Sunday, March 31, 2019

Span Roundup March, 2019

Even with spam filters, some comments manage to make it through. Some of it's so oddly written, that it's oddly amusing. Here's a roundup of some of the "best" comments I received this month from spambots around the world.

Cryptic Comments

The comments below are so bizarrely translated that they only make sense as countersigns in a vintage spy film.

- The teacher gives each group a basketful of cardboard fish.

- A short blond man, three weeks ago, but make no mistake, this week subscription only.

- You should invalidate doing exactly in front you contract a professional person. [Then I say "The moon is pale at noon." You set the newspaper folded around the missile plans on the park bench and walk away. I pick it up and walk away in the opposite direction.]

"Lumbering along" gets rave reviews (sort of)

This one post about an inexpensive Japanese friction toy continues to attract the spambots. The Straco Express Layout, Part 23 - Lumbering Along does indeed lumber on.

- It's always exxiting to read through content from other authors and use a little something from their sites. [I'm not excited about being plagiarized. Let me escort you quickly to the exxit.]

- This paragraph will help the internet people for setting up new blog. [Which one? The post has nine paragraphs (and none about setting up a new blog).]

- Perhaps you could write next articles referring to this article. [I have. I'm up to 62 and counting.]

Big in Japan (or someplace)

- These are really enormous ideas in regarding blogging. [Aren't they all.]

That's all for this month. Remember to watch out for those internet people. And if you're handed a basketful of cardboard fish, don't get too exxited. This week it's subscription only.

Friday, March 29, 2019

#ClassicsaDay #WomansHistoryMonth 2019 Week 4

For the third year in a row, the #ClassicsaDay theme for March is women composers. As I've done before, my post includes not just contemporary composers, but creative women from the Middle Ages on up. 

As an additional challenge, I made sure I hadn't duplicated any of my selections from previous years.

Below are my posts for the fourth and final week of #WomensHistoryMonth

3/25 Wilhelmine of Prussia, Margravine of Brandenburg-Bayreuth (1709-1758) - Keyboard Concerto in G minor

Wilhelmine was the older sister of Frederick the Great. In addition to composing, she also played the harpsichord and studied lute with Sylvius Leopold Weiss.

3/26 Cacilda Campos Borges Barbosa (1914-2010) - Estudos Brasileiros No. 3

Brazilian composer Barbosa was a colleague of Heitor Villa-Lobos. She taught at the University of Brazil and was one of the first Brazilian composers of electronic music.

3/27 Marianne von Martinez (1744-1812) - Harpsichord Concerto in E Major

Martinez enjoyed a successful career as a singer, keyboardist, and composer. She often appeared on stage in Italy and Austria. Her works include

3/28 Elsa Barraine (1910-1999) - Symphony No. 2

French composer Barraine won the Prix de Rome in 1929. During WWII she served in the French Resistance. Barraine studied with Paul Dukas and wrote in an accessible neoclassical style.

3/29 Judith Lang Zaimont (1945 - ) - Elegy for Symphonic Strings

American composer Zaimont is a well-known pianist, educator, and composer. Although a champion of women composers, she does not like the term. She wrote, "I'd never thought of myself as any kind of adjective composer."

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Paul Lanksy - The Long and Short of It

This release features three intimate chamber works by Paul Lansky. All are fairly recent, composed after Lansky's transition to a more tonal style.

"The Long and Short of It" is the most recent work, completed in 2015. This wind quintet is based on a section of Mozart's Serenade for Winds, K. 361. Lansky uses the pulsing rhythmic figure as a foundation to build his melodies upon.

Windscape performs with sensitivity and verve. At times one can hear the work's Mozartian roots in their playing. The recording perfectly balances the need for a homogenous ensemble sound and that of hearing each individual voice.

Lansky's first instrument was the guitar. His 2014 work "Talking Guitars" benefits from his intimate knowledge of the instrument. The work is presented as a dialogue between two guitars. Both Jiyeon Kim and Hao Yang are students of David Starobin. They both play with exceptional clarity, making this conversation easy to follow.

Lansky's 2006 work "Pieces of Advice" is for French horn and piano. It has five movements. Each represents a different mood: mysterious, proud, patient, annoying, and insistent.

Lansky played the French horn. The music is challenging but uses the instrument to full advantage. The performances were fine, but I found this the least interesting of the three works. To my ears, there seemed little interaction between the two instruments -- the horn was the solo instrument, the piano provides the accompaniment.

Overall, though, this is a good addition to Bridge Record's Lansky series.

Paul Lansky: The Long and Short of It
Windscape; Jiyeon Kim, Hao Yang, guitars; William Purvis, horn; Mihaei Lee, piano
Bridge Records 9495

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Moyzes Symphonies Nos. 3 &4 - Subtle Subversiveness

This release is the second reissue of Moyzes recordings from Naxos. The cycle was originally released on Marco Polo in 2000. The recordings still sound superb.

The ensemble sound of the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra has a warm, smooth sound. And yet one can still hear important details in the solo passages and smaller groupings. And that's important with Moyzes, who had a fondness for counterpoint.

 Moyzes' Symphony No. 3 in B flat major is titled "The Little Symphony." It must be the work's origins -- at 23 minutes it seems plenty big to me. Moyzes used an early wind quintet as the foundation for the symphony.

The five movements are short and concise. This 1942 work has some of the mordant wit of Prokofiev, especially in the scherzo.

 The liner notes state that the 1947 Symphony No. 4 in E major was "combines protest at the injustice of war with the past history of the Slovaks." Well, perhaps. The work's motifs were written first for a radio play about Herod and Heroditus. Some also came from a radio play about Slovak nationalist Ludovít Štúr.

Whether that translates into a subversive protest or not, it didn't affect my enjoyment of the symphony. This is a dynamic work, almost restless in its motion and energy. Moyzes skillfully weaves the three movements together through thematic transformation. But this isn't "Finlandia." Moyzes' tonal symphony works quite well as an apolitical piece of abstract music.

 Alexander Moyzes: Symphonies 3 and 4 
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra; Ladislav Slovák, conductor 
Naxos 8.57365

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Tatjana Ruhland performs Müller Flute Concertos beautifully

Today, August Eberhard Müller is mostly forgotten. Yet at the turn of the 19th Century, he was one of the most important musical figures in Germany.

As cantor of Thomaskirche, Leipzig, he performed cantatas by its most famous cantor, J. S. Bach. He was first chair flute of the Gewandhaus Orchestra, as well as a featured soloist. And, though self-taught, he was considered one of the greatest flutists of his time.

This release features three of his eleven flute concertos, two from the beginning of his career and one from its end.

The Flute Concerto No. 1 in G major dates from 1794, No. 3 in D major from 1796. Müller was an admirer of Mozart. These works could almost be companion pieces to Mozart's flute concertos. The difference is in the solo part. Mozart may give the flute slightly better quality material, but Müller gives the instrument music that more perfectly suits it.

The Flute Concerto No. 10 in G major was premiered in 1809. Müller still used Mozart as a model. But that model had been greatly expanded and refined. This is a more expansive concerto and reminded me of late Haydn in style.

Tatjana Ruhland delivers spot-on performances. Her technique is virtually flawless. Her notes maintain a beautifully rounded tone throughout the instrument's register. Ruhland plays with a light touch throughout, in keeping with the style of the music.

Not all of August Müller's flute concertos survived. These performances make me want to hear the others that did.

August Eberhard Müller
Flute Concertos 1, 3 & 10
Tatjana Ruhland, flute
 Südwestdeutsches Kammerorchester Pforzheim; Timo Handschuh, conductor

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Schütz Madrigale & Hochzeitsmusiken Bring Element of Fun

Carus continues their traversal of Heinrich Schutz's music with a collection of secular compositions. Schutz was primarily known for his sacred compositions, which influenced generations of Protestant composers (especially in Germany).

This release features secular madrigals and wedding music that show a different aspect of Schutz.

Schutz studied in Venice as a young man. The works in this recording show the influence of Claudio Monteverdi, particularly his madrigal writing. Schutz often uses the text as the starting point for the work, letting the words suggest the direction and shape of the melodies.

Several of the works on this release were written for weddings. They have a lightness to them that's normally missing in Schutz's sacred chorales. Siehe, wie fein und lieblich ist’s SWV 48, written for his brother's wedding even references an inside family joke.

The vocal ensemble under the direction of Hans-Christoph Rademann has been recording Schutz's music for years now. They function like a well-oiled machine. The blend of individual voices is remarkable. These performers perform as old friends, instinctively adjusting their voices for the best blend.

If you can't invest in all 19 volumes of the remarkable series, put this release on your short list. This album -- and these performances -- show us a different side of Heinrich Schutz. He could be witty, light-hearted, and entertaining as the occasion warranted. Schutz wasn't just a masterful composer of sacred music. He was a masterful composer, period.

Heinrich Schütz: Madrigale & Hochzeitsmusiken
Complete recording, Vol. 19
Dorothee Mields; Isabel Schicketanz; David Erler; Georg Poplutz; Tobias Mäthger; Felix Schwandtke
Dresdner Kammerchor; Hans-Christoph Rademann, director
Carus 83.227

Friday, March 22, 2019

#ClassicsaDay #WomensHistoryMonth 2019 - Week 3

For the third year in a row, the #ClassicsaDay theme for March is women composers. As I've done before, my post includes not just contemporary composers, but creative women from the Middle Ages on up. 

As an additional challenge, I made sure I hadn't duplicated any of my selections from previous years.

Below are my posts for the third full week of #WomensHistoryMonth

3/18 Garsenda, Countess of Provence (1193-1215) - Vos que'm semblatz dels corals amadors

Garsenda was married to Alfonso II. She was a powerful patron of the Occitan troubadours. She was also a trobainitz, (female troubadour) who composed (and presumably performed) her own poetry and music.

3/19 Maria Margherita Grimani (f. 1713-1718) - Sinfonia

Virtually nothing is known of Maria Grimani, save that she was active in Vienna. Her catalog includes an opera and two oratorios. The Sinfonia is taken from her opus dramaticum "Pallade e marte"

3/20 Josepha Barbara von Auernhammer (1758-1820) - 6 Variations sur un Theme Hongrois

Auernhammer studied with Leopold Kozeluch. She also was one of Mozart's first students. His Op. 2 violin and piano sonatas are dedicated to her. She had a successful career in Vienna both as a concert pianist and composer.

3/21 Sophie Menter (1846-1918) - Romance, Op. 5

Menter was Franz Liszt's favorite female students. She was considered one of the greatest pianists of her time, and one of the few who could play Liszt's most difficult works. Most of her compositions are for piano.

3/22 Barbara Kolb (1939 - ) - Extremes for flute and cello

Kolb was the first woman composer to win the Rome Prize. She studied with Lukas Foss and Gunther Schuller. Kolb is interested in electronic music, and her work often uses sound masses that combine and recombine in differing patterns.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Friedrich Benda's Viola Concertos Delightful Discoveries

Friedrich Benda came from a distinguished musical family and was a noted violinist and violist. So it's not surprising that his viola concertos are well-crafted examples of Classical Period form.

In general form, these works reminded me of Haydn's string concertos. They have a similar air of elegance about them.

Bernard Labadie is renowned for his Baroque and early Classical recordings. The SWR Symphony Orchestra Baden-Baden and Freiburg benefit from his deep knowledge of this music.

The music lies well on the viola. The solo parts tend to favor the upper register of the viola. Perhaps its because Benda was also a violinist.
Violist Jean-Eric Soucy performs with just the right balance of energy and reserve. He maintains a smooth, well-rounded tone throughout. In the liner notes Soucy says "I hope that listeners enjoy discovering [these concertos] as music as I did working with them."

Yes, I believe I did.

Friedrich Wilhelm Heinrich Benda: Viola Concertos 1-3
Jean-Eric Soucy, viola
SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg; Bernard Labadie, conductor

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Albert Lortzing Opera Overtures - Light-hearted Enjoyment

At one time, Albert Lortzing was one of the most-performed opera composers in Germany. His light-hearted Spieloper (light opera) scores were standard fare in the 19th Century.

Lortzing's style bridges the gap between Carl Maria von Weber and Franz von Suppé. These overtures have the clarity of Weber's writing and the bustling energy of von Suppé.

These overtures show real skill in creating memorable tunes that instantly appeal to the ear. Most of Lortzing's output was comedic, with two notable exceptions. "Undine" is a romantische Zauberoper (romantic fairy-tale opera). Its overture sounds somewhat darker and more serious, befitting the lengthier drama.

"Regina" was not performed during the composer's lifetime. The opera revolves around an impending strike by factory workers. It was a subject that hit too close to home in 1848, the Year of Revolution.

There's nothing revolutionary about the music, though. The overture to "Regina" show that Lortzing had the talent to write serious as well as comic opera.

The Malmö Opera Orchestra, directed by Jun Märkl hit the mark with their performances. The comic opera overtures sound as light and frothy as a beer's head. And the more serious operas are played with an appropriate amount of gravitas and drama.

If you enjoy von Weber, Meyerbeer, von Suppé, or Offenbach, give Lortzing a listen. This release is a delight from start to finish.

Albert Lortzing: Opera Overtures
Malmö Opera Orchestra; Jun Märkl, conductor
Naxos 8.573824

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Michael Daugherty Dreamachine Hits on All Cylinders

In my opinion, Michael Daugherty's style hits the sweet spot. His music has real substance, working on multiple layers that yield fresh insights with every hearing.

He's also fully integrated the musical vernacular of pop culture. And he writes in a mostly tonal and strongly rhythmic language. These strengths enable his music to connect with the classical audience and non-classical audiences.

This release features three strong examples of how effective that language can be.

Flutist Amy Porter delivers a heart-rending performance of "Trail of Tears." According to Daugherty, the concerto makes the journey of the human spirit through extraordinary tribulation. Although some melodic elements emulate Native American melodies, the music transcends race and culture. It's a powerful work that speaks directly to the heart.

Reflections on the Mississipi is an exciting concerto for tuba and orchestra. The music roils and churns like the river itself. Snippets of "Wade in the Water" surface then disappear back into the ensemble. Soloist Carol Jantsch plays with a warm, golden sound and astonishing technique.

Daugherty says the inspiration for Dreamachine were images that had surprising connections between humans and machines. This tour de force percussion concerto has the soloist performing both roles. Sometimes the percussion instruments sound mechanistic; other times they're quite expressive. Dame Evelyn Glennie, who premiered the work in 2014, performs here. Arguably one of the greatest percussionists in the world, Glennie provides the soul in the machine.

The Albany Symphony under the direction of David Alan Miller is at the top of its game. Every note hits with precision and just the right intensity. The ensemble performs as if of one mind with the respective soloists. Great music, great performances.

Michael Daugherty: Dreammachine
Evelyn Glennie, percussion; Amy Porter flute; Carol Jantsch, tuba
Albany Symphony; David Alan Miller, conductor
Naxos 8.559807

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Ruth Gipps Symphonies -- Old Fashioned? Well-crafted!

The 21st Century seems to be the time for the re-discovery of women composers. Obscurity could result from many factors. Some careers were frustrated by societal conventions, as with Amy Beach. Sometimes race was the issue, as with Florence Price.

In the case of Ruth Gipps, it seemed to have been something not uncommon with the fate of many male composers. Her music simply fell out of fashion.

Gipps was an extremely talented oboist, pianist, and composer. By all accounts, she was a virtual dynamo -- performing, composing, and organizing. She founded the Londen Repertoire Orchestra (1955) and the Chanticler Orchestra (1961) to promote young performers and new music.

Yet her own music remained true to the ideals of the English Music Renaissance. She had studied with Ralph Vaughan Willams, and her work builds on the foundations he established. Gipps firmly rejected serialism and atonality. After WWII, her music was seen as simply too old-fashioned to be relevant.

Listening to Gipps' work in the 21st Century, I didn't hear that at all. Her Symphony No. 2 in B major (1945) is a tightly constructed single movement work. Her harmonies often resolve modally, accentuating the "Englishness" of her melodies.

Gipps dedicated her Fourth Symphony to Arthur Bliss. This 1972 work is still tonal, but the harmonies are more thickly textured. Gipps' structural organization is impeccable, and her use of timbre and instrumental color inspired.

The symphony premiered the same year as George Crumb's "Makrokosmos, Volume I," Steve Reich's "Clapping Music," and Einojuhani Rautavaara's Cantus Arcticus. So, yes, in context Gipps does sound old-fashioned.

But taken on its own merits, her music has the power to move the listener emotionally (it did for me). Rumon Gamba and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales seem fully invested in these works. Their performances bring out the restless vitality of Ruth Gipps and revel in her use of orchestral color. 

Ruth Gipps: Symphonies Nos. 2 & 4
BBC National Orchestra of Wales; Rumon Gamba, conductor
Chandos 20078

Friday, March 15, 2019

#ClassicsaDay #WomensHistoryMonth 2019 - Week 2

For the third year in a row, the #ClassicsaDay theme for March is women composers. As I've done before, my post includes not just contemporary composers, but creative women from the Middle Ages on up. 

As an additional challenge, I made sure I hadn't duplicated any of my selections from previous years.

Below are my posts for the second full week of #WomensHistoryMonth  

3/11 Tibors de Sarenom (c.1130-aft.1198) - Bel dos amic

Tibors is the earliest trobaritiz in recorded history -- a French female troubadour. She would have been a proficient poet and instrumentalist, and most likely a noblewoman.

3/12 Alba Trissina (f. 1622) - In nomine Iesu

Trissina was a Carmelite nun in Vicenza. She studied with Leone Leoni, who published four of her works -- they are all that survive of her music.

3/13 Marianna von Auenbrugger (1759-1782) - Sonata in E-flat major

Marianna was a talented pianist and composer. She studied with Franz Joseph Haydn and Antonio Salieri. Saleri published her Sonata in E-flat.

3/14 Catherina Cibbini-Kozeluch (1790-1858) - Six Waltzes, Op. 6

Caterina was the daughter of composer Leopold Kozeluch. An accomplished pianist, she studied with Muzio Clementi. While serving in the Viennese court of Empress Karolina Augusta, several of her works were published, including the Op. 6 waltzes.

3/15 Ivana Stefanovic (1948 - ) - The Epistle of Birds

Serbian composer Stefanovic has had a long and productive music career at Radio Belgrade. She studied at IRCAM, and served as the Serbian State Secretary of Culture. The Epistle of Birds (1976) was produced at Radio Belgrade.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Trio Vitruvi Joyfully Perform Schubert Trios

A long journey can seem shorter if it's done with people you enjoy. Schubert's Piano Trio in E-flat major, D.929 is such a journey. And it was one made all the better with the Trio Vitruvi.

This release is the trio's debut recording. And it's a well-chosen one. The youthful Trio Vitruvi approach Schubert's 50-minute work with energy and enthusiasm. These talented musicians make this almost 200-year-old composition sound fresh and exciting.

The interplay between violinist Niklas Walentin, cellist Jacob la Cour, and pianist Alexander McKenzie is the key. There are no stars here -- all three work together for the common good.

Schubert's free-flowing melodies benefit from the trio's performances. They're played with lightness and seeming spontaneity. And that's what makes this sonic journey so enjoyable.

The joyful interpretation of the Trio Vitruvi kept me wanting more -- even after 50 minutes had flown by.

Fortunately, there was a little more. The release also includes the Notturno, D. 897. A light dessert to finish off a hearty meal.

Schubert: Piano Trios, D. 929 and D. 897
Trio Vitruvi
Bridge Records 9510

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Joseph Marx Nature Trilogy a Welcome Reissue

It's nice to see this Joseph Marx recording back in print. It was originally released by Avie in 2003.

Marx actively opposed Schoenberg and his followers. He very strongly believed in the power of tonal music. Marx was a major figure in Vienna, and his music was frequently performed.

After World War II, his compositions were considered old-fashioned. By the time of his death in 1964, Marx was virtually forgotten.

And that's a shame. For while his music is indeed tonal (almost reactionary), it's quite beautiful.

His ambitious Natur-Trilogie is a model of late-Romantic composition. The orchestrations evoke moods and images as effectively as those of Richard Strauss. The shimmering harmonies rival those of Claude Debussy.

In fact, the composer this music most reminds me of was Arnold Bax.

The trilogy was intended as a single work, on par with Mahler's grand symphonic statements. Practical considerations made that impossible, though. The work was broken into three stand-alone tone poems and never performed in its entirety.

While the three movements do work as individual pieces, they all belong to the same sonic world. Common motifs run throughout, binding the movements of the Nature Trilogy closely together.

The Bochum Symphony Orchestra deliver appealing performances. Maestro Steven Sloane brings out the sensual nature of this trilogy, making it a gorgeous treat for the ears. I'm happy this beautiful recording is back in print.

Joseph Marx: Orchestral Works, Vol. 1
Nature Trilogy: Symphonic Night Music; Idyll; Spring Music
Bochum Symphony Orchestra; Steven Sloane, conductor
Naxos 8l573831

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Flattening the O-Gauge Zen Garden, Part 2

It wasn't long after I posted Flattening the O-Gauge Zen Garden that I decided to make an additional change. P.T.F. Designs offered a flat that not only had the dimensions I was looking for but the design as well.

The Incandescent Lamp Electric Company's building had a long loading dock. I thought it would look great set against the straight part of the outer track loop.

Flat means flat!
Of course, this was a flat. So all I had was an image of the dock -- on the same plain as the rest of the structure (see image, right).

Fortunately, building out the dock wasn't a difficult task or even an especially lengthy one.

Gathering the resources

I did two sets of image/mirror image.
The first step was to make scans of the dock area. Using Photoshop, I made sure the images were exactly the right length. I also reversed the image.

The paper printouts needed mounting. I had several scrap pieces of hardware store rulers, which turned out to be the perfect backing material. The rulers were the same height as the dock image.

The dock addition is basically just a small rectangular box. I cut all the pieces to fit, and then glued the paper dock images to them.

The overlap from the sides
cover the wood backing of the front.

Building the base

The joints were constructed carefully. On the sides of the dock, I trimmed the paper so it overhung the wood back by 1/4". This covered the exposed wood of the dock front.

I also glued a small block at each corner. These ensured the joins were truly square. And they provided additional strength to the joint.

The finished box. Note the corner
braces don't exend all the way
up. That space will be needed for
the next step.
 Remember I had reversed images of the dock? Here's why. For the sides, I used the reversed images. There's no visual break between the grass line and brick patterns at the corner. The image seems to just wrap around it.

If the side had been really long, I would have needed a different solution, as the mirroring would have been obvious. But for a 1-1/2" section with limited visibility, I think this works.

It's the same technique I used before in Part One.

Creating the dock floor

There are score lines on
this surface -- really!
For the dock flooring, I used a piece of scrap Foamcore. I could have just covered the dock with paper, but I wanted something more substantial. I wanted the option of placing figures and goods on the dock (some of which could be diecast metal). It had to be sturdy. 

I scored board patterns into the surface. They don't show that well in the photos. But in real life, they provide a realistic texture to the Foamore's surface. 

I also carefully notched the underside of the dock floor. I wanted it to sit flush on the dock. The finished piece fit so snugly I didn't need to glue it at all. 

Before painting the dock floor,
I did a test fit. It fit perfectly
Just one step remained for this phase -- painting the dock floor. This was another instance where I used the reversed images. I had cut out just two relatively short pieces from either end,

I had plenty of the image left to experiment with. The loading dock has grayed wooden bumpers on it.

I mixed white and black paint together to match that shade of gray. The simplest way to test the mix was to dab it onto the scrap image.

When the paint blended seamlessly with the image, I was ready to paint the dock floor.

Paint-matching was easy.
I had plenty of printed
images to test with.
 Once the paint had dried, all that was left was to finish the assembly and attach the built-out dock to the building flat.

I'm happy with the result. The building looks like it belongs in the space  I did need to shift the flat I had previously built. And while that all looked fine, the American Flyer station that occupied that corner looked a little crowded.

That's something I'll need to address.

Another time.

In Crescendo - Consonant Chamber Music for the 21st Century

This release is the result of an international competition for consonant chamber music. The works are all set in a tonal framework, but there's nothing trite or conventional about them. These are all compositions of substance.

Andreas Foivos Apostolou's "Metamorphoses for Piano Solo" starts off the program. This Grecian composer's work uses polyrhythms and chord clusters to create a sense of dynamic energy that is as enjoyable as it is exciting.

Russian composer Pavel Karamanov has a gift for melody. His work for viola and piano "Second Snow on the Stadium" has an elegiac quality to it.

The String Quartet No. 1 of Latino-American Jose Gonzalez Granero uses advanced techniques to create an intricate cloud of sound. Yet its modal harmonies help provide a point of reference for the ear.

Elana Kats-Chernin hails from Uzbekistan. Her "Dance of the Paper Umbrellas" for piano quartet reminded me of Philip Glass. A more lyrical version of Glass, that is.

"Con Moto for String Quartet" is by Ivan Palomares de la Encina. Palomares incorporates his Spanish heritage into the music. The quartet reminded me of Granados in that regard. And yet there's a quality to it that's unique. Palomares' use of harmony makes this music of the early 21st rather than the 20th Century.

The program concludes with "Quintet" by Polish composer Jan Wachowski. This was the most traditional-sounding work on the release. Wachowski blends Post-Romantic harmonies with contemporary string techniques.  The result is a work that should appeal to both traditional classical music listeners and contemporary music lovers.

Six contemporary composers from different countries, each with their own perspective on what consonance means. Kudos to the No Profit Music Foundation for sponsoring the competition. And kudos to pianist Daniel del Pino and the Habemus Quartet. Their committed performances brought this music to life.

In Crescendo: Consonant Chamber Music
Daniel del Pino, piano; Habemus Quartet
Non Profit Music

Saturday, March 09, 2019

Graupner Solo and Dialogue Cantatas Surprisingly Light and Airy

CPO continues their exploration of Christoph Graupner's catalog with a selection of his solo and dialogue cantatas. There's a lot to choose from. This set includes five of his 177 surviving sacred cantatas. They span a decade, from 1709 to 1719. Yet all five cantatas are surprisingly consistent in style.

In these works, the music mainly alternates between secco recitatives and arias. But the recitatives aren't accompanied by just a harpsichord. Graupner uses winds and brass to illustrate the text, providing deeper meaning (and a more interesting listening experience).

These works also feature a fair amount of just instrumental playing. The cumulative effect is that these cantatas seem somewhat light and airy.

Soprano Marie Luise Werneburg sings with a clear, pure tone. Dominik Wörner provides fine counterpoint. His voice has a well-rounded sound, especially in the lower register. Together, their voices have the soft warmth of candlelight.

The Kirchheimer BachConsort provides ideal accompaniment. The ensemble has a pleasing balance of Baroque string, wind, and brass players. The result is a clean, transparent sound that's well-suited for the somewhat intimate setting these works were first performed in.

Christoph Graupner was considered one of the most important composers of his day (at least in Germany). These cantatas showcase his skill at vocal writing and his imaginative use of instrumentation.

Christoph Graupner: Solo- & Dialog-Kantaten
Jesus ist und bleibt mein Leben GWV 1107/12
Gott ist für uns gestorben GWV 1152/16
Siehe, selig ist der Mensch, den Gott strafet GWV 1162/09
Diese Zeit ist ein Spiel der Eitelkeit GWV 1165/09
Süßes Ende aller Schmerzen GWV 1166/20
Marie Luise Werneburg, soprano; Dominik Wörner, bass
Kirchheimer BachConsort; Rudolf Lutz, director
CPO 555 215-2
2 CD Set

Alessandro Rolla Viola Concertos Not Fully Served

Alessandro Rolla, a contemporary of Mozart, was perhaps the greatest violist of his age. And he was a pretty good violinist, too. After all -- he taught Paganini.

As was the practice of the time, Rolla the composer wrote concertos for Rolla the virtuoso to take on tour. This release includes two of those viola concertos, plus a symphony and a setting of "Tantum Ergo."

Rolla's concertos are well-crafted examples of the late Classical style. Phrases are neatly and evenly shaped. Dynamics vary, with rousing crescendos. Structures are elegantly outlined harmonically.

What gives these concertos life is the beauty and intricacy of the solo viola part. It's thought that many of the string techniques Paganini popularized came from Rolla.

It's possible. The solo parts are challenging, requiring agility and dexterity (particularly the double-stopped passages). Soloist Simonide Braconi is in clear command of this material, and he performs it with gusto.

The Symphony in D major is on par with mid-career Mozart and Haydn symphonies. It's enjoyable from start to finish, with plenty of energetic tunes to keep things moving along. 

The Tantum Ergo from 1805 is something of an oddball. It's a work for bass voice, viola concertante, and orchestra. The low voice combined with the viola's mid- and lower range has a warm, dark blend that's balanced by the light accompanying ensemble.

Although Simonide Braconi did a fine job, I was a bit disappointed by the overall sound. To my ears, the ensemble was sometimes a bit ragged. Basso Salvo Vitale seemed to have problems sustaining his lowest notes. In some cases, they sounded underpowered.

Alessandro Rolla
Viola Concertos, Symphony in D, Tantum ergo
Simonide Braconi viola, Salvo Vitale bass
Orchestra da camera “Il Demetrio”
Maurizio Schiavo conductor
Brilliant Classics 95504

Friday, March 08, 2019

#ClassicsaDay #WomensHistoryMonth 2019 - Week 1

For the third year in a row, the #ClassicsaDay theme for March is women composers. As I've done before, my post includes not just contemporary composers, but creative women from the Middle Ages on up. 

As an additional challenge, I made sure I hadn't duplicated any of my selections from previous years.

Below are my posts for the first full week of #WomensHistoryMonth  

3/1 Alamanda de Castelnau (1160-1223) - Ensenhas

Alamanda was a trobairitz - a female French troubadour. Trobairitz were noblewomen, capable of both playing instruments and singing. They enjoyed prestige and power in medieval Occitan.

3/4 Lucia Quinciani (c.1566, fl.1611) - Udite lagrimosi spirti d'Averno udite

Quinciani is only known for this one work, published in Marcantonio Negri's Affetti amorosi (1611). Virtually nothing else is known of her.

3/5 Mlle Bocquet (early 17th C.-after 1660) - Allemande in D minor

Bocquet was a lutenist and ran a salon with writer Mlle de a Mlle de Scudéry. Although well-respected in Paris and at court, her music remained in manuscript until the 20th Century.

3/6 Harriett Abrams (c. 1758-1821) The Emigrant

Abrams was one of the most popular English sopranos, especially noted for her performances of Handel. Several collections of her original songs were published in the early 1800s.

3/7 Johanna Kinkel (1810-1858) - Die Lorelei

Kinkel was an author, composer -- and participant in the failed 1848 Revolutions. She wrote extensively about music. All of her published compositions (at least 19 volumes) are for voice and piano.

3/8 Shulamit Ran (1949 - ) - Concerto for Orchestra

Israeli-born composer Ran spent most her career at the University of Chicago. Her Symphony won the Pulitzer in 1991.

Thursday, March 07, 2019

Rune Most Delivers Engaging Performances of Mozart Flute Music

A quick check on revealed over 80 releases of Mozart's flute concertos in print. So why should anyone pay attention to this release?

Simple -- the quality of the performances. Rune Most offer fresh insights into these well-known works.

Most plays a modern wooden flute. Its smooth, mellow sound is close to what Mozart was familiar with. But these are not early music performances.

The Odense Symphony Orchestra is a modern orchestra, with a modern orchestral sound. The blend with the wooden flute is an interesting one and makes these works seem more intimate, somehow.

The wooden flute also blends beautifully with the harp in Mozart's double concerto, K. 299. Together the soloists create a sound that's like the soft glow of candlelight.

Most performs his own cadenzas for the two flute concertos. These make his performances truly personal, and all the more engaging. He knows how best to show off his instrument while being faithful to Mozart's material.

There are over 80 competing recordings of this music. I'd easily place this collection within the top ten.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Complete Music for Flute and Orchestra
Rune Most, flute
Sivan Nagem, harp; Odense Symphony Orchestra
Scott Yoo & Benjamin Shwartz, conductors
Bridge Records 9502A/B
2 CD Set

Wednesday, March 06, 2019

Moyzes Symphonies Nos. 1 and 2 Welcome Reissues

In the olden days, Naxos released mid-priced basic repertoire recordings under their own name and more esoteric music under full-priced Marco Polo ("the label of discovery").

It's always good when Marco Polo title are rereleased under the Naxos label. It exposes the music to a wider potential audience, as Naxos' lower prices encourage listeners to take a chance.

In the case of the Alexander Moyzes symphonies, it isn't much of a gamble. Moyzes was a major figure in Slovak music. Moyzes taught three generations of Slovak composers, influencing the direction of classical music in the region.

Moyzes successfully blended traditional music with classical forms. It created a rich, vibrant style that was readily accessible to audiences both in and outside the region. Moyzes first symphony premiered in 1929. Moyzes reworked it, toning down the folk elements.

The completed 1937 revision is what Ladislav Slovák and the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra recorded. The work is a lyrical, post-Romantic gem. I was much reminded of Josef Suk, but with a more cosmopolitan sound.

Moyzes' Second Symphony in A minor was completed in 1932. Like the first, it received substantial revision, losing a movement in the process. The finished version of 1941 has just two movements. The second features a fugue that continues to build in intensity. I heard parallels with Prokofiev works of the same period, but Moyzes is his own man.

Ladislav Slovák leads the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra in spirited performances of these works. This series was originally released in 2000, but the quality of the recordings hold up well. For anyone interested in the music of the 20th Century, or music of Eastern Europe, these are symphonies worth exploring.

Alexander Moyzes: Symphonies Nos. 1 and 2
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra; Ladislav Slovák, conductor
Naxos 8.573650

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

Fresh Batch of Papandopulo Concertos Most Welcome

Every work I've heard by Boris Papandopulo is an absolute gem. And, apparently, just as rare. The liner notes have this rather cryptic sentence: "Owing to the still limited access to his musical estate, a comprehensive, meaningful, and synoptic assessment of Papandopulo’s oeuvre remains impossible."

Boris Papandopulo, a legend in his native Croatia, wrote prolifically and with apparent ease in many genres. This release features three works wrested from the "limited access" to his catalog.

Papandopulo readily blended the language of 20th Century classical music (both tonal and non) with Croatian folk elements into a unique style.

The Concertino for Piccolo and String Ensemble is utterly charming. This 1977 work treats the piccolo as a shepherd's pipe. Melodic folk elements abound in the solo part. The violins and violas play frequently on open strings, simulating the sound of fiddles. Soloist Michael Martin Kofler plays with a clear, well-rounded tone. There's virtually no shrillness in the upper register, making the work all that more appealing (and rustic-sounding).

Papandopulo's Concerto for Harpsichord and String Orchestra was premiered in 1962 and adopts some modernist traits.  It's full of interesting twists and turns and some chord progressions borrowed from jazz. The harpsichord has a thin sound that reminded me of its use in 60's movie and TV shows, such as the "Addams Family" or "The Avengers."

"Five Orchestral Songs" for baritone and string orchestra and harp was written just a year before the harpsichord concerto. And it's a very different work. Papandopulo's score leans toward a highly chromatic Post-Romantic and Impressionist style. It's a highly atmospheric work that effectively conveys its somber anti-war message.

Boris Papandopulo had a unique style that incorporated many threads of 20th Century composition. It's a voice I'd like to hear more from.

Boris Papandopulo: Concertino for Piccolo; Harpsichord Concerto; Five Orchestral Songs
Michael Martin Kofler, piccolo; Jörg Halubek, harpsichord; Miljenko Turk, baritone
Südwestdeutsches Kammerorchester Pforzheim; Timo Handschuh, conductor
CPO 777-941

Saturday, March 02, 2019

Schmitt Symphony No. 2 "busy for everyone"

Florent Schmitt extracted two orchestral suites from his ballet "Antoine et Cléopâtre." Stylistically, the score bears a strong resemblance to Ravel's "Daphnis et Chloé" (also from a ballet). The touches of orientalism and sometimes gooey harmonies remind me more of Richard Strauss' "Salome."

Sakari Oramo and the BBC Symphony seem to relish the rich texture of the score. The music seems to slide sensually from one section to the next. The sound of the ensemble seems in soft focus at times -- not because of the recording, but by their phrasing and articulation.

Schmitt was in his 80s when he completed his Symphony No. 2. The work may have been written in 1957, but it's not quite of its time. The three-movement work is loosely tonal, with a somewhat impressionist character.

In an interview Sakari Oramo said, "[The symphony] is really exuberant — very, very inventive, and incredibly busy for everyone."

And how. Complex cross-rhythms, unusual instrumental combinations, and a battery of percussion keep things moving. Contemporaries writing at the premiere of the work talk about its exuberance and youthful energy.

Oramo takes a more measured approach, with the energy dialed back a little. It's still an interesting performance, just a more serious take on the music than perhaps the composer intended.

Schmitt was all about timbre and orchestral color. I recommend getting this release in the highest audio resolution you can. The more detail you can hear, the better.

Florent Schmitt: "Antoine et Cléopâtre" Suites; Symphony No. 2
BBC Symphony Orchestra; Sakari Oramo, conductor
Chandos CHSA 5200

La Rossignol: Arie e Danze Cortigiane

La Rossignol is a collection of dancers, singers, and musicians devoted to performing Renaissance and Baroque dances. "Aire e Danze Cortigiane" presents some of the tunes they perform on stage.

The selections aren't especially ground-breaking. Many early music groups have recorded music from Tielman Susato, Pierre Attaignant, Ambrosius Dalza, and Thoinot Arbeau.

The collection of instruments La Rossignol uses isn't particularly outre. The ensemble features lute, spinetta, viola da gamba, chitarra moresca, flauto, and assorted percussion. The overall ensemble blend, to me, sounds somewhat middle of the road.

So what does make this release stand out? The performances. I think it's because the musicians of Rossignol play for dancers. This is dance music, after all, and La Rossignol delivers. Every track, whether slow or fast, had a strong pulse that continually pushed forward.
I often caught myself tapping my foot to the music. Mission accomplished.

I was initially irritated that there were no liner notes with my review copy. Nothing about the history of Renaissance dance music, or the composers, or the publications. But maybe there's a reason for that. All you can do with this release is listen to the music and take it for what it is. Nineteen tracks of music that make you want to dance. If only I knew how to bransle....

La Rossignol
Ill Millenio 

Friday, March 01, 2019

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalShorts Week 4

February is the shortest month of the year. That fact inspired #ClassicsaDay team (of which I'm a member) to make short classical pieces the theme for the month. The challenge is to select stand-alone works, not movements of larger pieces.

Participants post links to short classical pieces in the social media channel of their choice, using the #ClassicsaDay and #ClassicalShorts hashtags.

How short is short? That's up to the individual. I limited my selections to playing times of less than ten minutes. I also tried to include a variety of style periods, and have both famous and unusual works in the mix.

Here are my selections for the third week of #ClassicalShorts.

Ethel Smyth - On the Cliffs of Cornwall

"The Wreckers" was the third of Smyth's six operas. Like many composers, she extracted extended orchestral sections for concert performance. "On the Cliffs of Cornwall" serves as the prelude to act 2.

Thomas Tallis - Spem in Alium

A 1611 letter suggests that Tallis wrote this 40-voice motet as a challenge to a 30-voice piece by Alessandro Striggio. Tallis used 8 choirs of 5 voices each in a masterful display of counterpoint.

Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina- Motete Ego sum panis vivus

This is one of the over 200 sacred motets Palestrina wrote. It's considered a masterwork of form and structure, both in its use of voices and the way in which the melodic lines react to and illustrate the text.

Stefania de Kenessey - Sunburst

Contemporary composer Stefania de Kenessey launched the Derriere Guard "to return to long-forgotten, long-abandoned ideas rooted in history and tradition." As "Sunburst" illustrates, the idea was to reimagine tonality in a modern context.

Charles Ives - The Unanswered Question

Ives wrote the work in 1908, although it wasn't performed until 1946 -- by a student ensemble at Julliard. The work features offstage strings, an onstage woodwind ensemble, and a solo trumpet.