Monday, September 30, 2019

Spam Roundup September, 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.

Really lost in translation

 - Every advantage by rental your adornment jurisdiction of option. [I'd like to request a change of venue, please.]

 - Honest and disenchanting. This aim put down you employed independently and do Sunday-to-to-meeting with man-to-man post such as ruminant and else laborsaving content in your thinker. [Now that's using you thinker -- I think.]

 - Truly when someone doesn't understand then its up to other viewers that they will help so here it takes place. [I don't understand, so please -- help me out, dear viewer.]

This is what drives the spambots wild. Really.
"Lumbering along" still attracts the 'bots

The Straco Express Layout, Part 23 - Lumbering Along continues to draw in the comments. And none of them have anything to do with this short post about a  vintage Japanese tin toy.   

 - I simply could not go away your site prior to suggesting that I actually enjoyed the usual information. [OK, you've said it. Now go away.]

 - You may also improve the taste of this dish by topping up with salsa or cheese. [?!]

 - Since the traditional simulators were massive, it was very difficult to port it from one place to another. [Just stop right there.]

 - When someone writes a post he/she keeps the plan of a user in his/her brain that how a user can understand it. Thus that's why this article is perfect. [I could/couldn't agree/disagree more.]

And finally.

 - It's great to come across a blog every once in a while that isn't the same out of date rehashed material.

Isn't it just, though? Too bad I can't say the same for my commenters. Each month it gets a little more difficult to find a comment I haven't used here before. Until next month, keep using your thinker and remember -- if you want to improve your writing, top it with salsa or cheese.

Victoria Bond chamber music full of revelations

Not a lot of Victoria Bond's music has been recorded. To the best of my knowledge, this Naxos release marks the sixth her music's appeared on. And only the third album exclusively devoted to her music.

Bond has an active career as a conductor, but her catalog of works is also quite impressive. It includes 6 concertos, 10 operas,  6 ballets, and many other works.

This release features four works to give the listener some idea of Bond's talent. And it also shows how inspiration seems to come to her from anywhere and everywhere.

Instruments of Revelation is a ballet based on three Tarot cards; the Magician, the High Priestess, and the Fool. Each movement presents a miniature character study of one of the card's archetype. Bond weaves her musical tapestry out of melodies that seem to shift in and out of tonality.

Bond's 2008 work, "Frescoes and Ash" was inspired by images found in the ruins of Pompeii. Here a variety of instruments -- violin, clarinet, percussion, piano, and more -- evoke the spirit of ancient Rome. Bond's post-tonal music paints vivid pictures before it all fades away in the closing bars of the final movement. 

"Leopold Bloom's Homecoming" for baritone and piano is taken from James Joyce's "Ulysses." In the liner notes Bond says Joyces' "writing resembles the way I think – not in complete sentences, but in fleeting images and allusions, in a stream of consciousness." Bond's music follows the flow of the words. It does more than following the text, though. Bond's music brings out the emotional subtext, articulating what words cannot.

Binary was inspired by binary coding -- 0's and 1's. Bond's piano piece is a study in alternation. It's an angular, dissonant work that resolves in an unexpectedly exciting (and mostly tonal) fashion.

The members of the Chicago Pro Musica are fully invested in their performances. And that translates into an exciting, vibrant recording. 

Victoria Bond: Instruments of Revelation
Chicago Pro Musica

Friday, September 27, 2019

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalSchool Weeks 4 and 5

Traditionally, September is the back-to-school month. The Classics a Day team decided to mark the occasion. Classical School is the theme for September 2019. To participate, just post a piece of classical music that's somehow related to education with the appropriate hashtags.

What would count? Any classical work about school, or using themes from schools; examination pieces; composer tributes to their teachers (or students); etudes or other instructional works, just to name a few.

There's only one week day in the fifth week of the month. So below are my selections for the fourth week of #ClassicalSchool, plus a preview of next Monday's post!

9/23/19 John Philip Sousa - High School Cadets March

Sousa wrote this march in 1890 for the teachers and students of Central High School -- at that time the only high school in Washington, DC.

9/24/19 Sigmund Romberg - The Student Prince

Romberg's 1924 operetta tells the story of Prince Karl Franz, who attends Heidelberg University incognito. He falls in love with a commoner but must give her up when he's called to take the throne.

9/25/19 Einojuhani Rautavaara - Etudes, Op. 42

Some etudes are finger studies. Rautavaara's 1969 Etudes study intervals. The first etude, based on thirds, is the most consonant of the six.

9/26/19 Alexander Scriabin - Etude in D-sharp minor, Op. 8 No. 12

Vladimir Horowitz used this etude frequently as an encore. It features wide leaps in the left hand, continual octaves in the right, and intervals stretching up to an 11th. Not for beginners.

9/27/19 Clifton Williams - The Sinfonians March

This march was commissioned by the Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia Fraternity. Phi Mu Alpha was founded at the New England Conservatory of Music and is primarily for music students.

9/30/19 Benjamin Britten - Turn of the Screw

This 1954 opera is based on the gothic horror story by Henry James. It involves a governess whose care of two children in a haunted house goes horribly awry.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Light entertainment from new Eric Coates release

Eric Coates was the master of light classical music. His compositions were consistently tuneful, appealing, light-hearted and immediately appealing. All without being banal or trite. Now that's artistry!

This release launches a multi-disc recording cycle of Coates' orchestral music. John Wilson spent several years editing Coates' orchestral music. These new performing editions are the basis for Chandos' new series.

John Wilson conducts the BBC Philharmonic, and his deep knowledge of this material makes these definitive recordings. Wilson brings out the best in the scores. I've heard some recordings where the music sounds like fluff. Not here.

Wilson treats the music seriously, bringing out the heart-felt lyricism of the scores. Coates was a deft orchestrator, and echoes of this music can be heard in countless film score and radio production libraries of the postwar era.

Included are some of Coates' most popular works, including the Merrymakers and the London Suite. If you're looking for some entertaining music, get this disc. The BBC Philharmonic has a pleasantly full sound, with just a trace of room ambiance. Not recommended for classical music snobs (but definitely recommended for the rest of us).

Eric Coates: Orchestral Works, Vol. 1
BBC Philharmonic; John Wilson, conductor
Chandos CHAN 20036

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Marcy Rosen's Mendelssohn album welcome reissue

Felix Mendelssohn didn't write many pieces for cello and piano. Most of them were composed for his younger brother, an amateur cellist (and professional banker). Judging by the complexity of the two cello sonatas, Paul Mendelssohn must have been a very accomplished amateur.

The Sonata No. 1 in B-flat, Op. 48 is a large, three-movement work that really tests the lyric ability of the cellist. Sonata No. 2 in D major, Op. 58 is an even longer four-movement work that requires a higher level of technical proficiency from the performer.

Marcy Rosen and Lydia Artymiw deliver fine performances of both works. Their playing sound truly collaborative. I imagine this is what these works may have sounded like with the Mendelssohn brothers playing together.

Rosen's plays with a clear, singing tone that sounds quite fine in the upper register. Artymiw's playing is also first-rate, and the piano's recorded sound seems well-balanced across the register.

I especially liked the duo's performance of the second sonata. They imbue the music with energy that heightens the expressive nature of the work -- especially the slow movement.

Also included are three shorter works. The youthful Variations concertantes, Op. 17 has its charms. The cello part is simple but still offers plenty for a good musician to work with. And Rosen does so, her phrasing bringing out the simple beauty of the melodies.

The Lied ohne Worts, Op. 109 and Assai tranquillo are both quite short. But they're still two more opportunities to enjoy the artistry of Rosen and Artymow.

If you enjoy Mendelssohn, this album should be in your collection.

Felix Mendelssohn: Compete Works for Cello & Piano
Marcy Rosen, violoncello; Lydia Artymiw, piano
Bridge Records, 9501

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Grace Williams chamber music get deserved attention

Six Grace Williams chamber works receive their world premiere recordings with this release. It still leaves the bulk of her catalog unrecorded -- but it's an improvement. Williams was one of the most important composers to come from Wales (with William Mathias). She studied with Ralph Vaughan  Williams and Gordon Jacobs.

Their influence can be heard in these works, especially her prewar efforts. The 1930 Violin Sonata is full of rich, modal harmonies, especially in the slow movement. Williams' music has a folk-like quality to it, but it's more Welsh than English at its core.

Her Sextet for Oboe, Trumpet, and Piano Quartet is an unusual mix of instruments. And yet Williams makes it work. The style reminded me somewhat of early Benjamin Britten -- but Williams is her own woman. She skillfully uses the differences between oboe and trumpet to her advantage. Each instrument casts her motifs in a different light, giving the work a sonic richness and cohesion I found appealing.

The 1934 Suite for Nine Instruments leans closer to Stravinsky than RVW. Written for flute, clarinet, trumpet, piano, and string quartet, the work churns and roils, chromatic harmonies grinding against each other. The melodies also have an angular bent, giving this work an energetic and aggressive stance. As one contemporary reviewer wrote, it's "sturdy, easy to grasp,
thoughtful and attractive."

These days, Grace Williams is mostly known for her five-minute Elegy for Strings. This recording shows Williams was also a masterful composer of chamber music. Highly recommended.

Grace Williams: Chamber Music
Violin Sonata; Sextet; Suite for Nine Instruments
Madeleine Mitchell, Violin and Director; London Chamber Ensemble
Naxos 8.571380

Monday, September 23, 2019

Polish Lute Music of the Renaissance offer rare treats

Lute-playing was all the rage in the 1600s. The Italian, French, and English schools are well-represented with recordings. But other European courts were active musical centers. This release features lute music from Poland. It's an interesting blend of both cosmopolitan styles and native folk traditions.

Joachim Held performs with precision and delicacy. His interpretations are subtle but distinct. I heard clear differences between the works based on Italian models and those drawing from Polish dances. The album includes music by three prominent Polish lutenists, as well as a collection of anonymous works from Polish manuscripts.

The earliest known composer on the album is Jakub Polak. Active in the late 1500s, Polak served in the court of Henry III, both in Poland and France. Polak was renowned for his improvisations.  A hint of that can be heard in his written music, which has a fluidity to it.

The Italian composer and lutenist Diomedes Cato spent his professional life in Poland and Lithuania. His music follows the Italianate style. He also incorporated Polish dance music into his compositions.

Polish lutenist Albert Dlugoraj was a contemporary of Cato. Unlike Cato, his life was unsettled. He escaped his employer, the nobleman Samuel Zborowski. He was eventually returned. Dlugoraj then sent incriminating letters to the king, leading to Zborowski's execution. Dlugoraj fled to Germany to escape family retribution. Amid all this turmoil, he composed a large body of lute music, most of it quite fine. Several of his works set Polish melodies and dances.

Held's instrument is well-recorded, which for me added to the enjoyment of the music. The mic is close enough to capture the vibrations of the notes, while minimizing extraneous sounds, such as finger scrapings.

If you're familiar with Western European lute music, many of these pieces will sound familiar (but not overly so). The ones based on Polish folk music have a slightly exotic sound to them. I'd recommend this release to anyone interested in early music.

Polish Lute Music of the Renaissance
Joachim Held, lute
Hannsler Classics

Friday, September 20, 2019

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalSchool Week 3

Traditionally, September is the back-to-school month. The Classics a Day team decided to mark the occasion. Classical School is the theme for September 2019. To participate, just post a piece of classical music that's somehow related to education with the appropriate hashtags.

What would count? Any classical work about school, or using themes from schools; examination pieces; composer tributes to their teachers (or students); etudes or other instructional works, just to name a few.

Below are my selections for the third week of #ClassicalSchool

9/16/19 Benjamin Britten - Young People's Guide to the Orchestra

This popular work was commissioned by for a 1945 educational film "Instruments of the Orchestra." The film features the London Symphony Orchestra directed by Malcolm Sargent.

9/17/19 George Frideric Handel - Lecons for piano

These lessons come from a four-volume publication, Kompositionen für Klavier. The first two volumes have suites, the fourth fughettas. Volume three has Leçons, Fugues, and misc. pieces.

9/18/19 Ignaz Moscheles - Studien Op. 70

Moscheles was a piano virtuoso, composer, and pedagogue. His pupils include Felix Mendelssohn, Evard Grieg, and Arthur Sullivan.

9/19/19 Gustav Holst - St. Paul's Suite

Holst wrote the suite for the St.Paul's Girls' School in London. He taught there from 1905-1934, and the work was originally intended for the school's student orchestra.

9/20/19 Benjamin Britten - Variations on a theme by Frank Bridge, Op. 10

Britten had started and abandoned this tribute to his teacher many times. A commission by the Salzburg Festival did the trick. Britten finished the work, and its success launched his career.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Star Wind - outstanding chamber music by Vyacheslav Artyomov

This reissue from Divine Arts brings together several short chamber works by Vyacheslav Artyomov. Each work has its own unique combination of instruments, and (in a way) its own aesthetic.

The opening track, Star Wind, is a 1981 sextet featuring violin, cello, flute, French horn, piano, and glockenspiel. To me, it sounds like a very early work. Artyomov's mature style involves sculpting forms out of shifting sound clouds. To me, this work sounded as if it were written in a dodecaphonic style, with all the rigor that implies.

Nestling Antasali for flute and piano features the composer at the keyboard. His presence makes the performance an authoritative one. This set of theme and variations begins in strict 12-tone style. As it progresses, though, the form seems to loosen and expand. For me, it seemed as if Artyomov was transitioning into his mature style with this work. 

Moonlight Dreams for soprano, alto flute, cello, and piano sets English translations of 17th Century Chinese poems. There is a dreamlike quality in the sustained, slow-moving harmonies. Although atonal, the music seemed looser and less mathematical than that of Star Wind.

The Romantic Capriccio, for French horn, piano and string quartet dates from 1976 was written in tribute to Jean Sibelius. It's one of the most tonal works I've heard by Artyomov and contains passages of real beauty (especially for the horn).

Morning Songs is an interesting work for violin, flute, guitar, with a soprano singing behind a curtain. It casts the singer as a ghost or echo -- shading, but not affecting the instrumental trio.

The earliest work on the album is Scenes (Grand Pas). Written in 1971, for a ballet sequence, it's a jaunty little number full of rhythm and attitude. It reminded me a little of Alfred Schnittke -- in spirit, that is.

Some of these pieces hint at what Artyomov would become, and some show roads not taken. Thus, I wouldn't recommend "Star Wind" as an introduction to the composer. Best to start with one of his orchestral releases. But if you -- like me -- love Artyomov's music, this release is a must-have.

Vyacheslav Artyomov: Star Wind
Star Wind for violin, cello, flute, French horn, piano, and glockenspiel; Variations: Nestling Antsali for flute and piano; Moonlight Dreams for soprano, alto flute, cello, and piano; Romantic Capriccio for French horn, piano, and string quartet; Mattinate (Morning Songs) for soprano, violin, flute, and guitar;  Scenes (Grand Pas) for violin, clarinet, bass, piano, and percussion
Various artists
Divine Art

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Leshnoff: Symphony gives voice to the VIOLINS of HOPE

Jonathan Leshnoff is a  talented composer. And his fourth symphony is a well-constructed work. It has engaging themes, nicely shaped melodies, and a fresh take on tonality. But for me, it didn't have the desired effect.

The liner notes explain the concept of the work in great detail. The project Violins for Hope refurbishes instruments that survived the Holocaust -- even when their owners did not. These instruments that were once heard in concentration camps now ring out in concert hall. That's a concept that can stir powerful emotions.

Leshnoff's symphony was composed for the Nashville Symphony playing the Violins of Hope. Logically, Leshnoff draws on Jewish culture for his work. The liner notes carefully delineate all the Hebrew references and inspirations in the symphony.

On paper, it's a beautiful and inspiring concept. But I didn't hear any of it. The Violins of Hope, despite their history, are just violins - and they sound like any other violin. Leshnoff's symphony, despite all the Hebrew-inspired elements, doesn't sound especially Jewish.

I liked the symphony, and the Nashville Symphony performs it well. But I would have had the same reaction even if I hadn't read the liner notes.

The recording also includes two additional works by Leshnoff - the Guitar Concerto and his short orchestral work Starburst. Neither has an elaborate backstory, and neither needs one.

Jason Vieux plays the concerto with fire and spirit. I especially enjoyed his rapid passage-work and the ringing quality of his held notes.

In the end, it's not the extra-musical elements that matter, only the sound. And based solely on the sound, I can recommend this recording.

Jonathan Leshnoff: Symphony No. 4 "Heichalos"
featuring the VIOLINS of HOPE
Guitar Concerto; Starburst
Jason Vieaux, guitar
Nashville Symphony; Giancarlo Guerrero, conductor

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Rosemary Tuck delivers grand performance of Czerny concerto

This is the second Czerny recording by Rosemary Tuck, Richard Bonynge, and the ESO. That release featured the Grand Concerto in A minor. This one has Czerny's Second Grand Concerto, and it's equally grand.

Czerny studied with Beethoven and premiered two of his piano concertos as soloist. Czerny's Second Grand Concerto was started weeks after he premiered Beethoven's "Emperor" concerto. Both are in E-flat major, and both are over 40 minutes long.

Although this is a big work, it isn't too big. Czerny's in full command of his material. His themes are big, his pianistic gestures are big, and the development of his materials is expansive. Yet it's always easy to hear the connections between sections. And the overall structure of each movement is readily discernable.

Czerny was a prodigious pianist, and he didn't hold back in this score. There are cascading figures, keyboard-spanning arpeggios, and lightning-fast passages that require a high level of skill just to manage. Rosemary Tuck handles the task ably. Her touch is light and sure, the notes flying by in a shimmering stream of music.

She also brings out the underlying character of the music. We hear the grandness of the opening movement; the gentle reflection of the second, and the good-humored friskiness of the finale.

Also included is the 1829 Concertino in C major. As the name suggests, it's a lighter work, and Tuck plays it with a breezy light-heartedness. The Rondino on a favorite theme from Auber's "The Mason," has plenty of technical challenges. But at its heart, it's a song. And that's how Tuck performs it, bringing out the lyrical nature of even the most embellished variations.

The English Chamber Orchestra directed by Richard Bonynge is in fine form. They have a very big ensemble sound for the Grand Concerto and quite an intimate one for the Rondonino. Well-written music well-performed.

Carl Czerny: Second Grand Concerto in E-flat major
Concertino in C major, Op. 210/213; Rondino sur un Théme favori de l'Opéra "Le maçon"
Rosemary Tuck, piano
English Chamber Orchestra; Richard Bonynge, conductor
Naxos 8.573998

Monday, September 16, 2019

"A Bohemian in London" Showcases Baroque Rarities

The album title, "A Bohemian in London" refers to Moravian composer Gottfried Finger. Finger was a virtuoso viol player and played in James II's court orchestra. Later he attempted a career as a freelance composer, eventually giving up and leaving for Germany in 1701.

This collection of violin sonatas is a sampling of the over fifty Finger composed. Finger understood the capabilities of stringed instruments.

These sonatas eschew advanced techniques such as double stops, scordatura, etc. But they still require a great deal from the violinist in terms of dexterity and musicality.

Violinist Hazel Brooks delivers on both counts. Her easy facility with Finger's showier passages fully incorporates them into the melodic flow. She performs on a baroque violin, drawing a pleasantly rich, full sound from the instrument.

Keyboardist David Pollock provides the basso continuo. Some selections he accompanies with harpsichord, others with chamber organ. The contrast is most welcome, providing variety to the program.

To my ear, these sonatas resembled those of Corelli, with some minor differences in harmony and rhythmic patterns. I appreciate that these thirteen sonatas may be the best of the lot. And while they're not masterworks, Finger's sonatas are well-crafted and appealing. And that's something.

A Bohemian in London
Violin Sonatas by Gottfried Finger
Duo Dorado
Chaconne CHAN 0824

Friday, September 13, 2019

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalSchool Week 2

Traditionally, September is the back-to-school month. The Classics a Day team decided to mark the occasion. Classical School is the theme for September 2019. To participate, just post a piece of classical music that's somehow related to education with the appropriate hashtags.

What would count? Any classical work about school, or using themes from schools; examination pieces; composer tributes to their teachers (or students); etudes or other instructional works, just to name a few.

Below are my selections for the second week of #ClassicalSchool

9/9/19 Johann Sebastian Bach - Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach

Bach compiled two practice notebooks for his second wife, who played the harpsichord. They have both original works and arrangements of other composers' music.

9/10/19 Carl Czerny - The Art of Finger Dexterity, Op. 740

Czerny was a piano virtuoso and educator (he taught Franz Liszt). His collection of finger exercises is but one of many sets of etudes he wrote for student and professional improvement.

9/11/19 Johann Sebastian Bach: Clavier-Übung (keyboard practice)

Bch published four volumes of Clavier-Übung. These pieces were primarily for practicing technical skills rather than performance. The fourth volume is the Goldberg Variations.

9/12/19 Maria Szymanowska: Vingt exercises et préludes

Szymanowska was a leading concert pianist and salon music composer the early 1800s. She would eventually be overshadowed by Chopin, 11 years her junior.

9/13/19 Heitor Villa-Lobos' virtuoso 12 Études for guitar

Villa-Lobos wrote these etudes to serve two purposes. Each one focuses on a technical skill to master. And each was intended as virtuoso showpieces for public performance.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Steve Elcock chamber music series celebrates an original talent

Toccata Classics has already released the first volume of Steve Elcock's orchestral works. This collection of chamber music provides another facet to this composer's intriguing music. As a composer, Elcock's a recent discovery. For years he worked his day job, composing in his leisure time and filing his pieces away.

Unaffected by the demands of the professional music world, Elcock developed a tonal style that is remarkably original and appealing.

The majority of works on this release feature the clarinet. Elcock writes well for the instrument, taking advantage of the instrument's strengths and tonal qualities. The Clarinet Sextet, Op. 11b is a fine showcase for the instrument. Written for clarinet and string quintet, the work has a good-natured feel to it. Some of the passages reminded me of Malcolm Arnold.

The Shed Dances for clarinet and string trio is a set of six short dances. The names of the movements indicate their playful nature: Disgruntled Waltz, Leaden clog dance, Rampant scavenger, etc. The Veles Ensemble delivers, making this an enjoyable work through and through.

Elcock's String Trio No. 1 takes a different tack. The work begins in dissonance and gradually works towards consonance. To my ears, the opening reminded me of Bartok -- though the resolution is pure Elcock.

An Outstretched Hand for flute, clarinet, and piano quartet is the most serious work on the album. Partially inspired by the refugee crises, this 2015 work has a somber, unsettled feel. This is a mature work by a mature composer. This is the music of emotion, and Elcock communicates that emotion quite effectively.

The composer provides quite detailed liner notes with this release. In addition to providing background for each piece, he also provides in-depth analysis. There are a generous amount of musical examples provided as well.

Elcock's music stands on its own merits. You can enjoy these works without knowing a thing about them. But I encourage you to read the liner notes carefully and study the musical examples. If you're like me, it will lead to a deeper appreciation of Elcock's artistry.

Steve Elcock: Chamber Music, Vol. 1
Clarinet Sextet, Op. 11b, for clarinet and string quintet; String Trio No. 1, Op. 8b; The Shed Dances, Op. 26b, for clarinet and string trio; An Outstretched Hand, Op. 24, for flute, clarinet and piano quartet
The Veles Ensemble
Toccata Classics TOPCC 0506

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Oliver Triendl connects with Reizenstein Concerto

When it comes to piano concertos, Franz Reizenstein is best remembered for his "Concerto Populaire," his contribution to the Hoffnung Festivals. The 1961 Piano Concerto No. 2 is more serious, but in both, I hear a desire to connect with the audience.

Reizenstein premiered the work at the keyboard. There's plenty for the pianist to do, and for the listener to hear. Oliver Triendl blasts through the difficult passages with ease, and often with a bit of flair. His performance does much to sell the concerto.

There were some passages -- especially the arpeggios early in the first movement --  that seemed a little weak. But as the concerto progressed, Reizenstein's music became more complex and substantial. Triendl's performance convinced me to keep listening -- and I'm glad I did. The final movement was worth the wait.

Also included is Reizenstein's Serenade in F major. Originally written for nine wind instruments, Reizenstein reworked the Serenade for small orchestra. A contemporary critic wrote that the work was "within [its] limits, admirably satisfying, though perhaps more to play than to listen to.”

As a listener, I found the Serenade quite satisfying. The clarity of the music and the cleanly delineated motifs reminded me of Paul Hindemith. And the material is worked out with the same intellectual rigor. But it still succeeds as music, rather than an intellectual exercise. Reizenstein's well-crafted melodies evoke emotional responses from the listener (or at least this listener).

The "Cyrano de Bergerac" concert overture harks back to the tone poems of Richard Strauss. If Strauss was crossed with Sergei Prokofiev, that is. Reizenstein's lush orchestration seems to have a slight acidity to it. I enjoyed the work, but it seemed to me that Reizenstien in 1954 couldn't quite conjure up the musical world of the 1890s. Far too much had happened to music, and to Reizenstein in the interim. 

Franz Reizenstein: Piano Concerto No. 2
Serenade in F major; Overture "Cyrano de Bergerac"
Oliver Triendl, piano
Nürnberger Symphoniker; Yaron Traub, conductor

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Joseph Elsner Chamber Music - Pre-Romantic Offerings from Poland

Who was Josef Elsner? Outside of Poland, he's known (if at all) as Frederick Chopin's teacher. In Poland, he's best known as a composer of sacred music -- his masses, oratorios, and cantatas are still frequently performed. Elsner, like Antonin Dvorak, fused native folk traditions with classical forms, creating a national classical music style.

Profil's four-CD set provides additional insight to this talented composer -- both for those inside and outside Poland. These recordings have been issued before, but bringing them together makes sense.

The keyboard(s) used in all of these recordings is a fortepiano rather than a modern piano, giving additional insight into Elsner's compositional process.

Although Elsner taught Chopin, you won't hear pre-echoes on the younger composer here. Elsner's musical language is more of a late Classical than early Romantic style. The Op. 10 violin sonatas are a good example. Stylistically, they resemble Beethoven's (with a little less fire). Themes are clearly stated and worked out in a logical fashion. Harmonies are mostly triads, almost Mozartian in simplicity.

Especially surprising are the three piano sonatas. Published in 1805, they sound very much like Haydn's later sonatas. Chopin's first published work, the 1817 Polonaise in G minor sounds far more complex than Elsner's efforts. But listening for what's there -- instead of what isn't -- I heard three well-written late-Classical sonatas.

Elsner's Op. 8 string quartets, published in 1789, land somewhere between Beethoven and Haydn stylistically. I recently reviewed another recording of these works (also played with authentic instruments). I prefer the sound of the Hoffmeister Quartet on this release.

Across the board, I found the performances quite good. I couldn't say the same for the sound of the instruments, though. Period instruments can provide added insights into the music. But sometimes they can detract from it. The violins seemed a little squeaky at times, especially when moving to the upper register. And the overtones of the fortepiano had a bit of an edge that wasn't always pleasant.

These were minor distractions, though. Overall I enjoyed my exploration of Elsner's chamber music. I'm now curious to hear some of his orchestral works.

Josef Elsner - Chamber Music
String Quartets; Violin Sonatas; Fortepiano Sonatas & Rondi; Fortepiano Duet; Fortepiano Trio
Trio Margaux; Hoffmeister Quartet
Profil PH19033
4 CD Set

Monday, September 09, 2019

Per-Sonat gives Kaiser Maximilian I court music regal treatment

Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor (1508-1519) is known for many things. He established the Hapsburg Dynasty in Spain, wrested the Empire from Papal control -- and was a great patron of the arts. This release samples some of the music heard in Maximilian's court.

Most of the works are chansons and lieder, leavened by some courtly dances. Many of the pieces have slow tempos. For me, the overall effect of the program seemed to create a blend of serenity, spirituality, and courtly reserve. And perhaps that was the point.

Per-Sonat delivers wonderfully luminous performances. The softness of the stringed instruments blends beautifully with Sabine Lutzenberger's creamy mezzo-soprano. Some selections feature other voices: Achim Schulz, Richard Resch, Bernd Oliver Fröhlich (tenors), and Joel Frederiksen. The blend of voices introduces a little grit into the mix that I quite liked.

The composers are ones often featured on such recordings: Josquin des Prez, Heinrich Isaac, Johannes Ockeghem, and Adrian Willaert. But there were other, lesser-known composers such as Antoine de Févin and Paul Hofhaimer that added interest.

Overall, I think Per-Sonat successfully depicted the court of Maximilian I or at least one aspect of it. If you're familiar with the woodcut panels Maximilian commissioned from Albrecht Dürer or Hans Burgkmair, these works complement those images nicely.

Kaiser Maximilian I: Lieder, Chansons, Tanze 
Per-Sonat; Sabine Lutzenberger, director 

Saturday, September 07, 2019

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalSchool Week 1

Traditionally, September is the back-to-school month. The Classics a Day team decided to mark the occasion. Classical School is the theme for September 2019. To participate, just post a piece of classical music that's somehow related to education with the appropriate hashtags.

What would count? Any classical work about school, or using themes from schools; examination pieces; composer tributes to their teachers (or students); etudes or other instructional works, just to name a few.

Below are my selections for the first week of #ClassicalSchool

9/2/19 Samuel Barber: School for Scandal Overture, Op. 5

This concert overture was Barber's first work for full orchestra. It's based on the 1777 comedy of manners by Richard Sheridan

9/3/19 Franz Liszt - Transcendental Etudes

These 12 etudes were first written when Lizst was 15, and revised much later. He dedicated them to his own piano teacher, Carl Czerny.

9/4/19 John Playford - The English Dancing Master

This 1651 dancing manual featured tunes and detailed instructions for English country dances. It went through over 30 editions and revisions between 1651 and 1728.

9/5/19 William Billings - The Singing School

Billings' various hymn collections were written for amateur choirs. He often led "singing schools," teaching laypeople to sing in four-part harmony.

9/6/19 Muzio Clementi - Gradus ad Parnassum

The title means "Steps to Parnassus," where the Greek muses lived. Clementi intended to lead the student to the height of piano proficiency through the sequential etudes in "Gradus."

Thursday, September 05, 2019

Iván Eröd String Quartets - Finely Crafted

I'm always wary of liner notes that read like manifestos. Iván Eröd was a Hungarian composer who was inspired by Bela Bartok and Zoltan Kodaly. His music incorporated some of their concepts while remaining primarily tonal.

The booklet is full of things like, "[Eröd] broke with the dogmas of the then-prevalent avant-garde and also refused to align with an ultraconservative tonal language..." And each of the three quartets gets an exhaustive analysis. "..based on a multi-layered diatonic-model tonality.." and such like.

But none of that really matters. A minority of listeners pick up on arch forms and gapped scales. What matters is the emotional experience. Doe these works have something to say? And is that communicated to the listener?

I would say yes to both. The three quartets were written over a wide span of time. String Quartet No. 1 was composed by a 21-year old Eröd in 1954. The second was written in 1980, and the third quartet in 2003.

The three quartets show the growth of the composer. String Quartet No. 1 is very much a Bartokian work, with modal harmonies and melodic motifs borrowed from Hungarian folk music. In the second, the influences are more fully integrated.

The third quartet is the work of a master. Eröd skillfully weaves lines together in complex polyphony.

Bottom line: all three quartets are finely-crafted works that can be enjoyed for their own merits. I'd recommend listening to the recording all the way through before reading a word of the liner notes.

While I enjoyed the music, I didn't like the recording itself. The strings sound a little too bright, with an almost metallic edge. The ensemble -- as recorded -- doesn't completely blend together. I think pulling the mics back might have helped with that.

Iván Eröd: String Quartets 
Accord Quartet 

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

Walter Braunfels Fantastical Apparitions Quite the Thrill Ride

The seventh release in Capriccio's Walter Braunfels series features two important compositions -- his massive set of Berlioz variations, and his final orchestral work.

The "Phantastische Erscheinungen eines Themas von Hector Berlioz" (Fantastical Apparitions Of a Theme by Hector Berlioz)  took three years to complete. Clocking in at just over 50 minutes, "Apparitions" is as much a thrill ride as Berlioz's Symphony Fantastique.

Braunfels was a masterful orchestrator, and this work has everything from big, sweeping orchestral gestures to intimate, pared-down passages that emulate chamber music.

Completed in 1917, the work rests on a lush bed of Post-Romantic Viennese harmonies. For me there's no other way to describe the rich quality of this music.

Braunfels' 1948 Sinfonia brevis seems based on a different aesthetic. Braunfels remained a tonal composer, but his final orchestral work seems tighter and more focused.

The harmonies are sparser, and the orchestrations leaner. While the melodies are quite beautiful, there's a no-nonsense quality about this sinfonia. "Apparitions" seemed in no hurry to set up its musical premises and develop them. The sinfonia did so in a more efficient and concise manner.

Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz directed by Gregor Buhl does a fine job with both works. Buhl seems to approach each score on its own terms. He draws a warm, creamy sound from the orchestra for "Apparitions." And has the same ensemble play in a reserved, slightly astringent fashion for the sinfonia.

Braunfels was one of many German composers whose career was derailed by the Nazis. Recordings like this help bring his remarkable music back into the light.

Walter Braunfels: Fantastical Apparitions of a Theme by Hector Berlioz, Op. 25; 
Sinfonia Brevis, Op. 69
Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz; Gregor Buhl, conductor
Capriccio C5354

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

Marcy Rosen gives thoughtful performance of Grieg and Strauss

If you're of a certain age, you may have fond memories of the Musical Heritage Society. The MHS was a record club that offered great music in strictly generic packaging.

Originally the MHS licensed music from Erato and other classical labels. Eventually under their own label MusicMasters, they made their own recordings -- like this release of Richard Strauss and Edvard Grieg cello sonatas with Marcy Rosen.

Richard Strauss was 19 when he wrote the Cello Sonata in F major. Marcy Rosen and Susan Walters lean heavily into the full-bodied Romantic harmonies and evocative melodies.

Especially beautiful is their performance of the slow movement. The singing tone of Rosen's cello brings out the expressive lyrism of the music.

Edvard Grieg's Sonata was written a year earlier than Strauss'. Grieg was 39, and his sonata has a more mature sound. The emotional content is there, but it's woven into the structure of the music rather than exposed on its surface.

Rosen and Walters deliver thoughtful performances. There are plenty of exciting passages, but overall I heard the music unfold in a calm, rational manner.

This is an excellent, albeit old, recording. The instruments are nicely balanced, and the overall sound is clear and clean. But the level of fine detail isn't quite what one can get with modern digital recording equipment. That's not a minus -- it also imbues the sound with a natural warmth I found quite appealing.

Glad to have this one back in print.

Cello Sonatas of Richard Strauss and Edvard Grieg 
Richard Strauss: Sonata in F major, Op. 6 
Edvard Grieg: Sonata in A minor, Op. 36 
Marcy Rosen, cello; Susan Walters, piano 
Bridge Records 9512

Monday, September 02, 2019

Fred Jacobs bring Kapsperger theorbo music to light

To some, this might seem like a hyper-specialized release. It's a collection of early 17th Century music by Giovanni Kasprerger (who?) virtuoso of the theorbo (what?). And it's not just theorbo music, but music specifically written for the Papal Court. But the end result -- the music and the performance -- should appeal to all.

The theorbo is basically an over-sized lute -- in the same sense that the cello is an over-sized violin. And like the cello, the theorbo was often used to reinforce the bass line as part of Baroque basso continuo. But like the cello, it can sound quite beautiful on it's own -- as it does here.

Giovanni Kapspserger was a talented lute and theorbo player. In this collection, he writes for the theorbo as if it were just a lower-pitched lute. Melodies are underscored with intricate accompanying figures. Counterpoint is prevalent.

Fred Jacobs performs it all with sensitivity and alacrity. His fingers seem to glide across the strings, carefully shaping melodic phrases. He skillfully balances foreground melodies with background harmonies, bringing these beautifully crafted miniatures to life.

Although the theorbo has a greater volume capacity than the lute, it's still a soft-spoken instrument. The microphones sound like their right on top of the strings and the performer. I could hear the intake of breath as Jacobs performed. And I could hear his fingertips skitter across the strings. But that was all to the good.

It was an intimate recording of an intimate instrument. Kapsperger wrote these pieces for a small gathering in a small room. Everything about this music is quiet and introspective.

The theorbo (compared to the lute) has a rich, mellow tone. Its lower range also gives it some warmth that I associate with the guitar. If you enjoy classical guitar music, I encourage you to give this recording a listen. It really is for anyone who just enjoys good classical music.

Fred Jacobs, theorbo
Giovanni Girolamo Kapsperger: Virtú e Nobilitá
Theorbo Music in Baroque Rome
Metronome METCD 1093