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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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    These seven discs represent one of the main draws of the Naxos Beethoven edition. Here are seven discs spread across two releases that I likely would never have purchased otherwise. I have a reasonably nice collection of art songs, but it is dominated first by Schubert (very rightly so), and then by various French composers (also rightly so). Until this set, I had acquired only a handful of Beethoven songs sung by Heinrich Schlusnus in one volume of the prior DG Beethoven Edition, which was purchased expressly for the Annie Fischer and Ferenc Fricay recording of the C Minor concerto, and only one measly complete disc of Beethoven songs from the L'Oiseau-Lyre classical era big-box which was purchased expressly for the Malcolm Binns sonata cycle. (Those evil transnational corporations literally forced me to buy a doorstop box. I may never forgive the shifty execs who ran the company at the time.) For this collection, even Mr Heymann didn't opt to commission all new recordings, instead opting to license a blob of them from Brilliant Classics. (And another blob from Capriccio, coming later.) Whatever works.

    Anyway, there are too many small songs spread across too many discs to really do an in-depth summation. Rather, I can just report that Beethoven, author of some of the most radical and revolutionary music, music that smashed the strictures and limits of forms of the day in works like Op 55, and the visionary genius who pointed the way to the future in works like Op 131 while transcending feeble human limits of musical expression, also penned nifty, tuneful miniatures. Having not listened to pretty much any of these works, and not reading any liner notes or anything online, I came in expecting serious and weighty songs for piano and vocalist, but instead I was greeted by something novel - and not coronavirus: Beethoven set his renditions of folk tunes mostly for soloist and piano trio. How about that? And wouldn't you know - and really you should - the combination works splendidly. Beethoven provides lovely support from the piano, but the strings add an additional lightness, an additional sweetness in places, and an additional sense of subdued prankishness in places. The tunefulness approaches Schubertian goodness in places, too. The music is unmistakably Beethoven's, as some common figurations, phrasing, key choices, and so forth make their appearance, but it is lighter, funner Beethoven. And how great is it to hear Beethoven's music supporting English texts, very ably sung and very easily understandable on top of all of that, including a proper setting of Auld Lang Syne? It's pretty freakin' great, that's how great it is.

    Recordings involve many artists over decades, so sound quality varies, but that's perfectly fine. Here's a big chunk of music that justifies the purchase all by itself.
     
  2. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    The Creatures of Prometheus. Beethoven's ballet. I hadn't heard it until I got this recording in the Naxos big box. How could that be? I don't really know. I've heard bleeding chunks, and that more or less worked for me, but now the whole thing is mine. And it's pretty spiffy. Now, Segerstam takes his sweet time, and I know that, so I don't know what someone like Mackerras, who takes fourteen fewer minutes to finish the work, might sound like, but Segerstam makes his conception work. I have a strong hunch that the additional length stems from the slower music, though maybe others make cuts. Whatever the case, the music sounds resoundingly like Beethoven in the opening movements of the Overture, and throughout the work. But there's more. I cannot remember harps playing so prominent a role in other Beethoven works, for instance. The wind writing in some individual pieces is light and lovely and very clearly meant to accompany stage action. That's pretty neat. There's drama and grace in equal measure, where typically drama is the focus, and least in orchestral music. And, man, Beethoven really liked that Eroica theme. This vast expanse of Beethovenian music thus hits the spot and fills a musical void I didn't know existed. Segerstam and his Turku band do good work, and Naxos delivers fully up to snuff modern sound in this recent recording. I don't think I'll be building a collection of this work, though. I mean there is the Mackerras set, and Kent Nagano does superb work for the stage, and - ah, crap.
     
  3. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    Buried in the Naxos Beethoven box is this twenty minute recording made in 2018. The four short pieces all sound just swell, with Alon Sariel sounding quite fine on the headline instrument. Somewhat unexpectedly, the use of fortepiano seems just about ideal here. The two instruments compliment each other nicely, and Michael Tsalka does very fine work. Some of the music sounds recycled, or like it was recycled, and the "big" work, the Andante and Variations, is mucho fun. This is light Beethoven, sort of on par with the String Trios qualitatively, but it sure is nice to here. Superb sonics.

    (The music surrounding the new stuff is for Cello and Piano and Violin and Piano, and all that is quite nice, too.)
     
  4. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    About a year ago, on a whim, and thanks to now defunct Amazon Add-ons, I picked up Sofya Melikyan's concept disc called Women. The concept is that a female pianist plays works by four female composers. Melikyan selected works by two biggish names - Gubaidulina and Saariaho - to anchor her disc, and it was and remains a knockout, musically, pianistically, and sonically. What were and are the odds that something similar could happen again? (I mean from another pianist, of course; last year, Ms Melikyan performed eleven works by eleven Spanish female composers at a festival in Spain. It's kinda her thing.) Well, pianist Mary Kathleen Ernst, Juilliard alum and friend of contemporary composers, had done something similar a few years before by recording a disc of seven works by seven female composers, and in some cases, the composers themselves provide brief descriptions of the works on offer. The big name here is Jennifer Higdon, though for me, Vivian Fung served as the biggest draw. Well, the $1.10 price tag for the disc served as the biggest draw, so I just had to snag it. At that price, it can be good or bad and it doesn't matter.

    Vivian Fung's Keeping Time gives the disc its title and opens it. It's an extended etude mixing steady accompaniment and varying staccato right hand playing that sort of emulates a gamelan orchestra. It makes for a solid opener. Jennifer Higdon's Secret and Glass Gardens offers a stark contrast in that it is a slow, introspective, meandering piece, like a musical stream of consciousness. Katherine Hoover's Dream Dances comes next, and it represents a qualitative step up. Fairly brief, it moves through various dance themes, with a premium on rhythmic and dynamic control. It sounds vaguely French, meaning Debussy married to lighter Messiaen, with hints of Ned Rorem tossed in. I would not mind at all if other pianists took up this piece. Jing Jing Luo's very Stravinsky-meets-Ligeti Mosquito follows. At times jittery and almost spastic music filled with little ostinatos depicts a modernist rendition of an insect. Not bad.

    The big work follows, Judith Shatin's Chai Variations, which clocks in at almost twenty-one minutes. Sort of aleatoric in that the pianist can play the variations in any order, the piece is based on Eliahu HaNavi, with the theme sounding vaguely Handelian, before moving into almost Brahmsian variations. I mean Handelian and Brahmsian very loosely, as those are the first names that popped into mind; make no mistake, the music is a modern theme and variations on something ancient, and it carries some real weight. The variations each have plain English descriptive titles ('Sly', 'Pensive', 'Tender', etc), and both composer and pianist do a fine job of evoking the titles. Some of the pianistic effects, like the layered trills in 'Shining', beg for a bona fide Big Name pianist to take up the work. Whether the piece ever makes it as a recital staple is unknown, but it should.

    The next big work follows, Spontaneous D-Combustion by Stefania de Kenessey, in bleeding chunk form. The complete work is a concerto in seven movements, all in D Major, for various instruments and again the movements can be played in any order. The three movements here take up sixteen-ish minutes and though modern in conception, the music is unabashedly tonal and neoclassical and light and fun. The Vivace e giocoso lives up to its title in a tuneful manner, as does the strikingly beautiful Molto tranquillo that follows. The ending Vivace is a light but motoric Toccata which seems to quote or allude to works by Prokofiev and Grieg, as well as some folk music (or something that sounds like folk music). Nice, if not Shatin nice.

    The disc closes with A Recollection by Nancy Bloomer Deussen. It's a brief, simple, lovely reminiscence of childhood, evoking wistful memories in the composers and potentially feelings of the same in the listener. It makes for a gentle close.

    Overall, Melikyan's disc is more to my liking, not least because the pianist comes across as more of a pianistic heavyweight, but this disc works better than anticipated. The paltry price tag makes it a steal.

    Sonics are efficient, if not SOTA, and the Steinway sounds like a Yamaha more than a little of the time.
     
  5. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    The Naxos Beethoven edition ends with a half dozen dozen fully packed CDs that contain music from eight other CDs from two labels, Capriccio and Naxos. The first three discs are mostly just a repackaging of the Capriccio lieder set where the big draw was and remains Hermann Prey. While the other two singers in that set do very good work, Prey sticks out like a sore thumb. He sounds so much better and so much more familiar with the music that it can jar a bit at times as the music transitions between singers. In the lied, it is clear that my tastes lean more toward Schubert, and I'm perfectly fine with that, but it is also clear that Beethoven could write some fine songs if so inclined. On the first disc, Op 52 pops out. Here are some old German texts supported by young Beethoven's piano writing from the time of the first piano trios and piano sonatas, and the combination sounds every bit as compelling as that implies. And the fourth of them, the best of them, Maigesang, is a setting of Goethe. Not too surprising. One also gets some settings of Rousseau (yeah, that one) for those interested in such things, and WoO 118, from 1795 with what I will guess is the first appearance of themes later used in the Ninth. (And yes, Prey sings it.) Throughout the discs, it becomes clear that the works with opus numbers are just better. Op 48 sounds very fine, and Op 75 sounds delightful, as Beethoven basically sets songs to piano bagatelles. They must be good. Es muss sein. Some of the works mix piano and chorus as well as soloists, and I'm not particularly keen on those, instead preferring the greater intimacy and directness of true lied. Still, some of the individual pieces are nice enough. Since Naxos jumbled the discs around a bit, one jumps in time, space, and recording venue, as well as recording style, and some of the switches are mildly jarring, but whatchagonnado? The disc of full-scale orchestral songs led by Leif Segerstam includes Ah! perfido, which he leads in a slow performance, and the performances generally seem a bit broad but nonetheless well done, and certainly worth listening to.

    The box set as a whole ends with a heavily augmented Canons and Musical Jokes disc. Not all of the works on the disc are by Beethoven, and some are questionable attributions, but most very clearly are by the Bonn master. And one hears something new: a cappella Beethoven. No foolin'. And some of the pieces are late period Beethoven and the canons are very much informed by his massive, masterful fugues, just severely miniaturized. Most of the pieces are less than a minute, and pretty much none of them are or can be deep, but one can marvel at the succinctness of Beethoven's canons, like small, lighthearted premonitions of Webern, with not a note wasted. And for those who want a treat, and evidence that old Beethoven could poke fun and younger, more serious Beethoven, one of the pieces is called Es Muss Sein!, penned around 1826, with the singers chanting the phrase over and over with vibrance. It really caught me off guard. The singers and occasional accompanists all do good work.
     
  6. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    Time for some choral Beethoven beyond the most famous few choral pieces. These are yet more blended discs as presented in the big box, combining work from Leif Segerstam and from Thomas Holmes, the latter of which leads the Musical Canons and Jokes disc.
    The two discs open with Beethoven's choral setting of Goethe's Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage, which in turn ended up influencing Mendelssohn. The brief cantata sounds very much from the same mold as the last movement of the Ninth, but with with more middle period muscularity. It's brief and taut and rousing and quite good. Given its brevity and the number of musicians involved, it's understandable why it is not performed more, but it would make for a good opening piece in a grand choral concert. Next comes the big piece on the first disc, the Cantata on the Death of Emperor Joseph II. The death of European kings, queens, and emperors (especially the holy kind) is no joke (jk), and teenage Beethoven certainly took his commission seriously. Heavy, dour, serious, with a funeral march vibe popping up more than once, Beethoven delivers the goods, and the work ends up both sounding a bit like other dour choral works of the time and offering hints of what Beethoven would later do. It has more heft than his early orchestral efforts. Segerstam again leads a fairly slow version, coming in at forty-four-plus minutes, but the recording serves its purpose. If ever I get a hankerin' for another version, MTT will no doubt be the way to go. The rest of the disc is filled with briefer, smaller-scaled choral pieces, and all sound nice enough.

    If a young composer is gonna make a thaler from an emperor croaking, he ought to make a thaler from a new one ascending to near papal greatness, and so the young Beethoven scribbled out the Cantata on the Accession of Emperor Leopold II that starts the second disc. Unsurprisingly, the work for Leo is sunnier and more celebratory than the serious one for Joey. One can hear very clear early indications of what Beethoven delivers later in the Choral Fantasy, and in other works. I can't really say one cantata is better than the other, just that they are two sides of the Beethovenian musical coin. A couple brief choral works follow, and then Segerstam takes on the the Mass in C Major. This is not new to me, as I have relied on Carlo Maria Giulini's recording as my sole version for years. Segerstam again does nice enough work, and while Giulini also was prone to a bit slowness, it is also unsurprising that Segerstam does not quite match the Italian master.

    These discs are very nice and are perfect examples of why I bought the box: I don't see myself spending much effort hunting down recordings of most of these works otherwise.
     
  7. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    The lucky buyer of the Naxos Beethoven edition gets not one, but two versions of The Creatures of Prometheus. There's the orchestral one, and then the solo piano transcription. I do dig the orchestral version, but the solo piano version seems just a bit too much. It's too long, and it lacks dramatic impact. That written, a couple intriguing things occurred while listening. First, I heard big hints of Schubert, making me wonder if Schubert didn't study this score and get some of his ideas from it. There are more than a handful of such instances. Second, this piece, more than Liszt's transcriptions of the symphonies, demonstrates that Beethoven worked out ideas on the keyboard. While the orchestral version sounds better, there are numerous passages, little figurations, big figurations, and so forth that sound exactly like Beethoven's solo piano music output. He started here and then orchestrated later, that much is clear, at least for more than a few passages. Kudos to Warren Lee for making it through the piece and sounding at least like a world class répétiteur. To be sure, I think the piece could be more successful with a more indulgent pianist, one prone to more dynamic swings and more precise touch. Volodos could make it sing and dance, but he would never do it. Same with Schuch. YES, too. I mean, can you imagine? Maybe one day some great pianist will tackle the work, but I have my doubts.

    As if the sixty-seven minute piano reduction isn't enough, Naxos packs in another eighteen minutes of music for a massive CD. Carl Petersson plays a couple miniatures and the Music for a Ballet of the Knights most handsomely.
     
  8. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    I blame the Schuchs. A couple years ago, the dynamic duo made a kick-ass recording of works for piano four hands and two pianos that included Monologues for two pianos by Bernd Alois Zimmermann to mark his centenary. On a superb disc, this work jumps out as superber than the others, which is basically nuts since the others are works by Mozart and Debussy. But it's true. The modernist pastiche hits the spot. Until I spotted this disc, I cannot recall even having seen the name Eduardo Fernández, but since he's good enough for Lina Tur Bonet, he's most definitely good enough for me. He's one of those contemporary pianists who has his stuff sorted.

    To the music. BAZ faced something of a challenge as a young artist, living and working in Germany in the 30s and 40s. He had radical impulses, but they had to be restrained to ensure, you know, actual survival. As such, the opening Drei frühe Klavierstücke is fairly conservative when compared to other works written during the war. The three brief pieces sound fairly light and only slightly gnarly in a well-behaved, academic sort of way. There's a Hindemithian conservatism, but in a good way. Extemporale and Capriccio, both from 1946 follow. The latter is a tuneful and often very lovely piece that also contains hints of modernist gnarliness (was everyone influenced by Messiaen at the time?), but not as much as the former work, which, though ostensibly a suite with baroque titles and influences, betrays something angrier and edgier, and it has some harder hitting playing, especially in the at times angry sounding Finale. Nice. After that comes three groupings of miniatures under the title Enchiridion, written between 1949 and 1951, and here dodecaphonic writing makes an appearance, and a welcome appearance it is. The pieces sometimes have traditional names, dance or otherwise, but the music is not really tuneful, let alone danceable. It's more abstracted and focused on various performing elements. Dynamics play a huge role, and at times so does rhythmic incisiveness. As the pieces continue on, the music sounds like Schoenberg more and more, and then, finally, one arrives at the concluding Konfigurationen which is a collection of eight pieces coming in at under ten minutes and yes, of course, it sounds reminiscent of Webern. How could it not, really? Now, how much a potential listener fancies the composers mentioned may offer a good indication of how much they may like this recording, but since I like them, I like the recording rather a lot.

    Mr Fernández acquits himself swimmingly, and BIS delivers outstanding sound, as one expects.

    Need me some more BAZ.
     
  9. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    Yet another of Beethoven's choral works I hadn't heard until I bought the Naxos box, the cantata Der glorreiche Augenblick was penned as a commission to celebrate - the Congress of Vienna. (Imagine the towering work for the ages that the Security Council might be able to procure today.) It celebrates the triumph of European goodness and the wisdom of royalty and the grand qualities of the host city, and what not. Beethoven knew which texts to select to butter up benefactors, even if the texts have the originality and moral heft of a limply worded NGO memorandum. Of course, it is unlikely that anyone nowadays cares about the text at all, the historical setting much at all, and, if they care about the work at all, it would be because of the music alone. On that front, this late middle period celebratory work contains hefty hints of other, later works, namely the Ninth and even the Missa Solemnis, though it lacks the gravity and accomplishment of those more fêted works. It's not Beethoven's best choral work, but it's nice enough and contains enough Beethovenian goodness to listen to one or two more times.

    Though far more familiar, the Choral Fantasy ends up the highlight of the disc, and then for the pianism of Leon McCawley.
     
  10. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    Here's another instance of the Naxos box offering a chance to hear a work that I had managed to elude until now. I've heard some bleeding chunks from The Ruins of Athens, but never the whole thing until now, and certainly never the version with narration. No one could have heard a recording of the version with narration until now since this disc offers the world premier of that. Leif Segerstam and his Turku crew do the do again, and it is super-obvious that the conductor favors broad tempi from the outset. That becomes somewhat of a liability throughout the duration as the piece does seem to drag on in portions of its fifty-two minutes. Surely dramatic impact should be of paramount importance for incidental music for a play. Where the listener knows Beethoven wants dramatic staccato, Segerstam instead offers something heavy and musically gooey, like Karajan, but distended and lacking absolute perfection in execution. (Indeed, it became clear that if anyone should have recorded this edition, it was Fluffy.) Now, that's not to say the work is a bust. The overture sounds strikingly Dvorakian. The 'Dervishes' movement sure sounds like it inspired various Italian opera composers, not least Verdi. And it's pretty much impossible to botch the famous Turkish March. Even the too slow music has its moments. Of course. The narration, with multiple speakers, sounds very clearly enunciated, to the point where even I could pick out and understand lengthier than normal chunks of German from my faded memory. The nearly eighty-two minute disc also includes The Consecration of the House Overture, which is nicely done, but which has been done better by others, and a few other choral works. They sound nice enough. For some reason, rather than presenting the disc as-is, the complete set edition starts with the big work and then rearranges the others.

    Not the best disc in the set, and the main work is not one I will turn to frequently, but again, it's sure nice to hear it.
     
  11. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    Frank Martin is one of those composers I keep meaning to explore a bit more. I've got a few works by him in compilations, and every single one of them sounds fantastic. For no particular reason, I decided I needed to try something a bit bigger, meatier, more. So it seemed like some big ol' honkin' choral works would fit the bill. This threefer on Profil, with three different oratorios, caught my eye and ended up in my collection because I just had an itch. The collection seemed like something designed to please.

    The set starts off with the wartime In Terra Pax, led by Marcello Viotti. A brief oratorio at only forty-five minutes, setting multiple biblical sections, the work immediately imparts a sense of earnestness, seriousness, and depth. The sound is decidedly of the time, bringing to mind Martinů and Honegger, and it sounds dense, complex, yet easy enough to get into, with beautiful melodic content, though not really any tunes anyone may hum. The blending of chorus and soloists sounds quite fine. The orchestration lends to the weight and dramatic impact, whether the foundational impact of the timps, or the brass tracking the full chorus in some passages. The string writing also lends some uncommon depth. The work is unrelentingly serious, and that's a good thing. Hit the first.

    Next up is Pilate, with Ulf Schirmer conducting. An even briefer oratorio at only thirty-one minutes, the piece from the '60s also sounds more modernist, leaving behind wartime sound and almost embracing the avant-garde at times. The use of piano and the at times darker sound, with a focused, more intensely theatrical feel, results in something occasionally spartan, occasionally potent, and something always entirely engaging. It's one of those pieces where not a moment gets wasted. Hit the second.

    Finally, the big work, Golgotha, with Viotti once again in the lead. Less theatrically dramatic than the other two works, it is more serious yet. Everything is more better. The solo parts sound simply fantastic. There's a mix of Russian heaviness and unabashed modernity, like Mussorgsky meets the interwar crowd, something reinforced whenever either Gilles Cachemaille or Jerome Varnier sing. The choral writing sounds more assured and is performed that way, and the orchestral support is often discreet, but packs a wallop when needed, aided at times by an organ and piano. It's a kitchen sink type piece, but meticulously well crafted. One can sense true dedication and faith behind the composition, the need to keep things properly proportioned, and the gradual development of events leading up to the crucifixion. The musical presentation here has more impact than some older settings of the passions, but then Martin had the expressive power of the works of Berg or Berlioz to draw from, and while never, ever over the top, the work ratchets up tension and power in a most satisfying manner. The work ends up coming it at just about the right length at roughly an hour-and-a-half, never coming close to overstaying its welcome. This is a really fantastic work and it's one that basically requires comparative listening, so I will be trying other versions, no doubt. Hit the third.
     
  12. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    Beethoven wrote a nice chunk of music for the flute. Who knew? I mean, other than flautists. I don't know the flute repertoire well enough to know whether or not Beethoven's works are held in high regard, though given the fact that the likes of James Galway, Pierre Rampal, Emmanuel Pahud, and Patrick Gallois (ahem), among others have seen fit to record the works, they seem to be held in at least moderate regard. The jumbled discs in the Naxos big box - the assortment of chamber works for winds have rearranged in most bizarre fashion - means that these three discs have wildly different discmates. I'll just stick with the works involving flute.

    The Flute Sonata, Anh 4, Hess A11, which may or may not be Beethoven's, is conventional and conservative. Four movements with a theme and variations ending, it lasts about twenty-two minutes, and has nice keyboard writing and nice flute writing that seems like it could be transcribed for, or transcribed from, another instrument, like a violin. It contains some nice tunes and some figurations. It seems like early Beethoven, and sounds perfectly pleasant.

    The Op 25 Serenade for Flute, Violin, and Viola represents a definite qualitative step up. The late-early/early-middle period work has the flute at the center with able and tuneful support from the strings. The third movement Allegro molto, with the gently slashing strings, piercing flute, and refined raucousness, sounds like Beethoven having a splendid time. It's not storming the heavens, but it's not too dainty, so it would likely have invited a knowing chuckle or two in drawing rooms. Op 41 is just Op 25 transcribed for Flute and Piano, and this is an archetypal Beethoven chamber work, with the piano portion sounding just like something Beethoven himself would have written. (Kudos to Franz Xaver Kleinheinz for a transcription job exceedingly well done.) This version gets occasionally recorded by big names, and of course it entertains. How could it not? But I like the original version even more. It's got more color, more snap, more pizazz, more mischievousness.

    Patrick Gallois and Maria Prinz deliver over seventy-one minutes of variations on various folks songs. That's a lot of variations on folk songs. Fortunately, though, this is late Beethoven, and the works are compact, economical, and probably better crafted and structured than they even need to be. Of course Gallois plays well, and Prinz accompanies nicely. These are not titanic pieces, but they are fun. It is worth noting that Leonidas Kavakos and Enrico Pace recorded four of the Op 107 works and elevate the quality to something just a bit more. (This disc tacks on the well done Horn Sonata and comes in at a massive 85'+.)

    The duets for Flute and Bassoon (?!), arranged by flautist Kazunori Seo, take up the first half-ish of a dog's breakfast of a disc that contains chamber music miscellany seemingly selected at random. Fortunately for the listener, Seo and bassoonist (a word I rarely type) Mitsuo Kodama do excellent work in these very Mozart sounding pieces. Also, the assorted artists who perform the other works also do good work.

    Yet again, the benefit of the Naxos big box becomes clear in investigating works for flute, works I would likely not investigate otherwise.
     
  13. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    Beethoven's chamber works offer quite an assortment of riches beyond the most famous works. This disc has been repurposed, with the smaller filler dropped and Op 81b added. Opp 71 and 103 are recent recordings with the very fine clarinetist David Shifrin in the mix, which, to my mind, offers a guarantee of quality.

    The Sextet Op 71 for winds is just plain fun. Tuneful as heck, spritely, uplifting and light, this early piece is a gas. One can hear early hints of how Beethoven liked to use horns later on. Op 81b, basically a string quartet with a horn duo thrown in, has more texture and is just as much fun. Also, the engineers for this older recording deliver something more spacious and a bit opaque, which makes the piece sound larger in scale than it is. That helps add a bit of gravity in the slow movement, but overall it's another light, early piece. Op 103 closes out the disc, and this early work, later reworked as the delightful Op 4 String Quintet is the most delightful piece on this delightful disc. What could a young Beethoven do with two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, and two horns? A heckuva lot. Bubbly and bouncy, with color and invention, and even a not at all heavy slow movement, this is sort of hidden gem.

    The outer works were recently recorded and all involved do superb work in superb sound. The Hungarians who deliver Op 81b do superb work, too. A lovely disc.
     
  14. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    In this unfortunately blighted Beethoven year, not just Beethoven deserves attention, and Sony Germany's Beethoven's World series offers a decent marketing tie-in opportunity to package up recordings of lesser composers from the era. There are several discs in the series, but the one with works by Antonio Salieri, Johann Nepomuk Hummel, and Jan Václav Voříšek caught my eye because of one of the soloists, so I figured here's a fun chance to explore some classical era orchestral works by people not named Lou or Francis.

    The disc opens with Antonio Salieri's Twenty-Six Variations on La follia di Spagna. Here I thought Handel owned this theme, but no, Salieri does some pretty darned tootin' things with it. Starting with a bold statement of the theme, the composer takes the listener through an early 19th Century work that sounds like an orchestral showpiece akin to the later and more sophisticated Concerto for Orchestra by Bartók. Every instrument in the band gets some love, be it the strings (of course), the timps, the bassoons, or the harp, here spotlit a bit. Aided no doubt by the modern recording, the orchestral color and texture are quite striking, and in some passages one can hear the influence of Ludwig van himself, which I suspect is something of an homage. The WDR Sinfonieorchester are far more than up to the task, delivering a crackerjack performance. A delight.

    Next comes the reason I bought the disc, Johann Nepomuk Hummel's Concerto for Piano and Violin, Op 17, with the great Herbert Schuch paired with Mirijam Contzen, who have worked and recorded together before. The work immediately sounds even chipperer than the Salieri, and closer to Mozart and Haydn than Beethoven. Light, transparent orchestration sounds quite wonderful. Schuch enters first, forcefully but tastefully, and he quickly backs off for Contzen, who generates a somewhat thin sound that matches the massed strings, but the effect is not deleterious. The brisk, springy tempo fits, too. Make no mistake, though, this is the Schuch show. Every time he takes center stage, his playing is on another level, one that makes one, well, kinda pissed that he hasn't made more concerto recordings. On evidence of this disc, he needs to record Mozart and more Beethoven pronto. And then the rest of the core rep. Back to the concerto at hand, rather than fast-slow-fast, it goes fast-variations-fast. The variations sound rather inspired by Mozart, and then by Die Zauberflöte. If anything, here Schuch stands out even more than before. The concluding Rondo is charming late-Classical era music with all that implies. While not one of the great concertante works, it is nonetheless quite fine and well done here.

    The disc ends with Jan Václav Voříšek, a composer who pops up here and there in my collection, and the Symphony D Major, Op 24 makes its second appearance in my collection. The great Thomas Hengelbrock leads the other recording. Goebel does good work, making the work sound weighty yet classical, but Hengelbrock is in a different class. Much swifter, with a much more buoyant feel, the piece bristles with energy and life and sounds like a missing masterpiece. Still, Goebel's inclusion of the work is nice to see and makes for a fine closer to the disc.

    Sounds is excellent, if a bit artificial and compressed.
     
  15. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    Gloria Cheng is new to me, though she really ought not to be. A specialist in contemporary works and works by composers she has personally worked with, she covers all manner of tasty modernist, post-war, and current century works. Yet this disc represents the first recording of hers to make its way into my collection. Very clearly my bad. Ms Cheng, as the album covers indicates, worked directly with Steven Stucky, who also wrote the liner notes, and the great Esa-Pekka Salonen, though for me the greatness derives from his conducting more than his still quite formidable composing. Some Lutosławski gets dropped in the mix for good measure. Time to listen.

    The disc opens with Four Album Leaves by Stucky, from 2002. The miniatures explore limited ideas, like lengthy ostinatos in Meccanico or Messiaen-like hypnotic sound in Serno, luminoso, and all sound quite nice. The niceness is reinforced by Cheng's tone, which lacks edge and brittleness as recorded. Next is the world premiere recording of Lutosławski's Piano Sonata, though it is the third to end up up in my collection. (Fun fact: women have recorded five of the six available commercial recordings.) Cheng sort of splits the difference between Ewa Kupiec's more romantic take (think Szymanoski) and Corinna Simon's leaner, more angular take (think Ligeti). Cheng's tone evokes the former, and her clean playing evokes the latter, while she also plays with an affecting gentleness in some passages. Kupiec sets the standard for me, but it's nice to have yet another version. (Maybe I end up with all of them.)

    Next comes a trio of works by Salonen. Yta II is a starkly modernist piece, forcing Cheng to skitter along the keyboard for effect, and while not deep or heavy, the surface textures and discernible musical line make it well worth listening to. The Three Preludes are a bit more substantive. The first starts off conventionally beautiful, only to move into harmonic development that renders the piece knottier yet still pleasing by the end. The surprisingly Janáčekian second Prelude, or Janáček meets the avant-garde, belies the Chorale designation. The last is a perpetuum mobile piece of note. But it's Dichotomie that is the non-Lutosławski star of the show. In the extended perpetuum mobile piece titled Mécanisme, Cheng deploys glissandi most effectively to create washes of sound from which clusters of sound emerge, creating a piece that's more about surface sheen and immediate, dissipating effect than depth. It produces nothing concrete, per the composer. Organisme blends trills and ostinatos into a better than Glass type Glass, with new ideas occasionally and almost randomly emerging from the busy surface. Cheng seems ideally suited to produce the optimum sound the piece demands, though I would not be averse to hearing what Herbert Schuch may do with it.

    The disc closes with Three Little Variations for David, as in Zinman, and originally played by Yefim Bronfman. Small trifles, though they can pack an outsize punch in terms of dynamics, they make a fine end to a very fine disc of mostly contemporary music.

    While it seems unlikely Ms Cheng will record much core rep, I would not mind if she did, and in particular I'd like to hear what she could do with Debussy. Sticking more with her musical milieu, I would surely love to hear her take on the Vingt Regards, any and all Ligeti, Gubaidulina, and hope against hope, Mompou. Her Messiaen and Saariaho disc looks destined to enter my collection.
     
  16. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

    [​IMG]


    I very rarely listen to non-Bach solo cello compositions, and I rarely venture into chamber works for cello beyond core rep. So when I spied this closeout disc entitled Violincello Italiano, consisting of four works by Italian composers, two of whom I'd never even read the names of before, I figured why not? It's on Genuin, after all, and Genuin has a high hit rate. The star of the show is Paolo Bonomini, winner of the Bach prize, and student of Antonio Meneses, Mario Brunello, and Enrico Dindo, among others. That seemed to guarantee at least good playing.

    The disc opens with four caprices by Joseph Marie Clèment dall'Abaco, selected from a larger set of Capricci for solo cello. The composer was born in 1710, so these works come after Bach, but they sound more baroque in style than classical. And they sound quite fine. As a first recorded appearance of the cellist, one can hear absolute control of the instrument, outstanding intonation, and an ability to generate a big, fat tone, or a lean upper register as needed. The music sounds pleasant enough, though it will never become core rep. Next up comes the vastly different Ciaccona, Intermezzo, e Adagio from Luigi Dallapiccola. The unabashedly modernist, immediate post-war work revels in dissonance and tunelessness, stark dynamic shifts, harsh accenting, and only occasional bouts of beauty. Anger and sorrow rush toward the listener. Here's a piece I really should have investigated before. It sort of sounds like a solo cello equivalent to Memorial to Lidice or Nanking! Nanking!. A familiar name follows, in the form of Luigi Boccherini. I've got several Boccherini cello compositions in my collection, but not this work, the C Major Sonata for Violincello and Basso Continuo. Here, Polish cellist Magdalena Bojanowicz joins Bonomini, and on evidence of this, she also has chops. The standard fast-slow-fast sonata is tuneful, light on its feet - even in the Largo - and delightful, especially in the stupid virtuosic coda. It has the Boccherini feel, which I mean positively. The disc closes with four short works by Carlo Alfredo Piatti, including one world premiere recording of the Canzonetta. Japanese pianist Naoko Sonoda (I don't know if she's related to Takahiro) joins Bonomini, and the duo deliver archetypal romantic miniatures, with the front and center Bonomini reveling in vibrato and cantabile playing of a very high order, indeed.

    All in all, this recording reveals a highly talented cellist who really ought to record more. Heck, his musical partners should, too.

    High end Genuin production values, though people strongly averse to hearing cellists breathe may dislike the recording.
     
  17. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    When I recently listened to Gloria Cheng's disc of modern piano music, I read Steven Stucky note that Magnus Lindberg referred to the piano as a compositional lie detector. I endeavored to try some of Lindberg's piano music, and as luck would have it, this disc popped up for under five bucks. The Lindberg quote is included in the liner notes, so he meant it. Fearless pianist-composer George King sets out to play Lindberg's Jubilees, and works by two other composers, and then a selection of his own Etudes, which reflect his background in classical and jazz piano.

    The disc starts with the Lindberg. That Lindberg plays piano seems obvious here, as he wrote Etudes with musical qualities that seem to descend from Debussy, with hints of Stravinsky, Szymanowski, and maybe Ligeti thrown in, all while sounding geared toward someone who actually plays piano. While harsh and dissonant more than a little of the time, they are mostly, clear, clean, and linear, though the fourth opens in hauntingly beautiful fashion. Next comes Philip Cashian's Six pieces by paintings by Ben Hartley, a world premiere recording. Think of it as a severely miniaturized and modernized take on Mussorgsky's conceit, with Messiaen looming so very large. The writing is not derivative, but the use of harmony, the occasional sparseness, and the bright colors all remind one of the French composer, with the fixations stripped away. The Webernian brevity results in a neat trick: the listener just settles in to each piece, and then each piece ends. Always leave 'em wanting more applies here, too. It's the best thing on the disc. George Benjamin's Shadowlines, or six canonic preludes for piano, follow. The most uncompromisingly "avant-garde" composition on the disc, the canonic form often gets purposely buried under stark, terraced dynamics, harmonic clusters, and blurs of atonality. It's something of a hard listen, though when, in a few instances, the canons emerge clearly from the din, the effect actually sounds exciting, which sort of makes no sense, but there you go. Finally, King's Etudes sound like a mashup of Debussy, minimalism, Jarrett, and generic post-war avant-garde music. The composer's intent is to make the pieces more accessible, even playable, and the mashup nature doesn't mean they don't sound good, because they do. They do fall just a smidge outside traditional classical music expectations, which is just fine.

    My biggest takeaway is that I need to explore more Philip Cashian.
     
  18. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    Krzysztof Meyer is a name new to me. I stumbled upon this closeout disc, and figured I might as well try something new, both to me, and in the case of the Imaginary Variations from 2010, to the repertoire. OK, it's not new-new, but it's definitely contemporary. The members of the Poznań Piano Trio perform the assorted works in what appears to be their only commercial recording to date.

    The disc starts with the Canzona for Cello and Piano, and it starts with a deep, bold cello part that sounds tuneful but dark, sort of in the DSCH vein, but not as unyielding. The piano part sounds sparser to start, and then as the music moves into a faster middle section, both instrumentalists are given more to do. Energetic and, if not light, it is not dour, and the music moves along with astringent energy. It makes for a solid disc opener, but the Imaginary Variations for Violin and Piano make for more than that. Here, the name that immediately comes to mind is Bartók, with the dissonant, vibrant writing, and the complex structure, but with a neo-classical twist. Not a traditional theme and variations, the variations, such as they are, emerge from repeated patterns. This piece far exceeded any reasonable expectations I may have had.

    Next is a brief Moment musical for solo cello, marking the second time in a few short weeks that I've added new solo cello music to my collection. Written as an encore for Roman Jabłoński, it's a super-virtuosic piece, launching with bold, slashing playing, and filled with portamento and pizzicati and nearly everything that can be packed into a short piece. It's not a great piece like a cello suite, but it's an exceptionally good encore. Next comes the brief Misterioso for Violin and Piano, and here the emphasis is not on overt, gallery pleasing virtuosity, but rather, for the violinist, on the ability to play delicately and with a lovely sound without a tuneful base. Fortunately for the listener, the violinist pulls it off.

    The disc closes with a big old Piano Trio from 1980, in five movements, and spanning over half an hour. Starting with a Stravinskian Impetuoso, then moving on to a sometimes bleak Adagio inquieto, then bridging with two intense movements before arriving at the thirteen-plus minute Con moto closer, the work covers a lot of stylistic and inventive ground. While using more famous composers as a description has uses, here it falls short, because Meyer's invention is not derivative, nor is it beholden to any one style. Here's some music penned in the last half century that really stands on its own and demonstrates mastery. It also demands I try something else from the composer.

    Sound and playing all meet modern standards.
     
  19. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    Recently, on the solo piano disc Jubilees, played by George King, the brief work by English composer Philip Cashian emerged as the most intriguing thing on the disc, so I figured I should seek out more music by the guy. Coincidentally, or perhaps due to advanced Amazon algorithms, a disc of Cashian's chamber and orchestral music popped up at clearance price (five buck and change), so I just had to have it. The disc includes five works spanning the period from the early aughts to 2012.

    The disc opens with Tableaux, played by the Northern Sinfonia and conducted by Thomas Zehetmair, the very forces that commissioned the work. A chamber orchestra work, the sound-world sounds like a sort of post-Schoenberg Schoenberg. The work sounds rather sectionalized, and almost concerto for small orchestra like, with each section getting its due, with sparse textures and ample dissonance, not to mention a nifty if standard sort of fast-slow-fast structure, the piece unfolds continuously and colorfully. It sounds both strikingly modern yet incredibly easy to listen to.

    Next up is the concerto for Cello and Strings. Pizzicato strings contrast with the bowed cello to start, and then from there, over the course of the just shy of twenty minutes, Cashian mixes and matches snatches of astringent bowed string playing to go along with the frequent pizzicato continuo, and the undulating, at times searing, and times harshly singing (or maybe croaking) solo cello playing. As the piece fades away, one concludes this ain't too bad. Here's a work Nicolas Altstaedt should take up.

    The title work, The House of Night, follows. Basically, a concerto for oboe and strings, the five short movements find Cashian doing his thing. The oboe starts off sounding very flute-y, and the strings offer a soft cushion, but as the first movement progresses and turn into the second, the oboe sounds sharper and the strings more astringent. Moods and soundworlds shift fast to slow and back, right to the end. As with his solo piano music, the brevity makes the music understay its welcome - perhaps something of a feat for an oboe concerto

    Dark Flight, a cello sextet follow, and from the dark opening semi-quavers through the entire duration, the six players all do good work, and vary sounds and textures as much as six cellists can, but, while nice enough, it's probably too much cello to listen to frequently.

    A nice, big Piano Concerto closes things out. The piano starts things off simply and sparsely and solo for a good while, as the opening chord transfigures. Only with first a harp doubling the piano, then a vibraphone and trombone entering the mix, does the orchestra finally enter. The piano part is purely tuneless, as is the orchestral part. Slow, single notes from the piano start the slow second movement, which also remains resolutely tuneless while still generating appealing music, more so than some other contemporary/avant-garde compositions. No reason for harshness or hardness or ugliness here. The extended sort of cadenza meanders, the sparse music lost in itself. The concluding movement conforms with the standard fast-slow-fast model, and it sort of seems like a fusion of de-brutalized Bartok 1 and generic post-Darmstadt modernism. That's not meant as criticism, and the way the entire movement moves continuously through to the end, basically following the simple-ish line of the piano really works better than it ought to.

    This disc reinforces my positive first experience with Mr Cashian's work. I may have to sample some more of his work. All artists involved do good work, and recorded sound is fully up to snuff.
     
  20. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    Figured it makes sense to go for more Meyer without delay. This Naxos disc includes the world premiere of the composer's 2009 Piano Quartet, and a recording of his big Piano Quintet from 1991. The Piano Quartet is a long, twenty-four minute single movement that seamlessly moves between different sections. At times harshly dissonant, with clangorous piano playing, sharp sforzandi, and striking dynamic explosions, the music at other times moves slowly and with no little beauty. There are moments of gentleness, nearly violent outbursts, haunting unison string playing, jittery pizzicato playing married to skittish piano playing, all moving back and forth fluidly, sometimes for longer periods, sometimes for shorter ones. It's like a expressionism meets atonality meets aleatoric music cacophony that still manages to entirely cohere. Here's 21st Century chamber music to sinks one's teeth into.

    The forty-minute Piano Quintet starts with bracing, bright piano playing and has an eerie, kinda Schnittke-meets-Coates sound, with the string drooping and searing, before branching off into an abstract, more amorphous avant-garde soundworld. But the interlocking motifs and ideas make it jell. The long Misterioso slow movement, which clocks in at over thirteen minutes, sounds like its description, with the strings often playing extended notes, which creates an intensity that never really breaks during the movement. The short Inquieto likewise lives up to its descriptive name and comes off like a harsh musical assault of a Scherzo. The harsh, brittle final movement closes out with uncompromising music, ranging from slow and somber to downright aggressive playing. Here is a large scale chamber work tracing back to similar works of past centuries, the contemporary equivalent of Shostakovich or Brahms. Magnificent.

    For quite a few years, I've sort of summed up Polish composers as Chopin, Szymanowski, and Lutosławski. I think I have to add Meyer to that list, at least for chamber music. I have to check the string quartets. Probably some orchestral music, too.

    Exemplary playing and sound.
     

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