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Thursday, July 30, 2020

Jonathan Leshnoff, String Quartets Nos. 3 & 4, Four Dances, Carpe Diem String Quartet

American Modern Tonal stylist Jonathan Leshnoff (b. 1973) appears before us with the fine Carpe Diem String Quartet playing his String Quartet No. 3, String Quartet No. 4 and Four Dances (MSR Classics MS1765). Leshnoff I was happy to come across on a volume of his orchestral work by the Nashville Symphony under the direction of Roberto Guerrero on July 12 of last year (see chronological index for that post).

These string quartet works are, understandably, more intimate and perhaps more contemplative and absorbed than the more extroverted orchestral works on the Nashville disk. There is something decidedly Eastern European sounding about much of this--a sort of post-Bartokian, maybe post-Shoskatovichian cast, decidedly Modern enough and motor-sensory at times in its dynamic forward drive. Quartet No 3's finale is a case in point, quite exciting to hear as performed on this program by the Carpe Diem unit. Or check out the second movement of Quartet No. 4 for another kinetic explosion of high interest. Naturally there are contrasting expressions that spell the pace nicely, for example in  the third movement of Quartet No. 4.

It is all rather deep in the tradition of the string quartet's post-Beethoven history of increased reflectivity. In that way Leshnoff  updates that depth with some originality and great musical intelligence. Rather ravishing music, in an excellent reading. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

The Leipzig Circle, Vol. II, Chamber Music by Felix Mendelssohn, Clara and Robert Schumann, London Bridge Trio

I missed Vol. I of The Leipzig Circle. And I might well have missed Vol. II (SOMM Recordings SOMM CD 0619) if it wasn't that my status as a reviewer meant that it was available to me. I am glad of that. All three works are Piano Trios--No. 1 in D minor by Felix Mendelssohn, a sole trio in G minor by Clara Schumann, and No. 2 in F major by Robert Schumann. The London Bridge Trio (David Adams, violin, Daniel Tong, piano, and Kate Gould, cello) do an excellent job on the performance end, giving us a feelingly soaring reading that does not try to gain hearts-on-sleeves extremes, rather providing just enough emotive rubato to sound well as a present-day performance viewpoint.

Leipzig was renowned as the city where Bach presided for so many years over the Thomaskirche. It also had gained great fame for its superb Gewandhous Orchestra. And of course there are these illustrious musical voices of their time. All three works have a remarkable Romantic cantabile rhapsodishness. The three works are as alike to one another as they are different.

The Mendelssohn has a typically jaunty allegro finale and one of his brightly bubbling scherzo movements.

Clara's Piano Trio turns out to be very good, inventive, a welcome addition to the chamber music of the period and the locality of Leipzig. It rivals Robert's and Felix's effusive lyricism with its own spin on the Romantic piano trio.

The Robert Schumann will probably be familiar to many readers. It is typically fertile with thematic poignancy and developmental heft.

All-in-all this is a very worthy listen, a Romantic Chamber anthology that brightens your day when you are in the mood. Good show!

Friday, July 24, 2020

Schubert, String Trio in B flat major, String Quintet in C major, Aviv Quartet, Amit Peled

If you listen to Schubert's Rondo from his String Trio in B flat major, D. 581 (1817) you experience a kind of timeless brilliance only a few composers can give us, the uniquely folksy earthiness of a higher order that the then-only-20-year-old Austrian Viennese master was already quite capable of. But then we can also revel in the full maturity of his String Quintet in C major, Op. 163, completed in 1828, in the year of his death. All this you can appreciate in a very  articulate reading as played by the Aviv Quartet with the addition of virtuoso Amit Peled on a second cello for the Quintet (Naxos 8.573891).

I've lived with the Quintet since my Chicago days, through an LP that was a birthday present for self. Some nearly 40 years later I am happy to hear another version, this one capturing both heroism and a slight whimsicality when needed. It remains a remarkable work, filled with more nearly timeless unspinning of melodic poignancy, endlessly inventive. To create such profound music without even reaching age 35 is as astonishing now as it was for me 40 years ago. Even if we are lucky to have a life span three times his, which is of course as rare now as ever, even then who could match the profundity and depth of his music?

Amit Peled is some cellist and he makes magic on this version of the Quintet. But then the Aviv Quartet sounds excellent as well. This CD coupling serves up some prime younger Schubert that is heard less than it should be, and then gives you the wonderful Quintet in all its memorable poetic greatness. Just listen to their fiery version of the Scherzo Presto and you'll no doubt "get it!" Bravo!

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Komitas, Divine Liturgy, Arr. Vache Sharafyan, Latvian Radio Choir, Sigvards Klava

Komitas Vardapet (1869-1935) was as many will know one of the leading lights of Armenian Classical music, the founder in many ways of the Armenian Nationalist school of composers. On the 150th anniversary of his birth the mixed Latvian Radio Choir performed Vache Sharafyan's satb arrangement of the monumental Diving Liturgy conducted by Sigvards Klava. The choir went on to painstakingly record the full version (Delos DE 3590) which we consider today.

The results are all one might hope for, both in its own way in terms of Orthodox sacred music and Armenian. Sadly it was completed right before the Turkish genocide began in 1915. Komitas survived yet lived as a broken man for the last 20 years in a Paris asylum.

The performance winds along nearly timelessly as the nearly 80 minutes of the full score makes for an ideal vehicle for the Latvian Choir and soloists tenor Armen Badalyan and bass voice Hovhannes Nersesyan.

Anyone devoted to Armenian classical strains and anyone interested in Eastern Orthodox sacred music will no doubt take readily to both the score and the performance. A must for Komitas lovers.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Stjepan Hauser, Classic Hauser, London Symphony Orchestra

If what gets covered in these blog pages tends to be somewhat more esoteric than, for example,  today's selection, it is never an absolute thing in my mind. My exploration of some of the most advanced paths of New Music does not stop me from discussing something fashioned for a wider, more general audience if it seems good to me.

So we have an album today showcasing cellist Stjepan Hauser, entitled simply Classic Hauser (SONY Classics I9075988532). The emphasis on the 16 selections is on ravishing melodies from mostly very well-known works, arranged for cello and orchestra. And whether you are sheltering during the COVID Pandemic or at a place where you can be passing daily through the workaday scene this album surely can give you a little respite from an anxious world.

The emphasis is on Hauser's extraordinarily beautiful tone, impassioned, a moderate vibrato much of the time, soaring atop the orchestra, impeccably phrased, with a very pronounced balance and poise. Needless to say the London Symphony Orchestra rises to the occasion as well, giving Hauser a lovely carpet of symphonic tone while he hovers consistently above.

If you want to sample just one thing here to start, his version of the sadly tender Samuel Barber "Adagio" is as magical and as dreamy as can be. Perfect.

Hauser hails from Croatia and is known of course for his solo work,  his work with the Greenwich Trio, as well as his presence as half of 2Cellos with Luka Sulic. He tackles crossover material with a relish that has introduced him to  non-Classical audiences around the world.

But as Classic Hauser so ravishingly shows us, it is with a soaring classical melody that he shines forth the most brightly. Listen to the cello-orchestral arrangement of part of Mozart's "Concerto for Clarinet" and you'll no doubt revel in the lyric passion he so expressively conveys to us. Yiruma's "River Flows in You" has a breathtaking anthemic treatment here, for those who recognize the handsomely emotive theme, or even if not. Last's "The Lonely Shepherd" from KillBill positively glows too. And in the end all thoughts of "purism" get thrown to the winds if you can manage that. Then the album acts as a reminder that all that is "popular" is not the same, that the right project can appeal to a large number of people and still have a supreme artistry about it,. Listen to the new version of the adagio from Mozart's "Piano Concerto No. 21." Well!

After a bunch of listens I must say this program wears well and no doubt will appeal to just about anyone you might put it on for. You could of course do that. Or just listen for yourself.

It no doubt is selling well. Yet it convinces in its own way, too! I am glad for the artist.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

William Dawson, Negro Folk Symphony, Ulysses Kay, Fantasy Variations, Umbrian Scene, ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, Arthur Fagen

A welcome disk of orchestral works by African-American composers from the last century has made a timely appearance. We get three works as played with spirit by the ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra under Arthur Fagen (Naxos 8.559870). They are works that do deserve our attention. There is William Levi Dawson (1899-1990) and his "Negro Folk Symphony" (c. 1932-34, rev. 1952) and also Ulysses Simpson Kay (1917-1995) and his "Fantasy Variations" (1963) and his "Umbrian Scene" (1963).

As the back cover to the CD notes the Dawson Symphony's three movements are in the form of continuous variations on a number of spirituals. It was premiered by Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia in 1934 and took on final form in its 1952 revision heard here. There is a web of interconnections and endless permutations on the spiritual tonality and its implications. One occasionally hears a motivic development that reminds of Dvorak's "New World" and that is only natural of course given its enormous stature in the day especially. It is only a touchstone relationship however. The Dawson work itself stands proudly enough and statue-esquely enough on its own terms, its own feet.

And indeed after a number of listens the music comes forth as a tabula rasa when all is said and done. There is plenty to follow with interest, surprises, reaffirmations and confirmations of a rooted folkway treated with imaginative content and development and a sure sense of orchestral completeness. Hearing this now after so much has gone down the pike from 1932 to 2020 means that we do not need to trace its influence or lack thereof on what came after. That no longer matters so much is the presence of music we can luxuriate within.

The two Ulysses Kay compositions are worthy companions to the symphony. "Fantasy Variations" (1963) has a declamatory brilliance and a good amount of harmonic advancement to make it a part of the Modernity that was so important then. And there is a fluidity of expression that builds its home in our ears so that we might partake of the experience increasingly and rewardingly.

His "Umbrian Scene" (1963) as the jewel box copy notes is "lean and sober." It is poetic and wonderfully serious, an Occam's Razor of spareness which turns out is a rather nice way to end the program, going then from full thematic abundance to a searching matter-of-fact set of wise erasures and the profound essence of that which remains--so expressively underscored.

So when all is said and done if you missed this CD and these works it might not alter your world that much. Nonetheless the music is carefully crafted and inspired. Dawson and Kay were key Afro-Americans on the Modern Classical scene of last century. For that reason alone it is worthwhile to check this music out. Happily recommended.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Edward Cowie, Clarinet Concerto No. 2, Concerto for Orchestra, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Howard Williams, Alan Hacker

It falls upon me as a reviewer to listen to a lot of music by composers not all that well known at present.The ones that interest me tend to get covered, naturally. Today is another good example. Edward Cowie (b. 1943) brings to us some important works on a recent CD.

The program begins with Clarinet Concerto No. 2 (1979-80) featuring Alan Hacker sounding wonderful on the solo instrument, and then the Concerto for Orchestra (1981-82) (Metier MSV 92108). The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Howard Williams do the performance honors, and they sound very convincing in their role. That in part comes out of the composer's timely receipt of the 1984 Grenada Composer-Conductor Award which involved extensive access to the orchestra and a finely gauged experiencing of hearing in depth how a full-throated orchestra could shade sounds. The results can be heard in this recording made some 30 years ago and now finally commercially released as a CD for us to appreciate.

Cowie studied with Alexander Goehr. The "Concerto for Orchestra" is dedicated to him. The two works on the program find Cowie in a lucid Modernist Dodecaphonic mode.  This 1979-82 period was mainstream to the 12 tone orchestral work. Yet he does not just feed us generic things, not at all. Both works are marked by an acute sense of sonarity and a sure orchestrational ability. And so too the composer's involvement with thinking about the movement of bodies of water in nature is an animating factor, partly as a result of his involvement with and appreciation of sailing at the time.  The "flow" of the music in important ways has a natural quality of such forces in the world and nicely so.

Cowie's "Clarinet Concerto No. 2" turns out to be up there among the handful of really worthy such works from the later 20th century. The continuous orchestral-solo interplay makes for excellent dramatic dialog and a superior harmonic-melodic advancement and expressive daring.

The "Concerto for Orchestra" stands out for its continuous sectional lucidity, its ultra-Modern inventive expression and extraordinary group interplay.

Bravo to all concerned!

Monday, July 6, 2020

William Walton & Constant Lambert, Facades, James Geer, Andrew West, Ronald Woodley

An unexpected twist in repertoire, interesting composer pairings--those sorts of things can be refreshing and worthwhile. Today we have such a case--a disk of piano music and song by the likes of William Walton (1902-83) and Constant Lambert (1905-51) on the recent Facades (SOMM CD0614). What makes this program enjoyable and winning is the way the musical examples set each other off and so too the performances convince nicely. And it is especially notable for how the Constant Lambert music is of a very creative and inventive bent, keeping up with Walton's works in all senses.

Clusters of works alternate in ways that keep you interested. And we feel a certain astonishment (or I do anyway) as we hear the playful brilliance of Lambert, beginning with his piano duet "Trois pieces negres, pour les touches blanches." Immediately thereafter we get reaffirmation in something perhaps not-all-that-well-known but very worthy, something by William Walton, such as in this case the songs "The Winds," "Daphne," and "Tritons."

So the program alternates Lambert to Walton and back, piano duets to songs and back, culminating in Lambert's somewhat neglected piano duet arrangement of two Suites from Walton's "Facade," bringing all full circle, by ending in an expression of the natural synonymy and friendship of the two composers in a fitting collaboration.

In the process we get almost lighthearted expressions with very modern tangy spans that bristle with intelligence and wit. Tenor James Geer along with pianists Andrew West and Ronald Woodley make of it all a joyous thing. There is a wry quality to much of it, yet heartfully serious it is nonetheless.

Listen to Lambert's various "Songs of Li Po" and get the drift, the rather rare drift of it all, nature in the natural sequence of tones that nevertheless keep us guessing, culture in the expressive significance of it all, how it hangs together as art,  definitely as art. It is all crisply current, contemporary without calling attention to its originality that is nonetheless ever there. And that is a definite something very good indeed.

Check this one out, do! Highly recommended.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Eric Nathan, The Space of A Door, Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Gil Rose

Consider this broad swatch of orchestral and chamber orchestral compositions on a new program of works performed with care and true musicality by the acclaimed Boston Modern Music Project under Gil Rose (BMOP Sound 1071). In the process of listening we come ear-to-ear with composer Eric Nathan (b. 1983), decidedly a new voice to be reckoned with from today's Modern US New Music scene. On it we are treated to some six works (seven if you count a multiple version as two items) spanning the period from his student days to recent times, 2008-2016.

Nathan studied with Steven Stucky, to whom he dedicates "The Space of a Door."  Eric currently holds down the position of Assistant Professor of Music (composition and theory) at Brown University and also enjoys a position as a Composer-in-Residence with the New England Philharmonic.

"Paestum for Orchestra" and the alternate "Paestum for Sinfonietta" (both from 2013) bookend the program and give us a kaleidoscope of alternately circling and linear oscillations in a poetically orchestrated matrix.

"Omaggio a Gesualdo"  (2013, rev. 2017) follows, with expressive string lines that give out with a present-day and imaginative equivalent to Gesualdo's poignant laments.

The title work "The Space of a Door" (2016) gives us some lyrical, dramatic and haunting music orchestrated vibrantly. As with the program as a whole this is in an expanded-tonality that has the spicy tang of a Modern palette without abandoning key centers. It evolves melodic-harmonically with a crescendo of expression that subsequently subsides into a reflective exploratory affirmation of a mystery. The music was inspired by the Providence Athenaeum built in 1836 and borrows from the opening motif of Brahm's Second Symphony! Beyond that it lives and breathes with its very own creative momentum.

"Timbered Bells" (2011) begins with an almost Varesian fanfare that dramatically extends into aural space effectively. It is a rather explosive showcase of orchestral expression, nice to hear.

"Missing Words I" (2014) most evocatively illustrates active verbal imagery in three short movements (Railway-Illusion-Motion, Autumn-Foliage-Strike-Fun, and Fingertips-Dance). It is music of great character and animation, both fun and rewarding to hear.

Finally there is "Icarus Dreamt" (2008), the earliest of the works represented. It is a gem of animation and dimensional musical action.

One comes away from this album as one often does with the Boston Modern Musical Project series, with the feeling that one has been in the presence of music that deserves to be more well-known, certainly. It is a good listen, an excellent program for anyone interested in the music of today. Bravo!