it, and the work was recast with different instruments at least twice. The Partch ensemble performs the original version here.

They also perform the original version of Windsong, from 1950. This is another work that went through several transformations, eventually becoming the ballet "Daphne of the Dunes." To me, it's like "Windsong" is the best bits of "Daphne," especially the rhythmic sections. If you like the one you'll enjoy the other.

And of course, there's the title track, Sonata Dementia. Originally written as an exercise for his 43-note scale, the work remained in limbo. Eventually, it became part of "Plectra & Percussion Dances." As a piece, this original form of "Sonata Dementia" works, and it works well.

The Partch Ensemble understands Partch's music. And they're thoroughly proficient on Partch's instruments. These are amazing performances of amazing music. All I have to say is "more, please."

Harry Partch - Sonata Dementia
The Music of Harry Partch, Volume 3
Bridge Records

Monday, August 19, 2019

Carl Czerny Piano Trios Brilliantly Entertaining

Five piano trio receive their world recording premiers with this release. In a sense, it's not that big a deal. Carl Czerny wrote over 1,000 works, over 800 of them published. There are still many, many Czerny works awaiting their first recording.

The trios presented here are certainly worthy of attention. The 1830 Deux Trios brillans pour pianoforte, violon et violoncelle, Op. 211 are light-hearted works. Both are in major keys, and both exude charming melodies.

Czerny was a concert pianist, and he gives the player lots to do. But he also balances the piano with the strings, making these true collaborations between the three instruments.

That's not the case with the Op. 104 Piano Trios. The title explains why: Trois Sonatines faciles et brillantes pour le pianoforte seul avec accomp. d’un violon et violoncelle ad libitum à l’usage des élèves avancés (Three Easy and Brilliant Sonatinas for pianoforte solo with violin and cello accompaniment ad limitum for advanced students).

Here the piano is the star, with the strings playing supporting parts. They're still quite charming. Czerny, even as a pedagogue, wrote interesting and engaging music. And these works were meant for performance, so there's plenty for the listener to engage with.

Pianist Samuel Gingher plays with a sure, yet delicate touch. His lightness keeps the piano in balance with the strings, even in the Op. 104 works.  For their parts, violinist Sun-Young Gemma Shin and cellist Benjamin Hayek dig into their instruments. The full, rounded sound of their strings shore up the balance from the other side.

Are these work on par with the Beethoven Piano Trios? No. But that was never the point. Taken on their own merits Czerny's trios can beguile and delight. And that's fine with me.

Carl Czerny: Piano Trios
Deux Trios brillante; Trois Sonatines faciles et brillantes
Sun-Young Shin, violin; Benjamin, Hayek, cello; Samuel Gingher, piano
World Premiere Recordings
Naxos 8.573838

Friday, August 16, 2019

#ClassicsaDay #SummerClassics Week 3

It was a busy summer for the Classics a Day team. In June, we marked African-American Music Appreciation Month. In July we celebrated national holidays in the U.S. and  Canada. So that just left August to have a summer theme.

For my part, I chose to choose anything except Vivaldi's "Four Seasons." In the process, I discovered some interesting music (and composers) I'll explore further.

Here ere are my picks for the third week of #ClassicalSummer.

8/12/19 Samuel Barber: Knoxville: Summer of 1915, Op. 24

Soprano Eleanor Steber commissioned the work and premiered it with Serge Koussevitzky and the Boston Symphony in 1948. The text is from a 1938 James Agee work.

8/13/19 Thomas Campion - It Fell on a Summer's Day

Campion was a composer, poet, lutenist -- and a practicing physician. This lute song was part of a 1601 collection, A Booke of Ayres.

8/14/19 Robert Schumann - Sommerlied, Op. 146 No. 4

This summer song was published in a collection of works for a capella choir. The text is by Friedrich Rückert.

8/15/19 Benjamin Britten - A Midsummer Night's Dream, Op. 64

Britten's opera, based on Shakespeare's play, was premiered in 1960. It's considered one of the most popular post-war opera in the repertoire.

8/16/19 Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky - "August (Harvest)" from The Seasons, Op. 37a

Tchaikovsky was commissioned to write 12 short piano pieces in 1875 by the music magazine Nouvellist. The pieces were published in the magazine, one per monthly issue.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Bruckner: Complete Piano Music Complete Surprise

May I use the word "revelatory?" It most accurately describes my reaction to this release of Anton Brucker's piano music.

Bruckner's reputation (rightly) rests on his symphonies. But those were far in the future of the young student who wrote these piano pieces.

All of the works recorded were composed as student pieces and composition exercises. One of the more interesting aspects of these works, I think, is their brevity.

The longest piece (the Sonata in G minor) barely tops seven minutes. Most are between one and two minutes long. They're short and to the point.

Still, Bruckner shows his talent even in these oh-so-brief pieces. There are quadrilles, waltzes, and polkas. They're light, breezy little tunes that encourage your feet to move.

There are more serious works; theme and variations, andantes, and fantasias. These hint at the depth Bruckner would bring to his later work.

Francesco Pasqualotto treats these works as fully realized compositions. He thoughtfully phrases the melodies to give them dramatic shape. And yet he plays mostly with a light touch, befitting the modest ambitions of these student pieces.

My only quibble is with the recorded sound of the piano. Room ambiance was kept to a minimum, and yet the piano has a somewhat boomy sound. A minor flaw for an otherwise interesting and enjoyable release.

Anton Bruckner: Complete Piano Music
Francesco Pasqualotto, piano
Brilliant Classics, 956119

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Vyacheslav Artyomov Symphony of Elegies Inspires Anew

Divine Art continues their reissue of Vyacheslav Artyomov recordings with "A Symphony of Elegies."

Artyomov's 1977 "A Symphony of Elegies" was written during a trip to the mountains of Dilijan, Armenia. To me, the work forms a fascinating contrast to the mountain-inspired symphonies of American/Armenian composer Alan Hovhaness.

Both composers eschew the standard notion of "symphony," and both depict timeless solidity of mountains -- and their primal spiritual significance. Artyomov is even less concerned with tonality than Hovhaness, and therein lies the difference.

Artyomov's symphony is a slowly swirling cloud of sound. The solo violins sometimes float atop the string orchestra, other times they're obscured by it. But always there's a tension between the two. Violinists Oleh Krysa and Tatiana Grindenko are the soloists, and their also the performers for "Awakening."

Artyomov dedicated "Awakening" to Krysa and Grindenko, who premiered the work in 1978. Artyomov considered it a postlude to the symphony. Listening to the two works back-to-back I could hear why. "Awakening" inhabits the same audio world as the symphony. With just two violins, Artyomov strips the music down to its essence.  The violins must both generate the sustaining tones and the melodies above them. Its a remarkably intimate and haunting work.

For me, the most interesting of these three very interesting works was "Incantations." Artyomov conducts the Mark Pekansky Percussion Ensemble and soprano Lydia Anatolyevna Davydova in this recording. These are the artists he composed the work for, so I consider this the definitive performance.

Artyomov deconstructs the human voice, separating vowels, consonants, and other sounds into discrete blocks. He then uses them -- along with various percussive sounds -- to create something that's more than the sum of the parts.

Alfred Schnittke described "Incantations" as  “a strikingly realistic and vivid sound image of primeval magic." I agree. I'd even say that all three works evoke a mystical sonic realm only attainable through Artyomov's creative imagination.

Vyacheslav Artyomov: A Symphony of Elegies
Tatiana Grindenko and Oleh Krysa, violins
Mark Pekarsky Percussion Ensemble;
Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra; Saulius Sondeckis, conductor
Divine Art DDA 25172

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Friedrich Gernsheim Piano Series Begins at Beginning

Friedrich Gernsheim was a talented pianist and composer with two strikes against him. He was a contemporary of Johannes Brahms, who overshadowed him during his lifetime. And he was a German Jew, so his legacy was (temporarily) erased by the Nazis.

The 21st Century seems to be kinder to Gernsheim, given the number of recent recordings devoted to his music. Toccata Classics launches a survey of Gernsheim's piano music beginning right at the beginning.

Pianist Jens Barnieck performs two of Gernsheim's juvenile sonatas and his Op. 2 set of preludes.

Gernsheim started composing at age seven. The two sonatas Barnieck's carefully reconstructed from manuscripts were written when Gernsheim about 14. The sonatas were written as composition assignments, but there is nothing academic -- or juvenile -- about them.

The sonatas show a composer strongly influenced by Beethoven, but not imitative of him. Gernsheim's harmonies seem to look forward to Schumann, giving these works their own voices.

The Six Preludes come much later, written when Gernsheim was 25. He was teaching at the Conservatory at Saarbrücken, working under Ferdinand Hiller. Gernsheim's preludes superficially resemble Chopin's, though differences soon become apparent.

Like Chopin, Gernsheim wrote to his pianistic strengths. Throughout the six preludes, there are cascading arpeggios, syncopated cross-rhythms, and large, knuckle-busting chords. And there are quiet, simple passages of great beauty.

Jens Barnieck performs with solid technique and real authority. He knows these works and understands Gernsheim in a way few modern pianists do. That understanding makes these works come alive. And makes me look forward to the rest of this series.

Friedrich Gernsheim: Piano Music, Volume One 
Piano Sonata No. 2 in E-flat major; Piano Sonata No. 3 in D minor; Six Preludes, Op. 2 
Jens Barnieck, piano 
Toccata Classics TOCC 0206

Monday, August 12, 2019

Lalande Grands Motets Evoke Grandeur

Michel-Richard de Lalande was a contemporary of Jean-Baptiste Lully and François Couperin. Like them, he served at the court of Louis XIV. Lalande's strength was composing grand motets; elegant, extravagant, grand music suited for the Royal Chapel at Versailles.

This release presents three examples. All three require a large orchestra (for the Baroque period, that is). All three have big choruses and brilliantly written vocal solos.

The earliest, De Profundis, dates from 1689. It's not as expansive as the other two works. Lalande follows the five-part à la française” style of Lully for his instrumental sections. The chorus weaves contrapuntal lines of great beauty and complexity.

The Venite exultemus Domino (1701) and Dominus regnavit (1704) are somewhat different. Lalande's music exudes royal pomp and grandeur. The counterpoint is reigned in, deployed now for the greatest dramatic impact. Heraldic flourishes decorate the instrumental passages.

The assembled musicians perform with accuracy and clarity. These recordings were made in the Chapelle Royale at Versailles -- the very space they were created for. There's a nice decay to the sound, establishing a sense of space.

Even so, the performances didn't quite hit the mark for me. They seemed to lack a little energy, and the overall sound had a softness to it. This release had more plusses than minuses. If French Baroque is your passion, you should give this release a listen.

Michel-Richard de Lalande: Grands Motets 
Chantal Santon-Jeffery, sporano; Reinoud Van Mechelen, countertenor; François Joron, tenor; Lisandro Abadie, baritone 
Les Pages & Les Chantres du Centre de musique baroque de Versailles; Collegium Marianum; Olivier Scheebeli, director Glossa GCD 924301

Friday, August 09, 2019

#ClassicsaDay #SummerClassics Weeks 1 and 2

It was a busy summer for the Classics a Day team. In June, we marked African-American Music Appreciation Month. In July we celebrated national holidays in the U.S. and  Canada. So that just left August to have a summer theme.

For my part, I chose to choose anything except Vivaldi's "Four Seasons." In the process, I discovered some interesting music (and composers) I'll explore further.

August 2019 began on a Thursday (making for a very short week). So here are my picks for the first nine days of #ClassicalSummer.

8/1/19 Anon. 13th C.: Sumer is icumen in

This is one of the earliest rounds preserved in music manuscript. It's from an abbey manuscript, c.1260. and is in the Wessex dialect of Middle English.

8/2/19 Joseph Suk: A Summer's Tale, Op. 29

This 1908 tone poem is part of a trilogy, which includes "The Ripening" and "Prague." "Summer's Tale" is the longest of the three and the most complex.

8/5/19 Philippe Chamouard: Madrigal d'été pour violoncelle et orchestre

Chamouard is a modern French composer who writes in a Neo-Romantic style. The 2016 Summer Madrigal is one of his most popular works.

8/6/19 Franz Joseph Haydn - The Seasons - Summer

The creation of Haydn's 1801 oratorio was prompted by the success of "The Creation." The tone-painting in the Summer section includes the musical depiction of croaking frogs.

8/7/19 Felix Mendelssohn - A Midsummer Night's Dream

Mendelssohn wrote the overture to Shakespeare's play when he was 17. The rest of the incidental music (including the Wedding March) was written 18 years later.

8/8/19 Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel - "August" from Das Jahr

Fanny Mendelssohn completed her piano work, "Das Jahr" (The Year) in 1841. Each of the 12 pieces depicts a different month.

8/9/19 Sigismond Thalberg - Variations on "The Last Rose of Summer," Op. 73

Thalberg was one of the most popular touring piano virtuosi of the mid-19th Century. He was also one of the most popular composers for the instrument. These variations on the Irish folk song were published in 1857.

Thursday, August 08, 2019

Galant Gossec Symphonies Entertain

François-Joseph Gossec was a major musical figure in the late 1700s. His influence didn't travel far outside of France. Within its boundaries, though, Gossec created a new aesthetic that inspired composers for decades.

Gossec fully embraced the aesthetic of classicism and injected it with some forward-looking innovations. This collection of his Opus 4 symphonies has plenty of examples. They were published in 1759, the year Haydn wrote his first symphony.

Though early, these works seem to have moved past the galant style. Gossec's ensembles have thick textures. Although strings do all the heavy lifting, Gossec employs horns to great effect.

There are big contrasts in dynamics. There's more than just the Mannheim Rocket going on here. Decrescendos are used as effectively as crescendos.

Syncopated rhythms and rallentandos are two more unusual features (for the time) that Gossec incorporates into his symphonies.

Simon Gaudenz leads the Deutsche Kammerakademie Neuss in some spirited performances. The musicians tear through the finales at terrific speeds, bringing these symphonies to some thrilling conclusions. They also dig into the music, making the most of Gossec's dynamic innovations.

Enjoyable from start to finish.

François-Joseph Gossec: Symphonies, Op. 4
Deutsche Kammerakademie Neuss; Simon Gaudenz, conductor
CPO 555 263-2

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

Karl Weigl 1934 Cello Concerto Presented to the World

Volume two of CPO's "Cello Concertos by Exiled Jewish Composers" features music by Karl Weigl. Given Weigl's prominence in Vienna, it's surprising he's so little-known today.

Weigl was Mahler's rehearsal pianist. He co-founded a concert series with Arnold Schoenberg and Bruno Walter. He studied with Robert Fuchs and taught Wolfgang Erich Korngold. And yet he was forced to leave Austria in 1938, relocating to New York City. The move essentially derailed his career.

Most of the work on this release was never performed in public -- including the cello concerto. Philosophically, Weigl meant to build on the foundations of Brahms and Wagner, rather than breaking with them like his colleagues Schoenberg and Berg.

The 1934 Cello Concerto is tonal, but it waffles between G minor and B-flat major. To my ears, it had the smooth flowing textures of Edward Elgar mixed with the fluid harmonies of Bohuslav Martinu.

Cellist Raphael Wallfisch delivers a terrific performance. He exploits the ambiguities of the score to full dramatic effect. The rich, sonorous sound of his cello seems appropriate this slightly (but deliberately) tonally unfocussed work.

The Sonata for Cello and Piano, written in 1923, is more closely related to Brahms. Weigl's melodies exude emotion, alive with lyrical spontaneity. Wallfish's playing exudes warmth, adding to the beauty of the work. Pianist Edward Rushton is an equal partner, keeping the thick, cascading harmonies in balance with the cello's single line.

The remaining works on the album were among those never publicly performed. The Two Pieces for Cello and Piano are short and sweet, as is the Menuetto for Cello and Piano.

The latter Weigl arranged from the slow movement of his viola sonata. It translates well, giving the cello an opportunity to really sing.

There's no sophomore slump here. Wallfisch and colleagues give us another solid entry in this series.

Karl Weigl: Cello Concerto; Cello Sonata
Cello Concertos from Exile, Vol. 2
Raphael Wallfisch, cello
John York, Edward Rushton, piano
Konzerthausorchester Berlin; Nicholas Milton, conductor

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

Kurt Atterberg Double Concerto Deserves Better Sound

This release marks the world premiere recording of Kurt Atterberg's Concerto for violin, cello, and orchestra. The Swedish composer once characterized the 1960 double concerto as the last piece of his music worth performing. Perhaps -- only two other works were written later.

the concerto is an interesting blend of old and new. Atterberg was ever the champion of Post-Romanticism. The concerto's structure and harmonies harken back to the practices of the early 1900s.

But the piece doesn't sound outdated. Atterberg is a skillful melodist. both violin and cello have beautiful passages that engage the listener. The music reminds a little of Dag Wiren and Vaughn Holmboe, two other Scandinavian composers unaffected by fashionable trends.

Also included is Barroco, Suite No. 5 for Chamber Orchestra, Op. 23. The work is inspired by Baroque music but sounds nothing like it. Rather, the sections seem a blend of Swedish folk music and late 17th Century orchestration (without the harpsichord).

I think the mix works quite effectively. The "Baroque" flavor gives the music a simplistic charm, enhanced by the tuneful, folklike melodies.

The Sinfonia for Strings, Op. 53 also exists as a string quintet. The string orchestra version adds double basses for a fuller sound. If you like string music by Elgar, Britten, or Sibelius, you'll enjoy this work.

The Örebro Chamber Orchestra directed by Thord Svedlund delivers sympathetic and effective performances. Soloists Amus Kerstin Andersson (violin) and Max Levin (cello) turn in fine performances. Their playing in the concerto seems collaborative at times, making it a team effort (rather than dueling artists).

The album was recorded in the Örebro Concerto Hall. To my ears, the ambiance was excessive. At best, it gave the music a kind of luminosity. Mostly, though, it just seemed to slightly smear the ensemble sound, taking away some of the music's detail.

Kurt Atterberg: Concerto for violin, cello, and orchestra in G minor-C major, Op. 57;  Barocco, Suite No. 5 for Chamber Orchestra, Op. 23; Sinfonia for Strings, Op. 53
Amus Kerstin Andersson, violin; Max Levin, violoncello
Örebro Chamber Orchestra; Thord Svedlund, conductor
Danacord DACOCD 836

Monday, August 05, 2019

Graupner Passion Cantatas II Maintain High Standard

In 1741 Christoph Graupner produced ten Passion Cantatas -- one for each Sunday of Lent. Volume 1 featured three of those cantatas; Volume 2 has three more, each uniquely shaped by the text Graupner sets.

Das Leiden Jesu von seinen Freunden GWV 1122/41 (Friend, why are you here) was for the Third Sunday of Lent. Graupner illustrates the despair of Judas' betrayal with grinding dissonances. They eventually resolve to end the cantata with hope -- but not too much. There are still six more Sundays to go before Easter.

Die Gesegnete Vollendung der Leiden Jesu GWV 1127/41 (Now everything is done; Jesus cries "It is finished.") is the last cantata in the series. It was performed on Good Friday and is the largest in scope of Graupner's Passion Cantatas.

Graupner adds a bassoon to the transverse flutes and oboes for a fuller sound. He also adds a number and greatly expands two others.

The soprano's aria "Weine über Jesus Schmerzen" is over eleven minutes long; the bass aria "Alles ist vollendet!" is runs more than eight minutes.

Gedenke Herr an die Scchmach - Die Schmähliche Verspottung GWV 1170/41 (Remember, O Lord, the scorning of your servants) is the seventh work in the cycle. Transverse flute illustrates the mocking of Jesus. They flit around over somber sustained chords of the choir and strings.

Florian Heyerick elicits wonderfully expressive performances. The voices of the Solistenensemble Ex Tempore blend beautifully with the Barokorchester Mannheimer Hofkapelle.

The soloists sing with rich, rounded tones and restrained expressiveness. These are intimate, small-scale performances -- appropriate for Lenten cantatas.

Christoph Graupner: Das Leiden Jesu
Passion Cantatas II
Solistensemble Ex Tempore
Barockorchester Mannheimer Hofkapelle; Florian Heyerick, director

Friday, August 02, 2019

#ClassicsaDay Revisits #NAFTAclassics Week 5

The Classics a Day team is made up of Americans and Canadians. The month of July has important national holidays for both countries. And so the theme for July is the music of North America. (Mexico doesn't have a major holiday in July, but we decided to be inclusive). 

In my posts for #ClassicsaDay I alternated between the three countries. Of course, July 1 featured a Canadian composer, and July 4 an American. Here are my posts for the fifth and final week of #NAFTAclassics.

7/29/19 Juan Trigos (Mexican) - Symphony No. 4, Nezahualcoyotl Icuicahuan

Trigos calls his style "Abstract Folklore." He abstracts basic elements of folk music and uses them as building blocks for his classical compositions.

7/30/19 Charles Ives (American) - Country Band March

In this 1903 work, Ives depicts a performance by an unskilled (and underrehearsed) amateur ensemble. It's sometimes considered a parallel to Mozart's "Musical Joke."

7/31/19 Victor Rasgado (Mexican) - Concerto for Tuba and Orchestra

Rasgado is a concert pianist and composer. His impressive body of work includes concertos, chamber works, and a prize-winning chamber opera.

Thursday, August 01, 2019

Pianist Jinghu Zhao Launches Carl Czerny Series

Now, this is an ambitious recording project. Carl Czerny wrote over 1,000 works -- a substantial portion for solo piano. If you still collect CDs, you might want to clear a shelf for this series.

Volume one features five works, only one an entirely original Czerny composition. Variations, fantasies, and impromptus based on existing melodies were extremely popular in the early 1800s.

The album opens with L’Écho des Alpes Suisses, Livre 2, published in 1838. No. 1, Introduction & Variations brillantes sur l’air suisse Alles liebt Tout aime, Op. 428 follows a traditional theme and variations structure.

No. 2, Impromptu brillants sur un thème national Suisse, Op. 429 has a freer structure, and lets Czerny develop the theme in interesting and unexpected ways.

The 1844 Fantaisie sur des Mélodies de Beethoven, Op. 752 is based on "Gedenke mein!", a short song. Czerny studied with Beethoven, and was the soloist for the premiere of the "Emporer Concerto." He takes this modest little tune and develops it into a powerful pianistic tour-de-force -- much as Beethoven did with Diabelli's theme.

The Impromptu sentimental sur le thème ‘O nume benefico’ de l’opéra La Gazza ladra, de Rossini, Op. 523 benefits greatly from the quality of the source material. Czerny has a lot to work with, and he makes the most of it.

The solo original work, Hommage aux Dames, Op. 136 is actually the slightest on the album. It's a simple little Biedermeier confection.

Pianist Jingshu Zhao plays with remarkable precision and sensitivity. Her considerable technique is always in service to the music. We hear Rossini's melody sing out through the cloud of notes surrounding it. Beethoven's tune thunders with portent. The Swiss melodies exude charm.

I'm impressed -- and ready for the next of hopefully many volumes.

Carl Czerny: Piano Music, Volume One
Jinghu Zhao, piano
Toccata Classics

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Spam Roundup July, 2019

There's spam, and then there's spam so oddly written it's somewhat amusing. Here's a roundup of some of the "best" comments I received this month from spambots around the world.

Hidden messages?

I'm sure these comments were written with random word generators. And yet, it almost seems like they're saying something profound (or just profoundly cryptic).

 - You can meliorate them end-to-end their period of period and that includes rind-reassuring and brightening ingredients. [If you can reassure the rind, you're golden. Period of period.]

 - As near incarnate websites do not let consumer goods be an occurrent, where you'll go succeeding, you'll be competent to inform wish a pro. [It never occurred to me.]

 - Having a luxuriously mixture of products. [Thanks! Don't mind if I do.]

 - You're decreasing the fertility of your natural soil. [Are you saying I should add more sh*t to these posts?]

"Lumbering along" keeps getting the love

The post that continues to pull in the spam is little more than a description of an early 1960s Japanese toy truck. The Straco Express Layout, Part 23 - Lumbering Along not only generates the most spam comments but some of the oddest as well. 

 - Great article. I am going through a few of these issues as well. [Issues?!]

 - This excellent website certainly has all the information I wanted about this subject and didn't know who to ask. [Glad to help. Just don't ask about issues.]

 - After reading this remarkable article I am also cheerful to share my know-how here with friends - Hot University of Ohio Girls. [Wait, what? That's "lumbering," as in moving slowly and awkwardly, not "lumbering" as in, oh never mind.]

 - I was curious to know how you center yourself and clear your mind before writing. [I just close my eyes and start typing. Couldn't you tell?]

In conclusion

I know a program wrote this. But I'd like to think a real person did. That would be too wonderful.

I have in mind your stuff previous to and you are simply too wonderful.

That's all for this month. Beware of incarnate websites and meliorated periods of periods. 

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Vyacheslav Artyomov - Master of Percussion

Vyacheslav Artyomov has developed his own musical language. It isn't so much about scales and chords as it is timbres and sound clouds. In other words, the perfect aesthetic for percussion ensembles.

This release features two works commissioned by the Mark Pekarsky Percussion Ensemble, performed by that ensemble. The earliest work, Totem is a marvelous study in instrumental potential.

The work begins with swirling clouds of sound that coalesces into a rhythmic section before dissolving into another ethereal cloud. Arytomov uses 69 instruments, creating interesting combinations of wood, metal, leather.

In A Sonata of Meditiations (1978) Artyomov adds another dimension to his mix of tonal and indefinite pitch percussion. Each of the four movements -- or meditations -- add a player. So the first movement has one performer, the second, two and so on.

What I admired was how diverse the collection of sounds Artyomov uses even with just a single player.

A Garland of Recitations is a study in contrasts. Composed in conjunction with Meditations, it uses four performers in an entirely different fashion. Strings provide a continual, slowly evolving sound cloud. Four wind instruments -- oboe, clarinet, saxophone, flute -- each perform individually over this swirling sound.

Atryomov pushes the wind instruments to their limits -- and it pays off. The stark contrast between the energy and intensity of the soloists with the self-effacing string sound creates a work of exceptional beauty.

These recordings were originally issued on Melodyia in the early 1990s. There's a slight softness to the sound, but overall I heard an exceptional amount of detail. And hearing that fine detail is essential to fully appreciate these performances.

Highly recommended.

Vyacheslav Artyomov: A Sonata of Meditations; A Garland of Recitations; Totem 
Mark Pekarsky Percussion Ensemble
Vladimir Pakulichev, flute; Anatoli Liubimovm, oboe; Lev Mikhailov, saxophones; Valeriy Popov, bassoon
Academic Symphony Orchestra of the Moscow State Philharmonic; Virko Baley, conductor 
Divine Art

Monday, July 29, 2019

Thüringer Bach Collegium Debuts Princely Concertos

This is an exceptional recording of some exceptional music. Prince Johann Ernst IV (1696-1715) was known as the "Thüringian Vivaldi." Ernst showed musical talent at a young age. He composed nineteen works, all within nine months of his death at age 18.

But there's more to the story. His primary teacher was Johann Gottfried Walther. Walther's cousin, Johann Sebastian Bach arrived in Weimar in 1707 as court organist.

Ernst had a substantial collection of Vivaldi's music. which he carefully studied. Bach would create keyboard transcriptions from those Vivaldi works, as well as some of Ernst's concertos. Georg Phillip Teleman also took an interest in the young composer, editing and publishing six of his violin concertos as Ernst's Op. 1.

That publication makes up the bulk of this new release. Also included are two additional violin concertos (one for 2 violins), and a trumpet concerto.

Ernst thoroughly absorbed Vivaldi's style. The works are all in three brief movements, alternating fas-slow-fast. They also mimic Vivaldi's use of ritornello and extended sequences.

While the structure may have come from Italy, the music is original to Ernst. Some of these, through Bach's transcriptions, are already regarded as masterworks. The Op. 1, No. 1 Concerto is Bach's BWV 982; the Concerto in G major is BWV 592; the Concerto in C major is BWV 595.

Hearing these concertos in their original form is a revelation. To me, it's apparent that Bach didn't need to "fix-up" his source material. Ernst's concertos are both original in content and skillfully composed.

The Thüringer Bach Collegium perform on period instruments. The ensemble has a somewhat gritty sound I find completely authentic. There are also moments of great beauty, especially in the slow movements.

The ensemble delivers this music with all the energy and enthusiasm one imagines a teenager would invest in his work -- even one who was racing against time.

Audite's announced the ensemble's second release will be compositions by Johann Bernhard Bach, second cousin to Johann Sebastian. I'm in.

Prinz Johann Ernst von Sachsen-Weimar: Concerti 
Thüringer Bach Collegium 

Friday, July 26, 2019

#ClassicsaDay Revisits #NAFTAclassics – Week 4

The Classics a Day team is made up of Americans and Canadians. The month of July has important national holidays for both countries. And so the theme for July is the music of North America. (Mexico doesn't have a major holiday in July, but we decided to be inclusive). 

In my posts for #ClassicsaDay I alternated between the three countries. Of course, July 1 featured a Canadian composer, and July 4 an American. Here are my posts for the fourth week of #NAFTAclassics.

7/22/19 Blas Galindo (Mexican) - Sinfonia Breve

Galindo has been a writer, editor, government official, and educator -- all in the service of Mexican art music. As a composer he wrote over 150 works, almost always incorporating Mexican folk elements.

7/23/19 Andrew Ager - Toccata et Fugue

Ager mostly self-taught himself composition. Nevertheless, his music is frequently performed internationally. He has over 50 works in his catalog, including four operas.

7/24/19 Supply Belcher (American) - The Power of Musick

Called "the Handel of Maine," Belcher was a prolific author of hymn tunes in the Federalist Period. His fuguing tunes were second only to those of William Billings in popularity.

7/25/19 John Burge (Canadian) - Oscillations (for Art & Janet McDonald)

Burge wrote Oscillations in tribute to his Queen's University colleague, Dr. Arthure McDonald. McDonald won the Nobel Prize for discovering neutrino oscillations.

7/26/19 Florence Price (American) - Symphony No. 3 in E minor

Price's Third Symphony was commissioned by the Works Progress Administration (WPA). It was first premiered by the Detroit Civic Orchestra in 1940.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Friedrich Schneider Symphony No. 16 reincarnated

Funny how things work. Johann Sebastian Bach was organist at St. Thomaskirk, Leipzig. A prolific composer, his music is known throughout the world. Friedrich Schneider held the same post in 1812. A prolific composer, his music is virtually unknown.

Schneider's catalog includes four operas, 25 cantatas, seven piano concertos, and 23 symphonies. And yet just six years after his death in 1853, a critic wrote, "How few of his one-hundred printed works are nowadays appreciated as they deserve?"

Perhaps this new release from CPO will help change that. It features world premiere recordings of Schneider's Symphony No. 16 plus three concert overtures.

The Anhaltische Philharmonie Dessau conducted by Markus L. Frank is in fine form. Schneider's overtures seem to blend Beethoven's thematic content with Rossini's exuberance. The ensemble performs them with energy and elan.

Schneider's Symphony No. 16 in A major was completed in 1818. It received several performances, including at least two at the Leipzig Gewandhaus (in 1822 and 1840). The latter performance was conducted by Felix Mendelssohn.

Although Schneider's motivic development is in line with Beethoven, the overall structure and texture seem to owe more to Haydn. The symphony has a lightness to it I found quite appealing (as did Mendelssohn's audience).

This is the second CPO release of Friedrich Schneider's music. I'm hoping it won't be the last.

Friedrich Schneider: Symphony No. 16; Overtures
Anhaltische Philharmonie Dessau; Markus L. Frank, conductor
CPO 555 180

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Raphel Wallfisch brings home exiled concertos

This release marks the beginning of a new series from CPO. Cello Concertos from Exile features works by Jewish composers forced to flee Nazi Germany. This first release includes works by Fanz Rezeinstein and Berthold Goldschmidt, who both found refuge in the UK.

It's a deeply personal project for cellist Raphael Wallfisch. As he explains in the liner notes, his parents (both musicians) survived the Holocaust and were friends with several of the composers in this series.

Franz Reizenstein was a student of Paul Hindemith and Ralph Vaughan Williams. To my ears, his 1951 Cello Concerto in G strongly resembles Hindemith. In the slow movement, though, I can hear echoes of late Vaughan Williams. It's a work full of drama, and also plenty of technical challenges for the soloist.

Berthold Goldschmidt's 1953 Cello Concerto is also technically challenging. Like Reizenstein, Goldschmidt rejected atonality. Still, his music comes closer to the border than Reizenstein's.

This concerto has a complex, polyphonic texture with dissonances that grind against each other before resolving. The chromatic motion further obscures the tonal center (without completely erasing it).

Raphael Wallfisch is emotionally invested in this project and these works. And that comes through in his performances. He brings his considerable talent to bear on these concertos, playing with passion and elan. And in the process, he makes the case for these works to enter the repertoire.

Berthold Goldschmidt, Franz Reizenstein: Cello Concertos
Cello Concertos from Exile, Vol. 1
Raphael Wallfisch, cello
Konzerthausorchester Berlin; Nicholas Milton, conductor
CPO 555109-2

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Make Mine Mutts

Patrick McDonnell, creator of Mutts is a serious fan of sequential art. In honor of ComicsCon, he published the following sequence July 15-21, 2019. Each panel is an homage to a classic Marvel Comics character (mostly from the Silver Age).

If you're also a fan of classic comic books, this was a real treat.

Early sonatas from Muzio Clementi have their appeal

This release is part of Naxos' leisurely traversal through Muzio Clementi's keyboard sonatas. This installment features sonatas from the early part of his career.

The Op. 2 sonatas were published in 1779, the Op. 1784. This was the time when Antonio Salieri was still a major composer. Mozart was up to 15 piano concertos; Haydn up to 72 symphonies.

The sonatas are all fairly short, many with just two movements. I was reminded of Haydn's piano sonatas -- if Haydn was more of a show-off. Quick runs up and down the keyboard abound, along with intricately fingered motifs and long, lingering trills.

This is the recording debut of prize-winning Sun-A Park. She performs these works with a deft, light touch, which is exactly what they need.

Some of the faster movements -- as in the Sonata in B-flat major, Op. 12, No. 1 --  she takes at breakneck speeds. Her technique is more than up to the challenge. No matter how rapid the tempo, runs are clearly articulated and nicely phrased.

All in all, a strong debut for Sun-A Park, and some pleasant listening courtesy of Mssr. Clementi.

Muzio Clementi - Keyboard Sonatas, Op. 2, Op. 7, Op. 9, Op. 12
Sun-A Park, piano
Naxos 8.573940

Monday, July 22, 2019

Psalmen & Friedensmusiken ends Heinrich Schutz series on a strong note

The Carus traversal of Heinrich Schutz works ends with a collection of commissioned works. For the most part, the music on this 2 CD set marks important occasions in the Dresden court. Some were commissioned for birthdays, others for treaty signings, and so on.

Schutz studied in Venice with Giovanni Gabrielli (and perhaps with Claudio Monteverdi). There are many elements of Gabrielli's style in these works. Small choirs echo each other across space. Sometimes they're also treated contrapuntally. The extensive use of brass adds a noble air.

If you've been following the series, you'll hear many familiar voices. Dorothee Mields, Gerlinde Sämann, David Erler, and Georg Poplutz (just to name a few) deliver fine performances. In fact, everyone involved maintains the same high performance standards set by earlier recordings in the series.

After 19 volumes, these artists and ensembles have internalized Schutz's style -- and Hans-Christoph Rademann's interpretation of it. As always, these are models of clarity. No matter how complex Schutz's writing, vocal lines sound clean and transparent.

The release even includes a world premiere recording, "Trostlied" SWV 502. This simple and beautiful work was written in memorium for an infant. It's Schutz at his most personal, and a fine way to end the series.

Heinrich Schutz: Psalmen & Friedensmusiken
Complete Recording, Vol. 20
Gerlinde Sämann, Isabel Schicketanz, sopranos; Maria Stosiek, Dorothee Mields, mezzo-sopranos; 
David Erler, Stefan Kunath, counter-tenors; Georg Poplutz, Tobias Mäthger, tenors; Felix Schwandtke, bass; Martin Schicketanz, baritone
Dresdner Kammerchor, Hans-Christoph Rademann, director
Carus 83.278 2 CD Set

Friday, July 19, 2019

#ClassicsaDay Revisits #NAFTAclassics – Week 3

The Classics a Day team is made up of Americans and Canadians. The month of July has important national holidays for both countries. And so the theme for July is the music of North America. (Mexico doesn't have a major holiday in July, but we decided to be inclusive). 

In my posts for #ClassicsaDay I alternated between the three countries. Of course, July 1 featured a Canadian composer, and July 4 an American. Here are my posts for the third week of #NAFTAclassics.

7/15/19 Edward Burlingame Hill (American) - Stevensonia Suite No. 1

Though a prolific composer, Hill is best remembered as a teacher. His students included Leonard Berstein, Walter Piston, Elliot Carter, and Roger Sessions.

7/16/19 Arturo Márquez (Mexican) - Danzón No. 2

The 1994 Danzón No. 2 is one of the most popular works by a Mexican composer in the repertoire. It was premiered in Mexico City, and is based on traditional Mexican dance forms.

7/17/19 Ruth Crawford Seeger (American) - String Quartet

She's primarily remembered as Pete Seeger's mother. But in the 1930s Ruth was part of the ultra modernist movement that influenced composers such as Elliott Carter.

7/18/19 Gabriela Ortiz (Mexican) - Atlas Pumas

Ortiz brings popular elements into her music, including Afro-Cuban music, African chant, and rock.

7/19/18 Linda Catlin Smith (Canadian) - Light and Water

Though American by birth, Smith moved to Canada early in her career. She's won several awards and had many important commissions from Canadian ensembles.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Forgotten gems from Begnt Hallberg and Joseph Dente

Hallberg and Dente are far from household names -- even in their native Sweden. Begnt Wilhelm Hallberg spent most of his career in Landskrona, outside the cultural center of Sweden (read: Stockholm). Joseph Dente was a major musical figure in Stockholm, though his reputation and influence remained within the confines of the Royal College of Music.

And yet both composers created music of quality and beauty. Sterling presents three prime examples in this new release.

Bengt Hallberg (1824-1883) was primarily a church musician and hymnodist. In the 1850s he studied with Franz Berwald, who inspired him to expand his focus. His orchestral works -- two overtures, a scherzo, and a symphony -- come after this time.

The Concert Overture No. 2 in F major seems inspired by Beethoven, but with a softer edge. This 1853 work a little too serious to be a curtain-raiser, although it does have some lively moments.

Hallberg's 1870 Symphony is a more successful work, I think. Hallberg seems more comfortable writing for the orchestra. Hallberg sounds closer to Mendelssohn and Schumann in this work. His melodic material is strongest in the slow movement.

The Malmö Symphony Orchestra directed by Per Engström perform both works. These are 1984 radio broadcast recordings. The performances are fine, but the details are a little muddy.

The 1887 Symphony in D minor by Joseph Dente fairs better. This broadcast performance with the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra under Ola Karlsson comes from 1992. The sound is much cleaner and clearer, although still a bit compressed.

I think Dente's symphony is also a stronger work. It even placed third in an international competition. Dente combines Beethoven's motivic development with Brahms' harmonies. It works and works well.

Dente was also a violinist, and that first-hand knowledge informs his orchestration.

While these works might not be first rank, they are well-crafted and well-played. And I found them quite enjoyable. You may too!

Begnt Wilhelm Hallberg/Joseph Dente: Orchestral Works
Malmö Symphony Orchestra; Per Engström, conductor
Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra; Ola Karlsson, conductor
Sterling CDS 1120

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

John Robertson - Vallarta Suite a holiday for ears

It turns out there were two composers who worked full-time in insurance. Their day jobs freed them to write the music they wanted to. But the music that American Charles Ives and Canadian John Robertson produced was very different, indeed.

Ives studied music and pushed against its academic restraints. Robertson is mostly self-taught and seems simply unconcerned with current trends. Robertson writes in a neo-classical style all his own. His works are not pastiches of past masters, nor are they especially ground-breaking.

The Vallarta Suite is a musical portrait of Puerto Vallarta, full of energy and orchestral color. Robertson's 2004 work is instantly appealing, especially in the dance-inspired movements.

Even more energetic is Robertson's symphony march, Strut In. It's a march with something of an attitude. I'd recommend this to any orchestra looking for something to pep up the audience.

The 2014 Symphony No. 2 isn't tied to a program or extra-musical theme. That, I think, makes it the most interesting of the three works. The symphony is a nicely-structured three-movement work.

Roberton's harmonies sometimes hint at modality, adding a bit of spice to the music. His themes are carefully delineated and worked out in logical -- if slightly non-traditional -- fashions.

Anthony Armore and the Janacek Philharmonic Orchestra deliver some fine performances. The ensemble has a warmth to it that resonates with the coziness of Robertson's music.

John Robertson's music has a slight outsider quality to it. Melodies don't quite resolve "correctly," harmonies move in highly individualistic ways. And yet it's all accessible -- even inviting -- to the listener.

John Robertson: Vallarta Suite; Strut In; Symphony No. 2
Janacek Philharmonic Orchestra; Anthony Armore, conductor
Navona, NV6117

Monday, July 15, 2019

Józef Elsner String Quartets Worth Exploring

Józef Elsner was one of the most important composers in early 19th Century Poland. He wrote 38 operas, eight symphonies, over 70 masses, and oratorios, dozens of chamber works, and more. Yet he's remembered for one thing: he was Fredrick Chopin's piano teacher.

This release helps remove Elsner from his famous pupil's shadow. The Op. 8 string quartets were composed around 1796, placing them more in the Classical rather than Romantic era.

They're interesting works. Elsner is crediting with incorporating Polish folk music into his work, but that would come later. These quartets all use the same language as Haydn and Mozart.

Although all three quartets are about the same length, they vary in structure. Quartet No. 1 in C major has but two movements, the second being a theme and variations. Elsner's use of materials reminded me strongly of Haydn.

Quartet No. 2 in E-flat major has four short movements. The mood here is lighter, with Elsner leaning more towards Mozart.

Quartet No. 3 in D minor reminded me most of Beethoven's early quartets. Perhaps it was the minor key that made the work sound heavier and more serious than the other two. It has a three-movement structure, of which the first is the most complex.

Although the music is interesting, I found this a difficult recording to listen to. The Equilibrium String Quartet performs on period instruments. I'm not opposed to period instruments. I think they do require additional work to sound pleasant.

I'm not exactly what fell sort for me -- the instruments, how they were played, or the way they were recorded. Whatever the cause, I thought the ensemble sounded very thin. The violins had a nasal quality that seemed especially harsh in exposed passages.

I did determine that Elsner is a composer I would like to hear more of. Especially if performed with modern instruments.

Józef Elsner: String Quartets. Op. 8
Equilibrium String Quartet
Accord ACD257
World Premiere Recording


Friday, July 12, 2019

#ClassicsaDay Revisits #NAFTAclassics - Week 2

The Classics a Day team is made up of Americans and Canadians. The month of July has important national holidays for both countries. And so the theme for July is the music of North America. (Mexico doesn't have a major holiday in July, but we decided to be inclusive). 

In my posts for #ClassicsaDay I alternated between the three countries. Of course, July 1 featured a Canadian composer, and July 4 an American. Here are my posts for the second week of #NAFTAclassics.

7/8/19 Kelly-Marie Murphy (Canadian) - Curiosity, Genius, and the Search for Petula Clark

Murphy's work was commissioned for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra's Glen Gould tribute. It reference's Gould's tracking a Petula Clark song from station to station as he drove across Canada.

7/9/19 Silvestre Revueltas (Mexican) - Sensemayá

Revueltas' most popular work is based on a poem by Nicolás Guillén. The subject is a ritual Afro-Caribbean chant, used during a sacrifice to the god Babalu Aye.

7/10/19 Alexina Louie (Canadian) - Changes

Louie is both a composer and pianist. "Changes" is the second of a four-part work, "Music for Piano." It presents contemporary music concepts in music playable by young students.

7/11/19 Amy Beach (American) - Variations on Balkan Themes, Op. 60

Beach premiered her Variations in one of her own recitals. The work was written to show support for the unsuccessful 1903 Ilinden Uprising against their Ottoman rulers.

7/12/19 Healey Willan (Canadian) - Piano Concerto in C minor, Op. 76

Willan was organist/choir director of Toronto's largest church from 1921 until his death in 1968. Though most of his 800 compositions were liturgical, he also wrote chamber and orchestral music, like this concerto.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Johann Wilms Piano Quartets receive their due

Johann Wilhelm Wilms (1772-1847) only wrote two piano quartets (that we know of), and they conveniently fit on one CD. German-born Wilms was a major musical figure in the Netherlands As a contemporary of Beethoven, his fame remained more regional than international.

A contemporary reviewer called Wilms a "practiced composer versed in compositional technique." That's an accurate assessment, and that technique is on full display in these recordings.

Wilms was an accomplished pianist (and flutist). And he strikes the right balance between the instruments. Writing for the piano quartet was a challenge. Violinists tended to relegate the piano to an accompanying role for the string trio, pianists the reverse.

Wilms' piano parts are sufficiently meaty, but in both these works, all instruments share the gravy.

The Piano Quartet in C major, Op. 22 was published in 1808 but probably composed much earlier. Stylistically it reminded me of very early Beethoven. The general outline is Mozartian. But the instrumental textures are thicker, and the overall music has a heavier feel to it.

Historically, Wilms' music forms a bridge from Haydn and Mozart to Mendelssohn and Schumann. His Piano Quartet in F major, Op. 30 is closer to the early Romantics than the late Classicists. The harmonies have more chromatic inflections, and the themes are far more expansive. Both quartets take about a half-hour to play. The first has four movements, the second only three.

The Valentin Klavierquartett deliver first-rate performances. Pianist Isabel Lhotzky plays with dexterity and precision, making the piano part sparkle at times. Inka von Puttkamer (violin), David Ott (viola), and Hanno Kuhns (cello) are equally adept in making the most of Wilms' score. And there's a lot there to explore.

Well versed in compositional technique, indeed. The balance Wilms maintains between piano and strings isn't often heard -- even in the works of greater masters.

Johann Wilhelm Wilms
Two Piano Quartets
Valentin Klavierquartett

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Kondonassis in Rapturous Performance of Higdon Harp Concerto

Yolanda Kondonassis does not play pretty harp music. Her performances are marked with intensity and energy -- and her choice of repertoire continually pushes the limits. Jennifer Higdon wrote her a concerto that gives Kondonassis free reign to express herself -- and she does.

The four-movement Harp Concerto has Kondonassis do just about everything with the instrument -- except play dreamy glissandos. I especially enjoyed the third movement, "Lullaby." Higdon pairs the harp with a variety of solo instruments for an intimate chamber piece of quiet beauty.

The fourth movement, "Rap Knock" uses the harp as a percussion instrument, holding its own in a percussion ensemble. It also features some incredibly rapid -- and intricate -- passages. Kondonassis plays it all impeccably. In interviews, she talks about her enthusiasm for this work, and it shows in the performance.

"Rapture" by Patrick Harlan isn't Biblical in the slightest. After weeks underground, cavers lose their circadian rhythms and enter a disoriented emotional state termed the rapture. Harlan's work recreates that experience. "Rapture" drifts from one amorphous configuration to another, with bursts of extreme intensity.

Also included is Samuel Barber's Symphony No. 1, which provides a nice stylistic bridge between Higdon and Harlan.

Ward Stare and the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra deliver energetic performances throughout. This is their first recording in five years, and well worth the wait.

American Rapture
Jennifer Higdon: Harp Concerto; Samuel Barber: Symphony No. 1; Patrick Harlin: Rapture
Yolanda Kondonassis, harp
The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra; Ward Stare, conductor
Azica ACD-71327

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Aho Wind Quintets performed with love

This release tells a story -- the story of a relationship between composer and performers. Finnish composer Kalevi Aho writes very challenging music. The Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet (BPWQ) accepted that challenge and performed his Wind Quintet No. 1. In fact, they fell in love with the work, playing it more than 20 times in concert.

It was only natural, then, that the quintet would commission a work from the composer. And Aho obliged, creating a work that was uniquely suited for -- and demanding -- of the BPWQ. This release features the BPWQ performing the quintet they know so well, and the quintet they commissioned.

Aho's compositional style doesn't so much oppose tradition as to just simply ignore it. His 2006 Wind Quintet No. 1 upends several "givens" of the genre. He uses the F horn, rather than the bassoon, as the bass instrument. The oboe often players higher than the flute. And at various points different players perform off-stage, greatly altering the balance and texture of the ensemble.

Aho considered his second quintet a "little symphony." In it, he greatly expands the parameters and definition of a wind quintet. The work has long, drawn-out lines that require tremendous breath control. At times the flute player switches to piccolo or alto flute; the oboist to cor anglais.

All of these great changes the sound of the ensemble, and Aho takes full advantage of the new sonorities.

The Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet perform flawlessly. The first quintet benefits from their intimate knowledge of the work. The second was written for them, and it fits like a glove. The long, sonorous tones of the ensemble are truly beautiful. The connection between composer and performers is strong -- and can be heard throughout these two works.

Kalevi Aho: Wind Quintets
Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet
BIS 2176

Monday, July 08, 2019

Rediscovered Carl Abel Concertos Given New Life

In 2018 a collection of music by Carl Friederich Abel was discovered in Poland. In 1787 Count Maltzan purchased the manuscripts at Abel's estate sale in London. He later returned to his native Poland, the collection soon forgotten.

The Maltzan Collection has 29 works -- 22 of them previously unknown. Six receive their recording world premiere with this release.

Abel was one of the greatest viola da gamba players of his age. And like other Baroque-era performers, he wrote music primarily for himself to perform in concert. He once wrote, "I do not choose to be always struggling with difficulties, and playing with all my might. I make my pieces difficult whenever I please, according to my disposition and that of my audience."

That assessment sums up the six viola da gamba concerti in this release. Each has three short movements, fast-slow-fast. Melodies are elegantly simple, phrasing regular and balanced. In these areas, the player's musicianship is challenged.

Then there are patches where Abel was pleased to add difficulty. Here the soloist must rise to Abel's technical prowess.

Kryzysztof Firlus succeeds with both. His playing is expressive and sure. Abel's "difficulties" are handled without breaking a sweat. Double stops, harmonics, rapid passagework -- Firlus plays it all with a clean, clear tone.

Tomasz Pokrzwinski (baroque cello) and Anna Firlus (harpsichord, fortepiano) compliment Firlus' interpretations nicely. But it's clear who's the star. Both the cello and the keyboards are pushed way into the background of the recording. I suspect that's the balance Carl Abel had in mind.

I hope we'll hear more of the Maltzan Collection. The six sonatas are beautiful examples of the Galant style.

Carl Friedrich Abel: Sonatas from the Maltzan Collection
Krzysztof Firlus, viola da gamba; Anna Firlus, harpsichord, fortepiano; Tomasz Pokrzwinski, baroque cello
DUX 1564