Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Breuninger plays Kreutzer; one violinist/composer to another

Rodolphe Kreutzer was renowned both as a violinist and a composer. As the former, he was famous for his technical skills and his musicality in executing them. As the latter, he was known for his 19 concertos and 40 operas.

Laurent Albrecht Breuninger is renowned as both a violinist and a composer. As the former, he's famous for his technical skills and musicality in executing them. As the latter, he's known for his prize-winning chamber music (most featuring the violin).

Breuninger playing Kreutzer seemed the perfect match. And after auditioning this recording, I believe it was. Kreutzer's concertos (like many of the day) were written primarily to showcase the skill of the soloist -- Rodolphe Kreutzer. What elevates these works is the lyricism of the melodies. Kreutzer had a gift for melody (hence the operas).

Breuninger seems to understand that. Yes, there are lots of technical fireworks in these concertos. Rapid passagework (with and without double stops), extreme register hops, and so on. But in Breuninger's performances, these tricks seem to further rather than interrupt the music.

Breuninger performs with a warm, beautiful tone that often seems to just sing. Cascading 32nd notes are plays with amazing clarity. And their phrasing is impeccable, too. Breuninger never loses sight of the melodic structure of his solos and ensures the listener doesn't either.

The Südwestdeutsches Kammerorchester Pforzheim, directed by Timo Handschuh provides excellent support. But really, these concertos are all about the solo violin. And Breuninger's inspired reading -- from one composer/violinist to another -- make this recording a joy to listen to.

Rodolphe Kreutzer: Violin Concertos 1, 6, & 7
Laurent Albrecht Breuninger, violin
Südwestdeutsches Kammerorchester Pforzheim; Timo Handschuh, conductor
CPO 555 206-2

Monday, June 29, 2020

Krisztián Kováts solves "The Mystery of the Natural Trumpet"

The limitations of the natural trumpet come down to physics. A metal tube vibrates at certain frequencies, and those frequencies have fixed mathematical relationships.

When the tube (or trumpet) vibrates at a frequency in its harmonic series of overtones, a note sounds. The notes of the harmonic series are far apart at the bottom but get closer together as they get higher.

That's why military bugles play mostly three or four notes that skip around. They're on the low end of the series, and they're easy to play.

The same was true with the natural trumpet. Modern trumpets can play any note with relative ease because their valves change the length of their tubing, and thus their harmonic series.

For Baroque trumpeters, though, only at the extreme high register (or clarino register) were the harmonics close enough together to play a scale -- or a melody that was more than just arpeggios.

It took tremendous skill to control the air pressure to create a beautiful tone. And not to just play a single note in the high register, but many, hitting each one with accuracy and control.

It still takes tremendous skill. Krisztián Kováts has it. He plays a valveless trumpet with a pure, singing tone and seems quite at home in the clarino register. The works in this release were composed for some of the best trumpeters of the age, and Kováts is equal to the task. His playing sounds relaxed, with beautiful phrasing.

The works are good, if not great. Johann Wenzel Anton Stamitz might be the best-known composer in the program. Johann Otto, Joseph Riepel, Johann Goerg Lang, and Johann Matthias Sperger aren't exactly household names. But they all composed well-crafted music, and music that served its purpose -- to showcase the trumpet.

What makes this an exciting release are the performances. Kováts plays these works with the instrument they were written for. No mystery here. It's a perfect match.

The Mystery of the Natural Trumpet
Krisztián Kováts, trumpet
L'arpa festanate
Christoph Hesse; Rien Volkuilen
CPO 555 114-2

Friday, June 26, 2020

Spam Roundup, June, 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.

Words to live by

Sometimes the spammers' translation programs produce text that's strangely inspiring -- if only you could make sense of it.

- Truth essential to fix any conflicts in your living thing.

- This is rattling critical cerebrate to experience too rush when transaction with liability and try to roll in the hay. [So a roll in the hay is a liability?]

 - However, if one is succeeder, it suffers from this artifact has precondition you the ataraxis of judgment that investigate engines with your perplexing visitors. 

"Lumbering along" continues to log comments

This modest post about a vintage Japanese toy keeps bringing in the spambots. The Straco Express Layout, Part 23 - Lumbering Along is very short and direct -- and yet none of these commenters seem to know what it's about.

- I'm not sure where you are getting your info, but great topic. [Thanks. I made it all up.]

- I was seeking this certain information for a very long time. [I'm certain you were. not.]

 - Reading this post reminds me of my good old roommate! He always kept chatting about this. [Ah, those crazy college days, filled with discussions about postwar Japanese tinplate toys made for the American market.]

Faintly praise, indeed!

At least, I think praise was the purpose here.

- You know thus significantly with regards to this subject.

 - It's a remarkable paragraph designed for all the web visitors. [Yep, if you're on the web, I'm writing for you!]

In conclusion

 - Hey I'm for the primary time here. [Aren't we all, my friend, aren't we all. See you next month!

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalBubble Week 4

Last month, the Classics a Day team came up with a theme to reflect the reality of social distancing. The challenge was to share solo works for unusual instruments -- the kind of instruments best played in social isolation. 

For June, the team is again going with the times. Social bubbles are small groups of people (usually family members) who live together and therefore don't need to maintain distance from each other. So the challenge is to share examples of classical bubbles. That is, duos for unusual instruments best not shared in public. 

Below are my selections for the fourth and final week of #ClassicalBubble

06/22/20 Vittorio Ghielmi (1968-) Duet for viola da gamba

Viola da gambas first appeared in the mid-15th Century and were used consistently through the 1750s. They were eventually replaced by cellos.

06/23/20 Anon. 14th C. Opening of Heaven's Gates for pipa duet

Historians place the origin of the pipa over 2,000 years ago. That makes this 14th Century tune a relatively recent addition to the pipa's repertoire.

06/24/20 PDQ Bach (1807-1742?) Fugue in C minor for Calliope Four Hands

An organ sounds by pushing air through it. A calliope sounds by pushing steam through it. The possibilities of that louder, harsher sound were not lost on PDQ.

06/25/20 John Dowland (1563-1626) - Lute Duet

By the 1500s, lutes had grown from 4 to 10 stringed instruments. That led to music of greater complexity and polyphony.

06/26/20 Nicole Leuchtmann - Bickering Piccolos

The piccolo plays an octave higher than the flute and was usually used sparingly for orchestral color. Recently, composers have been exploring its potential as a solo instrument (or duet in this case).

06/29/20 Anon. 14th C. Viella roue duet for hurdy-gurdy

The hurdy-gurdy was a popular instrument Renaissance court musicians. It could play loudly, ideal for dancing. Two are even louder.

06/30/20 Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767) Duet for two recorders in B flat major

Many of Telemann's works were written to be played with any treble instrument. This duet could be played with violins or transverse flutes.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

The pioneering wind music of Johann Wilhelm Hertel

 Johann Wilhelm Hertel was a German composer, violinist, and harpsichordist of some renown in the late 18th Century. Today, not so much.

So it's not surprising that every work in this new release is receiving its world recording premiere. What might be surprising is why they weren't better-known before.

 Hertel, like many of his contemporaries, composed prolifically in all genres. When he served the duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, he wrote mostly instrumental music; concertos, symphonies, and sonatas. For Frederick II "The Pious" Hertel wrote mostly sacred music; oratorios and cantatas.

The instrumental works in this collection come from that earlier period and all feature wind instruments. The centerpiece is the three works for organ and obbligato organ.

Willi Kronenberg performs with the chamber organ built for Prince Frederick (Hertel's employer) in 1753. The restored instrument has a modest range. It's volume also sounds appropriate to an instrument meant to fill a small drawing room rather than a church sanctuary.

The sound of the instrument works well with that of Karla Schröter's baroque oboe. The instrument has a broader, less focussed sound than a modern instrument. It's timber -- combined with the timbre of the organ -- produce a sound that sounds quite plaintive at times. Perhaps even more so than modern instruments could achieve.

Schröter and Kronenberg make a good team. Their instruments combine beautifully and are especially effective in articulating Hertel's phrasing. The other instrumental works use winds in various combinations.

The Concerto a 5 in D major for trumpet, two oboes, and two bassoons, has a refreshing sound. The trumpet provides highlights in key passages, the bassoons provide the basso continuo (sort of), and the oboes carry the melody.

The Sonata a 4 in E-flat major for 3 horns and 3 bassoons is even more unusual. The horns provide both melody and supporting harmony. The bassoons delineate the bass, and also provide some of the harmonies. The overall sound has a rich darkness to it that I quite enjoyed.

This is a hybrid SACD release. So if you're purchasing a digital download, invest in the high-res version. The true artistry of Karla Schröter and the Ensemble Concert Royal Köln can only be fully appreciated when you can hear all the details. The sense of space is also enhanced when heard in high-resolution.

Johann Wilhelm Hertel: Chamber Music for Winds 
Karla Schröter, baroque oboe
Ensemble Concert Royal Köln 
Musicaphon M56958 SACD

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Jean-Luc Tingaud brings out the drama in Franck:orchestral works

Maestro Jean-Luc Tingaud is renowned as an opera conductor. But he also knows his way around the French orchestral repertoire. His recordings of Poulenc, D'Indy, Dukas, and Bizet garnered critical acclaim. And his latest release of Cesar Franck orchestral works runs true to form.

Perhaps it was the dramatic nature of this music that interested Tingaud. Le Chasseur maudit (The Accursed Huntsman) is full of frantic energy as the hero tries to escape the hounds of hell.

Tingaud and the Royal Scottish Orchestra deliver a thrilling performance, full of gothic portent (think Schubert's "Die Erlkönig" orchestrated by Wagner).

Les Éolides has a lighter orchestral texture, but it's still music with a narrative. The daughters of the Greek god of the winds move over the land, reawakening nature to herald spring. The music effectively sets the stage, then sends melodies darting to and fro.

Some of this material is recycled in Psyché. This Poeme symphonique is based on the Greek myth of Psyche and Eros. Using Greek drama as a model, Franck includes a Greek chorus to comment on the action. Conducting an orchestra and chorus telling a dramatic story is very close to opera, I think -- and Tingaurd's strength.

Drama conveyed through lush and imaginative orchestration is at the heart of each of these works. And Tingaud's vision brings those dramas to life. The Royal Scottish Orchestra has a full-bodied sound. The orchestra plays with energy and precision, making this release a rewarding listening experience. Well done.

César Franck: Psyché; Le Chasseur maudit; Les Éolides 
RCS Voices; Royal Scottish National Orchestra; Jean-Luc Tingaud, conductor 
Naxos 8.583955 

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Bechara El-Khoury Piano Sonatas Effectively Blend Traditions

Increasingly, composers seem to be going their own way. These pioneers blend different music traditions and styles together.

When it's done well, a truly unique composer's voice emerges. And that (in my opinion) is what happens with this collection of Bechara El-Khoury piano works.

El-Khoury is best known for his orchestral works. In those, he weaves together Lebanese and French influences. The latter is particularly obvious in his orchestrations.

These works for solo piano, though, strip away that layer. Yet even here, El-Khoury's love of French music is apparent. The Piano Sonata No. 1, written when El-Khoury was in his twenties, has a mixed atonal/highly chromatic sound. Some of the chord voicings gave me hints of Ravel.

The second sonata was written four years later. And yet it shows a remarkable development of style. While there are still some hints of atonality, the harmonies have a thick, Impressionist feel to them. This sonata, unlike the first, has just two movements; Lento con sereno and Presto con fuoco.

The other two sonatas, composed in the 21st Century also follow that structure. Both have a slow first movement and a second fast movement. In both, the harmonies, though still thick, have a different quality. They're not aggressively dissonant, yet not warmly consonant either. Can I call it post-Impressionist?

Giacomo Scinardo delivers thoughtful performances of these works. In the slow movements, El-Khoury is often introspective, and Scinardo's playing successfully communicates that. He is also more than a match for the considerable technical demands of the music (especially in the later sonatas).

I first came to love El-Khoury's music through his orchestral works. This album helped me appreciate his aesthetic even more. Recommended to anyone looking for a composer who follows his own path, even when it crosses those of others.

Bechara El-Khoury: Piano Sonatas Nos. 1-4
Giacomo Scinardo, piano
Naxos. 8.579022

Monday, June 22, 2020

Anonima Frottolisti demonstrate Humanism in music

I first fell in love with early music through recordings of David Munro. In many ways, the Anonima Frottolisti reminds me of those recordings. The ensemble performs with enthusiasm and energy.

The album is a survey of music heard in 15th Century Italy. The Humanist movement grew out of a rediscovery of ancient Greek writings and culture. Renaissance scholars latched onto Plato's concept that music had the power to stir passions.

And that's the aesthetic behind Anonima Frottolisti's performances -- to stir the passions. Each piece has a strong rhythmic pulse. The ensemble leans into the syncopations and odd meters, give the music added excitement.

The performers don't hold back in their delivery, either. Both the instrumentalists and vocalists have a certain rawness in their tone. To me, it makes these performances seem more authentic.

That's not to say the Anonima Frottolisti is sloppy. Their intonation is spot-on, and their ensemble work is precisely in synch. It's just full-bodied.

The program groups together the selections under five different themes: power, love, celebration, dance, and faith. It gives the album an overarching organization that makes it a pleasure to listen to from start to finish.

Some familiar composers are preset -- Heinrich Isaac, Guillaume de Fay, and Joan Ambrosio Dalza. But most are anonymous. And that's fine. This collection isn't about a group of composers, but of aesthetic. And it worked. The Anionima Frottolisti stirred my passions with their performances.
power love celebration dance faith

From Court to Court: Humanism in Music
Anonima Frottolisti
Tactus TC 400007

Friday, June 19, 2020

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalBubble Week 3

Last month, the Classics a Day team came up with a theme to reflect the reality of social distancing. The challenge was to share solo works for unusual instruments -- the kind of instruments best played in social isolation. 

For June, the team is again going with the times. Social bubbles are small groups of people (usually family members) who live together and therefore don't need to maintain distance from each other. So the challenge is to share examples of classical bubbles. That is, duos for unusual instruments best not shared in public. 

Below are my selections for the third week of #ClassicalBubble

06/15/20 PDQ Bach (1807-1642?) - Duet for Basson and Tuba

Writing engaging, complex music for two low bass instruments can be a real challenge. One that PDQ completely failed at.

06/16/20 Michael Praetorius (1571-1621) - Bransle de la Torche for two crumhorns

The crumhorn was a double-reed instrument popular in the Renaissance. The instrument had a limited range of about a ninth and was often used to double choral lines.

06/17/20 John Cage (1912-1992) - 3 Dances for 2 prepared pianos

This 1945 work was commissioned by piano duo Robert Fizdale and Arthur Gold. In addition to their ground-breaking concerts, they also hosted a TV cooking show. They dedicated their cookbook to George Balanchine.

06/18/20 Dave Anderson (1962 - ) Seven Double Bass Duets

Anderson is the principal bass for the Louisiana Philharmonic. As a composer, he's concerned with expanding the repertoire for his instrument.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Josef Holbrooke Symphonic Music Sails On

Josef Holbrooke wasn't the only composer continuing the later Romantic traditions well into the 20th Century. But he was the only one I know of who scolded his audiences for not appreciating his talent. So it's not surprising that Holbrooke's music quickly fell into obscurity, even during his lifetime.

Almost a century later, we have a chance to reevaluate his music, without all the baggage (and the attitude). This is the third volume of Holbrooke's orchestral works released by CPO, and it's a nice selection of music.

I don't have to be chided to like Holbrooke. I personally find his work tuneful, harmonically interesting, and -- if not genius -- well-crafted and imaginative.

The major work here is Holbrooke's Symphony No. 3 in E minor. This 1925 symphony is titled "Ships," but it was also at various times labeled "Nelson," the "National Symphony," and "Our Navy."

Collectively, these titles describe the work pretty well. Holbrooke creates a three-movement programmatic symphony that portrays various ships at sea. And not just any ships -- proud vessels of the Royal Navy and Merchant Marine!

The orchestra gently rises and falls to simulate the waves, with the major themes floating above in the higher registers. The shape of Holbrooke's melodies has a hint of English folk song, giving the work a nationalist flavor. And while it isn't a great symphony (sorry, Josef), it does what it sets out. Holbrooke lays out his themes, works with them, and leads the listener to a satisfying conclusion.

The shorter works are, I think, more interesting. The Birds of Rhiannon, written the same year as the symphony, is a tightly constructed tone poem that evokes a bygone world of legend. To my ears, it greatly resembled similar works by Arnold Bax (without the Gaelic overlay).

Where Holbrooke really shines is with his symphonic variations on "The Girl I Left Behind Me." Holbrooke deconstructs the melody and seems to thoroughly examine all the melodic and harmonic possibilities of each phrase. And he does so with a generous measure of good humor, especially at the climax.

The Deutsche Radio Philharmonie under the direction of Howard Griffiths delivers some solid performances of Holbrooke's music. The symphonic variations featured some sections and individual players, and all rose to the task. I credit part of the work's cheerfulness to the orchestra's performance and Griffiths direction.

Holbrooke may have been his own worst enemy. But without his personality to get in the way, we can simply enjoy his music. And I did.

Josef Holbrooke: Symphony No. 3 "Ships"
Deutsche Radio Philharmonie; Howard Griffiths, conductor

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Canadian Landscapes - A program for saxophone and organ that delivers

"And the award for the most tightly-focused program for a classical recording goes to -- 'Canadian Landscapes." If the Grammys ever offered such an award, this disc would win it.

The release features not just music by Canadian composers but works by them for saxophone and organ. It's a very unusual instrumental combination with a very small catalog of original works. And it's a sound worth exploring.

Saxophonist Claudia Tesorino plays with a very distinctive sound. It has the rounded, honeyed tone of the French classical tradition. And yet there's also a slight edge to her playing that gives many of the works an added boost of energy.

The sound of the saxophone blends quite well with that of the organ. Both have a slightly metallic quality. The organ's reed stops use vibrating metal, as opposed to cane for the saxophone. And yet the resulting sound resembles a woodwind.

Organist Jonathan Oldengarm is a first-rate collaborative artist. He ensures his instrument is always in perfect balance with Tesorino's. Whether it's providing accompaniment, counterpoint, or taking the lead.

The music is equally fascinating. Ruth Watson Henderson's Fantasy for Alto Saxophone and Organ has a dreamlike Messiaen feel. Derek Healey's Northern Landscapes uses a soprano saxophone to evoke open spaces.

I think my favorite work was Denis Bedard's Sonata No. 3 for Alto Saxophone and Organ. It's amiable character and straight-forward melodies reminded me of Malcolm Arnold.

The Suite of Wolfgang Rottenberg is also a well-crafted work, though a bit conservative. Peter Matthews' Pastorale is a beautiful, lyrical work. It has a somewhat elegiac sound that can be quite attractive.

This disc has an incredibly tightly-focused program. But it delivers. I enjoyed every selection and added some new names to my list of composers to seek out.

Canadian Landscapes
Music by Derek Healey, Ruth Watson Henderson, Denis Bedard, Wolfgang Bottenberg, Peter Mathews
Claudia Tesornio, saxophone; Jonathan Oldengarm, organ
Klanglogo CD KL1417

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Spirited performances of Giuseppe Tartini Violin Concertos and Sonatas

Violinist Laura Marzadori knows Italian music. Her previous releases feature works by Ottorino Respighi, Ernnano Wolf-Ferrari, and Leone Sinigaglia. This album focuses on Giuseppe Tartini, one of the most important figures in the development of violin technique.

The four works Marzadori perform are all demanding. What makes this program refreshingly different is that they're unusual parts of Tartini's catalog.

The two violin concertos were prepared from unpublished manuscripts and receive their recording debuts here.

The Sonatas a Quattro presage the development of the string quartet. Tartini writes for cellos, violas, and two sections of violins -- no basso continuo.

Marzadori is an exceptional performer. Her playing positively sparkles at times. Her interpretations are emotive and energetic. And that energy is matched by the Nuova Orchestra da Camera "Ferruccio Busoni." The ensemble has a resonant sound that nevertheless seems open. They perform with modern instruments, which bothers me not a bit.

Authentic performance practices and historically accurate instruments are important for understanding the music in context. But that's not what Marzadori and "Ferrucio Busoni" chamber orchestra is after. Rather, I think the goal is to celebrate Tartini's inventiveness and complete mastery of the violin.

And if that was the goal, then I believe they succeeded. These spirited performances have an immediate appeal that any listener should appreciate. If you only know Tartini through the "Devil's Trill," you need to hear this music.

Giuseppe Tartini: Violin Concertos and Sonatas
Laura Marzadori, violin; Muova Orchestra da Camera "Ferruccio Busoni"
Massimo Belli, conductor
Brilliant Classics 95769

Monday, June 15, 2020

Missa 1724 -- bold interpretation of Jan Dismas Zelenka

The "Missa 1724" is actually an assemblage of various sacred works by Jan Dismas Zelenka. But to be fair, they all come from the same general period of Zelenka's career, and they do make a convincing whole.

The Kyrie, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei, ZWV 26 recycles some previous material (some only a year older than this 1724 work). The Gloria, ZWV 30 seems to be a rewritten version of a 1714 Gloria. The Credo, ZWV 32, seems to have been a new 1724 composition, using double choirs with eight-voice counterpoint effectively.

The most curious part of this mass is the Benedictus, ZWV dest. Zelenka also arranged music by other composers for performance. One such work was a mass by Giovanni Pisani. It was missing a Benedictus, so Zelenka supplied one -- and it's included here.

The mass may have been cobbled together, but it hangs together pretty well. Because most of the works were written by Zelenka around 1724, there's a stylistic consistency across them. The Collegium Vocale 1704 has a smooth, warm ensemble sound. It's a beautiful sound and it serves Zelenka's choruses well.

That smoothness proved a slight disadvantage in the Gloria. Personally, I sometimes had a hard time following the counterpoint as the voices blended so well with one another. But that's just me.

The Collegium 1704 ensemble delivered sure-footed if understated performances. But that was in keeping with the music. The instrumentalists often doubled the vocal lines. And even when they weren't it was clear that their role was as an accompanying ensemble.

Václav Luks made some bold aesthetic decisions in assembling this music and how to present it. In my opinion, those decisions were sound and resulted in some pretty compelling sounds.

Jan Dismas Zelenka: Missa 1724
Salve Reginia, ZWV 137
Collegium 1704 and Collegium Vocale 1704; Vaclav Luks, director
Accent ACC 24363

Friday, June 12, 2020

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalBubble Week 2

Last month, the Classics a Day team came up with a theme to reflect the reality of social distancing. The challenge was to share solo works for unusual instruments -- the kind of instruments best played in social isolation. 

For June, the team is again going with the times. Social bubbles are small groups of people (usually family members) who live together and therefore don't need to maintain distance from each other. So the challenge is to share examples of classical bubbles. That is, duos for unusual instruments best not shared in public. 

Below are my selections for the first week of #ClassicalBubble

06/08/20 Gene Koshinski - As One for percussion duo

Koshinski's work uses two performers with identical setups -- including a shared bass drum and marimba.

06/09/20 Wolfgang Amadues Mozart (1756-1791) Horn Duos K. 487

The horns of Mozart's day were valveless instruments. Limited to the harmonic series of the tube, players used hand stopping and pitch-bending to get extra notes.

06/10/20 Bellerofonte Castaldi (1580-1649) Duet for two Theorbos

Castaldi was a composer and a lutenist. This duet comes from a collection he published in 1623.

06/12/20 Andy Scott (1966-) Sonata for Alto Saxophone and Harp

Scott is a British composer and saxophonist. His sonata pushes the technical limits of both the saxophone and the harp.

Tuesday, June 09, 2020

Neeme Järvi presents Estonian treasures

I first discovered Estonia's rich classical music heritage through Neeme Järvi recordings; specifically, his BIS releases of Edvard Tubin and Arvo Pärt. Maestro Järvi surprises me once again with this new recording of Estonian orchestral music.   

All three composers were born within an eight-year span (1878-1885), and all studied at the St. Petersberg Conservatoire. That influence can be heard in several of these works, although there's also a strong nationalist strain in them as well.

Artur Lemba was a major pianist in Russia and Estonia. His 1910 Piano Concerto No. 1 in G major starts off in a Tchaikovsky-inspired fashion. The concerto is full of grand gestures appropriate to a student of Artur Rubenstein. But there's nothing derivative about them. The concerto has a charming lyricism to it I found quite appealing.

Mihkel Lüdig is best remembered for his work with Estonian choirs. He also established several important music festivals that promoted works by Estonian composers. This album features three of his short orchestral works. They show Lüdig to be a fine orchestrator. These are tightly-constructed, beautifully composed miniatures that heavily reference Estonian folk music.

Artur Kapp studied with Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. He's considered one of the founders of Estonian symphonic music. He's represented by two works in this release.

Kapp's 1905  Viimne piht (The Last Confession) was originally written for violin and organ. This arrangement for violin and orchestra retains all the simple beauty of the original. It may be a bit sentimental, but the music is charming, nevertheless.

Kapp had a troubled relationship with the Communist Party. A major musical figure in Estonia, he was forced to resign his positions after the Soviets invaded. His fourth symphony was finished in 1948. The "Youth Symphony" was dedicated to the 30th anniversary of the Soviet Young Communist League. That was most likely a dedication of expedience -- or perhaps even survival.

Whatever the reason, the symphony has little to do with anything Russian or Soviet. There is a youthful energy about it, though. And there are many references to Estonian folk tunes throughout.

And of course, the performances throughout this release are superb. Solo violinist Triin Ruubel and solo pianist Mihkel Poll are Estonian. The Estonian National Symphony Orchestra is conducted by the Estonian conductor, Neeme Järvi. Everyone involved is performing music of their countrymen, steeped in the traditions of their culture.

All of these works deserve more performances and more recordings. But I suspect these may be the definitive realizations of this superb music.

Arthur Kapp, Mihkel Lüdig, Artur Lemba: Orchestral Works
Triin Ruubel, violin; Mihkel Poll, piano
Estonian National Symphony Orchestra; Neeme Järvi, conductor
Chandos 20150

Monday, June 08, 2020

Early Baroque gems from Varie Sonate of Giovanni Battista Vitali

For the average person, I think, the term "Italian Baroque" conjures up the music of Vivaldi. But the Italian Baroque really began around 1600, and it took a while for the music -- and the instruments -- to complete the transition from the Renaissance.

What struck me most about this collection of sonatas by Giovanni Vitali is how old they sounded. And by that, I meant stylistically. Vitali played the violini, sort of a transition instrument from the Renaissance bass viol to the modern cello.

The Italico Splendore has both cello and viola da gamba players. Their sonorous sounds give the music a very dark, rich quality. And -- to my ears -- a more than passing similarity to the music of Marin Marais, a younger contemporary of Vitali's.

The sonatas are based on dances. some slow and stately, and others delightfully quick and light. Vitali scored the music for three violins, two violas, and basso continuo. Generally, the basso continuo consisted of a bass stringed instrument and a keyboard. The bass line was always written out. Chord symbols provided a guide for the harpsichordist, who was expected to improvise.

In these works, Vitale makes a note that the middle violin and viola are also ad libitum. This gives ensembles a lot of leeway -- and responsibility -- when performing the music.

Italico Splendore made some very smart and historically informed decisions. They used Vitali's instructions as an opportunity to vary the makeup of the ensemble from sonata to sonata. The result makes for an engaging program, with the character of the music changing from piece to piece.

This is the penultimate installment of Tactus' Vitali series. It's provided a wonderful survey of his instrumental music. I'm curious to discover what works they'll close the series with.

Giovanni Battista Vitali: Varie Sonate, Op. 11, 1684
Italico Splendore
Tactus TC 632206

Friday, June 05, 2020

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalBubble Week 1

Last month, the Classics a Day team came up with a theme to reflect the reality of social distancing. The challenge was to share solo works for unusual instruments -- the kind of instruments best played in social isolation. 

For June, the team is again going with the times. Social bubbles are small groups of people (usually family members) who live together and therefore don't need to maintain distance from each other. So the challenge is to share examples of classical bubbles. That is, duos for unusual instruments best not shared in public. 

Below are my selections for the first week of #ClassicalBubble

06/01/20 Stephen W. Beatty (1938 - ) Duet for Viola and Heckelphone

One instrument's the butt of jokes; the other has a funny name. And yet musically, they both have a beautiful sound, as Beatty demonstrates.

06/02/20 Harry Partch (1901-1974) The Wind for Harmonic Canon II and Bass Marimba

Partch built his own instruments to play his own music based on his own musical scales. The Harmonic Canon has 44 strings and is tuned differently for each piece.

06/03/20 Ricardo Matosinhos (1982 - ) Song without Words, Op. 80a for Tenor Wagner Tuba and Piano

The Wagner tubas were originally built for the composer's Ring Cycle. He was inspired to design the instruments after visiting Adolphe Sax.

06/04/20 Giorgio Mainerio (c.1530-1582) Caro Ortolano for two racketts

The rackett (AKA the sausage bassoon) was a Renaissance double reed. It first appeared around 1575 and was almost completely replaced by the bassoon by 1700.

06/05/20 Leopoldo Francia (1875-1918) Adagio for mandolin duet

Francia was one of the most famous mandolinists of his day. He played and composed in a traditional Italian style.

Thursday, June 04, 2020

The Stylish Pastiches of Muzio Clementi

This is an interesting collection of music by Muzio Clementi. It includes three sets of variations, a canon, and a set of style pastiches.

The program opens with Five Variations on a Minuet by Mr. Collick. This six-minute charmer increases in complexity with each variation, but not excessively so. These variations could well be (and were probably intended for) the gifted amateur.

Not so "The Black Joke" with 21 variations. Clementi puts this little tune through some amazing changes. While the melody is always present, the accompanying figures become a virtual catalog of piano technique.

While enjoyable, I found the Musical Characteristics far more entertaining on several levels. Here Clementi presents a little three-part piece in the style of different composers. Each set includes an opening prelude, a cadenza, and a closing prelude.

Clementi ably mimics Franz Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. He also includes imitations of Leopold Kozeluch, Austrian Court composer, as well as famed pianist/composers Johann Franz Xaver Sterkel and Johann Baptist Vanhal.

The more familiar you are with these early Classical Era composers, the more fun this music is to listen to. And I think, it also shows the skill of pianist Nicholas Rimmer. Because his performances make Clementi's stylistic imitations clearer.

Clementi's Mozart sounds like Mozart, his Haydn like Haydn, and so on. And Rimmer delivers fine performances of Clementi's other works, too. 

Rimmer plays on an original instrument from Clementi's workshop. That statement comes with several caveats, though. This 1806 piano was restored in the 1970s (the liner notes are vague as to how much was done and how well it was done). Then the instrument was worked on again in 2016.

So yes, it is a pianoforte that Clementi knew, but it might not necessarily sound -- or play -- exactly as he might expect. To my ears, the sound seemed a little tight. There was very little decay, giving the instrument a dry quality. On the plus side, the action was pleasingly silent.

Muzio Clementi: Piano Music
5 Variations on a Minuet by Mr Collick; The Black Joke; Musical Characteristics
Nicholas Rimmer, fortepiano

Wednesday, June 03, 2020

Mieczyslaw Weinberg Sonatas for Cello and Piano

The more of Mieczyslaw Weinberg's music I hear, the more complex he becomes. This release features his two sonatas for cello and piano. Each provides a snapshot of his evolving style.

Sonata No. 1, Op. 21 was completed in 1945. The war was ending, and Stalin's regime was just warming up. The sonata's a jaunty, pointillistic work. Weinberg seems to flirt with atonality, without stepping over the edge. Weinberg's music is often compared to Shostakovich's. I didn't really hear it in this sonata. Rather, the music reminded me more of early Prokofiev.

By 1960, the Soviet Union was a much different place. Weinberg had survived several brushes with the authorities. He learned to bury his emotions deep, giving his music an ideologically acceptable veneer. Sonata No. 2, Op. 63 was composed for Mstislav Rostropovich. He premiered the work, with Weinberg at the piano.

It's a technically challenging work although it stays within the bounds of tonality. Rostropovich and Weinberg may have given the definitive performance of this sonata, but Wojciech Fudala and Michal Rot still have plenty to say. They get to the anguished heart of the music, creating an interpretation of exceptional beauty and pathos.

Fudala plays with a warm, sonorous sound. He's especially effective in turning the slow passages into musical soliloquies -- which I think was Weinberg's intent.

The album also includes two solo works. Fulala performs the Sonata for Solo Cello, No. 1, Op. 72. It's a short work (also written for Rostropovich), but a challenging one. Michael Rot plays the Berceuse Op. 1. Weinberg wrote it when he was 16. It's a sunny, simple, and lovely way to end the album.

In the liner notes, the musicians state: "We strongly believe that the artistic value of this repertoire is worth disseminating." I think they've made their case.

Mieczyslaw Weinberg: Sonatas for Cello and Piano
Wojciech Fudala, cello; Michal Rot, piano
DUX 1545

Tuesday, June 02, 2020

Franz Krommer Symphonies emulate Beethoven

Franz Krommer lived somewhat in the shadow of Beethoven. In 1813 he replaced Leopold Kozeluch (a rival of Beethoven's) as the Austrian Imperial Court Composer. And that meant his subsequent symphonies, string quartets, and concertos competed with Beethoven's for the same audience.

To my ears, it's easy to hear Beethoven's influence in these works. Symphony No. 6 in D major begins with big, majestic chords that fall away and build again. It reminded me strongly of Beethoven's Second Symphony. The minuetto also has a Beethovenian bounce to it.

But Beethoven's second symphony premiered in 1805, and Krommer's sixth in 1823. By that time, Beethoven had written all but his ninth. So the sound, while in line with Beethoven's also (to me) sounded a little old-fashioned. I suspect, though, that audiences of the day were quite fine with that. By the 1820s they were probably finally able to appreciate early Beethoven.

Krommer's Symphony No. 9 was completed in 1830, four years after Beethoven's Ninth. The symphony still shows strong influence by Beethoven, but here Krommer seems to have been inspired more by Beethoven's 7th (along with key concepts from the third and fifth).

Neither work was cutting edge in its day, but that doesn't mean they are without merit -- or originality. Krommer uses some unusual chord progressions that owe their origins to his native Czechoslovakia. These give the symphonies a fresh sound -- and out of the realm of Beethoven sound-alikes.

The Orchestra della Svizzera italiana directed by Howard Griffiths has a satisfyingly powerful sound. These performances imbue the works with drama and energy. Recommended.

Franz Krommer: Symphonies Nos. 6 and 9
Orchestra della Svizzera italiana
Howard Griffiths, conductor
CPO 555 327-2