Friday, January 29, 2021

#ClassicsaDay #Classical1921 Week 4

What better way to celebrate a new year than with a look back? In this case, the Classics a Day team decided to go back 100 years. For January 2021 the challenge is to post works that were completed in or recordings released in 1921.

It turns out there was quite a lot going on that year. Here are my #ClassicsaDay posts for the fourth and final week of #Classical1921

01/25/21 Florent Schmitt Mirages, Op. 70

Schmitt completed the piano version in 1921 and orchestrated it two years later. The first Mirage is dedicated to the memory of Claude Debussy and mimics his style.

01/26/21 John Alden Carpenter - Krazy Kat

Carpenter's "Jazz Pantomime" was inspired by George Herriman's popular comic strip. Carpenter completed the piano version in 1921. It was premiered in January 1922.

01/27/21 Ferrucio Busoni - Elegie for Clarinet and Piano

Busoni's "Elegie" was written in 1920, and published a year later. It was a birthday present for Spanish clarinetist Edmondo Allegra. Busoni's Concertino for Clarinet is also dedicated to his friend.

01/28/21 Arthur Honegger - Le Roi David

This 1921 work was premiered by the Mézières, Switzerland theater group. Honegger later standardized the unusual orchestration (written for the instruments at hand) in 1923.

01/29/21 Frank Bridge - 3 Minature Pastorales

Bridge wrote three sets of miniature pastorales. The first was in 1917, the remaining two in 1921.

Friday, January 22, 2021

#ClassicsaDay #Classical1921 Week 3

What better way to celebrate a new year than with a look back? In this case, the Classics a Day team decided to go back 100 years. For January 2021 the challenge is to post works that were completed in or recordings released in 1921.

It turns out there was quite a lot going on that year. Here are my #ClassicsaDay posts for the third week of #Classical1921

Sophie Braslau - La Girometta (1921)

This American contralto debuted at the Met in 1913 at age 21. Her greatest fame came from her recordings. Sergei Rachmaninoff and Jasha Heifitz performed at her funeral in 1935.

01/19/21 Sergei Prokofiev - Five Poems after Balmont, Op. 36

Prokofiev set these poems by his close friend Konstantin Balmont in 1921. They were composed for soprano Lina llubera, who he would marry two years later.

01/20/21 Amy Beach - Water Sprites, Op. 90

In 1921, when she wrote "Water Sprites," Beach began attending the MacDowell Colony as a Fellow. She would spend part of each summer going forward at the colony, composing and meeting with other women composers.

01/21/21 Alberto Salvi - Chopin Fantasie-Impromptu Op. 66

In the early 1920s, Alberto Salvi toured extensively, billed as "the world's greatest harpist." This is one of a series of recordings he did in 1921.

01/22/21 Ethel Smyth - Fête galante (1921–22)

This one-act opera is based on a Maurice Baring story. It's a mannered comedy with aristocrats in romantic mix-ups with a commedia dell'arte troupe at a party.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Arnold Rosner Requiem timeless

Toccata Classics has done a real service to music with this recording. It's one of Arnold Rosner's most substantial works. And, unfortunately, one most likely to only be heard through recording rather than live performances.

The Requiem is a massive work. It contemplates death through a variety of traditions: Zen Buddhism, the Jewish Kaddish, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, and Walt Whitman.

Rosner created his own musical world, and it was wonderous -- especially here. He rejected serialism, creating his own form of tonality. Rosner incorporated Renaissance and Medieval harmonic and contrapuntal practices into his music.

The Requiem sounds both timely and timeless. The pre-Baroque qualities of Rosner's style mesh beautifully with the ancient texts he uses (and even the more contemporary ones). This is music that spans cultural traditions, drawing from many, but beholding to none. 

The performances are first-rate. Nick Palmer leads the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the Crouch End Festival Chorus adroitly, The assembled forced can sound like the end of the world or a breath of contemplative beauty.

This is a masterwork by a still under-appreciated composer. And it's performed masterfully. Beautiful, and at times, breath-taking.

Arnold Rosner: Requiem, Op. 58
Kelley Hollis, soprano; Feargal Mostyn-Williams, countertenor; Gareth Brynmor John, Baritone; Crouch End Festival Chorus; London Philharmonic Orchestra; Nick Palmer, conductor
Toccata Classics TOCC 0545
World Premiere Recording

Friday, January 15, 2021

#ClassicsaDay #Classical1921 Week 2

What better way to celebrate a new year than with a look back? In this case, the Classics a Day team decided to go back 100 years. For January 2021 the challenge is to post works that were completed in or recordings released in 1921.

It turns out there was quite a lot going on that year. Here are my #ClassicsaDay posts for the second week of #Classical1921

01/11/21 Igor Stravinsky - Suite No. 2 for Chamber Orchestra

This 1921 work incorporates elements of his earlier Trois pièces faciles and Cinq pièces faciles, No. 5. Les cinq doigts

01/12/21 Frederick Delius - Cello Concerto

Delius started his concerto in 1920 and completed it a year later. It was written for Beatrice Harrison, who gave the UK premiere in 1923.

01/13/21 Arnold Schoenberg - Suite for Piano

Schoenberg began his first true 12-tone piece in 1921 and completed it two years later.

01/14/21 Erich Wolfgang Korngold - Piano Quintet Op. 15

Korngold wrote the quintet in 1921 when he was 24. He was at the peak of his prewar classical career. "Die Tote Stadt" premiered the year before. But by 1927 audiences began to move on, and Korngold moved to Hollywood

01/15/21 Heitor Villa-Lobos - Fantasia de Movimentos Mixtos

Villa-Lobos completed this violin concerto in 1921. He would revisit it off and on over the next 20 years, revising it over time.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

"L'Homme Arme" showcases Renaissance masters

This is a release I've long been waiting for. In the early Renaissance, the Burgundian folk song L'Homme Armé (The Armed Man) was used by many composers of the period. This album does what I've always wanted to do -- bring together several of those settings to compare side-by-side.

It's an album of great beauty and surprising variety. The Studio de music ancienne de Montreal under Andrew McAnerney's able direction, sing with clarity and subtle expression. The room ambiance is spacious, letting the voices expand, blending in glorious resonance.

The album begins with the chanson itself, followed by a version by Robert Morton. It continues with various mass movements and motets. Antoine Busnois, Guillaume Dufay, Johannes Ockeghem, and Josquin des Pres are all represented with movements from their respective Missa L'Homme Armés. 

And in each case, the tune is so deeply embedded in the polyphony that I was hard-pressed to hear it. Yet each composer uses it in a different way.

Also included are a variety of motets and other settings of the L'Homme Armé tunes. John Dunstable, Alexandre Agricola, and Gilles Binchois fall into this grouping.

If you're familiar with Renaissance music, then you've run across L'Homme Armé motets and masses before. But hearing a collection of them is revelatory. The tune yields up endless variety in the hands of these masters. 

Highly recommended.  

 L'Homme Armé: La Cour de Gourgogne et la musique
Studio de music ancienne de Montreal; Andrew McAnerney, director
ATMA Classicuqe ACD2 2807

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Eric Coates Orchestral Works, Vol. 2 continues to entertain

This release picks up where the first volume left off. It's another collection of wonderful music by Eric Coates. Coates' output was fairly consistent. it's instantly appealing, modest in scope, and always effective in entertaining the listener.

This release includes popular favorites such as "London Bridge," and "Calling All Workers." The cornerstones of the program are three larger, multi-movement works. 

"The Selfish Giant" is based on Oscar Wilde's story. Coates provides a musical language others would adopt for orchestral fairy tales.

"The Enchanted Garden" began as a ballet commission, but soon became a concert staple. Imagine a genial Tchaikovsky (with a British accent) -- that was my impression of this delightful score. 

The "Summer Days" suite is the earliest, dating from 1919. Originally, I thought it sounded a little cliche, but that was only because so many film composers have "borrowed" from it. This is the original.

Conductor John Wood is a Coates scholar and edited some of these works for performance. He leads the BBC Philharmonic with a surety of purpose. Light classical music -- like comedy -- is hard. Wood makes it sound effortless. 

Thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish. 

Eric Coates: Orchestral Works, Vol. 2
BBC Philharmonic; John Wilson, conductor

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Vladigerov Reissue Series Leads With Piano Concertos

In his native Bulgaria, composer and pianist Pancho Vladigerov is considered a national treasure. A treasure, perhaps, that was a little too closely guarded until now. For some reason, it's always been difficult to access Vladigerov's music outside of his Bulgaria. 

Thanks to Capriccio, the world will finally discover what it's been missing. This release is the first of an 18-disc series of Vladigerov's music, licensed and remastered from Bulgarian recordings made in the 1970s. 

That's fine with me. This is music that deserves to be heard. Vladigerov synthesized his native music with classical forms to create a unique musical style. In many ways, his music reminds me of Bohuslav Martinu, who did the same with Czech music.

But Vladigerov's use of multi rhythms, modal harmonies, and Bulgarian folk melodies is unique. The piano concertos provide an excellent introduction to his style. 

These are big, expansive works that superficially resemble Rachmaninov's or Medtner's concertos. Vladigerov was an exceptional pianist, and he gives full reign to his imagination in writing the solo parts. 

These concertos are all performed with his son, Alexander Vladigerov conducting the Bulgarian National Radio Symphony Orchestra. The younger Vladigerov knows his father's music well, and his direction provides consistency across the performances. The orchestra does, too, but the recordings vary in quality. 

The composer is the soloist for the final concerto, No. 5, written in 1963. His performance adds additional insight into the work, and Vladigerov's aesthetic. Unfortunately, it's also the concerto with the poorest recording. To my ears, it sounded too compressed with a lot of detail missing.

Nevertheless, the performance (indeed all the performances) are expressive and exciting. Bulgarian music lovers have long enjoyed Vladigerov's music. It's past time to share it with others. 

Pancho Vladigerov: Piano Concertos 1-5
Teador Moussev, Ivan Drenikov, Krassimir Gatev, Pancho Vladigerov, piano
Bulgarian National Radio Symphony Orchestra; Alexander Vladigerov, conductor
Capriccio C8060
3 CD Set

Monday, January 11, 2021

Porfeti della Quinta perfectly perform Philippe Verdelot

Philippe Verdelot one of the composers credited with developing the Italian madrigal. Though French, he spent most of his professional life in Florence. His publications spread throughout Europe and set the model for this Renaissance vocal form.

Verdelot wrote mostly five- and six-voice madrigals. This release features some of his less-common four-voice madrigals. They were originally published in two volumes and later collected in a 1540 posthumous publication, Di Verdelotto / tutti li madrigali del primo et del secondo libro a quatro voci. 

Profeti dell Quinta delivers exceptionally beautiful performances of these madrigals. And their careful study of these works let their singing reveal all of Verdelot's subtleties. 

For Verdeolot (and his followers), madrigals were about illustrating poetry. The melodies are often through-composed, with the shape, rhythm, and even intervals in service of the words. 

Concepts such as darkness and light are reinforced with key choices and major or minor intervals. "Falling" might be sung over a descending scale; "halt" might bring the music to a sudden stop, and so on. 

The artistry in Porfeti della Quinta lies in their ability to understand the foundation of this music. And to let that foundation inform their performances. 

The result is a series of incredibly beautiful vocal quartets that beguile the ear. Texts are included in the booklet. So you can follow along and fully appreciate Verdelot's skill at word-painting. 

Or you can just listen to Porfeti della Quinta's singing, and receive the intent of the music without understanding a word of it. 

Philippe Verdelot: Madrigals for four voices
Porfeti della Quinta; Elam Rotem, director
Pan Classics PC 10422

Friday, January 08, 2021

#ClassicsaDay #Classical1921 Week 1

What better way to celebrate a new year than with a look back? In this case, the Classics a Day team decided to go back 100 years. For January 2021 the challenge is to post works that were completed in or recordings released in 1921.

It turns out there was quite a lot going on that year. Here are my #ClassicsaDay posts for the first week of #Classical1921

01/04/21 Sergei Rachmaninoff - Prelude in C-sharp minor

The prelude was part of a set of five Morceaux de fantesie, published in 1892. This 1921 RCA acoustic release is the second of three recordings Rachmaninoff made of the piece.

01/05/21 Nicolai Medtner - 3 Tales, Op. 42

Medtner wrote many Sakzki (Fairy Tales) over the years. He began his Op. 42 set in 1921, completing it three years later.

01/06/21 Charles Villiers Stanford - Concert Piece for Organ and Orchestra

Stanford began his career as an organist in the late 1880s. This 1921 work, written three years before his death, harkens back to that earlier time.

01/07/21 Aaron Copland - Three moods

Copland wrote this when he was 21, in 1920-21. Originally there were four short pieces in this set. After much revision, only three remained.

01/08/21 Theodor W. Adorno: Piano piece

Adorno was best known as a philosopher and sociologist. He was an ardent student of Schoenberg, and his works follow strict serial composition techniques. His piano piece was completed in 1921.

Thursday, January 07, 2021

El Canto del Cisne Negro - Latin-American music that merits attention

In the liner notes, the artists write they're presenting "a collection of largely unknown works for violoncello and piano from Latin America...[These composers] traveled to Europe, where they found themselves torn between their admiration for the culture and their nostalgia for... their own cultural roots. We share their experience, and their music resonated deeply with us."

After listening to the recording, I agree with all points. The blend of classical and traditional music varies with each composer -- but it's always there. And the affinity the performers have with the music enhances their performances. 

Heitor Villa-Lobos' "El Canto del Cisne Negro" reimagines Saint-Saens' "The Swan." It's beautiful work, leaning more towards classical. Jose Elizondo's "Oto&ntilda;o en Buenos Aires" for solo cello seems almost like a folk dance arranged for solo cello. In between those two extremes are some exceptionally beautiful works by Luis Saglie, Manuel Maria Ponce, and Joaquin Nin. 

And throughout these works, I heard that connection the musicians had with the music -- and each other. Their performances brought out the essential national characteristics of each work, carefully matched to the composer's style.

I especially admired Nicole Pena Comos' playing. Her cello has a rich, sonorous sound that made lyrical passages exceptionally beautiful. Yet she and pianist Hugo Llanos Campos could deliver firey energetic performances when required. 

Though these are all Latin American composers, Comas and Campos let the distinctive voice of each one come through. An exceptional release of music that merits more attention.

El Canto del Cisne Negro
Nicole Pena Comos, cello; Hugo Llanos Campos, piano
Ars Produktion

Wednesday, January 06, 2021

Eivind Groven Symphonies solidly Norwegian

Norwegian composer Eivind Groven had a unique compositional voice. It was informed by his intimate knowledge of Norwegian folk music and folk instruments. 

Groven came from a family of folk musicians and was an accomplished Hardanger fiddle player. While similar to a violin, there are many differences. These differences form the basis of the music played on the instrument -- and the core of Groven's style.

Groven's two symphonies have few parallels in the classical world. Most composers incorporate folk elements into a classical idiom. Groven seemed to do the opposite. 

The harmonies move in ways strange to classical audiences of the 1930s (when these works premiered), but very familiar to Norwegian folk musicians. The combination of strings reflects that open, thinner sound of Hardanger fiddles rather than the fullness of a string ensemble.

And yet these are big, organic, symphonic works. Groven spins his melodies out, continually developing them and adding complexity as the works unfold. 

The Kristiansand Symphony Orchestra (not surprisingly) understands the foundation Groven built his symphonies on. And their performances enhance the energetic beauty of these works. 

Groven's symphonies have been recorded before -- but never paired on the same release. I've never heard music quite like this before. I'm glad I did.   

Eivind Groven: Symphonies Nos. 1 & 2
Kristiansand Symphony Orchestra; Peter Szilvay, conductor
Naxos 8.573871


Tuesday, January 05, 2021

L'Arte dell'Arco triumphs with latest Giovanni Platti release

Giovanni Benedetto Platti was born when Johann Sebastian Bach was 13, and died when Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was seven. Just as his life spanned the late Baroque and the early Classical era, so did his music. 

This release features four of Platti's nine published harpsichord concertos. The works were written between 1730 and 1750, for modest forces -- harpsichord plus string quartet.

While not quite Style Galante, to my ears they had a lightness and clarity that presages the Classical era. Roberto Loreggian strengthens that impression with his playing. 

He moves across the keyboard with nimble dexterity. Loreggian's instrument has a clean, clear tone, with a silent action that responds instantly. 

This is the second album of Piatti's music for L'Arte dell'Arco. The ensemble released a collection of his cello concertos on Brilliant Classics in 2019. They understand this composer, and that knowledge enhances their performances here. The ensemble sounds full, yet opaque, supporting rather than engulfing the harpsichord.

Also included is Platti's sole surviving violin concerto. Director Federico Guglielmo is the soloist. Guglielmo plays with tasteful expression. I sensed that his ornamentations were historically informed, yet they seemed quite natural in the flow of the music. 

Platti was a composer of imagination and skill. These recordings demonstrate that quite ably. Well-recorded and well-performed.

Giovanni Benedetto Platti: Four Harpsichord Concrtos, Violin Concerto
Roberto Loreggian, harpsichord
L'Arte dell'Arco; Federico Guglielmo, violin and director
CPO 555 219-2

Monday, January 04, 2021

Modern masterworks by Victoria Borisova-Ollas

Victoria Borisova-Ollas is a Russian-born composer making her home in Sweden. If you (like me) aren't familiar with her work, start with this recording. It's stunning. 

Borisova-Ollas writes deeply spiritual music, drawing on classical music traditions of the past as well as the present. And she's an imaginative orchestrator. Her use of percussion is original and distinctive. Her harmonies are often modal.

The title track, "Angelus" was a commission from Munich for their 850th anniversary. Strolling through the city, Borisova-Ollas noted church bells seeming to peal from every corner. 

"Angelus" builds on that impression. It begins with a modal melody, then adds the tunes rung by the various steeples in the city. The result isn't a cacophony, but a glorious celebration of the sound and spiritual meaning of municipal bells. It's an amazing tour-de-force.

"Before the Mountains Were Born" was commissioned by Andrey Boreyko and the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra. The ensemble had a stellar wind section, so Borisova-Ollas features them quite prominently in her orchestration. Plus, the work includes an extended cadenza featuring the flute, oboe, clarinet, and bassoon. 

The "Creation Hymn" for string orchestra is reworked from a string quartet. And reworked is the word. Chords are thickened. Contrasts made more dramatic by alternating between full ensemble and a solo instrument. The power of the string ensemble gives more weight to the music, increasing its emotional impact. it's a stunner.

After listening to this release, I started looking for other recordings of Borisova-Ollas's music. Fair warning: you may do the same.

Victoria Borisova-Ollas: Angelus
Orchestral Works
Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra
Andrey Boreyko, Martyn Brabbins, Sakari Oramo, conductors
BIS 2288

Friday, January 01, 2021

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalChristmas Week 5

For the past four years, the #ClassicsaDay team has adopted  Classical Christmas as its theme for December. And why not? We have a rich body of music related to the season dating back to the Middle Ages. A good deal of it is religious, but not all -- many works are simply inspired by the time of year. 

As always, I tried to select music that I hadn't shared before while avoiding the obvious (like Vivaldi's "Winter"). Here are my posts for the fifth and final week of #ClassicalChristmas

12/28/20 Paul Hindemith - The Long Christmas Dinner

This 1931 opera traces the history of a mid-western family through 90 years of Christmas dinners in the same home.

12/29/20 Delius - Winter Night

This is the second of the "Three Small Tone Poems" written by Delius. Originally, this 1890 cycle was to have one movement for every season, but Autumm's was never written.

12/30/20 Bristow - Winter's Tale Overture

George Frederick Bristow was an early advocate of American classical music. His 1856 overture was for a Broadway production of Shakespeare's play.

12/31/20 Hymn to St. Nicholas

Saint Nicholas is a very important figure in the Eastern Orthodox Church. He's the subject of many traiditional carols, such as this one from Carpathia.