Author Topic: "New" Music Log  (Read 56680 times)

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Offline Todd

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Re: "New" Music Log
« Reply #300 on: June 13, 2017, 05:19:52 AM »



A new to me ensemble playing a not new to me, but still obscure, composer: the youthful Alauda Quartet play the two string quartets of Roffredo Caetani in world premiere recordings.

The disc starts off with the Second Quartet, from 1907 when the composer was around middle age, and it is a conservative example of quartet writing for its time.  A thick, rich sound resplendent with beautiful harmonies and attractive melodies, the slow moving quartet sounds very fin de siècle Viennese, a merger of Brahmsian formal style with Zemlinskyian richness.  It's not a top tier composition, but it's a lovely one that makes for a fine piece on disc and likely in concert.  The First Quartet, Opus One, Number One, written when Caetani was only seventeen, lacks the same formal exactness of the later work, but it sounds similarly beautiful and even more conservative and indebted to composers who came before.  The one continuous movement unfolds at a slightly slow overall pace and sounds a mite too long, but nothing so bad as to cause one's attention to wander.

The Alauda Quartet plays splendidly, with superb intonation and ensemble playing and, at least as recorded, a warm sound.  Turns out cellist Elena Cappelletti has taken part in master classes with Korean cellist Sung-Won Yang, he of the Asian Invasion.  Since the group has already shown that they can play rich and romantic, a brand spankin' new Zemlinsky cycle would be most welcome, as would some French quartets of the period.  If they go more standard rep, I wouldn't mind hearing it, and if they go more obscure rep, I wouldn't mind hearing that, either.  Of course, they've already changed one member, so any recordings going forward may or may not sound a bit different.

Superb sonics, but St Andreas Church in Hannover is not sound-proof.
The universe is change; life is opinion.   Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Offline Todd

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Re: "New" Music Log
« Reply #301 on: July 13, 2017, 05:54:41 AM »



Here's a major label, major artist release I hadn't even seen until recently.  Since Amazon's pricing algorithm dropped it down to six bucks and Prime eligible, I went for it.  Howard Blake has written hundreds of pieces, and is most famous for his soundtrack work.  His magnum opus appears to be The Snowman, a British TV special, followed by The Duellists, one of the few Ridley Scott movies I've not seen.  The only films I've see where he composed the soundtrack are Flash Gordon (though all I remember are the Queen contributions), The Lords of Discipline, and Amityville 3-D.  Ahem.  I can't say that the last two soundtracks stuck with me, either.  It also turns out Mr Blake has been friends with Vladimir Ashkenazy for decades, has composed pieces for him before, and did so specifically for this album.  The two worked together to cobble together enough works for the disc, and Blake includes notes for all of the works, which range from teenage enthusiasms written in the 50s, including one work that was a gift for a girlfriend, up to the 2013 piece Parting, Op 650a. 

The first three pieces are from film work: Walking in the Air from The Snowman, Music Box from The Changeling, and Laura from The Duellists.  All three are pleasant enough and sound like piano transcriptions of film music.  They are anodyne and not particularly challenging.  They are the least interesting pieces on the disc.

Track four, Prelude for Vova [Ashkenazy] from 2012, is more obviously pianistic in nature.  It's not a virtuosic showpiece, but dynamics are utilized better, and there are passages where Ashkenazy shows that even in his late 70s (the disc was recorded in 2013), he could play well, as if anyone needed that reassurance.  The next piece, commissioned by Ashkenazy for a piano competition, is Speech After Long Silence.  It starts off also sounding anodyne, but adds some nice dissonant passages and ratchets up scale and volume and intensity and complexity until the satisfying coda.  If not a modern masterpiece, it's substantial enough that I wouldn't mind hearing it in person.  The next eight pieces are the first eight pieces of the two-decades in gestation twenty-four piece Lifecycle.  I'll leave it to the gentle reader to determine why there are twenty-four pieces.  Apparently, these early pieces were partly inspired by the composer seeing Ashkenazy play Scriabin in recital.  The pieces are not at all Scriabinesque, but they are again satisfyingly pianistic, and if not dazzling, they are serious and one can detect some serious influences (maybe some Grieg and Faure) along with some soundtrack sensibilities and some jazz.  Next, the disc switches to two works for two pianos, with Vovka Ashkenazy joining his father.  The Dances vary in style and content and are well done.  I can see these potentially entering the repertoire of piano duets.  Same with the Sonata, which is altogether more ambitious and intriguing.  Blake writes that he randomly selected Beethoven's Op 22 as a model, but that other than four movements, they have nothing in common.  That's true.  I'd say the music has more in common with Bartok or Prokofiev, with its rhythmic drive and somewhat angular phrasing and stark sound.  That written, there are some soundtrack-y elements that work their way in to the music.  Overall, this is the best piece on the disc and would definitely be nice to hear in recital, if only I went to duo recitals.  The disc closes with five short pieces, all around four minutes or less.  The substantial Piano Fantasy actually understays its welcome, and the remaining pieces are small in scale, intimate and soundtrack-y.

This disc won't receive many serious listens, the Sonata for Two Pianos possibly aside, but it would make for good background music, especially when guests who enjoy classical music come over.  A guessing game of sorts could be played to general merriment.

Sound is excellent and rich, if not completely SOTA.
The universe is change; life is opinion.   Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Offline Todd

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Re: "New" Music Log
« Reply #302 on: August 08, 2017, 05:20:41 AM »



Until this disc, I had managed to avoid the music of John Tavener.  I remember when The Protecting Veil was real hot stuff, at least in Gramophone, but it didn't interest me.  Truth to tell, the only reason I ended up with this disc is because it is part of the twelve-disc compilation of Steven Isserlis' RCA recordings.  The probability I would have bought this on its own was basically nil.

Part of my early aversion to sampling Tavener's music decades ago was my then aversion to liturgical music.  I'm over that, but I couldn't quite shake my prejudice when I started spinning the disc.  It opens with Svyati, a setting of a Russian Orthodox funeral text.  There's a solemn, dark feel to the choral singing, which is excellent, and Isserlis plays beautifully and somberly, and the work is more haunting and less New Age-y than I thought it would be.  Next up is Eternal Memory, for cello and string orchestra, written for Isserlis.  The solo writing is good and the playing is world-class, and though it might sound a bit derivative at times (eg, one might hear Dvorak, Mussorgsky, Tchaikovsky, older polyphonic music), it works well and some passages are achingly beautiful and the sentiment behind the music seems genuine and profound.  The Akhmatova Songs, for cello and soprano, a rare but not unknown combo in my collection, follows.  The austere, purposely constrained yet expressive mix works well.  Patricia Rozario certainly can sing well and hit those high notes, and Isserlis offers perfectly judged support.  This is the best work on thie disc.  Next up is The Hidden Treasure, a putative string quartet, but one where the cello is very clearly the lead instrument, with prominent solo parts as well.  There's a vaguely "eastern" sound to some of the string writing, and a "mystical" aspect as well.  While the playing is all predictably excellent, the piece goes on too long at over twenty-five minutes.  The concluding Chant for solo cello lets Isserlis shine by himself.  Clearly, even not knowing about Isserlis' association with the composer, it would be clear that he was (and is) earnest and serious about and devoted to the music.

So, the music and the disc are pretty good, the Akhmatova Songs especially.  However, if I go for modern Eastern Orthodox-inspired music, I have to say that Sofia Guibadulina is much more my speed, with a more satisfying and daring musical language.  Tavener strikes me as too artistically conservative, though his music is better than anticipated.  Still, when I don my Helmet of Prognostication®, I do not see myself building a large Tavener collection.
« Last Edit: August 08, 2017, 10:39:08 AM by Todd »
The universe is change; life is opinion.   Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

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