Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Singer Pur Excels with Ludwig Senfl

This latest release from Singer Pur features music by Ludwig Senfl. The vocal ensemble blends five male voices with a soprano. It gives Senfl's music a brightness I'm not used to hearing -- but I like very much. 

Ludwig Senfl studied with Heinrich Isaac and was active in the early 1500s. He was music director for the Holy Roman Emporer, Maximilian I. As such, Senfl greatly influenced music in Germany. 

Senfl wrote in the rich, polyphonic style of Josquin des Prez. Unlike des Prez, his melodies are more clear-cut and easier to follow. Every voice has its own line to sing. But often the parts align, moving from polyphony to homophony (albeit briefly). 

Singer Pur delivers some luminous performances. Their vocal blend is flawless, making each piece a work of beauty. An excellent addition to Singer Pur's extensive catalog. And some fine music from Renaissance master.

Ludwig Senfl
Singer Pur; Ensemble Leones
OEHMS Classics

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Chevalier de Saint-Georges Concertante Quartets Shine

Joseph Bologne was a busy guy. He was a champion swordsman, military commander, and athlete. He was also a violin virtuoso, conductor, and composer. And while his musical career was brief, Bologne composed an impressive body of music. 

This release presents six of Bologne's eighteen published string quartets. His contemporary, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart followed Haydn's model for quartet writing. Four stringed instruments, each an equal partner in the music-making. 

Bologne wrote concertante quartets. Here the balance is different. The first violin is the star, and the other three instruments have supporting roles. Bologne wrote these works to perform in concert, with himself as the first violinist, of course!

The quartets show Bologne's skill as a composer. They're compact works that show a mastery of form and function. Bologne's melodies are engaging and elegantly crafted. 

The Arabella String Quartet has a nice ensemble sound. The first violin is the focus in these pieces. But Bologne also gives the other instruments opportunities to shine. The Arabella Quartet makes the most of these passages. 

The players make these works sound like collaborative conversations. It's a good aesthetic choice. By righting the balance a little, they make these quartets more interesting. 

Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges: Six Concertante Quartets
Arabella String Quartet

Friday, August 26, 2022

#ClassicsaDay #FunintheSun Week 4

We couldn't let the season go by without having some kind of summer-related theme. The Classics a Day team chose to catch some rays this August. And to find out how many classical composers did so with their music. 

Of course, any summer-related topic is fair game, too. Here are my posts for the fourth week of #FunintheSun.

8/22/22 Sergei Prokofiev: Summer Day Suite Op. 65b

This suite was originally part of a collection of piano pieces for children. Prokofiev selected seven of them for this orchestrated suite in 1941.

8/23/22 Alexander Glazunov: The Seasons (Summer)

Glazunov provded the music for a ballet by Marius Petipa. This 1899 work is now most often heard as a concert piece, rather than a staged ballet.

8/24/22 Samuel Barber: Summer Music for Wind Quintet

Barber composed this work for the Chamber Music Society of Detroit. It was originally intended for strings and woodwinds, but the final version, which premiered in 1953, became a wind quintet.

8/25/22 John Playford - Upon a summer's day

This is one of the many tunes published in the 1651 English Dancing Master. Playford's book provided dance steps and music to accompany them. The book was extremely popular, running four editions over a period of 77 years.

8/26/22 Ned Rorem - End of Summer

Rorem composed this three-movement suite for the Verdehr Trio, which premiered it in 1986. Rorem writes that the suite "was suggested by musical works of yore."

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Leonarda Motets Showcase her Talent

Isabella Leonarda was one of the most prolific female composers of the Baroque Era. She became a nun at age 16 and remained so until her death in 1704 at age 84. 

From the Middle Ages through 1700s, the only "appropriate" outlet for female composers was within cloistered walls.  Mostly it was composing sacred music for services within the convent.

Leonarda's talent, though, was more far-reaching. She didn't just compose short a capella hymns. She wrote all forms of sacred music from motets to masses. She wrote for instruments as well as voices. 

And she wrote a lot. Leonarda's catalog has over 200 works in it. And a good deal of it was published during her lifetime.

The program for this release comprises almost exclusively of world recording premieres. There's a variety of music as well. Included are sacred motets from her Opus 13 collection, and a cantata. There's a  selection of instrumental works, including two from her 1683 Opus 16 set.

These works are for modest forces. Just a few voices, with light accompaniment. The instrumental pieces are for three or four stringed instruments with a harpsichord.

The intimacy of this music draws in the listener. The sound is transparent, and the textures are light. For the sacred works, this adds an aura of quiet spirituality. For the instrumental pieces, it makes them sound like conversations between old friends. 

If you're not familiar with Isabella Leonarda, start here. This release provides a good overview of her music. It showcases one of the major talents of the Baroque Era. Albeit one that still hasn't quite received her due. 

Isabella Leonarda: Solo and Duo Motets; Trio Sonatas and a "Cantata Morale"
Robert Crowe, Sandra Röddiger, soprano
Emanuele Breda, Barbara Mauch-Heinke, violin; Daniela Wartenberg, cello; Toshinori Ozaki, theorbo; Sofya Gandilyan, harpsichord
Toccata Classics

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Christopher Gunning Concertos - Enjoyable and Engaging

In the liner notes, Christopher Gunning wrote the following.  "My aim has been to provide the soloist with something enjoyable yet technically challenging to play." I'd say he also provided the audience with something enjoyable and engaging to listen to.

This release collects three concertos that show Gunning hits what he aims for. The performances are all first-rate, and with good reason. Each work is performed by the soloist Gunning wrote it for. And Gunning himself conducts the orchestra. 

Of course, there's a consistency in style. Yet each concerto has its own distinctive character. Part of it comes from the soloist who inspired the work, and some from the instrument. 

Flutist Catherine Handley performs the Concertino for Flute and Small Orchestra. The solo part is quite agile, leaning into Handley's strength. And it also has a light-hearted feel, as -- according to Gunning -- befits her personality. 

Michael Whight is the principal clarinetist for the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. He commissioned the Concerto for Clarinet and String Orchestra. Gunning pushes the limits of tonality in places. It gives the work a more serious and intense character than the Flute Concertino. 

Guitarist Craig Ogden and Gunning collaborated on many film scores. It was Gunning who proposed writing a concerto for his colleague and friend.

The subtitle "Requerdos do Mallorca" is a nod to the Spanish origin of the instrument. There are traces of Spanish music in the work. But the concerto is mostly cosmopolitan in nature.

A fine addition to Signum's ongoing series of Gunning recordings. Christopher Gunning is an important film composer. These releases show him equally at home in the concert hall.

Christopher Gunning
Concertino for Flute and Small Orchestra
Concerto for Clarinet and String Orchestra
Concerto for Guitar and Orchestra
Catherine Handley, flute; Michael Whight, clarinet; Craig Ogden, guitar
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra; Christopher Gunning, conductor
Signum Classics

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Clemencic Consort excite with Fux and Biber

René Clemencic died in March of this year. He was a major figure -- and influence -- in the world of early music. His first ensemble, the Musica Antiqua performed with period instruments in 1958. In 1968 he founded the Clemencic Consort. 

René Clemencic and his ensemble released over 100 recordings over the span of 54 years. And they've won several awards in the process. This release reissues two of the four Clemencic Consort recordings produced in 2005.

Biber's Balletti & Sonatas for Trumpets and Strings explore a small part of his output. Clemencic pulls music from a variety of sources. The resulting program has a nice flow to it. Trumpet works are leavened with pieces for string ensembles. 

The second disc presents music by Johann Fux. It includes two ouvertures from his Concentus musico-instrumentalis, Op. 1. This 1701 collection shows Fux's mastery of both French and Italian styles. Clemencic also includes four partitas, showing Fux's contrapuntal skills.

Clemencic and his consort were first and foremost about the performances. Their scholarly research was solid, but they aimed to make the music come alive. This release is but a sampling of their success. 

Heinrich Biber: Balletti & Sonatas for Trumpets and Strings
Johann Fux: Concentus musico-instrumentalis
Clemencic Consort; René Clemencic, director
OEHMS Classics OC1904
2 CD Set

Friday, August 19, 2022

#ClassicsaDay #FunintheSun Week 3

We couldn't let the season go by without having some kind of summer-related theme. The Classics a Day team chose to catch some rays this August. And to find out how many classical composers did so with their music. 

Of course, any summer-related topic is fair game, too. Here are my posts for the third week of #FunintheSun.

08/15/22 Ernest J. Moeran - Summer Valley

Moeran was inspired by the music of Frederick Delius. He wrote this 1925 work in homage to Delius, in loose imitation of his style.

8/16/22 Frederic Delius - In a Summer Garden

This 1908 work was partially inspired by Dante Gabriel Rossetti's poetry: "All are my blooms; and all sweet blooms of love. To thee I gave while Spring and Summer sang."

8/17/22 Zoltan Kodaly - Summer Evening

This 1906 is considered Kodaly's first major orchestral work. It was premiered at a music academy graduation with Kodaly conducting. He revised it in 1929, and this is the version performed today.

8/18/22 George Crumb: Music for a Summer Evening (Makrokosmos III)

Crumb completed this work in 1974. The instrumentation of two pianos and percussion was inspired by Bartok. Although Crumb expanded the number of percussion instruments and amplified the pianos.

8/19/22 Benjamin Britten: Holiday Diary, Op. 5

Britten wrote this suite when he was 21. He said it was an impression of "a boy's pre-war seaside holiday."

Thursday, August 18, 2022

New York Youth Symphony Excel with Composers of Color

This release features music by three female African-American composers. Florence Price was active in the 1930s and is just now coming into her own. Valerie Coleman and Jessie Montgomery are contemporary composers, building on Price's legacy.

The New York Youth Symphony gives these works some fine performances. The players may be young, but their technique is solid. As is their ensemble sound. Entrances are precise, and the orchestra has a supple, expressive sound. 

Price is represented by two works. Her single-movement Piano Concerto in D minor was premiered in 1934 with Price as soloist. Michele Cann's performance gives the concerto a fiery urgency.

Also included is "Ethiopia in America," written in 1932. Price originally conceived this as a piano suite, and orchestrated it later. The work was considered lost until recovered in 2009. Price portrays the Black Experience in America, and does so effectively. You may hear hints of Dvorak in this work, but only just. Price is drawing on her own folk music traditions here.

Valerie Coleman's "Umoja" is another composition that exists in different versions. The title means unity in Swahili. This is a vibrant, rhythmic work that gives glimpses of the African music that inspired it. 

"Soul Force" by Jessi Montgomery draws on African traditions of a different kind. Here the raw material is the various genres of music created by African-Americans. There's big band, hip-hop, jazz, and rhythm and blues. It all works, and it works really well. 

This is a fine album that I'll be revisiting many times. For the newer works, as well as the old ones. 

Ethiopia's Shadow in America
New York Youth Symphony
Florence Price; Valerie Coleman; Jessie Montgomery
Michelle Cann, piano
Michael Repper, conductor

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

George Enescu Violin Concerto - unfinished, but unforgettable

George Enescu's earliest compositions were for violin and piano. And by early, I mean age five. Enescu was one of Romania's most talented (and precocious) musicians. He distinguished himself both as a violinist and a composer. 

Enescu's sole violin concerto was composed in 1896 when he was 15. It was designed to be a magnum opus. The first two movements run over a half hour. 

Unfortunately, Enescu abandoned the work and never wrote the concluding third movement. Nevertheless, what he did complete is impressive. 

As a violinist, Enescu knew what his instrument could do. He exploits the possibilities of the violin. The soloist has plenty of opportunities to shine (and show off a little bit). 

Carolin Widmann does just that. Enescu admired Brahms. Widmann brings a little of that Brahmsian phrasing to this work. I especially admired her control. There are some devilishly difficult double-stop passages. She just seems to breeze right through them. 

Enescu wrote his Fantasy for Piano and Orchestra two years after the Violin Concerto. He was studying in Paris at the time. This work seems to owe more to Lizst than any French composer, though! The piano and orchestra are on equal footing. It's a collaboration rather than a soloist/accompanist relationship. 

Pianist Luiza Borac brings the energy to this work. The Fantasy is all about big emotions and big gestures. Borac delivers on both. 

The NDR Radiophilharmonie directed by Peter Ruzicka has a big, brawny sound. It's well-suited to this late-Romantic repertoire. And the expressive quality of the ensemble is worthy of note.

George Enescu: Violin Concerto; Phantasy for Piano & Orchestra
Carolin Widmann, violin; Luiza Borac, piano
NDR Radiophilharmonie; Peter Ruzicka, conductor

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Ernst von Dohnanyi Early Concertos Impress

According to Wikipedia, Ernst von Dohnanyi's style was "personal, but very conservative." I'd add well-constructed and appealing. And for two of the works presented here, not all that conservative. 

Dohnanyi wrote his Konzertstück in D major for cello and orchestra when he was 26. This 1904 piece isn't conservative. It's written in the lush post-Romantic style common throughout Europe at the time.  Andrei Ionita brings out the lyrical nature of this work. He plays with intensity and feeling that made me appreciate Dohnanyi's poignant melodies.

The Variations on a Nursery Song for piano and orchestra, Op. 25 was composed in 1914. It might be considered a little old-fashioned, but that's part of its charm. It starts out with a roiling Beethovanian fury. Dohnanyi deconstructs the theme, presenting it in discrete and highly ornamented chunks. As the piece progresses and the variations become simpler, and the tune becomes clear. 

Sofja Gülbadamova nicely balances techique with good humor. This was a piano showpiece, but one with a gentle surprise. Gülbadamova delivers the crashing chords and light, single-note figures with equal aplomb.

OK, the Concertino for Harp and Chamber Orchestra, Op. 45 is definitely conservative. When it premiered in 1952, tonality was dead (at least in academia). Dohnanyi was 75, and this work looks back to an earlier time. It was the last orchestral work he completed.

Harpist Silke Aichhorn plays with a smooth, silken tone. Her runs sound shimmery. Yet melodies are clearly articulated. I found it an appealing work.

Deutsche Staatsphilharmonic Rheinland-Pfalz is directed by Modestas Pitrenas. There are some standout solos by principal players. And the ensemble has a rich, homogeneous blend that well suits this music. 

Ernst von Dohnanyui: Concertos
Variations on a Nursery Song
Sofja Gülbadamova, piano; Silke Aichhorn, harp; Andrei Ionita, cello
Deutsche Staatsphilharmonic Rheinland-Pfalz; Modestas Pitrenas, conductor

Friday, August 12, 2022

#ClassicsaDay #FunintheSun Week 2

We couldn't let the season go by without having some kind of summer-related theme. The Classics a Day team chose to catch some rays this August. And to find out how many classical composers did so with their music. 

Of course, any summer-related topic is fair game, too. Here are my posts for the second week of #FunintheSun.

08/08/22 Jean Baptiste Lully - Overture to "Phaeton"

Lully wrote this 1683 lyric tragedy for Louis XIV, the Sun King. It tells the story of Phaeton, son of the Sun God who takes dad's chariot out for a spin.

08/09/22 David Matthews - The Music of Dawn

This 1990 work was inspired by its namesake, a painting by Cecil Collins.

08/10/22 Camille Saint-Saens - Phaeton, Op. 39

Saint-Saens wrote this tone poem in 1873. It illustrates the disastrous ride of Phaeton, son of Helios. Helios reluctantly agrees to let his son ride the Sun chariot across the sky. Phaeton loses control, and Zeus is forced to destroy him before the sun burns the earth. It's all there in Saint-Saens' score!

08/11/22 Christopher Rouse - Phaeton

Rouse completed his score in 1986. It's one of several orchestral works he wrote inspired by Greek mythology. "Phaeton" was commissioned by the Philadelphia Orchestra.

08/12/22 Mark O'Connor - Summer from "The American Seasons"

O'Connor's inspiration for his season-themed orchestral was Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons." This 1999 work is based on folk idioms, particularly those of Appalachia.

Thursday, August 11, 2022

Alessandra Pompili delivers more Hovhaness gems

Most folks know Alan Hovanhess' music -- if they know it at all -- only know through his Second Symphony. As beautiful as "Mysterious Mountain" is, there's much more to this composer's catalog.

Hovhaness wrote over 500 works (including 67 symphonies). Among them are about seventy works for piano. Alesanda Pompili is committed to recording all of them.

This release is the second in the series. It includes three major piano compositions, plus three shorter pieces. The works cover about three decades and are remarkably consistent.

Komanchi, Op. 249 was inspired by the legendary Japanese poetess of the same name, and by nature. This seven-movement piece has a simple delicacy. The texture is very thin - often just a single-line melody. Hovhaness manages to capture the essence of Asian music while still writing in his own voice.

Greek Rhapsody No. 1, Op. 63 is an early work. Hovhaness completed it in 1944 when he completely reinvented his style. The melody sounds Grecian and is given a mostly monophonic treatment. This free-flowing rhapsody that entices with its improvisatory beauty.

Hovhaness' 1981 Piano Sonata, Op. 354 is a major work and is over twenty minutes in length. But don't expect a traditional sonata-allegro four-movement structure. The subtitle "Journey to Arcturus" provides the context. This is about moving from one destination to another. As the work does over the course of its six movements. 

Hovhaness was a pianist, but one with a unique idea of what piano music should be. Alesandra Pompili gives us Hovhaness' vision in her performances. Her playing is expressive and fluid. An excellent recording. Highly recommended for anyone wanting a fuller understanding of Alan Hovhaness' music.

Alan Hovanhess: Piano Works, Vol. 2
Alessandra Pompili, piano
Dynamic CDS7946

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Zygmunt Stojowski Symphony gets a new recording

Zygmunt Stojowski may not be a familiar name today, but he was a major figure in 20th Century music. In 1905, he became piano department chair for the Institute of Musical Art (later Julliard). His teaching over the next four decades would influence hundreds of pianists.

Stojowski was also well-respected as a composer, although here his influence was minimal. This release presents two of his orchestral works, both worthy of attention. 

Stojowski's Symphony in D minor, Op. 21 was his most famous composition and the one that established his career. 

The Symphony won first prize at the 1898 Paderewski Competition in Leipzig. And for a time, it was regularly programmed in concerts throughout Europe.

This is a full-blown late-Romantic symphony. Stojowski uses Brahms as his model, creating strong, dramatic melodies. He was also a fine orchestrator. His use of winds and percussion is masterful. Stojowski had something to say, and he said it in his own voice. 

Also included is his earlier Suite in E-flat major.  Stojowski dedicated it to Hans Bülow, who performed it with the Berlin Philharmonic. Brahms heard the Suite in concert and enthusiastically admired its orchestration.

Brahms wasn't wrong. This is a real showpiece for the orchestra. Stojowski has some unusual instrumental combinations, but they all work. The Suite also has more overtly Polish elements in it than the Symphony. They also add to the work's appeal. 

Antoni Wit leads the Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pflaz in some fine performances. Wit's a champion of Polish music. His direction brings out those elements -- particularly in the Suite.

Zygmunt Stojowski: Symphony in D minor, Op. 21
Suite for Orchestra in E-flat major, Op. 9
Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pflaz; Antoni Wit, conductor
Capriccio C5464

Tuesday, August 09, 2022

Violin Concertos by Black Composers Reissue adds Florence Price

This is more than an anniversary reissue. Cedille updates the release by including a new recording. When Rachel Barton Pine recorded these works in 1997, she was an explorer. The works -- and even the names -- of Black composers were virtually unknown. 

When it was released, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was the biggest name in the program. But he was known primarily for his cantata "Hiawatha." His Romance in G? Not so much. 

The boom in Joseph Bologne recordings was still in the future. And José White Lafitte is still waiting for his. 

Barton's committed and electrifying performances brought these works to light. 

Twenty-five years later, both Coleridge-Taylor and Bologne have multiple recordings that go deep into their catalogs. And a new Black composer of the past has emerged -- Florence Price. 

This reissue includes Price's Second Violin Concerto. Price wrote it shortly before her death in 1952. It had never been performed and was considered lost. The concerto was part of the cache of Price manuscripts rediscovered in 2009. 

It's a compact concerto -- less than 15 minutes long -- but it packs a punch. Barton's performance crackles with good-natured energy. And the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, directed by Jonathon Heyward, is right there with her. 

With the addition of this work, Barton's survey of Black composers runs from the 1790s through the 1950s. To me, the reissue is a more comprehensive survey, and a more satisfying listen.

Violin Concertos by Black Composers Through the Centuries: 25th Anniversary Edition
Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges; José White Lafitte; Samuel Coleridge-Taylor; Florence Price
Rachel Barton Pine, violin
Encore Chamber Orchestra; Daniel Hege, conductor
Royal Scottish National Orchestra; Jonathon Heyward, conductor
Cedille Records CDR 90000 214

Friday, August 05, 2022

#ClassicsaDay #FunintheSun Week 1

We couldn't let the season go by without having some kind of summer-related theme. For this August, the Classics a Day team chose to catch some rays. And, to find out how many classical composers did so with their music. 

Of course, any summer-related topic is fair game, too. Here are my posts for the first week of #FunintheSun.

08/01/22 Franz Joseph Haydn: String Quartet Op. 20, No. 1

The six Op. 20 quartets are collectively known as the Sun Quartets. The name comes from the 1774 printing which featured a rising sun on the cover.

08/02/22 Carl Ruggles: Sun-treader

Ruggles based his 1926 work on Robert Browning's poem "Pauline" In it, the poet writes, "Sun-treader, light and life be thine forever."

08/03/22 Thomas Arne: 'The Glitt'ring Sun'

This aria comes from Arne's cantata, "The Morning." Arne used a text based on John Milton's writings for this 1755 work.

08/04/22 Carl Nielsen: Helios Overture Op. 17

Helios was the Greek sun god. He drove a horse-drawn chariot across the sky daily, from east to west. Nielsen's 1903 score was inspired by Greek art he studied during a trip to Athens. Art that, of course, depicted Helios in flight.

08/05/22 Franz Joseph Haydn: String Quartet, Op. 76, No. 4

This quartet is nicknamed the "Sunrise" quartet. But not by Haydn. The rising theme supported by sustained chords seemed to suggest the rising sun (to somebody).

Wednesday, August 03, 2022

Ferdinand Ries Quartets Build on Beethoven

Ludwig van Beethoven only accepted two composition students: Ferdinand Ries, and Carl Czerny. Ries worked closely with Beethoven during his tenure. 

Ries served as personal assistant and music copyist. Both those roles -- plus his lessons -- gave him a thorough grounding as a composer.

And a thorough grounding in Beethoven's style. Ries soon established himself as a composer/pianist, like his mentor. And he explored many of the same genres as his friend and teacher. 

This release presents one of Rie's string quartets from the early 1820s. The Quartet in A minor was the first of three published as his Op. 150. Ries' use of motivic development shows Beethoven's influence. But his melodies are more fully formed and have a hint of Schubertian lyricism.

Also included is the String Quintet in C major, Op. 37. Ries composed this in 1809. Five years before, Beethoven wrote his String Quintet, Op. 29. Both works are in the key of C major, and both add a second viola to the quartet lineup. 

The influence of Beethoven is quite strong in Ries' quintet. But it's no mere copy or pastische. Ries structures his movements differently, and for different effects. It's a well-crafted work and one that should be played more often. 

The Schuppanzigh Quartett performs with an intensity that strengthens the Beethoven similarities. Yet they also deliver Ries' melodies with sweetness and delicacy (especially in the slow movements). 

A contemporary music critic called Ries a "worthy representative of chamber music.“ Indeed so. 

Ferdinand Ries: String Quartets Vol. 4
Schuppanzigh Quartett
Raquel Massades, viola