Friday, April 28, 2023

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalQuartet Week 4

April is the fourth month of the year. And so the Classics a Day team decided to make it quartet month. This April the challenge is to post classical works that require four musicians. String quartets are the most common grouping of four -- but there are others. 

A piano trio has four players. And many 20th and 21st-Century quartets bring together unusual combinations of instruments. There's a lot to choose from!

Here are my posts for the fourth and final week of #ClassicsaDay for April's #ClassicalQuartet.

4/24/23 Joan Tower: In Memory (for string quartet)

Tower composed this quartet in 2002. It was written in memory of friend who died in the September 11th attack.

4/25/23 Johann Baptist Vanhal: Quartet for oboe and strings in F major, Op. 7

Bohemian composer was also an organist, violinist, and cellist. But that didn't prevent him from writing music for other instruments. Like this chamber work for oboe and strings.

4/26/23 Emil von Reznicek: String Quartet No. 1 in C minor

Reznicek was a friend and colleague of Richard Strauss (at least for a while). The first of his six numbered string quartet was written in 1882.

4/27/23 Arthur Foote: Piano Quartet No. 1, Op. 23

Foote was a member of the influencial "Boston Six" group of American composers that included George Whitefield Chadwick, John Knowles Paine, Amy Beach, and Horatio Parker. He wrote primarily chamber music, like this 1890 piano quartet.

4/28/23 Charles ives: String Quartet No. 1 "From the Salvation Army"

Ives wrote his first quartet while studying at Yale with Horatio Parker. Its title refers to a revival service that the music depicts.

4/28/23 Joachim Raff: String Quartet No. 8 in C major, Op. 192, No. 3 "Suite in Canon Form"

Raff's final string quartet is significantly different than the previous seven. Rather than use the standard four-movement form, Raff opted for seven short dance movements. Further, each movement uses canonic development.

Next month:

Thursday, April 27, 2023

Kevin Gorman continues exciting new cycle

Williams Bland composed an extraordinary cycle of piano sonatas. There are twenty-four in all, one for each major and minor key. Kevin Gorman has already recorded Sonatas Nos. 17 and 18 for Bridge. This release features nos. 9 and 10. Here's hoping for a complete cycle!

Both sonatas on this release were written in 2001, and each takes the listener on a journey. Bland is a composer who follows his own muse. His style is a seamless blend of late- and post-Romanticism, jazz, pop, and a few other genres. But it's not a hodgepodge. 

These works are carefully constructed. Stylistic shifts are as important as key changes in developing his themes. 

Sonata No. 9 in F major is titled "Spring." Its title refers not so much to the season, but rather what the season brings. As Bland describes it, "atmosphere, love and lust, flowers and anticipation." And his music delivers. 

The third movement, "Flowers" is subdivided into several sections. Each section references a different blossom. And each section is music of rare and delicate beauty.

Sonata No. 10 in E minor has quite a different character. Here Bland seems inspired by composers such as Schubert and Chopin. 

As with Schubert's piano sonatas, I didn't try to discern where the themes fit in a formal structure. Rather, I just let the music carry me from one idea to the next. And enjoyed every minute of it. 

Gorman's performances are committed and sure. And that's a good thing. These sonatas are not easy to play. And it takes a high degree of musicality to bring out the expressive narratives of these works. Bland easily succeeds at both. 

I'm very much looking forward to the next volume.

William Bland: Piano Sonata No. 9 in F major "Spring"
Piano Sonata No. 10 in E minor; Nouveau Rag
Kevin Gorman, piano
Bridge Records 9580

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Leipzig 1723 - Audition Cantatas Impress

Many music lovers know that in 1723 Johann Sebastian Bach became Tomaskantor in Leipzig. He would remain there the rest of his life, composing some of his greatest works for the church. 

Not as many know that Bach wasn't the town council's first choice. Or even their second choice.  And most -- including myself -- were unaware of the application requirements. 

Johann Kuhnau, Tomaskantor from 1701 to 1722, was a polymath. He composed weekly church services and played the organ. Kuhnau also taught at the Thomasschule. And he practiced law,  published novels, and translated classical literature. 

The council quickly realized they weren't going to find another Kuhnau. But they tried.

The applicants had to compose two cantatas based on texts supplied by the council (one of whom was a poet). The council would then hear the application pieces. They were performed in Thomaskirche with the applicant conducting. The council's first choice was Germany's greatest composer -- George Philipp Telemann. 

He passed the musical test easily and was promptly hired. Within a week Telemann resigned -- his former employer had come through with a better offer. 

Next on the list was Christoph Graupner. After hearing his cantatas, the council was ready to sign. But not Graupner. He, too, was using the gig to negotiate a better deal with his current employer. But he did recommend a friend of his -- Johann Sebastian Bach.

The council, twice burned, waited until Graupner confirmed he was unavailable. Only then, after two months, did Bach get the nod. 

This release presents the audition cantatas of the three composers. And they're quite different stylistically. Aelbut and the Capalla Jenensis give these works spirited readings. In a way, these are showpieces. Each composer stresses his strengths to impress the council. 

Telemann presents ingenious word painting coupled with imaginative orchestration. Graupner delivers lush, almost operatic works. And Bach gave the council introspective spiritual works. As one council member remarked, Bach's music "was highly praised by all those who appreciate such things!"

Here's my recommendation. Get this release, and without looking at the liner notes, do some blind listening tests. Based on the music alone, who would you hire? 

Leipzig 1723: Telemann, Graupner, Bach
AElbtu; Capella Jenensis

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Eugene Zador - Celebration Music Release cause for celebration

This release is the seventh in Naxos' Eugene Zador series. And it's an album comprised entirely of world premiere recordings. 

Zador was for many years the top film orchestrator at M-G-M Studios. In the 1950s he worked closely with fellow Hungarian Miklos Rozsa. They collaborated on several classic films like Ben Hur, Quo Vadus, and King of Kings. 

But Zador was more than a talented journeyman. In Hungary, he was an important composer. His career derailed in 1939 when he fled the Nazis and emigrated to America. And while he worked in a dream factory by day, he kept his own dreams alive. 

Zador's name never appeared in the credits of any film. He reserved it for his serious music, which he continued to compose. This release presents a sampling of those works, mainly from the latter part of his career. 

The 1931 Chamber Concerto hints at the direction Zador might have taken without the war. It's a sparsely orchestrated piece, somewhat resembling Bartok mixed with Stravinsky. This was definitely contemporary music. 

The remaining works from the 1960s and 1970s tell a different story. The music is more tonal, although it's a very free-form tonality. Occasionally I could hear passages that reminded me of his film work. But this isn't film music. 

Zador's themes are deceptively complex. It's only as the work unfolds that the complexity begins to resolve itself.

Eugene Zador: Celebration Music
Chamber Concerto; Suite for Horn, Strings, and Percussion
Budapest Symphony Orchestra MAV; Mariusz Smolij, conductor
Naxos 8.574262

Friday, April 21, 2023

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalQuartet Week 3

April is the fourth month of the year. And so the Classics a Day team decided to make it quartet month. This April the challenge is to post classical works that require four musicians. String quartets are the most common grouping of four -- but there are others. 

A piano trio has four players. And many 20th and 21st-Century quartets bring together unusual combinations of instruments. There's a lot to choose from!

Here are my posts for the third week of #ClassicsaDay for April's #ClassicalQuartet.

04/17/23 Anton Webern: String Quartet (1905)

Webern was in his third year of studies at Vienna University when he composed this single-movement string quartet. According to one source, the paintings of Giovanni Segantini may have inspired Webern's composition of the quartet.

4/18/23 Ernst von Dohnanyi: String Quartet No. 3 in A minor, Op. 33

Hungarian composer von Dohnanyi wrote three string quartets. His final one was completed in 1926. He did not revisit the genre during the remaining 31 years of his life.

4/19/23 Maurice Emmanuel: String Quartet

This French composer had a strong affinity for modal music. His composition teacher, Léo Delibes did not. And eventually, it caused Emmanuel to be expelled from his class. Emmanuel went on to have a successful career as a composer and academic. His own students included Olivier Messiaen and Henri Dutilleux.


4/20/23 Dora Pejačević: Piano Quartet in D minor

Pejačević was active in the first part of the 20th Century and is still considered Croatia's greatest composer. Her catalog has 58 numbered compositions, and many more without opus numbers.

4/21/23 Libby Larsen: "She Wrote" for string quartet

The title is a quote from James Joyce's "Ulysses," describing a restless young woman. The four movements follow the emotional arc of the paragraph.

Friday, April 14, 2023

#ClassicsADay #ClassicalQuartet Week 2

April is the fourth month of the year. And so the Classics a Day team decided to make it quartet month. This April the challenge is to post classical works that require four musicians. String quartets are the most common grouping of four -- but there are others. 

A piano trio has four players. And many 20th and 21st-Century quartets bring together unusual combinations of instruments. There's a lot to choose from!

Here are my posts for the second week of #ClassicsaDay for April's #ClassicalQuartet.

04/10/23 Englebert Humperdink: String Quartet Op. 164

Today, he's mainly remembered for his opera "Hansel and Gretel." But Humperdinck had quite a lot of music in his catalog. His lone string quartet was written in 1920, the year before he died.

04/11/23 Ethel Smyth: String Quartet in E minor

Smyth only wrote one quartet. She completed it in 1902, and revised it ten years later.

04/12/23 Emilie Mayer: String Quartet in G minor, Op. 14

Meyer wrote seven string quartets throughout her career. Only the one in G minor was published in her lifetime.

04/13/23 Fanny Mendelssohn: String Quartet in E-flat major

Felix's sister wrote her only quartet in 1835. She wasn't entirely happy with it. In a letter to her brother she admitted she felt more comfortable with shorter forms.

04/14/23 Hans Rott: String Quartet in C major

Rott wrote this in 1876, when he was 18. Both Mahler and Bruckner admired his brilliance, and were devastated when he died in 1884, just 26 years old.

Thursday, April 13, 2023

Thomas de Hartmann Orchestral Music a Revelation

Thomas de Hartmann's career was not a straight path. He was born in Ukraine in 1884. When he began showing talent at age eleven, he began lessons with Anton Arensky. He also studied with Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Sergei Taneyev. But he didn't remain in Russia to take his place among Soviet composers. 

He and his wife became disciples of Russian mystic G. I. Gurdjieff. They followed him to Paris, Berlin, Constantinople, and other cities in Europe. De Hartmann's promising career as a composer soon withered. 

Eventually, the de Hartmanns and Gurdjieff went their separate ways. De Hartmann moved to America after World War II. He was in the midst of a comeback as a serious composer when he died in 1954. 

This release provides a fine overview of this often-overlooked composer. It includes two Ukraine-inspired works from 1940 and two postwar compositions. 

Koliadky: Noëls Ukrainiens, Op. 60 isn't quite what it seems. Koliadky (Carols) isn't a collection of Ukranian folk music. Rather, it's original material de Hartmann channels through the traditions of said music. Koliadky is a beautiful work. And it captures the spirit of Ukrainian Christmas tradition.

Une Fête en Ukraine is an orchestral suite of music from a one-act ballet. Here de Hartmann depicts the celebration surrounding a visit by Catherine the Great. Again, de Hartmann doesn't quote any dances of the period but creates new melodies for the old forms. 

De Hartmann's postwar selections show a composer perfectly familiar with modern idioms. But one who picks and chooses which aspects he wants to use. The Symphonie-Poème No. 4 has a sparse, modern sound while remaining solidly tonal. Concierto Andaluz for solo flute, percussion, and strings has a hint of Rodrigo, but only just. As with Ukrainian folk music, de Hartmann uses Spanish music as a starting point for his own work. 

The Lviv National Philharmonic Orchestra of Ukraine has a nice full sound. The recording has a lot of room ambiance, but it works. It sounds like these compositions have room to breathe. 

This is fascinating music from a composer I had never heard before. I'm very glad to see there's a volume two already in the works.  

Thomas de Hartmann: Orchestral Music
Koliadky: Noëls Ukrainiens, Op. 60; Symphonie-Poème No. 4, Op. 90
Concierto Andaluz for solo flute, percussion, and strings, Op. 81
Une Fête en Ukraine: Suite for Large Orchestra, Op. 62
Bülent Evcil, flute
Lviv National Philharmonic Orchestra of Ukraine; Theodore Kuchar, conductor
Toccata Classics

Friday, April 07, 2023

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalQuartet Week 1

April is the fourth month of the year. And so the Classics a Day team decided to make it quartet month. This April the challenge is to post classical works that require four musicians. String quartets are the most common grouping of four -- but there are others. 

A piano trio has four players. And many 20th and 21st-Century quartets bring together unusual combinations of instruments. There's a lot to choose from!

Here are my posts for the first week of #ClassicsaDay for April's #ClassicalQuartet.

04/03/23 Franz Joseph Haydn: String Quartet Op. 1, No. 1 in B-flat major

Considered the father of the genre, Haydn wrote 68 string quartets. His Op. 1 set of six was published in 1762.

04/04/23 Michael Haydn: String Quartet in A

If Franz Joseph Haydn is the father of the string quartet, does that make his younger brother Michael its uncle? After all, he wrote 19 string quartets himself.

04/05/23 Ludwig van Beethoven: String Quartet No. 1 in F major, Op. 18

Beethoven dedicated his Opus 18 quartets to Haydn, but he was already pushing past the form Haydn established.

04/06/23 Ferdinand Ries: String Quartet in F major, Op. 70, No. 1

Ries was Beethoven's pupil (as well as his personal secretary). Ries wrote 27 quartets, most having some resemblance to the style of his teacher.

04/07/23 Maurice Emmanuel: String Quartet in B-flat major, Op. 8

French composer Emmanuel was fond of modes. But his composition teacher, Léo Delibes, wasn't. Pieces like this quartet caused Delibes to expel Emmanuel from his class.

Thursday, April 06, 2023

Andrea Tarrodi: Four Elements

If you're not familiar with the name Andrea Tarrodi, then you probably don't follow the classical music press. In addition to winning multiple prestigious awards in her native Sweden, 

Tarrodi's music has captured a world audience in a very short time. And no wonder. Her style is both accessible and challenging. 

This release features some of her more recent works. It includes Choryn - Harp Concerto (2020), and the Symphony in Fire, Water, Earth, and Air (2021). It also features two shorter works from 2020, Fanfare, and Tarot Garden.

The Nordic Chamber Orchestra commissioned or co-commission all four of these compositions. So be assured these are authoritative performances. Choryn, with harpist Delphine Constantin-Reznik, is an effective evocation of synaesthesia, or experiencing one sense through another. It's an exotic soundscape where everything seems strangely distorted and yet makes perfect sense. 

Equally ambitious is the Symphony in Fire, Water, Earth, and Air. Tarrodi composed it while isolated during the pandemic. The opening music captures the unsettled emotions of that time: urgency vs. status, panic vs. discipline, and isolation vs. companionship. As the symphony moves through the elements, these emotions are gradually transformed. And then, in the final movement -- Air -- they dissipate like clouds in the sky. 

I can't really describe Tarrodi's music, because it's so unlike anything else. And yet it all works. Every single note. The only way to understand her work is to experience it. And this release is an excellent place to start. 

Andrea Tarrodi: Four Elements
Nordic Chamber Orchestra; JoAnn Falletta & Patrik Ringborg, conductors
Delphine Constantin-Reznik, harp
dB Productions dBCD 204

Wednesday, April 05, 2023

Carlos Gomes Overtures and Preludes - From Italy to Brazil

I had a devilish thought listening to this album. I'd like to play some selections from it for a dyed-in-the-wool opera lover I know. And challenge them to identify the opera. Or at the very least, the composer. 

Is that from a forgotten opera by Verdi? No, it's from "Lo Schiavo." What about this track? Is it perhaps Rossini? Nope, it's the sinfonia from "O Guarani." 

And as Italian as they sound, these works are actually by a Brazilian composer -- Carlos Gomes.

Granted, Gomes' career path was quite unusual. By age 28, Gomes had composed two successful operas. He received a Royal scholarship and journeyed to Italy. There he wrote "O Guarani," based on a novel by a Brazilian opera.

Italian critics raved, and Victor Emmanuel II decorated Gomes. He spent the rest of his life traveling back and forth between Italy and Brazil. And Gomes was held in high esteem in both countries. Verdi considered him a musical genius. 

This release presents overtures and preludes from his eight operas. And they are exceptional. Gomes had a natural melodic gift. Gomes used Brazilian subjects more than once. But his style is firmly entrenched in Italian operatic tradition. 

The Minas Gerais Philharmonic Orchestra performs these works admirably. This is music that was meant to sing, and the ensemble delivers. Conductor Fabio Mechetti keeps the drama high, and the climaxes big. As they should be. 

I'm curious now to hear more by Gomes -- especially some of his complete operas. But for now, this album will do quite nicely. 

Carlos Gomes: Opera Overtures and Preludes
Minas Gerais Philharmonic Orchestra; FAbio Mechetti, conductor
Naxos 8.574409

Tuesday, April 04, 2023

Paul Wranitzky Symphonies Age Well

This is the second release of Wranitzky symphonies by the NDR Radiophilharmonie. This time, Rolf Gupta conducts. 

Some sources suggest Wranitzky studied with Haydn. These performances really make the case. The works have the same elegant sound and balanced structure as Haydn's. 

This is despite their late date. Wranitsky composed two of these three symphonies in 1806. Beethoven had already premiered his Third Symphony. His fourth would premier that same year. Compared to those, Wranitzky's symphonies seem a little old-fashioned. 

That doesn't mean they aren't worth a listen. Wranitzky is a master craftsman. Not a single note is out of place. Each symphony is an elegantly constructed masterpiece. 

The NDR Radiophilharmonie plays with enthusiastic precision Every line sounds clean and clear. These are performances I really enjoyed. 

Wranitzky wrote 56 symphonies, so there's still a lot of ground to cover. But if Haydn liked them (and he did), then perhaps they deserve a listen or two. I'm ready for the next installment! 

Paul Wranitzky: Symphonies opp. 37, 50, and 51
NDR Radiophilharmonie; Rolf Gupta, conductor