Friday, April 30, 2021

#ClassicsaDay #Stokowski Week 4

For April, 2021, the Classics a Day Team celebrates a legend -- Leopold Stokowski. He was born in April (1882), and became a cultural icon. His recording legacy spans over 60 years. And whether he was conducting a premier orchestra or a group of studio musicians, the sound was unmistakable.

To share all of Stokowski's recordings and arrangements would take far longer than a month. But that means there's quite a lot to choose from for April! Here are my selections for the final week of #ClassicsaDay #Stokowski.

04/26/21 Rachmaninoff  - Piano Concerto No. 2 (1929)

Rachmaninoff recorded his 2nd concerto with Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra in April 1929. They had recorded it previously in 1924, though the first movement was never released. The 1929 version has remained continually in print.

04/27/21 Vaughan Williams - Dives and Laxarus (1954)

Ralph Vaughan Williams and Leopold Stokowski were fellow students at the Royal Academy of Music. This performance is with Stokowski and the CBS Radio Orchestra.

04/28/21 Franck - Symphony in D minor (1970)

Stokowski made this recording with the Hilversum Radio Philharmonic Orchestra in 1970. It was released as a London Phase 4 stereo release.

04/29/21 Webern - Passacaglia for Orchestra (1962)

Stokowski ranged far beyond basic rep. He conducted the Philadelphia Orchestra in this live performance in 1962 (when many audiences thought Webern was still too modern).

04/30/21 Beethoven - "Leonore" No. 3 (1968)

From a documentary released in 1970, Stokowski rehearses his American Symphony Orchestra in Madison Square Garden. He was 86 years old at the time.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Michael Haydn Choral Works hold their own

Let's be clear. Michael Haydn was not a bad composer. He was a very good one. Just not as great as his brother, Franz Joseph. But even Franz Joseph thought Micheal was the better choral composer of the two.

This album helps make that case with a set of unusual works. All three compositions are for upper register voices. In some cases, these may have been boys instead of female singers. For this recording, it's the St. Albans Cathedral Girls Choir. 

I've heard enough female choir pieces by second and third-tier composers to understand the challenge. How do you provide contrast and variety when all the voices are clumped together?

Haydn had the answers. His choruses have a full sound, expanding out to the extremes of the registers. And without male voices, these choruses have an ethereal quality as well. He also uses soprano and mezzo-soprano solo voices effectively. They provide a clear contrast with the choral accompaniment.

The result is an album of engagingly beautiful choral works. Director Tom Winpenny keeps the music moving along. In some cases giving rapid passages a dance-like quality. 

I think brother Franz may have a point. Based on this release, I'm now curious to hear more of Michael Haydn's sacred compositions.    

Michael Haydn: Missa Sancti Nicolai Tabentini
Vesperae Pro Festo Sancti Innocentium, Anima Nostra
Jenni Harper, Emily Owen, sopranos; Helen Charlston, mezzo-soprano
Marko Sever, organ
St. Albans Cathedral Girls Choir; Lawes Baroque Players; Tom Winpenny, conductor
Naxos 8.574163

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Selim Palmgren piano cycle begins

I'm not sure how many volumes a traversal of Selim Palmgren piano music would run. But it should be a lot. Palmgren was a virtuoso pianist and composer. Naturally, a great deal of his catalog is piano music. And he was quite prolific. 

Palmgren was one of Finland's greatest composers, pre-Sibelius. Many of the works receive their world recording premiere with this release. 

I like the way pianist Jouni Somero has balanced the program. There is a selection of short piano pieces, a themed collection of pieces, and a piano sonata. They show Palgren equally adept at both long- and short-form composition. 

Palmgren was a student of Busoni, so there's no shortage of piano technique exhibited in these works. The 1901 Piano Sonata in D minor sounds especially challenging to perform. 

Joni Somero handles those challenges with aplomb, delivering a terrific performance. I especially enjoyed his playing of the Finnish Lyrical Pieces. 

Being Finnish, Somero provides additional insight into this music, I think. Before this release, I was only familiar with Palgren's five piano concertos. Thrilling as they are, the miniatures presented here help fill out the portrait of the composer. 

The recording quality is exceptionally fine, which helped me appreciate Somero's performances even more. I'm curious to hear what new discoveries (for me) volume 2 will yield. 

Selim Palmgren: Complete Piano Works 1
Jouni Somero, piano
Grand Piano GP867

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Rubinstein Quartets Build on Beethoven

Anton Rubinstein was considered one of the greatest pianists of his age. But what he really wanted was to be a high-regarded composer. This album features two of his Op. 47 string quartets, composed in 1855. 

Thanks to the legacy of Beethoven, the string quartet was considered the summit of chamber music, just as the symphony was for orchestral music. 

Rubinstein took those challenges seriously, carefully crafting quartets of substance and artful development. When he completed the three Op. 47 quartets, he sent them off to Liszt to see if they were worthy of performance. 

The answer must have been positive, because members of the Gewandhaus Orchestra premiered one of them in January 1856. Over 150 years later, the other two quartets also receive the same. The Reinhold Quartett performers are all members of the Gewandhaus Orchestra.

The quartet has a honeyed ensemble sound I found quite attractive. Rubinstein has created some wonderful melodies, and the players lean into their lyricism.

Rubinstein the concert pianist may have been a showman, but there's nothing showy about these quartets. The music is serious, focussed, and perhaps a little introspective. My impression is these works were written as much for the performers as for any prospective audience. 

Anyone interested in the quartets of Schumann, Mendelssohn, or Brahms should check these out. Rubinstein's quartets provide fresh insights with every hearing. As you would expect of music from a great composer.

Anton Rubinstein: String Quartets Op. 47 Nos. 1 & 3
Reinhold Quartett

Friday, April 23, 2021

#ClassicsaDay #Stokowski Week 3

For April 2021, the Classics a Day Team celebrates a legend -- Leopold Stokowski. He was born in April (1882) and became a cultural icon. His recording legacy spans over 60 years. And whether he was conducting a premier orchestra or a group of studio musicians, the sound was unmistakable. 

To share all of Stokowski's recordings and arrangements would take far longer than a month. But that means there's quite a lot to choose from for April! Here are my selections for the third week of #ClassicsaDay #Stokowski.

04/19/21 The Big Broadcast of 1937

Stokowski's film debut featured him conducting two of his Bach arrangements: "Ein Feste Burg" and the "Little Fugue" in G minor.

04/20/21 Schumann - Symphony No. 2

This is a live performance of Stokowski conducting the American Symphony Orchestra from 1966. He founded the ASO at age 80, with the goal of making orchestral music more accessible and affordable to all.

04/21/21 Werner Josten - Jungle (1928)

Stokowski conducted his American Symphony Orchestra in this 1971 Carnegie Hall performance. This is one of two works by Josten that Stokowski presented to the public.

04/22/21 Sibelius - Finlandia (1930)

Stokowski recorded his own arrangement of this work with the Philadelphia Orchestra in April 1930 for RCA Red Seal. They had previously recorded this modern work in 1921.

04/23/21 Paul Lavalle - Symphonic Rhumba (1942)

Stokowski and the NBC Symphony Orchestra premiered Lavalle's in a December 6, 1942 radio broadcast. Lavalle was a conductor at Radio City Music Hall and founded the McDonald's All-American High School Band (seen in Macy's parades).

Friday, April 16, 2021

#ClassicsaDay #Stokowski Week 2

For April, 2021, the Classics a Day Team celebrates a legend -- Leopold Stokowski. He was born in April (1882), and became a cultural icon. His recording legacy spans over 60 years. And whether he was conducting a premier orchestra or a group of studio musicians, the sound was unmistakable. 

To share all of Stokowski's recordings and arrangements would take far longer than a month. But that means there's quite a lot to choose from for April! Here are my selections for the second week of #ClassicsaDay #Stokowski.

04/12/21 Carnagie Hall (1947)

This was Stokowski's final film appearance. The movie also included performances by Jascha Heifetz, Ezio Pinza, Fritz Reiner, Arthur Rubinstein, Risë Stevens, Bruno Walter, and many others.

04/13/21 Saint-Saens - Danse Macabre

Stokowski made this 1975 recording at age 93. The "National Philharmonic Orchestra" was a studio group comprising top players from several London orchestras.

04/14/21 Handel - Hallelujah Chorus

Stokowski did this Phase 4 Stereo recording with the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in 1966 -- and made it his own.

04/15/21 Music for Strings (Capitol, 1958)

This is one of many releases that featuring Stokowski and "His Symphony Orchestra." The ensemble was comprised of top musicians from the New York Philharmonic, the Met Opera Orchestra, New York City Opera and Ballet, Julliard and Manhatten School of Music faculty, and others.

04/16/21 Stokowski: Symphony

Stokowski was a masterful arranger and orchestrator -- and very early in his studies, he was also a composer. Only two movements of his symphony survive, reconstructed from the orchestra parts. It was premiered in 2009, over a century after its composition.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Allen Pettersson - Symphony No. 12 delivers emotionally

This is not music for the faint of heart. Allan Pettersson's 12th Symphony delivers almost a solid hour of unrelenting outrage and compassion for the downtrodden of society. And even if you don't understand the words the chorus is singing, the singers' delivery gives you their emotional impact. 

Petterson set nine of Pablo Neruda's poems (in Swedish translation). The composer was working on the symphony when Neruda was killed in 1973, caught up in a Chilean military coup. Significantly, the poems were inspired by a fatal demonstration by Chilean workers in 1946. 

Petterson, who came from a working-class background, connected emotionally with Neruda's poetry. And that connection is apparent in this symphony. 

The work is a single movement, although each poem has sort of its own section. Pettersson's in top form, here. The orchestra has a big, powerful sound, and the chorus is expansive in both texture and harmonies. 

Christian Lindberg's superb traversal of Pettersson's symphonies has prepared him well. This is a complex work. It places great demands on the performers. And it places great demands on the conductor, who must keep the energy high and the music focussed. 

Lindberg -- and the gathered ensembles -- succeed admirably. This is an intense, and intensely satisfying, musical experience from beginning to end. 

However, you purchase (or listen to) this release, do so in the highest audio resolution possible. Pettersson is quite subtle in his orchestral colors and it's the small audio details that can make or break the listening experience. 

A major addition to an already excellent series.

Allan Pettersson: Symphony No. 12 "The Dead in the Square" 
Swedish Radio Choir; Eric Ericson Chamber Choir 
Norrköping Symphony Orchestra; Christian Lindberg, conductor 

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Johann Mayr Messa di Gloria - forgotten, but not forgettable

If maestro Frank Hauk had his way, Johann Simon Mayr would be known for more than just being Gaetano Donizetti's music teacher. Mayr, in his day, was a major figure. He wrote 19 masses, 57 symphonies, over 70 operas -- most of which are now all but forgotten. 

Is Mayr's music forgettable? Hauk would disagree. He's recorded four albums of Mayr's music. All of these releases have garnered rave reviews and with good reason. Hauk understands Mayr's music and his directing brings out its potential. 

This release is no exception. It presents two Messa di Glorias, both world premiere recordings. Hauk presents these works with the authentic music ensemble Concerto de Bassus and a host of soloists. 

Mayr was active in the early 1800s, writing in a lyrical style not far removed from Mendelssohn (at least, that what I hear). Mayr knew how to write for the human voice, both as a solo instrument and in chorus. 

The melodies are quite appealing and yield moments of exceptional beauty. Mayr's choral writing draws on his opera experience. Several times the choruses sounded like they were Act II finales or something. 

I admire the skill and effort Hauk (and Naxos) have put into this project. And I think the results are worthy of the effort. These are finely crafted works. Forgotten, yes. Forgettable, I don't think so.

Johann Simon Mayr: Messa di Gloria in E minor; Messa di Gloria in F minor
Dorota Szczepanska, Anna Feith, soprano; Freya Apffelstaedt, Maria Grazia Insam, alto; Markus Schafer, Fanz Zhi, tenor; Thomas STimmel, Elia Merguet, bass
Simon Mayr Chorus; Concerto de Bassus; Franz Hauk, conductor
Naxos 8.574203 

Friday, April 09, 2021

#ClassicsaDay #Stokowski Week 1

 For April, 2021, the Classics a Day Team celebrates a legend -- Leopold Stokowski. He was born in April (1882), and became a cultural icon. His recording legacy spans over 60 years. And whether he was conducting a premier orchestra or a group of studio musicians, the sound was unmistakable. 

To share all of Stokowski's recordings and arrangements would take far longer than a month. But that means there's quite a lot to choose from for April! Here are my selections for the first nine days of #ClassicsaDay #Stokowski.

04/01/21 Brahms: Hungarian Dance No. 5 (1917)

This was Stokowski's first recording. It was done in October, 1917with the Philadelphia Orchestra.

04/02/21 Bizet: Symphony in C major (1977)

Stokowski recorded this work for CBS in June, 1977. It was his final session in his 60-year recording career, made just three months before his death. The National Philharmonic Orchestra was a studio group, and included some of London's best classical musicians.

04/05/21 Hovhaness: Mysterious Mountain (1958)

This recording was from a broadcast concert from Carnegie Hall. Stokowski and his Symphony Orchestra marked his 50th year as a conductor with music by Wallingford Riegger, Paul Creston, and the American premiere of Vaughan Williams' Symphony No. 9.

04/06/21 Beethoven: Moonlight Sonata (arr. Stokowski)

Stokowski was not just a brilliant conductor -- he was also a brilliant orchestrator and arranger. He used his arrangement of the Moonlight Sonata as an encore piece.

04/07/21 100 Men and a Girl (excerpts)

Fantasia wasn't Stokowski's only film. In this 1937 classic he plays himself, alongside Deanna Durbin and Adolphe Menjou.

04/08/21 Tchaikovsky "Song Without Words"

Stokowski first recorded his arrangement of this work in 1924 with the Philadelphia Orchestra.

04/09/21 Creston: Saxophone Concerto, Op. 26

Stokowski was a champion of modern music. He made the premiere recording of Paul Creston's concerto with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra in 1944.

Wednesday, April 07, 2021

Lucie Bartholomäi crushes it with female

The sale sheet for this release list three unique selling points:

1) Debut CD

2) Very young artist

3) Repertoire exclusively by female composers

Only the last point captured my interest. And when I researched the release, I discovered they omitted a compelling fourth: the entire project was crowdfunded. 

Personally, I think this debut release is a strong start to Lucie Bartholomäi's recording career. By focusing on unusual repertoire (which she's passionate about), we can hear how she actually performs, without comparing her to countless others treading the same ground.

And while she is young, she is a seasoned professional. Her star began to rise at age 5 and has now (at 18) been performing for thirteen years. 

This is a well-thought-out program, nicely balanced between the Romantic and Modern periods. Louise Ferenc's Violin Sonata No. 2 in A major is the largest work, written in the 1850s. Clara Schumann's Three Romanzes also come from the same period. Both works solidly Romantic in style. 

The modern is represented by three miniatures from Rebecca Clarke. And in between is Amy Beach's Romance from 1893, which looks ahead to the new century. 

Bartholomäi plays with clean precision. Her straight-forward performances let the music be the star, rather than the performer -- but make no mistake. It takes a great deal of talent to accomplish this. 

The recording quality is also good. The fundraising goals for this project were quite modest, and I think Bartholomäi made the best use of every Euro.

So I'd say check this release out because of the repertoire, and the performances. Age doesn't matter here -- just Bartholomäi's considerable experience and musicality.

female: Works by Rebecca Clarke, Clara Schumann, Louise Farrenc, and Amy Beach
Lucie Bartholomäi, violin; Verena Louis, Piano
Genuin Classics GEN 21751

Tuesday, April 06, 2021

Early Music by Walter Braunfels Promising

For their ninth release of music by Walter Braunfels, Capriccio concentrates on some of his earlier music. Braunfels had the misfortune to fall between two stools. Before WWII, he was considered too modern (by the Nazis), and after the war, too conservative by everyone else.

Listening to a century after the fact, I think his music sounds just fine. Don Gil von den grünen Hosen reminds me quite strongly of Richard Strauss' Don Juan. It has the same swaggering attitude and larger-than-life symphonic gestures.

The earliest work is Ariel's Gesang, composed in 1910. It's a work of quiet beauty, rich with late-Romantic lyricism. Braunfels' Serenade in E-flat major was written around the same time. It also luxuriates thick harmonies that flow easily into one another. 

The 1929 Divertimento for radio-orchestra is a little bit leaner. The harmonies aren't as dense, and the small orchestra includes saxophones. It gives the work a modernist sound, and at times hints at early Kurt Weil in attitude.

The ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra under Gregor Buhl turn in some solid performances. I've enjoyed discovering Braunfels' music one release at a time. I think I prefer the composer's later style, but these are a good entry point into his catalog.   

 Walter Braunfels - Don Gil, Divertimento, Ariel's Song, Serenade
ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra; Gregor Buhl, conductor
Capriccio C542

Monday, April 05, 2021

Anton Schweitzer sacred music resurrected

So who was Anton Schweitzer? Born in 1735, he was a child prodigy who enjoyed the patronage of the Duke of Saxe-Hildburghausen. The duke paid for his education and made him Kapellmeister of his court orchestra. 

When the orchestra was disbanded, Schweitzer hit the road with a theatrical troupe. Most of his surviving compositions are operas, written for the troupe. And that's the key word -- surviving.

Much of Schweitzer's music has been lost over time. This album, for example, represents almost the whole of his surviving sacred music. And that's a pity -- because it's really good. 

Schweiter primarily wrote comic Singspiel, and the best characteristics of that genre are present here. Die Auferstehung Christi (The Resurrection of Christ) is a 1776 oratorio for three soloists, chorus, and orchestra. The arias are quite tuneful and occasionally catchy. The textures are light and transparent, both in the chorus and the orchestra. 

Schweitzer knows how to write for the human voice. The solos are well-crafted, with an emphasis on melodic beauty The choruses have none of the complex polyphony of Bach. But with Schweitzer, that was never the point -- it was the clarity of the text. And that he achieves with mostly chordal four-part harmonies.

The Thüringer Bach Collegium directed by Gernot Süssmuth performs to their usual high standards. I found Schweitzer's music quite appealing. It looks ahead to the time of Mozart and Haydn. And Schweitzer really knows how to write a melody. 

Now I'm curious to hear his operas. 

Anton Schweitzer: Die Auferstehung Christi
Missa Brevis Cantata
Mirella Hagen, soprano; Henriette Godde, alto; Stephan Scherpe, tenor; Tobias Berndt, bass
Thüringer Bach Collegium; Gernot Süssmuth, conductor
Capriccio C5425
2 CD set


Friday, April 02, 2021

#ClassicsaDay #WomensHistoryMonth Week 5

The #ClassicsaDay team often uses Women's History Month as their theme for March. And for good reason. Classical audiences might be aware that there are contemporary female composers. But perhaps not so aware (with the exception of Hildegard von Bingen) of how many women composed music throughout the centuries.

For March 2021, I decided to cycle through the eras. Each week features a woman from the Baroque, Classical, Romantic, and Modern eras, plus one from either the Middle Ages or the Renaissance. And this is just a sampling. Here are my picks for the final week of #ClassicsaDay #WomensHistoryMonth.

03/29/21 Abbie Betinis - Dormi, Jesu

Betinis is currently the Composer-in-Residence for The Schubert Club in St. Paul, MN. She specializes in choral and chamber works, sold through her own publishing house.

03/30/21 Mon Schjelderup (1870-1934) - Vuggevise & Sang uden Ord, Opus 13

Norwegian composer Schjelderup began her career at 14 and studied extensively with Jules Massenet.

03/31/21 Judith Shatin (1949 - ) Adonai Ro'i

Shatin composed this setting of Psalm 23 (in Hebrew) in 1995. She wrote it in response to the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin and has become one of her most-performed works.

Thursday, April 01, 2021

Julian Carrillo Orchestral Works show originality

I sometimes wonder what would have happened had Harry Partch and Julian Carrillo had ever met. Both created their own musical languages -- and instruments to play them. 

Both subdivided the octave into microtones, much smaller subdivisions than traditional sharps and flats. Would they have inspired each other? I like to think so. 

This release shows one of the things Mexican composer Julian Carrillo could have brought to the table -- a talent for composing with traditional scales. It features four of his early works before he began developing the "Sonido 13" (Thirteenth Sound), his work with microtones.

Superficially, Symphony No. 2 in C major seems to be a tonally-centered work, common in 1905 when it was written. But Carrillo offers up some surprises. Along with some catchy melodies, he creates a harmonic world all his own. 

Chords resolve in surprising ways. While these aren't jarring changes, they seem to continually thwart the listener's expectations. And yet they always seem right.

The album is filled out with some shorter selections from Carrillo's early career. The most interesting are the excerpts from "Matilde o Mexico en 1810."

The opera was composed in 1910, celebrating Mexico's independence. Maestro Jose Miramontes Zapata had previously reconstructed and recorded the complete opera. His understanding of the work and only Carrillo's style bring these selections to life.

Carrillo's opera is both realistic and allegorical. Leitmotifs abound, and only someone with Zapata's understanding of what they signify and their importance in each section can give them proper balance. 

These excerpts won me over. I'll be seeking out the complete opera. Carillo's writing is just as lyrical as his Italian colleagues -- like Puccini, whose "La fanciulla del West" premiered the same year. At the same time, though, it is distinctively not Italian. Carillo had his own voice, and his own style -- even before his work with the Sonido 13 began.

If microtones aren't your thing, give this disc a listen. There's a lot to enjoy. And if they are, then give this disc a listen. It will give you insight into the early days of an original thinker.

Julian Carrillo: Orchestral Music 
Luis Guillermo Hernánandez Ávila, baritone; Coro y Orchestra Sinfonica de San Luis Potosi; Jose Miramontes Zapata, conductor
Toccata Classics