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"New" Music Log

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

  1. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member


    After decades of collecting, this recording marks my first purchase of a recording containing only works of Mario Catelnuovo-Tedesco. I have a few of his works sprinkled across compilations, but not these. I bought this disc for the composer only secondarily. The main reason I bought it was to hear something new from Tianwa Yang, and to hear Pieter-Jelle de Boer’s conducting. The single disc of de Boer playing Rachmaninoff in Etcetera’s complete set of the composer’s piano music was one of the highlights, along with that from Nino Gvetadze, which was the reason I bought that set.

    As a showcase for Ms Yang’s fiddling, this disc works very well. Yang belongs to that elite group of modern young-ish artists who can play anything without ever seeming to have any difficulties. Her tone is unfailingly lovely, she plays perfect highs, perfect lows, and everything in between, with perfectly executed vibrato of just the right amount. She presents the same sense of ease that Hilary Hahn does. Seriously, these neo-romantic works seem to offer no challenge to her, and in return she delivers just about as good playing as can be imagined. Given her Brahms Concerto and Rihm chamber music, this does not surprise. The conducting of de Boer sounds entirely satisfactory, with the conductor acting as second fiddle and letting the soloist shine. I’d like to hear him conduct some core rep.

    As to the music itself, well, the Concerto Italiano sounds lush and movie soundtrack-y, with lovely tunes and nifty orchestration. One might almost swear that the Violin Concerto No 2 is a movie soundtrack from the height of the 50s, with the violin the musical stand-in for Charleton Heston from some movie that was never released due to contractual issues. The music often achieves a downright Korngoldian level of lushness, and in addition to the supreme opulence, the solo writing sounds technically accomplished and satisfying to listen to. Still, this does not stand with the great violin concertos of the last century.

    These are not great works, and I will not listen to them frequently, but I will listen to them again to hear top notch violin playing for its own sake.

    The only downside to the recording is sound quality, which is a bit opaque, but otherwise fine.
  2. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member


    The word dreadful does not begin to describe this disc of non-music. Forty-five minutes of electronic noise, starting off with over six minutes of tweeter-only exercises, it slowly and excruciatingly unfolds, grating and annoying for the duration. Apparently, it was meant to be Xenakis’ equivalent of a Gesamtkunstwerk, merging in performance with architecture, mirrors, texts – and laser beams. And laser beams! This is as good an example of (quasi-) intellectualism as art run amok (or maybe ‘a muck’) as exists. This is so bad it couldn’t even be included in a Rob Zombie movie. Rather than stream this, I paid $1.49 for the download. I feel like requesting a $17.99 refund.
    mjw likes this.
  3. darkstarcrashes

    darkstarcrashes pfm Member

    Thanks for the review, sounds very interesting. Alas not available quite so cheaply in the UK at the moment, but nonetheless...
  4. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member


    New to me Stephan Krehl was a music teacher of no little renown in his day, ultimately ending up as Rector of the Leipzig Conservatory, a position first held by Mendelssohn. He also wrote several influential textbooks. Born in the same decade as Mahler and Strauss and Debussy, his music, or at least the music here, has none of their forward-looking or revolutionary qualities. The two works included are the very definition of backward-looking musical conservatism, proudly and competently bringing forward the music of the German romantics. The opening Op 17 String Quartet sounds like a well-crafted melding of Brahms, one of Krehl’s teachers, and Mendelssohn, with the latter most evident in the third movement Vivace. It does not rise to the level of the works of the greats, and it sounds sort of academic in that some writing seems to be illustrating exactly what an aspiring composer might do to write a successful string quartet. It sounds relaxed and tuneful and beautiful and unchallenging. The Op 19 Clarinet Quintet, not too surprisingly, sounds very similar.

    While the music contained in the recording will not receive too many airings around here, I would not be averse to hearing more from the artists involved. The all-female Larchmere String Quaret, out of Indiana – Evansville, not Bloomington – play splendidly, and two of the members co-wrote the liner notes. As recorded, they produce a most pleasing, warm sound that would work well with Szymanowski or Debussy or early Schoenberg, and Wonkak Kim, born in Korea but now hailing from Tennessee, can certainly play the clarinet well. The Larchmere have hustle as they used a Kickstarter campaign to help fund the recording, and in using the performance hall at the University of Evansville, they chose a fine sounding venue. Perhaps they can go that route again.
  5. mjw

    mjw pfm Member

    Best laugh I’ve had this week.
  6. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member


    It’s been a while since I last tried something new from Bright Sheng. That’s a shame and my bad. His masterful concerto Nanking! Nanking!, for pipa and orchestra, rates as one of my favorite concerti from the last quarter century, so I have no real excuse. So, I went for something else. As per usual, Naxos is the go-to label for this composer, so this disc of three works got the nod.

    The disc opens with Let Fly, a violin concerto that was originally a triple commission by the Detroit Symphony, the Singapore Symphony, and the London BBC Symphony. The dedicatee was no less than Gil Shaham, who premiered it on three continents. (I mean, really, a Shaham/Slatkin recording would be the dream recording with this piece of info.) The nearly half-hour piece is big, brash, bold, loud, colorful, and sounds like an Americana infused work with passing elements from other cultures, not the least of which is Chinese, which provided the folk song that partially inspired the work. Oh, and Mexican, with the trumpet parts sounding like ‘roided out Mariachi music. The orchestration is over the top, but except in a few big tuttis, where that five-foot tam-tam and bass drums roar, it is expertly deployed. The violinist has lots to do, whether rushing through virtuosic passages or a beautiful slow movement where Chinese influences are obvious at times, and per Sheng’s instructions, the soloist is encouraged to come up with a cadenza before, well, letting fly in the playing-to-the-gallery finale. Dan Zhu plays nicely for the most part, but some of the top registers do not sound ideal. The work lacks the impact of Nanking! Nanking!, but it is fun enough.

    Zodiac Tales, a commission by the Philadelphia Orchestra when under the direction of Christoph Eschenbach and premiered partially by Slatkin and then in total by Eschenbach, follows. Comprised of six movements, each referencing a different zodiac animal, the piece is another big piece, scored for tons of instruments, including four cowbells, surely enough to please Christopher Walken. It has that joyous, cacophonous, not at all bothered with Western traditions feel to the music, combined with rigor of western forms. The second movement, Of Mice and Cats sounds like it pays homage, however loosely, to Bartok, especially in the string writing. The fourth movement, The Elephant Eating Serpent, has the same intensity as Nanking! Nanking!, and sort of just steamrolls over the listener. Awesome! That is followed by The Tomb of the Soulful Dog, an elegy for the composer’s mother who was born in a year of the dog. It is quite lovely and solemn to open and includes grander scaled tuttis, very reminiscent of Mahler, but with a much less Western sound. And if one wants to hear a nice trombone solo, there’s one in the final movement, The Flying Horses. Overall, this is a most satisfying work and one that hopefully gains traction in concert halls.

    The disc closes with the Suzhou Overture, commissioned by the Suzhou Symphony Orchestra, and played by the orchestra here, the piece pays homage to the three-thousand-year-old city. Gobs of beautiful string writing, with some of it sounding like luxuriant reworkings of discarded extracts of the Turangalîla-Symphonie, and more playful passages, some sounding like a Chinese equivalent of Copland, make the work a very fine concert opener.

    Sheng himself conducts the works, with the Suzhou Symphony Orchestra also covering Let Fly and the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra doing the honors in Zodiac Tales. Hopefully, other conductors take up the works and record them. Sound and playing are both up to modern standards.
  7. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member


    Krzysztof Penderecki pops up only a few times in my collection, and always in compilations, so I thought it about time I purchased at least one album dedicated to his music. I opted for the string quartets played by the Tippett Quartet since I have had good luck with them before. All four quartets fit easily on one disc, so the Tippett throw in a nice sized String Trio and the super-brief Der unterbrochene Gedanke as filler, and the disc still lasts just over fifty minutes.

    The First quartet, coming in at just a smidge over six minutes, is compact and jittery and eerie and night-musicy and avant-garde, all of which is just fine, especially when the work is so properly proportioned. The eight-ish minute Second offers a qualitative step up, and deploys some new techniques. He uses the high strings to create and eerie and impactful whistling effect, and the music stays largely quiet, with only intermittent outbursts. A big, beefy cello starts Der unterbrochene Gedanke, with everyone getting to do something, but it ends so quickly, and develops so little, that it’s like a sketch for an intro for a bigger work. Finally, with the thirteen minute and change String Trio from 1990/91, the listener gets something bigger, and the work has slashing and thrashing action, back and forths between the strings, and some delicate and quiet playing, and that’s just in the first couple minutes. The second movement Vivace sounds almost like DSCH and shows that a string trio can pack a wallop too. The Third Quartet also reminds one of DSCH, and perhaps Schnittke. More accessible, it nonetheless has extended passages of musical relentlessness, grinding away at the listener. After the sixteen-minute Third comes the six or so minute, two movement Fourth. Compact like the opener, and containing music much closer to the Fourth, it just gets going, especially when folk inspired music gets introduced, and then ends. At least it leaves the listener wanting more.

    As far as post-war quartets go, this set is pretty good, if not up there with the very best. The Tippett Quartet play superbly, and Naxos delivers fine sound, if perhaps it sounds too close at times.

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