Monday, July 26, 2021

Fiori Musicali Return to Renaissance Roots

According to the liner notes, the purpose of this release is to "uncover the fine thread of cultural exchange between high art music and popular music tradition." Sure, I could hear that. You can also enjoy this release as a great collection of early music hits.

I use the word "hits," because many of these selections are well-represented in recordings. The selections from Michael Praetorius' "Terpsichore" are prime examples. And the selections from Cabezòn, Ortiz, and Vásquez I have on other releases. 

But the Ensemble Mezzo is true to its purpose. This release also includes music from French Baroque composer Charpentier, and early Italian masters Claudio Monteverdi and Barabar Strozzi. And it also has some Greek traditional dances. 

And hearing all of this music together -- late Renaissance, early/middle Baroque, and folk --brings out the connections between them.

The Ensemble Mezzo plays in an energetic fashion, with a slightly rough edge to the sound. It sounds perfectly authentic for the dance and folk pieces. And it pulls the "high art" pieces a little bit closer to the ground -- and helps highlight that connectedness between the works. 

If you're just looking for a program of well-performed early music, Fiori Musicali satisfies. If you're looking for insights, that's where the Ensemble Mezzo's program really delivers. 

Fiori Musicali: Songs and Dances of the 16th and 17th Centuries
Ensemble Mezzo
Stradivarius STR37195

Friday, July 23, 2021

#ClassicsaDay #NAFTAclassics Week 3

The Classics a Day team once again made NAFTA Classics the theme for July. Two of the three countries in North America have significant holidays in the month -- Canada Day (July 1), and Independence Day (July 4).

As always with this theme, I simply alternated between Canadian, American, and Mexican composers. And the process discovered a lot of great classical music north and south of the border. 

Here are my #ClassicsaDay posts for the third week of #NAFTAclassics.

07/19/21 Ernest Gagnon (Canada 1834-1915) - Ave maria stella

Gagnon is remembered primiarly for his collection of French Canadian folk music published in the 1860s. He was also a virtuoso organist and an accompished composer.

07/20/21 Francisco López Capillas (c. 1615 – 1673) - Magnificat a 8

Capillas was a native-born Mexican composer, and spent his life working in the Mexicao City Cathedral. He's credited with composing the most Mexican masses of the Baroque era.

07/21/21 Arthur Foote - (US 1853-1937) A Night Piece for Flute and String Quartet

Foote was a member of the Boston Six, and a founder of the American Guild of Organists. The majority of his catalog.

07/22/21 Charles A.E. Harriss (Canada 1862–1929) - The Alma Patrol

Harriss emigrated from the UK, and gained prominance as an organist. He founded the McGill Conservatorium of Music, as well as several Canadian music festivals.

07/23/21 Aniceto Ortega (1825–1875) - Marcha Zaragoza

This talented physician and composer composed the Marcha Zaragoza in honor of the famous Mexican general and patriot in 1862. It has since become Mexico's second national anthem.

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Les Escapades revive Georg Christoph Strattner sacred music

Georg Christoph Strattner is best remembered today for some of his hymn tunes. But in the late 1690s, he was a well-respected composer of many forms of sacred music. 

Strattner spent most of his professional life at the court chapel at Weimar. Like Heinrich Schutz, who was of the previous generation, Strattner blended the ideals of protestant simplicity with the beauty of the Italian baroque. 

This release features seven of his hymns. These are not four-square melodies set to block harmonies. Many of the selections strongly resemble Italian arias and some late-period madrigals. 

Strattner uses chromaticism effectively, giving an edge to the emotional content of the text. He's also not afraid to use counterpoint. And some of the vocal lines veer close to intricate ornamentation. 

And yet Strattner hues the ideal of clarity and simplicity of Luther's church. There may be polyphony, but all lines are easy to follow. 

Even when the entire ensemble is playing, the texture is transparent. This is simpler music than Schutz's, and in some ways, it points towards the arias of Bach's sacred works.

The soloists are first-rate. Individually and collectively they sing with a crystalline clarity. The ensemble blend is wonderful. 

Les Escapades compliments the vocalists effectively. This is a small group of musicians, as would have been assembled for a court chapel. 

Not a lot of Strattner's music has survived. Based on what I heard here, I hope more will be recorded.

Georg Christoph Strattner
Ich will deh Herrn loben allezeit: Sacred Concertos
Miriam Feuersinger, Monika Mauch, soprano; Alexander Schneider, alto; Daniel Schriber, tenor; Markus Flaig, bass
Les Escapades; Cosimo Stawiarski, director
Christophorus CHR 77454

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Grazyna Bacewicz Piano Music in Good Hands With Joanna Sochacka

Pianist Joanna Sochacka is a woman on a mission. And that mission is for Grazyna Bacewicz's compositions to receive the performances they deserve. 

Bacewicz is already recognized as one of Poland's musical geniuses. She was both a virtuoso violinist and pianist. Her compositions won numerous awards and critical acclaim. And yet, sixty years after her death, most of her catalog remains under-recorded.

Sochacka thoroughly researched Bacewicz's solo piano music. Her program supports her assertion that this is music that needs to be heard. 

Bacewicz's Piano Sonata No. 2 is her most-recorded solo piano work. Bacewicz had extraordinary technique and often used the full range of the instrument with Liztian abandon.

This sonata is one long thrill ride, especially as performed by Sochacka. She has all the skills necessary to pull off this sonata, both technically and musically.

Bacewicz felt her first sonata, along with her Two Etudes for Piano weren't worthy of publication. This despite the fact that both won the Fryderyk Chopin Composers’ Competition!

Sochacka performs both from the manuscript. The etudes are challenging works for the performer, but quite appealing to the ear. The first sonata isn't quite as complex as the second, but it's still a densely composed work. And one I'd like to see enter the repertoire.

Sochacka also includes Bacewicz's earliest sonata from 1930. Written when she was 27, it's a fascinating post-Romantic work. I heard passages that reminded me of Rachmaninov, albeit with more complex harmonies (really). The double fugue in the final movement is a real tour-de-force.  

Why haven't more pianists programmed these works? I'm hoping it's just unfamiliarity. Because that's something this recording can remedy. Highly recommended.

Grazyna Bacewicz: Piano Music
Joanna Sochacka, piano
DUX 1689

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

L'Orfeo Bläserensemble continue to please with Telemann

It's been two years since the release of volume one. And, I think, worth the wait. L'Orfeo Bläserensemble presents three more Georg Philipp Telemann written for winds.

What I like best about this series is the sound of the ensemble. L'Orfeo Bläserensemble performs with period instruments. The result is a much warmer sound than that of a modern wind ensemble. 

And the basso continuo is ever-present, although not as prominent as it is in other ensembles. The ensemble uses a bassoon for the bass line, and alternatively a lute and a harpsichord for the harmonies. The harpsichord is buried deep in the mix, softening the edge of the instrument's sound.

The bulk of the melodies are performed with natural horns and baroque oboes. These two groups of instruments contrast nicely while maintaining the warmth I mentioned earlier.

The Baroque wind ensemble has a unique sound I quite enjoy. And perhaps you will, too. If you do, pick up Volume One as well. It's equally good.

Georg Philipp Telemann: Wind Overtures, Vol. 2
L'Orfeo Bläserensemble; Carin van Heerden, conductor
CPO 555212-2