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Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Franz Liszt, Berlioz Transcriptions, Feng Bian, Piano

Franz Liszt (1811-1886) was the first genuinely Promethean piano virtuoso. He brought a giganticism, an orchestral presence to the solo piano which in turn was made possible by the advancement in manufacture that gave the modern grand piano a brilliance and a louder, wider dynamic range than it previously had. Liszt created a body of piano literature that suited his concert and salon needs and also did a series of piano transcriptions of celebrated orchestral works of his day, opera chestnuts, Bach organ music and what have you. The orchestral transcriptions made obvious to what might have been otherwise an audience that did not understand: the Liszt and the modern grand could reproduce in pianistic terms what some of the 19th century composers from Beethoven onwards were doing for the fully evolved concert orchestra.

Berlioz and then Wagner expanded the scope and radicalized the romantic symphony orchestra while Liszt was doing the same for the piano. It was only natural that he would embark on a series of piano transcriptions of both. In today's volume we hear his Berlioz Transcriptions (Naxos 8.573710). It is a somewhat judicious assortment of the well-known: the "Dance des Sylphes de la Damnation de Faust," and several chestnuts extracted from "Sinfonie Fantastique" (the "March au supplice" and "L'idee fixe" theme); and the somewhat lesser known: the "Ouverture des Francs-Juges."

All of it is as well configured and as well played by pianist Feng Bian as one might hope.

This one is serious and also lots of fun! Berlioz is transformed and much good it does him.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Frederick Delius, Arnold Bax, Choral Music, The Carice Singers, George Parris

An album collection of Choral Music (Naxos 8.573695) by pre-modernist, sometimes quasi-impressionist English composers Frederick Delius (1862-1934) and Arnold Bax (1883-1953) would first off demand an excellent choral group to make it all shine. We most happily get this with the Carice Singers under George Parris. They are angelic, well balanced and have sopranos that launch the high notes with bell-like clarity and beauty.

They handle the program with impeccable sonority and musicality, bringing out the spirit and letter of the music. There are subtle folk elements buried within these pieces, and often enough a kind of pastoral modern archaicism that only adds to the charm. Both Delius and Bax show a flair for s-a-t-b possibilities.  Most of the music is sung a cappella. The sole exception is Bax's "I Sing of a Maiden that is Makeless," which includes well conceived support from harp, cello and double bass.

There are 11 short Delius works, all atmospheric and enchanting. The earliest works are unabashedly romantic but all benefit from a lyric originality and a sure sense of effective part writing.

Bax is no less appealing with three fairly long songs and two lengthy works in his "Five Greek Folksongs" (1942) and "Mater Ora Filium" (1921).

Perhaps Bax has a slight edge in his harmonic sophistication. Both however show a consummate mastery of the choral idiom and a sort of natural feel for rustic settings and their effective tone-painted realizations.

This one is sheer pleasure. Anyone who likes the Anglo school and/or loves some well sung early contemporary fare will find it all very worthwhile. Recommended!
 

Friday, July 21, 2017

Yassen Vodenitcharov, Blue Echo

Yassan Vodenitcharov, Bulgarian born modernist composer of worth, brings to us some six illuminating examples of his music on Blue Echo (Gega New 395). His current association with IRCAM in Paris all but guarantees that he espouses some form of High Modernism, and he does. What he is not however is someone out of the "bleep and bloop" serial and post-serial style of pointillistic neo-hockett. There are multiple lines to be heard, understandably, but they can be homophonic or in multiple parallels. One of course does not often find a neo-Webernian approach carrying the day in contemporary music these days, and so too Vodenitcharov goes into the fray with his own sense of sound clusters, color blocks and explorations of personal, well mapped terrains.

The works themselves employ a quite varied instrumentation. "The Ribbon of Mobius" features two pianists and two percussionists, "Blue Echo (Concerto for Trumpet and String Orchestra)" is indeed for that, "Bacchus and Ariadne" utilizes bassoon and celeste, "Trajectories of Silence" has the unusual quartet instrumentation of two mandolins, mandola and guitar, "Lamento" is for orchestra with voice, and "Concerto for Clarinet and Chamber Orchestra" is self-explanatory.

I would not venture to suggest that this music has some of the dynamic thrust of the new improvisation style currently practiced by some Americans, Europeans and Japanese, mostly because there may be a convergence that is coincidental or not. Nonetheless there are expressive similarities, though Vodenitcharov's examples here are more overtly planned and architecturally framed works with some of the high modern rigor of methods holding sway often enough, if my ears are a good judge.

Each work is unto itself and yet the overall impression is consistent and rewarding. I will not run down my impression of each here. Listening is key of course. Suffice to say that Vodenicharov comes to us in his own special way.

Any following modernist new music trends would be well served by this volume. It is something to immerse oneself in, to study, to enjoy and appreciate with a little effort.

Another one I do recommend as important listening.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Franz Schmidt, Symphony No. 2, Richard Strauss, Dreaming By the Fireside, Wiener Philharmoniker, Semyon Bychkov

Franz Schmidt (1874-1939) and his Symphony No. 2 (Sony Classic 88985355522) have been victims of vicious critical attacks since Schmidt wrote the work in 1913. Yet it (the symphony) tends to be subject to some attention via performances and recordings to this day. Perhaps not nearly enough?

Wikipedia calls the score reminiscent of Strauss and Reger with some of the heroic largess of Bruckner, and my ears hear that but to the point more of an originality in the late-romantic realm in which Schmidt worked.

The new recording I have been hearing, with Semyon Bychkov conducting the Vienna Philharmonic, does much to make a case for its heroic complexities. This is a late-romantic Austro-Hungarian work that when well played as it is on the new recording comes very much into being with lyric tenderness and power (and I hear as much Mahler's influence as the others but Schmidt is here very much Schmidt). This has been described as a kind of pastoral symphony. I can hear that.

An added bonus is Richard Strauss's short orchestral interlude from his not often performed opera Intermezzo, "Dreaming By the Fireside." It is a worthwhile tidbit and serves to remind us how Schmidt is another thing apart from Strauss. If nothing else you hear a much different harmonic palette, even if both have a large and lush orchestral carpeting in common. The variational aspect of the inner movement of Schmidt's Second is of a very different nature than the tone-poem sequentiality of Strauss.

So what we have s a very stimulating and rewarding program. The care with which Schmidt is elaborated marks this as an extraordinarily fine version, a very best, and gloriously sound staged in ways we scarcely hope could be bettered. Kudos!


Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Purcell, Ayres & Songs From Orpheus Brittannicus, Harmonia Sacra & Complete Organ Music, Jill Feldman

Henry Purcell (1650-1695) was one of England's most gifted composers. He had a melodic brilliance and a sense of lyrical form that set him above or at least equal to the greatest of his era. His songs are unforgettable, and then so are his instrumental works. You can hear a very generous sampling of some excellent but not so well know works on Ayres & Songs from Orpheus Brittannicus, Harmonia Sacra & Complete Organ Music (Outhere-Arcanna A430).

Jill Feldman graces the program with her richly ornate and satisfyingly projective soprano voice. I have grown up associating Purcell's songs with the countertenor Alfred Deller thanks to a number of fine recordings I obtained early on. Ms. Feldman brings her own sensibilities to bear on the musical program and after a couple of listens to acclimate, I ended up hearing her interpretations as very right in their own way, quite lovely in fact.

She is joined and in some cases spelled by Nigel North on archlute, Sarah Cunningham on bass viol, and Davitt Moroney on organ. The spare period instrumentation works quite admirably on the vocal works--where lute and viol bring out the accompanymental structural bones


Monday, July 17, 2017

Volti San Francisco, This is What Happened

The choral realm of new music remains a potent idiom when approached creatively. Volti San Francisco gives us a hearing of five contemporary choral works of interest on their CD This is What Happened (Innova 964).

The music covers a spectrum from high modern event worlds to the modern new tonality. Robin Estrada's "Paghahandog" is an example of the former while Stacy Garrop's "Songs of Lowly Life" the latter. From there we are treated to Mark Winges' "Canticles of Rumi," John Muehleisen's "...is knowing...," and finally Shawn Crouch's "Paradise."

The whole entails a kind of freeze-frame snapshot of where choral music is in the modern present. It is something most certainly worth your time if you seek to follow the new and not just the already enshrined history of the new.

Volti are consummate artists. They deserve your attention.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Dalia Raudonikyte With, Solitarius

New music requires new composers, of course. And of those there are no shortages. Virtually every day I find the music of somebody I do not know in front of me. And many of them surprise me in good ways. I am lucky to be alive right now for music. Even if it impoverishes me. What is joy worth? One cannot translate it into monetary terms. So my life is very rich on the level of gratitude, much less so in some other ways. C'est la vie.

Today we have another example: the music of Daliya Raudonikyte With, a she, Norwegian maybe? The recent album of her music, Solitarius (New Focus 186) gives us pause. It is a compendium of some six works, four involving a solo instrument, one a kind of duet, and one a chamber orchestra work.

In each case there is a literary quotation as a springboard--Thomas Wolfe, Picabia, Virginia Woolf, Chopin, Stefan Zweig. What results is distinctive, carefully sonorous music that stays within to reverberate with your being. There is sonic acuity, deliberation, gesture, and a special envelope full of the present.

Expect very appropriate ventures into extended techniques, a contemporary modernism that has more than the norm of invention, often far more. "Grues et Nix," the single orchestral work, has a kind of uncanny opening onto a personal sonic mapping of what Woolfe declaims as "Melancholy were the sounds on a winter's night." This work is in its very own way as evocative as something like Ives' "Central Park in the Dark," and without sounding like Ives at that, but equally home-spun, native individual like.

The other works each have a particular personal With touch, whether it be "Solitarius" for clarinet, "Ventus" for alto sax and electronics, "FCH" for piano, "Primo cum lumine solis" for guitar, or "Idem non semper idem" for alto sax. Nothing is tentative, even if nothing seems exactly formal in some scientistic way, and so much the better because With is expression first perhaps, structure second?

In the end it is all of course about the listening experience. With gives us an excellent one while being very much herself.

So I do suggest this one as rewarding, essential in its own way as music of this very second!