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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.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Elliott Carter, Late Works, Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Oliver Knussen

During his long life span (1908-2012)  US composer Elliot Carter established himself as a major voice in New Music, one of the brightest lights of the later 20th century. Once he found his own very original niche he refined and honed his music to thrilling levels of complexity and High Modern expression. The String Quartets are as fine as anyone's from the Modern period but then there is an additional wealth of music in chamber and orchestral realms that we need to absorb and appreciate.

Today it is time to consider a program of some of his final works, written between 2003 and the year of his death, 2012. There are a good number of recorded premiers to be had on this CD and in any event all the works are well performed by the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group and the BBC Symphony under Oliver Knussen, plus Pierre-Laurent Almard on piano, Colin Currie on percussion, Isabelle Faust on violin and Jean-Guihen Queyras on cello.

The album is aptly titled Late Works (Ondine 1296-2). On a Monday morning this seems a fitting description and alerts us as to what we will hear. The final decade shows Carter much in the same vein he had been in for some time, a kind of post-Darmstadt expanded atonality, a remarkably worked over musical geometry of great detail and exploratory zeal, a music very aware of each instrument's idiomatic qualities and a vision of how they can be amassed and apportioned. The complex rhythms had been developed to an advanced point where the absolute precision required of each player results in a timeless quality that bubbles and boils forward to an ultra-architectonic uber-chaos of exactitude? Something like that. It is sublime music indeed. Like fractals the great complexity of the whole may at first blush seem chaotic, yet underneath there is form subtly co-existing with an exploded. expanded music world. Perhaps it is interesting to contrast this kind of complexity with the Cagean one--there the composer allows chaos to enter his front door, so to speak, yet in the end we hear order and structure after all if we listen closely, repeatedly, intelligently.

We hear in all some seven works. In order of year of completion there is in sum the 2003 "Dialogues" for piano and chamber orchestra, the 2005 "Soundings" for orchestra, the 2007 "Interventions" for piano and orchestra, the 2010 "Dialogues II" for piano and chamber orchestra, the 2011 "Two Controversies and a Conversation" for piano, percussion and chamber orchestra, the 2012 "Instances" for chamber orchestra, and the 2012 "Epigrams" for piano trio.

It is a great deal of unfamiliar music and it does require close listens and perhaps several hearings for a full appreciation. That said however, there is no mistaking this music for something merely, generically "avant" so to speak. It is the profound set of final musical utterances by a master after more than 85 years of composing!

Anyone wishing to be exposed to High Modern masterpieces from the very decade we are currently within (give or take) should not hesitate about this one. Carter was undoubtedly among the greatest of the last really brilliant Serial/Post-Serial composers of our time. I suspect his music will be heard and loved by music appreciators for many centuries hence.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Chopin, 17 Waltzes, Peter Schaaf

Chopin wrote 17 Waltzes (Schaaf Records 103). Peter Schaaf performs them with an honest candor and a partisan's zeal on a recent album of the same name. It continues the waltz mood he established so convincingly on his previous 44 Waltzes (type that in the search box, above left, to read my review).

Chopin wrote and published eight of the waltzes during his lifetime; nine more were unpublished at his death out of which five were assigned opus numbers; four more were never "opused." I do not need to tell you of the virtues of Chopin's piano works. The Waltzes are vibrantly melodic and sensitively evocative. Chopin opened up a realm of piano expression that was as extraordinary as it was innovative, and too so naturally singing forth.

This is marvelous music and Peter Schaaf disarms us with an extraordinarily unpretentious reading of it all. You feel care and spontaneity in equal measure . Some of this music is of course as familiar as any piano music can be for those who have lived in the present-day musical culture for any length of time (e.g. with the "Minute Waltz"). So to make it all seem fresh is a challenge for any artist today who would wish to play them. Peter succeeds because he enters into the mood of each as if it were HIS mood, and so in fact it becomes so in his hands.

So if you do not know this music or if you do and would like to put a fresh reading in front of your ears, this one is a good thing, a very good thing! Recommended. To find out more about Peter Schaaf and his music and to order go to