Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Louis Karchin - Five Compositions

The five compositions by Louis Karchin featured in this release include his chamber symphony, and four smaller chamber works. 

In the liner notes Karchin says, "While writing the Chamber Symphony, I realized why the genre is such an appealing one for composers working today. Contemporary music revels in the discovery of new sounds and instrumental combinations, and seems to prioritize the virtuosic and flexible nature of solo lines."

And that pretty much sums up the effect of Karchin's Chamber Symphony. The stripped-down ensemble (only 14 players) combines and recombines in extraordinary and interesting ways. 

With the exception of violins and percussion, there's only one player per instrument. So virtuosic and flexible solo lines are in abundance. 

The Washington Square Ensemble, under the direction of the composer, fully realizes the potential of the score. While the shifting tonal colors beguile, the music has a clear sense of direction and purpose. 

Rochester Celebration is a pianistic homage pianist Barry Snyder. Snyder's interest in 19th Century thematic transformation suggested the path the piece should take. Former Snyder student Margaret Kampmeier performs the work with sensitivity and feeling. 

The other standout work for me was the Baracole Variations for flute and harp. The commissioning artists, Renée Jolles (violin), and Susan Jolles (harp) perform. The variations are not merely ornamented versions of the theme.

Rather, they seem to be deconstructions of the theme. Each variation reassembles the elements in new and interesting ways, complemented by the innovative interplays between the two instruments. 

If you're not familiar with Louis Karchin, this disc can provide a good introduction to his chamber music. 

Louis Karchin: Five Compositions (2009-2017)
Chamber Symphony  - The Washington Square Ensemble; Louis Karchin, conductor
Rochester Celebration - Margaret Kampmeier, piano
Postlude - Sam Jones, trumpet; Han Chen, piano
Quest - Alice Teyssier, flute; Ashley Jackson, harp
Barcarole Variations -  Renée Jolles, violin; Susan Jolles, harp

Friday, June 25, 2021

#ClassicsaDay #SchumannsCircle Week 3

The Classics a Day team honors Robert Schumann's birthday (June 8, 1810). The theme for June is Schumann and his circle. During the month, you're encouraged to share works written by Schumann, his friends, his colleagues, his rivals -- and of course, his wife.

Here are my #ClassicsaDay selections for the third week of #SchumannsCircle.

6/21/21 Robert Schumann - Davidsbündlertänze, Op. 6

The theme for this 1837 suite was based on a mazurka by Clara Wieck (who he would eventually marry).

6/22/21 Clara Wieck - Soirées musicales, Op. 6

Clara was about 17 when she composed this collection. Her future husband Robert Schumann would use the G major Mazurka from this work for his Davidsbündlertänze.

6/23/21 Williams Sterndale Bennet - Capriccio in D minor, Op. 2

Bennet spent three winters in Leipzig, composing and hanging out with Felix Mendelssohn and Robert Schumann. His opus 2 was written in 1835 when Bennet was nineteen.

6/24/21 Norbert Burgmüller - Duo for clarinet and piano Op. 15

Dubbed the "Schubert of the Rhine," Burgmüller wrote this duo in 1834, Schumann greatly admired his music and mourned his early death at age 26.

6/25/21 Johannes Brahms - Piano Sonata No. 2, Op. 2

This sonata was dedicated to Clara Schumann and was submitted to Breitkopf und Härtel for publication with a letter of recommendation from her husband.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Swedish Smorgasbord a feast of orchestral discoveries

Every person has a story. And every country has a musical tradition. In the 1970s Bo Hyttner ran the Sterling record store in Stockholm. He could see that Sweden's musical story wasn't being told. Classical labels would occasionally have the popular movement from Lars Erik Larsson's "Winter's Tale," but little else. 

Sten Frykberg was conducting the Norrköping Symphony Orchestra in an all-Swedish music program. A customer suggested Hyttner record the concert, and he did. And then recorded more. 

From 1976 to 1981 the Sterling label recorded and released Swedish orchestras playing their country's repertoire. Selections ranged from the Baroque (Johan Agrell's 1740 Sinfonia in F) to the modern (Sven-Eric Johanson's 1963 Variations on a grouse lek of Värmland). 

Since that time, other labels have discovered Sweden's rich heritage. Lars-Erik Larsson and Hugo Alfven are now well-represented, with recordings on several labels. But there are a lot more composers on this release still awaiting discovery by audiences outside of Scandinavia. 

These recordings were originally released on LP. The sound quality is very good (for the most part). The sound has the slight soft-focus of analog recordings, rounding off the extreme registers. But that's not a complaint. They're simply products of their time.

The ensembles turn in first-rate performances. The Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, the Norrköping Symphony Orchestra, and the Gävle Symphony Orchestra have all built up impressive recording libraries over the years. This release shows that their high standards of performance were always in place.

The one exception is the recording of Bo Linde's Piano Concerto No. 1. This is a mono recording of a live concert given in 1955. It's an important recording, as the composer performs as a soloist. 

But neither the sound quality nor the playing is very good. The mono sound didn't especially bother me, although a lot of the finer details of the sound were muddied. Even muddier was the playing  of Gävleborgs Orkesterförening. Serious intonation problems throughout the work, plus ragged entrances and attacks really detracted from the listening experience. Bo Linde's performance was on another level entirely. This is why I agree with including the recording with this release. 

If you're new to Swedish classical music, this collection is a great place to start. The sound quality may be a little dated, but most of the music heard here is timeless. 

The Swedish Smorgasbord in Orchestral Music
Music by Johan Agrell, Wilhelm Peterson-Berger, Hugo Alfven, Ruben Liljefors, Adolf Wiklund, Lars-Erik Larsson, Sven Sköld, Albert Hennerberg, Bo Linde, and Sven-Eric Johanson

Norrköping Symphony Orchestra; Sten Frykberg, conductor
Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra; Björn Hallman, conductor; Erik Saedén, baritone
Gävle Symphony Orchestra; Göran W. Nilson, conductor
Västerås Symphony Orchestra; Harry Damgaard, conductor; Antonio Nicolini, violin
Gävleborgs Orkesterförening; Gunnar Staern, conductor; Bo Linde, piano

Sterling CDS1129
2 CD Set

Monday, June 21, 2021

Leshnoff Symphony 3 gives voice to war's survivors

The horrors of the First World War were not lost on the artists who survived it. Works written immediately after to commemorate the event were generally quiet, contemplative pieces. The music focussed on the senseless loss of life and eschewed any hints of military glory. Jonathan Leshnoff continues that tradition with his Third Symphony. 

Written for the centennial of Armistice Day, Leshnoff gives voice to those who fought. He sets excerpts from letters written to loved ones at home. They don't talk about the glory of battle but share quiet, intimate moments in simple yet beautifully poetic language. 

Leshnoff reverses the standard three-movement form (fast-slow-fast). The outer movements are slow, while the middle movement bristles with nervous energy. The baritone enters during the final movement, singing over long, lyrical passages.

It's a beautiful work, beautifully constructed. And a worthy memorial to those who served. 

Leshnoff composed his piano concerto for Joyce Yang, who premieres the work on this release. Once again, Leshnoff breaks the rules (sort of) with a four rather than a three-movement concerto. Structurally, the work resembles a symphony. But it's definitely a concerto. The piano enters right at the beginning, an equal partner in the work as it unfolds. 

Joyce Yang shines, as might be expected. This is music written for her and her performance brings out its best. The Kansas City Symphony, directed by Michael Stern also sounds fine, especially in the performance of the symphony. It's a nuanced work, and the ensemble delivers. 

Reference released this as an SACD recording. If you're opting for a digital download, I recommend investing in the highest resolution possible. The symphony has long stretches at low volume levels. That resolution is essential to hear all the details in those quiet passages -- and those details are essential to understanding what Leshnoff is saying. 

Jonathan Leshnoff
Symphony No. 3, inspired by World War I letters home; Stephen Powell, baritone
Piano Concerto; Joyce Yang, piano
Kansas City Symphony; Michael Stern, conductor
Reference Recordings FR-7395

Friday, June 18, 2021

#ClassicsaDay #SchumannsCircle

The Classics a Day team honors Robert Schumann's birthday (June 8, 1810). The theme for June is Schumann and his circle. During the month, you're encouraged to share works written by Schumann, his friends, his colleagues, his rivals -- and of course, his wife.

Here are my #ClassicsaDay selections for the third week of #SchumannsCircle.

6/14/21 Robert Schumann - Etudes in Variation Form on a Theme by Beethoven

Schumann worked on these variations on a theme from Beethoven's 7th Symphony from 1831-1835. They were left incomplete at the time of his death but survived the posthumous purging of his manuscripts by Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms.

6/15/21 Ignaz Moscheles - Alexander Variations for Piano and Orchestra Op. 32

Moscheles was one of Schumann's inspirations. Moscheles himself was greatly inspired by Beethoven.

6/16/12 Ludwig Schunke - Variations concertantes sur la Valse funèbre de Schubert, Op. 14

Schunke and Schumann were close friends, and both admired Schubert. Schuncke's death at age 24 hit Schumann hard.

6/17/21 Franz Schubert - Symphony No. 9

Schumann discovered the manuscript for Schubert's 9th in a chest. "The riches that lay here made me tremble with excitement," he wrote.

6/18/21 Robert Schumann - Six Intermezzi, Op. 4

These were written in 1832, a year after Papillions. In a way, they're a longer form of those pieces, although without any programmatic elements.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Daniel Jones Symphonies 3 & 5 tied to BBC

The relationship between Welsh composer Daniel Jones and the BBC was a close one. In the third installment of Daniel Jones's symphonic recordings, Lyrita presents two prime examples.

Symphony No. 3 was completed in 1951 and premiered the following year in a BBC broadcast. David Jones conducted the BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra.

Jones' fifth symphony was commissioned by the BBC in 1958. It, too, was premiered by the composer, this time conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

This release doesn't include those performances, but it does include two outstanding recordings from the BBC. Bryden Thomson, one of the best interpreters of British symphonic music leads the BBC Welsh Symphony in two studio recordings. (recorded in the BBC studios, of course!)

Jones carved out his own creative space, blending both tonal and atonal concepts. The third symphony has a jagged contour and aggressively dissonant harmonies. And yet there's an underlining tonal organization that gives the listener something to latch on to. 

The fifth symphony seems to lean more towards the tonal -- although not too far. Each of Jone's twelve symphonies is based on a different note of the chromatic scale.

And for Jones, each note had a different character to it. In the case of Symphony No. 5, that character is has a heroic streak to it. 

Bryden Thomson understood Jones' music. And that understanding informs these performances. An excellent addition to the somewhat sparse catalog of Daniel Jones' works. 

Daniel Jones: Symphonies Nos. 3 & 5
BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra; Bryden Thomson, conductor
Lyrita SRCD.390

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

It's a Girl! - Clever title, exceptional music

Clever title. I can imagine some people exclaiming in shock "It's a Girl!" when they discover the gender of the composer. Even though they've been enjoying the music. And it's the 21st Century. Classical music audiences are slow to wake (or should that be woke?), so releases like this are most welcome. 

The piano trio of Irnberger, Geringas, and Moser present a program of music by female composers that spans about a century. There are big names, such as Louise Farrenc and Amy Beach. But the trio also includes other women who haven't enjoyed much exposure.

Mélanie Hélène Bonis, like Amy Beach, had her composition career derailed by marriage. A return of a former lover reignited her creativity. Between 1900-1914 Bonis wrote most of her 300 works. The Soir Matin, recorded here, shows Bonis to be in step with Debussy. The music has a wonderfully Impressionist quality to it with rich luminous harmonies.

Sonia Eckhardt-Gramatté was a Russian composer, pianist, and violinist who after a long and adventurous career settled in Canada. En wenig Musik was written in 1910, while she was studying at the Conservatoire de Paris with Vincent d'Indy. It's a modest work that shows the influences of her teacher.

American composer Julia Frances Smith attended Julliard in the 1930s. She toured with the women's ensemble Orchestrette Classique. Her Trio Cornwall has a vitality to it. Stylistically, it reminds me a little of Howard Hanson or Vincent Persichetti. 

Thomas Albertus Irnberger, David Geringas, and Barbara Moser perform wonderfully together. Whether reveling in the lush romantic harmonies of Farrenc or the bustling energy of Smith, their playing brought out the best in these works. We should celebrate -- It's a Girl! 

It's a Girl!
Music by Louise Farrenc, Mélanie Hélène Bonis, Amy Beach, Sonia Eckhardt-Gramatté, and Julia Frances Smith 
Thomas Albertus Irnberger, violin; David Geringas, cello; Barbara Moser, piano
Gramola SACD

Monday, June 14, 2021

Salvatore Di Vittorio release not up to par

To me, this release is something of a puzzle. We have a composer conducting the orchestra he founded in a program of his own works. I enjoyed Salvatore Di Vittorio and the Chamber Orchestra of New York before. Their Respighi release is a knockout.

But not this. The compositions are fine. They're well-constructed. Di Vittorio, a student of Resphigi's music, knows how to orchestrate.

The problem lies elsewhere. There are times, especially in the opening tracks, when the strings seem to have serious intonation issues. Plus there are some imprecise entrances that really pulled me out of the moment.

I also think I heard a few fluffed notes in the lower brass during the Fanfara del Mare.  

The ensemble also has a somewhat flat recorded sound. Details are a little obscured, which detracts from the music.

I won't give up on Di Vittorio or the Chamber Orchestra of New York. But I have to say -- to my ears, this release was a real disappointment.   

Salvatore Di Vittorio
Sinfonias No. 3 "Templi di Sicilia," No. 4 "Metamorfosi"
Kelly Hall-Tomkins, violin
Chamber Orchestra of New York; Salvatore Di Vittorio, conductor

Friday, June 11, 2021

#ClassicsaDay #SchumannsCircle Week 2

The Classics a Day team honors Robert Schumann's birthday (June 8, 1810). The theme for June is Schumann and his circle. During the month, you're encouraged to share works written by Schumann, his friends, his colleagues, his rivals -- and of course, his wife. 

Here are my #ClassicsaDay selections for the second week of #SchumannsCircle.

6/8/21 Norbert Burgmüller - Piano Concerto in F-sharp minor, Op. 1

Burgmüller was friends with both Mendelssohn and Schumann. When he died at 26 Schumann compared the loss to music with Schubert's early death. He wrote this concerto at age 19.

6/9/21 Frederic Chopin - Piano Concerto No. 1, Op. 11

In his review of this concerto, Schumann wrote, "The works of Chopin are cannons concealed amongst flowers."

6/10/21 Ferdinand Hiller - Piano Concerto No. 2

Hiller studied with Hummel, was at Beethoven's deathbed, attended Schubertiads, and was a childhood friend of the Mendelssohns. His music was greatly admired by Schumann.

6/11/21 Joseph Joachim - Violin Concerto, Op. 3

Joachim was a violin virtuoso, as well as a composer. He often performed chamber works with Clara Schumann. As part of Schumann's circle, he provided technical advice for Brahms' violin concerto.

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Pál Hermann's music revived, thanks to Toccata Classics

When I saw the title for this release, I thought I might want to review it. When I read the subtitle, I knew I had to review it. I'd never heard of Pál Hermann, and I'm always looking for new composers to discover. But "Complete Surviving Music?" What did that mean? What did it survive? I had to know more. 

It turns out that Pál Hermann was a virtuoso cellist. And he also composed music -- and not just for his instrument. Hermann studied composition with his fellow Hungarians Béla Bartók and Zoltán Kodály. 

Because of his Jewish background, he tried to stay one step ahead of the Nazis. In 1934 he was forced out of the faculty of Berlin's Musikschule Paul Hindemith Neukölln. He relocated to Brussels, and then in 1937, as the German army built up along the border, he moved to France.

And that's when his luck ran out. He was in southern France. When the Nazis overran the country, that area became Vichy France, a puppet state of Germany. Pál Hermann was deported to an extermination camp in Lithuania, where he presumably died.

Only two of Hermann's works were published during his lifetime. It's a miracle that any of his manuscripts survived at all. 

Almost all the works received their world recording premieres with this release. Most important, I think, is the Cello Concerto. There are no recordings of Pál Hermann's playing. But the demands he puts on the cellist in this concerto can give us a fair idea of the scope of his talent and technique. 

The 1925 concerto was left incomplete at Hermann's death. Italian composer Fabio Conti was commissioned to reconstruct and complete the work. In the liner notes the project is called a collaboration between two composers. It is, and it works. Hermann fully orchestrated only the first movement. Conti's orchestration of the other four movements matches it perfectly. 

To my ears, Hermann's style sits somewhere between his two teachers. His harmonies are more conservative than Bartók's while his melodies and structures are leaner and more modernist than Kodály. 

This is an important release. Hermann's music is original and beautifully crafted. Pál Hermann vanished from history. His music deserves a better fate. Highly recommended. 

Pál Hermann: Complete Surviving Music, Volume One
Sofia Soloviy, soprano
Kateryna Poteriaieva, violin, Clive Greensmith, cello
Alina Shevchenko, Roman Machenko, pianos
Lviv International Symphony Orchestra; Theodore Kuchar, conductor
Toccata Classics TOCC 0443

Friday, June 04, 2021

#ClassicsaDay #SchumannsCircle 2021 Week 1

The Classics a Day team honors Robert Schumann's birthday (June 8, 1810). The theme for June is Schumann and his circle. During the month, you're encouraged to share works written by Schumann, his friends, his colleagues, his rivals -- and of course, his wife. Here are my #ClassicsaDay selections for the first week of #SchumannsCircle.


6/1/21 Robert Schumann - Abegg Variations, Op. 1

There are two origin stories for this work. It's dedicated to Pauline von Abegg who he met in the 1820s. Or it refers to Meta Abegg, one of his many fictitious friends.

6/2/21 Clara Wieck Schumann - Four Polonaises, Op. 1

Clara, Robert's future wife, composed these pieces when she was 10 years old.

6/3/21 Johannes Brahms - Piano Sonata No.1, Op. 1

Brahms submitted the score to Breitkopf & Hartel with a letter of recommendation from Schumann. It was dedicated to Joseph Joachim, another member of Schumann's circle.

6/4/21 William Sterndale Bennett - Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op. 1

At age 20 Bennett was invited to Leipzig by Mendelssohn. It was there he met Schumann, and the three became friends. This concerto was written when Bennett was 18.

Thursday, June 03, 2021

Respighi Works for Flute and Orchestra work for me

Many people only know of Ottorino Respighi through his trilogy of tone poems celebrating Rome. This release helps fill out the composer's profile with some very unusual works. With the exception of Gli Uccelli, these selections come from the early part of Respighi's career.

Those early works only exist in manuscript, and it's not clear if they were ever performed. I'm so glad they are now! The pieces show Resphighi's sure hand. Even with just a string orchestra and solo flute, he manages to create worlds of orchestral color. 

Roberto Fabbricani plays in a relaxed manner. These aren't flute concertos -- technical demands are few. Musical demands aren't. These works rely on the musicality of the performers. And that's where Fabrricani and the Orchestra Sinfonica Abruzzese excel. These are performances that charm the listener. 

I especially enjoyed the Suite for Strings and Flute. It has the lightness of an Eric Coates piece and is just as amiable in character. This would be a welcome addition to any orchestral program, I think. 

Also of interest is the Gli Uccelli, suite for small orchestra. If you're a fan of Respighi's "Ancient Aires and Dances," you'll want to add this to your collection. Respighi recasts the music of several Baroque composers that were inspired by birds. The result is something only Respighi could achieve. It's modern and ancient, and -- of course -- brilliantly orchestrated. 

You don't have to be a Respighi completist to enjoy this release.   

Ottorino Respighi: Works for Flute and Orchestra
Roberto Fabriciani, flute
Orchestra Sinfonica Abruzzese; Nicola Paszkowski, conductor
Tactus TC 871805

Wednesday, June 02, 2021

Ian Hobson launches new Moritz Moszkowski series

And so Toccata Classics launches yet another series I'll be following closely. Moritz Moszkowski was a household name at the turn of the 20th Century. 

Both as a pianist and a composer of piano music he was in demand. By 1910, ill-health had ended his concert career and he -- and his music -- was mostly forgotten. 

Toccata Classics has already released two volumes of Moszkowski's orchestral music with Ian Hobson as conductor. Now, as a pianist, Hobson explores Moszkowski's solo music. It should be quite a journey. 

This volume concentrates on Moszkowski's early works. Stylistically, Moszkowski was heavily influenced by Mendelssohn and Schumann. His Opus 5 Fantasie is even subtitled Hommage a Schumann. These composers may have inspired Moszkowski's melodies and harmonies. The piano technique, though, is all Moszkowski. 

These are no mere salon pieces. A lot of technical skill is required. And that requirement raises the quality of these works, I think. 

Ian Hobson is a champion of Moszkowski's music. His performances bring out the lyrical beauty of these works. Granted, some of the selections seem a little short-winded. On the whole, though, the music seemed fully realized, especially as played by Hobson. 

Listen to the Scherzo Op. 1 1874) and the Humoreske, Op. 14 (1877) back-to-back. Though only three years apart, there's a discernable growth is Moszkowki's style. I am very much looking forward to Volume Two.     

Moritz Moszkowski: Complete Music for Solo Piano, Volume One
Ian Hobson, piano
Toccata Classics TOCC 0572


Tuesday, June 01, 2021

Roxanna Panufnik - Heartfelt chamber music

The past few Roxanna Panufnik releases from Signum Classics have focused on her choral works. And with good reason -- Panufnik is one of the premier choral composers of the 21st Century. 

This new release presents a collection of her chamber music. And (no surprise), her talent extends into this genre as well. 

Members of the Sacconi Quartet, both as the ensemble and individually, perform on most of these works. The title track, "Heartfelt" was commissioned by the Sacconi Quartet. 

The two movements are inspired by the heart. The second movement "Lament for a Bulgarian Dancing Bear" is built around a bear's heartbeat. (Said bear, Albie, is pictured on the cover.)

Panufnik's style is cosmopolitan in its influences, drawing from both Western and Eastern musical traditions. That wide-ranging interest is readily apparent in this collection. 

"Private Joe" is a setting of letters home from a World War I doughboy killed in action. The music, for baritone and string quartet, quotes British music hall music. Panufnik mixes it with beautiful yet sobering original material. 

"Second Home" for soprano and piano quintet references Panufnik's heritage through her father. It's a set of very sophisticated variations on a rural Polish folk song. 

"Hora Bessarabia" for violin and double bass was inspired by Romanian and Hungarian gypsy music. "Cantator and Amanda," for bassoon and string quartet is based on a 14th Century legend. Panufnik uses madrigals of the period as the starting point.

While the influences are many, the results are consistent. Panufnik refines her source material into something beautiful, and something that's uniquely her own. 

If you only know (and love) her choral music, "Heartfelt" is a must-have release. 

Roxanna Panufnik: Heartfelt
Sacconi Quartet
Mary Bevan, soprano; Amy Harman, bassoon; Nicholas Daniel, oboe; Andy Marshall, double bass; Charles Owen, piano; Roderick Williams, baritone
Signum Classics