Friday, October 30, 2015

Carl Rütti: Organ Works - Jacob's Ladder - Annunciation - Tabor - Tongues of Fire - Vita - Carl Rütti, Organ of Hofkirche St. Leodegar, Lucerne, Switzerland - Guild Records 2009

I have been listening to a lot of organ music lately (contemporary works but more so a seemingly endless amount of Bach..and those Leipzig Chorale Preludes..I can't not listen to them lately, it's
my very late night soundtrack!) Add quite a bit of Widor and Durufle's masterworks and you have
my 'concert for one' in a nutshell. I am extremely fond of everything that Carl Rütti composes, and his organ music is some of the finest in the modern repertoire. I am excited as I just found out that Guild has recently released the world premiere recording of Rütti's First Symphony (whether or not it's with organ I do not know) as well as a work for string orchestra-I want to get my mitts on this
recording like I cannot tell you - ok, sure I'd love to tell you, but my high excitement and equally high amount of disappointment of being currently poor are both too great for words. Or it was just a figure of speech form the start. If you cannot understand what on earth I'm saying, it's not you, it's because I have been awake since Thursday morning :-O

*I will provide information on these works when I can, however that's likely not going to happen until Sunday evening.

A few photos of the glorious Hofkirche Organ:

Enjoy the magnificence of these 5,949 historic pipes! 


Timothy Nelson - Music for the Brothers Quay Documentary - "Through the Weeping Glass: On the Consolations of Life Everlasting (Limbos & Afterbreezes in the Mütter Museum)" - Mütter Muszea, Atelier Koninck & Pro Bono Films 2012

Twin brothers Stephen and Timothy Quay have been ('two') of my favorite filmmakers/artists/directors for many years now. I am a huge fan of surrealist stop-motion animation and puppetry, especially from Eastern Europe-the Czechs in particular have always had a special preoccupation with surrealism, and many of the best surrealist and experimental filmmakers have come from the Bohemian land of King Rudolf II. The Brothers Quay have always collaborated with the most interesting one-of-a-kind composers, the best example being Leszek Jankowski whom the Quays had a long creative partnership with. Jankowski composed music for most of their short films and a couple full length features as well. The music for their fascinating documentary-short (31 min) was written by Timothy Nelson, a composer, sound designer, and multi-instrumentalist whose music powerfully adds to the film's visual strength. I knew nothing about him prior to the film. The music is oft abstract,  gloomy, other-worldy, beautiful, and in general hard to pigeonhole. It works wonderfully within the fascinating, macabre setting of the Mütter Museum.

Dvd cover of the Quay's film. 

Timothy Nelson's soundtrack is included on the dvd as mp3s so I finally plopped them on my HD.

"Through the Weeping Glass: On the Consolations of Life Everlasting (Limbos & Afterbreezes in the Mütter Museum)" is specifically a documentary on the collections of books, instruments, and medical anomalies at The College of Physicians of Philadelphia and the Mütter Museum. It’s a ghoulish, educational and intriguing collection.  This short film, commissioned by the College, is the first made by the internationally recognized and brilliant Quay Brothers here in the United States. The coupling of the Quay Brothers' vision with the collections of the Mütter Museum and the College's Historical Medical Library has produced a riveting experience of contemplative set pieces in which the Quays find poetry in the ill-fated, true-life stories of the "ossified man" Harry Eastlack, and famed Siamese twins Chang and Eng Bunker among many others. The resonant voice-over is performed superbly by Derek Jacobi. 

Composer Timothy Nelson

The "Viennese eye phantom"

Above is the skeleton of Harry Eastlack, a young man who died from the rare disease Fibrodysplasia Ossificants Progressiva, where cartilage in the bones ossifies, causing a "second skeleton" to grow.

Scene which explores a rare, very old anatomical "pop up" book

Skull from the Hyrtl collection

The actual plaster cast made shortly after the death of the Bunker Brothers
Part of the Viennese anatomist Joseph Hyrtl skull collection
The Brothers Quay during filming at the Mütter

Rather creepy device known as the perforator. This was used to save the mother's life in 'emergencies' by taking another

This is actually a tumor

And no this post has nothing to do with it being Halloween here in the States tomorrow! To be serious, I am fascinated with all kinds of dark subjects, and medical anomalies are extraordinarily interesting. One cannot begin to fathom however these kind of existences. The museum has 1000s of examples of all kind, including the strangest objects ever swallowed, and a (human) colon in a display case that's about 3 feet long. The Quays tell the stories of those unspeakably afflicted with great dignity.

The composer's own site says that "Nelson's film music has been compared to that of Zdeněk Liška, Alan Splet, Ennio Morricone, Krzysztof Komeda and Toru Takemitsu. I urge all of you to be adventurous and check it out (and the documentary as well!). I think anyone missing more traditional, or lyrical music here will well enjoy the brief last track, "Orchids"..

Enjoy ye adventurers

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

David Maslanka, Symphony No. 7 - Samuel Zyman, Cycles - Matthew Halper, Concerto for Flute and Wind Ensemble - Illinois State University Wind Symphony "World Premieres of Commissioned Works" Albany Records 2006

The American composer David Maslanka (born August 30th, 1943) is yet another musical unsung-hero and a great one at that. I discovered his music back in 1997 when I bought a disc, also on Albany Records, called "When Angels Speak" with the Manhattan Wind Quintet. The disc features music by three other composers, but it was Maslanka's "Quintet No. 2 for Winds" that made an immediate and lasting impression. I immediately moved on to the fantastic series, yet again on Albany (as with Arnold Rosner, Albany has been Maslanka's strongest champion) of Maslanka's beautiful and powerful Wind Symphonies, of which there are eight currently. The Symphony No. 1 is for orchestra, and if I'm correct it is still unrecorded. -I would love to be incorrect; if anyone knows of, or better yet has any recorded performance of it, do let me know!! 

Maslanka's Symphony No. 7 is a big-boned, exciting work (and it may surprise with it's piano introduction-no, you have not been dropped in the middle of a Rachmaninov piece, I assure you! The piano continues to play an important role in the first two movements). Truly this symphony is an absolute knockout in my opinion, start to finish. The use of percussion too is magical, and in the final movement quite mysteriously so: the usage of bells and xylophone in the tranquil first half of the movement reminds me of Hovhaness (particularly AH's "Star Dawn", which is indeed a symphony for winds as well) and it's a most ethereal, almost zen-like "break" that the composer allows us, after the wonderfully kinetic sonic beating we experience in the prior movement (Mvt 3 - "Very Fast") This, ladies and gentlemen, is fantastic music-making.

David Maslanka

Here's a brief bio on Maslanka taken from his own site:

David Maslanka was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts in 1943. He attended the Oberlin College Conservatory where he studied composition with Joseph Wood. He spent a year at the Mozarteum in Salzburg, Austria, and did masters and doctoral study in composition at Michigan State University where his principal teacher was H. Owen Reed.

Maslanka’s music for winds has become especially well known. Among his more than 130 works are forty pieces for wind ensemble, including seven symphonies, fifteen concertos, a Mass, and many concert pieces. His chamber music includes four wind quintets, five saxophone quartets, and many works for solo instrument and piano. In addition, he has written a variety of orchestral and choral pieces.

David Maslanka’s compositions are published by Maslanka Press, Carl Fischer, Kjos Music, Marimba Productions, and OU Percussion Press. They have been recorded on Albany, Reference Recordings, BIS (Sweden), Naxos, Cambria, CRI, Mark, Novisse, AUR, Cafua (Japan), Brain Music (Japan), Barking Dog, and Klavier labels. He has served on the faculties of the State University of New York at Geneseo, Sarah Lawrence College, New York University, and Kingsborough Community College of the City University of New York, and since 1990 has been a freelance composer. He now lives in Missoula, Montana. David Maslanka is a member of ASCAP. 


Samuel Zyman's "Cycles" and Matthew Halper's Concerto for Flute and Wind Ensemble were both nice surprises, making this disc an all-around gem. My arm is telling me to stop typing (for those of you perhaps visiting for the first time, I'm not crazy -well, the diagnosis remains unclear- anyhow I do not hold conversations with my limbs - rather, I have an injury and cannot use my left arm/hand for too long) unfortunately, but I'm including booklet notes. Strangely all info on Maslanka and his Symphony No. 7 are missing here, I didn't make this poorly scanned file. I will type out the missing notes myself when I can..

Enjoy everyone!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Music of Armenia - Edvard Mirzoyan, Sonata for Cello and Piano - Vache Sharafyan, Between a Dream and Awakening for Saxophone and Cello - On Wings of Hymns - Blue Griffin Recordings 2013

Here is a very nice disc of chamber music from two Armenian composers. Edvard Mirzoyan is the name that will likely be (somewhat) familiar to visitors who know 20th-21st century Armenian composers. Well that's it, I will be resting my arm/shoulder as much as possible, so for now I shall let the music do the 'talking'..

Enjoy everyone


Saturday, October 24, 2015

Charles Tomlinson Griffes "Goddess of the Moon" Exotic Chamber Music: Three Sketches on Indian Themes - Sonata for Piano - The Kairn of Koridwen - Three Japanese Melodies - Perspectives Ensemble, Newport Classics 1998

Charles Tomlinson Griffes was an intriguing and fascinating man and composer. He was interested/obsessed with exotic subjects and ethnic legends (Druid, Japanese, Indian, Chinese and Russian in particular) and was fascinated by the French Impressionist composers; Indeed Griffes is considered to be *the* early American Impressionist composer. Living only from 1884-1920, he was ahead of his time in the States as all of his music displays.  I will have to remember to post more of Griffes, he is a special composer who crafted special music; always saturated with a strong sense of the mysterious. 

The recondite "The Kairn of Koridwen", inspired by Druid legend is here presented in a "concert version" however I have a recording of the entire piece (which fills a whole disc) which I will unearth when I can. It's a highly atmospheric and unusual work and the listener feels, as in most of Griffe's pieces, that the terrain is unfamiliar but also welcoming-aurally and perhaps eerily dark, yet also light-what's around each corner one knows not. 

Again, I will add info on the music when I'm feeling better.

Enjoy everyone

Ralph Vaughan Williams - Peter Schickele - Richard Straus - Oboe Concertos - Pamela Pecha, Oboe - The Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra - Carlton Classics 1997

Hello everyone. Sorry that it's been slow (slower than usual that is) around here but I am and have been stuck home with a debilitating torn rotator cuff which makes it hard to use my shoulder, arm, neck and in particular to write; I'm trying to do a bit, but I will not be adding details about the recordings (until this heals) because the pain is too intense. (And no...I'm not some 'great athlete', rather my body is rebelling ;)  

Hola a todos. Lo sentimos que ha sido lento (más lento de lo habitual que es) por aquí, pero estoy y se han pegado a casa con un manguito de los rotadores desgarrado debilitante que hace que sea difícil de usar mi brazo, el cuello y en particular para escribir; Estoy tratando de hacer un poco, pero no voy a añadir detalles sobre las grabaciones (hasta el cura) porque el dolor es demasiado intenso.
(Y no ... no soy un 'gran atleta ", en lugar de mi cuerpo se rebela;)

Quickly I will say that I wanted to keep posting Peter Schickele, thus this rare recording. The concerto will be a nice discovery for anyone who does not know it. With the current pain I can't dig around for more Schickele, but will do so soon hopefully. RVW's Oboe Concerto has always been my favorite in the repertoire-it is insanely beautiful, a true knockout. The version here is good, although I have several favorite recordings and this is not one of them. The opening mvt is too rushed (imo), and when the strings enter-the 'spine-tingling moment' does not happen for me. The Strauss..well it's ubiquitous for a good reason, and the performance here is quite good.

Concertos for Oboe and Orchestra, Track Listing:

R. Strauss

1) Allegro moderato
2) Andante
3) Vivace

Vaughan Williams

4) Rondo pastorale
5) Minuet and Musette
6) Finale (Scherzo)

Peter Schickele

7) I. Aria attacca II. Scherzo
8) III. Chant
9) IV. Dances attacca V. Epilogue 

Enjoy all

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Norman Dello Joio, Homage to Haydn - Peter Schickele, Pentangle: Five Songs for French Horn and Orchestra - Vincent Persichetti, Symphony No. 8 - "First Edition/American Archives Series" - The Louisville Orchestra, Leonard Slatkin/Jorge Mester - Kenneth Albrecht, French Horn - Albany 1989

In the 1980s and early 1990s Albany records re-released some of the legendary Louisville Orchestra "First Edition" recordings. I believe only 10 or 11 releases were offered (needless to say the Louisville archives are large, and a musical treasure-chest in every possible sense (the "First Edition Records" label has been releasing many of the original LPs as most of you likely know, and how wonderful it is that this series exists! Joy.) This is one of my favorites from the series-and it can be entirely attributed to Peter Schickele's wondrous and exciting "Pentangle, Five Songs for French Horn and Orchestra". The Dello Joio and Persichetti works are good-but while Schickele's "Pentangle" is bursting with personality and such varied moods and atmosphere-the other two works imo are just not as memorable, although both are finely crafted (it's Dello Joio and Persichetti after all..). I will listen to the whole disc on occasion but usually straight to the Schickele do I go. It's an unique adventure!

This art is from the re-re-release in 1998 it seems, similar to the 1989 disc I have, although the original front cover doesn't show the composers as seen here, which is a nice touch.

I have been extremely fond of Peter Schickele for as long as I can remember (no one imo has contributed comedy and wit to the classical music "establishment"  quite like him, or rather his alter-ego "PDQ Bach", whom he "discovered" years ago, a lost Bach son. His recordings as "PDQ" are extremely successful (he won four grammys for his releases on Telarc, and there are many recordings on Vanguard also) and tons of fun, and his concerts are (apparently) not to be missed; sadly, thus far I have missed every single one, although my parents went to at least 10 concerts over the years-what they have told me makes me jealous!) As PDQ, he wrote music such as "Iphigenia in Brooklyn", "Sneaky Pete and the Wolf", The "Short-Tempered Clavier", Oratorio: "The Seasonings", "Unbegun" Symphony, "Pervertimento for Bagpipes, Bicycle and Balloons"...and the list goes on. His radio show "Schickele mix" on P.R.I. was an innovative mix of both modern and early composers, but musicians such as the Beach Boys or Cole Porter would also pop up; Schickele often made the music into "suites" that demonstrate how these pieces unexpectedly share a similar musical technique or idea. Classical or otherwise. It was a brilliant program that ran for 15 years. Also a performer, educator and musicologist, Schickele is a true renaissance man and I could happily write pages and pages about him; he's just that damn interesting. As a composer of "serious" concert music (his orchestral works and his larger body of chamber music is just wonderful) he is under appreciated and not explored enough. 

Peter Schickele was born in Ames, Iowa on July 17th, 1935. At the Julliard School he studied with Vincent Persichetti and William Bergsma before embarking on a variegated career in rock, folk and 'serious' music. He has been associated with several recordings by singer Joan Baez, composing music the music for the sensitive "Baptism", and arranging one of the finest albums of Christmas music, "Noël". But as mentioned above Schickele is best known for his "discovery" of PDQ Bach, a composer, and arranger responsible for a hilarious parody of classical music. 

"Pentangle, for French Horn and Orchestra" was commissioned by French Horn player Tom Bacon who was soloist at the premiere by the West Shore Symphony of Muskegon, Michigan, on February 15th, 1976. The piece contains five sections entitled "Cottonwood Grove", "Tom on the Town", "Noonsong", "Ladies and Gentlemen, the Amazing and Amusing Professor Presto", and "The Riddling Knight". The composer has provided the following commentary for Pentangle (which, incidentally, means five-pointed star, a symbol associated for centuries with philosophers and magicians):

"The subtitle of Pentangle, Five Songs for French Horn and Orchestra, refers to the fact that it is closer in structure to a song cycle than to the symphonic developmental concerto of the last 200 years. During the great folk-rock renaissance of the late 1960s, the record album came to be regarded not merely as a receptacle for singles, but as a specific span of time within which songs, sometimes even inter-related, were arranged with an ear not only toward their import as separate numbers, but their overall effect as a suite. I think of Pentangle as an album side and, as a matter of fact, a couple of the themes were originally written for songs. The music was conceived for the modern symphony orchestra, but it is as indebted to jazz, folk and rock as it is to traditional classical music. Although the title was chosen for other reasons, the fact that it implies a tribute to Pentangle, Fairport Convention, Incredible String Band, and other British folk-orientated groups is perfectly fine. 

Cottonwood Grove is shimmering, serene. Tom on the Town grew out of a song begun for - but not used in - a movie for which I did the score. The film took place in Dublin. In Noonsong, the soloist is required produce chords of three or more notes, a technique which seems to go at least as far back as the beginning of the 19th century. The fourth movement - Ladies and Gentlemen, the Amazing and Amusing Professor Presto - pays respect to that relative of the musician, the magician, and the Riddling Knight is adapted lyrically from the traditional English ballad:

There were three sisters fair and bright                         And tell me, gentle maiden,
As ever the sun did see,                                                 What is louder than a horn,
And they three loved one valiant knight                        Tell me, pretty maiden,
As the dew lies on the tree.                                            What is louder than a horn?"

The youngest was determined                                        "Hunger is sharper than a thorn,
For to wed this valiant knight.                                        And thunder is louder than a horn,
"And if you can answer questions three,                        And thunder, O valiant knight,
Fair maid, I will be thine,                                               Is louder than a horn"
If you can answer questions three,
Fair maid, I will be thine"                                              "What is broader than the sky
                                                                                        And deeper than the sea?"
"Tell me, gentle maiden,                                                 "Love is broader than the sky
What is sharper than a thorn?                                          And deeper than the sea"
                                                                                        "Now you have answered well, fair maid,
                                                                                        And I will marry thee".

-The ballad of "The Riddling Knight" is to be performed by the Horn player or another member of
the orchestra..and it shows here, as the vocals are amateur at best-although I suspect that's the intention. There's a particular poignancy in this way I think.

This is special music folks...every time I listen to Pentangle it evokes different things for me (everything from the great Duke Ellington to the Knights of the Round Table-Arthurian and Monty Python both!).

Norman Dello Joio's "Homage to Haydn" was premiered by no less than Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra in Little Rock on June 3rd, 1969. Norman Dello Joio was there and apparently  the work was very well received, the composer taking many bows to a standing ovation generously punctuated with 'bravos'. The concert was part of a celebration of Arkansas's 150th anniversary as a US territory, and other composers on the program included Wagner, Debussy, and Brahms.

"Homage to Haydn", written in 1968-69, does not quote directly from the Papa himself, but does evoke the mood and spirit of the great classicist. Dello Joio says of this work: "The title indicates my intense admiration for Haydn, his seeming simplicity and also good humor. The more I get to know his work intimately, the more I am struck by his endless imagination. The strong affinity I feel for him as a composer is due to the directness of his communication which tends to be characteristic of my own efforts". This work is in three movements:

I. Introduction-Allegro scherzando. After a sombre beginning adagio sostenuto, Haydnesque themes are interpolated by the strings. The movement is charming, spiced with wit and inspired by Haydn's liveliness. 

II. Adagio, molto sostenuto. The most chromatic of the three sections, this movement derives its power  from compelling harmonies (and a rather fascinating use of triplets in various rhythmical surroundings).

III. Allegro giocoso. Lively syncopated rhythms establish the warmth and freedom of the final movement. Modern rhythms abound, although Haydn is not forgotten. 

This is a well done work imo, but not that moving or powerful like his (Pulitzer Prize winning) "Meditations on Ecclesiastes".

-I will add info on the Persichetti soon, I am having issues w. shoulder/neck pain

Enjoy everyone!

(last track and photos):

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Music by James Niblock - Il Penseroso e Allegro - Terzina - Medieval Suite - Trio in B-flat, K.358 (Mozart, transcribed by Niblock) - Palindrome - Paganiana - MSU Fight Song - The Verdehr Trio, "The Making of a Medium Vol. 7" - Crystal Records 1998

I am a bad son. Right now I am "visiting" my parents and of course I could not help myself and currently I am going through a couple boxes of discs (or rather I was). I have much stored in their house and well the pull to browse through recordings I don't even remember off-hand is too strong!
So quickly here's a disc of music by the American composer James Niblock (born in Scappoose, Oregon, on November 1st, 1917). This is charming, enjoyable music indeed! The Verdehr Trio are exceptional players, and their " The Making of a Medium" series on Crystal is imo no less exceptional. I have already posted Volume 1 quite a while back, a recording that features Hovhaness's  "Lake Samish" for Violin, Clarinet and Piano. 

James Niblock's musical background includes violin study with Franck Eichenlaub of Portland, Oregon and Jascha Brodsky of Philadelphia, Pennsylvannia. After serving in the US Air Force (1942-46), he began his graduate work at the Colorado College in Colorado Springs  where he studied violin with Josef  Gingold and music composition with Roy Harris and Paul Hindemith.  (more info another time..)

Walter Verdehr, Violin - Elsa Ludewig-Verdehr, Clarinet - Gary Kirkpatrick, Piano

Track listing:

1)Il Penseroso e Allegro (5:28)


2)Presto (4:15)
3)Adagio (5:56)
4)Allegro (3:36)

Medieval Suite

5)Allegro (2:13)
6)Adagio (3:58)
7)Andante (3:35)
8)Adagio; Allegro molto (2:57)

Trio in B-flat, K.358 by W.A. Mozart (transcribed by Niblock)

9)Allegro (4:25)
10)Adagio (5:23)
11)Molto Presto (2:34)

12)Palindrome (4:07)

13)Paganiana (4:56)

14)MSU Fight Song (1:55)


Friday, October 16, 2015

Benjamin Lees - Symphonies Nos. 2, 3, and 5 ("Kalmar Nyckel") - Etudes for Piano and Orchestra - (2 CDs) Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz, Stephen Gunzenhauser - James Dick, Piano - Texas Festival Orchestra, Robert Spano - Albany 2003

The American composer (although he was born in Harbin (now China, but part of Russian-controlled Manchuria prior to 1905..The significant ethnic Russian population and cultural identity continued long afterward, where there was an established Jewish community) Benjamin Lees wrote big-boned music (especially the symphonies) in a style that's both modern yet entirely accessible. These are great symphonies to get lost in, each one is a completely satisfying voyage worth tacking many times. The "Etudes for Piano and Orchestra" is full of electricity and also lyricism, and one of my favorite works here. Naxos released in 1998 Benjamin Lee's 4th Symphony, "Memorial Candles", which is his best known symphony. I will add that recording when (as usual..) I can locate it!

Here are the booklet notes by the composer:

Benjamin Lees was born on January 8, 1924 and spent his early years in San Francisco, moving to Los Angeles with his family in 1939. He began piano studies at the age of five with K.I. Rodetsky, continuing with Marguerite Bitter in Los Angeles. He attended the University of Southern California after military service in World War II and later began four years of intensive private study with George Antheil. Following a Fromm Foundation Award in 1953 and his first Guggenheim Fellowship in 1954 the composer and his wife left for Europe. He remained there for seven years, creating new works in a village near Paris. During this period, his compositions were performed on RTF, Paris and the BBC, London.

Lees returned to the U.S. in 1962, joining the faculty of the Peabody Conservatory, Baltimore as the W. Alton Jones Professor of Composition. In the years following, major performances of his work were given by the Cleveland Orchestra, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

Major soloists and chamber groups performing the works of Benjamin Lees have included Emanuel Ax, Gary Graffman, Maureen Forrester, Henryk Szeryng, Ruggiero Ricci, Elmar Oliveira, Peter Frankl, and Georgy Pauk; the Juilliard String Quartet, Paganini Quartet, Tokyo String Quartet, Aurora String Quartet, Budapest String Quartet, the Williams Trio and the Pacific Arts Trio. A pair of compact discs on the Albany Records label — a recital of Lees' complete violin music performed by Ellen Orner, and a release featuring Ian Hobson in three of the composer's major piano works — have gained enthusiastic critical praise. Lees' music also appears on the New World Records and Naxos labels.

In addition to his post at the Peabody Conservatory, Lees has taught composition at Queens College, the Manhattan School of Music, and the Juilliard School. Mr. Lees has been awarded, among other prizes, two Guggenheim Fellowships; the UNESCO Award (Paris) for String Quartet No. 2; the Sir Arnold Bax Medal; Copley Foundation Award, a Fulbright Fellowship; and the Composer's Award from the Lancaster Symphony. Major articles on his works have been written for Tempo magazine by Deryck Cooke, Nicolas Slonimsky, Niall O'Loughlin and Bret Johnson.

Symphony No. 2 (world premiere December 3, 1958, The Louisville Orchestra, Robert Whitney, conductor)

The first movement opens with a quasi-passacaglia figure given to the bassoons, cellos, and contrabasses, punctuated by the timpani. This figure is employed both as a theme and ground-bass throughout the movement. The principal theme enters very shortly over this ground-bass and is uttered by the violas and an English horn. From the very first, therefore, the mood is dark and there is a feeling of foreboding. Clarinets elaborate on the principal theme, while flute and oboe answer. Suddenly the ground-bass theme is thrown to the trombones, tuba, and contrabasses, with sharp accents and replies from the orchestra. The tempo quickens and a transition follows, in which the brass section engages in a fiery display. The tempo slows down as the second theme is picked up by the flutes. A flurry by the strings and this time the second theme, by strings, bassoons, and brass assumes a more sardonic and twisted shape. A short development of the theme follows which leads directly to the third subject by the winds. Underneath it the second theme is still attacked by strings and trombones. The third subject is now given to the fist violins, a short transition follows, the pace slackens, and the development section unfolds. Near the end of this section the re-transition makes its first appearance, driving relentlessly towards a climax by clarion calls from the trumpets in high C. There is then a gradual return to the first tempo: the feeling of foreboding returning with the emergence of the ground-bass theme. We are now back to the original mood and tempo of the movement. Clarinets, flutes, and oboe join in as before, and the movement comes to a close with a final phrase by the horns and second violins.

The second movement, a Scherzo, is composed of five elements, three of which are heard immediately. There is a furious entrance by winds and strings (element one) culminating in a jolting phrase by the timpani (element two), which leads directly to a passage by bassoons, horns, and cellos (element three). These elements actually comprise one continuous phrase from the very outset, but we must refer to them as three separate elements because of the developments they undergo, separately, later in the movement. Element four is quickly introduced by flutes and clarinets in the form of a theme with staccato accompaniment from the strings, trombone and trumpet.

Element one returns in a rush by the first violins and the tympani closes the phrase immediately (element two). There is a short development of all three elements and the tempo suddenly accleerates. With the violas and celli still developing, the first violins enter with a variation of the development, flutes, piccolo, and xylophone take over, a slackening of the tempo follows and the timpani phrase brings us back to the original tempo of the movement. A soft, short solo clarinet passage darts in momentarily, followed by a statement by the brass section (element five. From this point on all five elements undergo an extended development. The climax of this development is reached by the timpani in a triple fortissimo development of the original phrase, with trombones thundering above it. A dialogue ensues between the timpani and solo horn, the horn representing element three. The tempo throughout this dialogue is slower than the original. The strings announce the return of the original tempo, and there is an immediate forward movement toward an episodic section. After the close of this section the original three elements are heard once more, element four rides above it with winds and trumpet, the brass hints at element five and there is a final rush to the end as the timpani ends the movement.

The last movement, Adagio, opens with a brief, soft passage for the solo oboe, leading into the main theme stated by violas and clarinet. The second part of this theme is given over to the rest of the string section. The tempo accelerates and a short agitated development follows, the bass trombone playing a leading part against the strings. The section closes and a quiet figure by the English horn makes its appearance, bolstered by horns and pizzicato strings. Again an accelerated tempo takes over, there is a flurry culminating in sharp accents from the brass, and we enter into an episodic section consisting of pizzicato strings. Against this background a solo oboe plays softly. There is then a return to the original tempo, and a development of all that has gone before proceeds to unfold. The development is forceful and builds to an emotional climax. Once again, however, the calm mood returns as winds grasp a fragment, and xylophone and harp answer. With great suddenness the tempo quickens and the principal theme is stated with great force by the brass section, backed up by strings. From this point on the turbulence subsides. The trumpets, quietly, prepare the way for a return to the beginning. There is a short preparation by cellos, contrabasses, and timpani, pianissimo. Violas and clarinet state the principal theme, in altered form, for the last time. There are sharp thrusts by the flutes and oboe in E minor, answered quietly by the rest of the orchestra in the key of E-flat. Flutes and oboe continue to strike hard in the key of E minor, but these thrusts gradually diminish in strength, the balance of the orchestra maintains its hold on E-flat and the movement comes to a strange, calm ending.

Symphony No. 3 (world premiere January 16, 1969, Sixten Ehrling, conductor)

If the symphonic from is to survive, it must somehow be redefined for our time. This thought was in my mind when the task of writing the 3 rd Symphony was at hand — indeed, I had been thinking about it for several years prior to this work. How could one make a symphony meaningful in a world of computers, satellites and space exploration? Could it take on any new meaning in a period of revolutionary social upheaval unprecedented in history?

It occurred to me that the great musical works of the past transcended time and place and historical circumstances, so that a Beethoven 9th, a Mahler 3rd or a Bartok string quartet was as valid now as before. In each instance, however, some new element or novel approach was injected into the form to effect a meaningful transformation. In art, as in nature, change is constant.

In sum, therefore, I decided to clothe my 3 rd Symphony in different garb and, coincidentally, to work with a contemporary instrument — the tenor saxophone. The symphony would be in three movements, but now each movement would be preceded by an interlude given over to the tenor saxophone and percussion. The final movement would meld into a postlude, bringing in elements of the other movements, and at the same time affording the saxophone an opportunity to work in opposition to these elements. On the one hand we have the saxophone, a “modern” instrument being pitted against the orchestra, a classical instrument. So much for general approach.

More specifically, the first movement hinges on several elements. After the first interlude is ended, the opening movement begins with a fanfare-like figure in the brass, followed by a second element in the strings. The third element is a rather bizarre little figure given to the trumpets, oboe and English horn. A fourth element is a quick phrase, in fifths, heard for the first time in the flutes and oboes. One could go on at some length enumerating even more elements, but the important fact to bear in mind is that all these elements are connected, forming a unified line or series of lines. More than a hint of sonata form exists in this movement due to developmental procedures, and toward the end an almost neglected little glissando figure in the strings is finally augmented into a kaleidoscopic glissando section for the entire string choir subdivided thirteen times. Quite abruptly there is an interruption by the brass with the fanfare, and from this point on the movement drives forward quickly, almost relentlessly, toward the end, each element forming a building block in the process.

Following the second interlude, the second movement opens with low bassoons, tenor drum and muted string pianissimo in a tempo marked Allegro Molto, Affanosamente. Whirring, muted strings produce a ghostly, eerie effect throughout. The movement has a brief middle section first taken by the winds, creating a rather strange stream-of-consciousness feeling. Shortly thereafter the brasses enter with a chorale-like figure, and above this the winds continue as before. The tenor drum appears, the muted strings begin their ghostly play, and the movement ends quickly and quietly.

The third movement, molto calmo, follows the third interlude and opens with high strings, sul ponticello against low brass, celli and basses. The first element of the movement appears in the form of descending and ascending winds, chromatically and in seconds, accompanied by violas. Three trumpets announce a reiterated figure — element two, while a solo clarinet and flute bring in element four. As in a puzzle, these disparate elements form a complete picture, so to speak. Transformations of these elements begin to appear with increasing frequency, but at no time are they completely hidden or so transformed as to be unrecognizable. The movement appears to come to an end as the bassoons begin their steady chromatic ascent, and the high strings appear once again. The bass drum provides a soft roll, but instead of ending the movement, we are led, quietly, into the Postlude. The tenor saxophone announces a familiar figure, and at the end of the phrase there is a jolting interruption by the trombones of the fanfare-like phrase of the first movement. Again the tenor saxophone picks up its train of thought, again there is an interruption, this time from the horns. Elements, fragments, bits and pieces from all the movements now dart in and out of the structure, in a sense surrounding the line of the saxophone.

A final outcry from the saxophone is met by an almost complete statement by the orchestra of the first element of the first movement. The mood for one brief instant is violent as massed horns swirl and scream out to the top of their phrase, the rest of the orchestra holding on to a dissonant mass. Then, quite suddenly and unexpectedly, the violence subsides as the entire orchestra, still clinging to the mass, grows quieter and quieter and the symphony comes to a close.

Symphony No. 5 — “Kalmar Nyckel” (world premiere March 29, 1998, Delaware Symphony Orchestra, Stephen Gunzenhauser, conductor)

The Symphony No. 5 was a commission from the Kalmar Nyckel Commemorative Committee for the Delaware Symphony Orchestra to celebrate the 350th anniversary of the founding of New Sweden. It is dedicated to the Kalmar Nyckel Commemorative Committee, the Delaware Symphony Orchestra, and Stephen Gunzenhauser, Music Director.

The work is in one movement, divided into three sections. The first section is marked boldly and opens with an ascending, step-by-step figure which leads to the principal subject, stated powerfully by horns and trumpets. Expansion and development begin almost at once. It is a turbulent movement, reflecting perhaps the excitement and hazards of the journey to the New World by this handful of Swedes and Finns. A calmer section appears briefly midway through the movement but soon gives way once more to growing intensity and turbulence. A third subject is marked rhythmically precise. Above a steady rhythmic pattern there emerges a grotesque motive stated by high clarinets and expanded by trumpets. The figure is next taken over by the first violins, expanded this time by the winds. It is all a compressed round, for once again we hear it, now stated by three flutes, followed by trumpet, then again by high violins followed by winds. Shortly thereafter the step-wise figure of the opening re-emerges, the turbulence grows, and there is a final violent episode before the pace slows perceptibly and we are led to the second section.

This is marked slow, impassioned. The strings state the principal motive. There is an intense sadness here; one can try to imagine the sadness of those on the Kalmar Nyckel leaving their homeland forever. This principal motive is re-stated several times, developed and re-stated. A second subject, almost as intense as the first, is presented by the winds and repeated by the strings. After a slight development a third subject makes its appearance. The character is one of infinite sadness as stated by a horn and bass clarinet. It is repeated next by violas and cellos and finally by violins, violas and cellos in slow, mounting intensity. A brief final outcry of the opening subject by the strings is heard.

Quite suddenly, as if passing through storm clouds and into bright sunlight the final section explodes without warning. Marked open, bright, the first section alternates quickly between 6/8, 8/8, 5/8, and 7/8. It is a dance-like figure punctuated by brass and glockenspiel. A short development leads to a sharp flurry of activity in the strings and before long a chorale-like motive is stated by the brass. It is a hymn of thanks to a journey almost at an end. Blaring trumpets lead to a principal second subject heard above ostinato eighth-notes in the strings. Flutes and clarinets are heard first; the second time around we hear violins and clarinets, while the third statement is by trumpets and horns. Jolting interjections by the orchestra are a feature. Marked joyously, a powerful and extensive coda unfolds. Xylophone, harp and chimes join in this spirited and joyful outburst, and the work comes to a rousing conclusion with a final sharp series of figures from the tympani.

Etudes for Piano and Orchestra (world premiere October 28, 1974, Houston Symphony Orchestra, Lawrence Foster, conductor)

The Etudes for Piano and Orchestra is dedicated to James Dick. The first etude begins with sustained tones in the trumpets, oboes, and flutes, which produce a three-note harmony. It quickly becomes apparent that three-note figures are one of the unifying factors here, as well as the harmonic centering around “C” as a kind of key. The low strings follow the winds with a fast figure of c, d-flat, e-flat, which in sequential extension becomes a principal theme. As a study piece (etude), this movement is a piano exercise in 16th notes alternating between the hands, sometimes as single tones and sometimes harmonized. The scoring tends to be open, with the timbres generally juxtaposed by families.

The second etude opens with solo flute and piano alternating with the sonority gradually enriched by the entrance of other instruments. The piano part contains many passages of arpeggios played in octaves. Although the piano is given a number of challenges in the third etude, this brisk movement appears to emphasize alternating chromatic chords. Chromaticism is pervasive and the extension of tonality thus achieved is well represented by the final harmony which consists of two chords, A minor and F minor, combined with an added B-natural.

The fourth etude is largely an exercise in alternating sixths and fifths in both hands together. As is true of the entire work, the rhythmic element is quite important and repeated notes and figures are characteristics of the piece. The final movement has a strong motoric drive, particularly toward the end as the etude builds up in intensity.

As is true in many of the great etude compositions (such as those of Bach, Chopin, and others), these pieces pose certain problems for the performers, but they go well beyond being simple exercises. The forms are generally logical and clear and the thematic material in its original form and in its treatment holds much interest.

—Benjamin Lees

Disc 1

Symphony No. 2

1) Andante mesto - vivo - Tempo primo  10:50  
2) Scherzo 8:15
3) Adagio 7:04

Symphony No. 3
4) Interlude 1:32  
5) Andante - Allegro; molto risoluto 8:35  
6) Interlude 1:55  
7)Andante - Allegro molto; affonosamente 3:26  
8)Interlude 1:55  
9)Andante - Molto calmo - Postlude, Andante 11:06

Disc 2

1)Symphony No.5: "Kalmar Nyckel"  28:23
Etudes for Piano and Orchestra 

2) Etudes for Piano and Orchestra: Etude I         1:57
3) Etudes for Piano and Orchestra: Etude II 3:02 
4) Etudes for Piano and Orchestra: Etude III 3:24
5) Etudes for Piano and Orchestra: Etude IV 5:52  
6) Etudes for Piano and Orchestra: Etude V 5:18


Lees_Symphonies(Disc 1)

Lees_Symphonies(Disc 2)

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Petr Eben - Chamber Music for Oboe - Miniatures - Sonata for Oboe and Piano - Duettini - Appello - Amoroso - Ordo modalis - Music for Oboe, Bassoon and Piano - Wind Quintet - Toccata Classics 2013

I have just opened and imported this disc, which I am forecasting to be a real gem from "the piles".
The Czech composer Petr Eben is best known for his great organ music, and that indeed is what I am the most familiar with; the discs on Hyperion are outstanding, as are the Supraphon recordings, which also include songs and choral music. There are a few hard-to-get discs out there with Eben's orchestral music (a compilation featuring his Piano Concerto, another with the Organ Concerto No. 2, and I recently found out there has been a re-release of the massive Organ Concerto No.1 subtitled "Symphonia Gregoriana", a concerto that lasts almost 1 hour) and I cannot wait to get my hands and ears on these recordings at some point. At this time I don't have any of his Orchestral works, somehow I just missed buying them when they came out.

I'm quite excited to hear his chamber works; I have only heard his Piano Trio in the past which I am quite fond of. I've included the booklet notes which appear to be very informative, I have not read them yet. There's even an interview with the composer, a nice touch.

Let us enjoy!

Monday, October 12, 2015

George Walker: "Great American Orchestral Music Vol. 2" Concerto for Violin & Orchestra - Sinfonia No. 2 - Foils for Orchestra - Pageant & Proclamation - Gregory Walker, Violin - Sinfonia Varsovia, Ian Hobson - Albany Records 2010

Albany Records has been championing the music of the great neglected American composer George Walker since the 1990s. This is another case (not unlike that of the composer James Cohn) of music that is of such high quality it's astonishing that George Walker is not a household name as an American composer, and that is music is not performed more often (to be honest I know not of any concerts from the past or present featuring his music-there must have been some here and there but I would have to look it up). I am starting with Volume 2 in the series merely because I cannot locate Volume 1 at the moment.

Here are the booklet notes, by the composer:

George Walker has published more than 90 works in many mediums. The early success of
his Lyric for Strings, composed in 1946, was followed the Concerto for Trombone and Orchestra,
acknowledged as the best work in that format. Five Piano Sonatas represent a major contribution
to piano repertoire as does the powerful Concerto for Piano and Orchestra and shorter works,
Spatials and Spektra. Major works for strings include two String Quartets, two Sonatas for Violin
and Piano, the Poeme for Violin and Orchestra, a Concerto for Cello and Orchestra, the Dialogus for Cello and Orchestra and the Sonatas for Cello and Piano and Viola and Piano. The Mass for Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra and the Cantata for Boys Choir and Orchestra are highly praised choral works of large dimensions. The songs of George Walker are among the finest examples of contemporary lieder in the 20th century. The Address for Orchestra, his first orchestral work, remains an imposing achievement. Two overtures, In Praise of Folly and An Eastman Overture supplement the substantial, rigorously shaped Sinfonias for Orchestra. Two particularly unusual works, the Poem for Soprano and Chamber Ensemble and Canvas for Wind Ensemble are unique in their exploration of instrumental possibilities and timbre. Orpheus for Narrator and Chamber Orchestra delves deeply into Greek tragedy in revealing the impact of this myth. Windset for woodwind ensemble and Music for Brass (Sacred and Profane) are particularly attractive additions to this repertoire. Five organ works commissioned by the American Guild of Organists are important additions to the lineage of great literature for this instrument.

The Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, completed in 2008, received its first performance on
December 10th, 2009. Dr. James Undercofler, CEO of the Philadelphia Orchestra, was the
magnanimous supporter who contracted the performances on the subscription series of the orchestra. The Violin Concerto was composed for my son, Gregory Walker, who is the soloist in this revelatory performance. The first of the three movements of this work begins with a brief orchestral introduction. The entrance of the solo violin, enmeshed in the texture of the orchestra as a sustained octave, emerges with a phrase that is suspended briefly before continuing in a long line marked by dotted rhythms. After passages for the solo violin and the orchestra, a powerful interlude for brass, strings and percussion initiating a four note motive is introduced. It reappears with modification throughout the movement. Following a recurrence of the introductory material, a lyrical theme is stated by the violin and reappears later in the orchestra. The latter part of the first movement is characterized by energetic, rhythmic fragments in the solo part and the orchestra. The second movement begins with several grace notes attached to four sustained notes, C-C sharp-E-B flat played by the solo violin. These intervals restated on different pitch levels are the basic pillars from which spiraling flourishes emanate in the solo part and in the orchestra. There is a brief cadenza for the solo violin that is projected over a sustained dissonance in the violas, celli and contra basses. The four note intervals heard at the beginning in the solo violin part are repeated by the orchestra to conclude the movement. At the beginning of the third movement a three note motive is played first by woodwinds and horns and repeated twice by trumpets and brass with percussion. After two entrances of the solo violin, a fugue subject is introduced—three sixteenths punctuated by a rest before their repetition. They are played “martellato” (hammered) in the solo violin part. (The incorporation of a fugue in the final movement may be the first example of its kind to be employed in a violin concerto.) The fugue subject recurs modified in its entirety or in part six times in various instrumental combinations. A lyrical section of florid lines played by the soloist follows. An orchestral transition seques into a rhythmic projection of four notes in the violin part. The character of the movement changes with the playful reappearance of the fugue subject. Reiteration of the three notes of the motive heard at the beginning of the movement darkens the content of the music again before the dazzling ascent of the solo violin leads to an affirmative conclusion.

Sinfonia No. 2 for Orchestra The Sinfonia No. 2 was composed after I received an award from the Koussevitsky Foundation in 1992. It was premiered in 1993 by the Detroit Symphony conducted by Neeme Jarvi. The first movement begins with a four note motive for full orchestra. An ascending melodic line in the violins continues in the woodwinds. Repeated notes in the brass terminate that section. In the next section an extended melodic line beginning in the celli and contra basses and moving to violins, woodwinds, horns leads to a contrasting four note motive stated by an oboe. This becomes the genesis of a new section that climaxes with a restatement of the four note motive from the opening of the movement. Rhythmic similarities to this material appear with intervallic alterations. A flurry of notes in the strings and woodwinds subsides quickly to a sustained “D” in the violins that is punctuated by pizzicati in the lower strings. An ascending melodic line culminates in a tutti of repeated notes. A brief coda closes the movement quietly. The second movement, marked “Lamentoso e quasi senza misura”, begins as a flute solo before a chord played by four celli and a guitar support the florid figuration in the flute part. With the return of the initial segment of the flute solo, three more celli and a double bass are added to the orchestration. The rhythmic impulse of five notes played initially by the English horn and bass clarinet are the core elements that can be identified in the third movement. The subtle emergence of an eighth note pattern with a steady pulse provides the basis for the imposition of rhythmic fragments above it. Interposed between these sections are brief sustained moments that interrupt the foot tapping insistence of the bass line of eighth notes. The brilliant conclusion of the work incorporates the five notes heard at the beginning of the movement.

(Homage à Saint George) Foils for Orchestra, a work in one movement, was commissioned by the Eastman School of Music with a grant from the Howard Hanson Institute of American Music by Dr. James Undercofler. The title suggests swords used in a fencing match—the opening octave, a pointed gesture. This title, embellished, conjures up associations that can be made to the myth of Saint George and the Dragon as well as to the exploits of the Chevalier de Saint George. After the opening measures, a three note motive, E flat-D-E natural is heard in the trumpets. Six measures later it appears in the strings and again in the trumpets. Much of the music creates tension—suggesting explosive clashes and a violent duel of thrusts and parrying The victor emerges scarred, but triumphant. 

Pageant and Proclamation was commissioned with a grant from AT&T by the New Jersey Symphony for the auspicious opening concert of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in 1997. The concert was televised for National Public Radio. But Pageant and Proclamation was excised from the program in the telecast. The concert featured two works by Beethoven, the Lenore Overture No. 3 and the Symphony No. 9. Only these works were heard in the video produced for national transmission. The orchestral program was conducted by Zdenek Macal. The fanfare in the beginning of my work is succeeded by a five note motive that permeates the score in various guises, melodic and accompanimental. The work climaxes with a brief quote from “When the saints go marching in,” followed by excerpts from the highly emotional protest and civil rights song, “ We shall Overcome.” Pageant and Proclamation, composed as a panegyric for the new arts site, affirms the determination of its citizenry to revive the trouble-plagued city of Newark, New Jersey. The special qualities of all of the works on this cd are captured skillfully by the conductor, Ian Hobson and the Sinfonia Varsovia. -2009 George Walker

Track listing:

Concerto for Violin and Orchestra (20:36) 

1)Concerto for Violin and Orchestra: I. ♩= 56 (9:35)
2)Concerto for Violin and Orchestra: II. ♪ = 46 (4:43)
3)Concerto for Violin and Orchestra: III. ♩= 63 (6:17)

Sinfonia No. 2  (16:01) (Andrew Krzynanowski, solo flute)
4)Sinfonia No. 2: I. ♩= 59 6:58 George Walker   
5)Sinfonia No. 2: II. ♪ = 63 2:57 George Walker   
6)Sinfonia No. 2: III. ♪ = 116 6:04 George Walker   

7)Foils for Orchestra (Homage à Saint George) (9:50)   

8)Pageant and Proclamation (11:20)

Enjoy this great exploration!