Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Spam Roundup September, 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.

Say what?
Something definitely got lost in the translation in this set.

 - Any intercommunicate you earlier they still purchased the component in your endeavor can be an informed termination.

 - No sure formula existed, everyone would be wishful of some other's mortal.

 - Forbid the near ability to see the results of your cheeks. regain the gross iciness. [I hate that feeling of gross iciness.] 

 - Know your rights as a condom fasten box. [OK, that's enough. Let's move on.]

Here's the vehicle that apparently has
 touched the hearts of users worldwide.

"Lumbering along" still a hit

The brief post I published about a cheap Japanese toy still brings in the most fake comments. The Straco Express Layout, Part 23 - Lumbering Along certainly was never that popular among real people online.

 - This site certainly has all of the information and facts I needed concerning this subject and didn't know who to ask [I don't think anyone was asking.]

I am sure this article has touched all the internet users. [Well, all the artificial ones, anyway.]

Words to live by

But sometimes, even the spambots get it right.

 - You hold the potency for a national leader complex contracts and policies.

I'll need some time to figure out how best to use that potency. In the meantime, keep wishing for some other's mortal.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Elisaveta Blumina reveals the essence of Mieczyslaw Weinberg

This marks the seventh recording of Mieczyslaw Weinberg's music by Elisaveta Blumina. And, in my opinion, her performances remain just as true to Weinberg's personality as they did in the first. 

The release features Weinberg's Piano Quintet, one of his most successful -- and authentic -- works. Weinberg composed the work in 1944, while Soviet authorities were paying closer attention to the war effort than the arts. (That would change very soon.) 

Weinberg, in part, emulates his friend and mentor Dmitri Shostakovich. The structure follows that of Shostakovich's own Piano Quintet. But the melodies -- and impudent harmonies -- are pure Weinberg. 

Matthias Bauer recasts the work as one for piano and strings, which greatly changes the dynamic. Instead of five players on equal footing, we have an ensemble and a solo instrument. Without changing the notes, the work becomes a piano concertino. 

It works well in this format. Especially with Blumina as soloist. Her playing is as mercurial as Weinberg's music. In her hands, the piano can sound sarcastic, sentimental, angry, restless, or playful. 

And that facility to not only change moods but give them subtle inflections is equally effective in her performances of the Children's Notebooks. Although supposedly written for children, these pieces are not for beginners! Blumina makes these miniatures sparkle with her playing. 

Another great addition to the growing catalog of Mieczyslaw Weinberg's music. 

Mieczyslaw Weinberg: Piano Quintet, Op. 18 (orchestral version by Matthais Bauer)
Children's Notebooks, Op. 16 & 19
Elisaveta Blumina, piano
Georgian Chamber Orchestra Ingolstadt; Ruben Gazarian, conductor
Capriccio CS366

Monday, September 28, 2020

Beethoven Cantatas show early promise

Leif Segerstam's cycle of Beethoven choral works continues with some of his earliest compositions. In 1790, the nineteen-year-old Beethoven was a court musician in Bonn. He was commissioned to write two cantatas.

Basically, it was "the king is dead, long live the king." The first cantata was to mourn the death of the recently deceased Emperor Joseph II of Austria. The second (logically) to celebrate the crowning of Leopold II. 

Oddly, neither work was performed, and the cantata only came to light in the 1880s. So what does teenage Beethoven sound like? Beethoven. 

The Emperor Joseph cantata foreshadows the brooding and stormy passages of the adult Beethoven. I heard parts that reminded me of his oratorio, choruses from "Fidelio," and elements of the Sixth Symphony.

The Leopold cantata foreshadows the happier Beethoven. In this case, the finales of several symphonies (like the Ninth), and the Choral Fantasy.

These cantatas don't have the depth of any of those mature works. But there's no mistaking who wrote them -- and the immense talent already at his command. 

Leif Segerstam conducts some impassioned performances. I suspect they sound better here than they ever would have in 1790 Bonn.    

Ludwig van Beethoven
Cantata on the Death of Emperor Joseph II
Cantanta on the Accession of Leopold II
Reetta Haavisto, Johann Lehesvuori, sopranos; Thomas Katajala, tenor; Juha Kotilainen, Niklas Spangberg, bass
Chorus Cathedralis Aboensis; Key Ensemble
Turku Philharmonic Orchestra; Leif Segerstam, conductor
Naxos 8.574077


Friday, September 25, 2020

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalBubble Week 4

This month's Classics a Day theme follows a trend. In May 2020 we were sheltering in place. The theme was #ClassicalDistancing -- music for unusual solo instruments best played at home. In June, social bubbles were allowed, and so the theme #ClassicalBubble called for duos. Again, for unusual instruments best played at home.

This month we ease the restrictions even further with a theme of trios. Trios for unusual instruments etc., etc. Here are my selections for the fourth week of the expanded #ClassicalBubble.

09/21/20 Sergei Rachmaninoff - Two pieces for Piano Six Hands

Rachmaninoff was just 17 when he wrote these works for three sisters: Natalya, Lyudmila, and Vera Skalon. The piece was written for intermediate players, making getting everyone seated on the same stool perhaps the biggest challenge.

09/22/20 Vaclav Nelhybel - Tuba Trio Ludus

Nelybel wrote this work in 1975. It is indeed for three tubas, each alternating roles as soloist and accompanists.

09/23/20 Paul Hindemith: Trio for pianoforte, viola, and heckelphone, Op. 47

Hindemith discovered the heckelphone while visiting the inventor's shop to buy a bassoon. The instrument, sort of a bass oboe, never really caught on, and tenor sax is often substituted for it.

09/24/20 Alexander Scriabin: Etude Op. 2 No. 1 for theremin, cello, and piano

Leo Theremin invented his eponymous instrument in 1928. Two antennas translate hand motions into sound. One antenna determines pitch, and the second controls volume.

09/25/20 Anon. Sir John Packington's Pavan for viol trio

Renaissance stringed instruments performed in many different combinations. Many upper-class families had a chest of viols, containing six -- a pair of treble, tenor, and bass instruments.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Kaveli Aho chamber music distill composer's essence

Finnish composer is best known for his large-scale orchestral compositions. And that, to me, made this release of chamber music all the more interesting. What happens when an artist who's used to creating massive soundscapes with a host of timbres is reduced to a few instruments? 

For the best composers (like Aho), the process simply distills their creativity into a potent concentrate. 

What impressed me most about these works was the apparent change in harmonic aesthetics. Densely-layered harmonies were replaced by sparse -- yet still complex -- chords. 

One of the most obvious examples is the 2016 Piano Sonata No. 2 "Hommage á Beethoven." Aho starts with themes from the "Hammerklavier" sonata. The motifs are deconstructed and transformed, at times approaching the density of Aho's orchestral writing.

The work requires a great deal of virtuosity and Sonja Fräki delivers. Her doctorial dissertation was on Aho's piano music, and he composed this work for her. In her playing, I heard the perfect blend of composer intent and performer understanding. It's a standout.

 Aho is both a skilled violinist and pianist. His works for solo violin require much from the performer. Jaako Kuusito performs with assuredness and empathy. 

"In memoriam, Pehr Henrick Noodgern" is suitably elegiac. The Violin Sonata is inspired by Bach, and Kuusito shifts his performance style accordingly. His playing both evokes the past while remaining true to Aho's contemporary writing. 

Also included are other works, such as the Prelude, Toccata, and Postlude for cello and piano. Samuili Peltronen digs right into the meaty cello part, seemingly relishing its many challenges (and delivering some darned fine music-making in the process). 

Whether you're familiar with Aho's orchestral compositions or reading about the composer for the first time, this is a release worth exploring.

Kalevi Aho: Chamber Music 
Samuli Peltonen, cello; Sonja Fräki, piano; Jaakko Kuusisto, Pekka Kuusisto, violin 

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

William Alwyn quartets show early influences

British composer William Alwyn was just in his twenties when he wrote the quartets on this release. And he was just getting warmed up. Still ahead were over 70 film scores, ten more string quartet quartets, plus symphonies, operas, concertos, and more.

The quartets here reflect the influence of Alwyn's studies with John Blackwood McEwen. McEwen's generation blended Brahms' Romantic classicism with British folk harmonies and melodic gestures (or in McEwen's case, Scottish). 

Alwyn is no Ralph Vaughan Williams, though. His harmonies aren't so clearly modal, nor do his melodies sound overtly British. 

Rather, these quartets seem to use McEwen's style as a foundation to build on, burying it deep under Alwyn's own music.

The release also includes Seven Irish Tunes for String Quartet. Here McEwen's influence is clearer. Alwyn's settings also presage his work in films. These pieces are very atmospheric.

In this phase of his career, Alwyn's string quartet writing is somewhat austere, with harmonies often obliquely outlined rather than filled out with four-part harmonies.

The Villiers Quartet, as recorded here, has a clean, natural ensemble sound. There's a slight edge to the violins, but I think that just gives these works a little extra energy.

William Alwyn: Early String Quartets
String Quartet Nos. 6-9
Villiers Quartet
Lyrita SRCD 386

Monday, September 21, 2020

Joseph Mayseder Mass ideal for choirs

Gramola has released several recordings of Joseph Mayseder's music. And I'm glad they did. Mayseder was a younger contemporary of Felix Mendelssohn, whose style his music most reminds me of. 

Mayseder was the solo violinist at the Vienna Court Opera and the kapellmeister for the Hofburg Palace chapel. It was there that he wrote is Mass in E-flat major. 

The mass is an interesting work, as there are no featured soloists. It's strictly a choral composition from start to finish, and an exceptionally beautiful one. And the mass was popular. 

It was performed at the chapel every New Year's Eve from 1875 through 1930, earning the name "New Year's Mass."

It's only appropriate, then, that this recording should be with the Men's Choir and instrumental ensemble of the Vienna Hofmusikkappelle (along with the Vienna Boys Choir).

Mayseder's choral writing features richly harmonized homophonic melodies. The blend of voices is seamless, though the recorded sound seems a little fuzzy in places.

Thomas Christian, the conductor for the mass, is also the violin soloist for Mayseder's second concerto. Here the comparison to Mendelssohn pales a little. Mayseder eschews flamboyant technical challenges, such as left-hand pizzicati. 

Instead, he concentrates on melodic expression. And that's a fine thing. It's a tuneful work, at times sound a little like Gaetano Donizetti (another contemporary of Mayseder). 

Although Christian performs with feeling, I can't say I totally enjoyed the concerto. On the recording, his violin has a somewhat nasal quality to it, especially in the upper register. And that's a shame because Christian's actual playing is first-rate. 

Get the recording for the mass. It's gorgeous. And the concerto is okay, too.     

Joseph Mayseder: Mass in E-flat major, Op. 64
Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in E minor, Op. 26
Thomas Christian, violin, conductor
Vienna Boys Choir
Herrenchor der Wiener Hofmusikkapell
Mitglieder des Ensembles der Wiener Hofmusikkapelle

Friday, September 18, 2020

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalBubble Week 3

This month's Classics a Day theme follows a trend. In May 2020 we were sheltering in place. The theme was #ClassicalDistancing -- music for unusual solo instruments best played at home. In June, social bubbles were allowed, and so the theme #ClassicalBubble called for duos. Again, for unusual instruments best played at home.

This month we ease the restrictions even further with a theme of trios. Trios for unusual instruments etc., etc. Here are my selections for the third week of the expanded #ClassicalBubble taking time off for Labor Day, of course).

09/14/20 Thielman Susato - Die view Branlen

The Renaissance crumhorn was a family of instruments. It came in varying sizes and ranges.

09/15/20 Michel Corrette - Sonata No. 1, Op. 20

The serpent was invented around 1590 and was popular throughout the 1700s in both orchestra and military bands.

09/16/20 Ludwig Milde - Scherzo for Ophicleide trio

The Ophicleide was invented in 1817 as a serpent with keys. It was used mainly in the 19th Century. It was especially popular with French composers.

09/17/20 Peter Schickele Serenade for Three

In this case, the three are piano, violin -- and clarinet. The combination is unusual, but then, so's the music.

09/18/20 Benedetto Marcello (1686-1739) Trio Sonata in C minor for viola da gamba, cello, and basso continuo

The viola da gamba was popular from about the 1450s through the 1750s. By the early 1700s, the cello had begun replacing it in ensembles.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Han Rott Orchestral Works Vol. 1 - Potential realized

When Hans Rott died at age 25, the musical world, in general, didn't notice. But his colleagues were devastated. They included Anton Bruckner (Rott's organ teacher), and fellow classmates Gustav Mahler and Hugo Wolf. Mahler wrote, " What music has lost in him cannot be estimated. Such is the height to which his genius soars in."

Capriccio's new series of Rott orchestral works should give us an idea of those heights. This first volume features mainly student works. In the Brahms vs. Wagner arguments, Rott was firmly in the Wagnerian camp. The influence is clear in his Hamlet Overture, written at age 18. 

Another Wagnerian example is the Prelude to "Julius Casar," composed after Rott attended the first Bayreuth Festival. To be clear, these works show Wagner's influence, but their not imitations. Rott develops his material in a manner similar to Mahler.

Also included are fragments of two orchestral suites. These were composition exams. The scores weren't treated carefully, and so we only have two movements of each. And that's too bad. Because these aren't just perfunctory compositions to show achievement. Rather, they actually work as concert music. Interesting, engaging, and belying the youthfulness of their composer.

The Pastorales Vorspiel is a mature work. Rott finished it when he was 22. Here Rott has internalized his influences. The themes and their treatments don't remind me as strongly of Wagner. Rather, I hear some anticipation of Mahler and even Richard Strauss in this work. 

Christopher Ward leads the Gurzneich Orchester Köln in some fine performances. The ensemble has a rich, warm sound that's so well-suited to Rott's late Romantic music. Rott never fully realized his potential. But the quality of the music in this recording show just how great that potential was.  

Hans Rott: Orchestral Works, Vol. 1 
Hamlet Overture, Pastoral Prelude; Prelude to "Julius Casar" Orchestral Suites 
Gurzenich Orchester Köln; Christopher Ward, conductor 
Capriccio C5408

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Emil Hartmann Chamber Music - Worth Exploring

In the liner notes violinist, Elisabeth Zeuthen Schneider writes that Emil Hartmann was influenced by Felix Mendelssohn and Robert Schumann. 

"With Hartmann, this influence is enhanced by his simplicity and sincerity." As I listened to this collection of Hartmann chamber works, I had to agree. 

The melodies were similar to Mendelssohn's, especially in their general shape and clarity of line. But the harmonic textures were thicker, more like Schumann's. 

The centerpiece of the album is the Piano Quintet in G minor, Op. 5. Hartmann completed this work when he was 29, and the seems balanced between youthful energy and mature introspection. 

The music is full of big gestures, giving the work an expansive quality. Hartmann takes all the time he needs to work with his material and work with it he does. There's a lot going on, but Hartmann writes with such clarity that the listener is never lost. 

Also included are two string quartets. These were written in the 1870s-80s, and are decidedly mature works. The works are quite lyrical. But Hartmann seems more deliberate in the development of his themes. The music seems more carefully -- and skillfully -- constructed than the piano trio. 

The performances are outstanding. Ms. Schneider and her colleagues are clearly invested in Hartmann's works. That passion is evident in these recordings. This is music -- and a composer -- worth exploring.

Emil Hartmann: Chamber Music
Elisabeth Zeuthen Schneider, Nicolas Dupont, violin;
Tony Nys, viola; Justus Grimm, cello; Daniel Blumenthal, piano

Monday, September 14, 2020

Christopher Gunning symphonies well-crafted modernism

Christopher Gunning is one of those composers who is quite comfortable in both the cinema and the concert hall. His TV and movie credits include "Agatha Christie's Poirot" (a PBS mainstay for decades). 

The three symphonies on this release show another side of this composer. Gunning is skilled at creating movie themes and short music cues. And he's also just as adept at building well-developed (and lengthy) worlds of sound. 

Gunning studied with Edmund Rubbra. Rubbra composed by starting with the opening and just seeing where the music led him. Gunning took a similar approach with his 10th and 12th symphonies. 

The single-movement 10th symphony grows organically out of the opening motif. Gunning is an effective orchestrator, and his instrumental combinations are as important as his motivic variations. 

Gunnison's 12th Symphony is in two movements. To me, Gunnison seems to be weaving together several different motifs, all with some kind of interrelation. The work struck me as more expansive and perhaps more tonally adventuresome than the 10th.

Symphony No. 2 is technically the earliest work on the album. It was composed in 2003 but withdrawn by Gunnison. He revisited the work 2018, and that's the version on this recording. The three-movement work struck me as a more formal composition.

The form is clearly delineated, and the motifs develop in a logical fashion. I think it's a well-crafted work. I think it lacks the spontaneity of the 10th and 12th symphonies, but there are still many passages of great beauty to enjoy. 

Kenneth Woods leads the BBC National Orchestra of Wales in some superb performances. Woods has a clear artistic vision of how these symphonies should unfold. The end result is a collection of modern symphonies that are engaging, exciting, and thoroughly satisfying. 

Christopher Gunning: Symphonies 2, 10, and 12
BBC National Orchestra of Wales; Kenneth Woods, conductor
Signum SIGCD592


Friday, September 11, 2020

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalBubble Week 2

This month's Classics a Day theme follows a trend. In May 2020 we were sheltering in place. The theme was #ClassicalDistancing -- music for unusual solo instruments best played at home. In June, social bubbles were allowed, and so the theme #ClassicalBubble called for duos. Again, for unusual instruments best played at home.

This month we ease the restrictions even further with a theme of trios. Trios for unusual instruments etc., etc. Here are my selections for the second week of the expanded #ClassicalBubble taking time off for Labor Day, of course).

0/9/08/20 Mark Applebaum (1967 - ) Catfish for Percussion Trio

Applebaum is both a classical composer and jazz pianist. Many of his compositions have some form of improvisation or looseness to them.

09/09/20 Michel Corrette (1707-1795) - Premiere Suite for Musette/Vielle and basso continuo

In the Baroque period, melodic instruments were often interchangeable. The musette was a close relation to the hurdy-gurdy, which was also a popular instrument in 18th Century France.

09/10/20 Trio for pipa, zheng, and erhu

Chinese musical instruments and their repertoire have a rich history. These three instruments were developed between 400-600 CE.

09/11/20 Leo Smit (1900-1943) Trio for Flute, Viola, and Harp.

Smit was a Dutch composer who was friends with Les Six. When Holland fell to the Nazis, the Jewish Smit was sent to Sobibor camp where he was killed.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Dan Locklair - Symphony No. 2, "America" optimistic and hopeful

Dan Locklair is best known as an organist and a composer of works for his instrument. But there's a strong correlation between writing for organ and writing for orchestra -- just ask Anton Bruckner. Many contemporary choral and organ composers write tonal music, free from academic fussiness. 

Locklair certainly falls into that group. And while his style may be tonal, it's an expanded tonality that gives his music a fresh sound. 

His Symphony No. 2, "America" is an exuberant celebration in sound. Each movement is based on a holiday, and obliquely quotes music associated with those holidays. 

The work succeeds in sounding American without being an Aaron Copland pastiche. Locklair's original take on the tunes he incorporates keeps the music just on the edge of familiarity. And it keeps the listener engaged. 

Hail the Coming Day is also full of good spirits. It was composed to celebrate the centennial of Winston-Salem and contains several programmatic elements. There's the clanging of industry and an evocation of Moravian brass bands. It's an occasional piece that's well-suited to its occasion -- and would make a dynamite opener for a symphony concert!

Locklair's Concerto for Organ and Orchestra shows just how closely the two forces can be related. Locklair carefully blends the various organs stops with parallel sounds in the orchestra. It serves to blur the lines between the two. While the organ and orchestra do exchange musical ideas, there are many times when they speak with one voice -- a very powerful and moving voice. 

Organist Peter Mikula performs with skill and enthusiasm. Locklair knows his instrument and demands a lot from the soloist. Mikula delivers, making this work a delight to listen to. 

PHOENIX is a reworking of a three-minute fanfare for brass. Locklair transforms it into a 10-minute work for orchestra. Brass is still a major element, but in this version, the orchestra develops and reshapes the fanfare in interesting ways. 

The Slovak National Symphony Orchestra keeps the energy level high throughout the recording. Conducting duties are shared by Kirk Trevor (Symphony No. 2, PHOENIX) and Michael Roác (Organ Concerto and Hail the Coming Day). And yet there's remarkable consistency across the album. This is an album of optimism and hope. And sometimes, that's just what you need.

Dan Locklair: Symphony No. 2, "America" 
Hail the Coming Day; Concerto for Organ and Orchestra; PHOENIX 
Peter Mikula, organ
Slovak National Symphony Orchestra; Kirk Trevor, Michael Roác, conductors

Wednesday, September 09, 2020

Trio Fontaine Excel with Swiss Piano Trios

This release features piano trios by two Swiss composers: Hermann Goetz and Hans  Huber. And they're performed by a Swiss ensemble, the Trio Fontaine.

Hans Huber is an important figure in Swiss music. He wrote eight symphonies, six concertos, six operates, and a variety of other works. Huber was a late-Romantic composer, with a style similar to Brahms.

His Piano Trio in E-flat major, Op. 20 is a four-movement work that beguiles the ear. The melodies are a little four-square, but Huber (like Brahms) knows how to work with his material. The underlying logic of the work makes it easy to follow and appreciate even at first hearing.   

Hermann Goetz was born in Germany, but he moved to Switzerland at 23 and remained there for life. Goetz's music lapsed into obscurity after his death in 1876. But it had its admirers. George Bernard Shaw was a fan. So was Gustav Mahler, who programmed some of Gopetz's works.

The Piano Trio in G minor, Op. 1 was written in 1863. Stylistically, Goetz seems to owe much to Mendelssohn. There are lightness and clarity to the score that's missing in Huber's. Goetz uses his motifs as foundational blocks. They may be transformed as the work progresses, but they still provide signposts to orient the listener.

The Trio Fontane is a young ensemble. They're dedicated to rediscovering forgotten composers, and that passion translates will into their performances. The musicians play with real commitment, and it pays off. Perhaps its an affinity this Swiss trio has with music by Swiss composers. The Trio Fontaine delivers time and again with passages full of energy and excitement.

In my opinion, the recording wasn't the best. The piano has a slightly muffled sound, which sometimes deadens the impact of attacks. The sound of the cello is also a little boomy for my taste, while the violin's tone had a steely edge to it. In the long run, my desire to hear this music outweighed my complaints about the recorded sound. But your mileage may vary.

Hermann Goetz, Hans Huber
Piano Trios
Trio Fontaine
Solo Musica SM336

Tuesday, September 08, 2020

Musica Fiorita explores early string quartets

Franz Joseph Haydn may be the father of the string quartet. But who was the grandfather? Musica Fiorita presents some candidates in this program of pre-Classical string quartets.

The combination of two violins, viola, and cello was not common during the Baroque. Most instrumental ensembles included a basso continuo (keyboard plus cello) to fill out the bass and harmony.

But Haydn didn't invent the string quartet. As this release shows, there were others exploring this instrumental combination.

The earliest examples come from Giovanni Bononcini's Varii fiori of 1669. Bononcini's primarily concerned with counterpoint. Each of the four-stringed instrument has its own line.
And in one of the pieces (included in this recording0, he instructs the players to play only a quattro, without basso continuo. Bononcini's work may be an outlier, but there it is.

the release includes four works from Quattro Auartetti a due Violini, Viola, e Basso by Alessandro Scarlatti. The title makes no mention of a basso continuo, and that's how the Musica Fiorita performs the music.

Like Bononcini, Scarlatti uses the ensemble to create complex four-part counterpoint. Adding a harpsichord to fill in chords would only muddy the sound. The four sonatas work quite well, with Scarlatti's contrapuntal prowess clearly delineated.

Perhaps Bononcini is the great-grandfather of the quartet, and Scarlatti the grandfather. So what does that make Maddalena Lombardini? Her two quartets presented here were published in 1769, the same year as Haydn's Op. 9.

I'd say Lombardini might the aunt. And the fun aunt at that. Her two quartets are light and breezy, midway between style galante and the formal Classical Era. And they generally place all four instruments on equal footing. So why aren't they being programmed today?

The Musica Fiorita perform with instruments of the period. Their ensemble sound is quite warm. And their phrasing is both authentic and musical, bringing out the finer details in the scores.

The Evolution of the String Quartet
Music by Giovanni Bononcini, Alessandro Scarlatti, and Maddalena Lombardini
Musica Fiorita
Pan Classics

Friday, September 04, 2020

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalBubble Week 1

This month's Classics a Day theme follows a trend. In May 2020 we were sheltering in place. The theme was #ClassicalDistancing -- music for unusual solo instruments best played at home. In June, social bubbles were allowed, and so the theme #ClassicalBubble called for duos. Again, for unusual instruments best played at home.

This month we ease the restrictions even further with a theme of trios. Trios for unusual instruments etc., etc. Here are my selections for the first week of the expanded #ClassicalBubble.

09/01/20 Franz Joseph Haydn - Baryton Trio No. 81

The baryton was kind of a bass viol with gut strings in the front, and wire strings in the back. Because his employer played this obscure instrument, Haydn wrote 123 trios for it.

09/02/20 Franz Joseph Haydn- - Concerto no. 5 in F for 2 lire organizzate

The "organ lyre" was a kind of a hurdy-gurdy, Haydn wrote 15 pieces for it on commission from the King Ferdinand IV of Naples, who played it.

09/03/20 Philippe Dugué - Trio Sonata in C for Musett, Hurdy-gurdy, and continuo

Dugué was a hurdy-gurdy player living in Paris. His few surviving compositions are all for his instrument.

09/04/20 Nicolas Chédeville - Sonata No. 6 for Musette and basso continuo in G minor

The musette de cour was a small bagpipe with bellows. It was very popular in the French court during the late 1600s-early 1700s.

Wednesday, September 02, 2020

Michael Daugherty evokes Woody Guthrie -- and more

I've said in previous reviews that Michael Daugherty is a national treasure. And this release adds credence to that argument. Daugherty regularly reinterprets aspects of American life and culture in his music. The works are complex yet accessible, blending classical and traditional music. They sound as American as Aaron Copland, yet as far removed from that composer as possible.

In this case, Daugherty's inspiration is "the life and times of Woody Guthrie." The orchestra, Dogs of Desire, comprises members of the Albany Symphony. The stripped-down ensemble sounds as if it was created by whatever instruments were on hand.

Annika Socolofsky, soprano, and John Daugherty, baritone sing in a style that seems to blend classical tradition, Broadway, jazz, and Americana. Daugherty effectively creates a Depression-Era Cabaret.

This is music for the hard times -- be it Guthrie's Great Depression of the early 1930s or the Crazy Years of the early 2010s. Sometimes Daugherty uses Guthrie's melodies (usually just individual phrases). Sometimes he sets the words to new music. And sometimes it's something else.

My favorite track is "Hot Air." Here Daugherty takes Guthrie's attitude towards radio preachers and gives us a current take. "I am a radio talk show host, spinning my lies from coast to coast."

Daugherty perfectly evokes the spirit of Woody Guthrie in this work. It calls out injustice, indites economic inequality, and even if it doesn't quite kill fascists, it does rough them up. And it sounds, well, distinctively American.

Michael Daugherty: This Land Sings
Inspired by the Life and Times of Woody Guthrie
Annika Socolofsky, soprano; John Daugherty, baritone
Dogs of Desire; David Alan Miller

Tuesday, September 01, 2020

Steve Elcock Orchestral Music Vol. 2 maintains quality

To make an impact, always lead with your best material. In the case of a recording series, that can imply that the second (and subsequent) volumes are diminishing returns. Not so with the music of Steve Elcock.

Elcock is something of an outsider artist. He's a self-taught composer who wrote for his own satisfaction. His first volume of orchestral music was a stunner.

Elcock has a strong musical personality, and his works show great originality. Plus, they have an internal logic that guides the listener through the music.

This volume features three works inspired by three other works. "Incubus" is a tone poem depicting night terrors. It was developed from his string quartet "Night After Night. Elcock's orchestrations effectively ramp up the tension that only resolves at the very end.

"Havan, Fantasia on a Theme by J. S. Bach," is a fascinating work. Elcock reinterprets a theme from Bach's First Partita for solo violin. He does far more than provide orchestral accompaniment. He deconstructs the theme, reworking and reharmonizing it until it becomes something new.

Elcock's Fifth Symphony uses Beethoven's Fifth Symphony as a structural framework. And while both have a repeated note motif, there's no danger of confusing the two. Elcock's personality is too strong. His use of the orchestra (particularly percussion) makes this a very modern-sounding work. His harmonies are also more exotic.

In short, it doesn't matter what the origin of this work is. Elcock's Fifth Symphony is an exciting and substantial composition. It stands on its own merits.

The Siberian Symphony Orchestra turns in some top-flight performances. The ensemble sound has a slight edge to it, but the soloists deliver time after time.

Steve Elcock: Orchestral Music, Volume Two
Siberian Symphony Orchestra; Dmitry Vasiliev, conductor
Toccata Classics TOCC 0445