Thursday, August 31, 2023

Galina Grigorjeva: Music for Male-Voice Choir

Galina Grigorjeva is a Ukrainian composer who moved to Estonia in her early thirties. She's a deeply spiritual composer, and so the move makes sense. Estonia is the home of Arvo Pärt. Grigorjeva's spirituality expresses itself in a different way than Pärt's. She draws inspiration from Slavonic folk music and Orthodox chant.

This release highlights the connection between Eastern Orthodox sacred music and Grigorjeva's works. Most of the compositions here are based on sacred text and themes. The sound of the male choir is reminiscent of Orthodox chant. But there's more here. 

Grigorjeva uses repeated motifs effectively. Sometimes it creates a pulse that gives the music life. Other times it gives the music a sense of motion, impelling it towards a well-defined climax. 

Grigorjeva's textures are often transparent, but never simple. Motion between lines may be similar, but they're not exactly parallel. Subtle variations color the harmonies. And they also color the character of the text. 

I didn't understand a word being sung. But I was still drawn into the ethereal, contemplative nature of the music. The Estonian National Male Choir under Mikk Üleoja's direction, has a malleable ensemble sound. They can sing with open-throated authority, delivering a rumbling bass thunder. And they can sing with quiet subtlety, creating a soundscape of delectate beauty. 

In 2014 Galina Grigorjeva was awarded the Order of the White Star. It recognized Grigorjeva's twenty years of musical contributions to the Estonian state. As this album makes clear, it was a well-deserved award.  

Galina Grigorjeva: Music for Male-Voice Choir
Estonian National Male Choir: Mikk Üleoja, conductor
Toccata Classics TOCC 0679


Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Yoojung Kim Connects With Scriabin Sonatas

Yoojung Kim delivers an impressive recital recording. Alexander Scriabin is a favorite composer among pianists. He was a massively talented player himself, and over 85% of his published works are for solo piano. His music is rewarding to perform -- and to listen to.

But Scriabin was also an innovator. He kept pushing the limits of tonality, and in the process created his own musical world. There's a strong internal logic in that world, albeit not always obvious. It takes exceptional musicality to plumb the depths of Scriabin's music -- especially his sonatas.

Yoojung Kim is such a talent. Her technique is first-rate ( I'd hardly expect less from a Bridge recording artist). And she uses that technique to reveal the layers of Scriabin's music. She plays his cross-rhythms with incredible accuracy. They enhance the interplay of the lines, making them easier to understand.

The centerpiece of the recital is the three sonatas. The second sonata from 1897 is titled a "Sonata-Fantasy." It shows Scriabin moving away from the traditions of the form. he wrote the Third Sonata, "États d'âme" (Mood) a year later. In it, Scriabin's musical world is more fully developed. And with Sonata No. 4, he arrived at the beginning of his mystical period. 

Kim draws connections between these works. Her performances trace the development of Scriabin's musical thought.

This is a terrific album. And Kim is greatly served by the Bridge recording team. As always, the recorded piano sound is natural. The balance between ambiance and clarity is perfect.

Alexander Scriabin: Piano Sonatas 2, 3, and 4
Fantaisie, Op. 28; Poemes, Op. 32, 63
Morceaux, Op. 57; Vers la flamme, Op. 72
Yoojung Kim, piano
Bridge Records 9578

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Missy Mazzoli Dark with Excessive Bright -- Exceptional


Dark with Excessive Bright was composed in 2018 with four configurations. The solo instrument can either be a contrabass or a violin (now there's a contrast). The ensemble can either be a string orchestra or a string quintet. There are thus four versions of this work, each having a different character. 

This release starts with the violin/string orchestra version. It concludes with the violin/string quintet version. Hearing both is revelatory. There's a gravitational shift between the two versions. The chamber version sounds lighter and more transparent. All the players seem more on equal footing. 

The orchestral version presents a richer soundscape. And the weight of the ensemble separates it from the soloist. The chamber version is about six musicians playing together. The orchestral version is about many musicians supporting a soloist.

Peter Herresthal is the violin soloist. He gives the music a shimmering, liquid quality that's spot on. And his performances differ in the two versions. Wow. 

Another highlight for me was the Sinfonia (for Orbiting Spheres). It's an embodiment of the music of the spheres. Inspired by the movement of the planets, Mazzoli creates a work with wheels within wheels. Themes double back on themselves. Sometimes they overlap, other times shifting in and out of phase as they progress. It's an atmospheric work with a lot going on -- if you pay very close attention. 

In Orpheus Alive Mazzoli depicts two key moments of the myth -- when Eurydice dies, and when Orpheus decides to follow her into the underworld. Both moments are stretched out, letting us experience the music and the emotions in slow motion.

If you're not that familiar with Mazzoli's music, this is a great place to start. Especially when you compare the two versions of Dark with Excessive Bright.

Missy Mazzoli: Dark with Excessive Bright
Peter Herresthal, violin
Arctic Philharmonic; Tim Weiss, conductor
Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra; James Gaffigan, conductor

Friday, August 25, 2023

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalA Week 4

 Big A, little a, what begins with A? The Classics a Day team noticed that August did. And so the challenge for August was set. During the month post music by composers whose last names begin with the letter "A."

There are actually quite a few. And I even found some whose first and last name began with A! Here are my posts for the fourth week of #ClassicalA of the #ClassicsaDay challenge.

08/21/23 Lera Auerbach (born 1973): Icarus

Auerbach is a composer, conductor, and concert pianist. She's won the Hindemith Prize and received commissions from orchestras and choirs throughout Europe and the Americas.

08/22/23 Marianna Auenbrugger (1759–1782): Sonata in E-flat major

Auenbrugger studied with both Haydn and Salieri. Haydn dedicated six of his piano sonatas to her and her sister Caterina. Salieri underwrote the expense of publishing Auenbrugger's sonata after her death.

08/23/23 Josepha Barbara Auernhammer (1758–1820): "Papageno Variations"

Auernhammer was a keyboard virtuoso. She studied with Mozart, who dedicated six violin sonatas to her. 

08/24/23 May Aufderheide (1888–1972): Dusty Rag

This was Afderheide's first published rag. She would go on to write dozens more, including "The Thriller Rag" (1909).

08/25/23 Caterina Assandra (c.1590 – after 1618): Duo Seraphim

Assandra was a Benedictine nun and a composer. She published two collections of motets. Op. 1 is lost, but Op. 2, Motetti à due, & tre voci, from 1609 survived. A few of her works have turned up in other collections from the early 1600s.

Thursday, August 24, 2023

José F. Vásquez Impressions for Piano Impressive

During his lifetime, José F. Vásquez (1896-1961) was a major figure in Mexican classical music. As a teacher, he founded the Escuela Libre de Música, still in operation. He also founded the Music Department at the University of Mexico. 

As a conductor, he led the University's orchestra (which he also founded). He enjoyed an international career as a conductor. 

And Vásquez composed over 200 works. His catalog included five symphonies, three piano concertos, two violin concertos, and eight operas. And after his death, most of it vanished. I couldn't find many details.  But Vásquez's manuscripts were scattered to the four winds after his death. 

His son has spent the last four decades tracking down his father's music. And as he recovers it, we'll have more recordings like this.

Vladimir Curiel performs all five series of Impressions by Vásquez. Not much is known about these works. He composed all five series (as they're called) in the 1920s. Each piece seems to be a test case. Vásquez starts with a concept and then works through it over the course of a 3-5 minute piano piece.

But don't think these are experiments. Each one is a finely crafted gem. Vásquez shows great imagination. His treatment of his themes varies from piece to piece. For the most part, these seem to be simple pieces to play. But there's a subtly in their simplicity. 

Curiel plays with sympathetic expression and delicate musicality. And it works. I was entranced by the opening track. And the music retained its hold on me throughout the recording. 

These are beautiful miniatures that would benefit any piano program. I'm hoping there are more Vásquez recordings in store. He had a talent that deserves to be celebrated. 

José F. Vásquez: The Complete Impressions for Piano
Vladimir Curiel, piano
Toccata Classics TOCC 0693

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Major Vocal Works from Cecilia McDowall

Cecilia McDowall is a major presence in the field of choral compositions. Her work blends modern techniques with extra-musical inspirations. The results are often greater than the sum of their parts. This release presents two examples. 

The Da Vinci Requiem commemorates the 500th anniversary of Leonardo Da Vinci's death. McDowall's text draws from several sources. The traditional Latin Requiem Mass provides the framework. 

Into that text, as if in dialogue, McDowall inserts observations on life and death by Da Vinci. She also includes lines from Dante Gabriel Rossetti's poem "For ‘Our Lady of the Rocks’, by Leonardo da Vinci."

The music ebbs and flows as these texts engage in conversation. This isn't necessarily a somber work, but it is a mysterious one. The music is fluid, and almost in soft-focus. McDowell seems to be saying that no one has a clear idea of the nature of life and death. Not even Leonardo. 

The Wimbledon Choral commissioned the work and premiered it. Safe to say, this is an authoritative performance. The requiem is all about atmosphere. The choral's blend of voices delivers that perfectly. 

70 Degrees Below Zero was commissioned by the Scott Polar Research Institute and the City of London Sinfonia. The work was part of a festival marking the centenary of Robert Falcon Scott's death. Scott of the Antarctic is best remembered for his heroic but ill-fated polar expedition.

McDowell asked poet Seán Street to create texts based on Scott's expedition letters and journals. In the first part of the work, the text expresses the excitement and joy of the expedition's early discoveries. But the music tells a different story. Like a Greek hero, we know Scott's fate. We know how his story will end. 

And McDowell conveys that subtly through her orchestrations. The final movement is the most moving. It sets parts of Scott's final letter to his wife. It's tragic, and yet somehow transcendent. Tenor Benjamin Hulett makes this music work. He effectively conveys the wide range of emotions contained in the text. And lets us hear the change in Scott as he slowly realizes how dire his situation has become. 

Two standout works. Two standout performances. 

Cecilia McDowall: Da Vinci Requiem
70 Degrees Below Zero
Wimbledon Choral
Kate Royal; Benjamin Hulett; Roderick Williams
City of London Sinfonia; Neil Ferris, director
Signum Classics SIGCD749

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Derek B. Scott Orchestral Music Continues to Appeal

All the music on this release are world-recording premieres. And I enjoyed every one of them. Derek B. Scott began his musical career in the field of popular music. He performed in various dance bands, and his field of study was musical theater. 

So the music here is tuneful and accessible. And it's also well-constructed. Scott is thoroughly familiar with classical composition techniques. 

Many of the works on this album are revisions. After retiring, Scott revisited some of his earlier works. The music here benefits from his decades of experience. 

I'm not sure how extensive the revisions are. The works still have a freshness and vitality to them. And many still sound like the product of a young and enthusiastic composer. 

To me, Scott reminds me of Malcolm Arnold. Both composer take a very practical approach to composition, based on their experiences. Yes, they have complex thoughts to express. But they want to be as clear as possible in expressing them. For the musicians, it means not having to puzzle out idiosyncratic notation. One can get straight to the emotional core of the work straight away.

For the listener, it means just hearing the music and judging it on its own merits. You don't need to know what "isms" Scott's using (none, actually). You don't need to carefully read the liner notes to discern what the composer's trying to say. It's all there in the sound. 

And really, that's the way it should be, I think. 

The Liepāja Symphony Orchestra does well with this music. Paul Mann directs them in some thoughtful and insightful readings. As with the previous volumes, the ensemble sound is full and focused. Scott's symphonies (Volume Two) remains my favorite release. But this comes pretty close. 


Derek B. Scott: Orchestral Music, Volume Three
Liepāja Symphony Orchestra; Paul Mann, conductor
Toccata Classics

Friday, August 18, 2023

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalA Week 3

 Big A, little a, what begins with A? The Classics a Day team noticed that August did. And so the challenge for August was set. During the month post music by composers whose last names begin with the letter "A."

There are actually quite a few. And I even found some whose first and last name began with A! Here are my posts for the third week of #ClassicalA of the #ClassicsaDay challenge.

08/13/23 Aaron Avshalomov (1894–1965): Piano Concerto in G on Chinese Themes and Rhythms

Avshalmov fled Russia after the Revolution. He settled in Shanghai with other Russian Jewish academics. Much of his music was inspired by Chinese culture and traditions.

08/14/23 Jacob Avshalomov (1919–2013): Violin Concerto

Avshalomov was the son of composer Aaron Avshalomov. He was born in China and spent much of his professional life in the country. Much of his music has Chinese influences.

08/15/23 Richard Ayleward (1626–1669): Preces and Responses

Ayleward was choirmaster at Norwich Cathdral during the Restoration. He composed over 25 anthems, some for the coronation of Charless II.

Florence Aylward (1862–1950): The Window

Alward wrote primarily ballads and songs. Over 150 of her works were published in the first part of the 20th Century. She was no relation to Renaissance composer Richard Ayleward.

Juan Crisóstomo Arriaga (1806–1826): Symphony in D

Arriaga, known as the Spanish Mozart died at age 19. But during his short life he composed some extraordinary works, including three string quartets and this symphony.

Thursday, August 17, 2023

Columbia Viva! Volume Two -- Personal Connections

Pianist Mauricio Arias-Esguerra doubles down on his second Columbia Viva! release. Volume one featured piano music by Columbian composers. This release features piano music commissioned by Arias-Esguerra from Columbian composers. 

Naturally, these are all world-premiere recordings. And what a selection! Arias-Esguerra presents a wide-ranging selection of styles. 

Some of the composers built their work within a framework of Columbian folk music. For others, the connection is far removed (if still present). And for a few, only their own personalities are expressed without a hint of national origin.

One of my favorite tracks is "Danzas Fugitavas" by Carolina Noguera. She's interested in repurposing sounds to give them new meaning. Her work is rhythmic, but not symmetric. Some of it's tonal, some not. And sometimes the performer plays inside the piano. It's an exciting mix.

Juan Antonio Cuéllar's Three Encores in C was another standout for me (your mileage may vary). Although set in the "easiest" key, these encores are quite complex. Cuéllar uses thick harmonies that sometimes blur the tonal center. There's an element of jazz running through these. But it's the coloring, not the foundation. 

Arias-Esguerra's personal connection to these composers takes his performance to the next level. His playing is superb and malleable. Arias-Esguerra easily matched his technique to the style of each individual work. 

This disc has given me some more composers I need to explore.

Columbia Viva! Volume Two
Mauricio Arias-Esguerra, piano
Toccata Next TOCN0024

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Frederck Septimus Kelly Chamber Music

The First World War took the lives of about 20 million people. And among them were several composers. These were young men, caught up in the idea of gloriously fighting for King (or Kaiser) and Country. George Butterworth, Rudi Stephan, and Frederick Septimus Kelly died before fulfilling their potential. 

This release features three chamber works by Frederick Septimus Kelly. This Australian was not only a talented composer but a fine athlete. As part of the British sculling team, he won a gold medal in the 1908 Olympic Games. 

Kelly composed his Violin Sonata No. 1 in D minor in response to his father's death. It's an introspective and moving work. To my ears, it sounded like a bittersweet contemplation of a life.

Violinist Laurence Jackson leans into the sonata. His warm tone and richly expressive playing convey the intent of the work. 

Kelly composed the Serenade for Flute in 1911,  on a voyage back to Australia. The original version is for flute, horn, and orchestra. This one is for flute and piano. This is a much lighter work and seems fun to play. At least, that's the impression flutist Michael Waye's performance conveys. 

The 1905 piano trio hints at what Kelly might have achieved had he survived the war. It's a big work, with each instrument showcased in turn. The expansive phrases have a lush, Romantic sound. But at the same time, I could hear Kelly pushing the boundaries. The West Australian Piano Trio gives this work a great performance. 

The liner notes hint that Toccata Classics may release at least a second volume of Kelly's music. I hope they do. 

Frederick Septimus Kelly: Chamber Music
Serenade for Flute and Piano; Violin Sonata No. 1; Piano Trio
Michael Waye, flute; Laurence Jackson, violin; David Wickham piano
The West Australian Piano Trio
Toccata Classics TOCC0702

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Handel Coronation Anthems Get the Royal Treatment

Harmonia Mundi's timing is much better than mine. They released this recording to coincide with the coronation of King Charles III. This review appears way after that event. (Sorry, just working my way through the pile.)

Fortunately, this release isn't dependent on that event. The centerpiece of the album is music from George II's coronation. But it features other royal music as well. 

Included is William Croft's "The Lord is a sun and a shield" written for George I's coronation in 1714. A 1674 chaconne from John Blow provides a welcome break from the grandeur. 

Handel's "An Occasional Oratorio" opens the album. This was a patriotic work commissioned in 1745. George II's goal was to renew the nation's resolve against the threat of the Jacobeans. Critics at the time didn't think much of the work, but it's classic Handel (or should I say royal Handel). 

From George II's coronation, maestro Justin Doyle selected four works by Handel. "Zadok the Priest," sung after the anointing, is one of his biggest hits. It's been a staple of British coronations since, and a popular choral work besides. 

"Let thy hand be strengthened" was heard during the enthronement. "The King shall rejoice" marked the recognition of the new sovereign by his subjects. And "My heart is inditing" celebrates the coronation of the queen. 

The RIAS Kammerchor Berlin performs with a clean, clear sound. The ensemble sound is full, yet it's easy to hear inividual lines. The Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin is ably directed by Justin Doyle. These pieces need a certain gravitas. But at the same time they should sound joyous and even excited. 

Doyle delivers on those emotions. The music sounds expansive without being ponderous. The actual number of musicians is modest (26). But they put out a strong, robust sound that belies their number. This is Handel at his most regal. And these performances underline that. 

George Frideric Handel: Coronation Anthems
Additional music by John Blow and William Croft
RIAS Kammerchor Berlin
Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin; Justin Doyle, conductor
Harmonia Mundi HMM902708

Friday, August 11, 2023

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalA Week 2

 Big A, little a, what begins with A? The Classics a Day team noticed that August did. And so the challenge for August was set. During the month post music by composers whose last names begin with the letter "A."

There are actually quite a few. And I even found some whose first and last name began with A! Here are my posts for the second week of #ClassicalA of the #ClassicsaDay challenge.

08/7/23 George Antheil: Ballet Mécanique

In the 1920s Antheil was considered the bad boy of American classical music. The Ballet Mécanique was written for an experimental film in 1923. Antheil later adapted this Futurist score for concert performances 

08/8/21 Filippo Azzaiolo (fl. 1557–1569)

Very little is known of Azzaiolo. He had three collections of music published between 1557 and 1569. Those publications suggest he was possibly from Bologna.

08/9/23 Eleanor Alberga (born 1949): Nightscape

Albrega was born in Jamaica and has made a career in the UK as a concert pianist and composer. In 2021 she was awarded an OBE for her services to British Music.

08/10/23 Svitlana Azarova (born 1976): Beyond context for orchestra

Azarova was born and studied music in Ukraine. She relocated to The Hague in 2005. Her music is frequently programmed by various European ensembles and artists.

08/11/23 John Adson (c.1587-1640): Two Masks

Adson is best known for his "Courtly Masquing Ayres" published in 1621. Adson played in the King's theater company in 1634 and became a royal wind musician around the same time.

Wednesday, August 09, 2023

Orthodox Hymns of Ukraine - a Timely Reissue

Actions can have unintended consequences. Russia's invasion of Ukraine sparked an interest in Ukranian classical music. More has been performed and broadcast over the past two years than in the two previous decades. 

Efforts to assimilate Ukraine began under the Czars. And they've never been fully successful. Ukraine has its own language, its own culture, its own music -- and even its own religion. Russian and Ukrainian cultures share some similarities.  But there are some very distinct differences. 

One example is the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and the Eastern Orthodox church. Both branches share some musical traditions. Neither allows instruments in their worship services. Hymns sung by unaccompanied choirs.

This release features Ukrainian hymns from a variety of sources. There are some dating back to the Middle Ages. Some by Dmity Bortnyansky from the 1770s. Bortnyansky brought the Classical Style to Russia and created a new form of hymnody. 

Mikhailo Verbytsky, active in the 1860s is also represented. He wrote Ukraine's national anthem. His hymns combine tradition with a Romantic sensibility. 

Mykola Lysenko was one of Ukraine's major composers of the early 20th Century. As an ethnomusicologist, he was key in preserving the country's folk music.  A heritage the Czarists and later the Soviets desperately tried to obliterate. 

This is a reissue of a KOCH Schann release from 1989. But what a timely re-release! Softness at the extreme registers betrays its age. But overall the sound quality of this remastered issue is very good.

If you're a fan of Rachmaninov's All-Night Vigil or Russian Orthodox Chant, understand this. Ukrainian Hymns don't have the same sound, nor the same rumbling bass. What they do have is something very different and well worth preserving.

Orthodox Hymns of Ukraine
Men's Choir Ukraina; Evhen Zadarko, director

Tuesday, August 08, 2023

The Unknown Enescu, Volume Two is Worth Knowing

George Enescu has always been a major figure in his native Romania. The rest of the world has taken a little longer to discover this remarkable composer. 

This is remarkable considering Enescu graduated from the Vienna Conservatory at age 12. Always a prolific composer, he premiered his first mature work in 1898, at age 16. 

Over time, some of his works gained traction. His three symphonies, the Romanian Rhapsodies, and string quartets all have their supporters. This Toccata Classics series dived deeper into Enescu's catalog. And I'm glad they did. 

This volume focuses on various manuscripts, sketches, and transcriptions left by Enescu. Violinist Sherban Lupu is more than the album's featured soloist. He is a world-renowned Enescu scholar. Lupu has published six volumes of violin music by Enescu. All previously unknown and edited, arranged -- and in few cases completed -- by Lupu. 

The release begins with a version of the Romanian Rhapsody No. 1 in A major for violin and piano. Enescu arranged the work for various soloists, but not this version. This is a reduction by Marcel Stern published in 1957. 

Also included is the Impressions roumaines for solo violin. Enescu made these sketches, translating folk music into classical violin technique.  And the release has a torso of an unfinished violin sonata, and some other sketches. All show Enescu's inventiveness.  

The real showpiece is the Caprice Roumain for violin and orchestra. Enescu worked on this piece off and on for over twenty years. Cornel Țăranu has painstakingly collected all the surviving fragments. He's stitched them together into a cohesive whole. The result is a work that sings with Enescu's unique voice.

Sherban Lupu's playing is superb. It's technically spot-on. And it embodies the Romanian soul Enescu channeled into this music. An outstanding release. It adds to our understanding of this remarkable composer.

George Enescu: The Unknown Enescu, Volume Two
Caprice Roumain for Violin and Orchestra
Romanian Rhapsody No. 1; Valse Lente "L'Enjoleuse"
Impressions Roumaines; Sonata Torso
Impromptu; Regrets; Adagio

Sherban Lupu, violin; Viorele Ciucur, piano
Ian Hobson, piano and conductor
Toccata Classic

Friday, August 04, 2023

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalA Week 1

 Big A, little a, what begins with A? The Classics a Day team noticed that August did. And so the challenge for August was set. During the month post music by composers whose last names begin with the letter "A."

There are actually quite a few. And I even found some whose first and last name began with A! Here are my posts for the first week of #ClassicalA of the #ClassicsaDay challenge.

08/01/23 Alexander Agricola: Ave maris stella

Agricola was active in the last half of the 1400s. His vocal writing -- both sacred and secular -- set the standard for composition throughout Europe.

08/02/23 Adolphe-Charles Adam: Overture "Si j'étais Roi"

"Si j'étais Roi" (I I Were King) was premiered in 1852 at Paris' Théâtre Lyrique. This opera comique ran for over 10 years with over 170 performances. It's still considered one of Adam's best works.

08/03/23 Samuel Adler: Capriccio for piano

Adler served on the faculty of both the Eastman School of Music and Julliard. He's composed over 400 works in virtually every genre of classical music.

08/04/23 Carl Friedrich Abel: Prelude for Viola da gamba

Abel was a virtuoso viola da gamba player -- and a good composer, too. He and Johann Christian Bach started a subscription concert series in London that ran from 1762-1782. Both composers supplied music for the series.

Wednesday, August 02, 2023

Bloch Reissues Brings Together Two Great Performances

The Alto label was formed to answer a very specific need. There were many great recordings issued by labels no longer in business. Alto's goal is to seek out and reissue the best of those recordings. 

They access labels such as Melodiya, ASV, Collins Classics, and Unicorn Kanchana.  And in this case, Koch International and Vanguard Classics. 

This release pairs selections from two recordings. James Sedares and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra recorded Ernest Bloch's "Three Jewish Poems" for Koch International in 1993. 

Maurice Abravanel and the Utah Symphony Orchestra recorded Bloch's "Schelomo" and Israel Symphony in 1967 for Vanguard Classics.

The performances are terrific -- which is why they merited reissue. I missed the Koch recording the first time around, so I'm very glad to finally have that back in print. 

The sound quality does vary between the two orchestras, but that's not a deal-breaker. If you're listening through a high-end audio system, you'll notice that the Vanguard tracks don't have the fine details of the Koch. But almost three decades of recording technology separate them.

The Alto team did a great job of remastering. They bring out all the detail the Vanguard recording captured. And they did so in a way that kept the recording sounding natural and balanced. 

"Schelomo, Hebraic Rhapsody for Cello and Orchestra" is Ernest Bloch's best-known work. And one of his most recorded. The "Three Jewish Poemes" and the Israel Symphony also reflect Bloch's pride in his heritage. And also his skill for channeling that heritage into expressive, original works. 

This is great music, delivered with great performances. These recordings deserve to live again, and I'm glad Alto chose to revive them.   

Ernest Bloch: Israel Symphony
Schelmo; Three Jewish Poems
Utah Symphony Orchestra; Maurice Abravanel, conductor
Zara Nelsova, cello
New Zealand Symphony; James Sedares, conductor

Tuesday, August 01, 2023

Penelope Thwaites Chamber Music Deeply Personal

This release presents eight world recording premieres by Australian composer Penelope Thwaites. Thwaites has a solid career both as a pianist and a composer. The selections on this release are all deeply personal. 

Thwaites writes in an accessible, tonal style that effectively conveys emotion. And emotion is what her works are about. 

"For Irana" is a poignant portrait played by the Tippett Quartet. Irana Ratushinskaya was condemned to a Soviet gulag for refusing to conform her poetry to party lines. Thwaites met her after her release. 

The work encapsulates the wasteland of the gulag, as well as the steely resolve of Ratushinskaya. It's a powerful portrait expertly drawn in sound. 

On the other end of the emotional spectrum is "The Selfish Giant." Thwaite turned her ballet score for Oscar Wilde's story into a suite for two pianos. Thwaite and Benjamin Frith perform well together, delivering good-humored performances. 

"Vijay's Fable" is another ballet score, this time performed with piano, violin, and cello. The work was a collaboration with Indian dancer Vijaylakshmi Subramaniam. It's Indian music filtered through Western classical music. but it's done in a natural, organic fashion far removed from cliched Orientalism.

This collection provides an excellent overview of Thwaite's work, both as a composer and a performer. SOMM has released a collection of Thwaite's choral music. On the strength of this release, I'll be seeking that out next.

Penelope Thwaites: Gardens, Fables, Prisons, Dreams
Penelope Thwaites, Benjamin Frith piano;
Laurence Ungless double bass; Tippett Quartet
Somm Recordings SOMMCD 0672