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"New" Music Log

Discussion in 'classical' started by Todd A, Dec 27, 2008.

  1. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    Starting in on this set with the first disc, an assortment of "French Sacred Arias from the 19th Century." Five composers, plus one of them plus Bach, are included here: Gounod (+Bach), Bizet, Franck, Massenet, and Faure. The Gounod/Bach setting of Ave Maria is nice but forgettable. The other works are generally quite beautiful if perhaps slight much of the time. Sort of surprising is just how good the two Franck pieces sound. Not at all too heavy or rich (for Franck), they just float by, and are probably the best works on the disc. The Massenet pieces are dramatic but not overdone, and the sole Faure miniature is predictably lovely. For a collection of stand-alone pieces and excerpts, this disc works well enough, though I'm not sure I will spin it a lot. Singers and performers all do good work.


    Amazon UK link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B074R7QC9W/?tag=pinkfishmedia-21
     
  2. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    From the DHM long box, my first exposure to the music of Johann Rosenmüller, a German composer who was forced to spend decades in Italy due to some indiscretions. Generally, the music has more of the rhythmic vitality one might expect from Italian or Mediterranean baroque composers than the more serious, meticulous style of Germans of the era, but it does seem like something of a hybrid. It's spontaneous, but within bounds. No extroverted excess like with Torres, for instance. It's enjoyable, but not as enjoyable, for me, as the Torres or Schütz discs heard earlier. The small ensemble plays with admirable precision and transparency. The only complaint I have is the use of a countertenor. I would have preferred a woman sing the part, and though sometimes countertenors blend very well, here, sometimes the voice stands out more than I prefer. Countertenor fans would likely have no beefs in that regard. Superb sound.
     
  3. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    From the Jacques Mercier box. This recording of Salammbô is the first thing I've heard from composer Florent Schmitt. It's a score for Pierre Marodon's 1925 film adaptation of Gustave Flaubert's novel of ancient Carthaginian goings-on. If I hadn't read that tidbit, I would have thought this lengthy suite was taken from a stage work of some sort, either an unpopular opera or more likely a lengthy ballet. The music is obviously set in scenes, meant to evoke or augment imagery of some entertainment for a viewer. There are vibrant, propulsive sections; more ruminative sections; more eerie sections; and the like. The music is often sumptuous and even voluptuous, generating a gorgeous and vaguely but safely exotic fin de siècle sound world. Schmitt had no little expertise in orchestration and the suite is entertaining as all get out, with perhaps one or two spots that might fail to elicit maximum engagement from the listener. Sound is generally very good, though in tuttis and with the chorus singing at full tilt in the third suite, sound becomes a bit hard and glassy.
     
  4. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    I'm pretty sure I'd never heard a note of Carl Loewe's music before I listened to this disc. I was originally going to write something detailed, but as I listened, all of the works sort of blended together and emerged as a collection of perfectly nice lieder that sound like either discarded Schubert sketches or Schubert knock-offs. The songs certainly sound nice and never sound less than ably crafted, but they don't excite or enthrall. Of course, the reason the bought this clearance disc was to hear how the young Juliane Banse sounds. I was unsurprised to learn that she sounds splendid, with all the control and beauty I've heard in every recording I've heard from her. Thanks to Ms Banse, I can still rate the disc a success.

    Amazon UK link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B000025BCW/?tag=pinkfishmedia-21
     
  5. Linus

    Linus pfm Member

    These are fantastic write ups and very helpful. Thank you.
     
  6. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    Yet another gem from the DHM box. Now, this disc was more or less guaranteed to be at least good given the involvement of Jordi Savall and Montserrat Figueras. The disc contains fifteen short songs from both the 1601 Le nuove musiche and the 1614 Nuova Maniera di Scriverle. The lightly scored songs, laden with lotsa baroque guitar and lute and viola da Gamba, with some harp, all unfold in a completely comfortable way, often sounding predictable, even as they were brand new to these ears. These are ancient, late Renaissance songs, but they still seem somehow contemporary, or at least like something folk singers might conjure up under the right circumstances. Figueras sings beautifully, and distinctively, and sound is strikingly good for a recording from the early 80s. Delightful.
     
  7. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    With the Mercier box, I quasi-unintentionally bought more recordings of a composer I do not hold in high regard. I'm not a fan of Saint-Saëns' symphonies, his violin concertos, his piano concertos, or the solo piano works I've heard, unless Bertrand Chamayou happens to be the pianist. The composer's opera Samson et Dalila has its moments, but not enough for me to have listened to it in the decade or so. Now I got to hear this non-believer's take on church music, starting with the Requiem he penned in a week. It's more in line with his opera than his other works. The Requiem is dramatic, almost operatic at times, which is fine. The Dies Irae benefits from quasi-Brucknerian brass playing and a bit less from hefty organ blasts, and Oro supplex is lovely and somber without overdoing anything. The Sanctus, on the other hand, is exultant, maybe too much, though its brevity and its Wagnerian violin writing is certainly not unattractive. The Agnus Dei falls just shy of packing an emotional wallop; it never really delves deep, which is true of Saint-Saëns' music in general. Psaume VXIII is about the same length, but in addition to sounding superficially lovely, it feels swifter and crisper. There seem to be hints of Mendelssohn, and various other sources of inspiration. Overall, it works a bit better, or rather, is more to my taste.

    The singing, playing, and recording are all sufficient to allow for ample enjoyment. I'm certain one copy of both works will suffice for the rest of my life.
     
  8. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    Some liturgical works by Jan Václav and Václav Jan. For a few measly bucks, I picked up this disc of the complete liturgical works by Jan Václav Voříšek - two whole works - and the Messa con Graduale et Offertorio by Václav Jan Křtitel Tomášek. Two of the three recordings are world premieres.

    The Voříšek works start things off, first the half-hour-ish Missa Solemnis, then the four minute and change Offertorium Quoniam iniquitatem. Both works have something in common: a very Classical sound, blending the soundworld of Haydn and Beethoven, with an emphasis on the former. The longer work is the stylistically lighter of the two, but it is suitably scaled and very much meant for public consumption in a proper setting. The smaller work packs more of a dramatic punch, and is more to my liking, though both are good and earn well deserved applause from the audience.

    The Tomášek, though, is something meatier. Very Haydnesque, there's a grandeur and weight and drama that makes the work more satisfying. It has an almost perpetuum mobile feel to it, moving forward inexorably and at times almost triumphantly. (Not LvB-style triumphantly, though.) At times, there is mucho musical beauty, too, as in the at times touchingly lovely Sanctus. There's no time for dourness or excess weight or bloat here, no sir. The work is an unexpected treat, and it alone would justify full price.

    Singing and playing is good enough so that any shortcomings are easily ignored. The live sound is pretty good, if characterized by a bit of glare here and there.


    Amazon UK link for MP3: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07DNSV8Q5/?tag=pinkfishmedia-21
     
  9. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    From the Mercier box. Here's a Grand Opera Requiem. Bruneau goes further than Berlioz in grandeur and romantic excess. As I've seen mentioned before, this is the polar opposite of Faure's Requiem. This fact is literally blasted at the listener in one of the most intense and violent takes on the Dies Irae I've heard. Berlioz and Wagner merge into a (faux) frightful wall of music. The inclusion of the Gregorian plainchant Dies Irae adds to the allure. The rest of the work cannot possibly live up to the intense theatricality of this movement, the opening to Et lux perpetua aside, but it more or less remains more theatrical than liturgical in approach throughout. That's not a knock. Indeed, the work is quite excellent. It's a less somber Requiem. The roughly as long lyric drama Lazare discmate is likewise theatrical and often very lovely. Against expectation, the male soloists are more to my liking than the female soloists here. Overall, this is a superb disc with a corker of a Requiem. Now, that's based on early impressions. I don't know if it will wear as well as other requiems. Singing and playing is up to the challenge.
     
  10. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    Well, hot dog! Here's an unexpected delight. Soler wrote a half dozen quintets for keyboard and string quartet, and here an all-Spanish group of musicians deliver the goods. Rosa Torres-Pardo, whom I've heard in Albeniz and Balada, and the Cuarteto Breton, whom I've heard in Guridi, play all six works on both discs with an irresistible sense of fun and energy and a generally very sunny disposition. To be sure, this is as non-HIP as a recording can get, but so what? For probably the first time in my listening experience, I thought to myself "Hey, that sounds a lot like Boccherini", and meant it in a purely positive way. The buoyancy, gentle rhythmic swagger, and light but not slight music just grooves. Ms Torres-Pardo plays her part in a very Soler-Scarlatti type of way, really delivering - to the point where I would very much like to hear what she can do solo in Soler - but really, it's the Breton who make the disc work. Being familiar with Soler's keyboard writing, I was pleasantly surprised to hear how well he writes for strings. To be sure, the string writing does sound rather influenced by music of the time (ca 1770s), but then so does most of the music of time, or at least the music I've heard from the time. These works are also available in harpsichord and strings and organ and strings (!) alternatives, and perhaps one day I try one of those, but this twofer caught me off guard, in a most pleasant way. This is why it's always good to try new things.


    Amazon UK link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00CJFCIH2/?tag=pinkfishmedia-21
     
  11. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    For years, the only Monterverdi I knew was the Vespro della Beata Vergine from 1610. If a composer is gonna be a one hit wonder in a library or collection, this is a Sir Mix-A-Lot level of success. Finally, last year, I did pick up E il Suo Tempo as part of the DHM long box, along with a third version of the Vespers. Of course, I knew about Monteverdi's opera, but opera for me is mostly a Mozart and forward type thing. I was also aware of his Madrigals, but I dilly-dallied. Then, for no particular reason, I figured I might as well give them a shot. Rather then mixing and matching, and against my better judgment, I went the easy route and picked up La Venexiana's traversal of the complete set on the evil record label Glossa. Both ensemble and label deliver routinely superior results, with recordings so good that one soon thinks of buying even more titles from said artists and label. In this way, the parties involved are nearly as wicked as Jordi Savall and his cohorts.

    As I listened to the first disc, with the first book of Madrigals, I thought "A-ha! The spell is broken!" It's not that the music or performances are bad - far from it - it's more that the music and performances are run of the mill in a high end sort of way. The music sounds lovely, if simple. It lacks the spark of the Vespers. It's like less sophisticated Spanish Golden Age music stripped of devotion and complexity. It sounds comfortable and easy to listen to. The Ninth book offers more, with instrumental accompaniment to go with the lovely vocal parts, as well as some theatricality. It's closer to the Monteverdi I had become accustomed to, but it's brief and fragmentary. As I listened to the Second and Third books, I had much the same reaction as to the First book. So far, so good, but nothing binge-purchase inducing. Whew. The Fourth book shows slightly more troubling signs, with more sophisticated vocal parts. The Fifth and Sixth book demonstrate even more sophisticated writing, with vocal harmonies approaching nearly hypnotic levels of quality at times. Accompaniment becomes more pronounced and sophisticated. And then whammo!!, the Seventh book arrives. Truth to tell, I started getting quite worried in parts of the Sixth book, but in the Seventh, that spark of the Vespers returns. Not only is there sophisticated vocal writing and sophisticated, if comparatively limited, accompaniment, there's snap, crackle, and pop to the music. It's alive, vital, and theatrical. It's eminently and completely entertaining. Crap. Then there's the apotheosis of the Madrigals, the three-disc Eighth book, the Madrigals of War and Love. Everything that I enjoy about the Vespers is more or less there, spanning hours, inviting me to drop everything else and just wallow in the musical and sonic goodness. Want to have an hour melt away without noticing? Spin one of these discs. It's difficult to adequately convey the time-killing efficiency of these recordings. To be sure, they don't assume the transportive, transcendent, all-consuming power of the music of Cristóbal de Morales, but they come closer than they have any right to. Then there's the last disc, a grab bag of individual selections of the Madrigals from real, live concerts. Of course the ensemble does good things; they advertise their quality, teasing the listener, almost daring the vulnerable sap to not attend a concert if the ensemble shows up in whatever town or hamlet the helpless and hapless music fan lives in. And wouldn't you know it, especially after hearing the Eighth book, I started perusing Amazon for more recordings of the works, by the ensemble, and on the evil label Glossa. Dammit.

    Superb sound, singing, and instrumental playing throughout. Of course. That's how they get you.



    Amazon UK link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00L5J4QHS/?tag=pinkfishmedia-21
     
    PsB likes this.
  12. ciderglider

    ciderglider pfm Member

    How come Glossa is evil?
     
  13. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member


    Because the label produces such high quality recordings, and sells them at premium price, that they in essence force me to buy, threatening impoverishment.
     
    Vinniemac, suzywong and ciderglider like this.
  14. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    From the Mercier box, a twofer of Saint-Saëns. Never let it be said that my general antipathy for the composer prevents me from trying again. And again. This twofer contains two big works and six smaller ones, with Victor Hugo responsible for writing the lyrics for most of the pieces. A variety of singers of repute are involved, including Natalie Dessay.

    The first disc opens with La Lyre et la Harpe. The opening Prelude alternates between organ music and Gallicized, Mendelssohn sounding orchestral music before transitioning to some lovely choral music. As the piece moves along, soloists sing with an organ accompaniment and the chorus sing wonderfully en masse, with the mood sometimes darker and more dramatic, and sometimes lighter and dramatic. The music is undeniably attractive on the surface, but it doesn't seem to have much depth, a common trait for Saint-Saëns. When I hunted down the translated Hugo text, it turned out that the composer did not have the greatest poem I've read to set to music. Ultimately, the superficiality doesn't matter; were the music too profound, the piece wouldn't be as balanced. This is an excellent piece. The other four works - L'art d'etre grand-père, Rêverie, Le Pas d'Armes du Roi Jean, La Cloche - are brief and lighter and all quite attractive.

    The second disc contains the oratorio Le Déluge, which covers the biblical flood, as well as La fiancée du timbalier and La Nuit. The main work starts with a pretty as all get out Prelude before moving to the more dramatic, and perhaps melodramatic, three parts with soloists and chorus. Camille does something unexpected here: he makes it work. While by no means a work I will spin regularly, the expert vocal writing, delivered superbly, melds in with the sometimes too saccharine, sometimes faux-dramatic, but always lovely music. Sometimes one can detect big whiffs of Gallicized Wagner, and also some proper French influences (a lither Berlioz, say), all meticulously crafted, but to more musically satisfying ends. La Nuit is quite light and appealing, if slighter, and La fiancée du timbalier is a bit garish in places for me.

    So, as far as Saint-Saëns recordings go, this is a home run for me. The two big works both work better than expected, and the smaller works vary in quality but never sound terrible, so I will be able to listen again in future years without fear of excess cringing.
     
  15. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    A few years back, I started listening to Spanish Golden Age composers. Cristóbal de Morales stood out and stands out as the rock star not just of that era and group, but of all polyphonic composers. To be sure, other great composers penned mighty fine music, but there's just something about Morales. Last year, I discovered Cipriano de Rore while working my way through the DHM hundred disc long box. His St John Passion is austere in the extreme, but his music has that same something-something that Morales' has. I decided to try another disc, and settled on the brand-spanking new disc from La Compagnia Del Madrigale on the wicked Glossa label. I was even coerced into paying full price for the disc. Sure enough, this disc of various and sundry madrigals displays the same musical magic as the Passion. The music sounds even more immediately appealing. The writing sounds less austere, more fluid, more consciously beautiful. The various melodic strands exhibit the same absolutely attention grabbing goodness of Morales. The sparse accompaniment, when it pops up, sounds as good. The madrigals themselves, occasionally about something vaguely political or praising this or that personage or river or whatnot, mostly rely on that millennia old fallback of some horny dudes scribbling for nooky. And why the hell not? Men have penned many excellent works in the hunt for lovin'. Some of the texts are actually quite good, but really, it's the musical treatment that matters, and that is out of this world. I ended up with a good sized chunk of the Morales discography, and now it seems I can collect Rore discs and experience the same level of musical happiness and exploratory joy again. Outstanding!

    Based on their superb recordings of Gesualdo and Marenzio, I expected La Compagnia Del Madrigale to deliver ace work, and they do. Glossa delivers world class production values in its remorseless assault on my wallet.



    Amazon UK link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07KH1FH4W/?tag=pinkfishmedia-21
     
  16. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    About a year ago, I sampled four discs' worth of Leopold Koželuch keyboard sonatas played by Jenny Soonjin Kim on period instruments. I was aware of Kemp English's competing cycle, and I thought I should probably give his set a shot, so when I was able to procure this eleventh disc from his twelve disc cycle for a few bucks, I grabbed it. I had thought Mr English's cycle was on modern instruments, but it is, in fact, HIP. It's so HIP, that this volume uses refurbished instruments from the 18th and early 19th Centuries. Mr English is a true blue academic-musician, with his focus being on the works of Koželuch. Unsurprisingly, he provided the liner notes. He knows his stuff, inside and out. He apparently owns other instruments used in the cycle, though not the two here, and he and his wife serve as producers. His wife serves as artist photographer. The whole project is a nice, little Koželuch enthusiast affair. Another fun fact, the sonatas are presented in the order put together by Christopher Hogwood.

    The disc has two later and three earlier sonatas. The sonata numbers themselves do not represent composition date, though the academic numbering system does. The disc opens with the first recordings of sonatas 42 and 43. Played on a 1815 Johann Fritz fortepiano, both two movement sonatas are light, fun works. It is not entirely inconceivable that Beethoven took some inspiration for his little sonatinas from these works, and whether or not he did, the works are basically best described as an LvB Op 49 / Weber sonata hybrid. There's nothing difficult about the music. Both end with Rondos, and the latter of the two finds the keyboardist making most excellent and entertaining use of the moderator in the very dance like music. Mr English enthuses in his notes that this keyboard may very have been used to play these sonatas way back when, and that maybe even Beethoven himself played the instrument. Who knows? I do know that the keyboard sounds just a bit thin, but otherwise quite delightful.

    The last three sonatas on the disc are played on a 1785 Longman & Broderip harpsichord, which was apparently hand-built by Thomas Culliford, who was a grandfather of Charles Dickens. This is one of the beefiest sounding harpsichords I've heard. It's nearly as hefty as the fortepiano, and completely lacks the too bright sound that often plagues recorded harpsichords. The lower registers have some notable heft. Indeed, one could swap sonata-instrument combinations on the disc and miss nothing, and perhaps gain something. Anyway, these early sonatas are even less challenging than the later sonatas. They are no less fun. Indeed, the (literally) extra-plucky Andante from sonata 44 caused an instant smile to appear on my face. I'm talking Haydn levels of fun here. The same feat is accomplished in the spunky Arietta con variazioni of the 45th sonata. I cannot think of another harpsichord recording I've heard that sounds like it. This is a fine, condensed set of variations. It's just so much fun. And that's more or less how the remainder of this disc is. Nothing sounds heavy, dour, intense, storming the heavens, etc. All is lighter, classical era goodness.

    After hearing this one disc, I think I may be interested in getting Mr English's set when it is offered in cheap box form. Streaming is an option, but I kinda want the discs.

    Sound is really quite fine and exceedingly natural.


    Amazon UK link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B077MQC5YZ/?tag=pinkfishmedia-21
     
    Last edited: Apr 21, 2019
  17. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    Every once in a while I get a hankerin' for some Hindemith. This time around works for viola and viola and piano tickled my fancy. The selected disc includes some compositions by Michaël Lévinas thrown in for good measure. Gérard Caussé handles alto fiddling on this disc. My limited experience with his artistry made me think I'd hear some good playing, and that came to pass. The disc opens with Hindemith's Op 25, No 1 Sonata for Solo Viola, and it's a somewhat austere, cold affair. Composer and performer exploit the instrument well enough, and there's some nicely aggressive playing in the Wild movement, and some moments of beauty, but quite often the piece sounds like an exercise in structural and developmental display and little else. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Not that there's anything wrong with Caussé's playing, but I just couldn't stop wondering "What would Nils Mönkemeyer do?"

    Les Lettres enlacées II by Michaël Lévinas follows. It's also for solo viola, and it's more to my liking. Lévinas himself wrote some of the liner notes, so what he's after, and what he achieves, is a polyphonic piece replete with so much double stop writing that it often sounds like a two instrument work. It starts slow and quiet and stays that way much of the time, slowly unfolding in a medieval-modern hybrid way. The only objection I have is the uncommonly abrupt coda. This is my first exposure to Lévinas the composer, and it's nearly as successful as my experiences with Lévinas the soloist. The next work is also from Lévinas, here Les Lettres enlacées IV, a string quintet with an extra viola part. Monsieur Caussé is joined by the Quatour Ludwig. More energetic and necessarily denser than the solo instrument piece, it nonetheless starts off similarly quiet and unfolds in a continuous polyphonic arc. The effect is amplified because of the number of instruments. In the solo work, Lévinas writes of a "false glissandi" effect, and that is likewise amplified here. The work has echoes of Gloria Coates' string quartets, but it seems better structured and more purposeful.

    The disc closes with Caussé and Lévinas teaming up for Hindemith's Sonata for Viola and Piano, Op 11-4. It's the most old-fashioned sounding work on the disc, and ultimately the most satisfying. It sounds of its time (post-WWI) and rather French or French-ish (think Franck). Far lovelier, melodic, and easier on the ear, the work hints at romantic music while being more structurally robust. One unique feature, and something I don't really recall hearing before, is the use of two theme and variations movements back-to-back. That's a lot of themes and variations. Anyway, the work is just swell, and one I could see exploring in other versions. Again, Nils Mönkemeyer's name comes to mind immediately. He really ought to record these works.

    Excellent sound. Overall, this is an enjoyable disc that makes me think investigating more Hindemith and more Lévinas is a good idea.



    Amazon UK link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B001NTNSC4/?tag=pinkfishmedia-21
     
  18. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    [This will be cross-posted in The Asian Invasion]

    It has been way too long since I last listened to something new from Bright Sheng. His Pipa Concerto (I'll call it) Nanking! Nanking! has been a favorite East-West hybrid piece since I first heard it many moons ago, and now just seemed like a good time to try something else. This Naxos title includes three works, all basically programmatic concertos, for different instruments, and all boldly mix East and West again.

    The disc opens with The Song and Dance of Tears, a sort of double (or more) concerto, with Pipa again employed, and also a Sheng, a mouth organ, or bagless bagpipe type contraption with ancient roots, getting some spotlight time. But then, so do other individual instruments, and whole sections, so it's more than a double concerto The music is nearly cinematic and sweeping and grand at times, and at others it scales back, speeds up, and rushes through passages. About nine minutes in, there is some music very reminiscent of the last movement of Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra, and immediately after there's some Revueltas sounding stuff, and one can hear some Mahler later on, as well as some other Western composers, but then all around it, weaving in and out, is music that very clearly sounds informed by Chinese folk music of various sorts. How much is lifted directly from original sources, or abstracted in a manner like Bartok, I cannot say, but I can say the mixes of sounds and the textural variety is novel, and the piece never outstays it brief twenty-two-ish minute length. The eighteen-ish minute Percussion Concerto Colors of Crimson follows, and after its opening very reminiscent of Berg's Violin Concerto, it morphs into a more standard if approachable contemporary concerto. There's some lovely, melodic writing for the strings and winds, and while informed by Chinese music, it sounds more vague, less concrete, less obvious much of the time. That's neither praise nor criticism, but just observation. The piece would make for a fine opener for a mixed rep concert. The disc closes with The Blazing Mirage, which is basically a Cello Concerto. Trey Lee positively digs into his solo part at the opening, producing a big, fat tone and displaying superb control. Again infused with some folk or folk-inspired music, and also with some neo-romantic sensibility, and some soaring string writing, it offers a crowd pleasing sound, but also real musical heft. It's the broadest, largest scale work on the disc, even though it comes in under nineteen minutes. It's the best thing on the disc - and everything is very good - and I would not mind one little bit if Carlos Kalmar decided to program it one season around these parts.

    The composer himself leads the Hong Kong Philharmonic. All players acquit themselves more than handsomely. I shan't wait such a long time to listen to more Sheng.



    Amazon UK link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00HX6FDBK/?tag=pinkfishmedia-21
     
  19. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    The Mercier box has been a most enjoyable set, offering a chance to explore lesser known works. I ended with Bizet's infrequently performed and recorded opera Djamileh. The synopsis is a bit iffy: sex slave Djamileh loves sultan Haroun, who is about to swap harem girls. Lustful assistant Splendiano hatches a plan to have Djamileh for himself, but it backfires when the master recognizes that he loves his slave. How sweet! Fortunately, the musical components are more compelling than the dramatic ones. Light and beautiful, with lovely harmonic invention, and gallicized whiffs of Wagnerian chromaticism blended with Rossini and Gounod, not to mention Bizet, the music often sounds forward looking. One can hear some flute music that points the way to Debussy and orchestration that seems somewhat Ravelian. Even in the faux Eastern music, everything about the work is decidedly French sounding, its potential inspirations notwithstanding. It cruises along breezily, even given the subject, and is filled with attractive vocal writing to go with the often gorgeous orchestral writing. I doubt I listen to this work a whole lot, but it's very lovely sounding and in very fine sound.
     
  20. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    Up until this point, when it comes to the music of Mieczysław Weinberg, I've limited myself to the string quartet cycle performed by the Danel Quartet and a one off by the Pacifica Quartet. In this centenary year, it seemed like a good time to try something new, especially in the form of the debut DG recording by Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla. (It took until only 2019 for DG to release a disc conducted by a woman.) Here's a disc where almost everything is new to me.

    Kinda. While I do enjoy Weinberg's string quartets, it is impossible not to hear the rather obvious similarity to the music of Shostakovich. So it goes in the Second Symphony, for strings orchestra. Plus something else. That something else is Honegger, whose wartime Second Symphony seems to inform the music, as well. There's some darkness and resignation of DSCH, and some searing string writing reminiscent of the Honegger. While this description makes the work seem derivative, it's more than that. It is quite effective on its own terms, even if I don't see myself listening to it especially frequently. The Kremerata Baltica play superbly and generate an at times biting, astringent tone, exactly as needed.

    The big work is the Twenty-First Symphony, Kaddish, completed in 1991 and dedicated to the victims of the Polish Ghetto. Gražinytė-Tyla conducts the CBSO and the Kremerata Baltica in the honkin' big piece. It starts dark. It stays dark. Out of the gate, the tempo is measured, the low strings add weight, and the high strings play with edge. There's a very Mahlerian sound to start, and then some Jewish music gets worked into the mix, as does Gidon Kremer for the solo duties. His tone is often austere and wiry, which works well, and Weinberg proves adept at know when to scale way back to the sparsest of sparse writing. Weinberg seems to throw everything in, with hints of DSCH and Berg, some klezmer music, some sparse brass writing, and a direct quotation from Chopin's First Ballade. The second appearance is stark, slow, and moving. It's a kitchen sink approach, more even than Mahler, and it works. And that's just the first movement. The Allegro molto is much more aggressive, and though direct quotations are not used, it calls to mind Stravinsky's Symphony in Three Movements in places. The slow Largo is even more desolate than the opening movement, and then the Presto is a souped-up, even more disparately influenced Mahler-style Scherzo. The concluding Lento starts off fiercely, backs off to still tense music where a soprano delivers a wordless part that curiously sounds like a boy soprano rather than a woman. More Chopin, more unusual instrumental mixes, including the addition of a harmonium, and a generally bleak tone follows as the work ends on a quiet note. The whole thing is sort of a grab bag of music. It works well on its own terms, but I don't see myself listening to this as frequently as Mahler's best.

    Truth to tell, the real reason I got this disc was for the conductor. I wanted to hear if Gražinytė-Tyla can wave a stick properly. She can. She did get a pretty good gig in Birmingham, so that's no surprise. While these works and performances are up to snuff, I want to hear what she can do in core rep. Doesn't matter what. I also would like to hear what she can do in contemporary fare. Doesn't matter what. She just needs to record something else post-haste.

    When I bought this disc, the high res download was cheaper than the physical release. DG engineers deliver fine 24/96 sound. I suspect the CD sounds the same.



    Amazon UK link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07P97V6SH/?tag=pinkfishmedia-21
     

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