Friday, April 29, 2022

#ClassicsaDay #PoetryMonth 2022 Week 4

What's the connection between classical music and poetry? To celebrate Poetry Month, the Classics a Day team encouraged folks to find out. For the month of April, the challenge is to post poetry used in classical music or works inspired by poetry.

Here are my posts for the final week of #PoetryMonth

4/25/22 Ralph Vaughan Williams - Three Shakespeare Songs

Vaughan Willaims completed this work in 1951. The set was originally composed as test pieces for the UK's National Competitive Festival for choirs.


4/26/22 Andre Previn - Three Dickinson Songs for Soprano and Piano

Previn composed this cycle in 2000 for Renée Fleming, who premiered the work. 


4/27/22 Amy Beach - By the Still Waters, Op. 114

Beach published this work in 1925. It's inspired by Psalm 23, which also provides the title. 


4/28/22 Augusta Read Thomas - Two E. E. Cummings Songs

These settings of cummings' poetry were commissioned by the San Francisco Girls Chorus. The chorus premiered the work in 2008. 


4/29/22 Maurice Greene: Spenser's Amoretti

Greene was master of the king's Musick beginning in 1735. "Amoretti" is a setting of 25 sonnets by Edmund Spenser, and published in 1739. 

Next Month:

#ClassicsaDay has usually marked May Day by making the May theme Soviet Composers. Not this year.

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Hans Werner Henze: Nachtstücke und Arien worth exploring

Even when he was the darling of the Darmstadt avant-garde, Hans Werner Henze was his own man. In time he moved away from the aggressive modernism of that school -- literally and musically. 

Werner settled on an island in the Gulf of Naples, where he became a neighbor of William Walton. At the same time, he moved towards a more lyrical form of expression. 

But as this release shows, Henze's conception of lyricism wasn't a return to the Romantic Era. At the 1957 premier of Nachtstücke und Arien, Pierre Boulez, Luigi Nono, and Karlhenz Stockhausen stormed out after the first few minutes. They should have stuck around. Henze's music has a strange beauty to it. It's both restless and grounded, nervous yet lethargic. 

Los Caprichos, composed five years later shows Henze's development. This fantasia for orchestra was inspired by a series of nightmarish prints by Goya. Henze's use of tonality is more firmly rooted in this work. It provides a critical frame of reference for the out-of-kilter melodies. Like Goya's images, the music has a slightly disturbing quality to it. 

The final version of Englische Liebeslieder for cello and orchestra premiered in 1998. Here all the rough edges of Henze's barely tonal style are smoothed out. But that doesn't mean this is pretty music. Henze's score sublimates the dissonances. There's an emotional ambivalence here that never quite resolves. Which is sort of the point. 

Maestro Marin Alsop has a clear sense of how these works should unfold. Her direction provides structure to Henze's fever dreams. The ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra responds to her direction. It makes for some thrilling moments. Soprano Juliane Banse and cellist Narek Hakhnazaryan also deliver some fine performances. 

Henze's music isn't easy to perform -- or to listen to. These artists provide a compelling reason to make the effort, though. And for the intrepid listener, the rewards are great. 

Hans Werner Henze: Nachtstücke und Arien
Los Caprichos; Englische Liebeslieder
Juliane Banse, soprano; Narek Hakhnazaryan, cello
ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra; Marin Alsop,conductor
Naxos 8.574181

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Pál Hermann Complete Surviving Music Vol. 2 ensures legacy


Volume One in this series featured Pál Hermann's orchestral works. This volume presents his surviving chamber and instrumental music. 

"Surviving" is the operative word in this series. Pál Hermann (1902-1944) was one of the foremost cellists of the 1930s. This Hungarian artist was also an innovative composer. He had studied with both  Béla Bartók and Zoltán Kodály. And like his teachers, Hermann's music drew inspiration from Hungarian folk music. 

Hermann was also a cello virtuoso. Though he was busy concertizing throughout Europe, he made very few recordings. None survived the Second World War, so we don't know what his playing sounded like. And Hermann himself didn't survive the war. 

Hermann was Jewish, and the rise of the Nazis derailed his career. As German armies swept across Europe, Hermann was trapped on the continent. He was arrested in 1944 and died en route to an Estonian concentration camp. 

Most of Hermann's works were unpublished. It's not clear what may have been lost during the chaos of the war. 

The compositions presented here show some Bartokian influence. Hermann's string-writing incorporates some of the techniques Bartok developed. Hermann's melodies are more lyrical than Bartok's though. 

The Grand Duos for violin and cello, for example, harken back to late post-Romanticism. The remarkable Suite for Solo Violin pushes the limits of technique. But even here Hermann's natural lyrism wins out. 

The music here is intimate and beautifully crafted. The performers play with masterful precision -- and with musicality. They let Hermann's music sing. 

So little of this artist's legacy survived. But I'm grateful some of it did. And especially grateful to Toccata Classics for presenting it to the world. 

Pál Hermann: Complete Surviving Music, Volume Two
Chamber and Instrumental Music
Marko Komonko, violin; Thodore Kuchar, viola; Denys Lytvynenko, cello; Myroslav Drahan, piano
Toccata Classics TOCC 0443

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Poul Ruders Dream Catcher - An Accordion Showpiece

In America, most people don't consider the accordion a symphonic instrument. In northern Europe, though, it's a different matter. Danish Poul Ruders isn't the only classical composer to write for the instrument. He's definitely one of the more talented, though. 

Sound and Simplicity is fairly new work, completed in 2018. Ruders subtitled it "Seven Pillars of Music for Accordion and Symphony Orchestras. Each of the pillars represents a very simple and fundamental musical idea. In one movement, it's simply a sustained chord.

Ruders uses these ideas as foundations to build upon. Ruders avoided naming this work a concerto -- and rightly so. The accordion is the primary voice in the ensemble. But it's not a showcase for the instrument. Rather, the accordion adds zest to the orchestral sound. 

Also on this release presents two related works. Bjarke Morgensen's arrangement of "Dream Catcher." This was a movement from Ruder's "Serenade on the Shores of the Cosmic Ocean" for accordion and string quartet. This arrangement for solo accordion is quite effective. To me, it sounded true to the source material. At the same time,  it gave a different perspective to the underlying construction of the work. 

Symphony No. 3 "Dreamcatcher" is based on that same movement from Serenade. But what a difference. Ruders transforms the music into something bigger, more emotional, and -- well -- symphonic. Hearing Morgsen's arrangement followed by Ruder's reimagining of the same material was revelatory. 

I'd recommend this not only to those who like classical accordion music. And I recommend it to those who don't think they like it. These performances -- and this music -- may well change your mind.

Poul Ruders: Dream Catcher
Bjarke Mogensen, accordion
Odense Symfoniorkester; Sebastian Lang-Lessing, Scott Yoo, conductors
Bridge Records 9553

Friday, April 22, 2022

#ClassicsaDay #PoetryMonth 2022 Week 3

What's the connection between classical music and poetry? To celebrate Poetry Month, the Classics a Day team encouraged folks to find out. For the month of April, the challenge is to post poetry used in classical music or works inspired by poetry.

Here are my posts for the third week of #PoetryMonth

4/18/22 Igor Stravinsky - Three Songs from William Shakespeare

Stravinsky set three Shakespeare poems in 1953 using a serial technique. The music cycles through a set of notes in order. The first song only uses four notes.

4/19/22 Arthur Sullivan - Incidental Music to Shakespeare's Henry VIII

Gilbert and Sullivan may have been the rage, but Arthur Sullivan wrote music for "serious" theater and operas. His music for this Shakespearean play was first published in 1877.

4/20/22 Zdenek Fibich - Othello, Symphonic Poem after Shakespeare, Op. 6

Bedřich Smetana conducted the premiere of this work in 1873. The tone poem focuses on the play's three main characters -- Othello, Desdemona, and Iago.

4/21/22 Alexander Lokshin - Symphony No. 5, "Shakespeare's Sonnets"

Lokshin composed his "symphony with a voice" in 1969. The sonnets were translated into Russion by Boris Pasternak, author of "Doctor Zhivago."

4/22/22 Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco - Shakespeare Sonnets, Op. 125

Castelnuovo-Tedesco considered Shakespeare's poetry "perfectly musical: it unites the spiritual subtlety of English with the sonorous splendour of Italian."

Friday, April 15, 2022

#ClassicsaDay #PoetryMonth 2022 Week 2

What's the connection between classical music and poetry? To celebrate Poetry Month, the Classics a Day team encouraged folks to find out. For the month of April, the challenge is to post poetry used in classical music or works inspired by poetry.

Here are my posts for the second week of #PoetryMonth

4/11/22 Sergei Prokofiev - Five Poems of Anna Akhmatova for Soprano and Piano, Op. 27

She's now considered one of Russia's most important poets. But during the Stalin years, Akmatova was considered an enemy of the state, and her poetry was only circulated in secret.

4/12/22 John Tavener - Akhmatova Songs

Tavener's work collects poems from across Akmatova's career. He had previously set her Requiem, using a spare, Eastern Orthodox-inspired style.

4/13/22 Roger Quilter - Three Songs of William Blake, Op. 20

Quilter focused his compositional efforts primarily on artsongs. Quilter publshed his "Three Songs" in 1917. Included were "Dream Valley," "The Wild Flower's Song," and "Daybreak."

4/14/22 Benjamin Britten - Songs and Proverbs of William Blake

Britten composed this work in 1965. Peter Pears selected the text, and the cycle was premired by Britten and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau.

4/15/22 Hubert Parry - Jerusalem

Parry set William Blake's poem in 1916. It became an instant hit as a patriotic anthem during the First World I.

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Kölner Akademie's Telemann Easter Cantatas Highly Recommended

Let's be clear. This is a mere sampling of Georg Philipp Telemann's output for Easter. After all, he composed Easter cantatas and oratorios for about sixty years.  And often more than one for a specific date. 

This release focuses on works composed during the 1720s. Telemann was in his 30s, working in Frankfurt. He was the city's music director. And Kapellmeister for Frankfurt's five largest churches.

He had a lot of musical forces at his disposal and a lot of new ideas. For example, Telemann borrowed the concept of da capo arias from Italian operas. During this period, Telemann composed cycles of sacred works. These cycles covered the entire liturgical year. 

That meant 72 works -- plus cantatas for Easter, Pentecost, and Christmas (each of which had three feast days). The five cantatas collected here represent a minute fraction of Telemann's output!

Two of the cantatas come from the "Jahrgang ohne Recitativ" (Annual Cycle without Recitative).  "Ich war tot, und siehe, ich bin lebendig" TVWV 1:872 is for the first day of Easter. "Brannte nicht unser Herz in uns" TVWV 1:131, is for the second. 

The two works share musical themes. They're not in sequence on the album. But when I listened to them one after the other, the connections became clear.

For the Easter Sunday morning service, Teleman composed "Triumph! Ihr Frommen, freuet euch" TVWV 1:1424. The trumpets sound and all is right with the world. This is the most joyous and joyous-sounding of the five cantatas on this release.

This is the fifth Telemann release by the Kölner Akademie and Michael Alexander Willens. And it's their 42nd release of music from the Baroque and Classical Eras. 

The musicianship is superb. Willens' direction brings out the individual characters of each cantata. Telemann was prolific, but he was also profound. This collection shows how he could approach the same theme from different angles. And each approach results in a work of substance and beauty. 


Georg Philipp Telemann: Easter Cantatas
Johanna Winkel, soprano; Margot Oitzinger, alto; Georg Poplutz, tenor; Peter Kooij, bass
Kölner Akademie; Michael Alexander Willens, conductor

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Michael Haydn Violin and Flute Concertos -- worth more than a listen

Michael Haydn was a great composer -- just not as great as his older brother Franz Joseph. The two were both highly regarded during their lifetimes. But over time Franz Joseph's popularity completely eclipsed Michael's. 

To be fair, choral music was Michael Haydn's forte. But his relatively few orchestral works are more than historical curiosities. One of his string quartets, for example, was misattributed to Franz Joseph. And for years, Michael Haydn's Symphony No. 25 was credited to Mozart. 

The Capella Savria present four of Michael Haydn's concertos. These include his two flute concertos and two of three violin concertos. Haydn composed the works in Salzburg, where he was a friend of the Mozarts. 

The concertos bear some similarities to Leopold Mozart's style. The melodic phrases are balanced and clearly defined. The solo parts require a high degree of skill to play. But they're not especially flashy. The elegance of expression tempers the technical challenges. 

The Capella Savaria performs on period instruments, tuned to A=430 Hz. Modern orchestras tune to A=440 Hz. The lower tuning gives the ensemble an added warmth. It also softens the extremes of the upper registers for both the solo flute and violin. To me, the lower pitches added the overall beauty of the works. 

Andrea Bertalan performs with a wooden transverse flute. Her playing capitalizes on the mellow tones of the instrument. The lyricism of the slow movements especially benefits from her performance.

As a soloist, Zsolt Kalló plays with tasteful energy. There's excitement in his performances that's in sync with the style of the music. He delivers a clean, singing tone from his instrument that I found quite appealing. 

 Just give this album a listen. Franz Joseph Haydn admired his brother's music. You should too.

Michael Haydn: Violin and Flute Concertos
Capella Savaria; Zsolt Kalló, conductor and violin;
Andrea Bertalan, flute
Hungaroton HCD 32865 

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Solomiya Ivakhiv - Poems & Rhapsodies original and beautiful

In my previous review of Solomiya Ivakhiv's releases, I praised her playing and her programming. I have to do the same here. 

Poems & Rhapsodies is a showcase album, but a refreshingly original one. Mercifully absent are Ravel's "Tzigane," and Massenet's "Meditation from Thais." Yes, those are masterworks, but everybody's recorded them. 

Ivakhiv mixes some familiar works with some that deserve a wider audience. Her performances show that Ivakhiv connects with these compositions on a deeply personal level. 

The familiar works include Ralph Vaughan Williams' "The Lark Ascending," and Camille Saint-Saens' "Poeme symphonique." The lush lyricism of these pieces gives Ivakhiv an opportunity to shine. And the results are ravishing. 

The album starts with Saint-Saens' "La muse et le poete" for violin, cello, and orchestra. A showcase album that beings with two soloists sharing the spotlight. Now that's innovative programming! 

Cellist Sophie Shao is a colleague of Ivakhiv at the University of Connecticut. There's an easy exchange between these performers. To me, it suggests that Ivakhiv and Shao play together often.

"American Rhapsody" by Kenneth Fuchs is another welcome surprise. Fuchs writes in an accessible style full of right harmonies and engaging melodies. Oh -- and imaginative orchestrations. Another great choice.

The real showpieces for me were the compositions by Ukrainian composers. Myroslav Skoryk and Anatol Kos-Anotolsky.  Western audiences are just now discovering Myroslav Skoyrk's music. Kos-Anotolsky is still awaiting his due. 

Both works draw on Ukraine's rich musical heritage for inspiration. And what we hear are inspired performances. 

The National Orchestra of Ukraine musicians know these pieces well. The Ukrainian conductor Volodymyr Sirenko knows these pieces well. And Ukrainian violinist Solomiya Ivakhiv intimately understands these works. 

I had never heard Kos-Anotolsky's "Poem" before. Its unexpected beauty was breathtaking. Skoryk's "Carpathian Rhapsody" sifts Ukrainian folk traditions through a classical filter. 

For this work to succeed, the performers need to understand the folk styles Skoryk references. They do. Ivakhiv's wild and energic playing had my foot tapping and head bobbing. 

Highly recommended for the performances and the repertoire. For her showcase album, Ikvakhiv didn't play the pieces she had to -- she played the music she loves. I heard that love in every track.

Poems & Rhapsodies
Solomiya Ivakhiv, violin
National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine; Volodymyr Sirenko, conductor
Sophia Shao, cello
Centaur CRC 3799

Friday, April 08, 2022

#ClassicsaDay #PoetryMonth Week 1, 2022

What's the connection between classical music and poetry? To celebrate Poetry Month, the Classics a Day team encouraged folks to find out. For the month of April, the challenge is to post poetry used in classical music or works inspired by poetry.

Here are my posts for the first week of #PoetryMonth

04/04/22 George Crumb - Ancient Voices of Children

Crumb set the poetry of Federico Garcia Lorca in 1970. It pushed the boundaries of vocal technique. And it features Crumb's boundary-pushing and quite beautiful musical notation.

04/05/22 Samuel Coleridge-Taylor - Hiawatha's Wedding Feast

Coleridge-Taylor's most popular work was the first of his three Hiawatha cantatas. The text was Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's epic poem "Song of Hiawatha."

04/06/22 John Adams - The Wound-Dresser

Walt Whitman's poem was based on his experiences as a hospital volunteer during the Civil War. Adams set the poem to music in 1989.

02/07/22 Franz Schubert - Erlkönig

Schubert set Goethe's poem when he was 18. By some accounts, he composed this iconic lieder in just a few hours.

02/08/22 Ralph Vaughan Williams - Toward the Unknown Region

Vaughan Williams set several texts by Walt Whitman. This 1907 cantata was based on Whitman's poem "Darest Thou Now O Soul." The title comes from the poem's second line.

Wednesday, April 06, 2022

Kaleidoscope Sky - London Trio excels with Rosner and Cooman

This release presents music by two American composers with two very distinctive styles. Arnold Rosner used Medieval and Renaissance music as a starting point for his own work. Carson Cooman's music is also tonal, although he seems inspired by Century trends.

Rosner's Piano Quintet No. 2, Op. 103 is one of the high points of the album (for me). Here Rosner's neo-medieval style is tempered with Impressionism. And it works. The music sounds timeless. 

There's a restless energy present, especially in the polyphonic passages. The London Trio is supplemented with Jacki Harley, violin and Elisa Bergersen, viola. These five performers deliver that energy. They also take time to savor the beauty of Rosner's elongated melodies. 

Cooman's Kaleidoscope Sky, Op. 1359 was composed for the London Trio. Cooman explains the title -- and the music -- was inspired by the landscape of Nantucket Island. The single-movement work seems to continually evolve and change. I could picture the early evening sky looking out into the Atlantic doing much the same. 

I think having the commissioning artist perform a work adds to the listening experience. The London Trio worked with Cooman. And he wrote to the strengths of both the individual performers and the ensemble. The music builds gradually. But Cooman's distinctive motifs engage the ear and guide the listener. 

Rosner and Cooman have different but not incompatible styles. The London Trio (and friends) deliver a compelling program. This is contemporary music most audiences should relate to. 

And for me, any release that adds to Rosner's recorded catalog is an automatic winner.

Kaleidoscope Sky: American Chamber Works by Arnold Rosner and Carson Cooman
Rosner: Piano Quintet No. 2, Op. 103; Violin Sonata No. 2, Op. 54; String Quartet No. 6, Op. 118
Cooman: Violin Sonata No. 3, Op. 950; Kaleidoscope Sky, Op. 1359
London Piano Trio
Convivium Records

Tuesday, April 05, 2022

Eduard Franck Piano Concertos Receive Their Due

Eduard Franck was a pianist and composer, active in the late 1800s. He studied with Felix Mendelssohn. Franck then went on to have a successful career as a concert pianist and pedagogue. Robert Schumann thought highly of his music. So why isn't it better known? 

Franck was something of a perfectionist and continually tinkered with his works. Most weren't published until the 1890s, near the end of his life. And at that time, they would have been considered old-fashioned. Listening to this recording in the 21st Century, they didn't seem that way to me.

Franck's Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op. 13 was published in 1850. This was the year that Schumann's Third Symphony and Wagner's Lohengrin premiered. It's a large, three-movement concerto full of drama and emotion. 

Franck is a master craftsman, though. The music is tightly organized. Franck uses clear-cut motifs (rather than technical fireworks) to drive the work.

Franck's Piano Concerto No. 2 in C major was composed in 1879, but never published. A lot changed in 29 years. This concerto, though shorter, packs a powerful punch. Dramatic contrasts are heightened. There's a restless energy in this work that's missing from the first concerto. 

Georg Michael Garu plays with precision and finesse. I found his performance of the first concerto a little restrained. But he made up for it in the second. In both, his phrasing sounded impeccable. 

These are interesting works and provide some refreshing alternatives to the warhorses. Love to hear them in concert one day.  

Eduard Franck: Piano Concertos 1 & 2
Georg Michael Garu, piano
Württembergische Philharmonie Reutlingen; Fawzi Haimor, conductor


Friday, April 01, 2022

#ClassicsaDay #WomensHistoryMonth 2022 Week 5

The Classics a Day team chose Women's History Month as the theme for March. Actually, it's been the March theme for the past five years. And there are still many composers to explore.

As always, I try to shore works I haven't posted before. And as always for this month, I'm posting works by composers I've just discovered (both past and present). Here are my #ClassicsaDay posts for the fifth and final week of #WomensHistoryMonth.

03/28/22 Emilie Mayer (1812–1883) - String Quartet in G minor, Op. 14

Mayer was the Associate Director of the Opera Academy in Berlin. Her composing career took off after a concert of her works in 1850. Mayer wrote seven string quartets. Her G minor quartet was publisedin 1858.

03/29/22 Louise Farrenc (1804–1875) - Cello Sonata in B-flat major, Op. 46

Farrenc was well-known as a pianist and composer. Most of her works were for chamber ensembles. Her cello sonata was published in 1858, and most likely premiered with Farrenc at the piano.

03/30/22 Marianne von Martinez (1744-1812) - Sonata for Piano in E major

Martinez was well-known in 18th Century Vienna, both as a pianist and composer. She often gave command performanes for Empress Maria Theresa.

03/31/22 Sophia Giustina Dussek (1775 – ca. 1831) - Harp Sonata in C minor, Op. 3, No. 3

Sophia Guistina was married to Jan Ladislav Dussek. She was a pianist, harpist, and composer. Her most popular works were her sonatas for harp.

Next Month: