Friday, June 28, 2024

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalSextet Week 4

June is the sixth month. It seemed a good time to make sextets the #ClassicsaDay monthly theme. The most common sextet is a doubled string trio. That is, two violins, two violas, and two cellos. But other combinations of instruments are possible. And beginning in the 20th Century just about every type of combination has been explored.

Here are my social media posts for the fourth and final week of #ClassicalSextets.

06/24/24 Leoš Janáček: Mládí (Youth)

Janacek was inspired by a performance of Rouseel's Divertimento for Wind Quintet and Piano. Janacek's sextet was written for flute, oboe, clarinet, horn, bassoon, and bass clarinet. It premiered in 1924.


06/25/24 Felix Mendelssohn: Piano Sextet in D Major, Op. 110

Mendelssohn wrote this work for piano and strings at age 15. The lineup includes 1 violin, 2 violas, cello, and double bass. It wasn't published until 1868, almost 20 years after Mendelssohn's death.


06/27/24 Ernő Dohnányi: Sextet in C Major, Op. 37

Dohnányi wrote this work while he was bedridden with thrombosis. It was written in early 1935 for piano, violin, viola, clarinet, and horn. The sextet premiered in June of that year.


06/28/24 Arnold Bax Sextet: In Memoriam for English Horn, Harp and String Quartet

Bax wrote his sextet immediately following the Easter Rising of 1916. Among Bax's friends was Patrick Pearse. Pearse was executed for his role in the rising, and Bax's work was written to his memory.


06/29/24 Alexander Borodin: String Sextet in D minor

Borodin wrote this work in 1860. He studied chemistry by day and relaxed with student chamber music soirees. This work may have been written for one of those evenings. Only the first two movements survive.


Next Month:

Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra Perform Alum Lukas Foss

In a way, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra celebrates one of its own with this release. Lukas Foss was music director of the BPO from 1963-1970. But I say "in a way" because none of the works here date from his tenure with the orchestra. 

Foss was a classmate of Leonard Bernstein. Like Bernstein, he was an equally adept pianist, conductor, and composer. And like Bernstein he created his own musical style. It steered clear of academia and was clear, concise, and accessible. 

Bernstein considered him a genius. Yet Foss never quite achieved the recognition of Copland or Bernstein. And that's a shame. If you like those composers, you should enjoy Foss. Heck, if you enjoy Samuel Barber, Howard Hanson, Walter Piston, David Diamon, or even Morton Gould -- you should like Lukas Foss.

The works presented here show Foss' mastery of orchestration. Symphony No. 1 from 1944 mixes instruments together in unusual ways. The result is a rich and fresh color palette. The Three American Pieces also date from 1944. Originally written for violin and piano, Foss orchestrated them in 1989.

This is American music in the Copland vein. But at no point does Foss imitate Copland. Rather, both composers seemed to draw from the same sources of inspiration. And both have their own take on those common sources.

My personal favorite was the Renaissance Concerto for flute and orchestra. The title of this 1985 work is a little deceptive. The first movement uses "The Carman's Whistle," a tune from Tudor England. However the other two movements are based on early Baroque compositions. No matter -- it's not about authenticity but mood. Foss evokes an earlier time with modern instruments and modern harmonies. I think it's terrific.

The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra performs to its usual high standards. JoAnn Falletta's direction is both insightful and illuminating. These artists do a great service to Foss' music. The entire album is both engaging and emotionally rewarding. I hope Faletta and the BPO continue to explore this neglected composer's works. 

Lukas Foss: Symphony No. 1
Renaissance Concerto; Three American Pieces; Ode
Amy Porter, flute; Nikki Chooi, violin
Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra; JoAnn Falletta, conductor
Naxos 8.559938

Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Stephen Dodgson: Canticle of the Sun

Stephen Dodgson was an important British composer. He enjoyed considerable success after the Second World War. Dodgon wrote a variety of classical music, from orchestral works to solo songs. This release focuses on his choral music. 

When I read that Gerald Finzi highly regarded Dodgon's music, I knew I had to give this album a listen. 

The works on this release sound deceptively conventional. Dodgon's music is tonal. Furthermore, he writes idiomatically for the human voice. Melodies are constrained to relatively easy-to-sing intervals. There's some chromaticism, but it's more a spice than a main ingredient. 

Conventional four-part 20th Century choral writing -- but not quite. Careful listening reveals the rather complex harmonies that Dodgson uses. These harmonies provide subtle shading to the text. And while the melodies may be easy to sing, fitting together these vocal lines isn't.

Dodgson was a British composer. But these works fall outside the British choral tradition -- another deceptive characteristic. We don't get the high boy's choir sound. Or even the equivalent vocal lines for sopranos. Rather all four voices contribute equally to the sound.

A few of the selections have religious texts. But in some, like "Tis Almost One," the religious references are oblique rather than direct. The rest of the album is strictly secular. And that's another subtle difference. This is music for the concert hall than the cathedral. 

Sonoro is a superb vocal ensemble. They hit every note exactly on the pitch singing a capella. And they create a wonderful ensemble sound in the process. And while they have a smooth blend, Sonoro's articulation is clear and accurate. It's easy to follow the texts without having to follow along with the booklet.

Well-crafted music sung by a top-notch ensemble. If you're a fan of choral music, this belongs in your collection. 

Stephen Dodgson: Canticle of the Sun
Sonoro; Neil Ferris, conductor
Katherine Bicknell, flute; Michael Higgins, organ
SOMM Recordings SOMMCD -0686

Friday, June 21, 2024

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalSextet Week 3

June is the sixth month. It seemed a good time to make sextets the #ClassicsaDay monthly theme. The most common sextet is a doubled string trio. That is, two violins, two violas, and two cellos. But other combinations of instruments are possible. And beginning in the 20th Century just about every type of combination has been explored.

Here are my social media posts for the third week of #ClassicalSextets.

08/16/24 Peter Schickele: String Sextet (1990)

Although known primarily as the creator of PDQ Bach, Schickele had a solid reputation as a composer. His "serious" compositions include film scores, Broadway, and chamber works like this one.


06/17/24 Steve Reich: Sextet

Reich's 1984 sextet is for six performers playing multiple instruments: 3 marimbas, 2 vibraphones, 2 bass drums, crotales, sticks, tam-tam, pianos, and synthesizers.


06/18/24 Jan Brandts Buys: String Sextet Op. 40

Dutch composer Jan Buys is mainly known for his operas and operettas. His 1917 sextet has a slightly unusual lineup: three violins, two violas, and cello.  

06/19/24 Emiliano Manna: Sextet for mixed ensembles

Not all sextets are written for strings. Manna's sextet features flute (doubling piccolo), oboe, clarinet, horn, timpani, and double bass.


06/20/24 Philip Glass: Brass Sextett

Glass wrote this work in 1964. He was composer-in-residence with the Pittsburgh Public Schools. It was composed before he adapted his minimalist style.


06/21/24 Francis Poulenc: Sextet for Piano and Winds, Op. 100

Poulenc's Sextet was written for wind quintet plus piano. The work was premiered in 1933.


Wednesday, June 19, 2024

The Highly Personal Preludes and Fugues of Matt Dibble

When I was getting my masters in composition, my advisor warned me not to be a desk drawer composer. "Write for commission, write for performers, write music intended to be heard," he said. "Don't write music that just gets stored away in a desk drawer that no one ever hears."

Matt Dibble was certainly not a desk drawer composer. He was a multi-instrumentalist and played jazz, rock, and punk professionally. Dibble produced recordings for his own bands (Super db and DOLLYman) and others. Dibble also composed classical music, mostly for piano. 

But he did have some desk drawer music. In 2015 Dibble began writing a series of preludes and fugues. Inspired by J.S. Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, he wrote 24 of them, one for each of the major and minor keys. None of them were publicly performed during his lifetime. These were very personal pieces, created for himself to enjoy. 

Dibble died at age 41 in 2021. The set was completed shortly before his death. Dibble knew and admired the artistry of pianist Freddy Kempf. One of Dibble's last wishes was for Kempf to take these works out of the drawer and present them to the world. Hence, this album. 

Dibble's wide-ranging musical interests are on display here. These are not academic exercises. Dibble remains true to the forms established by Bach. The preludes are free-ranging, while the fugues are tightly organized.

Some have a "classical" sound -- albeit one that could not come from any century but the 21st. But Dibble goes further. The Prelude on B-flat3 is subtitled "Alone - 5 am." It has a wistful piano bar vibe and leads nicely into a jazz fugue. "Samarkand" is the subtitle for Prelude and Fugue on G#m3. This is full of the energy and odd meters of Ubekistanian folk music. 

Dibble chose wisely. Freddy Kempf delivers 24 superb performances. He easily adapts to the style of each piece. Whether classical, jazz, rock, or folk -- his performances are convincing and authentic.

Yes, composers should write music to be performed. But sometimes writing just for oneself can yield a masterwork. As in the case of Matt Dibble's 24 Preludes and Fugues. Truly individualistic, truly wonderful.    

Matt Dibble: 24 Preludes and Fugues
Freddy Kempf, piano
Divine Art DDX 21243

Friday, June 14, 2024

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalSextets, Week 2

June is the sixth month. It seemed a good time to make sextets the #ClassicsaDay monthly theme. The most common sextet is a doubled string trio. That is, two violins, two violas, and two cellos. But other combinations of instruments are possible. And beginning in the 20th Century just about every type of combination has been explored.

Here are my social media posts for the second week of #ClassicalSextets.

06/10/24 Antonín Dvořák: String Sextet in A major, Op. 48

Dvorak wrote the sextet in May, 1878. It received a private reading with violinist Joseph Joachim and friends. Joachim liked the work so much that he premiered it later that year and took it on tour with him.


06/11/24 Ignaz Pleyel (1757–1831) String Sextet

Pleyel was born in Austria but spent most of his career in France. He was able to successfully navigate the French Revolution, not only surviving but thriving in the New Republic.


06/12/24 Bohuslav Martinu: String Sextet for 2 violins, 2 violas, cello and contrabass

In 1932 Martinue won the Coolidge Prize for his String Sextet with Orchestra. His stand-alone string quartet was dedicated to Elisabeth Sprague Coolidge, the contest's sponsor.


06/13/24 Erwin Schulhoff (1894–1942) String Sextet (1924)

Schulhoff studied with Claude Debussy and Max Reger. His string sextet was well-received, but his success didn't last. In 1941 he was sent to the Wülzburg prison camp by the Nazis where he died a year later.


06/14/24 Ignacy Feliks Dobrzyński: String Sextet for 2 violins, viola, 2 cello, and double bass

Dobrzyński was a classmate of Chopin's at the Warsaw Conservatory. Unlike Chopin, he remained in Poland, striving to develop a Polish national style of classical music. He succeeded in that his own music was performed outside of Poland.


Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Jakob Lindberg Thoroughly Masters Theorbo Solos

Jakob Lindberg is a master of the theorbo. I wonder, though: how does he travel with that thing? Flying must be a nightmare. 

The theorbo is an early Baroque instrument and part of the lute family. The outsized member of the family. It doesn't even fit on the album cover!

The theorbo was typically over 6 feet long and often used as a bass instrument. A common theorbo had 14 courses (pairs of strings), though some had as many as 19 courses or 38 strings. The instrument had a range running from middle C to about two and a half octaves lower. 

Usually the theorbo was part of the basso continuo, supporting solo instruments. A keyboard instrument such as a harpsichord filled in the harmonies. And the theorbo outlined the bass. 

Robert de Visée was an accomplished stringed instrumentalist. He served the courts of both Louis XIV and Louis XV of France in the early 1700s. He was a virtuoso luenist, guitarist, and theorboist. Visée published a collection of works for solo theorbo in 1716. He aimed to  demonstrate the viability of the theorbo as a solo instrument. 

And he succeeded. This release features several works from that collection. It also includes some of Visée's unpublished manuscripts for solo theorbo. 

It's a remarkable program. Visée's writing exploits the full potential of the instrument.

The theorbo has a deep, resonant sound. It may remind modern listeners of a cello, but it's more than that. The theorbo, like the lute, has a clean tone that's never muddy -- no matter how low the notes. 

Lindberg's playing is a perfect blend of technical ability and tasteful musicianship. He skillfully weaves together Visée's polyphony, keeping all the lines balanced. 

It's a wonderful collection of music. And it's most wonderfully performed. Highly recommended. Though I still wonder How Lindberg travels with that thing. 

Robert de Visée: Theorbo Solos
Jakob Lindberg, theorbo
BIS 2562

Friday, June 07, 2024

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalSextet, Week 1

June is the sixth month. It seemed a good time to make sextets the #ClassicsaDay monthly theme. The most common sextet is a doubled string trio. That is, two violins, two violas, and two cellos. But other combinations of instruments are possible. And beginning in the 20th Century just about every type of combination has been explored.

Here are my social media posts for the first week of #ClassicalSextets.

06/03/24 Johannes Brahms: Sextet No. 1 in B-flat major, Op. 18

Before Brahms, the string sextet was a rarity. After Brahms, several composers of the 19th and 20th Centuries explored the genre. Brahms' first sextet was published in 1862.


06/04/24 Johannes Brahmns: Sextet No. 2 in G Major, Op. 36

Brahms' second string sextet was published in 1865. It received its world premiere in Boston in October 1866. Europe would have to wait another month for the continental premiere.


06/05/24 Luigi Boccherini: String Sextet in E-flat major, G 454 Op. 23

Boccherini is credited with writing the first string sextets. This is one of six sextets Boccherini wrote in 1776 as his Op. 23 (published in 1780).


06/06/24 Arnold Schoenberg: Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night), Op. 4

Schoenberg arranged this work for string orchestra. That's the version most frequently performed today. The original sextet premiered in 1902, the string orchestra version in 1924.


06/07/24 Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Souvenir de Florence, Op. 70

Tchaikovsky sketched the main themes for this work while he was visiting Florence. He completed the composition in 1890. After revision, it was premiered in 1892.


Thursday, June 06, 2024

By Women: Piano Works by Armenian Women Composers

Some may think this album's program is way too niche. Not me. I think it's highly focused, and that focus is what makes it successful. Pianist Sahan Arzruni has recorded an album of classical music by Armenians. More specifically, Armenian women. Listening to the wide variety of styles made me want to hear more. 

This very narrow slice of Armenian classical music is incredibly diverse. It makes me wonder how many other gems await in the entire corpus of Armenian classical music. 

The album opens with a sonata and prelude by Geghuni Chitchyan. Chitchyan is something of an icon in Armenian classical music. These works date from the 1950s. They remind me a little of Bartok -- if Bartok had a mischievous attitude. 

At the other end of the spectrum is Mary Kouyoumdjian. She's an Armenian-American composer and teaches at Columbia University. "I Haven't the Words" is her reaction to the George Floyd shooting. Kouyoumdjian writes in a cosmopolitan style, with occasional traces of Armenian folk rhythms. 

Gayane Chebotaryan is represented with a set of six preludes. She's a major figure in her country and deserves an audience outside it. Her preludes were written in 1948. They're tonal and seem to drift from one idea to the next. The harmonies are subtly complex. 

There are other composers represented here, and every one worthy of further exploration. Sahan Arzruni is both the producer and performer for this recording. This is his project and his emotional investment shows. His goal is to give these works their best possible performances, and he succeeds. 

Only an Armenian could phrase the melodies just so to convey the composers' intentions. I knew virtually nothing about Armenian classical music before listening to this album. I now know a little -- and want to know more.

By Women: Piano Works by Armenian Women Composers
Sahan Arzruni, piano

Wednesday, June 05, 2024

Album Shows Three Facets of Kaveli Aho


In some ways, this release is a study in contrasts. It shows three contrasting forms of Aho's creativity. There's a work for soloist and orchestra, and one for soloist and string quartet. Plus there's a collaboration with an earlier composer.

The Concerto for Guitar and Chamber Orchestra was completed in 2018. Aho wrote the work for Ismo Eskelinen, who performs it here. Aho had collaborated with Eskelinen before. 

Aho is best known as a symphonist, and this work is symphonic in scope. His demands on the guitarist push technique to -- and perhaps a little beyond -- its limits. 

No matter. Eskelinen knows Aho as well as the composer knows the performer. He easily navigates the music and renders an exciting performance in the process.

The Quintet for Horn and String Quartet was written a year later. And yet, to me, it seems an earlier work. Aho studied with Einojuhani Rautavaara. Several string passages reminded me of the older composer's style. 

Ilkka Puputti commissioned the concerto and performed it on this release. As with Eskelinen, the horn player had worked with Aho before. So there's a true collaboration between composer and performer. As with the guitar concerto, Aho demands a lot from the solo player. And Puputti delivers at every turn.  

Johann Sebastian Bach left the final fugue in "The Art of the Fugue" unfinished. Aho isn't the first composer to complete it. But he's one of the more skilled to do so. Aho manages to extend Bach's ideas without slavishly adhering to them. It might not be a historically accurate rendition. But it is distinctive and shows Aho's skill at counterpoint.

John Storgårds directs the Lapland Chamber Orchestra. This is their fifth recording of Aho's music, so they know what they're about. The orchestra has a nice, clean ensemble sound. It's not a big sound, but it's big enough for Aho's music.  

Aho's compositions don't sound quite like anybody else's. They're complex and multi-layered, yet direct and appealing. 

Kaveli Aho: Guitar Concerto
Quintet for Horn and String Quartet
Bach/Aho: Contapunctus XIV for String Orchestra
Ismo Eskelinen, guitar; Ilkka Puputti, horn
Lapland Chamber Orchestra; John Storgårds, conductor

Tuesday, June 04, 2024

Maria Herz -- Ripe for Rediscovery

Maria Herz was another artist whose career was derailed by the Nazis. In the 1920s Herz was a brilliant pianist. Her own music was well-received. But Herz was a Jew, and her career ceased in 1933. Jews were banned from performing in Germany, and their music was pulled from the market. 

Her family assets were seized -- including her manuscripts. Herz moved continually over the next six years. She searched for refuge for herself and her children. Herz eventually landed in Britain, where she would wait out the war. She stopped composing in 1933 when she left Germany. She had written about 30 works.

This album features four of her compositions -- all world premiere recordings. And they all show what the world lost when her voice was silenced. Herz's manuscripts were presumed lost. So Herz was unable to get her music performed after the war. Her manuscripts only recently came to light, so we can finally hear them. 

The works presented here show a composer fully immersed in the changing music scene of the 1920s. Herz's 1927 piano concerto straddles the transition from Post-Romantic to Modern. In some ways, it reminded me of Paul Hindemith. Tonal, but with new thoughts about what tonality meant. Oliver Triendl plays with authority and swagger. This is a concerto that demands attention -- and Triendl rewards that attention.

The 1930 Concerto for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 10 shows Herz's development. This work sounds less like Hindemith, and more like, well, Herz. Cellist Konstanze von Gutzeit gives a fine reading. Her playing of the double-stop passages is exceptional -- and moving. As with Herz's piano concerto, the solo instrument is the star here. And von Gutzeit doesn't disappoint. I would love to see her perform this live. 

The Four Short Pieces for Large Orchestra, Op. 8 have a different character. To my ears, this 1929 work resembles Schoenberg's "Verklärte Nacht." It has a dreamlike quality to it. Subtle cross rhythms give the orchestra a smeary sound. And the climaxes never quite deliver until the end. Christiane Silber leads the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin in a moving performance.

The same is true of their performance of the Orchestra Suite, Op. 13. This was composed in 1931, and shows where Herz was heading. The work is both fluid and complex. And while it has a tonal center, shifting harmonies continually blur it. I wish Herz had been allowed to continue growing as a composer -- instead of scrambling to survive.

Maria Herz: Piano Concerto
Cello Concerto; Ochestral Works
Oliver Triendl, piano
Konstanze von Gutzeit, cello
Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin; Christiane Silber, conductor
Capricco C5510