Friday, December 9, 2016
On it we are treated to eight characteristic symphonic works by as many living South American composers, who are generally as concerned with local musical elements (though not always in a central thematic role) as they are by a modern outlook.
So we find ourselves immersed happily in the music of Victor Agudelo (Colombia), Sebastian Vergara (Chile), Diego Luzuriaga (Ecuador), Diego Vega (Colombia), Sebastian Errazuriz (Chile), Augustin Fernandez (Bolivia), Jorge Villavicencio Grossman (Peru) and Antonio Gervasoni (Peru).
The time passes quickly as each work reveals itself in lively fashion in the hands of Miguel Harth-Bedoya and the Norwegian Orchestra. This is music that does not hearken back so much as look forward in dramatic and at times exciting ways. There is nothing but good music to be had. All eight works show us a South America as vitally new as it is delightful.
Thursday, December 8, 2016
Who was Deems Taylor? He first gained fame as a composer, but was well known as a critic and the radio voice of the New York Philharmonic beginning in the 1930s. He was the first American to be commissioned by the Metropolitan opera for his work The King's Henchman, which along with his second opera Peter Ibbetson enjoyed some success there.
His music has fallen so far out of favor that he is virtually unknown today. Until now. Navona is revisiting some of his music in the series The Lost Music of Deems Taylor, which notches a Volume 2 with the EP Three Century Suite (Navona 6066).
The work at hand is very tuneful, lighthearted, but as full as a Victorian overstuffed couch, almost sounding like it was written by an American Edward Elgar. The five short movements have a somewhat rustic charm far from the modernism of an Ives or even a Copland.
But indeed this is well written fare, even if it may not blow our 2016 socks off. It is played nicely by the Moravian Philharmonic under Petr Vronsky. Will we see a major Deems Taylor revival? Based on this, probably not. Yet the music stays in the mind and perhaps characterizes something of mainstream US currents we have long left behind. It is nice, if perhaps not especially profound.
Wednesday, December 7, 2016
Anyone who knows less of the Polish contributions to the art (or for that matter is simply looking for good 20th century music) should listen to Polish Violin Concertos (Naxos 8.573496), an excellent presentation of four works with Piotr Plawner skillfully doing the violin solo honors and the Kammersymphonie Berlin under Jurgen Bruns providing the lively backdrop.
These are very memorable works from the hands and minds of Grazyna Bacewicz ("Violin Concerto No. 1" 1937), Alexandre Tansman ("Cinq pieces pour violon et petit orchestre" 1930), Michal Spisak ("Andante and Allegro for Violin and String Orchestra" 1954) and Andrzej Panufnik ("Violin Concerto" 1971).
The balance of solo violin expressions and orchestral utterances of distinction is nearly perfect thanks to the near ideal performances and the highly developed thematic developments of the composers involved.
You may not know some or even any of these names, but after hearing this recording several times you will appreciate each and every one of them for the quality and liveliness of the music.
There is much to recommend this volume, and nothing to regret. Stuff your stocking with this one!
Tuesday, December 6, 2016
We can hear nine examples in 21st Century Spanish Guitar 2 (Naxos 8.573409) played exceptionally well by guitarist Adam Levin as the second volume of a projected four in all. Eight of the nine are in first recordings. All were composed in the present decade.
Leonardo Balada's "Caprichos No.11" a reworking of five of Granados' "Danzas espanolas," opens the program with a flair. From there we are treated to interesting and worthy pieces by known and less-known Spanish composers Jesus Torres, Marc Lopez Godoy, Anton Garcia Abril, Luis de Pablo, Eduardo Soutullo, Jacobo Duran-Loriga, Benet Casablancas and Juan Manuel Ruiz.
These are compelling modern abstractions with traditional folk and improvisational feels mixed in with bold dashes of the contemporary. All but one were written especially for Levin and are dedicated to him. He returns the favor with dedicated, intricately realized performances that do full justice to the music.
This is indispensable listening for anyone interested in modernity in general and the Spanish guitar in particular. Volume two alone is a landmark collection in itself. Do not miss this one!
Monday, December 5, 2016
So an album by Eric Berlin, "American Sonatas for Trumpet and Piano," aka Calls and Echoes (MSR 1395) is sounding very good to me just about now. Berlin is a fine virtuoso well matched for the four dynamic and stirring works included on disk. His piano counterpart, Nadine Shank, seconds him with idiomatic and dramatic readings, and so the two render the music quite nicely indeed.
These four sonatas come to us in a modern neo-classical style. Each of them ventures meaningfully into the bravura and exploratory pathways that the trumpet-piano pairing suggests. James Stephenson's "Sonata for Trumpet and Piano" (2001), Stanley Friedman's "Sonata for Trumpet and Piano" (1995), Kent Kennan's "Sonata for Trumpet and Piano" (1956) and finally Robert Suderberg's "Chamber Music VII: Ceremonies for Trumpet and Piano" (1984) are works of substance and one might say heroic qualities. By that I mean they demand a sort of heroic ability on the part of the soloist which Eric Berlin brings to us in all fullness.
This may have come out several years ago but it is every bit as vibrant now as then. Anyone who loves the trumpet played well and the neo-classical modern idiom will be very pleased with this one, I would certainly say. There is something timeless about the works and performances, yet they blow some warmth into your musical soul that is quite fitting for the winter months!
Friday, December 2, 2016
But, no fear. Naxos has released a representative assortment of D'Indy orchestral works headed by his Symphony No. 2 (8.573522). Jean-Luc Tingaud conducts the Royal National Orchestra in a set of dynamic, very serviceable readings that bring out the orchestrational excellence of the works and provide a clear roadmap through the thickets and twists of D'Indy's mature musical mind.
The Symphony (1902-03) at first might not strike one as revolutionary in its orchestral language, but close listening brings out the contrasts between folkish themes and proto-impressionist, dappled pictorial orchestration. For that matter Wagner's forest music from "Siegfried" was as much pre-impressionist as this D'Indy music could be, but then D'Indy established a French precedent that those that came after could identify as a possible national-modernist trait.
What matters now is that his music as heard in the Symphony, his melancholy "Souvenirs" (1906), the somewhat exotic "Istar" (1896), and the Prelude to his opera "Fervaal" (1889-95) offers us a snapshot in time of what was progressive music. If we listen with open ears, we can hear something of what came after but also appreciate D'Indy as fully integral, a fully convincing musical personality in his own right.
So this is a nice volume to hear and listen closely to, well done and filled with D'Indy's special music. Give it a hearing!
Thursday, December 1, 2016
Today we have an example in the music of Sergei Bortkiewicz (1877-1952), whose piano pieces are nicely represented in Russian Piano Music, Vol. 12 (Divine Art 25142). Alfonso Soldano authoritatively mans the piano chair for a full program of solo works that cover the period of 1908 to 1946.
Bortkiewicz was born in the Ukraine, trained for a musical career in St. Petersburg and Leipzig, settled in Berlin. During WWI he was deported and lived again in Russia. The Revolution and WWII found him again fleeing his various homes until the end of the war allowed him to settle one last time in Vienna, where he lived until his death in 1952.
Perhaps these continued dislocations can explain why his music has been all-but-forgotten today. That and a rather stubborn will to remain within a late romantic style. Today we care less that someone did not follow the trends and fashions of his or her times, and the music sounds surprisingly fresh, somewhere between Rachmaninov and early Scriabin, yet continuously original in its thematic-melodic creativity. So the end result sounds not so much derivative as an integral voice, another pianistic force within the style-set.
Soldano makes a convincing case for these works, with virtuoso dramatics, sparkle, shimmer and dash.
I find in Bortkeiwicz as presented here a real discovery, not in some history-changing sense but in the quality and originality of the music. Bravo!