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Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Moritz Moszkowski, Complete Music for Solo Piano, Volume Two

 

September 11, 2014 was when I last covered something of note by German-Jewish Polish descended composer Moritz Moszkowski (1854-1925) on these pages. Today I have the pleasure of writing about a new release, the Complete Music for Solo Piano, Volume Two (Toccata Classics TOCC 0660). Doing the honors on piano is Ian Hobson, and he seems fully in the elements of the music for flow and melodic thrust.

This volume concentrates on some three multi-movement works from 1877 and 1878, namely the "Sechs Stucke" of 1877, the "Drei Clavierstucke in Tantzform" of 1878, and the "Funf Clavierstucke" of 1878.

What sets this music up for us and in the end gives us a kind of endless banquet of musical treats is the continual motion of the music in dance form and further extensions beyond it, so that the perpetual motion suggests a connection to Chopin yet continually takes it further into a personally expressive mode with exceptional inventive brilliance.

As the liners tell us, Moszkowski in his day was almost entirely known for his "Spanish Dances" for piano duet, then his solo piano "Serenata" which opens this volume as the first part of the "Sechs Stucke," op 15. That is a nice way to begin, relatively simple and lyrical. The program then goes on from strength-to-strength, with interpretations that heighten the beauty of the various pieces, plus give us pause to appreciate the charm and winning warmth of it all. 

There is no substitute for the direct appreciation of these works by repeated listens. It rewards you with a singing sort of contentment that affirms his continual freshness if we listen without an idea of what we will hear. I do recommend this one heartily. Get it and enjoy the ride!

Miriam K. Smith, Momentum, Cello and Piano by Prokofiev, Stravinsky. Nadia Boulanger, with Sandra Wright Shen, Mini-Review

 

Just another Monday as we live it? Well not entirely. We have a new CD by a cellist and a pianist with whom I do not have any previous eartime. It is cellist Miriam K. Smith and pianist Sandra Wright Shen and their very absorbing and expressive album Momentum (Azica ACD-71364). It gives us very much to like with two wonderful yet somewhat unappreciated  gems by Prokofiev and Stravinsky: the Opus 119 Cello Sonata in G Major of Prokofiev's and the "Suite Italienne" by Stravinsky. Then we are treated to a even more rare work by the great Nadia Boulanger, her "Trois Pieces pour violincello et piano."

This is good for your soul, I would say. Nicely performed and nice, very nice to have to hear repeatedly. Very recommended.

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Dana Kaufman, Emily & Sue... An A Cappella Pop Opera Based on the Lives of Emily Dickinson and Susan Huntington Gilbert Dickinson

 

Sometimes you wake up and find yourself in a world that is changing and like my grandfather  holding his ears long ago at my brother's wedding as the reception record player blared "It's My Party," you sometimes feel Pop culture is rolling along without you. All I have to do for that feeling is to watch Jeopardy with some amazement as the contestants all seem to KNOW Pop culture things I have no idea about. Doubtless it is a factor to blame of isolation and a little a lack of money to invest in the flavors of the moment. And it is true that all that has little bearing on the "high" culture echelons and historical panoramas I tend to dwell in. But every so often like with the story of Freda Kahlo and Diego Rivera maybe 30 years ago, or Carl Andre and Ana Mendieta, there are things contemplated by those in high culture that find their way to a general cache so that you need to be aware of what it says to our gender and relationship understanding, for example.

So such a thing is for sure in the works regarding the story of poet brilliance Emily Dickinson and her would-be-partner-friend Susan Huntington Gilbert Dickinson, star-crossed lovers now portrayed in movies, etc. And so we have now the appearance of an a cappella Pop Opera that portrays the story with music by Dana Kaufman, libretto by Aiden K. Feltkamp, and some poignant texts including Dickinson's poems and other communications as well as those of Ms. Huntington Gilbert Dickinson. All this we have on the 40 minute CD of the opera, Emily & Sue (Adhyaropa CD).

Well so what to make of it all? The music is interesting, just harmonized vocals and sometimes beatbox vocals, and yes it is a kind of Pop thing. My first listen I came away from feeling that I should ideally know the story to begin with, that the music and libretto assume this and climb atop an emotional-tragic demeanor one understands but if you are not that well versed in Dickinson bio or her poetry--I confess I have not read her as much as I should have--you feel you perhaps are eavesdropping in on a touching exchange of words and perhaps need an expanded, more contextual knowledge to emote in parallel along with the music. Otherwise it has a little too much affect to ponder without already feeling it, or that was my first blush with it anyway. Pop of course can ordinarily emote in a very highly wrought manner and the usual Pop song framework makes such of it all pretty obvious as to the given scenario at hand. Here we probably should consult a libretto as one goes on; that is a sort minimal grounding to understand it,  but sadly it is not a part of the CD packaging. Yet that probably is secondary to gauging the impact of the music per se, so we are glad in the end to have it all well performed to hear with this release in any event.

And for that it is some very well turned melodics, some nicely conceived part writings, and then the sort of dramatics in a portrayal of the text. So "open the door" and "I am right on the other side" stand in for sad misconnections, and which is text and which libretto? I am not clear about that but it has a leveling in the presentation and so it is good to experience it all and get something from it all despite not being sure about the exact provenance of every passage. The Pop sort of vocal delivery with little vibrato and a kind of plain presence gives the whole a matter-of-fact air that helps you grasp the immediacy of its here-now for us today. And the phrasings and melodizing seem never banal but opening out to our ears as we listen without distraction.

Nonetheless the singing is very well done and the music bears repeated hearings. My sympathy goes out to these two in their unhappy quandary and I feel very much by listening the implicit yet no less horrible sorts of repressions back then. They should be understood today and we should take them to heart and never go back. That is my thought. 

So you might love this music. I appreciate it and am glad to spend the time to know it here. You should give it a chance with more than one listen. Do not miss it!

If you are in and around New York City right now you might want to check out a upcoming screening of the film version of the opera on November 19th and 20th at the Tank in the city. It was created by Four/Ten Media and directed by Ron Bashford. It was filmed in Emily Dickinson's actual bedroom in what is now the Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst, MA. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Robert Schumann, Symphonies 1 and 2 (Reorchestrated by Mahler), ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, Marin Alsop

 

If you've been exposed at all to Robert Schumann's orchestral output and its brilliance, and too its reception history you have heard about and perhaps felt the sting of recognition with the idea that Schumann was a genius but in terms of orchestration he was perhaps a little too heavy-handed, with his excessive reliance upon the strings to carry much of the weight. Perhaps not as generally known is that Mahler reorchestrated all four symphonies toward the end of his career. Given the excellence of Mahler as orchestrator one comes to a recording of  Symphonies Nos. 1 and 2 in the Mahler reworkings (Naxos 8.574429) with a sense of great expectations. It turns out that the expectations are well met in the performances of Martin Alsop and the ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra. So too the recording is first-rate as we might expect from Naxos. What then of the orchestrations themselves?

By definition we expect a good deal more of the winds and horns than Schumann originally called for. That certainly is the case. Mahler delivers. The full-blown tuttis come off strengthened but understandably it is not as drastic a re-sounding we hear there so much as in the more intimately lyrical and/or developmental passages. There in the latter the new attention to winds and brass has the new prominence you might expect from Mahler, yet too there is a more a Beethovenian presence there than before, which seems only fitting given the time frame of the compositions, the Romantic flourishing that started with Ludwig and then in time fell symphonically to Schumann.

Mahler's reorchestration of Beethoven's Ninth (which was recorded by Steinberg and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra on a Command LP years ago) has relevance to our listening of the Schumann reorchestrations. Mahler on the Beethoven sounds like Mahler sounding like Beethoven, perhaps even more so than Beethoven sounds like Beethoven, in those uncanny woodwindy moments, in the nobility of the brass, etc. Mahler in the Schumann sounds like Mahler making Schumann sound somewhat Beethovenian, and nicely so. It is informative to hear Mahler's Beethoven's Ninth if you can find it online. It all kind of epitomizes how we think nowadays of the Romantic full orchestra, both that Beethoven and these Schumanns.

My own ears after a number of attentive listens especially has been perking up to the contrast of the Schumann version of No. 1 "Spring" versus the Mahler. I feel decidedly happy about the Mahler version of the 1st, in terms of the real gain in color, the beauty of sculpted wood and brass additions. Not that the Second Symphony under Mahler is any way lesser or not appropriate. Not at all. Yet I'll admit that since I learned the Second through a wonderful recording as conducted by the young firebrand, the young Bernstein in an early triumph for the Music Appreciation label in the '50s, since then it has remained a benchmark for my appreciation of the work, and in those terms I appreciate the Mahler reworking but cannot say it has replaced the Bernstein Schumann in my heart.

But of course as can be the case one needs to appreciate having both orchestrations in a manner that we gain from it all most surely. Bravo, then, for this recording. 

If you love the Schumann symphonies this will make you happy. And if you do not love them maybe this will change your mind. Thoroughly recommended.

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

The Knights, The Kreutzer Project, Eric Jacobsen, Hearing Beethoven, Janacek, Jacobsen, Clyne




When we enter the world of digital verbiage, the slightest mistype might destroy all previous writing. That just happened to me here after two hours of thinking the article through. So I start again, like perhaps Beethoven might have done if he had digital files on his Violin Sonata No. 9, The "Kreutzer Sonata," and perhaps Tolstoy might have also, in his Novella with the same name, or for that matter Janacek and his "Kreutzer" String Quartet No. 1. It is wonderful of course that this all has been "saved" for us to hear and ponder today.

I return and give you the bare bones, the basic outline of the CD at hand. The innovative and adventurous ensemble of the Knights, under the very capable tutelage of conductor Eric Jacobsen, furnish us with a kind of glowingly thoughtful program of Kreutzer-based thematic flow, on a CD entitled The Kreutzer Project (Avie AV255).

Rather than try to re-rehearse the underlying conceptual life this program assumes, I will leave that to you to uncover yourself if and when you decide to jump into the experience of reading the liners and thinking through how they apply, as you uncover the meaningful hearing of the program. Suffice to say that the Knights make you want to get inside the music, and so too the reworkings of the music and its performances will give you the answer that counts.

The Beethoven "Kreutzer Sonata" gains  power and girth with a re-orchestration appropriately dubbed "The Kreutzer Symphony." It is bookended with an equally revealing orchestral version of Janacek's "Kreutzer Sonata" or in other words historically the first string quartet, here in similar fashion reworked into a startling version for symphonic orchestral doings.

In between we have two striking modern day orchestral works that take the Classical-Romantic impetus behind the Beethoven and the Janacek, reworking it all as the past becomes a kind of Modern musical soup rendering. So very entrancing are these two works, fully worthy of a centering in the program. Just listen to them and you will see, Colin Jacobsen's "Kreutzings" and  Anna Clyne's "Shorthand" show us how the past can transform, authentically bi-stylistic like Foss's "Baroque Variations" yet wholly unto themselves. Bravo.

There is so much going for this album that a detailed foray into it via sonic communing is of course the only true way to experience it, so I leave you to it if you will. The reworkings and the fine performance excellence makes this a real highlight of this year's possible offerings. Listen and listen some more. Highly recommended.










Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Mark Abel, Spectrum


In the ongoing cycles of seasons, events, living and keeping on in my position I can be rather amazed at the sheer number of new composers, less-known composers and new music possibilities one can appreciate in any given season. A very good example I have been delving into? That is chamber music and song by one Mark Abel, in an album entitled Spectrum (Delos DE 3592 2CDs). Type his name in the search box above and you will see he has been a good example of a lyrical bent for some time.

Listening to this set numerous times reveals a composer of lyrical gifts, a crafter of vibrant melodic-harmonic landscapes of a ravishing sort, perhaps in the footsteps but not the actual shoes of a Samuel Barber (the Knoxville and such). There are some extraordinarily well-wrought song cycles and settings here, all showing a sure sense of the vocal potentials; dramatic and lyric, with heighten musical light like a contemporary sort of Impressionist pallete, for vocalist and pianist and added instruments at times, such as very evocative clarinet on "Two Scenes from the Book of Esther."

And then happily there are also some strong instrumental chamber works that show a marked lyrical gift, from the melodically mesmerizing "Reconciliation Day" for viola and piano, "Out the Other Side" for piano trio, and the "Long March" for horn, flute and piano.

The performances are all you might hope for in a world premiere situation, very well done.

You will probably not think, "What an advanced progressive music is this!" so  much as you will appreciate the sheer beauty of it all. You listen, you grow fond of it, or I hope you like I do. Do not miss this happy set if you want a lyrical smile to brighten you up.

Monday, November 7, 2022

Pictures of Light, The Music of William Baines, Duncan Honeybourne, Piano, with Gordon Pullin, Tenor

 

There are some composers that have been so obscured by their times and currents that their music can come as a kind of great surprise, a most pleasant shock. That to me is the case with William Baines (1899-1922), a composer I have never crossed paths with before, but gladly do so now with the recent album Pictures of Light (Divine Art dda 26234). It is nicely performed by pianist Duncan Honeybourne and a cameo appearance by tenor Gordon Pullin with the "Five Songs." We get a further interaction of the impact of the composer, a nice view with the concluding homage piano work by Robin Walker (b. 1953), an additional finely turned and exciting work "At the Grave of William Baines." 

What we hear in the main (in the first 20 tracks) from Baines is some wonderfully wrought solo piano music that straddles the gap between Late Romantic expressive heights and Early-Modern torrents of somewhat edgy dramatics. So there is  some relationship (you might note like I have) with Sorabji, Scriabin, Alkan, Debussy and Ravel, etc. Throughout the nicely performed totality is both an affiliation as I suggest but also a very original and bold brush of beautiful exceptionality, something saddened by the realization of how much more the composer would have been had he lived past the tragically brief, twenty-something-odd years of his actual lifetime.

I can say here without the slightest hesitation that this is a rather indispensable offering, exceptional piano music of its time by one we should now re-remember and rejoice to hear no matter how brief his lifespan, you who value the golden ages of pianism! This is a heretofore unknown but no less welcome addition to what we celebrate. Bravo.