Friday, July 31, 2020

#ClassicsaDay #BlackLiveMatter Week 5

The Classics a Day team unanimously decided to make #BlackLivesMatter the theme for July. Classical music isn't immune to systemic racism. It's an art form that, like painting, sculpture, literature, or poetry, is a powerful form of expression for many voices. But some voices are heard more often than others.

If you'd like to learn more about composers of color, I recommend Music by Black Composers as a starting point.

06/29/20 Chanda Dancy (1978 - ) Centrifuge, or the Powers that Separate Us

Dancy writes: In society, our “centrifuge” uses the powers of fear, lies and hate to force people of a united country to separate, leaving the heavy burdened – the poor, the sick, the pariahs – to the bottom of the “great experiment”, crying out in anguish and calling for “Riot!”

06/30/20 Jessie Montgomery (1981 -) Banner

About this work the composer writes: I’ve made an attempt to answer the question: “What does an anthem for the 21st century sound like in today’s multicultural environment?”

07/31/20 Rosephanye Powell (1962 - ) Still I rise

As a composer, Powell specializes in choral music and art song. She's also a leading authority on the music of William Grant Still.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Spam Roundup, July 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

Throw enough random words together, and you're bound to come up with something profound. Or, at leat, sounds, profund

- It is the little changes which will make the biggest changes.

Not to citation fees and rearing your investigate causal agency improvement, and it leave be blissful to translate.
- The smallest holding can be peachy if you impoverishment to pay your unit of time premiums are

"Lumbering along" is still #1

This one post continues to rake in the comments. And as always, they often show no comprehension for the contents of the post itself..

- 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.]

- I will be dealing with many of these issues as well. [If you have issues with vintage toys, then you really have issues.]

- I want to say that this post is amazing, nice written and include almost all significant infos. I'd like to look more posts like this [Significant infos is what we do.]

In conclusion

- This piece of writing will assist the internet people for building up new weblog. 

Yes, we all look towards that bright future, when all the internet people write like me. Until then, we'll have more not-so-inspirational writing next month.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Kaija Saariaho - True Fire true masterwork

For me, Kaija Saariaho is one of those composers who reward exploration. Her sonic world is so unique, that it can only be appreciated with repeated visits. And, of course, each work yields a different insight into Saariaho's creative mind. 

This release features three views into Saariaho's world. True Fire was composed for baritone Gerald Finley, who performs it here. The Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra was one of the co-commissioning organizations. Consider this, then, an authoritative performance, and a thrilling one at that. 

Saariaho uses texts by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Seamus Heaney, Mahmoud Darwish, and Native American poetry. Woven together, she creates a meditation of the shifting relationship between humankind and nature. 

Gerald Finley pulls the work together, narrating in different voices. He uses his full range, expressively taking on various roles to tell the story. It's an amazing composition that does not yield all its meanings in just one hearing.

“For me, a concerto is less about traditional virtuoso technique than about drilling deep into the soul of the instrument (and music).” Saariaho's words aptly describe "Trans," her concerto for harp and orchestra. 

Harpist Xavier de Maistre plays with a light touch and shimmering tone. At times his delicate runs seem to sparkle. But there's substance behind this music, and it does indeed run deep into the soul of the harp. To me, it seemed as if the harp was offering up ideas for the orchestra to ponder and work with. This wasn't pretty music -- but it was quite beautiful. And it was beautifully performed.

Also included was "Ciel d'hiver," a short work based on Saariaho's "Orion." Want additional insights into her creativity? Listen to those two works back-to-back. 

Highly recommended, and not just to Saariaho fans. This is music of real substance. 

Kaija Saariaho: True Fire; Trans; Ciel d'hiver
Gerald Finley
Xavier de Maistre
Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra; Hannu Lintu, conductor

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Johann Theile - St. Matthew Passion anticipates Bach

Johann Theile was best known as an opera composer. But he did study with Heinrich Schutz and wrote a significant amount of sacred choral works. His St. Matthew Passion dates from 1673 - predating Bach's by about fifty years.

The work features two solo voices; the Evangelist and Jesus. Although it uses Matthew's narrative of Christ's final days, the work doesn't strictly adhere to scripture. The arias use mostly non-Biblical text. This gives Theile greater freedom to express the drama of the story.

Thiele also uses his instrumental forces to great effect. The Evangelist is supported by two tenor viols; Jesus by two viola da braccios. To audiences of the day, this was no small difference.

In very broad terms, the viola da braccio resembled the modern violin, the tenor viol, the cello. So the instruments that accompany the voices color them differently. The instruments also had their strings tuned to different intervals. This further colored the sound.

Manfred Cordes and the Wexer-Renaissance Bremen give a beautiful and measured performance of this work. The choir has a rich, luminous sound, and the instrumental ensemble radiates warmth. The ensemble makes their 25th season this year, and have produced over 50 recordings.

As expected with this level of experience, both the performances and the recording are first-rate. I was not familiar with Theile at all before auditioning this release. I'm glad I did.

Thiele provides a stylistic link between the Middle Baroque style of Heinrich Schutz and the generation preceding Bach. And it's a well-constructed work in its own right.

Johann Theile: St. Matthew Passion
Wexer-Renaissance Bremen; Manfred Cordes, director

Monday, July 27, 2020

Karl Weigl String Quartets pure Post-romantic goodness

For most of his career, Karl Weigl built on the Romantic tradition of Fin de Siecle Vienna. But he wasn't a reactionary. In 1904 he co-founded the Society of Creative Musicians with Alexander Zemlinsky and Arnold Schoenberg.

And that's what makes this release so fascinating. Weigl's music remained Post-Romantic throughout his life, up to his death in 1949. His final two quartets, though, are quite different.

The quartets were not written for any commission, nor for any particular artist or ensemble. They were never published, nor is there any indication that Weigl intended them to be.

He seems to have composed these works for himself. And what a revelation. The quartets push tonality to the extreme -- without completely abandoning it. Dissonances are extreme and frequent. The melodies have wide leaps, and there's a great deal of chromatic motion.

Weigl seems to be moving beyond Schoenberg's "Verklartche Nacht" (albeit bout 20 years later). Still, these quartets show a major shift in Weigl's aesthetic. The works were composed at the end of Weigl's life. To me, they hint at what might have been had he lived a little longer.

The Thomas Christian Ensemble performs with sensitivity and beauty. They don't shy away from Weigl's dissonances while maintaining the expressive lyricism of the music. This is deeply personal music as the quartet's intimate performances suggest. 

Karl Weigl: String Quartets Nos. 7 adn 8
Thomas Christian Ensemble

Friday, July 24, 2020

#ClassicsaDay #BlackLivesMatter Week 4

The Classics a Day team unanimously decided to make #BlackLivesMatter the theme for July. Classical music isn't immune to systemic racism. It's an art form that, like painting, sculpture, literature, or poetry, is a powerful form of expression for many voices. But some voices are heard more often than others.

If you'd like to learn more about composers of color, I recommend Music by Black Composers as a starting point.

Here are my posts for the fourth week of #ClassicsaDay #BlackLivesMatter

07/20/20 Dorothy Rudd Moore (1940 - ) Fourth of July

This aria comes from Moore's 1985 opera Frederick Douglass. The text is a setting of Douglass' own Fourth of July speech delivered in 1852.

07/21/20 Irene Britton Smith (1907-1999) Sonata for Violin and Pian

Smith composed this work while studying with Vittorio Giannini at Julliard. Originally, it was an assignment for a composition class in larger forms.

07/22/20 R. Nathaniel Dett (1882-1943) - 8 Bible Vignettes

Dett wrote "We have this wonderful store of folk music—the melodies of an enslaved people ... But this store will be of no value unless our musical architects take the rough timber of Negro themes and fashion from it music which will prove that we, too, have national feelings and characteristics."

07/23/20 Daniel Kidane - Foreign Tongues for string quartet

Kidane is a British composer of color. He wrote, "[Classical music organizations] should promote diversity. By doing so they will make classical music meaningful for all and sow interest among future generations."

07/24/20 Philippa Schuyler (1931-1967) - Five Little Pieces

Schuyler was a child prodigy billed as "The Shirley Temple of American Negros." She was also a talented composer, author and journalist. She died in a helicopter crash in South Vietnam while covering the war.

07/25/20 Derrick Spiva Jr. (1982 - ) Anthems of a Crowd

Spiva modeled his choral work on isicathamiya, a traditional Zulu call-and-response and blends it with Hindustani drones and Ewe music from Ghana.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

The elegant refinement of Leopold Kozeluch piano trios

I'm a little late to the party. This is the first volume of Leopold Kozeluch piano trios I've auditioned. In this release, the TRIO 1790 presents three more Kozeluch trios.

The three trios in this release were published in 1786 and 1787. As was common at the time, they've technically named keyboard sonatas. The fortepiano hadn't fully replaced the harpsichord, so composers were careful to write keyboard parts that could be played on either.

In this case, we hear a fortepiano -- and a darned good one, too. Early keyboard instruments seem to be plagued with two problems: intonation and mechanical sound. Not so here.

Harald Hoeren plays a reproduction of a 1790s Matthäus Hellmann fortepiano. The action is virtually silent, letting the music come through. And the instrument holds its pitch very well. So while the timbre is different from a modern piano, it's not inferior to it.

And neither is the playing. TRIO 1790 has an impressive catalog of recordings, all focused on early Classical trios. In addition to the (now) three volumes of Kozeluch, they've released seventeen other trio recordings, including an 8-volume set of Haydn's. Beethoven, CPE, and JC Bach, Just, Dussek, Pleyel, and more.

TRIO 1790 has internalized the performance practices of the era, and play on instruments the music was written for. These trio sound light, transparent, and agile. If you think Mozart had a monopoly on that sound, listen to these works. Elegant music was in the air.

Well, nothing for it. I now have to go back and get those two previous volumes of Kozulech trios. And perhaps a few other releases from the TIO 1790's back catalog, too.

Leopold Kozeluch: Piano Trios Vol. 3
TRIO 1790
CPO 555 096-2

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Gloria Bruni Ringparable symphony delivers powerful message

To say Gloria Bruni is talented would be an understatement. She's a renowned soprano, violinist, and composer. Her experience as both a vocal and instrumental performer seems to inform the choices she makes as a composer.

Her Symphony No. 1 was premiered in 2012 and has nothing to do with Wagner. "Ringparabel" refers to a story told in a play by 18th Century author Gotthold Ephraim Lessing.

In the parable, a father promises a precious ring to each of his three sons. He has two perfect replicas made, and when he dies, each son gets a ring. The three quarrel over who has the original (and therefore the most valuable). It turns out the original ring was lost long ago -- all three are replicas. The true value of the rings comes from how the sons live their lives.

The three rings in the parable represent the three Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Bruni weaves together texts and musical quotes from these faiths in her work.

Just as the three rings in the story have equal value, Bruni seems to give equal weight to her sources of inspiration. The symphony is a wonderful blend. Listening with my Western/Christian background, the work sometimes seemed very familiar, at other times strangely exotic.

Perhaps the same might be true for audiences from different traditions -- although they may disagree with my opinion of what is exotic.

Bruni's music is very rhythmic. Her beefed-up percussion section reminded me of those found in contemporary film music. Her orchestration is quite imaginative, with some very interesting choices for chord spellings.

The Radio Symphony Orchestra Minsk performs with energy and commitment. Deborah Humble and Andrej Morozow deliver solid performances, too. It's an exciting work with a message we need today.

Gloria Bruni: Symphony No. 1 "Ringparabel"
Deborah Humble, mezzo-soprano; Andrej Morozow, bass
Radio Symphony Orchestra Minsk; Wilhelm Keitel, conductor
Rondeau Productions ROP6177

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Agnas Zimmermann -- another find from Toccata Classics

Labels matter. I've learned to trust the record label Toccata Classics. They often release music by composers I've never heard of (and that's saying something). But it's always been music I've found worth exploring.

So when I saw this release of Agnes Zimmermann's violin sonatas, I knew I had to audition it. Agnes Zimmermann was mostly known as a concert pianist and performed with Clara Schumann and Joseph Joachim. She published her own editions of Beethoven, Mozart, and Schumann. And she also composed.

The three violin sonatas receive their world recording premiere with this release. The first was written in 1868, and dedicated to Joseph Joachim. The Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 1 in D minor, Op. 16 is a well-crafted work. Zimmermann follows the standard four-movement sonata form, but not slavishly.

In a way, the sonata is somewhat plain-spoken. Zimmermann sets out her ideas and works with them. She avoids technical fireworks -- the musicians simply play. The focus is on the music, and the music is quite beautiful.

The second sonata of 1875 plays with the order of the movements (the Scherzo's second). And the third sonata, written four years seems denser and more complex. But at the heart of it, all three sonatas seem to share the same aesthetic. They have a story to tell, and they're going to do so in a direct fashion.

Violinist Mathilde Milwidsky performs in a direct fashion as well. Her vibrato is a little understated, letting her instrument sing with a clean, clear sound. She and pianist Sam Haywood perform well as partners. Milwidsky and Haywood play with insightful nuance. The phrasing is subtle, as are the dynamic contrasts.

But for Zimmermann's music, it all works. Stylistically, I'd place these works somewhere between Schumann and Brahms. But that's just an approximation. Zimmermann had her own voice, and one I was glad to hear. That's why labels matter. Had these been released a label other than Toccata Classics, I might not have taken a chance.

Agnas Zimmermann: The Violin Sonatas
Mathilde Milwidsky, violin; Sam Haywood, piano
Toccata Classics

Monday, July 20, 2020

Christoph Graupner Passion cantata series comes to a glorious close

This release completes CPO's traversal of Christoph Graupner 1741 Passion cantatas. For the 18th Century Lutheran church, Passion cantatas were performed throughout the Sundays in Lent, not just during Holy Week.

The concluding installment is the Cantata for Laetare Sunday (the fourth Sunday in Lent). The libretti focus on the wickedness of those who judged and condemned Jesus.

Graupner subtly illustrates the words. There's a solo for a very dark-sounding oboe d'amore, and some highly chromatic obbligatos for solo violin.

The chorales are also somewhat muted, although still full of Graupner's skillful voice-leading.

Perhaps as a way to change the mood, the release also includes thirteen chorals from various passion cantatas, from 1713-1751. These are beautiful works and beautifully performed.

Ex Tempore sings with clear, pure tones. Their ensemble sound is warm and full. The Mannheimer Hofkapelle also has a rich, full sound, despite consisting of just six performers.

Graupner was a friend and colleague of J. S. Bach. Some could argue that Graupner's music isn't quite at the same level. But after hearing all four volumes in this series, I can't quite agree. Graupner's music is full of imagination, variety, and spiritual expression.

An excellent series, and one I recommend to any lover of Baroque sacred choral music (or choral music in general, for that matter).

Christoph Graupner: Das Leiden Jesu
Passion Cantatas IV
Ex Tempore; Mannheimer Hofkapelle; Florian Heyerick
CPO 555 348-2

Friday, July 17, 2020

#ClassicsaDay #BlackLivesMatter Week 3

The Classics a Day team unanimously decided to make #BlackLivesMatter the theme for July. Classical music isn't immune to systemic racism. It's an art form that, like painting, sculpture, literature, or poetry, is a powerful form of expression for many voices. But some voices are heard more often than others.

If you'd like to learn more about composers of color, I recommend Music by Black Composers as a starting point.

06/13/20 Margaret Allison Bonds (1913-1972) - Montgomery Variations

Bonds, as a classical pianist and composer, struggled against systemic racism. The variations were inspired by the March on Montgomery.

06/14/20 Ulysses Kay (1917-1995) Six Dances for Orhestra

Kay's work was also titled "American Dances." The dances draw from a variety of immigrant cultural traditions and feature a waltz, round dance, schottische, promenade, polka, and galop.

06/15/20 William L. Dawson (1899-1990) - King Jesus is A-Listening

Dawson composed original works, but he's best remembered for his arrangements of African-American spirituals. This is one of his most-performed arrangements.

06/16/20 Florence Price (1887-1953) Mississippi River Suite

Price's 1934 suite blends traces of spirituals, New Orleans jazz, popular songs to evoke the African-American experience along the river.

06/17/20 George Walker (1922-2018) Sonata No. 1 for piano

Walker wrote four piano sonatas. This 1953 work is cast in traditional forms but uses folk elements to create something unique.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Bohuslav Martinu played masterfully by Trio Martinu

Bohuslav Martinu had a remarkably consistent style that spanned over 380 works written over a half-century. Certain syncopations, inspired by the rhythm of his native Czech language, are almost always present. And his harmonies, also inspired by his country's folk music, sound like no one else's.

That's not to say Martinu wrote the same piece over and over. Quite the contrary. Every work has its own characteristic sound, even as it fits into the overall continuum of Martinu's life work.

The Trio Martinu turn in some fine performances of Martinu's four piano trios. Martinu always sounds best when played with energy, and this trio delivers. Attacks are crisp and precise. At times the trio seems to insert a swagger into their playing or add a charming sweetness in lyrical passages.

The Piano Trio No. 1 was completed in 1930 in Paris. Martinu was inspired by Stravinsky. The five short pieces that make up the trio sound almost like studies of Stravinsky's style. The piano part is quite percussive, but the overall sound is softened by Moravian melodic turns and harmonies.

Martinu's next trio was also written in Paris. The style is (to me) more quintessentially Martinu. The texture of the three instruments is transparent. The harmonies are more pronouncedly modal. The percussiveness of the first trio is gone, replaced by dancelike syncopations.

Martinu returned to the genre only after the Second World War. He had fled France when the Nazis invaded and settled in New York. Significantly, perhaps, the second and third trios are the only ones to be assigned keys.

The Piano Trio No. 2 in D minor shares many aspects with the first, but developed to a higher degree of sophistication. The third piano trio in C major was written a year after the second, in 1951. It's almost a companion piece, with perhaps a bit more brightness (major vs. minor, I suppose).

Fine works from a master craftsman, perform by master instrumentalists.

Bohuslav Martinu: Complete Piano Trios
Trio Martinu
Musicaphon M56970

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Willam Dawson and Ulysses Kay -- two sides of Black classical music

This release features two African-American composers with two very different styles. William Levi Dawson was a respected composer, teacher, and musicologist. He's best remembered for his work in collecting and arranging African-American spirituals.

Dawson's Negro Folk Symphony celebrates that heritage. Dawson creates a flowing orchestral narrative using snippets from various spirituals (and not just well-known ones). Leopold Stokowski premiered the symphony in 1934 to positive reviews.

Dawson revised the work after a visit to West Africa in 1952. Most of the revisions involved adding authentic African rhythms and syncopations. The work broadly follows traditional symphonic forms. But they're merely the frame for Dawson's intricate fabric of spirituals, a tapestry of voices going back to Africa.

It's a terrific composition, and one given its due by the ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra. Under Arthur Fagen's directions, the symphony flows effortlessly, yet deliberately. In this performance, there's a clear sense of forward motion throughout the work.

Ulysses Simpson Kay's works provide a stark contrast. Kay studied with Howard Hanson and Paul Hindemith. His interest ran more towards the neo-classical style. That's not to say he abandoned his heritage. Kay's last two operas feature African-American subjects.

Kay simply composes differently than Dawson. The Fantasy Variations were written in 1963. Kay methodically works out his opening theme. His use of modes and extreme chromaticism take the work right to the edge of atonality.

His Umbrian Scene goes even further. To me, the appeal of this work was more intellectual than emotional. Kay's carefully constructed themes play out against each other in unusual and sometimes surprising ways.

Two composers expressing themselves in two very different ways. Both worthy of exploration -- and more performances.

William Levi Dawson: Negro Folk Symphony
Ulysses Simpson Kay: Fantasy Variations; Umbrian Scene
ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra; Arthur Fagen, conductor
Naxos 8.559870  

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Tasmin Little finishes British Violin Sonatas series beautifully

This is the final volume of British Violin Sonatas. Tasmin Little and Piers Lane conclude their three-disc series in fine style. The program includes a spectrum of compositional styles, ranging from the serious and introspective to the light-hearted and diverting.

The album opens with York Bowen's majestic Violin Sonata in E minor. Though written in 1945, stylistically it sounds (to me) more like something from the early 1900s. No matter -- Bowen was a master at his craft, and this sonata delivers in drama and emotion.

Part of what makes this music work so well is Tasmin Little's absolute command of the violin's high register. The poignancy of Bowne's melodies work because even the highest notes are perfectly in tune and sound with a lovely, rounded tone.

John Ireland's Violin Sonata No. 2, which was written around 1916. And yet to me, it had a more modern sound than Bowen's sonata. Ireland wrote the work in part to express the horrors of war he had experienced. The sonata has a very stringent sound to it. It's a restless work. Little and Lane communicate that agitation effectively while keeping it in check. A terrific performance all around.

The remaining works in the program are somewhat lighter and provide a welcome balance to the big sonatas. William Alwyn withdrew his 1933 Sonatina, but it was published after his death. It's a charming work that has a simplicity of character without being simple in construction.

The Hart's Grace by James Francis Brown was composed for Little. This short work gives her a chance to showcase her technical strengths, cast in music that sounds almost improvisatory. 

Eric Coates never fails to satisfy (I think), and the First Meeting, Souvenir is no exception. Coates was the master of light classical music, and this little piece charms the listener with its sentimental melody. Little treats the music with respect, playing emotionally without sounding maudlin.

I'm sad there won't be a volume four in this series. But I'm grateful to Tasmin Little and Piers Lane for three volumes of beautiful performances they did record. 

British Violin Sonatas, Volume 3
Bowen, Ireland, Alwyn, Brown, Coates
Tasmin Little, violin; Piers Little, piano
Chandos 20133

Monday, July 13, 2020

The serene Sonetti Spirituali of Pietro Vinci

Pietro Vinci published his Quattordeci Sonetti Spirituali in 1580. These works are prime examples of the Italian Mannerist School.

The text is by Vittoria Colonna, one of the most popular poets of the day. The poems of the Sonetti Spirituali are religious, but Vinci gives them secular settings.

His florid polyphony compellingly illuminates the text. Every note (and concordance of notes). conveys the emotional content of the poetry. And in some cases, as when melodies rise and fall, the more literal aspects as well.

These five-voice madrigals receive fine performances from the assembled quintet. Anney Barrett, soprano, and Steven Hrycelak, bass, sing the outer voices. The remaining three are all sung by tenors; Matthew Anderson, Jason McStoots, and Michael Barrett.

The resulting vocal blend is actually more diverse than I anticipated. The tenors at times provide a homogenous center that throws the outer voices in relief. But when necessary, they can move apart to make contrapuntal lines easier to follow.

The Nota Bene early music ensemble appears on several tracks, helping to vary the sound of the program. The viols cover a wide range; treble, alto, bass and great bass viols are used. The different instruments help shade the music in subtle ways.

There's a serenity to this music I found quite appealing. If you're willing to take an hour out of your stressful day and turn your thoughts (and ears) to something higher, this is a recording for you.

Pietro Vinci: Quattordeci Sonetti Spirituali
Anney Barrett, soprano; Matthew Anderson, Jason McStoots, Michael Barrett, tenors; Steven Hrycelak, bass
Nota Bene viol consort with Julie Jeffrey, bass viol
Toccata Classics

Friday, July 10, 2020

#ClassicsaDay #BlackLivesMatter Week 2

The Classics a Day team unanimously decided to make #BlackLivesMatter the theme for July. Classical music isn't immune to systemic racism. It's an art form that, like painting, sculpture, literature, or poetry, is a powerful form of expression for many voices. But some voices are heard more often than others.

If you'd like to learn more about composers of color, I recommend Music by Black Composers as a starting point.

06/06/20 Clarence Cameron White (1880-1960) Levee Dance

White was one of the foremost violinists of his generation, with career opportunities limited by race. Many of his works draw on African-American traditions.

06/07/20 Charles Lucien Lambert (1828-1896)

Lambert was born in New Orleans, a "free person of color." He enjoyed a successful career as a composer and pianist only after leaving the U.S. in 1854 for France.

06/08/20 Lucien-Léon Guillaume Lambert (1858-1945)

Lucien-Léon was the son of Charles Lambert and born in France. He had a successful career in France, Portugal, and Brazil. But not the U.S.

06/09/20 Adolphus Hailstork (1941 - ) Epitaph for a Man Who Dreamed

Hailstork's 1978 composition was written in memory of Martin Lurther King, Jr. He called it "a graveside service for a great man."

06/10/20 Anthony R. Green - Fighting Spirit

Green calls himself a composer, performer, and social justice artist. He writes "when our work is blatantly ignored, disrespected, not studied, and not programmed, our voice is all we have."

Thursday, July 09, 2020

Jaromir Weinberger - Schwanda and beyond

Show of hands: how many played the Polka and Fugue from Schwanda the Bagpiper in their highs school or college band? Jaromir Weinberger's piece has made him a one-hit-wonder. An as with many composers, it does him something of a disservice.

It is true, I think, that in Schwanda the Bagpiper all the threads of Weinberger's style come together. This Bohemian composer was proud of his heritage, and the folk-like tunes of Schwanda show that.

Weinberger also understood musical drama and wrote effectively both for voice and orchestra. The symphonic selections included here effectively set the stage for the story to unfold.

Sections of this suite sound like Hollywood soundtracks -- save Weinberger's 1929 music predates those scores by at least ten years.

The Bohemian Songs and Dances were also folk-inspired, but here Weinberger writes in a more sophisticated language. These dances are quite charming and show Weinberger's skill as an orchestrator.

The Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Palz, directed by Karl-Heinz Steffens has a suitably big sound. Steffens leans into the folk qualities of the score. In the case of "Schwanda," it gives the music a seeming simplicity. For the dances, it adds an exotic element.

To my ears, the orchestra seemed recorded in a bit of a soft-focus; extreme high and low tones lacked definition. This blunted the impact of the orchestra, somewhat.

I can still recommend the album -- the repertoire is worth exploring. The recorded sound just seemed to lack sparkle.

Jaromir Weinberger: Orchestral Works from "Schawnda"
Bohemian Songs and Dances, I-VI; The Beloved Voices Overture
Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz; Karl-Heinz Steffens, conductor

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

Second volume of Auber opera overtures distinct improvement

Volume two of Daniel-François-Esprit Auber overtures builds on the strengths of the first. As before, maestro Dario Salvi and the Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra Pardubice present several world premiere recordings -- including a violin concerto.

While I enjoyed the performances of the ensemble in volume one, I had some complaints about the quality of the recorded sound. The sound is much improved in volume two.

The ensemble has a clean, cohesive blend. It's a pleasant sound for pleasant music. And these overtures and entr'acte selections are pleasantly tuneful and entertaining.

Not all of the works featured here are opera-comiques (as the French defined the genre). Léocadie, for example, involves a continually imperiled heroine. Even these selections are full of melody and good spirits.

For me, though, the standout track was the Violin Concerto in D major. The opening theme of this 1805 work seems to pre-echo Mendelssohn's "Italian" Symphony. Lyricism, rather than technique, seems to be Auber's focus.

Violinist Markéta Cepická plays with a clear, pure tone. Auber knew how to write a melody, and Markéta's phrasing makes it sing. Her playing in the upper register was particularly poignant and beautiful.

I don't think I've heard any music by Auber that wasn't related to opera. This concerto was a real treat -- and I hope future volumes include some non-operatic works. Really looking forward to Volume 3.

Daniel-François-Esprit Auber: Overtures, Volume 2 
Le Concert á la cour; Fiorella; Julie; Léocadie; Couvin; Violin Concerto 
Markéta Cepická, violin; Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra Pardubice; Dario Salvi, conductor Naxos 8.574006

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

Nikolay Myaskovsky symphonies demonstrate composer's growth

Nikolay Myaskovsky is considered the Father of the Russian Symphony and with good reason. He wrote his first symphony in 1908 after studying with Rimsky-Korsakov. His 27th (and final) symphony was completed in 1949. His works frequently performed both before the Revolution and after it.

For Mysaskovky, the creation of big themes worthy of symphonic treatment -- and their organization -- just seemed to come naturally. This release features his first symphony and his thirteenth.

Myyaskovksy's first symphony was a student work and he revised it in 1921. By that time, he had composed three other symphonies, and his style had matured.

The revised symphony is a well-crafted work. For the revised version (heard on this release), Myaskovsky tightened up the first and third movements, and significantly reworked the orchestration. Myaskovsky's harmonies reminded me somewhat of Scriabin's, and the form, especially of the first movement, seemed quite formal.

Symphony No. 13 in B-minor was written in 1933 and is quite a different work indeed. During the eleven years since his revision of Symphony No. 1, Myaskovsky grew as a composer. The work is in a single movement, organized in three sections. The andante-agitato molto-andante organization inverts the traditional fast-slow-fast organization of three-movement works.

The harmonies are quite dissonant (though Myaskovsky never completely abandons tonality). The chromatic melodies also have a "modernist" character to them. And it was around this time that Soviet authorities accused him of formalism. Myaskovsky would retreat from the experimental harmonies of Symphony No. 13, leaving it a hint of a direction he might have taken had he lived in the West.

The Ural Youth Symphony Orchestra does a fine job with these works. I thought the first symphony lacked a little energy overall. And the middle part of the thirteenth, "agigtato molte e tenebroso" could have used a little more orchestral fire in my opinion.

But maestro Alexander Rubin makes up for that with the intensity of outer movements of the thirteenth. The orchestra beautifully conveys the emotion of the third part, marked "andante nostalgico." So all in all, good performances of unusual repertoire -- a combination that works for me.

Nikolay Myaskovsky: Symphonies Nos. 1 and 13
Ural Youth Symphony Orchestra; Alexander Rudin, conductor
Naxos 8.573988

Monday, July 06, 2020

Majestic recording of Johann Pachelbel Magnificat

To the general public, Johann Pachelbel is a one-hit-wonder. To his contemporaries in Germany, he was much more -- and recordings such as this help us understand why.

During his lifetime, Pachelbel was renowned as an organist and a composer. He was especially adept at counterpoint, something he passed on to his students. One of them was Johann Christoph Bach, Johann Sebastian's older brother.

This collection of Magnificats shows Pachelbel's facility for fugal writing, albeit different than what his pupil's younger brother would come up with decades later.

The Himlische Cantorey, directed by Jan Kobow has a fine ensemble sound. The choruses have clearly defined lines, throwing the counterpoint in sharp relief.

The instrumental forces used are an added bonus. In addition to organ and strings, we also hear brass and tympani. These are indeed majestic magnificats!

Also included is the Missa in D major. This is a Lutheran mass and only consists of a Kyrie Elison, Gloria, and Credo. Pachelbel adheres to the Protestant ideal of simplicity and straightforward expression. Nevertheless, individual voices weave effortlessly together in polyphonic perfection. But never so much as to obscure the text!

Most of Pachelbel's positions involved providing music for worship. This album helps provide a picture of what Pachelbel the church musician provided on a regular basis, and a welcome balance to the anomaly of the Canon.

Johann Pachelbel: Magnificat
Himlische Cantorey; Jan Kobow, director

Friday, July 03, 2020

#ClassicsaDay #BlackLivesMatter Week 1

The Classics a Day team unanimously decided to make #BlackLivesMatter the theme for July. Classical music isn't immune to systemic racism. It's an art form that, like painting, sculpture, literature, or poetry, is a powerful form of expression for many voices. But some voices are heard more often than others.

If you'd like to learn more about composers of color, I recommend Music by Black Composers as a starting point.

06/01/20 Undine Smith Moore (1904-1989) - Afro-American Suite

Moore was born in Virginia, the granddaughter of former slaves. Her work represented the state at Kennedy Center Bicentennial celebration.

06/02/20 William Grant Still (1895-1978) - Africa Symphonic Poem

This work was to be part of a trilogy about the African-American experience. This symphonic poem is the first part, represents their cultural origins in Africa.

07/03/20 J. Rosamond Johnson (1873-1954) - Lift Every Voice and Sing

The words were a poem by his brother James Weldon. J. Rosamond Johnson's composition became the official song of the NAACP, an organization both were active in.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us, 
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us

Thursday, July 02, 2020

George Antheil Serenades have international appeal

CPO has released a lot of George Antheil: all six symphonies; both piano concertos; and an opera. This release features his two serenades. Also included are two additional works; the ballet suite "Dreams," and Antheil's orchestrated piano piece, "The Golden Bird."

The first serenade premiered in 1948, the second in 1950. If you only know Antheil through the Ballet mecanique, you might be surprised. If you're familiar with his symphonies, you may also be surprised -- for a different reason.

These works have none of the Ballet mecanique's aggressive cacophony. They're quite tonal. In style, they reminded me very much of Bohuslav Martinu. That's especially true for the second serenade, with Antheil's use of the piano as an orchestral instrument.

In the 1940s Antheil's symphonic style began incorporating American musical traditions (and even American subjects). The end result is music that somewhat resembles Copland's. But the serenades don't. To me, they have more of an international sound (you know, like Martinu).

Fawzi Haimor and the Württenbergische Philharmonie Reutlingen deliver credible performances of these works. The ensemble has a smooth, cohesive sound. The instrumental soloists perform with competent artistry. All in all, they present the music well, and I enjoyed the recording.

George Antheil: Seranades 1 & 2 
The Golden Bird; Dreams 
Wüttenbergische Philharmonie Reutlingen; Fawzi Haimor, conductor 
CPO 555 196-2 

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

Mieczyslaw Weinberg Symphonies 2 and 7 have hidden depths

This release presents two Mieczyslaw Weinberg string symphonies. The Amadeus Chamber Orchestra of Polish Radio, under the direction of Anna Duczmal-Mroz, turns in a set of fine performances. These works, separated by a span of 18 years, are similar only in the choice of ensemble.

Weinberg in 1946 was just beginning to blossom under Soviet sponsorship. His Symphony No. 2 is a lyrical work, with soft dissonances adding piquancy to the music.

Weinberg's music is often compared to that of his friend, Shostakovich. Here, I think, the style seems a little closer to Prokofiev's.

When Weinberg composed his seventh symphony in 1964, he -- and his world -- were very different. He had survived the Zhdanovshcina of 1948 and the banning of his music. He was arrested in 1953 for Jewish bourgeois nationalism, and "officially rehabilitated."

The 1964 Symphony No. 7 for string orchestra and harpsichord superficially seems to be a neoclassical work. But there's a darkness at the heart of the score. The symphony starts out serenely. As it develops though, the dissonances become more prominent, ratcheting up the tension.

At times, the harpsichord seems at odds with the strings. The music sounds fragmented compared to the Second Symphony. And even in the lyrical passages, there's a hint that something's not quite right.

Anna Duczmal-Mroz seems to understand the differences between these two works. The Second Symphony sounds relaxed, with full, beautiful ensembles. The Seventh Symphony has a distinct edge to it, and an intensity that reminded me of Shostakovich's Chamber Symphony Op. 110a.

This is a worthy addition to Dux's exploration of Weinberg's music.

Mieczyslaw Weinberg: Symphonies Nos. 2 and 7
Amadeus Chamber Orchestra of Polish Radio; Anna Duczmal-Mroz, conductor
DUX 1613