Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Florence Price Symphony No. 3 blends traditions

Florence Price wrote this about her third symphony, "No attempt has been made to project Negro music solely in the purely traditional manner." 

In other words, her symphony wasn't a collection of spirituals. Rather, it was her own original musical vision. And one that blended European symphonic and African-American musical traditions.

This 1940 work has a fresh sound. And a uniquely American one. Dvorak predicted that true American classical music would grow from Black roots. 

This symphony does just that. The structure and orchestration are European. But the chord progressions and melodic turns come from African-American traditions.

The ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra directed by John Jeter gives some fine performances. Their recorded sound is a little thin for my taste, but the playing is first-rate. 

Also included are two shorter works by Price. "The Mississippi River" may be this country's equivalent to Smetana's "Ma Vlast." Price uses African-American melodies to establish atmosphere. The music takes the listener on a journey along the river. As it unfolds, the work seamlessly transitions from scene to scene.

"Ethiopia's Shadow" portrays the Black Experience in America. The first movement depicts the arrival of enslaved Africans.  The second portrays the development of faith. The third shows adaptation into modern society. It's an evocative and beautifully crafted work. The emotional core of this work can hit hard if you actively listen.

A welcome addition to Price's growing list of recordings.

Florence Price: Symphony No. 3 in C minor
The Mississippi River; Ethiopia's Shadow in America
ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra; John Jeter, conductor

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

100 Menuets showcase Telemann's brilliance in miniature

In music, as with most things, quantity doesn't always equal quality. But sometimes it does. As in the 100 menuets of Georg Philip Telemann. These pieces were published in two collections, titled “Seven times seven plus one Menuet." The first collection appeared in 1728, the second in 1730.

What makes this release so fascinating is what it reveals about the composer. These are brief menuets, between 20-40 measures long. Most are in a very simple two-part form. 

And they're played on the harpsichord. It's about as basic a piece of music as one could devise. And yet Telemann gives us 100 different compositions. 

In these pieces, stripped down to bare essentials, one can hear Telemann's inventive imagination at work. I wouldn't necessarily listen to this two-CD set from start to finish in one sitting. But even sampling it in small doses can give you an appreciation for Telemann's creativity. 

Andre Coen performs to his usual high standards. His previous Telemann recordings establish his expertise. What makes this recording stand out is Coen's dedication. He takes every one of these 100 menuets seriously. His playing reveals what's underneath the surface. 

Granted, these 100 menuets aren't Telemann's greatest works. But they were never meant to be. But Coen gives us reason to take these brief pieces seriously. And when I did, I heard the variety and inventiveness that Telemann even his slightest compositions. 

Georg Philipp Teleman: 100 Menuets TWV 34:1-100
Andre Coen harpsichord
Brilliant Classics 96249
2 CD Set

Monday, December 27, 2021

Baroque Cantatas from Central Germany II continues tradition

This has been a long time coming. Volume one of this series was released in 2015. Volume two finally arrives here in 2021. This installment focuses on the "transitional" German composers. They were of the generations between Heinrich Schutz and Johann Sebastian Bach. 

During this period the Lutheran church began to codify liturgical music practices. This happened in institutions n major cities, such as Thomaskirche in Leipzig.

One such institution was the Royal and State School of St Augustin., a little to the southeast of Leipzig. There, scores were collected, copied, and codified. And this archive provides the musical sources for this recording. 

The pre-Bach cantata had three parts: concerto, aria, and chorale. The concerto was a mix of instruments and voices. Using this simple form, church cantatas of this period were short and to the point. 

And, as it turns out, full of great music, too. Following Martin Luther's dictum for clarity, counterpoint is kept to a minimum. Ornamentation is also minimized. What's left are the melodies -- simple, singable, expressive melodies. 

The Sächsisches Vocalensemble has a good ensemble blend. The Batzdorfer Hofkapelle is a small ensemble, with strings, winds, brass, and percussion. The recorded sound is clean, with minimal hall resonance. To my ears, it's well-suited to the scale of the music. 

Unless you understand German, these cantatas might not sound especially Christmassy. But they do have an inherent appeal. And hearing the musical foundations that Bach would later build upon was enlightening. 

Ehre sie Gott in de Höhe
Musik zur Weihnachtszeit aus der Fürsten- und Landesschule St. Augustin Grimma
Baroque Cantatas from Central Germany II
Sächsisches Vocalensemble
Batzdorfer Hofkapelle; Matthias Jung, director

Friday, December 24, 2021

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalHoliday Week 4

Traditionally, #ClassicalChristmas has been the December theme for Classics a Day. This year, it's changed slightly -- #ClassicalHoliday. 

The idea was always to encourage folks to share works composed for performance in December. The pieces could be either sacred or secular. But the hashtag #ClassicalChristmas suggested music only for one faith tradition. So new hashtag, same concept. During the month of December post works that were meant to be performed in the wintertime.

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

12/20/21 Gaetano Maria Schiassi - Concerto in D major Pastorale per Natale

Schiassi, born in Bologna, spent most of his career at the Lisbon royal chapel from about 1735 to 1754. This Christmas concerto is one of his few compositions to survive.

12/21/21 Giuseppe Valentini - Pastorle per Il Santissimo Natale, Op. 1, No. 12

Corelli retired as concertino director at Rome's San Luigi dei Francesi. Valentini replaced him and remained for over thirty years.

12/22/21 Frederick Chopin - Etude Op. 25, No. 11 Winter Wind

Critic James Huneker wrote, "Small-souled men, no matter how agile their fingers, should avoid it."

12/23/21 Morten Lauridsen - Mid-Winter Songs

This cycle of five songs is based on five poems of Robert Graves. They were published in different volumes, and Graves never considered them a group. Lauridsen saw commonalities, and used them to create this song cycle.

12/24/21 Arthur Sullivan - It Came Upon a Midnight Clear

In America, this hymn is known by a very different melody than Sullivan's. David Willcocks' arrangement of this version is probably the best known (in Britian).

12/25/21 Anon. 9th C. - Reno erat Rudolphus

The earliest known example of a very famous seasonal song. (Actually, it was Eyolf Østrem having a bit of musicological fun.)

Next month:

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Singular music from Kalevi Aho

The subtitle for this release is "Seven instrumental solos by the Finnish symphonist." And that's significant. Kalevi Aho seems to naturally think in orchestral terms. To date, he's composed 17 symphonies and almost 40 concertos for a wide variety of instruments. 

That experience comes into play with his series of solos. Aho's collaborated with many performers creating his concertos. 

Those collaborations gave him a deep understanding of what the instruments could do. It also gave him an understanding of what the artist could do, too. 

This release presents five of Aho's solos (works for solo instruments). Some are played by the performer Aho wrote the piece for. A symphonist has many resources to create with. And sometimes interesting tonal color can mask weak ideas or even construction. 

The solos here demonstrate Aho's musical mastery and imagination. Single line instruments, such as the oboe or clarinet lay bare Aho's technique. And it's impressive. 

Each one of these works organically grows from the instruments. The notes, the phrasing, the technical challenges are all unique to the instrument. Every solo has a different character -- as do the instruments. 

I don't know if these works are staples in their respective instrumental repertoires. But they should be. They may be challenging to play, but they're also rewarding to listen to. 

BIS states this is the start of a series. I would very much like to hear all Aho's solos. 

Kalevi Aho - Solo, Volume 1
Sharon Bezaly, flute; Piet Van Bockstal, oboe; Marie-Luise Neunecker, horn; Samuli Peltonen, cello; Simon Reitmaier, clarinet; Hiyoli Togawa, viola;  Bram van Sambeek, bassoon

Monday, December 20, 2021

Tobias Zeutschner "Weihnachtshistorie" worth rediscovery

Two things I'm always on the lookout for. One, composers I've not heard of before. And two, classical Christmas music I've not heard before. So of COURSE I was excited to audition Weihnachtshistorie by Tobias Zeutschner. And I wasn't disappointed. 

Zeutschner (1621-1675) was a Polish composer and poet, active mainly in Silesia. He was a contemporary of Heinrich Schutz, and a generation before J. S. Bach. 

Zeutschner was also a Protestant. He served as organist at St. Maria Magdalena, the second largest church in Breslau.

He took Martin Luther's dictums of simplicity and clarity to heart. The sacred works on this release attest to that. The solo voices sing simple, clear melodies with minimal ornamentation. The choruses are homophonic. And yet there's a beauty in this simplicity. 

The Weser-Renaissance Bremen brings out that beauty in their performances. They recorded at the Stiftskirche Bassum. This small Lutheran chapel provides the right amount of ambiance for this music. The quick decay adds a natural warmth that enhances the sound. 

Period brass and string instruments double the choir, giving them added resonance. Zeutschner valued devotion over art. He strove to write sacred music one could sing in the church and at home.

Cordes and Weser-Renaissance Breman show it's not necessarily an either/or choice. They perform artfully, and in doing so bring out the devout nature of the music. 

This collection includes several Advent and Christmas season compositions by Zetschner. It's supplemented by some anonymous works found in the St. Maria Magdalena library. The manuscripts suggest they were written (or transcribed) during Zeutschner's tenure. It's very possible they would have been incorporated into services given by Zeutchner. 

This is beautiful music. And a wonderful addition to Baroque repertoire options for the season. I'm not always lucky when I take a chance on unknown music and composers. But this time I was. And you can be, too.  

Tobias Zeutschner: Weihnachtshistorie
Weser-Renaissance; Manfred Cordes, conductor

Friday, December 17, 2021

#Classicsaday #ClassicalHoliday Week 3

Traditionally, #ClassicalChristmas has been the December theme for Classics a Day. This year, it's changed slightly -- #ClassicalHoliday. 

The idea was always to encourage folks to share works composed for performance in December. The pieces could be either sacred or secular. But the hashtag #ClassicalChristmas suggested music only for one faith tradition. So new hashtag, same concept. During the month of December post works that were meant to be performed in the wintertime.

Here are my posts for the third week of #ClassicalHoliday

12/13/21 PDQ Bach - O Little Town of Hackensack

The challenge is to post classical music to be sung in December. Nobody said it had to be good.

12/14/21 Norman Dello Joio - The Holy Infant's Lullaby

Dello Joio wrote this in 1961. It exists in several forms, including a version for women's chorus, and also with orchestral accompaniment.

12/15/21 Arthur Honegger - Une cantate de Noel

This 1953 was Honegger's last completed composition. It was started in 1941 as part of a much larger oratorio. But nothing came of that project, so he reworked it for the 25th anniversary of the Basle Chamber Orchestra.

12/16/21 Georg Philipp Telemann - In dulce Jubilo TWV 1:939

Telemann was but one of many German Baroque composers to use this tune as the basis for an Advent cantata.

12/17/21 Pierre Dandrieu - Joseph est bien marié

Dandrieu composed his setting of this tune around 1714. Its first publication was not until at least 1721 (the original publication is lost). It was included in the expanded edition of 1733. But it's not clear if it was included in the original edition.

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Joan Tower scores a hit with Strike Zones

I'm a percussionist by training. And I'm an admirer of Joan Tower's music. So a disc featuring Tower's compositions for Evelyn Glennie was a must-review for me. 

Glennie is one of the foremost percussionists in the world. Her innovative technique is only matched, by her drive to enrich the repertoire. To that end, she has commissioned works from major composers -- like Joan Tower.

Strike Zones is a concerto composed for Glennie. Most concertos feature a single solo instrument. It features a battery of both tuned and indefinite pitch percussion instruments. 

Tower exploits the characteristics of these instruments. In doing so, she weaves them into a dialogue with the orchestra. It's a high-energy thrill-ride, and one I'd love to see live in performance.

Small, also composed for Glennie, is Strike Zones polar opposite. Here Tower confines herself to a small grouping of instruments laid out on a table. Though the music is more intimate, it's no less exciting. Glennie elicits complex, expressive sounds from simple instruments like tambourines and metal bars.

The album is nicely balanced. After the percussion concerto and solo percussion work, there's a piano concerto (Still/Rapids) and a solo piano work (Ivory and Ebony). These, too, bristle with energy and excitement. 

Pianist Blair McMillen is a tireless performer. His high-octane playing never falters. He carries the listener along on a dizzying sonic journey. 

These works were more than just an exhibition of beats. Tower uses her solo instruments percussively. But she also uses them expressively. She makes us aware that one object striking another can create beautiful sounds. 

I loved it. 

Joan Tower: Strike Zones
Small; Still/Rapids; Ivory and Ebony
Evelyn Glennie, percussion
Blair McMillen, piano
Albany Symphony; David Alan Miller, conductor
Naxos 8.55902

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Howard Griffiths presents Cipriani Potter

I find Cipriani Potter a fascinating figure. This composer, pianist, and educator was a major influence in British music. Perhaps more than most people know.

He studied with Joseph Wölfl, a colleague of both Mozart and Beethoven. Potter visited Vienna in 1817. Beethoven declined to accept him as a student. But he did review and comment on some of Potter's music.

Upon returning to England, Potter championed both Mozart's and Beethoven's piano concertos. He joined the faculty of the Royal Academy of music in 1822. As the conductor of its orchestra, he promoted the music of Schumann and Brahms.

So what was his own music like? This release provides a good overview. It includes the first of Potter's nine symphonies. It also features an overture and a short work for piano and orchestra.

Potter's Symphony No. 1 in G minor was written in 1819, and revised twice. It's a well-constructed work. Potter greatly admired Mozart and Beethoven. Yet this symphony doesn't seem to have a lot of their influence (at least to my ears).

Instead, Potter provides his own take on the early 19th-Century symphonic style. It has the lightness of Mozart and Mendelssohn, with some of Beethoven's drama. I found it quite enjoyable. 

The Introduction and Rondo Alla Militaire for piano and orchestra seems inspired by Beethoven. Judging by the solo part, Potter was a talented pianist. While he didn't have Beethoven's fire, his music is still quite engaging. 

Claire Huangci performs with lyrical dexterity. I found her good-natured approach both charming and entertaining.

Howard Griffiths gives this music some spirited readings. Potter the composer had something to say beyond homages to Mozart and Beethoven. Griffiths lets him say it.

Well-performed and worth listening to.

Cipriani Potter: Symphony No. 1
Overture Cybelene; Introduzione e Rondo for Piano and Orchestra
Claire Huangci, piano
BBC National Orchestra of Wales; Howard Griffiths, conductor

Monday, December 13, 2021

Rheinberger's Der Stern von Bethlehem shines in reissue

Why isn't "Der Stern von Bethlehem" a holiday staple, like that Handel joint? I have a theory. 

Joseph Rheinberger composed his cantata in 1890. During his lifetime it was one of his most-performed choral works. After his death in 1901, though, it lapsed into obscurity.  

Rheinberger's style was influenced by the German greats: Brahms, Mendelssohn, Schubert, and Bach. "Der Stern" has the rich, late-Romantic harmonies of Brahms. They support flowing Schubert-like melodies. 

I suspect that by the 1910s Rheinberger's work sounded old-fashioned. And it's taken a very long time to re-evaluate that assessment. And it should be reassessed. This is well-crafted music. 

Rheinberger was a church organist and knew how to write for choirs. The choruses in "Der Stern von Bethlehem" show the hand of a master. The harmonies are full, and yet the text is easy to follow. Rheinberger was sparing in his use of counterpoint, ensuring clarity.

The text is by his wife, the poet Franziska "Fanny" von Hoffnaass. It's a simple retelling of the Christmas story, illustrated by the music. It's a gorgeous work that should enchant any listener (well, it did me). 

This is a reissue of a 1999 release. Although the sound is quite good, it lacks the fine details of modern recordings. That's not a disadvantage. Rheinberger's late-Romantic style benefits from the slight softness of the sound. To me, it adds to the warmth of the music. 

The Universitatschor Dresden has a creamy ensemble blend. Dilek Gecer and Michael Jungeare fine soloists. Gecer's delivery seemed a little dated by 2021 standards, but not horribly so.

I applaud Ars Produktion's decision to release this remastered classic. And especially to do on a high-resolution multi-channel disc. The rich harmonies can wash over the listener in surround sound. 

If you purchase a download of this release, be sure to opt for the highest resolution offered. It does make a difference. 

Joseph Gabriel Rheinberger
Der Stern von Bethlehem; Advent Motets
Dilek Gecer, soprano; Michael Junge, baritone
Universitatschor Dresden, Maja Sequeira, director
Vogtland Philharmonie Greiz/Reichenbach; Stefan Fraas, condur
Ars Produktion SACD

Friday, December 10, 2021

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalHoliday Week 2

Traditionally, #ClassicalChristmas has been the December theme for Classics a Day. This year, it's changed slightly -- #ClassicalHoliday. 

The idea was always to encourage folks to share works composed for performance in December. The pieces could be either sacred or secular. But the hashtag #ClassicalChristmas suggested music only for one faith tradition. So new hashtag, same concept. During the month of December post works that were meant to be performed in the wintertime.

Here are my posts for the second week of #ClassicalHoliday

12/06/21 Georg Philipp Telemann - Der Herr hat offenbaret, TWV 1:262

"The Lord has revealed" was written for Christmas services, 1762.

12/07/21 Thomas Tallis - Missa natus est nobis

Tallis wrote this Christmas mass in 1554. It's possible he composed it for a combination of English and Spanish musicians (Philip I had come to England with a retinue to marry Queen Mary).

12/08/21 Gustav Schreck - Advent Motet

Schreck was the Thomaskantor at the Thosmasschule in Leipzig from 1893 to 1918 (a post J.S. Bach had held from 1723-1750). Most of his compositions were for choirs.

12/09/21 Morten Lauridsen - Magnum Mysterium

Lauridsen is one of the most contemporary American choral composers. And this is one of his most popular works.

12/10/21 Gottfried August Homilius - Siehe, der Herr kömmt mit vielen tausend Heiligen, HoWV II.3

Homilius wrote in the empfindsamer style. He was considered the most important German church composers of the generation following J.S. Bach.

Monday, December 06, 2021

An Oxford Christmas With All the Trimmings

This release is the companion volume to Albion's 2016 "Vaughan Williams Christmas" album. This time, the selections come primarily from the Oxford Book of Carols. 

This 1928 publication was extremely influential. Vaughan Williams' carol arrangements for this book turn up in many protestant hymnals. Some that is, but not all. 

And that's what makes this collection so rewarding to listen to. There are the familiar tunes, such as "The Bellman's Song," "Wassail Song," and "The First Nowell." 

But then there are all these other gems. "Job," "Come all ye Faithful Christians," and "If Ye Would Hear the Angels Sing," are but three examples. 

Vaughan Williams had internalized English folk traditions. His settings of these carols show their origins. The harmonies sometimes are modal, the melodies retain their non-standard rhythms. And even though these are four-square SATB arrangements, there's nothing square about them. 

The Chapel Choir of the Royal Hospital Chelsea performs these works beautifully. The choir has a warm, luminous sound. And yet their articulation is laser-precise. The recording venue is also well-suited for this music. There's enough decay to enrich the sound, but not enough to obscure it. 

If you want to know what choral music should sound like, get this album. And if you, like me, are always looking for top-quality Christmas music, look here. The Oxford Book of Carols was published in part to raise the standard of seasonal music. This recording raises the standard of its performance.   

Ralph Vaughan Williams: An Oxford Christmas
Chapel Choir of the Royal Hospital Chelsea; William Vann, director
Joshua Ryan, organ
Albion Records

Friday, December 03, 2021

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalHoliday Week 1

Traditionally, #ClassicalChristmas has been the December theme for Classics a Day. This year, it's changed slightly -- #ClassicalHoliday. 

The idea was always to encourage folks to share works composed for performance in December. The pieces could be either sacred or secular. But the hashtag #ClassicalChristmas suggested music only for one faith tradition. So new hashtag, same concept. During the month of December post works that were meant to be performed in the wintertime.

Here are my posts for the first week of #ClassicalHoliday

12/01/21 Vitezslava Kapralova - Prélude de Noël

Kapralova wrote this for a Christmas Eve broadcast in 1939. Her orchestration reflects the influence of her friend and teacher, Bohuslav Martinu.

12/02/21 Christoph Graupner - Gott sei uns, Gott sei uns gnädig, GWV 1109/41

The cantata "God be us God be gracious to us" was composed for the First Sunday in Advent, 1740.

12/03/21 - Tomás Luis de Victoria - O magnum mysterium

This is one of Victoria's most-performed works and is considered an outstanding example of late-Renaissance polyphony.

Thursday, December 02, 2021

A Festival of Light Classical Music

I recently found a Reader’s Digest collection at my parent’s home. It was too good not to share. 

So Wednesday, December 8, 2021, be sure to tune in for “A Festival of Light Classical Music” on WTJU, FM 91.1 (or From 7 am to 9 am I’ll be playing sections from these LPs and having some fun. 

 You might not know the names of all these pieces, but I guarantee they’ll sound familiar! 

What we can’t share on-air (but I can here) is the packaging. Everything about this set makes the buyer feel cultured and sophisticated. — even if they knew nothing about classical music. 

 There’s an introduction by Arthur Fiedler (the one conductor non-classical listeners might recognize). No Fiedler recordings appear in this set, BTW. Fiedler’s message is both invited to the novice, and loaded with cultural baggage.

“Every piece here selected is music of quality, music composed with passion and enthusiasm, music written by great composers. It is therefore light music which one can take seriously.” 

He does end with some practical advice. “How can you best listen to this Festival? Any way that you enjoy it is the best way for you… No special knowledge, no magic formula, no ‘open sesame’ are required; all one needs in an open heart.” 

The set includes an impressive booklet that informative and accessible liner notes. 

It also included a guarantee of quality and satisfaction. it assures the purchaser that, among other things, “each set of records is completely new.” Well, that’s a relief. I wouldn’t want to pay good money for some second-hand vinyl! 

 There’s a handy guide for those new to long-playing albums. It recommends using a diamond needle, as opposed to a sapphire needle or (heavens!) a metal needle. “Most lovers of good music consider [the diamond needle] well worth the extra cost.” 

The set also has a promo sheet with detachable postcard order forms to share with friends. It features some celebrity endorsements from notables like Bennet Cerf and Arlene Francis. Although I do wonder why they put the word listeners in quotes. 

 “A Festival of Light Classical Music” was more than a set of records. It was an easy way to add sophistication to your life, and impress your friends!

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

The Dryades Consort deliver Caspar Othmayr's Gifts

Caspar Othmayr was a theologian and composer of the early Protestant church. His 1549 Tricinia in pias offers a selection of musical virtues that address eight vices. The Dryades Consort uses this for a program celebrating both the vices and virtues. 

While Othmayr's music provides the foundation, the consort pulls from other contemporary sources. There's a significant amount of music from Othmayr's friend and colleague Goerg Forster.

 Also represented is Johannes Ott, Hieronymus Formschneyder, Heinrich Isaac, and some anomymous composers.

It's an effective program and beautifully performed. Countertenor Franz Vitztheum sings with a honeyed tone. His pure delivery is almost entirely free of vibrato (appropriate to the era). It gives the music an ethereal serenity. And it's in character with the lofty intellectual ideals of the texts.

The Dryades Consort, led by Silvia Tecardi has but four players. They play a variety of stringed instruments. This changes the ensemble sound from track to track.

I found this album quite soothing to listen to. If my German was a little stronger, I may have gotten more out of it. But as it was, hearing the music and letting it wash over me was enough.

If you enjoy early music at all, give this release a listen. The Dryades Consort focussed on a very specific aspect of Renaissance music. And the resulting program shows how successful their realization of that music was. 

Caspar Othmayr: Gift & Gegengift
Virtues and Vices in Renaissance Songs
Franz Vitztheum, countertenor
Dryades Consort; Silvia Tecardi, director
Christophorus CHR 77455

Monday, November 29, 2021

Kölner Akademie continues excellent Telemann Christmas series

This volume features two Advent and two Christmas cantatas by Georg Philipp Telemann. The difference between these liturgical seasons has blurred over time. 

But in the 1700s there was a clear difference. Advent was the season anticipated the birth of Christ -- hopeful, but waiting. Christmas marked the arrival of Christ, and the twelve days after it was a time of celebration. 

The Advent cantatas presented here are true to that tradition. "Was für ein jauchzendes Gedränge" translates as "What a joyous throng surrounds the King of all the world as he makes his entrance!" As the title suggests, this is indeed a pretty upbeat cantata. 

In cantatas of this period the choir usually sang verses of a familiar hymn. These verses often framed the recitatives and arias of the soloist. The hymn Telemann used for "Was für ein jauchzendes Gedränge" is still sung today. It's the hymn "How Brightly Shown the Morning Star." 

"Eilt zu, ruft laut, ihr längst verlangten Boten, ruft Zion" (Make haste, ye long awaited messengers, cries Zion) is another upbeat Advent cantata. Here the chorus is given a bouncy melody, extorting action. 

The two Christmas cantatas are music of praise. The final selection, "Da die Zeit erfüllet war" (But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his son) is both celebratory and heroic. And this was just for the second day of Christmas!

The Kölner Akademie has a clean, clear sound. The soloists are all very good, and they have a nice vocal blend. 

Bach's Christmas cantatas get plenty of airplay. But these deserve a listen as well. Telemann was quite adept at setting text and using the music to convey the music's emotion. A welcome addition to the catalog of Baroque seasonal recordings.

Georg Philipp Telemann: Christmas Cantatas III
Hanna Herfurtner, soprano; Carola Günther, alto; Mirko Ludwig, Fabian Strotmann, tenors; Peter Kooij, bass
Kölner Akademie; Michael Alexander Willens, conductor
CPO 555 396-2

Friday, November 26, 2021

#ClassicsaDay #November11 Weeks 4 & 5

 November is the eleventh month. And so the Classics a Day team opted to make eleven the month's then. The challenge is to post works that are numbered 11 in some fashion, either an opus number, a series number, or even a suite number.

It turns out that there's a lot of great music associated with elevens. By the time most composers publish their eleventh opus, symphony, string quartet, or sonata,  they've mastered their art. As I quickly discovered.

Here are my posts for the fourth and final week of #ClassicsaDay #November11

11/22/21 Gerald Finzi - Romance in E-flat major, Op. 11

Finzi wrote this piece in 1928 but continually revised it. He finally allowed publication in 1951.

11/23/21 George Enescu - Romanian Rhapsody No. 1, Op. 11

Enescu wrote the first of his two Romanian Rhapsodies at age 19. It draws heavily from lăutărească music (Romani folks music) and quotes several traditional dance tunes.

11/24/21 Clara Schumann - Three Romances for Violin and Piano, Op. 11

These pieces were written for virtuoso violinist Joseph Joachim. He often performed them with Johannes Brahms at the piano.

11/25/21 Sergei Prokofiev - Toccata, Op. 11

Prokofiev wrote this work in 1912, when he was 21. He premiered the piece four years later in Petrograd.

11/26/21 Paul Hindemith - Sonata for Viola and Piano in F major, Op. 11 No. 4

Hindemith completed his five Op. 11 sonatas in 1919. The first two are for violin, the third for cello, and the last two are for viola.

11/29/21 Richard Strauss Concerto for French Horn and Orchestra

Strauss composed two versions of his 1882 concerto - one for piano accompaniemtn, the other for orchestra. Strauss was 18 years old when he wrote the work.

11/30/21 Felix Mendelssohn - Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 11

Mendelssohn completed his first sympjhony at age 15. It received its public premiere three years later, and was published four years after that in 1831.

11/31/21 Norburt Burgmuller Symphony No. 2 in D major

When Burgmuller died at age 26, he had completed the first two movements of his second symphony and sketched out the third movement. After his death, Robert Schumann completed the movement and arranged for the work's publication.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Franz Lachner well served by Evergreen Symphony Orchestra

The Evergreen Symphony Orchestra (ESO) is a 70-piece Taiwanese ensemble. They've recorded eight albums for the CPO label. Although "evergreen" is in their name, none of the music they record would earn that title. 

But that's not due to the quality of the music, just the stature of the composers. Franz Lachner was a respected 19th Century composer and conductor. He conducted the Theater am Kärntnertor and was a friend of Franz Schubert. Lachner's style shows traces of both Beethoven and Schubert. 

His Symphony No. 6 in D major was published in 1837. It followed on the heels of his successful fifth symphony. That work won a composition contest and helped establish Lachner's reputation. Symphony No. 6 has a lighter touch, hewing closer to Schubert's symphonic aesthetic. 

Lachner's more disciplined than his friend, though. The lyrical melodies charm and engage. But the form is also clearly delineated. There's a feeling of high spirits throughout the work. Some of that may be the performances Gernot Schmalfuss and the ESO gives these pieces. There's some enthusiastic music-making going on with these young performers! 

The Concertino for Bassoon and Orchestra was completed in 1824. Lachner seems inspired by Beethoven, especially with his use of motives. The dotted rhythmic figures tie the piece together even as they expand and develop.

Chia-Hua Hsu is the principal bassoonist for the ESO. Hsu's interpretation sounded fluid and improvisational, but never out of control. His performance was simply first-rate. 

These may not be evergreen pieces, but in the ESO's care, they sound pretty fresh to me.

Franz Lachner: Symphony No. 6 Op. 56 in D major
Concertino for Bassoon and Orchestra in E-flat major
Chia-Hua Hsu, bassoon
Evergreen Symphony Orchestra; Gernot Schmalfuss, conductor
CPO 555-210-2

Monday, November 22, 2021

Newberry Consort enlivens Mexican Christmas

This is a live recording of a December concert given by the Newberry Consort. The program blends two strains of 17th Century Mexican music. 

One is the European-inspired sacred music of the church. The second is the folk-inspired music of the streets. This recording captures the raw energy and exquisite beauty of the performances.

The Newberry Consort performs the music of the church. Most Mexican Baroque composers, such as Juan Gutiérrez de Padilla and Gaspar Fernandes, emigrated from Europe.  They brought their European traditions with them and wrote in a conservative style. 

Although their polyphony was inspired by Palestrina, they weren't immune to native culture. There are some Mexican folk rhythms in their compositions (suitably muted, of course). 

As always, the Consort sings with a warm, blended sound and purity of tone. Their performances nicely balance the European and Mexican influences of these sacred compositions. 

The EnsAmble Ad-Hoc performs the music of the masses. This villancico ensemble uses folk instruments, such as the Baroque guitar.  They also dance as they sing. It's a ragged, raucous sound that's electrifying. 

The ensemble also performs music of the Mexican Baroque composers. In their hands, though, these works are transformed. The folk elements, downplayed in the Newberry Consort performances, are celebrated. 

The Newberry Consort and EnsAmble Ad-Hoc present two sides of Mexican Baroque music. But they're not disconnected. That's the real genius of this program. The performance styles may be contrasting, but there are many similarities. 

This is one of the most imaginative and entertaining early music Christmas albums I've heard. Heck, make that most imaginative and entertaining album, period.

A Mexican Christmas
Newberry Consort; EnsAmble Ad-Hoc
Navona Records nv6375

Friday, November 19, 2021

#ClassicsaDay #November11 Week 3

 November is the eleventh month. And so the Classics a Day team opted to make eleven the month's then. The challenge is to post works that are numbered 11 in some fashion, either an opus number, a series number, or even a suite number.

It turns out that there's a lot of great music associated with elevens. By the time most composers publish their eleventh opus, symphony, string quartet, or sonata,  they've mastered their art. As I quickly discovered.

Here are my posts for the third week of #ClassicsaDay #November11

11/15/21 Ferdianand Ries - Piano Sonata in E-flat major, Op. 11, No. 1

Ries was a piano and composition student of Beethoven's. His Opus 11, published in 1809 contained two piano sonatas.

Amy Beach - Three Songs, Op. 11

When she married Dr. Henry Beach, Amy Cheney agreed to give up performing but was allowed to continue composing. These songs were written four years into her marriage.

11/17/21 Johannes Brahms - Serenade No. 1, Op. 11

Brahms' serenades were warm-ups for his symphonies. He used them as exercises for thinking of music orchestrally, instead of pianistically.

11/18/21 Fanny Mendelssohn Henzel - Piano Trio in D minor, Op. 11

Fanny composed this work as a birthday present for her sister. It wasn't published (and assigned an opus number) until three years after Fanny's death.

11/19/21 Josef Elsner - Symphony No. 1 in C major Op. 11

Elsner was one of the first Polish composers to incorporate folk music into his works. His first symphony was written in 1804, the same year as Beethoven's "Eroica."

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Laura Netzel Chamber Portrait worth admiring

Laura Netzel is one of those composers who should be better known. And that's what the artists on this release hope to do. Netzel (1839-1927) was from Finland, but her family moved to Sweden when she was an infant. 

Netzel showed musical talent early on. She studied voice, piano, and composition (the latter with Charles-Marie Widor). As a teenager, she performed with orchestras and chamber ensembles. 

Many of her works were published under the pseudonym "N. Lago," to avoid gender prejudice. And her music was quite popular, especially her piano miniatures.

Netzel was often compared with Edvard Grieg, as both were labeled Scandinavian composers. The comparisons were usually favorable. I did hear a certain similarity in style, especially in the pieces based on folk tunes.

This release provides an overview of Netzel's catalog. The 1914 Suite for Violin and Strings provides a taste of her orchestral works. It's a well-crafted piece, with engaging melodies and rich, complex harmonies. 

The release also includes her Three Salon Pieces from 1880. These do remind me a little of Grieg. But they also seem to anticipate Debussy. Innovative for sure!

Netzel knew how to write for the voice. The selection of songs on this release demonstrates that quite well. The melodies just seem to flow. 

Cudos to Malin Broman, Simon Crawford-Phillips, and Sabina Bisholt for their work on this album. Their performances are heartfelt and committed. And, at least with me, they succeed. I want to hear more of Netzel's music.

Laura Netzel: Chamber Portrait
Suite for Violin and Strings; Suite for Violin and Piano; Selected Songs and Piano Pieces
Marlin Broman, violin; Simon Crawford-Phillips, piano
Sabina Bisholt, soprano
Musica Vitae Chamber Orchestra
dB Productions

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Christoph Graupner Bassoon Cantatas - more than making do


When a composer is as prolific as Christoph Graupner, there are many ways to create a musical program. An album of bassoon cantatas may seem obscure. But with over 1,400 Graupner cantatas to choose from, there were plenty of choices.

A virtuoso bassoonist, Johann Christian Klotsch.. was hired for the Darmstadt court in 1736. Graupner immediately put him to use. In 1741 alone he wrote 16 cantatas with concertante bassoon parts. 

This album presents six cantatas written for Klotsch's talents, spanning a 12-year period. 

The timbre of the instrument gives these cantatas warmth and intimacy. Sergio Azzolini plays in a smooth lyrical manner. He mirrors the vocalists' delivery, bringing out the connections between the two parts. 

If you're familiar with the Baroque cantata genre, give these works a listen. Using the bassoon instead of the violin as the concertante instrument gives these cantatas a different character. 

And if you're not familiar with Baroque cantatas, check out this release anyway. Graupner was a skilled composer and these cantatas are just beautiful works to hear.

Christoph Graupner: Jaucjzet, ihr Himmel, freue dich, Erde
Bassoon Cantatas
Sergio Azzolini, Fagotto
Monika Mauch, soprano; Franz Vitzthum, alto; Georg Poplutz, tenor; Dominik Wörner, Bass
Kirchheimer BachConsort; Florian Heyerick, conductor
CPO 555 353
2 CD Set

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Anne-Marie McDermott continues superb Mozart series

Anne-Marie McDermott has a very distinctive playing style, especially with Mozart. It's delicate without being dainty. It's expressive while neither being too emotive nor overly reserved. 

McDermott's playing embodies what I like to think Mozart's intentions were. But it's playing that goes deeper than the notes. 

McDermott's own personality makes these oh-so-familiar works sound fresh and innovative. 

For volume three, McDermott performs two Mozart piano concertos. The Concerto no. 14 in E-flat major, K. 449 was written in 1784. It's considered the first of his mature concertos. 

The second concerto is his last, the Concerto No. 27 in B-flat, K. 595. The two works neatly bookend Mozart's mature period. Both upend audience expectations of the day. And yet these surprises sound both logical and inevitable. 

McDermott's performances are first-rate. Her phrasing, especially in the B-flat concerto is exquisite. In other words, this release matches the high standards set by the previous two.  

Highly recommended.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Piano Concertos, Vol. 3, K. 449, K. 595
Anne-Marie McDermott, piano
Odense Symphoniorkester; Sebastian Lang-Lessing, conductor
Bridge Records 9538

Monday, November 15, 2021

Michael Praetorius Christmas music given exceptional performances

Quick. Name a Michael Praetorius Christmas carol. OK, now name another besides "Lo, How a Rose Er Blooming." There are several -- as this release shows. 

Praetorius was a major contributor of music to the early Lutheran church. He published nine volumes of Musae Sioniae, collections of Lutheran chorales.

And amongst this music were chorales for the Advent and Christmas seasons. Included are several melodies best-known through Praetorius. In addition to "Es ist ein Ros enstrpungen" there's "in Dulci Jubilo." And there's "Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern" (How Brightly Shines the Morning Star).

Also included is a setting of the Magnificat. The fledgling Protestant church wanted music with clarity. The words had to be clearly heard by the congregation. Praetorius managed that, while at the same time providing some gorgeous Gabrieli-inspired polyphony. 

Marcus Creed directs the SWR Vokalensemble in some beautiful performances. The ensemble has a smooth, blended sound that exudes warmth. This is how I imagine these works would have been sung in one of the larger churches in the early 1600s. 

This release isn't just for early music lovers. I recommend it to anyone who appreciates great choral singing. And also anyone who's ready for some exceptionally well-written seasonal music  

Michael Praetorius: In Dulci Jubilo
Christmas Music from Musae Sioniae   
SWR Vokalensemble; Miachel Creed, director
SWR Classics

Friday, November 12, 2021

#ClassicsaDay #November11 Week 2

 November is the eleventh month. And so the Classics a Day team opted to make eleven the month's then. The challenge is to post works that are numbered 11 in some fashion, either an opus number, a series number, or even a suite number.

It turns out that there's a lot of great music associated with elevens. By the time most composers publish their eleventh opus, symphony, string quartet, or sonata,  they've mastered their art. As I quickly discovered. 

Here are my posts for the second week of #ClassicsaDay #November11

11/08/21 Alexander Scriabin - Prelude No. 11 in B minor, Op. 11

Scriabin composed his set of 24 preludes over a span of 8 years. The 11th prelude was one of the last to be composed.

11/09/21 Frederic Chopin - Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor, Op. 11

Although numbered "1," this work was composed after the premiere of Chopin's second concerto. The numbers indicate the publication sequence.

11/10/21 Anatoly Lyadov - Prelude Op. 11, No. 1

Lyadov's Trois Morceaux was published in 1896. The prelude is the most performed (and arranged) of the three pieces.

11//11/21 Vitezslava Karpalova - Military Sinfonietta

This Czech composer, conductor, and violinist only lived to age 25. Still, she left an impressive catalog of ground-breaking music, like this 1937 sinfonietta.

11/12/21 Arnold Schoenberg - Drie Klaverstucke

These piano pieces are generally considered the first truly atonal composition of Schoenberg. He was simultaneously working on his Wagnereque cantata "Gurre-Lieder."

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Telemann Complete Violin Concertos Vol. 7 takes a side trip

In their liner notes, CPO assures us that this seventh volume of Telemann concertos is not the last. I suspect the program for this release prompted that hasty reassurance. One of the three concertos is by Telemann. The other two are doubtful -- and one of those almost definitely not by Telemann. 

Usually, when a recording series gets to doubtful and spurious works, it's the end. All the composer's legitimate music has been recorded, so only the odds and ends remain. CPO is right, though -- this is far from the end of the series. There are plenty more legit Telemann concertos left to record. 

So why present this program? I can only guess. Telemann was an incredibly prolific composer. But he was also a gifted one.  The quality of Telemann's music stands out when compared with these doubtful works 

That's not to say the other two works are awful. They're just not quite in the same league. Though one comes close. 

The legit work is the Concerto in G major TWV:51:G4. This is a standard three-movement concerto. Telemann places great demands on the soloist, and the music is tightly organized.

The Overture (Suite) in A major TWV 55:A8 is quite different. While most scholars attribute this to Telemann, there's still some doubt. If it is by Telemann, it's an early work. The concerts en ouverture was a transitional form, midway between suite and concerto. The short-winded movements make this a series of vignettes rather than cohesive work. 

The Overture (Suite) in A major TWV 55:A4 is most likely not by Telemann. But it may be by  Johann Gottfried Vogler. Vogler was a violinist and composer who worked with and admired Telemann. 

Vogler was a good composer, but not on Telemann's level. This particular work has that good-not-great quality to it. The tunes are pleasant, but not memorable.

Elizabeth Wallfisch and the Wallfisch Band approach all three works with the same seriousness of intent. Wallfisch performs with energy. Her phrasing keeps the music moving along. And the ensemble is right there with her.

Hearing authentic Telemann next to suspect Telemann was revealing. There seemed to be a definite quality to the G major concerto that was somehow missing in the suites. All three were enjoyable to listen to, but for me, the "real" Telemann stood out. 

An interesting program choice, for sure -- and one that worked for me.

Georg Philipp Telemann: Complete Violin Concertos, Vol. 7
Elizabeth Wallfisch; The Wallfisch Band

Monday, November 08, 2021

An Elizabethan Christmas - Fretwork's gift to all

Fretwork marks its 35th anniversary with this holiday release. Although "holiday release" hardly describes this album. 

The celebration of Christmas was quite different than it is today. In fact, it was quite different from the Victorian Christmas traditions that now define the holiday. 

Advent, the time leading up to Christmas, was a time for mediation, not celebration. The celebrations were for Christmastide (the 12 days of Christmas). There was plenty of music for these seasons in the Tudor era, and most of it was religious in nature. 

Fretwork and mezzo-soprano Helen Charlston present a first-rate program. It combines somber Advent music with joyful Christmas selections.

Charlston has a warm, rich tone that casts an ethereal beauty over the music. She's especially effective in the Advent selections. In William Byrd's "Out of the Orient Cyrstal Skies," for example, her long, sustained tones radiate calm and serenity.

Charlston's performances in the Christmas selections have a reserved energy to them. That's befitting, I think, for music performed at court. There's a certain elegance in her delivery that appealed to me. 

And of course, Fretwork performed to their usual high standards. This ensemble knows their business, and they know it well. The playing is expressive, yet precise.

If you plan to spend time this Christmas in a comfy chair with a hot drink, plan to get this release. Though the music is over four centuries old, it still has the power to soothe.

An Elizabethan Christmas
Byrd, Gibbons. Holborne, Peerson, Weelkes
Helen Charlston, mezzo-soprano
Signum Classics

Friday, November 05, 2021

#ClassicsaDay #November11 Week 1

 November is the eleventh month. And so the Classics a Day team opted to make eleven the month's then. The challenge is to post works that are numbered 11 in some fashion, either an opus number, a series number, or even a suite number.

It turns out that there's a lot of great music associated with elevens. By the time most composers publish their eleventh opus, symphony, string quartet, or sonata,  they've mastered their art. As I quickly discovered. 

Here are my posts for the first week of #ClassicsaDay #November11

11/02/21 Fredinand Kuchler - Violin Concerrto in G major, Op. 11

Kuchler was a violin pedagogue as well as a violinist. His Op. 11 chamber concerto was written for student violinists to play primarily in 1st position.

11/03/21 Ludwig van Beethoven - Piano Trio in B-flat major, Op. 11

Beethoven's trio has somewhat fluid instrumentation. The violin part is also for clarinet, and the cello part also for bassoon. So this work is often performed as a wind trio.

11/04/21 Samuel Barber - Adagio for Strings, Op. 11

This was originally the slow movement of Barber's string quartet (also Op. 11). The orchestrated Adagio was premiered by Toscanini (who had memorized the score) in 1938.

11/05/21 Hakon Borresen - Violin Concerto in G major, Op. 11

Borresen was one of Denmark's most influential composers. He was president of the Danish Composers Union, and his music was entered in the 1932 Summer Olympics Art Competition.

Wednesday, November 03, 2021

Lady Viola succeeds on all levels


Violist Kristina Fialová outlines her mission with this release in the liner notes. 

1) Feature works for an under-represented solo instrument -- the viola. 

2) Select those works from an under-represented segment of composers -- females. 

3) Perform said works with an under-represented segment of classical instrumentalists -- females (again).

What makes this an exciting release for me is that Fialová does without compromise. The viola is as expressive an instrument as the violin. The listener needs make no allowances for the instrument.

The compositions are inventive and well-crafted. No one got a pass because of their gender. And the performances are committed and engaging. These are all first-rate artists.

Rebecca Clarke and Grazyna Bacewicz are the best-known of the six composers featured. Clarke is represented with two works. One is the Passacaglia for viola and piano.

The second is the Prelude, Allegro and Pastorale for viola and clarinet. The blend of these two instruments gives this work a warm, dark sound. Clarke studied with Ralph Vaughan Williams. This piece has some of RVW's English pastoral sound, I think.

Bacewitz's Polish Capriccio was originally for solo violin. This arrangement for solo viola works just as well. The viola's darker timbre, to me, enhanced the folk origins of the piece and gave it a different kind of beauty. 

The oldest work on the program is by Maria Theresia von Paradis. This blind concert pianist was a colleague of Haydn and Mozart, and her music shares their style. The viola's melody of her Sicilienne is both lyrical and wistful.

Every work on this release was a pleasure to listen to. Kristina Fialová is a talented artist, and her expressive performances drew me in.

And thanks to Lady Viola, I now have several more composers I want to seek out music by. Mission accomplished! 

Lady Viola
Bacewicz, Bodorová, Clarke, Fuchs, Paradis, Vorlová
Kristina Fialová, viola
Jitka Čechová, piano; Anna Paulová clarinet