Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Tudor Church Music As It Was Meant to Be Heard

This is a release with a very specific program. It's English church music from the reigns of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I.  The subtitle narrows the focus -- "The Easter Liturgy of the Church of England." 

Henry VIII broke away from the Roman Catholic Church. But a few elements transferred over to the new church. Some of the music -- written by English composers, of course -- made the cut. 

The new Church of England wanted music with English, rather than Latin, texts. And composers obliged. This release has works both sung in Latin and in English.

The lineup of composers doesn't disappoint. Included are William Byrd, Orlando Gibbons, Thomas Tomkins, Thomas Tallis, and Thomas Weekles. Lesser luminaries are also represented, like John Redford, William Munday, and Robert Whyte.

The London Ambrosian Singers is an SATB choir. Missing are the male choirboys that give English choral music its distinctive sound. That's not a problem. These are very good performances. 

The singers have a very loose ensemble sound. That's not to say they're sloppy -- they're not. But the various lines seem to have a little give to them as they interact.

If you're looking to explore Tudor church music, this is a good place to start. If you're well-familiar with it but would like a different perspective, give this a listen.

Tudor Church Music
The London Ambrosian Singers; John McCarthy, director

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Myriam Barbaux-Cohen Delivers with Mel Bonis

French pianist Myriam Barbaux-Cohen took a different path than many of her colleagues. Most concert pianists begin their recording career with standard repertoire. Depending on their strengths, they record Chopin,  Beethoven,  Schubert, etc.

Not Barbaux-Cohen. She debuted with the music of Enrique Granados. And her sophomore release is even more adventuresome. It's a collection of works by Mel Bonis. 

Bonis was a French pianist and composer active in the Belle Epoque. She was a classmate of Debussy at the Conservatoire. A forced marriage sidetracked her career, but she returned to music in the 1910s. 

Bonis wrote in an Impressionist style similar to Debussy's. I say similar. Because Bonis drew inspiration from the same sources as Debussy without mimicking his work. 

If you love Debussy and Ravel, add this release to your collection. Bonis had her own ideas of Impressionism and her creations have a lush, fluid sound to them. 

Barbaux-Cohen is in top form. She understands Bonis' aesthetic. Her touch is light, and her use of the pedal is sparing but strategic. The music just seems to glow at times.

And Barbaux-Cohen's performance benefits from her C. Bechstein sponsorship. The iC. Bechstein D282 concert grand piano she plays has a rich, full tone. And it's impeccably recorded. 

This release is available on SACD. If you prefer digital download to SACD, then get the highest-resolution files available. The beauty of this music -- and the performance -- is in the details.

Mel Bonis: Memoires d'une Femme
Myriam Barbaux-Cohen, piano
Ars Produktion 
SACD release

Friday, May 26, 2023

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalMexico Week 4

The Classics a Day team decided to turn a holiday -- Cinco de Mayo -- into a month-long celebration. Mexico has a rich classical music tradition. It dates back to the early 1600s when Spanish -- and very soon native-born -- composers began writing music for church services. And today Mexico has a thriving classical music community. Even if we're not aware of it here in the States.

Mexico has four centuries of classical music to choose from. Here are my selections for the fourth week of #ClassicalMexico.

05/22/23 Julián Carrillo Trujillo (1875–1965): Symphony No. 2 in C major

In the 1920s Trujillo developed a microtonal system he called the "Thirteenth Sound." This symphony from 1905 reflects his skill with traditional key systems.

05/23/23 Manuel María Ponce (1882–1948): Ropsodia Mexicana No. 1

Ponce a child prodigy, who began his career as a concert pianist while still young. He spent several years in Europe studying composition. His style incorporates popular Mexican music within classical forms.

0/5/24/23 Candelario Huízar (1883–1970): Pueblerinas

Huízar composed four symphonies that were well-received. But his greatest successes were his tone poems. "Pueblerians" is the second of his three tone poems, written in 1931.

05/25/23 José Pablo Moncayo (1912-1958): Huapango

Moncayo was a major force in 20th C. Mexican music. He was a composer, teacher, pianist, percussionist, and conductor. His works celebrate Mexico's cultural heritage in the framework of classical music.

05/26/23 Carlos Chávez (1899–1978): Valses Intimos

Chavez was one of the most important Mexican composers of the 20th Century. His early pieces (like this one) were for piano. He soon expanded into other forms, writing symphonies, chamber and choral music, and an opera.

Thursday, May 25, 2023

Armenian Cello Concertos Benefit from Native Performers

Yes, in many ways classical music is universal. A French orchestra, with a Japanese conductor and a Brazilian pianist, can deliver an exciting performance of a German piano concerto.

But something special happens when the music of a composer is played by an orchestra of their native country. Especially if it's led by a fellow countryman and features a native soloist. A shared cultural subtext rises to the surface. 

These musicians "get" what the composer is doing in a way that non-natives can't. And as a result, the music seems to take on a different character -- a more authentic character, if you will. 

That's exactly what I heard with "Armenian Cello Concertos." 

The soloist is Armenian-born Alexander Chausian. The orchestra is the Armenian National Philharmonic Orchestra. And the album was recorded in the Aram Khachaturian Concert Hall in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia.

The bona fides are there -- and so are the performances. I always thought of Khachaturian as a Soviet composer, who wrote in the state-approved neo-Romantic style. But his 1946 Cello Concerto sounds quite different here. 

Chausian plays with a rich, mellow sound. And he expressively bends and slurs pitches. It gives the music a Slavic folk-like quality. And one that's quite removed from the Russian classical style. 

Arno Babajanian wrote his Cello Concerto for  Mstislav Rostropovich. Rostropovich premiered it in 1962, and it was an instant success. Babajanian's Armenian influences aren't as obvious as Khachaturian's. But there are occasional turns and harmonies that have folk roots. 

French composer Michel Petrossian is of Armenian origins. He may be slightly removed from his roots. But his 2021 "8:4 concerto for cello and orchestra" references Mout Ararat, an important symbol in Armenian folklore. The music draws on both Armenian secular and sacred music traditions. 

All three works are worthy of attention. Heard together, they provide insight into the culture these composers share.

Armenian Cello Concertos
Alexander Chaushian, cello
Armenian National Philharmonic Orchestra; Eduard Topchjan, conductor
BIS 2648 

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Album for Lute a Rare Find

Dr. Werner  Wolffheim was one of the pre-eminent collectors of music manuscripts. He gathered over 15,000 original works and publications dating back centuries.  

In 1929 Wolffheim liquidated his music collection. And in the process, a hidden treasure emerged.  

One of the volumes that came up for auction was the "Album for the Lute." It contained works for the Baroque lute, the majority written in the mid-1600s. And many of these pieces are only found in this collection.

This recording delivers twenty world premiere recordings from that collection. Most are anonymous. A few are credited. Some such as Ennemond Gaultier and Easias Reusner were lutenists. But there's also a work by Johann Heinrich Schmelzer. 

By the early 1700s, the lute had greatly expanded in scope. It grew from a 7-course instrument (14 strings) to 11 (22 strings).  Bernhard Hofstotter plays on the instrument the music was written for: an 11-course Baroque lute.  

Hofstotter navigates around this complex instrument with ease. I appreciated how clean the performances were. In other genres, fingers sliding across strings are part of the musical expression. In classical music, it's a distraction, but something that can still happen on occasion. 

Hofstotter never falters. Every note sounds clean and clear. No slides, no extraneous sound. That purity of tone added to my enjoyment of these works. Some of them have very thick textures. Being able to hear every note made a huge difference. 

A fascinating collection, and one I'm glad I heard. Recommended. 

Album for the Lute
Bernhard Hofstotter, baroque lute
TYXart TXA22172

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Hilary Tann Sacred Choral Music a Fine Tribute

Welsh composer Hilary Tann passed away in February 2023. This album, already in production, was released the following month. 

Tann was a skilled composer in several genres. This collection of sacred choral music presents one facet of her work. But it's an especially fine one.

Tann wrote in an accessible tonal style. Her harmonies aren't simple -- but they're melodious and make sense as they flow one chord into the other. 

Tann was especially effective in her writing of the inner voices for choir. She had the ability to subtly vary the texture and weight of the chorus to suit the text.

The Cappella Clausura has a smooth vocal blend. The choir is well-recorded. There's room ambiance, but not too much. It gives the sound a luminous glow while giving clarity to the sung words. 

Tann is woefully under-represented by recordings. This is an important addition to her catalog. 

Hilary Tann; Luminaria Magna
Sacred Choral Music
Cappella Clausura; Amelia Leclair, director
Heinrich Christensen, organ
Navona NV6509

Friday, May 19, 2023

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalMexico Week 3

The Classics a Day team decided to turn a holiday -- Cinco de Mayo -- into a month-long celebration. Mexico has a rich classical music tradition. It dates back to the early 1600s when Spanish -- and very soon native-born -- composers began writing music for church services. And today Mexico has a thriving classical music community. Even if we're not aware of it here in the States.

Mexico has four centuries of classical music to choose from. Here are my selections for the third week of #ClassicalMexico.

05/15/23 Felipe Villanueva (1862–1893): Amar (Nocturno)

Villanueva was a gifted pianist and violinist, as well as a composer. Although he died at 31, he's still considered one of the major figures of Mexican music during the Romantic Era.

05/16/23 Gustavo Campa (1863-1934):Tios Minatures for string quartet

When Campa attended the Conservatorio Nacional, the Italian style of composition prevailed. Campa led a group of students who embraced the French style. He would join the Conservatorio as a professor, and eventually become its director.

05/17/23 Ricardo Castro (1864–1907): Piano concerto in A minor, Op. 22

Castro was a concert pianist as well as a composer. He wrote his first symphony at 19, and his first opera at 32. His piano concerto dates from 1904.

05/18/23 Juventino Rosas (1868–1894): Sobre la Olas

Rosas was a violinist who also wrote salon music. He began as a street musician, and his music had immediate appeal. Though he died at age 26, Rosas is one of Mexico's most popular composers. His melodies have been used in jazz, bluegrass, country, old-time, and Tejano music.

05/19/23 Alfredo Carrasco (1875-1945): Romanza sin palabras

Carrasco was a composer who spent most of his career in Mexico City. Some of his music was recorded by Victor in 1918.

Thursday, May 18, 2023

Livia Teodorescu-Ciocănea: Orchestral Music

This Toccata's third release of music by Romanian composer Livia Teodorescu-Ciocănea. It's a collection of orchestral music, all world-premiere recordings. Their previous releases include an album of piano works and her landmark ballet, "Le rouge et le noir.

The three albums collectively present Livia Teodorescu-Ciocănea's most important works, and create a solid portrait of the composer. 

This release focuses on three works. The Archimedes Symphony was inspired by the death of the philosopher during the siege of Syracuse. According to legend, when a Roman soldier killed him Archimededes covered the drawing he was studying. "Do not disturb my circles" were supposedly his last words. 

Teodorescu-Ciocănea's symphony, to my ears, has a circular quality to it. Her use of timbre ties the movements together. They create points the music seems to move away from an return to again and again. What's important isn't so much what the instruments are playing, but which instruments are playing together. 

Teodorescu-Ciocănea calls this concept "hypertimbralism." It's concerned with how interconnected sound layers interact as they change. "Rite of Enchanting Air" is the best example of this. It's a concerto for flute(s) and orchestra. The soloist plays several different members of the flute family, from piccolo to bass flute. So while the orchestra is shifting timbres, so is the soloist. 

It's really a concerto about air and one that's a perfect match for the breathy flute. For me, the music worked on all levels. 

The recording from Mysterium tremendum – cantata for mezzo-soprano and orchestra -- is of the premiere performance. The work was commissioned by the Romanian Radio National Orchestra. It features original soloist Antonela Barnat and conductor Cristian Orosany -- artists Teodorescu-Ciocănea consulted during the creation of the work. 

Need I say more? Highly recommended.

Livia Teodorescu-Ciocănea: Orchestral Music
Pierre-Yves Artaud, flutes; Antonela Barnat, mezzo-soprano
Romanian Radio National Orchestra; Valentin Doni, Cristian Orosany, conductors
Radio Romania Chamber Orchestra; Alan Tongue, conductor
Toccata Classics TOCC 0668

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Xenia Löffler Unearths Forgotten Oboe Concertos (again)

Xenia Löffler is a renowned oboist, specializing in the Baroque repertoire. She's released several albums of oboe concertos concentrating on a particular geographic area. 

Löfflers recorded concertos by Frantisek Jiranek, Johann Gottlieb, Carl Heinrich Graun, and Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach.

This album continues her survey of oboe music at the various courts in Germany. Previous installments include "Oboe Concerto at the Dresden Court," "The Oboe in Dresden," and "The Oboe in Berlin." This release focuses on the court at Thurn und Taxis.

The House of Thurn und Taxis was an important noble family in central Germany. They developed Europe's postal services in the 1600s. And they controlled it through the 1800s. The family also owned several breweries. $$$  

Thurn und Taxis kept an extravagant court, as befitted their status (and bankroll).  It included an orchestra stocked with first-rate musicians. Oboe virtuoso Giovanni Palestrini was one of them. Over 100 concertos were written for him by various court composers.

This release presents four of them. Two are by Franz Xaver Kerzelli. These are well-crafted works, written in the breezy Style Galante. 

Joan Baptista Pla was from Spain but spent most of his career in Germany and France. Pla was an oboist as well. His concerto leans towards the late Baroque and has a more formal sound. But the oboe part is killer.

The real showpiece, though, is by Theodor von Schacht. His 1786 Concerto for Three Oboes in B-flat major is in the Classical Era style. Schacht uses the three oboes effectively. They toss motives back and forth as often as they harmonize together.

Löffler plays in an easy, natural manner. The music seems to pour out of her. None of these composers are household names, but that doesn't matter. There was some serious music-making going on in Regensburg. I'm glad Löffler brought some of it to light.

Oboe Concertos at the Court of Thurn and Taxis
Xenia Löffler, oboe
Alfredo Bernardini, Micahel Bosch, oboes
Batzdorfer Hofkapelle
Accent ACC 24388

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Trevor Duncan - 20th Century Express Keeps It Light

Does anyone write light classical music anymore? Perhaps the real question is: is there still a market for light classical music? 

Film scores seem to have supplanted light classical music on orchestral pops programs. And while the two genres are closely related, they're not quite the same. 

Under their Marco Polo label, Naxos released a series of British light classical music. Each volume centered around a different composer. Each one is full of music both charming and entertaining. 

This is a reissue of the Trevor Duncan album, first released in 1997. Duncan was a self-taught composer. After World War II he joined the BBC as a sound engineer. 

Duncan worked on light orchestra programs. Through studying the scores for those broadcasts he learned orchestration. He also learned which orchestral effects worked best on the radio. 

Duncan began composing for music libraries, and soon had his first hit, "High Heels." It's included in this release. Think of a sophisticated cross between David Rose and Leroy Anderson. 

Duncan wanted to entertain, and every piece on this album delivers. Some became pops concert favorites, such as the "20th Century Express." Others, like "Little Suite" and "The Girl from Corsica" became themes for popular TV programs. 

The Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra directed by Andrew Penny performs up to standards. This is light music, and that's what the orchestra delivers. Their sound is light, upbeat, and fun. As intended.

Trevor Duncan: 20th Century Express
A Little Suite; Children in the Park
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra; Andrew Penny, conductor

Friday, May 12, 2023

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalMexico Week 2

The Classics a Day team decided to turn a holiday -- Cinco de Mayo -- into a month-long celebration. Mexico has a rich classical music tradition. It dates back to the early 1600s when Spanish -- and very soon native-born -- composers began writing music for church services. And today Mexico has a thriving classical music community. Even if we're not aware of it here in the States.

Mexico has four centuries of classical music to choose from. Here are my selections for the second week of #ClassicalMexico.

05/08/23 José Mariano Elízaga (1786–1842): Ultimas variaciones

Elizage is considered the most important Mexican composer of the early Romantic period. The bulk of his music was considered lost until a cache was discovered in 1994.

05/09/23 Cenobio Paniagua (1821-1882): String Quartet No. 1

Paniagua was a violinist as well as a composer. He was second conductor of the Cathedral Orchestra in Mexico city. Paniagua wrote several operas as well as 70 masses.

05/10/23 Aniceto Ortega (1825–1875): Vals Jarabe

Ortega was a physician, as well as a pianist and composer. He founded Mexico's first hopsital for women and children in the 1840s. Ortega helped found the Sociedad Filarmónica Mexicana. And he wrote the first opera based on a native Mexican story --Guatimotzin.

05/11/23 Macedonio Alcalá (1831–1869): Dios nunca muere

Alcalá was a Mexican composer, violinist, and pianist. He spent most of his life in Oaxaca. Indigenous villagers from Tiacolula asked Alcalá for a waltz in honor of the Virgin Mary. "Dios nunca muere" was an instant hit, and remains the unofficial state anthem of Oaxaca.

05/12/23 Melesio Morales (1839–1908): Moraels Vals Netzhualcoyotl

Morales was born and died in Mexico City. But he traveled to Europe in the 1860s, where his opera "Ildegonda" made his reputation.

Thursday, May 11, 2023

Kevin Puts - Dynamic City and Concerto

Kevin Puts is a composer who seems to go from strength to strength. His opera "Silent Night" won a Pulitzer Prize in 2012. His composition "Contact" won a Grammy this year. This release features three fairly recent works, all receiving their world recording premiers. 

Puts revised his Marimba Concerto in 2021, which is the version recorded here. The revision was at the behest of Ji Su Jung, who performs it here. 

The concerto has an elegiac quality to it. Puts' harmonic language resembles the wide-open "Western" sound of Aaron Copland. Jung's taken ownership of this concerto. The music seems to just flow from her. 

Most percussion concertos focus on rhythm. This one is more about poignant simplicity. It's my favorite work on the album (but then, I'm a percussionist).  

If you're looking for a work with rhythm, "The City" delivers. Marin Alsop and the Baltimore Symphony co-commissioned this piece. So of course their performance is assured and insightful. Puts' sound kaleidoscope represents the various ethnic groups that make up any city. A driving pulse holds it all together, much like the inherent energy of a city. 

Classical music, whether directly or indirectly, embodies the zeitgeist of its time. Puts writes that he created this work shortly after the 2016 presidential election. The polarization and fears it raised found expression in "Moonlight, Oboe Concerto No. 2."

The first movement is unsettled and anxious. The second movement ratchets up the tension. Think Bernard Hermann's "Psycho." The final movement resolves that tension. Its lush harmonies suggest a peace that has yet to come. 

Puts consulted Katherine Needleman as he crafted the oboe part. She's playing music that was created for her, and it shows. A beautiful and impressive performance.  

Kevin Puts: The City
Marimba Concerto; Moonlight
Katherine Needleman, oboe; Ji Su Jung, marimba
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra; Marin Alsop, conductor
Naxos 8.55926

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Gregoire Brayssing: Complete Music for Renaissance Guitar

Sometimes, it's all about the music. Because the music is all we have. Virtually nothing is known of Gregoire Brayssing. It's possible he was German. It's almost certain that he played the Renaissance guitar. And he definitely published Quart livre de tablature de guitarre in 1553. That's it.

The Renaissance guitar sits somewhere between the lute and the modern guitar. Unlike the lute, which had a bowl-shaped body, the Renaissance guitar is flat. Its body has a vague hourglass shape, like a modern guitar.

The lute had a neck that held the tuning pegs at a 90-degree angle. The Renaissance guitar's neck is straight, like a modern instrument. One of the biggest differences was the arrangement of strings. 

Lutes had pairs of strings, called courses, with a single string for the highest pitches. Renaissance lutes typically had 8-10 courses (17-21 strings total). The Renaissance guitar had but four courses (9 strings total). 

Different string arrangements meant different playing techniques.  Brayssing understood his instrument well. His music is a compendium of playing techniques that take full advantage of the guitar.

Fedrico Rossignoli is a specialist in Renaissance guitar and cittern. His playing is here is flawless. There's no sliding from note to note -- each plucked with precision. His runs are pristine. 

The Renaissance guitar sounds like a lute but with a slightly more robust resonance. And Rossignoli plays . He doesn't pluck the strings delicately, but strength, letting them ring.

Yes. This is a recording of incredibly obscure music by an unknown composer for an esoteric instrument. None of that matters. We have the music. This instrument playing these compositions is a beautiful sound. A sound that anyone can enjoy.

Gregoire Brayssing: Complete Music for Renaissance Guitar
Federico Rossignoli, Renaissance guitar
Brilliant Classics 96448

Tuesday, May 09, 2023

Piano Duet Music of Marie Jaëll and Jane Savage - Rarest of the Rare

Consider the body of piano literature. Piano duet music makes up a small percentage of that literature. And piano duet music by female composers an even smaller percentage of that.

This release presents piano duets by two female composers who deserve greater exposure. Marie Jaëll's music makes up the bulk of the album. 

Jaëll was an important French pianist and pedagogue, as well as a composer. Her talent was great. Franz Liszt said she had "the brains of a philosopher and the fingers of an artist." 

Most of her compositions were for piano. Her Opus 8 Waltzes for piano four-hands was one of her more popular works. These twelve little waltzes evoke elegance and refinement. 

"Voix du printemps" is a set of six vignettes evoking different aspects of spring. To my ears, they show a trace of Brahms (who Jaëll knew personally).

British composer Jane Savage is represented by "A Favorite Duet." Savage was active in the late 1790s-early 1800s. Her duet is very much in the classical style, as spritely as Mozart with a bit of Thomas Arne thrown in. 

The Duo Korusa, Sujung Cho and Jacob Clark give these works spirited readings. Their performance of the "Voix du printemps" I found especially beautiful.

Not so beautiful, though, is the recorded piano sound. There's a little too much resonance for my taste. And there's no ambiance. This gives the instrument a somewhat dull and slightly unnatural sound. 

Is it horrible? No. But it's not the best-recorded piano I've heard. But this repertoire is so rare, I'm willing to get past the sound. And so should you.

Piano Duet Music of Marie Jaëll and Jane Savage
Duo Korusa
Centaur CRC 4006

Friday, May 05, 2023

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalMexico Week 1

The Classics a Day team decided to turn a holiday -- Cinco de Mayo -- into a month-long celebration. Mexico has a rich classical music tradition. It dates back to the early 1600s when Spanish -- and very soon native-born -- composers began writing music for church services. And today Mexico has a thriving classical music community. Even if we're not aware of it here in the States.

Mexico has four centuries of classical music to choose from. Here are my selections for the first week of #ClassicalMexico.  

05/01/23 Juan de Lienas (c. 1640): Lamentatio

De Lienas was a cacique (native of noble birth). His surviving sacred music is written in the high Renaissance style and was sung in the convent attached to the cathedral in Mexico City.

05/02/23 Francisco López Capillas (c. 1615 – 1673): Missa "Aufer a Nobis"

Capillas was born in Mexico City. He became the choirmaster of the Mexico City Cathedral in 1654 and is one of the most important native-born composers of Mexico.

05/03/23 Juan García de Zéspedes (c. 1619–1678): Hermoso amor que forxas

Zéspedes was born in Mexico and sang in the Puebla Cathedral choir under the direction of Juan Gutiérrez de Padilla. He eventually took over the position in 1664. Zéspedes wrote both sacred and secular compositions.

05/04/23 Manuel de Zumaya (1678–1755): Missa a 8 de tercer tono

Zumaya was born in Mexico and became chapelmaster at the Mexico City Cathedral in 1715. He was a priest, and his music blended high Renaissance and early Baroque sacred styles. Zumaya was the first native-born composer in the Americas to compose an opera.

05/05/23 José María Bustamante (1777–1861): El estopín

Bustamente was the chapel master at the Metropolitan Cathedral. He also taught at the first music conservatory in Latin America, founded in 1824. Bustamante was also a member of the Mexican independence movement, and wrote a heroic melodrama "Méjico libre."

Thursday, May 04, 2023

Joaquin Turina: Complete Piano Trios

This release features all four of Joaquin Turina's piano trios. It includes his first Trio, written when Turina was 20 (but never published). The release also has his two numbered trios, plus Circulo. 

This is a top-notch group of musicians. David and Aldo Mata have a familial connection that makes them a great duo. Pianist Patricia Arauzo rounds out the trio beautifully. I was impressed at how well all three instruments blended throughout the recording. 

And all three musicians share Turina's Spanish heritage. They understand the underpinnings of his music. And their playing conveys that understanding. These are exceptional performances. 

And it's an instructive program. There's a big difference between Turina's 1904 trio and his 1936 Circulo. In the latter, Turna's an experience composer in full command of his material. The music is tightly focused. The expressions are big, but not extravagant. 

Turina's output is often neglected compared to that of other 20th Century composers. This release shows just how unjust that neglect is.  

Joaquin Turina: Complete Piano Trios
David Mata, violin; Aldo Mata, cello; Patricia Arauzo, piano
IBS BS192022

Wednesday, May 03, 2023

Fresh Sound for Vivaldi Bassoon Concertos

Antonio Vivaldi wrote 39 basson concertos. So undertaking a complete traversal of them is no mean feat. Mauro Monguzzi is off to a good start with this volume. He plays with a rich, full sound. And his bassoon can nimbly dance up and down the instrument's range when needed. 

His ensemble features members of the Teatro all Scala supplemented by harpsichord. The ensemble blend is (to my ears) a little unusual. Basso continuo usually consists of two instruments -- the cello and the harpsichord. 

Here it's three: cello, harpsichord, and double bass. That last instrument gives the ensemble sound a robust bass line. And it's a fuller sound than I expect from a Baroque ensemble.

The harpsichord is somewhat buried in the mix. The result makes these pieces sound like works for bassoon and string sextet. It's not a bad sound at all. And one that can make for a refreshing alternative to most early music ensemble readings.

Monguzzi is a first-rate musician. I quickly got past the unusual sound of the ensemble and focused on his playing. And that made this release an enjoyable listen. I'm up for volume two now! 

 Antonio Vivaldi: Complete Basson Concertos, Vol. 1
Mauro Monguzzi, basson
Members of the Teatro alla Scala; Giovanni Brollo, harpsichord
Bongiovanni GB 5639-2

Tuesday, May 02, 2023

Two Masterworks by Margaret Bonds


This release presents two major choral works by Black composer Margaret Bonds. And they couldn't come at a more opportune moment. Bonds composed "Credo" in 1967. The orchestral version premiered in 1972, just weeks after her death. "Simon Bore the Cross" was composed a year earlier. Bonds never heard it performed. 

Both works are monumental in scope, and powerful in their delivery.  Malcolm J. Merriweather and the Dessoff Choirs and Orchestra deliver committed, heartfelt performances. Janinah Burnett, soprano, and Dashon Burton, bass-baritone are at the top of their games. Burnett exhibits great skill (and musicality) with the wide leaps Bonds demands. 

"Credo" is a setting of a poem by W.E.B. Du Bois. It's not a simple statement of religious faith. Dubois' 1904 text is an unequivocal belief in the inevitability of racial justice.

"I believe in Liberty for all men... the right to breathe and the right to vote, the freedom to choose their friends, enjoy the sunshine and ride on the railroads, uncursed by color." The imagery may be a little dated. But when one of the most infamous quotes of recent memory is "I can't breathe," well, we're still not there.

Bonds' cantata "Simon Bore the Cross" was a collaboration with Langston Hughes. In the Bible, Jesus became too weak to carry his cross to his execution site. Roman soldiers grabbed a North African, Simon of Cyrene to carry it for him. Hughes saw it as a metaphor for African-Americans' complicated relationship with Christianity. 

Bonds used the spiritual "He never said a grumblin' word" as the foundation for the music. It's effective and poignant. The references in both text and music make this a work of deep spirituality. And a complex spirituality at that. 

Recordings like this show how original Bonds was as a composer. And how important she should be in the tapestry of American classical music. 

Highly recommended.  

Margaret Bonds: Credo; Simon Bore the Cross
Janinah Burnett, soprano; Dashon Burton, bass-baritone
The Dessoff Choirs and Orchestra; Malcolm J. Merriweather, conductor