Saturday, November 30, 2019

Spam Roundup November, 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.

Life Lessons

This month  I received a bunch of enigmatically written comments. I can only assume that there's profound wisdom buried in there somewhere.

 - Cut the full lace wig, pre-bond double sided tape to fit your hairline. [I look better already!]

 -  Quality article is the secret to be a focus for the users to visit the site.

 - What a information of un-ambiguity and preserveness of precious know-how on the topic of unpredicted feelings. [If only this comment wasn't so ambiguous.]

There it is. The friction toy that launched a thousand
blog comments.
"Lumbering along" with spam

There's something deeply appealing about The Straco Express Layout, Part 23 - Lumbering Along to spambots. This month they all seemed overly-impressed with the importance of this 

 - Definitely believe that which you said. Your favorite reason appeared to be on the net the simplest thing to be aware of.  [I stand behind every word -- about this cheap Japanese toy.]

 - I'm glad that you shared this useful info with us. Please keep us up to date like this. [Sure. Maybe I should start a monthly newsletter about vintage Nomura 3-inch friction cars.]

 - You ought to begin your movie campaign right here. [Well, if you can make a movie about the game Battleship, that might not be a bad idea. Below is a rough cut of what I'll be using in my studio pitches.]

Thought for the day

 - They might even give you an idea of what furniture they like.

They might, indeed. Keep those feelings unpredictable! 

Friday, November 29, 2019

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalEleven Week 4

Numbers have meaning. But meaning can depend on context. The Classics a Day team made "eleven" the theme for November, the eleventh month. The challenge is to post performances of classical music that involve the number.

I chose a mix. Some pieces involve eleven players. Some are the eleventh type of piece by a composer. Some are the eleventh published work. Some had the number eleven assigned to them in some way by a cataloger.

There are many ways to arrive at #ClassicalEleven - here are my choices for the fourth and final week.

11/25/19 David Conte - Sinfonietta for 11 instruments

This work is a transcription of Conte's Sinfonietta. Conte created the chamber music version for a 2015 concert honoring his 60th birthday.

11/26/19 Louis Spohr - Violin Concerto No. 11 in G major, Op. 70

Spohr is credited with 18 violin concertos -- three without opus numbers. No. 11 was composed and premiered in 1827.

11/27/19 Arnold Schoenberg - Drei Klavierstucke, Op. 11

These 1909 compositions are some of Schoenberg's earliest experiments with atonality. Even so, there's a lyrical element to these works his later strict dodecaphonic writing would deliberately avoid.

11/28/19 Heitor Villa-Lobos - Etude No. 11

This etude is of Villa-Lobos' "Twelve Études for Guitar." No. 11 is basically arpeggios, with challenging left-hand stretches.

11/29/19 Igor Stravinsky - Ragtime for Eleven Instruments

This 1918 work is part of a trilogy reflecting Stravinsky's interest in jazz (A Soldier's Tale and Piano-Rag-Music are the other two). Balanchine choreographed in the piece in the 1960s.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Two takes on Thanksgiving

I'm always interested in how things change over time. Thanksgiving is a good example. After the first Thanksgiving (I'm talking about the one in Plymouth), there were yearly proclamations of thanks and special church services. But nothing formalized or standard until Abraham Lincoln fixed the date in 1863.
The old-school idea of the Pilgrims. Here comes trouble.

Only after the Civil War did the holiday become established with its own symbols, phrases, and traditions. Until fairly recently, the holiday (in part) marked the heroic survival of the Pilgrims during their first hard winter in New England.

The details of that story were always somewhat blurred by the holiday. The Pilgrims weren't a unified group. Some were Separatists, others just tradesmen and adventurers sharing the ride. The role of the Native Americans was virtually written out of the narrative. There's disagreement as to which colony actually held the first Thanksgiving in America, and so on.

These days, it seems that Thanksgiving is just a signpost between Halloween and Christmas (I mean, who dresses up like a Pilgrim?). The role of the holiday keeps changing. It's a national holiday -- with every retailer open for business.

Tradition still plays a strong role -- family traditions. I think most families have must-have Thanksgiving menu items. And the day's structure; when to eat, when to watch the bowl games, etc. And I suspect that if we could fast-forward a few decades some of those traditions would be changed as well.

This early 20th Century postcard shows just how far we've drifted
from the old Pilgrim narrative. Yeah, it's a hot mess, but this is actually
what we'll be doing this holiday. Driving a long distance with the fixing
for the holiday meal (but none of it still alive).

I'm writing this the week before Thanksgiving so I can spend time with my family. That's my tradition. And it's one that hasn't changed in over a half a century. Have a good holiday everyone.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Ockeghem Songs Blue Heron's latest and greatest

There are two things I can count on: blue-chip stocks, and Blue Heron recordings. The former retain their value year after year. The latter produces top-flight recordings.

This new release is no exception. It's the first installment of a new series, traversing the songs of 15th Century composer Johannes Ockeghem.

Ockeghem was one of the most influential composers of his day and an important member of the Netherlandish School.

This release features eleven of Ockeghem's secular songs. The texts come from French court poetry. Ockeghem's music infuses these mannered texts with vitality.

Blue Heron performs to their usual high standards. Their balance between blended voices and individual singers is perfect. I could trace the threads of Ockeghem's complex counterpoint, while still enjoying the overall effect of the music.

Some tracks have instrumental support, though of a limited form. This helps vary the program and adds to the overall listening experience.

Blue Heron continually explores the early music repertoire for the unusual and under-performed. According to their website, the ensemble will be performing Ockeghem's complete works over a series of thirteen concerts. I don't know how many CDs that translates into, but I'm in.

Johannes Ockeghem: Complete Songs, Vol. 1
Blue Heron; Scott Metcalfe, director
Blue Heron BHCD 1010

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Michel Yost Clarinet Concertos approach Mozart

Michèl Yost was not only one of the greatest clarinetists of the late 1700s. He was also one of the cofounders of the French school of clarinet playing. Like other virtuosos of his age, Yost wrote concertos to perform in concert. This release presents three of his fourteen concertos.

Stylistically, the concertos resemble Mozart's. They follow the three-movement form of the day; sonata-allegro first movement with cadenza; slow, lyrical middle movement; light, and breezy finale. The cadenzas are particularly interesting, as they provide insight into Yost's considerable ability.

Clarinetist Susanne Heilig plays with a full, clear tone. She navigates difficult passages with deft agility, lightly zipping up and down the scales. Her phrasing adds to the beauty of Yost's melodies. His music may be primarily written for show, but the fireworks are framed by some pleasantly tuneful passages.

I also enjoyed the sound of the Kurpfälzisches Kammerorchester. This 14-member ensemble specializes in the music of the Mannheim School and its offshoots (like Yost's compositions). The sound of this compact ensemble is buoyant and clear. Yost wrote music to entertain and/or impress audiences, and the lightness of the sound perfectly conveys that intent.

The chamber orchestra also performs a symphony by Johann Christoph Vogel. Vogel, though German, spent most of his career in Paris. He was a close friend of Yost, and the two sometimes collaborated on compositions. His Symphony in D major, written around the same time as Yost's concertos, is very similar in style.

What makes this release appealing are the performances. Neither Yost nor Vogel is Mozart (or Haydn, for that matter). But the sympathetic and energetic readings their music receives elevates their music just a little closer to Mozart's level. 

Michel Yost: Clarinet Concertos Nos. 6, 12, & 14
Johann Vogel: Symphony in D major
Susanne Heilig, clarinet
Kurpfälzisches Kammerorchester; Marek Stilec, conductor
CPO 555 191-2

Monday, November 25, 2019

Spielleyt delights with early Christmas music

The early music ensemble Spielleyt serves up a fresh approach to classical music of the season. Weihnacht der Spielleyt primarily consists of selections from one publication: the Straßburger Gesangbuch of 1697.

Technically, this collection came out in the middle of the Baroque period. But most of the songs are much older than that. And Spielleyt peels the layers away to reveal their Medieval and Renaissance origins.

The ensemble plays a variety of early music instruments; lute, hurdy-gurdy, viols, Celtic harp, recorders, and so on. The ensemble follows the outlines of the music from the Gesangbuch. That is the melody and the bass line.

By swapping out viol and hurdy-gurdy for the expected cello and harpsichord, the ensemble changes the character of the music. To my ears, these selections sound neither Baroque nor completely Renaissance. Rather, they're somewhere in between, almost in the realm of folk music.

Soprano Regina Kabis sings with a clear, pure tone. She uses vibrato sparingly, which also adds to the "ancient" sound of these performances.

There are some familiar selections from Tielman Susato's Danserye and Michael Praetorius' Terpsichore. For the most part, though, the tunes were new to me. I think that added to the appeal. I could listen to the Spielleyt's interpretations on their own terms, rather than comparing them the way I thought they "should" go.

I think Spielleyt was successful in their experiment. This release should appeal to fans of early music -- and especially those who enjoyed Spielleyt's previous releases.

Weihnacht der Spielleyt
Strassburger Gesangbuch (1697)
Spielleyt - Early Music Frieburg
Christorphorus CHE0218-2

Friday, November 22, 2019

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalEleven Week 3

Numbers have meaning. But meaning can depend on context. The Classics a Day team made "eleven" the theme for November, the eleventh month. The challenge is to post performances of classical music that involve the number.

I chose a mix. Some pieces involve eleven players. Some are the eleventh type of piece by a composer. Some are the eleventh published work. Some had the number eleven assigned to them in some way by a cataloger.

There are many ways to arrive at #ClassicalEleven - here are my choices for the third week.

11/18/19 Henry Cowell - Symphony No. 11 "Seven Rituals of Music"

According to Cowell, there are seven rituals of music in one's life: birth, work, play, dance, love, war, and death. This 1954 work depicts all of them.

11/19/19 Muzio Clementi - Toccata in B-flat, Op. 11

Clementi's 1784 sonata was first published by John Kerpden of London. Clementi was based in the city, involved with both performing and piano manufacturing.

11/20/19 Franz Schubert - "Der Spiegelritter" D.11

"The Mirror Knight" was an unfinished singspiel Schubert worked on in 1811. Only the overture and five musical numbers were completed.

11/21/19 George Fridrich Handel - "Amadigi di Gaula" HWV 11

This was the fifth Italian opera Handel wrote for English audiences. The 1714 opera was successful, with runs in London and Hamburg (1717-1720).

11/22/19 Dominico Scarlatti - Keyboard Sonata in C minor, K. 11

This sonata was first published in "Essercizi per Gravicembalo." The 1738 collection included 30 keyboard exercises written by Scarlatti.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Auber Overtures -- great music, disappointing sound

This release is the first volume of a Daniel-François-Esprit Auber recording series. When finished, it will include all of Auber's overtures. And that includes 31 opéras-comiques, seven opéras, three drames lyriques, and seven other stage works.

Auber is mostly known for Fra Diavolo. The comic opera was an international hit when it premiered and is still performed today.

But with over 40 dramatic musical works in Auber's catalog, there's obviously a lot more to explore. Of the eight works featured in this release, seven are world premiere recordings.

Auber was one of the most popular opera composers in France. He had a natural gift for melody and a strong sense of theatrical story-telling. Both those skills are apparent in this music.

Although billed as a collection of overtures, quite a few entre'act preludes are included. It makes for a fine collection of music, similar in effect to say, an instrumental collection of Rossini or Offenbach.

I'm excited about the concept of this new Auber series, but not so much about its execution. I found the actual recording a little disappointing. I've heard recordings of the Cezch Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra Pardubice before, and I've generally liked them.

Here, though, the ensemble texture sounded a little thin for the material. And the recording seemed a little dull, and lacking in fine detail. These issues may be just in the recording process.

Naxos previously started an Auber overture series with Wolfgang Dorner and the Orchestre de Cannes. I believe it only lasted one volume. I hope this new series succeeds -- but something has to be done about that sound.

Daniel-François-Esprit Auber: Overtures
Le Maçon, Le Timide, Leicester, Le Séjour militaire, Emma, a Neige, Le Testament et les Billets doux, Le Bergère châtelaine
Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra Pardubice; Dario Salvi, conductor
Naxos 8.574005

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Leopold Kozeluch - Symphonies Vol. 3 continues apace

Bohemian composer Leopold Kozeluch wrote about thirty symphonies. Even though this is volume three, there's still quite a ways to go.

The Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra Pardubice continue their traversal with Mark Stilec, the conductor. The ensemble performs with lightness and energy, enhancing the classic elegance of Kozeluch's music.

In general, I'd characterize these works as comparable to mid-career Mozart. They're all relatively modest in scope. And yet their musical themes are all logically developed and reach satisfying conclusions.

The most interesting of the four works is the Sinfonia in B-flat major, "L'Irrésolu." (The Undecided). This symphony features bold, dramatic contrasts in dynamics and mood -- almost as if the composer couldn't decide on a direction for the piece to take.

Overall a fine addition to this series. Kozeluch may not have been Mozart's equal, but he was certainly close in talent and imagination.

Leopold Kozeluch: Symphonies, Vol. 3
Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra Pardubice; Filip Dvorak, harpsichord; Marek Stilec, conductor
Naxos 8.574047

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Mieczyslaw Weinberg Works for Violin & Piano works for me

Ewelina Nowicka is a composer as well as a violinist. I think it's that additional talent that makes this recording special. Nowicka and pianist Milena Antoniewicz perform three early postwar works by Mieczyslaw Weinberg.

Weinberg was one of the composers endangered by the Zhdanov Doctrine (along with his good friend Dmitri Shostakovich). He managed to reign in his style to create consonant works that would meet with Party approval.

The three works in this program all certainly do that. But there's an element of subversiveness to them as well. And buried even deeper is a hint of Weinberg's Jewish heritage.

Nowicka's performances go beyond the notes to bring out those underlying elements. I believe it was in part because she, as a composer, connected with Weinberg on a deeper level.

There's a hint of jazz in concertino. The sonatina has sections where Nowicka bends the notes, reminiscent of Hebrew folk music.

Even the Rhapsody on Moldavian Themes isn't just a pretty setting of pleasing folk tunes. Rather, there's a slight restlessness to the music that keeps it moving forward.

This is a recording of exceptional performances. But it's not an exceptional recording. I don't like the sound of the piano. I think the mics were placed a little too far back, and it has a hollow, overly-resonant sound. It's not enough to ruin the listening experience, but it slightly tip the balance of the two instruments.

Mieczyslaw Weinberg: Works for Violin and Piano
Concertino for Violin and Piano, Op. 42; Sonatina for Violin and Piano in D major, Op. 46; Rhapsody on Moldavian Themes, Op. 47, No. 7
Ewelina Nowicka, violin; Milena Antoniewicz, piano

Monday, November 18, 2019

Anne-Marie McDermott launches Mozart series

Anne-Marie McDermott's new Mozart series starts off with two showcase concertos.

The Piano Concerto in C major, K. 415 was one of three Mozart wrote in 1783 to spotlight his talent as a composer and performer. The Piano Concerto in B-flat major, K. 238 was featured in Mozart's 1777 European tour with his sister Nannerl.

While both works were written to dazzle and impress audiences, they're also music of substance. McDermott understands that and her interpretations balance virtuosity with taste.

She plays with a light, deft touch. Her performances provide plenty of expression, just with no wasted motion. To me, her elegant delivery is perfect for Mozart's music.

The Odense Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Scott Yoo,  has a fine recorded sound. They were the ensemble for a previous Mozart concerto series from Bridge. As always, their ensemble sound is clean and transparent -- ideally suited for Mozart.

Ms. McDermott is going to be quite a busy recording artist. She already has a Haydn piano series underway, and now she's adding a Mozart piano concerto series. Both composers wrote a lot of piano music, so each of these series will span several volumes.

That's fine with me. I've enjoyed every release so far-- including this one.

Mozart: Piano Concertos, Vol. 1
Piano Concertos K. 415, K. 238
Anne-Marie McDermott, piano
Odense Symphony Orchestra; Scott Yoo, conductor
Bridge Records 9518

Friday, November 15, 2019

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalEleven Week 2

Numbers have meaning. But meaning can depend on context. The Classics a Day team made "eleven" the theme for November, the eleventh month. The challenge is to post performances of classical music that involve the number.

I chose a mix. Some pieces involve eleven players. Some are the eleventh type of piece by a composer. Some are the eleventh published work. Some had the number eleven assigned to them in some way by a cataloger.

There are many ways to arrive at #ClassicalEleven - here are my choices for the second week.

11/11/19 Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - Symphony No. 11 in D major, K. 84

19th Century copies of the score attributed this 1770 work to either Leopold Mozart or Carl Dittersdorf. The current scholarship believes it is an authentic WA Mozart symphony.

11/12/19 Samuel Barber - Adagio for Strings, Op. 11

The Adagio is an arrangement of the slow movement of Barber's string quartet. Barber also made a choral arrangement, Agnus Dei in 1967.

11/13/19 Heinrich Schutz - Es erhub sich ein Streit im Himmel, SWV Anh. 11

This work takes its text from Revelation; specifically, the War in Heaven. It features four 3-voice choirs, plus brass representing the various combatants.

11/14/19 Dag Wiren - Serenade for Strings, Op. 11

Wiren once said his first desire as a composer was to entertain and please. His Serenade does just that, and has become his most-played and recorded composition.

11/15/19 Nikolai Medtner - Sonata Triad, Op. 11, No. 1

This work is part of a trio of one-movement sonatas. Medtner's inspiration was "Trilogy of Passion" by Goethe.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Christoph Graupner: Passion Cantatas III maintain series quality

CPO's ambitious cycle of Christoph Graupner cantatas continues. Graupner wrote over 1,200 cantatas. This series is limited to the ten he wrote for Lent in 1741.

The first of the three cantatas included in this release is the first of the Lenten cycle. Kommt, Seelen, sied in Andacht stille (Come, ye souls, be silent in worship) sets the stage for the ensuing 40 days. It's a quiet work, carried mostly by four solo voices. The choir is used sparingly.

Sie rüsten sich wider die Seele (The unrighteous condemnation
of the righteous Saviour) reflects the agitation of the text. The recitatives have an unsettled nature to them, with many a chromatic turn. And the instrumental ensemble accompanies with outbursts of restless energy.

Jesus, auf dass er heiligte das Volk takes a different tack. It was composed for Maundy Thursday and details Jesus' suffering on the walk to Calgary. Here, though, we get a sense of serenity. The drama is moving towards its preordained conclusion, and Jesus seems removed from the action.

Graupner uses winds to great effect in this cantata. Their sound softens the ensemble, adding to the detached dreaminess of his setting. 

The overall performances are quite good. The Barockorchester Mannheimer Hofkapelle has a clean ensemble sound. The ensemble performs with original instruments of the time. And they do so in a way that shows the strengths of the instruments (and none of the weaknesses).

The 16-voice Ex Tempore vocal ensemble is well-suited to this material. Graupner's works were originally performed by the somewhat modest forces available at the Darmstadt court.

The more of Christoph Graupner's music I hear, the more I want to hear. In his day, he was considered equal to Telemann and perhaps superior to Bach. Those estimations weren't far off the mark -- as this series demonstrates.

Christoph Graupner: Passion Cantatas III
Solistenensemble Ex Tempore
Barockorchester Mannheimer Hofkapelle
Florian Heyerick, director

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Josef Labor Piano Quintets late-Romantic gems

Josef Labor wasn't one to be hampered by disability -- although it could inspire him. Labor lost his sight in childhood but went on to become a respected organist, pianist, teacher, and composer.

He was also the first composer-pianist Paul Wittgenstein commissioned to write a left-hand concerto. (Wittgenstein lost his right arm in WWI.)

Labor was also colleagues with Johannes Brahms, Clara Schumann, and Gustav Mahler (whose wife, Alma, studied composition with him).

Labor's two piano quintets were written around the turn of the century. To my ears, they seem influenced by Brahms. The music has a clear structure, and the motifs are carefully developed.

Labor's harmonies seem to be more expansive than Brahms, though -- and that makes these works more than just imitations. Labor was a pianist, so it's not surprising that these quintets have especially meaty keyboard parts,

But the piano is still well-balanced against the strings, making these works sound like true quintets, where every instrument has a say.

To me, the performances were engaging. Labor didn't have a lot of big gestures in his music, but there's plenty of emotional content. And these performers delivered. Anyone who enjoys Fin de siècle late-Romanticism should find much to like here.

Josef Labor Piano Quintets
Nina Karmon, violin; Pauline Sachse, viola; Justus Grimm, cello; Niek de Groot, Contrabass; Oliver Triendl, piano
Capriccio C5390

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

British Cello Works - quality chamber music by women

When I present classical music on the radio, I never identify a composer by race or sex. I think it creates the impression that these are subsets of the main group of composers. There are composers, and there are women composers. Almost as good, but not quite.

I don't think that's true, and (apparently), neither does Lyrita. This release is simply titled "British Cello Works." And it just happens to contain music by four women composers (instead of four men composers).

It also happens to contain four works for cello and piano of exceptional quality. The program opens with the Sonata in C minor for cello and piano by Ethel Smyth. Smyth wrote in a German late-Romantic style. This 1880 work features some beautifully crafted melodies and clear harmonic structures.

Elizabeth Maconchy's Divertimento and Elisabeth Luytens' Nine Bagatelles, Op. 10 were both written around 1942. The Divertimento is a lighter work than Smyth's Sonata. The movements are predominated by strong rhythms and knitted together by shared themes.

Lutyens' Nine Bagatelles has a contemporary sound. Lutyens drew inspiration from Stravinsky and Schoenberg. But her melodies aren't as angular, and her serial composition isn't as dissonant. Lutyen has her own style, and it's quite effective in these miniatures.

Rebecca Clarke's haunting Rhapsody for cello and piano closes the program. Her melodic lines are set against shifting and sometimes ambiguous harmonies. The Rhapsody has a mysterious quality to it I found captivating.

Cellist Lionel Handy and pianist Jennifer Hughes make quite a team. The sound of the instruments is nicely balanced. To me, many passages sounded more like intimate conversations between Handy and Hughes than soloist/accompanist.

Gender doesn't matter -- only the quality of the music and the performance. This is a quality release.

British Cello Works
Music by Ethel Smyth; Elizabeth Maconchy; Elisabeth Luytens; Rebekah Clarke
Lionel Handy, cello; Jennifer Hughes, piano
Lyrita SRCD 383

Monday, November 11, 2019

Leopold Kozeluch Masonic music well-crafted

Leopold Kozeluch's career somewhat paralleled Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's - as did his music. Both were pianists. Like Mozart, Kozeluch wrote many symphonies (30) and piano concertos (22). He succeeded Mozart as the Hofmusik Compositor of the Viennese court.

And Kozeluch, like Mozart, was a Freemason and wrote music for the Order. Kozeluch's contribution was a melodrama, Joseph der Menschheit Segen (Joseph, Mankind’s Blessing). Melodrama simply meant a blend of music and spoken word.

As in Mozart's "The Magic Flute," the work is laden with Masonic symbolism. It's in everything from the keys, to the meter, to the shape of the melodies.

And yet it works as music even for those not steeped in the Craft. Take away the melodrama (spoken text), and you have a very good secular cantata, with interesting choral set pieces and some lovely soprano arias.

Also included is a Missa in C major. It's a relatively simple yet beautifully written mass. The transparency of the score reminded me of Mozart.

Two solo arias for soprano round out the release. Simona Eisinger sang with a clear, pure soprano. Her voice had a natural warmth to it that remained even in the upper register. I enjoyed her performances very much.

I can't say the same for the Czech Boys Choir Boni Pueri. I auditioned this release through headphones, and the choir seemed a little too spread out in the mix -- but that could be a recording issue. In any event, the choir's individual voices didn't seem to blend very well.

And there were also some serious intonation issues. I also heard some imprecise entrances, which further detracted from my enjoyment of the music.

Because of that, I have to give a qualified recommendation. On the plus side are the music itself and Eisinger's singing. On the minus side, everyone else's singing.

Leopold Kozeluch: Joseph der Menschheit Segen (Masonic Cantata)
Simona Eisinger, soprano; Siegfried Gohritz, speaker
Filip Dvorak, harpsichord; Czech Boys Choir Boni Pueri
Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra Pardubice; Marek Štilec, conductor
Naxos 8.673929

Friday, November 08, 2019

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalEleven Week 1

Numbers have meaning. But meaning can depend on context. The Classics a Day team made "eleven" the theme for November, the eleventh month. The challenge is to post performances of classical music that involve the number.

I chose a mix. Some pieces involve eleven players. Some are the eleventh type of piece by a composer. Some are the eleventh published work. Some had the number eleven assigned to them in some way by a cataloger.

There are many ways to arrive at #ClassicalEleven - here are my choices for the first full week.

11/01/19 Alan Hovhaness: Symphony No. 11 "All Men are Brothers" Op. 186

Hovhaness' eleventh symphony (out of 67) was finished in 1960. It incorporates some of his early music from the 1920s-30s, most of which he destroyed.

11/04/19 Ludwig van Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 11 in B-flat major, Op. 22

This sonata was completed in 1800. Beethoven labeled it a "grand" sonata, indicating it had four movements instead of three.

11/05/19 Johann Sebastian Bach: Himmelfahrts-Oratorium, BWV 11

Bach wrote the "Ascension Oratorio" for the feast day service May 19, 1735. The large-scale work is a blend of new music and recycled material from earlier cantatas.

11/06/19 Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel - Piano Trio, Op. 11

Fanny wrote the trio as a birthday present for her sister in 1847. It was completed just before her death, and published posthumously.

11/07/19 Felix Mendelssohn - Symphony No. 1, Op. 11

Mendelssohn completed the symphony at age 15. It was privately premiered in 1827 to honor his sister Fanny.

11/08/19 Giovanni Punto - Horn Concerto No. 11 in E-major

Punto (1746-1803) was a Czech horn player. He developed the hand-stopping technique that allowed natural horns to play more pitches.

Thursday, November 07, 2019

Hermann Graedener Violin Concertos make the grade

This is what I like about Toccata Classics. They don't just do a single release of a composer I've never heard of -- they do a whole series. And their instincts are usually spot on.

In this case, the composer is Hermann Graedener (1844-1929). In his early years, he was a colleague and friend of Johannes Brahms. After both men moved to Vienna, they drifted apart. But Graedener continued to admire Brahms's music.

Austrian music theorist Heinrich Schenker characterized one of Graedener's works as "wholesale, huge richness." That's a fair assessment of these works, too.

The Violin Concerto No. 1 is full of rich harmonies. The melodies given the solo violin struck me as somewhat sweet as well. Not overly sentimental, though. My impression was that this concerto was emotionally reserved (compared to other late-Romantic concertos). The breezy finale was charming, though, as it zipped along to the closing cadence.

Graedener's 1914 Violin Concerto No. 2 had a much different character. It wasn't just that it was in a minor key, either. The work seemed bigger, especially the heroic-sounding first movement. The concerto also had an urgency to it that the first concerto lacked.

Violinist Karen Bentley Pollick delivers some fine performances here. Her violin's warm, clear tone added beauty to the lyrical passages -- of which there are many. And she ably handled the technical challenges -- especially those of the second concerto.

From what I could discover, Graedner wrote two cello concertos, and two symphonies (as well as some chamber music). I'm guessing there will be at least two more volumes in this series. I'm all ears.

Hermann Graedener: Orchestral Music Volume One
Violin Concerto No 1 in D major, Op. 22
Violin Concerto No. 2 in D minor, Op. 41
Karen Bentley Pollick, violin
National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine; Gottfried Rabl, conductor
Toccata Classics

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

The quiet beauty of Dora Bright and Ruth Gipps concertos

Somm has done a real service to classical music with this release. It features piano concertos by two women -- composers who deserve wider audiences.

Both compositions by Dora Bright and one of the two Ruth Gipps works are world premiere recordings. All four works are beautifully constructed and enthusiastically performed.

Dora Bright was born in 1864, though her compositional career didn't take off until the turn of the century. Although she wrote several substantial works, only a few of her scores survive.

Bright was also a concert pianist -- highly regarded by Franz List and Georges Enescu among others. Her 1891 Piano Concerto No. 1 fully exploits the possibilities of the instrument in a thoroughly original fashion. Against the fashion of the day, Bright's concerto begins softly and eases into the opening theme.

Her melodies have a poignant fin de siècle quality about them. Bright's flowing harmonies make some unexpected twists and turns. Bright demands much of the soloist, and those challenges make this a thrilling work despite the lack of blatant fireworks.

Her Variations for Piano and Orchestra have a quiet beauty about them. I imagine it's what Gerald Finzi might have written had he been born a generation earlier. Bright's inventiveness is subtle -- the melody changes and grows, but never loses the listener in a sea of notes.

Pianist Samatha Ward is a sympathetic interpreter. She brings out the lyrical nature of Bright's music without diluting any of its understated power.

Murray McLachlan is the soloist for the two Ruth Gipps selections. Gipps, a student of Ralph Vaughan Williams, is more overtly English in her style than Bright. McLachlan brings out the warmth of that style in his performance.

Ambarvalia, Op. 70 is an interesting work for orchestra. Gipps wrote for a stripped-down ensemble (but bigger than a chamber orchestra). It reminded me somewhat of Gustav Holst, especially his contemplative sections of "The Planets." Ambarvalia was written in 1988, so it's somewhat old-fashioned. No matter. It's a wonderfully-crafted orchestral gem of introspective beauty.

Piano Concertos by Dora Bright and Ruth Gipps
Samantha Ward, Murry McLachlan, pianos
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra; Charles Peebles, conductor
Somm Recordings SOMMCD 273


Why vote? There are still reasons

In my election day post, I framed one of our local races in various ways -- ways that went beyond party identity. The results are in. The voters in our district decided money matters. It turns out that a half a million dollars from another state does make a difference.

They also decided that relentless negative ad campaigns work very well. We can look forward to more of those in future elections.

Voting still matters
The county I live in has about 24,000 registered voters. Around 11,000 voted yesterday. I think 44% turnout is pretty darned good. But was it enough?

There was a challenger for the position of Commonwealth Attorney (equivalent to a District Attorney). Both lawyers were well-regarded in the community and well-qualified for the post. The incumbent retained the position 5,546 votes to 5,518. In other words, by a margin of 28 votes.

Don't think your vote matters? 13,744 registered voters didn't show up yesterday. Out of that number, a minimum of 29 could have changed the outcome. And you can too -- but only if you vote.

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Why vote? Pick a reason

If you vote strictly for a political party, then this post doesn't matter. Whether you support the Republicans or the Democrats, loyalty to your party probably isn't affected by debates, facts about the candidates or the issues (pro or con), or anything else.

In our little corner of Virginia, there's a very interesting race going on. And if voting for one party or the other doesn't appeal, you can cast a ballot for other reasons.

Let's get up to speed
Nick Freitas (R) is the incumbent member of the Virginia House of Delegates for our area. Political newcomer Ann Ridgeway (D) is also running for the seat.

The Freitas campaign failed to meet filing deadlines. Consequently, their candidate isn't on the ballot. It looked like Ridgeway was a shoo-in.

Then Illinois shipping mogul Richard Uihlein donated $500,000 to Freitas to mount a write-in campaign. And that money's been put to work. There are banners everywhere encouraging the write-in, as well as almost-daily mailings and -- of course -- TV, radio, and social media ads.

Anyone's race?
Only voters who are truly energized will make the effort to write in Freitas' name. Indifferent voters won't make the effort. And the name has to be spelled correctly to count. Again, not a problem for diehard Freitas supports, familiar with their candidate. Less-informed voters might make a spelling error. 

Turnout is traditionally low for a non-Presidential election. And that means every vote has an even greater impact on the results. It can also be an opportunity for a vote to say something. 

Money in politics
How do you feel about money in politics? In this race, someone in another state has dumped a half a million dollars into our local race to ensure its outcome. Freitas has almost $600,000+ in his war chest; Ridgeway about $120,000. Does that automatically guarantee a win for Freitas?

You can frame the contest as a referendum on outside influence. Do we want to keep local politics local, or do we want the best government money can buy?

Negative campaigning
It's common to express distaste for negative ads. But campaigns keep running them because they work. In this race, the write-in campaign has been exclusively negative. Ridgeway has kept her campaign focused on her own positions, barely mentioning the other candidate.

So if you feel strongly about this issue, here's your chance to say no to negative campaigning.

Why I'm voting
There are many ways to think about voting. For me, the most important way is as a civic duty. I'm a citizen of this country, and it is my responsibility to help select the makeup of our government. That means I need to do my homework on the candidates and the issues. I believe I should be making informed decisions in the voting booth. 

I know not everyone feels this way, and many will simply skip the whole process. That's a mistake. Because whether you vote or not, you will be governed by the laws the elected enact. You will be paying the taxes the elected levy. And you will be feeling the consequences of the decisions and policies (good or bad) of those elected.

If you vote strictly by party, none of this matters. But perhaps it should.

Monday, November 04, 2019

Robert Ballard Lute Music played with elegance and taste

Robert Ballard II was a lute virtuoso who also happened to have a pretty good gig. He was a music tutor to a young Louis XIII. His father and cousin ran a prestigious music publishing house in Paris.

And they, of course, published young Robert's two collections of lute works.

Lutenist Richard Kolb performs 30 of the 56 pieces from Le Premier livre de luth. Kolb funded this project through Kickstarter, and I think the investors got their money's worth.

It's elegant music, full of well-crafted counterpoint and tuneful melodies. Kolb notes that Ballard's music seems balanced between the late Renaissance and early French Baroque. And so it is.

Kolb performs with a 10-course lute. In some passages, it seems as if everyone's playing a different line!

The lute is close-mic'd, giving it a clean, intimate sound. Finger motions (and occasionally breathing) can be heard. To me, those sounds add to the performance, creating a sense of intimacy.

Kolb writes, "Ballard's music comes across to me as having an easygoing charm and unaffected gracefulness." Indeed so -- especially in Kolb's performances.

Robert Ballard: Premier livre de luth, 1611
Richard Kolb, lute

Friday, November 01, 2019

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalAutumn Week 5

In 2019 the Classics a Day team has been making its way through the seasons. We've had Classical Winter (January), Classical Spring (April), and Classical Summer (August). For October, we complete the cycle with Classical Autumn.

I tried to steer clear of the really obvious choices (like Vivaldi's "Four Seasons"). In the process, I managed to discover a few pieces and a composer that was new to me. Which, for me, is part of the fun of participating in the #ClassicsaDay feed.

Here are my posts for the final week of #ClassicAutumn

10/28/ Edward MacDowell - "In Autumn"

From "Woodland Sketches" Op. 51 MacDowell's piece comes from his "Woodland Sketches." It depicts New England woods when the leaves turn from green to bright shades of red, orange, and yellow.

10/29/19 Franz Schubert - Herbst, D.945

Schubert's lieder sets a Ludwig Rellstab poem to music. The poem uses autumn as a metaphor for death. “Thus withers away the blossoms of life.”

10/30/19 Robert Schumann- Herbstlied, Op. 43, No. 2

Schumann's "Autumn Song" was part of "3 Zweistimmige Lieder" in 1840. It's most often heard arranged for SATB choir.

10/31/19 Cécile Chaminade - Automne Op. 35, No. 2

"Autumne" is part of Six Études de Concert. Chaminade published the collection in 1886. The movement proved so popular that she arranged it for two pianos.