Wednesday, October 29, 2014

George Crumb - "Black Angels" For Amplified String Quartet - Quatuor Diotoma

Sadly I cannot find my copy of the classic and monumental Kronos Quartet recording (although composed for and dedicted to the Stanley Quartet, "Black Angels" has never been presented more powerfully (or more fascinating, and ghastly) then the Kronos recording.) -It was actually an inspiration and motivation for the members of the Kronos Quartet- to indeed form a Quartet to begin with!) This work deals with, among other things, ideas about Good vs. Evil forces in the universe.

"Black Angels" is for "Amplified" String Quartet (as if it really needs that extra intensity!) as well
as certain unorthodox percussive instruments, not to mention glasses of water, placed next to the players and filled to different levels to change the pitch of each one. Many listeners will recognize
the movement "Night of the Electric Insects" as it was used quite effectively in the film "The Exorcist". This movement to this day gives me uncontrollable chills; I think it's one of the most sonically frightening pieces of music ever written. **I must add that this performance of the Quartet is not my favorite whatsoever-indeed the intensity and darkness is somewhat lost in the Diotima's performance, and "Night of the Electric Insects" is extremely tame here..

Crumb's quartet is like nothing else and I am always fascinated by it; it's a true contemporary masterpiece. When I find the Kronos Qt. version I shall post it right away, I think everyone should have it in their collection!

I will add that it's a nice bonus that Barber's Quartet is on this disc; I will also say that the Reich work annoys the hell out of me for whatever reason and again this disc is simply posted because I cannot locate my other recordings (The Kronos, or an also very good disc on Bridge records)

Here is an interesting and very thorough analysis of Black Angels for anyone interested:

I have also included a pdf file that gets quite in depth about Crumb's Quartet-it's rather fascinating, I hope everyone reads it. Enjoy!

Happy Birthday, George Crumb (yes, I'm a few days late)

Ok I forgot that George Crumb's birthday was on October 24th; I trust that you, the visitors and George Crumb himself, will forgive me ;)  Crumb is now 85 years old.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Howard Hanson - Symphony No.4 "Requiem" - Suite from "Merry Mount" - Lament for Beowolf - Serenade for Flute, Harp and Strings - Pastorale for Oboe, Harp and Strings

This Delos disc from 1991 was one of my first Hanson acquisitions, and a great one at that. Delos and Gerard Schwarz (and the SSO) did a tremendous service for Howard Hanson fans across the world with the magnificent series of Symphonies, Concertante, Choral and other works that they recorded in the late 80's and (mostly) the early 90's.

Symphony No. 4 "Requiem" (1943)

Hanson regarded this deeply-felt elegy for the dead as one of his favorite works. Entirely orchestral, it is cast in four movements, the titles of which are taken from the Requiem Mass. The first movement is turbulent, romantic and reverential; a Kyrie theme alternating with dance and song-like sections and a chorale statement from which develops a storm-tossed, timpani-pounding coda as though suggesting the conflict between good and evil. The second Requiescat (Largo) movement is a softly ascending processional that is most affecting; the brief Dies Irae is a fast and ferociously bitter scherzo, while the Lux Aeterna (Largo pastorale) has some of Vaughan Williams's luminous mysticism as it sings eloquently and majestically of simple but strong piety. A most unusual but engaging work.

Lament for Beowulf (1925)

On a trip to England, Hanson came across and was very impressed by the epic poem Beowulf believed to have dated from 700 A.D. He began sketching his Lament in Scotland in "an environment rugged, swept with mist, and wholly appropriate to the scene of my story... My intention has been to realize in the music the austerity and stoicism and the heroic atmosphere of the poem.." Hanson wrote.

Beowulf is the nephew of the King of Geatus (now Sweden) who defeats a ferocious monster but ultimately pays for its destruction with his life. The Lament, scored for choir and orchestra, is about the people's grief over Beowulf''s death. The Seattle Symphony and Chorus vividly and movingly depict the hostile location, the grieving people and the scene where they are gathered around the hero's funeral pyre. The opening is thrillingly evocative with horns and trumpets calling across the soundstage over cavernous bass drum beats, low bass string ostinatos and snare drums. A magnificent work.

Serenade for Flute, Harp and Strings (1945)

Written as a wedding present for his wife, Margaret Elizabeth Nelson, it is quietly, dreamily romantic. Quoting the booklet, "The work's chief voice is the flute which unspools long flowing melodies to the harp's rhythmic obbligato. It's gentleness notwithstanding, Hanson gives the Serenade a propulsive dynamism that carries the listener with the inevitability of a flowing brook." Soloists Judith Mendenhall (flute) and Susan Jolles (harp) capture its magic beautifully.

Suite from the Opera "Merry Mount" (first performed 1934)

Hanson's opera and most ambitious work, Merry Mount, is based on Nathaniel Hawthorne's short story, The Maypole of Merry Mount. It is a story that is anything but merry. It is a tragedy set in a Puritan town in old New England and it is about a pastor's obsession with a visiting Lady and the unleashing of his repressed hedonism. The Overture, using modal writing, is austere befitting the Puritans but the second movement, "Children's Dance" brings a relaxation and the music becomes syncopated and much more colorful. The lush romantic music for "Love Duet" has throbbing bass and percussion to signify the Pastor's growing desire for Lady Margaret Sandys, and it reminds one slightly of Bernard Hermann. The Prelude to Act II and The Maypole Dances use original themes and modes to depict the erection of the maypole, a pagan totem that scandalize(s) the Puritans. The music becomes more sensuous, reflecting the abandonment that leads Pastor Bradford to murder. Schwarz relishes all his expressive and dramatic opportunities. Enjoy!

**In Memoriam/Happy Birthday: Howard Hanson (b. Oct. 28 1896), the Great American "Romantic"**

Howard Hanson is one of the first American composers that I really feel in love with, around the same time that I had discovered and also fell for the music of composers such as Hovhaness, David Diamond, Paul Creston, Roy Harris, William Schuman and so on. I was enchanted after hearing Hanson's "Merry Mount" Suite (from the Opera of the same name) on the radio, I think it was during my first year of college. Soon after I bought every Hanson recording I could find; once I listened to the Symphonies, "Lament for Beuwolf", "Song of Democracy" and others I was a full-blown Hanson addict, past the point of no return. Hanson was born on October 28, 1896 and died Feburary 26th, 1981.

Composer, teacher, and one of the most influential musical figures in the United States between the world wars, Hanson wrote in an unabashedly Romantic idiom influenced by his Nordic roots. Of particular importance to the composer was the music of Sibelius, however he also acknowledged the influence of composers such as Palestrina and Bach. Hanson was born in Wahoo, Nebraska and although an "American", his parents settled in the states from their home country of Sweden prior to Hanson's birth. Hanson studied early on in New York with conservative composer Percy Goetschius and at Northwestern University, outside Chicago. Somewhat of a compositional prodigy, he received his first academic appointment, not yet 20, at California's College of the Pacific. He became an academic dean at 23. Hanson's early compositions made him, in 1921, the very first recipient of the prize of the American Academy in Rome. In Rome, he studied both orchestration with Respighi and the great Renaissance and Baroque Italian painters and sculptors.

In 1924, Hanson became director of the Eastman School of Music, building that school into one of the best conservatories in North America. During his tenure there Hanson continued to compose prolifically; he also embarked on a career as a conductor, in which capacity he proved himself one of the great champions of American music. At Eastman, it has been calculated, he presented some 1,500 works by 700 composers. Hanson also commercially recorded a number of modern works in a series for the Mercury label in the 1950s, drawing much attention to otherwise neglected repertoire. He also founded an important annual festival of American music, with performances both of contemporary composers and of composers of earlier generations. As a conductor, he developed a particular interest in the "Boston School" of composers – John Knowles Paine, George Whitefield Chadwick, and Horatio Parker among them.

Hanson's early music combines elements of Jean Sibelius, César Franck, and Claude Debussy, but to list these influences to a large extent misses the point. Early work like the "Concerto da Camera" for piano quintet (1917) has interest but great awkwardness as well. Hanson hit his mature style in the Twenties with such work as the "Symphony No.1" "Nordic" (1922),  the String Quartet of 1923, "Lament for Beowulf" (1925, and one of his most powerful scores), and the "Organ Concerto" (1926). None of these works show much trace of the new Modernism of Igor Stravinsky, Paul Hindemith, Arnold Schoenberg, or Béla Bartók. Hanson remained pretty much outside mainstream Modernism, with a sound and idiom instantly recognizable as his own. Many criticized him as musically reactionary, and yet his music could not have been written in the Nineteenth Century. There's a directness and concision, an avoidance of padding, more in keeping with Twentieth-Century ideals. His harmonies belong mainly to him, and he retained an interest in chordal combinations and odd scales to the end of his career. Hanson's music in the Thirties consolidated his musical discoveries with his opera Merry Mount (1933, another very powerful score, deserving revival), Songs from "Drum Taps" (1935), and the "Symphony No. 3" (1938). The Forties brought about a restlessness in Hanson's idiom, as if he had found himself in a bit of a rut and wanted to get out. The idiom becomes harsher and the architecture more concise and more dependent on short thematic cells rather than on full-blown themes. Works of this period include the "Symphony No. 4 "Requiem" (1943), the "Piano Concerto" (1948), and "The Cherubic Hymn" (1949). The Fifties and the Sixties – inaugurated even more experimentation: "Fantasy-Variations on a Theme of Youth" (1951), "How Excellent Thy Name" (1952), "Symphony No. 5 "Sinfonia sacra" (1954), "Mosaics" (1957),  "4 Psalms" (1964), "Symphony No. 6" (1968), and "Young Person's Guide to the Six-Tone Scale" (1972). Needless to say one of Hanson's best loved and most beautiful  works is his "Symphony No.2  the "Romantic"

From the mid-Fifties on, Hanson's music began to disappear somewhat from concert programming. He still received prestigious commissions, but critics began to lose interest, particularly as post-Webernian serialism came to the fore. It was with those Mercury-label recordings (of his own music as well, along with many products of the Eastman School, and his beloved American late Romantics) that Hanson remained well within the radar of American musical life. All of these recordings have become complete classics.

Hanson considered himself a Romantic, and although a committed advocate of all stripes of Modern American music, he nevertheless avoided both neoclassicism and dodecaphony in his own work. Because of that, he became a kind of poster boy for those who kept wanting young composers to write the Bruckner Tenth. Hanson found himself caught a little in this, going so far as to subtitle his Second Symphony (1930) the "Romantic" and to consider it a manifesto of sorts. Hanson produced no heirs. His music remains unique to him, which is one of the best things about it.

Monday, October 27, 2014

20th Century Wind Quintets - Hindemith - Barber - Larsson - Janácek - Michael Thompson Wind Quintet

A very nice Naxos recording from 1995/2000. My favorite Wind Quintet here is Janácek's wonderful "Mladi" (Youth) however Samuel Barber's "Summer Music" is quite charming and also one of the important works in the Wind Quintet repertoire. Hindemith's Quintet I also like, he's one of my favorite composers although this is not one of my favorite Hindemith works. It's still very good though. Lars-Erik Larsson's "Divertimento Quattro Tempi" is delightful too, but usually I prefer his orchestral music.  

'For a wind quintet to be successful, each player must be a virtuoso soloist who also is capable of being an ensemble player. The musicians in this quintet fill that bill admirably. On this CD they play a program of 20th century favorites for five wind players–six in the case of the Janácek. The compositions are largely happy works. The opening “March” of the Hindemith is boisterous and upbeat, followed by four movements largely in the same vein. The Barber is more ruminative and romantic, along the lines of the composer’s better known works, and the Larsson, except for a somewhat chilly third movement, paints a picture of the sunnier side of Scandinavia. The Janácek, written near the end of his life, is autobiographical, a portrait of the composer’s own youth which he had recaptured in an infatuation with a younger woman. The Michael Thompson Woodwind Quintet captures every nuance in these compositions in performances that are virtually free of fault. The sound is more distant than usual for a recording of a small group, but it’s exceptionally crisp and clear without any irritating clacking of keys, an effect that often mars more close-up recordings of winds'. (review from Classics Today, I think)

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Einojuhani Rautavaara - "Marjatta the Lowly Maiden" - Works for Children's Choir - Tapiola Choir - Tapiola Youth Symphony Orchestra - Pasi hyökki, Conductor

I have always loved choral music for children especially (as in composed with the certain beauty and innocence of children's voices in mind, not music composed for children's enjoyment only...that wouldn't be fair to the rest of us with ears!!) and the finest examples imo are the many works for chorus of Zoltan Kodaly (of course he wrote so much, for girl's choir, children's, mixed choirs, men's choir etc.). Also I have to confess that I guess I'm due for a "reassessment" of Rautavaara's music in general; my first exposure to his music was in the early 90's when I was managing the classical dept.
(actually it was it's own store, next to the "main" music store) of a major co...I have to say it was heaven, if only the pay had been better.. ANYhow..sorry to this time I received a promo copy of the 1st recording of "Canticus Articus", Rautavaara's Concerto for Birds (birdsong) and Orchestra. I was quite taken with it, and the only other piece that I already enjoyed greatly that was similar was Hovhaness's "And God Created Great Whales" for Orchestra and Whale-song (recorded whales). 

So, while I own most of Rautavaara's (available) output on disc, somehow I have found the "mysticism" in some of his works to be half-baked, or trying too hard (die-hard fans, please do not
send hate mail, hehe) to be mystical. I may, however, be incorrect; I haven't listened to much of his music in a long time, besides 1 of the discs from the complete concertos edition, which....ok fine, I enjoyed. -I am most fond of the Sibelian element in his work; lovely writing for winds, but in a markedly late 20th century idiom. Clearly he pays his respect to the great master Sibelius, the most significant countryman. "Marjatta the Lowly Maiden" is a 'Finnish mystery play in one act', and as such has not only the ethereal voices of children but also narration, by both the children and adults. There's also a bit of instrumental accompaniment. I think it's a beautiful work, but it takes patience, at least upon the first listen or maybe two. I loved it from the start but don't think everyone will or would love it from the start. Especially if one is not a huge fan of voices/choral writing. "Lapsimessu", The Children's Mass I like a lot too, with it's wonderful choral(solo) movements and interesting orchestral preludes. The last movement has both.

I won't write about the rest of the pieces, as it would be too long-winded. I only know I fancy the whole disc...and maybe Rautavaara in general after all. Enjoy!

Malcolm Arnold - Sinfoniettas Nos. 1-3 - Oboe Concerto - Flute Concerto - London Festival Orchestra - Ross Pople, Conductor

I have had 100's of composer obsession/phases over the years, and Malcolm Arnold is no exception. This is a nice disc from Arte Nova (many people may recall when this label appeared; it was one of the best "budget labels" at the time, next to Naxos, Discovery, Vox Box and a couple others) a label that could have ended up like the empire that is Naxos-however this has not to be the case, yet the label boasts several hundred records and has many treasures in their catalog. Oh interestingly, like the Olympia disc in my last post that had been re-issued, it seems this recording was also on Hyperion!! That's odd to me...but that's what I learned by looking @ the L.F.O. site.



English Recorder Music - Arnold, Lane, Pitfield, Gregson, Lyon, Parrott, Bullard - John Turner, Royal Ballet Sinfonia - Gavin Sutherland Dir.

For me the Recorder is equally at home in 20th century music as it is in Early music (not to mention hundreds of thousands of elementary school children who play the recorder, mostly reluctantly I will assume) In it's original repertoire, the recorder often conjures up for me magical fairytales, alchemists, and dancing...both common and courtly. Once we reach the Baroque era those thoughts diminish mostly. Anyhow, this is a disc of joyous, prancing, lighthearted music and tunes that are easy to enjoy and crack a few smiles to along the way. Much of the music falls into the genre of "light music"...a title I have always disliked; this isn't profound music perhaps, however it's lovely music. I think if all music was terribly "serious" and profound we'd all get bored, no? The Malcolm Arnold Concertino is needless to say the superior work on this disc and, can be considered "serious music", that can be said too of the David Lyon Concertino and the Ian Parrott Prelude. Enjoy!

*I have the original Olympia disc from 2000; I only just realized that Naxos had re-issued this disc a few years ago and thus you see the Naxos image below of the back cover (as I said before I no longer have a scanner and often must find images online for some releases.) I have also included the Naxos pdf file as it is the same info as the Olympia disc..So...don't be confused ;)

Friday, October 24, 2014

Morten Lauridsen - Lux Æterna - Les Chansons Des Roses - Ave Maria - Mid-Winter Songs - O Magnum Mysterium - Los Angeles Master Chorale & Sinfonia Orchestra, Paul Salamunovich

Morten Lauridsen is perhaps, the greatest American composer of choral music living today. I still recall the first time I heard "Lux Aeterna" (chorus and orchestra) soon after this important world premiere disc was released; I was blown away, completely and utterly. This is music of such beauty...well it's almost ridiculous that it is so stunning! I still melt with each listen, my spine host to traveling chills without it being the coldest day of December. This is a work that is superior, on a level next to Faure's Requiem, The choral music of Durufle (Durufle's "Messe Cum Jubilo" is also simply too gorgeous to be true, and is my favorite choral work of all time...I have 100 runners-up however!), Brahms, Tallis, Palestrina, Bach etc.. I know that's quite a statement but I personally find this to be fact. 'Lux Aeterna' draws on Latin texts which refer to light (lux), bracketed by excerpts from the Requiem Mass: the familiar "Requiem aeternam" to begin and "Agnus Dei-Lux aeterna" to close. Lux Aeterna was written after the death of Lauridsen's mother, the muse for this lush and heavenly opus.


In discussing the origin of "O Magnum Mysterium," in the early 1990s, Lauridsen cites as his primary inspiration a painting done in 1633, Francisco de Zurbarán's "Still Life With Lemons, Oranges and a Rose." The painting projects an aura of mystery, powerful in its unadorned simplicity, its mystical quality creating an atmosphere of deep contemplation. Its effect is immediate, transcendent and overpowering. Before it one tends to speak in hushed tones, if at all.

"Les Chansons des Roses" and "Mid-Winter Songs" bring similarly rewarding glorious choral writing to secular texts, penned by Rainer Maria Rilke and Robert Graves respectively. Lauridsen's mastery of colorful scoring shines in his orchestral version of "Mid-Winter Songs", an evocative tapestry of sound. (I recall telling the composer Arnold Rosner that to my ears he in fact could have penned "Mid-Winter Songs". He too was moved and impressed enough with Lauridsen's music that he had planned to contact the composer to chat. Whether or not that happened I actually never found out..) 
"Ave Maria" is one of a series of a cappella motets on well-known Latin texts that Lauridsen dedicated and wrote for director Paul Salamunovich, on his 70th birthday.

The Los Angeles Master Chorale and the Sinfonia Orchestra make these works soar, and I still find this to be simply the best recording of Lux Aeterna, Mid-Winter Songs, or O Magnum Mysterium. I really never care about these things, however, it's worth noting that this album earned a grammy nomination in 1999 for "best choral album" (the disc itself was out in 1998). These are world-premiere recordings. Enjoy!!

Track listing:

Lux Æterna (1997) (World Premiere)

1. Introitus                                                        11. Ave Maria (1997) (World Premiere)
2. In Te, Domine, Speravi                                Mid-Winter Songs (1980) (World Premiere, orch.) 
3. O Nata Lux                                        
4. Vene, Sancte Spiritus                                   12. Lament for Pasiphae
5. Agnus Dei - Lux Æterna                              13. Like Snow
                                                                          14. She Tells Her Love While Half Asleep
Les Chansons Des Roses (1993)                      15. Mid-Winter Waking
                                                                          16. Intercession In Late October
6. En Une Seule Fleur
7. Contre Qui, Rose                                          17. O Magnum Mysterium (1994)
8. De Ton Reve Trop Plein
9. La Rose Complete
10. Dirait-on (Morten Lauridsen, piano)

Lauridsen_ Lux_Æ

Leoš Janáček - Sonata for Violin & Piano - Romance - Dumka - Allegro - Capriccio for Piano left-hand, Flute, Two Trumpets, Three Trombones and Tenor Tuba

While in his 60s, as I already mentioned previously, Janacek produced a nearly unbroken string of masterpieces including several of the greatest operas of the 20th century. "The Violin Sonata in A flat", completed in 1921 is among those masterpieces, an emotionally intense and unusually structured work (it is also included in my previous post along with the two String Quartets, although the Sonata on this recording is played by a different violinist, and is 2 minutes shorter in duration than the previous disc) The "Capriccio" - a weird piece even by Janacek’s standards - is an oddball "chamber concerto" of sorts, which seems to dart from mood to mood, in and out of dark corners with echoes of old folk dances in them, before finally coming to an optimistic conclusion. It's an explosive mix of humor, sentiment, and frank brutishness. It's scored for for "Piano left-hand (as requested by a pianist who had lost his right hand in the Great War), Flute, Two Trumpets, Three Trombones and Tenor Tuba" (probably the most common of instrumental ensembles, no??)

We also get three early works for violin and piano: "Romance", "Allegro", and the better known "Dumka". To my ears it's the "Allegro" that is the most interesting of the three. Enjoy.


Thursday, October 23, 2014

Leoš Janáček - String Quartets Nos. 1 and 2 - Sonata for Violin and Piano - Pohadka (Fairytale) for Cello and Piano - Vlach Quartet Prague

Leos Janacek's two String Quartets are remarkable achievements and an important part of the String Quartet repertoire. These Quartets are among a handful of late works that really solidified Janacek's
image of genius and status as that of an absolute master, one of the greatest Czech composers of all time, after and along with such composers as Dvorak and Smetana. There are many excellent recordings of the String Quartets out there (Hagen, Emerson, Prazak, Guarneri, Talich, Martinu Quartet and others...I especially wouldn't want to be without my copies of the Prazak and Hagen Quartets) and this Naxos disc with the Vlach Quartet is in my opinion a very good recording and I have played it many times over the years.

Janacek's String Quartet No.1 "Kreutzer Sonata", gets it's subtitle from Tolstoy's 1889 novella of the same name. In the story a woman who is trapped in a loveless marriage plays Beethoven's sonata with a dashing violinist, and seems carried away by the music's passion. Her husband, plagued by jealous fantasies, cuts short a business trip and comes home unexpectedly, well after midnight. He finds her together with the violinist in the dining room, fully clothed but involved in an intimate conversation. Convinced she has betrayed him, he kills her in a fit of jealous rage. Since Tolstoy narrates this tale through the husband's obsessive and bitter point of view, we never know for sure what has happened between the unnamed wife and her sonata partner.

Janacek was attracted by the novella's dramatic urgency and emotional extremes, and he succeeded in rendering its narrative arc in a compelling series of musical events. Janacek was a pan-Slavist who looked to the east rather than to ­Austro-German models for inspiration. In his string quartets, it is not easy to find traditional structures like the sonata form, variations or rondo – continual development might be an apt way to characterize his compositional procedure. The music seems to be in a state of turbulent flux. Frequent reiterations of propulsive rhythms generate tremendous intensity; his melodies have a speech-like, often declamatory quality, expressing pathos and ecstasy with equal fervor. His sonic palette is enormous; at climactic moments, the collective sound of the quartet far exceeds what one might have expected from four string instruments. This quartet, which was composed in only a week, Oct 30 – Nov. 7, 1923 was by no means Janacek’s only attempt to create a work inspired by Tolstoy’s story. Two lost works; three movements of a string quartet dating from 1880, and a Piano Trio dating from 1908 were also based on the story. It is said that some of the material from the lost Piano Trio was used in the String Quartet No.1.

Janacek's String Quartet No. 2 "Intimate Letters", is also full of extra-musical references, in this case of the most personal and passionate, indeed bordering on obsession. There are a series of passionate letters (around 973 of them!!) the 73-year-old composer wrote to a much younger married woman, Kamila Stösslová. She and her husband were friends of his. Kamila was apparently indifferent to his love for her, as well as towards the music that was solely inspired by her and Janacek's intense feelings and longing for her. Perhaps she was at least flattered, who knows. In a letter to Kamila written in October 1924, Janacek shed some light on his concern for women's rights and more importantly, on his First ­Quartet: "What I had in mind was the suffering of a woman, beaten and tortured to death, about whom the Russian author Tolstoy writes in his Kreutzer Sonata.") But in response to another letter, written after the Second Quartet was completed, in which Janacek confided that the third movement was a musical rendering of his wish that "she would bear a child of his",  one can only imagine what she might have thought: a 1920s Czech equivalent of "tmi"/too much information" as people use frequently today. In any event Kamila Stösslová became the composer's muse, and despite her rejection Janacek's love for her seemed inextinguishable. I think all listeners will "feel" in the music to some degree a real sense of Janacek's overwhelming passion and love unrealized.   

The Sonata for Violin and Piano and Pohadka for Cello and Piano are also two wonderfully crafted chamber works, both quite memorable and further display Janacek's entirely unique voice and the ahead-of-it's-time musical ideas that pour forth. Enjoy!


Leoš Janáček - Piano Music Volume 2 (plus the Concerto for Piano, Two Violins, Viola, Clarinet and Horn) - Thomas Hlawatsch

On Volume 2 we get more of Janacek's beautiful and simply enchanting piano music; in fact I much prefer this volume, as "In The Mist", "Three Moravian Dances" and "Variations for Zdenka" are among my favorite of his piano works. The two miniatures on the disc are really charming also. This is all around a more lively, colorful, and intriguing experience imo, while the "Along an Overgrown Path" Books are much more contemplative, quiet works full of varying moods-they are great works however and I love them as well. 

And then the disc closes with Janacek's "Concerto for Piano, Two Horns, Viola, Clarinet and Horn" from 1925. Oh how I love this piece; it's a wonderful "weirdo" of an Opus (**the programme speaks of people, I assume Janacek-blocking the entrance to a hedge-hog's house in a linden tree..making the hedge-hog "beside itself with anger!". -Can you say nutcase? the most glorious way of course!!) there's humor, odd little dances, a certain skittering nervousness here and never knows what is around the auditory corner! That Janacek penned music like this in 1925 is only that much more impressive. Enjoy!

Leoš Janáček - Piano Music Volume 1 - Thomas Hlawatsch, Piano

Janacek (1854-1928) has always been one of my favorite composers; really I think it's impossible to find music that he wrote that is not interesting, memorable, and extremely well-written. And, especially in the last few decades of his life, it is hard to find music of Janacek that, happily, is not extremely idiosyncratic, and highly original. Until 1895 he devoted himself mainly to folkloristic research and his early musical output was influenced by contemporaries such as Antonin Dvorak, whom he became friends with in 1874. Early on Janacek composed in a more traditional style, one can find the romanticism of Dvorak never too far away-however as time went by his later, mature works incorporated his earlier studies of national folk music in a modern, highly original synthesis.
I think it's music that Dvorak might have written if- he lived longer and- was a total nutcase. Ok, not really perhaps but my point again is that Janacek's music goes from an early rather conservative style although with a rustic, Moravian/Slovak character..and then we get wonderfully eccentric music based on his prior ethnic musical studies, including his musical assimilation of the rhythm, pitch contour and inflections of normal Czech speech (this helped create the very distinctive vocal melodies of his opera Jenůfa (1904), whose 1916 success in Prague was to be the turning point in his career.) In Jenůfa, Janáček developed and applied the concept of “speech tunes” to build a unique musical and dramatic style, and this too inspired most of his output (his great Operas especially) from that point forward. 

His later works are indeed his most celebrated. They include other operas operas (such as Káťa Kabanová and The Cunning Little Vixen), the fantastic "Sinfonietta", the "Glagolitic Mass", the rhapsody "Taras Bulba", "The Fiddler's Child" etc., important choral works, two *perfect* string quartets, instrumental and other chamber works. I adore all of Janacek's music although at times I find myself gravitating to his chamber music most of all. Janacek was one of the greatest Czech composers, but as with much of what I wrote above- I'm pretty sure that most visitors already know this! 

There are interesting stories surrounding most of Janacek's piano music, however I doubt people want to keep on reading ;) The Naxos liner notes (pdf) mentions this but not in great detail. Perhaps I'll write about this and "pdf" it in the near future. Enjoy

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Alan Hovhaness - Symphony for Metal Orchestra (No. 17) - Kohar - Khrimian Harig - Psalm & Fugue - The Holy City

Here's a great Hovhaness disc from 1995 on Koch Classics. Koch put out several fantastic Hovhaness discs over the years and I'm extremely fond of them all.

The "Symphony for Metal Orchestra/Of Metal Instruments" (the seventeenth of Hovhaness’s 67 symphonies) was composed in 1963 shortly after a visit to Japan. Scored for the singular combination of six flutes, three trombones and metallic percussion, its four contemplative movements incorporate elements of Japanese gagaku music (which the composer describes as “the earliest orchestral music we know; it came from China and Korea in the 700s”) together with sounds inspired by the Sho (a Japanese mouth-organ, here imitated by the flutes). It's a mystical journey similar in some ways (for example, the tintinnabulation sections of metal percussion which can suggest floating through space) to Hovhaness's Vishnu Symphony, or his Symphonies for Band (such as "Star Dawn"). The trombone glissandi might remind seasoned listeners of Hovhaness's "Mountains and Rivers Without End" especially.

"The Holy City" is a highly evocative, nine-and-a-half-minute essay for trumpet, harp, chimes and strings dating from 1967 and full of atmospheric sonorities. Chris Gekker is the superb trumpet soloist both here and in the serene, yet deceptively purposeful "Khrimian Hairig" (composed in 1944 and revised four years later), which takes its name from “a heroic Armenian priest” who helped to shelter the Armenian people from persecution. The glowing string textures in the "Psalm and Fugue" (1941) cast quite a spell, as do the hypnotic, mantra-like melodic lines of the rarity "Kohar" (1946), another Armenian-inspired creation, scored for flute, cor anglais, timpani and strings. "Psalm and Fugue" is also featured on the American Masters III disc (Dello Joio, Hovhaness, Arnold Rosner)
that I posted. The version on the AM III is even more effective sonically.

Richard Auldon Clark and his New York group give outstandingly sympathetic performances. I wish these forces still recorded AH's these days..  Enjoy.


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Arnold Rosner - Lester Trimble - Irwin Swack - "A Second Trio of (String) Quartets" - The Alorian, Ondine, and Sierra Quartets -Opus One Records

Needless to say at this point I bought this disc years ago for Rosner's String Quartet No. 4. The other two composers were completely new to me at the time. This was the first recording of any of Rosner's String Quartets, until the priceless disc on Albany records featuring three other of Rosner's Quartets.

Rosner is at his most prickly in the Fourth Quartet with his accustomed fastidious expression and tragic inclination here magnified by highly intense drama. This piece ties in with his much later opera Chronicle of Nine. Stylistic alliances flit briefly across the auditory horizon: Shostakovich in his later quartets, Bartók and even RVW’s Tallis. The other two Quartets are good, however I confess I find the Rosner Quartet alone the reason to own this collection if one is interested in fantastic late 20th century Quartets.

Of his Fourth Quartet Rosner has written:

"Several simple observations may guide the listener in this work: 1) The language is largely chromatic but based on consonant harmonies. However, these harmonies are intensified either by major/minor effects or by moving or overlapping voices, such that purely resolved sounds occupy less than a majority of the total time. (Wagner applies this technique to more tonal vocabularies) The overlapping voice activity is probably foremost in the second movement, which draws most of its power from it. 2) Each of the movements uses, or perhaps I should say abuses, an archaic structure - French Overture, Isorhythmic Motet and Passacaglia, respectively. While a purist may argue with my treatment of each, this is not the only time I have employed any of them though it is my only work in which all the movements are in very old forms. In examples among the recorded repertoire, passacaglias can be found in my Horn Sonata, and Musique de Clavecin and a French Overture in my Concerto Grosso No. 1. I find there is a certain tautness and a tragic import implicit in these designs. 3) After the initial measures of triple forte Grave, the speeds of the movements are, simply: fast, moderate, slow. One would hardly expect this to be unique, but I find myself hard pressed to think of other examples, though schemes with emphasis on slow, unquiet denouements can be found in Berg's Lyric Suite, Bartok's 2nd and 6th Quartets, or any of several late Quartets of Shostakovich" 

The Trimble work has a much higher incidence of dissonance than the Rosner. A pupil of Copland, Honegger and Milhaud, he seems to have gone down the road of Copland’s Piano Fantasy. An intriguing piece but decidedly thorny. Irwin Swack was a pupil of Vittorio Giannini (always a promising connection) and he seems to have been drawn to the music of Shostakovich and Bartók. These voices and the deftly astringent lyricism of the Berg Violin Concerto have each infused the horizontal and vertical grid of this music. He is most assuredly of a romantic inclination. 

Each of the three works are performed by a different quartet String Quartet. 

*Annoyingly the three quartets are recorded in single movements (three tracks on the disc) which doesn't effect the listening pleasure really but I never understand such a choice when a disc is being mastered or edited. Thus I will list the movements below:

Arnold Rosner - String Quartet No.1 (1972)
1. Overture
2. Isorhythmic Motet
3. Passacaglia

Lester Trimble - String Quartet No. 1 (1950)
1. Vivace
2. Andante
3. Vivace

Irwin Swack - String Quartet No. 4 (in one movement) (1986-1990)

Monday, October 20, 2014

Happy 140th Birthday, Charles Ives - Symphony No. 2 - Robert Browning Overture

The American master and trailblazer Charles Ives was born 140 years ago, October 20th. This Naxos disc from 2000 won much critical acclaim and it is easy to see/hear why. I figured it would be nice to offer one of his Symphonies and an Orchestral work that is not heard as much as some others (The Unanswered Question, Central Park In The Dark, Three Places In New England etc..). 

The Robert Browning Overture is unlike any other work in the Ives canon. It is a densely dissonant, almost expressionistic work. Rather than employing Ives' characteristic "layered" dissonance, the piece seems to progress in a manner more like works such as "Men and Mountains" or "Sun Treader" by Ives' friend Carl Ruggles.

In many regards, the Symphony No. 2 represents the pinnacle of Ives' success as a respectable composer. By "respectable," in this symphony Ives was working within the confines of a clearly defined formal tradition. More broadly speaking, by "respectable" it is also meant that this work sounds more acceptable to folks regularly listen to Romantic composers like Brahms, Dvorak, and Tchaikovsky. In fact, people who usually don't like Three Places in New England-much less the Fourth Symphony-often point to the Second and hold it up as something a bit more palatable--Ives without the cranky eccentricities.

Later in his life, Ives regarded the symphony as one of his "soft" works, because it lacks many of the dissonant and rhapsodic characteristics that appear in his later works. But that attitude sells the work short. Keep in mind that Ives probably began the work while he was still at Yale! So, it is not a work of his full maturity. Sure, Ives doesn't try to scale the transcendent heights and catch a glimpse of the divine like he does so often later, but it's still a fascinating work. Don't forget too: Many of the original features of Ives' later and best works are already in full display by the time he composed the Second. Enjoy..

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Joseph Jongen - Music for Flute

The Belgian composer Joseph Jongen is another one of my (endless string of) favorite composers. His music is alway quirky, always a pleasure to listen to and a deeply rewarding experience for me,
not unlike how I feel about the music of Charles Koechlin (there some similarities to be found). I especially love his chamber music, however all of his music is worth getting well acquainted with.
Some of his most popular/greatest music (besides his chamber, organ, and solo piano music) include the "Symphony concertante for Organ and Orchestra", the "Mass for Choir, Organ and Brass", "Hymne for Organ and Orchestra", "Concerto for Harp", "Alleluia for Organ and Orchestra",  and "Danse Lente pour Flute et Harpe" (which is on this Naxos disc). Really all of his music, for me anyhow, can be bought blindly without hearing or having prior knowledge of; I urge everyone to do so. This disc of his music for flute with other instruments is imo an ethereal experience; then again I am extremely partial to flute chamber music!

Here's a general bio:

Born: December 14, 1873; Liège, Belgium Died: July 12, 1953; Sart-lez-Spa 

Joseph Jongen owes his fame almost entirely to the audiophile market; every innovation in recording technology brings a handful of releases of his extravagantly scored and generously melodic Symphonie concertante for organ and orchestra (1926). Little do audiophiles suspect that Jongen was a prolific and able composer in many genres, particularly but not exclusively in the field of organ music. 

At age 7, Jongen entered the Liège Conservatory; it wasn't until he was 19 that he joined a locally important organ class, but within four years he was winning the highest honors for his playing. Simultaneously, he was making a name for himself as a composer; a string quartet of his won first prize in the 1894 Royal Academy of Belgium competition, and his cantata Comala brought him the Prix de Rome in 1897. 

During the 1890s Jongen served as organist at churches in Liège, but at the turn of the century he also found time to embark on a four-year tour of Europe. During this period he took composition lessons from Richard Strauss, and met Gabriel Fauré and Vincent d'Indy, becoming thoroughly familiar with the Schola Cantorum's educational setup in Paris. 

Jongen settled in Brussels in 1905, teaching at the Scola Musicae, the Belgian equivalent of the Schola Cantorum, while commuting to the Liège Conservatory. World War I drove Jongen and his family to the safety of England, where he formed the Belgian (Piano) Quartet. The end of hostilities allowed Jongen to return to Belgium, where he began teaching at the Brussels Conservatory and in 1925 became its director. He simultaneously directed two concert series in Brussels and tutored Princess Marie-José in harmony. After his retirement in 1939 he devoted himself to composing and designing an organ for Belgian Radio. 

Jongen's musical style is difficult to classify. It is richly romantic, though Jongen drew inspiration as much from such early figures as Mendelssohn and Chopin as from such later stalwarts as Wagner and Franck. He was a superb colorist, especially in his chamber music, showing more than a little influence of Debussy's Impressionism. Ultimately, despite the late, mild influence of Stravinsky, he seemed most aligned with the aesthetics of Fauré, although Jongen was fonder than his predecessor of the grand gesture. His works, in addition to the Symphonie concertante, include several large organ compositions, most notably the Sonata eroïca, as well as a great deal of chamber music, concertos, and songs.

Geirr Tveitt - In Memoriam - Born today, October 19th 1908 (d. 1981) - Concertos for Hardanger Fiddle - Nykken, Symphonic Painting

I like the idea of birthday and memorial posts, although with so many glorious composers sometimes it's hard to remember the dates! (Nils) Geirr Tveitt was an important Norwegian composer and a celebrated figure in Norwegian musical life (especially due to his intense, life-long interest in the folk musics of Norway and Norse legends) He was an extremely prolific composer, but tragically 80% of his entire output was destroyed in a fire in the year 1970. Most of Tveitt's unstoppable need to create and compose was also "destroyed", emotionally arid was he after the massive loss (such tragedy must be a "cosmic" and soul-sucking loss for any artist I imagine). The music that survives is to be cherished needless to say, as it is of such high quality. Geirr Tveitt was full of endless invention and musical joie de vivre. His Concertos for Hardanger Fiddle seem the perfect experiences to celebrate his life.

The Hardanger fiddle resembles its ancestor the viola d'amore in that it has a course of resonating strings under the fingerboard, and this gives the otherwise thin-toned instrument a certain huskiness that sounds oddly compelling. Tveitt composed two terrific concertos for this folk fiddle. The first, dating from 1955, is quite a substantial piece (nearly half an hour long), and as might be expected the music takes traditional Norwegian melodies as its starting point-but like Bartók, Tveitt integrates the idiom into a contemporary musical language. It's a lovely work, one that consistently engages the ear and skillfully contrasts solo episodes with evocative and powerful passages for full orchestra. The second concerto, from a decade later, has three movements named for three famous fjords. Tveitt marks the slow movement "Danza determinata e lenta", and "determined" is the quality that comes most readily to mind in this compact (less than 20 minutes), tuneful, and purposeful piece.
Nykken, subtitled a "symphonic painting for orchestra", tells the story of a mischievous water sprite who takes the form of a white horse, lures a young man onto its back, and then takes him on a wild ride that culminates in a deadly plunge back into its native pond. The music is extremely colorful and quite graphic, making the story easy to follow and one heck of a good time too. Enjoy!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Moishei Vainberg - Yuri Levitin - Cello Concertos - Russian Disc 'Viae Intactae' Series

This is a fantastic performance of Vainberg's (Weinberg) Cello Concerto, as well as his "Fantasy for Cello and Orchestra". I think it's my favorite actually. Then we have a Concerto by Yuri Levitin (1912-1996), a curiosity especially as he's rather unknown and there are very few recordings of his music. Levitin's Concerto is not of the same quality as the Vainberg, however it's worthwhile music and still a good listen..especially the 3rd final movement, where it really comes to life. Writing in Pravda in 1965, Yuri Levitin drew attention to a neglected "middle group" of composers stranded between the generation of Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Khachaturian, and Shebalin, and the young avant-garde (Denisov, Gubaidulina, Schnittke, Tishchenko, Eshpai, et al). Among those he listed, omitting himself, were Boris Tchaikovsky (b.1925) and Mieczyslaw (Moishei) Vainberg.

Vainberg's Cello Concerto is his most popular work in Russia, and enjoys many recordings and popularity in the West as well, deservedly so. It is melodious, dramatic, and instantly communicative, it possesses a richly soulful tragic-nostalgic main theme which recurs at key moments and guides the work to a moving diminuendo conclusion. The "Fantasy for Cello and Orchestra" too is a lovely work, the cello singing sweetly, dancing exuberantly, the orchestral writing rich and sumptuous. The second movement offers an exciting and playful conclusion. Vainberg/Weinberg is one of the finest composers of the 20th century and it's wonderful that his music has gained a lot of recognition and dozens of fine recordings over the last several years. I'm sure most people visiting are familiar with his music, however if not, if you are a fan of Shostakovich, you are sure to like/love Vainberg as well. Vainberg/Weinberg offers quite a bit more lyricism than the great DSCH much of the time, and his music should be thoroughly explored by anyone with an interest in 20th century Eastern European music. Enjoy.

Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov - Orchestral Music - Loris Tjeknavorian - Armenian Philharmonic Orchestra

To this day I do not understand why more of Ippolitov-Ivanov's music is not published and recorded;
his place in musical history is, needless to say, cemented almost exclusively by his two Suites "Caucasian Sketches". "Caucasian Sketches No. 1" is by far the better known, due to it's final movement, the stirring and triumphant "Procession of the Sardar". Indeed the 4th movement is simply ubiquitous, and loved by many-there are a ton of recordings/compilations that only include that excerpt of the Sketches Suite No. 1; if there's one thing I *really* get annoyed by it's excerpts!!! But alas that is Ippolitov-Ivanov's least with a general, non-specialist classical music audience, including at most the entire Suite No.1. 

His musical canon is not huge, however there's many works that are not available whatsoever (again one can just opt for one of the 10,000 recordings of Caucasian Sketches No. 1) such as: six Operas, at least five Orchestral Suites, (at least) ten misc. orchestral works, five (I think, maybe six?) works for Chorus and Orchestra, at least 20 Choral works, chamber music (including a String Quartet I have always wanted to hear, not available whatsoever) also a work for String Quartet on Armenian themes, "An Evening in Georgia", (which I posted a couple months ago) a Piano Quartet, and several others, and many songs. Two works that sounds especially intriguing are "Village Evenings: Fantasy on Themes for Balalaikas and Large Orchestra" and also "Nine Caucasian Dances for Georgian folk instruments and Performers". -From what I understand there's over 100 "opus numbers/works", actually 80 or so with numbers, and then 20 or so with no opus number. How wonderful and what a gift it would be if any of the works I mentioned would be recorded! (Naxos, we need you..)

The "Armenian Rhapsody" is based on authentic folk material collected by the Turkish-Armenian composer and ethnomusicologist Komitas Vardapet. Ippolitov-Ivanov makes atmospheric use of a solo violin in this seven-minute work, which I think is one of his best "ethnic" works available.

The "Turkish March" and "Turkish Fragments" come from 1929 and 1930, respectively. Like the Caucasian Sketches, both seem to have been written to appeal to a broad audience. For music written at that time, it is happily old-fashioned, but there's no denying that an expert melodist and orchestrator are at work here. Rimsky-Korsakov might have been a little jealous! The Turkish Fragments could achieve the popularity of "Procession of the Sardar" too, if given a chance.

(Perhaps now is a good time to mention that Ippolitov-Ivanov seemed to weather the Communist Revolution just fine. He ensured his welcome in the new regime with occasional pieces such as the "Jubilee March" named after Clement Voroshilov, a Ukrainian who modernized the Red Army. The march, which opens this CD, is jollier than one might expect for a display of military might.)

"Mtsïri" is the longest work on this CD. It is 20-minute tone poem that tells the story of a young lay brother who escapes his monastery and becomes lost in the forest. He meets a maiden and falls in love, and then is wounded by a tiger. He drags himself to a stream in hopes of reviving himself, but dies as he tells his story to a sympathetic monk. All this and more are depicted in the music, which is almost Lisztian. (Again, note that this work was composed as late as 1922.) Mtsïri reaches an emotional climax with a soprano solo – the song of a little fish who lives in the stream. The work has its longueurs, but it is worth waiting around for this inexpressibly limpid and lovely solo.

Also included is an aria from "Assya", Ippolitov-Ivanov's third opera. Simply gorgeous and there's no doubt about it: Ippolitov-Ivanov wrote masterfully for the voice too...yet not a single recorded Opera either, yet admirers can dream on. Enjoy

Ippolitov-Ivanov_ Orchestral_

Friday, October 17, 2014

César Cui - Suite Concertante for Violin and Orchestra - Suite Miniature - Suite "In Modo Populari" - Marco Polo

Here's another oldie from Marco Polo. In his four orchestral Suites César Cui demonstrates his ability in the handling of attractive smaller forms, belying contemporary accusations of lack of skill in orchestration. Suite No. 4 offers orchestral arrangements of piano pieces written originally for his Belgian patroness, the Countess of Mercy-Argenteau. The Suite concertante for violin and orchestra makes an unusual addition to solo violin repertoire.

César Cui, one of the group of five nationalist Russian composers of the second half of the 19th century known as the Mighty Handful or the Five, was the son of a French officer who had remained in Russia after the retreat of Napoleon in 1812. In common with other composers of his generation and background, he had a career apart from music, in his case as a professor at the Academy of Military Engineering, an expert in fortification. This did not prevent him from ambitious activity as a composer and an important career as a critic, often harsh and intolerant in his judgements. He is best known for his colourful short piano pieces.