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Friday, November 30, 2012

Osias Wilenski, La Leyenda del Kakuy

La Leyenda del Kakuy (Navona 5882) is a kind of grab-bag of the music of Osias Wilenski. It contains pieces for solo violin, solo clarinet, solo bassoon and solo piano, and the title work, a musical telling of the Argentinian legend that is in some ways similar to "the Ant and the Grasshopper."

"La Leyenda del Kakuy" has seven short movements, is scored for six chamber players and has a kind of multi-voiced labyrinthine feel. It is quite decently performed by Tapestry East under Ovidiu Marinescu.

The "Sonata for Solo Violin" features an adventurous, well-thought series of movements that engage the violin in idiomatically expressive channels. It manages to sound modern in a romantic sort of way and would not be out of place among similar solo works from the 20th century by Reger and Hindemith, without sounding like either.

The other works have their interest as well. I would now most certainly want to hear larger-scale Wilenski. This one may not be essential but it is quite nice. And Wilenski has a voice.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Quadrants: Modern String Quartets

The string quartet has become one of the primary vehicles for "serious" chamber music. Dating from the example of Beethoven's late quartets, it has become a medium in which a composer might express his most "advanced" music. For those seeking "light classical" fare, it is generally not the place to look.

Fittingly then, the new anthology release of modern string quartets, Quadrants (Navona 5883), is filled with music that takes itself rather seriously, as well it should.

Here we have six quartets played by four groups, the Boston String Quartet, the New England String Quartet, the Moravian Philharmonic Chamber Players and the Boston Composers String Quartet.

The music ranges from Virgil Thomson's first quartet to various modernisms by Marie Incontrera, Michael G. Cunningham, Ulf Grahn, and two by Alan Beeler. These latter are names not well known but the music has solid construction, inspiration and bears repeated listening.

The recorded sound is lively, the performances exacting and expressive and the whole package something a lover of modern chamber works will most certainly appreciate.

I wont hold it against anyone that this was the CD I was listening to when I lost power (turned out for six days) during Hurricane Sandy. It wasn't the music. . . was it? No. It was the wind. I must say though, the music went with the wind pretty well while it lasted. That is saying something for the music, and I suppose the wind!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Stile Antico, Passion & Resurrection, Music inspired by Holy Week

One factor about early sacred vocal music that doesn't cease to fascinate my ears: generally the rhythmic structure of the music follows the text, so that meter is plastic, often irregular. Couple that with the intricate counterpoint and the sort of very pliable harmonic progressions that come across as the result of overlapping contrapuntal parts, and there is the recipe for music that feels liberating when listening from the present-day position.

Of course there's much more than that about early music that makes it interesting. And so when I turn to the latest offering by the a cappella vocal ensemble of Stile Antico, Passion & Resurrection, Music inspired by Holy Week (Harmonia Mundi), I find much to interest me, in fine performances.

It's a disk of English Renaissance choral works by some of the masters: Gibbons, Tallis, De Lassus, Taverner, Byrd, etc. England was producing some marvelous composers and music flourished.

For an added touch there are two settings of the poem "Woefully Arrayed". A period setting by Cornysh and then one written recently for Stile Antico by McCabe. It's a contrast that spices up the disk nicely.

This is state-of-the-art early music choral performance and all who love the period will find it of great interest, I would think.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Kristian Bezuidenhout, Freiburger Barockorchester and Petra Müllejans, Mozart, Piano Concertos K.453 & 482

Think of Mozart's "Jupiter Symphony" as performed by Bruno Walter and a large modern day symphony orchestra. It has a powerful sound and it is not hard to imagine its place alongside the early-middle period symphonies of Beethoven. Do that with more early, more typically classical period Mozart and you get that sound as well, at least in the tutti, fortissimo passages, but perhaps something is lost? Even in later Mozart?

That's what occurs to me listening to pianist Kristian Bezuidenhout, and the Freiburger Barockorchester under Petra Müllejans performing Mozart's Piano Concertos K.453 & 482 (Harmonia Mundi). For the recording Kristian plays on a period instrument; the orchestra is not large and they too seem to be playing period instruments.

The sound of the piano is more delicate, that of the orchestra more nuanced. With a smaller number of strings the wind parts stand out in greater detail and offset the strings more completely. The tutti sections can still be powerful and are, but the balanced has shifted. A recording such is this one, which is very good by the way, helps you envision the classical period and Mozart's "sweeter" qualities in a very different light.

The two piano concertos sound perhaps more as Mozart heard them in his head when he wrote them. And the classical era sounds less like a path to romanticism than a musical style perfect unto itself in its own way. Paradoxically, an excellent period instrument performance like this one sounds more modern than the amassed forces of the romantic orchestra doing Promethean battle with the soloist on his hard and louder sounding modern piano. That's not to say that we should stop enjoying or listening to present-era performances of classical era music by larger orchestras of modern instruments. That would be foolish.

Kristian Bezuidenhout and company have given us a fascinating window into another era, another Mozart, and done it with full poetic expression. Bezuidenhout is a wonder for Mozart and the Freiburger Barockorchester match the pianist's sympathetic sonarities with artistic grace. Bravo to this one!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Edison Denisov, Au plus haut des cieux

Russian composer Edison Denisov (1929-1996) made an impact on the west with a number of prominent releases (most notably one with Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic) in the '60s, then more or less disappeared from our radar. His music was sometimes experimental (as typical of the times), always contemporary in the most vital sense.

He continued on. Daniel Kawka and Ensemble Orchestral Contemporain, with Brigitte Peyré, soprano, for the vocal works, have gathered a fascinating grouping of this later compositions in Au plus haut des cieux (Harmonia Mundi).

The CD includes performances of "Symphonie de chambre no. 1 pour orchestre de chambre" (1982), "Symphonie de chambre no. 2 pour orchestre de chambre " (1994), "Au plus haut des cieux: cycle vocal pour soprano et orchestre de chambre" (1987) and "Cinq romances d'Anna Akhmatova pour soprano et ensemble" (1994).

It turns out that as his music matured, he developed a fully balanced style that had striking originality. His writing for orchestra became rather extraordinarily lucid, both very liquid, flowing, and impactfully orchestrated. Brigitte Peyré has genuine presence on the works for soprano and the Ensemble Orchestral Contemporain under Kawka turn in a detailed, sonically stunning set of performances.

If, like me, you are not very familiar with the later Denisov, or even if you are, this release comes as a revelation. He was a composer of the sublime. This must be heard!

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Choir of King's College, Cambridge, Nine Lessons & Carols

For those for whom Black Friday (in the States) is but a more and more hysterical outcome of economic considerations taking over the holiday season, there are antidotes.

The wonderful King's College Choir of Cambridge has a Christmas Eve tradition dating from 1918. It was decided then that the Christmas Eve service would alternate brief readings from biblical passages describing the Christmas Story with carols appropriate to that part of the story. They always begin with the carol "Once in Royal David's City" and they always sing a new specially commissioned carol for that year.

Christmas music connoisseurs have long appreciated the broadcasts yearly and a number of beautiful recordings have been made of the choir in performance on Christmas Eve. The latest is of the full service including the readings, and a gathering of the latest carol commissions, by the new King College Choir label.

Nine Lessons & Carols (King's College KGS0001) fills two CDs with the entire Lessons service and carols. It was recorded recently with present director Stephen Cleobury at the helm.

It is the choir in its goose-bump glory. The new carols are a refreshing addition, the traditional carols will warm your heart and the readings will put it all in context. It is a sonically alive recording that you may well want to make a part of your Christmas tradition. It is extraordinarily beautiful.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Valery Afanassiev, Schubert, Moments musicaux

I read, long ago, a critic in the Sunday Times who I have forgotten the name of, saying something to the effect that "the more familiar we all are with a piece of music, the slower the tempo of the performance." I've tried to track that thought in listening to various performances over the years since I first read the article, and I must say that it isn't always true. Yet it is an interesting idea. Sometimes performers will linger a bit over music we know and love, sometimes they will increase the tempo of something to make it more exciting.

One thing that great performers will do with a well-loved body of music is to speak the music with their own personal voice, so to say. So they may indeed linger over passages, vary the attack, take some movements at a faster pace than is the norm, apply rubato in non-standard ways, articulate phrases with a special touch, in general bring out the music in ways that make us hear it anew.

That is what pianist Valery Afanassiev has done wonderfully on his new recording of Schubert's Moments musicaux and the Piano Sonata D. 850 (ECM New Series 2215).

Like a great actor will make a well known line from Shakespeare speak to us emphatically by using his own voice and inflection in a special way, Maestro Afanassiev brings out some of Schubert's most melodically unforgettable music by giving loving attention to every phrase, by giving life to the music with his own voice.

It is a marvelously poetic performance to be had on these tracks. He makes the piano speak with extraordinary, movingly beautiful eloquence. It is the sort of performance perhaps that can only come out of living with the music over a long period of time, of coming to know and love the music intimately, of hearing something in every phase and bringing all of it to our ears with an absorbed attention that makes it all new and wonderful. This is a must-not-miss for all Schubert lovers.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Jacques Charpentier, 72 Etudes karnatiques pour piano, Schafer

We live in a kind of renaissance of recorded sounds. More than 100 years of recordings are potentially available to the listener, and for nearly half of those years recording technology flourished so that most recordings have good fidelity. In the digital era the recording of works and composers less familiar to most listeners has continued at an accelerated pace, so that today we can routinely make discoveries that might have been nearly impossible in the past.

Jacques Charpentier and his 72 Etudes karnatiques pour piano (Genuin 12257 3-disks) is a good example. The composer is still with us (b 1933), happily. And such a gargantuan set of etudes! In some earlier period this music in complete form would not have been so easy to hear, except if one bought the printed edition of the work, assuming it was available, and played it through for oneself.

Of course it would not much matter if the music was tepid or mediocre. In the hands of Michael Schafer on this recording, it is far from that.

This is piano music of great complexity. There is in the melodic structure and rhythmic figuration something that might be traced back to a Carnatic influence, but primarily this is modern pianism that stands on its own. It owes something to the mature Messiaen for its use of motives and declamatory phrasings that sometimes seem slightly birdcall-like. For the rest it is an extraordinarily interesting and original, accomplished group of etudes that bears deep listening.

Michael Schafer does the music full justice. He has mastered the difficulties and presents the music to us in a fully confident, expressive way. There is much musical treasure to mine in the 72 etudes and it will be a revelation for those for whom modern advanced sounds are both sufficient in themselves and necessary as a regular listening habit. Highly recommended.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Peter Maxwell Davies, Symphony No. 6, Royal Philharmonic

The Peter Maxwell Davies conducts his symphonic output series continues with a new reissue of his Symphony No. 6 (1996) (Naxos 8.572352). As in the symphonies immediately preceding this one (covered on these pages), the soft-focus orchestral palette of color continues, but this time it often gives way to moments of impassioned turbulence and adagio passages of considerable beauty and mystery. It is dedicated to the memory of writer George Mackay Brown.

This would seem to be the definitive version, with Davies conducting the Royal Philharmonic in a resoundingly vivid performance.

The disk contains two bonus works, which are less formally symphonic but quite good to have nonetheless. "Time and the Raven" (1995) marks the 50th anniversary of the United Nations with some dynamic modern music and some representational collage insertions that give the work a sort of double character. Similarly "An Orkney Wedding with Sunrise" (1984) combines Davies multidimensional orchestral style with passages of rustic charm.

For the symphony and the attractive additional works this one would be an essential addition to your English modern library.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Wolfgang Rihm, Complete Works for Violin and Piano, Yang, Rimmer

Wolfgang Rihm (b. 1952) has been gaining international recognition steadily as a composer of importance, and deservedly so. I am not that familiar with his chamber music, so when Naxos recently released the Complete Works for Violin and Piano (Naxos 8.572730) I jumped at the chance to hear and review it.

The complete output at this point consists of five works, written over a long period, 1972 through 2006. For this recording the considerable efforts and artistic panache of Tianwa Yang (violin) and Nicholas Rimmer (piano) were enlisted. They do a very commendable job negotiating the twists and turns of music that sometimes sounds quite difficult to play. In the process they manage to put each work in a bright, dramatic light for us to appreciate.

This is high modernist fare, fully abstract for the most part and exciting to hear.

The Phantom und Eskapade (1993/94) has a vibrant sonority and a periodicity that identifies it readily as in a concertante style.

Hekton (1972) is relatively brief but filled with turbulently invigorating sound events that demand precision and passion from the players. Yang and Rimmer handle it all with fluidity and a gracefully dynamic presence.

Antlitz (1992/93) has quiet subtlety and repose, punctuated by expressive outbursts that help frame the tenor of the work.

Eine Violinsonate (1971/75) concentrates on the violin's heroic potential to soar melodically and exultantly into realms of pitch and velocity, to enter special musical universes all its own. Like Phantom it is in concertante style, with brilliant violin writing that Tianwa Yang attacks with impressive energy and verve.

The final work, Uber die Linie VII (2006) is for violin alone. This is the world premiere recording. It has a restrained rhapsodical quality with periodic eruptions of passion. The intervals utilized and the understated yet plaintive quality give the work a sort of searching, longing quality to my ears. Once again Yang takes the work on beautifully.

Rihm is one of our most important present-day modernists and this disk shows him in an excellent light. The dedicated musicality of Yang and Rimmer bring the works alive in all the right ways. The music covers a wide period of Rihm's output. Each work is significant, essential Rihm. An impressive recording!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Anna Gourari, Canto Oscuro, Solo Piano Works by Bach-Busoni, Gubaidulina, Hindemith, Bach-Siloti

Anna Gourari brings us a full-length recital of some disparate yet organically related solo piano works on her Canto Oscuro (ECM New Series B0017622-02). At first I thought, "that's a very wide-ranging program, but why did she choose these pieces?" After listening a few times I realized that her abundant artistry, her personal intuition and creative impetus brought her to this particular combination of works.

Essentially there are four Bach pieces rearranged for piano--three by Busoni and one by Siloti--framing two pieces from the modern era, Gubaidulina's "Chaconne" and Hindemith's "1922" Suite fur Klavier.

In sandwiching two modern pieces that relate to Bach in tangential ways for the most part she causes us to reflect on Bach's timelessness--he is modern, he is not. And through her artistry she makes Gudaidulina's and Hindemith's modernism take its place alongside Bach as of a piece, following out of Bach yet not in any direct sense.

This sort of inevitability and continuity in disparity I at least felt after I listened a number of times straight through the program. The Busoni-Siloti reworkings of the Bach to greater or lesser degrees (depending on the piece) bring Bach's music genius in line with post-Lisztian pianistic expression. And Ms. Gourari handles it all wonderfully. Conversely the modern pieces are played with such singularity of vision that they sound more transcendent of the era than they might in other hands.

These are all pieces of substance. Gourari is authoritatively assured, fluid and striking in her realization of dynamics and the spectrum of touch modes she brings into the music. This is pianism of a very high caliber. This is music very much worth the effort and artistic expression she gives to them. This is a program that hangs together unusually well, showing us how Gourari can bring together an unusual sequence of works and make them fit together nearly perfectly as a whole. It's a rather glorious achievement. It is a disk I will prize for years to come and no doubt listen to again many times.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Weinberg, Symphony No. 19 "Bright May," The Banners of Peace

A peculiar thought occurred to me yesterday. If you picked your 20 all-time favorite symphonic movements and used a MIDI device to take recordings of those movements and line them up so that they all were in the same tempo, then played it back, what would it sound like? A huge cacophony I suppose. What it wouldn't sound like, I suspect, is the later symphonic music of Mieczyslaw Weinberg. Aside from the thickness of the musical texture of the collage, it wouldn't sound like later Weinberg because at that point he didn't quite sound like anybody. That doesn't mean that his music was avant garde. It doesn't even necessarily mean that all the later music was great. It wasn't always. But it is saying something about that music.

Along those lines we have a new recording of two such works, Symphony No. 17 "Bright May" (1985), and "The Banners of Peace" (1985) (Naxos 8.572752) with Vladimir Lande conducting the St Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra. These were works Weinberg wrote when he had around 10 years left to live. No. 19 was in the sequence of a rather astonishing 26 symphony output.

The symphony was written to commemorate the anniversary of the Russian victory over German forces in World War II. It has an elegiac quality, still fits quite comfortably in the Russian modern orchestral tradition, yet sounds less directly influenced by Shostakovitch and Prokofiev that was sometimes the case in previous efforts. That is not to say that works that fall under those influences were therefore derivative in a negative way, they mostly stand on their own and some are quite brilliant. But Symphony No. 19 stands out as one of the composer's more original forays.

The sweeping largo passages, reflective, meditative, are what first strikes one about the symphony. They are rather beautiful in a bittersweet way. It is a work that does not reveal all its gifts in a single hearing.

The symphonic poem "The Banners of Peace" is less introspective, more outgoing, modern yet filled with a kind of passionate expression that puts it out of the orbit of much of the music being composed in the more "advanced" orbits at that time.

Neither work is a masterwork among masterworks. They are both high-quality Weinberg. If the themes do not jump out at you like some of his finest works, it only means that as a listener you have to work a little harder to appreciate the music. In the end it is worth your time to become familiar with them, in my opinion. Conductor Vladimir Lande gives very sympathetic interpretations of the works and the St Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra shows spirit and subtlety. I am glad to have this one to return to.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Andrzej Panufnik, Votiva, Symphonic Works Volume 5

I have had the pleasure of hearing a work or two by Andrzej Panufnik (1914-1991) in the course of my listening, but nothing so ear-awakening as the three-work Votiva, Symphonic Works Vol. 5 (CPO 777684-2), featuring Lukasz Borowicz conducting the Konzerthausorchester Berlin.

The first two works complement each other well. His Symphony No. 7, Metasinfonia for Organ, Timpani and Strings and his Symphony No. 8, Sinfonia Votiva, both envelope the listener in long lined chromatic melodies that get situated by orchestral counter lines and harmonically advanced accompanying textures for a decidedly dramatic expression of a forward moving horizontal sort.

The Metasinfonia has a quite prominent organ part, often carrying the melody, played here quite fittingly by Jorg Strodthoff. There is a contrasting timpani part that seems to play the role of protagonist to the organ and gives the work a certain tension and dynamic that works well. Michael Oberaigner plays the part with a sort of heroic ardor that seems right. There is some impressive, advanced-dissonant organ cadenza work in the middle of the work that would no doubt work well in a gothic horror film. It gives the work additional thrust and contrast.

The Sinfonia Votiva, I read, is one of Panufnik's most performed works. It too has a long lined melodic quality, with the various orchestral soloists passing the line along in an environment of well orchestrated, vibrant symphonic expression. It has a hushed, mysterious quality throughout which is quite evocative. The work brings out each orchestral section with a poetic quality that is masterful in its realization.

Concerto Festivo rounds out the program in a decidedly more extroverted mood. There are four movements, fanfare-like in the first, alternately stately and gallopingly active in the second, lushly mysterious in the third, and briskly dynamic and colorful for the finale. It is a freshening, enlivening way to end the program, which is sum is quite an impressive testament to the performers and the composer.

These are works of originality and high expressivity. Panufnik comes through clearly here as a major symphonic voice of the modernist camp. It makes me want to hear the other four volumes in the series, but stands nobly and self-sufficiently as some essential Polish symphonic gems of the past century. Listen and enjoy.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Walter Ross, Through the Reeds: Woodwind Concerti

Gump's adage about the box of chocolates worked well in a booming economy. Today's world is like chocolates you've had before and you KNOW what you are getting, force fed or no. New music, however, really is an adventure in the unknown.

And so it was with the Walter Ross's woodwind concerti CD Through the Reeds (Ravello 7854) when I first approached it. What was I getting? Turns out Water Ross has written four concerti in a neo-classical mode that shine brightly with a lyricism that will please many.

One note for starters: the order of the concerti on the disk is not the same as listed on the label. You will listen in vain for the bassoon concerto in the second spot. It's third. Once that is clear you can settle down and listen to some very nice music.

It's all very lyrical as I've mentioned, in a post-Stravinskian mode with a distinctive American Pastoral bent (and so the title to the CD fits). Ross joins Hindemith and Reger (when Reger was in that mode) as a neo-classicist--not necessarily of their stature, one needs to hear more for that thought, but certainly of a highly engaging sort.

The four concerti--for oboe d'amore, bassoon, flute and guitar, and oboe and harp--are all played very nicely by the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra under Kirk Trevor. Soloists Sintal, Mesina, Turner, Kubrova, Fabera and Antalova all sound right and well suited for their parts.

It's the sort of music that has diatonic accessibility and high quality. It will charm those who want something nice while being pithy enough to engage more discerning listeners. Bravo.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Arvo Part, Adam's Lament

The release of new Arvo Part on ECM promises to be an event. Adam's Lament (ECM New Series B0017591-02) lives up to the promise. The Latvian Radio Choir, Vox Clamantis, Riga Sinfonietta, soloists, the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, and the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra, all under the direction of Tonu Kaljuste, alternate and combine in various configurations for the distinguished performance of eight recent Part choral works, some short and lovely but relatively incidental, the rest first-rate, serious works.

The title work is the longest at nearly a half-hour. It has the archaic-yet-modern quality and spiritual impact of Part at his innovative best. It is a through composed work that flows and ebbs with mystical majesty even as it suggests echoes of ancient chant.

The other works add quite nicely to the impact of the disk. There's is even a short Christmas Lullaby for a seasonal plus.

As expected the performances are impeccable, the sound of the ECM four-star sort, perfect for this kind of music.

Nothing is lacking here--another smashing Part offering. He remains one of the world's most important composers today and this CD confirms it in a spendid manner.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Jeffrey Weisner, Neomonology

Neomonology (Innova 833) furnishes a sort of 3-D portrait of the contemporary contrabass in modern concert music today. Jeffrey Weisner appears to us as an extraordinarily well-heeled (in the aesthetic sense) contrabassist, tackling with distinction three contemporary works for the instrument alone: Armando Bayolo's pomo "Mix Tape," David Smooke's "Introspection #11,072," and Michael Hersch's "Caelum Dedecoratum."

The works are less in the avant garde camp per se as they are in a post- mode. In other words they are directed more toward synthesizing the music around us, before us and behind us than they are sheer sound events.

Weisner does a fine job of it. This will appeal to lovers of the contrabass on the modern scene.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Dani and Sageev Oore, Radical Cycle

"What is an improvising duo doing on your classical blog?", someone may be asking. The answer is that Radical Cycle (Dani Oore, soprano saxophone, and Sageev Oore, piano) (self-released) are doing something most unusual. They have taken a diverse collection of art songs from the classical repertoire (by Puccini, Bartok, Ives, Berg, Brahms, Schumann, Schubert, Richard Strauss) and combined them (literally), reharmonized them or altered the melody lines and improvised around them for a rather stunning continuous re-composition/re-performance. They refer to it as a "remix" though there is no manipulation of the recorded sound. All is live.

It's a genuine revelation what they do here. The musicianship and invention that went into Radical Cycle are of a very high level and very gratifying to hear. A sense of "anything can happen" comes to the forefront as one listens. Strains of klezmer mingle readily with Schumann, all kinds of disparate blends are achieved in ways that sound totally right even if they at first startle one with their novelty. The improvisational element is masterful, not referring to swing or bop musical vocabulary but achieving flow, continuity and skillfully weaving harmonic and melodic elements with a sure ear and execution.

It's music that stays with you, rather unforgettable, especially if you already know the art songs in their original form. Excellent!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Beethoven, Triple Concerto, Piano Concerto No. 3, Mari Kodama, Kent Nagano

Why, you might ask, do I sometimes cover music that is not strictly modern in a blog entitled Classical-Modern Review? Because, for one thing, I get sent music from all periods, and when something gets my ear I'll cover it.

More importantly classical music as we know it is a product of its history. A composer like Berio when he wrote presupposed and was grounded by the entire history of the music. What is today always includes yesterday. So how justifiably can I exclude it? That does not mean I should emphasize it either, and I do not.

Another thing: the classical music we hear today is ever evolving. Performance practice is always a fluid, ever evolving factor and by addressing particular performances we address what is happening now in that realm, even if as an example of only one. Performance practice has an important bearing on the music we call modern, of course, and so it is ever relevant.

Ultimately, in writing this blog I neither wish to be bored or be boring. By bringing in from time to time CDs that interest me in various ways but do not belong to the modern period I hope to mix it up in a non-snoozy manner.

So today I am addressing a recording of Beethoven concertos: the Triple Concerto and the Piano Concerto No. 3 (Berlin Classics 0300331BC), as performed by pianist Mari Kodama, violinist Kolja Blacher, cellist Johannes Moser, and the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin under Kent Nagano.

The Triple Concerto has been in my collection many years, in multiple versions, and yet I never seem to connect with the work. Hearing the Nagano et al version, I think now I may know why. The various versions I have include as the three soloists various powerhouse virtuosi and they tend to approach their part as if it was at all times a kind of bravura spotlight for their prowess--and if they happen to be sharing that spotlight with two others, grin and bear it.

As I listen closely to the version at hand I hear something different, perhaps more in keeping with the music as Beethoven wrote it. Truth is, there is not a tremendous amount of bravura fireworks in the solo parts. Kodana, Blacher and Moser do the music justice by sounding like what they are, a piano trio juxtaposed against a symphony orchestra. They work together as such and make something happen that three virtuosi together-alone cannot. Nagano does a fine job with his end of the interpretation as well.

And so what we have is a version of the Triple Concerto that is very properly balanced between the individual soloists, the soloists as piano trio and the orchestra.

Kodama and Nagano go on to give us a version of the Third Piano Concerto that have these qualities once again, along with a very lyrical andante that is ravishing.

The music sings and is foremost in both works; the virtuosi element is there as ultimately it should be, as a means to realize the music.

In short these are excellent performances, and most certainly the most musical and balanced version of the Triple Concerto that I have heard.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Seeking & Finding: The Choral Works of Hans Bakker and Howard Richards

After nearly a week without power, phone or internet thanks to Hurricane Sandy, I am happy to be back, safe and dry.

Today a look at the choral music of Hans Bakker and Howard Richards, in a collection entitled Seeking and Finding (Navona 5877).

Neither composer is particularly well-known. Both show an affinity to and sensitivity towards the choral medium. Each contributes seven short a capella works, Bakker covering both sacred and secular subjects, Richards strictly secular.

Both work imaginatively in a tonal, modern idiom. If I had to choose I would have to say I prefer Bakker slightly over Richards. The Kuhn Choir under Marek Vorlicek do a quite reasonable job performing these works and the sound is good, matter-of-fact and not especially resonant.

All-in-all an interesting and captivating collection that should appeal to all who favor the modern choral mode.