Thursday, March 23, 2017
Vyacheslav Artyomov, Symphony, On the Threshold of a Bright World, National Philharmonic Orchestra of Russia, Vladimir Ashkenazy
I reviewed another volume on these pages several months ago (see search box above) which was nothing short of revelatory. This new volume confirms that first impression. Artyomov is a major figure on the Russian new music scene, with an explosively modern pallet of mystical, mysterioso universes of sound, a basic sensibility that goes back to Scriabin and Messiaen but then carries it forward to today with true originality.
Two substantial works comprise this additional volume: the title work "Symphony, On the Threshold of a Bright World" (1990/2002) and "Ave Atque Vale" (1997), for percussion and orchestra. A brief bonus work closes off the program, "Ave, Crux Alba" (1994/2012) for choral group and orchestra.
The Symphony has a vast spatial expanse as its foundational premise. The orchestra bursts forward with huge modern clusters and quieter introspective interludes. It is landmark in its dramatic thrust, sounding great as a CD and one can imagine even more spectacular live.
"Ave Atque Vale" has a singular role for solo percussion, handled deftly by Rostislav Shatayevsky. An immersively contrasting aural dimension is the way forward, marking out yet another, more reflective but no less enthralling spatial-sonic universe.
"Ave, Crux Alba" ends the CD with a brief but memorably anthemic lyricism.
Like the volume previously discussed here, this one beautifully carves out for us a celestial mysteriousness and at times a hugeness that holds its own as some of the most bracing and original music of our times. Artyomov is a voice for today, ultra-modern, futuristic and vibrant in its consistent aural brilliance. Get this one! Get both!
Wednesday, March 22, 2017
Dvorak, Symphony No. 9, From the New World, A Hero's Song, NDR Elbphilharmonie Orch., Krzysztof Urbanski
The popularity of the work here is such that my friend Marc many years ago applied for a cashier's job at a local Sam Goody record store, and one of the few questions they asked him was "who composed the New World Symphony?" In those days the chains even sought to carry and sell the more fleetingly popular fare and to pronounce Dvorak's name properly was a sign as well that you knew enough about things to help customers.
Well the years have ticked by at an advanced rate and I do wonder if the 9th sells well anymore, if there is a populism that has brains and knowledge? Suffice to say that for me the 9th still rings beautifully in my ear. And when I hear the movement based on the spiritual "Going Home," I remember my mom and how she loved this symphony.
A recent move has stripped me bare of most of my vinyl and Dvorak's 9th was among those. I actually did not much care for the version I had ended up with, so when the Krzysztof Urbanski and the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra came up as something to review (Alpha-Classics 289), I eagerly jumped at it.
This is a singing version with everything going for it. The only aspect that I had to adjust to was the highly variable dynamic level, which perhaps came about as microphone placement was some distance from the orchestra? Not sure there, but in any event once you turn up the volume a bit all comes into focus.
The connection of this symphony genetically with Beethoven's "Pastoral" Symphony has hit me more forcefully as I listen to the NDR--and perhaps it is the fine definition of the strings in relation to the winds in the overall balance and Urbanski's painstaking attention to getting that phrasing-dynamics right that has brought the lineage connection to my ears that much more readily. In any case the balance and phrasing brings out the beauty of the totality and how countrified the music is in Dvorak's special way. The "Going Home" movement takes advantage of that as well as one might hope for. And no reading is complete of course without a ravishing treatment of the section. I can hear my mom responding again, wherever she may be up there.
Urbanski gives us an unhurried, detailed take on the entire symphony. It makes one feel that Dvorak did manage to capture then what made America great and it wasn't walls or tax cuts for the rich, crippling the "meals-on-wheels" program, or for that matter slavery. There was a human-human decency in the US at its best and a human-land relationship of respect and care when things were right, and I think Dvorak managed to put that into his music.
As a nice extra, the album includes the lesser known but worthy Dvorak tone poem "A Hero's Song." Urbanski and the NDR give us an impassioned reading of that, too.
Well now I would say that if you are looking for a very living version of the "New World Symphony," or one more if you have a few, this performance stands out as very fulfilling. It reminds me of what enthralled me about the work when I was 14!
Tuesday, March 21, 2017
Johan Halvorsen (1864-1935) was during his lifetime an internationally acclaimed violinist, conductor and composer. His Norwegian roots entered his musical language in a general way, and we can hear that readily within the late romantic Scandinavian idiom of his Violin Concerto. It was first performed in 1909 by Canadian violin virtuoso Kathleen Parlow, then only 18 years old. The work was greeted with an enthusiastic audience reception in the four performances Parlow gave the work between 1909-1910. In was never performed again during the composer's lifetime, and he apparently burned what he thought were all copies of the work on his retirement in 1929. That was a mistake.
But happily Kathleen Parlow had retain a copy of the complete score and parts, which turned up in 2015. Kraggurd premiered the first present-day concert performance in 2016 and on the heels of that made the world premiere recording of the work which we can now appreciate here. It is a substantial bundle of rhapsodic demeanor, folk color and a definite "Northern romantic" quality. Kraggurd and the Malmo Symphony conducted by Bjarte Engeset, give us a spirited, idiomatic reading fully worthy of the work's substance and charm. And so we have something of great interest in fully fleshed out form.
The Halvorsen performance certainly makes this release worth pursuing in itself. But then we have the Nielsen Concerto nicely done. If you do not have or have not heard this aspect of the Nielsen complete opus you no doubt should.
Johan Svendsen's "Romance" is a sweet surprise. It is northern lyric rhapsodicy in a fine fettle.
And all-in-all this is a thoughtful combination, well worth the good Naxos price. Hear it!
Monday, March 20, 2017
Ralph Vaughan Williams, The Pilgrim's Progress, Radio Play, Boult, BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Chorus
An example of the charming yet non-essential Vaughan Williams there is out there is the complete 1943 BBC radio play broadcast of The Pilgrim's Progress (Albion ALBCD 023/24) on two CDs, with incidental music by Vaughan Williams, played and sung by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. The classic tale is rendered as only the BBC could do back then, with a period dramatic ethos we do not experience so much anymore.
The music itself has much to recommend it. Eight years later Vaughan Williams completed a full opera on the same subject, and this music has similarities and differences that will fascinate the completist.
Included is a 1929 broadcast of two short choruses by Granville Bantock, commemorating the John Bunyan tercentenary.
Perhaps this is not for everyone. But the serious Vaughan Williams enthusiast will respond readily. Others may be satisfied with Vaughan Williams' complete opera.
Friday, March 17, 2017
Martucci managed to avoid the opera-producing hegemony of his times in Italy, embarking on a career as piano virtuoso, then establishing himself as an instrumental composer as well.
The assembled musicians give us very idiomatic, very decent readings of the "String Trios Nos. 1 and 2," the "Piano Quintet Op. 45," the "Momento musicale for String Quartet," the "Minueto for String Quartet" and "Three Pieces of G. F. Haendel transcribed for String Quartet."
One thing that strikes me about the music is its rhapsodic lyricism, its Italianate flavor, is ability to straddle romanticism, post-romanticism and even an incipient impressionism without a lot of to-do or overweaning musical pride. Martucci's lyric gift is in evidence throughout, but it does not seem to seek to draw attention to itself. There is an unforced flow of invention to be heard throughout, thanks in part to Ms. Semeraro and Quartetto Noferini's nicely understated readings. What is romantic about the music is generally allowed to emerge without the gushing of overly effortful emotive outpourings. And in the process Martucci sounds ahead of his time.
This is no doubt not music that will cause us to redefine radically the development of modernism. Nevertheless it is music of a distinct appeal, the presence of an almost endless font of creative form weaving. Listen to the first disk and its attention to the first trio and the quintet. They certainly sound fresh in the hands of the performers. They have a delightful sincerity about them, and that's true of the entire set.
I do recommend this to you, whether you wish to trace the development of modern Italian music or simply wish to experience some beautifully lyrical chamber strains, or both.
Thursday, March 16, 2017
I've been listening closely to this album, and the more I hear it, the more I get inside of her way. Covered here are two preludes and fugues by Bach (one in C Sharp minor, BWV 849, and one in A minor, S. 462, originally for organ, transcribed for piano by Liszt), plus Franck's "Prelude, choral et fugue," Shostakovich's "Prelude and Fugue in C minor, Op 87 No. 20" and finally, as a bonus, two "Etude-Tableau" by Rachmaninoff--one in G minor, Op. 33, No. 7, and one in C sharp minor, Op. 33 No. 8.
The minor key, as seen above, predominates, and Ms. Andreeva makes much of this with a mesmerizing clarity and spirit, very gravitas. She gives us every reason to appreciate her approach. She allows each segment much space to breathe, much to say by drawing out every passage with that Russian, singing quality we have in some of the best pianists from there.
It is an album to hear repeatedly, each time you uncover more detail and subtlety. It is a marvel of poetic interpretation. And a very coherent selection of gems as well.
Hurrah for Natalia Andreeva! Highly recommended.
Tuesday, March 14, 2017
English composer Peter Racine Fricker (1920-1990) made something of a mark on the new music scene in the later forties-early fifties with a number of prize winning and commissioned works. After that he continued on with excellent music but perhaps operated more in the shadows.
In his lifetime he wrote four works for quartet that have been gathered together in The String Quartets (Naxos 8.571374), played with intense concentration and precision by the Villiers Quartet.
The works span a long period between 1943 and 1976. They show a serious and somewhat somber demeanor, filled with a modern chromatic expansiveness (No. 3 is in a serial mode) that borders on severity.
A marked brilliance of craft pervades all four works. Somewhere between later Bartok and, eventually, mid-Elliot Carter in manner of intent rather than imitation, the quartets consistently espouse a serious uncompromising modern expression as the subject matter.
There is growth and change to be heard when following chronologically the thread of expression from the "Adagio and Scherzo" of 1943, the Quartet No. 1 Op. 8 of 1948-1949, the Quartet No. 2 Op.20 of 1952-53 and the Quartet No. 3 of 1976. Three of the four works are in first recordings, surprising given the quality and singularity of this music.
I heartily recommend this volume for anyone with a serious interest in the modern period and in English composers of last century. This is very enlightening and provocative music, performed with zeal and care.
Monday, March 13, 2017
The virtuoso Waldland Ensemble (Jeremy Reynolds, clarinet, Hillary Herndon, viola, Wei-Chun Bernadette Lo, piano) energize our musical senses and provide us with excitement and depth with a program of modern world premier recordings of American chamber music from relatively unknown but very deserving living composers. American Voices (MSR Classics MS 1541) brings us in close and intimate concordance with Kenji Bunch ("Four Flashbacks"), Anthony Constantino ("Ritual Songs"), Dana Wilson ("A Thousand Whirling Dreams"), Michael Kimber ("Vanishing Woods"), and Libby Larsen ("Ferlinghetti").
There is not a clinker to be heard and nothing save ultra-dynamic energy and lyric power in this anthology. The somewhat unusual instrumentation seems entirely right in the hands of this potent trio.
"Four Flashbacks" gives us brief but spectacular blues drenched vignettes that try and capture the composer's fleeting sensory and concrete memories of his musical upbringing in New York City.
"Ritual Songs" uses a three-note motif to launch a series of three short but intensive movements that function as a tripartite set of variations.
"A Thousand Whirling Dreams" gains inspiration from the vivid ending of the poem "As I Grew Older" by Langston Hughes.
"Vanishing Woods" captures the composer's love of the rapidly vanishing natural woodland settings available to us through treatment of an old hymn "For the Beauty of the Earth."
"Ferlinghetti" is a series of musical responses to the American poet's work.
We immerse ourselves happily in this music (or I do, anyway), which gives us a great number of reasons to celebrate the ongoing local efflorescence of the modern vernacular-influenced sound of the best in American chamber music today.
Very much recommended!
Friday, March 10, 2017
For consideration today is an album of ambient, radical tonality soundscapes by the trio Crystal Mooncone. Listening Bean Five (Innova 973) gives us eight live sonic meditations that put us into quiet brown studies of varied atmospherics, all from the collective imaginations of the threesome--Stephen Rush on electric and acoustic piano, synthesizer, vocals and miscellaneous instruments; Chris Peck, flute and miscellaneous instruments; and Jon Moniaci, accordion and miscellaneous instruments.
The relatively simple means to produce a broad spectrum of cosmic moods does not detract from the aural appeal of it all. Drones and sustains layer under tonal events that include folk-like melodies and other diatonic lyricalities. Generally the overall sound transcends the relative simplicity of each element.
What is remarkable is the engaging and affective outcomes of each scape. These three are attuned to the ambient objectives of each number and make all eight interrelate and stand forward.
Some beautiful, gently aspiring music.
Thursday, March 9, 2017
The enormous power of this reading comes to us over the years as timeless. As I first listened I heard of course once again the influence of Beethoven, but then it struck me how much it was a precursor to Bruckner's sprawling symphonies, despite the critic Hanslick's diatribes separating Wagner and then Bruckner radically from a consideration of Brahms. No, Brahms's incredibly moving First pointed backwards to Beethoven but also pointed forward to late romanticism. I have lived with a van Karajan version of the symphony for years, but this reading has something very different going on.
The strong opening assault on the senses, those beautiful andante-largo passages, the soaring lyricism of the final movement, there is an unhurried, stately, singing beauty and largeness I've never quite heard from the First until now.
The sound is excellent, the performance inspired. It is a true ear opener.
Get it if you love the First, but even if you are not sure (if that is possible).
Wednesday, March 8, 2017
We lost composer Peter Maxwell Davies (1934-2016). But of course he left behind a large body of works and Naxos has been seeing fit to issue and reissue a large number of them Today we have an interesting chamber compilation of recent compositions, Works for Violin (Naxos 8.573599) featuring Duccio Ceccanti as the violin protagonist in a series of fine, virtuoso-poetic performances.
Three works cover the period from 2002 to 2013, one goes back to 1978-88; all tend to combine modernistic with tonal and sometimes folk colloquial sounds. Three of the four works are first recordings.
The "Sonata for Violin Alone" (2013) has a deeply introspective, ruminating quality and a stark beauty. It is one of Maxwell Davies' last works--dedicated to Duccio Ceccanti who gives us a very beautiful performance.
The "Dances from the Two Fiddlers" (1978/88) is a memorable fiddle-tune oriented work adapted from the children's opera of the same name with a series of brief but engaging ditties.
The "Sonata for Violin and Piano" (2008) returns to somewhat more formal grounds, though it portrays an imaginary walk through Rome on a non-existent walkway. It is modern-eclectic sounding in Peter's later, very personal way. There is drama in abundance for moments of considerable expressive power, then a disarming folk tenderness.. It is a tour de force for Ceccanti and pianist Bruno Canino.
The "Piano Trio: A Voyage to Fair Isle" (2002) brings in Vittorio Ceccanti on cello nicely for a modern take on folk forms and their integration into expressionist classical-modern style a la Maxwell Davies.
Duccio, pianists Matteo Fossi and Bruno Canino, and cellist Vittorio Ceccanti give us their sensitive and considerable all for a remarkable reading of these very intimate and revealing later works.
Modern chamber music enthusiasts and Maxwell Davies devotees no doubt will be captivated with this program as I am. But really there is beauty and accessibility for nearly everyone with the added challenge of very modern expression to brace our listening selves and provide a fabulously contrasting diversion.
Tuesday, March 7, 2017
In his earliest work he preceded the Italian instrumental masters of the early-to-mid 20th century by a number of years. Hearing all the works in one place here we encounter affable company, a lyric element, a sturdy character to most pieces and some that show an exploratory sense of adventure.
But in the end Cilea seems less an innovator, more a synthesist. Not a bold modernist as much as a craftsman of talent and now and again of inventive inspiration.
Pier Paolo Vincenzi does a fine job bringing these works to us. Anyone with an interest in 20th century Italy will gain knowledge of a composer who deserves hearing. The music pleases.
Monday, March 6, 2017
The music somehow has a natural ambient quality of process whether calling for conventional instruments, instruments and electronics or electronics alone. There are modern sound color elements, soundscaping and various punctuations that mostly enhance the flow of the sound tapestry.
The compositions fit together end-over-end to create one long interrelated sound interlude. Nordic Affect puts themselves into the music so thoroughly that their utterances do not for the most part sharply differentiate themselves from the electronic dreamtime landscapes.
The music has a vivid Northern quality, icy or expansive, musico-biological, uncanny. It is an intimate collaboration of composer and performers, so much so that I cannot imagine at this point subsequent versions by other instrumentalists, that is how much the composer-instrumental nexus creates strong bonds for these pieces. It is a fabulous sound world that has great abstraction yet a sort of sound narrative that speaks to us in each case.
Is this the new music of the future? We don't need to know that. In any case it is some new music of the present, some very riveting new music, something every new music enthusiast should hear and appreciate.
Friday, March 3, 2017
The two CD set gives us the Sonatas for Violin and Piano Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 6 plus the "Sonatina, op. 46," the "Sonata op. 69 fur zwei Violinen" and "Moldowische Rhapsodie op. 47/3."
These are works that beautifully remind us how unexpected much of this music can be. The rhythmic flow moves along in expected ways, yet the diatonic-chromatic melodic and harmonic twists and turns combine Jewish, Russian and Polish elements in completely untoward ways. In the process all sounds right. All sounds for us in a completely idiomatic, original way. You hear a bit of Prokofiev and Shostakovich in their wayward moods (and maybe all three share a common zeitgeist which is more than mere influence?), yet it never quite goes the way you expect, and that provides endless aural fascination.
The Kirpals phrase everything just so, all the more to set the listener up for the beautifully obstinate refusal to hit the bland notes.
This volume is a wonder. It needs to be heard! Exceptional in all ways, I would say.
Thursday, March 2, 2017
When we hear them again today in the hands of conductor Marin Alsop and the Baltimore Symphony (Naxos 8.559790), they speak directly to us, they cut through the more overtly successful later Bernstein works and his subsequent status as a conductor and musical guide of the first rank. They remind us that Bernstein was on to something special even then.
We hear rhapsodic sincerity and great rhythmic vitality in "Jeremiah," as well understandably as some very spare but subtle Bernsteinian transformation of Jewish liturgical elements. The final movement brings in the mezzo-soprano part (nicely sung here by Jennifer Johnson Cano) for an almost Mahlerian flourish. Yet in the end this is an American symphony that follows originally in the footsteps of Bernstein's mentor and friend Aaron Copland.
The "Age of Anxiety," heard in its 1965 revision, goes even further into an American idiom, with the piano part (beautifully realized here by Jean-Yves Thibaudet) straying into jazz influences (that remained an important part of Bernstein's approach later on of course) and further extensions of the lyricism we hear in "Jeremiah."
With Marin Alsop's faithful and passionate readings of the two symphonies we hear a contemporary freshness, a timeless depth of spirit. They come across as landmark milestones in American symphonic music, as well they should.
Ms. Alsop and her musical colleagues breathe fresh air into these scores and give us pause. There is everything here, in supremely balanced readings.
Very much recommended, for those who have not fully experienced these symphonies as yet, and even for those who have.
Wednesday, March 1, 2017
Shostakovich, Piano Concertos 1 and 2, String Quartets 2 and 8 (solo piano versions), Boris Giltburg
Shostakovich most of the time managed to run the social realist gamut of the Soviet Union censors while remaining true to his artistic vision. He did endure periods of marked condemnation, notably in 1936 and 1948, but for the most part his talent outshined the strife. That did not mean that he had an easy go of it. His piano concertos were a good case in point. They were separated in time by some 24 years. Concerto No. 1 hails back to 1933; No. 2 from 1957. A new recording of them by pianist Boris Giltburg and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic under Vasily Petrenko is out and brings them both into sharp relief (Naxos 8.5736666). Both relied upon masses-inspiring gallops for the outer movements and lyrical interludes in the middle. Dmitri must have felt that such a sequence would meet with acceptance and approval. But there is ever a mood of refusal within each movement, a brilliantly original waywardness that survives as a subtext to outward compliance.
In any case the music holds plenty of attractions for us today. Very Russian in a Shostakovichian way, with enough modern touches to put them in the time frame of the then-present, they have real appeal and bittersweet poignancy when played in the ultra-spirited, then ultra-lyrical manner of Giltburg and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic.
A dramatic shift can be heard in the Giltburg solo piano version of Shostakovich's "String Quartet No. 8." It is a much more "advanced" work, expressive and uncompromising, and we feel the contrast especially vividly when we compare piano part to piano part. It is around 1960, when Shostakovich was apparently under increasing pressure to tow the ideological line, and though he complied it left him in a temporarily shattered state. Quartet No. 8 was a work he privately dedicated to his own memory, looking back on his life in very expressive, dark terms. It was his own private music, completely unmindful of government approval or rejection.
The Giltburg piano version is a nice revelation, as is his version of the allegro to Quartet No. 2 that also appears on the album.
If the piano concertos represent Shostakovich's brilliant transcendence over orthodoxy, his Quartet No. 8 is a bitter rejection of it. There is stark contrast here, but with the dedicated performances on the disk, there is ultimate triumph!