Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Spam Roundup July, 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.

Hidden messages?

I'm sure these comments were written with random word generators. And yet, it almost seems like they're saying something profound (or just profoundly cryptic).

 - You can meliorate them end-to-end their period of period and that includes rind-reassuring and brightening ingredients. [If you can reassure the rind, you're golden. Period of period.]

 - As near incarnate websites do not let consumer goods be an occurrent, where you'll go succeeding, you'll be competent to inform wish a pro. [It never occurred to me.]

 - Having a luxuriously mixture of products. [Thanks! Don't mind if I do.]

 - You're decreasing the fertility of your natural soil. [Are you saying I should add more sh*t to these posts?]

"Lumbering along" keeps getting the love

The post that continues to pull in the spam is little more than a description of an early 1960s Japanese toy truck. The Straco Express Layout, Part 23 - Lumbering Along not only generates the most spam comments but some of the oddest as well. 

 - Great article. I am going through a few of these issues as well. [Issues?!]

 - This excellent website certainly has all the information I wanted about this subject and didn't know who to ask. [Glad to help. Just don't ask about issues.]

 - After reading this remarkable article I am also cheerful to share my know-how here with friends - Hot University of Ohio Girls. [Wait, what? That's "lumbering," as in moving slowly and awkwardly, not "lumbering" as in, oh never mind.]

 - I was curious to know how you center yourself and clear your mind before writing. [I just close my eyes and start typing. Couldn't you tell?]

In conclusion

I know a program wrote this. But I'd like to think a real person did. That would be too wonderful.

I have in mind your stuff previous to and you are simply too wonderful.

That's all for this month. Beware of incarnate websites and meliorated periods of periods. 

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Vyacheslav Artyomov - Master of Percussion

Vyacheslav Artyomov has developed his own musical language. It isn't so much about scales and chords as it is timbres and sound clouds. In other words, the perfect aesthetic for percussion ensembles.

This release features two works commissioned by the Mark Pekarsky Percussion Ensemble, performed by that ensemble. The earliest work, Totem is a marvelous study in instrumental potential.

The work begins with swirling clouds of sound that coalesces into a rhythmic section before dissolving into another ethereal cloud. Arytomov uses 69 instruments, creating interesting combinations of wood, metal, leather.

In A Sonata of Meditiations (1978) Artyomov adds another dimension to his mix of tonal and indefinite pitch percussion. Each of the four movements -- or meditations -- add a player. So the first movement has one performer, the second, two and so on.

What I admired was how diverse the collection of sounds Artyomov uses even with just a single player.

A Garland of Recitations is a study in contrasts. Composed in conjunction with Meditations, it uses four performers in an entirely different fashion. Strings provide a continual, slowly evolving sound cloud. Four wind instruments -- oboe, clarinet, saxophone, flute -- each perform individually over this swirling sound.

Atryomov pushes the wind instruments to their limits -- and it pays off. The stark contrast between the energy and intensity of the soloists with the self-effacing string sound creates a work of exceptional beauty.

These recordings were originally issued on Melodyia in the early 1990s. There's a slight softness to the sound, but overall I heard an exceptional amount of detail. And hearing that fine detail is essential to fully appreciate these performances.

Highly recommended.

Vyacheslav Artyomov: A Sonata of Meditations; A Garland of Recitations; Totem 
Mark Pekarsky Percussion Ensemble
Vladimir Pakulichev, flute; Anatoli Liubimovm, oboe; Lev Mikhailov, saxophones; Valeriy Popov, bassoon
Academic Symphony Orchestra of the Moscow State Philharmonic; Virko Baley, conductor 
Divine Art

Monday, July 29, 2019

Thüringer Bach Collegium Debuts Princely Concertos

This is an exceptional recording of some exceptional music. Prince Johann Ernst IV (1696-1715) was known as the "Thüringian Vivaldi." Ernst showed musical talent at a young age. He composed nineteen works, all within nine months of his death at age 18.

But there's more to the story. His primary teacher was Johann Gottfried Walther. Walther's cousin, Johann Sebastian Bach arrived in Weimar in 1707 as court organist.

Ernst had a substantial collection of Vivaldi's music. which he carefully studied. Bach would create keyboard transcriptions from those Vivaldi works, as well as some of Ernst's concertos. Georg Phillip Teleman also took an interest in the young composer, editing and publishing six of his violin concertos as Ernst's Op. 1.

That publication makes up the bulk of this new release. Also included are two additional violin concertos (one for 2 violins), and a trumpet concerto.

Ernst thoroughly absorbed Vivaldi's style. The works are all in three brief movements, alternating fas-slow-fast. They also mimic Vivaldi's use of ritornello and extended sequences.

While the structure may have come from Italy, the music is original to Ernst. Some of these, through Bach's transcriptions, are already regarded as masterworks. The Op. 1, No. 1 Concerto is Bach's BWV 982; the Concerto in G major is BWV 592; the Concerto in C major is BWV 595.

Hearing these concertos in their original form is a revelation. To me, it's apparent that Bach didn't need to "fix-up" his source material. Ernst's concertos are both original in content and skillfully composed.

The Thüringer Bach Collegium perform on period instruments. The ensemble has a somewhat gritty sound I find completely authentic. There are also moments of great beauty, especially in the slow movements.

The ensemble delivers this music with all the energy and enthusiasm one imagines a teenager would invest in his work -- even one who was racing against time.

Audite's announced the ensemble's second release will be compositions by Johann Bernhard Bach, second cousin to Johann Sebastian. I'm in.

Prinz Johann Ernst von Sachsen-Weimar: Concerti 
Thüringer Bach Collegium 

Friday, July 26, 2019

#ClassicsaDay Revisits #NAFTAclassics – Week 4

The Classics a Day team is made up of Americans and Canadians. The month of July has important national holidays for both countries. And so the theme for July is the music of North America. (Mexico doesn't have a major holiday in July, but we decided to be inclusive). 

In my posts for #ClassicsaDay I alternated between the three countries. Of course, July 1 featured a Canadian composer, and July 4 an American. Here are my posts for the fourth week of #NAFTAclassics.

7/22/19 Blas Galindo (Mexican) - Sinfonia Breve

Galindo has been a writer, editor, government official, and educator -- all in the service of Mexican art music. As a composer he wrote over 150 works, almost always incorporating Mexican folk elements.

7/23/19 Andrew Ager - Toccata et Fugue

Ager mostly self-taught himself composition. Nevertheless, his music is frequently performed internationally. He has over 50 works in his catalog, including four operas.

7/24/19 Supply Belcher (American) - The Power of Musick

Called "the Handel of Maine," Belcher was a prolific author of hymn tunes in the Federalist Period. His fuguing tunes were second only to those of William Billings in popularity.

7/25/19 John Burge (Canadian) - Oscillations (for Art & Janet McDonald)

Burge wrote Oscillations in tribute to his Queen's University colleague, Dr. Arthure McDonald. McDonald won the Nobel Prize for discovering neutrino oscillations.

7/26/19 Florence Price (American) - Symphony No. 3 in E minor

Price's Third Symphony was commissioned by the Works Progress Administration (WPA). It was first premiered by the Detroit Civic Orchestra in 1940.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Friedrich Schneider Symphony No. 16 reincarnated

Funny how things work. Johann Sebastian Bach was organist at St. Thomaskirk, Leipzig. A prolific composer, his music is known throughout the world. Friedrich Schneider held the same post in 1812. A prolific composer, his music is virtually unknown.

Schneider's catalog includes four operas, 25 cantatas, seven piano concertos, and 23 symphonies. And yet just six years after his death in 1853, a critic wrote, "How few of his one-hundred printed works are nowadays appreciated as they deserve?"

Perhaps this new release from CPO will help change that. It features world premiere recordings of Schneider's Symphony No. 16 plus three concert overtures.

The Anhaltische Philharmonie Dessau conducted by Markus L. Frank is in fine form. Schneider's overtures seem to blend Beethoven's thematic content with Rossini's exuberance. The ensemble performs them with energy and elan.

Schneider's Symphony No. 16 in A major was completed in 1818. It received several performances, including at least two at the Leipzig Gewandhaus (in 1822 and 1840). The latter performance was conducted by Felix Mendelssohn.

Although Schneider's motivic development is in line with Beethoven, the overall structure and texture seem to owe more to Haydn. The symphony has a lightness to it I found quite appealing (as did Mendelssohn's audience).

This is the second CPO release of Friedrich Schneider's music. I'm hoping it won't be the last.

Friedrich Schneider: Symphony No. 16; Overtures
Anhaltische Philharmonie Dessau; Markus L. Frank, conductor
CPO 555 180

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Raphel Wallfisch brings home exiled concertos

This release marks the beginning of a new series from CPO. Cello Concertos from Exile features works by Jewish composers forced to flee Nazi Germany. This first release includes works by Fanz Rezeinstein and Berthold Goldschmidt, who both found refuge in the UK.

It's a deeply personal project for cellist Raphael Wallfisch. As he explains in the liner notes, his parents (both musicians) survived the Holocaust and were friends with several of the composers in this series.

Franz Reizenstein was a student of Paul Hindemith and Ralph Vaughan Williams. To my ears, his 1951 Cello Concerto in G strongly resembles Hindemith. In the slow movement, though, I can hear echoes of late Vaughan Williams. It's a work full of drama, and also plenty of technical challenges for the soloist.

Berthold Goldschmidt's 1953 Cello Concerto is also technically challenging. Like Reizenstein, Goldschmidt rejected atonality. Still, his music comes closer to the border than Reizenstein's.

This concerto has a complex, polyphonic texture with dissonances that grind against each other before resolving. The chromatic motion further obscures the tonal center (without completely erasing it).

Raphael Wallfisch is emotionally invested in this project and these works. And that comes through in his performances. He brings his considerable talent to bear on these concertos, playing with passion and elan. And in the process, he makes the case for these works to enter the repertoire.

Berthold Goldschmidt, Franz Reizenstein: Cello Concertos
Cello Concertos from Exile, Vol. 1
Raphael Wallfisch, cello
Konzerthausorchester Berlin; Nicholas Milton, conductor
CPO 555109-2

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Make Mine Mutts

Patrick McDonnell, creator of Mutts is a serious fan of sequential art. In honor of ComicsCon, he published the following sequence July 15-21, 2019. Each panel is an homage to a classic Marvel Comics character (mostly from the Silver Age).

If you're also a fan of classic comic books, this was a real treat.

Early sonatas from Muzio Clementi have their appeal

This release is part of Naxos' leisurely traversal through Muzio Clementi's keyboard sonatas. This installment features sonatas from the early part of his career.

The Op. 2 sonatas were published in 1779, the Op. 1784. This was the time when Antonio Salieri was still a major composer. Mozart was up to 15 piano concertos; Haydn up to 72 symphonies.

The sonatas are all fairly short, many with just two movements. I was reminded of Haydn's piano sonatas -- if Haydn was more of a show-off. Quick runs up and down the keyboard abound, along with intricately fingered motifs and long, lingering trills.

This is the recording debut of prize-winning Sun-A Park. She performs these works with a deft, light touch, which is exactly what they need.

Some of the faster movements -- as in the Sonata in B-flat major, Op. 12, No. 1 --  she takes at breakneck speeds. Her technique is more than up to the challenge. No matter how rapid the tempo, runs are clearly articulated and nicely phrased.

All in all, a strong debut for Sun-A Park, and some pleasant listening courtesy of Mssr. Clementi.

Muzio Clementi - Keyboard Sonatas, Op. 2, Op. 7, Op. 9, Op. 12
Sun-A Park, piano
Naxos 8.573940

Monday, July 22, 2019

Psalmen & Friedensmusiken ends Heinrich Schutz series on a strong note

The Carus traversal of Heinrich Schutz works ends with a collection of commissioned works. For the most part, the music on this 2 CD set marks important occasions in the Dresden court. Some were commissioned for birthdays, others for treaty signings, and so on.

Schutz studied in Venice with Giovanni Gabrielli (and perhaps with Claudio Monteverdi). There are many elements of Gabrielli's style in these works. Small choirs echo each other across space. Sometimes they're also treated contrapuntally. The extensive use of brass adds a noble air.

If you've been following the series, you'll hear many familiar voices. Dorothee Mields, Gerlinde Sämann, David Erler, and Georg Poplutz (just to name a few) deliver fine performances. In fact, everyone involved maintains the same high performance standards set by earlier recordings in the series.

After 19 volumes, these artists and ensembles have internalized Schutz's style -- and Hans-Christoph Rademann's interpretation of it. As always, these are models of clarity. No matter how complex Schutz's writing, vocal lines sound clean and transparent.

The release even includes a world premiere recording, "Trostlied" SWV 502. This simple and beautiful work was written in memorium for an infant. It's Schutz at his most personal, and a fine way to end the series.

Heinrich Schutz: Psalmen & Friedensmusiken
Complete Recording, Vol. 20
Gerlinde Sämann, Isabel Schicketanz, sopranos; Maria Stosiek, Dorothee Mields, mezzo-sopranos; 
David Erler, Stefan Kunath, counter-tenors; Georg Poplutz, Tobias Mäthger, tenors; Felix Schwandtke, bass; Martin Schicketanz, baritone
Dresdner Kammerchor, Hans-Christoph Rademann, director
Carus 83.278 2 CD Set

Friday, July 19, 2019

#ClassicsaDay Revisits #NAFTAclassics – Week 3

The Classics a Day team is made up of Americans and Canadians. The month of July has important national holidays for both countries. And so the theme for July is the music of North America. (Mexico doesn't have a major holiday in July, but we decided to be inclusive). 

In my posts for #ClassicsaDay I alternated between the three countries. Of course, July 1 featured a Canadian composer, and July 4 an American. Here are my posts for the third week of #NAFTAclassics.

7/15/19 Edward Burlingame Hill (American) - Stevensonia Suite No. 1

Though a prolific composer, Hill is best remembered as a teacher. His students included Leonard Berstein, Walter Piston, Elliot Carter, and Roger Sessions.

7/16/19 Arturo Márquez (Mexican) - Danzón No. 2

The 1994 Danzón No. 2 is one of the most popular works by a Mexican composer in the repertoire. It was premiered in Mexico City, and is based on traditional Mexican dance forms.

7/17/19 Ruth Crawford Seeger (American) - String Quartet

She's primarily remembered as Pete Seeger's mother. But in the 1930s Ruth was part of the ultra modernist movement that influenced composers such as Elliott Carter.

7/18/19 Gabriela Ortiz (Mexican) - Atlas Pumas

Ortiz brings popular elements into her music, including Afro-Cuban music, African chant, and rock.

7/19/18 Linda Catlin Smith (Canadian) - Light and Water

Though American by birth, Smith moved to Canada early in her career. She's won several awards and had many important commissions from Canadian ensembles.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Forgotten gems from Begnt Hallberg and Joseph Dente

Hallberg and Dente are far from household names -- even in their native Sweden. Begnt Wilhelm Hallberg spent most of his career in Landskrona, outside the cultural center of Sweden (read: Stockholm).

Joseph Dente was a major musical figure in Stockholm, though his reputation and influence remained within the confines of the Royal College of Music.

And yet both composers created music of quality and beauty. Sterling presents three prime examples in this new release.

Bengt Hallberg (1824-1883) was primarily a church musician and hymnodist. In the 1850s he studied with Franz Berwald, who inspired him to expand his focus. His orchestral works -- two overtures, a scherzo, and a symphony -- come after this time.

The Concert Overture No. 2 in F major seems inspired by Beethoven, but with a softer edge. This 1853 work a little too serious to be a curtain-raiser, although it does have some lively moments.

Hallberg's 1870 Symphony is a more successful work, I think. Hallberg seems more comfortable writing for the orchestra. Hallberg sounds closer to Mendelssohn and Schumann in this work. His melodic material is strongest in the slow movement.

The Malmö Symphony Orchestra directed by Per Engström perform both works. These are 1984 radio broadcast recordings. The performances are fine, but the details are a little muddy.

The 1887 Symphony in D minor by Joseph Dente fairs better. This broadcast performance with the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra under Ola Karlsson comes from 1992. The sound is much cleaner and clearer, although still a bit compressed.

I think Dente's symphony is also a stronger work. It even placed third in an international competition. Dente combines Beethoven's motivic development with Brahms' harmonies. It works and works well.

Dente was also a violinist, and that first-hand knowledge informs his orchestration.

While these works might not be first rank, they are well-crafted and well-played. And I found them quite enjoyable. You may too!

Begnt Wilhelm Hallberg/Joseph Dente: Orchestral Works
Malmö Symphony Orchestra; Per Engström, conductor
Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra; Ola Karlsson, conductor
Sterling CDS 1120

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

John Robertson - Vallarta Suite a holiday for ears

It turns out there were two composers who worked full-time in insurance. Their day jobs freed them to write the music they wanted to. But the music that American Charles Ives and Canadian John Robertson produced was very different, indeed.

Ives studied music and pushed against its academic restraints. Robertson is mostly self-taught and seems simply unconcerned with current trends. Robertson writes in a neo-classical style all his own. His works are not pastiches of past masters, nor are they especially ground-breaking.

The Vallarta Suite is a musical portrait of Puerto Vallarta, full of energy and orchestral color. Robertson's 2004 work is instantly appealing, especially in the dance-inspired movements.

Even more energetic is Robertson's symphony march, Strut In. It's a march with something of an attitude. I'd recommend this to any orchestra looking for something to pep up the audience.

The 2014 Symphony No. 2 isn't tied to a program or extra-musical theme. That, I think, makes it the most interesting of the three works. The symphony is a nicely-structured three-movement work.

Roberton's harmonies sometimes hint at modality, adding a bit of spice to the music. His themes are carefully delineated and worked out in logical -- if slightly non-traditional -- fashions.

Anthony Armore and the Janacek Philharmonic Orchestra deliver some fine performances. The ensemble has a warmth to it that resonates with the coziness of Robertson's music.

John Robertson's music has a slight outsider quality to it. Melodies don't quite resolve "correctly," harmonies move in highly individualistic ways. And yet it's all accessible -- even inviting -- to the listener.

John Robertson: Vallarta Suite; Strut In; Symphony No. 2
Janacek Philharmonic Orchestra; Anthony Armore, conductor
Navona, NV6117

Monday, July 15, 2019

Józef Elsner String Quartets Worth Exploring

Józef Elsner was one of the most important composers in early 19th Century Poland. He wrote 38 operas, eight symphonies, over 70 masses, and oratorios, dozens of chamber works, and more. Yet he's remembered for one thing: he was Fredrick Chopin's piano teacher.

This release helps remove Elsner from his famous pupil's shadow. The Op. 8 string quartets were composed around 1796, placing them more in the Classical rather than Romantic era.

They're interesting works. Elsner is crediting with incorporating Polish folk music into his work, but that would come later. These quartets all use the same language as Haydn and Mozart.

Although all three quartets are about the same length, they vary in structure. Quartet No. 1 in C major has but two movements, the second being a theme and variations. Elsner's use of materials reminded me strongly of Haydn.

Quartet No. 2 in E-flat major has four short movements. The mood here is lighter, with Elsner leaning more towards Mozart.

Quartet No. 3 in D minor reminded me most of Beethoven's early quartets. Perhaps it was the minor key that made the work sound heavier and more serious than the other two. It has a three-movement structure, of which the first is the most complex.

Although the music is interesting, I found this a difficult recording to listen to. The Equilibrium String Quartet performs on period instruments. I'm not opposed to period instruments. I think they do require additional work to sound pleasant.

I'm not exactly what fell sort for me -- the instruments, how they were played, or the way they were recorded. Whatever the cause, I thought the ensemble sounded very thin. The violins had a nasal quality that seemed especially harsh in exposed passages.

I did determine that Elsner is a composer I would like to hear more of. Especially if performed with modern instruments.

Józef Elsner: String Quartets. Op. 8
Equilibrium String Quartet
Accord ACD257
World Premiere Recording


Friday, July 12, 2019

#ClassicsaDay Revisits #NAFTAclassics - Week 2

The Classics a Day team is made up of Americans and Canadians. The month of July has important national holidays for both countries. And so the theme for July is the music of North America. (Mexico doesn't have a major holiday in July, but we decided to be inclusive). 

In my posts for #ClassicsaDay I alternated between the three countries. Of course, July 1 featured a Canadian composer, and July 4 an American. Here are my posts for the second week of #NAFTAclassics.

7/8/19 Kelly-Marie Murphy (Canadian) - Curiosity, Genius, and the Search for Petula Clark

Murphy's work was commissioned for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra's Glen Gould tribute. It reference's Gould's tracking a Petula Clark song from station to station as he drove across Canada.

7/9/19 Silvestre Revueltas (Mexican) - Sensemayá

Revueltas' most popular work is based on a poem by Nicolás Guillén. The subject is a ritual Afro-Caribbean chant, used during a sacrifice to the god Babalu Aye.

7/10/19 Alexina Louie (Canadian) - Changes

Louie is both a composer and pianist. "Changes" is the second of a four-part work, "Music for Piano." It presents contemporary music concepts in music playable by young students.

7/11/19 Amy Beach (American) - Variations on Balkan Themes, Op. 60

Beach premiered her Variations in one of her own recitals. The work was written to show support for the unsuccessful 1903 Ilinden Uprising against their Ottoman rulers.

7/12/19 Healey Willan (Canadian) - Piano Concerto in C minor, Op. 76

Willan was organist/choir director of Toronto's largest church from 1921 until his death in 1968. Though most of his 800 compositions were liturgical, he also wrote chamber and orchestral music, like this concerto.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Johann Wilms Piano Quartets receive their due

Johann Wilhelm Wilms (1772-1847) only wrote two piano quartets (that we know of), and they conveniently fit on one CD. German-born Wilms was a major musical figure in the Netherlands As a contemporary of Beethoven, his fame remained more regional than international.

A contemporary reviewer called Wilms a "practiced composer versed in compositional technique." That's an accurate assessment, and that technique is on full display in these recordings.

Wilms was an accomplished pianist (and flutist). And he strikes the right balance between the instruments. Writing for the piano quartet was a challenge. Violinists tended to relegate the piano to an accompanying role for the string trio, pianists the reverse.

Wilms' piano parts are sufficiently meaty, but in both these works, all instruments share the gravy.

The Piano Quartet in C major, Op. 22 was published in 1808 but probably composed much earlier. Stylistically it reminded me of very early Beethoven. The general outline is Mozartian. But the instrumental textures are thicker, and the overall music has a heavier feel to it.

Historically, Wilms' music forms a bridge from Haydn and Mozart to Mendelssohn and Schumann. His Piano Quartet in F major, Op. 30 is closer to the early Romantics than the late Classicists. The harmonies have more chromatic inflections, and the themes are far more expansive. Both quartets take about a half-hour to play. The first has four movements, the second only three.

The Valentin Klavierquartett deliver first-rate performances. Pianist Isabel Lhotzky plays with dexterity and precision, making the piano part sparkle at times. Inka von Puttkamer (violin), David Ott (viola), and Hanno Kuhns (cello) are equally adept in making the most of Wilms' score. And there's a lot there to explore.

Well versed in compositional technique, indeed. The balance Wilms maintains between piano and strings isn't often heard -- even in the works of greater masters.

Johann Wilhelm Wilms
Two Piano Quartets
Valentin Klavierquartett

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Kondonassis in Rapturous Performance of Higdon Harp Concerto

Yolanda Kondonassis does not play pretty harp music. Her performances are marked with intensity and energy -- and her choice of repertoire continually pushes the limits. Jennifer Higdon wrote her a concerto that gives Kondonassis free reign to express herself -- and she does.

The four-movement Harp Concerto has Kondonassis do just about everything with the instrument -- except play dreamy glissandos. I especially enjoyed the third movement, "Lullaby." Higdon pairs the harp with a variety of solo instruments for an intimate chamber piece of quiet beauty.

The fourth movement, "Rap Knock" uses the harp as a percussion instrument, holding its own in a percussion ensemble. It also features some incredibly rapid -- and intricate -- passages. Kondonassis plays it all impeccably. In interviews, she talks about her enthusiasm for this work, and it shows in the performance.

"Rapture" by Patrick Harlan isn't Biblical in the slightest. After weeks underground, cavers lose their circadian rhythms and enter a disoriented emotional state termed the rapture. Harlan's work recreates that experience. "Rapture" drifts from one amorphous configuration to another, with bursts of extreme intensity.

Also included is Samuel Barber's Symphony No. 1, which provides a nice stylistic bridge between Higdon and Harlan.

Ward Stare and the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra deliver energetic performances throughout. This is their first recording in five years, and well worth the wait.

American Rapture
Jennifer Higdon: Harp Concerto; Samuel Barber: Symphony No. 1; Patrick Harlin: Rapture
Yolanda Kondonassis, harp
The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra; Ward Stare, conductor
Azica ACD-71327

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Aho Wind Quintets performed with love

This release tells a story -- the story of a relationship between composer and performers. Finnish composer Kalevi Aho writes very challenging music. The Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet (BPWQ) accepted that challenge and performed his Wind Quintet No. 1. In fact, they fell in love with the work, playing it more than 20 times in concert.

It was only natural, then, that the quintet would commission a work from the composer. And Aho obliged, creating a work that was uniquely suited for -- and demanding -- of the BPWQ. This release features the BPWQ performing the quintet they know so well, and the quintet they commissioned.

Aho's compositional style doesn't so much oppose tradition as to just simply ignore it. His 2006 Wind Quintet No. 1 upends several "givens" of the genre. He uses the F horn, rather than the bassoon, as the bass instrument. The oboe often players higher than the flute. And at various points different players perform off-stage, greatly altering the balance and texture of the ensemble.

Aho considered his second quintet a "little symphony." In it, he greatly expands the parameters and definition of a wind quintet. The work has long, drawn-out lines that require tremendous breath control. At times the flute player switches to piccolo or alto flute; the oboist to cor anglais.

All of these great changes the sound of the ensemble, and Aho takes full advantage of the new sonorities.

The Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet perform flawlessly. The first quintet benefits from their intimate knowledge of the work. The second was written for them, and it fits like a glove. The long, sonorous tones of the ensemble are truly beautiful. The connection between composer and performers is strong -- and can be heard throughout these two works.

Kalevi Aho: Wind Quintets
Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet
BIS 2176

Monday, July 08, 2019

Rediscovered Carl Friedrich Abel Concertos Given New Life

In 2018 a collection of music by Carl Friederich Abel was discovered in Poland. In 1787 Count Maltzan purchased the manuscripts at Abel's estate sale in London. He later returned to his native Poland, the collection soon forgotten.

The Maltzan Collection has 29 works -- 22 of them previously unknown. Six receive their recording world premiere with this release.

Abel was one of the greatest viola da gamba players of his age. And like other Baroque-era performers, he wrote music primarily for himself to perform in concert. He once wrote, "I do not choose to be always struggling with difficulties, and playing with all my might. I make my pieces difficult whenever I please, according to my disposition and that of my audience."

That assessment sums up the six viola da gamba concerti in this release. Each has three short movements, fast-slow-fast. Melodies are elegantly simple, phrasing regular and balanced. In these areas, the player's musicianship is challenged.

Then there are patches where Abel was pleased to add difficulty. Here the soloist must rise to Abel's technical prowess.

Kryzysztof Firlus succeeds with both. His playing is expressive and sure. Abel's "difficulties" are handled without breaking a sweat. Double stops, harmonics, rapid passagework -- Firlus plays it all with a clean, clear tone.

Tomasz Pokrzwinski (baroque cello) and Anna Firlus (harpsichord, fortepiano) compliment Firlus' interpretations nicely. But it's clear who's the star. Both the cello and the keyboards are pushed way into the background of the recording. I suspect that's the balance Carl Abel had in mind.

I hope we'll hear more of the Maltzan Collection. The six sonatas are beautiful examples of the Galant style.

Carl Friedrich Abel: Sonatas from the Maltzan Collection
Krzysztof Firlus, viola da gamba; Anna Firlus, harpsichord, fortepiano; Tomasz Pokrzwinski, baroque cello
DUX 1564

Friday, July 05, 2019

#ClassicsaDay Revisits #NAFTAclassics - Week 1

The Classics a Day team is made up of Americans and Canadians. The month of July has important national holidays for both countries. And so the theme for July is the music of North America. (Mexico doesn't have a major holiday in July, but we decided to be inclusive). 

In my posts for #ClassicsaDay I alternated between the three countries. Of course, July 1 featured a Canadian composer, and July 4 an American. Here are my posts for the first week of #NAFTAclassics.

7/1/19 Jocelyn Morlock (Canadian) - Hullabaloo

Morlock's "Hullabaloo" was commissioned for the Canadian Sesquicentennial. She's the composer-in-residence for the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, who premiered the work.

7/2/19 Michael Torke (American) - Unconquered: I. Summon

Torke's “Unconquered” tone poem commemorates the 1777 Battle of Saratoga. He writes, "Neither battlefield nor bloodshed is depicted… only the expression of moods conjured by these images.”

7/3/19 Manuel María Ponce (Mexican) - Sonata Clasica for Guitar

Ponce incorporated native folk music into his work, reimagining it in a classical idiom.

7/4/19 Joan Tower (American) - Made in America

Tower's 2004 work was a commission from the League of American Orchestras and premiered by 65 ensembles in 50 states.

7/5/19 Carlos Chávez (Mexican) - Concerto for piano and orchestra

The concerto was the result of a Guggenheim grant. Chavez conducted the Mexican premiere in 1843 with Claudio Arrau and, the Orquesta Sinfónica de México.

Thursday, July 04, 2019

July 4th Classical Music - Moving 1776 beyond 1812

For Independence Day celebrations, there few classical works that make the cut. You can usually count on hearing a John Philip Sousa march.

Perhaps Aaron Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man," And, if the presenters have the budget and/or a National Guard armory nearby, Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture."

Time for a change

I get it. "1812" = cannons = fireworks. But come on.

Do we really want to end our Fourth of July celebrations with a rousing chorus of "God Save the Czar?" As always, I'd like to propose some different music for the Fourth of July. Nothing esoteric, or complex. Just well-written, uplifting music by Americans for Americans.

Engendering representation

Approximately half the US population are female. There is plenty of first-rate classical music by American women available. Amy Beach, Florence Price, Libby Larsen, and Ellen Taafe Zwilich are just a few names that spring to mind -- and that's not counting the vast number of women that have entered the field in the past twenty years.

For the Fourth of July, I'd recommend one of Joan Tower's "Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman." She's written five of them, take your pick! I think having Copland's "Fanfare" at the beginning of the program and Tower's near the end would be a nice balance.

Rounding out the spectrum

Non-listeners often characterize classical music as that of dead, white, European males. Well, we've already established that there are American composers, the majority of them still alive. And they're not all male (see above). And they're not all white. Plenty of American composers past and present have been persons of color.

How about William Grant Still's "Festive Overture?" Seems right for the occasion.

Mounting a celebration with a band instead of a full orchestra? Try Adolphus Hailstork's "Celebration."

March to a different drummer

John Philip Sousa wasn't called the "March King" for nothing. He wrote way more than just the two or three pieces everyone programs for the Fourth of July.  The "Yorktown Centennial March" seems appropriate for a Revolutionary War-related holiday.

Or perhaps a call for unity with the "Keep Step with the Union March."

What about the artillery?

I admit the selection of classical works for cannons is pretty slender. Besides Tchaikovsky's hit, the only other example I know of is also Russian. In 1922 Arseny Avraamov composed the "Symphony Of Factory Sirens." The orchestra comprises of factory sirens, boat whistles, machinery, and field artillery. It's an interesting work, albeit almost impossible to perform. Plus, the end result sounds more like a city under siege than one celebrating a victory. (If you listen to the music below, the cannons first come in at around 2:20.)


If it's a battle piece you want, I have a suggestion. C.L. Barnhouse's "Battle of Shiloh" depicts the whole event -- and it's a lot shorter than the "1812." Have the field cannons double the bass drum strikes, and you've got sonic fireworks for an American piece about an American subject by an American composer. How's that for Fourth of July programming?

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

Gloria Coates - Piano Quintet and Symphony No. 10 well-matched

Gloria Coates has a unique compositional voice. It's one I've admired since hearing her first symphony (Music on Open Strings). While not all of her 16 symphonies are as immediately accessible as that work, there are some common characteristics.

Coates lets her material determine the form of the work. That material and the development of its inherent possibilities make her compositions truly symphonic in scope. Even if they don't follow traditional forms.

Symphony No. 10 bears the subtitle "Drones of Druids on Celtic Ruins." Believe it. Coates was commissioned to create an outdoor work for performance in an ancient Celtic site. Coates drew inspiration from the site (and the imagined rites performed there).

The symphony is for brass and percussion used in an original fashion. No fanfares, no pulse-pounding rhythms --  just long, sustained notes that gradually build in intensity. Development occurs at a glacier-like pace as interlocked chords grind against each other.

It's a powerful work, perfectly suited for an outdoor venue. The performance of the CalArts Orchestra (in studio) mostly does it justice. In some sections, I thought the brass players were pushed right to the edge of their abilities. I couldn't always tell if those wavering tones were deliberate or not.

Coupled with the symphony is Coates' 2015 Piano Quintet. According to the composer, microtones and glissandi create a shimmering quality to the music. I agree. The music often seems suspended in space, with bright bursts of dazzling light whenever chords come together.

The Kreutzer Quartet and pianist Roderick Chadwick give a first-rate performance of this work. My one quibble is that the instruments are so close-mic'd that I could hear the page turns. At the same time, that closeness added to the intensity of the music.

This makes the fifth Naxos release of Coates' music, two of which feature her symphonies. If it's not too much to ask, I'd like them to finish the cycle.

Gloria Coates: Piano Quintet; Symphony No. 10
Piano Quintet: Kreutzer Quartet, Roderick Chadwick, piano
Symphony No. 10 "Drones of Druids on Celtic Runs": CalArts Orchestra; Susan Allen, conductor
Naxos 8.559848
World Premiere Recordings

Tuesday, July 02, 2019

Vyacheslav Artyomov - The Way to Olympus

Volume four of Divine Art's Vyacheslav Artyomov series features a wide range of works -- everything from a full orchestra ("The Way to Olympus"), to a solo piano ("Preludes to Sonnets").

While the forces may vary, there's a consistency throughout all these works. Artyomov's deeply spiritual philosophy imbues every composition. The music alternates between suspended time and bursts of activity. Harmonies are post-tonal, yet not atonal.

"The Way to Olympus" is the first installment of Artyomov's four-symphony cycle, "Symphony of the Way." It begins with a long, slow introduction that gradually builds in texture.

The entire work is an intro of sorts. Artyomov further develops its themes in the subsequent three symphonies.

Still, "The Way to Olympus" arrives at a satisfying conclusion, so it works as a stand-alone piece. If you're looking for an introduction to Artymov's music, this is a good place to start.

Artyomov notes that "Preludes to Sonnets" is his only work for solo piano. That's too bad. This is a quiet, introspective work that demands subtlety rather than showmanship from the pianist. Anton Batagov's sympathetic performance is as finely nuanced as one could hope.

"Gurian Hymn" is based on a West Georgian Easter song. It's treated as a cantus firmus, always present in some form. Three violin soloists work and rework the material, floating above the sound of a chamber orchestra. Like a crystal mobile, the music sparkles and shimmers as it turns again and again. "Gurian Hymn" satisfies at a deep emotional level.

"Concert of the 13" was written in 1967, the earliest work on the album. And it sounds like it, too. The piece is full of youthful energy, as motifs are tossed from instrument to instrument. Percussion plays a major role, driving the music ever forward. And yet there are moments where everything pauses, giving us a foretaste of the mature Artyomov's style.

These recordings were originally issued on Melodiya, and the sound quality is quite good. Artyomov's music is often quiet, with very subtle changes. All those details came through in this recording.

Vyacheslav Artyomov: Symphony: The Way to Olympus; Gurian Hymn; Preludes to Sonnets; Concert of the 13
Anton Batagov, Piotr Meschaninov, piano; Yevgeny Smirnov, Tatiana Grindenko, Yelena Adjemova, violin; 
Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra; Dmitri Kitaenko, conductor
USSR State Academic Symphony Orchestra; Gennady Rozhdestvensky, Timur Mynbaev, conductor
Divine Art DDA 25171

Monday, July 01, 2019

Canadian Amber Showcases Latvian Musical Heritage

This has to be one of the most tightly-focused album themes I've seen in some time. "Canadian Amber" presents three works by Latvian composers who emigrated to Canadian after World War II; Janis Kalnins, Talivaldis Kenins and Imant Raminsh. And this is but a representative sampling of this Latvian/Canadian arts scene.

The three composers on this release all became Canadian citizens and prominent Canadian composers. And yet they're still claimed by Latvia, giving their music sort of a dual-citizenship. Although the three composers do share a similar musical background, each has their own distinct voice.

Janis Kalnins wrote in a post-Romantic style that sometimes incorporated modernist language. His 1945 Violin Concerto in F-sharp minor is gorgeous. Kalnins gives the soloist some finely crafted melodies to dig into.

Imant Raminsh is best known for his choral works. His Aria for Violin and Piano has a singing quality to it. The melody has long, expressive phrases that would also work well for the human voice. Raminsh's harmonies are tonal but have more modal elements than Kalnis.

Talivaldis Kenins completed his Concerto for Piano, Percussion, and String Orchestra when he was 71. Kenins has a more modern style than his two compatriots. I heard influences from Stravinsky, Bartok, and Janacek in this work. Kenins's concerto is highly chromatic, with strong rhythmic motifs and blocks of sound.

These recordings come from varying sources, and that's a problem. The Kalnis concerto is from a CBC broadcast, and the sound is really compressed. The solo violin had a pinched sound, and bass tones (especially the tympani) were excessively boomy.

The other two works sounded fine. Comparing the sound of violinist Laura Zarina in the Kalnis and Raminsh tracks, I determined the issue was in the recordings, not her performances. The sound of her violin in Raminsh's Aria has a fuller, more natural sound.

I hope the Toronto Latvian Concert Association produce more of these recordings. All three works are of exceptional quality, and deserve greater recognition outside the borders of Canada and Latvia.

Canadian Amber: Music by Latvian-Canadian Composers
Janis Kalnins; Talivaldis Kenins; Imant Raminsh
Laura Zarina, violin; Artus Ozolins, piano
Canadian Opera Company Orchestra; Maris Simais, conductor
Centrediscs CMCCD 206519