Thursday, June 30, 2022

Swiss Composer Rudolf Moser Worth Rediscovering

There doesn't seem to be a lot available about Swiss composer Rudolf Moser. Not a lot of information, and not a lot of recorded music. 

And that's a shame. Because after hearing this release, I wanted to know more about Moser. And I wanted to hear more of his music. 

Moser was active in the first half of the 20th Century. He developed his own style. It's a tonal language, but one that uses unusual scales and harmonies. I'd describe it as somewhere between Ralph Vaughan Williams and Aaron Copland.

Moser was also a neo-classist. As such, he's closer to Respighi than Stravinsky in execution. In his Concerto Grooso, Op. 32, Moser uses the forms of the past as a framework. On it, he overlays his own modally-inspired melodies.   

The featured work on this release is his Oboe Concerto, Op. 86. Composed in 1950, it leans heavily into modal harmonies. This makes the work accessible, and quite appealing to modern ears. 

Oboist Narc Lacher plays with a lilting tone,  giving the music a pastoral feel. The Chamber Orchestra I TEMPI has a full sound that makes them seem bigger than they are.

If you like the music of Respighi, Ravel,  Vaughan Williams, or Delius, give this a listen. Moser shares some of the same aesthetics as those composers. But he retains his own distinctive musical voice.

Rudolf Moser: Works for String Orchestra
Narc Lachar, oboe
Chamber Orchestra I TEMPI; Gevorg Gharabekyan, conductor
Genuin GEN 22773

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Maria Bach Chamber Music Worth Exploring


Who was Maria Bach? Not a descendant of Johann Sebastian Bach -- at least by blood. She was an Austrian pianist, violinist, and composer. Bach was born in 1896 and died in 1978. 

She experienced success as a composer in 1920s Vienna. After the war, she married the painter Arturo Circelli. Bach transitioned from music to painting, with some success. She returned to composing in the 1960s. 

Roughly speaking, her music falls into two significant periods -- prewar and postwar. This release features a selection of her prewar compositions. 

Her 1930 Piano Quintet is one of her most successful works. It's also her most recorded (relatively speaking). The quintet is subtitled the Volga Quintet, and it's based on the Volga boatmen's song.  The quintet is a well-structured work, with rich, complex late-Romantic harmonies. 

Her Sonata for Cello and Piano in C minor is an earlier work, completed in 1924. Her sister Helen, a cellist, premiered the work. Bach dedicated it to Helen's teacher, cello virtuoso Paul Grümmer. A wise move. Grümmer performed the sonata often in concert.

The work's tonal language is a little conservative. But the cello gets one long, lyrical melody after another. And each one depends on the musicality of the cellist to bring it to life. And that makes this a piece worth hearing.  

The Suite for Cello Solo in F minor seems inspired by the Cello Etudes of David Popper. As such, it's full of technical challenges for the performer. Alexander Hulshoff delivers exceptional performances. He really digs into his instrument, giving the music additional weight and expressiveness. 

This release introduced me to the music of Maria Bach. It made me want to hear more. I'd especially like to hear some of her postwar pieces. 

Well-recorded and well-performed.  

Maria Bach: Piano Quintet "Wolga-Quintet"
Cello Sonata; Suite for Cello Solo
Oliver Trindl, piano; Mariana Grauman; Nina Karmon; Öykü Canpolat; Alexander Hülshoff, conductor
Hanssler Classic HC21051

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Czerny Anleitung zum Fantasieren a unique recording

This is kind of an odd release. The music here is invaluable. As a listening experience, it can be problematic. But if you're open to it, also a rewarding one. 

Carl Czerny's Op. 200 is titled a Systematic Introduction to Improvisation on the Pianoforte. It's a practical how-to manual. In it, Czerny lays out multiple examples of how to improvise. There are sections on concerto cadenzas, fugue improvisation, free-form capriccios, and more. 

A performer could use this work to understand the mechanics of improvisation. And then adapt Czerny's examples to the music they wanted to improvise around. 

So how is this as a listening experience? An unusual one, at least for me. Each musical example is self-contained. So each entry has its own beginning, middle, and end. Individually, each entry is quite appealing musically. 

Kolja Lessing wisely mixes up the selections rather than playing them in sequence. This provides contrast and gives the release a natural ebb and flow. 

Still, it's a recording I'd recommend sampling from. Like eating popcorn, there's a point where it's no longer satisfying. 

Lessing is an excellent performer. He delivers each example with a blend of technical proficiency and dramatic showmanship. 

If you want insight into the artistry of the 19th Century virtuoso, this disc is for you. It's also for anyone who enjoys short, showy piano pieces. Like me. 

Carl Czerny: Anleitung zum Fantasieren op. 200
Kolja Lessing, Piano
2 CD Set

Friday, June 24, 2022

#ClassicaDay #PrideMonth Week 4

For the month of June, Classics a Day celebrates Pride Month. And the challenge is to post works from classical composers who self-identified as other than heteronormative. 

There are a lot of composers to choose from -- and not just in the modern era. This was a challenge that deepened my knowledge of classical music. And deepened my appreciation of the additional struggles faced by LGBTQ+ composers both past and present. Here are my posts from the fourth week of #PrideMonth.

06/20/22 Marc Blitzstein - Serenade for String Quartet

Although best known for his theater works, Blitzstein also composed in other genres. This serenade was written in 1932, four years before his iconic "The Cradle Will Rock."

06/21/22 Ned Rorem - Piano Sonata No. 1

Rorem is best known for his art songs, but his catalog is quite varied. It includes symphonies, concertos, and chamber music. This 1948 work is the first of his three piano sonatas.

06/22/22 Charles Tomlinson Griffes - Poem for Flute and Orchestra

Griffes wrote this piece in 1918 when he was 33. He died two years later, a victim of the Spanish Flu epidemic.

06/23/22 Lord Berners - Fantasie espagnole for orchestra

Berners was a colorful character. He was a painter, novelist, and composer. He once quipped "I would have been a better composer if I had accepted fewer lunch invitations."

06/24/22 Manuel de Falla - Serenatea andaluza

de Falla premiered this work in 1900. Around this time, he first started exploring the music of his native Andalusia.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Orchestral Works Back in Print

The re-release of this album comes at a fortuitous time. This collection of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor's orchestral music came out in 1995. It was (and is) part of an ongoing series of British light orchestral music. And as such, it fills the bill quite nicely.

But in 2022, there's a real desire for classical music from composers of color. And this release also fills that bill quite nicely, too. Coleridge-Taylor's parents were a Sierre Leone Creole and a white English woman. 

When the couple separated, Coleridge-Taylor remained with his mother in Britain.  He attended the Royal Academy of Music and studied with Charles Villiers Stanford. 

Stanford would later conduct the premiere of his career-making "Hiawatha's Wedding Feast." This release includes two suites taken from his Hiawatha trilogy. Both were popular concert fare in pre-WWI Britain. 

Also included are three other suites, all perfect for the Proms. Coleridge-Taylor had a gift for melody. These works are in the late-Romantic British tradition. But they never resort to the sentimentality Victorian music sometimes lapses into. 

The original release was recorded in 1993. I don't think anything's been done to update the sound. But it doesn't need it. There's a little bit of a soft focus to the ensemble sound, but it still works.  

It's good to have this release back in print. Especially at a time when audiences are looking for music by composers of color. Coleridge-Taylor wore music of substance. But he also wrote music that appealed to the ear. 

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: Hiawatha Overture
Petite Suite; Gipsy Suite; Othello Suite; Four Characteristic Waltzes
British Light Music, Vol. 5
RTÉ Concert Orchestra; Adrian Leaper, conductor
Naxos 8.55191

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Carl Fruhling Chamber Music Brought to Light

I'm used to early music composers having sketchy bios with lists of lost compositions. Not so much 20th Century composers. But Carl Frühling is one. 

We do have Frühling's dates -- 1868-1937. We know that he was an extraordinary pianist and often performed chamber music. He won the Liszt Prize in 1889. He also met Johannes Brahms, whose music greatly influenced Frühling's. 

Most of Frühling's published works were salon music for the general public. But he always thought of himself as a serious composer. And a few surviving works prove that he was, and a talented one at that.

Frühling wrote the Piano Quintet in F-sharp minor in 1892. Although published, it virtually disappeared after 1914. It resurfaced in 1992 thanks to an Austrian Radio recording. Frühling follows Brahms' style, but this is not an homage. Frühling's experience as a pianist and chamber musician is readily apparent. 

Frühling balances all the instruments. Each contributes significantly to the musical whole. The recorded performances suggest to me that this is a joy to play. The melodies have a quiet beauty with a hint of joie de vivre

The Piano Quintet in D major survived -- barely -- in the library of the Flonzaley Quartet (active from 1902-1929). The manuscript in their archives is a copy of the original, which is missing. Stylistically, the quintet seems to also be from the 1890s. It also appears to have been written after the piano quartet.

The work has more complex and carefully crafted melodies. Frühling's counterpoint also sounds surer and more developed than it did in the quartet. Once again, the performers give their best. The melodies sound exquisite. The ensemble has a rich, late-Romantic fullness, as the players revel in Frühling's music. 

Frühling died in poverty in 1937, with no family. He was forced to register as a Jew in Nazi-run Austria. The lack of heirs and enmity of the authorities may account for the loss of his manuscripts. It's estimated that Frühling composed over a hundred works, of which only a fraction survive. 

Perhaps more of his music will be rediscovered. Based on the quality of the works on this recording, I certainly hope so. Highly recommended for the beauty of the music, and the quality of the performances. 

Carl Frühling: Piano Quintet, Op. 30; Piano Quartet, Op. 35
Oliver Trinedl, piano; Daniel Gigleberger, Nina Karmon, violin; Roland Glassl, viola; Floris Munders, cello
Hanssler Classic, HC21062

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Florence Price Piano Music a Major Discovery

Florence Price's music was mostly ignored when she composed it. Now, however, the works of this African-American artist are being reevaluated. And performed. And recorded. But it almost didn't happen at all. 

Many of Price's manuscripts were considered lost after her sudden death in 1953. In 2009, her abandoned summer home was under renovation. The workers uncovered a good deal of them. Rescued were Price's two violin concertos and her fourth symphony. Also recovered were several piano works. 

As Josh Tatsuo Cullen explains, this find was significant. Some of the pieces on this release have never been heard. Others were only known in incomplete sets or early manuscripts. This album is a major addition to Price's catalog. 

Price attended the New England Conservatory of Music. Her works are steeped in Western classical traditions. And, they're also infused with the music of Price's heritage.

At first blush, her 1928 "Scenes in Tin Can Alley" may sound like George Gershwin. The syncopations and harmonies Price uses come from the rural South, not New York. There's a cultural subtext here that's missing in Gershwin's work.

The pieces in "Thumbnail Sketches of a Day in the Life of a Washerwoman" and "Village Scenes" all have picturesque titles. They show Price's attention to the details of everyday life. And especially of those who were mostly invisible to the public. 

To me, the five Preludes perfectly synthesize African-American music and classical traditions. You might think they resemble George Gershwin's Preludes, but they don't. Playing them back-to-back the differences between Price's and Gershwin's jazz roots become obvious.

Josh Tatsuo Cullen performs with spirit and sensitivity. His liner notes confirm his deep connection to these works. And it's a connection one can hear. 

Yes, Price's orchestral works are important. But she was a pianist and organist of the highest caliber. This album shows that her keyboard music is also worthy of attention.  

Scenes in Tin Can Alley
Piano Music of Florence Price
Josh Tatsuo Cullen, piano
Blue Griffen BGR615

Friday, June 17, 2022

#ClassicsaDay #PrideMonth Week 3

For the month of June, Classics a Day celebrates Pride Month. And the challenge is to post works from classical composers who self-identified as other than heteronormative. 

There are a lot of composers to choose from -- and not just in the modern era. This was a challenge that deepened my knowledge of classical music. And deepened my appreciation of the additional struggles faced by LGBTQ+ composers both past and present. Here are my posts from the third week of #PrideMonth.

06/13/22 Jean-Baptiste Lully - Chaconne from "Phaeton"

Lully was a composer, but he was also a dancer. When his infected foot became gangrenous, he refused amputation. It would have ended his dancing career. Lully died soon after, with both limbs intact.

06/14/22 Virgil Thomson - Symphony on a Hymn Tune

Thomson composed this work while studying with Nadia Boulanger in the 1920s. It wasn't premiered until 1945. Among the hymn tunes quoted is "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow!"

06/15/22 Arcangelo Corelli - Concerto in D major, Op. 6, No. 4

Corelli's Opus 6 collection of concerti was published in 1714. They became an instant classic. Handel composed his own Opus 6 in homage to Corelli.

06/16/22 Karol Szymanowski - Variations on a Polish Folk Theme, Op. 10

Szymanowski wanted to create a new Polish national style of classical music. This set of variations from 1904 is a good example of this.

06/17/22 Jennifer Higdon - Percussion Concerto for Solo Percussion and Band

2010 was a good year for Higdon. She won the Pulitzer Prize for her Violin Concerto, and a Grammy for Best Classical Contemporary Comoposition for this work.

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Selim Palmgren Complete Piano Works Volume 5 focuses on exoticism


Volume five of Grand Piano's Palmgren focuses on the exotic. As with the other volumes, there are several world premiere recordings. That's not surprising. Only a fraction of Palmgren's roughly 400 works has ever been recorded.

What continues to surprise me is the quality and variety of Palmgren's compositions. He was an excellent pianist. That knowledge allowed him to fully express himself in his piano compositions. 

The opening selection, Exotic March, Op. 46, helps set expectations. It's a jaunty little piece, with an occasional pentatonic figure or two for color. Its vague orientalism is that of the Arabian Nights, or perhaps "The Mikado." 

Most of the works get their exoticism from obscured tonalities. Spring, Op. 47 from 1915, for example, has a dreamy Impressionistic quality to it. The Three Morceaux, Op. 57, written a year later, also seems inspired by Debussy.

The 1934 Sonatine in F major, Op. 95 sounds neoclassical. The themes are tuneful -- and catchy. I found it delightful.

Jouni Somero's performances maintain the level he set with volume one. His playing is clean, accurate, and assured. He also has a deep understanding of  Palmgren's music. His phrasing helps the listener follow Palmgren's motives as they overlap and transform.

Another solid addition to this series. 

Selim Palmgren: Complete Piano Works 5
Jouni Somero, piano
Grand Piano GP908

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

La Compagnia del Madrigale completes Gesualdo cycle

Carlo Gesualdo murdered his wife and her lover. That's pretty much all most people know about this Renaissance composer -- if anything. This release presents Gesualdo's first book of madrigals. It was published around the time of the murders. 

There's no question Gesualdo was a tortured soul. He abused both his first and second wives. His actions drove the first to an affair and her death. it caused his second wife to abandon him, with the blessing and help of her family. Plus, Gesualdo apparently suffered bouts of depression. 

And to contemporary ears, his music sounded as tormented as the composer. Gesualdo used chromatic motion and unresolved harmonies that anticipate the late 19th Century. 

This release features music published in 1591, the year after the double murder. But it was a collection of earlier works, many written well before 1590. 

In these madrigals, Gesualdo's hyper-expressive style isn't fully developed. The works follow the madrigal conventions of the day. And while they're not as daring as Gesulado's later works, they do have an edge.  

This release marks the end of a project. La Compagnia del Madrigale has now recorded all six madrigal books of Gesualdo. And it only took them twenty years. 

Given the group's long performance history with this composer, I expected top-flight performance. And I got them. 

La Compagnia has a wonderful vocal blend. The members sing with clear tones, making interweaving lines easy to follow. And their expressive phrasing is superb. It not only illuminates the text. It brings out the emotional uneasiness that underlies these madrigals.

Carlo Gesualdo: Primo Libro di madrigali a Cinque Voci
La Compagnia del Madrigale
Glossa, GCD 922811

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Violin Concertos by Johannes Brahms; Amanda Maier; Julius Rontgen

This release brings together three violin concertos by three close friends -- Johannes Brahms, Julius Rontgen, and his wife, Amanda Maier. Rontgen and Maier were both talented violinists. The couple performed together, and even composed together. 

Brahms would visit the Rontgen home when in town. And Brahms and Rontgen gave public concerts together in Amsterdam. Brahms may have influenced his younger friends, but each composer has their own voice. 

The  Gewandhaus Orchestra premiered Amanda Maier's violin concerto, with the composer as soloist. Or rather, they premiered the first movement. Maier mentions a second and third movement in her surviving papers. But only the first was finished. Still, it's a fine work, lasting almost 18 minutes. 

Brahms may have inspired some of Maier's orchestral gestures. But her solo violin writing is all hers. This is a technical tour-de-force that never sounds forced. Maier's lyrical gifts keep the concerto flowing from start to finish. 

Brahms' concerto premiered in 1879, Maier's in 1876. While these two works are contemporaneous, Rontgen's isn't. His concerto dates from 1931 and looks back with a certain amount of nostalgia. While it evokes the world of Brahms, some anachronisms give it away. Most telling are the harmonies, which are more in line with Hindemith than Brahms. 

Cecilia Zilliacus is a wonderful soloist. She plays with a clean, singing tone that suits these works so well. Estonian conductor Kristiina Poska makes a perfect partner. Between the two they create some mostly magical performances. 

I say "mostly" because the orchestras are the weak link. The Vasteras Sinfonietta plays well. But they have a thin sound that's a little pinched in the upper register. Some of those issues may be with the recording. 

The Malmo Symphony Orchestra has a fuller, more polished sound. But they also had some intonation problems -- and those have nothing to do with the recording. 

Bottom line: don't get this for the Brahms. Do get this release for the Rontgen, and more especially for the Maier. It's worth it.

Violin Concertos by Johannes Brahms; Amanda Maier; Julius Rontgen

Cecilia Zilliacus, violin
Malmo Symphony Orchestra; Vasteras Sinfonietta; Kristiina Poska, conductor
dB Productions dbCD 202

Friday, June 10, 2022

#ClassicsaDay #PrideMonth Week 2

For the month of June, Classics a Day celebrates Pride Month. And the challenge is to post works from classical composers who self-identified as other than heteronormative. 

There are a lot of composers to choose from -- and not just in the modern era. This was a challenge that deepened my knowledge of classical music. And deepened my appreciation of the additional struggles faced by LGBTQ+ composers both past and present. Here are my posts from the second week of #PrideMonth.

06/06/22 Henriëtte Bosmans - Piano Concertino

When the Nazis overran Holland in 1942, Bosmans was doubly in danger. She was Jewish, and was bisexual. She was able to avoid attracting undue attention of the authorities, and served in the Dutch Resistance.

06/07/22 Conrad Susa - Serenade for a Christmas Night

Susa is best known for his choral and vocal works. His "Carols and Lullabies: Christmas in the Southwest" was composed as a companion piece to Benjamin Britten's "A Ceremony of Carols."

06/08/22 Gian Carlo Menotti - Piano Concerto No. 1

Menotti wrote this concerto in 1945. His second piano concerto would appear 37 years later, in 1982.

06/09/22 Ethel Smyth - Concerto for Violin, Horn, and Orchestra

Smyth's double concerto was written in 1927, and premiered the same year. Its second performance was with the Berlin Philharmonic in 1928.

06/10/22 Sylvano Bussotti - Five Piano Pieces for David Tudor

Bussotti loved theater. In addition to being a composer, he was also a set and costume designer, opera director, and theater manager. His music often had thatrical elements in it, like this set of piano pieces.

Wednesday, June 08, 2022

Schubert Piano Sonatas come together for Anne-Marie McDermott

Sometimes it all comes together -- the music, the artist, the venue, the recording. That's what happens with this release. It features two of Schubert's most popular and challenging piano sonatas: The Piano Sonata in D major, D.850, and the Piano Sonata in B-flat major, D.960. 

Both of Schubert's sonatas are loose in form. At least, compared to his contemporary Beethoven. Schubert's gift was melodic invention. Both these sonatas just move from one masterful vignette to another. 

Schubert was criticized for the looseness of his structures. But formalism was never the point. These sonatas have form and logical growth if you know where to look. 

And Anne-Marie McDermott does. Her performance of the D major sonata is artfully artless. It almost sounds as if she's making it up on the spot. And yet she also brings out Schubert's organization. Her phrasing ties recurring motives together, showing us the path that Schubert laid down. 

The B-flat sonata was one of the last Schubert completed. It was meant as part of a trilogy. But it also works as a stand-alone work. McDermott imbues the sonata with more complex expression. The work seems introspective, and the emotional content more mature and nuanced. 

These are great performances. And they're perfectly captured. Bridge recorded McDermott in the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall. This was the space that gave Dorian Records their signature sound back in the day. 

The ambiance is spacious without being echoing. In many reviews, I've noted how well Bridge records pianos. And that skill is present here. The piano has a natural sound. It's warm, yet clean. Powerful, yet clear. 

Highly recommended.

Franz Schubert: Piano Sonatas Nos. 17 and 21
Anne-Marie McDermott, piano
Bridge Records, 9550A/B
2 CD Set

Tuesday, June 07, 2022

Louis Glass Symphony No. 4 - Big (but not bad)

Danish composer Louis Glass studied with Niels Gade. While at the Brussels Conservatory, he came under the influence of Anton Bruckner. If nothing else, Bruckner's symphonies encouraged Glass to think big. 

Glass' Symphony No. 4 runs a little short of an hour. The four-movement work is big, but not sprawling. The material simply needs a lot of space to develop, and Glass provides it.

Another big influence on Glass was Cesar Franck. The harmonies in this work lean more towards him, and away from Bruckner. Glass takes the listener on a journey of discovery. After 54 minutes of listening, I think it was worth the trip. 

This is the third volume in CPO's Glass series. Previous volumes coupled one of his symphonies with another orchestral work. But here, well, there just wasn't room. 

As with the other volumes, Daniel Ralskin leads the Staatsorchester Rheinische Philharonic. The ensemble has a smooth blend, with a spacious recorded sound. Raiskin keeps things moving along, reveling in the scope of the music. 

Glass wrote six symphonies, so there are three more volumes to come. I'm looking forward to them. 

Louis Glass: Symphony No. 4 in E minor, Op. 43
Staatsorchester Rheinische Philharonic; Daniel Raiskin, conductor



Monday, June 06, 2022

Paul Wranitzky Works for Oboe -- Works for Me!

Paul Wranitzky is gradually emerging from the shadows of his colleagues. Both Haydn and Beethoven preferred Wrantizky as a conductor of their works. 

His opera "Oberon" directly inspired Mozart's "The Magic Flute." In 1790s Vienna, Wranitaky's music was performed as often as that of the Big Three -- if not more so. 

Recordings like this help reestablish his place in music history. Wrantitzky was no hack. His music shows a musical imagination and skill on par with Haydn and Mozart (if not Beethoven). This release features a selection of Wranitzky's works for the oboe. 

A contemporary critic wrote, "The music of Wranitzky was in fashion when it was new because of his natural melodies and brilliant style. He treats the orchestra well." So true. The melodies in these works are well-crafted and appealing. And they seem to lay well on the instrument. 

The release includes two of Wranitzky's Six Divertimenti. These works are for oboe, two horns, and strings. It's an unusual combination of instruments, but it works. The warmth of the horns nicely complements the darker tones of the oboe.

Equally delightful is the Concertante for Flute and Oboe in C major, Op. 39. Wranitzky plays to the strengths of each of the solo instruments.

Oboist Vilem Veverka delivers some exceptional performances. His playing is nimble and fluid. And it's always under control. Even in the highest register, his oboe has a smooth, well-rounded sound. 

The Wranitzky Kapelle, directed by Marek Stilec provides solid support for the soloists. The ensemble plays with clarity. And also with a spritely energy that keeps things moving. 

Paul Wranitzky: Works for Oboe
Vilem Veverka, oboe; Sylvie Schelingerova, flute
Wranitzky Kapelle; Marek Stilec, conductor
ArcoDiva UP 0235

Saturday, June 04, 2022

#ClassicsaDay #PrideMonth Week 1

For the month of June, Classics a Day celebrates Pride Month. And the challenge is to post works from classical composers who self-identified as other than heteronormative. 

There are a lot of composers to choose from -- and not just in the modern era. This was a challenge that deepened my knowledge of classical music. And deepened my appreciation of the additional struggles faced by LGBTQ+ composers both past and present. Here are my posts from the first week of #PrideMonth.

06/01/22 Mari Ésabel Valverde - Darest, O Soul

Valverde is both a professional composer and singer. She also teaches singing and transgender voice training. She's best known for her choral compositions

06/02/22 Johann Rosenmüller - Magnificat

Rosenmüller was director of music for the Altenberg court in Saxony. In 1655 he was implicated in homosexual activites and fled to Italy to avoid prison. Rosenmüller worked in Venice until 1682 when it was finally safe for him to return to Germany. He died two years later.

06/03/22 Colin McPhee - Ceremonial Music for Two Pianos

McPhee was a Canadian composer of Indonesian heritage. He's credited with making the first serious ethnomusicological study of Bali. His studies influenced his own compositions.

Thursday, June 02, 2022

Johann Vanhal Symphonies, Volume 5 -- More, please!


Volume five of Naxos' Vanhal series features some significant works. It includes his Symphony in C, Bryan C7b. This was one of Vanhal's most popular and widely disseminated compositions. 

It was even performed at the Esterhazy orchestra, directed by Haydn. Some of the printed editions mistakenly credit the work to Haydn!

Though composed in 1772, the work has the large-scale structure of a late Haydn symphony. But the melodic form and treatment are all Vanhal. This four-movement work is pure Classical Era gold. 

Also included is Vanhal's Symphony in F minor, Bryan f1. Contemporary critics -- and musicologists -- considered it one of his best minor key symphonies. The work was composed around 1773. Yet stylistically, it seems to anticipate Beethoven. The music has a dark, energetic brooding quality to it. 

Vanhal's unusual orchestration also makes it sound like a much later work. He gives independent parts to the cellos and contrabasses. In the 1770s, the two often doubled the same line. His harmonies also seem thicker, looking forward to Beethoven. 

Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra Pardubice turns in another set of fine performances. Under Michael Halász's direction, the ensemble has a nice, full sound. Especially enjoyable was their playing of the Oboe Concertino in G major, Bryan G5. 

The concertino itself is more artisan than art. The form and execution offer few surprises. What lifts it above the ordinary is the solo oboe. And especially Vojtech Podrouzrk's playing. It's restrained and elegant. Perfectly in keeping with the early Classical style. 

Naxos released volume one in this series back in 1998. They're going to have to pick up the pace. Including this installment, they've only recorded 17 of Vanhal's 130+ symphonies. Each volume has documented the quality of Vanhal's writing. So, more, please.

Johann Baptist Vanhal: Symphonies, Vol. 5
Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra Pardubice; Michael Halász, conductor
Naxos 8l.57305

Wednesday, June 01, 2022

Bacewicz and Tansman Piano Quintets --Three Takes on Neoclassicism

According to the album's liner notes, this release presents three neoclassical piano quintets. It does if we understand the term at its broadest definition.

Grazyna Bacewicz's first piano quintet does fit the term, at least in form. But this 1952 work has more in common with Igor Stravinsky's take on the term than Ottorino Resphigi's. 

But Bacewicz's spikey melodies and chugging rhythms work differently than Stravinsky's. The tonal underpinning seems stronger, and the sense of forward motion clearer. 

The Piano Quintet No. 2, composed in 1965, has a different neoclassical aesthetic. Here it's all about small motifs. What matters is how they fit together (or don't) and build upon each other to create tension. Bacewicz uses several advanced string techniques, which expands her expressive palette.  

Alexandre Tansman's Musica a cinque was written in 1955. It's the most conservative of the three quintets. The liner notes seem puzzled that the work is so seldom performed. 

I think I know why. Tansman has the instruments toss ideas back and forth at a dizzying rate. It takes a high degree of precision to make all the pieces fit, and fit seamlessly. 

These performers make it happen. They take the listener on a thrill-packed audio roller coaster ride. 

The artists come to this material with some impressive credentials. Julia Kociuban previously released an album of Bacewicz and Tansman piano concertos. The Messages Quartet has recorded works by Andrdzej Panufnik and Kryzysztof Penderecki.

Together these musicians create some exciting performances. This is music they understand and are comfortable playing. And I could hear that ease of execution. Difficult runs and complex syncopations flow as naturally as eighth notes in 4/4 time. 

As recorded, the strings have a little bit of an edge to them. That sound actually works quite well with these compositions. It makes the dissonances that much sharper. It also helps balance the quartet against the piano.

Bacewicz and Tansman are woefully underrepresented in performances. Especially given the quality of their compositions. Give this release a listen. I think you'll agree.

Grażyna Bacewicz; Aleksander Tansman: Piano Quintets
Julia Kociuban, piano; Messages Quartet
Dux 1702