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Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Leo Weiner, Toldi - Symphonic Poem, Complete Works for Orchestra 2, Valeria Csanyi, Budapest Symphony Orchestra MAV

At this point in my experience of the music of Hungarian composer Leo Weiner (1885-1960) I am in no position to say anything synthetic or cumulative. I reviewed a nicely performed earlier installment of the Naxos series at hand some three years ago (see March 18, 2016 posting). Now I am back with another, also well played, and it verifies that Weiner had a definite knack for lively descriptive orchestral adventures with a sure hand at scoring in colorful ways.

You can hear that on the CD today, Toldi - Symphonic Poem (Naxos 8.573847), being Volume Two of the Complete Works for Orchestra. Toldi bears the significant descriptive subtitle Twelve Orchestral Pictures after the Epic Poem by Janos Arany, Op. 43 (1952). And so in the hour-long traversal of the music on the program the attentive listener has a wealth of  some twelve wide-ranging movements to experience and assimilate.

This is music with a kind of Late Romantic aura which stands out for not being so much beholden to Wagner, Strauss or Mahler. And in my first listens I knew as I heard that this came out of a stylistic complex I had been immersed in for years, yet it did not hit me at the very first what I was recognizing in the music. But then it did. This music loosely follows in the path forged by Franz Liszt in his numerous (12) Tone Poems for Orchestra.. It is latching onto the pre-Wagnerian world that Liszt occupied so singularly. As we listen to Weiner's 12 "pictures" in sequence we have a particular approach to how music can by itself cogently narrate a set of meanings and visions.

The liner notes remind us that Weiner studied with Hans von Koessler (as did Donanyi, Bartok and Kodaly) and absorbed the Brahmsian view of the Romantic possibility. He went on to in turn be a prominent teacher in his own right and a widely performed composer, yet by the time Modernism was becoming firmly established as the dominant way of the early 20th century he found that his own personal view of music was at odds with how things were going. He underwent an aesthetic crisis. stopped actively teaching composition at the Franz Liszt Academy and eventually found a way through the quandaries with a pronounced emphasis on Hungarian folk themes.

However Toldi was significant for his output then because it did NOT have the folk-themed approach. And as we become familiar with the work it is perhaps all the more uncanny in its thoroughly non-Modern view of music. In a world where increasingly the music scene was measured by its involvement or non-involvement in Modernist trends inevitably Weiner was viewed more as anachronism than bridge-builder.

As the dust settles on the first half of the 20th century we can begin to set aside at least temporarily the Modernist teleology and listen to Weiner on his own terms. If we listen to Weiner as Weiner we hear a true artist,  a Hungarian composer who does not deserve to be forgotten, and in the current volume an ambitious orchestral work that holds its own despite being something less than indispensable to the progressive teleology of a music history narrative. It is music so historical now as to be outside the dominant historical narrative altogether. And on those terms it is quite well put together and imaginative.

So give this one a chance if my description appeals to you.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Mieczyslaw Weinberg, 24 Preludes, Gidon Kremer

If we are properly connected to the flowing stream of new releases and if we are paying attention then every day holds a good possibility that there will be evidence in hand of the measured meeting of music and artist, a time vector of coming together that holds significance if we are alert to it and spend the time understanding what it has become for us.

This most definitely is the case today with the synergistic intersection of Mieczyslaw Weinberg and his 24 Preludes (Accenus 50478) as played by Gidon Kremer on the violin. A few critical preliminaries before getting into the feelings and thoughts this recording engenders in me. First, Weinberg wrote the Preludes for the cello master Rostropovich, and so they were intended for the cello initially, published as Op. 100. For some unknown reason Slava Rostropovich never performed them. Kremer came under the spell of the music and several years ago began transcribing the works into the range and assuming the logistics of the contemporary violin. It is these transferals that we hear in the present recording.

Those are the facts. Hearing Kremer play his violin transposition is hearing yet another Weinberg masterwork, a remarkable set of miniatures that brings to us the rooted intelligence and brilliance of Bach with Weinberg's pronounced, poetically "stern" ecstatics stating another musical universe parallel to Bach's. Each Prelude has very much character and each stands as itself both by itself and together with its others. There is no better a place to linger in the singular melodic-structural world of Weinberg. The Preludes become very much violin music in Kremer's hands and so all the better for the results give us a ravishing whirl through milestone music and performance.

Do not let the opportunity pass you by to hear and get this album. It is bracing, beautiful, in its way perfect Weinberg!

Monday, May 20, 2019

Ramon Lazkano, Piano Works, Alfonso Gomez, Bilbao Symphony Orchestra, Ernest Martinez Izquierdo, Marta Zabaleta

Based on the CD at hand today Ramon Lazkano writes High-Modernist Piano Works (Kairos 0015041KAI) of an aborbing depth and dimension. Six works grace the program. Alfonso Gomez is the principal pianist throughout and shows a concentrated focus and sure-handedness that is essential to this music. The composer and Marta Zabaleta join in on the piano works that require additional hands. The Bilbao Symphony under Ernest Martinez Izquierdo effectively and dynamically expand the sonic scope of Lazkano for the piano & orchestra work "Hitzaurre Bi" while laying down a convincing impression in their own right.

There is a quasi-Messiaen feeling of mystery in this sixteen-minute opening "Hitzaurre Bi." The density, the intensity is poetic and rewarding to hear. The second movement assumes an insistent pulsation that lucidly sets up open unfoldings in piano and orchestra. It is exciting music, exciting to hear.

What follows in the rest of the program is equally captivating at the same time as it stakes out a poetic atonality that at times follows the rhythmic drip-drop clustering of Modern Seriality,  at other times assumes a more post-Minimalist sense of repetition and at still other times a slightly folksy yet abstracted rhythmic unfolding or a heightened sense of additive density that Messiaen made use of in his middle period and Lazkano breathes new life into today. Two brief pieces for four and six hands spell an otherwise solo piano universe in the second half of the program. He explores with musical brilliance what more can be done with the performative solo presence today. Each work is a world in its own terms. Each adds something to how Lazkano views the piano and its possibilities for us.

I come away from this music with a very refreshed sense of where we are going now. Lazkano is a voice to hear, a new contemporary vision of pianism and meaningful musical utterance. You should spend some time with this music if you can. It rewards patient listening with enlightened tone-spinning. Very recommended.

Friday, May 17, 2019

David Sanford, Black Noise, Matt Haimovitz, Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Gil Rose

Afro-American composer David Sanford shows a musical Modernism with a healthy admixture of "Jazz" influences on his recent recording of orchestra works Black Noise (BMOP Sound 1063). The three works so nicely captured by Gil Rose and the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, along with the cello solo vibrancy of Matt Haimovitz for the "Scherzo Grosso" work.

It's a kind of "asphalt jungle" contemporary urban backdrop this music in part projects, along with an Afro-American Enlightenment perspective. So "Prayer: In Memorium Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr." (1992) has a boldly defined hard-edge to it heightened by swarming tutti's of brass and winds punctuated by flute and trumpet solo parts of note.

The hopeful King Prayer serves to leave us in a thoughtful action that in the end moves us from two very Noir-Jazz Modernisms, the opening 2017 "Black Noise" and the closing 2006 "Scherzo Grosso" and its magnificent expressionist concerted cello part surrounding the very forward orchestral parts.

There are many out there who have tried to insert "jazzy" writing into a modern orchestral atmosphere. Many come off alas as not having the right comfort level and experiential savvy of a David Sanford. You know the authentic thing if you do, and this is very much that. And so the three works reaffirm that a proper meld of the two contemporaneities is exactly right when it is! This is. Rose, BMOP and Haimovitz do the music proud.

Don't miss this!

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Christina Petrowska Quilico, Global Sirens, Piano Music from Women Composers

Fifteen women composers from early modern to contemporary provide pianist Christina Petrowska Quilico with 19 miniatures that have an eloquent say and then make way for the next piece, all on the album Global Sirens (Fleur de Son Classics).

Canada's distinguished pianist chimes in with a very well-played program and the music invariably leaves an impression without sounding out some sort of avant manifesto. As "Sirens," these are musical voices we need to hearken to and appreciate. Lili Boulanger and Meredith Monk of course are musical titans whose music we should all be familiar with by now. You may know less of the likes of some of the others, but there is definite music of character and charm in the short pieces by Ilse Fromm-Michaels, Else Schmitz-Gohr, Ada Gentile, Lotte Backes, Priaulx Rainer, Barbara Heller, Sophie-Carmen Eckhardt-Gramatte, Peggy Glanville-Hicks, Susanne Erding, Cecile Chaminade, Germaine Tailleferre, Larysa Kuzmenko, and Adaline Shepherd.

Ms. Quilico gives to every miniature her total attention, a detailed focus. We in the end find it a very worthwhile addition to the contemporary piano repertoire, a real pleasure to hear and appreciate.

Definite recommendations of a high caliber I give to this one.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Salonen, Cello Concerto, Yo-Yo Ma, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Essa-Pekka Salonen

An orchestral composer of any merit can considerably refine her or his craft while practicing as a conductor. In the course of a season naturally the conductor studies deeply a number of scores, so that the art of writing and scoring effectively for the orchestra is always being considered. We all know Essa-Pekka Salonen as a conductor and a well-known, highly revered one at that. That he is also a very excellent composer becomes clear to us with the recent World Premiere Recording of his Cello Concerto (Sony Classics 19075928482) featuring the always very rhapsodic cello of Yo-Yo Ma, with the composer conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

It is a kind of dream-laden soundscape we enter, mysterious, somewhat reminiscent of Scriabin in his later period, harmonically forward and well orchestrated, atmospheric, a kind of hot-house terrarium of night-blooming fullness, of exotica in all its spicy speciality.

The composer states in the liners, "I imagined the solo cello line as a trajectory of a moving object in space being followed by other lines/instruments/moving objects." The cello is trailed mysteriously by a cloud of instrumental imitation. "Sometimes the imitating cloud flies above the cello, sometimes in the very same register. It thins out to two lines and finally to one." The orchestral part and solo part, then, are organically linked in a process that is interwoven beautifully together. One listens to what seems like an extravagantly fanciful organicity, at once Mythically Modern and complexly expressive.

Yo-Yo Ma plays his part with heroic lyricism and the orchestra under Salonen takes on a life remarkable and memorable.

This is expertly conceived and realized music of high invention. If this is a first salvo then we can hope Salonen might well become a very important compositional voice of our time. Very recommended.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Janet Sung, Sung Sessions, Edge of Youth, Sung Plays Enescu, Mazzoli, Britten, Visconti, Gabriel Prokofiev

When it comes to the striking tonal dramatics of the five works on Janet Sung's Sung Sessions, Edge of Youth (Sono Luminus 92230), they must be played extraordinarily well or be left absolutely alone! It is not exactly music that sounds pretty just hanging there because it thrives only
by being spitooned into the stratisphere with heart and fire. It is a series of virtuosi works for solo violin or violin with piano. And it is ideal for the musical temperament of Janet Sung, who means all she plays on this very diverting program.

Her violin soars and climbs to the heavens in music that has gestural heft well beyond the Romantics, that instead enters realms that are in their way inimitable. Take the refreshing countenances of the two works representing non-conforming last century voices that fit with special care into their own musical worlds.  Britten's 1935 five part "Suite for Violin and Piano" and Enescu's 1940 "Impressions d'enfance" make their own special place.  Both are folksy in a not entirely obvious way and wonderfully spun by Ms.  Sung.

So also the three works of this century are meant to be showcases for a violinist of the right temperament, not so much a "show off" as one totally dedicated to expression, to how "we" all might at times feel just now. And then too, how the violin can sound right now. And that goes for either way--the intricate interactions between Sung and Wolfram are something special, but then so is Sung unaccompanied.

And so "Dissolve, Oh My Heart" by Missy Mazzoli (2011) for solo violin, "Rave-Up" by Dan Visconti (2012) for Duo and "Sleeveless Scherzo" by Gabriel Prokofiev (2007) for solo all have a special life that makes the musical form taken transcend typical Classicism, Romanticism or Modernism. It is all in  a "folkish" now, on some level. 

Janet Sung has a true musical personality on violin and she and Wolfram form a wonderful rapport in this very appealing set of works both earthy and sophisticated. Latch on!