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Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Muzio Clementi, Keyboard Sonatas, Sandro De Palma

Muzio Clementi (1752-1832) may not be remembered with the full spotlight like Mozart or Beethoven, yet he certainly deserves the attention he is getting more of these days. We have another volume of his Keyboard Sonatas (Naxos 8.573880), this time under the very capable piano auspices of Sandro De Palma. This volume is as entrancing as any of them with a nicely chosen divide between the elemental twinkle-twinkle sing-songy earlier works--Op. 1, No. 3 (1771) and Op. 8, No. 2 (1784)--and the near-Romantic poetically gravitas later period--Op. 50, No. 3 "Didone abbandonata" (1821) and Op. 50 No. 2 (1821).

The sweep of inventive pianism is increasingly engaging as one listens over time. There is music box simplicity contrasted by deeper darker mystery in the later works. The symphonies turned out to be some substantial fare on the MHS double record that came out years ago. Perhaps we can hear new versions of them. And Naxos (see previous posting) is doing a bit of the chamber music too. Perhaps the piano music is the most charming and flowing of all his music and this volume gives us a sample that need not fill 50 CDs to make its statement, though if Naxos gets all of the sonatas done it will fill more than a few at any rate.

Sandro De Palma plays the sonatas with a bravura and an alternating tenderness that helps us along considerably in assessing and smiling over what there is to hear on these four gemful essays and our subsequent assays. It is a happy meeting of composer and performer and we the listeners most surely are the benefactors. Clementi is never out of ideas and the musical ideation is on a high level no matter how basic or involved the inventions.

I must recommend this strongly. It is something to bring you a little joy I would hope. I am smiling myself as I listen again.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Gerhard & Mompou, Complete Music for Solo Guitar, Marco Ramelli

There are programs that are so delightful that you take to them straight away and it is happy-time from then on. It may be spring but that is not sufficient to explain why I have in this way taken to Marco Ramelli's Gerhard & Mompou: Complete Music for Solo Guitar (Brilliant 95679). It's the quality of the music and the performances.

It turns out that ALL the guitar music by the Catalonian composers Federico Mompou (1893-1987) and Roberto Gerhard (1896-1970) fit comfortably on a single CD with room for a couple of short items by Emilio Pujol (1886-1980). And it is remarkable how idiomatic, how harmo-melodically folksy yet Modern the music is. Both composers sound very comfortable with and inspired by the classical guitar's capabilities.

Marco Ramelli gives us expressive beauty of tone and concentrated subtlety that seem perfectly right for this music. He does not attempt to steal the show so much as he realizes the composers' aims beautifully. And that makes sense for these works are meant not to awe with technique but to harness it to the ends of striking and chiming the immediacy of the "musical hours." We feel the time passing as if we sat alongside an old grandfather clock. Yet that feeling is not in the least tedious. It is made the more deep by the richness of melodic invention to be heard.

Nocturnal atmospherics, infectious dance-like ditties and deep meditations bounce along together nicely. The nine-part Gerhard "For Whom the Bell Tolls" ruminates on the Donne-Hemingway words and has a darkly thoughtful pull to it. Ramelli lends his revision hand to the suite and it all sounds quite well. Perhaps it is the most "Modern" of all the works here. But in any event it is all a really "authentic" thing, this music. So you just let it go by and appreciate the passing.

Ramelli for the program utilizes throughout a 1931 guitar fashioned by Barcelona's exemplary luthier, Francisco Simplicio. The instrument sounds just right for the music and it is recorded well to boot.

This album glows, it is music at least some of us (me for example) have missed, yet it is so well-played that it is worth catching whether you know this music or not. Highly recommended. A guitar must-hear for sure.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Michael Jon Fink, Celesta

In one of the latest Cold Blue releases we get some remarkably resonant music for celesta. It is a program of dream-like sequences, 12 pieces in all by Michael Jon Fink. The album is simply entitled Celesta (Cold Blue Music CB0053). The music is all of a piece, wistfully in a Radical Tonality zone, yet too one feels the ghosts of Erik Satie and the John Cage of "Cheap Imitation" and perhaps of Morton Feldman too, but never directly, instead rather as the kind of nocturnal ambiance that, hmm, I suppose might ultimately go back to Chopin at times.

What makes it "radical" is the nearly intentless melodic form.Yet there is periodicity and elemental song form at times too, like a music box lullaby, like the stuffed animal my friend had when we were both probably three-years old? Music boxes and celestas have common tone colors of course and perhaps the wind-up boxes of childhood one recalls involuntarily when one hears the instrument.

Yet it seems that Michael Jon Fink is aware of all that on some level and captures what the celesta was meant to sound like with music that is not unlike music-box Satie, perhaps. It is captivating, almost childlike, moving and a catalyst to a Brown Study steady state. Recommended for sure.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Cimarosa, L'Impresario in Angustie, Farsa per musica, Soloists, Orchestra Bruno Maderna di Forli, Aldo Salvagno

Sometimes we do not know what we want until we get it? So when the name comes up of Dominic Cimarosa (1749-1801), I know I should listen more to...something more of his, but what? Brilliant Records gave me a good answer in a new recording of his opera buffa L'Impresario in Angustie (Brilliant 95746). It is the original one-act work nicely disposed, clearly sounded, performed with some zest and fit onto a single CD.

The liners summarize the reception-performance history nicely. Fourteen years of opera writing preceded L'Impresario, by my count no less than 11 works. So then sometime around 1786 L'Impresario saw its premiere with some of the most prominent opera buffa stars of the day in principal roles. The plot centers around a sort of play-within-a-play (cf., Hamlet, 200 Motels) about an opera impresario and his attempts to stage an opera with comic antics a result. It was a great success, resoundingly received and performed all over Europe. No less a personage than Goethe was an admirer.

In 1791 a revised version translated into German by Goethe himself was staged. A two-act version came into being in 1793 but the new music was not by Cimarosa. But in the meantime Cimarosa wrote in 1792 Gli orazi e i curiazi, which the liners inform us is considered his masterpiece (and of course that reminds me how much there is yet to learn).

After a century of neglect L'Impresario was revived in the 1930s with stagings in Turin and at Teatro alla Scala in Milan. And now we have this fine performance on CD with convincing soloists and the Orchestra Bruno Maderna di Forli, all under conductor Aldo Salvagno.

After a few listens the music has come alive for me and I am happy to say that everything brings me a good amount of pleasure on this disk. The Brilliant price makes this an attractive offering too. Happily recommended. It is a good thing, for both widened appreciation of the period and the joy of engaging music well performed.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Art Electronix, Monumental Dump Remixes

The latest album from the prolific duo Art Electronix, that is The Monumental Dump Remixes (No Stress Netlabel NN_LP078_12_18), affirms Varese's axiom that "the present-day composer refuses to die!"  The Ukranian Experimental Electronics tandem of Eugene and Catherine has a very tangible immediacy. There is an Industrial tang to this 30-something-minute program of some five riveting sound panoramas.

The music has a slightly psychedelic edge to it I guess you could say. And I mention that only because it may help to give you some clue as to what you are going to hear. No, that does not mean you might expect to hear Pink Floyd-like essays from the halcyon days of yesteryear. Rather there is a floating poetic haze of sounds that gels each in meaningful ways in terms of unabashed electronicity. More like Mimaroglu and early Olivieros than some sort of Rock-anthemic presence.

There are loops that hold interest because they have sounded interesting to the duo and chosen to go with other sounds that seem interesting. Like a poet who chooses words because they sound well together,  so Art Electronix lays out sounds with similar intent. The effect is more poetic than structurally ambitious. The "wow" feeling you might have (I do) is not a sort of "isn't this clever?" reaction, or even "isn't this profound?" It may in fact be profound in sound, but profoundly poetic more so than profoundly form-innovative. It has abstract meaning, yet it most evocatively "means."

It sounds like a sound factory of your dreams, perhaps, a kind of post-industrial take on the Industrial landscapes we see slowly fading away from our planet, or parts of our planet that I know more fully than others.

So I come to this a bunch of times so far and it increasingly lets my ear-imagination go to meaningful places. So consequently I come now to you with my recommendation that you wipe clean your mind of expectations and give this album a listen. It is fearlessly avant and widely unpretentious in its impact--with the same kind of joy-in-sound that early Electronic Music once nearly always had. The sheer joy of hearing can be heard happily on the Monumental Dump Remixes. I strongly recommend you give this one your ears! Kudos to Art Electronix for their creative art.

The Hungarians: From Rozsa to Justus, Ensemble for These Times

There is a world of Hungarian composers many of us outside the zone of hearing may well know not much or nothing about. That is quite clear listening to The Hungarians: From Rozsa to Justus (Centaur CRC 3660). The Ensemble for These Times and soloists bring us a nicely turned sample of music by the likes of Lajos Delej (1923-45), Gyorgy Justus (1898-1945), Miklos Rozsa (1907-95), and Sandor Vandor (1901-45).  You may know Rozsa at least by name, the rest probably not. And this music will doubtless be new to you. Their music is first and foremost Hungarian. It has a Hungarian expressivity and a kind of latent folk strain to it. That before it is Modern, exactly. It is neither quite Modern in some bloop-blip sense, nor then is it gushingly Romantic either.

The performances are quite good.

From Rozsa we have his "Duo for Cello and Piano." From Vandor there is the vocal and piano "Air" (and the vocalist's vibrato is a bit wider than I am used to I must say but otherwise you get the full musical impact), "A fan a levelek," "Kovacs," "borzalom," "Onarckep," all songs. Then we hear a delightful "3 Piano Miniatures" by Delej, followed by his jaunty "Scherzo" for cello and piano. The album closes on Justus's waltz "Ugy neha este" a somewhat sentimental piece that I'll admit seems less compelling to me, with the return of the piano-vocal duo above. I am less moved but try and listen to the notes rather than the performance, which will move you if the music already does somehow I suppose.

I come away from this happy to hear this music. I'll admit I am temperamentally disposed to a Hungarian-inflected classical music and so by nature of the well wrought examples I would not otherwise hear, I am very glad to have this to play again. It is fascinating music and if you are interested in such things it will be a solid and illuminating addition to what you can know and like from that neighboring world.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Florence Beatrice Price, Symphonies No. 1 in E minor, No. 4 in D minor, Fort Smith Symphony, John Jeter

The music of Florence Beatrice Price (1887-1953) comes to us now in this timely release of her Symphonies No. 1 in E minor, No. 4 in D minor (Naxos 8.559827). She was, as we read on the jacket blurb, the very first Afro-American woman to have a work performed by a major American orchestra, with the premiere of her first symphony in Chicago in 1933. Perhaps most importantly her music sounds every bit as relevant today as it must have sounded then.

So we have in this program that very symphony that filled the air of the concert venue in Chicago, the 1932 Symphony No. 1 and to confirm her inventive talent and add to our appreciation we have the World Premiere recording of the Symphony No. 4 from 1945.

The jacket to this CD notes her affinity with Dvorak, and one might note in the First Symphony certainly the influence of his Symphony "From the New World," and understandably the treatment he gave to the spiritual "Going Home." You hear that a bit in the course of the First, but then you hear also Afro-American "folk" strains appearing in various very appealing ways, and at times scales in minor modes that are not divorced from traditional Afro-American lifeways.

The Fourth is the slightly more remarkable work and it shows further development and a sureness of compositional objectives that the First has too but we hear even more of it by 1945. It is remarkable that this is a First Recording at this late date, but then we know how much there is yet to discover out there and should be happy that this is now available to us. As you listen you will recognize the "Wade in the Water" theme, which is nicely interwoven into a symphonic matrix that sings out lyrically and glowingly.. The Third Movement "Juba Dance" again returns to a traditional form that the first addresses as well, but this time with perhaps even more aplomb.

After quite a few listens I can most certainly vouch for these performances by the Fort Smith Symphony under John Jeter. And I come away from it all with a firm and heartening conviction that Florence Beatrice Price is a composer of world-class stature whose music in this program sounds timeless and as classic now as it must have sounded when she first wrote it. Heartily recommended.