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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Vivaldi Project, Discovering the Classical String Trio

The string trio tends to be overlooked today. Yet from the classical period on there have been some wonderful examples. The Vivaldi Project, a trio with plenty of spunk and precision, give us seven great examples on their Discovering the Classical String Trio (MSR Classics 1621). Trios by JC Bach, Campioni, Boccherini, Franz Joseph Haydn, Cannabich, Giardini, Cambini all give us wonderfully clean lines and lots of chance for the trio to show off their brio energy.

Each composer was well respected in his lifetime and knew the ins and outs of the strings and bows of the day, the state-of-the-art in trio technique. There is a nicely busy, energetically configurated set of lines for the players to delve into and the Vivaldi Project show us they are up for it. The clean simplicity and lyricism speak as directly to us now as they no doubt did then.

Why by the end of the classical era the string quartet had all but left the string trio in the dust is a complex story, and one might blame Haydn for the excellence of his quartets and how they served as models of chamber music to come, but in the end you listen to these trios and forget all about that. The trios in the hands of the Vivaldi Project have a charm and sonance all their own.

This is a real change of pace listen. After hours of heavy fare, one turns to this program with no little delight. Definitely recommended.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Chris Brown, Six Primes, for Piano in 13-Limit Just Intonation

The well untempered clavier is alive and well in the form of Chris Brown's solo piano series Six Primes (New World 80781-2). The six pieces are based on just intonation--the prime number ratios 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, and 13 are utilized varyingly for tuning and temporal structure according to the piece at hand.

The music takes a bit of adjustment on the part of your ears and then takes hold. Much of it sounds vaguely Indonesian--principally due to the sound of the scales as created by Brown. The composer in the liners gives us a full scope of the influences that went into the music: "Lou Harrison's endlessly branching melodies, Cowell's polyrhythms and tone clusters, Cage's equanimity and Stockhausen's deterministic force, the complex minimalism of Morton Feldman and the harmonics buzz of Ellen Fullman....And although I never thought about it during the composing process, I think I hear in its mixture of styles an influence of Ives." All this makes sense to me as I listen, though I do not believe I am familiar with Ellen Fullman's music.

One is never bored with these pieces--they are consistently inventive and the tunings bring continual difference to the ears. It is new music in a very new world context, or in other words it sounds as a natural expression of a world beyond our traditional Western one, which is fitting to the lineage of composers Chris Brown cites as influential. And in the end the music has its own trajectory that takes it beyond influence and into a music unto itself.

I find it all fascinating and substantial. Anyone with an interest in microtonal and post-classical forms will respond to this. Anyone with a sense of musical adventure in general will also get much out of this CD. It is important as a furtherance as well as lively and interesting music on its own terms. Very recommended.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Matt Haimovitz, Overtures to Bach

If you do not know, Matt Haimovitz is that enormously talented, accomplished and daring more-or-less young cellist who has embarked on a series of brilliant, genre bending cello albums that I have covered on this blog--many of them anyway. Even though I awoke this morning with the musical theme from the Bugs Bunny Show playing in my head ("On with the show, this is it!"), Matt's latest is a bit more serious, to say the least. (But then Bugs Bunny was seriously funny, so....)

It is called Overtures to Bach (Pentatone Oxingale Series 5186 561), and fittingly so. The Prelude movements from Bach's six Suites for Solo Cello form the cornerstone of the album. Each of the Preludes are wondrously performed, but as a kind of answer to six newly composed cello solo works meant to pay homage to and comment upon the essence of the solo cello Bach.

So we get modern yet absorbingly timeless works by Philip Glass, Du Yun, Vijay Iyer, Roberto Sierra, David Sanford and Luna Pearl Woolf. Many of the works make rather extraordinary technical demands on Haimowitz and of course he is very much up for the challenge. But then a proper interpretation of the Preludes demands no less.

Once you relax your expectations and listen with naked ears it all becomes a part of a whole, of Bach and what he brings to us today, of modern contemporary works today and how they channel Bach in contrasting fashions. The modern works were written, especially commissioned for this project and so enjoy their world premiere recordings.

After a few listens everything flows together marvelously. It's another considerable feather in the Haimovitz cap. He is one of those special forces on the contemporary scene and as usual he gets you to hear differently while also bringing to us his unparalleled musicality.

For those who love Bach and/or for those firmly involved in new music listening, this one is a most fascinating revelation. I wholeheartedly recommend it.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Chiara String Quartet, Bartok By Heart

I believe I've said this before on these pages, but it is nevertheless true that as some early modern classics have become more and more familiar to us all, keenly discerning younger musicians seem more inclined to take the music as whole cloth. They understand the music much better than many of their predecessors did--as they have learned to speak fluently the language of modernism from a young age, as "native" speakers, and they make it all sound like a natural expression, which by now of course it should be.

This is no more true than in the case of the Chiara String Quartet, who give us such beautiful renditions of Bartok's complete String Quartets that you think they themselves wrote them. Bartok By Heart (Azica 71310 2-CDs) is what the title suggests. The Chiara set about memorizing all six quartets and then finessed the details thoroughly. This is the recorded result.

Those results are stunning. These are the quartets the way Bartok envisioned them, one feels as one listens. The early quartets are not overly romantic, the folk elements sound as they might have inside Bartok's head, as truly folk-like, the modernisms are not just technically right, they are phrased naturally and with great spirit.

The Bartok Quartets have long had the reputation as some of the very finest of our times, indeed of any era. The Chiara String Quartet bring you the WHY of that perhaps as never before. It's a product no doubt of the group realization process once they had memorized each quartet--to then concentrate on the four-way expression of the implications of the notes beyond merely getting it all right. There is an incredible togetherness and spirit expressed that make all the complexities seem inevitable, that give the feeling of genuine performative spontaneity, that musicalize each movement well beyond the abstractions they no doubt are. Chiara adds the cognizant connecting tissue, so to speak, the syntactical logic, that gets to the essence of what Bartok is saying.

It is a performance not likely to be surpassed in the near future. It takes the ALL of Bartok and reflects upon it with loving care and attention. This is a release everyone should hear! Superb!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Modes, Society of Composers, Inc., Volume 30

The world of new music continues to flourish. Time does not stand still. We can hear that nicely on the 30th volume of recent compositions for the Society of Composers' ongoing anthology series. Modes (Navona 6051) gives us a wide-ranging gathering of works from seven worthy but lesser-known exponents.

We hear some high modernism from Karen Keyhani on her chamber ensemble work "As Far as Possible," a lively oboe-cello-percussion trio entitled "Valence II" from Robert A. Baker, a solo flute sound poem "Princess Ka'iulani" by Nolan Stolz, a cycle for mezzo-soprano and string quartet "Five Love Songs" from Arthur Gottschalk, Benjamin D. Whiting's electroacoustic "Melodia sin Melodia," "A Mournful Cry" for solo guzheng by Yip Ho Kwen Austin, and a chamber sextet, "Acoustic Field," by Chin Ting Chan.

Time goes by quickly as each work has its say and moves on. It is a bellwether of how diverse new music can be these days, but also a vivid example of the talent and highly evolved craftsmanship that shows itself in such abundance in our times, nowhere more so than on this volume.

Anyone who seeks the new today will find plenty of works of interest here, well performed and happily contentful. Recommended.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Hakki Cengiz Eren, Color Studies

Relatively young (b. 1984) Turkish composer Hakki Cengiz Eren comes through with four outstanding high modernist compositions on the CD Color Studies (Ravello 7938). Sound color, as the title suggests, is a prominent aspect of these works. Indeed Eren excels in creating soundscapes that maximize the sonic contours of the instruments for each piece.

"Buffavento" features the large chamber ensemble Thornton Edge and depicts a castle in Northern Cyprus perched high atop the mountain range there. The structure's name literally means "buffeted by the winds." And accordingly the tone poem vividly brings to us in sound poetic terms an image of a structure isolated and exposed, yet providing a (one presumes) marvelous view of the area.

"Four Studies on Archipenko" is hauntingly scored for violin, Bb and bass clarinet, flute and harp. The extended techniques and moody sprawl Eren fashions for the quartet is played with great beauty by the chamber group ECCE.

"Music for Strings No. 1 (Doors)" is a relatively brief but sonically spectacular string quartet realized nicely by the Argus Quartet.

Finally, "Four Pieces for Solo Viola" weaves together a wide variety of color techniques and expressive pacing in a tour de force that gets superb results in the hands of violist Garth Knox.

All four works have a ravishing color sensibility and cohesiveness that marks Hakki Cengiz Eren as a vital creator on today's high modern scene. It's a wonderful program that I recommend to you without reservations. I hope we can hear more from this composer soon!

Monday, August 22, 2016

Robert Carl, The Geography of Loss

Robert Carl devises a modern music that sounds like no other. On The Geography of Loss (New World 80780-2) we have the opportunity to hear four major works, each with definitive personality and dramatic impact.

His teachers, Xenakis, Shapey, Rochberg, and Jonathan Kramer gave him perhaps the courage to go his own way, as he does in these works.

We last encountered Carl on these pages on October 1, 2013 with an anthology of piano music, Shake the Tree. I found that one quite illuminating and now we get to hear his recent music for larger ensembles.

His "Symphony No. 4, The Ladder" (2008) is a brilliantly orchestrated, highly dynamic, dissonantly modern work with a musical narrative that deliberates as it expands a sound universe all its own.

The "Chamber Concerto for Guitar and 10 Instruments, The Calm Bee in the Busy Hive" (2009-10) was written in response to Carl's rapid loss of both parents in a short piece of time. There are parts for two unusually tuned guitars, with the second reinforcing what the first is doing. The first movement is oddly canonical, musically representing the building of the hive with the queen bee at the center of things. The second movement is elegaic, movingly funereal.

"The World Turned Upside Down" (1999/2000) for symphony orchestra began as the final movement in his "Piano Sonata No. 2" in 1999 and was orchestrated and reworked as the third movement of his "Symphony No. 3" (2000), but can also be heard as it is here on its own. It is the turning point of Carl's compositional methods toward a concern with harmonic series. Somber and full of dense clusters of vertical chords, it is evocative, very memorable and towards the end takes the form of a sort of modern chorale.

The final piece is the eight-movement title work, "The Geography of Loss" (2010) for soprano, baritone, mixed chamber ensemble and chorus and again was written in reaction to the sudden deaths of his parents. Carl cites the influence of Bach and Stravinsky for this music and you can hear a certain structural quality in all of it that seems to reference the masters, yet it like the others stands out as original. Modern and lucidly scored, it covers a great deal of ground. The choral writing is especially poignant.

In the end you come away from this program with a distinct impression of a modern master finding his own way in a high modern zone with a noticeable lyric and dramatic panache that places him in a class of one. Highly recommended.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Nicolas Kaviani, Te Deum

Nicolas Kaviani writes his modern day Te Deum (Navona NV6021 CD plus Documentary DVD) to praise the heavens in the fundamental manner that Western Civilization has done for many centuries past. In our modern age however the full creation is something we now know much more about than we previously believed. Yet it is still a mystery. The vastness and ineffable nature of boundless space as science has come to know it is the material entity Nicolas Kaviani sets out to praise in his half-hour work for orchestra (Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra under Petr Vronsky), choir (Janacek Opera Choir under Pavel Koranik) and soloists (Martina Kralikova, soprano, etc.).

This is jubilant, ecstatic glorification in the capital /G/ sense; Post-Beethovian, post-Mahlerian largess with a hugeness appropriate to its subject matter. A DVD comes with the CD recording to document the making of the music. I have not had DVD capabilities yet since my move so I was unable to watch.

But certainly the music speaks multitudes. A short "Tous les Matins du Monde" for 16 unaccompanied voices ends the program on a subdued, questioning note.

This is music of great drama and impact, a post-Romantic tour de force that unleashes some blockbuster power. Hear this!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

David Lang, The National Anthems, Los Angeles Master Chorale

When is enough minimalism...enough? Clearly there is still life in the form for certain composers. Others, perhaps not. David Lang is one of the productive exponents. The new CD The National Anthems (Canteloupe 21119) continues David Lang's processional journey in moving ways.

The Los Angeles Master Chorale and the Calder String Quartet perform the title work, a kind of dirge for the fallen dead of all nations through the use of at least one word from all the national anthems in the world. The collated text shows us that every nation in one way or another demands from its citizens fighting wars in the national name, potentially giving up one's life at some time or another, especially when young.

The text is indeed a sad one. The music makes use of minor-keyed diatonic fragments that sometimes bifurcate into two-part counterpoint, other times have a chant-like ritual repetition as the main structural focus. The music works well with the text.

A second work, "The Little Match Girl Passion" is based on the children's tale and is scored for the chorale and percussion. It has a more harmonically enriched minor-keyed diatonicism as its basis and so goes well with the title work.

The use of simple means in works such as these is of course no guarantee for success. David Lang uses the elemental building blocks with a ritual sureness that gives us resonance with early sacred world musics yet remains distinct within the parameters Lang has set up.

After several hearings Lang's music proceeded to do its work upon me, so that in the end these works spoke clearly to my musical self. He once again shows us to be a composer of real importance today. Give this one a couple of listens and perhaps you too will find it a powerfully dramatic program.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Per Norgaard, Symphonies 4 & 5, Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, John Storgards

In the development of modernism in the 20th century, some composers changed the music event structure of their compositional presentation, so that the usual horizontal axis of the unfolding of a movement or work was essentially stood on its head. The music unfolded in time, of course, but the musical events emphasized more than ever a series of vertical complexes, the equivalent of a series of skyscrapers on an urban landscape. That is not to say that harmony was emphasized over melody, but that a series of simultaneities were the focus. The music of Xenakis is a prime example of this sort of thing, as was Penderecki in his avant phase. Perhaps you could go back to Varese for the beginnings of this way of thinking, though the horizontal plane was still an important part of the experience. Stockhausen's Gruppen also comes to mind.

Add to this other composers that followed, Per Norgaard being a great example in his Symphonies 4 & 5 (DaCapo 6.220646), enjoying a new version by the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra under John Storgards.

Symphony No. 5 has the most pronounced vertical axis, but it is present at times in No. 4 as well. Norgaard's exceptional sound sculpting orchestrational scoring of both works is something that hit me on the first listen on. He quite clearly put some thought and creative intuition into the sound blocks he was building and the ever evolving series of event structures are as a result stunning much of the time and quite original at that. You hear more "connecting tissue," melodic segues in No. 4 and so on that level at least perhaps No. 4 is slightly less radical than the symphony that follows. And so to my mind the No. 5 is more of the breakthrough work if one were to choose.

But the special attention to color is present in both works and both construct landscapes of wonderful orchestral combinations in any event. The Oslo Philharmonic with Storgards at the helm gives us the instrumental details with an exactitude yet also an expressive drive that makes these works shine brilliantly. The rugged beauty of the renditions and the inspired compositions hit me squarely in my musical face. Norgaard is seriously important to the modern developments in the recent past, I do believe, and these performances of the Fourth and Fifth will show you just why.

Serious followers of what's new in our time cannot afford to miss this one! But perhaps too anyone with an open mind will find these works provocative in most interesting ways. Hurrah!

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Ferdinando De Sena, Spaulding's Bounce and Other Chamber Works

Miami-based New-York born composer Ferdinando De Sena provides us with eight dynamic and lively works on the recent Spalding's Bounce and Other Chamber Works (Navona 6052). This is music of a most modern sort, with vividly contrapuntal writing, rhythmically alive forms and a feel for original melodic contours that stand out.

There is a multitude of small chamber combinations in the compositions, tenor-sax-cello-piano, flute-guitar, violin-clarinet-piano, flute-viola, violin-harp, flute-alto-sax, mandolin and mandola-guitar, and an electronic piece with chamber voicings. They all show a vibrant grasp of idiomatic scoring for the instruments in tandem.

There are jazz and rock inflected aspects, not modelling Frank Zappa but with an analogistically eclectic grasp that moves the music forward. There are neo-classic moments and a commitment to modern syntactical ease of expression with a sort of pre- or post-serialist horizontal naturalness. The rhythmic vitally of the parts working together give the novice listener a firm anchor point that I believe will help make this music accessible to a larger than average audience. But there is plenty of intrinsic brilliance and complexity so that one can grow into a deep appreciation of the music with a bit of effort.

In sum this is chamber music that stands out as eloquent and extraordinarily well-crafted. The performances are excellent.

I find a great deal here to like. I think you the modernist would feel similarly. De Sena is an original. Give this one your ears, by all means.

Friday, August 12, 2016

David First, The World Casio Quartet, The Complete Gramavision Series (1989)

The advent of inexpensive Casio keyboards was a boon for amateur music making. But how many used any in "real art"? It turns out David First got the idea of making contemporary modern sounds from a quartet of them. He and three other keyboardists formed the World Casio Quartet and although they did not set the world on fire, they did see active service from 1987-1991.

It all started when David First was experimenting around with microtonal composition and after buying a Casio CZ-1000 found he could detune pitches on the instrument fairly easily. He found three other contemporary musicians who happened to have Casios and formed the quartet.

After some trial runs, First came up with four compositions for the quartet and proceeded to take them into the recording studio. The finished product is in our hands at last with the release of The Complete Gramavision Session (1989) (Pogus P-21084-2).

Each piece sets up a cosmic landscape, detuned drones, sustained, shifting panoramas of textures and harmonic clusters, soundscapes that are surprisingly rich given the sources.

It may not be an album that changes the world, exactly, but it is a fascinating sonic adventure that will put you into a different place. Recommended for those with a spirit of exploration.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Northwestern University Cello Ensemble, shadow, echo, memory

A full ensemble of cellos gives us a sound color pallette unlike any other. We hear the vibrant sound texture in sharp digital definition on the Northwestern University Cello Ensemble's presentation of 19th, 20th and 21st century works specially arranged for the group. The new Shadow, Echo, Memory (SONO Luminus SLE-70004) comes through vividly as a winning demonstration of what such an ensemble can do.

The sheer visceral charge of the amassed cellos comes to the forefront on works like Zachary Wadsworth's "Three Lacquer Prints" and Gyorgy Ligeti's "Lux Aeterna;" the melodic-harmonic expressivity of multiple cellos stands out on Faure's "Apres Un Reve," and Mahler's "Adagietto (from Symphony No. 5)."

Director Hans Jorgen Jensen puts the ensemble through its paces with striking results and the sound quality of the recording is everything one would hope for.

Cello lovers and those seeking new sonances will find this very much to their liking! Recommended.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Spohr, Symphonies Nos. 1 and 5, Slovak State Philharmonic Orchestra, Alfred Walter

If you aren't familiar with the symphonies of Louis Spohr (1784-1859), you are not alone. He wrote ten in all but we in the modern era do not get much of a chance to hear them. Alfred Walter and the Slovak State Philharmonic Orchestra recorded the cycle in the '90s for Marco Polo Records. Naxos is reissuing them, with the first just out, covering Symphonies Nos. 1 and 5 (Naxos 8.555500).

The first (1811) was modelled after Mozart and has classical brio, thematic distinctiveness and creative orchestration.

The fifth (1837) is more early romantic, melodically expansive and praised in the day by Robert Schumann. It began as an Overture to "The Daughter of the Air,"  which in rewritten form became the first movement to the symphony. At the time the 5th was recognized by critics as a work of great stature. Though written in the shadow of Beethoven it manages to convey a rich originality and real melodic strength.

The performances are quite respectable, with excellent spirit and detail.These are symphonies that trod untypical ground and do so in ways that please. An auspicious beginning!

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Paul Bowles, Complete Piano Music 2, The Invencia Piano Duo

Before Paul Bowles (1910-1999) was known as a major creator in the literary field he was gaining a reputation as a classical composer of promise. His migration to Morocco and turn to writing more or less put a halt to the composer part of his creative life, yet his compositions are special and original. The Invencia Piano Duo brings to us the playful brilliance of his one- and two-piano works on the first and now the follow-up volume Complete Piano Works 2 (Naxos 8.559787).

I covered the first volume several months ago (see index search box above) and was taken by it. Volume 2 shows no drop off. The mostly miniatures, two arranged for two pianos by Gold and Fitsdale and Invencia member Andrey Kasparov, respectively, all have a special neo-classical modern, sometimes folkish charm that evokes middle-period Stravinsky and the piano music of Milhaud and Honegger, but then reasserts an "Americana" feel at times too, with occasional ventures into local vernacular and early jazz influences.

The performances are beautifully idiomatic, capturing the brittle character, whimsicality and subtle power of the music.

At the Naxos price, you probably should get both volumes, if you have even a passing interest in 20th century modernism in the USA. Bowles might well have become a fixture in the music had he not gone on to develop his other brilliance as a creative writer. Nonetheless these works show a full maturity of outlook and a special charm that puts them in a category of one. Bravo!

Monday, August 8, 2016

Granados, Dante Symphonic Poem, etc., Barcelona Symphony Orchestra, Pablo Gonzalez

As far as Spanish masters go, Granados (1867-1916) will sneak up on you. Sure, there are the "Goyescas," but there is a good deal of his music worth hearing that is not often making the circuits these days. Naxos' second volume of his orchestral works will be a nice surprise for those of us not previously exposed to it all. In fact there are three world premiere recordings here and they are worth the wait. Dante Symphonic Poem, etc. (Naxos 8.573264) spotlights some fine performances of the Barcelona Symphony Orchestra under Pablo Gonzalez--plus soloists--that will be manna for all who appreciate the composer.

We get the orchestral version of the "Intermezzo" from "Goyescas" plus "Dance of the Green Eyes" (1916) and "Gypsy Dance" (1915) for that irresistible Spanish tinge, the latter two in first recordings.

Then "Sign of the Dead Man" (1897) (First Recording) and the "Dante--Symphonic Poem" (1908) give us a bit of late romantic-early impressionistic charm and bite.

This may not be indispensable unless you focus on the Spanish 20th century, but it is very enjoyable and at times brilliant. Nice one!

Friday, August 5, 2016

Beethoven, Missa Solemnis, Harnoncourt, Arnold Schoenberg Choir, Concentus Musicus Wien

Many years ago when I was still young I received a couple of tickets to hear Beethoven's Missa Solemnis as performed by a reputable organization at Carnegie Hall. I invited a young lady to accompany me and we listened carefully through to the end. "Well," I asked after the last bars and applause were over, "did you like it?" "No," she said matter-of-factly. "Come to think of it," I said to myself, "I didn't much like it either." I had a number of recordings of it but never seemed to connect. Years later, looking back, I realize now that it is one of the more difficult Beethoven works, like an endless version of the finale to his 9th, only lacking in an abundance of the sort of riveting thematic material that Beethoven thrived upon. There is much to appreciate, regardless, but only a performance of absolute perfection convinces.

Nikolaus Harnoncourt didn't come to mind as one of the potentially great "Solemnis" conductors in the past. But somehow he overshadowed most everybody else in July 2015 in a live performance at the Styriarte Festival in Graz. With him were a distinguished cast of soloists, the Arnold Schoenberg Choir and Concentus Musicus Wien. Luckily it was well recorded, and we now have it out on CD (SONY Classical 88985313592). It was to be Harnoncourt's very last recording.

Every phrase seems hand-sculpted, designed sonically to express Beethoven's intent. The choir rings out ecstatically, the soloists are dedicated, the orchestra neither fades away nor is overly dominant.

It is a live recording, so that one might imagine a second take on some passages, not many though.

It is a wonderful tribute to one of the prime musical masters of our times. It is neither bloated nor overly lean in sound. It is a moving farewell to the Maestro, and it may make a Missa Solemnis convert out of you. I think it managed to confirm that for me!

Strongly recommended.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Rudolf Haken, Romancing the Viola, with Rachel Jensen

If a bit of stirring modern neoclassical-neoromantic chamber music for viola sounds like something you'd appreciate, there is Rudolf Haken (b.1965) and his album of compositions entitled Romancing the Viola (MSR 1069). Rudolf plays the viola quite well and Rachel Jensen seconds him nicely on the piano for those works (four of five) that are scored for viola and piano.

This is well-crafted, well-played music that has some of the expression and passion of early last century, yet also sometimes is modern neo-classical in a way that has something of the sophistication of Hindemith but remains original nonetheless.

The viola-piano nexus is nicely represented with "Polonaise" (1990), "Fur Fritz" (1980), "Fantasia in F-Sharp Minor" (1981), and the "Sonata in D Minor" (1981). The program is rounded out with a solo viola work "Suite in A Minor" (1981).

These are works with memorable thematics, well constructed compositional form and a touch of virtuoso kinetics.

I found after listening several times that Haken wears well on the ears. He may not be destined to be inscribed in the stars, but he has his own voice that brings complexities into the mix yet has an appealing lyric panash.

This is early Haken, music written while still in his teens for the most part--and that is rather wonderful given the maturity of the music.

Try this one out and you may well find it quite worthwhile. Refreshing!

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Michael Haydn, Symphonies 1, Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra Pardubice, Patrick Gallois

When you think of Haydn and symphonies, the mind generally zeroes in on Joseph Haydn and his hundred-odd beauties. We sometimes forget about his younger brother Johann Michael Haydn (1737-1806) who was in his day much admired and composed prolifically in the symphonic mode, with more than 40 Sinfonias to his credit. Naxos has begun a series of them with the inaugural Symphonies 1 (Naxos 8.573497), as played with a good amount of zest and brio by the Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra Pardubice under Patrick Gallois.

The four works represented here were composed for the Salzburg Court in the 1780s, where Haydn served as Konzertmeister for most of his life, much to the consternation of Leopold Mozart, who never got the position as a result. Young Wolfgang Mozart developed a great appreciation of the composer and modelled some of his works after him, so much so that several of Michael's sinfonias were for a time thought to be by Mozart, including the "Sinfonia in G" (Perger 16) which begins this program.

The works in volume one have that rococco energy and charm that prevailed in the era. They were meant to be played by a smaller orchestra typical of Salzburg and the Czech organization appropriately sizes its orchestra to fit the performance practice of the time, including a harpsichord in the basso continuo mode.

You should not expect the proto-romantic dramatics of Mozart and Joseph's last works. These are perky and slightly less involved in terms of part writing and thematic complexity, but that was indeed the way things were then and he was very much an important exponent of the earlier style. The music has great appeal in any event. All but one (the "Sinfonia in A major," Perger 15, which has four movements) are conceived on in the three-movement form that prevailed (the A major sinfonia adds a minueto 3rd movement, which of course eventually became standard).

The works are on the whole nicely inventive, rich in orchestral detail, and very spirited. Those who already know and love early Mozart, Joseph Haydn, and CPE Bach's works of the period will take to these readily.

Compositions and performances are well matched for a very stimulating and pleasurable program. A promising start to a series that should enlighten us significantly.


Tuesday, August 2, 2016

The Sixteen, Harry Christophers, The Deer's Cry, Choral Music of Part and Byrd

The old-in-the-new? The perennial newness of the classic old? That combination hits home with the superlative vocal ensemble the Sixteen under Harry Christophers and their new album of the music of William Byrd and Arvo Part, The Deer's Cry (CORO 16140). Part of course is our contemporary. William Byrd wrote his music some 400 years ago. The brief, mostly sacred choral music represented here has a timelessness born of eternal verities, of sonically profound emanations.

And the sheer beauty of it all is brought out maximally thanks to the Sixteen and their unmatched sonaric expressiveness.

Arvo Part comes to our ears in three short but moving works--"The Deer's Cry," "The Woman with the Alabaster Box," and "Nunc Dimittis," all choice choral works that remind us how rooted Part is in past-present juxtapositions, and indeed, how magical the results are, nearly always.

The William Byrd works are gems from his Cantiones Sacrae series, plus one work now thought to be a collaboration between Byrd and Thomas Tallis. A brief additional Tallis work rounds out the program.

These are works you expect The Sixteen to excel at and they most certainly do. The combination of Byrd and Part is not a typical one--but there is the logic of the similarities-in-difference at work that changes how you listen to both composers in the end.

This is a program you will want to come back to frequently, if you are like me and revel in how the Sixteen handles such music.

Heartily recommended.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Rautavaara, Rubiyat, Balada, Canto V, Four Songs from Rasputin, Helsinki Music Center Choir, Helsinki Philharmonic, John Storgards, etc.

Einojuhani Rautavaara no longer lives. 1928-2016 will forever be put in parenthesis now, after his name. He was one of the world's original voices; sadly he will speak to us now only in the past tense.

I happen to be listening to a new one of his, a vocal-choral-orchestral compilation that includes Rubaiyat, Balada, Canto V, Four Songs From Rasputin (Ondine 1274-2). All are recent works, 2012-2015, and so a modern lyrical tonality prevails with pronounced modern touches now and again. The Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra under John Storgards prevails in very good form. The Helsinki Music Centre Choir hold forth convincingly on "Balada" and "Four Songs from the Opera Rasputin." Baritone Gerald Finley makes a wonderful showing on "Rubaiyat," for which the piece was commissioned, and Mika Pohjonen is very effective as the tenor soloist on "Balada."

All the works have the Rautavaara touch. The four songs from "Rasputin" have something of a folk feel, but also the melodic periodicity of Rautavaara in his later period.

"Canto V, Into the Heart of Light" is a purely orchestral work, rhapsodic and rather impressionistic-modern in Rautavaara's own way.

The "Rubaiyat" is based on FitzGerald's English translation of the ancient Persian poem. It dramatically accentuates the mystical content with both exuberant melodic declamations and more subdued mystical touches. Finley has just the right mix of dramatic and lyrical. The music has a searching quality fitting to the poem's introspective reflections.

"Balada"  was originally intended to be an opera, "Ballada Lorca." The composer was not able to complete it due to illness, but this scene happily survives.

It is music that comes alive on close listening, well performed, perhaps not among Rautavaara's primary masterworks, but a valuable addition to our knowledge and appreciation of the last period.

RIP Einojuhani Rautuvaara.