Friday, December 29, 2017

Spam Roundup December 2017

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.

Say what?

 - I for some one desires expert view regarding blogging afterward I recommend him/her to go to see this blog. [I/we am/are confused.]

- People that gives you the thespian soprano to be gambler but opine active how the commerce grocery is a puzzling nonexempt with opposite shapes or cuts on the maneuver. [Perry Mason's "Case of the Thesbian Soprano." A nonexempt puzzle, for sure!]

- You can much smell a soft chilling when you go purchasing online. [Something smells about your comment, that's for sure.]

"Lumbering along" lumbers along

These are the Japanese tin trucks that bring in the comments.
The Straco Express Layout, Part 23 - Lumbering Along continues to be a top destination for irrelevant comments. True to form, this month's crop has absolutently nothing to do with the little Japanese tin friction truck I wrote about.

- Thank you. I have recently been looking for information appoximately this topic for a while and your's in the greatest I've discovered till now. [I appoximately thank you.]

Nοnetheless, the poѕts aгe tοο quick for startеrs. Mау јuѕt you pleаse prolong them a bit from next tіme? [I won't prolong my response: no.]

- Thanks for great info I used to be looking for this info for my mission. [I shudder to think what that mission might be.]

- I actually consider your blog entry quite intersting. [You sound surprised]

Obvious subliminal advertising

Who in the world thinks these would work? - I pay a quick visit daily some websites and blogs to read posts, except this website. [Thanks, I -- hey, wait a minute...]

- If you go about making a conlang that resembles a natural language, with its own set of sound and spelling rules in Telefon Sex your language, you will match with the Neutral or N shades.

- Why users still use to read newspapers when Telefon Sex in this technological globe all is accessible on web?

That's all Telefon Sex for this Telefon Sex month. Next time it will be a new year -- and perhaps there will be a soft chilling to the spam.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Tatjana Ruhland Elevates Reinecke

Sometimes it isn't the music so much as the performer.

The music is by Carl Reinecke, whose legacy lives on more through his pupils than his music. During his academic career, he taught Edvard Grieg, Leoš Janácek, Isaac Albéniz, Felix Weingartner, and Max Bruch, to name but a few.

Of all his 300+ compositions, he's best remembered for only one -- his flute sonata "Undine."

Reinecke himself studied at various times with Felix Mendelssohn, Robert Schumann, and Franz Liszt. It's easy to hear the influences of all three in his work.

Reinecke was a more than a competent composer. He simply had the misfortune of being very good while being surrounded by greatness.

Tatjana Ruhland brings out the best in Reinecke's music. Her committed performances and flawless technique made me want to seek out more of Reinecke's oeuvre. Ruhland plays with a velvety tone that can turn to cold steel when necessary. The flute sonata "Undine" has been recorded many times, but Ruhland makes it sound like a new work.

The Flute Concerto in D major is another high point of the release. This is Reinecke-as-Mendelssohn, and Ruhland's playful interpretation adds to the fun. Ruhland is also the solo flutist for the ensemble that accompanies her. That relationship seems to give the concerto and the Ballade in D minor some additional chemistry.

Truly great performances of some very good music.

Carl Reinecke: Flute Concertos, Flute Sonatas
Tatjana Ruhland, flute
Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart des SWR; Alexander Liebreich, conductor
CPO 777 949-2

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

László Lajtha: Orchestral Music, Vol. 6 - a Fine Finale

This release brings Naxos' reissue series of László Lajtha symphonies to a close. If you missed the 2000 pressings on Marco Polo, these reissues are worth the investment.

Lajtha finished nine symphonies before his death in 1963. His symphonic output seemed to alternate between despair and optimism, and his last two continue that pattern.

The Symphony No. 8, completed in 1959, continues the themes of Symphony No. 7. László Lajtha supported the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. The revolt failed to overthrow the communist regime, and the retaliation was brutal. Lajtha was stripped of his positions and his ability to travel abroad.

His Seventh Symphony, "Autumn" was written in reaction to those events. His Eighth Symphony further develops his themes of anger and despair mingled with hope. The orchestration is imaginative and mercurial. Solo instruments unexpectedly arise out of the ensemble then disappear again. Peaceful passages are disrupted by frantic outbursts. It's a powerful work that needs no program to deliver its emotional impact.

In his final years, the shadow over Lajtha was lifted, and he could travel again. Only then did he understand that, while silenced in his native Hungary, his symphonies had been performed regularly throughout Western Europe. His final symphony wasn't an Ode to Joy but was certainly joyful.

It's also a summation of Lajtha's style. the work includes Hungarian folk elements that were a constant inspiration to this ethnomusicologist. The jarring polytonalities of his previous two symphonies return, to be resolved in a reassuring fashion. The closing hymn is inspiring, yet at the same time has a calm assurance about it.

Another set of fine performances by the Pécs Symphony Orchestra and Nicolás Pasquet. I was especially moved by the quiet passages, such as the interludes in the finale of the eighth symphony. It's in the quiet, delicate moments that the true musicianship of this ensemble stands revealed.

László Lajtha: Orchestral Music, Vol. 6
Symphonies Nos. 8 and 9
Pécs Symphony Orchestra; Nicolás Pasquet, conductor
Naxos 8.573648

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Riemuitkaamme! (Let us Rejoice!) -- A Finnish Christmas

Riemuitkaamme! is a great recording for folks wanting to venture beyond standard Christmas fare -- but not too far beyond. The program features plenty of familiar selections, mixed with modern Finnish choral gems.

Among the familiar are Bach's "Wachet auf," Berlioz's "The Shepherd's Farewell" and Tchaikovsky's "Christ, when a Child..." Yet even these sound fresh, as the choir sings them in Finnish.

The unfamiliar works fit in nicely with the overall program. All, though modern, have strong tonal centers.

Included are two short compositions by Sibelius. Works by Leevi Madetoja, Ahti Sonninen, and Armas Maasalo add to the appeal of the collection. These well-crafted choral works have a deceptive simplicity to them. That simplicity makes them immediately accessible.

The release includes a world premiere recording. "Aattolia (Christmas Eve)" by Canadian composer Matthew Whittall. The music features long sustained harmonies. They evoke a sense of time in suspension -- and showcase the fine voice control of this choir.

Organ pastorales by Taneli Kuusisto and Arvi Karvonen add variety. Both left me wanting to hear more by these composers.

The Helsinki Chamber Choir has a clean, clear ensemble sound that sparkles like sunlight on snow. Riemuitkaamme! is a welcome addition to my overcrowded classical Christmas collection. And it's one I'll be recommending to others this season.

Riemuitkaamme! (Let us Rejoice!) 
A Finnish Christmas 
Helsinki Chamber Choir; Nils Schweckendiek, conductor 
Jan Lehtola, organ 
BIS 2322

Friday, December 22, 2017

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalChristmas Annotated List Week 4

I'm a regular contributor to the #ClassicsaDay Twitter feed. In December 2017, I focused on the music of the season that doesn't get a lot of exposure -- but should. Below is an annotated list of the works I featured in the feed with the supporting hashtag #ClassicalChristmas.

Arnold Bax (1883-1953) - Christmas Eve: Symphonic Poem

British composer Arnold Bax spent the winter of 1911 in Dublin. The inspiration for this 1912 work was a walk in the Dublin mountains at Christmas time. Bax later wrote that he hoped to evoke the "harp light of the frosty stars and ecstasy of peace falling for one night of the year upon the troubled Irish hills." The original title of the piece was "Christmas Eve in the Mountains." Bax shortened the title when he revised the work in the late 1930s.


Joseph Rheinberger (1839-1901) - Der Stern von Bethlehem

Organist and composer Joseph Rheinberger spent most of his professional career in Germany. Although most remembered today for his challenging organ works, Rheinberger wrote in all genres, including operas, symphonies, string quartets, and choral compositions. Rheinberger completed his Christmas cantata Der Sern von Bethlehem (the Star of Bethlehem) in 1891. The cantata's subject is the shepherds' visit to the manger, guided by the star of Bethlehem.

Alessandro Stradella (1639-1682)- Cantata per Il Santissimo Natale

Stradlla enjoyed a successful career as a free-lance composer. This was an exceptionally rare occurrence in the mid-1600s. He's credited with over 300 compositions in a variety of genres. His Cantata per Il Santissimo Natale is one of over 170 cantatas he wrote.

Benjamin Britten (1913-1976)- Saint Nicolas, Op. 42

Tradition has morphed St. Nicolas into Santa Claus. But the Bishop of Myra (in Turkey) was an actual figure in the early church. When he was named a saint, December 6th became his feast day. Britten's work is concerned with the legend of St. Nicolas, outlining his life and various miracles he's credited with. Britten completed the work in 1948. Its stripped-down orchestration makes it an appealing work to perform.

Hector Berlioz (1803-1869) - L'enfance du christ, Op. 25

Berlioz based his oratorio on a part of the Christmas story not often emphasized. After Christ's birth, King Herod, order the massacre of all male children under age three. He hoped this Slaughter of the Innocents (as it's known) would ensure the Messiah would be stopped. Joseph and Mary escaped with Jesus to Egypt, thus avoiding the massacre. Berlioz completed the work in 1854 and considered the oratorio a trilogy of three smaller cantatas: Herod ordering the slaughter, the Holy Family setting out for Egypt, and their arrival and reception in Egypt.

Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921) - Oratorio de Noël, Op. 12

Saint-Saëns wrote his Christmas Oratorio while serving as the organist at La Madeleine Church in Paris. He completed it in about two weeks time. He delivered the score 10 days before its premiere on Christmas Eve, 1858. Unlike many oratorios of the season, Saint-Saëns' is mostly quiet and introspective. It uses the choir sparingly. The first air is for solo soprano, the second for soprano and baritone. The next three airs each add a voice, culminating in a vocal quintet leading into the final chorus.

#ClassicalChristmas Annotated List Week #1
#ClassicalChristmas Annotated List Week #2
#ClassicalChristmas Annotated List Week #3

Thursday, December 21, 2017

A comfortable Victorian Christmas collection

The general public may think that Christmas carols have been around forever. Music lovers know that the Victorian Era is the source for most of the evergreen carols we still sing today.

Carols for Victorian Christmas captures some of the charms of the era. The disc presents both sacred and secular carols as they might have been heard in the late 1800’s. The choir of Magdalen College, Oxford performs favorites such as “We Three Kings,” “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” and “Good Christian Men, Rejoice.”

The Harrogate Choral Society’s rendition of Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” is charming in its directness and sincerity.

The Fine Arts Brass Ensemble perform “O Little Town of Bethlehem” and “Landlord fill the Flowing Bowl.” Martin Souter, organist contributes a Brahms chorale prelude, “O Holy Night,” and other selections. The mix of organ and choir reinforces the impression of a Victorian church service.

But the disc also includes a player piano plunking out "Auld Lang Syne." Vintage turn of the century disc players (large-scale music boxes) give us favorites such as “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” and “Good King Wenceslas.” And they also give us a sense of what holiday music might have sounded like in a comfortable upper-class home.

And comfortable, I think, is the word that best describes this collection. Many of the selections are more than familiar. And they’re performed in a way that would have been familiar to Victorians – even those who never attended a classical music concert.

Carols for a Victorian Christmas was originally released in 2004.

Carols for a Victorian Christmas
The Choir of Magdalen College, Oxford; Martin Souter, organ; Fine Arts Brass Ensemble; Lesley Echo Ross, soprano; Harrogate Choral Society
The Gift of Music

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

In Winter's Arms - Bob Chilcott refreshes a classic

There's something about choral music written by a chorister. It's usually performer-friendly, and often listener-friendly as well. That doesn't necessarily mean it's overly simple or cliched. It just means the music is well-suited to the strengths of the ensemble.

That was my impression of "In Winter's Arms." British composer Bob Chilcott has enjoyed an amazing career, spanning decades. He was in the Choir of King's College, Cambridge, both as a boy and as a university student.

He spent 12 years with the King's Singers. As a composer, Chilcott mostly sticks to choral music. But it's a field he knows intimately.

There's a lot of the English choral tradition in these work. They also passing stylistic resemblance to works of John Rutter (who comes from a similar background). But make no mistake. Chilcott is a composer with his own voice and is often more progressive than Rutter.

"Wenceslas" is a major choral work based on the legend of St. Wenceslas. It often references the famous carol obliquely, building a beautiful edifice out of a slender foundation. Particularly striking is the movement "Thank you." Its, simple heartfelt melody and understated orchestration are just gorgeous.

"My Perfect Stranger" presents a more oblique look at the Christmas story. Chilcott's setting for choir and harp uses extended harmonies and shifting rhythms. The work has an ethereal and slightly mysterious aura that serves Keven Crossly-Holland's text well.

Also included is Chilcott's joyous Gloria for choir, brass, tympani, and organ. Now, this is a work I'd like to hear more often in Christmas services! 

Choralis, directed by Gretchen Kuhrmann perform with feeling and precision. Chilcott knows how to write for choirs, and Choiralis knows how to get everything out of the music. If you like John Rutter, you should enjoy this release. If you're not, it's still worth a listen. Chilcott brings new perspectives to age-old holiday traditions.

In Winter's Arms
Seasonal Music by Bob Chilcott
Choralis; Gretchen Kuhrmann, director
Signum Classics SIGCD512

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Daquin Livre de noëls - Baroque Holiday Bonbons

Excerpts from Daquin's Livre de Noëls often turn up in Baroque Christmas music releases. They're short, appealing gems of French Galant writing. Hearing all twelve of these pieces in one sitting, though, made me revise my impression of them.

Daquin was a virtuoso organist, and his settings of these French Noëls shows the extent of his talent. There's nothing routine about these arrangements. Every one exploits some aspect of keyboard artistry, and each one does so in an original fashion.

Daquin was also mindful of the overall effect of these Noëls. Heard in sequence they form a charming suite of Christmas classics (of their time).

My only complaint about this release is the lack of liner notes. It sounds like Adriano Falconi is playing an organ voiced for the French baroque, but I can't be sure.

Nevertheless, Falconi does a fine job with this material. And the instruments, wherever it is, is well-recorded. I particularly enjoyed Falconi's selection of stops, which include some bells and bird calls.

Even if you're not familiar with the carols Daquin bases his music on, there's much to enjoy here. And now that I've heard all twelve Noëls together, I have a greater appreciation of Daquin's skill.

Daquin: Complete Livre de noëls, Op. 2
Adriano Falconi, organ
Brilliant Classics

Monday, December 18, 2017

Diabelli Project 175 - String Trio, Mvt. 2A

The Diabelli Project is about offering my weekly flash-composition sketches freely to all. Like Antonio Diabelli's theme, these sketches aren't great music. But perhaps (as in Diabelli's case) there's a Beethoven out there who can do great things with them.

This string trio series is a bit of a departure. I'm still flash composing, with a 10-minute time limit to write as much as I can. Instead of starting over each week, I'll be attempting to pick up where I left off from the previous week for my 10-minute session. 

This is the first part of the second movement. Everything grows out of the unison middle C. The violin line came to me first. It's kind of an improvisatory melody. I make sense of it by having the viola and the cello echo some of the figures as they moved away from the opening note.

I can see this movement developing in an arch form. It expands outwards and then moves back in. Eventually, all three instruments will converge on a unison note -- which may or may not be middle C.

As always, you can use any or all of the posted Diabelli Project sketches as you wish for free. Just be sure to share the results. I'm always curious to see what direction someone else can take this material.

Friday, December 15, 2017

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalChristmas Annotated List Week 3

I'm a regular contributor to the #ClassicsaDay Twitter feed. In December 2017, I focused on the music of the season that doesn't get a lot of exposure -- but should. Below is an annotated list of the works I featured  in the feed with the supporting hashtag #ClassicalChristmas.

Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643-1704) - "Messe de Minuit pour Nöel" H9

Charpentier spent 17 years in service to Marie de Lorraine, Duchesse de Guise, first cousin to Louis XIV. During that time he wrote an extraordinary amount of music, both for Mlle. de Guise and other nobility who commissioned works. After her death, he entered the Jesuit order and thereafter wrote primarily sacred works. Messe de Minuit pour Nöel was composed around 1690 and is one of Charpentier's best-known works. Woven into the music is ten traditional French carols.

Jakub Jan Ryba (1765-1815) - Czech Christmas Mass

Music teacher and composer Jakub Jan Ryba wrote his Czech Christmas Mass in 1796. it incorporates traditional Czech carols and uses the Czech language to tell the Christmas story. Performing the work has become a holiday tradition in Bohemia, and is frequently performed throughout Eastern Europe. Although Ryba wrote many masses and pastorales, the Ceská mše vánocní "Hej mistre!" his only work that's still heard today.

Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) Vom Himmel Hoch

Mendelssohn is credited with reviving the music of Johann Sebastian Bach or at least bringing it back into the public consciousness. His deep study of J.S. Bach's music influenced his own work. This was especially true with Mendelssohn's choral works. The Christmas cantata "Vom Himmel hoch" is based on a hymn tune by Martin Luther. The treatment of the tune and the structure of the cantata show Bach's influence. "Vom Himmel hoch" was premiered in 1831 and remains a staple of the repertoire.

Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908) Christmas Eve: Orchestral Suite

Russian composer Rimsky-Korsakov wrote the opera Noch' pered Rozhdestvom (Christmas Eve) in 1895. It was based on a popular short story by Nikolai Gogla. Rimsky-Korsakov was not the first -- three other composers, including Tchaikovsky -- had based an opera on the tale. The plot involves the Devil stealing the moon on Christmas Eve, and being thwarted by Vakula the blacksmith. It's perhaps least-Christmasy seasonal works in the seasonal repertoire. Rimsky-Korakov later created extracted an orchestral suite from the opera.

Daniel Pinkham (1923-2006) - Christmas Cantata

American composer Daniel Pinkham studied with Walter Piston, Aaron Copland, and E. Power Biggs. Pinkham was served as an organist and choir director. Although he's best remembered for his sacred compositions, Pinkham composed for orchestras, chamber groups, and solo music as well. The 1957 Christmas Cantata is one of Pinkham's most popular works.

Otto Albert Tichý (1890-1973) - Missa pastoralis in honorem Jesu Infantiis in Praga

Czech composer Otto Albert Tichý studied with Vincent d'Indy. In addition to teaching and composing, Tichý was also a professional organist. Tichý did extensive research on Gregorian chant, and was an expert on church music in general. Most of his compositions are sacred works for choirs, or solo organ music. His "Missa pastoralis in honorem Jesu Infantiis in Praga" is one of the few Tichý compositions still performed today.

#ClassicalChristmas Annotated List Week #1
#ClassicalChristmas Annotated List Week #2

Thursday, December 14, 2017

The Night of Saint Nicholas: A Medieval Liturgy for Advent

Performance practices change -- even in the field of early music. In the early 1990s Anonymous 4 burst onto the scene, making medieval music sound vibrant and alive. Other ensembles built upon their success, each with their own take on the repertoire.

"The Night of Saint Nicholas" was originally released in 1998. So how does it hold up after almost two decades? Very well, actually.

The release is a collection of sacred music revolving around Saint Nicolas, most dating from the 13th Century. La Revierdie and I Cantori Gregoriani deliver performances that are beautiful in their simplicity.

The ambiance of the recording site --  the Church of San Damaso, Modena, Italy -- perfectly matches the music. The reverberation fills the spaces between the notes without blurring them.

I'd almost say these are classic sacred early music performances. There's the ethereal quality essential to the style. Each selection unfolds at its own unhurried pace.

It evokes a sense of timelessness that not only transcends the centuries but the trends of the last 20 years. This release doesn't sound dated at all. Rather, the sound seems as ageless as the legend it celebrates.

The Night of Saint Nicholas
A Mediaeval Liturgy for Advent
La Reverdie; I Cantori Gregoriani
Arcana A 442

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Carl Heinrich Graun: Weihnachtsoratorium - companion to Bach's

Carl Heinrich Graun isn't the best-known German baroque composer, but at the time he was one of the most prominent. Frederick the Great appointed Graun kapellmeister to his court in 1740.

Graun was also one of the major opera composers in Berlin. His Weihnachtsoratorium (Christmas Oratorio) was probably written in the late 1730s.

Compared to Johann Sebastian Bach's 1734 Christmas Oratorio, Graun's work seems simpler. There are less counterpoint and more straight-forward choral settings of hymn tunes.

Graun also uses less Biblical text than Bach, preferring contemporary interpretations of the story. While a comparison of the two works might explain why Bach is better-known than Graun today, it's also a little unfair.

Graun was writing for a different audience, and writing in his own style. Taking on its own merits, his Christmas Oratorio is an appealing work that deserves to be heard again. The solos and duets are written in a straight-forward manner, with a minimum of baroque ornamentation.

The center of the work is Paul Gerhardt's 1648 Wie soll ich dich empfangen (How Shall I Leave You). This sturdy Lutheran hymn is heard at the beginning, middle, and end of the oratorio.

There are some contrapuntal choral passages, but they hew to Lutheran clarity. The choral settings, to my ears, seemed closer to Handel than Bach. The soloists for this recording are first-rate. I particularly liked the warm, rounded voice of alto Marian Eckstein.

The Arcis-Vocalisten München and the Barockorchester L’arpa festante have a big, full ensemble sound. This is a well-written work performed with vigor and energy. If you enjoy the large choral works of Handel, Telemann, and, yes, even Bach, you should find much to like here. I know I did.

Carl Heinrich Graun: Weihnachtsoratorium 
Monika Mauch, soprano; Marion Eckstein, alto; Georg Poplutz, tenor; Raimund Nolte, bass 
Arcis-Vocalisten München; Barockorchester L’arpa festante; Thomas Gropper, conductor 
Oehms Classics OC 1876

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Raunächte - The Twelve Nights after Christmas in Pastels

For Americans, the Twelve Days of Christmas means turtledoves, drummers drumming and five golden rings. But for Northern Europeans, that time between Christmas day and Epiphany (January 6) is when winter weather is often its harshest. And yet it's also a time of hope.

Raunächte collects twelve works that exemplify that spirit of hope "in the bleak midwinter." If the carol "The 12 Days of Chrismas" evokes bright, primary reds and greens, these compositions conjure up images in soft pastels. Even works such as John Rutter's "Gabriel's Message" and Edward Elgar's "The Snow" seem more muted.

The LaCapella-Family is a group of five ensembles that present a varied program. The contemporary selections are especially strong. Ola Gjeilo's "Tundra" depicts the windswept landscape with a hauntingly beautiful melody set against rustling strings and piano. "The Piece of Wild Things" by Joan Szymko for female choir and piano glistens like moonlight reflections on snow. I love it.

Also of note in this album of extraordinarily beautiful works is Franz Herzog's luminous arrangement of "Es wird scho glei dumpa" for a capella choir. The album concludes with a joyful "Magnificat" by Agneta Skjöld.

If you're looking for something different this holiday season, consider Raunächte. It's seasonal music drawn in pastels, yet with an amazing variety of emotions and tonal colors. 

Raunächte - The Twelve Nights after Christmas
Music by John Rutter, Ola Gjeilo, Joan Szymko, Wilhelm Nagel, Morten Vinther Sørensen, Cesar Bresgen, Edward Elgar, Gjendine Slålien, Felix Mendelssohn, Agneta Skjöld  
Rondeau Productions ROP6149

Monday, December 11, 2017

Diabelli Project 174 - String Trio, Mvt. 1D

The Diabelli Project is about offering my weekly flash-composition sketches freely to all. Like Antonio Diabelli's theme, these sketches aren't great music. But perhaps (as in Diabelli's case) there's a Beethoven out there who can do great things with them.

This string trio series is a bit of a departure. I'm still flash composing, with a 10-minute time limit to write as much as I can. Instead of starting over each week, I'll be attempting to pick up where I left off from the previous week for my 10-minute session. 

This is the fourth part of the first movement, and it's also the final sketch for this movement. Next week I'll devote four sessions to the second movement, then four to the final. In each case, I expect the combined sketches should be enough to complete the work.

This sketch continues the climax to a cadence point started in the last part. And, it also marks a return of the opening material at the end. Of course, it's not quite the same,  but that's the point.

All told, I have about a minute and half of what will probably be a 3-5 minute movement. So far, so good!

The grayed measure is from last week's sketch.

As always, you can use any or all of the posted Diabelli Project sketches as you wish for free. Just be sure to share the results. I'm always curious to see what direction someone else can take this material.

Friday, December 08, 2017

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalChristmas Annotated List Week 2

I'm a regular contributor to the #ClassicsaDay Twitter feed. In December 2017, I focused on the music of the season that doesn't get a lot of exposure -- but should. Below is an annotated list of the works I featured in the feed with the supporting hashtag #ClassicalChristmas.

Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672) - Weihnachtshistorie, SWV 435

Heinrich Schütz was one of the most famous -- and influential -- German composers of the generation before Johann Sebastian Bach. Bach used Schütz's sacred choral works as models for his own. The Weihnachtshistorie (Christmas Story) premiered in Dresden in 1623. It's a very Lutheran treatment of the text, with clarity paramount. The work features a six-part choir, an orchestra, and soloists.

Franz Liszt (1811-1886) - Weihnachtsbaum

Franz Liszt composed his Weihnachtsbaum (Christmas Tree) suite for his first grandchild, Daniela von Bülow. He played it for her on Christmas Day, 1881, when she was 21. The work has twelve sections, divided into three books. Several German Christmas carols are quoted in the work, including "Adeste Fidelis" and "O Holy Night." Lizst also created a piano 4-hands version of the work.

Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525-1594) - Missa Hodie Christus natus est

Often called "the Prince of Music," Palestrina's style became the standard for sacred music in the Roman Catholic Church for generations. Palestrina wrote music for all aspects of worship. The "Hodie Christus natus est" is one of 105 masses Palestrina wrote. Based on a motet of the same name, it was designed for the Christmas Morning worship service.

Gerald Finzi (1901-1956) - In Terra Pax, Op. 39

English composer Gerald Finzi set poetry by Robert Bridges with selections from Luke. This work is a modern contemplation of the Christmas story. As Finzi relates it, the inspiration came from an event of his youth. Finzi had climbed up a church tower and heard the midnight bells echoing over the snow-swept hills of Gloucestershire welcoming Christmas Day.

Ottorino Respighi (1879-1936) - Lauda per la Natività del Signore

Respighi drew the texts for Lauda per la Natività del Signore from two sources. He used a medieval hymn of praise and the writings of 13th C. cleric Jacophone da Todi. The work, written around 1930, focuses on the birth of Jesus and the Annunciation to the shepherds (and their visit). Respighi's scoring heavily relies on double reeds (oboes and bassoons) to evoke a pastoral feel.

#ClassicalChristmas Annotated List Week 1
#ClassicalChristmas Annotated List Week 3

Thursday, December 07, 2017

In Dulci Jubilo - Music for the Christmas by Buxtehude and Friends

I've been burnt out on Christmas music for some time -- even classical Christmas music. But In Dulci Jubilo promised something fresh -- seasonal music from Dieterich Buxtehude and his colleagues. And it was recorded by Paul Hillier and the Theater of Voices. I wasn't disappointed.

In Dulci Jubilo is a time capsule of Christmas and Advent music from Northern Germany in the late 1600s. The Protestant Reformation had established its own musical voice.

Dietrich Buxtehude, Heinrich Scheidemann, Franz Tundar, Johann Christoph Bach (J.S. Bach's great uncle) laid the foundation composers of the High Baroque would build on.

Paul Hillier is a meticulous director, and his attention to detail shows in the performances and the program. The Theatre of Voices has an exceptionally seamless blend. And they're all top-notch soloists as well. The program takes the listener through the liturgical season, from Advent through Epiphany with selections to match. And the works are nicely balanced between choral and instrumental.

Some selections are familiar, such as In Dulci Jubilo and Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern (How Brightly Shines the Morning Star). Others, such as Buxtehude's Das neugeborne Kindelein and J.C. Bach's  Merk auf, mein Herz were new to me.

But familiar or not, there's a consistency that runs through all these works. Luther was all about clarity, and these works deliver their message in a straightforward fashion. The pulse is always clear, and no matter how artful the counterpoint, the words are never obscured.

In Dulce Jubilo is a well-sung, well-organized program that effectively captures a moment in time. A moment that more than hints of the grandeur that was to come with Bach, Handel, and Telemann.

In Dulci Jubilo
Music for the Christmas Season by Buxtehude and Friends
Theater of Voices, Paul Hillier, director
Dacapo 6.220661 SACD

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Kerry Turner - Ricochet Hits the Mark

There's nothing quite like the music of a composer writing for his (or her) own instrument. Kerry Turner's world-renowned horn player as well as a composer.

As this release shows, he definitely knows how to write for brass. "Ricochet" includes six short chamber works, as well as a more substantial composition, the Horn Quartet No. 4.

Kerry's style is decidedly user-friendly.

He states, "the gift of song and harmony, as well as the proper use of the splendid instruments we master, are crucial to achieving this more beautiful aspect of our lives in the 21st century." 

Kerry's mostly tonal style draws the listener in, and his well-crafted and imaginative melodies keep them there.

Ricochet for brass quintet starts off the album with a bang. This rollicking, good-natured work had me humming along before the opening phrase was done.

Although Turner is a horn player, his compositional talent isn't limited to brass instruments. The Seduction for string quartet is a highly expressive and emotional work that shows a deep understanding of string writing.

The Horn Quartet No. 4 masterfully explores the potential of the instrument. With four identical instruments, ensemble blend is easy. When necessary, Kerry lets each instrument have its own voice. At times I could hear four independent lines wending in and out of each other.

I didn't just enjoy this release as an album of brass music. I enjoyed it as an album of music.

Kerry Turner: Ricochet and Other music 
American Horn Quartet; Saturday Brass Quintet
Members of the Luxembourg Philharmonic
MSR Classics MS 1064

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Tutta Bella! Venetian Christmas Revels

For over 40 years Revels has been presenting a Christmas program. These shows blend folk tales, songs, and dance in a celebration of a bygone time. And each year the program has a different theme. The 2017 theme is a Venetian Christmas Revels. And as always, the creative team's scholarship is first-rate.

This isn't just a program of Claudio Monteverdi and Giovanni Gabrieli. Those Venetian composers are represented, but so are many others. Venice has always been a port of call for many Mediterranean cultures. And in some cases, those cultures took root in the city.

Tutta Bella presents seasonal music that might have been heard wandering the streets of Venice. There's a selection by Salamon Rossi, a Venetian Jewish composer. There's music from Corsica, Croatia, Sardinia, and Turkey. You'll hear Sephardic chant and lively Spanish tunes.

The Christmas Revels shows remain popular for a good reason -- they're entertaining. And so is this release. Many of the tracks seem to brim with joy and energy. And really -- isn't that how we want to feel in December?

If you can't make it to a Revels show, Tutta Bella is a good consolation prize.

Tutta Bella!
A Venetian Christmas Revels
The Revels Chorus; The Revels Children; Cambridge Symphonic Brass Ensemble
Revels CD 2017

Monday, December 04, 2017

Diabelli Project 173 - String Trio, Mvt. 1C

The Diabelli Project is about offering my weekly flash-composition sketches freely to all. Like Antonio Diabelli's theme, these sketches aren't great music. But perhaps (as in Diabelli's case) there's a Beethoven out there who can do great things with them.

This string trio series is a bit of a departure. I'm still flash composing, with a 10-minute time limit to write as much as I can. Instead of starting over each week, I'll be attempting to pick up where I left off from the previous week for my 10-minute session. 

This is the third part of the first movement. I finished the cello solo that began with last week's sketch. The rhythmic ostinato in the upper strings was something of a surprise. I'll be interested to see where my subconscious takes me next week.

The grayed measure is from last week's sketch.

As always, you can use any or all of the posted Diabelli Project sketches as you wish for free. Just be sure to share the results. I'm always curious to see what direction someone else can take this material.

Friday, December 01, 2017

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalChristmas Annotated List Week 1

I'm a regular contributor to the #ClassicsaDay Twitter feed. In December 2017, I focused on the music of the season that doesn't get a lot of exposure -- but should. Below is an annotated list of the works I featured in the feed with the supporting hashtag #ClassicalChristmas.

(November's theme was Composers A-Z, which ran over into December. So I didn't start #ClassicalChristmas until the 6th.)

John Playford: To Drive the Cold Winter Away

This anonymous English tune first surfaced in the early 1600s. There are various texts that were set to the music. The tune is also known as "In Praise Of Christmas." "The Praise Of Christmas," and "All Hail To The Days." This particular version was published by John Playford in the 1651 edition of "The English Dancing Master."

Henry Cowell (1897-1865): Sweet was the Sound

Henry Cowell was recognized as a major force in American music in the 1930s. After the Second World War, his music became simpler and more accessible. And Cowell also began incorporating American folk elements into his works. The carol "Sweet was the Sound" comes from that period.

William Henry Fry (1813-1864): The Santa Claus Symphony

Fry holds the distinction of being the first native-born American to write orchestral works and operas (and to have them performed. Fry's symphonies have extra-musical themes, and The Santa Claus Symphony is no exception. The symphony premiered in 1853 and is one of the earliest works to use the then-new saxophone. From the beginning, the work was both admired by the public and derided by critics (as it still is).

#ClassicalChristmas Annotated List Week #2
#ClassicalChristmas Annotated List Week #3