Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Spam Roundup April, 2019

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. 

Faint praise, indeed

 - Greetings from Idaho! I'm bored to death at work so I decided to browse your website. [Yes, if you have absolutely nothing to do, this is the blog for you!]

 - You're so awesome! I don't think I've read through anything like that before. [Oh, but I've read spam like this before. Many times before.]

 - I am reading this fantastic paragraph to increase my know-how. [There were three in the post. Which one?]

"Lumbering along" still excites spambots

My very brief write-up of a cheap Japanese friction toy continues to generate comments.The Straco Express Layout, Part 23 - Lumbering Along remains one of my most popular posts among non-human readers.

 - Highly energetic blog. I enjoyed that a lot. Will there be a part 2? [Um, this was part 23, sport.]

 - I ponder why the other specialists of this sector don't understand this. [Wait - there are other specialists?!]

 - You have made some decent points there. I looked on the net for more information about the issue and found most individuals will go along with your views. [Wait - there's more information?!]

 - Friday delivers the first Complete Moon after the Spring Equinox. The querent understands what they want and what it requires to get it. Your cash should be picking up nicely and long lasting through the thirty day period. [I feel like if I gave the proper countersign they'd hand over the stolen missile plans.]

Thought for the day

Adding in golf course to that is not right a accommodate that you buy online. [I agree. Online golf is not right.]

That's all for this month. Remember, no matter how obscure the subject, there are always other specialists and more information -- apparently. And if you must play golf, do so offline, out in the sun.

Friday, April 26, 2019

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalSpring Week 4 & 5

Classical Spring For January 2019 the #ClassicsaDay team made #ClassicalWinter then theme. It seemed only right to continue the trend and celebrate Spring. So for April 2019, everyone is encouraged to share classical works inspired by the season.

Some famous pieces may readily come to mind, such as the "Spring" movement from Vivaldi's "Four Seasons," or Copland's "Appalachian Spring." I decided to avoid the obvious and dig a little deeper. 

Here are my posts for the fourth and fifth week of #ClassicalSpring.

4/22 Ralph Vaughan Williams - The Lark Ascending

George Meredith's poem about a lark in flight inspired Vaughan Williams to write this work. Originally it was for violin and piano. He orchestrated it in 1920, the version most often performed today.

4/23 Heinrich Schutz - Italienische Madrigale "Ride la Primavera" SWV 7

Schutz studied in Venice with Gabrieli and possibly Monteverdi. His first collection of published compositions was "Italienische Madrigale" in 1611. "Ride la Primavera" is one of two madrigals about spring in the collection.

4/24 Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov: Yar-khmel (Spring Overture), Op. 1

Ippolitov-Ivanov studied with Rimsky-Korsakov. His teacher's influence (especially in orchestration) can be heard in this work.

43/25 Karl Goldmark - Im Frühling, Overture Op.36

Goldmark's Im Frühling (In the Spring) premiered in 1889. Goldmark was largely self-taught as a composer. His work in the Vienna Theater in der Josefstadt gave him first-hand experience in orchestration.

3/26 Hermann Goetz - Frühlings-Ouvertüre (Spring Overture), Op. 15

Goetzs's 1864 overture is part of a small body of works. Goezt died of tuberculosis at age 35, before his career could fully develop. His music fell into obscurity after his death, although it was later championed by Mahler.

4/29 Zdenek Fibich - Spring, Symphonic Poem Op. 13 (1881)

Czech composer Zdenek Fibich was an ardent admirer of Wagner. This often put him at odds with the Czech musical community which was fostering a national identity distinct from Germany and Austria.

4/30 Johann Caspar Ferdinand Fischer - Suite No. 1 in C, Op. 1 "Journal du Printemps"

Bohemian composer Johann Fischer was greatly influenced by Lully. His 1695 Journal du Printemps is a set of eight orchestral suites, written in the French style. They were the first orchestral suites published in Germany.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Tasmin Little Plays Exceptional Music by Exceptional Women

Tasmin Little presents a solid program of late-Romantic violin works. As always, her performances let the emotional content of this music blossom forth in beauty. Little has done other outstanding recordings of this repertoire (her Brahms album springs to mind). She seems to have a natural affinity of the late-Romantic style.

Oh - and all the music on this release happened to be written by women. While that may provide the program's theme, in my opinion, it's not that relevant. These works are all well-crafted, displaying high degrees of creativity and imagination.

Amy Beach's 1896 Violin Sonata in A minor, Op. 34 is a large-scale work. Beach masterfully handles her resources and delivers beautifully-turned melodies one after the other. Little is especially effective in the quiet passages, playing with poignant delicacy.

The Violin Sonata, Op. 7 by Dame Ethel Smyth has a darker character to it. Written in 1887, it more closely resembles the style of Brahms and Schumann. Little makes this work her own, brushing aside the considerable technical challenges to get to the heart of the music. I've heard other recordings of this work. I think Little's is the best.

Clara Schumann's Drei Romanzen, Op. 22 was written for the violinist Joseph Joachim. The scope of these romances is modest. Little's sympathetic performances make them absolutely charming.

Tasmin Little Plays Clara Schumann, Amy Beach, and Ethel Smyth
Tasmin Little, violin; John Lenehan, piano
Chandos 20030

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Reinecke Complete String Quartets -- authentically Romantic

The five surviving string quartets of Carl Reinecke describe an arc. His two earliest quartets were discarded and lost, but his first published quartet appears in 1845 at the start of his career. The last was completed in 1909, a year before his death.

Reinecke studied with both Felix Mendelssohn and Robert Schumann. The influence of these teachers is apparent in Reinecke's String Quartet No. 1. Completed when the composer was just eighteen, it's a well-constructed work full of potential.

By contrast, the String Quartet No. 5 in G minor is pure Reinecke. Written at the end of his career, the quartet benefits from a lifetime of compositional experience. The construction is complex and sophisticated. Thick, chromatic harmonies masterfully guide the listener through the work.

The middle quartets show the gradual development of a composer finding his own voice. By the end of his life, Reinecke was considered somewhat old-fashioned. Yet he always remained true to his musical ideal, eschewing fashion for authenticity.

The Reinhold Quartett performs admirably in this cycle. The players are all members of the Gewandhaus Orchestra, an organization Reinecke directed for over 30 years. I like to think it gives the quartet a natural affinity for Reinecke's style.

The quartet has a lush, full sound in these recordings. And yet I could easily follow individual lines in the music. Reinecke wrote, "Time mows down artworks that are not created by a brilliant artist, which I am not." Perhaps. But mowed vegetation sometimes grows back.

The Reinhold Quartett's performances do justice to these works. They convinced me that Reinecke's quartets merit a listen -- and perhaps more than just a listen.

Carl Reinecke: Complete String Quartets
Reinhold Quartett
2 CD Set

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Woldemar Bargiel - String Quartets Fall Between Mendelssohn and Brahms

Even in his lifetime, Woldemar Bargiel never quite escaped the shadow of his half-sister and his brother-in-law -- Clara and Robert Schumann. At an early point in his career, Schumann rated Bargeil's chamber music higher than that of newcomer Johannes Brahms. The rankings soon changed.

Nevertheless, Bargiel was a talented composer, carefully crafting and refining his works over long periods of time. This release features his four string quartets, plus his string octet.

Bargiel's first string quartet was completed in 1848 as a graduation piece. It's a fairly simple work, owing much to Mendelssohn in texture and melodic contour.

His Second String Quartet in D minor finished a year later, is a more fully developed quartet. Here the inspiration seems to be Beethoven. The work carefully develops its motifs with some richly dark harmonies and skillful modulations.

The album leads with the String Quartet No. 3 in A minor, Op. 15b, as well it should. This is a work by a full-fledged composer (rather than a student). Bargiel's style sits somewhere between Mendelssohn and Schumann without sounding derivative. His melodies are fully formed, and the handling of the ensemble is more self-assured.

His last quartet of 1888 shows even more development. The Quartet in D minor, Op. 47 is a big, brawny work that reminded me very strongly of Brahms. It's a beautifully expressive work. The lyrical melodies have plenty of substance for the players to dig into. And the Orpheus Quartet does just that.

The Orpheus Quartet performs with an emotive power that makes these compositions sparkle. Their reading of the fourth quartet I found particularly exciting.

Also included is Bargiel's String Octet, Op. 15a. Inspired by Mendelssohn's octet, Bargeil's work is a somewhat ambitious work. Although both octets have 30-minute playing times, Bargeil's has three movements to Mendelssohn's four.

Bargiel made his octet an expansive work, emulating Mendelssohn's octet in energy, but looking to Beethoven for thematic development and structural balance. It works quite well.

In the end, Schumann ranked Brahms above Bargiel. It's a fair assessment. Bargiel synthesized his influences, while Brahms used them as jumping off points. But still, listening to these works over a century later, I think Bargiel had something interesting to say.

Woldemar Bargiel: Complete String Quartets & String Octet
Orpheus Quartet
CPO 555 095
2 CD Set

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Telemann Wind Quintets, Vol. 1 - Pleasantly tuneful

Let's be clear: the wind ensemble of Telemann's time was vastly different than the ones we have today. Clarinets, metal flutes, valved brass instruments, and percussion were later additions to the ensemble.

The lineup of L’Orfeo Bläserensemble is one Telemann was familiar with: two oboe d'amore, two F horns, and bassoon. Lute and cembalo provide the basso continuo.

It's a pleasing combination of instruments. The overall sound is dark and warm. Telemann often places the oboe d'amore in opposition to the horns. Many of the movements have an easy give-and-take between the reeds and the horns.

Most of the works on this recording are Baroque overtures. Each features a series of short dance movements. These were works written for light entertainment, and they succeed.

I'd recommend this release to just about anyone. The works are charming and the performances elegant and refined. You can enjoy this release as an hour of casual entertainment, or as a deep dive into a little-known facet of Baroque music.

Georg Philipp Telemann: Wind Overtures, Vol. 1
L’Orfeo Bläserensemble; Carin van Heerden, conductor

Friday, April 19, 2019

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalSpring Week 3

For January 2019 the #ClassicsaDay team made #ClassicalWinter then theme. It seemed only right to continue the trend and celebrate Spring. So for April 2019, everyone is encouraged to share classical works inspired by the season.

Some famous pieces may readily come to mind, such as the "Spring" movement from Vivaldi's "Four Seasons," or Copland's "Appalachian Spring." I decided to avoid the obvious and dig a little deeper. 

Here are my posts for the first full week of #ClassicalSpring.

4/15 Egon Wellesz - Vorfrühling, The Dawn of Spring, Op. 12

Wellesz was an Austrian composer, who escaped to the UK in 1938. His tone poem Vorfrühling was completed in 1912, and is very much in the post-Romantic Viennese style.

4/16 Jean Sibelius - Vårsång (Spring Song)

Spring Song was written Sibelius when he was 29. Originally titled "Improvisation for Orchestra," Sibelius revised it (even changing its key) before publication.

4/17 Giuseppe Verdi - Four Seasons Ballet, Spring

The Four Seasons Ballet was a 1979 ballet created by Jerome Robbins. Each season used music from a Verdi opera. The Spring movement is taken from the 1855 opera "Les vepres siciliennes" (The Sicilian Vespers).

4/18 Darius Milhaud  - Le Printemps, Books I and II

Milhaud drew much inspiration from the season. In addition to these two collections of piano music, he also wrote a spring ballet, symphony, and violin concerto.

4/19 Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - String Quartet No. 14 in G major, K. 387

Although written in December 1782, this quartet was nicknamed the "Spring Quartet" after his death. It was the first of the six "Haydn" quartets published in 1785 and dedicated to Franz Joseph Haydn.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Ensemble Imaginaire perform Durante with a light touch

This double-disc release features eight string concertos by Francesco Durante, plus one that's never been recorded before.

Durante was a major figure in the early 18th Century. His music helped define the Neopolitan Galante Style. It was clean, clear, and relatively free of ornamentation.

For the most part, the concertos on this release follow the same pattern. The major key concertos have transparent textures, with light, tuneful melodies.

The minor concertos usually start with long, slow introductions. These introductions gradually build polyphonically before blossoming into fugues. The textures are thicker, giving them greater gravitas than the major key concertos.

Although there are large-scale patterns, each concerto has its own character. "La Pazzia" (Concerto No. 8 in A major) alternates tempos within the first movement. It gives the music a seeming spontaneity I didn't hear in the other concertos.

The unnumbered Concerto in B-flat major seems a summation of Durante's skill. The ensemble writing is quite complex. Melodies and rhythms take unexpected turns (compared to the numbered concertos).

The Ensemble Imaginaire number seven players. Their collective sound is full and lightweight. That lightness is just what Durante's Galante works need.

Francesco Durante: Concertos for Strings
Ensemble Imaginaire; Cristina Corriei, conductor
Brilliant Classics 95542
2 CD Set

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Moyzes Symphonies Nos. 5 and 6 - Popular Reissues

This third volume of Alexander Moyzes symphonies features two of his most popular symphonies.

Symphony No. 5 was dedicated to Moyzes father. Mikuláš Moyzes (1872–1944) was an early pioneer in creating a national style of classical composition. Alexander Moyzes demonstrates his mastery of this concept with this work.

 The symphony uses elements of his father's "Little Mountain Symphony." Moyzes also uses the structure of Eastern Slovak folk dance, expanded to symphonic proportions. The result is a work that sparkles and dances. Its folk elements, while sublimated, still made it a popular work in Slovakia. 

Several of Moyzes' major works are recycled from earlier efforts. His 1951 Symphony No. 6 uses material from his 1934 Concertino -- which had been reclaimed from an even earlier abandoned piano concerto. Nevertheless, the symphony stands on its own merits. The material brings folk elements to the foreground in an appealing manner.

Of special note is the Largo, the middle of the five movements and the longest. Moyzes gives free rein to his melodies, creating a work of exceptional lyrical beauty.

 Ladislav Slovák and the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra deliver fine performances. They understand the nationalistic subtext of Moyzes' music, and subtly -- and effectively -- lean into it. The performances help us hear the uniqueness of Moyze's style -- and its appeal.

 Alexander Moyzes: Symphonies Nos. 5 and 6 
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra; Ladislav Slovák, conductor 
Naxos 8.573652

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Lessons from York - What We Saw: Half and Half

Dad and I recently returned from our semi-annual trip to the Train Collectors Association (TCA) Eastern Division toy train meet in York, PA. This is the largest such show in the United States and provides an interesting snapshot of the state of the hobby. 

It can also hint at the current state of collecting in general. As is our tradition, we spent a lot of time discussing what we saw a lot of (and what we didn't) -- and the reasons behind them.

Half Empty or Half Full?

This time around we saw both decline and growth -- in very different ways.

Aging out of the hobby

Toy train collecting (along with many other collecting hobbies) seems to appeal to older generations. Millennials don't seem to share the passion for collecting physical objects. The first generation of train collectors is gone. The second is rapidly aging, and the third may well be the last -- or at least the last in any significant numbers.

This time we saw more empty tables than before. Each one represents a seller who chose not to return -- and not enough interest for a new seller to take over the table. Lionel LCC, and Atlas Model Trains, two of the major manufacturers in the hobby did not attend this time.

Why you shouldn't invest in a hobby

What's in this box? I have no idea. This item has never been removed
from its original packaging. It may still be in mint condition after
all these years, but it probably hasn't increased in value.
What we saw in abundance were high-end collectible locomotives. Lionel, MTH, Weaver (965-2015), and K-Line (1975-2005) issued limited-run finely-detailed O-gauge locomotives for many years. Such locomotives originally had four-figure price tags.

They came in deluxe packages, and for the most part, were stored in them. Many people didn't buy these models to run on layouts. These were investments in the future. Beautifully detailed models remained wrapped in plastic, cradled in styrofoam spacers inside of thick glossy cardboard boxes -- just as they were shipped from the factory.

Buyers knew that the value of these limited-edition models would only go up -- especially if the items remained in mint condition.

But the pool of potential buyers is slowly evaporating -- and so is the demand for these objects. We've always seen some of these collectible locos at the shows. This time I saw tables piled high with them. I think owners were anxious to realize whatever they could before demand dropped even further.

An interesting change in interest

Let's hope the folks interested in vintage H0 are younger than this guy.l
What seemed to be on the rise was interest in smaller scales -- particularly H0. H0 scale (Half 0) is the scale most people are familiar with. This show we saw many vintage pieces on tables in every hall.

Most of the models seem to come from the early 1950s and 60s. There were brass locomotives (from Varney and others). Vintage Athearn "blue box" kits and AHM model kits were plentiful. Unassembled kits commanded higher prices. Ready-to-run Tycho and Bachmann trains were available, too (no broken plastic parts, please).

There was also an event held at the meet to discuss having a separate hall open at the next York show exclusively devoted to H0 sellers.

Extinction or evolution?

When I first attended the York shows with Dad,  H0 trains were a rarity. No longer. Interest in the large scale trains that first ran under Christmas trees seems to be literally dying out. But is there perhaps a newer generation that is interested in what came after -- H0?

I'd like to think so.

The October 2019 meet should be quite interesting.

Ronn McFarlane - The Celtic Lute goes beyond tradition

By my count, Ronn McFarlane has recorded at least 14 albums of Celtic music, both as a soloist and as a member of the Baltimore Consort. Scottish tunes of the 17th Century were often transcribed for lute (and McFarlane's recorded a good deal of it).

This release presents McFarlane playing his own lute arrangements of Irish and Scottish tunes. And they work really well.

The sound of the traditional Irish harp isn't that different than a lute. Both are plucked stringed instruments with a pleasingly soft attack and warm, intimate sound.

McFarlane is a past master of his instrument (or instruments in this case). For this recording, he uses a 13-course lute. The instrument provides a wide tonal range, letting him change the character of the music by shifting registers.

The tunes are grouped in sets, making the disc a series of small, self-contained suites (or dance sets). A fair number of works by Turlogh Carolan are included, which lay very well on the lute.

The recorded sound is exceptionally fine. Sonos Luminus recorded in DXD at 24 bit, 352.8kHz. What does that mean? On a good playback system, you should hear all the fine detail of the instrument, including overtones.

McFarlane's playing is impeccable, and lovingly delivered. This is music he knows intimately, and his performance shows it. I'd highly recommend this release to anyone who loves early music, Celtic traditional music, and exceptional playing in general. "The Celtic Lute" holds to Ronn McFarlane's high standards of musicianship and taste.

The Celtic Lute
Ronn McFarlane, lutes
Sono Luminus DSL-92225

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Julius Bittner Orchestral Works (with a dash of Wagner)

The liner notes concede the obvious about Julius Bittner. He was heavily influenced by Richard Wagner. Bittner was a contemporary of Franz Schreker, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, and Franz Schmidt.

And while his music shares the Viennese richness of his contemporaries, there's still more than a hint of Wagner.

As Brendan G. Carroll relates in the liner notes. "[Bittner's] predilection for lavishing the richest possible instrumentation on even the slightest operatic material led to some typically Viennese barbs that were nevertheless made with much affection.

The critic Julius Korngold (father of the composer)... reviewed the premiere of Bittner’s opera Der Bergsee (‘The Mountain Lake’) in 1911, describing it tartly as ‘Die Bauerndämmerung’ (‘The Twilight of the Peasants’)."

That Wagnerian streak and Bittner's gift for rich orchestration is readily apparent in the two works presented here. The 1911 symphonic poem Vaterland is a musical valentine for Austria. This short work is full of beautifully crafted melodies that flow seamlessly together.

That is, they do until the music comes to a full stop and a solo organ solemnly plays "Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott." The orchestra reenters, picking up and developing parts of the melody, which builds to a rousing finish. As a celebration of the Austrian (read: Viennese) musical spirit, it's a wonderful work.

So too is the 1923 Symphony in E minor. The work has a fairly tight four-movement structure of a Brahms symphony, with the fluidity of a Wagner orchestral work. Bittner orchestrates his themes with resourceful imagination. The grouping of instruments is just as important to the development of his themes as the keys they move to.

Dmitry Vasiliev and the Siberian Symphony Orchestra do Bittner's music credit. The ensemble is well-recorded, letting us hear the subtle details of Bittner's orchestrations. And while not Viennese, they seem to capture the essence of the style in these performances.

Although Bittner was a popular and prolific composer, only a handful of his compositions have ever been recorded. Toccata Classics is doing the music world a real service by launching this series of orchestral recordings.

Julius Bittner: Orchestral Music, Vol. 1
Siberian Symphony Orchestra; Dmitry Vasiliev, conductor
Toccata Classics

Friday, April 12, 2019

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalSpring Week 2

Classical Spring For January 2019 the #ClassicsaDay team made #ClassicalWinter then theme. It seemed only right to continue the trend and celebrate Spring. So for April 2019, everyone is encouraged to share classical works inspired by the season.

Some famous pieces may readily come to mind, such as the "Spring" movement from Vivaldi's "Four Seasons," or Copland's "Appalachian Spring." I decided to avoid the obvious and dig a little deeper. 

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

4/8 Li Huanzhi - Spring Festival Suite

Chinese composer Li Huanzhi compose the suite in 1955. It depicts the celebration of the Chinese New Year. The first movement is extremely popular in China and is known separately as the Spring Festival Overture.

4/9 Henry Purcell - Thus the ever Grateful Spring

This aria appears in Act IV of Purcell's 1692 opera, "The Fairie Queen." It's part of a birthday masque for Oberon celebrating the four seasons.

4/10 Carl Hervelius - Sangen om varen (Spring Song)

Swedish composer Carl Hervelius was born in 1926. And that is all I could find out about him and this work!

4/11 Claudio Monteverdi - O Primavera, gioventù de l'anno (O Spring, youth of the year)

"O Primavera" is the ninth selection in Monteverdi's Third Book of Madrigals. This 1592 work documents Monterverdi's mastery of late-Renaissance polyphony -- and foreshadows his transition to the Baroque.

4/12 Arnold Bax - Spring Fire. symphony for orchestra

This 1913 work was written for the Norwich Festival. According to Bax, the work represents "the first uprush and impulse of Spring in the woods."

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

David Diamond Symphony No. 6 worth the wait

David Diamond said, "You have to write music that will be loved." This release presents three such examples. Diamond was arguably at his creative peak in the immediate postwar era.

"Rounds for String Orchestra" (1944), "Music for Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet" (1947), and Symphony No. 6 (1951-54) all come from that period.

Diamond was a careful craftsman, a brilliant orchestrator, and a natural melodist. His "Rounds" was quite simple, yet it had immediate and lasting appeal. It's one of his most-performed works.

"Romeo and Juliet" is a dramatic tone poem that focuses more on the drama rather than the romance of the story. The score has a post-war sleekness to it that I found quite appealing.

Quite appalling is the fact that Diamond's Symphony No. 6, at last, gets its world recording premiere -- over a half-century after its debut.

The work is a tightly constructed gem, with not a single superfluous note. One often reads that Diamond's tonal music was supplanted by that of atonal modernists.

Perhaps. But this symphony's tonality pushes at the edges. And -- listening to it with modern ears -- I think it doesn't sound old-fashioned at all.

Arthur Fagen directs the University of Indiana Chamber and Philharmonic Orchestras in exciting performances of these works. These ensembles play with professional poise and polish.

David Diamond wrote music with love. These are three scores that one could easily love.

David Diamond: Symphony No. 6
Rounds for String Orchestra; Romeo and Juliet
Indiana University Chamber Orchestra
Indiana University Philharmonic Orchestra; Arthur Fagen, conductor
Naxos 8.559842

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Sergei Zhukov Concertos Suited to Soloists

Ukranian composer Sergei Zhukov wrote a series of three concertos, each dedicated to a different sister of The Bekova Trio. This release features the Piano Concerto written for Eleonora Bekova and the Violin Concerto, written for Elvira Bekova.

Omitted is the Cello Concerto, composed for Alfia Bekova. Zhukov's stated intent was to create concertos that reflected the personalities of the performers.

According to Zhukov, "Eleonora [Bekova] is able to be in deep meditation at the same time as she is performing at the piano. She can simultaneously express sound and silence." The Piano Concerto "Silentium" effectively models that concept. The work begins with fragmented bits of melody that gradually coalesce.

But even when everything comes together, the work still lurches between wild bursts of energy and stark silence. Eleonora Bekova performs in this recording. I think her playing makes this piece work. Zhukov's musical style is quite eclectic, and Belova's playing provides the unifying element.

The same is true of the Violin Concerto, "Angel's Day." Zhukov notes Elviria Bekova's ability to play just about anything put in front her with complete accuracy. His concerto for her almost seems like a challenge. Can you play this? How about this? The answer in every case is "yes."

Elviria Bekova is the soloist for this recording. From her extraordinary control in the upper register to the staggaring runs up and down the instrument, this is her piece. "Angel's Day" leans more towards lyricism than "Silentium." But then, these are concertos written for two different individuals.

The overall sound of the recording is good, but not great. Details seemed a little muffled. And, for my taste, sometimes the soloists seemed a little too deep in the mix. But the music itself more than compensates.

Two idiosyncratic works played by the personalities they were written for. I'm glad Lyrita brought these back in print. I only wish the Cello Concerto had been included.

Sergei Zhukov: Piano Concerto, Violin Concerto
Eleonora Bekova, piano; Elvira Bekova, violin
Moscow State Symphony Orchestra; Konstantin Krimets
Cameo Classics CC9105

Saturday, April 06, 2019

Jan Ladislav Dussek - Complete Piano Concertos, Vol. 6 features transcriptions

This release features the Opus 9 Piano Sonatas of Jan Ladislav Dussek. Originally, they were written for a melodic instrument + piano, a common practice of the late 1700s. The melodic instrument could either be a violin or flute -- performer's choice.

Innovations in pianoforte construction allow for longer sustained notes. Dussek could transcribe these works for solo piano and still retain the lyrical phrasing of the melodies. The divide between right hand and left hand is more pronounced than it would be in work originally conceived for the fortepiano.

In fact, as it is the Grand Sonata in E-flat major, Op. 75. This 1811 work was written for the keyboard, and it shows. Dussek's showing off his skill with this work, pushing the limits of the instrument from start to finish.

Viviana Sofronitsky plays a replica of a 1792 Anton Walter fortepiano. In their day, Walter instruments were quite desirable -- Mozart owned one. Walter's innovation was a backcheck. This prevented the hammer from bouncing on the key during rapid and/or loud passages.

Nevertheless, I thought the instrument used in this recording had a jangly sound. Walter instruments were somewhat light, and this pianoforte has a lightweight sound. It also has a somewhat bright sound.

While I didn't love the sound of the pianoforte, I thought the playing of it top-notch. Sofronitsky performed these works with something of a swagger. Dussek used these works as a vehicle for his abilities in concert, and she does a little showing off herself. It works -- and it works beautifully.

Jan Ladislav Dussek: Complete Piano Sonatas, Volume 6
Viviana Sofronitsky, fortepiano
Brilliant Classics 95598

Steve Elcock Orchestral Music - A Fresh Voice Finally Heard

It's an old story. Many composers write "for the drawer." That is, they create music with no expectation of performance. And, for the most part, the drawer is where this music belongs. That's not the case with Steve Elcock.

Primarily self-taught, Elcock has been quietly writing -- and storing away -- his music since the late 1960s. He also made electronic realizations of his scores, which eventually made their way to the head of Toccata Classics.

Toccata felt the music was of significant quality to merit recording -- and here it is. Working outside the music world, Elcock has developed a distinctively individual style. To my ears, there are similarities with other primarily tonal 20th Century composers, such as Havergal Brian, Robert Simpson, with a trace of Sergei Prokofiev, perhaps.

This recording shows Elcock to be a masterful orchestrator, as well as an imaginative melodist. Symphony No. 3 is a large work (36 minutes) in three movements. The roiling first movement transitions into a sardonic scherzo. The final movement eventually resolves the conflict set in motion by the previous movements, but only just.

Choses renversées par le temps ou la destruction is a dark work for harpsichord and orchestra. A Bach prelude played on the harpsichord is continually interrupted by the ominous sounds of the orchestra. In time the orchestra's sullen themes take over the work, illustrating the final movement's title "dernier homme debout" (last man standing).

The final work is the refreshing Festive Overture. It's one of the few works to enjoy a performance, written for a 1997 festival. The Overture reminded me of Malcolm Arnold's music with its breezy melodies.

Paul Mann and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra sound great in this recording. Elcock has a fresh musical voice and one that should be heard. I'm glad Toccata made the investment and brought these works out of the drawer.

Steve Elcock: Orchestral Music, Volume One
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra; Paul Mann, conductor
Toccata Classics, TOCC 0400

Friday, April 05, 2019

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalSpring Week 1

For January 2019 the #ClassicsaDay team made #ClassicalWinter then theme. It seemed only right to continue the trend and celebrate Spring. So for April 2019, everyone is encouraged to share classical works inspired by the season.

Some famous pieces may readily come to mind, such as the "Spring" movement from Vivaldi's "Four Seasons," or Copland's "Appalachian Spring." I decided to avoid the obvious and dig a little deeper. 

Here are my posts for the first full week of #ClassicalSpring.

4/1 Libby Larsen - Today This Spring

This is part of a three-part song cycle Larsen completed in 1995. The text is from an Emily Dickinson poem.

4/2 Frederick Delius - On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring

This work is one of the "Two Pieces for Small Orchestra." It was premiered in 1913 and features the oboe and clarinet imitating the cuckoo.

4/3 Edvard Grieg Lyric Pieces Op. 43, No. 6 Til våren (To spring)

Grieg wrote 66 lyric pieces, collected in 10 books published between 1866 and 1901. "To Spring" is one of three pieces in the collection related to the season.

4/4 Frank Bridge - Enter Spring

At the 1927 premiere, a critic complained that the tone poem "departed from the conventional representation of [spring]," but it "it furnished problems which were worth solving."

Mozart: Der Fruhling

4/5 Ludwig van Beethoven - Violin Sonata No. 5 in F major, Op. 24

Beethoven's 1801 sonata was named the "Spring Sonata" after his death. It was inspired by the beauty of the music, and the "qualities of spring" late-19th Century audiences heard in it.

Thursday, April 04, 2019

Organ Works by Johann Michael & Johann Christoph Bach - A family resemblance

Johann Sebastian Bach wasn't the only musical Bach (perhaps just the greatest one). The Bach family was a virtual dynasty of musical talent that spanned generations.

This release focuses on two brothers: Johann Michael and Johann Christoph Bach. Johann Christoph (1642-1703) helped teach the young Johann Sebastian (his first cousin, once removed). Johann Michal's daughter, Maria Barbara would become Johann Sebastian's first wife.

While family ties were tight, the musical relationship between the three was somewhat looser, as this collection shows. J.M. and J.C. Bach wrote extensively, but neither had the prodigious output of Johann Sebastian.

J.M. Bach was organist and town clerk at Gehren. Most of his surviving organ works are chorale settings. They share some similarities to those of his son-in-law. They're simpler settings, but still, ones requiring some skill to play.

J.C. Bach was a renowned composer and organist at Esenbach. In his lifetime, he was the most famous of Bach clan. Johann Sebastian described him as "the profound composer." Most of his organ works consist mostly of chorale variations. In inventiveness and complexity, they're similar to those of J.S. Bach.

Stefano Molardi performs at the 1732 Vockland organ in Erfurt, Germany. The voicing of the instrument is consistent with the instruments the Bach played and wrote for. Molardi's program wisely alternates between the two brothers. It makes it easier to hear the differences between the two. Both were clearly skilled musicians, but Johann Christian seems just a notch above his brother (at least to my ears).

This release decidedly adds to our understanding of the Bach family. Johann Sebastian Bach wasn't the only musical Bach. Nor was he the only extremely talented one.

Johann Michael Bach and Johann Christoph Bach: Complete Organ Music
Stefano Molardi, organ
Brilliant Classics
3 CD Set

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

Karl Goldmark Symphonic Poems, Vol. 1 - Off to a good start

Before I received this release, I really only knew two works by Karl Goldmark - his Rustic Wedding Symphony, and his First Violin Concerto.

CPO's new series of Goldmark Symphonic Poems is a welcome addition. Goldmark was a friend of Brahms and an admirer of Wagner. Both those influences can be heard in this collection of symphonic poems.

The Scherzo in E minor, Op. 19, and the Scherzo in A major, Op. 45 owe more to Brahms (with a touch of Hungarian folk music). Both pieces work out their motifs in a logical fashion as Brahms might.

On the other hand, Goldmark's symphonic poems with evocative titles show more Wagnerian influence. Sappho, Op. 44. for example, begins quietly with a harp, suggesting a lyre of ancient Greece. The melody gradually builds, reaching a dramatic contrast. From there, the motifs are tossed around, with an ever-insistent chromatic rising in the harmonies.

The Bamberger Symphoniker directed by Fabrice Bollon perform well. They give spirited readings that bring out the dramatic arch of these poems. 

Goldmark seems quite at home in these short-form works. I look forward to Volume 2.

Karl Goldmark: Symphonic Poems, Vol. 1
Sakuntala; Penthesilea; Sappho; Scherzos
Bamberger Symphoniker; Fabrice Bollon, conductor
CPO 555 160–2