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Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Antonin Dvorak, The Late Symphonies, Park Avenue Chamber Symphony, David Bernard


Sometimes for well-loved classics there are performance possibilities you may not have considered but once you do, it may seem very much a good idea. I've long lived happily with a multi-LP set of the Dvorak symphonies by Karl Bohm and the Vienna Philharmonic. It has all nine symphonies, played heroically with a full-sized orchestra, perhaps, as I think about it, firmly in a Beethovenian manner, in the tradition of great and grand performances of Beethoven's 3rd, 5th, 9th.

A few days ago a parcel arrived containing a two-CD set of David Bernard and the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony doing The Late Symphonies (Recursive Classics RC3137552) of Dvorak. That is a comfortable fit on the two CDs of Symphonies 6, 7, 8 and the Symphony No. 9--The "Symphony from the New World". Like most listeners I came to the 9th first, at a pretty young age (13) and have sampled a fair number of readings of the work ever since. A kind of Beethovenesque, full-out version suits the work very well of course, and as it happens I never contemplated some other take on it.

So the set arrived. I know the New York based Park Avenue Chamber Symphony under David Bernard through several releases. Some I appreciate a good deal (see index box for those reviews). This Dvorak set seems especially attractive for the way Bernhard and the orchestra handle it all. It sounds much less Beethovenian, even a bit less Romantic per se but more in its own right, with Bohemian, Eastern European vernacular elements coming across with a kind of faithfulness to the overall infectious local elements as Dvorak conceived and transformed them, especially in Symphonies Nos. 6 & 7, but generally speaking throughout, even parts of the "New World" 9th.

The set is available for download in the usual places. If you are reading this early the CDs are not out until July 9, 2021.

I am happy to recommend this set to anyone who is not familiar with the later symphonies as a whole, and for any Dvorak enthusiast who wants a refreshing reading of these works. The orchestra and Bernard are locked in, inspired, filled with a different vision than is the norm. I love it all myself. Give these readings a chance and I suspect you too will find them as a breath of fresh air. Bravo.

I wonder if they are considered subsequent volumes--of the Symphonies Nos. 1 through 5? I would love to hear that.

Monday, June 14, 2021

Richard Danielpour, An American Mosaic, Simone Dinnerstein


Composer Richard Danielpour shines brightly as one of the most illustrious and talented of living US composers. There is a wondrous new recording of a substantial suite for solo piano, An American Mosaic (Supertrain Records 025), as played with great sensitivity and verve by Simone Dinnerstein.

All of this music was born out of Richard's anxiety and insomnia last year in the first stages of the COVID-19 Pandemic. The only thing that relaxed him and allowed him to sleep was listening to Simone Dinnerstein's Bach recordings.

A plan took shape to compose a suite that would provide true solace to those like him that did their best in unprecidented, trying circumstances, "whether they [were] caretakers and research physicians, parents and children, rabbis and ministers, doctors and interns, or teachers and students, these individuals [were] the face of America" in the composer's own words.

He got in contact with Simone Dinnerstein and during the summer and fall of last year, Simone entirely remotely on the other coast of the USA collaborated with Danielpour, learning each of the 15 movements and giving valuable feedback on performance elements.

The results are here, all of the "Mosaic" plus three Bach Transcriptions Danielpour arranged for Dinnerstein--from the Mass and the St. Matthew Passion. The entire program the composer and the pianist hope will give solace to all those caught within the emotional roller coaster of various developments in the last year or so.

The music is deeply poetic, wonderfully pianistic, touching on musical equivalents to the movements titles: "The Invisible Enemy" and the "The Visible Enemy," for examples, i.e., the COVID-19 itself and what one might dub the "bleach drinking" imbalanced personalities we all experienced. Nobody important is left out--each has a movement, so "Caretakers and Research Physicians" and "Journalists, Poets & Writers." There are four "Consolations" movements. The music has depth and singing significances that are tonal and dramatically Post-Impressionist.

It is a perfect marriage of historical unfolding, musical inspiration and performative excellence. Surely it is the first Pandemic masterwork. I have listened lots of times and I must say I do feel the solace and revel in it. Danielpour and Dinnerstein are godsends, coming through with the sympathetic enjoinment we so sorely need in these difficult times! I recommend this one very highly.  

Thursday, June 10, 2021

John Adams, Chamber Symphony, Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Gil Rose


Some albums become especially essential for the quality of the compositions, the performances and the wisdom of the repertoire choices. That is very true of a recent release by the Boston Modern Music Project under Gil Rose, John Adams' Chamber Symphony (BMOP 1078).

It includes for us the title work, the "Son of Chamber Symphony" (2007), and the earlier "Common Tones in Simple Time" (1979). In so doing it places the Chamber Symphony (1992) in a instructively relevant context, as part of the three drop-dead gorgeous, interrelated offerings that together provide a succinctly complete view of a multi-fold gesture and a wonderful listen.

It gets you from A to B very nicely. It covers Adam's very first orchestral work ("Common Tones") which sets out a processes based mesmeric field of Minimalist expression, conjuring a kind of dream of lived space. Adams then gives us via the Chamber Symphony a shift to rhythmic interplays of complexities and a kind of endless invention that goes beyond and brings up to date the sort of Neo-Classical realm sometimes occupied by Stravinsky. In the composer's words, "The weight and mass of a symphonic work [is] married to the transparency and mobility of the chamber work." In this way the music is irresistible and no doubt fiendishly challenging to the players at times.

The "Son of" follow-up clearly and most emphatically affirms the family ties implied in the title. The liners rightfully speak of a gradual movement away from Minimalism proper to a kind of Maximalist stance. "Son of" retains the rhythmic vitality of the first work, moving as the liners discuss away from chromatic tonal ambiguity to something more vernacular without committing per se to a locality of expression. It is the chamber orchestra equivalent of an interrelated set of tongue twisters, complexity that overlaps and doubles over upon itself continually. With the fast-slow-fast movement structure that in fact can vary in intensity and effectively so. It is a rather spectacular interplay of orchestral voices contrasting and affirming alternately for a remarkable experience.

The effective and intensively focused reading of these scores serves to present us with an ideal thumbnail portrait of orchestral Adams. 

Molto bravo!

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

George Palmer, Breaking the Silence, Chamber Music

 Judging by the recent chamber music release Breaking the Silence (Navona NV 6326), Australian composer George Palmer writes with a well developed lyric tonal sensibility, music of character and vivid color.

The liners tell us he has composed since his teenage days, studying it avidly and finding his voice at the same time as he studied and practiced law, gaining prominence as a Judge of the Supreme Court of New South Wales 2001-2011. Since then he has retired and now devotes himself to composition full-time.

Listening to the four works on this program one feels his Modernity as well as the pull of lyrical tonality. The music drives out of Romanticism to a fluid place where long melodic arcs and vivid passagework combine for a music less derivative and more personal than one might come to expect these days. It is all more Neo-Classical and Post-Post-Modern than not, with a naturally direct way about it that is refreshing and quite enjoyable once one sweeps aside any pre-conceptual expectations. There is a hint of Impressionism too now and again, originally so.

The program sequencing divides more or less in two, the first two works being concerted or semi-concerted with a string or chamber orchestra backdrop. The second two works have chamber group typicality with the string quartet "Not Going Quietly" and the oboe-piano "Time Out."

The performances are first-rate while each work has its own special quality.

"Breaking the Silence," his Concerto for Cello and Chamber Orchestra, and its three movement episodic layout has some gorgeous and very effective interplay between soloist and orchestra. It is jaunty at times, then plaintive, then soaringely outgoing in ways that twist and turn unexpectedly.  It is an auspicious opening, fully worthy of your effort to get to know it all

"Ithaca" for clarinet and string trio is haunting in its three movement incisiveness.

"Time Out" for oboe and piano has a placid lyricism and a bit of a Jazz inflection at times. There is something vaguely Satie-an in its pellucid charm. It gives off a natural vibe as evidenced by its movement headings: "Sunset," "First Light, Briefly" and "2AM". It is a fittingly beautiful end to a beautiful program. 

Palmer's alternate career in law has perhaps allowed him to compose as he pleases, beyond the schools of Modernism out there since early last century. This is not Avant Garde but then it is not as Neo-whatever as one might expect to encounter either,  given the parameters.

I am glad this volume is out and that I have it. If you do not know what to expect next this is part of that unexpected element. It is very musical. That is what natters. Give a serious listen!

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Olivier Messiaen, Quartet for the End of Time, Kurt Rohde, One Wing, Left Coast Chamber Ensemble


The first recording I encountered of Olivier Messiaen's beautiful "Quartet for the End of Time" was a late '60s Angel LP as played movingly by Michel Beroff, Gervase de Peyer, Erich Gruenberg and William Pleeth. It became the benchmark by which I compared subsequent recordings. It remains so. Just now we have a new recording by the San Francisco based Left Coast Chamber Ensemble (Avie AV2452) along with a short but perfect compliment to the work, "one wing" by Kurt Rohde.

The Left Coast Ensemble as featured in this new release consists of  Jerome Simas, clarinet, Anna Presler on violin, Tanya Tomkins, cello, and Eric Zivian, piano. This surely is a quartet especially well suited to the work. More on that in a minute.

The circumstances of the coming into being, the genesis of the work is key to apprehending its content. Messiaen was confined in a Nazi Concentration Camp. Remarkably Messiaen rose up out of the horror of his circumstance to write and first perform the work while a prisoner.

The apocalyptic theme of course resonated with to horror of Nazi ascendance. We live in very different times of course now, yet with the pandemic and other upheavals it may occur to some that another apocalyptic possibility is upon us? Messiaen's response seems as timely as it was on its first hearing. It is of course a thoroughgoing expression of his faith and his Catholicism, so that there is hope and transcendence in spite of it all. That this work stands out still as one of the chamber masterpieces of last century and one of Messiaen's most greatly loved works testifies to its beautifully wrought staying power whether you listen with some kind of awareness of the liturgical-mystical roots of the expression or just revel in the melodic and rhythmic brilliance of it all, the declamatory fervency of its dynamic confluence.

The Angel LP of the Quartet that has been a centerpiece of my listening over the years is perhaps slightly less overtly bold, less underscored, less emphatic generally compared to this version. The rhythms are accentuated with the Left Coast edition, there is still a deep passion to it all but just a little more immediacy. It is an extraordinary disk in its own right and with the bonus extra, the eloquent world premiere reading of the Rohde "one wing" (for violin and piano) it is almost as if there is a new last movement to follow--so much does it seem as of a piece in its own way.

If you do not know this Messiaen masterwork here is a good place to hear it. If you already do, this makes a nice contrast with the Angel version. Either way I recommend it very much.

Monday, June 7, 2021

Gregory Rose, Orchestral Works, Royal Ballet Sinfonia, Peter Sheppard Skaerved


It is true in the realms of music that knowledge draws us ever-closer to the deepest understandings of the inner workings of the art, provided we concentrate and allow it all to get onto our bio-musical pathways. Such is true for the music of Gregory Rose, living British composer of note, and his Orchestra Music (Toccata Classics 0558), his recent volume as recorded by the composer conducting the Royal Ballet Sinfonia.

The five works cover a period from 1990 through to 2019, a rather bold collection of orchestral Modernity as Rose so lucidly portrays it. 

The opening 1990 "Birthday Ode for Aaron Copland" has a short, compact duration of four minutes but by its multi-voiced separately orbiting motifs has great power!

There is the mystery of "Red Planet" and it's post-Holstian, post-Varesian depictive orchestral  (2014, rev. 2019) immediacy with rhythmic thrusts that call out expressively in a logical narrative unfolding of inventive orchestral sound.

The "Violin Concerto" (2017) centers around a brilliant frisson between solo violin and orchestra, with strident exclamations and marked aural spectacularizing gestures both exciting and deeply complex, with contrastingly contemplative rejoiners that give pause and set up the listener for dynamic narrations to come. It is a capital /M/ High Modern tour de force that needs to be heard and explored as it is in this fine performance with soloist Peter Sheppard Skaerved taking on the Promethean role with heroic fervor and poetic grace. It is a concerto that deserves to be more widely performed, surely.

Next up, the "Suite pour Cordes" (2017) bursts forward with appealingly strident outburst- of expression and subsequent top spinning rhythmic endlessness and intensity.

The concluding "Seven Dances from Danse macabre" (2011) has an extended "primitive" feeling at times, a more sophisticated dance feel others.  Memorable form is sustained nicely and rhythmically throughout the whole of this music. The full work for vocal soloists, choir and orchestra was released on another Toccata Classics CD (see my coverage of it for the April 26, 2021 posting). These dance excerpts nicely put a lively cap on the program and leave us wanting more.

In the end this is a very attractive, exciting volume of what Rose is up to. It confirms him as a 21st century original with a lot to say and a sure sense of how to get the orchestra to say it.

Gregory Rose is the real thing. This volume presages more excellent things to come. Do listen. Highly recommended.

Friday, June 4, 2021

Michael G. Cunningham, Proscenium Moments, Works for Orchestra


Composer Michael G. Cunningham is not a household name of course. Nonetheless his music is very worth knowing. I have had the chance to listen to and review a number of releases devoted to his music (type his name in the search box above for those).Today we have a volume of his orchestral works to consider, in a CD entitled Proscenium Moments (Navona Records NV6314). 

The music covers some five original works plus arrangements-orchestrations--of Bach on "A Bach Pre-Symphony" and Faure's "Nocturne No. 6 Op. 63." These two are definitely nice to have and hear but the main attraction centers around the originals.

So we get a choice selection of earnestly Modern works, with thoughtful skill in orchestration, melodic lucidity and harmonic advancement--from the dodecaphonic reminiscent "Impromptu"  (1999) to a wide swatch of slices in time and musical space beginning with the "Counter Currents" (1966) a later "Time Frame" (1980) and "TransActions" (1980) and then a spring forward with an insistently mesmeric and exploratory Modernity-Postmodernity of "Symphony No. 7 (A Cummings Synchrony)," Op. 293.

The vivid impression one gets by listening to this program (very well played by the Moravian Philharmonic under Petr Vronsky and the Janacek Philharmonic under Stanislav Vavrinek) is genuine inventive brilliance along with a sure vision of orchestral sonarity. None of this is in a backward-gazing, retrograve  mold so much as it assumes the accumulated past and goes it all one more, makes a Cunningham of it all.

As the liners tell us. he has been amassing an important body of works since 1958. A close and thorough listen to this volume might tell you what it does me--namely that Cunningham is a US composer of stature, deserving wider acclaim and continued performances. Anyone who welcomes new music will doubtless find this enjoyable and informative. Very recommended.