Monday, August 31, 2020

Spam Roundup August, 2020

The critics go wild!

- I visit this site because I wish for enjoyment, as this web stie contains truly pleasant/funny data. [Normally funny data is not a good thing.]

- As far as some of the jealous folks, I would keep an open view next time because it only punishes you in the long run. [So I should ignore those readers jealous of my success in attracting spambots?]

- Thanks for a new challenge you have unveiled in your post. One thing I would really like to touch upon is that FSBO associations are built eventually. [Well, if it's inevitable, it's time to CYA PDQ.]

"Lumbering along" with the traffic

This little post about a cheap Japanese toy continues to attract the spammers. So glad that The Straco Express Layout, Part 23 - Lumbering Along has touched so many across the globe (well, Eastern Europe, anyway).

- This web page is really a walk-by way of for all of the information you want about this. [As Dionne Warwick sang, if you want to know about vintage toys, just walk on by.]

- I have never found an interesting article like yours. It is pretty worth enough for me.[The way that first sentence is worded, it sounds like you still haven't.]

 - You actually expressed that perfectly! Whoa, tons of awesome material!! Nicely put. Thanks! [Not bad for 200 words and four photos.]

Words to live by

- Instead of fast merchant marine, try cheaper options.

Will do, matey. That's it for this month. And remember -- don't let your emails succumb to proper unsoundness!

Friday, August 28, 2020

#ClassicsaDay #WeWriteSymphonies Week 4

Last month the Classics a Day team made #BlackLivesMatter the theme. Systemic racism in classical music has limited exposure to composers of color. So for August, the team opened up the focus even further.

#WeWriteSymphonies is a hashtag used by composers of color, and it seems like a logical extension of #BlackLivesMatter. For my contributions to the feed, I found examples throughout music history. The problem isn't new. There are talented composers of color underrepresented in every era -- not just in contemporary music.

Here are my #ClassicsaDay posts for the fourth and final week of #WeWriteSymphonies

08/24/20 Valerie Capers (1935-) - Song of the Seasons - Winter

After graduating from Julliard, Capers had difficulties finding a teaching position because she was female, Black, and blind. But as both an accomplished classical composer and jazz composer/pianist, she enjoyed a successful career.

08/25/20 Toru Takemitsu (1930-1996) - Rain Spell

Japanese composer Takemitsu wrote hundreds of works, as well as over 90 film scores and 20 books. He blended both Eastern and Western aesthetics to create his unique style.

08/26/20 Zenobia Powell Perry (1908-2004) - Clarinet Sonata

Perry was more than a composer -- she was also an activist, joining the NAACP in 1962. Perry spent most of her career teaching at black colleges.

08/27/20 Eleanor Alberga (1949 - ) String Quartet No. 1

Alberga is a Jamaican-British composer and pianist. Her music often features Jamaican cross-rhythms.

08/28/20 Margaret S. Bonds (1913-1972) The Bells (Spiritual Suite for Piano)

Bonds was a pianist, composer, and active member of the National Association of Negro Musicians. She was also a close friend of Langston Hughes and set several of his poems to music.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Pioneers: Piano Works by Female Composers

Hiroko Ishimoto presents an illuminating program of piano music spanning almost 300 years. And all of it by women. It's a terrific recording, with exceptional performances. I heartily recommend it.

Before digging into the details, let's do a little thought experiment. What if this were a recording of similar music -- by male composers? Well, it probably wouldn't be titled "Pioneers." And the subtitle would simply be "piano works."

That's how deeply ingrained gender bias is in the classical music world. Projects like Ishimoto's address that. Some of the composers presented here are already well-known. Clara Schumann, Amy Beach, Cecile Chaminade, and Lili Boulanger are already well-represented in recordings and performances.

Of comparable quality to the works of those composers are the other women in this program. Some were major figures in their own countries. Agathe Grøndahl of Norway studied with Franz Liszt and was a colleague of Edward Grieg.

Croatian Dora Pejacevic composed the first modern symphony in her country. Anna Bon was a keyboard virtuoso, a published composer at age 16, and possibly worked with Franz Joseph Haydn.

And there's more. Every composer has a story, and every composer (as represented here) is worth listening to. My recommendation: get this release, and use it as a starting point for your own exploration of women composers, past and present.

Pioneers: Piano Works by Female Composers
Hiroko Ishimoto, piano
Grand Piano GP844

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Harry Christophers and The Sixteen new Purcell release most welcome

Bottom line. If you enjoyed Volumes One and Two, you'll find Volume Three of equal quality. Also, if you've enjoyed any of the Sixteen's previous Purcell releases on Coro, you'll definitely want to add this one to your library.

If the previous paragraph doesn't apply to you, read on. Harry Christophers and The Sixteen have produced over 90 outstanding recordings, specializing in (but not limited to) English Renaissance and Baroque polyphony.

Their series of Royal Welcome Songs features a varied program of music. As in this release, the program includes works Purcell wrote specifically for King Charles II, either for performance in his court or his chapel.

It also includes some of Purcell's songs, canons, and rounds that would have been sung in more informal gatherings. Throughout it, all run two common elements.

First is the quality and inventiveness of Purcell's music. From his anthem "Rejoice in the Lord" to ditties like "Sir Barnaby Whigg," Purcell's talent is patent.

And second is the quality of the performances. Harry Christophers (as always) gathers a first-rate group of singers and instrumentalists to bring this music to life.

Not only do I recommend this release to anyone interested in early music, but I also encourage you the check out the other two volumes. They're all that good.

Henry Purcell: Royal Welcome Songs from King Charles II, Volume III
Harry Christophers and The Sixteen
Coro COR16182

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Felix Draeseke string quartets draw on tradition

This release features two of the three string quartets composed by Felis Draeseke. Draeseke was an enthusiastic supporter (and emulator) of Richard Wagner and Franz Liszt.

Yet Draeseke a composer in the New German School style, seemed to have other influences as well. These two quartets, written in 1880 and 1886 respectively, remind me more of Beethoven.

The structure of the quartet movements is well-defined. The chromatic harmonic motion and thick chords sound Lisztian. But overall, I'd describe these quartets as Beethoven- rather than Wagner-inspired.

Draeseke also loved counterpoint, and both quartets have their share. But again, I'm reminded of the contrapuntal passages in Beethoven's quartets.

I don't mean to imply these quartets are derivative. They're not. Draeseke may take inspiration from other composers, but he uses it to express his own personality.

I enjoyed the performances by the Constanze Quartet. They convey the heightened expressiveness of Dreseke's music effectively.

The recorded sound is good, but not great. There's a slight muddiness to the ensemble sound. To me, that detracted a little from fully experiencing Draeseke's artfully composed counterpoint.

Felix Draeseke: String Quartets Nos. 1 & 2
Constanze Quarte

Monday, August 24, 2020

Johann Matthias Sperger double bass concertos more than novelties

So who was Johannes Matthis Sperger? He was an Austrian contrabassist and a contemporary of Haydn and Beethoven. And he was also a composer. It's important to make that distinction. At the time, many virtuoso musicians wrote concertos for themselves -- some are little more than a series of technical feats strung together.

Sperger wrote concertos for his instrument, but he also composed a lot more. His catalog includes symphonies, cantatas, sonatas, and more.

His double bass concertos are full of technical challenges, but they're also quite tuneful. And those double stops, runs, and other effects serve to enhance the melody, not detract from it.

Roman Patkoló plays these concertos with enthusiasm. His phrasing, especially in the upper register is wonderfully expressive. The double bass requires a lot of effort to produce a sound (compared to a violin), and the left hand has to cover a lot of real estate.

Nevertheless, Patkoló plays with an agility that belies those challenges. His instrument's close-mic'd -- so we can also hear Patkoló humming along as he plays. For me, that wasn't a distraction. It just made the performance more authentic and engaging. 

Also included is a Sinfonia - one of the forty-two that Sperger wrote. Like Haydn, Sperger knew how to use a motif to build a movement. This symphony may be a little simpler than Haydn's works, but no less enjoyable.

Johann Matthias Sperger: Double Bass Concertos Nos. 2 & 15 
Sinfonia No. 30 
Roman Patkoló, double bass Kurpfälzisches Kammerorchester Mannheim; Johannes Schlaefli, conductor 
CPO 555 101-2

Friday, August 21, 2020

#ClassicsaDay #WeWriteSymphonies Week 3

Last month the Classics a Day team made #BlackLivesMatter the theme. Systemic racism in classical music has limited exposure to composers of color. So for August, the team opened up the focus even further.

#WeWriteSymphonies is a hashtag used by composers of color, and it seems like a logical extension of #BlackLivesMatter. For my contributions to the feed, I found examples throughout music history. The problem isn't new. There are talented composers of color underrepresented in every era -- not just in contemporary music.

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

08/17/20 Ignatius Sancho 1729?-1780) - Minuets

Sancho was born on a slave ship crossing the Middle Passage. He ended up in England, eventually becoming renowned as an author and composer. As a landowner, he became the first black eligible to vote in the British general elections in the 1770s.

08/18/20 Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983) - Cantata para América Mágica

Ginastera based this 1960 work on pre-Columbian legends. It's composed for soprano and percussion ensemble (playing a total of 53 instruments).

08/19/20 Corie Rose Soumah - Limidites

Soumah is a Canadian composer of color. According to her bio, her music balances between aggressiveness and fragility. Much of her work is intended for performance in common public areas.

08/20/20 Tan Dun (1957 - )- Concerto for Zheng and String Orchestra

Chinese composer Tan Dun is best known for his film scores. His work blends Chinese traditional music with Western classical traditions. This concerto features the zheng, an Asian instrument whose origins date back to around 200 BC.

08/21/20 Mozart Camargo Guarnieri (1907-1993) Sinfonia No. 2 "Uirapuru"

Guarnieri was the second best-known Brazilian composer after Heitor Villa-Lobos. His "Uirapuru" is dedicated to Villa-Lobos and pays tribute to his tone poem of the same name.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Bosphorus Trio showcase Turkish piano trios

In my opinion, the wonderful thing about classical music is its adaptability. Composers from all over the world have used the genre to create music of great beauty and substance. And in the process, bring something of their own culture in the cosmopolitan mix.

And how much native music traditions should go into that mix? The answer is different for every composer. And there's no wrong answer. This release features piano trios by four Turkish composers. Each one brings his own personality to the genre.

The program is chronological, beginning with Hasan Ferid Alnar's Piano Trio. Alnar was one of the "Turkish Five," and represents the first group of Turkish classical composers to achieve international recognition. The trio (originally composed in 1929) adapts Turkish elements to classical form.

Ferit Tuzun was of the generation after Alnar. His 1950 Piano Trio flirts with atonality and serialism. Still, it's solidly based on Turkish music traditions, which gives the work its character and its appeal.

Transformations (1975) by Ilhan Baran presents folk elements in abstraction. Baran deconstructions float in a cloud of sound, punctuated by bursts of rhythmic syncopation.

Orguzhan Balci is the youngest composer represented. His Piano Trio No. 1 was commissioned by the Bosphorus Trio. Each of the three movements is dedicated to a different member. And, as one might expect, the music plays to the considerable strengths of each instrumentalist.

The Bosphorus Trio makes their Naxos debut with this release. Their energy, passion, and deep understanding of this music makes the recording a standout.

Turkish Piano Trios
Hasan Firid Alnar; Ferit Tuzun; Oguzhan Balci; Ilhan Baran
Bosphorus Trio
Naxos 8.579071

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Leif Segerstam begins Beethoven choral Series

Ludwig van Beethoven's oratorio was premiered at a marathon concert in 1803. And I mean marathon. The all-Beethoven program (conducted by the composer) included his first and second symphonies, plus his third piano concerto. Some of the shorter pieces scheduled were dropped due to time constraints (!).

"Christ on the Mount of Olives" originally received mixed reviews (possibly due to battle fatigue). Beethoven revised the work in 1811, and it achieved a modest degree of success.

The oratorio is somewhat operatic in nature and construction. Recitatives, arias, and choruses propel the action forward and that action is Jesus moving from rebellion to acceptance of his fate.

Leif Segerstam leans into the drama of the work, which shares some attributes with "Fidelio." The Chorus Cathedralis Aboensis delivers some rousing performance, especially with the finale. The Turku Philharmonic Orchestra, a frequent collaborator with Segerstam is in top form.

Soprano Hanna-Leena Haapamäki (the Seraph) sings with a rounded, honeyed tone of exceptional beauty. Niklas Spangberg also performs well as Peter, bringing an earthy honesty to the part.

This release launches a series of Beethoven choral works with Maestro Segerstam. It's a solid beginning.

Ludwig van Beethoven: Christus am Ölberge, Op. 85
Eligischer Gesang, Op. 118
Hanna-Leena Haapamäki, soprano; Jussi Myllys, tenor; Niklas Spangberg, bass
Chorus Cathedralis Aboensis
Turku Philharmmonic Orchestra; Leif Segerstam, conductor
Naxos 8.573852

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Vyacheslav Artyomov: Album XI - must-have for collectors

The eleventh entry in Divine Art's Vyacheslav Artymov series presents an assortment of chamber music. The recordings were made between 1970 and 1981, but many are receiving their first commercial release with Album XI.

I've often described Artyomov as a crafter of sound clouds. Some of the early works here that aesthetic. The Hymn of Sudden Wafts. for example, features two saxophones (soprano and tenor) and two keyboards (harpsichord and piano). The saxes represent the wafts, through breath and intonation, while the keyboards provide context for the swirling sounds.

Artyomov's Sonata for Solo Clarinet was written when he was 23. This early work features jagged leaps with chromatic turns. A piece of its time perhaps, save for the importance of breath. How the clarinetist breathes and supports the tones provide the music's expressive power.

And the wind is important in Litanies I and II, written for a quartet of saxophones and flutes respectively. In both, individual instruments temporarily come to the fore, only to be engulfed back into the swirling could of the ensemble.

The other works also reward attentive listening (and repeat listening). Most important (I think) are the Four Armenian Duets. Artyomov set poems by Armenian poet Ashot Bagdasarovich. The work shows his love and appreciation for the country where he composed so many of his major works.

The Duets are dedicated to soprano Ruzanna Lisitsian and mezzo-soprano Karina Lisitsian who sings them here. They're accompanied by the composer at the piano. I'm not sure any other combination of musicians could get to the core of this music.

I would not use this album to introduce someone to Artyomov. But for those who do know and love his work, this is a must-have release.

Vyacheslav Artyomov: Album XI
Hymn of Sudden Wafts - Igor Abramov, soprano and tenor saxophones; Alexei Semionov, harpsichord; Yuri Smirnov, piano
Sonata - Oleg Tantsov, clarinet
Litany I Lev Mikhailov, soprano saxophone; Alexander Oseichuk, alto saxophone; Alexei Nbotov, tenor saxophone; Vladimir Yeriomin, baritone saxophone
Litany II - Vladimir Pakulichev, Alexander Timochin, and Albert Govman, flutes; Sergi Kokhlov, alto flute
Sunday Sonata - Valery Popov, bassoon; Piotr Meschaninov, piano
Four Armenian Duets - Ruzanna Lisitsian, soprano; Karina Lisitsian, mezzo-soprano; Vyacheslav Artyomov, piano
Capriccio on the '75 New Year Eve - Lev Mikhailov, soprano saxophone; Vladimir Yeriomin, baritone saxophone; Illa Spivak, percussion
Divine Art

Monday, August 17, 2020

Italico Splendore serves Vitali well in new recording

Giovanni Battista Vitali is finally getting his due -- thanks to this series from Tactus. The Italico Splendore Ensemble has been steadily making its way through Vitali's published compositions. This release -- the sixth -- features the Soante a due violini, Op. 9, published in 1684.

These are sonatas da chiesa (church sonatas). At the time, there was a clear distinction between this and the sonata da camera (chamber sonata). The sonata da chiesa is about providing contemplative music.

The form usually begins with a slow prelude, a faster fugal movement, a long slow movement, and a faster tempo finale. Those faster movements are reigned in, though. They provide contrast to the slow movements but still encourage serenity.

The Italico Splendore Ensemble performs these works beautifully. They linger lovingly over the slow passages and play the rapid movements with precise clarity.

Special note must be made of the ensemble's scholarship. No surviving copies of the Opus 9 publication remain. This music was reconstructed from the original manuscripts, making informed decisions when evaluating apparent errors or unclear notations.

The recording has just the right amount of ambiance. There's a little reverb (as one would expect for music played in a large cathedral). But it's not so much that it muddies the music -- critical for the contrapuntal passages.

Giovanni Battista Vitali: Sonate a due violini, Op. 9
Italico Splendore
Tactus TC 632207

Friday, August 14, 2020

#ClassicsaDay #WeWriteSymphonies Week 2

Last month the Classics a Day team made #BlackLivesMatter the theme. Systemic racism in classical music has limited exposure to composers of color. So for August, the team opened up the focus even further.

#WeWriteSymphonies is a hashtag used by composers of color, and it seems like a logical extension of #BlackLivesMatter. For my contributions to the feed, I found examples throughout music history. The problem isn't new. There are talented composers of color underrepresented in every era -- not just in contemporary music.

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

08/10/20 Leo Brouwer (1939 - ) Cantilena de los Bosques

Cuban composer is a major figure in the world of classical guitar. IN addition to his music for the instrument, Brouwer has also composed film scores, ballets, and concert works.

08/11/20 Francis Johnson (1792-1844) - Johnson's March

A trumpet virtuoso, Johnson was a groundbreaking Black composer. He was the first to have his music published, the first to give public concerts and perform on stage with both black and white musicians.

08/12/20 Isang Yun (1917-1995) - Violin Concerto No. 3

Korean composer Isang Yun emigrated to West Germany in 1959. He was kidnapped by South Korean police in 1967 and tortured to confess to espionage. A petition with over 200 of the world's greatest classical artists eventually secured his release four years later.

08/13/20 Carlos Chávez (1899-1978) - Sinfonia No. 2 "Sinfonia India"

Chávez often incorporated elements of his native Mexican folk music into his works. The Sinfonia India uses traditional Yaqui percussion instruments.

08/14/20 Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) - Amazonas

This 1916 works marks a turning point. Villa-Lobos moved from writing in a purely Eurocentric style to one that closely integrated the music of his native country, Brazil.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

What makes Harold Meltzer - Songs and Structures important

Some recordings are truly important -- and I think "Song and Structures" qualifies as one. Every work on this Harold Meltzer album is performed by the artists who premiered them.

In some cases, such as the song cycles, Meltzer composed specifically for the voice of the singer. That singer, tenor Paul Appleby also provides the liner notes. In them, he shares insights about the composer and music he knows personally.

Meltzer takes inspiration from architecture. His music is carefully constructed and elegantly balanced in form. Paul Appleby sings two song cycles in this release, accompanied by pianist Natalia Katyukov. They premiered "Bride of the Island" in 2016. Appleby sings in a clarion, declamatory style that throws the words into sharp relief.

The pair also perform "Beautiful Ohio," another work Appleby premiered. Here Appleby sings with a more lyrical tone, occasionally bending notes at the end of phrases. His delivery adds to the essentially down-home character of James Wright's poetry.

"Aqua" was premiered by the Avalon String Quartet. They also commissioned the work. Melzer was inspired by the Aqua Tower in Chicago. The music emulates its sea of curved balconies and fluid lines with remarkable effectiveness.

The Library of Congress commissioned "Kreisleriana" for the 50th anniversary of the virtuoso's death. Melzter's work was premiered by violinist Miranda Cuckson and pianist Blair McMillen.

It is indeed a work for virtuoso performers, though the technical challenges may not always be obvious to the listener. I think this recording benefits from having the musicians most familiar with the work performing.

The strong connections between the musicians and the music make this an important document. If you want to hear Harold Meltzer's music as it was meant to be performed, I'd start here.

Harold Meltzer: Songs and Structures
Paul Appleby, tenor; Natalia Katyukova, piano; Avalon String Quartet; Miranda Cuckson, violin; Blair McMillen, piano
Bridge Records 9513

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Joseph Mayseder chamber music channels Schubert

Joseph Mayseder was a violin virtuoso active in the mid-1800s. He was a torchbearer at Beethoven's funeral and concertmaster of the Vienna Court Opera. He performed (and composed) chamber music extensively.

This release represents some of his efforts. It includes two of his seven piano trios, and one of his two numbered violin sonatas.

Overall, I think Mayseder's style closely resembles Schubert. While he doesn't have Schubert's gift for infinite melody, these works do have their appeal. The melodies are often lyrical and emotive.

Mayseder is also more concise than Schubert. He seems to have a more conservative sense of form. It provides his music with a strong sense of direction, building to logical climaxes throughout the movements. The clarity of these works reminded me very much of Felix Mendelssohn, a contemporary of Mayseder.

Members of the Lissy Quartet, along with pianist Srebra Gelleva perform the trios. The ensemble sound is rather spacious as if the members were sitting a little far apart.

Raimund Lissy and Gelleva play the Violin Sonata No. 2 with restrained emotion. Lissy seems to linger over some of the melodic phrases, adding to their beauty.

This is volume six in Gramola's series devoted to Mayseder's music. If you enjoy this release, I recommend getting the other recordings. They feature more of Mayseder's chamber works, as well as his violin concertos and even a mass.

Mayseder Chamber Music, Volume Six
Piano Trio No. 1 in B-flat major, Op. 34; Piano Trio No. 2 in A-flat major, Op. 52; Violin Sonata No. 2 in E minor, Op. 42
Lissy Quartet; Srebra Gelleva, piano

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Trio Anima Mundi Unearth British PIano Trios

The Trio Anima Mundi calls what they do "piano trio archaeology." Buried under the standard repertoire are layers of exceptional music. And the trio has unearthed some real finds.

Two of these composers in this program are well-known (sort of), the others not. Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Rutland Boughton have been rated one-hit wonders, for "Hiawatha" and "The Immortal Hour" respectively. And yet both composers wrote so much more of the same quality.

Coleridge-Taylor's Piano Trio in E minor revels in late-Romantic expressiveness. Yet it does so concisely -- the piece is only nine minutes long. Still, it's blessed with Coleridge-Taylor's lyrical gift.

Boughton's "Celtic Prelude" sounds sweetly sentimental. The Irish melody, especially when given to the cello is gorgeous. Though written in 1921, to me, it had a hint of Victorian about it.

I found Rosalind Ellicott's Piano Trio No. 1 a most intriguing work. the most The Piano Trio No. 1 by Rosalind Ellicott, active in the late 1800s. There's a hint of Victorian sentimentality in this trio, but only just. Ellicott's trio is a beautifully crafted work that seems an organic whole.

Harry Waldo Warner's Piano Trio in A minor provides a startling contrast. This 1923 work seems forward-looking -- I'd describe it as progressive Debussy.

The Trio Anima Mundi gives each work its due. The performers carefully match their playing styles to the era of each piece. But these are not academic readings. The trio is invested in this music, playing with expression and (I think) affection.

English Piano Trios
Rutland Boughton; Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Rosalind Ellicott, James Cliffe Forester, Harry Waldo Warner
Trio Anima Mundi
Divine Art DDA 25158

Monday, August 10, 2020

Homilius and Agricola cantatas move beyond Bach

The Easter cantatas in this recording come from two contemporaries of Johann Sebastian Bach. And both take different approaches to the subject. Gottfried August Homilius was thirty years younger than Bach.

Gottfried August Homilius was thirty years younger than Bach. Contemporary accounts describe him as one of the best sacred music composers of his day. Homilius wrote in the empfindsamer style, which represented a more natural form of expression than the cerebral Baroque.

That simpler aesthetic permeates his Easter Oratorio Frohlocket und preiset den göttlichen Held (Shout for joy and praise the godly hero). The oratorio's subject is the discovery by Mary Magdalene that Jesus has risen.

The music is joyous, and light. Homilius' choruses are mostly homophonic, with very little complex (read: outdated) counterpoint. It's easy to understand why his music had such popular appeal.

 The release features two works by Johann Friedrich Agricola. Agricola was a student of Bach's, and served as one of his copyists. His style remains close to his teacher's.

Both Der Gottmensch jauchzt (the divine human exults) and Die Auferstehung des Erüsers (Resurrection of the Saviour) are joyous. But Agricola's joy is a little more restrained than Homilius'.

The choruses are more polyphonic, and the arias stylistically lean closer to the Baroque than the Roccoco.

That being said, all three compositions are masterfully written. Both Homilius and Agricola wrote beautiful melodies and luminous choruses.

The performances by Michal Alexander Willens and the Kölner Akademie are luminous as well. The choruses are sung by a four-voice ensemble supplemented by a few soloists, keeping the music light and airy. The album itself is well-recorded, further adding to the appeal of this music.

Johann Friedrich Agricola; Gottfried August Homilius 
Easter Cantatas 
Hannah Morrison, Rahel Maas, Bethany Seymour, sopranos; Elisabeth Popien, alto; Georg Poplutz, tenor; André Morsch, bass 
Kölner Akademie; Michal Alexander Willens, conductor 
CPO 555 332-2 

Friday, August 07, 2020

#ClassicsaDay #WeWriteSymphonies Week 1

Last month the Classics a Day team made #BlackLivesMatter the theme. Systemic racism in classical music has limited exposure to composers of color. So for August, the team opened up the focus even further. 

#WeWriteSymphonies is a hashtag used by composers of color, and it seems like a logical extension of #BlackLivesMatter.

For my contributions to the feed, I found examples throughout music history. The problem isn't new. There are talented composers of color underrepresented in every era -- not just in contemporary music.  Here are my #ClassicsaDay posts for the first week of #WeWriteSymphonies

08/03/20 Clarence Cameron White (1880-1960) - Lament, Op 12, No 2 "I am troubled in mind"

White was considered one of the most talented violinists of his day. And he headed the Hampton Institute's music department in the 1930s.

08/04/20 Chinary Ung (1942 - ) - Water Rings Overture

Cambodian composer Chinery Ung uses both traditional and Western elements in his music. He currently teaches both compositions and Southeast Asian music studies at UCSD.

08/05/20 Cacilda Borges Barbosa (1914-2010) - Estudo brasileiro No. 1

Barbosa was a Brazilian pianist and composer. She worked with Heitor Villa-Lobos in the 1930s. Many of her works have strong folk elements in them.

08/06/20 Blind Tom (1849-1908) - Battle of Manassas

Thomas Wiggins was blind and an autistic savant. Born in slavery, Blind Tom spent most of his career making money for the family that owned him. After the Civil War, the exploitation continued as Wiggins' legal status changed from slave to "ward."

08/07/20 Silvestre Reveultas (1899-1940) - Sensemayá

"Sensemayá" by Cuban poet Nicolás Guillén describes an Afro-Caribbean ritual. Mexican composer used the poem as the basis for his composition of the same name. This 1937 work became Revueltas' most-performed composition.

Thursday, August 06, 2020

Torbjörn Iwan Lundquist Symphonic cycle continues

This release is the third recording of Torbjörn Iwan Lundquist symphonies by Sterling, and the fourth overall of his music. The two symphonies here both have unusual origins.

Lundquist wrote a work for the Kroumata Percussion Ensemble in 1976. The project inspired him to do something larger, using the ensemble. The result was his eighth symphony.

Symphony No. 8, "Kroumata" features the ensemble in an orchestral setting -- but it's not a concerto for percussion. Lundquist uses the percussion instruments as part of the orchestral texture, albeit in an often prominent manner.

I was most impressed with Lundquist's orchestration. Although the Kroumata Ensemble is using standard percussion instruments, Lundquist combines them in unusual ways. At times, the sound reminded me of Harry Partch (without the microtones).

Rather, the symphony has a moderately modernist sound. The strong syncopations, jagged melodies, and thick chords resembled late 1950s monster movie scores in character. Although at a much higher quality!

The liner notes try to make the case that Lundquist's Symphony No. 5 is a tribute to Viennese classical music. Sure, the subtitle "Die Wienerische" suggests that, but the tribute is quite subtle. Lundquist's symphony has Haydeneque proportions, cast in a modern language.

The work is quite lyrical and uses modal harmonies and scales to great effect (though not very Viennese). I thought the style more in line with composers like William Schuman and Roy Harris -- which is not bad company at all.

The recordings and performances are excellent. Lundquist conducts his Fifth Symphony with the Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra. It's a live recording, and the sound is quite good (and the audience quite well-behaved).

Lundquist didn't live to premiere the Kroumata symphony. This performance features the ensemble with the Malmöaut; Symphony Orchestra. So I'm sure the composer's intentions are well-represented.
Sterling has released six of Lundquist's nine symphonies. Only his first and seventh symphonies remain (there is no Symphony No. 6). I look forward to that final volume.

Torbjörn Iwan Lundquist: Symphonies Nos. 8 & 5 
Malmö Symphony Orchestra; Kroumata Percussion Ensemble; B. Tommy Andersson, conductor
Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra, Torbjörn Iwan Lundquist, conductor 

Sterling CDM 3007 

Wednesday, August 05, 2020

Zdenek Fibich orchestral series ends in fine form

This is the final volume in Naxos' series of Zdenek Fibich orchestral works. It includes the last of his three symphonies, as well as orchestral music from three of his operas.

Fibich completed his third symphony in 1898, just two years before his death. The work is ambitious, with a "darkness-to-light" premise that keeps the music every moving forward (and upward). Fibich's style is more cosmopolitan than his colleagues Antonin Dvorak or Bedrich Smetana.

To my ears, this symphony lands stylistically somewhere between Johannes Brahms and Richard Strauss. The orchestration and melodic treatment sound Germanic to me, and yet there's a looseness to it that seems more at home in a tone poem than a symphony.

Either way, it's an interesting work and one that holds up with repeated listening. Marek Stilec leads the Janácek Philharmonic Ostrava in some fine performances. The ensemble is well-recorded, and Stilec's interpretations keep the music engaging (for me, anyway).

During his lifetime, Fibich was primarily known for his operas. This release features orchestral music from three of his most popular.

"Šárka" was based on a Bohemian legend. Its overture incorporates elements of Czech music, reminding me a little of Dvorak. The Act III overture to "The Tempest" has a more cosmopolitan (or at least Germanic/Austrian) sound.

The Funeral March from "The Bride of Messina" is a wonderfully atmospheric work. According to the liner notes, the work has a Wagnerian slant to it. I don't quite hear that. It's dramatic but not overwrought, chromatic without obscuring the key center.

Zdenek Fibich: Symphony No. 3 in E minor, Op. 53
Šárka Overture; The Tempest, Overture to Act III; The Bride of Messina Funeral March
Janácek Philharmonic Ostrava; Marek Stilec, conductor
Naxos 8.574120

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

David Monrad Johansen - Norwegian treasure

As I continue to explore the highways and the byways of the classical repertoire, I find that every country has its national treasure. Sometimes, as with Antonin Dvorak, that treasure is shared with the world. Norway's treasure, David Monrad Johanson hasn't been -- so far.

Johansen is Norwegian, but his taste is cosmopolitan. Mixed in with Norwegian folk elements are impressionist gestures inspired by Debussy, coupled with modal scales and harmonies. 

The showpiece in this recording is the 1955 Concerto for Piano and Orchestra. Johansen was a concert pianist, and this work reflects his skill. The solo piano part isn't easy but seldom is complex for its own sake. Pianist Jan Henrik Kayser, who premiered the work, called it the best Norwegian concerto since Edvard Grieg's. 

I can hear that. The work is big, with many large, dramatic gestures both for piano and orchestra. And yet it's all clearly organized and easy to follow. Pianist Oliver Triendl plays with confidence and feeling. The runs sound flawless, and his phrasing shapes the melodies into beautiful forms.

The release includes three other orchestral works by Johansen.

Pan is post-Romantic tone poem. Stylistically, it a blend of Richard Strauss with Claude Debussy. Its rich rich harmonies, swirling strings and soaring brass reminded me of Mussorgsky's Night on Bare Mountain (without the scary parts).

Johansen's "Epigrams on Norwegian Motifs" is an effective work. The music captures the flavor of Norwegian folk music, from its droning fiddles to sprightly clarinet lines. 

The Symphonic Variations and Fugue present a more cosmopolitan style. Johansen studied in Germany, and this work would fit well with similar German (and international) orchestral programs of the 1940s. 

Johansen's music has some interesting traits -- his use of unusual scales, his orchestrations, and his use of Norwegian folk elements. To me, though, the music all seemed rather low key. The climaxes didn't really seem like big moments.

Still, the music and the performances piqued my interest. I'd like to hear more of Johansen's work before passing final judgment. And I really did enjoy the piano concerto.

David Monrad Johansen: Piano Concerto
Pan; Symphonic Variations; Epigrammer
Oliver Triendl, piano
Kirstiansand Symphony Orchestra; Eivind Aadland, conductor

Monday, August 03, 2020

Myroslav Skoryk violin concertos continue to entertain

The final volume of Andrej Bielow's traversal of Myroslav Skoryk violin concertos doesn't disappoint. Ukrainian composer Myroslav wrote nine concerti, each with a different character, and yet all with a consistently high level of quality.

This volume covers his last five concertos, written between 2004 and 2014. When I play the 5th and the 9th concertos back-to-back, I can hear the development in Skoryk's style. Concerto No. 5 has a strong folk element in it. The rhythmic shifts remind me strongly of Bohuslav Martinu.

In his most recent concerto, folk elements seem more fully integrated into the music. The harmonies, though tonal, are quite complex. The ensemble has an overall thicker sound, and the violin part seems both more lyrical and more technically challenging than the fifth.

That's not to say the other concertos are transitional. Each has its own distinct character. The sixth and ninth concertos were composed for the same soloist. Each of the others was written for a different violinist. I suspect that their input helped shape the music, giving these works part of their distinctiveness.

The Sixth Concerto breaks out into a folk dance, complete with village fiddle, tambourine, and drum. The Seventh has some of Skoryk's most dissonant writing (contrasted with some of his most lyrical).

The Eighth Concerto, subtitled "Allusion to Chopin" was composed fro the 200th anniversary of Chopin's birth. Skyork quotes from Chopin's works in interesting ways. Solo piano music is transformed into music for solo violin and orchestra -- and the transformations aren't always straightforward.

Andrej Bielow once again delivers some terrific performances. He seems quite at home with Skoryk's classical/jazz/folk/gypsy blended style. And he's adept at bringing to the fore the appropriate style for each phrase.

I was not familiar with Skoryk's work before this series started. I'm very glad I gave these discs a listen. I hope Naxos records more music by this imaginative composer.

Myroslav Skoryk: Violin Concertos, Vol. 2
Andrej Bielow, violin
National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine
Volodymyr Sirenko, conductor