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Monday, January 17, 2022

Robert Schumann, The Roots and the Flower, Counterpoint in Bloom, Opus 56 & 60 Organ Music, Jens E. Christensen

The Classical label Our Recordings celebrated its 15th anniversary recently, and I must say they have done some wonderful things in the years I have been reviewing Classical and Modern music (type their name in the index to see my reviews). A recent album of theirs that gives me another reason to rejoice  is called The Roots & The Flower: Counterpoint in Bloom (Our Recordings 6.220675), which in fact is Schumann's organ music Op. 56 & 60 as played with gravitas and heroic liveliness by Jens E. Christensen.

We may sometimes forget that 19th Century composers ordinarily had a good deal of Counterpoint as part of a well-rounded education. No surprise then when we remember Beethoven's Scherzo as the second movement of his 9th. Then of course there was his Grosse Fugue, which is also an amazing achievement regardless of what era we might compare with it.

If these examples readily come to mind, it is less known that Robert Schumann's organ music opus 56 & 60 are master examples of counterpoint as Schumann addressed it. So the 12 deeply ornate examples as we can hear them on this album will no doubt please you who appreciate masterful counterpoint as it sometimes existed happily in the Romantic period.

After a fair number of listens you feel (if you are like me) that Schumann gave us his best here, even if not in any typical way for him. It is the closest thing you'll come to imagine Schumann had he composed in the Baroque era! It is a fascinating and a very rewarding listen, Strongly recommended.


Monday, January 3, 2022

Susanne Kessel, 250 Piano Pieces for Beethoven, Compilation 2


Pianist Susanne Kessel has come up with a wonderful idea to mark Beethoven's 250th birthday. She has sent out the call for living composers of a like mind each to write a short piece for solo piano to celebrate and commemorate this milestone date and in appreciation of the Master. The result is the multi-CD offering 250 Piano Pieces for Beethoven. I covered the first compilation on my March 28, 2017 review post here. It got my attention in all the good ways to do so--lots of interesting homage pieces brilliantly played.

So happily I've been hearing the Compilation 2 (Kessel Sonic Projects ppfB2 2-cds) and also Compilation 3 (review forthcoming).

Compilation 2 is a treasure  trove of some 44 miniatures spanning a hearty 2 hours and 39 minutes. The 44 composers involved in this volume may not be familiar to you. What matters us that each of them give us a Modern creative response to the place of Beethoven in our musical world. 

Some pieces rework and re-situate some well known Beethoven piano works, others paraphrase or resituate an orchestral moment or two. And so in this way each strikes out into its own territory. Some others do so without directly referencing Beethoven but quite positively following Beethoven's expressive muse. There is a wide range of Modern genre affiliations--so a prepared piano work for example, or extended techniques beyond the hands-on-keys standard--some work inside the piano, etc. There is also a Minimalist cast to the odd piece or two, with hypnotic fanfares. They spice up the program and expand its grasp to the virtual whole of our current musical world. Much of the music retains the general tonal framework that of course Beethoven worked within over his composing life. But even s there is no mistaking this music for anything but current-day.

All have in common a very pianistic demeanor and a Beethoven-meets-the-modern world outlook It is a testament to Susanne Kessel's musical-poetic pianism, an extraordinary thing and no doubt something that will very much appeal to the piano centric listener, the Beethoven aficionado and the new music enthusiast. It is a most absorbing program, a great listen, and a real piano tour de force! Bravo!