Friday, July 29, 2022

#ClassicsaDay #Summerof78s Week 4

Classical music performers have been recording for over a century. The Classics a Day team declares July the Summer of 78. Or rather, the summer of 78s. For July, post recordings that were originally issued on 78 rpm discs.

Many legendary performances have been captured on 78 rpm. And more than a few 20th Century composers playing or conducting their own music. Here are my postings for the fourth and final week of #Summerof78s.

07/25/22 Giacomo Puccini: "Un bel di vedremo" from Madama Butterfly
Rosa Ponselle, soprano

Ponselle made this recording in 1919 for Columbia. It's important to remember that the composer, Giacomo Puccini was still alive at the time.

07/26/22 Modest Mussorgsky: Boris Godunov
Feodor Chaliapin, bass

Chaliapin championed Russian opera on his tours of Europe and America. He recorded these excerpts in the mid-1930s. The US label Stinson licensed Soviet recordings for reissue and Western distribution.

07/27/22 Johannes Brahms: Hungarian Dance No. 5
Philadelphia Orchestra; Leopold Stokowski, conductor

This ground-breaking 78 was the first for the PO and Stokowski with Columbia. Unlike other conductors, Stokie didn't compromise to accommodate the limits of recording technology. He insisted that all 90+ players perform rather than a smaller core ensemble.

07/28/22 Russian Christmas Music (arr. Stokowski)
Philadelphia Orchestra; Leopold Stokowski, conductor

Stokowski was known for his transcriptions and arrangements as much as he is for his conducting. This is an arrangement of a carol originally ascribed to Ippolitov-Ivanov.

07/29/22 Johannes Brahms: Symphony No. 4
Berlin State Opera Orchestra; Max Feidler, conductor

Conductor and pianist Max Fiedler almost exclusively recorded Brahms. He knew the composer and had attended concerts of Brahms conducting his own works. These recordings were made by Polydor in 1930.

Next month: Fun in the Sun

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Xiaoya Liu Delivers with Carl Vine Sonatas

This release presents all four of Carl Vine's piano sonatas. And they're all world premiere recordings. I've enjoyed every album of Vine's music I've heard. And I'm surprised there aren't more than a dozen or so available. 

Vine's had a long and distinguished career in Australia. He started as a pianist and composer for theater and dance. He then transitioned into film and television. 

Vine was the artistic director for a major chamber music festival organization. And he wrote music for the Olympics. And all the while Vine composed "legit" classical music - like these sonatas.

Vine understands classical form and aesthetics. His sonatas begin with simple motifs. These gradually build in complexity, and other themes are added. Eventually, all the material comes together, giving the listener a satisfying intellectual finish. 

But Vine also brings in musical ideas from his other endeavors. There are sections with strong, syncopated pulses, sometimes reminiscent of pop. Although Vine doesn't write hummable tunes, his music is listener-friendly. 

Motifs are easy to recognize when they return. Vine's harmonic language is post-tonal but often uses simple three- or four-note chords.

Xiaoya Liu plays these works with authority and enthusiasm. Her touch is sure, and her phrasing nuanced. I highly recommend this recording -- both for the music and the performances.

Vine is a pianist. These sonatas aren't simple, but they're not impossible to play. And what Vine demands of the performer are doable. 

Carl Vine: Complete Piano Sonatas
Xiaoya Liu, piano

Friday, July 22, 2022

#ClassicsaDay #Summerof78s Week 3

Classical music performers have been recording for over a century. The Classics a Day team declares July the Summer of 78. Or rather, the summer of 78s. For July, post recordings that were originally issued on 78 rpm discs.

Many legendary performances have been captured on 78 rpm. And more than a few 20th Century composers playing or conducting their own music. Here are my postings for the third week of #Summerof78s.

07/18/22 Georg Friedrick Handel - Hallelujah Chorus
BBC Choir with organ and orchestra; Sir Thomas Beechem, conductor

Beecham recorded this for Columbia in 1927. This was long before the concept of historically accurate performance practices came into being.

07/19/22 Ludwig van Beethoven: String Quartet in F major, Op. 18, No. 1
Lener String Quartet

This Hungarian quartet was formed in 1918, and recorded the first complete cycle of Beethoven quartets. The series was started in 1927, the centenary of Beethoven's death.

07/20/22 Ludwig van Beethoven - Piano Soanta No. 21 "Waldstein"
Artur Schnabel, piano

Schnabel recorded this sonata for HMV in 1934. It was part of a complete traversal of Beethoven sonatas by Schnabel, beginning in 1933 and finishing in 1937.

07/21/22 Franz Schubert - Ständchen
Sergei Rachmaninoff, piano

Rachmaninoff was a performer as well as a composer. He made this recording for HMV in 1942, a year before his death.

07/22/22 Giacomo Puccini: "Un bel di vedremo" from Madama Butterfly
Rosa Ponselle, soprano

Ponselle made this recording in 1919 for Columbia. It's important to remember that the composer, Giacomo Puccini was still alive at the time.

Thursday, July 21, 2022

British Piano Concertos - no fireworks, just great tunes

What sounds do the words "Piano Concerto" conjure up? The bombast of Grieg or Tchaikovsky? The tumult of Beethoven? Well, there are other approaches.

This release features six short concertos by British composers. All are classically trained. Some remained in the classical field. Others migrated to film and television soundtracks. 

No matter. All these works are modest in scope. And all deliver entertaining and engaging sound. 

Soloist Simon Callaghan approaches each of these concertos seriously. But also with full awareness of the spirit of the music. 

For example, he gives John Addison's work a light-hearted reading. The "Suite for two horns, piano, tympani, percussion, and strings" is indeed light and fun. Just the kind of concert piece you might expect from the composer of "Murder, She Wrote."

And Callaghan brings the power and energy when required. As Elizabeth Machonchy's "Concertino for Piano and Strings" requires. This 1949 concertino is densely packed with motifs that organically link together. 

Arthur Benjamin's 1927 "Concertino for Piano and Orchestra" was inspired by Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue." The jazz elements are reigned in a little, though. Still, it's a perfect work for a light classical program. 

I was familiar with most of the composers on this release, but none of the music. Looking for a recording of pleasant -- but worthwhile -- listening? Give this a spin. No fireworks here, but some great tunes nonetheless.

British Piano Concertos
John Addison, Geoffrey Bush, Elizabeth Maconchy, Humphrey Searle, Edmund Rubbra, Arthur Benjamin
Simon Callaghan, piano
BBC National Orchestra of Wales; Martyn Brabbins, conductor

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Adrian Butterfield excels with Leclair Violin Sonatas

Jean-Marie Leclair was one of the most pre-eminent violinists of his day. Each collection of sonatas he published advanced the art of violin playing. The third book from 1734 challenges the player's dexterity.

The fast movements are sometimes just a blur of notes. Leclair frequently uses double stops, and not always with the most convenient fingering. 

This volume also shows a transition in style. This release features the first four sonatas from Book 3. They all have a four-movement structure that looks ahead to the Classical Era.

Adrian Butterfield plays with a clear, singing tone. It's especially effective for the lyrical slow movements. He delivers Leclair's most difficult passages with precision and musicality. 

These may have been works written to develop the art of violin playing. Butterfield understands that they are also pieces to be listened to and enjoyed. And in that, he and his fellow musicians succeed.

Jean-Marie Leclair
Violin Sonatas Book 3 Op. 5, Nos. 1–4
Adrian Butterfield, violin; Sarah McMahon, cello; Silas Wollston, harpsichord

Friday, July 15, 2022

#ClassicsaDay #Summerof78s Week 2

Classical music performers have been recording for over a century. The Classics a Day team declares July the Summer of 78. Or rather, the summer of 78s. For July, post recordings that were originally issued on 78 rpm discs.

Many legendary performances have been captured on 78 rpm. And more than a few 20th Century composers playing or conducting their own music. Here are my postings for the first week of #Summerof78s.

07/11/22 Frederic Chopin - Nocturne Op. 9, No. 2
Ignacy Jan Paderewski, piano

Paderewski was not only a piano virtuoso. He was also one of Poland's pre-eminent composers of the early 20th Century. Both skills inform his performance of his countryman's nocturne in this RCA Victrola recording from the 1930s.

07/12/22 Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Divertimento No. 8 in F major, K. 213
Gewandhausbläserquintett Leipzig

The musicians in this 1928 recording were all first chair players in the Leipzig Gewandhaus orchestra.

07/13/22 Franz Josef Haydn: Quartet in G major, Op. 76, No. 1
Budapest String Quartet

In their day, the Budapest String Quartet was considered one of the best quartets in the world. Their performance here was recorded between 1925-1927.

07/14/22 Mignon: Gavotte
Maud Powell, violin

In the first part of the 20th Century, American violinist Maud Powell was one of the most famous. She recorded and toured internationally. And she gave the American premieres of 14 violin concertos, including those by Tchaikovsky, Dvorak, Bruch, Sibelius, and Rimsky-Korsakov.

07/15/22 Maurice Ravel: Piano Concerto in G major

This Columbia recording was made shortly after the work's premiere in 1932. Marguerite Long is the soloist, and the Symphony Orchestra is conducted by the composer.

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Paul Wranitzky Orchestral Works 4 Expands Scope

One thing I like about Naxos' Wranitzky series is the concept. It really is a survey of his orchestral music -- not just his symphonies. Not that there isn't enough material -- Wranitzky wrote 56 symphonies.

This volume presents one of his ballets, along with an occasional piece for Empress Marie Therese. Das Waldmädchen (The Forest Maiden) was a major hit. It premiered in 1796 and ran for 130+ performances.

 Arrangements were made of the melodies, and it was revived several times. By contrast, Beethoven's Die Geschöpfe des Prometheus only received 28 performances. 

Obviously, tastes change. Wranitzky's music may have been more listen-friendly than Beethoven's. But it wasn't slight. Wranitzky was a talented composer, orchestrator, and conductor. 

Das Waldmädchen isn't just a collection of tunes. Each number furthers the story. It also lays out the emotions of the characters and sets the stage for their actions. I think it compares favorably to the theater music of Mozart.

Also included is the Pastorale and Allemande. And this work is slight. Empress Marie Therese wanted music for an evening's entertainment, and Wranitzky obliged. It's tuneful, catchy, and straightforward. Again, I think it compares well to Mozart's divertimenti. 

The Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra Pardubice is directed by Marek Štilec. The intimate sound of the ensemble is well-suited to this music. There wouldn't have been a full-sized orchestra in the pit for Das Waldmädchen. And most likely a small group of musicians performed the Pastorale and Allemande. After all, it was background music. 

The ensemble has a good blend, and I especially liked the sound of the strings.

Wranitzky wrote at least eleven ballets. After auditioning Das Waldmädchen, I'm ready to hear more. 

Paul Wranitzky: Orchestral Works 4
Das Waldmädchen (Ballet-Pantomime); Pastorale and Allemande
Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra Pardubice; Marek Štilec, conductor

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Steve Elcock Symphonies continue to impress

This volume of music by Steve Elcock features two symphonies and a quasi-concerto. Elcock is a self-taught composer. He has been creating music outside the mainstream for some time. And more importantly, creating it outside mainstream academia. 

Elcock has a strong sense of melody. But it's a singular one. Elcock's compositions are tonal, and in some cases traditionally structured. But they sound like no one else. 

His Symphony No. 7, Op. 33 evolves from its opening six-note motif. Or rather, devolves. According to Elcock, the motif is a simple tune that the symphony eventually presents. 

Whether progression or regression, the work has an organic feel to it. And one that makes the listener's journey satisfyingly symphonic. 

Symphony No. 6, Op. 30 is one of the few with a subtitle. "Tyrants Destroyed" expresses the disquiet of the oppressed before eventually breaking free. Perhaps it was the subtitle that suggested Shostakovich to me. Both end with a frantic hammering with the full orchestra. Not that they use the same material -- but the effect seems to be the same. 

Toccata Classics called Maniac Dancing, Op. 25 "Martinu on speed." There is some truth to that. This highly syncopated work does have rhythms resembling Martinu's. And the way the piano and orchestra interact also reminded me of Martinu. 

But those similarities were only in brief flashes. Elcock delivers on the promise of the title. This is a fast-paced, hyperactive work. I would love to see this choreographed. There's a lot of material to work with!

Pianist Marina Kosterina navigates Elcock's forest of notes with aplomb. Her energy never falters. And her performance is nuanced. It isn't all fast and loud. Her phrasing provides emotional contrast and even moments of contemplation. 

The Siberian Symphony Orchestra directed by Dmitry Vasiliev turns in some fine performances. All three works are world premiere recordings, so this material is new to the musicians. No matter. Vasiliev gives us the heart of these scores, and the orchestra delivers. 

Steve Elcock: Orchestral Music, Volume Three
Symphonies 6 and 7; Maniac Dancing
Marina Kosterina, piano
Siberian Symphony Orchestra; Dmitry Vasiliev, conductor
Toccata Classics TOCC0616

Friday, July 08, 2022

#ClassicsaDay #Summerof78s Week 1

Classical music performers have been recording for over a century. The Classics a Day team declares July the Summer of 78. Or rather, the summer of 78s. For July, post recordings that were originally issued on 78 rpm discs.

Many legendary performances have been captured on 78 rpm. And more than a few 20th Century composers playing or conducting their own music. Here are my postings for the first week of #Summerof78s.

07/06/22 Lili Boulanger - Nocturne
Gregor Piatigorsky, cello

Ukrainian-American cellist Piatigorsky also made the arrangement of this piece and recorded it in 1936.

07/07/22 Ludwig van Beethoven: String Quartet No. 7 in F major
Capet Quartet

This French ensemble was considered one of the leading string quartets of the 1920s. They made this recording for Columbia in 1928, shortly before their disbanding.

07/08/22 Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor, K. 4666
Wilhelm Kempff, piano; Dresden Philharmonic; Paul van Kempen, conductor

Kempff recorded this work for Polydor in 1941.

Thursday, July 07, 2022

William Grant Still - Summerland an important release

I blame the laziness of public radio station programmers. Because of them, William Grant Still was almost a one-hit-wonder. Need to program something classical for Black History Month? Still's First Symphony is subtitled the "Afro-American." Done and done. 

Granted, recordings of Still's works haven't been plentiful. But there are other works available. Especially on this release from Naxos. It presents a variety of Still's shorter compositions. 

The earliest piece is the "American Suite" from 1918. The latest is the "Threnody: In Memory of Jean Sibelius," composed in 1965.

Across that timespan Still shows his compositional range and depth. Some, such as "Can't You Line 'Em" are rooted in Black folk music traditions. Others, such as the 1946 "Pastorela" show Still's mastery of contemporary classical techniques.

Violinist Zina Schiff met William Grant Still in her childhood. She has a strong connection -- and empathy -- for Still and his music. It informs her performances, which are ravishing. 

Schiff's daughter, Avaina Eisenberg conducts the Royal Scottish National Orchestra in this recording. So there's a strong connection -- and empathy -- between the soloist and the conductor!

My personal favorite is the Threnody. It's a heartfelt tribute from one composer to another. And, as played here, simply beautiful.

This is an album of exception music, played exceptionally well. All nine of the works on this release are world premiere recordings. They add significantly to Still's catalog. And to our understanding of this remarkable composer. 

Highly recommended -- and not just for the month of February.  

William Grant Still: Summerland
Violin Suite; Pastorela; American Suite
Zina Schiff, violin
Royal Scottish National Orchestra; Avlana Eisenberg, conductor

Wednesday, July 06, 2022

Pancho Vladigerov Orchestral Works 3 -- Keep 'Em Coming

This makes the sixth collection of Vladigerov recordings reissued by Capriccio. I'm not sure how many are left in the archives, but I say keep 'em coming. 

Pancho Vladigerov almost single-handedly established a classical music tradition in Bulgaria. He was the first Bulgarian to compose piano trios and violin sonatas. And as a teacher, Vladigerov greatly influenced the following generation of Bulgarian composers. 

Vladigerov combined native Bulgarian music with classical forms. But as this release demonstrates, he did more. This collection of short orchestral works shows Vladigerov as a master orchestrator. 

Some of these works positively sparkle, and in a way that reminds me of no other composer. Vladigerov was also a superb melodist. There are large stretches of beautifully-crafted melodies. Combine those melodies with imaginative orchestrations, and you've got some exciting and engaging music. 

"Three Pieces for String Orchestra" is conducted by the composer. The performance is fine. But it's the earliest recording in the set. The details aren't quite as crisp as they are in the other tracks.

Vladigerov's son, Alexander conducts the bulk of the program. The Bulgarian National Radio Symphony Orchestra knows his father's music well. As does their conductor. These are lively, energetic performances.

As important as Vladigerov is inside Bulgaria, he's hardly known outside its borders. Reissues like this should help address that imbalance.

Pancho Vladigerov: Orchestral Works, Vol. 3
Bulgarian Chamber Orchestra; Pancho Vladigerov, conductor
Bulgarian National Radio Symphony Orchestra; Alexander Vladigerov, conductor
Capriccio C8056
3 CD Set

Tuesday, July 05, 2022

August Eberhard Muller Flute Concerto Series continues strong

In his day, August Eberhard Müller had an impressive career. He gave his first performance at the organ when he was just eight years old. He later studied organ with Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach, son of Johann Sebastian. In 1804, he was named to J.S.Bach's old post of Thomaskantor, Leipzig. He was also the principal flutist for the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. 

Müller wrote eleven flute concertos between 1794 and 1817. Three of them have been previously released on CPO. And all with Tatjana Ruhland and the Südwestdeutsches Kammerorchester Pforzheim. This collection adds three more to the catalog.

Concerto No. 5 in E minor, Op. 19 is the earliest of the three. It was written around 1798 and premiered a year later by the Gewandhaus Orchestra with Müller as soloist. Stylistically, it resembles Mozart, but with a significant difference. 

Müller knew well the instrument he was composing for. This work would become a mainstay for touring virtuoso. And it would also become a training piece for student flutists. 

Concerto No. 7 in D minor, Op. 22 was composed in 1803. The Concerto No. 8 in F major, Op. 24 two years later. These works show Müller following the same trends as Beethoven (while not sounding like Beethoven at all). Motivic development drives these concertos. Dramatic contrasts are heightened. And these concertos possess a restless energy not found in the elegant E minor concerto. 

Tatjana Ruhland delivers another round of fine performances. She has the skill to handle Müller's technical challenges. And her innate musicality keeps the fireworks in check. These concertos are beautifully rendered with nuance and personality. 

The Südwestdeutsches Kammerorchester Pforzheim directed by Timo Handschuh are worthy partners to Ruhland. The ensemble has a warm, elegant sound. It balances nicely with the solo flute.

I'm assuming there will be at least two more volumes to complete the survey of Müller's flute concertos. For me, those will be releases to look forward to.  

August Eberhard Müller: Flute Concertos Nos. 5, 7 & 8
Tatjana Ruhland, flute
Südwestdeutsches Kammerorchester Pforzheim; Timo Handschuh, conductor

Friday, July 01, 2022

#ClassicsaDay #PrideMonth Week 5

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 fifth and final week of #PrideMonth.

06/27/22 Lou Harrison - Fugue for Percussion

Harrison wrote this work in 1941. At the time, he was studying composition with Henry Cowell and Arnold Schoenberg. His first visit to Asia was still twenty years in the future.

06/28/22 Camille Saint-Saëns - Allegro appasoinato, Op. 70

Why are opus numbers important? In this case, because Saint-Saëns wrote two Allegro appasoinatos. Op. 43 is for cello, Op. 70 is for piano, both quite different. (and both also have solo and orchestral versions).

06/29/22 Pyotr Ilich Tchaikovsky - Serenade for Strings in C major, Op. 48

Tchaikovsky wrote this work in 1880. It was given its public premiere in October 1881. According to the composer, "The larger number of players in the string orchestra, the more this shall be in accordance with the author's wishes."

Next month: