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Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Elgar, Violin Concerto, Stenhammer, Two Sentimental Romances, Triin Ruubel, Estonian National Symphony Orchestra, Neeme Jarvi

The music of Edward Elgar (1857-1934) covers a good deal of ground. Of course there is a lot more depth and structured flow than one hears in his "Pomp and Circumstances" music, and though he flourished in England in the Victorian period, his music is considerably more complicated and wide-ranging in its moodiness and expressiveness than that term "Victorian" might imply. If he indeed is in many ways the father of the English Modern Renaissance of composers it is primarily for his consistent excellence than necessarily  for a definitive set of stylistic roots, though  there is an aspect aspect of that which one might trace through what followed, even if the subsequent developments were perhaps more overtly innovative for the times than that they were extraordinarily beholden to him.

A major work that I have previously heard far too little is his Violin Concerto. Violinist Triin Ruubel, conductor Neeme Jarvi and the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra  (SCCD016) give us a detailed and vibrant reading of the Concerto plus a bonus from Swedish Romantic Wilhelm Stenhammer (1871-1927) and his Two Sentimental Romances.

The three movement Elgar has a fertile thematic abundance, a genuine solo violin personality and orchestral-orchestrational luxuriance that has a deeply Romantic cast yet as we come to expect of much of Elgar's orchestral oeuvre a distinctive originality unique to the English master and at least for me with an added enlivenment not at first easy to put into words. There are in the developmental sections especially a particular working out, almost a sturm und drang conflicting of motifs put in poetic tonal terms. There is a weightiness to Elgar that is not the weightiness of a Wagner nor a Bruckner, rather a Romanticism transcendent and highly personal.

Elgar completed the work in 1910. The three movements on the current recording clock in at nearly 50 minutes for one of his longest works and for its devilishly complex solo part one of the most demanding of such works. The long and winding road that the music takes requires a patient concentration from the listener but pays off with a rather labyrinthine epic fullness with which it is surely gratifying to become familiar and intimate.

Triin Ruubel's performance here is ecstatically lyrical and consistently moving. Her interactions with the ever shifting orchestral carpeting so deftly and poetically provided by Maestro Jarvi and the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra is something very special, subtle yet impassioned, extraordinarily well-paced and endlessly fascinating to experience.

The contrastingly brief ten minutes of Wilhelm Stenhammer's "Two Sentimental Romances" gives us a lyrical breath of fresh air after the Mandarin complexities of the Elgar. It may not precisely change your view of the later Romantic possibilities for violin and orchestra, but it is quite uplifting and appealing regardless.

The performances are top-notch and the music pretty essential. Most definitely recommended.

Monday, August 3, 2020

Alexander Woods, Refractions, Music for Violin and Piano by Asplund, Dvorak, Mozart, Thornock

Violinist Alexander Wood shows us his versatility and prowess on the recent four-work program Refraction: Music for Violin and Piano (MSR Classics 1689). He has his considerable way with a memorable Classical work (Mozart's "Violin Sonata No. 26"), a somewhat neglected 19th century Romantic gem (Dvorak's "Four Romantic Pieces") and two Contemporary Modern works of note (Christian Asplund's "One Eternal Round" and Neil Thornock's "A Crust of Azure").

Alexander gets some beautiful piano support and artistry by Rex Woods. Note too that Aubrey Smith Woods plays a nicely forward second violin on "One Eternal Round."

Regardless of the period and province of the four works, Alexander Woods shows us just how beautiful his tone is, sweetly singing but differentiated from a Heifetz by its relative extroversion and kinetic robustness. That is just to say of course that Heifetz is another kind of beautiful.

On Mozart's "Violin Sonata No. 26" we get some very impeccable phrasing (from the violin and the piano). I am not that familiar with this sonata but no matter because the performance is really celestial. The Andantino (second movement) has a touching tenderness about it that helps put this forward as high above the norm.

Neil Thornock (b. 1977) gives us a very sophisticated and dynamic "A Crust of Azure" for violin and piano. The violin part makes considerable demands on Alexander yet he comes through with power, sweetness and a rather formidable sense of dash. There is an exotically Eastern caste to the music often enough, perhaps slightly Slavic, Gypsy-Romanian, all with a definite Modern twist to the tonality. It is a finely crafted and inspired work played to a "tee."

The violin duet "One Eternal Round" by Christian Asplund gives us a quasi-Minimal concentrism that is moving to experience; and then the Dvorak has a real presence in this reading, once again with that Eastern European flourish that Alexander handles so deftly.

Alexander Woods is a world-class talent, brilliant to hear and rehear. The program does not flag, keeps uncovering new accomplishments in writing and playing! I recommend this one gladly.

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.