Friday, July 19, 2024

#ClassicsaDay #NorthAmClassics Week 3, 2024

Two countries celebrate their independence in July -- and they just happen to be neighbors. On July 1, 1867, three separate British colonies were officially united. United Canadas, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick became Canada. 

On July 4, 1776, thirteen separate British colonies were officially united, becoming the United States of America.


The #ClassicsaDay challenge for July is to post music by Canadian and American composers. Both countries have created their own forms of classical music, independent of Europe's. 

Here are my social media posts for the second week of #NorthAmClassics. As in past years, I alternate between Canadian and American composers. 

07/15/24 J. E. P. Aldous (1853–1934): Prelude and Fugue in D minor

Aldous emigrated from England to become the organist for Central Presbyterian Church in Hamilton, Ontario. Most of his compositions were short works for organ and choirs.

 

07/16/24 Lukas Foss: Baroque Variations for Orchestra (1967)

Foss was a classmate of Leonard Bernstein and later replaced Arnold Schoenberg on the faculty at UCLA in the 1950s. His music was admired by his contemporaries for its quality and accessibility.

 

07/17/24 Henri Miro (1879–1950): Please

Miro was a pioneering conductor for the CBC in the 1930s. At one time his orchestral compositions were part of almost every Canadian orchestra's repertoire.

 

07/18/24 C.L. Barnhouse (1865-1929): The Messagner March

Barnhouse was a self-taught cornet player from West Virginia. In 1888 he began publishing works for concert bands. Municipal bands were trending, and there was a ready market for quality (yet easy to play) band music.

 

07/19/24 W.H. Anderson (1882–1955): Give Ear to My Words, O Lord"

Bronchitus turned Anderson from singing to composing. Most of this Canadian's works were written for choral ensembles.

 

Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Early Vytautas Bacevicius Appealing

Naxos completes their cycle of Vytautas Bacevičius piano concertos -- after a nine-year hiatus. Volume one was released in 2015 and featured his last two concertos. 

In the 1940s, Bacevicius moved to atonality. The works featured in volume one have a very different character than the compositions here.

The first two piano concertos and Symphony No. 3 are all very much tonal works. Bacevicius was proud of his Lithuanian heritage. 

When his parents separated, he went with his father back to Lithuania and reverted to the Lithuanian version of the family name. His sister, Grazia Backewicz, remained in Poland with her mother and kept the Polish version of her surname.

Bacevicius wasn't able to remain in Lithuania long. He was on tour in South America when Russia invaded. He eventually made his way to the United States, never to return to his occupied homeland.

The 1929 Piano Concerto No. 1 is subtitled "Sur des thèmes lituaniens." It's a celebratory work, with Lithuanian themes serving as the building blocks. 

The Second Piano Concerto of 1933 also draws extensively on Lithuanian folk music. But here the original tunes are fully integrated into the work. So much so they almost disappear -- but still leave a trace of their character.

Bacevicius' Symphony No. 3 was written after he was granted sanctuary in America. It ends with a treatment of the "Star Spangled Banner." Bacevicius doesn't just quote the tune -- he works with it to fit into the rest of the symphony. And almost succeeds. 

The Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra is directed by Christopher Lyndon-Gee. These are strong, committed performances. Very little of Bacevicius' music was performed during his lifetime. The Second Piano Concerto and Third Symphony receive their world recording premiere. 

The ensemble has a fundamental understanding of what Bacevicius was about -- and it shows in their performances. Pianist Gabrielius Alekna is exceptional. Bacevicius was a world-class pianist. He demands a lot from the soloist and Alekna delivers time and again. 

I suspect many will find this volume more appealing and accessible than the previous one. I recommend both. But I'd start with this one.

Vytautas Bacevicius: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 2
Piano Concerto No. 1 ‘Sur des thèmes lituaniens’
Piano Concerto No. 2; Symphony No. 3
Gabrielius Alekna, Piano
Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra; Christopher Lyndon-Gee
Naxos

Friday, July 12, 2024

#ClassicsaDay #NorthAmClassics Week 2, 2024

Two countries celebrate their independence in July -- and they just happen to be neighbors. On July 1, 1867, three separate British colonies were officially united. United Canadas, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick became Canada. 

On July 4, 1776, thirteen separate British colonies were officially united, becoming the United States of America.


The #ClassicsaDay challenge for July is to post music by Canadian and American composers. Both countries have created their own forms of classical music, independent of Europe's. 

Here are my social media posts for the second week of #NorthAmClassics. As in past years, I alternate between Canadian and American composers. 

07/08/24 Benjamin Carr (1768-1831): Federal Overture

Carr emigrated to America in 1793. In Philadelphia, he was a major figure -- music publisher, composer, teacher, organist, and concert organizer.

 

07/09/24 Nicolas Gilbert (1970 - ) UP!: Sesquie for Canada's 150th

Gilbert is a Canadian composer from Montreal. In 2008 he was named "Composer of the Year" by the Quebec Music Council.

 

07/10/24 Edward Burlingame Hill (1872-1960): Symphony No. 1

Hill studied with two of the "Boston Six" (John Knowles Paine and George Whitefield Chadwick). He was on the Harvard faculty from 1908 until his death in 1940. His pupils included Elliot Carter, Leonard Bernstein, and Virgil Thomson.

 

07/11/24 Sophie Carmen Eckhardt-Gramatté (1899-1974): Symphony No. 1

Eckhardt-Gramatté had an international career. She and her husband settled in Winnipeg in 1953 where she became -- in her 50s -- a Canadian composer.

 

07/12/24 Alexander Reinagle (1756-1809): Sonata No. 1

This English composer emigrated to America in 1789. In Philadelphia, he became an established composer, pianist, and teacher. George Washington was a fan. Reinagle taught his stepdaughter, Nellie Custis.

 

Wednesday, July 10, 2024

Strata Plums the Depths of Eleanor Alberga's Works

This is the fourth album of Eleanor Alberga's music I've reviewed. And all I can say is, "More, please." Alberga is a British composer, originally from Jamaica. She successfully blends music traditions from both countries into something fresh and unique.

Pianist Alberga and her violinist husband Thoams Bowes performed as a duet. I think those close working and personal relationships informed her string writing. It's original, yet idiomatic to the instrument. 

"Tower" pays homage to a friend, violinist David Angel. The work is for string quartet and orchestra. It's an interesting study in contrasts and balance. The orchestra provides the emotional context for the quartet', which sometimes gets overwhelmed. 

Alberga's first symphony, "Strata" is also written in memory of a friend. In this case, violist David Nash. The movement titles reflect his interest in geology: Firmament, Core, Mantle, Crust, Sailing on Tethys, and Plumes. Each strata has its own characteristic sound. 

The work doesn't follow the traditional four-movement symphonic form. But it works. Each movement (strata) builds on the previous. There's a clear sense of direction and development throughout the symphony.

"Mythologies" has a similar form. Each movement is a character sketch of a Greek god. But here the music seems to work as a suite rather than a unified composition. And there's nothing wrong with that.

Alberga is an excellent composer and masterful orchestrator. 

Thomas Kemp. directs the BBC Symphony Orchestra Their sound is full, rich, and powerful. Alberga's music is in good hands here.

Highly recommended.

Strata: Eleanor Alberga Orchestral Works
Castalian String Quartet
BBC Symphony Orchestra: Thomas Kemp, conductor
Resonus RES 10340


Tuesday, July 09, 2024

Miro Quartet Almost Makes It Home

Okay, I do have some quibbles with this release. But they're more issues with me than anything with the album.

This is Miró Quartet's second album with Pentatone. Their first release was Beethoven's complete string quartets. And while this release might not be as ambitious, the playing is just as uncompromising. 

I like most of the music choices, and how they're presented. And I like the way they're all performed. The Miró Quartet is a world-class ensemble. They're just as comfortable playing contemporary music as standard repertoire. 

The album is a contemplation of the concept of "home."  

Kevin Puts has worked with the quartet before. His work "Home" articulates the feelings of losing a home. Specifically, the experience of war refugees. The work is unsettled and restless. Refugees are constantly on the run, and the music captures the feeling of forced flight. It's a powerful composition, made more so by Miró's performance. 

Also included is Barber's String Quartet in B minor, Op. 11. The middle movement, "Adagio" has taken on a life of its own. But here in its original context, it sounds intimate and personal. 

Caroline Shaw's "Microfictions" grew from her experience during the COVID lockdown. Exploring Twitter, she discovered the Microfictions of T.R. Darling. Each of his daily posts was a piece of short fiction -- contained within the character limit of a tweet. Shaw uses some of these to create her own musical "Microfictions." Her six pieces are short and focused.

Yet like the poems they're attached to, the pieces are also oblique and mysterious. What's unsaid is almost more important than what's said.

George Walker's "Lyric for Strings," like Barber's "Adagio" began as a string quartet movement. He wrote it  it in tribute to his grandmother who was born enslaved. Miró only performs the string quartet version of the one movement. I wanted to hear the entire quartet. After all, that's the context Walker conceived the movement to be heard. 

I recognize I'm of a minority to consider hearing all the movements of a work important. So if you're like me, this is a minus. If you're not, then no harm done.  

I really objected to the album's finale, an arrangement of Harold Arlen's "Over the Rainbow.." Yes, it is skillfully arranged by William Ryden. But to me, it still doesn't quite rise to the level of the other works.  An album of insightful music-making ends with this corny cliched view of home. 

There's a lot to like here. I will be playing his album again many times -- just not the last track

Home: Miró Quartet
Music by Kevin Puts, George Walker, Caroline Shaw, Samuel Barber, and Harold Arlen
Pentatone PTC5187227

Friday, July 05, 2024

#ClasicsaDay #NorthAmClassics Week 1 2024

Two countries celebrate their independence in July -- and they just happen to be neighbors. On July 1, 1867, three separate British colonies were officially united. United Canadas, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick became Canada. 

On July 4, 1776, thirteen separate British colonies were officially united, becoming the United States of America.


The #ClassicsaDay challenge for July is to post music by Canadian and American composers. Both countries have created their own forms of classical music, independent of Europe's. 

Here are my social media posts for the first week of #NorthAm classics. As in past years, I alternate between Canadian and American composers. 

07/01/24 Murray Adaskin (1906-2002): Musica Victoria

Adaskin was born in Toronto to Latvian immigrants. He served as the director of the University of Saskatchewan's music department for many years.

 

07/02/24 Amy Beach (1867-1944): Piano Quintet, Op. 67

Beach was the youngest member of the Boston Six, the most prominent American composers of the late 19th Century. Her piano quintet was completed in 1907. 

 

07/03/24 Elizabeth Raum: Spirit of Canada

Raum was awarded the Saskatchewan Order of Merit for her contributions to Canadian music. She's a prolific composer and prides herself on her music's accessibility.

 

07/04/24 George Frederick Bristow (1825-1898): Symphony No. 4 in E minor, Op. 50 "Arcadian"

Bristow strove to create an American style of classical music. His works often have nationalist themes. His 1872 "Arcadian" symphony depicts pioneers moving west.

 

07/05/24 Ruth Watson Henderson (born 1932): Kyrie Fugue

Henderson was an accompanist for the Festival Singers of Canada. It was there she developed her talent for choral writing. To date, Henderson has written over 200 choral works, in addition to other music.