Friday, October 22, 2021

#ClassicsaDay #OctoberOctet Week 2

The Classics a Day team decided October was the month to feature octets. Granted, it is the tenth month of the year, but the word "detects" isn't as alliterative. 

The mix of instruments that make up an octet varies. Some composers wrote for double string quartet, some for wind instruments, and some for a blend of instruments.

Here are my posts for the second week of #OctoberOctets.

10/11/21 Igor Stravinsky: Octet

This octet has a very unusual combination of instruments. It comprises of a flute, two clarinets (in B-flat and A), two bassoons, two trumpets (in C and A), and two trombones (tenor and bass).

10/12/21 Carl Reinecke: Octet in B-flat major Op. 216

Reinecke wrote his wind octet in 1892. It's for flute, oboe, two clarinets, two horns, and two bassoons.

10/13/21 Felix Weingartner: Octet in G major Op. 73

Felix Weingartner's fame stems primarily from his conducting (and ground-breaking recordings). but he also considered himself equally a composer. His octet was written in 1925.

10/14/21 Joachim Raff: String Octet in C major Op. 176

Raff completed his string octet in 1872. It's scored for four violins, two violas, and two cellos; in essence, a double string quartet.

10/15/21 Ignaz Joseph Pleyel: Octet in E-flat major

Pleyel was a student of Haydn. This is one of two wind octets he wrote. It's scored for two oboes, two clarinets, two horns, and two bassons (with optional doubling with a contrabass).

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Eduardas Balsys - the Voice of Lithuania

Eduardas Balsys was a major musical figure in postwar Lithuania. He was one of the country's foremost composers, Balsys was also an important educator. 

He was head of the composition department a the Conservatory of the Lithuanian SSR. As such, he shaped the next generation of Lithuanian composers. 

Balsys' own style was shaped by politics. This release presents three works tracing his development over three decades. 

When Balsys graduated from the Leningrad Conservatory, Lithuania was in the USSR. Soviet rules required classical music to be accessible. Lithuanian authorities wanted to keep their cultural identity. So the music had to also be "folkloric."

Balsys' 1954 Violin Concerto No. 1 manages to do both. And sound like a coherent work as well. The rules seem to do little more than provide a framework for his fertile imagination. 

Balsys was also a gifted orchestrator. The innovative instrumental combinations he uses in this concerto make it sound fresh. And take it beyond the bounds of the state mandates.

By the mid 1960s the rules had relaxed. As one can hear in The Dramatic Frescoes for violin, piano, and orchestra (1965). Balsys explores some formerly forbidden techniques in this piece. 

Some of it sounds dodecophonic, and other parts tonal a la Hindemith. He also mixes in popular forms of dance music. The liner notes call Balsys a "moderate modernist." And that's an apt description of The Dramatic Frescoes. 

The Reflections of the Sea (1951) was composed three years before Balsys' death. There were no longer state regulations on composition. This is definitely the most dissonant of the works recorded here. 

But it's still a tonal work. Sections reminded me of late Shostakovich. Other parts, though, sounded like nobody else. Balsys had an original voice. And this time it was unchecked. 

The Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra directed by Modestas Pitrenans does this music credit. The ensemble sound is rich and full -- and precise. 

Violinist Dzeraldas Bidva delivers an exceptional performance of the violin concerto. His tone has a pure, lyrical quality to it that adds to the beauty of the music. 

I had never heard of Eduardas Balsys before auditioning this release. I very much want to hear more. A lot more. 

Eduardas Balsys: Violin Concerto No. 1
Dramatic Frescoes; Reflections of the Sea
Dzeraldas Bidva, violin; Indre Baikstyte, piano
Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra; Modestas Pitrenas, conductor
Ondine 1358

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Quartetto Ascanio explores Paganini's influence

This release, in part, shows the direct influence Paganini had on chamber music. The Quartetto Ascanio begins with music by Camillo Sivori, Paganini's only known pupil. 

They continue with a quartet by Giovanni Serra, another teacher of Sivori. Also included is a quartet by Carlo Andrea Gambini. He was a fellow Genoese violinist and composer, and a contemporary of Sivori. 

The Quartetto Ascanio has a beautifully blended ensemble sound. Despite the Paganini associations, these works push the technical limits of the instruments. 

Instead, the composers seemed to focus on creating attractive, lyrical melodies. It's the singing quality of these pieces that comes through in the performances.

Serra dedicated his Quartet No. 4 to Camillo Sivori. It has plenty for the first violin to do. But unlike a quartet brillante, it's not for solo violin plus three. Rather, the other three instruments are on more equal footing with the first violin. 

Gambini's Quartet in E minor is an interesting work. To my ears, stylistically it seemed somewhere between Mendelssohn and Schumann. And that's not a bad place to be. Gambini knew how to write for strings. This quartet sounds like it could be as satisfying to play as it is to listen to. 

All the works receive world recording premieres with this release. This unexplored repertoire is both pleasurable and substantial. I enjoyed the music the first time I heard the album. And I appreciated the skills of these composers with each additional hearing. 

Recommended for chamber music enthusiasts. And anyone else who appreciates a well-turned melody.

Sivori, Gambini, Serra
Chamber music in Genoa after Nicolo Paganini
Quartetto Ascanio
Dynamic CDS 7905

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Paul Wranitzky Symphonies Anticipate Beethoven

Volume two of Naxos' Wranitzky series features all world premiere recordings. Of course, that's not so hard to do. 

As popular as Paul Wranitzky was in 1800s Vienna, he remains all but unknown today. And that's also why a release of never-heard-before recordings is so exciting. 

Wranitzky moved to Vienna from Moravia in the 1770s to seek his fame and fortune. And he found it. 

As a composer, his music rivaled Haydn's in popularity. And he was in demand as a conductor -- he premiered Beethoven's first symphony.

The symphonies in this release show that Wranitzky's compositional skill rivaled Haydn's. Like Haydn, he could take the simplest note combination and build an entire symphony out of it. And make it sound both logical and surprising. Wranitzky also seemed a little more interested in orchestration than Haydn. 

His Symphony in D minor "La Tempesta" simulates a storm in the final movement. He does so through his orchestration, particularly with his use of percussion. And his storm symphony anticipates Beethoven's by fourteen years!

The other two symphonies on this release date from the early 1790s. They also resemble Haydn's of the same era in quality. 

Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra Pardubice directed by Marek Štilec delivers some excellent performances. Wranitzky was closer to Haydn than Beethoven in style. A big orchestra crashing into the climaxes isn't necessary. The CCPOP plays forcefully when needed. But the lightness and clarity of their sound seem appropriate with Wranitzky's aesthetic.

When Wranitzky died at age 52 in 1808, he had composed 44 symphonies. This release presents three of them. I'm very curious to hear more. If you love the symphonies of Haydn and Mozart, you'll like the symphonies of Wranitzky -- at the very least.

Paul Wranitzky: Orchestral Works, Vol. 2
Symphonies – ‘La Tempesta’; Op. 16, No. 2; Op. 33, No. 3
Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra Pardubice; Marek Štilec, conductor
Naxos 8.574255

Monday, October 18, 2021

Georg Caspar Schürmann - a rediscovered master

This is the fifth release in CPO's "Music from Wolfenbüttel Castle" series. It features three cantatas by Georg Caspar Schürmann. 

Schürmann served the Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel for 54 years. As court composer, he set a musical standard many aspired to. 

The court at Wolfenbüttel Castle had a long tradition of musical excellence. Michael Praetorius had served as Kapellmeister in the 1590s. 

When Schürmann arrived in 1707, he inherited a choral and instrumental ensemble of the highest caliber. And he used those resources to great advantage.

The three cantatas presented here show Schürmann at his best. The works are for solo voices only, without choruses. They showcase Schürmann's skill at writing for the human voice. 

Each line is beautifully sculpted without being overly florid (a no-no for sacred music in this Protestant court). They also attest to the quality of singers available to the composers. 

Some of the arias border on the operatic, which is no surprise. Schürmann wrote over thirty operas (only a few of which survive). His use of dissonance, and delaying resolution to heighten the emotion, works as well in the chapel as it does on stage. 

Manfred Cordes and the Weser-Renaissance Bremen perform to their usual high standards. The soloists sing in clean, clear tones with minimal vocal ornamentation. The instrumental ensemble provides the right level of support at all times, even when timpani and brass weigh in. 

Schürmann wrote a vast quantity of music, in all types of genres. It's a shame only a small amount of it survived. Based on these three works, I'd like to hear more.

Georg Caspar Schürmann
Nimm das Opfer unsrer Hertzen Cantatas
Weser-Renaissance Bremen; Manfred Cordes, director
CPO 555 374-2