Friday, December 29, 2023

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalHoliday Week 4 2023

A holiday tradition (of sorts) returns! Since 2017, the #ClassicsaDay team has made holiday music the December theme. The music shared doesn't necessarily have to be related to Christmas. It can be any classical work associated with either December's sacred or secular activities (or even just weather).

The challenge is to post video performances of the works that fit the theme in your social media channels. As always, I shared selections I hadn't used before. Here are my picks for the fourth and final week of #ClassicalHoliday.

12/25/23 Johann Sebastian Bach: Christmas Oratorio BWV 248

This oratorio was never meant to be heard in one sitting. It's actually a set of cantatas that were originally sung -- one for each of the six feast days -- throughout the Christmas season.


12/26/23 Johann Kuhnau: Four Christmas Chorales

Johann Sebastian Bach replaces Kuhnau as Thomaskantor after his death. Kuhnau had held the post for over 20 years and few were convinced that Bach could fill his shoes.


12/27/23 Johann Schelle: Ere sie Gott in der Hohe

Schelle was Thomaskantor in Leipzig for 30 years in the late 1600s. Bach would be hired to the position in 1723.  

12/28/23 Sethus Calvisius: Pareter rerum serium

Calvisius was Thomaskantor in Leipzig from 1594-1615. His duties included composing music for worship every week. It was basically the same job Bach was hired to do as Thomaskantor a century later.


12/29/23 Wolfgang Figulus: Joseph lieber Joseph mein

Figulus was the eighth Thomaskantor of Leipzig, hired in 1525 to provide sacred and secular music for St. Thomas Church and the city. Bach would be hired to the same post two centuries later.


Next Month:

Thursday, December 28, 2023

Arte Minima Intimately Performs Francisco de Santa Maria

The ensemble Arte Minima specializes in Renaissance music from Portugal. This album presents the Missa "O beata Maria" by Francisco de Santa Maria. Santa Maria (1532/38-1597) was chapel master of the Monastery of Santa Cruz de Coimbra. He was a favorite of King Philip I of Portugal. 

The ensemble doesn't just present the mass. It begins with the Pedro Guerrero motet Santa Maria based the work on. It also includes three instrumental interludes, inserted into the mass. These provide contrast to the choral music and make for a more engaging program. 

Santa Maria was a master of counterpoint. His melodic lines are always clear. The counterpoint supports and enhances the melodies without obscuring them. Santa Maria had a unique compositional voice. I've not heard 16th-century choral music quite like this. It's a welcome addition to the recorded repertoire. 

The Alte Minima is an unusual ensemble. It has four vocalists and five instrumentalists. The instrumentalists play a variety of alto, tenor, and bass recorders. It's a warm, soft sound with a wonderful blend of the voices.

It's a sound I've not heard before. And it's music I've not heard before. So, win-win for me. And perhaps for you, too. If you're interested in Renaissance choral music, give this album a listen.

Francisco de Santa Maria
Missa "O beata Maria"
Arte Minima; Pedro Sousa Silva
Pan Clasics PC 10452

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Peter Kolkay Delivers Compelling Program for Bassoon

It's an unusual combination of instruments. And it makes for an unusually interesting program. This release features some of the biggest names in contemporary music. These aren't their biggest pieces. But the music is uniformly first-rate and innovative.

Bassonist Peter Kolkay has assembled a carefully thought-out program. All four composers might be considered tonal. And yet each has their own definition as to what that means.

Kolkay commissioned Joan Tower's "Red Maple," a concerto for bassoon and orchestra. This version is for string quartet, and it works quite well. The intimate nature of the arrangement creates a conversation between soloist and ensemble. 

Kolkay also commissioned "Massarosa" by Mark-Anthony Turnage. This is a more dissonant work than "Red Maple." And has a sense of emotional drama, unlike the relatively serene Tower work. But both are at heart lyrical works. Both give the bassoon a chance to sing. And Kolkay does just that. 

His tone is warm and full. And he's able to spin out long, flowing melodies with apparent ease.

Russell Platt's Quintet for bassoon and string quartet wasn't commissioned by Kolkay. But he still makes it his own. Kolkay's playing has a plaintive quality to it that's quite evocative. 

Judith Weir's "Wake Your Wild Voice" is for bassoon and cello. The two instruments have a similar range, but very different timbre. Weir uses that contrast to great effect. 

This is an album that should appeal to anyone. Not just those interested in contemporary music, or chamber music. But anyone who can appreciate skilled musicians performing music of quality.   

Red Maple: Music for Bassoon and Strings
Music by Joan Tower, Russell Platt, Mark-Anthony Turnage, Judith Wier
Peter Kolkay, bassoon; Calidore String Quartet
Bridge Records 9587

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Michelango Quartet Surveys Tcherepnin Composer Family

The Tcherepnin family is a true musical dynasty. It began with composer and pianist Nicolai Tcherepnin in the Soviet Union. His son, Alexander was also a composer and pianist. He left the USSR in the 1920s, eventually settling in the United States. His two sons, Serge and Ivan were both composers. Ivan, an innovative composer of electronic music, had two sons, Stefan and Sergei. Both are contemporary composers.

Although this album is a two-disc set, there's not enough room to represent all the Tcherepnins. This release presents the first three generations of Tcherepnin composers. And it also makes Alexander Tcherepnin the focus. His father Nicolai is represented by his String Quartet in A minor. A work for soprano and string quartet by his son Ivan is also included. 

Alexander Tcherapnin has two string quartets and a piano quintet on the release. Nicolai's string quartet was written in 1900. It's very much a work in the Russian Romantic style, and quite beautiful. 

Ivan Tcherepnin ran Harvard's University Electronic Music Studio. He was considered an avant-garde composer. His 1996 work "There Was No Wind" has a restless energy to it. But it still uses a tonal language (albeit one with a lot of extended string techniques). It's a good choice for this release. 

Positioned next to Alexander's 1927 Piano Quintet, one can hear some similarities. In both works the composers are pushing against the limits of tonality. Ivan may go farther, but only because he was building on 70 years of musical innovation. 

Alexander's music is nicely poised between the past and the present. The three works are all from the 1920s. He uses traditional forms and techniques while extending the reach of traditional tonalities. Some sections reminded me of Hindemith or Bartok. But those were passing resemblances. Alexander, like the rest of his family, writes in his own voice, communicating his own vision.

The Michelangelo Quartet delivers some stellar performances. They have a real presence that demands active listening. This album is but a glimpse of the Tcherpnin musical legacy. But it encourages further exploration. 

Nikolai, Alexander, Ivan Tcherepnin
String Quartets, Piano Quintet, "There Was No Wind"
Sibhan Stagg; Giuseppe Mentuccia
Michelangelo Quartet
2 CD set

Friday, December 22, 2023

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalHoliday Week 3 2023

A holiday tradition (of sorts) returns! Since 2017, the #ClassicsaDay team has made holiday music the December theme. The music shared doesn't necessarily have to be related to Christmas. It can be any classical work associated with either the sacred or secular activities of  December (or even just weather).

The challenge is to post video performances of the works that fit the theme in your social media channels. As always, I tried to share selections I haven't used before. Here are my picks for the third week of #ClassicalHoliday.

12/16/23 William Billings: Creation

In his day, Billings was one of the most celebrated American composers. He exclusively wrote for amateur church choirs. He wrote hymns for all parts of the church calendar, including Advent and Christmas. 


12/17/23 Gerald Finzi: In Tera Pax, Christmas Scene, Op. 39

Finzi composed this work in 1954. In the 1920s he had climbed to the top of a hill and heard the midnight bells ringing out Christmas morning. That memory would form the basis of the work.


12/18/23 Bob Chilcott: Christmas Oratorio

Chilcott was a member of the King's Singers from 1985-1997. He arranged music for the ensemble. After leaving the group, he became a successful choral composer. His Christmas Oratorio was commissioned by the Three Choirs Festival in 2019.


12/19/23 Carl Hienrich Graun: Christmas Oratorio

Graun had a pretty steady gig as Kapellmeister to Frederick the Great. He held the post for 19 years, providing the court with music for both secular and sacred occasions -- like this Christmas Oratorio.


12/20/23 Marc-Antoine Charpentier: Les antiennes O d'Avent

Charpentier was the music master for the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris, beginning in 1698. He was also often commissioned to compose music for court events -- and high church days -- like this setting of Advent antiphons.


12/21/23 Arthur Honegger: Christmas Cantata

Honegger completed his cantata in 1953. It would be his final work. Although he died two years later, a protracted illness prevented Honegger from composing.


12/22/23 Daniel Pinkham: O come, Emmanuel (Variations on an Advent Hymn)

Pinkhams was a composer and organist of the first rank. Although he wrote in all genres, a large part of his catalog was sacred music, most of it using the organ.


Thursday, December 21, 2023

"Music on Christmas Morning" delivers on promise

The subtitle for this release is "A Festive mix of fresh and favourite carols." And it is that. As the spelling suggests, this is a British choral program. And one that delivers on the promise. 

The favorite carols include Herbert Howells' "A Spotless Rose." There are also arrangements of "Nova, Nova," Ding Dong! Merrily on High,"  and the Sussex Carol.  Contemporary British choral composers are also well-represented. 

John Rutter has three selections on the release. Bob Chilcott has two.  Roxanna Panufnik's gorgeous version of "Sleep, Jesus, Sleep" is also included. 

Just a mix of these shorter carols would make this a superior collection. But there's more. The release begins with Gerald Finzi's "In Terra Pax." Finzi's inspiration for the work was his memory of a Christmas Eve. He was standing on a hill as the snow fell, hearing the church bells ring out in the distance. 

The work captures the introspective nature of the scene beautifully. And the musicians perform with sensitivity and expression. Baritone Roderick Williams sings with a clear, warm tone. The smooth vocal blend of the Vasari Singers provides the perfect counterpoint.

The Vasari Singers have a traditional British choral sound. The ensemble has 19 sopranos, and only nine each of altos, tenors, and basses.  The sopranos provide a high-register sound that sounds both bright and warm.

This is not your typical Lessons and Carols British choral album. The subtitle is correct. There may be some favorite carols here, but to me, it all sounds pretty fresh. This one will be in heavy rotation at the Graves' house this season. 

Music on Christmas Morning
Chilcott, Farrington, Finzi, Howells, Llewellyn, Paish, Peacock, Rutter
Roderick Williams, baritone; Martin Ford, organ
Vasari Singers; Jeremy Backhouse director

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

A Minstrel's Christmas -- Timeless Performances by Alfred Deller

Alfred Deller was one of the pioneers of early music. He was a countertenor who helped define the sound of early music in the 1950s and 1960s. Deller was known for his use of vibrato and improvised ornamentation. 

Current authentic practices have moved away from the Deller sound. But he remains a major influence in the field.

Alto culls several recordings made between 1956 and 1965 to create this compilation. The sound, the repertoire, and the performances together create something that seems timeless. 

The sound has a softness that's of its time. These analog recordings are devoid of extreme highs or lows. To me, the music sounds slightly faded, like an old, well-loved photograph. 

Deller's performances also have an old-fashioned quality to them. There is some very fine singing here. But it's not modern classical style, and it's not modern early music style either. It's something different, and now a little old-fashioned.

The music selections are also of their time. Today one expects an early music Christmas album to be just that. Authentic performances of music from a certain era. The playing should adhere to accepted performance practices of said style period.

Deller gives us a variety of carols old and new. There are some legitimate early music selections. But there are also some 19th and even 20th Century carols. The collection includes "Once in Royal David's City,." It Came Upon a Midnight Clear," and "The Twelve Days of Christmas."

But all are performed by Alfred Deller and the Deller Consort in an early music style. We hear lute and recorder, not modern instruments. In some cases, the harmonies have been simplified to conform to earlier styles. And Deller's clear, bell-like voice removes any trace of modernism from these selections. 

It all combines to create an album of music that seems timeless. Like many of our favorite carols, these selections sound old. But it's difficult to say how old, exactly. It's as if these versions have always been around, waiting to be recorded. 

It's not exactly early music, definitely not pop or light classical.  "A Minstrel's Christmas" is an album that interprets these classics in its own way.

 A Minstrel's Christmas
Alfred Deller, counter-tenor
The Deller Consort
Desmond Dupré, lute; Steven Taylor, recorder

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

German Christmas Music of the Renaissance a Welcome Regift

Sometimes regifting isn't a bad thing. This release originally came out in 1978. At that time Orpheus was a sub-label of the Musical Heritage Society. As a classical Christmas album, it's simply first-rate. And it's been out of print for decades. So thanks, Alto, for regifting (or rather reissuing) "In Dulci Jubilo."

The sound of the recording holds up pretty well. It's not as crisp and detailed as a modern digital recording, and that's fine. The soft definition of the sound gives it an intimate character somehow.

Elly Ameling delivers some performances that dazzle with their simplicity. She sings in a straightforward fashion that suits the music. The program is a selection of late 16th to early 17th-century German hymn tunes. They were meant to be sung in a non-pretentious and non-performative style.

The religious expression is heartfelt and direct. And that's how Ameling sings these selections. Other voices join in from time to time, providing contrast to the program. The accompaniment remains modest throughout the album. Jus a recorder, krummhorn, violas da braccio, lute, and a viola da gamba.

This is intimate music-making indeed. And as a Christmas album, it provides a respite from the busyness of the season. Forty-plus minutes of quiet contemplation. Thanks for the regift! 

In Dulci Jubilo: German Christmas Music of the Renaissance
Elly Ameling, soprano
Orpheus Records OR 320

Friday, December 15, 2023

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalHoliday Week 2 2023

A holiday tradition (of sorts) returns! Since 2017, the #ClassicsaDay team has made holiday music the December theme. The music shared doesn't necessarily have to be related to Christmas. It can be any classical work associated with either the sacred or secular activities of December (or even just weather).

The challenge is to post video performances of the works that fit the theme in your social media channels. As always, I tried to share selections I haven't used before. Here are my picks for the first week of #ClassicalHoliday.

12/11/23 Thomas de Hartmann: Koliadky, Noëls Ukrainiens

De Hartmann wrote an orchestral suite based on the traditional Christmas carols sung by Ukranians. He completed the work in 1940.


12/12/23 Juan García de Zéspedes: Convidando está la noche

Mexican composer Zéspedes started his career at the Puebla Cathedra as a boy soprano. He would eventually become its choirmaster. He continually blended folk elements with traditional Baroque styles.


12/13/23 Giuseppe Torelli: Concerto a Quattro Per Il Santissimo Natale Op. 8 no. 6

Torelli published a set of 12 Christmas Concertos in 1709. These were a subgenre of the sonata da chiesa that were only performed during December church services.


12/14/23 Eric Whitacre: The Chelsea Carol

Whitacre is one of the most-performed choral composers in the world today. The Chelsea Carol was commissioned for the 75th anniversary of Southern College's Lessons and Carols service.


12/15/23 John Rutter: Angel's Carol

As a young man, Rutter worked on David Willcocks' five volumes of "Carols for Choirs." He learned a lot. A significant part of his output is choral Christmas music.


Thursday, December 14, 2023

Robin White: Light of the World

CD singles are common in many musical genres. But they're relatively rare in classical. So this one piqued my interest when it crossed my desk recently. I wasn't familiar with Robin Whit's work, so I was hearing this track with fresh ears. 

If you take "Light of the World" for what it is, you'll enjoy it. This is, quite simply, an unpretentious Christmas carol. It's not trying to push any stylistic envelopes. It doesn't offer any grand insights. It just celebrates the idea of Christmas simply and nostalgically.

In the liner notes White writes: "What can you say about Christmas that’s new? Nothing: that’s the whole point!" So he gives us a light classical choral work, set as a Viennese waltz. If I wasn't aware of its origins, I'd have guessed this to be a Victorian composition. 

No matter. It works. I can see this being a welcome addition to many a choral Christmas program. A bit of fun for the season. 

Robin White: Light of the World
Alban Voices; Royal Ballet Sinfonia; Robin White, conductor
Divine Art dds 29008
CD Single

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

JoAnn Falletta Finds the Right Approach for Kodály


This is the second Kodály outing for JoAnn Falletta and the Buffalo Philharmonic. And it's the final volume, too. Kodály didn't write that much orchestral music. But he did write was solid gold. 

This release features the Hary Janos Suite, one of his most popular works. Falletta conducts the orchestra with a light touch. The protagonist is a braggart, and his stories aren't meant to be taken seriously. There's a sense of fun embedded in the orchestra's performance. 

"Summer Evening," on the other hand, is perhaps Kodály's least-performed work. I'm hesitant to say "least favorite." I think most folks would fall in love with this music if they heard it. This idyl features a solo cor anglais accompanied by strings and a few other instruments. 

It's a lush, lyrical work. Here Falletta leans into the richness of the harmonies. The strings have a full, warm sound that supports the dark-timbre cor anglais nicely. 

Kodály had worked intermittently on his Symphony in C major. At Toscanini's request, Kodály managed to finish the work two decades after he started it, in 1957. As might be expected, the work's long gestation period precludes any ultra-modern gestures. It has a sense of nostalgia. 

But not for the Late Romantic period. With this work, Kodály seems to be emulating Haydn and Mozart. The orchestra has a translucent sound. And the musicians play with a restraint worthy of Haydn. Nevertheless, Kodály's harmonies and orchestrations root this work in the 20th Century. 

Falletta has forged the Buffalo Philharmonic into a world-class ensemble during her tenure. The result is another outstanding album to add to the BPO's catalog of recordings.

Zoltan Kodály felt that music should be for everyone. The works -- and the performances on this album  -- should have broad appeal. 


Zoltán Kodály
Háry János Suite; Summer Evening; Symphony in C major
Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra; JoAnn Falletta, conductor

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Bernard Herrmann Symphony No. 1 a Welcome Reissue

Alto assembles a fine set of recordings for this Bernard Hermann reissue. Conductor James Sedares and producer Michael Fine created some outstanding recordings during the 1990s. The Koch label was known for both the quality of their artists and unusual repertoire. 

This release features four concert works by film composer Bernard Hermann. The Phoenix Symphony Orchestra (with Sedares) performs Hermann's 1941 symphony. The liner notes describe the work as Sibelius-like. Personally, I found it a little unfocused until the final movement. 

Nevertheless, Sedares and the Phoenix Symphony make this work sound as good as it can. Which isn't awful by any means. 

The rest of the recording is with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, culled from different releases. Snippets of the Concerto Macabre were featured in the film "Hangover Square." Hermann fleshed out the soundtrack cues and wove them together in a cohesive whole. To me, it had a hint of the "Warsaw Concerto's uber-Rachmaninoff style. It's much more restrained here, though. And that makes this concerto work better as a concert piece.

Pianist Sara Davis Buechner injects some nervous energy into her playing. This is in keeping with the film's hero, a deranged pianist/composer.

Hermann created "The Devil and Daniel Webster Suite" from the film score. This is one of his more popular concert works, and it's easy to hear why. There's a hint of Americana that runs through it. And plenty of drama, too!

Despite their age, these recordings sound really good. The ambiance is nicely balanced, and there's plenty of detail in the sound. 

If you only know Hermann through "Psycho," check out this recording. He wasn't just a film composer. Rather, he was a composer who also wrote for film.

Bernard Herrmann: Symphony No. 1
Concerto Macabre; For the Fallen;
The Devil and Daniel Webster (film suite)
James Sedares, conductor
Sara Davis Buechner, piano
Phoenix Symphony Orchestra; New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Friday, December 08, 2023

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalHoliday Week 1 2023

A holiday tradition (of sorts) returns! Since 2017, the #ClassicsaDay team has made holiday music the December theme. The music shared doesn't necessarily have to be related to Christmas. It can be any classical work associated with either the sacred or secular activities of December (or even just weather).

The challenge is to post video performances of the works that fit the theme in your social media channels. As always, I tried to share selections I haven't used before. Here are my picks for the first week of #ClassicalHoliday

12/04/23 Louis-Claude Daquin: Premier Noel

Daquin published a collection of twelve noels for the keyboard in 1757. The tunes were transcribed from traditional French sources. Many of these survive, in part, because of Daquin's work.


12/05/23 Mykola Leontovych: Shchedryk (Carol of the Bells)

Ukraine composer Leontovych wrote the original song "Shehedryk in 1914. 22 years later Peter Wilhousky set the text "Carol of the Bells" by which it's known today.


12/06/23 William Henry Fry: Santa Claus Symphony

Fry was the first symphonist born in the United States (1813). He was a major figure in Philadelphia, with seven symphonies and an opera to his credit. The 1858 Santa Claus Symphony was his most popular work.


12/07/23 William Byrd: Out of the Orient Crystal Skies

Byrd is thought to have composed this anthem around 1613. It would have been sung during Epiphany.


12/07/23 Johann Kuhnau: Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern

Johann Sebastian Bach was hired to replace Kuhnau as Kantor of Thomaskirche, Leipzig. It was a tough act to follow. In his two decades there, Kuhnau wrote vast amounts of music, some best-selling novels, and published collections of music.


12/08/23 Johann Schelle: Ehre sie Gott in der Höhe

Schnelle was kantor at Thomsaskirche, Leipzig in the late 1600s. J.S. Bach would hold that position 20 years later. This is one of the many cantatas he wrote for the Advent season during his tenure.


Friday, December 01, 2023

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalFam Week 5

 November means Thanksgiving when families gather together. The Classics a Day team decided to make families the theme. For the month of November, the challenge is to post video performances of musical family members. Post on any social media channel you like. 

What constitutes a musical family? Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn (brother and sister) both composed. As did many in the Bach family tree. 

For my part, I decided to follow the family connections from post to post. Here are my posts for the fourth week of #ClassicalFam.

11/27/23 Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847): Piano Trio No. 2 in C minor

Felix's sister Fanny was also a talented composer and pianist. Both studied composition and counterpoint together with Carl Friedrich Zelter.


11/28/23 Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel (1805-1847): Overture in C major

Fanny was sister to Felix. Like her brother, she showed musical talent at an early age, both as a pianist and a composer. She composed almost 400 compositions before her death at age 42.


11/29/23 Johann Strauss I (1804-1849)L Radetzky March

Johan was extremely popular as a composer of light music. His sons, Johann II, Josef, and Eduard were all popular composers, as was Eduard's son, Johann III.


11/30/23 Eduard Strauss (1835-1916): Hellenen-Quadrille, Op. 14

Eduard was the youngest son of composer Johann Strauss I. His older brothers Johann II and Josef were also popular composers, as was Eduard's son, Johann III.


Next Month:

Thursday, November 30, 2023

House of Belonging - Award-worthy Music

As I write this, "House of Belonging" is up for Best Choral Performance for the 66th Grammy Awards. No wonder. 

Craig Hella Johnson has sculpted his vocal ensemble into a wonderfully expressive instrument. Conspirare can sing with delicate transparency and stentorian authority. Their vocal blend is truly seamless. And there's often a luminous quality to the sound as well.

The album features twelve new choral works (out of seventeen tracks). Collectively they explore the possibilities of expression with the human voice. There are four (or more)-part harmony, wordless humming, vocal sound effects, and more. 

And while the music is new, it's never too academic. Every work can be enjoyed at some level on first hearing. And many yield new insights each time they're revisited. And there's a variety of styles, too. 

Contemporary composers are well-represented. Kevin Puts, Shara Nova and Alex Berko are just a few. And earlier composers such as Margaret Bonds and Ross Lee Finney also fit nicely in the mix. For me, the knockout track was "Reaching" by Craig Hella Johnson. Phenomenal.  

The Miro Quartet joins Conspirare for some works and plays alone on a couple of tracks. They're the perfect match for Conspirare. They, too, have a warm luminous ensemble sound.

This is an album of extraordinary beauty. Beautiful, insightful music sung by master musicians. Oh yes. This one deserves a Grammy nomination (if not the Grammy itself).   

House of Belonging
Miro Quartet
Craig Hella Johnson, director
Delos DE 3601

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Jauchzet Gott: Cantatas by Bach, Graupner, and Zelenka

For me, three things blend very well. They are the soprano voice, the clarion trumpet, and Baroque sacred cantatas. Apparently, I'm not alone, as Accent has released an album of just that. 

When done well, the soprano voice and Baroque trumpet complement each other. Both have about the same range. Plus the valveless trumpet sounds best in the high register.

This is a great album. Soprano Magdalene Harer sings with a smooth, honeyed tone. Her performances give the music a sense of the ethereal. 

Hannes Rux' instrument also favors a smoother tone. It doesn't have the edge of a modern trumpet, which is just fine. 

The Harmonie Universelle plays with both precision and energy. And that keeps the excitement level high throughout these works. And what a selection!

Christoph Graupner, Jan Dismass Zelenka, and Johann Sebastian Bach. All three were contemporaries. And all three were among the best composers of the late Baroque. 

Also included are two instrumental selections. Graupner's Concerto for Two Violins in E-flat major GWV 319 features the ensemble's co-directors. Monica Waisman and Florian Deuter have real chemistry, making this an engaging listen.

Bach's Sinfonia in D major, BWV 1045 is the sole surviving section of a much larger celebratory work. It provides a nice contrast between the cantatas. At the same time, it maintains the overall tone of the album. 

As I say -- these types of cantatas work for me. And these performances really make them work. Highly recommended.

Jauchzet Gott: Bach, Graupner, Zelenka
Magdalene Harer, soprano; Hannes Rux, trumpet
Harmonie Universelle; Florien Deuter and Monica Waisman, directors

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Marc Ponthus' Masterful Beethoven and Stockhausen

I'm of two minds about this release. The playing -- and the recording -- is first-rate. Marc Ponthus' skill and musicality deliver performances full of vitality. 

Beethoven's Hammerklavier Sonata is a Mount Everest for pianists. It's incredibly challenging to play. And it's almost as challenging to make sense of. There is an underlying structure and logic to the work. But it's not readily discernable as it is in, say, a Mozart sonata. 

The same can be said for Stockhausen's Klavierstücke X. It's derived from a number square Stockhausen developed. This square controls various aspects of the composition process. In this work, he also used a system of seven: chord clusters of 1-7 notes; action/rest durations, note values (1-7), etc.

Both are quite complex pieces. Ponthus has invested a great deal of time in the study and analysis of these works. And it was time well spent. I was particularly struck by his performance of Klavierstücke X. Ponthus instilled a sense of purpose in his playing. 

Superficially the work can sound wild and chaotic. But Ponthus is in control. He knows the function of every note, and how it fits into the structure of the work. With repeated listening, I began to hear hints of that structure, too. 

The Hammerklavier is the more traditional Ultimate Piano Sonata. Many virtuosi have performed and recorded it. Ponthus' interpretation goes beneath the surface. He makes connections between motives that are sometimes surprising. But logical in retrospect. 

I enjoyed this recording very much. But the liner notes, not so much. I appreciate Ponthus for trying to explain how he arrived at his interpretations. And I know it's difficult to talk about music in a non-musical setting (like text). 

But the entire essay is filled with sentences like this: 

"These two works are so concentrated and charged with deeply organic forces that they stand on their own. relatively detached from their creators, as they demand a level of engagement from both performer and listener that results in experiences of appropriation and unanticipated significance, in taxing perceptions and effects, and in the breakthrough into metaphysics."

Holy moly. That's a lot baggage to saddle any piece of music with. Sorry, these performances were thrilling. But I never broke through into the metaphysical world. I'm sympathetic to what Ponthus was trying to articulate. But my advice is this. Play the album, don't read the booklet. These works can speak for themselves.       

Ludwig van Beethoven: Hammerklavier Sonata Op. 106
Karlhenz Stockhausen: Klavierstücke X
Marc Ponthus, piano
Bridge Records 9584

Friday, November 24, 2023

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalFam Week 4

November means Thanksgiving when families gather together. The Classics a Day team decided to make families the theme. For the month of November, the challenge is to post video performances of musical family members. Post on any social media channel you like. 

What constitutes a musical family? Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn (brother and sister) both composed. As did many in the Bach family tree. 

For my part, I decided to follow the family connections from post to post. Here are my posts for the fourth week of #ClassicalFam.

11/20/23 Wilhelm Hieronymus Pachelbel (1686-1794): Fantasia super Meine Seele, lass es gehen

Wilhelm's father was Johann Pachelbel, whose fame has grown significantly since his death. Wilehlm's younger brother Charles Theodore was also a composer. Only seven works by Wilhelm survive.


11/21/23 Charles Theodore Pachelbel (1690-1750): Magnificat

Charles was brother to composer Wilhelm Hieronymus, and both were sons to composer Johann Pachelbel. Charles emigrated to America in 1733. He settled in Charleston, SC where he organized concerts and started a singing school.


11/22/23 Leopold Mozart 1719-1787): Sinfonia Burlesca

Leopold was father to Wolfgang Amadeus, and grandfather to Franz Xaver Mozart, both composers (of differing abilities) In his day Leopold was renowned for his treatise on violin technique -- a work still in use today.


11/23/23 Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791): Violin Sonata No. 26 in B-flat major, K. 378

Wolfgang was the son of composer Leopold Mozart. Two of his sons survived infancy. The younger, Franz Xaver was also a composer.


11/24/23 Franz Xaver Mozart (1791-1844): Piano Concerto No. 1 in C major, Op. 14

Franz was the youngest son of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. He studied composition with Antonio Salieri and enjoyed a modestly successful career as a pianist and composer. His older brother Karl was also a pianist but did not compose.


Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Zillacus Quartet Present Collaborative Masterworks


This is a fascinating release of interconnected composers. Edvard Grieg was a close family friend of the Rontgens -- Julius and his wife Amanda Maier. Rontgen would eventually publish a biography of his friend in 1930. And he did more than that.

Grieg had started a string quartet in 1891 and set it aside. He had completed only the first two movements. Rontgen. Rontgen composed two final movements based on Grieg's notes and sketches. 

The completed quartet was performed in the Rontgen home with an all-star lineup. Harold Bauer played the first violin. Pablo Casals played the second violin and his wife played the cello. Julius Rontgen played the viola. His second wife, Abrahamina, was the sole audience member. 

The Grieg/Rontgen quartet was then put aside. It receives its world recording premiere here.

Rontgen's first wife, Amanda Maier was an accomplished violinist and a skilled composer. Her early death at age 41 left her own string quartet unfinished. It would remain so until 2018.  That's when Swedish conductor and composer Bengt Tommy Andersson completed it.

Rounding out the release is Rontgen's own work, his String Quartet No. 12.

Violinist Cecilia Zilliacus has recorded several of Maier's works. And she's specialized in Scandinavian string music. She has a deep understanding of this music.

And that understanding comes through in this recording. The Zilliacus Quartet has a warm, clear ensemble sound. They bring out the emotional content of this music, but never to excess. 

Instead, we're treated to some exciting, well-executed quartet playing. And that playing breathes life into these works. The origins of the music don't matter. The Grieg/Rontgen and Maier/Andersson quartets sound like seamless and organic masterpieces.

The Zillacus Quartet
Grieg, Maier, Rontgen: String Quartets
DB Productions

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Wigmore Soloists Focus on British Music

This is the fourth BIS release from the Wigmore Soloists. And this time they're staying a little closer to home. All three composers represented are from the UK.

The musicians that comprise the Wigmore Soloists are all in top form. And in this SACD recording, they sound great. The ensemble blends are seamless. The recording captures the natural sound of the instruments. 

The release opens with the Octet of Howard Ferguson from 1933. Ferguson was a self-critical composer. He only allowed twenty-one of his works to see the light of day. 

The octet is very much in the English pastoral style. Ferguson doesn't quote folk songs. But his choice of harmonies and melodic turns make this sound very English.  

Arthur Bliss was greatly inspired by clarinetist Frederick Thurston. His distinctive style was very much in Bliss' mind as he wrote his Clarinet Quintet. The work was completed a year before Ferguson's Octet.

The two pieces share a similar style, though Bliss sounds less distinctively British. 

After listening to the Ferguson and the Bliss, Robin Holloway's octet might be a shock to the system. The Serenade in C was written in 1979. And Holloway's aesthetic was far removed from 1930s Britain.

Holloway uses musical cliches to create something new and wonderfully quirky. The listener is never quite sure where the music's going, but the fun is in the journey. 

This is a fine addition to the Wigmore Soloists' catalog. And it would make a fine addition to most listeners' music libraries.

Wigmore Soloists
Ferguson, Bliss, Holloway: Chamber Music

Friday, November 17, 2023

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalFam Week 3

November means Thanksgiving when families gather together. The Classics a Day team decided to make families the theme. For the month of November, the challenge is to post video performances of musical family members. Post on any social media channel you like. 

What constitutes a musical family? Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn (brother and sister) both composed. As did many in the Bach family tree. 

For my part, I decided to follow the family connections from post to post. Here are my posts for the third week of #ClassicalFam.

11/13/23 Alexander Tcherepnin (1899-1977): Piano Conceto No. 1, Op. 12

Alexander's father Nicolai was an important Soviet composer. Alexander emigrated to the US. Both his sons Serge and Ivan were composers, as were two of Ivan's sons, Serge and Stefan.

11/14/23 Ivan Tcherepnin (1943-1988): Five Songs

Ivan was the son of noted composer Alexander Tcherepnin and grandson of composer/pianist Alexander Tcherepnin. His older brother was also an important composer, as is Ivan's son Sergei.


11/15/23 Sergei Tcherepnin: Subharmonic Thicket

Sergei is the latest in a long line of composers. His brother Stefan is also a composer. Their father (Ivan) and uncle Serge were both internationally known composers, as was their grandfather Alexander.


11/16/23 Stefan Tcherepnin: "Honky Tonk Calamity -- Ms. Fortune"

Stefan comes from a family of composers. His brother Sergei is one, as was their father Alexander, uncle Sergei, and grandfather Alexander. 

11/17/23 Johann Pachelbel (1653-1706): Halleluja! Lobet Den Herrn

Today he's pretty much a one-hit wonder. But Pachelbel was a respected composer in his day, writing over 530 works. His two sons, Wilhelm Hieronymus and Charles Theodore were also composers.


Thursday, November 16, 2023

Reissue collects strong Respighi performances

This reissue brings together releases from two different Koch Schann releases. Violinist Andrea Cappelletii recorded the bulk of these works in 1994. The Poema autumnale was issued a year earlier with violinist Igor Bruppman. 

The Philharmonia Orchestra under Matthias Bamert has a luminosity that's perfect for Resphigi. The San Diego Chamber Orchestra under Donald Barra wasn't quite in the same league. It's a smaller ensemble and the sound's a little closed-in.

But when it comes to performances, all these tracks are on the same high level of musicianship. 

Andrea Cappelletti's violin has a clean, crystalline quality to it. For the Concerto gregoriano, it's the equivalent of light pouring through stained glass. For the Concerto all'antica, Cappelletti adopts a carefree, playful stance.

Igor Gruppman plays with a darker, throatier tone. It matches the melancholy mood of the Poema autunnale. 

Respighi was a master orchestrator. That skill is apparent in all three of these works. And the soloists effectively convey the emotions of the material. 

Another welcome reissue from Alto.  

Ottorino Respighi: Violin Concertos and Suite
Concerto Gregoriano; Concerto all' antica; Poema Autunnale
Andrea Cappelletti, violin
Philharmonia Orchestra; Matthias Bamert, conductor
San Diego Chamber Orchestra; Donald Barra, conductor

Friday, November 10, 2023

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalFam Week 2

November means Thanksgiving when families gather together. The Classics a Day team decided to make families the theme. For the month of November, the challenge is to post video performances of musical family members. Post on any social media channel you like. 

What constitutes a musical family? Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn (brother and sister) both composed. As did many in the Bach family tree. 

For my part, I decided to follow the family connections from post to post. Here are my posts for the second week of #ClassicalFam.

11/06/23 Wilhelm Andriessen (1887-1964): Piano Concerto in D-flat major (1908)

This Dutch pianist and composer was brother to Hendrik Andriessen and Hendrik's two sons, Jurriaan and Louis -- all composers.


11/07/23 Alessandro Scarlatti (1660-1725): Cantata pastorale per la nascità di Nostro Signore

Alessandro founded the Neapolitan school of opera. His sons Domenico and Pietro Filippo were also composers.


11/08/23 Pietro Filippo Scarlatti (1679-1750): Toccata in G minor

Pietro was the eldest son of Alessandro Scarlatti, and his brother Domenico. Both have overshadowed him, as little of Pietro's music survives.


11/09/23 Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757): Stabat mater

Domenico was the son of Alessandro Scarlatti and brother to Pietro Filippo, both composers. Domenico is famous for his 555 keyboard sonatas, although he did write in other genres.


11/10/23 Nikolai Tcherepnin (1883-1945): The Enchanted Kingdom

Nikolai's son Alexander was also a renowned composer. Alexander's two sons, Serge and Ivan were also composers. And Ivan's two sons, Sergei and Stefan are composers as well. Quite a dynasty!


Friday, November 03, 2023

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalFam Week 1

November means Thanksgiving when families gather together. The Classics a Day team decided to make families the theme. For the month of November, the challenge is to post video performances of musical family members. Post on any social media channel you like. 

What constitutes a musical family? Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn (brother and sister) both composed. As did many in the Bach family tree. 

For my part, I decided to follow the family connections from post to post. Here are my posts for the first week of #ClassicalFam.

11/01/23 Hendrik Andriessen (1892-1981): Ricecare (1949)

Andriessen was a Dutch composer and organist. His brother Wilhelm was also a composer, as were Hendrik's two sons, Louis and Jurriaan.


11/02/23 Jurriaan Andriessen (1925-1996): Music for an Imaginary Play (1987)

This Dutch composer had several relatives who also composed: his father Hendrick, his uncle Wilhelm, and his younger brother Louis.

11/03/23 Louis Andriessen (1939-2021): Tapdance - Percussion Concerto (2013)

This Dutch composer pianist was brother to composer Jurriaan Andriessen. Both his father (Hendrik) and uncle (Wilhelm) were also important composers.


Thursday, November 02, 2023

David Biedenbender Chamber Music Impresses

I first became aware of David Biedenbender's music this past year. I attended a Garth Newel Piano Quartet concert, and they performed his "Solstice." I was impressed. 

It was a wonderfully evocative work. Biedenbender takes the listener through the four seasons in the country. His string writing recreates the sounds of summer, and the piano the flurry of snow (to cite two examples). 

I was very excited then, to have this release cross my desk. Especially as it contained "Solstice."

The album includes a second work played by the quartet. This one includes clarinetist Mingzhe Wang. "Red Vespers"  was commissioned to celebrate the Capitol Reef National Park. It's an expansive, though thinly-textured work. And it captures the essence of absorbing the beauty of a vast landscape.

The Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble performs "Shell and Wing, " which they commissioned.  It reflects the anxiety of parents in the wake of almost continual school shootings. Who says classical music isn't relevant?

Robert Fanning provided the text for "Shell and Wing," as well as the title track. "All We Are Given We Cannot Hold" reflects on the fragility of life.

To my ears, Biedenbender's music effectively blends several elements. He writes strong melodic lines that are tonal, but free of the major/minor straightjacket. He uses the motivic energy of minimalism at times. And often the music simply hangs in space, not moving, but just existing.

I hope there are more recordings coming from this remarkable composer.

David Biedenbender: All We Are Given We Cannot Hold
Garth Newel Piano Quartet with Mingzhe Wang
Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble; Haven Trio


Wednesday, November 01, 2023

Giovanni Battista Casali Fills in Historical Gap

The liner notes for this release make a point. And on reflection, I had to agree with it. They assert that for many, the history of Roman Catholic church music has an arc.

The history starts with Medieval chant. It develops through the Renaissance with polyphony. And it stops with Palextrina in the early 1600s. 

At this point, we turn our attention to the Protestant church music of the North. And the presumption is that nothing further happened to church music in Italy.

But musical development didn't stop. Italian composers continued to innovate and experiment right into the Age of Enlightenment. Composers like Giovanni Battista Casali.

Casali was a contemporary of Mozart and Haydn and was choirmaster at the church of St. John Lateran in Rome.

One of the characteristics of Casali is his clarity. The text is sung in four-part harmony. There's a lot of homophonic singing, with clear enunciation of the text.

The internal lines are easy to make out. In fact, most of these selections have a clean, transparent ensemble blend. Counterpoint is present, but the interwoven melodies sound clear and easy to follow.

Casali was also an opera composer. To me, his sacred choral music bears a strong resemblance to opera choruses of the day. And that's not a bad thing.

The Constanzi Consort is directed by Peter Leach. The soloists are very good and sing in a straightforward manner. A welcome addition to our collective knowledge of the Classical Era.

Giovanni Battista Casali: Sacred Music from 18th Century Rome
Costanzi Consort; Peter Leech, conductor
Toccata Classics TOCC 0429

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Dario Salvi Brings Marschner Center Stage

Today, Heinrich August Marschner is a minor figure in the history of music. But that wasn't the case in the 19th Century. Dario Salvi's continued exploration of his music encourages a serious re-assessment of Marschner.

Marschner was a close friend of both Beethoven and Mendelssohn. Schumann had a high regard for his music as well. Marschner was also considered Schubert's heir in the field of lieder.

And he was one of the most popular non-Italian opera composers of the mid-1800s. The rise of Wagner made Marschner's music sound old-fashioned, and it soon disappeared from the stage. 

As Dario Salvi demonstrates, the assessments of Beethoven, Mendelssohn, and Schumann weren't wrong. Marschner had a facility for creating lyrical melodies. And he had then talent to orchestrate them for maximum dramatic effect. 

Here Salvi focuses on three stage works: Prinz Friedrich von Homburg (1821), Kaiser Adolph von Nassau (1845), and Austin (1850). Also included is the 1842 concert overture "Sounds from the East."

By presenting multiple excerpts from these works, Salvi shows Marschner's range. There's a lot of great music tucked away in those scores.

Salvi conducts the Hradec Králové Philharmonic Orchestra. The ensemble has an attractive sound. Details are easy to hear, yet the sound has a smooth, homogenous texture.

Marschner wrote 18 operas and supplied music for four stage productions. So there's still a lot to explore. Here's hoping there's a volume three.  

Heinrich August Marschner: Overtures and Stage Music 2
Hradec Králové Philharmonic Orchestra; Dario Salvi, conductor
Naxos 8.573382

Friday, October 27, 2023

#ClassicsaDay #Curseofthe9th Week 4

This month the Classics a Day team takes on the "Curse of the 9th." Beethoven wrote his ninth symphony and died. Since then, the Curse of the Ninth has circulated through the classical music world. Mahler sincerely believed in it. He wrote nine numbered symphonies and died. As did Bruckner, Schubert, Dvorak, and Vaughan Williams. 

But how real is the curse? The Classics a Day team challenges folks to post Symphony No. 10s by composers who followed Beethoven.

And it turns out there are quite a lot of them. 

Here are my posts for the fourth and final week of #Curseofthe9th.

10/23/23 Alan Hovhaness (1911-2000), Symphony No. 10 "Vahaken"

Hovhaness wrote his 9th symphony in 1949. But he was just getting warmed up. His 10th was composed in 1959. Hovhaness would write 67 before his death in 2000.

10/24/23 Andrzej Panufnik (1914–1991): Symphony No. 10

Panufnik composed his tenth symphony just two years after completing his 9th. He revised both works in 1990, just a year before his death. 

10/25/23 David Diamond (1915-2005): Symphony No. 10

American composer David Diamond wrote his 9th Symphony in 1985. He wrote his 10th two years later and completed one more before his death. Diamond discarded his first two symphonies from the 1930s. Technically, his 9th was actually the 11th he composed.

10/26/23 Havergal Brian (1876-1972) (Symphony No. 10 in C minor

Brian finished his 9th Symphony in 1951, and his 10th two years later. He would compose a total of 32. Brian's best known for his massive 1st symphony, 105 minutes of playing time (the others are considerably shorter).  

10/27/23 Julian Rontgen (1855-1932): Symphony No. 10 in D major "Waltz Symphony"

This Dutch composer wrote 25 symphonies in all. Many were quite short, and several were written over the course of just a few weeks.  

Next month:

Thursday, October 26, 2023

Hans Gal Concertinos Seem Frozen in Time

Hans Gal was one of many promising young composers caught up in the turmoil of the Second World War. In the 1920s he was a rising star in German theater. And by 1930 Gal was on track to become one of Vienna's best-known artists. 

The Nazi takeover of Austria ended all that. Gal had a Jewish background, and he was soon erased from the music scene. Fortunately, Gal escaped to Britain before his life was erased. 

Gal spent the rest of his life teaching at the University of Edinburgh. He continued to compose, but not evolve. Gal's style was frozen in Viennese Post-Romanticism.

This release features three of his concertinos, plus his String Serenade. They show how powerfully expressive Gal's music can be. Especially so if you don't care whether it was au courant or not.

The Sinfonietta Riga has a rich, warm ensemble sound that seems well-suited to Gal's style. And the soloists deliver time and again.

The album opens with Gal's Concertino for Cello and String Orchestra, Op. 87 from 1965. Justus Grimm makes the work sound like an extended aria. His playing amplifies the lyricism inherent in the music. 

Oliver Trindl is no stranger to Gal's music. His playing in the 1934 Piano Concerto is mordent and precise. And it can exude warmth when it needs to. 

Gal completed his Violin Concerto, Op. 53 shortly after arriving in the UK. Nina Karmon plays with a charming simplicity that draws the listener in.


Hans Gal: Concertinos for Violin, Cello, and Piano
Nina Karmon, violin; Justus Grimm, cello; Oliver Trindl, piano
Sinfoniette Riga; Normunds Šnē, conductor
Hanssler Classics HC23049