Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Spam Roundup December, 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.

Say what?

Translations apps keep getting better and better. Except when they dont.

 - It's a pleasant article regarding media print, we all be familiar with media is a fantastic source of data. [Yes. Fantastic.]

 -   Do not leave out to countenance verbose product descriptions bequeath normally hold approaching to your computing device apace and decisively moving phones also stimulate an intention. [My intentions are already stimulated enough, thank you.]

 - Take 40-50 cherries and apples are all guilty of this crime to some of them, and exhale, floating in. [I wonder what crimes fruit might be guilty of.]

Remember: all the comments in this section were
supposedly inspired by my write-up of this green toy truck.
We continue "Lumbering along"

The Straco Express Layout, Part 23 - Lumbering Along is part of a much larger series about a modest little vintage tin toy display. Yet only this part attracts spambots. Why is that? 

 - As far as those of the jealous commenters, I would keep an open view next time because it only punishes you in the long run! [Yes, everyone's jealous of my deep knowledge of small vintage Japanese friction cars!]

 - Why viewers still make use of to read news papers when in this technological world all is presented on web? [That's right! You won't be reading about anything like this in the New York Times! Or even the Washington Times, come to think of it.]

 - You managed to hit the nail upon the top. [Maybe I should have filed this one in the previous section.]

Thought for the day

 - Your intersection and rearmost as chop-chop as potential.

Let's keep my rearmost out of this! 

That's a wrap for 2019. Here's hoping the new year will bring many decisively moving phones your way!

Monday, December 30, 2019

Jana Semerádová in fine form with Richter and Stamitz

I think the title of this release is just a little misleading. "Franz Xaver Richter, Johann Stamitz: Flute Concertos & Trios" suggests (to me) an album of two composers in equal measure.

Not so. This release has one flute concerto by Stamitz. The other five selections are all Richter. It's still a program of six well-crafted Roccoco works. The only folks who might be disappointed would be those hoping to add to their collection of Stamitz.

Richter was one of the founders of the Mannheim School. It represented a transition from the Baroque to the Classical period. Richter's music sometimes leans more towards the Baroque rather than to the Classical period.

Jana Semerádová delivers some fine concerto readings. Her playing is wonderfully nimble and expressive. Her nuanced phrasing makes Richter's Flute Concerto sound forward-looking. And her performance of  Johann Stamitz' Flute Concerto is just delightful.

Richter's Trio Sonata Op. 4 No. 1 is for two violins and basso continuo. This piece and the two harpsichord trios are late Baroque in style. Definitely more Handel than Haydn.

Overall, I found this release an interesting collection of music in transition. Well-recorded and well-performed.

Franz Xaver Richter, Johann Stamitz: Flute Concertos & Trios
Jana Semerádová, transverse flute; Ensemble Casto
Pan Classics PC 10406

Friday, December 27, 2019

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalChristmas Week 4

Classical Christmas 2019 This marks the third year running that the Classics a Day team made Christmas music the December theme. I guess that makes it a tradition. When it comes to the music of the season, there's plenty to choose from. Since the 1100s composers have written sacred music for Advent and Christmas -- and plenty of songs and dances for the secular winter feasts, too.

The challenge is to post a classical work that's related to Christmas in some fashion. I further limited myself to selections I haven't posted before in December. As you'll see, there is more to holiday music than "Sleigh Ride" or "Messiah."

Here are my #ClassicsaDay posts for the fourth and fifth weeks of #ClassicalChristmas

12/22 Bob Chilcott - The Shepherd's Carol

Chilcott was a member of the King's Singers and turned to composition full time after leaving the ensemble. As might be expected, many of his works are choral compositions.

12/24 Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Sleigh Ride, K.605

This piece is part of "Three German Dances" published in 1791. Mozart wrote the set while serving a short-lived role as Imperial Chamber Composer to Emporer Joseph II.

12/25 Johann Heinrich Schmelzer: Sacro-Profanus Concentus Musicus: Sonata 12

Schmelzer's collection of concertos was published in 1662. Sonata 12, one of the "sacred" concertos, has become associated with Advent.

12/26 Claude Debussy: Des pas sur le neige

"Footprints in the Snow" is from Debussy's first book of Preludes (1909). The work is only 36 bars long, yet effectively paints an Impressionist picture of falling snow.

12/27 Andreas Hammerschmidt: Allelujah! Freuet euch, ihr Christem alle

Hammershmidt, the "Orpheus of Zittau," was one of the most popular Protestant composers of the early 1700s. Over 400 of his sacred works survive, including this Christmas motet.

12/30 PDQ Bach: Throw the Yule Long On, Uncle John

This carol comes from PDQ Bach's "A Consort of Choral Christmas Carols." If nothing else, it illustrates the importance of punctuation.

12/31 Roxanna Panufnik: A Tibetan Winter

This movement comes from Panufnik's 2007 work "Four World Seasons." Inspired by Vivaldi's work, Panufnik depicts each season in a different part of the world, using musical instruments from that region in her composition.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Karl Weigl Symphonies Nos. 4 & 6 -- Before and After

Austrian composer Karl Weigl was certainly steeped in the Viennese Post-Romantic style. He studied privately with Alexander Zemlinsky, and later with Robert Fuchs.

Weigl fled the Nazis in 1938, emigrating to the United States. Like many of exiled Viennese composers (such as Korngold), Weigl never quite moved past the boundaries set by Mahler.

The two symphonies in this release are both in Weigl's distinctive Post-Romantic style. Yet there are small but distinctive differences between them, perhaps reflecting changes circumstances.

The Symphony 4 in F minor was completed in 1936. Weigl was enjoying a successful career in Vienna, although that would soon begin to change. To me, the work greatly resembles Mahler's symphonies in the overall sound. The expansive melodies make big, dramatic gestures. The music has a gravitas that indicates this is serious stuff. And yet I'd characterize this as perhaps scaled-back Mahler. The scope just isn't quite as grand.

That's not a complaint. Weigl's music is well-constructed and does just what he means it to. The same is true of the 1947 Symphony No. 6. Weigl wrote this after the war, and two years before his death. Although he doesn't fully abandon tonality, the harmonies seem more abrasive.

The mood is much darker than that of the Fourth Symphony. Weigl's growth as a composer between the two symphonies is substantial. And hearing the two works back-to-back highlight that development.

The Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz performs these works well. Directed by Jürgen Bruns, the orchestra leans into the Viennese character of the music. In the Fourth Symphony, it shows the love Weigl had for his home. And in the acerbic Sixth Symphony, it becomes a deep longing for a time and place he can never return to.

Highly recommended.

Karl Weigl: Symphony Nos. 4 & 6 
Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz; Jürgen Bruns, conductor 
Capriccio C5385 

Monday, December 23, 2019

Ecco la Musica performan Johann Samuel Welter cantatas credibly

Johann Samuel Welter is the only name on the cover of this release. But he's not the only composer features. The early music ensemble Ecco la Musica presents a varied program of music from 17th Century Germany. Five of Welter's choral cantatas are interspersed with instrumental works, by some of Welter's older contemporaries.

Welter's considered the most important choral composer between Michael Praetorius and Johann Sebastian Bach. The cantatas in this release showcase his artistry.

The works are mostly straightforward, with the four-square phrasing of hymn tunes. This aspect of their composition looks back to Praetorius.

At the same time, some of the choral passages are quite complex. And Welter is quite purposeful in his accompanying instruments. Those characteristics look ahead to Bach.

Directors Heike Hümmer and Matthias Sprinz opt for a small vocal ensemble of just five voices. It gives the works a lightness and clarity they might not otherwise have.  As soloists, all five singers have mellow deliveries that fit the music well.

Unfortunately, as an ensemble, they're not consistently together in their attacks. And with one voice to a part, there's nowhere to hide if the articulation isn't perfectly in sync.

The instrumental ensemble fairs considerably better -- especially with the other works. Paul Hainlein, Johann Nicolai, Johann Schmelzer, and Antonio Bertali are all represented.

The makeup for each work varies, providing some nice contrasts with the program. Hainlein's  Sonata à 5 Battallia ex C features the full ensemble in a work that resembles Giovanni Gabrielli's instrumental compositions.

Johann Nicolai's Sonata 14 à 2 features three violins along with basso continuo. It's a much more expressive work, with plenty of give-and-take between the three soloists.

I did enjoy this release. When the full complement of winds and brass back the vocal ensemble, the sound is inspirational. Overall, I can recommend this release for lovers of German Baroque music.

Johann Samuel Welter: Gott sey uns gnädig
Choral Cantatas
Ecco la Musica; Heike Hümmer & Matthias Sprinz, directors

Friday, December 20, 2019

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalChristmas Week 3

This marks the third year running that the Classics a Day team made Christmas music the December theme. I guess that makes it a tradition. When it comes to the music of the season, there's plenty to choose from. Since the 1100s composers have written sacred music for Advent and Christmas -- and plenty of songs and dances for the secular winter feasts, too.

The challenge is to post a classical work that's related to Christmas in some fashion. I further limited myself to selections I haven't posted before in December. As you'll see, there is more to holiday music than "Sleigh Ride" or "Messiah."

Here are my #ClassicsaDay posts for the third week of #ClassicalChristmas

12/16 Francis Poulenc- Quem Vidistis Pastores

This motet is the third of Poulenc's Quatre Motets pour le temps de Noël. Written in the 1950s, the work blends contemporary harmonies with medieval Latin sacred texts.

12/17 Arnold Schoenberg; Weihnachtsmusik

Schoenberg "Christmas Music" is a setting of "Es ist ein Ros entsprungen." Schoenberg most like wrote this 1921 work for family and friends to play at a holiday gathering.

12/18 Johannes Ockeghem - Ave Maria

Ockeghem was one of the most prominent composers of the 15th Century. Like most of his surviving music, his setting of the Ave Maria is difficult to date. The music comes from the Chigi Codex, collected after Ockeghem's death.

12/19 Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina - O magnum Mysterium

This Christmas motet was published in 1569. The Latin text translates "O great mystery and wonderful sacrament, that beasts should see the new-born Lord lying in a manger."

12/20 John Knowles Paine - Christmas Gift, Op. 7

Paine was one of the older members of the Boston Six. He was one of the first American-born composers to write symphonies and oratorios. Christmas Gift is one of his many piano miniatures.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Fritz Volbach Symphony lands between Brahms and Wagner

Fritz Volbach was a German composer and organist. Most of his important works were composed at the beginning of the 20th Century. Like many composers of the late Romantic era, he was pulled between the influences of Brahms and Wagner.

Judging by the sound of these works, Volbach drew inspiration from both. The release opens with Es waren zwei Königskinder, a tone poem premiered in 1900. Volbach based it on a folk ballad. His treatment of the melody sets it to rich harmonies that slide chromatically from one to the next.

And while the treatment is Wagnerian, the scope isn't. Volbach exercises some restraint, keeping the music uncluttered and somewhat focused. Es waren zwei Königskinder was one of his most popular works for good reason. It's something that could appeal to both supporters of Wagner and Brahms, without offending either.

Volbach's Symphony in B minor, Op. 33 premiered in 1908. Here the influence of Brahms seems stronger. Themes are laid out in clear-cut fashion. They're developed with rigorous logic, spiced with some imaginative orchestration.  and laid out in a traditional four-movement form.

Taken by itself, Volbach's symphony delivers a satisfactory listening experience. The work is masterfully composed and orchestrated. There are traces of Schubert and Beethoven, with some exciting counterpoint in the finale.

As well-written as the symphony is, it's quite conservative. Other works that premiered the same year include Mahler's Ninth Symphony, Vaughan Williams' "Sea" Symphony, and Schoenberg's Five Pieces for Orchestra. Volbach's music must have sounded reassuring to audiences of the day.

The Sinfonieorchester Münster does a good but not great job. The soloists sound fine, and the ensemble is well-recorded. But there are some intonation problems scattered throughout that kept pulling me out of the moment.

Fritz Volbach: Symphony No. 33; Es waren zwei Königskinder
Sinfonieorchester Münster; Golo Berg, conductor
CPO 777 886–2

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Han Chen delivers pristine performances of Anton Rubinstein sonatas

Anton Rubinstein, both as a pianist and a composer, was wildly popular with the general public. His colleagues, though, had a different opinion. Russian musicians considered him too German (and Germans too Russian). Although he had tremendous technical ability, Franz Liszt remained unimpressed, calling him ‘a Pseudo-musician of the Future’.

Shortly after his death, Rubinstein's music lapsed into obscurity. It's now enjoying something of a renaissance.

This release features two of Rubinstein's piano sonatas, plus Three Serenades.

The first sonata, written in 1848 is a sprawling, thunderous work. Stylistically, I thought it a blend of Beethoven piano effects with Schubert melodic form. These two elements blend quite well, creating a sonata that's substantial musically, and challenging technically.

Ditto the second sonata finished two years later. Liszt seems to be the inspiration here. The music is more complex and decidedly more difficult.

Pianist Han Chen may be young, but he has the technique to do Rubinstein's music justice. No matter how complicated or rapid the passage, Chen plays cleanly and expressively.

And Chen's performances never let the pyrotechnics distract the listener. Chen integrates all the flourishes, chordal runs, and contrapuntal passages into the overall flow of the music.

The Three Serenades are positioned between the two sonatas. These are simple, tuneful compositions that provide welcome relief between the powerhouse sonatas.

Does this release "prove" that Rubinstine was Liszt's equal? Perhaps not. But Han Chen does show that Rubinstein's solo piano music is worthy of our attention. I'd say Liszt's assessment was a little off the mark.

Anton Rubinstein: Piano Sonatas Nos. 1 and 2; Three Serenades
Han Chen, piano
Naxos 8-573989

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Elisaveta Blumina perceptively performs Weinberg sonatas

This is the third Weinberg recording from pianist Elisaveta Blumina on CPO, and her first as a soloist. Blumina's sympathetic (and informed) performances get to the heart of Weinberg's music. Weinberg suffered great emotional trauma, and it's released in his music.

To me, Weinberg's Piano Sonata No. 2, Op. 8 in A minor almost sounds like he's channeling Prokofiev's Classical Symphony. Superficially it has the simplicity and classical structure of Haydn. But the work also has the ironic twists and turns only a 20th-century composer could deliver.

The Piano Sonatina op. 49bis 1950s reflects the reality of composing in a Social Realist world. Like the Sonata No. 2, there's a charming superficial simplicity to the music. The opening reminded me of Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony. But once things get going, Weinberg pushes the limits of tonality as far as he can.

Weinberg also wrote his Piano Sonata No. 4, Op. 56 in B minor in this same period. The composer had just returned from three months in political "rehabilitation." The work seems sparser than the Sonatina (written before his arrest). Weinberg favors modal harmonies in this work. It gives the sonata a more 20th Century sound and stays safely away from chromatic harmonies and tonal clusters.

As a composer in Stalinist Russia, Weinberg had to produce appealing, accessible music to survive. Preceptive performers like Blumina bring out the intense emotions Weinberg could bury but not eradicate from his music.

Revealing those buried emotions is what makes Elisaveta Blumina's performances so powerfully expressive.

Mieczyslaw Weinberg: Piano Sonatas opp. 8, 49bis, & 56
Elisaveta Blumina, piano

Monday, December 16, 2019

A Tudor Christmas delivers the spirit of the age

The liner notes for this release are very clear. This is NOT a historical recreation of a Christmas from the 1600s. Rather, it's sort of an impression of what one might have heard during the holidays in Tudor or Stuart England.

I can accept that premise. Christmas music as a separate genre really didn't develop until the Victorian Age. In the Renaissance, the music of the season was simply the sacred music written for Advent and Christmas.

What was heard in the courts and manor houses? Most likely popular music, performed by whatever musicians were on hand.

David Swinson uses that idea as his starting point. In this case, the musicians available are the eight-voice Trinity Boys Choir and the early music group L'Amonia Sonara.

The program consists of anthems and instrumental tunes related to the season (some only tangentially so).

William Byrd, Thomas Tallis, Anthony Holborne, and Orlando Gibbons are all represented. Marginally seasonal works include John Tavener's "in Nomine," Anthony Holborne's "Cradle Pavan," and John Dowland's "Mr. Henry Noel his Galliard."

The choir has a clear crystalline sound that is the essence of the British choral tradition. The ensemble blend is quite good, with excellent vocal control. The soloists have a nice, rounded tone that's never strident.

L'armonia Sonora provides variety, accompanying the choir with different instrumental combinations.

Both ensembles are small, and the performances quiet and intimate. Perhaps there never was a concert like this back in the day, but I don't think that matters.

I heard a collection of well-performed early music. And these performances seemed to come from an earlier age -- even if it was just in my imagination.

A Tudor Christmas
Trinity Boys Choir; David Swinson, director
L'armonia Sonora; Mieneke van der Velden, conductor
Rondeau ROP8002

Friday, December 13, 2019

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalChristmas Week 2

This marks the third year running that the Classics a Day team made Christmas music the December theme. I guess that makes it a tradition. When it comes to the music of the season, there's plenty to choose from. Since the 1100s composers have written sacred music for Advent and Christmas -- and plenty of songs and dances for the secular winter feasts, too.

The challenge is to post a classical work that's related to Christmas in some fashion. I further limited myself to selections I haven't posted before in December. As you'll see, there is more to holiday music than "Sleigh Ride" or "Messiah."

Here are my #ClassicsaDay posts for the second week of #ClassicalChristmas

12/9 Ralph Vaughan Williams: Fantasia on Christmas Carols

RVW's work was premiered at the Three Choirs Festival in 1912. It's a medley of traditional carols collected by Vaughn Williams and Cecil Sharp a few years earlier.


12/10 Eric Whitacre; Little Tree

American choral composer Whitacre wrote this carol in 1996, while still a student at Julliard. The text is based on a poem by e e cummings.

12/11 Pyotr Illyich Tchaikovsky: Christmas Waltz

The "Christmas Waltz" is actually the December entry in Tchaikovsky's "The Seasons" Op. 37b. This set of 12 piano pieces was published in monthly installments in a Russian music magazine.

12/12 Paul Hindemith; The Long Christmas Dinner

The setting for Hindemith's 1963 one-act opera is a Christmas dinner table. It depicts 90 years of holiday meals as generations of family members come and go from the table.

12/13 Edward Elgar; A Christmas Greeting, Op. 52

Elgar completed this work while visiting Rome in December 1907. The poem is by his wife, Alice.

12/16 Poulenc Quem Vidistis Pastores https://youtu.be/Krw2mQJ2SJ4

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Johann Molter concerto recording marks special occasion

The Musicaphon label marks the 300th anniversary of Karlsruhe with a special collection. Johann Melchior Molter was the city's best-known composer, active in the first half of the 18th Century.

He's credited as one of the first composers to write for the clarinet, developed around 1700. This release features some of Molter's writings for the instrument, as well as concertos for other instruments.

Molter was a slightly younger contemporary of Georg Philipp Telemann, and his music is similar in style. Molter's music has a courtly balance to it. The melodies are quite tuneful, but even when ornamented seem quite simple. There's very little counterpoint in these works, either.

Rather, these concertos collectively stay pretty close to the Baroque concerto model. Ripieno strings with four-square patterns alternate with solo instruments playing freely meandering melodies. Yet within that form, there's a great deal of variety.

The Gottesauer Ensemble -- and especially their soloists -- perform at a high level of proficiency. They produce beautiful sounds with none of the harshnesses that early instruments sometimes have. And although their tones are as polished as those of modern instruments,  the sound is still distinctly 18th Century.

It's especially true in the clarinet concertos. Lisa Shkyaver and Kyrill Rybakov play 18th Century instruments, which have a different timbre than modern instruments. Although the tone is edgier and a little hollower, these soloists make it work.

An impressive collection of music performed by some impressive musicians. A fitting tribute to both Johann Molter and Karlsruhe.

Johann Melchior Molter: Concerti
Stefanie Kessler, traverso; Georg Siebert, baroque oboe
Lisa Shklyaver, Kyrill Rybakov, clarinet
Kristian Nyquist, harpsichord; Dmitri Dichtiar, baroque cello
Gottesauer Ensemble, Dmitri Dichtiar, conductor
Musicaphon M556968

Monday, December 09, 2019

The Secret Life of Carols -- not what you think

If you -- like me -- are looking for a seasonal recording with a fresh perspective, check out "The Secret Life of Carols." The early music ensemble The Telling presents a collection of (mostly) familiar carols in intimate performances.

Unlike, say, the Boston Camerata, The Telling doesn't give us the historical development of each piece. Rather, they bring out the ancient yet timeless character of their material.

Soprano Claire Norburn and mezzo-soprano Kaisa Pulkkinen are accompanied by harpists Jean Kelly and Ariane Prüssner. The pure, sustained tones of the singers combined with the quiet sounds of the medieval and Celtic harps cast the music in a soft glow of candlelight.

The arrangements are primarily Medieval, but also personal to the ensemble. "Stille Nacht" isn't performed with guitar (as it was originally). But the two singers and Celtic harp create a hushed sound that recreates the emotional impact of the original.

"Patapan" becomes a stately pavane that runs counter to most arrangements. And yet it seems perfectly suited to the music. Even Johann Sebastian Bach's O Jesulein süß, BWV 493 benefits from The Telling's arrangments. It's also sung as a duet with the Celtic harp. Here the instrument almost has a music box quality to it I found quite charming.

Other stand-outs for me include the 16th Century Catalonian carol "El Noi de la Mare." I was not familiar with this piece before. Jean Kelly's baroque harp reinforces the simple beauty of the tune.

The overall mood of this album is serene directness. Here's the music, simply performed. And yet each track held my attention. Carols I had heard for decades didn't sound the way they always did. Thanks to The Telling for letting me in on the carols' secrets.

The Secret Life of Carols
800 Years of Christmas Music
The Telling
First Hand Records FHR 94

Friday, December 06, 2019

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalChristmas Week 1

This marks the third year running that the Classics a Day team made Christmas music the December theme. I guess that makes it a tradition. When it comes to the music of the season, there's plenty to choose from. Since the 1100s composers have written sacred music for Advent and Christmas -- and plenty of songs and dances for the secular winter feasts, too.

The challenge is to post a classical work that's related to Christmas in some fashion. I further limited myself to selections I haven't posted before in December. As you'll see, there is more to holiday music than "Sleigh Ride" or "Messiah."

Here are my #ClassicsaDay posts for the first week of #ClassicalChristmas

12/2 Christoph Graupner: Jauchzet ihr Himmel, erfreue dich Erde, GWV 1105/53

In his day, Graupner was as famous as Telemann. His cantata "Rejoice, heaven, and earth" was composed for Christmas Day, 1753.

12/3 Heinrich Schütz: Weihnachtshistorie SWV435

Schutz's "Christmas Story" was first performed in Dresden, Christmas 1660. The text comes almost exclusively from Martin Luther's German translation of the Bible.

12/4/ William Billings: Shepherd's Carol

American hymnodist wrote both words and music for this carol. It was first published in "The Suffolk Harmony" in 1786.

12/5 Conrad Susa: This Endrys night

American composer Conrad Susa studied with William Bergsma and Vincent Persichetti. His setting of this medieval text comes from his Three Mystical Carols.

12/6 Louis-Claude Daquin: Noel X

French Baroque composer Daquin was also a renowned harpsichordist and organist. His 12 Noels was published in 1757, and are still used in churches today.

Thursday, December 05, 2019

Georgy Catoire & Ignaz Friedman quintets - alike yet different

Russian composer Georgy Catoire remains relatively unknown. His self-effacing nature kept his music out of the spotlight, and himself out of the company of other composers. The 1914 Piano Quintet in G minor shows the effect of that isolation.

While it's a late-Romantic work, it's also a forward-looking one. Catoire methodically lays out his themes and develops them in a Brahmsian fashion. His harmonies are -- for the era -- a little sparse. In that sense, they seem to anticipate Debussy or Ravel.

The overall mix of instruments is also a little unusual. Many piano quintets are conversations between individual instruments. There aren't any big solos here. Catoire treats the instruments almost like a chamber orchestra, using his five instruments in varying combinations to color his music in delicate hues.

Tchaikovsky called Catoire "someone who possesses genuine creative talent." And it's a unique one, too. Only through repeated listening could I appreciate the subtle details of Catoire's creation.

Ignaz Friedman is best remembered as one of the leading piano virtuosi of the early 20th Century. His Piano Quintet in C minor was finished just after the First World War. The dramatically dark opening movement is thought to be a reaction to the war.

The international celebrity of Friedman is a stark contrast to the reputation of the reclusive Catoire. And the character of their piano quintets also varies greatly.

Friedman gives the piano plenty to do, as one might expect. His melodies spin out over rich harmonies. At first listen, it may all seem like post-Romantic over-indulgence. But listen closer. Friedman has something substantial to say. Although Friedman's music is showier, it's also well-constructed. Like the Cantori quintet, Friedman's composition satisfies, just in a different fashion.

The assembled players perform with sensitivity and beauty. Pianist Bengt Forsberg does yeoman's work in the Friedman quintet. It is a real challenge.

If you're looking for chamber music that's a little out of the ordinary, look no further. Although neither work is a concert staple, both are important works by talented individuals who couldn't be more different.

Georgy Lvovich Catoire, Ignaz Friedman: Piano Quintets
Nils-Erik Sparf, Ulf Forsberg, violins; Ellen Nisbeth, viola; Andreas Brantelid, cello; Bengt Forsberg, piano

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Joseph Bodin de Boismortier Chamber Music all business

Sometimes it's easy to forget that music is a business -- even classical music. It's something Joseph Bodin de Boismortier always remembered. And it made him wealthy.

Boismortier was active in the early 1700s and a contemporary of Rameau. He was one of the first composers to be successful without a patron.

Louis XV granted him a monopoly on music printing (which helped). And his own compositions delivered what audiences wanted.

Boismortier wrote mostly chamber music, for performance by professionals and amateurs. He wrote in the light, Rococo style that blended French and Italian influences. During his lifetime, Boismortier was extremely popular. As tastes changed, his music fell by the wayside.

Decades after Boismortier's death, one critic wrote, "Even though his works be long forgotten, whoever might undertake the task of exploring this abandoned mine might well find enough flecks of gold to produce an ingot”.

The Cappella Musicale managed to find an entire album's worth. This collection of instrumental music is both appealing and interesting. Boismortier may have composed with a light touch, but he was an excellent craftsman.

The ensemble presents a variety of works. The Flute Concerto in D major, Op. 38 No. 1 follows the Italian model (fast-slow-fast), but it's a duet for two transverse flutes. The excerpts from the Op. 59 Suite de pieces de clavecin are elegant little miniatures of deceptive simplicity.

The dance suites have enough syncopation and energy that they're, well, danceable. And the Trio Sonata in D major, Op. 37, No. 3 has some wonderful antiphonal passages.

The Cappella Musicale, collectively and individually delivers good-natured, spirited performances. Boismortier didn't write for the ages -- he wrote for the entertainment of his audiences. This recording is just that. Entertaining -- and to an audience centuries removed from Boismortier's target market.

Joseph Bodin de Boismortier: The Court and Village Chamber Music
Cappella Musicale; Enrico Stuart, director
Brilliant Classics 96036


Tuesday, December 03, 2019

The Celebratory Suites of Pancho Vladigerov

In Bulgaria, Pancho Vladigerov is almost considered the founder of classical music. Like Bedrich Smetana and Antonin Dvorak, he deftly blended his country's folk music with Western classical traditions. And like those composers, he created music of both national and international appeal.

The characteristic odd meters of Slavic folk music gives Vladigerov's compositions a bubbling energy. In some ways, Vladigerov's style reminded me of Bohuslav Martinu's.

Seven Symphonic Bulgarian Dances features some imaginative orchestration. Vladigerov seems to use the orchestra as a resource of individual sounds. He only uses as many or as few instruments as he needs to get the effect he wants.

And the overall effect is this: every dance has a very different sound. The seven-movement suite is a kaleidoscope of orchestral color that keeps the listener's attention.

The Vardar Rhapsody was originally for violin and piano. In its orchestral form, the rhapsody became a patriotic emblem -- similar to the role Sibelius's "Finlandia" plays its country. It's a noble-sounding work and a distinctively Bulgarian-sounding one as well.

The album closes with the Bulgarian Suite, Op. 21. Vladigerov once again returns to folk traditions for each of the four movements as he did for the Bulgarian Dances. And like the Dances, this Suite is just as appealing for all the same reasons.

Rouse Philharmonic Orchestra gives these works sympathetic readings. I suspect Bulgarian musicians have a deeper understanding of what Vladigerov intended. And they deliver.

These are lively, energetic performances that at times sound celebratory. The recorded sound is passable.

Pancho Vladigerov: Bulgarian Suite
Rousse Philharmonic Orchestra; Nayden Todorov, conductor
Naxos 8.573422

Monday, December 02, 2019

Margaret Bonds - The Ballad of the Brown King

Margaret Bonds is considered one of America's most important 20th Century composers of color. And yet, because most of her work remains unpublished, little of it gets recorded. Which is why I was so excited to get this release.

Malcolm J. Merriweather, the conductor of the Dessoff Choirs in New York City, has become a champion of Bonds' music. This release features a major work by Bonds, as well as several songs sung by Merriweather.

Bonds had a close relationship with Langston Hughes, and with one exception all the works on this album are settings of his poems.

"The Ballad of the Brown King" is a work of incredible beauty. And not just a major choral work, but a Christmas-themed one. Everything about the Ballad sounds fresh and innovative.

The text focusses on Balthazar, one of the Three Wise Men who, by tradition is dark-skinned. Hughes' poem makes him a representative of all people of color, taking his place alongside the others at Jesus' birth.

Bonds' music is equally innovative. There are echoes of spirituals in the music, as well as a nod to Caribbean rhythms. But her neo-modal harmonies give the music a timeless quality and weaken the ties to traditional Western classical music.

But those ties are still there. And that, I think, makes this such a wonderful work. To me, the music, while celebrating African-American culture, also transcends race. This is Christmas music we all can -- and should -- enjoy.

Under Merriweather's direction the soloists, choirs, and ensemble deliver a heartfelt performance.

The additional songs, for baritone and harp, feature Merriweather as a singer. His rich, creamy baritone seems to sculpt each phrase is precisely the right manner.
Don't be fooled by the ho-hum cover art. This is an important release of exceptional music. Margaret Bonds was a gifted composer -- no other modifiers needed.

Margaret Bonds: The Ballad of the Brown King & Selected Songs
Laquita Mitchell, soprano; Lucia Bradford, mezzo-soprano; Noah Stewart, tenor; Ashley Jackson, harp
The Dessoff Choirs & Orchestra; Malcolm J. Merriweather, conductor
Avie AV 2413