Friday, March 31, 2023

#ClassicaDay #WomensHistoryMonth Week 5, 2023

March is Women's History Month. And for Classics a Day, it's another opportunity to focus on classical music composed by women. And not just composers in the 21st Century. 

Every year when we do this theme, I discover more female composers whose music I have never heard before. But it's music that deserves to be heard -- and more than once.

Here are my posts for the fifth and final week of Women's History Month, 2023.

03/28/22 Emilie Mayer (1812–1883) - String Quartet in G minor, Op. 14

Mayer was the Associate Director of the Opera Academy in Berlin. Her composing career took off after a concert of her works in 1850. Mayer wrote seven string quartets. Her G minor quartet was published in 1858.

03/29/22 Louise Farrenc (1804–1875) - Cello Sonata in B-flat major, Op. 46

Farrenc was well-known as a pianist and composer. Most of her works were for chamber ensembles. Her cello sonata was published in 1858, and most likely premiered with Farrenc at the piano.

03/30/22 Marianne von Martinez (1744-1812) - Sonata for Piano in E major

Martinez was well-known in 18th Century Vienna, both as a pianist and composer. She often gave command performances for Empress Maria Theresa.

03/31/22 Sophia Giustina Dussek (1775 – ca. 1831) - Harp Sonata in C minor, Op. 3, No. 3

Sophia Guistina was married to Jan Ladislav Dussek. She was a pianist, harpist, and composer. Her most popular works were her sonatas for harp.

Next month:

Thursday, March 30, 2023

Villiers Quartet Perform Frederick Delius and Ethel Smyth

This is a very satisfying release. The Villiers Quartet performs string quartets by two British composers. Two British composers who only wrote one quartet. And both works have rather unusual origins. 

Ethel Smyth started her String Quartet in E minor in 1902. She completed the first two movements and then put the work aside. She returned to it a decade later and finished the composition. 

Despite the ten-year gap, the work has a consistent style running through it. The final movement doesn't sound tacked on or out of place. 

Frederick Delius's String Quartet in C minor also has an interrupted history. He began work on it in 1888 while still a student, but only completed a movement or two. He revisited the genre in 1916. Delius recycled some of his earlier material and create a four-movement work. 

After the premiere -- and sole performance -- part of the score was lost. Two of the movements had vanished, only to reappear in a 2018 auction. This recording is the first of the fully restored quartet. This isn't the English pastorale Delius. Rather, this is Brahsmian pure music. 

The Villiers Quartet has a smooth ensemble sound. And they have just the right amount of expressiveness in their playing. The soloists are nicely balanced in this recording. 

Great stuff!

Frederick Delius, Ethel Smyth: String Quartets
Villiers Quartet

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Ian Hobson Continues Fine Moskzkowski Series

For this installment of Moskowski piano works, Ian Hobson opts for some early pieces. The music presented provides insight into Moskowski's development as a composer. And they also entertain (as was their purpose). 

The Six Piano Pieces, Op. 15 are charmers. This is salon music, but it's of the highest quality. Moskowski delivers on expectations without resorting to cliche.

 The Five Piano Pieces, Op. 18 are similar in character. The debt to Mendelssohn and Schumann is obvious. And that's fine. While they're no masterworks, these little pieces beguile the ear. And that makes for an enjoyable listen. 

The Three Piano Pieces in Dance Form, Op. 17 are a different matter. Here the influence seems to be Franz Liszt. Amateurs could play music from the other two sets. These pieces require a higher degree of skill. And the music is more advanced as well. Moskowski takes time to develop his themes. 

Ian Hobson plays admirably. I was especially impressed with his performances of the Three Piano Pieces in Dance Form. I felt that Moskowski loosened the reigns on his compositional imagination. And Hobson is right there with him, giving these works the committed performances they need. 

Moskowski was a virtuoso pianist, so he wrote a lot of piano music. There are definitely more volumes to come! I look forward to hearing them. 

Moritz Moskzkowski: Complete Music for Solo Piano, Volume Two
Ian Hobson, piano
Toccatta Classics, TOCC 066

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Ronald Brautigam Does Wilms Concertos Justice

Johann Wilhelm Wilms wrote, "The knowledge that you have not produced anything trivial, that you have achieved honourable things through your achievements, is in itself the best reward." 

He did have tremendous talent as a pianist and composer. But Wilms was never more than a regional celebrity in his lifetime. 

That region was Holland. Wilms was the most prominent musical figure in Amsterdam in the early 1800s. He was an admirer of both Mozart and Beethoven. He premiered Beethoven's piano concertos in Amsterdam with himself as soloist. 

Part of the problem was that Dutch audiences wanted light entertainment. Wilms was writing on an entirely different level. Fortunately, recordings such as this album let us reevaluate his work. 

Volume Two of the Wilms piano concerto series presents his two largest works. The Piano concerto in F major was written in 1814. Beethoven's "Emperor" concerto had premiered five years before. 

Wilms seems to take inspiration from Beethoven. His motifs are clear-cut, and he develops them in a manner like Beethoven's. But Wilms' music isn't derivative. He knew the capabilities of the piano and wrote accordingly.

This concerto takes some unexpected turns that keep the listener engaged. So too does the Piano Concerto in E-flat major. Wilms completed this work in 1820. Here the gestures are bigger, and perhaps a little reactionary. By 1820 the newer Romantic style was beginning to coalesce. But not with Wilms. 

The work has the elegant balance of a Classical Era concerto. And it has the large, dramatic gestures Beethoven brought to the genre. 

Ronald Brutigan delivers an exceptional performance. He uses a fortepiano, rather than a modern piano. The timber is different, and it gives us a better idea of the sound Wilms had in mind. 

I normally don't like the sound of the fortepiano. But when played by Brutigam, I do. Attacks are clean, and the mechanism is virtually silent. The instrument's sound is truly expressive.

Johann Wilhelm Wilms: Piano Concertos, Vol. 2
Ronald Bautigam, fortepiano
Kölner Akademie; Michael Alexander Willens conductor

Friday, March 24, 2023

#ClassicsaDay #WomensHistoryMonth Week 4, 2023

March is Women's History Month. And for Classics a Day, it's another opportunity to focus on classical music composed by women. And not just composers in the 21st Century. 

Every year when we do this theme, I discover more female composers whose music I have never heard before. But it's music that deserves to be heard -- and more than once.

Here are my posts for the fourth week of Women's History Month, 2023.

03/20/23 Julie Pinel: Chantez, dansez jeunes bergères

Little is known about this French composer and harpsichordist. She did publish a collection of 31 songs in 1737, Nouveau receuil d'airs sérioux et à boire.

03/21/23 Sophia Maria Westenholz: Sonata for Piano Four Hands, Op. 3

Westenholz was an accomplished singer and pianist, as well as a composer. Her husband was Kapellmeister to the Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. When he died in 1789, she was named Kapellmeisterin and continued to serve the court as a perfomer composer, and teacher.

03/22/23 Beatritz de Dia (fl. c. 1175-c.1212): Estat ai en greu cossirier

Beatritz was a trobairitz (a female troubadour). She composed and performed poems and songs for courtly entertainment. Unlike troubadours, most trobairtiz were of noble birth -- like the Comtessa de Dia.

03/23/23 Francesca Caccini (1587 - after 1641): Antri gelati

Caccini was a singer, lutenist, poet, and composer. She's credited as the first woman to write a complete opera. "La liberazione di Ruggiero dall'isola di Alcina" (1625) was a smash hit.

03/24/23 Barbara Strozzi (1619-1677): Che si può fare Op. 8

Strozzi was both a singer and composer. She holds the distinction of having the most secular music in print of any composer of the era -- male or female.

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Tippett Quartet Excel with Erich Korngold Quartets

The Tippett Quartet plays the three string quartets of Erich Wolfgang Korngold. The quartets trace Korngold's development as a composer. 

The first, written in 1923, shows Korngold, the modernist. Though he never pushed the envelope as far as Schoenberg, Korngold tests the limits of tonality with this work. The work seems a bundle of restless energy, especially as played by the Tippett Quartet. 

The second quartet, written a decade later is quite different. Kornold's tonal language is more settled. And his melodies are smoother and more lyrical. 

Two years later Korngold would begin his successful career as a Hollywood composer. This music presages the lyrical scores he would produce.

Korngold's final string quartet was composed in 1945. Two years later Korngold would retire from film music, and return to composing concert music. As with his second quartet, this work anticipates that change. 

The quartet is the most complex of the three. The harmonic language ranges farther than the second, moving into modality. The melodies are highly chromatic, flirting with atonality in places. And yet everything is tightly constructed. This is music written by a musician for musicians (although audiences are welcome, too). 

The Tippett Quartet plays with precision and sensitivity. When Korngold's music becomes lyrical, the quartet's playing sings. When the music becomes thorny, the quartet embraces the dissonance. 

These are fine performances of music still waiting for its due. Recommended.

Erich Wolfgang Korngold: String Quartets Nos. 1-3
Tippett Quartet

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Rued Langgaard: Symphony No. 1 - Epic in Scope

When Danish composer Rued Langgaard shopped around his first symphony, he got no takers in Scandinavia. So Langgaard took it to the Berlin Philharmonic, which premiered the work in 1913. Not bad for a seventeen-year-old.

Of course, there's more to the story than that. Langgaard was the son composer Siegfried Langgaard and pianist Emma Langgaard. He began concertizing as a pianist and organist at age eleven. He published his first works when he was thirteen. 

Langgaard had studied with Carl Nielsen. His first major composition premiered when he was fourteen. Langgaard toured Europe concertizing with his parents. He met and networked with important conductors and organizations. 

So the person who submitted his first symphony for performance was no typical teenager. Rather, Langgaard was an experienced performer and a published composer. And it was one of his connections, conductor Max Fiedler of the Berlin Philharmonic, who accepted the score. 

And what a score! The four-movement symphony takes about an hour to play. Its subtitle, "Cliffside Pastorals" hints at the scale. Langgaard was inspired by the towering mountains of Scandinavia. That bigness is conveyed in the music. Langgaard uses an extensive orchestral palette to create his sounds. 

The symphony roils like storm clouds descending the slopes. Langgaard's expansive themes are memorable. Recognizing them as the work progresses gives the music coherence. 

This is also a remarkably original work. I don't hear Langgaard trying to sound like Beethoven, Brahms, Bruckner, or Mahler.  No, this is his own grand vision, expressed in his own Post-Romantic style. 

The Berlin Philharmonic delivers an exceptional performance directed by Sakari Oramo. This is a live recording, which makes the playing even more remarkable. This a clean, tight performance, with an extremely well-behaved audience. The live aspect adds an extra level of energy to the symphony. 

An incredible work that deserves greater recognition. 

Rued Langgaard: Symphony No. 1, Cliffside Pastorals
Berlin Philharmonic; Sakari Oramo, conductor
Dacapo SACD6.220644

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Grzayna Bacewicz: Music for Strings a Must-Have

This release presents four different takes on the string orchestra by Grazyna Bacewicz. Bacewicz was a concert violinist. So as a composer, she understood the potential of such an ensemble better than most. 

The earliest work is the Sinfonietta from 1935. At the time, Bacewicz was writing highly rhythmic works. Dissonant motifs would break apart and return. 

And that's what happens in this Sinfonietta. It's an intense piece, especially as played by the Primuz Chamber Orchestra. 

Her Symphony for String Orchestra was written eleven years later. This is the longest work on the album. The music is smoother and more lyrical. There's still an urgent forward pulse, but it's been sublimated.

The 1948 Concerto for String Orchestra has been called neo-classical. It has some of those elements. The block-like structure mimics the Baroque concerto grosso form. And some of the motivic developments seem inspired by Haydn and Mozart. 

But there are things at play here. Bacewicz's harmonies seem inspired by her interest in Impressionism.  Bacewicz uses these as a springboard for her creativity.

The Divertimento for String Orchestra was composed in 1965, four years before her death. It's the shortest work on the album, lasting about seven minutes. It's also the most densely packed. Bacewicz is economical in her use of material. Each gesture, each motif, is serving two or three different functions simultaneously. 

The Primus Chamber Orchestra directed by Lukasz Blaszczyk turn in some tremendous performances. This is music they care about. And that dedication comes through in the recordings. If you've not heard these works before, let this release be your introduction. 

Heck, if you've not heard any of Bacewicz's music before, let this be your introduction. It's that good. 

Grazyna Bacewicz: Music for String Orchestra
Primuz Chamber Orchestra: Lukasz Blaszczyk, conductor
DUX 1793

Friday, March 17, 2023

#ClassicsaDay #WomensHistoryMonth Week 3, 2023

March is Women's History Month. And for Classics a Day, it's another opportunity to focus on classical music composed by women. And not just composers in the 21st Century. 

Every year when we do this theme, I discover more female composers whose music I have never heard before. But it's music that deserves to be heard -- and more than once. 

Here are my posts for the third week of Women's History Month, 2023.

03/13/23 Marguerite Balutet: 4 Petites pièces en clef de sol

Balutet began her career as a concert pianist, but soon tranisitioned into teaching. She founded the Beethoven School in 1883 as a training college for future piano teachers. Innovative for the time was the issuance of certification after students completed the rigourous course work.

03/14/23 Caterina Assandra: Duo Seraphim

Assandra was a Benedictine nun active in the early 1600s. She served her convent as an organist and published several collections of music. The Duo Seraphim was written for performance within the convent.

3/15/23 Helena Tulve: Anstatica

Tulve is an Estonian composer. She's served as composer-in-residence for the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, International Pärnu Music Festival Järvi Academy, and the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra.

03/16/23 Henriette Renié: Légende for Harp

Renié was a French harpist and composer. She's credited with standardizing performance practices for the instrument. Légende was written in 1901.

03/17/23 Mlle Duval (1718-1775): Passacaille from Les Génies, ou Les caractères de l’Amour

She was only the second female composer to have an opera performed at the Paris Opera. Duval was also a dancer and a harpsichordist. This opera premiered in 1736 and ran for 9 performances. She accompanied and directed from the harpsichord.

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Baroque Pop Breakfast

Monday, April 17, 8-10 AM, we’ll be kicking off the Rock Marathon with Baroque Pop Breakfast. Enjoy two hours of this special and short-lived genre that blended classical and rock.

Jay Jackson and Ralph Graves are your hosts, both uniquely qualified to present this music to you. They not only know classical music, but they lived through the Baroque Pop era!

What was Baroque Pop?

Producers were looking for fresh sounds in the early 1960s. A fascination arose for the antique sound of the late Baroque and early Classical eras.

Orchestras were often used to sweeten pop ballads, but this was different. The sound mimicked that of a chamber group of musicians from the 1790s.

There were three characteristic components. The harpsichord usually played arpeggiated chords. The string quartet for accompaniment (or just a solo cello). And the oboe for a counter melody (sometimes joined with other solo winds).

The instrumental sound

Classically-trained George Martin used string quartets on some Beatles songs. This stripped-down sound was inspired by the quartets of Mozart and Haydn. It was very different from the lush string ensembles that normally backed singers.

The harpsichord, with its clear treble sound, also became a favorite with producers. This instrument originally rose to prominence in the Baroque Era (1600-1750). It lingered on through the end of the 18th Century when the piano replaced it. Bach, as well as Mozart and Haydn, played and wrote music for the instrument.

The oboe is a double-reed instrument. Its timbre harkened back to the reed instruments of the Renaissance. Sometimes producers used other woodwind instruments, such as the flute, bassoon, and clarinet.

A less-common instrument used was the Baroque trumpet. This instrument often played highly-ornamented melodies in the upper register. It’s heard in the Beatle’s “Penny Lane,” and the Free Design’s “The Proper Ornaments.”

The compositional sound

Baroque Pop also borrowed some stylistic elements from the Renaissance and Baroque Eras.

Modal scales and harmonies were common in the Renaissance (1450-1600). Many of these fell out of favor during the early Baroque. After 1600 only two of the original six modes: Ionian (what we now call major scales), and Aeolian (minor scales).

Folk songs that have their origins in the Renaissance still use these earlier modal scales and harmonies. They give a distinctive sound to traditional ballads of Great Britain and Appalachia. “Scarborough Faire” by Simon and Garfunkle uses modal harmonies, as does “Lady Jane” by the Rolling Stones.

A common Baroque practice was the sequence. This was a melodic pattern that repeated a note lower, and then again another note lower. Sequences lead off “Sunday Will Never Be The Same” by Spanky and Our Gang, and “Light My Fire” by the Doors.

Strictly a 60s phenomenon

The characteristic instruments of Baroque Pop had been used before by producers. “Summertime, Summertime” by the Jamies (1958) features a harpsichord. And it has some distinctively Baroque chord progressions.

But the genre Baroque Pop first appeared on the 1965 British charts. The Yardbirds’ “For Your Love” was one of the earliest.

Marianne Faithfull had a string of Baroque Pop hits — all written by Keith Richards and Mick Jagger. “As Tears Go By,” and “Come and Stay With Me” are two examples.

Richards and Jagger, the Glimmer Twins also crafted Baroque Pop gems for themselves. 1966 saw the release of “Playing With Fire,” “Lady Jane,” and “Ruby Tuesday” by the Rolling Stones.

One of the earliest adopters in the States was Sony Bono, a protege of producer Phil Spector. Sonny and Cher’s “I’ve Got You Babe” includes both harpsichord and oboe mixed into the Wall of Sound.

More hits in 1966

By 1966 the sound was well-defined — and more artists were using it. The Beatles had three hits with it. “Eleanor Rigby,” “She’s Leaving Home” and “Yesterday” all use the intimate sounds of a string quartet. Brian Wilson, another Phil Spector protege, added a harpsichord to “God Only Knows.”

The Left Banke embraced the sound, making it a fundamental part of their style. Their classic “Walk Away, Renee,” hit the trifecta: harpsichord, string quartet, and solo woodwinds (in this case, flute).

The Summer (and Winter) of Love T

he quaint and antique sound of Baroque Pop meshed well with the mellow vibes of the So-Cal style. Judy Collins’ “Both Sides Now” benefited from the delicate sound of a harpsichord. That same folk/rock groove can be heard on “Different Drum” by the Stone Poneys.

Harpsichords also tinkling away in tracks by the Zombies, The Yellow Balloon, and Spanky and Our Gang. It even infiltrated Motown, turning up in the Supremes’ “Love is Here and Now You’re Gone.”

“The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)” doubled down on the double reeds. The song’s woodwind quartet included both oboe and bassoon (as well as flute and clarinet).

Procol Harum’s “Whiter Shade of Pale” went a step further. Most Baroque Pop hits copied parts of the 18th-century classical style without quoting any of its music. Keyboardist Keith Reid used Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Air on a G String” as the foundation for the song. The song didn’t use a harpsichord, string quartet, or oboe. But the organ’s Bach-like obbligato makes the track one of the most solidly linked to the past.

End of a decade, end of an era

In 1968, there were still some examples of Baroque Pop on the charts, but the genre was fading in popularity. “Love is Blue” by Paul Mauriat was a big instrumental hit. But it moved the harpsichord from hip coolness to unhip easy listening.

The Love Generation used a harpsichord in “Leaves Go Gray.” The track used a full string section, which diluted the delicate Baroque Pop sound. Tommy James kept it real with “Sugar On Sunday,” a song he wrote with Mike Vale and recorded with his Shondells. The harpsichord remained an integral part of the song when the Clique covered it the following year.

Donovan’s “Jennifer Juniper” featured a traditional woodwind quintet — flute, clarinet, oboe, french horn, and bassoon.

Jon Lord, the keyboard player for Deep Purple, explored the intersection between rock and classical. It eventually lead to his 1970 composition “Concerto for Group and Orchestra.” On the group’s 1968 album “The Book of Taliesin” the song “Anthem” includes an intricate fugue ala Bach.

The Clique’s “Sugar on Sunday” and Vanity Fare’s “Early in the Morning” were the only two Baroque Pop songs to chart in 1969. And in 1970, there was only one: “The Tears of a Clown” by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles.

The instruments of the genre could still be heard in the mix of some early 70s tracks. But they weren’t playing the same type of music. The Baroque Pop Era had come to an end.

Music to flip your powdered wig

We won’t have time to play all the examples of Baroque Pop in our two-hour program. But we’ll do our best!

Below is a Spotify playlist with all the hits and quite a few misses.

Be sure to tune in, Monday, April 17, 8-10 AM.

And be sure to make your pledge to support WTJU by calling 434-924-3959 or going to It’s what Bach would have wanted.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Danny Elfman and Adolphus Hailstork an Ideal Pairing

There are still people who insist modern music is ugly, dissonant, and not worth listening to. I keep a shortlist of albums for these mossbacks. 

These recordings show that contemporary classical music is tuneful, vibrant, and engaging. I'll be adding this release of concertos by Danny Elfman and Adolphus Hailstork to the list.  

Danny Elfman's Violin Concerto "Eleven Eleven" is a substantial four-movement work. Stylistically, it's close to his film scores, especially "Batman" and "Nightmare Before Christmas." 

But the solo violin part is something else. It's a maniacal tour-de-force that seldom slackens its pace. 

Elfman wrote the concerto for Sandy Cameron, who plays it here. It's a phenomenal performance. The violin is amplified, which gives the sound a slightly metallic quality. But the amplification never takes over. Rather, it gives the solo instrument an edge that makes it stand out from the orchestra. 

Adolphus Hailstork has a long and productive relationship with JoAnne Falletta. Hailstork is on the faculty of Norfolk State University. Faletta is the director of the Norfolk-based Virginia Symphony. Under her direction, the orchestra recorded an album of his music for Naxos. 

Here Falletta and her other ensemble -- the Buffalo Philharmonic orchestra -- perform Hailstork's Piano Concerto No. 1. Leon Bates gave the premiere of the work in 1992. Stewart Goodyear is the soloist in this recording. His playing is self-assured and nuanced. 

The Buffalo Symphony Orchestra, directed by JoAnne Falletta, turn in some super performances. That is to say, performances are on par with their other recordings from Naxos.  

Danny Elfman: Violin Concerto "Eleven Eleven"
Adolphus Hailstork: Piano Concerto No. 1
Sandy Cameron, violin; Steward Goodyear, piano
Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra; JoAnne Falletta, conductor
Naxos 8559925

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Muzio Clementi Piano Jewels Shine

OK, so Muzio Clementi isn't as great as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. But remember -- Clementi tied Mozart in a piano duel. So he had some talent. And his music holds up pretty well, too. 

In his day Clementi was considered one of the premier piano performers in the world. And he was one of the premier composers of the instrument. 

Clementi's best remembered for his sonatas. This release explores other types of piano pieces from his catalog. 

Most impressive to me is the Toccata in B-flat major, Op. 11. The cascading runs of thirds are dazzling. Clementi doesn't ask the performer to do anything he couldn't do himself. And he could do a lot. 

Rodolfo Leone has the technical skills Clementi requires in these works. Mozart complained that Clementi was a technician, not a musician. That assessment's a little unfair, I think. Leone's musicality elevates these works. And she demonstrates that Clementi was more than just show.

La Chasse depicts a hunt, as the title suggests. Leone's playing makes for an exciting romp through the countryside (or in this case, the keyboard). The Capriccios also benefit from Leone's interpretations. 

These works were meant to be played and enjoyed. And Leone's performances facilitate that enjoyment. Jewels can dazzle -- and this music can, too. This album was aptly named.

Muzio Clementi: Piano Jewels
Capriccios, Toccata, La Chasse
Rodolfo Leone, piano
Naxos 8.574233

Friday, March 10, 2023

#ClassicsaDay #WomensHistoryMonth Week 2

March is Women's History Month. And for Classics a Day, it's another opportunity to focus on classical music composed by women. And not just composers in the 21st Century. 

Every year when we do this theme, I discover more female composers whose music I have never heard before. But it's music that deserves to be heard -- and more than once. 

Here are my posts for the second week of Women's History Month, 2023.

03/06/23 Emilie Mayer: Piano Concerto in B-flat major

Meyer wrote her piano concerto in 1850. It was the same year a Berlin concert exclusively devoted to her music was staged, launching her career as a composer.

03/07/23 Anna Bon: Flute Sonata in F major, Op. 1, No. 2

Bon was a performer and composer attached to the Esterhazy court (where Haydn was). She published three volumes of music by 1759. And in 1767 she and her husband moved to Thuringia and disappeared from history.

03/08/23 Maddalena Casulana (c.1540–c.1590): Vagh'amorosi augelli

Casulana was a lutenist, composer, and singer. Her Madrigals, Book 1 (1566) is the earliest print collection of a female composer in Europe.

03/09/23 Luise Adolpha Le Beau: Piano Concerto in D minor, Op. 37

Le Beau's primary teacher was Josef Rheinberger, although she studied very briefly with Clara Schumann in the summer of 1878.

03/10/23 Mel Bonis: Scènes de la forêt

Bonis wrote over 300 works during her lifetime. She attended the Paris Conservatoire with classmates Claude Debussy and Gabriel Pierné.

Thursday, March 09, 2023

Oliver Triendl delivers with Karl Weigl Piano Concerto

This release features three works from a composer on the rise. Austrian composer Karl Weigl was developing an impressive career by the 1930s. He had stueid with Alexander Zemlinsky and Robert Fuchs. He was a rehearsal conductor for Gustav Mahler. And he taught theory and composition at the University of Vienna. 

It was all disappear when the Nazis annexed Austria. Because of his Jewish background, Weigl was banned from performance -- as was his music. He and his family emigrated to the United States. There he successfully rebuilt his career. 

The works on this release trace the arc of Weigl's development before the Anschoss. Three Songs for Soprano and Orchestra dates from 1916. They show the influence of Mahler, especially in their orchestration. 

The Piano Concerto in F minor premiered in 1931. Here Weigl's personality is better defined. It's big, it's bold, it's Post-Romantic. But Weigl has his own ideas about what that means. Oliver Triendl performs to his usual high standards. His gestures are, well, big and bold. 

Weigl wrote his Rhapsodie, Op. 30 in 1930. After he moved to America, Weigl's music became increasingly polyphonic and polytonal. But that trend started much earlier. This work has several melodic lines interweaving in a beguiling fashion. 

The Jenaer Philharmonie under Simon Gaudenz performs quite well. Their recorded sound is warm, and sometimes a little soft around the edges. But they're playing is clean and precise.

Karl Weigl: Piano Concerto
Rhapsody; Three Songs
Oliver Triendl, piano; Lina Johnson, soprano
Jenaer Philharmonie; Simon Gaudenz, conductor

Wednesday, March 08, 2023

Erwin Schulhoff - His Legacy Survives

Erwin Schulhoff didn't survive the Holocaust. But his music did. Schulhoff was a Czech composer who wanted to bring music into the future. In the 1920s he regularly associated with Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg, and Anton Webern. 

He was successful as a composer and a concert pianist. For a while. Schulhoff was also Jewish, and an outspoken Communist. He was high on the Nazi's cultural blacklist. His music was forbidden in Germany, and then Austria after annexation. And finally, in Czechoslovakia where Schulhoff was trying to live in seclusion. 

He had applied to emigrate to the Soviet Union. But just days before his scheduled departure, Schuloff and his son were arrested. They were sent to Wülzburg prison where he died of tuberculosis.

Before the rise of the Nazis, Schulhoff's future looked bright. His works collected here have an exuberance to them. 

The Concerto for Piano and Small Orchestra, Op. 43 was written in 1923. While it has some highly chromatic passages, Schulhoff refrained from 12-tone technique. Instead, he chose to blend free-ranging harmonies with dance club jazz. And it works. 

Piano Dominic Cheli gives an electrifying performance. He keeps the energy level high, and the music bouncing along. He is also outstanding at playing the Suite for Piano, Left Hand. Surprisingly, this 1926 work doesn't seem to be a Paul Wittgenstein commission. But it's on par with that level of musicianship.

The Five Pieces for String Quartet and Sonata No. 2 for Violin and Piano are also included. These modernist compositions sound as fresh and challenging today as when they premiered in the 1920s.

This is an excellent overview of Schulhoff's works. The Nazi suppression of Schulhoff's music removed it from circulation. And it's only been in the last decade or so that attention has returned to Holocaust composers. 

An excellent recording of music that deserves to live again.

Shapeshifter -- Music of Erwin Schulhoff
Artists from the Colburn School; James Conlon, conductor
Delos DE 3566

Tuesday, March 07, 2023

Ole Hjellemo's Music Returns after Long Hiatus

Ole Hjellemo came from a modest background in rural Norway. He became one of the country's most important composers and music instructors. Parts of his biography are murky.

Hjellemo was steeped in Norwegian folk traditions. He regularly performed at weddings and parties as a teenager in Dovre. 

He joined the military as a bandsman and rose to the rank of lieutenant. Hjellemo's earliest compositions were for military bands and many arrangments of folk tunes. 

Then in 1912, at age 49, he produced a symphony. It was possibly his first orchestral work. It was well-received by audiences, but not by critics. He returned to the form in 1926, and this time both audiences and critics agreed -- it was a masterwork. And yet it only had one additional performance. Until now. 

This is the world-premiere recording of the work. And I'm glad Sterling took the chance. Hjellemo's musical language is shaped by his background. His melodies, for lack of a better description, sound Norwegian.

Symphony No. 2 in B minor is a large-scale composition, running about 48 minutes. But it's a well-organized one. Hjellemo uses his motifs effectively and efficiently. Hjellemo wrote five symphonies in all. This one whetted my curiosity for the others.

We don't know the origins of Hjellemo's violin concerto. It appeared on a 1934 program for the Philharmonic Company Orchestra. It was one of three of Hjellemo's works he was conducting. The concerto's compact and succinct. Hjellemo packs a lot into it, including material recycled from an earlier string quartet. 

I think it all works quite well. Christopher Tun Andersen turns in an energetic performance and a lyrical one at that. 

The Makris Symphony Orchestra directed by Jorn Fossheim is in fine form. Hjellemo's second symphony is a big piece, using an expanded orchestra. The Makris SO rises to the occasion. Their playing imbues the symphony with the grandeur Hjellemo intended.

Ole Hjellemo: Violin Concerto; Symphony No 2 in B minor
Christopher Tun Andersen, violin
Makris Symphony Orchestra; Jorn Fossheim, conductor
Sterling CDS 1128

Friday, March 03, 2023

#ClassicsaDay #WomensHistoryMonth, Week 1 2023

March is Women's History Month. And for Classics a Day, it's another opportunity to focus on classical music composed by women. And not just composers in the 21st Century. 

Every year when we do this theme, I discover more female composers whose music I have never heard before. But it's music that deserves to be heard -- and more than once. 

Here are my posts for the first week of Women's History Month, 2023.

03/01/23 Kassia (c.810-867): Gnomai

Kassia is the earliest known female composer. About 50 of her hymns have survived to the present day -- some are still used by the Greek Orthodox Church.

03/02/23 Laura Netzel: Cello Sonata, Op. 66

This Swedish composer/pianist used an alias to get her music published. This Cello Sonata, from 1899, for example, is credited to "N. Lago."

03/03/23 Dora Pejačević: Piano Trio in C, Op. 29

This Croatian composer is considered one of the most important in her country. Most of her works are chamber music, with a large representation of solo vocal music.

Thursday, March 02, 2023

Grażyna Bacewicz: A Portrait - Flattering, and Accurate

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 recorded sound between solo pieces and duets. 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, March 01, 2023

Sergio Gallo excels with Rubinstein

Anton Rubinstein was judged one of the greatest pianists of his age. And he was no slouch as a composer, either. He had well over 100 published compositions, including operas, symphonies, and piano concertos. But his style was cosmopolitan. And Russian nationalist composers were the taste-makers (in Russia). 

The historical narrative made the Mighty Five have heroes moving Russian music forward. And Rubinstein became a pianist who wrote derivative and therefore justly forgotten music.

But Rubinstein's actual compositions tell another story. As a pianist, he had phenomenal technique. And because he traveled widely as a soloist and a conductor he was exposed to a wide variety of music and cultures. His music reflects those influences and is more in line with Western European music.

But at the same time, it's also highly individualistic. Rubinstein knew how to construct and manipulate melodies. He used harmonies to create the frameworks for his ideas. And especially with his piano music, he used his talent to write music that very few others could.

This release presents two collections from his vast catalog of keyboard music. The Three Caprices, Op. 21 was completed in 1855. Rubinstein was in the midst of a four-year concert tour, one that would be a complete triumph.

The caprices aren't the most difficult pieces ever written. But they require talent to pull them off. Rubinstein wanted his students to think about what they were playing. To go beyond the notes. 

Pianist Sergio Gallo does just that. His phrasing masterfully shapes the music to reveal the depths of the compositions. He makes connections between motives, highlighting the cohesiveness of Rubinstein's compositions.

The Six Pieces, Op. 51 were published two years later. These are more advanced works. While the style is different, the thickness of the textures reminds me of Franz Liszt. 

But these aren't showpieces. Gallo keeps the focus on what's important -- the melody. Some of the passages are pretty impressive. But in the end, it's the melodies that kept me engaged with these pieces.

Anton Rubinstein: Piano Music
Three Caprices, Op. 21; Six Pieces Op. 51
Sergio Gallo, piano