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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!

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

I Diletti di Mazzarino, Jessica Gould & Ensemble L'Aura Soave, Rossi Mazzocchi, Carissimi, Cavalli, Lulli

There is much to be said for mixing it up, for a change in pace, for something from another time and place. I tried to watch the Grammys the other night and could not last very long. No offense to the artists honored but the current state of Pop may have a return of good vocalists yet sometimes I have a tough time with the instrumental parts. Alicia Keys' Hazel Scott tribute was nice enough, though. Still, changes of pace are not coming from Pop right now, not for me. Among the many other musics I appreciate and explore regularly, on the classical front a change in period can refresh me greatly.

Like for example there is this Modern-day performance example of original instrument chamber music with vocalist, works from the Italian Baroque, on the recent I Diletti di Mazzarino (At the Pleasure of Mazzarin) (Cremona 018/44). It is a nice gathering of a few choice instrumental miniatures along with vocal numbers featuring the very robust soprano Jessica Gould and a beautifully period Ensemble L'Aura Soave. They tackle works by the likes of Luigi Rossi, Virgilio Mazzocchi, Giacomo Carissimi, Francesco Cavalli, and Giovanni Battista Lulli (the French spelled his name Lully).

Not every composer will be familiar to those who are not specialists in the period and place, but the music is quite fetching. Jessica Gould has a great deal of energy, enthusiasm and verve. You might even say that she "belts" this music out. The ensemble is a sweet one. They and Ms. Gould take us swiftly and readily to another time and place. A few listens and I was very well disposed to this program. I like the rough and tumble local edge to it all and the timbre of the music reminds us that there was a special sound to it that has much to offer us.

Perhaps this might not be your first choice if you know nothing of the period. But for those who already have their ears attuned, this is a nice addition.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Alexander Moyzes, Symphonies Nos. 7 and 8, Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra, Ladislav Slovak

With 250-300 of these reviews a year in the classical fold my head sometimes feels like it is spinning with all the unfamiliar voices and works I happily explore. I must refocus and concentrate and so here I go again with that.Today it is the Slovak composer Alexander Moyzes (1906-1984). He is new to me. I have playing in my space the album at hand, Symphonies Nos. 7 and 8 (Naxos 8.573653).

According to the jacket blurb Moyzes brings to us the most well known, most acclaimed it would imply Slovak symphony cycle in Modern times. And clearly from the standpoint of my ears the 7th and 8th Symphonies are quite in the thick of it. Both are reactions to Moyzes experience of tragic happenings, the 7th in memory of his young daughter, taken from him far too soon, and the 8th a response to the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. Some 14 years separate the two symphonies--the 7th coming in 1954-55, the 8th in 1968-69.

The liners talk of a similarity to Shostakovitch in the 8th. In its brash cry of anguish, perhaps yes. And in the rhythmic passages of motor insistence, absolutely. All in all however what impresses me is Moyzes' own original tone-painting brightness. The liner blurb also mentions his two-fold expression of both Slovak strains and Modern orchestral trends in his compositional outlook. Again, I cannot say I disagree with that from my ear-take on the two works offered on this program. And yet again, he has certainly gone his own way on these symphonies at least. There are vividly descriptive passages, narratives in motif building and development. and in the 8th and parts of the 7th a long unwinding at times of musical pathways that sound like event-amental incidents getting retold in musical terms without being literally programmatic.

Then too the liners inform us that Moyzes studied at the Prague Conservatory and then in a master class program with Viteslav Novak (someone whose music I have just discovered as well), who gave him a mandate to pay attention to the Slovak heritage and in that way set him forward toward folkish expressions which we hear so poignantly expressed in the 7th.

Moyzes' 7th lays out a Slovak landscape of the countryside, the evocation of nature and peasant gatherings, dances and the like. It is not as a stark sadness that we hear Moyzes in this outing. The opening pastorale movement is a sort of Slovak response to Beethoven's 6th, really, but beautifully and originally so. The scherzo continues the rustic mood in most charming ways. Then the largo brings in a gentle sadness, a loss that seems as wistful as it is regretful, and then bursts out in time into a woeful mourning. It is extraordinary music. There is a bittersweet quality a times that reminds me of Prokofiev without directly evoking him, and perhaps even a bit of the epic Mahler depictions? The finale is energetic and dance-like, and not without a parallel of loss and nonetheless a pastoral mood alongside the whole of it. All that by way of a hint of what is being "said" in the music. It is the work of someone who knows what he wants to say and says it beautifully, personally well, very well. It is a rather extraordinarily likable symphony, to my mind.

The 8th, as alluded to above, has a more heightened Modern angst about it in keeping with the upheavals and heartbreaks of the Prague Spring. It is a stunning work as well yet a rather different kettle of fish than the 7th. I will leave it to you to listen and appreciate, which I certainly recommend you do.

This is music that is symphonic in the best of dramatically depictive ways. Like Smetana's Moldau each movement is a chapter in a story that has dramatic unification. Moyzes is less literal than Smetana perhaps and more "Modern" at times, surely. There would be no mistaking on close examination these symphonies for something from the 19th century. Yet the Slovak elements are more timeless than contemporary too.

So there you have it. I come away from listening to this volume with the wish to hear the earlier three volumes of the cycle and I look forward to to the next volume due out shortly. Moyzes has something of his own to offer us. Anyone who looks to Eastern European 20th Century developments might well want to explore this recording--the price is right and the performances are first-rate. Highly recommended.