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Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Khatia Buniatishvili, Schubert, Selected Piano Music

There is of course more than one way to play a composer, a piece of music. And of course there can be in different epochs different trends in performance practice. So when it comes to Franz Schubert and his wonderful piano music there may be a movement away from a sort of Rachmaninoff-ian bluster, the emotive slam-bang of perhaps an exageratedly passionate gushing forte to a more reflective, poetic emphasis on the spellbinding pianissimos and then so a more heightened contrast between loud and soft. I was attracted to the late Jorge Demus' Schubert performances early-on for this quality. And now I think I may have found the ultimate Schubertian to my way of thinking. That is in the person of Khatia Buniatishvili, a most lovely voice on the piano, as I hear gladly on her new album simply entitled Schubert (Sony Classics B07NKZ33JB).

I took a cursory glance on the internet to find that Khatia is already well along in her rise to acclamation. And if there is any doubt as to her poetic soul and rare insight into Schubert listen to these lines from her comments in the liners. "There is a certain femininity and sensitivity in Schubert's works, as well as an ability to wait and endure. This femininity and heightened sensitivity are destined to die. Yet this suicide is to be found at such a profound depth, stifled, with no outward expression of the tragedy of loss..." It would seem she has lived inside this music to a point of great understanding?

All you have to do is listen to this album. Then you will very much hear it. You will know. She chose wisely, things that she seems to love greatly. We are treated to her performances of the "Piano Sonata in B-flat major D 960," the "4 Impromptus D 899" and the Liszt piano transcription of "Standchen 'Leise flehen meine Lieder.'"

The cascades of notes in the Impromptus, the soulful mystery of the quiet passages in the Sonata and the contrasting majesty of the forte passages, and the sheer beauty of the Leider, all alert us to a greatly superior artist, a true master of the Schubertian gesture, of the short but intense life in music, the voice that speaks so eloquently through Khatia Buniatishvili, a Maria Callas of the piano, someone who feels it all and can portray it for us so singularly as to be unforgettable in her impact, or at least so to me. There is a liquidity to her phrasing, a very subtle gradation of levels of touch that is marvelous to hear. Slow-fast soft-loud here-silent contrasts play ever so readily in the act of performance that we nearly hear him anew,  nearly.

This is an album I hope many will treasure in years to come. On the basis of it I am a convert to her magical spell, her sound and sensibility, her rare feel, at once sensual and deeply channeled through human volition. The syntax of her phrasing flows so fluidly, so naturally that she is the epitome of the "native Schubertian," a native of the music world that includes Schubert of course, I mean. A native of humanity, as must we be, all of us who are musically human, as much human as musical. There are passages that seem uncannily as if she is recollecting the music from deep inside memory. Other passages seem like a direct experience, a presence that is palpable and propelling us in real-time, if that makes any sense. It is hard to put into words but there are time frames of expression one might discern here happily, or at least that is a way to say it. It all comes out in terms of touch and a very subtle rubato that flows as we flow through life, perhaps.

This is an album for anyone who loves Schubert, who loves the piano played exceptionally well. It is one for the ages, as it would appear is Ms. Buniatishvili. I am glad for it. Hear this one. You might just be glad to be here to hear it. I am.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Hindemith, Complete Works for Violin & Piano, Kleine Sonata for Viola d'Amore & Piano, Roman Mints, Alexander Kobrin

If you did not live with the music for a while, you might think superficially that certain genres by certain composers were all the same. I mean for example Baroque chamber music of a certain configuration, by, say Bach, or for that matter Hindemith's Complete Works for Violin and Piano (Quartz 2132), which is in a very striking new performance set by Roman Mints on violin and Alexander Kobrin on piano, and includes also the Kleine Sonata for Viola d'Amore & Piano.

And it is perhaps telling that this aspect of Hindemith is in some ways comparable to Bach in certain chamber modes. Both set out not for novelty, for they know that they would work in a particular niche, something they long established in years before, or in other words it was not about upending the form they took as part of the expression they looked for. In this way the Modern element in Hindemith chamber modes was built up out of previous decisions`he had made about where he wanted to be. And so we hear chronologically the music he produced for the piano and violin or viola d'amore from 1918 through 1939, including sonatas in E Flat, D, E, and C, then also the "Kleine Sonate," the "Trauermusik," and the "Meditation from the Ballet 'Nobilissima Visone.'"

It is all intricately worked-out line and harmony, with quasi-contrapuntal ornate filigree lace fragility or burlap robust "there-ness" that Mints and Kobrin take to readily and spectacularly. The violinist talks in the liners about a special affinity he developed for Hindemith's Sonata in D, the sheet music which his mother found apparently in a used bookstore for Roman to play in the Soviet days, when Mints was first starting out. He took to it and it made an impression on him which was to remain some thirty years later when this complete oeuvre was recorded.

The affinity is apparent in the sincerity and concentrated drive Mints shows throughout and indeed, Kobrin too plays it all with a tempered passion that seems just right for the music, the all of it.

Is this music still too "advanced," too complex for audiences even today? Mints wonders this in the liners. That is true if it is true of virtually all works that are self-consciously "Modern" you might say. None of this music is a happy and glib romp into a humoresquely inane field of verdure, certainly. But then if you look for that you probably do not read this blogsite, right? In any event I would most certainly recommend this volume as an introduction and an affirmation to the importance of Paul Hindemith in chamber territory. There too is the works for viola as I covered some weeks ago, (type his name into the search box above for that) and then of course there are the whole series of other chamber works Hindemith wrote for diverse instruments, from tuba to heckelphone and beyond. Hear them too if you can.

This edition of the complete violin-piano works is masterfully done. The music is worth many hours of your time, if you want to explore some somewhat neglected fare from the Early Modern period. Listen.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Falla, La Vida Breve, BBC Philharmonic, Juanjo Mena

If you ask me Manuel De Falla (1876-1946) was one of the very greatest of 20th Century Spanish composers. Nobody could quite harness the Spanish tradition into Modern, buoyantly impressionistic terms like he could. After a near lifetime of listening to his music, including arrangements of excerpts from La Vida Breve (1904-05, REVISED 1907-13) I finally get a chance to sit down and listen in depth to the full opera in a very nice aural staging with Juanjo Mena and the BBC Philharmonic (CHANDOS 20032).

I must say after some concentrated listening that the full work in this version does not disappoint in the least. Mezzo-sopranos Nancy Fabiola Herrera and Cristina Faus, tenor Aquiles Machado, the chorus and the rest of the cast join with the orchestra for a very memorial performance, especially the second half where the music gets quite folklorically reminiscent in the Spanish tinge zone.

The entire opera sings. You get the full libretto in this edition and a performance that is as painstaking as it is jubilant. His orchestration is worthy of a listen in itself alone.  But truly nothing is lacking in either the parts or the performances of the cast either.

The liners tell of De Falla's move from Cadiz to Madrid at the turn of the century, his budding interest in the vocal arts, three unsuccessful attempts to work in Zarzuela, his discovery of Spanish Nationalist composer Felipe Pedrell and study with him in 1902-04, all leading to La Vida Breve, which took on its final form in 1913.

It is a highlight of DeFalla's compositional career and deserves to be more widely heard. This performance brings out all the magic. I do very much recommend it.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Rupert Boyd, The Guitar

What the guitar means to us in my own lifetime has blossomed forward into a kind of renaissance with Blues from B.B., ringing Beatles and the boldness of a Leo Brouwer, distinctive sounds from Wes Montgomery and so much else. Rupert Boyd knows all of that no doubt. He is a guitarist for today, a true voice and a phenomena one should not ignore. I've posted on his music here previously (see the index box above for that review) and I am happy that he returns front and center for an ambitious outing he entitles simply The Guitar (Sono Luminus 92211). And by that matter-of-fact designation he means to portend much, for the album in some ways gives us as expansive a view of the classical guitar for us today as we might get in one program. And where others might not succeed in encompassing such a breadth Maestro Boyd emerges triumphant, thanks to his flexible concentration and innate musicality.

The program in its own way encompasses a long span of time and a fair number of overarching style sets. It begins with two extraordinary Brazilian perennials by Antonio Carlos Jobim in some lovely arrangements for solo nylon string guitar in the presence of "Felicidade" and "Estrada Branca." Rupert swings the elaborate arrangement of "Felicidade" in the way it absolutely must be swung. The stirring performance of "Estrada Blanca" follows. Rupert allows the melody line to sweetly stand forth in ways that show a pronounced rhapsodic touch.

From there we go back to a seminal compositional voice for the guitar, Fernando Sor (1778-1839) and a stirring performance of his "Introduction and Variations on a Theme by Mozart." Rupert brings melody and accompaniment into a lively interplay that takes on a distinctness that is a treat to experience.

The Bach "Suite in E Major, BWV1006a" in guitar arrangement follows, with an intensity and flowing articulation rather exciting to hear.

Well I could go on with the blow-by-blow description of everything, but your own ears can find out the details for themselves. I should just add that Leo Brouwer's first ten "Estudios Sencillos" are played as well or better than I've ever heard and that is saying a lot. The concluding Beatles "Julia" gains a poignancy in Rupert's own nylon guitar arrangement that brings us full circle to the "popular" and in the process runs a fine gamut and shows Rupert Boyd's versatile savvy. Nothing here is superfluous or gratuitous.

Anyone who responds to the classical guitar legacy in its many variants will no doubt be quite happy to experience The Guitar in its diverse ebbs and flows. Bravo Boyd! If he is the future of classical guitar we are in good hands.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Ana Sokolovic, Sirenes

I never shy away from women composers, especially when they are from the Modern times we live in. So today there is Ana Sokolovic and her album Sirenes (ATMA Classique ACD2 2762). It consists of four works for the Ensemble contemporain de Montreal (ECM+) directed by Veronique Lacroix,  the Ensemble vocal Queen of Puddings Music Theatre under Dairine Ni Mheadhra, and soloists.

Ms. Sokolovic was born in 1968. which makes her younger than I am. I only mention it because it helps situate her in time. This is her second album of works according to the liners. Jeu des Portraits came in 2006 though I have not had the pleasure of hearing it. This new album addresses her chamber ensemble moods, including three devoted to the vocal arts and her recent Violin Concerto "Evta."

Andrea Tyrilec takes on the solo violin part on the concerto and does it full justice. It is a long and involved work of concentrated Contemporary heft, a kind of breakthrough tour de force, searing and abstractly tender in turn, filled with a wealth of detail and articulation in the harmonically advanced and colorful HighMod zone. There is a nice use of chromatic and timbral repetitions and sequencing  to express something about life and it works in its evolved context quite well. I am at times reminded of Mayazumi in this wise yet this is Sokolovic and the two are not synonymous, which is heartening.

The program begins with the title work "Sirenes" for the six woman vocalists from the Ensemble vocal Queen of Puddings Music Theatre. It is atmospheric, sound colorful Modern fare with a real feel for making full use of the vocal potential of this fine ensemble, whispering, full voice, etc.

Sokolov's "Tanzer Lieder" for soprano and small chamber group shows us Ms. Sokolov's gift for lieder writing. It is Modern in syntax and based nicely on Austrian poet Francisco Tanzer's Blatter collection. The music is expressive and well paced.

From there we move on to "Pesma" for mezzo-soprano and small chamber group. As with the Tanzer work there is carefully and very brightly situated elements working together in subtle ways to give us a refined zen of Modernism in the very sensitive laying out of it all. It is music I found myself appreciating the more effort I took to listen carefully. Perhaps that is the one lesson I never fail to note on these pages? One is not born to this music, so to speak. One must grow into it and much of the worthy music of our contemporary world.

After all is said and done we are left with the sheer musicality of Ana Sokolovic. It is lovely fare, convincingly performed. There is brilliance. We have contact, liftoff! Very happily recommended.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Grace Williams, Chamber Music, Madeleine Mitchell, London Chamber Ensemble

Not a month goes by lately when I do not benefit in my reviewing capacity by making a discovery. Today is such an instance as I report in on some very interesting Chamber Music (Naxos  8.571380) by Grace Williams (1906-1977) whose music I find most intriguing.

The album features a number of premiere recordings of chamber works, some six in all, played well by the London Chamber Ensemble under violinist/director Madeleine Mitchell. The jacket copy lauds Ms. Williams as Wales' most accomplished composer. She studied with Vaughan Williams and Egon Wellesz, attended the Royal College of Music, and left behind a distinguished body of works if this volume is any indication.

These compositions cover a wide span of time from 1930 through 1970. Yet they all occupy a certain well carved out niche that is tonal yet nicely wayward in a kind of Neo-Classical mode, an original one. The concluding three miniatures ("Romanza for Oboe and Clarinet," "Sarabande for Piano Left Hand" and "Rondo for Dancing for Two Violins and Optional Cello") fascinate. Yet the more substantial opening works are where one is most directly brought to a very satisfying realm--both ambitious and thoroughgoingly personal, inventive, original.

The "Violin Sonata" (1930, rev. 1938) has a kind of thorny, knotty complexity with a thickly double-stopped violin part that almost sounds fiddle-like in its direct intensity, though less so in its actual note choices. Ms. Mitchell carries the day on this fine work and I must say my appreciation for it all increases the more I hear it. This is Contemporary Modern music with a decidedly quirky edge and its own way of backward glancing, a near folkishness like Vaughan Williams could allude to, yet all in her own right.

The "Sextet for Oboe, Trumpet, Violin, Viola, Violincello and Pianoforte" (1931) and the "Suite for Nine Instruments" (1934) have nearly as weighty an impact in their lucid beyond-the-pale qualities. None of this music has the "orchestral but for the quantity of players" feel some composers of the era could be guilty of. No, this is music scaled and theme-built on the smaller chamber scale and so seems to feel quite comfortable in its own instrumentational skin, so to say.

It is a CD I am sure I will return to again and again. And it alerts me to want to hear what else Grace Williams produced in her lifetime, for she clearly had something to say musically. I recommend this one heartily.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Symphonic Dances, Copland, Appalachian Spring, Ravel, Daphnis et Chloe, Suite No. 2, Stravinsky, Firebird Suite (1919), David Bernard, Park Avenue Chamber Symphony

A creative and intelligent coupling of several works on a program can make sense to a theme or a season or both. Such creative juxtapositions can transform a particular offering into more than just a sum of repertoire choices. I feel that way about the latest CD from David Bernard and the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony. It is appropriately called Symphonic Dances (Recursive Classics 2061415).  What stands out to me is how it nicely programs three major works, each of which are Early Modern-Impressionist classics, breakthrough orchestral works, all having some general mythological or otherwise storied relation to the budding natural world and so quite appropriate to mark spring (and summer).

It covers Aaron Copland's "Appalachian Spring Suite," Maurice Ravel's "Daphnis et Chloe Suite No. 2" and Igor Stravinsky's "Firebird Suite (1919)."  Each are from ballets, and each have orchestral depth and orchestrational brilliance.

Barnard and the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony give us very dynamic versions of each suite, with some of the loudest forte passages I can recall hearing on performances of these. The orchestral staging is very detailed as is essential to the music. These may not be the very best performances I have ever heard--of any of the three--but the competition understandably is quite stiff as each of them has been recorded in numerous versions. The Park Avenue outfit acquit themselves quite respectably nonetheless.

The "Firebird Suite" was on the first classical LP I owned and so it has a kind of foundational sound to me. Both "Appalachian" and "Daphnis" were part of my earliest listening as well, so they belong together in my mind. And as spring flourishes outside I naturally gravitate towards the music.

And as I said above, the choice of these three works in one program is rather brilliant. Each has an essential relation to the others, each has alternatingly wonderfully lyrical and in turn acutely rousing moments. If you for any reason are unfamiliar with the music you are missing out. They each are classics as a rhapsodic sort of  New Music, each revolutionarily lyrical in its day. And so it is hard to pass up this program.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Sergio Cervetti, Parallel Realms, XXI Century Works for Orchestra, Moravian Philharmonic, Petr Vronsky. MINI-Review

Sergio Cervetti writes orchestral music in the "Grand Tradition" of Modernist Drama, an heir to the great High Modernists that insisted that the old make way for the sometimes radically new, he builds his very own edgy sonic castles in the air. On Parallel Realms, XXI Century Works for Orchestra (Navona 6217). Petr Vronsky and the Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra give us exciting performances of three of his most recent works, namely "Et in Arcadia Ego" (2017), "Consolamentum" (2016) and "Plexus" (1970 Revised 2017).

The kind of sound-architectural fanfare we have heard from Stravinsky's "Rite" or Varese's "Ameriques" is not out of place in thinking of what this music sounds like, yet Cervetti goes very much his own way with the edificial idea and creates his own worlds.

The music is vibrant and essential. It goes some ways in showing us how the legacy of the Early Modernists can still have a foundational importance to composers who have something new to say. Bravo to this one!

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Shudong Braamse, Suenos de Espana, Spanish Art Songs, MINI-Review

I recommend coloratura soprano Shudong Braamse's Suenos de Espana (Spanish Art Songs) (Navona NV 1211) for those whose pulse quickens at the prospect of such things. It is a well sung collection of songs, some you no doubt already know, but then you may not know a lot of these unless you have spent time as a specialist in this realm. The collective clout of the music will send those who respond to such things up the channel to the rung bell so to speak. I am glad to have it for the gap it fills nicely in my collection. The music fulfills an acute need for Spanish tinged sounds with 19 gems well done.

Teresa Ancaya on piano and Robert Phillips on guitar take care of accompanying duties as needed and they are admirable. Shudong Braamse has real charm and a sweet tone, with a rather hefty vibrato that is nevertheless burnished nicely.

If this is your bailiwick (like it is mine) there is a lot to love. Check it out.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Aaron Copland, Billy the Kid, Grohg, Complete Ballets, Detroit Symphony, Leonard Slatkin

Aaron Copland (1900-1990) was more than simply a US Nationalist composer (of course nationalist here not anything to do with the Aryan White Supremacy kind, thankfully), yet of course his most famous works draw upon American themes and folklore. Today's program features one of the famous Nationalist ballet scores, and an earlier ballet from the '20s that comes out of his cosmopolitan Parisian days. Billy the Kid (Complete Ballet) and Grohg (One Act Ballet) (Naxos 8.559862) give us a nicely contrasting look at Copland the American Folkloric and Copland the Modernist. The Detroit Symphony Orchestra under Leonard Slatkin sound well situated and fully committed to making these scores breathe life.

Copland perhaps like Bernstein managed to have lots of success yet too like Bernstein put a wealth of musical ideas into most anything he did. So the Billy the Kid score gave us a first look at his Americanist folksy side. It is accessible to those who fare well with a programmatic underpinning, yet Copland's lyric gift shows itself along with some touches that tell us he was not looking backwards but sought rather to present the present musically. Honestly Billy the Kid has never been among my very favorite Copland, and it is still the case that I might rather hear the "Piano Variations" or "Appalachian Spring." On the other hand this Slatkin version is nicely dynamic and reminds me that there is plenty to like nonetheless. Some of the thematic aspects sound very good to me now that there is no pressure to approve or not, and Slatkin gives them the airing they deserve.

Most interesting to me is the presence of the 1925 Grohg, which informs us that he at age 25 had already developed a remarkable maturity and poise. The music has currency and lyrical futurism in plenty for us to discover, plus a jazzy element, a ragged syncopation that marks him of his time yet allows him to express originality.

The score is complicated, well orchestrated and in the end worthy, memorable, a real find.

It is an offering anyone interested in Copland and the US compositional 20th century will find stimulating and worthwhile. Sincerely recommended.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Leo Brouwer, Hika and the Young Composer, Frederic Zigante

Cuban composer Leo Brouwer (b. 1939) no doubt could be considered by many as Modern music's most important living composer for the classical guitar. His long life has been studded with compositional stars that will ensure him a place in the classical guitar pantheon.

And with that in mind I introduce today's album for you, happy to have it playing as I write this. It is an album of Brouwer compositions for solo guitar.  It is called  Hika and the Young Composer (Brilliant 95838), a program that features the fine performances of guitarist Frederic Zigante.

We get to hear a well selected program of solo guitar miniatures by Brouwer that cover his early period as a composer and then too some works that share in the outlook of the first important works yet came from the pencil of the composer at a somewhat later date.

So we get some wonderful items to savor. There is the title piece "Hiko" (1996) noting the passing of Toru Takemitsu, along with 20 exemplary "Estudios Sencillos" spanning the time period of 1961 to 1984. Some extraordinary miniature staples of his early period round out the program, including the 1959 "Tres Apuntes," "Fuga No. 1" from 1957, two "Elogio de la Danza" from 1964, and lastly the 1956 "Danza caracteristica."

What is so remarkable listening to this program is the richness of vocabulary, the very prime Cuban rooted idiomatic way the guitar is sounded and yet too the unmistakable Modernity of it all. It is hard to imagine a better mix of substance and excitement, to the triumph of heart, mind and fingers over the frustratingly inert "thereness" of the guitar sitting on its stand, waiting for the player to express a dominion, brilliance and imagination. These pieces and their performances mark a triumph of humanity over wood, string and perhaps a bit of ivory or other fast-staying substance. Humanity wins and yet too we cannot help being glad for the guitar, of course! For the guitar wins, too.

It is an excellent album and for the Brilliant price I surely recommend this one to everybody and anybody who wishes to explore Brouwer's  extraordinary rootedness and why the guitar is a wonderful thing in the hands of Frederic Zigante. Hurrah!

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Philippe Quint, Chaplin's Smile, Song Arrangements for Violin & Piano

Here in real time yesterday marked the birthday of Charlie Chaplin. Most everyone knows and probably loves Charlie Chaplin's movies. Perhaps less of us know that he was a prolific songwriter, with scores of them. Most (at least those as old as I am) recognize the song "Smile," but how many know that it was one of Charlie's songs? It was. Violinist Philippe Quint gives us a happy and revealing program of Chaplin's love songs on an album entitled Chaplin's Smile (Warner Classics 2-585381). He and pianist Marta Aznavoorian, with the help of Charles Coleman, put these violin-piano arrangements in order and the two artists work in delightful tandem together throughout in realizing them for us.

Thirteen Chaplin songs grace this collection, some perhaps you might recognize, others not, yet all brightly whimsical and in their own way melodically vibrant, all as on-the-surface casually brilliant as was Chaplin the comedic figure. Phillippe's violin work is beautifully agile and shows the dancingly Pop-accessible side of the era from which the music came. Marta is completely at ease and lucid in the context of this music and the two come across as artfully "artless" if that makes sense, just like Chaplin was in his many roles and films.

Joshua Bell joins the pair with a bit of seconding for several of the songs and all that goes well, very well indeed. And on his own or net, Quint shows us a charmingly Gypsy-vernacular sort of expressive demeanor for the outing in ways that stand out. Any who love the art of the violin will find this one rather hard to resist, I would warrant.

This in fact is at times rather Kreiserlesque as it strikes me--strongly accessible yet filled with the sort of brilliance it takes true talent and application to achieve. It is undoubtedly the case that much of the genius of Chaplin somehow translates into the musical idiom on these songs. The works have that humanity in them that Chaplin was so full of, always. And if these are straightforward tunes, that is consistent with his way, after all.

It is music of cosmopolitan polish yet disarming in its thoroughgoing naivete. The man who brought us "Modern Times" perhaps endears in part in his refusal to be Modern in the capital /M/ sense. Admittedly there is a jazzy ragtime-y feel underlying much of this. Yet his art is a plea for a timelessness that in the end is also very much something to date him as of his time. Complex simplicity, this.

And so this is the sort of music that might appeal to anybody and everybody. I cannot say it does not appeal to me! Recommended. Quint is a marvel.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Ian Krouse. Armenian Requiem, soloists, VEM String Quartet, Tziatzan Children's Choir, Lark Master Singers, UCLA Philhamonia, Neal Stulberg

As a composer in the Naxos American Classics Series, Jan Klouse (b. 1956) comes center stage with his epic and dramatic Armenian Requiem (Naxos 8.559846-47 2-CDs). It is a work to meditate with solemn resolve on the centenary of the genocide of Armenians in 1915. It is music that comes out of the Requiem-specific Armenian liturgical chants, and does so with a spectacular assemblage of fine vocal soloists along with Ruben Harutyunyan on duduk,  Jean Libdemann and Bobby Rodriguez on trumpets, Christoph Bull on organ, the VEM String Quartet, Tziatzan Children's Choir, the Lark Master Singers and the UCLA Philharmonia, all under the capable direction of Neal Stulberg.

Such an ambitious gathering fills an hour-and-a-half of our time with a sprawling expression that goes back to classic sacred music oratorios surely, but too has a mindfulness of parallel Modernity in the landmark Passions of Penderecki and Part, and other advanced New Music expression, here tempered by an Armenian modality lurking in the shadows of the expressed, there without calling undue attention to itself.

And then too there is Britten's War Requiem, which the Naxos cover info avows as an influence, an important one. To quote, Krouse was inspired by that work to fashion "a poignant meditation on loss couched in a marriage of Western and Armenian forms" to offer "both conciliation and hope." I concur that this is the case as I listen to the music with concentrated and increasingly sympathetic attention.

The music is not precisely cutting edge not is it a backwards movement, yet if you set that concern aside you hear a veritable spring garden of musical delights, seriously miened, soberly comported yet hopeful, not without beauty and drama.

It is a monumental endeavor that pays dividends by close listening. You might want to make this a part of your contemporary collection, especially you who want to enrich your experience of Sacred Music.

I do recommend this.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Samuel Andreyev, Music with No Edges

By now we have to a greater or lesser extent had access to High Modernist music for around 100 years, if you start with Ives (say 1910) or Schoenberg (say 1920). It may not for the moment dominate the way it might have in the classic Darmstadt world of post WWII, but this no longer seems to matter for no one thing dominates any more. I like that.

Nonetheless the High style continues to flourish and grow. Composer Samuel Andreyev gives us his take on it all with a nicely turned series of six chamber compositions on his recent Music with No Edges (Kairos 0015025KAJ). All enter into a rarified and abstracted world of rhythmically and harmonic-melodic further-leaning advancement. Nothing sounds folksy or strophic, then, and if there is a key center it is not an obvious one. And very happily, Maestro Andreyev excels wonderfully well in creating an ecstatic pointillistic counterpoint and extending it, the sort of thing you can hear iconically on "Le Marteau Sans Maitre" by Boulez, only brought forward into a different furtherance today.

The liners to the album inform us that Andreyev is a poet as well as a composer and a You Tube channel host with more that 17,000 subscribers, and all the better for I do believe that one can only gain from stretching oneself in unlimited creative zones wherever possible so long as the focus remains in place.

The works are of our time, literally, since they were written between 2004 and 2015. All have very contentful concentric girth. That is they show a thoughtful demeanor always. Nothing is casual so much as striving to encapsule the everyday if only to pierce through it to a deeper beyond?

The works that feature four, five and six instrumentalists are to me the most fascinating and enthralling (comprising three of the six works here), partly because they are the most capable of the octopus-ian multi-strandedness that is what I most love about this music. And so if one wanted to get an immediate impression about what one will hear, one might start with the "Verifications" for piccolo, musette, A-flat piccolo clarinet, Casio SK-1, percussion and cello; the "Music with No Edges" for clarinet, percussion, viola, cello and double bass; and the "Strasbourg Quartet" for flute, clarinet, percussion and cello.

Yet there is nothing lacking in the more intimate chamber works either.  Samuel Andreyev shows his highly creative and inventive self throughout. This is New Music of true worth, in performances one can hail as paradigmatic.

It is music that brings us into the future-present tense in happy ways. I strongly recommend this one.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Lisa Bielawa, Vireo, The Spiritual Biography of A Witch's Accuser, Premiere CD/DVD Set

Of Lisa Bielawa's Opera Vireo (Orange Mountain Music 7017 2-CD&DVD) there is much to say. The way it is presented is innovative and very pleasing, and it frames in ideal terms the music, and the libretto by Erik Ehn. Note the subtitle The Spiritual Biography of A Witch's Accuser. The opera centers around the teen-aged young woman Vireo (played and sung beautifully by Rowen Sabala), who is subject to visions that the original French 16th-century socio-cultural setting defines and instantiates as witchcraft possession., and in her world she becomes a witch accuser.

The world of Vireo is in constant flux. There are 12 chapters-scenes in all, and the time fluctuates from 16th Century France to the 19th Century, to the present day and temporal pockets in between. Vireo and in time her fellow accusatory companion Caroline (well sung and played by Emma MacKenzie) are responsible for numerous witch burnings, yet each chapter-scene is a shift in time and place into the present and the mythical past, so a boarding school, a convent, a farm and a dramatically central scene, when both are jailed in Alcatraz.

The details of the scenes and plot are best digested via the DVD Video. The thread of all is Modern-Poetic-Hypersurreality. What is iconic and beautifully unforgettable comes about in part through the centrality of the film of the opera, shot on various sites as a film-music-drama more than a film of the staging. Music, cast, libretto by Ehn, screenplay, design and production by Charles Otte come together with an ever-shifting group of distinguished instrumentalists that includes the Kronos Quartet, the Prism Quartet,  the San Francisco Girl's Chorus, Alarm Will Sound, the American Contemporary Music Ensemble (ACME) and etc. Singing casts and instrumentalists are integrated in each scene into a real-space site so we feel we are (and we are) watching a movie rather than a staging. This too allows for complete visualization of the dramatic time-shifts and dream-like world of the poetic irrational.

The effect of the entire presentation, originally shown on PBS station KCET, is most remarkable, moving, the truly unified "total socio-artistic phenomenon" that melds all elements in a moving, ultra-memorable and unforgettable way.

And happily it serves to underscore the musical excellence of it all as a performance and as a composition. The singing is exceptional, the performances plentifully right, just so, and we have in Vireo a triumph of the new Modernism with the best elements of the old Modernism transformed and reworked anew. Orchestration is seminal, the musical content ever-inventive, and in toto this is one of those breakthroughs that I do believe will be looked back at years ahead as a major new wonder, and that for its content and its presentation. It extends our idea of an opera without skimping on the musical and dramatic elements.

You who seek to be in touch with the new will benefit greatly through experiencing, studying, entering the word of this wonderful work. It is hard to imagine a more riveting leading role than the one done so well by Rowen Sabala. Yet everything is exceptional and that is most rare! And in the end you wonder what it all means, how society creates  frameworks, rather horrible ones most of the time, to accommodate a non-standard perception of the world. It is in the end disturbing, thought provoking. The witch accusers are the real witches, even more the institutions that recognize the defining realty of such things, and yet of course there is no such thing except in the collective consciousness, in our mythical illusions. All are victimized in the end? Yes, and we still suffer. Strongly recommended.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Marina Thibeault, Marie-Eve Scarfone, Elles, Schumann, Boulanger, Hensel. Clarke, Fuchs, Pidgorna

What is worthwhile comes to us by directed chance. We cannot sample everything yet we choose much of what we find at critical junctures. So I did not simply find today's music, Elles (Atma Classique ACD2 2772)  in my mailbox. I asked for it explicitly. And I am glad I did.

It features women composers, Romantic through Modern, with apt and fine-honed performances by Marina Thibeault on alto/viola and Marie-Eve Scarfone on the piano. What strikes me after quite a few listens is the poise of the artists. They give us a striking musical demeanor. The viola, much as I might love Leonid Kogan's ecstatic high notes on violin, has an alternate universe of burnished sounds in the somewhat lower register and I have a special love for that. Ms. Thibeault knows what she is about and takes perfect advantage of the inherent sound of the instrument to accentuate the musical possibilities suggested and prescribed by the composers on the program. And Ms. Scarfone responds with an equally burnished pianism that goes a long way to ensure an entranced listen.

So the selection of works seems rather inspired. It begins with Clara Schumann's "Trois Romances, op. 22," a work of unabashed depth and piercing presence. Then the mood becomes ever more focused as we revel with Nadia Boulanger (1887-1979) and a starcasted viola version of her "Trois pieces pour violincello et piano." It is one of her most memorable chamber works and the version here is haunting. I find such programs well enhanced with the presence (as here) of something by Fanny Hensel (Mendelssohn), a touching nocturne based on Goethe's vision of nightfall. Goethe admired her music and she quite clearly appreciated his poetry.

The last duet work is by a composer I have only come to appreciate in the last decade, Rebecca Clark (1886-1979). Her "Sonate pour alto et piano" is one of her classic pieces and the version here is as inspired as it deserves to be.

Perhaps the highest point of the program occurs at the end, a leap into the modernity of the later then-as-now with two extended solo viola works played with a convincing fervor by Ms. Thibeault. The 1956 "Sonata Pastoral" composed by violist Lillian Fuchs (1901-1995) makes a lovely and gritty impression, which is then seconded by the living and thriving Anna Pidgorna and her "The Child, Bringer of Life."

In the end I am left with a feeling that an important recital has been savored, that my appreciation for the viola and its deeply inimitable possibilities have been well realized with works by women I hear and learn from, revel in, that I bask within the hearing of same.

Viva Marina Thibeault, viva Marie-Eve Scarfone, and viva Elles.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

David Gompper, Double Concerto "Dialogue," etc., David, Gill, Norsworthy, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Emmanuel Siffert

Up for consideration is lyric Modernism by US Boomer (b. 1954) composer David Gompper. It is a disk that covers the Double Concerto "Dialogue" for violin, cello and orchestra (2012-16), Clarinet Concerto (2013-14) and Sunburst (2015) (Naxos 8.559835). The performances are stirring, featuring Wolfgang David on violin and Timothy Gill on cello for the Double Concerto, Michael Norsworthy on clarinet for the Clarinet Concerto, and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under Emmanuel Siffert for the whole of it.

This is music that bustles and rustles more than bloops and bleeps, so in the rhythmic stylistic continuity sense has more in common with other American non-Serial Modernists like the "serious" Copland, Harris, (William) Schuman and the like more than Messiaen, Varese, Webern and such. That is not to say that Gompper's rhythmic aims are always straightforward, but nonetheless one takes in the give and take sequentially and intuitively with a forward arching. There are consecutive "ones," often enough regardless of what they add up to! There is pulse, regularity. And that what is not frequently mathematically obvious on the surface, so that gives it an American Modernity, surely.

Melodically-harmonically the music is chromatic and tonal but at times quite expanded into near non-tonal paths. What strikes me listening to it all is orchestrational poignancy, syntactical fluidity and a clear and crisp vision of the soloists's interaction with orchestra that naturally follows the outcropping of Gompper's musical speech-logic. There is more performativity to the whole than virtuosity showcasing going on per se, though the expressive demands made upon the players, rather most strikingly the clarinet,  cannot be ignored nor should they.

The Double Concerto has a very atmospherical, almost mystical cast to it and needs your concentrated attention perhaps more so that the Clarinet Concerto, which rivets your attention more directly with its exciting fireworks. Mr. Norsworthy's clarinet work is remarkable here and the entire work bristles with dazzle, then reflects with a sort of impassioned contemplation.

Both this concerto and the following work Sunburst are based on sketches the composer set out that involved fractions that move in descending order. The latter work especially embodies "the proportional Farey series as plotted on a lattice," which is literally "sunburst" as a replicatable phenomenon? I have no exact idea but it does not matter for the moment.  And it is in the hearing of results that all this takes of structure and converts it to expression as it must be in the performance arts. The work shimmers with magnificence, at times seems to extend from a Petrouchka/Rites nexus orchestralistically, yet so far beyond as to be of this moment and an originality that sets it very much apart.

In the end the music is quite masterful. A world beyond unto itself, glistening and self-creating out of all we up to now have shared as part of the new. It is a High Modernism that does not look backwards as much as forwards, does not seek to create a stridency yet does not rest with the musical-chemical reactions of the simply earlier, for it is part of our "now-later" and in the best ways.

Sunburst caps our program with something impossible to ignore, beautiful to hear, and cumulative in its complex being so that we gain all the more as we repeat the experience.

It is music that asserts itself unflaggingly and originally. Reception is our part of the bargain, and the task must be taken seriously. This Gompper program is worth the effort, surely, but it does take effort to get inside this music. Once you do, you no doubt will feel rewarded as I do. It is music to dwell inside gladly. I recommend this one to your consideration with sincerity and with some conviction.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Gabriel Dupont, Complete Piano Music, Bo Ties

I cannot say that the Complete Piano Music (MSR 1699) of Gabriel Dupont (1878-1914) would have been on my wish list unless I was regularly reviewing the music of our time, albeit stretched backward to earlier days that might not properly be "ours" per se. Perhaps one first notices the shortness of the life span. Died at age 36! That in part explains why he has not become a household word? We spoke of Mendelssohn yesterday though. He made it to 38 and garned plenty of fame so there is no saying. Yet this two-CD set of Dupont, nicely played by pianist Bo Ties, maps out a world of great interest to the devotee of early Modernism. Early death or late, what matters is the music of course.

It is a good deal of music to hear and it is good music. The liners to this disk ask, "Why is it we do not know this composer?" And indeed, why? I have no idea about the rest of his oeuvre, and so I cannot say, but once you listen to this music a few times you do find a great deal to like. Much of the music here is in the form of character pieces, gathered into thematic suites. The whole of disk one is the fourteen-part "Les Heures Dolentes," a rather remarkable thing in itself. CD2 has a ten-part "Le Maison Dans Les Dunes" along with two shorter, less overtly thematic groupings.

What stands out in this music is the lyric charm, the very French proto-Modern atmospherics, at times very much in a pioneeringly Impressionist mode, other times as tumultuously cascading Romanticism slightly closer to the edge than perhaps a Rachmaninoff, which nonetheless at times is less startling, less original to our ears, though of course at the early turn of last century this was daring fare in any event. But it is the atmospheric quasi-Impressionistic pieces that wake us up to the fact that had he lived, he might have been considered up there with Debussy and Ravel and possibly beyond them, who can say? That is moot now for he left us pretty quickly.

What matters is what he composed. It is very pianistic in the very French sense of those times.

The performances are quite nice, the sound is very good. Above all, though, this is music one can and no doubt should come to know via this rewarding two-CD set. I could wax on but instead I will suggest you listen--and discover for yourself what is going on here. Bravo.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Jan Lisiecki, Mendelssohn, Orpheus Chamber Orchestra

As I was on the net just now searching for the cover image I unfortunately came upon a headline that irritated me, not hard to do on a Monday morning I suppose. It was one of those opinions that I do not need at the moment, something about lots of technique and less of the something else. What does this matter to me about some concert and what or where I need not know? As you can see above I found a cover image and got out of the search results as quickly as I could. But the glance gave me a bitter taste. You look up somebody and get naught but a scurrilous dirt-dig, is that right? Not I suppose worth discussing today.

So forget that. Now I must say that today is somewhat auspicious as it marks my first review on here about the music of Mendelssohn. If I have not covered him before on these pages it was not for lack of appreciation. I've loved Mendelssohn's music ever since my first exposure to it. A recording of his "Italian" Symphony and then of his "Midsummer Night's Dream, " long ago, and both I still love dearly.

So this Jan Lisiecki disk (DGG 00289 4836471) was available for review and I jumped at the chance. It has not come about that some Mendelssohn disk has come along that seemed worth reviewing until now, it just so happens. But today I am happy to report in on the pianist's remarkable recording of Mendelssohn's two Piano Concertos plus a very nice selection of solo gems. I was quite ready for this program, as the LP versions of the Concertos I lived with since the early '70s were not as sterling as might be and the hearing of Lisiecki's dynamic whirlwind approach wakes me up completely to what is possible, what he manages to do with the music and so gives me a bird's ear view of it all..

I most certainly have no complaints about the amount of Mr. Lisiecki's technique. Thanks to his intelligent application of his abundance the music comes out as very exciting, for there is no lack of interpretive acumen. To be fair I have no idea what that headline meant I stumbled upon this morning, but why also should I care? In some ways it might as well be a totally random result, and so discount it we no doubt should, right?

For what is going on here is beyond reproach. His abilities make Mendelssohn's "17 Variations serieuses in D minor" a passage through electric dramatics, as he heightens contrast between the slow and the fast by his nimble acrobatics.  The same is true of all of it here. The concertos "pop" into the foreground by the relief his contrasts afford (and the conductorless Orpheus Chamber Orchestra only add to the kinesthetics with a sympathetic frisson. They are able and most definitely up for it all.).

All that can be said too for the "Rondo capriccioso," and the "Gondola Song" from the Songs without Words series. This it feels to me is how Mendelssohn's piano music should sound, or at least one way. There needs to be some robust fire to it all or else the lyricism is not quite tempered, or so it seems to me.

I am sure there must be other wonderful recordings of the concertos out there. I am quite willing however to give this  recording my top-drawer appreciation. The incredible magic of Mr. Lisiecki's full-barreled zestfulness wins the day, along with the bristling energy of the orchestra and the astounding solo piece performances. I will want to pull this one out often. I suspect you will too!

Super-bravo! If you do not know why Mendelssohn is a wonder this disk tells you in so many ways. Hip-hip-hurray!

Friday, April 5, 2019

Johann Sebastian Bach, St. Matthew Passion, Soloists, Bachchor Mainz, Bachorchester Mainz, Ralf Otto,

Of all of Bach's vocal-choral extravaganzas, the St Matthew Passion (Naxos 8.574036-38 3-CDs) is to me the very greatest of them all. But then my early history and the work coincided decisively. I frequented by the time I was in eighth grade a farmer's haunt turned junk shop by the name of Sy Van's Feed and Grain right by the Susquehanna Railroad tracks in downtown Butler, in Northern NJ. They had used LPs and 78s for ten cents each. Since I had already come across the Bach Brandenbergs I took notice to find what was a one-LP highlights disk of the St Matthew Passion conducted by Mogens Woldike on Vanguard. It looked playable. Why not? I had no idea about such things, did not even know Handel's Messiah then, but after a few hearings I was convinced I was in some important musical presence. I was.

And here we are now some 52 years later and a number of St. Matthew Passions later I still find the music monumental, and I still have that Woldike LP version. It still plays! And now there is a new version, just in time for the Lenten/Easter season, the complete version on three Naxos CDs by soloists, the Bachchor Mainz and the Bachorchester Mainz, all under the direction of Ralf Otto.

I have a social media buddy that recently complained that the St Matthew is marred by too many recitatives. It is true there are more than perhaps would be ideal, yet they never bother me, especially when balanced by the incredible beauty and fiber of the chorales, the tutti climaxes for choir and orchestra, and the arias with remarkable melodic arcs and unforgettable instrumental interjections? There is nothing quite like this work, though of course Handel's Messiah is the better known of such Baroque choral masterpieces. Nonetheless, there are moments in the St Matthew that soar even higher than Handel at his best, though perhaps it is less obvious in a casual listening situation. But a lifetime after I spent ten cents to enter a fabulously brilliant musical world I am of the same mind as I was when I found the magic in the grooves.

And the good news is that the complete Naxos version by Ralf Otto and the Mainz Bach-ites is very, very good. It may not have every bit of the magic of the Woldike but it has its own charms, too. The soloists leave nothing to be desired, the choir is bright and motivated and the instrumentalists are inspired and impassioned. There is atmosphere to the performances, which any Matthew should have in abundance. It has plenty of it. The recording quality too is excellent.

And for twenty-something bucks you can get this full version, which is of course a very important part of the Naxos attractiveness. Whether you need a full St. Matthew or just want another version to spruce up your listening, this is a good bet. Very recommended.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Olga Peretyatko, Mozart +, Sinfonieorchester Basel, Ivor Bolton

If I do not ordinarily cover aria programs by opera voices of note, it is not for want of caring about such things. If done well such programs can enrapture, bring joy and in the most fortunate of instances they can also enlighten. So when I agreed to review Olga Peretyaktko's Mozart + (Sony Classics 19075919052) I was happy to be refreshed with something different and I hoped worthy of hearing. It most surely is. The combination of the superb artistry of Ms. Peretyatko and the unusual and interesting choice of arias carries the day--so we get some enlightenment as well as sheer musical pleasure.

Ms. Peretyatko sounds beautifully assured and lyrically expressive. She has a well burnished soprano instrument with pinpoint control and she exhibits a most artful expressivity thoughout. In the process she doubtless shows us how she belonjgs among the greats out there today. The Sinfonieorchester Basel under Ivor Bolton is as understated and subtle as one might hope. And they are a perfectly evocative foil in the best ways.

The repertoire on the program hits upon some familiar and lovely Mozart moments from "Le nozze di Figaro,"  "Don Giovanni," "Die Einfuhrung aus dem Serail" then too a slightly less covered aria from "Le clemenza di Tito" and then some rather obscure "Insertion Arias" from "Il  burbero di buon cuore."

To spice up the proceedings we then also get a rather exotic selection of arias from the period that are a great addition to the proceedings and well performed, perhaps needless to say. The program in fact starts with three arias from "Antigona" by Tommaso Traetta (1727-1779), followed by an aria from the aforementioned "Il burbero di buon cuore" by Vicente Martin Y Soler (1754-1806). Finally we get an aria from not Rossini's but rather Giovanni Paisiello's (1740-1816) "Il barbiere di Siviglia."

All told, the performances and the aria selection combine to make a most compelling listening experience, something for the connoisseur of repertoire as well as fans of soprano artistry. It is all here, delightfully so.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Alberto Nepomuceno, Symphony in G Minor, Minas Gerais Philharmonic Orchestra, Fabio Mechetti

Kicking off Naxos's many volume series devoted to Brazilian classical music, this volume of Alberto Nepomuceno's Symphony in G minor (Naxos 8.574067) brings to us a fine set of works by a founder-composer of the Brazilian nascence and the incorporation of the popular and folk music of the region at a time (1864-1920) when such things were not much considered. The Music of Brazil series is an "initiative of the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs" and there are many volumes planned. If they are like this one we are in for some fine music indeed.

The CD has a well performed program of three Nepomuceno gems for our appreciation and happy listening. All are infused with a melodic folk brilliance one loves to hear, whether it be in the Prelude "O Garatuja" (1904), the four part "Brazilian Suite" (1891) or, somewhat less folkloric with the impressive "Symphony in G minor" (1893).

Invention is not in shortage and Nepomuceno has a good orchestrational sense. The liners note the influence of Brahms in the symphony, and I hear that as well. The symphony bears up well under scrutiny  Nepomuceno served notice to the world that Brazilian composers were a new force on the international classical scene. If Alberto encouraged Villa-Lobos and other young Brazilians he also gave them a model for thinking of the local and the classical in tandem.

The Prelude to "O Garatuja" comes from Nepomuceno's incomplete opera of that name and sets a lively tone. The "Brazilian Suite" is infectious too, and concludes with a Batuque dance that has some real clout

Performances are first-rate. The Music of Brazil Series is off to an auspicious start with this enlightening and enjoyable survey of the music of Nepomuceno. Very recommended.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Marais Meets Corelli, Jakob Rattinger, Lina Tur Bonet, Musica Narrans

The moment we get complacent about the musical past, we need to hear painstaking and artistically endowed performances on period instruments, so we can remember that the past was different, so that the music sounded  different, that local musics were no less ethnic then and there than everywhere else, that one way or another everybody was historically and culturally unique yet relates to our present as pages in the same book? Recordings that remind us of such things cannot but enrich our vision of the human arts and music. So on the recording Marais Meets Corelli (Pan Classics 10395) we get that uncanny feeling of the presence of the past, that everything in the reconstructed Baroque was neither fish nor fowl, but itself and that much, very much indeed.

We have chamber music on this album of a very high order, featuring the viola da gamba and violin accompanied by baroque guitar, theorbo and harpsichord. The instruments understandably are period ones with the appropriate bows and strings of the time to make that incredibly rich, sweet, vibrant tone. Jakob Rattinger is an excellent gamba exponent and is the principal supplier of direction for this, the Ensemble Musica Narrans. Lina Tur Boney is the talented violinist on the recording.

The extraordinary timbral texture of the ensemble here, the richly resonant swells of the gamba and the baroque violin, in conjunction with the beautiful distinctiveness of the continuo, all this is wonderful to hear and some of my favorite music in truth. Lina on violin and Jakob on the viola da gamba are excellent exponents!

The works on the program have that folksy melodiousness along with the Baroque interplay which sounds so distinctively blended with these original instruments.  The cover may look like a Baroque Crosby and Stills in search of Nash and it most certainly amuses! But then we get glorious works that feature the gamba, by Tobias Hume, Antoine Forqueray and Marin Marais, then two sonatas for violin--by Corelli and von Biber, and then music that features both instruments by Marais, Jacques Morel and then with the two soloists doing select variations on the famed "La Folia" as invented by Marais and Corelli followed by some improvisations. The "Folly" was a favored theme for variations in the day and one can feel the attraction here. F. Couperin comes to mind as doing a nice set as well and you might want to find them after these have done their job with you.

In many ways the program represents the foment of competition between the violin and the viola da gamba for the favor of the public as the virtuoso solo instrument of choice. Corelli represented the violin and Marais the gamba. Before the violin won out there were the two strains, two musical strivings that we hear so readily and beautifully on this program.

Those who may not be familiar with how things sounded in chamber worlds then will find this a real ear opener. Those who already know and love the music of the period in authentic instrumental garb will nonetheless doubtless find joy in this album as I have.

Heartily recommended. Do hear this!

Monday, April 1, 2019

Mahler 9 Live from Boston Symphony Hall, Benjamin Zander, Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra

If you are fortunate you live a long enough life and if you are curious and open it gives you time to explore musical treasures and other such things. One of the joys of such a life is to find that as you experience more time,  some works open up to you in ways they did not when you were 22, say. That I've found true of Dostoevsky "Brothers Karamazov" and so too lately I find Mahler's "Symphony No. 9" opening its doors ever wider. That is the case as I listen repeatedly to Benjamin Zander's new version conducting the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra (Brattle Media 2-CDs).

The opening half-hour long andante has always seemed worthy to me, but hearing Zander and the Youth Orchestra do it now, as I contemplate life more than I might have before, it speaks to me like it never did. The same feeling I get from the finale, the molto adagio. It helps that I know Mahler's life better now, how everything was not joy, that Vienna in the end betrayed him and he left it for the United States. You hear a poignant sadness to the bookend movements of the 9th that Zander and the youths bring out well.

And then the Landlers movement (second movement) is filled with an unvarnished affection for Austrian folk roots tempered by a kind of regretful nostalgia. I hear his 9th now in ways I did not, maybe even could not as a generally optimistic youth. Is it ironic that a Youth Orchestra of the Boston Philharmonic under Zander should be the ones to teach me something about the full life span? I suspect it is Zander's sensibility that is infused in the orchestra and that is why.

Yet these youngsters sound incredibly poised regardless. The winds and horns alone have a beauty and strength that maybe 40 years ago not every adult symphony orchestra out there had. It may say something about the impact of someone like Mahler and his beautifully present wind and brass writing, that from the mid-late Romantic period on there was an increasing assumption of adept virtuosity in such sections so that today the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra has it remarkably well, even in the French Horns!

And only a lengthy experience I suppose enables one to compare and contrast in such ways. I must say that the strings too, and the orchestra as a whole sound quite fit in this recording. I no doubt have heard more sparkling versions of the Landler movement, though this one has nothing wrong with it, yet the opening and closing movements have a deeply unrushed, feelingfully overt dynamic to them that alone makes this version very welcome to my listening self.

The Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra is very impressive. If this is any indication, the future of symphony orchestras is in good hands. Most importantly they give us a fine reading of Mahler's last completed symphony. I will be happy to hear it again and again. I recommend it if you are open to a new reading. And remarkably, it is live for all that! Listen.