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Thursday, February 21, 2019

Heinrich & Carl Baermann, Music for Clarinet and Piano, Dario Zingales, Florian Podgoreanu

If you are feeling cocky and you think you know all the composers, guess again. There is a never ending stream of composers old and new being performed and often enough released in recorded form these days. And good for that, certainly. What about Heinrich Baermann (1784-1847) and Carl Baermann (1810-1885)? Their music I have been experiencing on a new Brilliant Records release, covering their Music for Clarinet and Piano (Brilliant 95785).

So what of them? The liner notes spell it out. The father and son should be considered "among the the greatest clarinet players of all time." Their compositions reflect an attention to the burgeoning voice of the instrument in late Classical-early Romantic times. They were widely admired in their day, and in many ways gave Europe (and eventually the world) the foundational inspiration for the clarinet virtuosity that we now take for granted.

The selection of compositions by Heinrich and Carl contained in this program are mostly first recordings. Dario Zingales realizes the clarinet parts with a beautiful ringing tone and agility. Florion Podoreanu aquits himself quite nicely as an able and effective partner on the piano.

The first thing on the first listen that one will recognize is Carl's clarinet-piano transcriptions of 6 Lieder of Schubert's. You will recognize many or most of them and it is quite nice to hear them as realized for the clarinet.

The music as a whole has the kind of lyrical clarity and soaring qualities of clarinet parts you may have heard in works by Schubert and Weber, Mozart and in time Brahms. It is not an accident since the influence was undoubtedly a two-way affair as the time and place allowed.

There are moments as well of pronounced clarinet virtuosity, understandably. The six additional, original works are a boon to anyone who loves the clarinet and seeks to trace the origins of the modern style. The music is in no way tangential or ephemeral. And it all gives pleasure in the well executed performances we are given by Zingales and Podgoreanu.

This is a bargain as a Brilliant release and if you are a clarinet enthusiast, you are sure to respond to it all.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

William Schuman, The Witch of Endor, Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Gil Rose

The recent Boston Modern Orchestra Project release The Witch of Endor (BMOP Sound 1062) exemplifies how and why the Project is such an important thing for Modernism in the USA past and present. It is a three-work mini-retrospective of the orchestra music of William Schuman (1910-1992), who might be somewhat in eclipse since his passing now some time ago, yet as we hear quite readily on this album, deserves to be appreciated and does not show the mark of time in his music so much as he seems more current than ever, to my ears at least.

I won't rehearse his biography in depth, but as a president of Julliard from 1945 to 1961, then of Lincoln Center from then to 1969, that he was New York born and bred, that he went to NYU like I did, in all that it was pretty inevitable that I came upon his music early enough and that he seemed naturally affinitive to me over the years. My first brush with his music must have been around 1970? So that was almost a half-century ago. If you were in and around NYC then and you kept your ears open, his music was there to be discovered.

And in that there is nothing remarkable in and of itself at this point in our musico-historical consciousness. He was something of an institution when alive. When no longer here his music must speak to us in itself or none of it matters.  And what is so reaffirming in the release at hand is that the three works chosen by BMOP for this release remind us of Schuman's brilliance as a composer, as an orchestrator, as a very inventive and original voice for the Modern scene in the USA of his time.

And, as I have come to expect from BMOP, the performances are in every way state-of-the-art, detailed and filled with an understanding sympathy.

It is interesting to hear these three works in this sequence because it affirms that Schuman was doing music in the vanguard of the times as early as 1947, in "Night Journey" and 1949, with "Judith, Choreographic Poem." Both works are at the edge of tonality. They occupy a niche not of course so much Pointillistic and Serialist, that was emerging in Europe then, but deliberately flowing, somewhat darkly pastel, alternately at rest and moving forward. It may have more in common with the "serious" side of Copland, with the American Symphonists of early-to-mid 20th century and perhaps Hindemith, all that more than with Webern and Boulez or for that matter Varese. It was a different lineage but nonetheless an important one still.

The involvement of this music and dance is dealt with admirably in the liners and you should read them if you are interested.

"The Witch of Endor" (1965) puts the capstone on the music with a very powerful and evocative orchestral meditation both brooding and Promethean in turn. It is masterful tone painting of a high order and reminds us palpably what poetic brilliance he evinced, what a vivid musical imagination he possessed.

It is a testament to the landmark service BMOP is rendering, to flesh out keenly and artistically the legacy US orchestral composers have given and are giving to the Modernist project. This volume along with an earlier volume of the music of Foss (index him for that review) are particularly outstanding. This one is a beautifully realized program of some very key Schuman. Molto bravo! Do not miss it.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Mauro Giuliani, Opere solistiche per voce e chitarra, Rossana Bertini, Davide Ficco

In a way both Baroque and Classical era music are like the Blues. Virtually everything written in the Classical style zone takes a certain general form, yet the difference between composers, once you hear it, are central to an appreciation of the period. So of course there is Bach, Handel and all the rest! Or Haydn, Mozart and all those rest! Or there is Bessie Smith, B.B King and all the rest! And then there is Mauro Giulliani (1781-1829), nothing to do with the Blues of course, ornately expressed yet too late in style and period to be exactly Baroque, but so the crisp intensive form of things can be experienced in the hearing of his music today. And the intensiveness of his guitar writing is a grounding in the fundamentals of the Classical Guitar style, yet captivating and special in its own way..

Let's bracket the relation of this music and the Blues for now, for what matters is a nice album I have been enjoying, the music of Giuliani entitled Opere solistiche per voce e chitarra (Works for voice and guitar) (Tactus TC 780703), featuring the excellently ravishing voice of Rossana Bertini and the remarkable guitar of Davide Ficco.

The music itself is most tuneful and vibrant in the Italianate matter. There is a bit of coloratura brava and a ringing singability that Rossana Bertini handles with the soul of a poet and artist that she is. And the guitar parts are quite idiomatic in the best ways; they give Davide Ficco plenty of opportunity to show his considerably accomplished and expressive way with the guitar.

It is an album that keeps making me smile on winter days like this, or for that matter virtually any days! It is a delightful and unexpected treasure that those who appreciate a well-turned and well played-sung phrase among voices and guitars will find fits the bill quite happily. Recommended!

Monday, February 18, 2019

Images of Brazil, Francesca Anderegg & Erika Ribeiro Play Villa-Lobos, Guarnieri, Freire, etc.

The music of Brazil is a vast possibility of riches that we outside of its borders have often not nearly enough familiarity with. The Naxos label has given us a good selection of Villa-Lobos works nicely sequenced and performed, and will be embarking on a 100-work exploration of other Brazilian composers, the first volume of which I expect in the mail shortly.

In the meanwhile we have this fascinating anthology of Brazilian music for violin and piano, played with flair and charm by violinist Francesca Anderegg and pianist Erika Ribeiro. It is as you can tell by the above an album called Images of Brazil (Naxos 8.573923). On it we are treated to seven works by seven composer, some perhaps not very familiar to most of us, the music all between 4 and 17 minutes in length.

When generalization cannot quite get specific enough on a Monday morning we still need to encapsulate, so let me say that all these works share in the melodic-harmonic light of the Brazilian legacy, which is to say that there is Modern tang and Neo-Romantic expression, what one might call "Brazilian Impressionism" and a lyricism that has something of the saudade of Brazilian musical sense to much of it if you know how that feels. And that as a whole is what makes Brazilian and Portuguese music Romantic in different ways than European Romanticism, at least part of the time. In all of this there is something of that in there to be found, surely.

So a not-so-familiar Villa-Lobos ("The Martyrdom of Insects") has a good feel to it, and some of us will recognize Mozart Camargo Guarnieri (1907-1993), at least by name. His "Violin Sonata No.4" is seriously played with a passion that it justly evokes and lots of content thematically.

From there we experience a huge helping of the unfamiliar but in the end the absorbing and timely. We have Cesar Guerra-Peixe, Les Freire, Ernani Aguliar, Edmundo Villant-Cortes and Radames Guattali. Of all of these three are among the living (Aguiar, Freire and Villant-Cortes). The rest have in common that they left this earth somewhere between 1988 and 1993--except Villa-Lobos, who died in 1959. So these are contemporaneous composers more or less of the recent past or the present.

None of this music is in a High Modern zone so much as it is Melodic Modern Mainstream I suppose you could say. Yet too there is music of depth and concentration to be heard throughout. Nothing is meant to ingratiate so much as to experience in full. And if we open ourselves we get music excellently performed and lacking nothing. It is a tribute to the fullness of this musical experience to note that on the sixth listen I am hearing more, and still more, so that has to be a good thing.

Those not content to settle in with the same names and the same categories will find this a bracing run through lesser-known music. It is not inferior, no,  just not what we generally know. So now we can. Know. That's good! Recommended. Congrats to Anderegg and Ribeiro for a beautiful performance! And thanks to the composers, too, of course.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Tanya Gabrielian, Remix// Bach Transcriptions for Piano, MINI-Review

Pianist Tanya Gabrielian shows herself a poetess of the ivories as we get a chance to hear her in REMIX// Bach Transcriptions (MSR Classics MS1594). Any Bach enthusiast who might also enjoy an exuberantly pianistic reading of some fairly exotic transcriptions of Bach classics will gravitate towards this very enjoyable program.

We get transcriptions by various people of things one might not at first blush think of in piano-centric terms, like the "Chaconne from Partita No. 2 for Violin," the "Violin Sonata No. 2 in A minor BWV 1005," and the "Cello Suite No. 2 in D minor."

It is like getting an unexpected gift out of season, for the transcriptions reveal aspects of each work we might not have heard quite like this before. It is a joy!

Friday, February 15, 2019

Aram & Karen Khachaturian, Music for Violin and Piano, Ruben Kosemyan, Natalya Mnatsakanyan

Aram Khachaturian (1903-1987) was in his music a poignant blend of the Armenian roots of his heritage and the Modern Russian milieu  he encompassed in his own way. His nephew Karen (1920-2011) may be less familiar to some of us (me, for example) but is recognized as a worthy composer in his own right. Both get representation in the recent release of their Music for Violin and Piano (Brilliant 95357).

We get to hear Karen's 15-minute "Violin Sonata in G minor Op. 1" (1947). It has an Armenian melodic quality; it has a rhapsodic air about it with memorable themes and a kind of earthy yet expressive way that make it quite worthwhile to hear.

The rest of the album is Aram in situations both quite familiar and then less so, but ever characteristic in his gift for crafting music one does not forget easily. His most well-known work, the "Sabre Dance" from his ballet "Gayne" appears here in its Heifetz transcription for violin and piano. It loses none of the excitement of the original and has a different sort of intimacy in the duo version that Kosemyan and Mnatsakanyan capture readily and fully. The same can be said for the beautiful "Andante Sostenuto" transcribed from the "Violin Concerto," haunting music that benefits from an alternate hearing in chamber terms.

It is nice to check out the less familiar pieces on here as well, a "Dance," the "Lullaby" and "Ayesha's Dance," the latter two from the ballet "Gayne." Good to hear also are the "Song-Poem" in Honor of Ashugs and the "Adagio" from the ballet "Spartacus," both in duo arrangements here that seem perfectly suited to the character of the music.

A key to the success of the program is the sensitive and artistic sensibilities of violinist Ruben Kosemyan and pianist Natalya Mnatsakanyan. They are in their element with this music and obviously relish the playing of it. Add to that the very low price of this Brilliant release and you have a very worthy disk that could serve as an excellent introduction to both composers or a welcome supplement if you already know their music. Recommended.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Jean-Francois Charles, ElectroClarinet

From Iowa City we have Jean-Francois Charles and his adventurous album ElectroClarinet (self released). On it we have some seven studies for Bb clarinet, A clarinet, bass clarinet, Eb clarinet or contrabass clarinet and live electronics. The music has a spontaneity yet a logical sequencing that puts it all certainly in New Music territory yet also has some of the immediacy of Free Improvisation.

A fully extended vibrancy of articulation and full-throated clarinet technique nicely play off against the furthering and effectively nuanced electronics Maestro Charles employs. Digital delay and layering, timbral extensions of harmonics, sound colors, etc are made full use of--quite happily. At times the clarinet becomes an orchestra of its own and at no time does the interface of acoustics and electronics seem in the least bit gratuitous or mechanical-perfunctory. True woodwind facility conjoins with a very lively musical imagination for a program that fascinates and makes for a most absorbing listen throughout.

This album may at first blush seem unassuming. But after a few listens it increasingly stands out as an excellent example of its kind. Very heartily recommended!