Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Josef Bohuslav Foerster - Late Romantic Goodness

Joseph Bohuslav Foerster was of the generation after Antonin Dvorak. While Foerster used Czech elements in his music, he does so in a different way than Dvorak. Those elements are sublimated into Viennese Romanticism. But they're prominent enough to give Foerster's music a slightly exotic sound. 

Foerster wrote the first of his five symphonies in 1888 -- the same year Gustav Mahler finished his first symphony. The two composers were close friends, but there was no cross-pollination. Rather, Foester's work is closer to Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony (also completed that year). 

Foerster worked on it while dealing with the death of his mother and a debilitating illness. The emotional trajectory of the work moves from darkness -- extreme darkness -- into the light. Foerster uses his material well. The symphony was never published, but I imagine it would have been well-received. 

The Janacek Philharmonic Orchestra is under the sure direction of Marek Stilec. These are lively, emotional performances, and I enjoyed them quite a bit. 

Also included are two shorter orchestral works by Foerster. They round out the program nicely. And even though written much later than the symphony, there's a consistency of style. 

Foerster was always aware of current trends -- he just didn't feel the need to follow them. If you're into late-Romantic symphonies, give this a spin.

Joseph Bohuslav Foerster: Symphony No. 1
Festive Overture; From Shakespeare
Janacek Philharmonic Orchestra; Marek Stilec, conductor
Naxos 8.574336

Friday, February 24, 2023

#ClassicsaDay #BlackHistoryMonth Week 4

For the month of February, the Classics a Day team once again chose Black History Month as the theme. Composers of color have made significant contributions to classical music throughout history.

And there's a lot of great music still awaiting discovery. Here are my posts for #ClassicaDay for the fourth and final week of #BlackHistoryMonth.

02/20/23 José Maurício Nunes Garcia: Requiem

Brazilian composer Garcia was the son of mulattos. He joined the priesthood and was appointed master of the Royal Chapel by King John VI of Portugal. His music combines the classicism of Mozart with Brazilian music.

02/21/23 Hall Johnson: Oh, Glory

Johnson was originally trained as a classical violinist and composer. He became interested in spirituals and formed the Hall Johnson Choir. Johnson and the choir were featured in at least four films.

02/22/23 Ulysses Simpson Kay: Bassoon Sonata

Kay was the nephew of King Oliver. He studied with Howard Hanson, and later with Pual Hindemith. His bassoon sonata was written while working with Hindemieht at the Berkshire Music Center.

02/23/22 Arthur Cunningham: This by dying

Cunningham wrote for many genres, including military bands, TV shows, and educational works. He's credited with anticipating the rock opera genre.

02/24/22 Howard Swanson: Concerto for Orchestra

Swanson studied with Nadia Boulanger. This work was commissioned by the Louisville Orchestra, and premiered by them in 1957.

Next Month:

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Fretwork Delivers with Matthew Locke's Little Consort

You could consider Matthew Locke a transitional composer. He followed the great Elizabethan composers, like William Byrd and Orlando Gibbons. And he was succeeded as Charles II's Composer of Violins by Henry Purcell. 

But there's more to the story than that. Locke set the standard for operatic music during the Restoration Period. And he was a friend and mentor to you Purcell. He was respected among his peers, and among those who came after. 

This release continues Fretwork's exploration of Locke's instrumental music. In this case, they present a set of 10 suites by Locke from "The Little Consort."

As always, Fretwork turns in some impeccable performances. It's easy to hear how Locke influenced Purcell. Like his friend, Locke had a facility for counterpoint. And his melodic lines are fluid and flow smoothly from one idea to the next.

As performed by Fretwork, these suites have a distinctly English character. And that's part of their charm. I'm sorry I missed volume one. I'll add that to my want list. Don't miss this one. 

With the hindsight of history, Locke may appear to be a transitional figure. But in his day, he was the innovator who pointed the next generation in the right direction. 

Matthew Locke: The Little Consort
Signum Classics SIGCD728

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Johann Kuhnau Cycle Now Complete

This release completes a 10-year project by Gregor Meyre, Opella Musica, and the camera lipsiensis. Over the course of a decade, these musicians recorded the complete sacred works of Johann Kuhnau. 

Johann Sebastian Bach succeeded Kuhnau as Kantor at St. Thoamskirche, Leipzig. Like Bach, Kuhnau enjoyed a long tenure -- from 1701 until his death in 1722. 

Kuhnau, like Bach, wrote not for the ages, but for next Sunday. He composed cantatas and oratorios for all major feast days in the church year. And he also produced occasional music as needed by the Leipzig town council. 

Over the course of 21 years, Kuhnau produced a large amount of music. Unfortunately, most of his sacred music was lost. What survives is now available in these eight volumes on CPO. 

They reveal that Kuhnau was as much an innovator as his successor. Kuhnau's cantatas have a supple flow, unlike the staid four-square cantatas of his contemporaries. 

Volume 8 focuses on the non-church works Kuhnau wrote over the course of his career. They include music written for school plays. (The church ran a boarding school for their boy's choir.) Also featured are three stand-alone arias and a couple of chamber cantatas.

The assembled musicians perform to their usual high standards. The Opella Musica has a translucent ensemble sound. It's easy to follow individual voices through the counterpoint. And when all sing together, the voices blend to create a pleasing unity. 

Gregor Meyer's direction serves the music well. Slow passages are slow, not ponderous. Big gestures are grand, not bombastic. 

The entire collection is worth acquiring -- especially if you're interested in the high Baroque. At the very least, this volume is worthwhile because of the variety of materials. I'd also recommend volume 3,  with Kuhnau's surviving Christmas cantatas. They are spectacular.   

Johann Kuhnau: Complete Sacred Works, Vol. 8
Opella Musica; camerata lipsiensis; Gregor Meyer, conductor

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Clarke and Busch Piano Music - Quality not Quantity

Simon Callaghan plays piano a program of piano music by two British composers who didn't write a lot of it. But what they did write was exceptional.

William Busch had a promising career before WWII as a pianist and composer. His pacifism curtailed that career in Britain. And with his early death in 1945, his music remained neglected after the war. Like his friend Gerald Finzi, Busch composed slowly and carefully. He completed a total of five solo piano works. 

Rebecca Clarke was a virtuoso violist who spent most of her career working in the United States. She lived longer than Busch, dying at age 94. And she composed over 100 works. With few exceptions, she focused on chamber music, choral music, and songs. Clarke wrote three solo piano works, including a Cortège for William Busch.

Their styles are complementary. Busch's music requires a higher level of piano technique. He also seems more interested in writing "pure" music, devoid of any national character. Clarke was a student of Ralph Vaughan Williams. Her works retain a certain Englishness, especially in their melodies. 

Simon Callaghan handles both styles with equal aplomb. He has the technique to play Busch's music with accuracy and expressiveness. He adopts an even more lyrical tone with Clarke's works. His playing brings out the beauty in her sometimes-wistful melodies. 


Rebecca Clarke, Williams Busch
Complete Piano Music
Simon Callaghan, piano
Lyrita SRCD 408

Friday, February 17, 2023

#ClassicsaDay #BlackHistoryMonth Week 3

For the month of February, the Classics a Day team once again chose Black History Month as the theme. Composers of color have made significant contributions to classical music throughout history.

And there's a lot of great music still awaiting discovery. Here are my posts for #ClassicaDay for the third week of #BlackHistoryMonth.

02/13/23 Eleanor Alberga: Nightscape

Alberga was born in Jamaica. She arrived in the UK to study at the Royal Academy of Music in 1970, and lives there still. She became an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for her services to music.

02/14/23 Kenneth Amis: Spring Overture

Amis was born in Bermuda. He is a tuba player and a member of the Empire Brass. He serves on the Boston Conservatory, MIT, and the Longly School of Music faculties.

02/15/23 Gussie Lord Davis: The Fatal Wedding

Davis was the first successful Black songwriter on Tin Pan Alley, publishing over 300 songs. In 1895 he placed second in a nationwide contest for best song in America. "Fatal Wedding" was his breakout hit in 1893.


02/16/23 Carman Moore: Folk Energy

Moore studied with Stephen Wolpe and taught at Yale. His work blends classical traditions with other musical genres, such as jazz.

02/17/23 Undine Smith Moore: Before I'd Be a Slave

Called the Dean of Black Women Composers, Moore spent a lifetime educating young musicians. She supervised music in the Goldsboro, NC public school system before joining the faculty at Virginia State University.

Thursday, February 16, 2023

Genova & Dimitrov Excel with Reinecke Works for Two Pianos

Carl Reinecke was a virtuoso pianist as well as a composer. (He was also a renowned conductor who led the Gewandehaus Orchestra for 35 years, but that's beside the point.) Naturally, Reinecke wrote a great deal of music for his instrument. That included a healthy selection of piano four-hand music. 

This release collects all those compositions, spread out over three CDs. The works span Reinecke's career. The earliest he wrote was when he was 20, the latest when he was 81, five years before his death. 

The pieces are pretty wide-ranging, too. Some, like the two sonatas, are large-scale original works. Some are piano reductions Reinecke made of his orchestral music. Also included are a few selections based on themes by other composers. 

It's a rich and varied program, and the Genova & Dimitrov Piano Duo keeps things moving. The goal of any piano duo is to seamlessly merge individual playing styles into a cohesive whole. Genova & Dimitrov go beyond that, though. These two pianists perfectly mesh, playing with a distinctive collective personality. 

I very much enjoyed Genova & Dimitrov's recording of Amy Beach's piano four-hands music. This release maintains the duo's same high standards. Well done. 

Carl Reinecke: Complete Works for Two Pianos
Genova & Dimitrov Piano Duo
3 CD Set

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Florence Price: Songs of the Oak Solidifies Reputation

This is Naxos' third release of Florence Price's orchestral music. And it's a treasure. Most of the works were part of the cache discovered in 2009. It's sobering how close these scores came to being lost forever. 

Included here are Price's two concert overtures, two tone poems, and two works inspired by dance. Price wrote in a mid-century tonal style, enriched by Black music traditions. 

Her two concert overtures were based on spirituals. The source materials transform as the overtures unfold. But at the same time, they never lose their essence or their cultural identity. 

Songs of the Oak is an expressive tone poem that leans towards European traditions. And yet Price's depiction of forest life seems inspired by Hollywood soundtracks. That's not a criticism. Price is simply bringing together the elements she needs to tell the story her way. 

The "Colonial Dance" is based on Scottish dances, as filtered perhaps through Appalachia. Price orchestrated her solo piano piece, Three Little Negro Dances, creating the Suite of Dances. The orchestrations give these dances added depth. It's hard to describe, but the sound of the orchestra is distinctively American.

That speaks to the effectiveness of Price's orchestrations. Because she's getting that sound from the quite German Wurttembergische Philharmonie Reutlingen. John Jeter leads the ensemble in some spirited performances. I especially enjoyed the concert overtures and the dances. 

Another essential recording of music by this unjustly neglected composer. 

Florence Beatrice Price: Songs of the Oak
Concert Overtures Nos. 1 and 2
Wurttembergische Philharmonie Reutlingen; John Jeter, conductor

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Carl Friedrich Abel Cello Concertos Nice and Light

Carl Friedrich Abel was the most famous -- and one of the last -- viola da gamba virtuosos. And he was also a talented composer, comfortable writing in many genres. 

The four concertos on this release are all original compositions. That is, they're not transcribed viola da gamba concerti. Abel wrote them for the cello.

Abel and his business partner Johann Christian Bach wrote in the style galante. This style bridged the gap between the Baroque Era of J.S. Bach and the Classical Era of Haydn and Mozart. 

The concertos were written in the 1780s. While the ensemble does have a harpsichord, it's buried deep in the background. Abel's orchestration uses winds and brass, in a way like Haydn's. 

The Berliner Barock Solisten plays modern instruments. this gives the ensemble a warm, homogenous sound. 

Bruno Delepelaire delivers some amiable performances. Style galante is about simplicity and elegance. Delepelaire plays with delicacy and finesse. His runs are cleanly articulated and his phrasing gives the music a spark.

Two of the concertos receive their world premiere recordings with this release. Abel was a big name in the late 1700s. But he's since been overshadowed by Haydn and Mozart. Recordings like this may help right the balance. Abel was a talented performer and composer. Both skills come into play, I think, with these works. 

Not to be missed. 

Carl Friedrich Abel: Cello Concertos
Bruno Delepelaire, cello
Berliner Barock Solisten; Kristof Polnek, director
Hansler Classics

Friday, February 10, 2023

#ClassicsaDay #BlackHistoryMonth Week 2 2023

For the month of February, the Classics a Day team once again chose Black History Month as the theme. Composers of color have made significant contributions to classical music throughout history.

And there's a lot of great music still awaiting discovery. Here are my posts for #ClassicaDay for the first week of #BlackHistoryMonth.

02/06/23 Julius Eastman: Joy Boy

Eastman independently developed his own form of minimalism in the early 1970s. Joy Boy was composed in 1974 for four treble instruments.

02/07/23 William L. Dawson: Negro Folk Symphony

Dawson completed his symphony in 1934 (he would revise it many times thereafter). It was prmiered at CArnegie Hall with Leopold Stokowski conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra. So why isn't this a part of the orchestral repertoire?

02/08/23 Roque Cordero: Violin Concerto

Panamanian composer Roque Cordero studied with Ernst Krenek. He was the founding director of the National Symphony of Panama. His catalog includes four symphonies, as well as concertos for piano, violin and viola.

02/09/23 Akin Euba: The Wanderer

Nigerian composer Euba was also an ethnomusicolgist. His music blends Western techniques (such as 12-tone composition) with African, and especially Yoruba musical traditions.

02/10/23 José Maurício Nunes Garcia: Requiem

Nunes Garcia was a contemporary of Mozart and Beethoven. He's considered one of Brazil's most important composers. And one of the most influential.

Thursday, February 09, 2023

Rauchenecker Symphony Returns to Winterthur.

Georg Wilhelm Rauchenecker may be unknown today, but that wasn't always the case. He was an influential composer and conductor in his day. The latter part of the 19th Century saw him raise the level of classical music in Switzerland. 

He was the first director of the Orchester Musikkollegium Winterthur in 1875. He was Winterthur's School of Music director and the driving force behind two municipal choirs. 

He played string quartets with Hans Richter. And he was a close friend of Richard Wagner. Rauchenecker was one of the musicians Wagner gathered at the steps of his house. The ensemble premiered "Siegried Idyl" for Cosima Wagner as a birthday present. 

Rauchenecker was quite prolific. His catalog includes three symphonies, six concertos, numerous chamber works, nine operas, and a large amount of choral music. This release features two of his more successful orchestral works. 

The "Symphonic Composition in the Style of an Ouverture" is exactly what the title says. Here the influence of Wagner is most evident. The gestures are large, and the orchestration is sweeping. But the work has the flow of a tone poem, without the program. Leitmotifs provide the glue that keeps the piece together. It compares favorably to other works premiered that year, like Brahm's "Tragic Overture" and Tchaikovsky's "Capriccio Italian."

In 1884 Rauchenecker became the conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. He was hired on the strength of his first symphony. Symphony No. 1 in F minor was written in 1875 and had been performed several times throughout Northern Europe. 

Rauchenecker has some original ideas, and I enjoyed the symphony a lot. To describe it, I'd say it was a cross between Mendelssohn and Wagner -- if you can imagine it. Rauchenecker emulates Mendelssohn's clarity of form and organization. He takes from Wagner an advanced harmonic palette and imaginative orchestration. 

The Musikkollegium Winterthur performs well -- as they should. Rauchenecker wrote both these works for his Orchester Musikkollegium Winterthur. 

Also included is an early work by Rauchenecker. He composed The Oriental Fantasy for solo violin and string quartet as a showpiece for his recitals. It's a youthful work, but it makes a nice coda to the album. 

I'm curious to hear more of Raucheneker's music.  Especially his other two symphonies and his two violin concertos.

Georg Wilhelm Rauchenecker: Symphony No.1
Orientalische Phantasie
Sebastian Bohren, violin; Sarastro Quartett
Musikkollegium Winterthur; Howard Griffiths, conductor
CPO 555 416

Wednesday, February 08, 2023

Kaveli Aho Concertos Receive Outstanding Performances

This work presents a pair of deuces by Kaveli Aho -- his second violin concerto and his second cello concerto. In a way, it's an all-star cast of performers.

 Elina Vähälä was the violinist who commissioned the concerto. Both concertos were written with the Kymi Sinfonietta specifically in mind. And Olari Elts worked with Aho in developing these works.

These artists have significant investments in this music. And that translates into some stellar performances. 

Aho had started his second violin concerto when the commissioning artist withdrew from the project. It lay fallow for a few years. Then Elina Vähälä asked Aho not only for a concerto but specifically the one he had already started. 

The result is an incredibly challenging -- and incredibly beautiful -- work. The violinist alternates passages with the orchestra, and that's a good thing. Aho wrote in an abundance of double stops and left-hand extensions. Those interludes provide welcome and much-needed breaks for the soloist. 

Elina Vähälä is an exceptional performer. This is music that she's internalized. Her playing sounds more like a monologue than a series of notes. She's telling a story -- the story that's embedded in the music.

The Cello Concerto No. 2 is a more contemplative work. Here the orchestra and soloist work collaboratively. Jonathan Rooseman is a fine soloist. His cello has a clean, clear sound that penetrates even the thickest orchestration. And he handles Aho's technical challenges with seeming aplomb. 

Kaveli Aho is a prolific composer. And one who always delivers. Another great release from BIS. Keep 'em coming.

Kaveli Aho: Violin Concerto No. 2; Cello Concerto No. 2
Elina Vähälä, violin; Jonathan Rooseman, cello
Kymi Sinfonietta; Olari Elts, conductor
BIS 2466

Tuesday, February 07, 2023

Michael Hix adds to Christoph Graupner Cantata Catalog

Three of the four cantatas receive their world recording premiers with this release. With some composers, that would be a significant addition to their recorded catalog. But Christoph Graupner was incredibly prolific. About 2,000 of his works survive, a little over 1,400 of them sacred cantatas. 

As welcome as these recordings are, they only add a fraction to Graupner's recorded repertoire.

Baritone Michael Hix presents four cantatas featuring the bass voice. Accompanying him is a small ensemble -- two violins, viola, cello, and harpsichord. These are intimate performances, and they work well. 

Hix sings in a clear, straightforward manner. These are sacred cantatas. So the excessive ornamentation common to 18th Century operas was discouraged. Hix focuses on the texts and conveys their meaning through his expressive singing. 

The earliest cantata is Mein Herz soll nach des Höchsten Willen (My heart shall be serene in your highest will) GWV 1113/13. It was written in 1713. The latest is Halte an, am Glaubenstreit (You noble jewel of younger heights) GWV 1121/22, composed in 1722.

Graupner worked at the court of Hesse-Darmstadt. During this period finances were unsettled. Many court musicians were dismissed (the remaining, including Graupner, were simply not paid). These stripped-down cantatas show how resourceful Graupner could be with, well, limited resources.


My Faith Stands Firm
Christoph Graupner: Cantatas for Bass Voice
Michael Hix, baritone
Affetto AF2301

Friday, February 03, 2023

#ClassicsaDay #BlackHistoryMonth Week 1, 2023

For the month of February, the Classics a Day team once again chose Black History Month as the theme. Composers of color have made significant contributions to classical music throughout history.

And there's a lot of great music still awaiting discovery. Here are my posts for #ClassicaDay for the first week of #BlackHistoryMonth.

02/01/23 H. Leslie Adams: The Return from Town

Adams has taken an unusual career path. Unlike many contemporary composers, he doesn't hold a faculty position at a university. Rather, he is a full-time composer, working from his studio in Cleveland, Ohio.

02/02/23 David Baker: Fantasy on Themes from "Masque of the Red Death" Ballet

Baker was primarily a jazz musician, composer, and academician. And he contributed many compositions to the Third Stream, a movement combining classical and jazz, revitalizing both genres.

02/03/23 Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: Violin Concerto in G minor, Op. 80

Coleridge-Taylor composed this 1912 work for American violinist Maud Powell. The parts, shipped from the UK, were lost and had to be rewritten. While lost at sea, they were not, as legend has it, on the Titanic but on a different vessel.

Thursday, February 02, 2023

Grazyna Bacewicz: A Portrait That Flatters

These days, Grażyna Bacewicz is celebrated as one of Poland's greatest composers of the 20th Century. And rightly so. But before World War II, she was also known as a violinist. 

She had a successful career concertizing. And she was the principal violinist of the Polish Radio Orchestra. 

This release collects several of Bacewicz's works for violin. Some are for solo violin, and the rest for violin and piano. 

All are exceptionally well-crafted. Bacewicz knew her instrument. Her music pushes the boundaries of violin technique at almost every turn. 

To my ears, the solo violin pieces seem the most challenging. Bacewicz uses double stops frequently to provide harmony. She also uses wide leaps to create melodic lines in different registers. Polish-born violinist Kinga Augustyn is in her element. 

Her harmonics sound clear and clean. Her double stops are played with confidence. And the way she shapes the phrases seems natural and logical. 

When she plays with pianist Alla Milchtein, performance standards are still high. But there is a difference in the violin's recorded sound between the solo pieces and the two-instrument works. When the piano's included, the violin has a softer, more mellow tone.

That's a very minor complaint about what otherwise is an excellent album. The essence of Bacewicz's style can be found in her works for solo violin. They're worth a listen (and definitely repeated listening).  

Grażyna Bacewicz: A Portrait
Kinga Augustyn, violin; Alla Milchtein, piano
Centaur Records, CRC 3971

Wednesday, February 01, 2023

Domenico Scarlatti Violin Sonatas a Welcome Change

Domenico Scarlatti is best known for his 545 keyboard sonatas. Actually, to many Domenico Scarlatti is only known for his 545 keyboard sonatas. 

They do make up the bulk of Scarlatti's catalog. But there are other pieces in there, too -- like these violin sonatas. Scarlaatti composed these works around 1720. They contrast greatly with his keyboard sonatas.

Most of Scarlatti's keyboard sonatas are single-movement, with some having two short movements. These violin sonatas have three or four. Scarlatti wrote idiomatically for the violin. This gives them different melodic shapes than his keyboard works.

Boris Begelman delivers some pleasing performances. These aren't sonatas for virtuosi -- but they do require a high degree of musicianship to make them sing. And that's exactly what Begelman does. 

The release also includes music by Domenico's father Alessandro Scarlatti. This helps add variety to the program. And makes for a more enjoyable listening experience. At least it did so for me, listening to the album straight through. 

The album includes two works by his father, Alessandro Scarlatti. We get his variations on "La Folia" for solo harpsichord, and one of his cello sonatas.

There are as many different recordings of Scarlatti's keyboard sonatas as there are sonatas (and then some). This collection of his violin sonatas is a refreshing change. And the quality of the music in this sonatas adds, to Scarlatti's stature as a composer. 

Domenico Scarlatti: Violin Sonatas
Boris Begelman, violin; Arsenale Sonoro