Friday, December 30, 2022

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalChristmas Week 5

December is a time of traditions. And the Classics a Day feed is no different. We continue our tradition of making Classical Christmas our December theme. 

The challenge is to post music related to the season. So sacred works for Advent and Christmas, secular works about winter, or even just music written and/or premiered in December. 

Here are my posts for the fifth and final week in December.

12/26/22 Arnold Bax: Mater ora filium

Bax didn't write much choral music. But in the early 1900s, he did set this traditional text, that celebrates the journey of the Three Kings.

12/27/22 William Crotch: Lo! Star-led Chiefs

This choral piece is often sung in Anglican churches during Epiphany. It was originally part of William Crotch's oratorio "Palestine," published in 1818.

12/28/22 Peter Cornelius: Three Kings from Persian lands afar

In the mid-1800s, Cornelius was a renowned opera composer in his native Germany. In England, he was a one-hit-wonder. And that one hit was this tune from his Op. 8 Weihnachtslieder

12/29/22 Jacobus Clemens non Papa: Magi veniunt ab oriente

Most of Clemens' output was sacred music. This would have been sung at a Feast of the Epiphany service, marking the Magi visiting the Christ child.

12/30/22 Jacob Handl-Gallus: Omnes de Saba

The text is one of the graduals for Epiphany. Handl first published his setting in his 1586 collection Opus musicum.

Next month:

Thursday, December 29, 2022

Guerra-Peixe Symphonic Suites Celebrate Brazil

Naxos' Music of Brazil series continues to yield musical gems. The Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs is spearheading the project. 

Over 100 orchestral works by Brazilian composers will be released. And what a great way to enhance Brazil's stature in the world (OK, perhaps just in the world of classical music.)

This release features two symphonic suites by César Guerra-Peixe. Although he doesn't enjoy the international reputation of countryman Heitor Villa-Lobos, Guerra-Peixe is one of Brazil's most important and influential composers. 

Guerra-Peixe was a violinist, composer, and conductor. And he was also an enthusiastic ethnomusicologist. He was vitally interested in Brazil's folk traditions, particularly those of the northeast.

These symphonic suites present native dance music recast as orchestral works. Guerra-Peixe adds complexity and depth to these tunes while retaining their original character. 

The two suites were composed in 1955. Symphonic Suite No. 1 "Paulista" features dance music from the São Paulo region. No.2 "Permanbuana" showcases music from the Pernambuco region. 

The Goiás Philharmonic Orchestra knows this material well. Not only is Guerra-Peixe frequently performed by Brazilian orchestras. And the players know the folk traditions behind Guerra-Peixe's music. 

That additional knowledge gives these performances an added lift. These are dance suites that could have you dancing! 

César Guerra-Peixe: Symphonic Suites Nos. 1 and 2
Roda de Amigos
Raul Menezes, flute; Públio da Silva, oboe; Patrick Viglioni, clarinet; Felipe Arruda, bassoon
Goiás Philharmonic Orchestra; Neil Thomson, conductor

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Henriette Bosmans Early Chamber Music have appeal

The Solarek Piano Trio performs three early works by Henriëtte Bosmans. Included is her Sonata for Violin and Piano (1918), Arietta (1917), and the Piano Trio (1921). 

If you're familiar with Bosmans' mature style, these compositions may surprise you. They have a lush, romantic sound to them. This is a dramatic contrast to the stripped-down harmonies she started using in the 1930s. 

The Violin Sonata was written while Bosmans was studying with Jan Willem Kersbergen. It's full of youthful energy and enthusiasm. 

My one criticism is that the piano part seems overly showy. Not out of character for a young piano virtuoso/composer. But at times it threatens the balance between the two instruments. 

The Arietta is a very different piece. Though written within a year of the sonata, the Arietta is much more introspective. Plus, Bosmans reigns in the piano, letting the violin sing. Because of the range -- and the character -- of this music, the Arietta is often performed on the viola. Nice to hear the composer's original intent here.

The Piano Trio shows Bosmans' growth as a composer. The handling of her material is much more assured. The piano part is meaty, but never overpowers the other instruments. Also, this work seems more emotionally focused somehow. 

The players of the Solarek Trio turn in some fine performances. To my ears, the recordings -- especially the sonata -- seemed a little boomy. Consider it a nit, but one I had to mention.

Henriëtte Bosmans is a major figure in Dutch music. But she's little known outside the Netherlands. Here's hoping this release will encourage more folks to explore her catalog. It's worth the effort.

Henriëtte Bosmans: Early Chamber Music
Solarek Piano Trio
Toccata Classics TTOCC 0654

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Jouni Somero premieres more Selim Palmgren gems

Selim Palmgren was a virtuoso pianist and a prolific composer -- particularly for his instrument. His catalog includes over 400 published works. 

Jouni Somero's goal is to record all Palmgren's solo piano works. This includes quite a few unpublished pieces. Not surprisingly, each volume of this series has several world premiere recordings. As does this volume.

The program on volume six is a cross-section of Palmgren's short piano works. It has his first published pieces from 1898 through his mid-career works of the 1940s. 

As with the other volumes, Palmgren demonstrates his mastery of the miniature. Many of these pieces are less than two minutes in length. And yet each is a fully-developed idea. 

For me, one of the real standouts was "Youth," published in 1908. This suite of six movements has a cohesive feel to it. And that's no mean feat. The suite includes a Debussy-like Impressionist movement, as well as several based on Finnish folk songs. But it all works together. 

Jouni Somero continues to impress me with his phenomenal technique. Palmgren was a great pianist -- and a good deal of his music was written for performers at his level. Somero is equal to the task. 

Plus, he gives the smaller, slighter pieces equal attention. Simple though some may be, Somero's playing adds a bit of emotional weight.

Selim Palmgren: Complete Piano Works 6
Jouni Somero, piano
Grand Piano

Friday, December 23, 2022

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalChristmas Week 4

December is a time of traditions. And the Classics a Day feed is no different. We continue our tradition of making Classical Christmas our December theme. 

The challenge is to post music related to the season. So sacred works for Advent and Christmas, secular works about winter, or even just music written and/or premiered in December. 

Here are my posts for the third week in December.

12/19/22 Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck: Hodie Christus natus est

Quite a few composers used this Gregorian chant as a starting point. For Sweelinck, it was an opportunity to explore the possibilities of polyphony.

12/20/22 Giovanni da Palestrina: Hodie Christus natus est

This setting comes from Palestrina's third volume of sacred motets. This collection was published in Venice in 1575.

12/21/22 Giovanni Gabrieli: Hodie Christus natus est

Gabrieli set this traditional Christmas liturgical text in 1615.

12/22/22 William Byrd: Hodie Christus natus est

Byrd's setting was published in Gradualia ac cantiones sacra, Liber 2, which came out in 1607. This volume featured 4-voice sacred music for Christmas and Epiphany.

12/23/22 Healey Willan: Hodie Christus natus est

Canadian organist and composer Willan wrote more than 800 works, most of them for voice. His setting of this text comes from 1935.

Thursday, December 22, 2022

Galant Cathedral Music from New Spain

Style Galante was fashionable in the mid-1700s. It formed a bridge between the Baroque and Classical Eras. And in New Spain, music was being written and performed in that oh-so-current style. 

New Spain was the collective name for Spain's possessions in the New World. It included modern-day Mexico, Cuba, the American Southwest, and Central America. Mexico City and Veracruz were thriving cities, with sophisticated cultural life. 

Italian composers Santiago Billoni and Ignacio de Jerusalem emigrated to New Spain. David Pérez (Lisbon) and Luis Misón (Madrid) remained in Europe.  But their music was well-known and often performed in New Spain. 

I think location makes a difference. There's something that the Billoni and Jerusalem compositions have that the others don't. Indigenous music and culture weren't far below the surface. The Italian composers didn't adopt folk tunes into their music. But there's a rhythm pulse in their works that seems distinctively LatinX. 

The quality of the compositions is on par with that of the Mannheim School. The melodies are all well-formed and easy to follow (a hallmark of the style). And they're all quite tuneful. 

The performances by the Camerata Antonio Soler are generally good. And the vocal soloists also do a credible job. All in all, this release succeeds in its intent. And that is to demonstrate just how rich and vibrant the music scene was in New Spain. 

Galant Cathedral Music from New Spain
Camerata Antonio Soler; Javier José Mendoza, conductor
Orchid Classics ORC100208

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Brian Knowles Christmas Tidings for the theater crowd

This is a Christmas album that will appeal to some, but not to all. If you enjoy Broadway musicals, then "Christmas Tidings" is for you. Seriously, I thought I was listening to an original cast album for "Creche: The Musical."

That's not to say I didn't enjoy the selections. Brian Knowles knows how to write engaging melodies, and he knows how to write for the human voice. All these selections sounded like they would be fun to sing (and even choreograph). 

I loved the opening track, "Dancing in My Heart." It was upbeat, with fresh imagery and harmonies. And many of the selections are like that. Knowles writes in a modern, tonal style similar to contemporary music theater. 

But in some of the selections, the musical theater element overpowers. And for me, that's when the message of the music sounds inauthentic. 

"Skydiving," for example, imagines the Heavenly Host swooping through the air as they sing to the shepherds. Great idea. But the vaudeville setting of the music had me picturing dancers in flowing gowns and tap shoes.

The Celestia Singers directed by David Ogden do a terrific job. They sing with enthusiasm and really sell the music. Some of the selections have brass accompaniment, but most just have a piano. 

That's unfortunate. After a while, I felt like I was sitting in on a rehearsal rather than a final performance.

As I say, if you enjoy musicals, this release is for you. I like -- but don't love -- the musical theater genre. So my reaction was mixed. And that's on me.  

Brian Knowles: Christmas Tidings
Celestia Singsers & Brass; David Ogden, director
Convivium Records CV177

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

A Byzantine Emperor at King Henry’s Court: Christmas, 1400 London

This is a Christmas release like no other. And it's one of those albums that you can listen to any time of the year. 

In 1397, Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaiologos hit the road. Constantinople had been under siege by the Ottoman Empire for six years. The King of Hungary's attempt to break the siege had failed, and Byzantia needed help. 

Manuel II went east, seeking aid from his fellow Christian monarchs. He made his case in Venice, Padua, Milan, the Vatican, and France. It was the French king who recommended he also visit Henry IV of England.

He did, arriving in 1400. The two monarchs celebrated the Christmas season together at Eltham Palace. They did many things together. But they worshipped separately, each to their own traditions. 

And that's what this album attempts to recreate. The Cappella Romana performs the Byzantine chants Manuel II heard in worship. And they reconstruct the polyphonic hymns Henry IV may have heard in his services. 

It's an album of contrasts, and fascinating ones at that -- Latin vs. Greek; polyphony vs. monody. The Cappella Romana does both equally well. And do so in the appropriate style for each tradition. 

When singing Henry's music, the ensemble has a clear, bell-like sound. For Magnus's music, they sound darker and a little gravelly. It's very well done.  The differences between Eastern and Western liturgical music are clear.

This is an album of great beauty and great serenity. Those are two qualities both the Latin and Eastern Orthodox hymns have in common. 


A Byzantine Emperor at King Henry’s Court
Christmas 1400, London
Capella Romana; Alexander Lingas, director
Cappella Records

Friday, December 16, 2022

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalChristmas Week 3

December is a time of traditions. And the Classics a Day feed is no different. We continue our tradition of making Classical Christmas our December theme. 

The challenge is to post music related to the season. So sacred works for Advent and Christmas, secular works about winter, or even just music written and/or premiered in December. 

Here are my posts for the third week in December.

12/12/2 Arnold Brunckhorst: Weihnachtmusik

Brunckhorst was active in the late 1600s. Despite having a long career as organist and kapellmeister, only a handful of his compositions survive, including this Christmas cantata from 1710.

12/13/22 Dietrich Buxtehude: Ihr lieben Christen, freut euch nun, BuxWV 51

Buxtehude's compositions served as models for the next generation of German composers (including Handel, Bach, and Telemann). As you can hear.

12/14/22 Arnold Bax: Winter Waters

Christmas isn't a joyous time for everyone. If you're one of them, this piece might be for you. Bax subtitled his 1915 piano piece "Tragic Landscape."

12/15/22 Eastern Orthodox Chant: In the Dark Night

Eastern Orthodox worship traditions are just as rich as those of Catholic or Protestant churches (and in some cases, even older). This Christmas chant is from Ukraine.

12/16/22 Friedrich Wilhelm Zachow: Von Himmel kam der Engel Schar

Zachow was Handel's first music teacher. When he died in 1713, Bach was invited to take over his position of Chormeister at Halle's Market Church.

Thursday, December 15, 2022

Ernst Wilhelm Wolf Christmas Cantata bring holiday cheer

Though hardly remembered today, Ernst Wilhelm Wolf was well-known in 1790s Germany. He was a child prodigy at the harpsichord. 

His compositions impressed Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (son of J.S.), and the two became friends. He married the daughter of composer Franz Benda. And he was Kapellmeister of the Weimar court.

Wolf had an impressive catalog of works, and it was widely published and performed. But after his death in 1792, it all faded away. 

Wolf wrote in the empfindsamer Stil.  The Classical Era of Mozart and Haydn which followed was more complex. By the early 1800s,  Empfindsamer Stil works were considered too superficial. Which accounts for Wolf's slide into obscurity.

But Wolf's style is what makes these four Christmas cantatas so appealing. Melodies are flowing with minimal ornamentation. Polyphony is present, but the textures stay thin and transparent. The choruses are homophonic, making their melodies easy to follow. 

In other words, these are cheery, tuneful works that just might have you humming along. And what else could one want during a Christmas service?

The Kölner Akademie, directed by Michael Alexander Willens,  plays to perfection. The instrumentalists perform with just the right touch. They keep the music nimble and light. 

The recording also features a chorus of nine vocalists and three soloists. They also produce a clear, clean sound in keeping with the style.

Ernst Wilhelm Wolf: Auf, jauchzet ihr Christen
Christmas Cantatas
Beate Mordal, soprano; Georg Poplutz, tenor; Matthias Vieweg, baritone
Kölner Akademie, Michael Alexander Willens, conductor

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Luca Maranzio - Missa Jubilate Receives World Recording Premiere

This is the world premiere recording of the Missa Jubilate of Luca Maranzio. Maranzio was renowned for his madrigals (over 500 we know of). 

He knew how to write for the human voice, and how to illustrate texts through vocal lines and textures. This release shows those skills carried over into his sacred music, too. 

The works receiving their recording premiers were only recently identified as Maranzio's. The manuscripts were preserved in Vercelli’s Archivio Capitolare without attribution. Only after years of painstaking research did musicologists confirm the works as Maranzio's.

It's a fascinating story, and one the booklet goes into detail about. But in the end, what counts is the music. 

And it's glorious. Marenzio was a contemporary of Palestrina. There's plenty of contrapuntal development in the mass. But it has a much lighter texture than any of Palestrina's (at least to my ears).

The lines also seem more tuneful. Perhaps that's Marenzio the madrigalist coming through.

The Cappella Musicale della Cattedrale di Vercelli has a wonderful vocal blend. There's a luminous quality to the sound, especially when the entire ensemble is singing. The recording is also quite good. There's enough ambiance to let the music breathe, but not too much to muddy the polyphony. 

Also included are both versions of the Jubilate Deo a 8, and the Magnificat octavi toni. Hearing alternative versions of the same work provide insight into the composer's creative process. 

Luca Marenzio: Missa Jubilate
Magnificat Sexti Toni
Cappella Musicale della Cattedrale di Vercelli; Don Deis Silano, director
Stefanp Demicheli, organ; Federico bagnasco, violin

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Canadian Soundscapes Resonate In Any Country

I'm always surprised at how little Canadian classical music is known in this country. American labels have released music from Central and South American composers. 

But it seems only Canadian labels record Canadian classical music. I don't understand why, given the scope and quality of that music.

Rosemary Thomson and the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra present a program of three Canadian composers. The orchestra is based in British Columbia, where two of the three composers live. 

The album has three concertos, each one showing a fresh interpretation of the genre.

R Murray Shafer was one of Canada's most iconic and influential composers. He achieved international recognition for his work on environment and sound. Shafer's "The Falcon's Trumpet" is from 1995.  

He writes that it represents a trumpet as it "plays across a lake at dawn or sunset, causing the whole forest to echo and vibrate." It's atmospheric and evocative. The trumpet's interplay with the soprano is especially beautiful.

Imnant Raminsh completed his Violin Concerto in 1997. This work also includes a soprano voice, this time in support of the solo instrument. Raminsh's intent was to create work for orchestra with violin obbligato (rather than as a showpiece). It's well-crafted and succeeds in its goal. 

Ernst Schneider emigrated to Canada in 1958. His "Romantic" Concerto of 1980 is the first of his two piano concertos. The work is rich in emotion and beautifully expressive. Schneider's language is tonal, though modern. So there are more modal harmonies than thickly stacked thirds. (That's not a complaint.)

The soloists for these performances all perform admirably. The Okanagan Symphony Orchestra is a regional orchestra. They deliver committed performances. But there were times when the ensemble wasn't as tight as it needed to be, and there were a few intonation problems. But those are minor quibbles 

This is a strong program, with good performances. And it's a fine example of the great classical music being created to the north of us. Give this release a listen, and discover what we've all been missing.

Canadian Soundscapes
Schafer, Raminsh, Scheider
Guy Few, trumpet; Carmen Harris, soprano;
Melissa Williams, violin; Eeva-Maria Kopp, soprano;
Jaeden Izik-Dzurko, piano
Okanagan Symphony Orchestra; Rosemary Thomson, music director
Centrediscs CMCCD29722

Friday, December 09, 2022

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalChristmas Week 2

December is a time of traditions. And the Classics a Day feed is no different. We continue our tradition of making Classical Christmas our December theme. 

The challenge is to post music related to the season. So sacred works for Advent and Christmas, secular works about winter, or even just music written and/or premiered in December. 

Here are my posts for the second full week in December.

12/05/22 Arnold Bax: Winter Legeneds

Bax described this large-scale work for piano and orchestra as "a northern nature piece full of sea and pine forest and dark legends."

12/06/22 William Billings: Boston

Billing's "Boston" is one of America's earliest original Christmas hymns. It was published in "The Singing Master's Assistant" of 1778.

12/07/22 Johann Kuhnau: Wenn ihr fröhlich seid an euren Festen

Kuhnau was the kapellmeister at St. Thomaskirche, Leipzig for 18 years. Upon his death, Johann Sebastian Bach was hired as his replacement.

12/08/22 Louis-Claude Daquin: Noel VI

Daquin's 1757 publication Nouveau livre de noëls is standard repertoire for organists. It features his settings of traditional French carols.

12/09/22 Georg Philipp Telemann - Cantata am Feste der heiligen drei Konige from Harmonischer Gottes-Dienst

I could do the entire month of posts with Telemann Christmas cantatas. We'll settle for this one from 1726 -- for now

Friday, December 02, 2022

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalChristmas Week 1

December is a time of traditions. And the Classics a Day feed is no different. We continue our tradition of making Classical Christmas our December theme. 

The challenge is to post music related to the season. So sacred works for Advent and Christmas, secular works about winter, or even just music written and/or premiered in December. 

Here are my posts for the first week in December (short though it was).

12/01/22 Claudio Monteverdi: Magnificat

The Magnificat (My soul magnifies the Lord) is Mary's response to the angel Gabriel. Monteverdi wrote this setting for St. Mark's Cathedral in Venice, where he served for many years.

12/02/22 Charles Tomlinson Griffes: A Winter Landscape

Griffes wrote this in 1912, the same year he composed "The Pleasure Dome of Kubla Khan," one of his most popular works.

Thursday, December 01, 2022

Jan Willem de Vriend gives Mayer symphonies energetic readings

This is the second installment in CPO's Emilie Mayer symphonic cycle. In the first, Jan Willem de Vriend and the NDR Radiophilharmonie performed Mayer's first two symphonies. This release includes her third symphony as well as her seventh, possibly her last.

Symphony No. 3, "Military" was Mayer's career-making work. Sort of. It premiered at an exclusive concert of all-Mayer music. Mayer carefully organized the event. She supervised the rehearsals and cannily selected the guest list. It included the most influential musicians, critics, and taste-makers. 

And it worked. Critics were uniformly effusive in their praise of her music, especially the symphony. The publicity helped her achieve performances in other cities throughout Germany.

But at the heart of it, the critics all said the same thing. Pretty good -- for a woman. In time the momentum slowed. Mayer found it increasingly difficult to get her music performed by chamber ensembles, never mind orchestras. 

This release -- as does the previous one -- shows just how criminally unfair those assessments were. 

The "Military" symphony is a spirited work. One critic at the premiere wrote, "The themes flow lightly through the knowledgeably demarcated realm of tone colors, which change with taste, rather often even with surprising elegance." Not bad for anyone, regardless of gender.

I agree with that assessment. Mayer handles her material skillfully. And while themes develop in a logical fashion, that logic is often only apparent in hindsight. The listener is constantly surprised at what comes next. 

Symphony No. 7 in F minor was composed six years later. It was never performed in Mayer's lifetime. There are hints that she wrote one more symphony, but no trace has been found.

The work is still pure Mayer. Themes unfold and develop in fresh and exciting ways. The music rises and falls, moving from one dramatic point to the next. Mayer's skills as a composer and orchestrator are on full display with this work. 

Jan Willem de Vriend leads the NDR Radiophilharmonie in some excellent performances. He keeps the energy level high, and the ensemble sound controlled. Mayer's tutti climaxes lean more towards Mendelssohn than Beethoven. And that's how de Vriend plays it. 

The orchestra has a warm ensemble sound. Solo instruments sound with clarity, letting us appreciate the subtlety of Mayer's orchestrations. 

The score for Mayer's Symphony No. 5 is lost, as is the one for No. 8. So that leaves just two more symphonies for de Vriend and the NDR Radiophilharmonie to record. I look forward to the completion of this cycle. 

Emilie Mayer: Symphonies Nos. 3 and 7
NDR Radiophilharmonie; Jan Willem de Vriend, conductor