Friday, January 31, 2020

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalDoubleDigits Week 5

The Classics a Day team noted that the new year is comprised of two twenties -- double digits. So the theme for January 2020 is to post other examples of double digits found in classical music. Prolific composers are a good place to start. But I found a few surprises among composers with very small catalogs.

Here are my posts for the fifth and final week of #ClassicalDoubleDigits.

01/27/20 Dimitri Shostakovich (1906-1975): String Quartet No. 11

This quartet was written in 1966. Shostakovich dedicated it to memory Vasily Shirinsky of the Beethoven Quartet.

1/28/20 Carl Czerny (1791-1857): Op.99, Rondino No.11 on a Theme of Haydn

Czerny, a student of Beethoven, wrote over 1,000 works. This is one of his 20 numbered rondinos (he wrote dozens more).

01/29/20 Joachim Raff (1822-1882): Symphony No. 11 "Der Winter"

The last of four symphonies based on the seasons, No. 11 was unfinished when Raff died. Max Erdmannsdörfer completed the score and premiered it in 1883.

01/30/20 Cécile Chaminade (1857-1944): 6 Pièces Romantiques, Op.55

Chaminade completed this set of works for piano four hands in 1890. It was published as her Op. 55 the following year.

1/31/20 George Frideric Handel (1685-1759): Amadigi di Gaula, HWV 11, Act 3 Scene 6: No. 30, Amadigi's Aria

This was Handle's fifth London opera. It was successful and had a run of 17 performances in 1717.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Soyeon Kate Lee plays Clementi with crystalline precision

Naxos has released a lot of Clementi piano sonatas, with a variety of performers. This latest release features Soyeon Kate Lee, who delivers some delightful performances. Clementi's music pushed the limits of the then-developing fortepiano. But on a modern instrument, they can sound a little constrained and reserved.

Lee has a feathery touch that makes her hands seem to just glide across the keyboard with crystalline precision. She's also sparing in her use of the pedal, which keeps the music sounding clean and transparent. Clementi's music benefits from what I heard as good-natured, spirited performances.

The works themselves span almost two decades. Four of the sonatas come from Clementi's Op. 1 publication of 1771. These are simple, two-movement works. Lee turns these modest works into charming miniatures.

The Sonata in F major, Op. 24, No. 1 was written over a decade later. The range of the pianoforte had expanded, and the action becomes more robust. Lee performs with authority, letting the strong dramatic contrasts set the tone.

Even more involved in the 1791 Sonata in F major, Op. 26. This sonata was published around the same time as Haydn's and Mozart's late sonatas -- and just four years before Beethoven's first set. The texture is much thicker, and what I would call more pianistic. The early sonatas were written for keyboard and lay equally well on a harpsichord or fortepiano. This work is strictly for the latter.

Muzio Clementi: Keyboard Sonatas
Op. 1, No. 6; Op. 1a – Nos. 1, 4 and 5; Op. 13, No. 4; Op. 24, No. 1; Op. 26
Soyeon Kate Lee, piano
Naxos 8.573922

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Deutsche Radio Philharmonie and Hermann Baumer deliver with early Strauss

Both scores in this release were written in 1893. Richard Strauss was just nineteen, but already an experienced composer. Both also use Beethoven works as their models, and in some parts, their style.

The concert piece uses the Coreolon overture. It's considered the least successful of the two works. The structural flaws mentioned in the liner notes didn't especially bother me. What I did hear was music that closely resembled Beethoven's -- save in orchestration.

The Concertouvertüre in C minor is modeled after Beethoven's Coriolan Overture, using a similar gesture to begin the work. As Strauss' overture progresses, though, the style seems to slide more towards Mendelssohn -- especially "Fingal's Cave." But then it's back to Beethoven for a massive fugue (which I found quite exciting).

The work was criticized for not having a programmatic title, the standard for Romantic concert overtures after Mendelssohn. Overall, it wasn't considered a successful work.

The Symphony in F minor, Op. 12 had a better track record. It was the third symphony Strauss had composed, and the second he assigned a number to. Brahms even called it "quite nice." To my ears, the symphony sounds at times like a bigger version of the Concertouvertüre.

Like the overture, Beethoven's symphonic writing seems to be a model. The Scherzo pays tribute to Mendelssohn, and once again there's a large fugal section.

But this symphony works and seems to work better than the overture. His orchestrations seem surer, somehow. Strauss lays everything out in a well-defined four-movement symphonic form. At times the music seems almost ready to burst with dramatic energy. This may not be the Strauss of the great tone poems, but the seeds are planted. This is music writ large, and it needs a large orchestra to pull it off.

The  Deutsche Radio Philharmonie is recorded in a large, spacious soundfield. The ensemble has a warm, rich sound that seems well-suited to the music. Under the direction of Hermann Baumer, they perform with energy and fire. Baumer embraces the influences, letting the music roar with Beethovenian rage or dance with Mendelssohnian delicacy.

These were works I had not heard before. They provided a fascinating look into Strauss's development and provided a darned good listening experience on their own merits.

Richard Strauss: Concert Overture in C minor; Symphony No. 2 in F minor, Op. 12
Deutsche Radio Philharmonie; Hermann Baumer, conductor

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Dante Quartet completes survey of Stanford Quartets

This release completes the Dante Quartet's traversal of Charles Villiers Stanford's string quartets. Appropriately, it includes both his first and last quartet, the latter receiving its world recording premiere.

Stanford's music is sometimes characterized as "Brahms with an Irish accent." That doesn't seem to apply to the first two quartets. Stanford wrote the first quartet shortly after hosting Antonín Dvorák. To my ears, it has the clean lines of Dvorák's quartets. I was also reminded of the clarity and linear organization of the early Beethoven quartets.

String Quartet No. 2 in A minor, Op. 45 has a different character. Stanford dedicated it to Richard Gompertz, a violinist, and colleague at the Royal College of Music. The second quartet begins with a counterpoint that slowly unfolds as the themes develop. Here the harmonies are thicker, more suggestive of Brahms than Beethoven.

Stanford's final quartet was completed in 1910, almost fifteen years after the other quartets on this release. It's easy to hear Stanford's growth as a composer. Right from the beginning, this is wonderfully complex music -- but complexity with a purpose. Stanford's harmonies subtly shade the sinewy melodies, adding to the expressive depth of the music.

The Dante Quartet performs with precision and expressive energy. the ensemble passage sound quite full, and are especially beautiful in the thickly-textured sixth quartet.

The quartet is also well-recorded, with just enough ambiance to let the strings ring without smearing the sound. To my ears, the mics were ideally placed. They captured all the fine detail of the individual instruments while providing enough space to let the listener hear the ensemble as a whole.

SOMM has announced they'll be releasing Stanford's string quintets next. I'm ready.

Charles Villiers Stanford: String Quartets Nos. 1, 2, and 6
Dante Quartet
SOMM 0607

Monday, January 27, 2020

"Two Lutes with Grace" informative and entertaining

It's a clever title. "Two Lutes with Grace" refers to Marc Lewon and Paul Kieffer (lutes), and Grace Newcombe (vocal). And it's a valuable release.

In the late 1400s, lute duos were one of the most common forms of professional ensembles. Lewon and Kieffer carefully reconstruct what music these duos may have performed, using current musicological findings. The resulting album is both informative and entertaining.

The plectrum in the title refers to an elongated pick. Using a plectrum gave the lute a cleaner and louder sound than using one's fingertips. And using two instruments further increased the volume, as well as allowing for fuller harmonies and complex counterpoint.

When Lewon and Kieffer play matched lutes, the sound amplification is evident. In a way, the effect reminded me of piano four hands. It's a sound that's close to the solo instrument, but somehow bigger and fuller.

While some of the works were originally written for the lute (or lute duet), others are arrangements of songs. Vocalist Grace Newcomb provides context. Each of her selections is followed by the same piece in a lute duo version.

Lewon and Kieffer further vary the texture by occasionally matching a lute with a gittern. This smaller member of the lute family is also played with a plectrum. It has a slightly different timbre than the lute (as well as a higher range). The interplay between the two instruments is easy to hear, making the tracks stand out from the homogenous sound of the two lute selections.

Lewon and Kieffer play with precision and sensitivity. Although continually playing staccato, both connect lines through their phrasing. This keeps the music from devolving into an unending barrage of notes.

Newcomb sings in with a slightly dark mezzo-soprano. As is common with early music practices, she eschews vibrato. Her voice contrasts nicely with the accompanying lutes, delivering the melodies with exceptional beauty.

Highly recommended -- especially for those only familiar with solo lute recordings. 

Two Lutes with Grace: Plectrum Lute Duos of the Late 15th Century
Marc Lewon, Paul Kieffer, lute; Grace Newcombe, voice
Naxos 8.573854 

Friday, January 24, 2020

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalDoubleDigits Week 4

The Classics a Day team noted that the new year is comprised of two twenties -- double digits. So the theme for January 2020 is to post other examples of double digits found in classical music. Prolific composers are a good place to start. But I found a few surprises among composers with very small catalogs. 

Here are my posts for the fourth week of #ClassicalDoubleDigits.

1/20/20 Nikolai Myaskovsky (1881-1950): String Quartet No. 7 in F major Op. 55

Myaskovsky wrote 13 string quartets. This one was completed in 1941, and blends folk music into its melodies.

1/21/20 Heinrich Schutz (1585-1672): Cantiones sacrae, Op. 4: Pro hoc magno mysterio pietatis (II), SWV 77

Schutz published this collection of sacred songs in 16125. The texts are primarily from an early Protestant prayer book.

1/22/20 Johann Strauss, Jr. (1825-1899): Slaven-Ball Quadrille, op. 88

The quadrille was first published in 1851. The orchestrated version by Christan Pollack is it's the best-known iteration.

1/23/20 Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741): Concerto in F major RV 99

The RV (Ryom-Verzeichnis) number was assigned by Peter Ryom. His catalog of Vivaldi's works first appeared in 1973.

1/24/20 Giovanni Battista Viotti (1755-1824): Violin Concerto No. 22 in A minor

Viotti is considered one of the founders of modern violin technique. He wrote 29 violin concerts, this one completed in 1797.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Herbert Howells Chamber Music has depth

Herbert Howells is best known for his large scale choral works. But as this release demonstrates, his chamber music is equally beautiful and well-crafted.

The Dante Quartet deliver sympathetic readings of Howell's String Quartet No. 3 and Lady Audrey's Suite. The Gould Trio, joined by pianist Benjamin Frith, performs the Piano Quartet in A minor with insightful beauty.

Howells embraced and internalized British folk traditions. His String Quartet No. 3, subtitled "In Gloucestershire," skillfully conjures the Cotswald Hill country.

The atmospheric opening almost seems like clearing mists, eventually revealing the rolling hills that Howells hiked with his colleague and friend Ivor Gurney. The quartet's modal harmonies and melodic structures evoke the English countryside. 

Lady Audtry's Suite Op. 19 receives its world recording premiere with this release. Howells wrote it as a Christmas present for a friend's niece. This light-hearted work reminded me strongly of Gustav Holt's "St. Paul's Suite."

The album concludes with the Piano Quartet in A minor Op. 21. Like the String Quartet No. 3, the quartet was also inspired by the Gloucester countryside. When Howells first composed the work in 1916, it had a somewhat sunny character. Howells dedicated it To the Hill at Chosen and Ivor Gurney who knows it."

When Howells revised the work in 1936, Gurney's mental and physical health was failing. he would have less than a year to live. The recast version of the quartet has an elegiac character to it. To me, it sounded as if Howells was recalling a happier time now gone forever.

If you love the British pastoral style of Ralph Vaughan Williams, Gerald Finzi, or Frederic Delius, you'll enjoy this release. But I'd also recommend it to those who don't necessarily enjoy it. The emotional undercurrents of the quartets have a beauty that goes beyond pastoral prettiness.

Herbert Howells: Chamber Music
Dante Quartet; Gould Piano Trio; David Adams, viola
Naxos 8.573913

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Boris Lyatoshynsky Symphony gets spirited performance

Boris Lyatoshynsky was a Ukrainian who spent a large part of his career working in Soviet Russia. It's an important distinction. Soviet composers had to write music that followed political guidelines. In the case of Lyatoshynsky's 1951 Third Symphony, it meant rewriting the finale.

The programmatic symphony was a reaction to the horrors of the Second World War, and particularly the impact on Ukraine. The original final movement represented Peace supplanting War. At the height of the Cold War, this ran counter to Soviet policies and almost caused the work to be permanently banned.

The symphony had already been heard in open rehearsals and was positively received. Lyatoshynsky substituted a new finale for the offending "bourgeois" movement. It allowed the authorities to let the work be heard (in some fashion) while saving face.

Of course, once the Soviet Union disintegrated, the original finale was restored, along with the original subtitle, "Peace shall defeat War." That's the version heard here. Maestro Kirill Karabits leads the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in a spirited performance. Lyatoshynsky was emotionally invested in this work, and this recording lays bare those emotions.

This is the second in the "Voices from the East" series. As with the first volume of music by Kara Karayev, Karabits and the Bournemouth Symphony deliver more treasures from former Soviet states. Music steeped in the character of their countries. Lyatoshynky always considered himself a Ukrainian composer. The music in this release reaffirms that assertion.

However, you purchase this music, be sure to get the highest resolution possible. The SACD sound is full-bodied and finely detailed. That detail makes a huge difference in the understanding of Lytoshynksy's works.

Boris Lyatoshynsky: Symphony No. 3; Grazhyna
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra; Kirill Karabits, conductor
Chandos CHSA 5233

Monday, January 20, 2020

Johann Simon Mayr piano concertos on par with Haydn's

The German composer Johann Simon Mayr dominated the music scene in northern Italy in the early 1800s. He was the maestro di cappella at the Cathedral of Bergamo and wrote a prodigious amount of music: over 70 operas, 18 masses, and 57 symphonies. Today, he's best known (if at all) as Gaetano Donizetti's teacher.

This release features two piano concertos by Mayr. Although primarily an opera and choral composer, he was well skilled in orchestral writing. The concertos follow the late 18th century model of Haydn and Mozart. The three-movement forms are clearly delineated. Mayr's melodies are tuneful, with memorable motifs to help guide the ear.

Personally, I found them comparable to Mozart's early concertos in overall quality. Mayr -- as befitting a composer of seventy operas -- has a gift for melody. The solo piano part may require a lot of technique to play, but it always sounds lyrical.

And that's what soloist Edna Stern brings out in her performances. Her phrasing makes the music almost sing. Stern makes these concerti sound not only beautiful but personable. Mayr's music has a natural appeal to begin with, but Stern's playing completely won me over.

The Gerogisches Kammerorchester Ingolstadt also adds to that attraction. The ensemble has a nice, spacious sound. I was particularly impressed with the recording. These were live performances, but they don't sound like it. The audiences are exceptionally well-behaved (Like to think they were too enthralled to cough or move around).
This was my first introduction to Johann Simon Mayr's music. I'm now curious to hear more. Perhaps Maestro Ruben Gazarian and the Gerogisches Kammerorchester Ingolstadt would like to have a go at some of those 57 symphonies?

Franz Joseph Haydn: Symphony No. 25 in C major
Johann Simon Mayr: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 2
Gerogisches Kammerorchester Ingolstadt;  Ruben Gazarian, conductor
Edna Stern, piano
Ars Produktion 260052


Friday, January 17, 2020

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalDoubleDigits Week 3

The Classics a Day team noted that the new year is comprised of two twenties -- double digits. So the theme for January 2020 is to post other examples of double digits found in classical music. Prolific composers are a good place to start. But I found a few surprises among composers with very small catalogs. 

Here are my posts for the third week of #ClassicalDoubleDigits.

1/13/20 Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757): Sonata K. 22

Scarlatti's 555 keyboard sonatas have been assigned catalog numbers by four different compilers. Ralph Kirkpatrick's 1950 catalog is considered the most authoritative.

1/14/20 Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757): Sonata in E minor L.22

Alessandro Longo published the first 20th Century catalog the sonatas in 1906. This sonata is also listed as K. 98 and P.132

1/15/20 Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757): Sonata in F major P.22

Georgio Pestelli is the most recent Scarlatti compiler. His edition came out in 1967. This sonata is also known as K.59 and L.71

1/16/20 Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757): Sonata in B-flat major CZ.22 16

Composer/pianist Czerny published his edition of Scarlatti sonatas in 1840. This one's also known as K.16, L.397, and P.72.

1/17/20 Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791): Violin Sonata No. 33, E-flat Major, K. 481

This sonata was composed in December 1785. At the time, violin sonatas were published in collections -- this one was offered separately.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Reznicek Symphonic Suites Blend Old and New

Emil Nikolaus von Reznicek was primarily an opera composer. Two of the three suites in the release have their origins on the stage. Nevertheless, they show that Reznicek was quite comfortable writing for the concert hall.

The Karneval Suite "in an older style" was extracted from Reznicek's two-act opera Gondoliere des Dogen. The drama's set in the 17th Century, and the music uses Baroque dance forms. Stylistically, the suite reminded me strongly of Stravinsky's "Pulcinella" and Respighi's "Ancient Airs and Dances," which also reinterpreted older music. And like those other two examples, Reznicek's Karneval Suite succeeds admirably.

The 1916 Traumspiel Suite also comes from the theater. In this case, Reznicek recast incidental music written for a play. The style is post-Romantic, and we hear more of the composer's true voice. Reznicek's experience writing for opera comes through with this music. The movements clearly delineate the emotional content of the scenes they were written for.

According to the liner notes, Reznicek's Symphonic Suite No. 1 is more of a symphony than a collection of short, stand-alone movements. I can hear that. This 1882 work was originally an examination piece submitted for Rezicek's degree. His professors Carl Reinecke and Salomon Jadassohn passed him.

The three-movement work has the feel of a large-scale work. The melodic gestures are symphonic in scope. Each movement is fairly complex, with plenty of space for the themes to develop organically. And then there's all that counterpoint in the finale. But compared to Reznicek's named symphonies, it's a modest work.

The Weimarer Staatskapelle directed by Stefan Solyom deliver solid performances of these works. The strings play with an impressive degree of precision. Overall the ensemble has a full, warm sound that makes these post-Romantic suites sound even richer. There's a touch more hall ambiance in the recording than I'd like, but that's a minor (and very personal) complaint.

Emil Nikolaus von Reznicek: Symphonic Suite No.1; Traumspiel-Suite; Karneval-Suite
Weimarer Staatskapelle; Stefan Solyom, conductor
CPO 555 056

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Solistes Européens deliver with Farrenc Symphony No. 1

Back in September 2018 I reviewed the debut release by the Solistes Européens, Luxembourg with conductor Christoph König. It was a release of Louise Farrenc's second and third symphonies.

I said, "The Solistes Européens has a fine ensemble blend. König leads them in fiery, committed performances. I would love to hear them perform Farrenc's first symphony."

And now they have. I can't say I love it, but I do like it very much. I think I understand why the ensemble chose to lead with Farrenc's later symphonies. They're stronger works.

Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 32 was completed in 1841, cast in a standard four-movement form. It's a well-written work; Farrenc's themes develop in a cohesive fashion.

The slow movement has an exceptionally beautiful melody. The menuetto is light on its feet, and the finale brings things to a rousing finish. And yet, for me, there was something lacking. This work came out around the same time as Mendelssohn's "Scottish" Symphony, and it suffers a little (I think) by comparison.

To my ears, Beethoven seemed a strong influence in Farrenc's writing, filtered through Mendelssohn.  König and Solistes Européens, Luxembourg once again delivers a fiery, committed performance, but this time the symphony doesn't quite get off the ground.

More successful were the two overtures, written in 1834. This is Farrenc's orchestral writing at it's finest. Both works are full of energy and are models of efficient writing. Farrenc gets to the point with these overtures quickly and never lets the listener go. In my opinion, these should be staples of the orchestral repertoire (and give some of the warhorses a rest).

The Grand Variations on a Theme by Count Gallenberg was also a treat. Louise Farrenc was a virtuoso pianist as well as a composer. Combining her talent for composition and piano performance seems to have brought out her best. The theme isn't that memorable, but Farrenc's treatment of it is impressive. Like Beethoven with Diabelli, she disassembles the melody and uses the parts to build something new and much more interesting.

Pianist Jean Muller seems to be having fun with the material. No matter how complex the music, he keeps things moving with a light touch and wonderfully expressive phrasing. To build off my first review of this series, I'd love to hear Muller perform more of Farrenc's piano music.

Louise Farrenc: Symphony No. 1; Two Overtures; Grand Variations on a Theme by Count Gallenberg
Jean Muller, piano
Solistes Européens, Luxembourg; Christoph König, conductor
Naxos 8.574094

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Mieczyslaw Weinberg Chamber Symphonies - phenomenal

This release is special in two ways. First, it marks the centenary of Mieczyslaw Weinberg's birth in 1919. Second, it's the debut recording of the East-West Chamber Orchestra.

The combination is magic -- we get phenomenal performances of some phenomenal music.

The East-West Chamber Orchestra has been the in-house ensemble for the Yuri Bashmet International Music Festival. It consists of concertmasters and soloists from across the globe.

Performance levels are quite high -- as are the quality of the instruments. Not surprisingly, there are more than a few Guarneris, Gaudagninis and Stradivaris.

It all translates into exceptional performances with exceptional sound. I think this is about the best-sound string ensemble I've heard in the Naxos catalog.

And the music is worth the effort.  Weinberg's music is often compared to that of his friend and colleague, Dmitri Shostakovich. There are some parallels. To my ears, Weinberg has a harder time keeping his emotions in check.

Both of these concertos were reworked from earlier string quartets. The quartets were written just before the Second World War, the concertos in the late 1980s-early 1990s. Weinberg brings a lifetime of experience to these works. The depth of expression they offer can be breath-taking -- especially in these performances.

As I said, phenomenal performances of some phenomenal music.

Mieczyslaw Weinberg: Chamber Symphonies Nos. 1 & 3
East-West Chamber Orchestra; Rostislav Krimer, conductor
Naxos 8.574063

Monday, January 13, 2020

Leila Schayegh delivers lively performances of LeClair violin concertos

I think I'm seeing a pattern here. This second volume of Jean-Marie LeClair violin concertos features four selections: two each from his Opus 7 (1739) and Opus 10 (1743). And just as they did in volume one, the concertos share the same numbers. In this case, nos. 1 and 3.

Violinist Leila Schayegh and La Cetra Barockorchester Basel perform to the same high standard as they did in volume one. The ensemble sound is particularly pleasing.

The liner notes point out that the majority of players use plain gut strings, which have a mellower tone than modern steel strings. And they went with much lower tuning.

Modern practice sets A at 440 Hz. The performers opted for A 408 Hz, a much lower pitch. It was the standard for most of Baroque France, making it a logical choice for authenticity. And, I think, the lower pitch is kinder to the strings. The end result is a soft, warm ensemble sound that's quite pleasing to the ear (at least my ears, anyway).

Soloist Leila Schayegh delivers lively performances throughout. She handles all of LeClair's technical challenges with alacrity. I was especially impressed with her ornamentations. Her mordants and trills were clean and articulated, adding brilliance into the notes they decorated.

As with volume one, this release presents four stylish and elegant violin concertos from the French Baroque. All well-performed and leaving me awaiting the rest of the series.

Jean-Marie LeClair: Concerti per Violino, Vol. 2
Op. 7 & 10 - Nos. 1 & 3
Leila Schayegh, violin
La Cetra Barockorchester Basel
Glossa 926202

Friday, January 10, 2020

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalDoubleDigits Week 2

The Classics a Day team noted that the new year is comprised of two twenties -- double digits. So the theme for January 2020 is to post other examples of double digits found in classical music. Prolific composers are a good place to start. But I found a few surprises among composers with very small catalogs. 

Here are my posts for the second week of #ClassicalDoubleDigits.

1/6/20 Amy Beach (1867-1944): Bal Masque, Op. 22

This work was originally written for solo piano and published in 1894. Beach's orchestral version was never published during her lifetime and remained in manuscript until 2017.

1/7/20 Marco Dall'Aquila (1480-1544) Ricercar, No. 33

Dall'Aquila was a Venetian lutenist. His 1505 "Tabullatura et rasone de metter ogni canto in liuto" has over 100 ricercare.

1/8/20 Alfonso X (1221–1284): Cantiga 77 "Da que deus mamou"

Alfonso X of Spain was a great patron of the arts. He commissioned the Cantigas de Santa Maria, one of the largest surviving collections of Medieval music.

1/9/20 Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750): Siehe, ich will viel Fischer aussenden (BWV 88)

This cantata "Behold, I will send out many fishers" was written for the Fifth Sunday after Trinity, July 1726.

1/10/20 Clara Schumann(1819-1896): Three Romances for violin and piano, Op. 22

These romances were first published in 1855. There were dedicated to virtuoso violinist Joseph Joachim, a family friend.

Thursday, January 09, 2020

Carl Reinecke cello works trace composer's development

This release features the four works for cello and piano of Carl Reinecke. The earliest was written when the composer was 31; the last when he was 73. Collectively they provide snapshots of Reinecke's artistic development.

Cellist Martin Rummel and pianist Roland Krüger garnered great reviews for their release of Joseph Merk's cello works. This release should do the same. Even though Reinecke's sonatas favor the cello or the piano, the two musicians work as a team.

The interpretations of Rummel and Krüger mesh beautifully, reveling in the sonic possibilities of this late-Romantic music. Rummel's cello has a full, singing tone that's perfectly balanced by Krüger's nuanced playing.

Reinecke's 1855 Cello Sonata No. 1 in A minor, Op. 42 bears a strong Schumann influence. Reinecke's melodies seamlessly flow from one to the next. The Cello Sonata No. 2 in D major, Op. 89 is a different story. Reinecke had matured as a composer. his music shifts moods -- purposefully --  with some abruptness. The melodic duties are more evenly distributed between the two instruments.

The Three Pieces for Cello and Piano, Op. 146 are simple little works to be enjoyed. This 1893 set of miniatures are beautifully crafted, with wonderfully appealing melodies. Reinecke's final cello sonata finished in 1897 is the work of a mature composer. The music demands much of both the cellist and pianist. Reinecke's music is richly complex and richly expressive.

Listening to this release, I felt that Sonata No. 3 was one the one Rummel and Krüger enjoyed the most. Both parts are meaty and require a high level of musicianship to properly blend them into a cohesive whole. Of course, I don't know how the performers felt about this work -- that's just my impression.

Carl Reinecke: Complete Works for Cello and Piano
Martin Rummel, cello; Roland Krüger, piano
Naxos 8.573727

Wednesday, January 08, 2020

Naxos launches new series with Alberto Nepomuceno

This release launches a new series from Naxos -- the Music of Brazil. Working with three Brazilian orchestras, Naxos will record about 100 works by native composers. It should be a phenomenal and revelatory cycle. That's my impression after hearing this first release of music by Alberto Nepomuceno (1864-1920).

It's a logical place to start. Nepomuceno was one of the first composers to blend Brazilian traditional music with classical forms. He was a friend and colleague of Edvard Grieg, and his music shares some similarities.

Nepomuceno writes in a very clear, economic style. His use of Brazilian musical elements is organic, which makes the works recorded here so successful. Another plus is the Minas Gerais Philharmonic Orchestra, led by Brazilian conductor Fabio Mechetti. Like a Czech orchestra performing Dvorak, they understand the subtext of music in a way a non-native orchestra couldn't. The orchestra's performances give these works an extra spark that's hard to define, but easy to hear.

Nepomuceno's 1893 Symphony in G minor follows a Brahmsian model. The four-movement work lays out its themes and develops them in a logical fashion. But this isn't Brahms. Nepomuceno's strong rhythms and distinctive melodies give it a distinctly Brazilian character.

The 1891 Série Brasileira brings Nepomuceno's heritage to the fore. Each movement uses folk elements from different parts of Brazil. The first movement is based on an Amazonian theme and the second based on the Brazilian tango (maxixe). the third movement references Northeastern Brazilian music and the finale the batuque dance of southern Brazil.

It's Nepomuceno's most popular work. While the folk elements make it naturally appealing, Fabio Mechetti goes beneath the surface. Under his direction, the Minas Gerais Philharmonic brings out the full richness of Neopmuceno's orchestrations. It turns the work from a set of orchestrated folk songs to an orchestral work incorporating folk elements.

In Brazil, Alberto Nepomuceno is a national treasure. This release helps listeners outside the country understand why.

Alberto Nepomuceno: Symphony in G minor; O Garatuja; Prelude; Série Brasileira
Minas Gerais Philharmonic Orchestra; Fabio Mechetti, conductor
Naxos 8.574067

Tuesday, January 07, 2020

Friedrich Gernsheim string quartet cycle off to a solid start

The musical influences of Friedrich Gernshiem are easy to hear; Robert Schumann, Camille Saint-Saëns, and Johannes Brahms. The latter is perhaps the strongest. Gernsheim was a friend and colleague of the famous composer.

Like Brahms, Gernsheim only wrote a handful of string quartets. The Diogenes Quartett launches a traversal of those five works with this release. Featured in this recording are Gernsheim's first and third quartets.

The first quartet was written when Gernsheim was 33. While it's not exactly a youthful work it does have a certain energy about it. Gernsheim's melodies have a Schubertian grace about them. And they're supported with lush Romantic harmonies that almost seem self-indulgent.

I especially enjoyed the final movement with its rapid accelerando. It was a frantic race to the finish that ended the work with a flourish.

Gernsheim's third quartet was composed over a decade later. It's the work of a more mature composer. Here the melodies are more fully formed, and sweetly romantic. The harmonies give the work a somewhat sentimental character (at least to these 21st Century ears).

The Diogenes Quartett plays with commitment and authority. Gerhsheim was a skilled composer, and the quartet makes the most of the material. Their ensemble blend is quite smooth -- an asset with Gernsheim's thick harmonies.

This is a solid start to what promises to be an interesting series. I look forward to volume two.

Friedrich Gernsheim: String Quartets, Vol. 1
String Quartet No. 1 in C minor, Op. 25
String Quartet No. 3 in F major, Op. 51
Diogenese Quartett
CPO 777 3872

Monday, January 06, 2020

Katarzyna Drogosz bring Franz Xaver Mozart out of father's shadow

In his lifetime Franz Xaver Wolfgang Mozart was better known as a virtuoso pianist than a composer. And for good reason. As a performer, he was judged on the merits of his own talent. As a composer, he was always compared to his father, Wolfgang Amadeus.

As a result, F.X. Mozart virtually ceased composing in his thirties. Only now is his music being evaluated on its own merits. This release presents Mozart's piano sonata and an assortment of shorter piano works.

The Piano Sonata in G major, Op. 10 is a major work with a playing time of about 25 minutes. To my ears, this four-movement sonata strongly resembles those of Clementi. The texture is light, with scales and arpeggiated chords being the primary building blocks.

And yet there's a difference. Some of the phrasings are deliberately irregular, playing on the listener's expectations. Mozart was only 16 when he wrote the sonata, and there's a youthful lighthearted feel to it.

Mozart spent time in Poland and published four collections of polonaises. The Polonaises mélancoliques Op. 22 were composed when Mozart was in his thirties. The writing is much more sophisticated and, I think, more interesting. Each of the polonaises adheres to the traditional 3/4 pattern of the dance. And yet each is very different in character.

Mozart uses thick harmonies to color his melodies, effectively shifting their emotional content. Are they as good as Chopin's? Not quite -- but they do point the way.

Katarzyna Drogosz performs admirably, subtly phrasing and shaping the music in interesting ways. I'm especially impressed as she's playing on an 1800 fortepiano, an instrument with markedly less responsiveness than a modern piano. Nevertheless, Drogosz plays with elegance and executing runs and trills with a delicate touch.

A well-executed program of music by a composer overshadowed by his heritage.

Franz Xaver Wolfgang Mozart: Rondos, Sonata, Polonaises, Variations
Katarzyna Drogosz; fortepiano
Accord ACD260


Friday, January 03, 2020

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalDoubleDigits Week 1

The Classics a Day team noted that the new year is comprised of two twenties -- double digits. So the theme for January 2020 is to post other examples of double digits found in classical music. Prolific composers are a good place to start. But I found a few surprises among composers with very small catalogs. 

 Here are my posts for the first week of #ClassicalDoubleDigits.

1/1/20 Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827): Piano Sonata No. 11 in B-flat major, Op. 22

We open #ClassicalDoubleDigits with two sets. Sonata No. 11 was completed in 1800. Beethoven considered the work (published as Op. 22) one of his best early period sonatas.

1/2/20 Alexander Tcherepnin (1899-1977): Eight pieces for piano Op. 88

According to the publisher, "tonality and dissonance bolster each other to create a dynamic and dramatic whole" in these 1957 preludes.

1/3/20 Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750): Cello Suite No. 4 in E-flat major, BWV 1010

The Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis (Bach Works Catalog) was first published in 1950. The numbering isn't strictly chronological. Nos. 1001-1040 are chamber works.

Thursday, January 02, 2020

Raphael Wallfisch continues cello concerto cycle with Ben-Haim, Korngold, and Bloch

This installment of Raphael Wallfisch's innovative series features three very different composers. "Cello Concertos by Jewish Composers in Exile" is in its fourth volume. All three composers were Jewish, and all were forced from their homes. But not every work on this album is a concerto (sort of).

The outlier is Ernest Bloch, represented by some transformed works. Included are two movements the Baal Shem Suite. Originally written for violin and piano, It's heard here in orchestration for cello and orchestra, and work quite well in this version.

His major work is the Symphony for Violoncello and Orchestra. This 1954 work (symphony, not concerto) was composed for solo trombone and orchestra. The piano reduction noted the solo part could be played by either trombone or cello. And so we have the version on this release.

The Symphony (not concerto) is a wonderful work. Although he didn't count it as one of his Jewish works (such as Schlomo), there's no escaping one's roots. The melodies, particularly as played by Wallfisch have echoes from Jewish musical culture.

Paul Ben-Haim was one of the early immigrants to Britsh Mandate Palestine (later Israel). His work is strongly influenced by Eastern Mediterranian music. Those influences are easy to hear in his 1972 Cello Concerto.

Erich Wolfgang Korngold fled Austria ahead of the Nazis. He found a new life (and career) in America, transitioning from composing concert music to film scores. But he never completely left classical music, nor his Viennese roots behind.

His Cello Concerto in C major recycles themes from his score for "Deception." A cellist and a composer are opposite points of a love triangle (with a pianist!). Part of the drama involves a concerto the composer has written for the cellist, snippets of which are heard in the movie.

Korngold takes his movie cues and develops them into an organic if compact, whole. The thirteen-minute concerto never completely shakes its Hollywood origins. Because Wallfisch takes the music seriously, though, those traces recede in the background.

Overall, Raphael Wallfisch delivers some beautiful performances. He adapts his playing to the character of the music. For Bloch's music, he plays with a rich, rounded tone, while in the Korngold his cello seems to have a steely edge to it.

This release is a diverse collection of composers and styles. But it's unified in the quality of the playing, both by Wallfisch and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales.

Paul Ben-Haim; Ernest Bloch; Erich Wolfgang Korngold: Cello Concertos
Cello Concertos from Exile, Vol. 4
Raphael Wallfisch, cello
BBC National Orchestra of Wales; Lukasz Borowicz, conductor
CPO 555 273–2