Friday, June 24, 2022

#ClassicaDay #PrideMonth Week 4

For the month of June, Classics a Day celebrates Pride Month. And the challenge is to post works from classical composers who self-identified as other than heteronormative. 

There are a lot of composers to choose from -- and not just in the modern era. This was a challenge that deepened my knowledge of classical music. And deepened my appreciation of the additional struggles faced by LGBTQ+ composers both past and present. Here are my posts from the fourth week of #PrideMonth.

06/20/22 Marc Blitzstein - Serenade for String Quartet

Although best known for his theater works, Blitzstein also composed in other genres. This serenade was written in 1932, four years before his iconic "The Cradle Will Rock."

06/21/22 Ned Rorem - Piano Sonata No. 1

Rorem is best known for his art songs, but his catalog is quite varied. It includes symphonies, concertos, and chamber music. This 1948 work is the first of his three piano sonatas.

06/22/22 Charles Tomlinson Griffes - Poem for Flute and Orchestra

Griffes wrote this piece in 1918 when he was 33. He died two years later, a victim of the Spanish Flu epidemic.

06/23/22 Lord Berners - Fantasie espagnole for orchestra

Berners was a colorful character. He was a painter, novelist, and composer. He once quipped "I would have been a better composer if I had accepted fewer lunch invitations."

06/24/22 Manuel de Falla - Serenatea andaluza

de Falla premiered this work in 1900. Around this time, he first started exploring the music of his native Andalusia.

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Carl Fruhling Chamber Music Brought to Light

I'm used to early music composers having sketchy bios with lists of lost compositions. Not so much 20th Century composers. But Carl Frühling is one. 

We do have Frühling's dates -- 1868-1937. We know that he was an extraordinary pianist and often performed chamber music. He won the Liszt Prize in 1889. He also met Johannes Brahms, whose music greatly influenced Frühling's. 

Most of Frühling's published works were salon music for the general public. But he always thought of himself as a serious composer. And a few surviving works prove that he was, and a talented one at that.

Frühling wrote the Piano Quintet in F-sharp minor in 1892. Although published, it virtually disappeared after 1914. It resurfaced in 1992 thanks to an Austrian Radio recording. Frühling follows Brahms' style, but this is not an homage. Frühling's experience as a pianist and chamber musician is readily apparent. 

Frühling balances all the instruments. Each contributes significantly to the musical whole. The recorded performances suggest to me that this is a joy to play. The melodies have a quiet beauty with a hint of joie de vivre

The Piano Quintet in D major survived -- barely -- in the library of the Flonzaley Quartet (active from 1902-1929). The manuscript in their archives is a copy of the original, which is missing. Stylistically, the quintet seems to also be from the 1890s. It also appears to have been written after the piano quartet.

The work has more complex and carefully crafted melodies. Frühling's counterpoint also sounds surer and more developed than it did in the quartet. Once again, the performers give their best. The melodies sound exquisite. The ensemble has a rich, late-Romantic fullness, as the players revel in Frühling's music. 

Frühling died in poverty in 1937, with no family. He was forced to register as a Jew in Nazi-run Austria. The lack of heirs and enmity of the authorities may account for the loss of his manuscripts. It's estimated that Frühling composed over a hundred works, of which only a fraction survive. 

Perhaps more of his music will be rediscovered. Based on the quality of the works on this recording, I certainly hope so. Highly recommended for the beauty of the music, and the quality of the performances. 

Carl Frühling: Piano Quintet, Op. 30; Piano Quartet, Op. 35
Oliver Trinedl, piano; Daniel Gigleberger, Nina Karmon, violin; Roland Glassl, viola; Floris Munders, cello
Hanssler Classic, HC21062

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Florence Price Piano Music a Major Discovery

Florence Price's music was mostly ignored when she composed it. Now, however, the works of this African-American artist are being reevaluated. And performed. And recorded. But it almost didn't happen at all. 

Many of Price's manuscripts were considered lost after her sudden death in 1953. In 2009, her abandoned summer home was under renovation. The workers uncovered a good deal of them. Rescued were Price's two violin concertos and her fourth symphony. Also recovered were several piano works. 

As Josh Tatsuo Cullen explains, this find was significant. Some of the pieces on this release have never been heard. Others were only known in incomplete sets or early manuscripts. This album is a major addition to Price's catalog. 

Price attended the New England Conservatory of Music. Her works are steeped in Western classical traditions. And, they're also infused with the music of Price's heritage.

At first blush, her 1928 "Scenes in Tin Can Alley" may sound like George Gershwin. The syncopations and harmonies Price uses come from the rural South, not New York. There's a cultural subtext here that's missing in Gershwin's work.

The pieces in "Thumbnail Sketches of a Day in the Life of a Washerwoman" and "Village Scenes" all have picturesque titles. They show Price's attention to the details of everyday life. And especially of those who were mostly invisible to the public. 

To me, the five Preludes perfectly synthesize African-American music and classical traditions. You might think they resemble George Gershwin's Preludes, but they don't. Playing them back-to-back the differences between Price's and Gershwin's jazz roots become obvious.

Josh Tatsuo Cullen performs with spirit and sensitivity. His liner notes confirm his deep connection to these works. And it's a connection one can hear. 

Yes, Price's orchestral works are important. But she was a pianist and organist of the highest caliber. This album shows that her keyboard music is also worthy of attention.  

Scenes in Tin Can Alley
Piano Music of Florence Price
Josh Tatsuo Cullen, piano
Blue Griffen BGR615

Friday, June 17, 2022

#ClassicsaDay #PrideMonth Week 3

For the month of June, Classics a Day celebrates Pride Month. And the challenge is to post works from classical composers who self-identified as other than heteronormative. 

There are a lot of composers to choose from -- and not just in the modern era. This was a challenge that deepened my knowledge of classical music. And deepened my appreciation of the additional struggles faced by LGBTQ+ composers both past and present. Here are my posts from the third week of #PrideMonth.

06/13/22 Jean-Baptiste Lully - Chaconne from "Phaeton"

Lully was a composer, but he was also a dancer. When his infected foot became gangrenous, he refused amputation. It would have ended his dancing career. Lully died soon after, with both limbs intact.

06/14/22 Virgil Thomson - Symphony on a Hymn Tune

Thomson composed this work while studying with Nadia Boulanger in the 1920s. It wasn't premiered until 1945. Among the hymn tunes quoted is "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow!"

06/15/22 Arcangelo Corelli - Concerto in D major, Op. 6, No. 4

Corelli's Opus 6 collection of concerti was published in 1714. They became an instant classic. Handel composed his own Opus 6 in homage to Corelli.

06/16/22 Karol Szymanowski - Variations on a Polish Folk Theme, Op. 10

Szymanowski wanted to create a new Polish national style of classical music. This set of variations from 1904 is a good example of this.

06/17/22 Jennifer Higdon - Percussion Concerto for Solo Percussion and Band

2010 was a good year for Higdon. She won the Pulitzer Prize for her Violin Concerto, and a Grammy for Best Classical Contemporary Comoposition for this work.

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Selim Palmgren Complete Piano Works Volume 5 focuses on exoticism


Volume five of Grand Piano's Palmgren focuses on the exotic. As with the other volumes, there are several world premiere recordings. That's not surprising. Only a fraction of Palmgren's roughly 400 works has ever been recorded.

What continues to surprise me is the quality and variety of Palmgren's compositions. He was an excellent pianist. That knowledge allowed him to fully express himself in his piano compositions. 

The opening selection, Exotic March, Op. 46, helps set expectations. It's a jaunty little piece, with an occasional pentatonic figure or two for color. Its vague orientalism is that of the Arabian Nights, or perhaps "The Mikado." 

Most of the works get their exoticism from obscured tonalities. Spring, Op. 47 from 1915, for example, has a dreamy Impressionistic quality to it. The Three Morceaux, Op. 57, written a year later, also seems inspired by Debussy.

The 1934 Sonatine in F major, Op. 95 sounds neoclassical. The themes are tuneful -- and catchy. I found it delightful.

Jouni Somero's performances maintain the level he set with volume one. His playing is clean, accurate, and assured. He also has a deep understanding of  Palmgren's music. His phrasing helps the listener follow Palmgren's motives as they overlap and transform.

Another solid addition to this series. 

Selim Palmgren: Complete Piano Works 5
Jouni Somero, piano
Grand Piano GP908