Tuesday, August 31, 2021

William Bland Piano Sonatas Anything But

 From 1998 through 2014 William Bland quietly composed a massive body of work. It's a cycle of piano sonatas, one of each major and minor key. The sonatas run about 20-30 minutes each, and each sonata has its own character. 

This release doubles the number of Bland's sonatas to be recorded. Bridge Records previously released the composer performing his fourth and fourteenth sonatas. Here Kevin Gorman -- in his recording debut -- with sonatas nos. 17 and 18. 

If I had to characterize these works, I'd say they sounded like a modernist Liszt. Bland is very much a tonal composer with eclectic tastes. 

There are elements of jazz, pop -- and even atonality -- that appear in these works. And they're all smoothly integrated into the mix. Bland's music is jam-packed with thematic material. But it's all carefully organized. 

Bland knows where he's going in this music, and Kevin Gorman ably escorts us from beginning to end. The textures are thick, which brought Lizst to mind. Gorman has a fine command of his instrument. And -- as usual -- Bridge records the piano in a way that sounds natural and precise. It's the sound I would expect to hear in recital. 

Bland has a natural gift for melody. Some of the movements are heartbreakingly beautiful. These are true masterworks. Gorman's performance whetted my appetite. First on my action list is to seek out William Bland performing the other two sonatas (BRIDGE 9223). Second is to be patient -- and hope that in time I may get to hear the entire cycle. 

William Bland: Piano Sonatas
Sonata #17 in A minor; Sonata #18 in G minor
Kevin Gorman, piano
Bridge Records 9556

Monday, August 30, 2021

Telemann Musicalisches Lob Gottes leavened with Fantasies for viol

 For this release, Simone Eckert takes a stripped-down approach to Telemann. Granted, Telemann's sacred music sounds glorious with a large chorus and supporting orchestra. 

But the reality was different. Most German courts had modest resources, with only a few singers and a handful of instruments. 

The cantatas recorded here could all be considered chamber works -- at least as performed. The pieces come from Telemann's 1744 "Musicalisches Lob Gottes in der Gemeine des Herrn." It's a collection of cantatas to use throughout the church year.  

Telemann created it for small ensembles. The cantatas only require two or three voices, two violins, and continuo. Some have parts for trumpets, timpani, winds, and more strings, but these are all optional.   

These intimate cantatas are wonderfully performed. The voices of Dorothee Mields and Hanna Zumsande blend quite well. With Klaus Mertens added to the mix, the vocal trio has a pleasing blend. 

To provide contrast,  Simone Eckert alternates the cantatas with instrumental music. Specifically, he uses selections from Telemann's 1735 "Twelve Fantasias for Viol without Bass." They're not quite the Bach Cello Suites, but they're challenging enough to play. The viol in question is the viola da gamba, a precursor of the violoncello.

Simon Eckert performs these works and does so with expert precision. Telemann uses different techniques to have this single-line instrument harmonize itself. 

In addition to double stops, there are many places where a low string is set to vibrate. This provides the foundation for the melody played on the upper strings. Eckert executes these passages with seeming ease. 

Moving between the cantatas and fantasias makes for an interesting program on paper. And one I found effective as a listener. 

Georg Philipp Telemann: Musicalisches Lob Gottes
Cantatas, Fantasies for Viola da Gamba
Dorothee Mields, soprano; Hanna Zumsande, soprano; Klaus Mertens, bass
Hamburger Ratsmusik; Simone Eckert, director and viola da gamba

Friday, August 27, 2021

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalSummer Week 4, 2021

Summer is the time of music festivals, which is why the Classics a Day team opted to make it August's theme. The idea is to post performances from summer festivals, either past or present. Some of these events have been going on for decades (if not centuries) so there's a lot to choose from.

But there are also challenges with this theme. Not every festival shares its performances online. Some only offer promotional excerpts. Here are my posts from various festivals for week four of #ClassicalSummer

08/23/21 Pärnu Music Festival, 2016

Valse triste by Jean Sibelius is performed by the Estonian Festival Orchestra, conducted by Paavo Jarvi.

08/24/21 George Enescu International Festival 2015

Francesco Landini's "Ecco la Primavera" performed by the Madrigal National Choir directed by Anna Ungurenau.

08/25/21 Glyndebourne 1992

Nettuno s'onori from Mozart's "Idomeneo" is sung by the Glyndebourne Festival Chorus, directed by Bernard Haitink.

08/26/21 The Grange Festival, 2019

Stephanie True sings "Se guinge un dispetto" from Handel's Agrippina

08/27/21 York Early Music Festival, 2015

The Nexus Baroque perform Tarquino Merula"s "La Treccia." This was part of the festival's young artist competition.

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Alban Beikircher excites with Wolf-Ferrari Violin Concerto

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari is best remembered for his comic operas. But he was also a talented instrumental composer. And he used his melodic gifts quite effectively. This release features one of his instrumental "hits" and two more that should be. 

In the early 20th Century, Wolf-Ferrari was known for his comic operas, such as "Il segreto di Susanna." Two years after "Il segreto" premiered he composed a verismo opera. "I gioielli della Madonna" was also a smash, especially the orchestral suite he pulled from it.

This is an opera with big emotions and drama ratcheted up to the highest levels. Chuhei Iwasaki and the Philharmonie Pilsen give it an energetic reading. The ensemble delivers the over-the-top climaxes with a swaggering insolence.  

"I gioielli della Madonna"  fell out of favor after WWI. But it's easy to hear why this suite remained in the repertoire (albeit not at the core). 

The Divertimento in D major is light-hearted fare. It has some ravishing melodies in the middle section that are there simply to be enjoyed. Which I did.

Violinist Alban Beikircher gives a fine performance in Wolf-Ferrari's Violin Concerto. Melody is foremost, and Beikircher plays with sensitivity and empathy. 

My impression is that this concerto isn't the most technically difficult. Its challenges lie in the musicianship of the soloist. Beikircher makes his instrument sing. 

And for music written by a master opera composer, that's the best way to perform it. 

If you only know Wolf-Ferrari's handful of hits, give this release a listen. It won't disappoint.  

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari
Violin Concerto Op. 26; Divertimento, Op. 20; I gioielli della Madona
Alban Beikircher, violin
Philharmonie Pilsen; Chuhei Iwasaki, conductor
Ars Produktion

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Pancho Vladigerov Orchestral Songs deserve better

This installment of Capriccio reissues presents orchestral songs by Pancho Vladigerov. Vladigerov has become the leading figure in Bulgarian classical music. He blended classical forms and techniques with Bulgarian folk music. And in the process, created some truly exciting music. 

Although I've enjoyed the other volumes immensely, I felt a little let down with this release. Vladigerov's musical imagination was in top form. 

He sets the Bulgarian texts in a way that retains the natural speech patterns of the language. He also references distinctive traits of Bulgarian folk music, particularly in his motifs. 

The Bulgarian National Radio Symphony Orchestras perform with energy and enthusiasm. They're led by the composer's son in works they have deep empathy for. 

The original recordings were made in the early 1970s, so the sound is a little muddy. It was true with the other volumes, and that didn't bother me. 

No, what let me down here was the quality of the singing. The artists, all native Bulgarians, were probably the best choices for these recordings. Most professional singers can sing in French, German, and Italian with credibility. Most operas use one of those three languages.

Bulgarian, though, is a South Slavic language. It has a unique set of pronunciation challenges. The meaning of a word or phrase varies greatly depending on inflection and tone. Using native-speaking singers ensures that the text is communicated accurately. But it also limits the pool of qualified singers. 

In this case, I felt the singers were very good regional artists, but not more. Pavel Gerdijikov sang beautifully, with a rich, resonant bass. And all three sopranos delivered when it came to the intricacies of the language. 

But at the same time, particularly with Roumania Valcheva-Evrova, I didn't hear a lot of polish. The upper register had a bit of an edge, and at times the voice sounded (to me) underpowered. 

For those of us who want to continue exploring Vladigerov's music, this release is a must-have. But for folks new to Vladigerov, I recommend starting with Volume One or Two of his orchestral music.   

Pancho Vladigerov: Orchestral Songs
Roumiana Valcheva-Evrova, Maria Ventsislavova, Evelina Stoitseva, soprano
Pavel Gerdijikov, bass
Bulgarian National Radio Symphony Orchestra; Alexander Vladigerov, conductor

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Peter Cigleris performs Ruth Gipps chamber works

This release features a well-balanced program of clarinet chamber works by Ruth Gipps. It includes a solo work, some pieces for clarinet and piano, a clarinet quintet, and a major work for clarinet, oboe, and string quartet.

If you're not familiar with Ruth Gipps, here's a brief introduction. She was a child prodigy, composing and playing piano in concerts at age eight. 

Gipps also became an accomplished oboist and conductor. She founded three orchestras and chaired the Composer's Guild of Great Britain. And she wrote over 80 works.

Her music has traces of Ralph Vaughan Williams' English pastoral style. By the 1950s this was considered hopelessly old-fashioned. But Gipps was her own woman. She wrote music to her own high standards, regardless of fashion. Listening to these compositions a half-century later, I think it was the right decision. 

Her professional knowledge of both piano and oboe comes into play in the music on this release. She understood the mechanics of wind instruments. Her phrases can be long and drawn out, but always within the limits of proper breath support. 

The piano is often an equal partner with the clarinet. This leads to some interesting interplays between the instruments. 

Peter Cigleris plays with a rich, controlled tone. In the upper registers, his clarinet sounds bright, but never shrill. And his phrasing sounds as natural as breathing.

My favorite works were the Rhapsody in E-flat for Clarinet Quintet, and the Quintet for Oboe, Clarinet, and String Trio. Gipps's string writing has a warmth to it I really enjoy. And her chord voicings have an Englishness to them that's hard to describe, but easy to hear. 

The Rhapsody is gorgeous. It reminds me of the phantasies of Herbert Howells and John Ireland. 

The Quintet for Oboe, Clarinet, and String Trio has a more sophisticated sound. Gipps played the oboe and places t two wind instruments in equal balance. The texture is thinner than the Rhapsody. And the English folk elements are less pronounced. This is well-crafted music. It should be appearing in chamber music concerts more often than it does (which is close to never). 

Ruth Gipps' legacy is well-served with this release.

Dedication: The Clarinet Chamber Music of Ruth Gipps
Peter Cigleris, clarinet
Gareth Huls, oboe; Duncan Honeybourne, piano; Tippet Quartet
Somm Recordings


Monday, August 23, 2021

Engaging performances of Barbara Strozzi by Aurata Fonte

Barbara Strozzi (1619-1677) was a remarkable woman. This talented Venetian was a renowned singer and composer. 

She hosted gatherings in her father's house for the city's intellectuals and artists. This was her venue for performing. But she's known today for something else -- her music. 

Strozzi published eight collections of vocal music between 1644 and 1664. This release features her Opus 5, Sacri musicali affetti. 

It's a collection of sacred motets for solo voice. Presumably, these works were first heard at gatherings in the Strozzi residence.

Strozzi's style resembles Claudio Monteverdi. The melodies are always in service of the text. If the words suggest a downward motion, the melody descends. If the text suggests agitation, the melody skips around in a disjointed fashion, and so on. And yet they're still melodies of great beauty -- even for those of us who don't know Italian.

The Aurata Fonte gives these works the close, intimate sound they deserve. Just a few instruments provide the basso continuo (bass and harmonies). What carries these works are the artistry of the singers.

Sopranos Miho Kamiya and Anna Simboli are masters of the Baroque repertoire. Simboli has a rich, warm voice that sounds centered. Kamiya's voice sounds lighter, and perhaps a little higher. Alto Andrew Arrivabene also sings two selections 

The difference in vocal qualities makes for an effective program. There's enough variety going from track to track to maintain interest. And the performance quality of all three singers is uniformly high. 

Recommended to any lover of the Italian Baroque or early music in general.

Barbara Strozzi: Sacri Muicali Affetti
Opera Quinta, Venezia, 1655
Aurata Fonte
Tactus TC 611990
2 CD Set

Friday, August 20, 2021

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalSummer Week 3 2021

Summer is the time of music festivals, which is why the Classics a Day team opted to make it August's theme. The idea is to post performances from summer festivals, either past or present. Some of these events have been going on for decades (if not centuries) so there's a lot to choose from.

But there are also challenges with this theme. Not every festival shares its performances online. Some only offer promotional excerpts. Here are my posts from various festivals for week three of #ClassicalSummer

08/17/21 Bachfest Leipzig 2020

Sebastian Heindl plays the Prelude and Fugue in A minor, BWV 543 at St. Thomas Church where Johann Sebastian Bach was Thomaskantor.

08/18/21 Spoleto Festival (Italy), 2008

Daniel Harding conducts the London Symphony Orchestra in a performance of Richard Strauss' "Don Juan."

08/19/21 Verona Opera Festival, 2019

La Traviata - Libiamo ne' lieti calici. This was a Franco Zeffirelli production with Aleksandra Kurzak and Stephen Costello.

08/20/21 Destination Opera! Festival, 2009

Jason C. Tramm directs the NJ State Opera Chorus and Orchestra in a performance of Verdi's Requiem.

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Hendrik Andriessen Orchestral Music a Welcome Reissue

Hendrik Andriessen was one of the Netherland's most important composers of the early 20th Century. His sons, Jurriaan and Louis Andressen would continue the tradition and become major composers of the late 20th Century. 

This release presents two albums previously released by NM Classics. And I'm glad to see them back in print. 

Disc one is a re-release from 1991. Roberta Alexander performs Andriessen's orchestral song cycle "Miroir de peine." 

Andriessen was an organist as well as a composer. He cited Cesar Franck (who was the same) as his inspiration. This cycle shows that influence, although Andriessen's spiritual mysticism has its own character. 

Disc one also includes two shorter selections sung by Alexander and two of Andriessen's most popular short orchestras. works. The Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Kuhnau shows Andriessen's mastery as an orchestrator. The Variations on a Theme by Couperin transform the original Baroque melody into an Impressionistic watercolor. 

The second disc, originally released in 1999, features works for solo instruments and orchestra. It includes his Concertino for Cello and Orchestra, the Concertino for Oboe with String Orchestra, and the Concerto for Violin and Orchestra. 

These postwar works show Andriessen at the top of his game. The pieces have a more angular quality to them than his prewar compositions (like the Miroir de peine). But all are still very much tonal, and all are quite beautiful.

The Netherlands Chamber Orchestra performs on both discs. The 1991 release is conducted by David Porcelijn, the second by Thierry Fischer. There's a little bit of difference in sound quality between the two discs, but hardly any in musical quality. Andriessen's works are performed by musicians who know and understand his music.

If you're not familiar with this patriarch of Dutch music, this is the release to start with. It's some of Andriessen's best compositions. I hope this isn't the only treasure Brilliant Classics releases from NM Classic's vaults. There's a lot more Andriessen waiting to be rediscovered.  

Hendrik Andriessen: Miroir de Piene, Orchestral Works & Concertos
Roberta Alexander, soprano
Netherlands Radio Chamber Orchestra; David Porcelijn, Thierry Fischer, conductors
Brilliant Classics
2 CD set

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

20th Century Feminine 100% Good

This release features music by three very important -- and very different -- female composers. Though all three wrote music in the 20th Century, they were separated by time and geography. 

Violinist Louise Chisson and pianist Tamara Atschba perform with passion and conviction. Their playing -- and the quality of the works -- make this a rewarding listening experience. 

The works are arranged in loose chronological order. It begins with two short pieces by French composer Lili Boulanger. Boulanger was active in the early 1900s, and her music reflects some of the traits of Debussy, albeit taken in an original direction.

Grazyna Bacewicz is represented by her Violin Sonata No. 4. This Polish composer was a virtuoso violinist. Her five violin sonatas test the performer's skill, and the fourth sonata is no exception. Higdon plays beautifully, deftly alternating between lyrical passages and crunchy folk-like motifs. 

Russian composer Galina Ustovolskayas studied with Shostakovich. Her Violin Sonata from 1952 has a singularity of purpose. The theme is rigorously and relentlessly developed in what sounded to me like a cross between Stravinsky and Schoenberg. This was not the music Soviet Russia wanted from its composers -- so it's just now finding its audience.

Jennifer Higdon is the only living composer represented. String Poetic is classic Higdon. Some sections are filled with restless energy, others a warm -- but decidedly contemporary -- lyricism that could come from no other composer. 

The performances are well-recorded, with a nice balance between the violin and piano. But then, I wouldn't expect anything less from the Haenssler Classic release  

These are exceptionally well-crafted works given exceptionally fine performances. 

20th Century Feminine
Lili Boulanger, Grazyna Bacewicz, Galina Ustovolskayas, Jennifer Higdon
Louise Chisson, violin; Tamara Atschba, piano
Haenssler Classic HC20044

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Filippo Sauli Mandolin Partitas Real Baroque Gems

Little is known about Filippo Sauli. We know he was an Italian composer and instrumentalist. And that he was employed at the Habsburg court around 1710. 

Sauli's six partitas are for solo mandolin. They explore the capabilities of the instrument and present many challenges. 

The partitas use mostly single-line melodies. Double and occasionally triple notes outline the harmony, and also serve as accent points. 

Davide Ferella performs this material beautifully, His runs are impeccable. He also makes the most of the mandolin's limited dynamic range, making the music expressive and engaging. 

Ferella's instrument is well-recorded. The mic is close enough to clearly record every note. And yet it's also far enough away to slightly soften the sound in a pleasing manner.

Also included are some short works by Niccolò Ceccherini and Pietro Cappellini. Their style is different than Sauli's. Both were concerned with polyphony, and the texture of their music is thicker than Sauli's. At the same time, their melodies seem a little less free. 

A fascinating release, and a nice alternative to all those Vivaldi mandolin concerto recordings. 

Filippo Sauli: Six Partitas and Other Works
Davide Ferella, mandolin

Friday, August 13, 2021

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalSummer Week 2 2021

Summer is the time of music festivals, which is why the Classics a Day team opted to make it August's theme. The idea is to post performances from summer festivals, either past or present. Some of these events have been going on for decades (if not centuries) so there's a lot to choose from.

But there are also challenges with this theme. Not every festival shares its performances online. Some only offer promotional excerpts. Here are my posts from various festivals for week two of #ClassicalSummer

08/09/21 Aspen Music Festival, 2018

Beethoven's Seventh Symphony. performed by Felix Ardanaz and the Aspen Music Festival Orchestra.

08/10/11 Ravinia Festival, 2021

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra Brass perform in front of the Kohl Kaplan Fountain.

08/11/21 Chamber Music Northwest, 2019

Gloria Chien, piano Soovin Kim, violin, and Sophie Shao, cello play Shostakovich's Piano Trio No. 2 in E Minor, Op. 67. 

08/12/21 Salzburg Festival, 2005

The Salzburg Festival was started in 1920 and hosted many legendary performers and ensembles over the years. From 2005, this is Valery Gergiev leading the Vienna Philharmonic in a performance of Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade.

08/13/21 Gottingen Handel Festival 2016

This performance of Zadok the Priest, HWV 258 is with the NDR Choir and the FestspielOrchester Göttingen, directed by Laurence Cummings. The ensemble plays with original instruments of the period.

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Stanford Piano Quintet Full of Romantic Goodness

Charles Villiers Stanford and Charles Hubert Parry share the honor of leading the Second English Renaissance. That was the term given to the resurgence of British classical music in the late 19th Century. Or rather, the resurgence of that music beyond the confines of the British Isles. 

Stanford was an admirer of Brahms. That admiration influenced much of Stanford's compositions -- especially in the shape of the movements and the development of motifs. 

But Stanford was also Irish, and his melodies are devoid of Germanic heaviness. Rather, even at their most serious, there seems to be a lilt to them.

That's also a good description of the Piano Quintet in D minor, presented here. Stanford composed the piece in 1887. The gestures are Brahmsian, but the material is all Stanford. 

Also included in this release are two fantasies that Stanford wrote just two years before his death in 1924. One is for horn and string quartet, the other for clarinet and string quartet. By this time, his music was considered old-fashioned.

Personally, I found the works to be much further advanced than the quintet. Yes, the works are tonal, but the resemblance to Brahms' works is almost non-existent. Rather, this is Stanford unfiltered, using the language he was most comfortable with. 

The Members of the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchestra Berlin do this music justice. This is chamber music playing at its best. I was especially taken with the artistry of Daniel Ember. His horn had a warm, golden tone that was simply a pleasure to listen to. 

Charles Villiers Stanford: Piano Quintet; Fantasies for Clarinet and Horn
Members of the Runfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin
Capriccio C5381

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Tadeusz Paciorkiewicz Violin Concertos in Bracing Performances

According to Polish composer Tadeusz Paciorkiewicz, "even the best craftsmanship and compositional skills are only a means 

to achieve the goal of expressing a work." That philosophy is very much evident in this recording of his music. it features his 1955 Violin Concerto and his 1983 Concerto for Two Violins and Orchestra.

Paciorkiewicz's music balances order and sponteniety. The Violin Concerto is modeled on the classical three-movement form. But within that framework, the music changes and morphs with dizzying speed. 

Violinist Symon Telecki performs admirably. His playing is nimble and expressive. He conveys the manic energy of the work, while never losing sight of its overall organization.

Telecki is joined by Tadeusz Gadzina for the Concerto for Two Violins. Paciorkiewicz wrote that his intent was to contrast the two soloists, with the orchestra acting almost like a third voice. 

Telecki and Gadzina have very different styles of playing, which heightens the intended contrast. Telecki has a very liquid sound, while Gadzina has a more earthy tone. The concerto delivers what the composer wanted. 

I heard three very distinct elements combining and recombining. And all the while keeping their individual character.

The Huberman Philharmonic Częstochowa directed by Adam Klocek serve Paciorkiewicz's music well. My only complaint is with the recording itself. Sometimes I felt the orchestra sounded a little muffled. 

Still, I recommend this release. Paciorkiewicz's music balances tradition and modernism. It's hyperchromatic, mercurial, and yet effectively delivers its emotional content time and again.   

Tadeusz Paciorkiewicz: Violin Concertos
Symon Telecki, Tadeusz Gadzina, violin
Humberman Philharmonic Częstochowa; Adam Klocek, conductor
DUX CD 136

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Joseph Wölfl Piano Concertos Go a Step Beyond Mozart

Joseph Wölfl was one of the many talented composer/pianists competing for the public's attention in early 1800s Vienna. He seemed to had held his own in a piano play-off with Beethoven. And his music had many supporters.

No wonder. Wölfl studied composition with Michael Haydn and Leopold Mozart, learning the essence of the classical style. He visited Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart when he moved to Vienna in 1790, and possibly took lessons from him as well. 

Wölfl's music, as evidenced in these three concertos has the classical balance of Mozart and Haydn. This is elegant, tuneful music. The themes are well-formed and masterfully developed. 

As a pianist, Wölfl was a towering figure -- literally. He was over six feet tall. And his hands had an enormous reach. Most piano music of the day seldom required the player's hand to stretch more than an octave (eight notes). Wölfl's could stretch thirteen.

It allowed him to play the music that was simply impossible for most performers, and he used that to his advantage.

This album features three of Wölfl's six piano concertos. Concertos were originally written by Wölfl for his own concert performances. The texture may have a Mozartian lightness, but the technical challenges are Liztian in complexity. 

Natasa Veljikovec performs wonderfully. She plays with crystalline accuracy and expressive delivery. The Sudwestdeutsches Kammerorchester Pforzheim directed by Johannes Moesus performs to their usual high standards. 

If you enjoy Mozart and Haydn concertos, check out Wölfl's. After all, he learned from the best. 

Joseph Wölfl: Three Piano Concertos
Natasa Veljikovec, piano
Sudwestdeutsches Kammerorchester Pforzheim; Johannes Moesus, conductor

Monday, August 09, 2021

Geraldine Mucha - Chamber Works Merit Discovery

Geraldine Mucha is a fascinating figure. This Scottish composer was born in 1917, and as a teenager studied with Arnold Bax. Her works were published while she was still attending the Royal Academy of Music.

In 1941 she met widowed Czech writer Jiří Mucha. The couple married, and after the war moved to Czechoslovakia. 

Jiří Mucha was the son of Art Nouveau artist Alfonse Mucha. The couple's efforts to preserve the artist's heritage ran afoul of the Communist authorities. This political displeasure severely curtailed Geraldine Mucha's musical career. 

After the Velvet Revolution, her music returned to Czech concert halls and broadcast programs. She's now considered one of the country's most important composers of the 20th Century.

This recording brings Mucha's chamber music to the rest of the world. She draws on both her Scottish heritage and her adopted Czech heritage. The blend is quite appealing. 

Her two string quartets, written in 1941 and 1998 respectively, show how Mucha absorbed and transformed those influences. The first has its folk elements close to the surface. The second is a more abstract work (though tonal). Here Mucha's motifs have nary a trace of folk music.

The release also includes a generous sampling of Mucha's solo piano music, performed by Patricia Goodman. Goodman, an American artist living in Prague, has previously recorded Mucha's piano concerto. She knows Mucha's music well and delivers some satisfying performances. 

Geraldine Mucha was a remarkable talent. This release shows just how remarkable.

Geraldine Mucha: Chamber Works
Stamic Quartet, Prague Wind Quintet,
Patricia Goodson, piano; Vliém Veverka, oboe; Jan Machat,  flute
Brilliant Classics 95463

Friday, August 06, 2021

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalSummer Week 1

Summer is the time of music festivals, which is why the Classics a Day team opted to make it August's theme. The idea is to post performances from summer festivals, either past or present. Some of these events have been going on for decades (if not centuries) so there's a lot to choose from.

But there are also challenges with this theme. Not every festival shares its performances online. Some only offer promotional excerpts. Here are my posts -- of complete works -- from various festivals for week one of #ClassicalSummer

08/02/21 Interlochen, 2017

Nancy Stagnitta, flute, performs Christopher Rouse's Flute Concerto. The Interlochen Arts Academy Orchestra was directed by Ara Sarkissian.

08/03/21 Tanglewood Music Festival, 1969

Eral Wild performs the Piano Concerto No. 1 of Xaver Scharwenka ith Eric Leinsdorf and the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

08/04/21 Oregon Bach Festival, 2019

Helmut Rilling and the Oregon Bach Festival Chamber Orchestra perform Brandenburg Concerto No. 3

08/05/21 Colorado College Music Festival, 2018

A performance of Brahms' Academic Festival Overture with Scott Yoo conducting the Colorado College Music Festival Orchestra.

08/06/21 Three Choirs Festival, 2020

Samuel Hudson directs the Three Choirs Festival Virtual Choir in a performance of Antiphon by Ralph Vaughan Willams

Wednesday, August 04, 2021

Capella Savaria Deliver with Telemann Double and Triple Concertos

Georg Philipp Telemann could write just about anything. And he did -- in great quantity. And he also wrote with great quality. This release samples some of his concertos for two or more instruments. 

The early music ensemble Capella Savaria, in their own way, matches Telemann's prolificacy. The ensemble has been around since 1981, and this marks their eighty-ninth release.

The majority of the concertos on this release are for two violins. They feature László Paulik and artistic director Zsolt Kalló in some spirited performances. 

The program also includes the Concerto for Flute and Violin in E minor, TWV 52:e3, and the Concerto for Recorder and Flute in E minor, TWV 52:e1. Including these wind concertos give the program some variety, adding to the enjoyment of the listening experience. 

The album concludes with the Concerto for Three Violins in F major TWV 53:F1. It's the longest work on the release, and the most involved. Telemann deftly gives each soloist opportunities to shine and combines them into duos and trios.

The ensemble is tuned to a=415 Hz. If you have perfect pitch, that might be a problem, for the rest of us, it gives the strings a darker and warmer sound. The Capella Savaria knows what they're about. I found their performances energetic and engaging. 

Georg Philipp Telemann: Double and Triple Concertos
Capella Savaria; Zsolt Kalló, conductor

Tuesday, August 03, 2021

Jouni Somero presents Selim Palmgren miniatures

This volume of Selim Palmgren's piano music shows the Finnish composer's skill as a miniaturist. The works span almost three decades, and none of them longer than four minutes in length (many under a minute). 

Palmgren studied piano with Ferruccio Busoni and had phenomenal technique. That knowledge of the instrument is apparent in these works.

The earliest work, Deux contrasts, dates from 1899. Even here there's a lot going on. Palmgren emphasizes the dramatic points of his melodies with towering chords and cascading runs. 

Some of the pieces, such as the Waltz in a Western Finnish Style are quick and to the point. With a playing time of 58 seconds, it could take as long to introduce the piece as to play it. Yet even here, Palmgren develops his melodies in an effective manner. 

Included is Kevätauerta (‘Spring Haze’), one of Palmgren's best-known works. It's a piano instruction staple in Northern Europe. 

Most impressive, I think, are the 24 Preludes from 1907. Palmgren uses all 12 major and minor keys. Each prelude has its own character. 

Some are programmatic, such as Dream Picture (#11), The Round Dance (#15), and The Sea (#12). Others are abstract, given simply tempo markings. Palmgren seems equally at home with both types. 

Pianist Jouni Somero gives us some insightful readings. These may be miniatures, but they're not trifles. Somero performs with superb expression and confidence. 

A worthy companion to Volume 1 

Selim Palmgren: Complete Piano Works 2
Jouni Somero, piano
Grand Piano GP868

Monday, August 02, 2021

¡Sacabuche! Reveals Hidden Treasures from Habsburg and Bohemia

The early music ensemble ¡Sacabuche! presents a collection of music from the Habsburg Court. Giovanni Valenti, Antonio Bertali, and Pavel Josef Vejvonovsky may not be well-known today. But in the 1640s Bohemia, they were renowned for their instrumental virtuosity and composing skills.

¡Sacabuche! delivers some first-rate performances of this music. In addition to violin, theorbo, and organ, the ensemble features a brass section, with cornettos and sackbuts. 

I know I've said it before, but it's still true. I find the sound of sackbuts and cornettos soothing. They're the predecessors of trombones and trumpets. But they have a warmer, mellower sound than their modern counterparts.

Many of these works show the influence of Giovanni Gabrieli and no wonder. This collection features music from the Catholic courts of Austria and Czechoslovakia. Several of the composers are Italian, and either studied with Gabrieli or were familiar with his style while working in Italy. 

But this music isn't as florid as Gabrieli. The harmonies and counterpoint are simpler. And that, I think, is part of their charm. These are true early music gems.

I think anyone interested in early music should give this recording a listen.   

 Hidden Treasures: Seventeenth-Century Music of Habsburg and Bohemia
¡Sacabuche! - Linda Pearse, director
ATMA Classique ACD2 2798