Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Spam Roundup March, 2020

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.

Cryptic life hacks

Sometimes comments come in that seem like sage advice. Or inscrutably sage advice.

- Cut the full lace wig, re-bond double-sided tape to fit your hairline. [Not sure what that has to do with anything I write about, but OK, I'll do that.]

- Another choice could cute matching couple cushion covers that will show that every night when you sleep you see him or her in your dreams. [Sounds positively marvie. Just curious, though -- was the first choice?]

- You essential just save in persuasion that your job is decriminalize and maintain yourself to protect a colourise cape.[I agree. All colorized capes should be decriminalized.]

"Lumbering along" a spambot fave!

Yes, this is what all the fuss is about.
This month spammers couldn't get enough of this post. The Straco Express Layout, Part 23 - Lumbering Along isn't my best writing, but who am I to argue? Glad to see this post about a cheap Japanese toy continues to fill a need.

- This post is invaluable. How can I find out more? [Just keep reading. This is part 23 of a 63-part series! ]

- That's what I was looking for, what a material! existing here at this site. [Imagine that!]

- What's up dear, are you really visiting this site regularly, if so afterward you will absolutely obtain good experience. [Eeeew. Now I feel all dirty.]

[And just to make sure all these accolades don't go to my head, there's this:]
- I believed this put up used to be good. [Ouch.]

Tell me a story

[I don't often quote the entire comment, but this one's a beaut.]

- An impressive share! I have just forwarded this onto a colleague who has been conducting a little homework on this. And he actually ordered me lunch because I found it for him... lol. So allow me to reword this... Thanks for the meal! But yeah, thanks for spending time to talk about this matter here on your site.

Seems pretty convincing, except I received this exact same email on 20 different posts, all with different subjects (note how vague the writer is about that). It looks like the year's off to a great start. Let's all work to make 2020 the year colorized capes become street-legal!

Il Furibondo deliver with Max Reger String Trios

Il Furibondo, violinist Liana Mosca, violist Gianni de Rosa, and cellist Marcello Scandelli, are quite impressive. The musicians regularly perform in early music groups with period instruments.

In this recording, they show equal proficiency with modern instruments. In many ways, their dual skill sets make the trio uniquely suited to Reger's music.

Max Reger considered his music a continuation of Brahms and Beethoven. His harmonies, though, pushed the boundaries of tonality further than his heroes did.

And, as an organist, he developed a deep love of Bach, and especially of his contrapuntal writing. The members of Il Furibondo have experience both with the music of Reger, and those of his inspirations.

The trio plays expressively, leaning into the rich emotional content these early 20th-Century works. Mics were placed quite close to the instruments. I could easily hear quick intakes of breaths, grunts and hums from the performers. But it didn't detract from the sound. If I were hearing these works live, those sounds would be part of the performance. And that's what they are here. To me, it simply meant that these artists were fully invested in the music they were playing, and that increased my own engagement with the works.

The two string trios show those influences but are not bound by them. There are passages that seem inspired by Beethoven's quartets. And there are melodies that seem to use Brahms as their starting point. And there are plenty of instances where the three instruments weave together in Bach-like polyphony.

And yet at no time could the music be mistaken for any of those composers. Reger's harmonic progressions are uniquely his own. His melodies bend and turn in distinctive ways. And the harmonies are simply too rich for contrapuntal sections to be mistaken for Bach.

Reger had the ability to write works of contemplative beauty. He certainly did in these two works. Eleven years separate the composition of his first string trio (1904) and his second (1915). And yet -- to my years -- they're remarkably similar. And that's not a bad thing. Both trios are skillfully crafted, and sound as rewarding to play as they are to listen to. 

Max Reger: String Trios
Il Firubondo
Solo Musica SM323

Monday, March 30, 2020

Solomiya Ivakhiv Double Concerto Project spans labels

This is something unusual -- a recording series spread across different labels. Violinist Solmiya Ivakhiv and pianist Antonio Pompa-Baldi wanted to record the double concertos of Haydn and Mendelssohn.

While preparing, they discovered two other neglected works. Johann Nepomuk Hummel, a contemporary of Haydn, had also written a double concerto for violin and piano. And Mendelssohn at age 13 had composed a seldom-performed violin concerto in D major.

There was enough material for two CDs. The Mendelssohn works were released on Brilliant Classics. The paired Haydn and Hummel concertos were released on Centaur.

Theodor Kuchar conducts the Slovak National Symphony Orchestra on both releases. As expected, the sound quality is fairly consistent across the two releases, as are the performances.

Ivakhiv and Pompa-Baldi bring the right measure of bravado and sensitivity to these works. These two artists seem to speak the same language, making their exchanges all the more engaging. Both play with crystalline clarity that is well-suited to these works.

Haydn's Concerto for Violin, Piano, and Orchestra in F major is probably the best-known of the four works. Ivakhiv and Pompa-Baldi deliver performances that epitomize the elegant beauty of the score.

Hummel's music leans more towards the Romantic era. His Concerto for Piano and Violin in G major is one of the influences for Mendelssohn's early violin concerto. Hummel dedicated the concerto to Count Rasoumovsky, a talented amateur violinist and benefactor of Beethoven.

Hummel's concerto has a fuller orchestral sound, with a more urgent sense of drama than Haydn's. The solo passages, especially the piano's, also seem more technically challenging.

Mendelssohn's double concerto was written when he was fourteen. Ivakhiv and Pompa-Baldi discovered a revision Mendelssohn made late in life, expanding the string orchestra to a full symphony orchestra. This is the version they perform.

It's an exciting work, and if you're only familiar with the original version, an illuminating one. Mendelssohn makes the climaxes stronger, and the dynamic contrasts greater.

Mendelssohn's D minor violin concerto is a good but not great work. His influences -- Hummel, Kreutzer, and Weber -- aren't fully integrated. This gives the work a bit of a patchwork quality to it -- still pretty darned good for a tween. Ivakhiv's innate musicianship brings out the structure of the music, making the solo part more than just runs up and down the instrument.

Four concertos, two different labels, one set of performers. This is a great series, and I hope Ivakhiv and Pompa-Baldi find more to record.

Haydn and Hummel: Double Concertos
Franz Joseph Haydn: Concerto for Violin and Piano in F major. HOb. XVIII:6
Johann Nepomuk Hummel: Concerto for Piano and Violin in G major, Op. 17

Felix Mendelssohn: Concertos
Concerto for Violin, Piano and Orchestra in D minor
Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D minor
Brilliant Classics

Solomiya Ivakhiv, violin; Antonio Pompa-Baldi, piano
Slovak National Symphony Orchestra; Theodore Kuchar, conductor

Friday, March 27, 2020

#ClassicsaDay #WomensHistoryMonth Weeks 4 and 5

For the third year in a row, the Classics a Day team has chosen women composers as March's theme. And while some composers (living and dead) have received their due, there are thousands more to discover and rediscover.

I challenged myself to seek out women composers I had not featured in previous years. Here are my posts for the final weeks of #ClassicsaDay for #WomensHistoryMonth

03/23/20 Margaret Sutherland (1897–1984) - Concerto for Violin and Orchestra

Australian composer Sutherland married a psychiatrist. He claimed a woman wanting to compose was a sign of insanity. They were divorced, she kept writing, and later received OBE for her music.

03/24/20 Sophia Corri Dussek (1775–1847) - Sonata for Harp in C minor, Op. 3, No. 3

Sophia Corri married Czech composer Jan Ladislav Dussek, After his death, she remarried and founded a music school. Her piano sonatas went through several printings.

03/25/20 Vanessa Lann (born 1968) - Leather, rinse, repeat

Lann specializes in writing fro under-appreciated instruments. Some are traditional, such as the bass clarinet and bassoon. Others, like the toy piano, are not.

03/26/20 Elisabeth Luytens (1906-1983) - En voyage

Luytens was a champion of Schoenberg's music and used atonality to great effect in her film scores. By the 1960's she was known as the "Horror Queen" for her work with Hammer Films.

03/27/20 Emilia Gubitosi (1887–1972) - Piano Concerto

Italian composer Gubitosi worked as an orchestra administrator. Most of her works are (logically) for symphonic orchestras.

03/30/20 Ruth Gipps (1921-1999) - Symphony No. 2

This English composer was one of the most prolific, with 5 symphonies and 7 concerti in her catalog. She also founded two orchestras and served as conductor and music director for a third ensemble.

03/31/20 Soe Tjen Marching (born 1971) - Kenang

Marching is an Indonesian composer and published author. Her work in both fields pushes the avant-garde.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Energetic works from early and late Richard Strauss

This release features a selection of works written at the very beginning, and at the very end of Richard Strauss' career. In a way, it's not surprising at the consistency of style in these works. In those later years, Strauss became increasingly nostalgic for those earlier times.

A good example is the Duett-Concertino for clarinet and bassoon with string orchestra. Though composed in 1947, it sounds like a work from the 1900's. But the Duett-Concertino is not a work Strauss could have written in his youth. The elements blend in a more refined manner. And the work, while beautiful, expresses itself in a mature, restrained fashion.

Strauss' Romance in E-flat major for clarinet and orchestra was written in his youth. Here the clarinet part has a Mozartian flavor to it. And the gestures are bigger, the contrasts more dynamic than the Duett-Concertino.

Clarinetist Michael Collins performs both works with a smooth, mellow tone. The duet passages with Julie Price are especially appealing.

The Burleske for piano and orchestra is another youthful work. Strauss, at 24, was also deep in the study of Mozart piano concertos. The Burleske in D minor shows some of that influence. It's almost bursting with energy and enthusiasm.

Strauss's showy piano part does resemble Mozart in his use of scales and motifs. Michael Michale's hands sound like they're flying across the keyboard. He dashes off the runs and skips with swagger and abandon. It thrilling, and fun.

The Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D minor 17 was completed in 1881. Strauss was eighteen. The work is almost over the top in its unabashedly Romantic expression. The melodies are gorgeous, wrapped in rich, resonant harmonies.

Tasmine Little is an outstanding soloist. Strauss seems to include just about every technical trick -- double stops, glissandi on multiple strings, wide leaps, etc. Little performs them in a manner that incorporates them into the melodic flow of the music. Her violin's clear, singing tone helps keep this youthful work grounded -- at least enough to be taken seriously.

The works may not be that familiar -- but the character certainly is. If you like Strauss at all, you should seek out this recording.

Richard Strauss: Burleske; Romance; Duett-Concertino; Violin Concerto
Tasmin Little, violin; Michael Michale, piano; Julie Price, bassoon
BBC Symphony Orchestra; Michael Collins, conductor, clarinet
Chandos CHAN 20034

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Explosive performance of Allan Pettersson's Second Violin Concerto

You could consider Swedish composer Allan Pettersson a musician's musician. His symphonies, though rarely performed in concert halls, are considered ground-breaking masterworks.

Since 2009 maestro Christian Lindberg has been moving through Pettersson's orchestral catalog. This release is but the latest in his string of outstanding Pettersson recordings.

The official title of the major work on this album is Concerto No. 2 for Violin and Orchestra. But as with Pettersson's symphonies, it doesn't easily fall into its designated category. Originally Petterson conceived the work as a symphony, with the first violinist doubling as soloist.

Unlike a traditional concerto, the soloist isn't always the star. Sometimes the violin plays with the strings, blending into the ensemble. As Pettersson wrote, "this work is a matter of lengthy, expansive sections that frequently resolve themselves in eruptions."

And how! Solo violinist Ulf Wallin and the Norrköping Symphony Orchestra play with almost unrelenting intensity. But that's necessary to bring about the effect Pettersson's after. From the opening notes to the final cadence, the music keeps driving forward, almost compulsively so.

It's a challenging work for the performers, and for the listener. Pettersson's music commands your full attention. And it's definitely worth the effort.

Also included is the fragment of Pettersson's Symphony No. 17. It's one of the last things he wrote. To my ears, it's analogous to Beethoven shaking his fist at the thunderstorm on his deathbed. The fragment is as full of intense energy as any of his completed works.

Highly recommended -- as are all of Lindberg's Pettersson recordings. 

Allan Pettersson: Concerto No. 2 for Violin and Orchestra
Symphony No 17 (fragment)
Ulf Wallin, violin
Norrköping Symphony Orchestra; Christian Lindberg, conductor
BIS 2290

Friday, March 20, 2020

#ClassicsaDay #WomensHistoryMonth Week 3

For the third year in a row, the Classics a Day team has chosen women composers as March's theme. And while some composers (living and dead) have received their due, there are thousands more to discover and rediscover.

I challenged myself to seek out women composers I had not featured in previous years. Here are my posts for the third week of #ClassicsaDay for #WomensHistoryMonth

03/16/20 María Teresa Prieto (1896–1982) - Symphony No. 1

Spanish composer Prieto emigrated to Mexico during the Spanish Civil War. She studied with Carlos Chavez, and later with Darius Milhaud.

03/17/20 Grace Williams (1906-1977) - Symphony No. 2

Williams is considered one of the greatest female composers from Wales. She was also the first British woman to write the soundtrack for a feature film.

03/18/20 Elisabetta de Gambarini (1731–1765) - Harpsichord Sonata No. 5 in C major

English composer Gambarini was a tremendous musical talent. She was a noted mezzo-soprano, pianist, harpsichordist, and organist (as well as composer).

03/19/20 Consuelo Díez (born 1958) - La flecha del tiempo

Diez studied in the U.S., receiving degrees from the Hartt School of Music, and Hartford Univesity. She returned to her native Spain, becoming one of its most important composers.

03/20/20 Malika Kishino (born 1971) - Concerto for Koto

Kishino was born in Japan and emigrated to France in 1995. She studied at IRCAM. Her music combines Western and Eastern traditions, as well as live and electronic music.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Anne-Marie McDermott performs Mozart with exuberance and precision

Volume two of Anne-Marie McDermott's Mozart series builds on the success of volume one. McDermott's playing is as beautiful as ever. There's apparent chemistry between her and the Odense Symphony Orchestra.

Though each of the three concertos on this release has a different conductor, there's a remarkable consistency in the interpretations.

Piano Concerto No. 15 in B-flat major and No. 16 in D major date from 1784. Mozart wrote them for a Viennese concert series. Mozart considered them "both to be concertos which make one sweat."

The B-flat concerto is especially challenging for its intricate scale passages and rapid arpeggios. And that's where McDermott shines. She plays with deft precision. Each note is perfectly articulated, her runs astonishingly precise.

McDermott isn't just a technician. Her playing is wonderfully expressive, each phrase carefully shaped for maximum effect. These are elegant performances with an undercurrent of high-spirited energy.

The program ends with the Piano Concerto No. 5 in D major, K. 175. Mozart wrote it when he was 17, and it was one of his favorite works. The concerto remained in his repertoire throughout his life.

McDermott captures the exuberance of the teenage composer. Her performance seems to be delivered with an audible smile. The concerto just sounds like it was fun to play. It certainly was to listen to.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Piano Concertos, Vol. 2
Piano Concertos K.175, K. 450, K. 451
Anne-Marie McDermott, piano
Odense Symphony Orchestra; Kenneth Montgomery, Gilbert Varga, Andress Delfs, conductors
Bridge Records 9523

Friday, March 13, 2020

#ClassicsaDay #WomensHistoryMonth Week 2

For the third year in a row, the Classics a Day team has chosen women composers as March's theme. And while some composers (living and dead) have received their due, there are thousands more to discover and rediscover.

I challenged myself this year to seek out women composers I had not featured in previous years. Here are my posts for the second week of #ClassicsaDay for #WomensHistoryMonth

03/09/20 Clara Mathilda Faisst (1872–1948) - Präludium im gotischen Stil op. 28

Faisst was a pianist who concertized throughout Europe. She wrote over 100 compositions, mostly for piano, either as a solo instrument or part of a chamber ensemble.

03/10/20 Grazyna Bacewicz (1909-1969) - Quartet for Four Violins

Bacewicz was the principal violinist of the Polish Radio Orchestra before WW II. After the war, she increasingly devoted her time to composition.

03/11/20 Miriam Hyde (1913–2005) - Happy Occasion Overture

Australian composer Miriam Hyde was also a published poet. Among her best-known works are her two piano concertos.

03/12/20 Polly Young, or Maria Barthélemon (1749–1799) - Sonata in E major for brass

English soprano Polly Young was also a keyboard virtuoso and composer. She and her husband, composer/violinist François-Hippolyte Barthélémon had a daughter Cecilia, who as also an opera singer and composer.

03/13/20 Nancy Dalberg (1881–1949) - Scherzo for string orchestra, Op. 6

Dalberg received lessons from Carl Neilsen. Although the first Danish woman to write a symphony, she's best remembered for her string quartets.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Nancy Dalberg string quartets finally get their due

Nancy Dalberg (1881-1949) is an important composer in Denmark, and her star is (finally) rising outside her native land. Dalberg studied with Carl Nielsen and wrote a large number of orchestral, chamber, and vocal works. She was the first Danish female composer to write a symphony, but she's best remembered for her three string quartets.

Each quartet represents a landmark, and two receive their world premiere recordings with this release. Her first quartet, writing in 1915 shows the influence of Nielsen, especially in her sweeping melodies. Her harmonies have a post-Romantic richness that adds to the beauty of the music.

String quartet no. 2 was finished in 1922 and was the first to be published. Perhaps because it was credited to "N. Dahlberg," the work soon entered the repertoire. Of all her works, this quartet is the one that's most often performed both domestically and internationally.

The German musicologist Wilhelm Altmann wrote "considering the austerity and native strength of her music, it would never have occurred to me that [Dalberg] was a woman.... Her mastery of the technique of composition is remarkable, and she has something definite to say.” While the first part of that quote is cringe-worthy, the second part is quite accurate.

Dahlberg's quartet is skillfully constructed. To my ears, the music didn't especially resemble Nielsen's, but it's emotional weight did.

Dahlberg's third string quartet, written five years later was first performed in 1929. Yet despite the popularity of the second quartet, the work was never published. In many ways, it's a more adventuresome work than the second. Dahlberg pushes the limits of tonality. Her melodies dissolve into chromatic passages. Minor seconds about in her harmonies. The tonal centers seem to shift, sliding up or down as the music demands.

The Nordic String Quartet plays to perfection. Articulation is exceptionally clean, and ensemble work impressively precise. The quartet (as their name suggests) has an affinity for Scandinavian composers. That love comes through in their performances. These are performances that command attention. And that attention is well-rewarded by the depth and quality of Dalberg's music.

Nancy Dalberg: String Quartets
Nordic String Quartet

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Torbjörn Iwan Lundquist: Suites for Orchestra - Fine Film Scores

Torbjörn Iwan Lundquist had a varied career: bandleader, conductor, classical composer -- and film composer. A musical jack of all trades and master of all. The two works in this release are suites from two of Lundquist's films. And the performances are conducted by the composer.

As a film composer, Lundquist blended popular and classical elements together with unique results. To me, these sounded like classic scores to Golden Age Hollywood films I've never seen.

Lundquist masterfully paints each scene so convincingly that I seemed to know what was happening. And when I read the synopsis for each film, I found I wasn't' far off the mark.

Nils Holgerssons underbara (The Wonderful Adventures of Nils) is a classic Swedish story. A young boy who mistreats animals is taught the error of his ways. He's magically shrunk and taken on a tour of Sweden by wild geese. The 1962 film is also something of a travelogue, featuring extensive aerial cinematography.

Lundquist's score captures the whimsy of this children's story. And his portraits of Swedish landmarks show a deep love for his homeland. This score would work equally well in a pops concert and a season subscription concert.

Gösta Berlings Saga is a classic novel of Swedish literature. The story is set in early nineteenth-century Sweden. A defrocked Lutheran priest finds redemption in this magical realist drama. Lundquist provided the score for a 1966 radio serial dramatization. Lundquist later created an orchestral suite of eight movements. This recording also features additional music that was only heard in the original radio version.

The score has a shimmer to it, evoking the mystical qualities of the story. Lundquist uses modality quite effectively, blurring the lines between the story's present (the 1820s) and a Medieval world of magic and legend. As with "Nils Holgerssons underbara," this is music with a purpose. Each movement sets a scene and brings it to life.

These stories -- and this music -- are well-known in Sweden, and not anywhere else. This release proves that at least the music speaks a universal language anyone can understand and relate to.

Torbjörn Iwan Lundquist: Suites for Orchestra
Members of the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra; Bel Canto Koren
Torbjorn Iwan Lundquist, conductor
Sterling CDS1117

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Danacord reissues Anton Rubinstein Cello Sonatas

The Anton Rubinstein cello sonatas were originally released by Danacord as a DMM LP. Direct metal mastering ensured a high level of sonic accuracy. When this recording was released in 1986, it was the last word in analog high fidelity.

Also included with this reissue is Rubinstein's Piano Trio No. 5. This is the first release of the original master tape, and the audio quality is generally on par with the sonatas.

Gert von Bülow, cello, and José Ribera, piano deliver thoughtful performances of Rubinstein's sonatas. The fine details captured by the recording add to the beauty of the performances. Von Bu¨low's cello has a rich, resonant sound that seems quite natural. Ribera's playing nicely balances the cello. His piano has a clean, clear sound that never overpowers his partner's instrument.

The piano trio has a different ensemble dynamic and a slightly different audio mix. The upper register of both the violin and piano sounded to my ears a little soft. The overall ensemble sound seemed wrapped in a warm glow.

That was not necessarily a bad thing. For 40+ minutes I was drawn into a sonic world of late-Romantic drama. The trio gives the players plenty of places to shine, and these three musicians take full advantage of them.

Violinist Péter Csaba played sweetly, but not overly so. Von Bülow's cello sung plaintively, and Ribera sends finely-crafted waves of notes rippling through the ensemble.

Analog audiophile recordings became digital audio treats.

Anton Rubinstein: Cello Sonatas, Piano Trio
Gert von Bülow, cello; Péter Csaba, violin; José Ribera, piano
Danacord DACOCD858
2 CD set

Monday, March 09, 2020

Andrea Coen performs Telemann's Klein Kammermusik -- solo

The Kleine Kammermusik of Georg Philipp Telemann was never set in stone. Well, perhaps etched in metal for publishing, but you know what I mean. As Telemann conceived them, these six partitas were simple for a melodic instrument with basso continuo. In 1716, such collections were common for amateur and professional musicians.

Telemann's melodies could be performed either with a violin, transverse flute, or oboe. The basso continuo part (keyboard instrument plus cello) could also be played with just a harpsichord. Documentation suggests that Telemann authorized the arrangement of these works for solo harpsichord. And Andrea Coen has done just that.

In Coen's capable hands (both as an arranger and a performer), these partitas sound convincing as solo harpsichord works. Coen's arrangements are clear and transparent. The melodic line is prominent, but the bass line and harmonies are there, too -- providing just the right amount of support.

Coen plays on a 2015 Guilio Fratini copy of a double-manual harpsichord of the period. It's an exceptional instrument. The action is virtually silent. I heard the music with almost no distracting mechanical noise. That added greatly to my enjoyment of these works.

Each partita features a prelude, followed by six short dance movements. In the Baroque period, each key had a distinctive character (in part because of Pythagorian tuning). Coen casts each partita in the inherent character of its key.  So, for example, the G major partita straight-forward lyrical quality throughout its movements, while the G minor partita is unsettled and nervous.

This album can be appreciated on many different levels: Coen's interpretations, Telemann's choice of keys; Teleman's sequencing of the partitas. And of course, the quality of the music itself. Highly recommended.

Georg Philipp Telemann: Die Kleine Kammermusik
Andrea Coen, harpsichord
Brilliant Classics 95683

Friday, March 06, 2020

#ClassicsaDay #WomensHistoryMonth 2020 Week 1

For the third year in a row, the Classics a Day team has chosen women composers as March's theme. And while some composers (living and dead) have received their due, there are thousands more to discover and rediscover.

I challenged myself this year to seek out women composers I had not featured in previous years. Here are my posts for the first week of #ClassicsaDay for #WomensHistoryMonth

03/02/20 Leopoldine Blahetka (1809-1887) - Variationen op.39 für Flöte und Klavier

Blahetka was a piano virtuoso, with a successful 20-year career touring Europe. Most of her compositions are chamber works, piano pieces, or lieder.

03/03/20 Sophie Menter (1846–1918) - Mazurka, Op. 6

She was considered one of the best piano virtuosos of the late 19th Century, and one of Franz Liszt's favorite pupils. She specialized in performing Liszt's "unplayable" music.

03/04/20 Marianna Bottini (1802-1858) - Concertone for Pianoforte

This harpist attended the Accademia Filarmonica in Bologna as an "honorary master composer." Her catalog includes operas, oratorios, symphonies, and concertos.

03/05/20 Theodora Cormontan (1840–1922) - Allegro in G minor

Cormontan was not only a talented composer, but she was also the first woman to start a music publishing house in Norway. It specialized in Scandinavian women composers.

03/06/20 Helena Tulve (1972 - ) L'ombre derrière toi

Estonian composer Tulve composes in a style that includes Eastern traditions and Gregorian chant. This work is for three viola da gambas and modern string orchestra.

Thursday, March 05, 2020

Eleanor Alberga string quartets show individuality

Jamaican-born composer Eleanor Alberga brings a fresh perspective to the string quartet genre. Alberga is also a concert pianist. At times when all four instruments play chords the ensemble seems to resemble a piano.

But Alberga is also married to a violinist, and her writing for strings is idiomatic and practical. She also has a strong sense of rhythm. Her forceful syncopation may draw on her Caribean culture, but there's nothing cliche about it.

Her music (to my ears) doesn't sound Jamaican. And it doesn't sound European. Rather, it sounds like the work of a true individual. Alberga uses the language and form of the classical string quartet to tell her own story.

String Quartet No. 1 had an extra-musical inspiration -- a physics lecture on how matter forms and reforms. The work has that quality, moving from one section to another, always reworking the same material.

Alberga's second quartet (in my opinion) develops that idea still further. The entire 15-minute work grows out the initial motif, slowly unfolding and transforming (instead of forming and reforming).

As Alberga writes, "Whilst they were created in quite different ways, the first two quartets are more stylistically related than may seem obvious."

String Quartet No. 3 was written seven years later. Alberga seems more comfortable with the form. There are more technical demands on the instruments, and Alberga uses those techniques to great effect.

It's a beautiful work, and a complex one. Repeated listening yields fresh details that add to the whole.

The Ensemble Arcadiana performs with confidence. These works have extremely difficult passages -- both rhythmically and technically. The quartet seems to take them in stride. They turn the challenges into passages of great beauty and strong emotion.

Where to place Alberga's quartets? Perhaps after Shostakovich's. Definitely in your library.

Eleanor Alberga: String Quartets
Ensemble Arcadiana
Navona NV 6234

Wednesday, March 04, 2020

Johann Stamitz Op. 3 Symphonies a mixed bag

Naxos has released two numbered volumes of Stamitz symphonies. This doesn't seem to be part of that set. Rather, it focuses on Johann Stamitz's Op. 3, a compilation of works written over a six-year period.

If I had to place them stylistically, I'd say they represent a transition from style galant of Johann Christian Bach to the Sturm and Drang of Franz Joseph Haydn. The earlier works are light and breezy three-movement works coming from the symphony.

The collection contains five of the six symphonies published as Opus 3. Symphony No. 2 in D major is missing. It is available on Stamitz Symphonies, Vol. 1 8.553194, albeit with a different orchestra and conductor.

The Musica Viva Moscow Chamber Orchestra, directed by Alexander Rudin delivers sparkling performances. The ensemble plays with energetic enthusiasm, which makes the music all the more effective. And it's a small ensemble -- more in the line with what Stamitz had available in Mannheim.

The ensemble brings out the dramatic volume changes that were the essence of the Mannheim style. And they also play with lightness and clarity, making this an enjoyable listen.

Johann Stamitz: Symphonies, Op. 3
Musica Viva Moscow Chamber Orchestra; Alexander Rudin, conductor

Tuesday, March 03, 2020

Myroslav Skoryk Violin Concertos 1-4; great music from Ukraine

This is the start of a two-volume traversal of violin concertos by Myroslav Skoryk. Skoryk,  a major figure in Ukrainian music wrote a total of nine concerti.

He was a prominent composer both in the Soviet and post-Soviet eras. Skoryk uses Ukrainian folk elements in his music, but not in obvious ways.

Skoryk wrote his first violin concerto in 1969. To me, it had a post-tonal feel. There are definite key centers that anchor the music.

But Skoryk uses wide leaps, intense chromatic harmonies, and angular, jagged melodic lines to obscure those centers. The end results are works that sound aggressively modern while remaining accessible.

The second concerto premiered 20 years later. Skoryk's modernist style had softened. Modal harmonies and folk-like motifs appear in this single-movement work, leavening the more modernist traits. The modernist stance of the first concerto is softened, but present. The third concerto of 2001 begins with an extended solo for the violin. Skoryk's harmonies are even more consonant in this work (although there are some prickly passages).

Skoryk completed his fourth violin concerto in 2003. According to the composer, "the orchestra gives an impression of the ‘fluctuations in the earth's crust’. It is superimposed on the main theme of the violin which is accompanied by the chords of the orchestra’s ‘earthquake tremors’." For me, the work conveyed a sense of unease. Beautiful as the melody was, the restlessness of the orchestra gave the work an unsettled feel.

Andrej Bielow turns in a quartet of tremendous performances. Each of Skoryk's concertos was composed for a different soloist, each with their own strengths. And each one leans into those strengths, pushing the limits of the violin in a different way.

Bielow executes the demands of Skoyrk's music seemingly with ease. I especially admired his playing in the opening of the third concerto. His phrasing brought order out of seeming chaos, pulling the various melodic fragments together.

Myroslav Skoryk: Violin Concertos, Vol. 1
Andrej Bielow, violin
National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine
Volodymyr Sirenko, conductor
Naxos 8.574088

Monday, March 02, 2020

Early Telemann Cantatas show great skill

This release features three Georg Philipp Telemann works for countertenor. More precisely, it presents three early works by Telemman (for countertenor).

Not that I could hear much difference. Telemann in his twenties was already a skilled composer. There are no awkward moments in any of these works. And while his style grew in complexity, these pieces benefit from a simpler -- and more direct -- form of expression.

Countertenor Alex Potter sings with a clean, clear tone. His voice has a natural warmth I found quite appealing. The accompanying ensemble is small -- just two violins and basso continuo. These are intimate works that draw the listener in.

Ach Herr, strafe mich nicht mit deinem Zorn TVWV 7:1 (O Lord, rebuke me not) opens the program. This 1718 work shows Telemann's skill at word-painting. To give one example, the word "lament" is accompanied by slowly descending chromatic patterns. Even without understanding German, one can hear the emotion of the text.

Missa h-moll TVWV 9:14 is even earlier, composed around 1700. The melody sounds more melismatic, suggesting to me Gregorian chant. The 1705 Me miserum! miseriarum TVWV 1:1135 (Wretched me) is another minor-key masterpiece. The instrumental elements are more fully developed here.

This release features a selection of shorter works for voice and ensemble. A few of Telemann's fugues are inserted between the larger works. The Ensemble La Dolcezza also delivers a spirited performance of  Telemann's Violin Sonata TWV 41:G1

Georg Philipp Telemann: Missa & Cantatas for Countertenor
Alex Potter, countertenor; Ensemble La Dolcezza
CPO 55 192-2