Monday, March 30, 2015

Nikos Skalkottas - The Sea, Ballet Suite - Four Images - Cretian Feast (D. Mitropoulos, Orchestrated by Skalkottas) - Greek Dance in C Minor - Iceland Symphony Orchestra - Byron Fidetzis - BIS 2005

Nikos Skalkottas was one of the greatest 20th century Greek composers. I have been quite fond of his music for many years and BIS in particular has done a great service in helping to raise awareness of the colorful, brilliantly crafted music of this special composer. I do not have time to write anything at all (I've included the booklet notes) about the disc as I have to leave for work (I feel badly that I have been too busy to post more, so I figured I'd add a fast, and very good post) but will finish the post properly late tonight. I hope everyone enjoys!

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Mihkel Kerem - Symphony No. 3 'For the Victims of Communism' - Lamento for Solo Viola & Strings - String Sextet - Estonian National Symphony Orchestra - Tallinn Chamber Orchestra - Tallinn Ensemble - Mikk Murdvee - Toccata Classics 2013

Directly back to the "all-unopened-all-unheard piles of music" posts we go. This time it's another Toccata Classics recording, the offering being the music of the young (born in 1981) Estonian composer Mihkel Kerem. I know nothing about Kerem, in fact I'm pretty sure that when I bought this in 2013 what caught my eye was the mention of Shostakovich and Tishchenko in the blurb on the back cover of the cd. Plus it's a Toccata release; I'd be more than happy to own their entire catalog sight unseen (unheard)!! 

In the booklet notes, Mihkel Kerem has this to say about his third symphony: "I found it very difficult to start the work: I could not find the right musical language to put the "story" across. In the end I realised that the only way to describe what I wanted to say was to use the musical style of Dmitri Shostakovich." 

By the "story" Kerem means Communism itself and the unfathomable suffering that it brought, and the motivation for such being the reading of Shostakovich's memoirs "Testimony". "Testimony" was Published in 1979 by musicologist Solomon Volkov who claimed that Shostakovich dictated all of the material to him in a series of meetings between 1971 and 1974. (There have always been some questions concerning the authenticity of the memoirs, as some material apparently predates the book, such as quotes that are recorded/dated many years or decades earlier; and some people believe Volkov fabricated certain events. Meanwhile those who knew Shostakovich well said the memoirs were accurate..while others who also knew him well said the opposite(!). Personally I believe the truth lies somewhere in the middle; it's likely that Volkov did a good deal of editing-without getting Shostakovich's approval. All the same "Testimony" is a powerful and important document that should be read by anyone interested in Shostakovich). 

I can tell you that Kerem clearly knows his DSCH, and although I'm only halfway into the first movement, it's actually more enjoyable and less derivative than I expected (Kerem's notes did leave preconceptions on my brain, after all). I'm excited for the rest of this disc indeed! I hope everyone enjoys it as well..

Mihkel_Kerem_Symphony_No.3_'For_The_Victims_Of Communism'

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Baltimore Consort: On The Banks Of Helicon - Early Music of Scotland - Dorian Records 1990

Hello everyone. I am momentarily breaking from my "all-unopened-all-unheard piles of music" posts. The reason being that I have been desperately trying to find my collection of recordings by the Baltimore Consort for a few years already. I was simply overjoyed to find them in a box that also includes a large part of Dorian's early music discography with other ensembles, all musical museum-worthy treasures to me. I am extremely fond of each and every disc. Dorian's early music artists and special attention to all sorts of tunes of yore are second to none, in my opinion. 

There are hundreds of magnificent recordings on all kinds of labels large and small; but somehow the Dorian offerings always seem to have a certain "TLC" from production to playing. For me there's a "personal" ambience to the musical merrymaking-I feel as if I've been invited to sit in person to experience the joyful noyse as it's hard to explain really! "On The Banks Of Helicon" is where my introduction to the Baltimore Consort began. I was managing a classical record shop at this time, and although this disc had been available for a couple of years at the time I never heard it before, nor had I heard of The Baltimore Consort. This initial taste was quite the profound musical experience and in some ways, helped to alter my life outlook (this is 'soul' music that helped me and continues to help me ward off the constant 'darkness' that I usually feel inside) during the 1990's and indelibly colored the daily happenings in my little life, both mundane and special. Thanks especially to the Baltimore Consort, I quickly became an early music freak, learning all that I could about the musics, their varied and rich histories, and most exciting of all perhaps-immersing myself in study of an anthropological nature. Everything from plainchant and other monophonic song to Terpsichorean dances (as in early or ancient dance music, not only the 300+ works of Praetorius) to the pillars of Renaissance polyphony, Cantigas (especially the important collection by Alfonso X of Castille), Sephardic songs and tunes, the songbooks of Spain and Germany, and all areas of Medieval music in general etc. etc. simply gripped and fascinated me. Add to all this historically informed performance and modern artistic interpretation (what we know about music and its performance tends to decrease as we look farther backward in time, and thus endless amounts of compositions are often played in strikingly different ways, with a wide range of instruments both historic and modern; this makes the possibilities very exciting but can also be frustrating to musicologists and historians) and it's a real universe.  In summation, I live to celebrate the existence of too much treasure... then again 'too much' is a thing not possible.  :) 

Most of the Scottish music on this disc is over 400 years old, yet it can strike our ears as "contemporary" in its freshness and originality. The Scottish composers, whose names are mostly lost or at least separated from their original compositions, had a gift for expressive melody indeed. Although French and English influence was strong in courtly circles, the imported genres of dance, chanson and accompanied song were transformed into a product uniquely Scottish. In the 16th century, the court of Scotland, like its counterparts to the south, fostered sophisticated  musical arts ("music fyne") of church polyphony, courtly song and instrumental consort music. All Scottish rules in that turbulent century loved music and poetry, but the political and religious pressures that determined their marriages and brought so much pain into their lives also affected the course of Scottish musical history. James V's French brides (the first died a year after arriving in 1537) were responsible for a significant importation of French music. The Scottish reformation (1560), with its espousal of simple psalm-like singing in the language of the congregation, eventually brought to an end the institutional patronage of elaborate polyphonic Latin church music. There were, however, secular musicians and poets attached to Mary, Queen of Scots, and to her son, James VI, who produced simpler songs and instrumental consorts of great beauty. James Lauder, whose "Paven" dedicated to the Lord of March (1584) is one of the few datable and attributable works of this period, is thought to have been a player of viols and virginals. As James VI grew old enough to assume independence, he gathered about him a group of poets led by Alexander Montgomerie (author of "Lyk as the dum solsequium" and "Come my children dere"). Court patronage was lost altogether in Scotland when James moved south to succeed the childless Elizabeth I as King of England. 

It is in the traditional native airs that we hear the typically Scottish melodic features of the gapped scale and the rhythmic figure known as the "Scots snap". As early as the 17th century, aristocrats such as John Skenes of Hallyards had set about collecting and preserving  these haunting melodies. English art song had begun to filter into Scotland, but the most significant development was the Scot's          
intensified interest in collecting and writing down their own traditional music, including bagpipe and fiddle tunes. "The flowres of the forrest", perhaps the most famous of the Skene MS tunes on this recording, refers to the tragic Battle of Flodden Field (1513), in which the "flower of Scottish manhood" was cut down (including the young king James IV). On this disc there is a potpourri of "music fyne", traditional native airs, and English imitations of the latter. The courtly "music fyne" reveals the stylistic ties between the Scottish and the French repertoires: "Support your servand" is a translation of Clement Marot's "Secourez-moy, madame, par amours". "Our Father God celestial" is a metrical paraphrase of The Lord's Prayer sung to the music of a four-part chanson, "Je suis desheritee" by Pierre Cadeac. "O lustie May" is set to a French-style galliard. The boisterous late-15th century "My heartly service", one of my personal favorites here-has been described as a French
"fricassee" (a jumble of ingredients) above an obstinate bass. In this amusing piece, originally associated with an ancient ceremony in which herdsmen dressed as beasts pulled a plow to mark the beginning of the plowing year, two voices call out the names of oxen as well as their fellow herdsmen, and then enumerate the parts of the plow. 

Beginning early in the 17th century, the English developed a taste for "Northern tunes". "The Scots March" is one of many such titles in the virginal manuscripts. "Joy to the person that I love" (the beautiful song that ends this disc) found its way into English broadsides. The Playfords, especially, began to include music "after the Scotch humour" in their publications. The swaying "Scotch Cap", another favorite of mine, is one of several Scots-style tunes in the 'English Dancing Master' of 1651. By the end of the century, famous composers such as Purcell (in his "Birthday Ode for Queen Mary") and Nicola Matteis ("Ground after a Scotch humor") had tried their hand at arranging Scottish melodies, and the Playfords had published 'A collection of Original Scotch Tunes: Full of Highland Humours for the violin' (1700). Thomas D'Urfey's "Wit and Mirth: or Pills to Purge Melancholy" (1st edition, 1698) was the first English publication to contain both words and music of Scots songs (some written by Englishmen, others originating in Scotland). The cheerful "Jockey loves his Moggy dearly" is typical of the English forays into Scots dialect (and another favorite of mine now that I think of it). 

The instruments used here are similar to those known to have been popular at the Scottish court. An inventory of Holyrood House (the court residence) shows that the court owned a lute, a cittern, a bandora and viols, which are the instruments that formed the core of the Baltimore Consort, especially during the early 1990's. Also added on this recording are flutes and a single-drone bagpipe of a type which was common throughout Europe for centuries. The words of most songs here are in 'Scots', a dialect which was not only spoken, but flourished as a literary language in the 16th century. It is actually very close to English and can be understood by English speaking people (as long as a few specialized words are defined and conventions of spelling are understood). 

I think (or hope) the moment the bagpipe sounds on "Over the hills" most listeners will sit up, intrigued with wonder-and once "Kathren Oggie" dances its way in-surely the magic has been set!

Enjoy all!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Contemporary Italian Music for Guitar Quartet - Carmelo Nicotra - Mauro Schiavone - Nicola Jappelli - Giovanni Sollima - Paolo Arca - Bruno Maderna - Guitalian Quartet - Bridge Records 2013

I'm officially leaving anything "familiar" (previously heard, opened, experienced) behind for the time being; I'm having too much fun (take it where I can get it in this world!!) going thru brand new discs
circa 2013! Why 2013?? Because those piles are the easiest to reach ;) So, here we have a disc from the small and consistently impressive Bridge label (anyone up on their George Crumb recording series? It's a fantastic project) focusing on music for guitar quartet, by contemporary Italian composers in particular. (hence the ensemble name "Guitalian", as they focus on contemporary Italian music...otherwise it would sound twice as corny) I really like the sound possibilities created by such an ensemble. The L.A. Guitar Quartet is one of my favorite such groups, and I've been trying to find my LAGQ discs (mostly on Delos) to post for a while now. So the only composers that I am familiar with on this recording are Bruno Maderna and the cellist and composer Giovanni Sollima (bought his album "Aquilarco" in the 1990's after hearing excerpts on a NY radio show. It's chamber music for cello, electric guitar, electric bass, keyboards, and flute). Let's give a listen..

I'm going to type out the portion of the booklet notes that focuses on the compositions solely:

Carmelo Nicotra's (b 1958) "Absinthium" is a visionary and oneiric composition featuring several abrupt changes in mood. The work was inspired by the wormwood plant, whose essence is the main ingredient of absinthe, the hallucinogen used frequently by 19th century artists. After a slow and dreamlike introduction we come to an initial Allegro with its remarkable cadenced character.  The subsequent Moderato cantabile connects to the final section, which is composed of elements drawn from the previous Allegro, achieving an explosive farewell.

Mauro Schiavone's (b 1975) "Quartetto no. 5" is based on simple and minimalist materials, though it does not give up the pleasure of its search for harmonic development. This is Schiavone's fifth quartet in a series dedicated to works for various instruments, and attempts to conjure a fantastic 24-string guitar. The composition has a classical tripartite form, with the first and the third section featuring constant and softly "electric" rhythms, and overlapping harmonic layers. In contrast, the central section of the piece is, for the most part, lyrical, and undergoes a gradual transformation back to the atmosphere of the opening section.

Cultivated and uncultivated quotations create a kind of "pastiche" in Nicola Jappelli's (b 1975) "Katastroph Polka". The work is a tragicomic melting pot, which lets the listener taste seemingly conflicting ingredients: Mozart, popular songs of Lombardy, a Soviet hymn, and a Brazilian choir. This piece "speaks" an expressionist and bizarre language which, despite some romantic license, results in a gloomy and bitter conclusion. The nostalgic and cultural apocalypse is finally achieved.

Giovanni Sollima's (1962) "Leonardo's Bestiary" (listening now, very nice indeed!) is a suite in five pieces.
It was inspired by the fictitious animals which the gifted Renaissance artist Leonardo Da Vinci described in his 'Bestiary'. Sollima knows the guitar and its sonic potential well, and skillfully blends different styles of composition, ranging from classical to rock and minimalism. 

A decadent and nostalgic piece, "Valtzer per Quattro" by Paolo Arca (b 1953), evokes the dreamy atmosphere of the past, thanks to a seamless sequence of variegated parts. The rarefied introduction is followed by a slow cantabile section and a brighter episode in Viennese style. This gradually fades away and returns to the character of the opening.

"Serenata per un satellite" by Bruno Maderna (1920-1973) was composed and performed in 1969, when the European satellite ESRO l (Boreas) was launched. The piece is structured aleatorically, for a free group of instruments. It was written on a single large sheet of paper, in which staves criss-cross in a bizarre pattern, though meticulous indications for its performance are provided. It is a work designed to stir the imagination of its performers, and results in a vastly different experience each time it is played.

Guitalian Quartet: Guido Fichtner, Claudio Marcotulli, Maurizio Norrito, Stefano Palamidessi

Track listing:

1) Carmelo Nicotra - "Absinthium" (8:06)

2) Mauro Schiavone - "Quartetto no. 5" (7:40)

3) Nicola Jappelli - "Katastroph Polka" (5:25)

Giovanni Sollima - "Bestiario di Leonardo" (13:23)

4) Lumerpa (2:52)
5) Alep (2:48)
6) Ceraste e Tarata (2:10)
7) Macli (2:48)
8) Anphesibene (2:45) 

9) Paolo Arca - "Valzer per quattro" (5:44)

10) Bruno Maderna - "Serenata per un satellite" (11:21) 


Boris Papandopulo - Piano Concerto No. 2 - Sinfonietta for String Orchestra - Pintarichiana for String Orchestra - Zagreb Soloists - Oliver Triendl, Piano - Sreten Krstic - CPO 2014

Time for another unopened/uncharted listening experience from one of "the piles". This time it's a disc I got last year, knew I was being financially irresponsible by making a completely impulsive purchase...but all the same couldn't help myself. Oh how I long for the days when impulse buying was a guilt-free experience, devoid of stress, more exhilarating than any drug and most importantly actually feasible! So I stumbled upon this disc, had never heard of Boris Papandopulo (apparently considered the greatest Croatian composer of the 20th century...I cannot argue one way or another...I believe I have maybe 5 discs of music by Croatian composers, one of which is based on old folk songs) and thus my interest was as always, through the roof. Apparently Papandopulo wrote over 450 works, which is definitely a very good thing considering the fun I'm currently having listening to the disc for the first time (listening to the Piano Concerto No. 2, an energetic, somewhat Hindemithian affair with recollections of Martinu and an air of Stravinsky as well..). Clearly this is very good music written by a very good composer, who hopefully will become known (CPO is a sister label of Naxos..fingers crossed that they might also add a Papandopulo disc in the future to a Naxos series, "Croatian Composers of the 20th century" or some such thing!).

The cd booklet is quite informative, as is to be expected with CPO, and I will type out the notes for everyone soon (too tired now).

Here is a biography I just found on Boris Papandopulo:

Boris Papandopulo (Honnef am Rhein,Germany, 25 February 1906 - Zagreb, 16 October 1991) is one of the most remarkable and most fruitful Croatian composers of the 20th century, and a versatile musician who, during his creative practice, attempted to master most diverse musical forms, from vocal miniature and chamber and instrumental works, to symphony, opera, oratorio, ballet and film music.

An artist with a broad knowledge, utterly professional, serious, imaginative and noble, Papandopulo has in his opus more than 450 musical works in which he passes, like more famous Igor Stravinsky, through different stylistic orientations - from neo-national and neo-classical to expressionistic.

Born, grown up and raised in a family that had always been closely connected to music and theatre, especially his mother, Maja pl. Strozzi, renowned concert and opera singer of European reputation, Papandopulo dedicated himself to music very early in his life. First he took private piano lessons, then he studied composition at the Music Academy in Zagreb (where he listened to the lectures of F. Dugan, F. Lhotka, A. Dobronić, and was taught composition by and graduated in class of B. Bersa in 1929), and later in Vienna, at the New Vienna Conservatory, he was taught conducting by Dirk Fock (1928-1930).

In the early years of his career he worked as a conductor with the Croatian singing group Kolo in Zagreb (1928-1934 and 1938-1946) and in the period 1931-1934 as a conductor with the Amateur Orchestra of the Croatian Music Institute and as a chorus master of the Singing Society of Teachers Ivan Filipović (which he founded in 1933). In the period 1935-1938 he worked as a professor at the State Music School in Split and performed as a conductor of the Music Society Zvonimir, from 1940 to 1945 as a conductor of the Zagreb Opera (1943-1945 also as a headmaster), and at the same time he is an art director (of the orchestra) of Zagreb Radio Station (1942-1945).

After the Second World War, he was head of the Rijeka Opera (1946-1948 and 1953-1959), and 1948-1953 he worked as an opera conductor and professor in Sarajevo. He continued his career in Zagreb, once again as a conductor with the Zagreb Opera (1959-1968), and then with the Split Opera (1968-1974). He was a permanent guest conductor with the Komedija Theatre in Zagreb, as well as with the Symphony Orchestra in Cairo. He also affirmed his music activity in the field of music criticism and journalism, and as a pianist and rehearsal pianist.

He was a regular member of the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts, and his impressive opus of compositions earned him a place of special uniqueness in the Croatian music of the 20th century. He earned it, as Županović once said, "with magic that is able to turn musical nothing in Something at any moment", with such a level of composition awareness at which neither the musical material, nor the choice of basic system of its structuring is not crucial, but the motivation and "logic" of actions for building a consistent, yet emotionalized musical order - the structure we perceive as musical sense. 
As an artist, whose creative process occurs spontaneously, easily and naturally, as a master of compositional technique, especially instrumentation, at an early period of his creative activity Papandopulo "was enchanted by the virtuoso treatment of musical means of expression, polyphonic play of tones, vivid combinations of sounds, exterior decoration and optimistic vivacity."

In this creative period, an affinity for the elements of neoclassic musical style can be observed, as well as for baroque drive and energy and vivid rhythmic movement with features of impressionist and expressionist musical idiom. It is as if the archaic sounds of some of the contemporary, anthological works are searching the mere roots of music, at the same time coming across unavoidable sources of ritual, movement and dance (Svatovske, Dodolice, Utva zlatokrila, Muka Gospodina našeg Isukrsta, Hrvatska misa, Laudamus/Slavoslovije, Sinfonietta za gudače, Zlato).

In his "mature" creative period, Papandopulo is not afraid to use folk music patterns, but he also turns to the achievements of European musical modernity, not detaching from "traditional formats of musical cells, from established development of motives and facts or entrenched laws of melodic movement". This period, which saw the end of the Second World War and lasted approximately until 1956, was characterized by a series of very successful compositions marked by recent history - the creation of a new country and events from the National Liberation Movement (Simfonija br. 2, Poema o Neretvi, Stojanka majka Knežopoljka, Obnova, Credo, Libertas, Pohvala Dubrovniku).

Over time, Papandopulo's music became more dissonant, with harsher harmony and melody, so the master sometimes used the bases of twelve-tone technique, elements of jazz (more intensely toward the end of the 50's and at the beginning of 60's); Koncert za klavir i orkestar br. 3, Mozaik za klasični gudački kvartet i jazz kvartet, Capriccio za violinu-solo i jazz-kvartet), later the elements of pop music, as well as other compositional and technical procedures of avant-garde music of the 20th century, even though he retained critical distance toward some of them, and sometimes he was even ironical or made parodies.

Even though for him almost every one of the ideological and aesthetic directions of the last century was a foundation, "a basis for setting off to an unknown and dangerous journey of finding its echo inside himself, in the end the composer did not opt for any of creative schools". Papandopulo speaks of himself indirectly: from a somewhat ironic distance, from objectified situations, and therefore he "can do anything" - as Bruno Bjelinski once said about him. With the dodecaphonic scale and its forms he can semi-seriously play in the field of mode and in the genre of lyrical and meditative nocturne. He can make parodies of the situations from Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, suddenly turn the chromatized piano figure as main material into diatone folk dance pattern, pervade virtuos automatism of a toccata with humorous accents, and enliven a dry print with lyricism.

However, none of the doctrines triumphed over Papandopulo. Likewise, he never dominated any creative credo; musical ideology and aesthetics on one hand and practical musician Papandopulo on the other, played a creative match of his life that finished in a tie. Nevertheless, on his path towards artistic maturity, with more and more intense content enrichment of his own music, Papandopulo never left the basic principle of his creative approach to work: its building and final shaping based on pure musical substance.

If one were to express a concise and comprehensive evaluation of Papandopulo's opus, one would have to look for the summary in Detoni's words that describe the extensive musical inheritance of Boris Papandopulo as a type of "synthesis of all the important new musical influences in the world with the rhythm, melody and harmony features of Croatian national melodic elements".

*When I imported the disc, iTunes only recognized the track names with a long string of Chinese characters following the marked tempi. I have no idea why, this is a North American pressing. So I have 'tried' a prog to tag them correctly, so hopefully you will ONLY see the English!

Alan Hovhaness - Symphony No. 48 "Vision of Andromeda" (World Premiere) - Prelude and Quadruple Fugue - Concerto for Soprano Saxophone and Strings - Eastern Music Festival Orchestra, Gerard Schwarz

My father was very kind and surprised me with a few gifts today, all cds-and this new Hovhaness disc is one of them, which I had been dying to get anyhow. So, this something of a 'family' post :)

This is a recent (2015) recording that should be of much interest especially to die-hard Hovhaness fans as it contains the world premiere recording of the Symphony No. 48 "Vision of Andromeda". The magnificent "Prelude and Quadruple Fugue", easily (only imo!) the best work on this disc, which has been recorded several times before, while the Concerto for Soprano Saxophone here receives its second recording (the first modern recording is on the 2011 Boston Modern Orchestra Project disc). The Saxophone Concerto will be a delicacy for Saxophone enthusiasts I would imagine, and as the back cover notes mention-this is indeed the most romantic concerto that Hovhaness has penned-that has survived, I would personally add (as most of you will know, he destroyed a tremendous amount of early compositions, hypercritical as he was then. This was also equally fueled by nasty comments from some of the 'academics' of the time). As for the symphony I am listening to it for the second time as I type; my first hearing whilst driving earlier didn't impress me very much, although there are many signature AH gestures here that I always love (the brilliant counterpoint and fugal subjects, the grouped pizzicato strings, the mystical spaces created by employing bells-here played more rapidly than usual-and other metal percussion..) and find simply enchanting. To be fair, driving is quite the distraction, and while I had miles of open road, it is just not the ideal way to listen to a work for the first time. And a symphony no less..  So, I now plead guilty to making an unfocused and premature judgement. I am enjoying Opus 355 ten fold at this very moment, and although there is clearly a drop of melodic 'recycling' going on-at least the source is incredibly beautiful and from the man himself. Yes, I am now becoming quite blissfully lost in it all-a singing oboe and chiming bells like ice crystals flittering in a mysterious cosmos. 


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Paul Ben-Haim -Chamber Music for Strings - String Quartet No. 1 Op. 21 - String Quintet in E minor - Carmel Quartet - Shuli Waterman, viola - Toccata Classics 2014

Time for another "unopened" treasure. This time it's chamber music by Ben-Haim (after posting the simply wonderful Violin Concerto I am hoping to stay with Ben-Haim for a bit, if I can locate my other discs soon!), his String Quartet No.1 from 1937 and the String Quintet from 1919. I cannot comment on the music at hand as I am playing it for the first time now (halfway in the first movement of the String Quartet; not surprisingly as it's Ben-Haim, it is extremely engaging and I feel from the first 4 minutes alone that it's clear the Quartet deserves a solid place in the string quartet repertoire). I know I have heard the Quartet No. 1 before, a very very long time ago and I cannot recall the source whatsoever-so this is technically a first and exciting outing. The booklet notes are extremely informative both on the music and the man behind it..

Let's enjoy everyone!


Sunday, March 15, 2015

Israeli Violin Concertos - Paul Ben-Haim - Noam Sheriff - Oded Zehavi - London Philharmonic Orchestra, David Shallon - Michael Guttman, Violin - ASV 1998

Another jewel from ASV's glorious crown, this recording brings together three Violin Concertos written by Israeli composers, two of which are world premiere recordings. This was one of those recordings that I couldn't wait to get my hands and ears on; this insatiable appetite is applicable  to every recording acquisition of course, however I had read a raving pre-release (as in 6 months) review in the Journal for Jewish and Israeli composers (I cannot recall the precise name, I might be off by a word or two) and thus my 'normal' excitement level was amplified through the roof. I was already fond of Ben-Haim, had but one disc of music by Noam Sheriff (the first recording of his "Revival of the Dead" or "Mechaye Hamethim") which was already ridiculously out of print, and had never heard of Oded Zehavi. So for me this was something of a 'Cannes Film (errm music) Festival' for one ;) This disc excited and delighted me 17 years ago and it continues to do so with no interest lost whatsoever. 

The three concertos in this recording offer a fascinating picture of the stylistic development of music in modern Israel, from the Mediterranean style of its pioneers to the Arab-Jewish synthesis of the young postmoderns. Certainly Israel's melting pot of ethnic traditions has offered artists a rich resource for creative inspiration, while their broader internationalist concerns also locates Israeli music at the cutting edge of musical aesthetics since the late 20th century. Remarkably the three featured composers represent a unique teacher-pupil chain of tradition, the significance of which may perhaps be detected in the exciting originality of their violin concertos.

Paul Ben-Haim's (1897-1984) Violin Concerto exemplifies Israel's "Mediterranean Style" with its emphasis on melismatic lyricism and 'orientalism', rather than Austro-Germanic modernist harmony. In his native Germany, Ben-Haim (then Paul Frankenburger) had been a successful composer and conductor, assistant to Bruno Walter and Knappertsbusch in Munich, until the rise of the Nazi regime in 1933 forced his emigration to Palestine. His prolific output of compositions in all genres, many on Jewish themes, has since won him international acclaim. The Violin Concerto (1960) was one of three concerti of the early 1960s, for piano, violin and cello, which combined virtuosity with an inspired balance of lyrical, dance, and traditional Jewish elements. Of its American premiere in 1962 by Zvi Zeitlin with the IPO, Alfred Frankenstein, critic of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote: "It is wonderfully written for the violin as a lyric and virtuoso instrument; it weaves the solo line in and out of a symphonic whole with masterly effect; and it uses a few orientalisms with the utmost tact and elegance."

The sonata-form first movement begins with a march-like orchestral first subject, with the soloist making an almost improvisatory entrance. After a dramatic climax a gentler second theme appears in the woodwinds, repeated tenderly by the soloist. Lively development of both subjects ensues until a trumpet fanfare announces the recapitulation, the bold march theme now shared by between orchestra soloist. An unexpected drum beat interrupts however, and and impels a rhapsodic solo cadenza, before the exhilarating conclusion. The expressive heart is the tripartite slow movement, whose melismatic 'oriental' theme introduced by flute and cor anglais is eloquently echoed by the solo violin, and subsequently transformed in the more dramatic central interlude. Here, over rumbling basses and ominous brass fanfares, the violin's soliloquy soars ever higher, until the earlier mood of calm reverie resumes with freshly luminescent orchestration. A solo cadenza introduces the effervescent finale, a rondo-like form based on a simple folkish motif, at first propelled by both orchestra and soloist with Bartokian rhythmic energy. Momentum unexpectedly ceases, on a sustained high note, to introduce a beguiling slow theme, first on flute and horn, then repeated by the soloist with exotic colors-it is none other than the same motif slowed down. At the end of the movement there is a reminiscence of the Concerto's first march-like theme leading to a thrilling climax. An absolute knockout of a concerto!!!

Paul Ben-Haim

Influenced by both his teachers (Paul Ben-Haim and Boris Blacher) in Germany, Noam Sheriff, one of Israel's leading composers of the senior generation, has created a more modernist synthesis of East and West, in which the rich blend of oriental and Eastern-European Jewish features combine with the harmonic richness of Berg, Strauss, as well as Stravinsky. Born in 1935 in Tel-Aviv, where he is currently Professor at the Rubin Academy, the Music Director of the Israel Chamber Orchestra since 2002 and nominated Music Director of the New Haifa Symphony Orchestra in 2004, Noam Sheriff first won international recognition for his "Festival Prelude", premiered by Leonard Bernstein and the IPO in 1957. Since then he has composed many major abstract works as well as several which explore the multicultural aspect of Jewish identity in Israel (the monumental oratorio I mentioned earlier, "Mechaye Hamethim" from 1985 is a great example) including "A Sephardic Passion" (1992), "Akedah" (1997), "Gomel Le'ish Hassid" for bass clarinet and orchestra (1997) and the Violin Concerto (1986) on this disc. 

The concerto is unusually programatic in its symbolic journey through different historical times and places of the Jewish Diaspora. In the first movement the introductory soliloquy presents an expressive motif, cantorial in its simple intervallic contour. This is developed in colorful dialogs between solo it and orchestra, with two large-scale climaxes each followed by two more reflective, lyrical sections, with the violin's rhapsodies soaring soaring over ravishing harmony. As a contrast to such Germanic tendencies the exuberant second movement, with its piquant Stravinskian neo-classicism, has an Eastern flavor (that of Russian folk music and also Yemenite Jewish music) evident in the duet for violin and percussion that precedes a cataclysmic climax and conclusion. A synthesis is effected in the moving finale, whose main theme is drawn from a traditional oriental Sephardi setting of the Kol Nidre prayer (of the 'Day of Atonement') which is developed by both the evocatively-colored orchestra and the soloist in complex, lyrical dialogs. It is interrupted twice by a solemn rhythmic beat,  a dirge above which the soloist soars like a spirit rising to the heavens, the second time accompanied by delicate woodwind. The movement ends in a contemplative mood, the motif stated in both major and minor modes by the soloist before the finale chord.

Noam Sheriff

A more optimistic, even daring stylistic diversity is evident in the Violin Concerto of Oded Zehavi, who is clearly one of the outstanding composers of the younger generation of Israeli composers. This concerto (and composer!) was in particular a really nice surprise, and becomes more rewarding upon each listen still for me. Zehavi, born in 1961, pursued advanced musical studies in the States, and studied with George Crumb and Andre Hajdu, and since that time he has held posts as composer-in-residence to the Haifa Symphony Orchestra and to the Israel Chamber Orchestra. In 1995 he became Professor of Compisition and Head of Music at Haifa University. Zehavi's pivotal work "L.H.M., Israeli War Requiem" (1991) was acclaimed as "a moment of truth in Israeli music...universal" won several national awards. In 1995 he was awarded the Prime Minister's Prize for composition, as well as a Barlow Foundation Commission (U.S.) for "Rainbow for Children's Choir", a medium for which he has since achieved international recognition. His "Elmale" premiered by Valery Gergiev and the Kirov Opera Orchestra in Aqaba, Jordan in 1997, has the distinction of being the first Israeli orchestral work to have been performed in an Arabic country. Zehavi is equally at home in pop, stage, and film music, working with major Israeli dance and film companies as well as tv documentaries for the BBC, ABC and Canal Plus of France.

The stimulation post-modern amalgam of styles in the Violin Concerto, commissioned by Michael Guttman in 1998, includes Jewish, Arabic and Western musics, as well as as a symbiosis of atonal, tonal and modal idioms. The largely atonal first movement begins with a seething orchestral heterophony (reminding me of the music of Kamran Ince and also Jose Evangelista, a fascinating and way too obscure Canadian composer) into which the violin interweaves its lyrical dialog with various orchestral sections, like a conversation in which characters join and leave at random. A dramatic appearance of chime bells signals signals the soloist's expressive cadenza, and the chimes return once more at the conclusion. The symbolism of the chimes derives from the composer's personal recollection of the poignant effect of a tolling church bell cutting through desolation of a Christian village in war-torn Lebanon. The beautifully simple yet affecting harmony lullaby too was personally motivated, composed soon after the birth of Zehavi's daughter. Its tender lullaby theme in A minor is introduced by horn and imitated and developed by the solo violin, over a delicate texture of low string arpeggios, leading to an impassioned climax. Described by the composer as an "oriental wedding with visitors from Central Europe", the high-spirited finale (the opening reminds me of the start of the finale from Peggy Glanville Hick's "Estruscan Concerto", posted early on my blog) presents a delightful, frothy interplay between the orchestra's oriental modal dance theme and the violin's atonal dodecaphonic transformation; a witty, and optimistic combination which concludes with panache. 

Oded Zehavi


Saturday, March 14, 2015

Michael Horvit - Cullen Overture - Concerto for Brass Quintet & Orchestra - Invocation & Exultation - Aleinu (Adoration) - Daughters of Jerusalem: Fantasy for Violin & Orchestra - Albany Records 1997

Michael Horvit is yet another example of a great yet seriously neglected American composer. Albany Records to the rescue! Indeed the Albany catalog is overflowing with hidden gems and in many cases neglected masterpieces. I feel indebted to the label, their mission has provided me with an abundance of excitement and joy. The majority of Arnold Rosner's recorded music is on Albany, enough reason alone to make me want to seek out Albany's founder Peter Kermani and the producer John Proffitt just to give them long, awkward hugs :) Horvit's music will be enthusiastically welcomed and enjoyed by anyone who loves melodic, proudly tonal 20th century music in a style not unlike Walter Piston, Eric Ewazen, Arnold Rosner, Aaron Copland (Horvit studied with both Walter Piston and Aaron Copland as well as Lucas Foss and Quincy Porter), David Diamond, Paul Creston and others. As Horvit has also written many works that take inspiration from Israeli and Hebraic sources, this is music too that listeners fond of Ernst Bloch, Ben-Haim, Joseph Achron etc. will undoubtedly enjoy.

Michael Horvit (b. 22 June 1932) received his bachelor of music and master of music degrees from Yale University and his doctorate of musical arts from Boston University and is a Professor at the University of Houston Moores School of Music, where he has headed the Theory and Composition Department since 1967. He also served for 25 years as the music director at Houston’s Temple Emanu El and is also co-author of three widely used theory texts. He is the recipient of awards from organizations that include B.M.I., ASCAP, the Martha Baird Rockefeller Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Fridge Trust, Meet the Composer, the F. O. Butler Foundation, and the University of Houston.

His works have been performed in the U.S. and abroad, although clearly not very much. They range from solo instrument and vocal works to large symphonic compositions, choral cantatas and operas, many written specifically for the Jewish liturgy. Among his significant works are his "Even When God Is Silent" and "A Child’s Journey", based on poems by the Israeli poet Yaakov Barzilai, "Invocation and Exultation" for string orchestra, which has been performed throughout Europe and in Japan; "Land of Dreams", a cantata celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel; "The Mystic Flame" a choral symphony, the "Concerto for Brass Quintet and Orchestra, commissioned by the Chicago Chamber Brass; "Antiphon II", for clarinet and electronic tape; and "The Gardens of Hieronymus B.", premiered by the Houston Symphony, which Horvit has called a "free (musical) interpretation" of the painting by the 15th-century Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch-and whose title is taken from Bosch’s triptych, The Garden of Earthly Delights. 

Until the opening of the Moores School of Music in 1997, Cullen Performance Hall was the main concert hall on the campus of the University of Houston. In October, 1988, after a year of extensive renovations, the hall was rededicated with a gala concert featuring the "Cullen Overture", which was commissioned by the university for the occasion.

The overture begins with a stately brass fanfare. This is followed by a fast section which contains two ideas: the first, very rhythmic and featuring the percussion; the second, a lyrical theme stated by the cellos and first bassoon. The central part of the overture is slow. A mysterioso section played by tremolo strings is followed by a chorale, presented by the brass and restated by the winds. The themes of the fast section return and are followed by a brief restatement of the opening fanfare, which brings the overture to a stirring conclusion.

Commissioned by Richard Frazier for the Chicago Chamber Brass, the "Concerto for Brass Quintet and Orchestra" is a showpiece for brass and orchestra. It explores the wide palette of technical and expressive qualities offered by the brass quintet. These attributes are presented together with and sometimes in contrast to the infinitely variable sonorities of the symphony orchestra.

The work has three movements. The first and third are fast, energetic, and vivacious. Rhythmic excitement and the colors of percussion section play a large part in these movements. There are quick shifts from one section of the orchestra to another, and significant displays of technical virtuosity by the solo quintet. In its outer sections, the orchestra provides a sensuous, contrapuntal texture, against which the solo quintet presents its own dialogues and solos. The middle section is an antiphonal chorale for the solo and orchestral brass.

The lyrical "Invocation and Exultation" was commissioned by the Missouri Unit of the American String Teachers Association in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of Mozart's death and was premiered in January, 1991. The subscript to the title page bears the dates, 1791-1991. There are subtle references to Mozart's music in the piece. This is especially true of the first movement which is largely built on an inversion (which re-inverts itself, eventually) of the main theme of Symphony No. 41, last movement. The first movement is "a call to the spirit of Mozart". It is built on a series of canonic entrances, each a self-contained arch, which combine with increasing intensity to a chorale climax. The second movement is a lively mixed meter dance celebrating the spirit of Mozart. It is in ternary form, with the opening and closing sections in an exuberant fortissimo, while the middle section is a calm reflection of the first movement.

"Aleinu" or "Adoration" in Hebrew was commissioned by Congregation Emanu El, Houston, in 1985, in celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the ordination of Rabbi Robert I. Kahn. Composed for baritone, solo violin, SATB choir, and organ, it was premiered in the spring of that year with the composer conducting and Fredell Lack as the violin soloist. This prayer is one of the most important and ancient in Jewish liturgy a heartfelt expression of belief in God. The baritone soloist sings the original Hebrew text, while the choir responds with the English translation. The organ is heard throughout, binding the work together, providing unity and continuity. The melodic style of both solo voice and violin is patterned after the cantorial tradition of Jewish worship. "Aleinu" was written ten years prior to the Daughters of Jerusalem. The composer writes: "Every time I heard Fredell perform the Aleinu, I was deeply moved by her depth of expression, her intuitive, complete understanding of the style, and her gorgeous tone. Over the years we discussed my following Aleinu with a major work for her. At last, with Daughters of Jerusalem, the opportunity arrived." This is a truly beautiful composition, ethereal and spiritually potent. Although "Aleinu" is brief, it shares some of the atmosphere found in parts of Bloch's masterpiece, the 50+ minute "Sacred Service" (Avodath Hakodesh) scored for large chorus, soloists and orchestra. 

"Daughters of Jerusalem" and this special work (Aleinu) are my favorites on this rare disc.

"Daughters of Jerusalem-Fantasy for Violin and Orchestra" was commissioned by Congregation Emanu El, Houston, and is dedicated to violinist Fredell Lack, who premièred it at Temple Emanu El on 25 February 1996, with Franz Anton Krager conducting the Moores School Symphony Orchestra. This is an extremely gorgeous work, the finest work on this recording and not to be missed imo.
"Daughters..." is titled a Fantasy, because it does not follow the usual plan of a concerto, but rather draws its inspiration and meaning from several poems taken from 'The Song of Songs'. The text which provides inspiration for the music consists of three longer poems introduced, separated and followed by a brief refrain. The Fantasy follows the same design, and is played without pause between the movements. Music based on the following short poem, and varying at each appearance, serves as an Introduction, Interludes, and Postlude to the three main movements. The title of the fantasy is taken from this poem:

I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem,
By the gazelles, and by the hinds of the field,
That ye awaken not, nor stir up love, until it please.

The three main movements contrast in tempo, character, and emotional content. The first is a lyrical, lush, romantic expression of love.

As a lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters...
Stay ye me with dainties, refresh me with apples; For I am lovesick.

The middle movement is agitated at first;

"By night on my bed I sought him whom my soul loveth..."

Then builds in intensity;

"I sought him, but I found him not."

And culminates in an explosion of energy;

"When I found him whom my soul loveth, I held him and would not let him go..."

The music of the final movement evolves from the music of the first. It begins expectantly:

"I sleep, but my heart waketh; Hark! My beloved knocketh.
My beloved put his hand by the hole of the door,
And my heart was moved for him."

And ends in despair:

I opened to my beloved; but my beloved had turned away, and was gone... The watchmen that go about the city found me, they smote me, they wounded me..."

The final statement of the refrain, as in the biblical text, differs from the others:

"I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem,
If ye find my beloved, what will ye tell him?
That I am love-sick."

The substantial Fantasy has many of the characteristics we generally associate with a concerto. It contrasts the solo violin with a large orchestra, and much of the music for the solo violin displays the virtuoso qualities of the instrument. While the orchestra is moderate in size, so as not to overpower the solo violin, the instrumentation was chosen for its coloristic possibilities. The English horn and harp in particular, are given major roles.

Track listing:

1) "Cullen Overture" (1988) (11:43) (Texas Music Festival Orchestra, Adrian Gnam, conductor)

"Concerto for Brass Quintet & Orchestra" (1989)

2) I-fast, with energy (5:50)
3) II-moderately slow; sustained (8:17)
4) III-very fast (4:15) 

(The Ambient Brass, Moores School of Music Symphony Orchestra, Franz Anton Krager, conducting)

"Invocation & Exultation" (1990)

5) Invocation-moderately slow (5:54)
6) Exultation-very fast (3:03)

(Norrbotten Chamber Orchestra, Sweden, Leon Spierer, conductor)

7) Aleinu ("Adoration") (1985) (9:32) (Fredell Lack, violin; Stephen Smith, baritone, 
Moores School Concert Chorale, Robert Jones, organ, Charles Hausmann, conductor )

"Daughters of Jerusalem-Fantasy for Violin & Orchestra" (1996) (24:00)

8) Prelude-slow, very sustained

9) Interlude-slow, very sustained

10) Interlude-slow, very sustained
III-very sustained; flowing; with energy; Postlude-as at first

(Fredell Lack, violin, Moores School of Music Symphony Orchestra, Franz Anton Krager, conducting)  TT: 72:36


Thursday, March 12, 2015

Vagn Holmboe - Solo & Chamber Works for Guitar - Sonatas Nos. 1 & 2 for guitar - 5 Intermezzi for Guitar - Duo Concertato for Violin & Guitar - Parlare del più e del meno - Canto e Danza for Recorder & Guitar - 7 Folk Ballads for Recorder & Guitar - Dacapo 2012

Hello everyone. I've been without any real free time lately, but hopefully this weekend will allow me time to add several posts. I need the diversion and serious listening time desperately..

When the Danish composer Vagn Holmboe (1909-96) started to write guitar music, he had already been composing for half a century. Captivated by this ancient instrument, Holmboe wrote two beautiful sonatas and a number of solo pieces as well as duets for guitar and other instruments, combining his love of simple, transparent structures and organic musical development with the folklore of foreign cultures and his own Nordic roots. This disc is a guitar lover's delight (I know I'm
always delighted!) and while Vagn Holmboe's guitar music is much less familiar than most works from his extensive output, it has charm and substance, and it is every bit as enjoyable/wonderful/ and is superbly crafted.  

Vagn Holmboe began writing for the guitar at the age of 70, and then continued to create works for the instrument for another 13 years. It's not clear what initially drew him to the instrument. He said little about it other than to comment that he wanted to write for it, and so he did. He first composed more formal works, the two Guitar Sonatas on this disc. Each is a suite of thematically related pieces, worked out in the organic way that he typically developed his material, and very concise, especially the second of these. Folk qualities were impossible to avoid, however, as a listen to many of the works here will demonstrate. Still, as the booklet notes point out, this is hardly Holmboe taking up "light music" at the end of his life, for there is much complexity and sophistication of invention. The "Five Intermezzi for Guitar" which followed two years later in 1981, are of a similar character, but the composer is starting to actually embrace the folk connections, using a folk-like melody of obvious Spanish flavor as a unifying theme, and adding characteristic rhythmic percussive effects and shifting meters as well. 

In 1983, he went further with "Seven Folk Ballads" employing actual folk tunes from England, Israel, France, Ukraine, and his native Denmark. The original intent was to create duos for balalaika and guitar, but eventually the composer opted for the more complementary sound of the recorder. The setting of each tune, beginning with the familiar 'The Three Ravens' from England, captures the character of the folk melody with simplicity and grace. In the fantastic "Duo Concertato for Violin and Guitar" (1986) the violin adds an Eastern European quality as the two instruments engage in a witty and sometimes dramatic conversation. In the last solo work, the introspective "Parlare del più e del meno" (1988), the conversation becomes a monolog, internalized in five very short movements of great density, rhythmic freedom, and centered calm. I'm tempted to say that this is one of my 'favorite' works on the disc, however like a child talking about colors-I find that everything here is my 'favorite'. Vagn Holmboe's last chamber work for guitar, "Canto e Danza", written in 1992 when Holmboe was 83, is a set of variations on a Spanish harvest song, in three contrasting movements, followed by a lively baroque dance movement which sounds like the work of a younger man. Simply delightful.

The stylistic rather than strictly chronological structuring of the program, working from the more serious sonatas to the encore-like folk ballads, works beautifully. The performers, all outstanding Danish musicians, capture the delicate personality of each work perfectly, most especially guitarist Jesper Sivebæk.



Monday, March 9, 2015

J.S. Bach - Keyboard Concerto No.1 in D minor - Paul Hindemith - The Four Temperaments: Theme with Four Variations for Piano & Strings - Ernst Bloch - Concerto Grosso No.1 for String Orch. with Piano Obbligato - MSR Classics 2013

I  must say am having a rollicking good time unwrapping discs purchased in or around 2013. Truly it's the same kind of excitement as if I had just received them in the mail; after all I don't know what I'm about to find in these piles-simply because I was still able to buy so much at that time and can't keep track (Has anyone else out there ever bought the same disc twice? This has happened to me....a few times ;)   So here we have three works for Piano & String Orchestra. Paul Hindemith's "The Four Temperaments" is one of my favorite Hindemith works but also one of my favorite piano + orchestra compositions in general. I have many recordings of it, and thus far I'm extremely pleased with this interpretation, the pianist and string players are playing with passion and obvious enthusiasm, and I like their choice of tempi very much. Bloch's Concerti Grossi are also favorite works of mine, and here his "Concerto Grosso No. 1" is also played extremely well start to finish. As far as the ubiquitous Bach keyboard concerto goes, there's really nothing that needs to be said; I'm sure most of you also have a dozen or more recordings of this wonderful but overplayed concerto. The reading here is good, although the sound quality is not as good (-unless it's my imagination? The orchestra playing the Bach is the same that pulls off the Hindemith so well-only the Bloch is performed by a different orchestra. Tell me if I'm just having hearing problems!) as on the Hindemith and Bloch works. 

"The Four Temperaments - Theme with Four Variations for Piano and Strings" was composed when Hindemith first established himself in the United States in 1940. The origins of this work are somewhat murky. According to the website of the the New York City Ballet, it was commissioned by George Balanchine to give himself something to play (the famous choreographer was an accomplished pianist, but it is not clear whether or not he ever actually performed the work). The first public performance did not take place that same year (as is stated in almost all reference sources) but four years later in 1944 when Lukas Foss played it with the Boston Symphony under Richard Burgin at a special concert at the New England Mutual Hall on September 3rd; the work was later repeated at Symphony Hall as part of the orchestra's regular season.

In 1946, Balanchine founded 'Ballet Society', the predecessor of the New York City Ballet, and he choreographed the Theme with Four Variations under the title "The Four Temperaments" for the first performances of the company. The premiere was on November 20th, 1946 at the Central High for Needle Trades (the predecessor to the Fashion Institute of Technology) with a cast that included Tanaquil Le Clerc and Todd Bolender; the pianist was Nicholas Kopeikine and the conductor Leon Barzin.

The notion that human behavior is dominated by four humors or temperaments each connected to a bodily fluid- black bile for the 'melancholic', blood for the 'sanguine', phlegm for the 'phlegmatic' and yellow bile for the 'choleric'- goes back at least as far as the ancient Greeks and, although long since abandoned by the medical profession, continues to have some poetic or literary currency. Was it Hindemith's idea or the choreographer's to apply this program to the music? Ironically, while the titles appear to push this score away from pure musical abstraction, the ballet was in fact a big step in Balanchine's evolution away from narrative dance. Hindemith's musical interpretation of this idea is not simply musically, let alone programmatically. The work, although classical in its use of piano and strings and its expanded C major - C minor - E flat tonality, does not exactly fit the mold of a classical or baroque concerto or of a conventional theme and variations. The theme itself has three distinct parts: a Moderato in the strings with a long lyric melody, a tocatta or scherzo-like Allegro assai led off and finished by the piano and later joined by the strings, and a Moderato in the style of a 6/8 siciliano, finished up by the strings only-first solo, and then later with pizzicato accompaniment and an embellished piano solo in the middle.

The first variation "Melancholy", might suggest a dance of death. It starts as a slow, mournful 9/8 duet between the solo piano and a solo violin followed by a whirlwind 12/8 Presto for the strings alone. It ends with a funeral march in in E-flat minor with a drum-roll rhythmic figure in the piano and a dramatic, sinister melody in the strings.

"Sanguine" is the only variation that does not change tempo; it is a landler (18th century folk dance) style waltz dominated by the strings with rhythmic punctuations and 'oom-pahs' from the piano and, except for an occasional insertion of 2/4 bars, it maintains the 3/4 waltz tempo throughout. There is a kind of Trio introduced by a sequence of trills in the piano and then with running notes in octaves in the piano over pizzicato and then melodic strings. The strings pick up the running motion before a return to the main waltz in a particularly melodic form. The movement ends with a dynamic buildup over harmonic stasis- running notes in the piano over a steady E minor in the strings.

The third variation, "Phlegmatic", begins Moderato in 4/4 with solo string quartet in a typically Hindemithian expanded version of the key of C major. A 12/8 Allegretto in the form of a slow dance belongs to the piano with occasional brief interruptions from the solo strings; the meter and the shifting tonality give it a kind of 'tipsy' character. A piano solo in octaves leads leads into a rather jolly folk-like Allegro scherzando in 2/4, dominated by the solo strings with the piano offering mostly rhythmic/chordal accompaniment. The piano suddenly goes quiet and the variation fades to a rhythmic pianissimo in E-flat. 

The last variation "Choleric" begins with a kind of dramatic accompanied recitative in a constantly shifting tempo. The strings and piano offer loud and louder interjections, outlining the double-tonality of C major and E flat major. A Vivace in 2/4 begins with pizzicato strings, and interpolations from the piano turn into off-beat 'oom-pahs' (this section is one of my favorites!) before going back to a reverse series interpolations and pizzicatos. The Appassionato that follows is in a sweeping 12/8 with rich octave melodies in the strings and call-and-response between the strings and piano. The movement and the work culminate in a Maestoso which starts quietly with rising eighth notes in the piano that accompany sweeping octaves in the strings and lead to a triple forte C major climax.
This work leaves me gleefully breathless time and again :)

Ernst Bloch's fantastic Concerto Grosso No.1 has already been posted here (with No.2 as well) on a CPO disc, so I won't discuss it in this post.

Track listing:

J.S. Bach - Concerto No.1 in D minor for Keyboard and Strings, Bwv 1052

1)Allegro (7:54)
2)Adagio (8:17)
3)Allegro (7:46)

Paul Hindemith - "The Four Temperaments" for Piano and Strings

4)Thema - Moderato; Allegro assai; Moderato (5:45)
5)First Variation - Melancholisch: Langsam; Presto; Langsamer Marsch (5:50)
6)Second Variation - Sanguinisch: Waltzer (5:18)
7)Third Variation - Phlegmatisch: Moderato; Allegretto; Allegretto scherzando (4:58)
8)Fourth Variation - Cholerisch: Introduction; Vivace; Appassionato; Maestoso (6:27)

Ernst Bloch - "Concerto Grosso No.1 for String Orchestra and Piano Obbligato

9)Prelude: Allegro energico e pesante (2:56)
10)Dirge: Andante moderato (6:41)
11)Pastorale and Rustic Dances: Assa lento; Allegro; Moderato, ma non troppo lento (6:53)
12)Fugue: Allegro (5:31)