Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Dario Salvi Brings Marschner Center Stage

Today, Heinrich August Marschner is a minor figure in the history of music. But that wasn't the case in the 19th Century. Dario Salvi's continued exploration of his music encourages a serious re-assessment of Marschner.

Marschner was a close friend of both Beethoven and Mendelssohn. Schumann had a high regard for his music as well. Marschner was also considered Schubert's heir in the field of lieder.

And he was one of the most popular non-Italian opera composers of the mid-1800s. The rise of Wagner made Marschner's music sound old-fashioned, and it soon disappeared from the stage. 

As Dario Salvi demonstrates, the assessments of Beethoven, Mendelssohn, and Schumann weren't wrong. Marschner had a facility for creating lyrical melodies. And he had then talent to orchestrate them for maximum dramatic effect. 

Here Salvi focuses on three stage works: Prinz Friedrich von Homburg (1821), Kaiser Adolph von Nassau (1845), and Austin (1850). Also included is the 1842 concert overture "Sounds from the East."

By presenting multiple excerpts from these works, Salvi shows Marschner's range. There's a lot of great music tucked away in those scores.

Salvi conducts the Hradec Králové Philharmonic Orchestra. The ensemble has an attractive sound. Details are easy to hear, yet the sound has a smooth, homogenous texture.

Marschner wrote 18 operas and supplied music for four stage productions. So there's still a lot to explore. Here's hoping there's a volume three.  

Heinrich August Marschner: Overtures and Stage Music 2
Hradec Králové Philharmonic Orchestra; Dario Salvi, conductor
Naxos 8.573382

Friday, October 27, 2023

#ClassicsaDay #Curseofthe9th Week 4

This month the Classics a Day team takes on the "Curse of the 9th." Beethoven wrote his ninth symphony and died. Since then, the Curse of the Ninth has circulated through the classical music world. Mahler sincerely believed in it. He wrote nine numbered symphonies and died. As did Bruckner, Schubert, Dvorak, and Vaughan Williams. 

But how real is the curse? The Classics a Day team challenges folks to post Symphony No. 10s by composers who followed Beethoven.

And it turns out there are quite a lot of them. 

Here are my posts for the fourth and final week of #Curseofthe9th.

10/23/23 Alan Hovhaness (1911-2000), Symphony No. 10 "Vahaken"

Hovhaness wrote his 9th symphony in 1949. But he was just getting warmed up. His 10th was composed in 1959. Hovhaness would write 67 before his death in 2000.

10/24/23 Andrzej Panufnik (1914–1991): Symphony No. 10

Panufnik composed his tenth symphony just two years after completing his 9th. He revised both works in 1990, just a year before his death. 

10/25/23 David Diamond (1915-2005): Symphony No. 10

American composer David Diamond wrote his 9th Symphony in 1985. He wrote his 10th two years later and completed one more before his death. Diamond discarded his first two symphonies from the 1930s. Technically, his 9th was actually the 11th he composed.

10/26/23 Havergal Brian (1876-1972) (Symphony No. 10 in C minor

Brian finished his 9th Symphony in 1951, and his 10th two years later. He would compose a total of 32. Brian's best known for his massive 1st symphony, 105 minutes of playing time (the others are considerably shorter).  

10/27/23 Julian Rontgen (1855-1932): Symphony No. 10 in D major "Waltz Symphony"

This Dutch composer wrote 25 symphonies in all. Many were quite short, and several were written over the course of just a few weeks.  

Next month:

Thursday, October 26, 2023

Hans Gal Concertinos Seem Frozen in Time

Hans Gal was one of many promising young composers caught up in the turmoil of the Second World War. In the 1920s he was a rising star in German theater. And by 1930 Gal was on track to become one of Vienna's best-known artists. 

The Nazi takeover of Austria ended all that. Gal had a Jewish background, and he was soon erased from the music scene. Fortunately, Gal escaped to Britain before his life was erased. 

Gal spent the rest of his life teaching at the University of Edinburgh. He continued to compose, but not evolve. Gal's style was frozen in Viennese Post-Romanticism.

This release features three of his concertinos, plus his String Serenade. They show how powerfully expressive Gal's music can be. Especially so if you don't care whether it was au courant or not.

The Sinfonietta Riga has a rich, warm ensemble sound that seems well-suited to Gal's style. And the soloists deliver time and again.

The album opens with Gal's Concertino for Cello and String Orchestra, Op. 87 from 1965. Justus Grimm makes the work sound like an extended aria. His playing amplifies the lyricism inherent in the music. 

Oliver Trindl is no stranger to Gal's music. His playing in the 1934 Piano Concerto is mordent and precise. And it can exude warmth when it needs to. 

Gal completed his Violin Concerto, Op. 53 shortly after arriving in the UK. Nina Karmon plays with a charming simplicity that draws the listener in.


Hans Gal: Concertinos for Violin, Cello, and Piano
Nina Karmon, violin; Justus Grimm, cello; Oliver Trindl, piano
Sinfoniette Riga; Normunds Šnē, conductor
Hanssler Classics HC23049

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

The Extraordinary Concertos of Eduardo Grau

Two things I can count on from the Naxos label. A release of world recording premiers by a composer I've never heard of. And it's an album of music worth exploring. 

In this case, the composer is Eduardo Grau. He moved from Spain to Argentina at a young age and soon showed real musical talent. He sent his first compositions to Manuel de Falla. He encouraged Grau to pursue composition.

Which he did. Grau wrote over 200 works. He was also a musicologist, and his study of Argentinian music influenced his own work. 

I love this collection of music. Grau's compositional style was highly individualistic. It was tonal but didn't rely on harmonic relationships to provide motion. It used folk rhythms and motifs, but always as building blocks to music that went beyond folk. 

I would say Grau reminds me of Bohuslav Martinu. His music is straightforward and direct. Martinu used the rhythms of his native Czech language to propel his music. Grau does the same with his use of Argentinian folk music. 

The four works on this album are very different in character. And yet there's a common thread. The soloists aren't there to impress us with their incredible technique. Rather, Grau's music demands they connect with the audience emotionally. And in that, they all succeed. 

Are there other releases of Grau's music available? I haven't found any, but then I just started looking. 

Eduardo Grau: Concertos for Soloists and String Orchestra
Jana Jarkovská, flute; Simon Reitmaier, Clarinet; Ana María
Valderrama, violin; David Fons, Viola; Miklós Szitha, timpani; Fabio Banegas, piano
Anima Musicæ Chamber Orchestra; Francisco Varela conductor
Naxos 8l579107

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

The Women's Philharmonic Re-issue Well Timed

ALTO Distribution continues to do the Lord's work (in my opinion). They are cannily re-releasing titles from the defunct Koch International and MusicMasters labels. 

I say cannily because some of these releases seemed timed to perfection. Take this  Women's Philharmonic recording for example.  Koch released it back in 1992. 

At the time, it was something of a curiosity. An all-female orchestra, led by a female conductor was performing music by women. 

Today, it's an album riding the crest of a wave. There's a new-found interest in addressing the genre's gender imbalance.  

In 1992, Clara Schumann's Piano Concerto in A minor was a musical history footnote. Today it's becoming a part of the standard repertoire.

Clara Schumann was an exceptional pianist, and a skilled composer -- as many are now finding out. JoAnne Fallette leads the Philharmonic in a fiery performance. And pianist Angela Cheng delivers some dazzling solo work.

Germaine Tailleferre's Concertino for Harp and Orchestra (1927) is another delight. She shows great imagination in her use of the harp. Forget billowy arpeggios. Tailleferre has the instrument playing precise and intricately-constructed melodies (and harmonies). 

Harpist Gillian Benet has the agility to carry it off. And her playing betrays a little bit of swagger, which adds to the fun. 

JoAnne Falletta prepared three works for this album. Fanny Mendelssohn's Ouverture from 1830, and two works by Lili Boulanger.

Save for the piano concerto, these works are still seriously under-represented in recordings. So it's good to have this one back in print. And despite its age, the album's sound -- and performances -- hold up just fine.

The Women's Philharmonic
JoAnn Falletta, conductor
Fanny Mendelssohn; Clara Schumann; Germaine Tailleferre; Lili Boulanger
Musical Concepts MC3111

Friday, October 20, 2023

#ClassicsaDay #Curseofthe9th Week 3

This month the Classics a Day team takes on the "Curse of the 9th." Beethoven wrote his ninth symphony and died. Since then, the Curse of the Ninth has circulated through the classical music world. Mahler sincerely believed in it. He wrote nine numbered symphonies and died. As did Bruckner, Schubert, Dvorak, and Vaughan Williams. 

But how real is the curse? The Classics a Day team challenges folks to post Symphony No. 10s by composers who followed Beethoven.

And it turns out there are quite a lot of them. 

Here are my posts for the third week of #Curseofthe9th.

10/16/23 Alexander Moyzes (1906–1984): Symphony No. 10 in C, Op. 77

This Slovak composer wrote his 9th symphony in 1971. His 10th symphony was completed seven years later. He would go on to write twelve total.

10/17/23 Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975): Symphony No. 10 in E minor, Op. 93

After completing his 9th symphony in 1943, there was speculation in the popular press about Shostakovich surviving the curse. He did. His 10th was written in 1953, and he would write a total of 15.

10/18/23 Henk Badings (1907–1987): Symphony No. 10

This Dutch composer completed his 9th symphony in 1961 and followed it up with his 10th a year later. Badings would write a total of 15.

10/19/23 Vagn Holmboe (1909-1996): Symphony No. 10, Op. 105

This Danish composer finished his 9th Symphony in 1969. He followed it up the following year with his 10th. Holbmoe would write thirteen symphonies in all.

10/20/23 William Schuman (1910-1992): Symphony No. 10, American Muse.

Schuman completed his 9th Symphony in 1968. His tenth, from 1976. was commissioned for the Bicentennial. He dedicated it "to the country's creative artists, past, present and future."

Thursday, October 19, 2023

Hermitage Piano Trio's Impressive Spanish Impressions

This is the second Reference Recordings release of the Hermitage Piano Trio. And it's just as good as the first. 

This time around, the trio performs the music of Spain. Specifically, music by Spanish composers celebrating their national identity. 

The Hermitage Piano Trio doesn't fail to impress. Their performances are clean, clear, and precise. And more importantly, they're musical. They internalize the essence of Spanish music. And they deliver it with the energy and attitude it requires.

That attitude is best heard in Enrique Fernadez Arbos' "Three Spanish Dances." This 1886 work gives us a bolera, habanera, and seguidillas gitanas. If the performers were unidentified, I'd swear they were native Spaniards. 

Joaquin Turina wrote in his own style. But it was one heavily influenced by his native culture. His Piano Trio No. 2 in B minor gets a fine reading from the trio.

Gaspar Cassando's Piano Trio in C major sticks closer to Spanish roots. While Mariano Perello's "Tres Impresiones" presents them at a remove -- sort of. His impression of Albeniz does homage to the composer (and sound VERY Spanish in the process). 

Great performances impeccably recorded. What else would you expect from Reference?

Spanish Impressions
Hermitage Piano Trio
Reference Recordings

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Outstanding Chamber Music from David Biedenbender

I first became aware of David Biedenbender's music this past year. I attended a Garth Newel Piano Quartet concert, and they performed his "Solstice." I was impressed. 

It was a wonderfully evocative work. Biedenbender takes the listener through the four seasons in the country. His string writing recreates the sounds of summer, and the piano the flurry of snow (to cite two examples). 

I was very excited then, to have this release cross my desk. Especially as it contained "Solstice."

The album includes a second work played by the quartet. This one includes clarinetist Mingzhe Wang. "Red Vespers"  was commissioned to celebrate the Capitol Reef National Park. It's an expansive, though thinly-textured work. And it captures the essence of absorbing the beauty of a vast landscape.

The Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble performs "Shell and Wing, " which they commissioned.  It reflects the anxiety of parents in the wake of almost continual school shootings. Who says classical music isn't relevant?

Robert Fanning provided the text for "Shell and Wing," as well as the title track. "All We Are Given We Cannot Hold" reflects on the fragility of life.

To my ears, Biedenbender's music effectively blends several elements. He writes strong melodic lines that are tonal, but free of the major/minor straightjacket. He uses the motivic energy of minimalism at times. And often the music simply hangs in space, not moving, but just existing.

I hope there are more recordings coming from this remarkable composer.

David Biedenbender: All We Are Given We Cannot Hold
Garth Newel Piano Quartet with Mingzhe Wang
Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble; Haven Trio

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

The Palacio Songbook -- Early Spanish Music Re-examined

As the liner notes indicate, this is a collection of collections. The goal is to present a fuller picture of early Renaissance Spanish music. 

The basis of the album is the Cancionero de Palacio. This collection was started in 1505 and completed around 1520. It provides a detailed account of music at the Spanish court. But not a complete one.

This release features some of the same music as found in the Cancionero de Segovia. It was compiled around the same time as the Cancionero de Palacio. 

This collection, though, also features works by Netherlandish School composers. It also illustrates how these foreign styles influenced Spanish music. 

This release includes selections as presented in publications by Ottaviano Petrucci in Venice. The album also has a segment featuring the religious music of Queen Isabella I.

All this is illuminating, especially with careful listening and side-by-side comparisons. But this isn't just a musicological exercise. Da Tempera Velha delivers warm, heartfelt performances that engage even the casual listener. 

The scholarship is first-rate. And so is the musicianship. Da Tempera Velha brings out the stylistic differences between the collections, albeit subtly. 

This is a quiet, contemplative album, and one to be savored.  

The Palacio Songbook
Music for three voices and lute
Da Tempera Velha; Ariel Abramovich, lute

Friday, October 13, 2023

#ClassicsaDay #Curseofthe9th Week 2

This month the Classics a Day team takes on the "Curse of the 9th." Beethoven wrote his ninth symphony and died. Since then, the Curse of the Ninth has circulated through the classical music world. Mahler sincerely believed in it. He wrote nine numbered symphonies and died. As did Bruckner, Schubert, Dvorak, and Vaughan Williams. 

But how real is the curse? The Classics a Day team challenges folks to post Symphony No. 10s by composers who followed Beethoven.

And it turns out there are quite a lot of them. 

Here are my posts for the second week of #Curseofthe9th.

10/09/23 Leif Segerstam (born 1944): Symphony No. 11

There's no stopping this Finnish composer. He composed his 9th symphony in 1984 at age 30. Currently, he has 352 symphonies in his catalog. Not all of his works have been recorded -- No. 11 was the lowest number (after 9) available.


10/10/23 Henry Cowell (1897–1965): Symphony No. 10

This American composer finished his 9th symphony in 1953. Experiencing no ill effects, he went on to compose 11 more symphonies (a 21st exists only as sketches). He also wrote a Sinfonietta for chamber orchestra (1928) and an incomplete Symphonic Sketch (1943).


10/11/23 Edmund Rubbra (1901-1986): Symphony No. 10, Op. 145 "Sinfonia da camera"

This British composer wrote his 9th symphony in 1971. In the remaining 15 years of his life, he would compose two more, plus several other orchestral works.


10/12/23 Eduard Tubin (1905-1982): Symphony No. 10

This Estonian wrote his 9th symphony in 1969. He completed his 10th four years later. He had almost completed the first movement of his 11th symphony when he died.


10/13/23 Janis Ivanovs (1906-1983): Symphony No. 10

The Curse of the 9th meant nothing to this Latvian composer. He finished his 9th symphony in 1960, his 10th three years later, and was working on his 21st symphony when he died.


Thursday, October 12, 2023

Hyacinthe Jadin Piano Sonatas Build on Haydn

Hyacinthe Jadin certainly packed a lot of living into his 24 short years. This French composer and pianist published his first work at age nine. At sixteen he was assistant rehearsal pianist at the Theatre Feydeau. By nineteen he was on the faculty of the Paris Conservatoire, teaching piano. 

The bulk of Jadin's compositions centered around the piano. Among them were six collections of piano sonatas. This release features the last three of the series. They were published between 1795 and 1800 (the year of Jadin's death). 

These works have the balance and elegance of Classical Era works. In a sense, they emulate Haydn and early Mozart. But they're also more developed than those models. 

Jadin was a virtuoso performer. These works place a lot of demands on the player. His use of the sonata form is effective and organic. That is, he doesn't treat it as a framework to fill in. Rather, he gives each part its own dramatic weight. This leads the music from one part to the next, in a logical and seamless flow of ideas. 

Marek Toporowski performs on a modern reproduction of an Anton Walter pianoforte. This was Mozart's preferred instrument. I normally don't like recorded pianofortes. The action can be quite noisy. Some have a tinny, slightly out-of-tune sound as well. 

Not so here. You won't mistake the sound for that of a grand piano -- or even a baby grand. But the hammers strike the strings cleanly and silently. There's nothing to detract from the sound of the music. 

Toporowski plays these works with great refinement. He shapes the phrases with subtilty. And his technical skills make even the most complex runs sound simple and elegant. 

A fascinating and enjoyable recording. 

Hyacinthe Jadin: Piano Sonatas, Op. 4-6
Marek Toporowski, fortepiano
Brilliant Classics 96958
2 CD Set

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Charles Villers Stanford Children's Songs Charm

Charles Villiers Stanford is often characterized in music histories as a stuffy late-Victorian. He was Edward Elgar's composition teacher for a time. And their relationship was characterized as hidebound teacher vs. imaginative pupil. But that's not a fair assessment at all. 

Standford was a composer of his time. His music shares Brahms' style. But it's not derivative. Stanford was Irish, and there's an Irish quality to his work -- especially his songs. 

These songs were meant for children to sing and enjoy. And the key to writing a good children's song is to simply write a good, simple song. Stanford does that again and again. 

These are charming melodies that are succinct and to the point. And they have a certain artlessness to them. Which is how Kitty Whately and Barteh Brynmor perform them. There's a lightness to their performances that's very much in the spirit of these works. 

If you're just discovering Stanford, I wouldn't recommend starting here. But if you already know him through his sacred works, then add this to your collection.

Charles Villiers Stanford: Children's Songs
Kitty Whately, mezzo-soprano; Gareth Brynmor John, baritone
Susan Allen, piano
SOMM Recordings SOMMCD 0655

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

British Music for Strings Feature Women Composers

I've enjoyed the other two volumes in this series. But this has to be my favorite. It's comprised of works by British female composers. And that's significant. The quality of the music is high -- and the voices are fresh (at least to these ears). 

The program is a mix of the (relatively) familiar and unfamiliar. Dame Ethel Smyth has come into her own over the last decade. More people have heard her music through recent recordings than during her lifetime. 

Her Suite for Strings, Op. 1A premiered in 1884/ The suite has a distinctively British sound. Smyth anticipates the modal harmonies and English melodic motifs of Ralph Vaughan Williams. 

Ruth Gipps is another female composer enjoying a rediscovery. Her 1952 Cringlemire Garden also sounds a little like Vaughan Williams. Only here, Gipps takes the modernist tendencies of RVW and pushes them even further. The would be a great companion piece to "The Lark Ascending."

Susan Spain-Dunk was a contemporary of Ethel Smyth and a trailblazer. She composed, played in professional string quartets, and conducted the British Women's Symphony Orchestra. Her Suite for String Orchestra has the English modal aesthetic. It's a beautifully crafted work that deserves a larger audience. 

Constance Warren came to London from Birmingham to study piano and composition. As a student, she created some exceptional music. And after graduation, never wrote another note. Her short elegiac work "Heather Hill" has echoes of Delius, and hints at Warren's lost potential. 

Douglas Bostock directs the Sudwestdeutsches Kammerorchestere Pforzheim. Though German, the musicians capture the inherent "Englishness" of these works. These are pieces of rare beauty. The orchestra plays them with sympathetic delicacy that adds to their appeal. 

Highly recommended.  

British Music for Strings III: British Women Composers
Music by Ethel Smyth, Sosan Spain-Dunk, Constance Warren, and Ruth Gipps
Sudwestdeutsches Kammerorchestere Pforzheim; Douglas Bostock, conductor
CPO 555 457-2

Friday, October 06, 2023

#ClassicsaDay #Curseofthe9th Week 1

This month the Classics a Day team takes on the "Curse of the 9th." Beethoven wrote his ninth symphony and died. Since then, the Curse of the Ninth has circulated through the classical music world. Mahler sincerely believed in it. He wrote nine numbered symphonies and died. As did Bruckner, Schubert, Dvorak, and Vaughan Williams. 

But how real is the curse? The Classics a Day team challenges folks to post Symphony No. 10s by composers who followed Beethoven.

And it turns out there are quite a lot of them. 

Here are my posts for the first week of #Curseofthe9th.

10/02/23 Louis Spohr (1784-1859): Symphony No. 10 in E-flat major

Spohr was well-known as a symphonist in his day. Although he did survive after writing his 9th symphony (unlike his colleague Beethoven), his 10 works in the genre are now largely forgotten.


10/03/23 Joachim Raff (1822-1882): Symphony No. 10 "To Autumn Time"

This Swiss-born composer handily survived writing his 9th symphony and lived for another 4 years. During that time he completed his 10th and was working on his 11th when he died.


10/04/23 Alfred Hill (1870–1960): Symphony No. 1 in C major

Hill was born in Australia but spent most of his life in New Zealand. He completed his 9th Symphony in 1957. He lived three years after that, and wrote three additional symphonies.


10/05/23 Nikolai Myaskovsky (1881-1950): Symphony No. 10 in F minor, Op. 30

This Soviet composer moved from Poland to Russia at a very young age. He wrote his 9th symphony in 1927. He died 23 years later and completed a total of 27 symphonies.


Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959): Symphony No. 10 "Amerindia"

This Brazilian composer finished his 9th symphony in 1951. In the remaining 8 years of his life, he composed three more symphonies, plus many other works.