Saturday, August 31, 2019

Spam Roundup, August 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.

There's meaning in here -- if you know what I mean

 - Fair modify the egg, cut it up, and service it by rights, it can often conceal in stash away or deny good-natured of serial specials. [That's too bad. I love eggs, but I'm all about the serial specials.]

 - Thither are things desire affect lines, making known paragraphs, or justified thousands of messages, so you can convert and united edible fruit into the competition. [Sounds almost Shakespearean, doesn't it?]

 - The gauzy mass and lode. This lets the audience turn an ameliorate grip on the friendly media sites. [I hate gauzy messes.]

 - Now we have never gotten any suggestions or have ever had any form of ban happen on any of our accounts which have been used with the brave frontier hack. [The Wild West was tamed by brave frontier hacks, you know.]

"Lumbering along" keeps getting the hits

The Straco Express Layout, Part 23 - Lumbering Along is a short little post about a 1960s cheap Japanese friction toy. I basically describe it, and explain how it fits into postwar Japanese toy production. A simple post that continues to speak to spambots.  

 - What a data of un-ambiguity and preserveness of valuable know-how on the topic of unpredicted emotions. [I laughed, I cried. It's a hit!]

 - Its going to the finish of my day, but before end, I am reading this enormous post to improve my experience. [I'm sure the improvement will be in direct relation to the enormity of this 60-word post.]

 - Everything is very open with a really clear explanation of the issues. It was truly informative. [I laughed, I cried.. oh never mind.]

 - And as far as some of the bitter folks, I'd keep an open mid next time because it only affects you in the long run! [Ha! Take that, bitter folks.]

It's been a while since I heard that word

 - Very rapidly this web site will be famous among all blogging and site-building users, due to its fastidious posts.

Fastidious seems to be back in fashion. That's all for this month. Remember to keep your gauze tidy and stay away from the bitter folk. 

Friday, August 30, 2019

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalSummer Week 5

It was a busy summer for the Classics a Day team. In June, we marked African-American Music Appreciation Month. In July we celebrated national holidays in the U.S. and  Canada. So that just left August to have a summer theme.

For my part, I chose to choose anything except Vivaldi's "Four Seasons." In the process, I discovered some interesting music (and composers) I'll explore further.

Here are my picks for the fifth and final week of #ClassicalSummer.

8/26/19 Samuel Barber: Dover Beach, Op. 3

What's summer without going to the beach? Barber set Matthew Arnold's poem in 1931. He was also the first to record it - as the vocalist.

8/27/19 Franz Schubert: Die Sommernacht, D.289

Summertime isn't always fun time. Schubert's art song is about a person visiting the grave of their loved one on a summer's evening.

8/28/19 Ferdinand Ries: Grand Sextour in C major, Op. 100

Ries was a virtuoso pianist, composer -- and student of Beethoven. Like his teacher, he did a setting of "The Last Rose of Summer." It's the slow movement of this sextet.

8/29/19 Ludwig van Beethoven: Variationen über 6 Volksweisen, Op.105, No. 4, The last rose of summer

Everybody has to eat. Beethoven set about 180 folksongs for Scottish publisher George Thomson. The works were to use familiar tunes and be easy to play.

8/30/19 Hector Berlioz: Les Nuits d'été, Op. 7

Berlioz based his song cycle "Summer Nights" on poetry by his neighbor, Théophile Gautier. The original 1841 version was for voice and piano. Berlioz' orchestrated version remains the most popular.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Leila Schayegh delivers with LeClair Violin Concertos

This first volume of Jean-Marie LeClair violin concertos features four selections: two each from his Opus 7 (1739) and Opus 10 (1743).

LeClair was one of the greatest violinists of his age. He regularly used extended techniques, such as double stops, bariolages, and harmonics. And yet in his concertos, these techniques were always used in service to the music.

Violinist Leila Schayegh and her ensemble outline their philosophical approach to the music in the liner notes. And it translates well into the recordings. Schayegh plays with technical mastery, tempered by musical restraint. What's important aren't the thrilling runs -- it's the melodic arcs they describe.

The two Op. 7 concertos were written while LeClair was in service to the Princess of Orange. The liner notes say LeClair was exposed to Locatelli while serving at her court. His Opus 10 works, written upon his return to Paris, reflect that influence.

I did hear some similarities, but I also didn't hear many differences between the four concertos. All four, to me, are models of French Baroque artistry. They have an elegance to them, with simple, clear cut melodies that lend themselves to embellishment.

La Cetra Barockorchestra Basel (as well as Schayegh) use gut strings. And yet the recorded sound of the ensemble seemed bright. All in all, an interesting start to this series. Perhaps volume two will present the second and sixth concertos from two other opuses.

Jean-Marie LeClair: Concerti per Violino, Vol. 1
Op. 7 & 10 - Nos. 2 & 6
Leila Schayegh, violin
La Cetra Barockorchester Basel
Glossa 926202

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Jozef Zeidler and Antoni Habel - Polish Classicists

Jozef Zeidler (1744-1806) and Antoni Habel (1760-1831) are major figures in the history of Polish classical music. And yet they're almost ciphers.

 Almost nothing is known of Zeidler's life or career. He wrote in the style of Mozart and Haydn, earning him the nickname "the Polish Mozart."

 Zeidler's Mass in D major does have a Mozartian quality to it. The choruses and the solos are quite tuneful, with nicely shaped and balanced phrases. But it's not in the league of Mozart's Requiem Mass. Rather, this work reminded me more of Mozart's Missa Brevis in F major, K.192.

Zeidler's mass is modest in scope, with only a few contrapuntal sections. Still, it's an attractive work and an effective setting of the text.

The performance is good, but not great. The soprano soloist seemed to struggle at times. There also wasn't a great deal of dynamic contrast. I couldn't tell if that was the performance or the recording.

Antoni Habel was a violinist with a small output of compositions. More is known of his life than Zeidler -- but not much more.

Habel's Symphony in D major resembles those of middle career Haydn. The string orchestra is augmented by flutes, oboes, and f horns. The symphony is four-movement work. There's no slow introduction -- it begins right with the main theme. Habel, like Haydn, carefully crafts his themes so they are easy to follow through the work.

As with the Zeidler, the performance had a few issues. The strings lacked precision in some of their attacks. The solo cello in the second movement sounded a little pinched.

These are interesting works, and give some insight into the origins of Poland's classical music tradition. But as I listened, I kept wondering what they would have sounded like with a major orchestra and symphony chorus performing them.

Jozef Zeidler: Missa in D 
Antoni Habel: Symphony in D major 
Sinfonietta Cracovia; Polski Chor Kameralny Marcin Nalecz-Niesioeowski, conductor 

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

George Antheil Symphonies Channel Copland

Before I received a copy of this release, I only knew George Antheil through one work: the Ballet Mechanique. But Antheil was about more than scoring sirens and airplane propellors.

Antheil's Symphony No. 3 paints a series of evocative tableaux; Latino California, Creole New Orleans, Promontory Point, Baltimore.

In this 1940s work, Antheil uses the language of Aaron Copland. Some parts reminded me strongly of El Salon Mexico. The symphony does sound American. But at times it's a Hollywood version of America which to me, shows its age.

The Symphony No. 6 "After Delacroix" was premiered in 1949. The first movement was inspired by Delacroix's Liberty Leading the People. It's a work full of bombast, and a touch of Hollywood braggadocio.

Still, it's an exciting, accessible work, with its own internal logic.

The release also includes a few short orchestral bonbons. The "Hot-Time Dance "is sort of mashup of "There'll be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight" and the Saber Dance. It was written for the Boston Pops and as such is just a fun piece of music to enjoy.

John Storgårds leads the BBC Philharmonic in finely crafted performances. The symphonies are rendered with energy and precision. And the short pieces -- like "Hot-Time Dance" are delivered with just the right character.

If you enjoy mid-century American music, investigate these works. Today, George Antheil may be overshadowed by Aaron Copland and Samuel Barber. But his music is worth a listen. And perhaps a re-evaluation.

George Antheil: Symphonies Nos. 3 & 6
BBC Philharmonic; John Storgårds, conductor
Chandos 10982

Monday, August 26, 2019

Baltimore Consort - Food of Love Satisfies

I've been a fan of the Baltimore Consort since their first release in 1990. They consistently deliver excellent performances that balance historical accuracy with honest emotion.

The Food of Love is a collection of music most likely heard in the original productions of Shakespeare's plays. It's a mix of music referred to by the play or incidental music referenced by stage instructions.

The program groups the selections together by plays. The liner notes carefully document the connection between each selection and the play.

Several of these selections will be familiar to fans of early music. John Dowland, "King of Denmark's Galliard" and "Tarleton's Jig" appear in "Hamlet." Thomas Morley's "O Mystress Mine" is here, as well as selections from Thomas Playford's "English Dancing Master."

There are even two settings of "Greensleeves." Also included are music by Anthony Holborne, Robert Johnson, and several anonymous composers.

As always, the Baltimore Consort varies its sound from track to track. As needed, the group forms duets, trios, quartets, and so on.

Soprano Danielle Svonavec also modifies her singing to fit the music's context. Her pure, silvery tones sometimes acquire a little grit.

If you're a fan of the Baltimore Consort (or any of its members), you'll want to add this to your collection. If you're not familiar with this remarkable group -- or early music in general -- The Food of Love provides an excellent introduction. Dig in.

The Baltimore Consort: The Food of Love
Songs, Dances, and Fancies for Shakespeare
Sonos Luminous

Friday, August 23, 2019

#ClassicsaDay #SummerClassics Week 4

It was a busy summer for the Classics a Day team. In June, we marked African-American Music Appreciation Month. In July we celebrated national holidays in the U.S. and  Canada. So that just left August to have a summer theme.

For my part, I chose to choose anything except Vivaldi's "Four Seasons." In the process, I discovered some interesting music (and composers) I'll explore further.

Here are my picks for the fourth week of #ClassicalSummer.

8/19/19 Josef Suk: Summer Impressions, Op. 22b

Suk's 1902 Op. 22 featured two seasons: 22a was Spring, and 22b was Summer. The three movements of 22b are "At Midday," "Child's Play" and "Evening Mood."

8/20/19 Henry Purcell - The Fairy-Queen

Purcell's 1692 musical work is considered a masque rather than a opera. The musical segments featured original text, not taken from Shakespeare's play.

8/21/19 Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst Polyphonic Study No. 6 - Concert Variations on "The Last Rose of Summer" in G major

Moravian violinist Heinrich Ernst was considered on of the greatest performers to follow Paganini. His specialty was playing polyphonically (two or more notes simultaneously).

8/22/19 Friedrich von Flotow: "Letzte Rose" from Martha

Flowtow's 1847 opera "Martha" is set in Richmond, England during the reign of Queen Anne. Flowtow's setting of "The Last Rose of Summer" became a hit.

8/23/19 Paul Hindemith - On hearing "The Last Rose of Summer."

This song comes from a 1944 collection by Hindemith, "( English Songs." As the title suggests, the work oblequely references the popular tune.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Johann Nepomuk David Symphonies 2 & 4 tinged with melancholy

This release contrasts two symphonies written by Johann Nepomuk David. Symphony No. 2 Op. 20 was completed in 1938, right before World War II. Symphony No. 4 Op. 39 dates from 1948 -- immediately after the war.

David's style was an absorbant sponge that soaked up many influences: Anton Bruckner, Johannes Brahms, Joseph Marx, Arnold Schoenberg, Igor Stravinsky, and Claude Debussy -- just to name a few. David's music mixes together these disparate sources in unusual and interesting ways.

His second symphony is densely contrapuntal-- reflecting his love of Max Reger and Johann Sebastian Bach. The Medieval tune L’homme armé (foundation for many a Medieval and Renaissance work), serves as the symphony's cantus firmus.

David's harmonies sometimes resemble Wagner's, other times early Stravinsky. Because of the cross-connections of the motifs, the work stands as a cohesive whole.

The original version of Symphony No. 4, Op. 39, was destroyed in an air raid (along with most of David's manuscripts) in 1943. David completed the reconstruction in 1948.

The symphony grows out of the opening material. The motifs are worked and reworked throughout the entire work. The inspirations for David in this work are less obvious than in his second symphony.

The harmonies are still mostly tonal, but David is speaking his own language here. David seems to have more control over his resources, with defter, more original orchestration than in his prewar symphony.

David lost his home and his music manuscripts in the war. Many of his former students were killed in action. David wanted to write absolute music, but he's not quite successful. This symphony has a streak of melancholy buried deep within it.

The ORF Radio Symphonieorchester Wien directed by Johannes Wilder turn in another set of fine performances. I enjoyed their work on the first CPO David symphony release. These recordings maintain the same high standards.

I'm looking forward to the next installment.

Johann Nepomuk David: Symphonies 2 & 4
ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wien; Johannes Wildner, conductor
CPO 777 577-2

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

John Robertson "Symphony No. 1" disappointing sophomore release

I enjoyed the previous Navona release of John Robertson's music. This recording features the same composer, same conductor, and the same orchestra, so I anticipated a similar experience. I was disappointed.

The first disappointment was the sound of the orchestra. The ensemble sounded very thin. To my ears, the violins had a slight nasal quality to them. And although attacks weren't sloppy, they weren't precise either.

In the previous release, the Janacek Philharmonic performed John Robertson's music quite well. Perhaps they were under-rehearsed for these sessions and/or mic'd differently.

The second disappointment was the music itself. Robertson's developed his own style, tonal and somewhat traditional. When it works, it works well.

His First Symphony from 1986 didn't work well for me. There were some interesting contrapuntal sections, but they didn't feel organic. Although Robertson writes in a neo-classical style, his tonal centers weren't well-defined. The music was always supported by consonant chords but didn't have much forward direction.

Not everything disappointed. The symphony's second movement is a beautifully crafted piece of music. I found its gentle lyricism immediately appealing.

John Robertson spent a good portion of his working life in insurance, composing as an avocation rather than a vocation. His biography suggests he was primarily self-taught and noted he received private instruction later in life.

I also enjoyed the Variations for Small Orchestra. It is modest in scope and the dance-inspired variations were just plain fun to listen to.

Navona's publicity sheet for this release characterized Robertson's Suite for Orchestra as "easy on the ear." Is that a liability or an asset? In my experience, it was both.

This 2005 work was the most polished of the three, and I caught myself humming along more than once (asset). And yet once the work ended, I couldn't recall a single note of it (liability).

I'm still interested in exploring Robertson's music. If you are too, I'd recommend picking up Vallarta Suite instead. This release, I think, will primarily appeal to John Robertson completists.

John Robertson: Symphony No. 1; Variations for Small Orchestra; Suite for Orchestra
Janacek Philharmonic Orchestra; Anthony Armore, conductor
Navona NV6167

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Harry Partch Sonata Dementia - More, Please

I've always loved the music of Harry Partch. These new recordings by Bridge Records do a tremendous service to the world of music. Hearing the Partch ensemble perform with copies of Partch's original hand-made instruments.

That's important because it means these instruments can really be played, not handled like irreplaceable museum pieces. And the Partch ensemble digs into the music with gusto.

Plus, these new recordings sound clearer and better-defined than Harry Partch's originals. And that means it's easier to hear the subtle distinctions between microtones and the unusual overtones of the instruments.

This volume includes "Ulysses at the Edge of the World," written in 1951 for Chet Baker. The original version included trumpet, string bass, and Partch instruments. Baker never played it, and the work was recast with different instruments at least twice. The Partch ensemble performs the original version here.

They also perform the original version of Windsong, from 1950. This is another work that went through several transformations, eventually becoming the ballet "Daphne of the Dunes." To me, it's like "Windsong" is the best bits of "Daphne," especially the rhythmic sections. If you like the one you'll enjoy the other.

And of course, there's the title track, Sonata Dementia. Originally written as an exercise for his 43-note scale, the work remained in limbo. Eventually, it became part of "Plectra & Percussion Dances." As a piece, this original form of "Sonata Dementia" works, and it works well.

The Partch Ensemble understands Partch's music. And they're thoroughly proficient on Partch's instruments. These are amazing performances of amazing music. All I have to say is "more, please."

Harry Partch - Sonata Dementia
The Music of Harry Partch, Volume 3
Bridge Records

Monday, August 19, 2019

Carl Czerny Piano Trios Brilliantly Entertaining

Five piano trio receive their world recording premiers with this release. In a sense, it's not that big a deal. Carl Czerny wrote over 1,000 works, over 800 of them published. There are still many, many Czerny works awaiting their first recording.

The trios presented here are certainly worthy of attention. The 1830 Deux Trios brillans pour pianoforte, violon et violoncelle, Op. 211 are light-hearted works. Both are in major keys, and both exude charming melodies.

Czerny was a concert pianist, and he gives the player lots to do. But he also balances the piano with the strings, making these true collaborations between the three instruments.

That's not the case with the Op. 104 Piano Trios. The title explains why: Trois Sonatines faciles et brillantes pour le pianoforte seul avec accomp. d’un violon et violoncelle ad libitum à l’usage des élèves avancés (Three Easy and Brilliant Sonatinas for pianoforte solo with violin and cello accompaniment ad limitum for advanced students).

Here the piano is the star, with the strings playing supporting parts. They're still quite charming. Czerny, even as a pedagogue, wrote interesting and engaging music. And these works were meant for performance, so there's plenty for the listener to engage with.

Pianist Samuel Gingher plays with a sure, yet delicate touch. His lightness keeps the piano in balance with the strings, even in the Op. 104 works.  For their parts, violinist Sun-Young Gemma Shin and cellist Benjamin Hayek dig into their instruments. The full, rounded sound of their strings shore up the balance from the other side.

Are these work on par with the Beethoven Piano Trios? No. But that was never the point. Taken on their own merits Czerny's trios can beguile and delight. And that's fine with me.

Carl Czerny: Piano Trios
Deux Trios brillante; Trois Sonatines faciles et brillantes
Sun-Young Shin, violin; Benjamin, Hayek, cello; Samuel Gingher, piano
World Premiere Recordings
Naxos 8.573838

Friday, August 16, 2019

#ClassicsaDay #SummerClassics Week 3

It was a busy summer for the Classics a Day team. In June, we marked African-American Music Appreciation Month. In July we celebrated national holidays in the U.S. and  Canada. So that just left August to have a summer theme.

For my part, I chose to choose anything except Vivaldi's "Four Seasons." In the process, I discovered some interesting music (and composers) I'll explore further.

Here ere are my picks for the third week of #ClassicalSummer.

8/12/19 Samuel Barber: Knoxville: Summer of 1915, Op. 24

Soprano Eleanor Steber commissioned the work and premiered it with Serge Koussevitzky and the Boston Symphony in 1948. The text is from a 1938 James Agee work.

8/13/19 Thomas Campion - It Fell on a Summer's Day

Campion was a composer, poet, lutenist -- and a practicing physician. This lute song was part of a 1601 collection, A Booke of Ayres.

8/14/19 Robert Schumann - Sommerlied, Op. 146 No. 4

This summer song was published in a collection of works for a capella choir. The text is by Friedrich Rückert.

8/15/19 Benjamin Britten - A Midsummer Night's Dream, Op. 64

Britten's opera, based on Shakespeare's play, was premiered in 1960. It's considered one of the most popular post-war opera in the repertoire.

8/16/19 Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky - "August (Harvest)" from The Seasons, Op. 37a

Tchaikovsky was commissioned to write 12 short piano pieces in 1875 by the music magazine Nouvellist. The pieces were published in the magazine, one per monthly issue.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Bruckner: Complete Piano Music Complete Surprise

May I use the word "revelatory?" It most accurately describes my reaction to this release of Anton Brucker's piano music.

Bruckner's reputation (rightly) rests on his symphonies. But those were far in the future of the young student who wrote these piano pieces.

All of the works recorded were composed as student pieces and composition exercises. One of the more interesting aspects of these works, I think, is their brevity.

The longest piece (the Sonata in G minor) barely tops seven minutes. Most are between one and two minutes long. They're short and to the point.

Still, Bruckner shows his talent even in these oh-so-brief pieces. There are quadrilles, waltzes, and polkas. They're light, breezy little tunes that encourage your feet to move.

There are more serious works; theme and variations, andantes, and fantasias. These hint at the depth Bruckner would bring to his later work.

Francesco Pasqualotto treats these works as fully realized compositions. He thoughtfully phrases the melodies to give them dramatic shape. And yet he plays mostly with a light touch, befitting the modest ambitions of these student pieces.

My only quibble is with the recorded sound of the piano. Room ambiance was kept to a minimum, and yet the piano has a somewhat boomy sound. A minor flaw for an otherwise interesting and enjoyable release.

Anton Bruckner: Complete Piano Music
Francesco Pasqualotto, piano
Brilliant Classics, 956119

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Vyacheslav Artyomov Symphony of Elegies Inspires Anew

Divine Art continues their reissue of Vyacheslav Artyomov recordings with "A Symphony of Elegies."

Artyomov's 1977 "A Symphony of Elegies" was written during a trip to the mountains of Dilijan, Armenia. To me, the work forms a fascinating contrast to the mountain-inspired symphonies of American/Armenian composer Alan Hovhaness.

Both composers eschew the standard notion of "symphony," and both depict timeless solidity of mountains -- and their primal spiritual significance. Artyomov is even less concerned with tonality than Hovhaness, and therein lies the difference.

Artyomov's symphony is a slowly swirling cloud of sound. The solo violins sometimes float atop the string orchestra, other times they're obscured by it. But always there's a tension between the two. Violinists Oleh Krysa and Tatiana Grindenko are the soloists, and their also the performers for "Awakening."

Artyomov dedicated "Awakening" to Krysa and Grindenko, who premiered the work in 1978. Artyomov considered it a postlude to the symphony. Listening to the two works back-to-back I could hear why. "Awakening" inhabits the same audio world as the symphony. With just two violins, Artyomov strips the music down to its essence.  The violins must both generate the sustaining tones and the melodies above them. Its a remarkably intimate and haunting work.

For me, the most interesting of these three very interesting works was "Incantations." Artyomov conducts the Mark Pekansky Percussion Ensemble and soprano Lydia Anatolyevna Davydova in this recording. These are the artists he composed the work for, so I consider this the definitive performance.

Artyomov deconstructs the human voice, separating vowels, consonants, and other sounds into discrete blocks. He then uses them -- along with various percussive sounds -- to create something that's more than the sum of the parts.

Alfred Schnittke described "Incantations" as  “a strikingly realistic and vivid sound image of primeval magic." I agree. I'd even say that all three works evoke a mystical sonic realm only attainable through Artyomov's creative imagination.

Vyacheslav Artyomov: A Symphony of Elegies
Tatiana Grindenko and Oleh Krysa, violins
Mark Pekarsky Percussion Ensemble;
Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra; Saulius Sondeckis, conductor
Divine Art DDA 25172

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Friedrich Gernsheim Piano Series Begins at Beginning

Friedrich Gernsheim was a talented pianist and composer with two strikes against him. He was a contemporary of Johannes Brahms, who overshadowed him during his lifetime. And he was a German Jew, so his legacy was (temporarily) erased by the Nazis.

The 21st Century seems to be kinder to Gernsheim, given the number of recent recordings devoted to his music. Toccata Classics launches a survey of Gernsheim's piano music beginning right at the beginning.

Pianist Jens Barnieck performs two of Gernsheim's juvenile sonatas and his Op. 2 set of preludes.

Gernsheim started composing at age seven. The two sonatas Barnieck's carefully reconstructed from manuscripts were written when Gernsheim about 14. The sonatas were written as composition assignments, but there is nothing academic -- or juvenile -- about them.

The sonatas show a composer strongly influenced by Beethoven, but not imitative of him. Gernsheim's harmonies seem to look forward to Schumann, giving these works their own voices.

The Six Preludes come much later, written when Gernsheim was 25. He was teaching at the Conservatory at Saarbrücken, working under Ferdinand Hiller. Gernsheim's preludes superficially resemble Chopin's, though differences soon become apparent.

Like Chopin, Gernsheim wrote to his pianistic strengths. Throughout the six preludes, there are cascading arpeggios, syncopated cross-rhythms, and large, knuckle-busting chords. And there are quiet, simple passages of great beauty.

Jens Barnieck performs with solid technique and real authority. He knows these works and understands Gernsheim in a way few modern pianists do. That understanding makes these works come alive. And makes me look forward to the rest of this series.

Friedrich Gernsheim: Piano Music, Volume One 
Piano Sonata No. 2 in E-flat major; Piano Sonata No. 3 in D minor; Six Preludes, Op. 2 
Jens Barnieck, piano 
Toccata Classics TOCC 0206

Monday, August 12, 2019

Lalande Grands Motets Evoke Grandeur

Michel-Richard de Lalande was a contemporary of Jean-Baptiste Lully and François Couperin. Like them, he served at the court of Louis XIV. Lalande's strength was composing grand motets; elegant, extravagant, grand music suited for the Royal Chapel at Versailles.

This release presents three examples. All three require a large orchestra (for the Baroque period, that is). All three have big choruses and brilliantly written vocal solos.

The earliest, De Profundis, dates from 1689. It's not as expansive as the other two works. Lalande follows the five-part à la française” style of Lully for his instrumental sections. The chorus weaves contrapuntal lines of great beauty and complexity.

The Venite exultemus Domino (1701) and Dominus regnavit (1704) are somewhat different. Lalande's music exudes royal pomp and grandeur. The counterpoint is reigned in, deployed now for the greatest dramatic impact. Heraldic flourishes decorate the instrumental passages.

The assembled musicians perform with accuracy and clarity. These recordings were made in the Chapelle Royale at Versailles -- the very space they were created for. There's a nice decay to the sound, establishing a sense of space.

Even so, the performances didn't quite hit the mark for me. They seemed to lack a little energy, and the overall sound had a softness to it. This release had more plusses than minuses. If French Baroque is your passion, you should give this release a listen.

Michel-Richard de Lalande: Grands Motets 
Chantal Santon-Jeffery, sporano; Reinoud Van Mechelen, countertenor; François Joron, tenor; Lisandro Abadie, baritone 
Les Pages & Les Chantres du Centre de musique baroque de Versailles; Collegium Marianum; Olivier Scheebeli, director Glossa GCD 924301

Friday, August 09, 2019

#ClassicsaDay #SummerClassics Weeks 1 and 2

It was a busy summer for the Classics a Day team. In June, we marked African-American Music Appreciation Month. In July we celebrated national holidays in the U.S. and  Canada. So that just left August to have a summer theme.

For my part, I chose to choose anything except Vivaldi's "Four Seasons." In the process, I discovered some interesting music (and composers) I'll explore further.

August 2019 began on a Thursday (making for a very short week). So here are my picks for the first nine days of #ClassicalSummer.

8/1/19 Anon. 13th C.: Sumer is icumen in

This is one of the earliest rounds preserved in music manuscript. It's from an abbey manuscript, c.1260. and is in the Wessex dialect of Middle English.

8/2/19 Joseph Suk: A Summer's Tale, Op. 29

This 1908 tone poem is part of a trilogy, which includes "The Ripening" and "Prague." "Summer's Tale" is the longest of the three and the most complex.

8/5/19 Philippe Chamouard: Madrigal d'été pour violoncelle et orchestre

Chamouard is a modern French composer who writes in a Neo-Romantic style. The 2016 Summer Madrigal is one of his most popular works.

8/6/19 Franz Joseph Haydn - The Seasons - Summer

The creation of Haydn's 1801 oratorio was prompted by the success of "The Creation." The tone-painting in the Summer section includes the musical depiction of croaking frogs.

8/7/19 Felix Mendelssohn - A Midsummer Night's Dream

Mendelssohn wrote the overture to Shakespeare's play when he was 17. The rest of the incidental music (including the Wedding March) was written 18 years later.

8/8/19 Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel - "August" from Das Jahr

Fanny Mendelssohn completed her piano work, "Das Jahr" (The Year) in 1841. Each of the 12 pieces depicts a different month.

8/9/19 Sigismond Thalberg - Variations on "The Last Rose of Summer," Op. 73

Thalberg was one of the most popular touring piano virtuosi of the mid-19th Century. He was also one of the most popular composers for the instrument. These variations on the Irish folk song were published in 1857.

Thursday, August 08, 2019

Galant Gossec Symphonies Entertain

François-Joseph Gossec was a major musical figure in the late 1700s. His influence didn't travel far outside of France. Within its boundaries, though, Gossec created a new aesthetic that inspired composers for decades.

Gossec fully embraced the aesthetic of classicism and injected it with some forward-looking innovations. This collection of his Opus 4 symphonies has plenty of examples. They were published in 1759, the year Haydn wrote his first symphony.

Though early, these works seem to have moved past the galant style. Gossec's ensembles have thick textures. Although strings do all the heavy lifting, Gossec employs horns to great effect.

There are big contrasts in dynamics. There's more than just the Mannheim Rocket going on here. Decrescendos are used as effectively as crescendos.

Syncopated rhythms and rallentandos are two more unusual features (for the time) that Gossec incorporates into his symphonies.

Simon Gaudenz leads the Deutsche Kammerakademie Neuss in some spirited performances. The musicians tear through the finales at terrific speeds, bringing these symphonies to some thrilling conclusions. They also dig into the music, making the most of Gossec's dynamic innovations.

Enjoyable from start to finish.

François-Joseph Gossec: Symphonies, Op. 4
Deutsche Kammerakademie Neuss; Simon Gaudenz, conductor
CPO 555 263-2

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

Karl Weigl 1934 Cello Concerto Presented to the World

Volume two of CPO's "Cello Concertos by Exiled Jewish Composers" features music by Karl Weigl. Given Weigl's prominence in Vienna, it's surprising he's so little-known today.

Weigl was Mahler's rehearsal pianist. He co-founded a concert series with Arnold Schoenberg and Bruno Walter. He studied with Robert Fuchs and taught Wolfgang Erich Korngold. And yet he was forced to leave Austria in 1938, relocating to New York City. The move essentially derailed his career.

Most of the work on this release was never performed in public -- including the cello concerto. Philosophically, Weigl meant to build on the foundations of Brahms and Wagner, rather than breaking with them like his colleagues Schoenberg and Berg.

The 1934 Cello Concerto is tonal, but it waffles between G minor and B-flat major. To my ears, it had the smooth flowing textures of Edward Elgar mixed with the fluid harmonies of Bohuslav Martinu.

Cellist Raphael Wallfisch delivers a terrific performance. He exploits the ambiguities of the score to full dramatic effect. The rich, sonorous sound of his cello seems appropriate this slightly (but deliberately) tonally unfocussed work.

The Sonata for Cello and Piano, written in 1923, is more closely related to Brahms. Weigl's melodies exude emotion, alive with lyrical spontaneity. Wallfish's playing exudes warmth, adding to the beauty of the work. Pianist Edward Rushton is an equal partner, keeping the thick, cascading harmonies in balance with the cello's single line.

The remaining works on the album were among those never publicly performed. The Two Pieces for Cello and Piano are short and sweet, as is the Menuetto for Cello and Piano.

The latter Weigl arranged from the slow movement of his viola sonata. It translates well, giving the cello an opportunity to really sing.

There's no sophomore slump here. Wallfisch and colleagues give us another solid entry in this series.

Karl Weigl: Cello Concerto; Cello Sonata
Cello Concertos from Exile, Vol. 2
Raphael Wallfisch, cello
John York, Edward Rushton, piano
Konzerthausorchester Berlin; Nicholas Milton, conductor

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

Kurt Atterberg Double Concerto Deserves Better Sound

This release marks the world premiere recording of Kurt Atterberg's Concerto for violin, cello, and orchestra. The Swedish composer once characterized the 1960 double concerto as the last piece of his music worth performing. Perhaps -- only two other works were written later.

The concerto is an interesting blend of old and new. Atterberg was ever the champion of Post-Romanticism. The works's structure and harmonies harken back to the practices of the early 1900s.

But the piece doesn't sound outdated. Atterberg is a skillful melodist. both violin and cello have beautiful passages that engage the listener. The music reminds a little of Dag Wiren and Vaughn Holmboe, two other Scandinavian composers unaffected by fashionable trends.

Also included is Barroco, Suite No. 5 for Chamber Orchestra, Op. 23. The work is inspired by Baroque music but sounds nothing like it. Rather, the sections seem a blend of Swedish folk music and late 17th Century orchestration (without the harpsichord).

I think the mix works quite effectively. The "Baroque" flavor gives the music a simplistic charm, enhanced by the tuneful, folklike melodies.

The Sinfonia for Strings, Op. 53 also exists as a string quintet. The string orchestra version adds double basses for a fuller sound. If you like string music by Elgar, Britten, or Sibelius, you'll enjoy this work.

The Örebro Chamber Orchestra directed by Thord Svedlund delivers sympathetic and effective performances. Soloists Amus Kerstin Andersson (violin) and Max Levin (cello) turn in fine performances. Their playing in the concerto seems collaborative at times, making it a team effort (rather than dueling artists).

The album was recorded in the Örebro Concerto Hall. To my ears, the ambiance was excessive. At best, it gave the music a kind of luminosity. Mostly, though, it just seemed to slightly smear the ensemble sound, taking away some of the music's detail.

Kurt Atterberg: Concerto for violin, cello, and orchestra in G minor-C major, Op. 57;  Barocco, Suite No. 5 for Chamber Orchestra, Op. 23; Sinfonia for Strings, Op. 53
Amus Kerstin Andersson, violin; Max Levin, violoncello
Örebro Chamber Orchestra; Thord Svedlund, conductor
Danacord DACOCD 836

Monday, August 05, 2019

Graupner Passion Cantatas II Maintain High Standard

In 1741 Christoph Graupner produced ten Passion Cantatas -- one for each Sunday of Lent. Volume 1 featured three of those cantatas; Volume 2 has three more, each uniquely shaped by the text Graupner sets.

Das Leiden Jesu von seinen Freunden GWV 1122/41 (Friend, why are you here) was for the Third Sunday of Lent. Graupner illustrates the despair of Judas' betrayal with grinding dissonances. They eventually resolve to end the cantata with hope -- but not too much. There are still six more Sundays to go before Easter.

Die Gesegnete Vollendung der Leiden Jesu GWV 1127/41 (Now everything is done; Jesus cries "It is finished.") is the last cantata in the series. It was performed on Good Friday and is the largest in scope of Graupner's Passion Cantatas.

Graupner adds a bassoon to the transverse flutes and oboes for a fuller sound. He also adds a number and greatly expands two others.

The soprano's aria "Weine über Jesus Schmerzen" is over eleven minutes long; the bass aria "Alles ist vollendet!" is runs more than eight minutes.

Gedenke Herr an die Scchmach - Die Schmähliche Verspottung GWV 1170/41 (Remember, O Lord, the scorning of your servants) is the seventh work in the cycle. Transverse flute illustrates the mocking of Jesus. They flit around over somber sustained chords of the choir and strings.

Florian Heyerick elicits wonderfully expressive performances. The voices of the Solistenensemble Ex Tempore blend beautifully with the Barokorchester Mannheimer Hofkapelle.

The soloists sing with rich, rounded tones and restrained expressiveness. These are intimate, small-scale performances -- appropriate for Lenten cantatas.

Christoph Graupner: Das Leiden Jesu
Passion Cantatas II
Solistensemble Ex Tempore
Barockorchester Mannheimer Hofkapelle; Florian Heyerick, director

Friday, August 02, 2019

#ClassicsaDay Revisits #NAFTAclassics Week 5

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 fifth and final week of #NAFTAclassics.

7/29/19 Juan Trigos (Mexican) - Symphony No. 4, Nezahualcoyotl Icuicahuan

Trigos calls his style "Abstract Folklore." He abstracts basic elements of folk music and uses them as building blocks for his classical compositions.

7/30/19 Charles Ives (American) - Country Band March

In this 1903 work, Ives depicts a performance by an unskilled (and underrehearsed) amateur ensemble. It's sometimes considered a parallel to Mozart's "Musical Joke."

7/31/19 Victor Rasgado (Mexican) - Concerto for Tuba and Orchestra

Rasgado is a concert pianist and composer. His impressive body of work includes concertos, chamber works, and a prize-winning chamber opera.

Thursday, August 01, 2019

Pianist Jinghu Zhao Launches Carl Czerny Series

Now, this is an ambitious recording project. Carl Czerny wrote over 1,000 works -- a substantial portion for solo piano. If you still collect CDs, you might want to clear a shelf for this series.

Volume one features five works, only one an entirely original Czerny composition. Variations, fantasies, and impromptus based on existing melodies were extremely popular in the early 1800s.

The album opens with L’Écho des Alpes Suisses, Livre 2, published in 1838. No. 1, Introduction & Variations brillantes sur l’air suisse Alles liebt Tout aime, Op. 428 follows a traditional theme and variations structure.

No. 2, Impromptu brillants sur un thème national Suisse, Op. 429 has a freer structure, and lets Czerny develop the theme in interesting and unexpected ways.

The 1844 Fantaisie sur des Mélodies de Beethoven, Op. 752 is based on "Gedenke mein!", a short song. Czerny studied with Beethoven, and was the soloist for the premiere of the "Emporer Concerto." He takes this modest little tune and develops it into a powerful pianistic tour-de-force -- much as Beethoven did with Diabelli's theme.

The Impromptu sentimental sur le thème ‘O nume benefico’ de l’opéra La Gazza ladra, de Rossini, Op. 523 benefits greatly from the quality of the source material. Czerny has a lot to work with, and he makes the most of it.

The solo original work, Hommage aux Dames, Op. 136 is actually the slightest on the album. It's a simple little Biedermeier confection.

Pianist Jingshu Zhao plays with remarkable precision and sensitivity. Her considerable technique is always in service to the music. We hear Rossini's melody sing out through the cloud of notes surrounding it. Beethoven's tune thunders with portent. The Swiss melodies exude charm.

I'm impressed -- and ready for the next of hopefully many volumes.

Carl Czerny: Piano Music, Volume One
Jinghu Zhao, piano
Toccata Classics