Sunday, November 30, 2014

The NFB Horn Quartet - Jacques-Francois Gallay - Paul Hindemith - Jay Wadenpfuhl - Crystal Records 1989

This disc comes as a relief for anyone feeling horny (sorry, I'm immature) and has said horn music by Jacques-Francois Gallay (1795-1864), Paul Hindemith, and Jay Wadenpfuhl who happens to be one
of the members of the NFB Horn Quartet. This was an acquisition for the Hindemith Sonata.

Jaqcues-Francois Gallay was a virtuoso hornist and a composer of etudes and many other horn pieces that serve as part of contemporary horn player's daily bread. Gallay taught at the Paris Conservatoire and wrote dozens of exercises for his students, pieces that are still used today for improving flexibility and phrasing. Each of the horns in the "Grand Quartet" op. 26 is pitched in a different key. This was not a didactic move on Gallay's part; the only way he could write a work of such wide expressivity (by obtaining the number of pitches he desired) was to place each horn in a specific tonality. The work, in four movements, is dedicated to Rossini, whose operas Gallay played in the pit of the Theatre Italien. Musically, Rossini is very much in evidence in the "Grand Quartet" with it's soaring and graceful 'bel canto' lines and dramatic turns of phrases.

Paul Hindemith composed his "Sonata for Four Horns" in 1952, near the end of his 12-year tenure on the faculty at Yale University. The work is Hindemith's last major piece featuring the horn, having been preceded by a Horn Sonata (1939), Alto-Horn Sonata (1943 and also playable on the horn and alto saxophone), and a Horn Concerto (1949). As a former orchestra player (viola and violin) and sometimes hornist, Hindemith had gone out of his way to discover the tonal capabilities and and idiosyncracies of each orchestral instrument. He applied this knowledge in a specialized way to his many solo works for various instruments. Hindemith used several traditional forms (fugato, variations, recitative) with the variations of the third movement based on his own chorale theme "Ich schell mein Horn" (I sound my horn). The tonal style that Hindemith embraced during this period of his life finds especially rich utterance in the myriad horn sonorities woven throughout the sonata.

Jay Wadenpfuhl's "Tectonica for 8 Horns" makes somewhat dizzying demands of it's players and displays Wadenpfuhl's interest in jazz and Latin music. "Tectonica" is the Spanish word for tectonics, (plate tectonics) the geological term. "Large forces or masses represented as tonal centers interact, collide, transform and combine vertically and horizontally" says the composer. The basic motion of the piece, which employs the Lydian and Dorian modes, is from two notes to four notes to six notes. Once the work's bitonality and modality have been sorted out, the horns are sent on an upbeat excursion of running sixteenth notes guided by a Latin rhythm. I have to say I like how the final section, perhaps 30 seconds or so, abruptly incorporates percussion (similar to a salsa orchestra or a Latin/jazz ensemble) as I think it makes the work memorable. 

Track list:

Jaqcues-Francois Gallay "Grand Quartet" (21:51)

1) Allegro con brio (6:55)
2) Andante con moto (6:38)
3) Scherzo-Trio (3:38)
4) Finale:Vivace (4:29)

Paul Hindemith "Sonata for Four Horns" (15:10)

5) Fugato (2:02)
6) Lebhaft (4:24)
7) Variationen (8:37)

Jay Wadenpfuhl

8) "Tectonica" for Eight Horns (5:31)

Today's Birthday #2 - Sergei Lyapunov - Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 2 - Rhapsody on Ukrainian Themes - BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Martyn Brabbins, Hamish Milne, Piano

I wish I could get to all the birthdays today but there's many, thus onto "the list" of (recent) birthdays they shall go, as soon-to-be-posted belated bday posts. I still haven't gotten around to some major ones like Benjamin Britten, Obrecht, Meredith Monk (one of my absolute favorites..), Joaquin Rodrigo, Krzysztof Penderecki, Manuel de Falla, Andre Caplet...and others...I feel tired just thinking of it!

Sergei Lyapunov was born today November 30, 1859 and died in 1924 (I'm usually very good with exact dates but I confess I don't recall off-hand the month or day he passed). Lyapunov is one of Russian music's more puzzling figures. A pupil of Taneyev and Tchaikovsky in Moscow, he eventually gravitated towards the nationalist circles around Balakirev in St Petersburg.

Balakirev who at the time was the only professional musician in the group, would remain an important influence on Lyapunov. Despite this, the young composer, having been exposed to the rigors of conservatory schooling, found the others’ dilettantism distasteful and ultimately limiting; thus, he fell in with the so-called 'Belyayev crowd', a society of Russian musicians who met in St. Petersburg between 1885 and 1908, and whose members included Glazunov, Liadov, and Rimsky-Korsakov. The latter distanced himself from the Mighty Five after he became professor of harmony, composition, and orchestration at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. Like the Mighty Five, the Belyayev composers also believed in cultivating a native Russian music, but they differed by embracing the requirement for a Western-styled academic education and by being more receptive to the Western-oriented cosmopolitan model of Tchaikovsky. These ideas were largely disseminated by Rimsky-Korsakov through his many students, including Prokofiev, Stravinsky, and Respighi.

For Lyapunov, the Belyayev philosophy presented the best of both worlds: music of a Russian bent wedded to a solid grounding in Western harmonic and contrapuntal practices. In a way, Lyapunov, along with Alexander Kopylov (1854–1911), another Belyayev member, Moszkowski (1859–1925), and Ippolitov-Ivanov (1859–1935), were the link between Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov on one side, and the three G's - Gretchaninov, Glazunov, and Glière - and Rachmaninov on the other. 

The Piano concertos are both lush, lovely creations, with No.1 being mostly unknown (this was it's premiere recording) however with more recordings such as the Naxos disc (which, incidentally has an identical program to this Hyperion disc) surfacing it seems Lyapunov's concertos are getting more visibility in general.

The "Rhapsody on Ukrainian Themes" is extremely complimentary to the two concertos on the disc, again romantic and full of might feel slightly "lushed-out" by the end of the disc but imo with the occasional listen, it's still worth it.

Today's Birthday - Charles Alkan (b. November 30, 1813, d. March 29, 1888) - Piano Music, Volume 1 - Bernard Ringeissen

There are several notable birthdays today, and perhaps the most important is Charles-Valetin Alkan. A brilliant composer of music mostly for the piano, Alkan was also an amazing virtuoso pianist on the level of Chopin and Liszt, both of whom were friends and colleagues. Alkan was quite the child prodigy-he entered the Conservatoire de Paris at an unusually early age, 5 months *before* his 6th birthday and while there studied both piano and organ.  Much of his music requires extreme technical virtuosity, clearly reflecting his own abilities, and often calling for great velocity, enormous leaps in speed, long stretches of fast repeated notes, and the maintenance of widely-spaced contrapuntal lines.
Few performers care to attempt the difficulties of the Alkanian oeuvre in public, though some display their uncommon prowess by means of his works. The name of Alkan even now remains one capable of engendering vigorous debate in musical circles. 

Alkan's performing career was punctuated with long withdrawals from public performance, and from 1848 he began to adopt a reclusive life style, while continuing to compose. He was considered something of an 'eccentric', and sadly spent much time over the years battling depression, which was followed periodically, and happily, with sunnier moods. During this period he published, amongst other works, his collections of large-scale studies in all the major keys (Op. 35) and all the minor keys (Op. 39). The latter includes his "Symphony for Solo Piano" (Op. 39, nos. 4–7) and Concerto for Solo Piano (Op. 39, nos. 8–10) which are often considered among his masterpieces and are of great musical and technical complexity. Alkan was a fascinating and mysterious figure and armed with his key instrument, the piano, he sought incessantly to transcend its inherent technical limits, remaining apparently insensible to the restrictions which had withheld more restrained composers. 

I'm adding both covers because I own both the Naxos and the original Marco Polo; the Naxos purchase was, like several others over the years, because I forgot I already had the original. I'm also posting both I suppose, because I'm ocd, especially when it comes to music collecting (surprise, surprise!) 


Saturday, November 29, 2014

Work for 2 Pianos - Germaine Tailleferre - Francis Poulenc - Randall Snyder - Orchestre du Conservatoire du Centre de Paris, Clinton-Narboni Duo - Elan Recordings 1998

I have always thoroughly enjoyed the music of the enigmatic French composer Germaine Tailleferre and bought this disc specifically for her Concerto Grosso, which is a world premiere. When I purchased years ago a disc on Koch Classics called "The Women's" I was immediately in love discovering Tailleferres's music; this first experience was the absolutely delightful "Concertino for Harp and Orchestra", still a favorite concertante work of mine. 

Germaine Tailleferre (1892-1983) was the only female member of "Les Six" and the most mysterious of the group (the others of course being Francis Poulenc, Arthur Honegger, Darius Milhaud, George Auric, and Louis Durey). Her compositional style, and this can be said of "Les Six" is general-can be described as cheerful, lighthearted, optimistic and filled with bright harmonies and rhythms. Their sunny musical personalities represented a notable departure from the prevailing misty sonorities of the Impressionistic composers or the heavy Germanic influences of Wagnerian romanticism. Indeed much of the music succeeds in being childlike in it's simplicity while maintaining a French sophistication and insouciance. Tailleferre's "Concerto Grosso for 2 Pianos, Singers, Saxophones and Orchestra" is a lovely but also oddball work (the forces used especially the wordless voices sums it all up I think). Paying stylistic homage to the Baroque, the Concerto is in three movements. The pianos provide the rhythmic drive throughout the work and in certain passages one can detect the neoclassical influences of Stravinsky, a close friend of Tailleferre. The wordless voices are treated like additional instruments of the orchestra. The inclusion of a Persian folksong and the absence of upper strings give the second movement a  somewhat sombre quality. Drawing on her prowess in contrapuntal writing, the finale is a fugato which concludes with a dramatic cadenza for unaccompanied voices. I am always hoping to hear many more works by Tailleferre, her legacy includes over 300(!) compositions for orchestra, voice, piano, chamber ensemble, ballet, opera and film. A side note, "Les Six" was a name given to the group by Satie and Cocteau. 

Randall Snyder was completely new to me. "Double" for 2 Pianos and Orchestra" has two movements that are diametrically opposed with regard to their compositional style and role of the piano soloists. In movement I, 'Episodes', the pianos generally provide supporting roles to the orchestral ensemble. This movement suggestive of a cliff-hanger serial from the 1930's, continuously evolves a musical narrative with a sequnce of 5 sections . There is a quiet impressionistic mood but things change with a scherzo-like episode building with ever-increasing energy to a frenetic climax, and ultimately the music conjures up the atmosphere of the opening, however with practically no recapitulation at all. In the second movement "Schubertpath", the pianos no longer function as as accompanists, but rather as "competing" soloists. A strict tempo is maintained throughout the movement, which gets it's inspiration from the harmonic and rhythmic framework of Schubert's 1827 choral work "Standchen" (not to be confused with his popular lied of the same title). "Double" was composed for this recording and has a certain Gallic transparency that compliments the other two works on the disc I think. This also is a world premiere. 

The wonderful Poulenc "Concerto for 2 Pianos and Orchestra" needs little introduction. (Btw I find Poulenc's chamber music to be some of the finest of the 20th century, anyone agree here??) Jumping ahead to when he was 20 years old, Poulenc's formal training began with Charles Koechlin and and lasted for three years. His creative style (which combines classical clarity with the spirit and sounds of Parisian street life) placed him at the center of the new French musical tastes and made him a natural choice for inclusion, by Cocteau, in "Les Six". Throughout his life, Poulenc's music remained unmistakably unique, even as he venerated many traditional and contemporary composers, including Mozart, Scarlatti, Tchaikovsky, Bartok, and Stravinsky. Poulenc's Concerto has sparkling humor, and kaleidoscopic melodies ranging from tender to to brilliant. One of his masterpieces imo.

Track list:

Germaine Taileferre "Concerto Grosso for 2 Pianos, Singers, Saxophones, and Orchestra" (17:59)

1) Allegro (7:42)
2) Larghetto (5:37)
3) Allegro Maestoso (4:40)

Randall Snyder (b. 1944) "Double for 2 Pianos and Orchestra" (16:25)

4) Episodes
5) Schubertpath

Francis Poulenc "Concerto in D minor for 2 Pianos and Orchestra" (18:26)

6) Allegro ma non troppo
7) Larghetto
8) Finale. Allegro molto


Friday, November 28, 2014

Dmitri Shostakovich - String Quartets Nos. 6 * 7 * 8 - The Manhattan String Quartet - ESS.A.Y Recordings 1990

The Manhattan String Quartet's Shostakovich Quartet cycle is one of my favorites, and oh I have several thousand favorites (ok not really). The Manhattan String Quartet recordings are very crisp and present, and they are more than able to convey the requisite brutality and beauty of the 20th century's
most important String Quartets. The Manhattan Quartet was able to gain advice from members of the Borodin Quartet, so they have rich connections to the very source of this music. And it shows brilliantly I think. The ubiquitous 8th Quartet is indeed almost perfect here. Enjoy..

String Quartet # 6 in G, op. 101 (1956)
1. Allegretto
2. Moderato Con Moto
3. Lento
4. Allegretto

String Quartet # 7 in F, op. 108 (1960)
5. Allegretto
6. Lento
7. Allegro-Allegretto

String Quartet # 8 in C op. 110 (1960)
8. Largo
9. Allegro Molto
10. Allegretto
11. Largo
12. Largo

Alan Hovhaness - "Hercules" for Soprano and Violin, Op. 56 no. 3

Here's a real Hovhaness rarity, "Hercules", for Soprano and Violin. I don't recall if this is the version from the rare disc called "Songs my father taught me" or if I acquired it from Arnold Rosner or someone else's private recording. I have a lot of rare unavailable Hovhaness on cassette, however no way to transfer any of it currently. 



Moonchild's Dream: Music for Recorder - Thomas Koppel - Vagn Holmboe - Gary Kulesha - Asger Lund Christiansen - Malcolm Arnold - English Chamber Orchestra Michala Petri, Recorder

Michala Petri commissioned all five of these concertante works, and she firmly planted her flag on new territory with these recordings. Fellow Dane Vagn Holmboe wrote his concerto for Petri in 1974, when she was still in her teens, Arnold's concerto was completed in 1988, and the remaining three works were written in the 1990s. When released in 1995, everything on this disc was a world premiere recording. Since that time the title work "Moonchild's Dream" has received a second recording (again with Petri on recorder, actually), as well as the Vagn Holmboe concerto which can be found on a BIS disc as well. The other works, I believe, are still the only available recordings (including the Malcolm Arnold surprisingly; his earlier Recorder Concerto opus 41a, has been recorded a couple times-including on an Olympia disc I posted last month-but this Recorder Concerto, which is his opus 133-seems to only be available on this RCA disc).

Thomas Koppel's "Moonchild's Dream" is a one-movement concerto for recorder and orchestra. The composer imagined a waif-like girl in the slums of Copenhagen, full of hopes and fears, and being turned, at least for a night, into a fairy princess through her imagination. The music captures (or at least is supposed to) both the harshness of her reality and the magic and fantasy of her transcendence. 
Vagn Holmboe's "Concerto for Recorder, String Orchestra, Celeste and Vibraphone" opus 122 is the reason that I bought this disc way back when, along with the Arnold concerto. Upbeat and incisive, the concerto was written for Petri in 1974 and substitutes athletic energy for more romantic leanings in a most distinctive manner. In the brisk outer movements, vibraphone, celeste and soprano recorder form a separate instrumental group, reacting with the orchestral strings like a Bach concertino in a work whose behavior is otherwise thoroughly modern. In the atmospheric 'Andante e quieto', alto recorder and vibraphone weave lucid counterpoint in a texture akin to chamber music. In the finale, the tiny sopranino adds a timbre as pure and ethereal as larksong to the novel tone-color of the modern instruments; in one haunting passage, the soloist accompanies herself with a melody sung through the recorder.   

The "Concerto for Recorder and Small Orchestra" by Gary Kulesha also requires vocalization through the recorder. In addition, stylized glissandi in the first movement suggest the influence of other recorder-like instruments such as the shakuhachi, the Japanese end-blown flute. Thrusting and restless, Kulesha's concerto begins with a stern passacaglia in which cellos and basses repeat a short, trenchant figure against longer, hypnotic phrases for the soloist, harpsichord, and marimba, building inexorably to a climax in which tensions are dispersed, yet left unresolved. The slow movement adds further suspense; though the central event is a radiant episode for consoling alto recorder and high strings, a prelude of dark recitatives and a throbbing conclusion of repeated notes on the viola maintain a hostile agenda that can be answered only in the violence of the finale. Briefly calming the tempest, frantic sopranino and brittle marimba race to a cadenza. The ending reviews the opening bars of the concerto, but they remain no less enigmatic than when they were heard the first time. 
This is good stuff imo...

In contrast, the five miniatures of Asger Lund Christiansen's "Dance Suite" opus 29  confine the soloist to the soprano recorder while transposing modern idioms to the suite forms of the 18th century. A genuine bridge between old and new styles, the work shines with wit and elegance. It also absorbs the influence of Danish folk music, heard most distinctly in the violin duet of the third piece. Charming it is.. This suite is one of many works by Christiansen written for Michala Petri.

Malcolm Arnold's compositions for the present soloist include an unaccompanied 'Fantasy' as well as the 1988 Recorder Concerto, a brilliant example of the many such showcase works he has written for a notable list of fine executants. An orchestra of horns, strings, and oboes balances the sound of soprano recorder in the outer movements, and sopranino in the nostalgic 'Lento'. Though Arnold mysteriously describes the first movement as being "in sonata form, with very special bits for Michala", all the material seems to bear the hallmarks of his own ebullient personality. Jester, poet and acrobat by turns, the recorder shows it's mastery of situations in a perfectly crafted solo part. Fizzing with arpeggios, the concerto's last movement, a riotous gigue, brings the concerto to a high-spirited conclusion. Enjoy..........

Roy Harris - Folksong Symphony - Paul Creston - Gregorian Chant for String Orchestra - Vanguard Classics (remastered 1993)

Why have just one late post when you can also can have a second? I figured I should post at least one
"American" music disc, after all it was (well, 3 hours earlier anyhow) Thanksgiving here in the states. I'm not a fan of the holiday, other then the food that is. It's wonderful when you are a child taking in the sights and scents and sounds, but wholly different I feel as an adult; it's a misguided holiday, one only needs an inkling of history to grasp this. Ok moving along.... music :)

Perhaps the most obvious post would have been anything by the most American of American masters, Aaron Copland. (my favorite Copland work has always been the music for "Our Town", it's just so very tender, poignant and beautiful) However Roy Harris's "Folksong Symphony" (Symphony No. 4) is ridiculously "American", with civil war tunes (When Johnny Comes Marching Home, The Girl I Left Behind Me), lonesome prairie songs (Bury Me Not On The Lone Prairie, He's Gone Away) and the negro folk spiritual "De Trumpet Sounds It In My Soul"  ("Negro Fantasy" is the actual title Harris has given the movement) which is my favorite section. Roy Harris (1898-1979) was born on Abraham Lincoln's birthday in Lincoln County, Oklahoma, a coincidence that impressed him to such an extent that the "shadow of Abe Lincoln" became the inspiration for much of his music. His father was a farmer who moved the family to California when Roy was still a child. By the time he was 18, Roy Harris had a farm of his own, shortly before he enlisted for WW 1. It was only after the war that he enrolled as a music student at the University of California, driving a dairy cart to cover his expenses. His music is profoundly American. His style is so subjective, though, that when he makes use of actual American folk tunes in the symphony, the material acquires his personal imprint. 

Harris commented "The moods which seem particularly American to me are the noisy ribaldry, the sadness, a groping earnestness... Our rhythmic impulses are fundamentally different from the rhythmic impulses of the Europeans; and from this unique rhythmic sense are generated different melodic and formal values... An asymmetrical balancing of rhythmic phrases is in our blood" The Folksong Symphony was Harris's Fourth, and the only one with chorus. It's material is drawn from the anthology by John A. Lomax and Alan Lomax, Cowboy songs and other Frontier Ballads, and from the The American Songbag by Carl Sandburg. Harris first named the symphony "Folksong Jamboree" but his publisher (G. Schirmer) said the title was too self-consciously folksy, and suggested the less florid "Folksong Symphony". The work was premiered under Howard Hanson in Rochester, NY on April 26, 1940. Harris soon added two orchestral preludes to give the singers rest as the chorus is engaged rather heavily. It was performed in it's expanded version by December of that year with the Cleveland Orchestra, Rudolph Ringwall conducting, and two months later Serge Koussevitzky and the Boston Symphony performed it. On New Year's Eve, 1942, the New York Philharmonic, Dmitri Mitropoulus and a chorus of several hundred NYC high school students performed it; the concert was taped and broadcast later to American troops in North Africa during WW 2. 

*Roy Harris contributed his own comments concerning the circumstances of the composition of the symphony, also including information on each movement and the particular songs and tunes used; I don't know if anyone is interested, but I will type out these notes if anyone wants them.  

Paul Creston (1906-1985) was born of immigrant Italian parents and rose from obscurity to become a prominent American composer. His many compositions include works for orchestra, voice, and chamber ensembles. The National Symphony premiered several of his symphonies and the Houston Ballet choreographed his Marimba Concertino, among other premieres by important American musicians and orchestras.

While the Harris symphony is pure Americana (perhaps with a bit of 'Ameri-corny' here and there),
Paul Creston's "Gregorian Chant for String Orchestra" is a quite different affair, with a lyrical beauty not unlike Vaughan William's Tallis Fantasia, but based on the Gregorian modes of pitch organization. The strings surge, they rise and fall, with lovely responsory creating what I think of as a majestic cathedral of sound. It's the Creston work in particular (I don't believe it has ever received a second recording, and it's doubtful that there's been any performances either sadly) that it easily worth the price of admission imo. Enjoy....

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Today's Birthday: Charles Koechlin (b. November 27, 1867 d. December 31, 1950) - Quintettes

It is 1:30 am, so technically I have "missed" a proper Koechlin birthday post by over one hour :-o (how could I, yes I know..) I do believe the music will make up for my irresponsible behavior however.

The lovely "Primavera Quintet" for flute, harp and strings Op.156 opens with immediate lift into the airiest tissue of childlike charm and happiness sustained through its four movements, making the strongest possible contrast with the earlier Piano Quintet, Op. 80, that testament of crisis and overcoming whose final movement arrives, through oneness with consoling nature, at joy. But where the latter's athletic bounding and springing are the strenuous marks of renewed health hard won, the "Primavera" is the vivaciously relaxed utterance of a more cheerful soul. Here a master hand is everywhere evident, in the unbarred rhythmic fluidity that nevertheless never loses impetus, the delineation of the movements' ternary form by various instrumental combinations within the ensemble, and, above all-in Koechlin's contrapuntal dexterity, which has the deceptive simplicity of a round and textures never heavy or academic but of the most enchanting polyphony. Begun in February and completed on April 22 1936, the "Primavera Quintette" comes at the moment of ultimate disillusion in Koechlin's infatuation with film star Lilian Harvey, whom he had "seen", twice-on August 7, 1934, in "Princesse à vos ordres". Over the following two years, Harvey inspired well over 100 pieces in which the contrapuntally obsessed manner of the 1920s -- massive, complex, Gothic-put on its most smilingly accessible face. His letters and autobiographical writings are rife with asides on Harvey as the incarnation of his feminine ideal-"She is in reality a mixture of very diverse elements: comedy, acrobatics, clowning, and on the other hand, (when the occasion demands) of sentimentality not devoid of poetry, childlike and radiant joy...." But when she failed to acknowledge his letters, manuscripts, and the proposal of a scenario in which they would co-star, his ambivalence, wavering between wish-fulfillment and reality, swung to the latter. As he was completing the "Primavera," Harvey was filming on location at Antibes, and with the opportunity to meet her at hand...he sent his wife to deliver more manuscripts of the music she'd evoked in a final halfhearted attempt to interest her. By that time he knew actual contact could only have been a disappointing anticlimax, for the ideal mirage her films conjured had re-awakened him and been subsumed in his music.

"Amongst my chamber music compositions," Koechlin wrote of his Piano Quintet, "it is the one which I hold in the highest regard." It demonstrates, more comprehensively if not more fully, the trope of crisis and overcoming explored in other works-the grim Scherzo of the Viola Sonata, the nightmare and awakening of "Le Docteur Fabricius", the creative stasis and release of "Le Buisson ardent". In an autobiographical study written in 1939, Koechlin spoke of the Piano Quintet (of its last movement, in particular) as having been "written at a time of trouble and mourning," though, as its composition was begun in 1908, continued in 1911, and worked through to completion between 1917 and 1921, it is difficult to peg this to specific events. The movement superscriptions are accurate indicators of the work's emotional program-"L'attente obscure de ce sera..." (gloomy expectation of that which is to come), "L'assault de l'ennemi -- la blessure" (the enemy's assault -- the wound), "La nature consolatrice" (nature the comforter), "La joie" (joy). In the decade scarred by the Great War, Koechlin had found his way to a unique polytonal language capable of expressing such a range of emotions with a psychological penetration beside which Heldenleben heroics or Tod und Verklärung pathos seem badly dated-a new century, a new prehension reflective (like Godowsky's great Piano Sonata) of the lives we lead, our miseries, sicknesses, and our recoveries. No other composer has hymned the Virgilian sublime-the vision of rural peace, abundance, and fecundity: nature as the bosom of mankind-as has Koechlin. One has only to compare the "Nature consalatrice" movement with such things as Delius' Summer Night on the River, On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring, or Song of the High Hills to grasp its originality: Delius' is the view of an aesthete, sensual, separate, and, in Song of the High Hills, heroic and Nietzschean, where Koechlin's is suffused with a sensuous chastity, trust, and conviction of oneness. Nor is he matched by any other composer for his lissome, springing, childlike joyfulness, devoid of triumphalism. It is less in the challenge of his polytonal language-eloquent in both grating dissonance and luminous consonance-than in his avoidance of cliché that he leaves his audience behind. Enjoy..

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Yesterday's Birthday - Alfred Schnittke - Concerto Grosso No. 1 - Concerto for Oboe and Harp - Concerto for Piano and Strings - BIS

Alfred Schnittke was born on November the 24th, 1934 and died on August 3rd, 1998. 

Huge fan of Alfred Schnittke's works am I, especially his Concerti Grossi and Concertos. Yes, I am also fond of his Symphonies and the String Quartets...ok I like almost everything he penned (although his late bleaker works, somewhat less). Schnittke's poly-stylistic Concerto Grosso No. 1 is probably my favorite among the five in the series, and the two concertos on this disc are wonderful also. This BIS disc (and there are almost 40 Schnittke discs on BIS I believe!) is one of my favorite Schnittke recordings.

Due to this damned cold I missed several major bdays from the last few days, including Benjamin Britten. I will add belated bday posts sometime soon.

I hope you all enjoy...


Sergey Taneyev - Today's Birthday - Complete Quintets - Taneyev Quartet etc. - Northern Flowers

Sergey Taneyev was born today, November 25, 1856 in Vladimir, Russia. He died on June 19, 1915, leaving an important legacy in Russian music, especially in his expertly crafted chamber music. He was also known for being a master contrapuntalist (Taneyev studied counterpoint obsessively for years) and a close friend of Tchaikovsky, one of Taneyev's biggest advocates. The so-called "Mighty Five" Nationalist composers were perpetually puzzled by Taneyev's music, and were openly hostile to what they perceived as Tchaikovsky’s and Taneyev’s Western, "cosmopolitan leanings". Taneyev's Quintets are in my opinion some of his finest chamber works.


Part 1

Part 2

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Ippolitov-Ivanov - Orchestral Works - Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra, Donald Johanos (Marco Polo 1993)

Greetings everyone. Among other things I have the worst of colds and therefore I won't be really writing much of anything about the music, my eyes are too tired and glassy to do so. This is especially frustrating to me as these absolutely classic Ippolitov-Ivanov discs on Marco Polo are extremely important to me for several reasons, and bring back memories too of (further) 'falling in love' with Russian music; my ears have taken 1000's of enchanted journeys to Tblisi, Georgia, on to Uzbek terrain, and further imagined stops in the hometowns of my ancestors- St. Petersburg, Moscow, Kiev, Odessa, Boguslav... 

Along with the Marco Polo discs of Ippolitov-Ivanov's "Symphony No. 1" and the "Caucasian Sketches" (there are almost countless recordings of the Sketches, many with better sound than
the Marco Polo, but still the early disc is just so very comforting and nostalgic for me) this
collection of Orchestral Works is pure bliss. Enjoy!

Ippolitov-Ivanov - Symphony No. 1 - Turkish Fragments Turkish March - Singapore Symphony Orchestra, Choo Hoey (Marco Polo 1989)

Ippolitov-Ivanov's Symphony No. 1 (there is an unfinished second symphony, "Karelia" that initially started out as material for a Suite; how nice it would be to have a recording of that unfinished work!) is a hugely appealing combination of the drama and pathos of Tchaikovsky and the energetic, exotic flavor of Borodin (especially in the Scherzo) not to mention Rimsky-Korsakov. Still the sounds are 
purely Ippolitov-Ivanov; his original voice always evident in the rich colors and a kind of signature "quietness"- that is, while plenty of Russian composers (esp. Nationalist) displayed their musical "fireworks" frquently, Ippolitov-Ivanov often made his argument in a gentler, yet equally exciting way, and imo even more intriguing.

The movements of the "Turkish Fragments" and the "Turkish March" seem to me as if they could
easily have been made into a "Caucasian Sketches" Suite No. 3. Certainly these two works would
be better known, anyhow. They are both highly enjoyable, 100% Russian colored pieces that simply aim to please and do so swimmingly. I consider this disc a gem and hope you all do too. Enjoy!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Eric Ewazen - Chamber Music of Eric Ewazen - American Brass Quintet - St. Luke's Chamber Ensemble - Well Tempered Productions 1995 -

Here's a second disc dedicated to Ewazen's wonderful music for brass (and piano in a couple works, one of which also includes baritone William Sharp) from Well Tempered Productions. The whole disc is extremely fine however my favorite works here are "Frost Fire" for Brass Quintet (1990) and the "Quintet for Trumpet and Strings" (1990 also).

"Frost Fire" is dedicated to the ABQ in honor of their 30th Anniversary and was also commissioned by them. The work, based on traditional musical forms and models, is in three movements. The first, marked 'Bright and Fast' is a joyous celebration of sonorous chords, playful motives and rhythmic gestures.  It is in a strict sonata-allegro form. The second movement, marked 'Gentle and Mysterious' has a waltz-like feel to it. In a ternary (A-B-A) form, the outer sections consist of ribbons of melodies being gently passed from instrument to instrument. The middle section is a stately fugue which builds in intensity, volume and and rich-sounding resonance. The last movement, 'Tense and Dramatic' brings back material from the first movement, but sets it in a much more turbulent and frenetic environment. Although this movement is based on the skeletal outlines of a sonata-allegro form, it is much freer and more erratic, with shifting meters and contrasting, interpolated passages, ultimately leading the way to heroic and dynamic conclusion. 

" cast a shadow again" (1991) was commissioned by the St. Luke's Chamber Ensemble and premiered by the performers on this recording in 1992. The poetry is by Katherine Gekker (I do not have a pdf, I can write it out manually if anyone is really interested) in which the excitement, power, and mystery of love ultimately leads to the tragic and empty loss of love. The trumpet serves as a type of Greek chorus, commenting upon and highlighting the deeply felt and emotional words.

The fantastic "Quintet for Trumpet and Strings" is dedicated to Chris Gekker (trumpet) who commissioned the work. Throughout the four-movement work the trumpet provides the initial statements of the main melodic and gestural material, which are commented upon and developed by the string quartet. The first movement has a rhythmic pulse that continually builds in momentum and excitement. The second movement is a fast spinning scherzo in a compound meter. The third movement is an emotional dirge filled with plaintive and melancholy motifs. The final movement is a grotesque dance in complex meters, involving a struggle between strong dissonance and resonant consonance,  ultimately ending in an upbeat conclusion.

The "Sonata for Horn and Piano" (1992) is a large scale four movement work, neo-impressionistic in style. A gentle and ethereal introduction leads to a dramatic sonata-allegro form in the first movement. The second movement is plaintive, song-like and introspective, while the allegretto third movement is a scherzo consisting of constantly shifting meters and playful melodic motives. The finale has a motoric motion which grows and builds in intensity throughout, culminating in a heroic return to the first movement's intro theme and a presto coda.       

Track list:

1. Frost Fire: I. Bright And Fast
2. Frost Fire: II. Gentle And Mysterious
3. Frost Fire: III. Tense And Dramatic
4. '...To Cast A Shadow Again': I. Stopped By The Stream
5. '...To Cast A Shadow Again': II. Luminescent Moonlight
6. '...To Cast A Shadow Again': III. Two Bees
7. '...To Cast A Shadow Again': IV. That Didn't Take Too Long
8. '...To Cast A Shadow Again': Interlude
9. '...To Cast A Shadow Again': V. Everyone Says It Snowed Last Night
10. '...To Cast A Shadow Again': VI. Hands Underwater On My Body
11. Katherine Gekker: VII. Cordite Surrounded You - VIII. Lie Down And Cry
12. Quintet For Trumpet And Strings: I. Allegro moderato
13. Quintet For Trumpet And Strings: II. Allegro molto (Scherzo)
14. Quintet For Trumpet And Strings: III. Adagio (elegia)
15. IV. Allegro agitato
16. Sonata For Horn And Piano: I. Andante - Allegro molto
17. Sonata For Horn And Piano: II. Adagio
18. Sonata For Horn And Piano: III. Allegretto
19. Sonata For Horn And Piano: IV. Lento - Allegro molto - Presto


"Ghosts" - Finnish Brass Music by Aulis Sallinen, Kalevi Aho, Rautavaara, Tuomas Kantelinen - The Guard's Band

Here's a couple Brass music posts by request. This is a fascinating collection, and my favorite works
here are Sallinen's (really love Sallinen's orchestra music) "The Palace Rhapsody" (1997), and imo better still is Kalevi Aho's "Tristia" (1999). In a mere 11 minutes, full of mystery and certain exoticisms, Aho manages to create a work of amazing substance and impact, really on a sonic level of his symphonies. Actually imo this one of his finest works in any genre. Liner notes I have included so I needn't babble ;)


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Two Worlds Of The Welsh Harp - William Taylor, Harps - Dorian Recordings, 1999

Ah, see! our last, best harper goes. / Sweet as his strain be his repose! / Extinct are all the tuneful fires, / And music with Twm Bach expires; / No finger now remains to bring / The tone of rapture from the string."

Those times are gone, but the music happily lives on as this most quirky, unusual disc displays. 

This is one of my favorite instrumental recordings, and one of the most original and "alien" you
are likely to hear unless you are, in particular, a fan of the Welsh harps or a scholar of such musics.
One thing I find quite entrancing especially, is the sitar-like distinctive timbre and resonance, evident in particular by the sustained metallic 'buzz' (which can be heard in the very first track, and several
others..such is the magic of an "archaic" instrument imo). 

Harper William Taylor contrasts two completely different repertoires of ancient harp music from Wales. The 'Robert ap Huw manuscript' from 1613 is the earliest body of harp music from anywhere in Europe. Medieval in character it might be dated to the 14th and 15th century, representing the otherwise lost repertoire of the medieval Welsh bards. On the other hand, Edward Jones' baroque compilation "Musical and Poetical Relicks of the Welsh Bards" from 1784-1825 preserved those fashionable dance tunes, which Jones thought was ancient music, but is rather contemporary repertory - "not on the whole very ancient and not at all Welsh in origin, but very Welsh in manner". Each tune is played on reconstructed metal-strung replicas of 12th-16th century Welsh harps. Unlike the later sophisticated triple harp, the Gothic harp has a more limited range of expression and tonal shading. I hope everyone tries out this magic recording... Enjoy

Track listing (minus the ancient Welsh titles):

1. Gosteg Of Master David
2. Erddigan Of The Spindle-Whorl
3. The Whirling Of The Spin-ning Wheel
4. Caniad Of The White Piper
5. Caniad Of St. Silin
6. The King's Note
7. King Charles's Fancy
8. The King's Fancy
9. Caniad Of The Chm
10. The Ebb Of The Tide
11. Little Caniad On The Gogywair Tuning
12. The Silken-Fair
13. Little Tom's Adieu
14. Cainc Of David The Prophet
15. Cainc Of David The Prophet

*I'm adding my own pdf of the liner notes, however the actual booklet contains fascinating illustrations and examples of the different harps used; if I ever can get another scanner (that is, afford to buy anything!) I will absolutely share it!!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Lou Harrison - Symphony No. 3 - Dennis Russell Davies, Cabrillo Music Festival Orchestra - Music Masters

This post is by request from Tapirman, and I hope he doesn't get too excited and faint :)  I almost forgot how incredibly good this symphony is, it's been way too long since I've played it....

*This post does NOT include the Grand Duo-I still have to locate my physical copy of the disc,
and this magnificent symphony I managed to locate on one of my hdd's. The Third Symphony
however, is the main reason to acquire this rare recording; I don't think there's any other available
recordings of it. Also, the symphony I have as a single mp3 file-which really is fine as the movements are rather seamless anyway.

Lou Harrison, a "West Coast Maverick" and one of the truly original grand old men of American music, wrote this grand and highly melodious symphony for the 1982 Cabrillo Music Festival, which is held near his home in Aptos, CA. Typically, its style and sonority are far different from that of the usual symphony (Modern, Romantic, or Classical). It's in a style that is pretty much Harrison's own, an always-attractive sound that suggests its many Asian influences and almost entirely does without traditional harmony with its constant tension between consonance and dissonance.

The first movement, Allegro moderato, is stately and dignified. For the most part, the movement is written in two-part contrapuntal lines, with whatever harmony develops being a product of the incidental clashing of these lines. It starts with a bold, ceremonial statement with a faintly East Asian character. The symphony's second subject is slower, with the main contrast between the two subjects being the difference in their moods, for the second subject is meditative and melancholy. The movement ends after the grandest statement of the main theme, followed by another, gentle and wistful on solo strings.

In place of a scherzo is a three-part series of shorter dance pieces honoring three friends of his. The first of these is called "A Reel in Honor of Henry Cowell."

Cowell was a formative influence on Harrison. The original "West Coast Maverick" composer, Cowell taught an extension course on music of the world that reinforced Harrison's great attraction to the various ethnic music he could hear as a youth in San Francisco. One of Harrison's favorite entertainments (and cheap at just a quarter for a whole evening) was Chinese opera. Although the actual fiddle figurations of this piece derive from the Irish reel (and hence honor Cowell, who was of Irish descent), just about everything else in this energetic movement sounds Asian, including the active, metallic clicking in the percussion.

"A Waltz for Evelyn Hinrichsen" acts as a contrasting slow trio in this quasi-scherzo structure. It is a delicate and relaxing piece. The final of the three scherzo movements is called "An Estampie for Susan Summerfield." Harrison has often used the French term "estampie" or an English cognate for it, "stampede," to denote bright, almost aggressive, pieces with a rhythm deriving from the medieval estampie and strong unison melodies.

The third movement, Largo ostinato, opens with a broad-vista sound that suggests fantasy landscape in its bright shafts of trumpet and high flute sonorities. A lovely and lonely high violin theme enters once the bass lines settle down into their ostinato patterns. This is a seemingly endless melody with broad and aching chromatic leaps.

The finale, Allegro, is a strong symphonic conclusion. It is, again, a purely melodically based movement, but this is expressed in multi-part counterpoint comprising several lovely independent lines. The constantly shifting orchestration rises to an exciting moment with bells and other chiming sounds coming forward as the conclusion reaches real grandeur. Enjoy!

Track listing:

1. Symphony No. 3: Allegro Moderato
2. Symphony No. 3: A Reel in Honor of Henry Cowell
3. Symphony No. 3: A Waltz for Evelyn Hinrichsen
4. Symphony No. 3: An Estampie for Susan Summerfield
5. Symphony No. 3: Largo Ostinato
6. Symphony No. 3: Allegro

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Paul Hindemith - Today's Birthday (born November 16th, 1895. d. December 28, 1963) Mathis der Maler - Concerto for Winds, Harp and Orchestra - Konzertmusik for Brass and Strings

Paul Hindemith is one of my absolute favorite composers. This most individual 20th century master simply commands a Bday post ;) Hindemith was an influential modernist, cerebral yet also playful, a true genius whose music to this day-is puzzlingly neglected in concert halls and on the radio (with the exceptions of course being the "Mathis der Maler" symphony and his "Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes by Carl Maria von Weber"). Of course, I love Mathis der Maler, it's pretty much a prerequisite for any Hindemithian. And, this Chandos disc is my favorite recording of "Mathis..", with Herbert Blomstedt's account being a very close runner-up. The "Concerto for Winds, Harp and Orchestra" and the "Konzertmusik for Brass and Strings" are also exceptionally rendered, and while I cherish the CPO (from the complete three box-set) accounts of the latter two works, I find this Chandos disc to be finer sonically and interpretation wise. In short, one of the best Hindemith discs available.  

I am at this point, too tired to write in any detail about the recording (it's 3:45 am here) so here's a few photos of Hindemith looking quite Hindemith-ish:

Hangin' with Igor