Monday, January 23, 2017
The music was dubbed "impressionism" and indeed there was some relation between the music and the way painters like Monet handled paint color and texture. And like the impressionists in the visual arts the way was paved for a world where the materials were freed from accepted conventions of a literal depiction to a new reality, a new combination and conversation between color and timbre, which of course the modern musical world drew upon, Varese through Messiaen and many others, to create the music of today.
But Debussy was more than just an important pioneer in the creation of modernity, he was also of course the creator of a body of works that gained the enthusiasm and love of listeners from his lifetime onwards.
This perhaps is a long digression from the CD at hand today, but it is critical as a background for why the current CD is revelatory. OK, so we have a second volume of Debussy's Four-Handed Piano Music (Naxos 8.573463), as played with strength and grace by pianists Jean-Pierre Armengaud and Olivier Chauzu. I have not heard the first volume but I assume what I say is true of that volume as well.
The four-hand piano versions of the works presented here in Volume Two are arrangements of some of the seminal orchestral works, "Prelude a l'Apres-midi d'un faune" as arranged by Ravel, "La Mer," as arranged by Debussy, and "Images" as arranged by Caplet. All three are justly celebrated in their orchestral versions for the brilliance of their orchestrations, and the sound is so vivid in the original versions that we may pay less attention to the strictly musical--harmonic, melodic, rhythmic--qualities of the works.
The four-hand versions of course strip away all orchestral color and substitute it with pure pianism, in the process allowing us to hear clearly the very progressive harmonic-melodic substance of the works, which was quite radical for the period and comes to us in a concentrated form so we can hear it all as if for the first time. "Afternoon of a Faun" (1894) begins the program, and it certainly sounds more daring in this version today than we perhaps have heard so many times in its fully orchestrated version, where the sensuous properties of the orchestration distract us or more properly direct us to the dazzling color of the timbres.
And so it goes for the rest of the music heard here. In the end, I feel as if I have entered another musical world, where I can contemplate the advanced fundamentals of the notes themselves.
The duo plays all with a gracious poetic sense.
So for all the reasons given I do not hesitate to recommend this volume highly. It will give you a new look at the brilliance of Debussy.
Friday, January 20, 2017
Garrido-Lecca as heard in these works is vividly depictive and often Peruvian folk oriented more so than he is always modernistic. He is a good orchestrator and a master of contrasting sections that can be balladic or dance-like according to the needs of the moment. "Andean Folk Dances" begins the program with kinetically moving sections contrasting with more introspective ones. "Symphonic Tableaux" continues the mood with more ambitiously complex rhythmic movement.
"Peruvian Suite" is meant to explore the diversity of Peruvian folk elements. It does so succinctly, skillfully and rather delightfully..
The final suite "Laudes II" musically represents the thinking of Chinese Taoist Lao-Tzu. The work expresses the idea that "the Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao, the name that can be named is not the eternal name." The music is accordingly somewhat ineffable but remains filled with vibrant color in the later Garrido-Lecca manner. The final movement with its extroverted reed, horn and trumpet passages is exciting, while the other movements are abstracted and mysterious or questioning. It is a more strictly modernistic version of the composer and the most satisfyingly original of the program for me.
Is Garrido-Lecca the Peruvian Copland? It is not entirely out of the question. We have four world premiere recordings that give us a good idea of his inventive skills. Anyone with an interest in what is going on in South America in the present day will be rewarded with one good answer. It supplies some fine listening in any case.
Thursday, January 19, 2017
Like "Aranquez," these pieces combine Rodrigo's strong melodic sensibilities with Spanish folk flavors and a sort of Spanish impressionist horizon, but they do so in ways more suited to the intimate chamber setting.
The works stand out in their own way as paradigmatic Rodrigo.
"Sonata pimpante" (1966) has a sparkling palette of cascading piano and exuberant violin in an unforgettable mix. "Set cancons valencianes" (1982) is steeped in Spanish folk roots with seven movements that captivate. The "Capriccio (Ofrenda a Sarasate)" (1944) has heroic unaccompanied fireworks unencumbered by the constraints of counterlines from chamber accompaniments.
The final three works continue the melodic evocations and folk strains, with guitar accompaniment on "Serenata al alba del dia" (1982); and a return to the piano as second instrument on the short but striking works "Dos esbozos" (1923) and "Rumaniana" (1943).
We are left after hearing this program with the distinct impression that Rodrigo was no one-trick pony, but rather a thorough craftsman and superb lyric Spanish voice throughout his career. These pieces are without fail miniature gems from a sure master of his own very original modern Spanish style.
Anyone who gravitates towards the "Spanish tinge" will find in this CD a delightful mix of memorable chamber sounds. Highly recommended.
Wednesday, January 18, 2017
Berio Sinfonia, Mahler/Berio 10 Fruhe Lieder, Matthias Goerne, Synergy Vocals, BBC Symphony Josep Pons
Some 47-odd years have gone by. There have been other versions that included the new 5th movement but I missed them. Now we have a new version with Josep Pons conducting the Synergy Vocals and the BBC Symphony (Harmonia Mundi 902180). Most notably it is paired with Berio's orchestrations of early Mahler songs "10 Fruhe Lieder," which Berio set in 1986 and 1987.
Since the songs, some in particular, inform Mahler's 3rd Symphony, hearing all of this together on one CD mutually illuminates both works and Berio's music thinking at these critical junctures--and give us something to think about the middle-early Mahler, who himself was synthesizing his earlier musical ideas and those of the Vienna which was so much a part of his life at the time.
The "Fruhe Lieder" features the wonderful baritone of Mattias Goerne, the exceptional songs themselves and Berio's subtle orchestrations. They make a perfect prelude to the "Sinfonia," which in this performance following the Lieder makes more coherent Berio's project. The role of the "amplified" voices, in contrast to the final mix of the original recording by Berio, is not so out front, but more of an element in the great collage that is this work. The words become less critical, the music more symphonic as a whole.
In the end, Pons treatment of both, the sequencing and the overall blend is very satisfying. Partly too, this post-modern collaging is more familiar to us, both in what has come after but also in works like Cage's "Variations IV" (1963), which is an indeterminate orgy of collage that broke all the rules as only Cage might have done at the time. We have had time, some of us, to come to accept the challenge of that work via the original recorded version by Cage and Tudor. And of course as we grow older along with the modern art/visual version of such things it seems more inevitable and natural. It releases us to hear the "Sinfonia" anew.
The time for the "Sinfonia" has come, from an audience perspective but also from the viewpoint of Josep Pons and his very satisfying version.
Tuesday, January 17, 2017
The Second is a monumentally dark, brooding symphony Lajtha wrote in 1938. It is a full-blown work, played with spirit by the Pecs Orchestra. I find myself increasingly drawn toward its modernist, Hungarian musical ethos.
Also included is the "Variations, Op. 44" (1948), the second of three works originally composed for Hillering's film version of Elliot's Murder in the Cathedral. It is notable for its long, sprawling symphonic thematics.
Is this a good introduction to Lajtha? No doubt the complete symphonic cycle is that. There is a singularity of the music on this volume and so it serves to wet one's whistle, nicely, and sets one up with expectations for the later works. And so it is worthwhile.
Monday, January 16, 2017
And with the advent of the label Albion, an offshoot of the Ralph Vaughan Williams Society, we get to hear music that for whatever reason did not enjoy wide distribution until now. Discoveries (Albion 028) is one of the latest and best of their releases. We have the chance to hear the BBC Symphony Orchestra and soloists in a program of tone poems, songs and film music that until now have been all-but forgotten, yet turn out to be vintage Vaughan Williams.
The "Three Nocturnes for Baritone and Orchestra" is an early work dating from 1908, when Ralph was studying with Ravel. One of the three movements was orchestrated; the other two have been orchestrated by Anthony Payne. The setting of Walt Whitman's poetry is something Vaughan Williams did a number of times in his lifetime. Here is a first go with a impressionism and harmonic palette similar to his "Riders to the Sea," among others. It is a hauntingly memorable work. The middle movement was long missing. This is the first recording of all three movements. Baritone Roderick Williams does a great job here.
"A Road All Paved with Stars - A Symphonic Rhapsody from the Opera The Poisoned Kiss" (1936) is an arrangement of some of the high musical points in the opera by Adrian Williams. It is very lyrical and impassioned, nicely capturing the Vaughan Williams of that time.
"Stricken Peninsula - An Italian Rhapsody for Orchestra" was originally a film score for a short army propaganda movie about Italian reconstruction at the end of WWII. The score was lost but Philip Lane has transcribed it and rearranged it into a suite. It makes for worthwhile hearing, though perhaps not entirely earth shattering. Still, it is something worth hearing.
"Four Last Songs for Mezzo-Soprano and Orchestra" were written to the poetry of his wife Ursula, Only one was performed during Ralph's lifetime. They were originally conceived for voice and piano. In Anthony Payne's orchestration they become a thing of mysterious contemplation. Jennifer Johnston sings them with great artistry.
This is music any lover of Vaughan Williams will welcome and appreciate. It is seminal collection of worthwhile obscurities that I recommend without reservation. Thank you, Albion!
Friday, January 13, 2017
Most important are the world premiere orchestral versions of "Daniel (Variations)" and "You Are (Variations)," two stunning works that manage to take further the interlocking pulsations of "Music for 18 Musicans," the choral polyphonic extensions of "Tehillim" and the string writing of "Four Sections."
An excellent version of the latter is included in the set, along with the short but captivating "Duet for Two Violins and String Orchestra." As a kind of bonus, Steve and Kristjan give us a rousing version of the earlier "Clapping Music."
This set does for Reich's later orchestral period what the ECM set does for the breakthrough middle period, only Jarvi's versions of the works are newly minted. They are as near definitive in their own way as those ECM versions were for the older music.
This set evokes a world where Reich's post-modern rhythmic lyricism is a mature entity of supreme originality and extraordinary power. It is OUR world, a testament to the seminal importance of Reich's compositional mastery.
Unconditionally recommended! Happy 80th, Maestro Reich!