Author Topic: "New" Music Log  (Read 101004 times)

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Offline Todd

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Re: "New" Music Log
« Reply #80 on: November 06, 2008, 07:51:01 AM »



Time for another work of High Art!  After such a success as the Henze disc, another heavy-duty, intellectual, superbly crafted work should be the ticket.  There are many choices out there, of course, but I determined that I should try an opera this time around (for no particular reason), and that something by Ferruccio Busoni would be nice (again, for no particular reason).  This led me to Kent Nagano’s late-90s recording of Doktor Faust.  Would musical lightning strike twice in succession?  No.

I’ll just offer my verdict right now: this opera is too slow, too long, and boring.  Why, you ask?  Well . . .

First off, the opera has a decidedly unusual structure.  Rather than Acts, this one is carved up into an opening Symphonia, a long, spoken introductory poem (with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau almost inevitably the speaker), then two Prologues, an Intermezzo, and then the principal action, divided into three scenes, with a spoken Epilogue to wrap it all up.  Whew!  Novel structures are neither here nor there for me, but it’s clear from the opening Symphonia what this will be like.  The music is somewhat subdued for a dramatic work, but it’s rich, fastidiously constructed, rather attractive in parts – and ultimately a bit boring.  It never really grabbed my attention the way it should.  The spoken dialogue is well delivered, but the text (or at least the translation of it) is heavy-going: it’s definitely “intellectual,” and perhaps just a bit ponderous.  Busoni himself wrote the text – shooting for the Gesamtkunstwerk thing of course – so this is his take on the legend, not Goethe’s or Marlowe’s.  Let’s just say that Busoni isn’t quite the literary talent of those two.  The Prologues and Intermezzo offer a mixture of rarely compelling, occasionally interesting, and often boring music paired to mostly uninteresting text that doesn’t really roll of the tongues of the singers in the same fashion as, say, something written by Hugo von Hofmannsthal. 

The Principal action, well, it offers more of the same.  Plus an organ solo!  As to the plot, well, it’s a convoluted take on Faust.  Mephistopheles – he’s there.  (Beelzebub, too.)  Faust makes his bargain.  There’s Faust’s love interest – here the Duchess of Parma.  There are singing students, soldiers, a philosopher, and an assistant named Wagner.  Truth to tell, I found the plot a little too plodding even for a slow opera. 

Back to the music: though written mostly in the 1920s, it’s not modern in the sense of Wozzeck or Jonny spielt auf or other works of the era.  There are definitely some “modern” elements, but it sounds rather formal and somewhat conservative most of the time.  Hints of Mahler, Wagner, and even Dvorak (in one place) can be heard, and no doubt others if one listens closely enough.  I couldn’t and didn’t. 

I really wanted to like this work, but it ended up missing the mark for me.  Others may find it more compelling, and I can certainly see some reasons why, but I just can’t see myself listening to this again.

Sound is quite fine and Kent Nagano, his band, and the singers all acquit themselves nicely. 

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Offline Todd

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Re: "New" Music Log
« Reply #81 on: November 08, 2008, 07:23:31 AM »



I’ve never been a huge fan of Camille Saint-Saëns.  His music is often pleasant enough, or at least what I’ve heard of it is, and it can be exciting at times, but at least some of it is too slight for my tastes.  I’ve mentioned before that I find him the finest fourth rate composer.  Well, I’ve  never tried his big ol’ honkin’ opera Samson et Dalila before, so I figured I might as well give the guy another shot. 

As with Busoni’s disappointing Doktor Faust, I’ll just come out and offer my verdict: I thoroughly enjoy this opera, and the few quibbles I have are related to the recording and cast and not the work itself.  And really, what’s not to like?  The story is pretty well known, of course.  The mighty Samson manages to slay the governor of Gaza and free the Hebrew slaves from the Philistines.  The sultry and vengeful Delilah seduces the big lug and determines that his hair is the source of his strength and chops it off.  The Philistines plan on killing the strongman, but after repenting for his lusty ways, God imbues him with enough strength to destroy the temple and all the Philistines there gathered, along with himself.  Really, it seems the perfect type of story for an opera. 

And, perhaps almost ironically, Saint-Saëns seems the perfect man to set the story.  The music for this story could easily have been Very Dramatic, thick, even ponderous.  While there’s more heft than I associate with Saint-Saëns in places, he keeps things generally brisk, reasonably clear and transparent, and at times light and crisp.  There are (light) hints of earlier Wagner, a bit more obvious influence of Verdi, and even perhaps some Berlioz, but what strikes one is the music’s innate Frenchness.  The instrumentation is dazzling and sparkling at times, especially in the third act instrumental interludes, and everything sounds elegant and well proportioned, especially given the subject matter.  The whole thing fairly breezes by.  The first act, in particular, even though it’s around 45 minutes, seems over almost as soon as it starts.  The second act, with the seduction scene, could have been a bit more sultry, I suppose, but it’s quite attractive as is.  And the extended celebration in the third act is just plain good stage music.  Beyond that, the text is quite good.  No, it’s not Da Ponte or Hofmannsthal good, but Ferdinand Lemaire’s libretto works well. 

Now my quibbles.  To the sound: 1962 was a long time ago now, and this recording can’t hide its age.  It’s very good, as many similar vintage recordings are, but the dynamic range is limited, there’s some congestion during the loudest passages, and there’s some breakup in the loudest sung passages, especially those where Jon Vickers is at the center of the action.  Rita Gorr, while her French is superb and her tone very attractive, sounds a bit too rich and mature for my ears; her tone isn’t seductive enough.  (Perhaps a recording with Veronique Gens could be made; she jumped immediately to mind while listening.)  Vickers is perhaps just a bit too rough at times, too.  I’ve no issues with the conducting and orchestral playing, both of which seem quite fine.  I may very well end up buying a newer recording in better sound to meet my needs, but this is a surprisingly good opera and one to which I know I shall return.  No, it’s not quite a work at the same level as, say, Tristan or Otello or Les Troyens, but it’s quite fine.  Saint-Saëns has moved up the compositional ladder a rung or two. 
« Last Edit: November 08, 2008, 07:29:03 AM by Todd »
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Offline T-C

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Re: "New" Music Log
« Reply #82 on: November 08, 2008, 08:07:41 AM »
An excellent modern recording of Samson Et Dalila (and now quite cheap) is the EMI recording that is conducted by Myung-Whun Chung:






Offline Todd

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Re: "New" Music Log
« Reply #83 on: November 12, 2008, 10:26:04 AM »




Who doesn’t like some syrupy, late Romantic music every once in a while?  I know I do.  And rarely have I heard composers who took this art form to such exalted heights as Erich Wolfgang Korngold.  Some of the man’s music is so aurally gooey and rich that I think you can gain weight just by listening.  For whatever reason, I never got around to listening to this disc with Leon Fleisher and friends playing music for the piano left hand and strings until now, a full decade after its release.  (Since the project took seven years for Sony to publish, I guess I shouldn’t feel too bad.)  In addition to what is essentially a piano quartet from the Wunderkind, the disc also boasts a piano quintet by Franz Schmidt, who makes his first appearance in my collection.

The disc opens with the Korngold work, and it’s a doozy.  Thick, rich harmonies.  Glorious, rich melodies.  Beautiful, rich slow passages.  Vibrant, rich fast passages.  This work embodies Korngold’s writing.  The first two movements in what is called the Suite for 2 Violins, Cello, and Piano Left Hand, Op 23, display large-scaled, expertly crafted string writing, where the players get to (almost) let loose, and strong, nicely articulated writing for the pianist.  (Both works, like most works for piano left-hand, were penned for Paul Wittgenstein.)  Fleisher more than holds his own with the string players, and the lushness of the music is intoxicating.  The third movement – Groteske – is more biting and purposely over the top, though even it has an achingly beautiful middle section.  The last two movements more or less continue on the basic approach as the first couple movements.  This is definitely syrupy and Very Romantic music, but it is also tinged with modernity.  There’s more to it than just beauty, but beauty sticks in the mind’s ear.  Be careful, though: if you have high cholesterol, this may be one to steer clear of.

Franz Schmidt’s Piano Quintet isn’t quite as good, but it’s good nonetheless.  For the most part, it reminds me a lot of Brahms.  It’s somewhat formal and meticulously crafted, though it lacks Brahms’ genius.  But there’s more to it.  It’s even more romanticized.  If one could take a work from Brahms, throw in some works by other late romantics, let the whole thing ferment for a couple decades, then one might end up with this work.  It’s a bit languid, more than a bit lovely (especially the gorgeous Adagio), and rather comfortable sounding.  And perhaps just a bit predictable, too.  Still, it ain’t shabby.

The artists all play quite well.  Fleisher, in his pre-Botox resurrection days, delivers some exceptionally fine piano playing.  Joseph Silverstein, Jaime Laredo, and Joel Smirnoff deliver fine fiddling, and Michael Tree is very good on the viola.  Yo Yo Ma is predictably good on the cello.  The only thing I should say is that these decidedly modern players still make the music sound rich and gooey.  I can only imagine what it would sound like if a good old-fashioned, portamento-loving ensemble were to tackle these works.  It’d be something to cherish, I think.

Sound is essentially SOTA, even though the oldest recording is seventeen years old now.  Were that all recordings this nice sounding. 

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Offline Grazioso

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Re: "New" Music Log
« Reply #84 on: November 14, 2008, 05:03:24 AM »
Todd, thanks for the detailed reviews. A few discs you may enjoy now:


Worth it for the septet for trumpet. piano, and strings alone, never mind the other fine pieces. This is civilized, melodious, charming music.


One of the great large-scale Late Romantic symphonies, from c. 1950
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Offline Todd

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Re: "New" Music Log
« Reply #85 on: November 14, 2008, 07:59:51 AM »

One of the great large-scale Late Romantic symphonies, from c. 1950



Already have this one in its original guise.  Superb stuff.  The Saint-Saens does indeed look interesting.
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Offline Todd

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Re: "New" Music Log
« Reply #86 on: November 15, 2008, 02:07:12 PM »



Time to give Leonardo Balada another listen, this time in the realm of opera, or rather operetta.  This disc contains two brief operettas, one being a sequel to the other.  Generally, when I go in for opera, I like ‘em big (Wagner or Berlioz, say), or I like ‘em to pack a wallop (Wozzeck or King Roger), and little itty bitty ones generally don’t do it for me.  Alas, these two fall into this category.

The first work is Hangman, Hangman!!, from 1982, a work purportedly based on a cowboy folk-song.  (I’d like to hear said song.)  Here, the main character Johnny is slated to hang until dead for the ghastly crime of horse theft.  Poor Johnny, he don’t want to die, y’see, so he hollers out for his mother, his father, and finally his Sweetheart.  He begs to know whether they brought silver or gold.  (If this sounds rather like Led Zeppelin’s more famous song Gallows Pole, it is, it’s just ten times longer.)  But here things are different.  A rich, slick Irishman (in the Old West?) ends up literally buying the town and freeing Johnny.  No satisfactory explanation for said actions is given.  Not that one is needed, I suppose.  The music is surreal and modern, with twisted attempts at American “folk” music, and it’s definitely got rhythmic verve, but it’s a bit slight and the English doesn’t fall very well on the ear, especially when it takes on a sort of Sprechstimme.  This ain’t no world class stage work.

Neither is its sequel, The Town of Greed, from 1997.  Here the story picks up twenty years later.  Now Johnny’s a big shot, y’see, and somehow he uses his Sweetheart, along with his mom and pop, to cut exciting, lucrative business deals.  To maintain a proper operatic façade, there is a love duet between Johnny and his Sweetheart, but the special appearances of Ford and Toyota let you know the point of this work.  Rather like Weill’s The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahogany and Luigi Nono’s Al gran sole carico d’amore, Capitalism and greed are the big villains.  Also, like in those two works, the idea is presented just a bit too obviously.  Balada does take things a bit further, though.  In this opera there’s a recession!  As a result, the previously beloved big shot Johnny falls from favor, and the townsfolk want to – wait for it – hang him!  But as in the first opera, a magic man comes along to save the day.  But this one is from Wall Street!  And he shoots Johnny!  And he turns the town into a toxic dump!  Johnny’s Sweetheart, well, what do you think happens?  The moral of the story: Money corrupts.  (Wow!)  Given the continuity of the story, it should come as no surprise that the music is very similar, mixing the obviously modern and the supposedly folksy in an especially adroit way.  However, both works fall short of what Mr Balada is capable of in his best works.  His strictly orchestral works are far better.

Sound is quite good for both works, with a suitably small venue obviously the setting, and the conductor and band and singers all do well enough.  Alas, the music and storylines just don’t do it for me.  Social critique is fine – hell, it needs to be encouraged – I just want something better.



« Last Edit: November 15, 2008, 02:11:24 PM by Todd »
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Offline Guido

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Re: "New" Music Log
« Reply #87 on: November 16, 2008, 04:55:25 AM »
Glad you liked the Korngold Suite - it's probably my favourite chamber work of Korngold's - not just incredibly beautiful as you say, but also very finely crafted and thought out. Also, the one handed piano part really makes the piano seem like an equal partner to the string players rather than the traditionally more dominant role that it takes in much chamber music that includes a piano.
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Offline Todd

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Re: "New" Music Log
« Reply #88 on: November 18, 2008, 03:01:28 PM »



I so enjoyed my first disc of music by Stephen Hartke that I determined I should try another.  Alas, there aren’t tons of recordings, but a decent selection is out there.  I decided to go “safe” and go with more orchestral music, so I settled on his Violin Concerto, nicknamed Auld Swaara, paired with his Second Symphony on New World Records.  ‘Twas a wise choice. 

The disc opens with the concerto, and right from the start it is fresh and individual.  Drumsticks striking each other offer the only support to the swaying violin at the start, while the orchestra enters in bursts.  Tart dissonances and surprising tunefulness combine with an infectious, throbbing, subtle rhythm to keep the listener involved.  As the piece unfolds a bit, one gets the sense that this is something of a pastiche, in a Stravinskian sort of way: rude blasts from the brass, a chaotic cacophony of percussion, and a Copland-on-narcotics string sound blend in a modern sonic cauldron.  And that’s just the first section of the opening movement.  The middle section is dominated by the violin, and the music takes on a brooding feel.  The third section offers something of a return to the first section, but it also sounds more like a “conventional” concerto in that the violin and orchestra have obviously contrasting parts.  The second movement is actually a Fantasy tacked on to the first movement, and it’s a fantasy on an old Shetland fiddle tune called, not surprisingly, Auld Swaara.  It’s a lament for a lost fisherman, and so it only makes sense that the music is slow, rich, and more than slightly mournful.  Strings dominate the proceedings, but winds peek through here and there, and then the soloist enters to play the main theme.  It’s definitely sad, and at times intense and vibrant, and to keep the mood appropriate, the movement is slower than most concerto closers.  Michelle Makarski was the dedicatee of the work, and she plays it extremely well here.

The disc closes with the (chamber) symphony, which is dedicated to the composer’s memory of his father (this distinction is italicized in the notes), and it is also something of a slow, mournful piece.  The work opens with an Andante con moto that kicks off with searing strings that quickly transition to a bright, biting, confused sound world.  It’s a subtly angry pavane.  (It’s a pavane per the composer; the subtle anger is my take.)  As the piece develops, percussion and winds dance in and out of the music, but once again the strings form the intense core.  (And can one detect hints of Berg?)  Next up is the Scherzo, and it jumps into being.  Bright, punchy, and “chunky,” it is indeed something of a twisted joke, and the music contains transfigured elements from the first movement.  Somehow it sounds a bit grotesque, in the most satisfying way.  The work closes with an Adagio sostenuto, and here the percussion starts things off, with the winds following shortly thereafter.  Not too long into it, the strings lurch into the sonic picture, and the music assumes a dark, mournful tone; it’s quite moving.  A little further in the strings sound searing once again, in a Mahler 10th sort of way.  (Hartke never apes anyone or anything, though; the influences are more discreet than that.)  As the work winds down there is an extended piano-horn duo that plays up the emotional content of the music before finally giving way to a resigned ending. 

Once again, I must report that I really dig the music Mr Hartke writes.  This time the music is more abstract than on the prior Naxos disc, but it seems even better constructed.  There are a lot of musical ideas packed into these conventionally timed works, but the ideas are not conventional.  Modern they may be, but they also respect the past, and most important of all, they are original.  I’m definitely going to be sampling more of this composer’s music.

As to the sound, well, it’s very good if perhaps a bit bright.  The conducting and playing offer nothing to quibble about.  The Riverside Symphony apparently relies on soloists from New York to fill its ranks, and New York obviously has a deep talent pool.  George Rothman does a fine job conducting, too.  A winner.


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Offline Todd

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Re: "New" Music Log
« Reply #89 on: November 25, 2008, 03:57:31 PM »



I’ve generally steered clear of “early” music in my exploration of the classical canon.  I start off with early baroque figures like Louis Couperin, and then rarely.  I’m familiar with some early music via the excellent syndicated radio series Millenium of Music, and while I find some interesting, until now I’d never dropped a dime on a CD.  But I was milling around a (most likely) soon-to-be toast Borders and a four CD set of John Dowland’s complete solo lute music caught my eye.  Four CDs of BIS engineered music on Brilliant Classics for a paltry $14 – how could I go wrong? 

Well, I couldn’t, and I didn’t.  The set contains 92 individual works, so I shan’t really delve into detail, but the overall impression the music made on me was hugely positive.  I don’t think I can say solo lute music is quite as compelling as solo piano music, but there’s enough variety and, especially, beautiful melodic content here to compel me to return to this set again and again.  A good number of the pieces are spritely dances or dance-like pieces full of charm.  Some are simple, short little trifles, as titles like Lady Hunsdon’s Puffe and Mrs White’s Nothing might imply.  But an even larger number of works are more serious, more introspective, and more melancholy, all while being supremely melodic.  Again, titles like Forlorn Hope Fancy or the better known Loth to depart give away the essence of the music.  It’s in these pieces that Dowland reveals his musical skill.  Many pieces don’t sound especially complex (of course I don’t play lute), but the music effectively conveys what words cannot.  It’s quite possible to simply plop on one of the CDs, press play, and then just let the whole disc run though while one savors every nugget.  And though Dowland’s music often possesses a certain Renaissance-y sound, there’s a timelessness to much if it.  The beautiful musical line of many pieces could be lifted whole and used by a folk or rock band today.  Indeed, I believe I’ve heard modern music inspired by A Musicall Banquet and Come Away before. 

This set originally coming from BIS, the sound quality is stupendously good.  The lute always comes across with wonderful clarity and, with the instruments using all gut strings, with amazing warmth and body.  One gets the sense of a lutenist sitting right between one’s speakers happily (or perhaps slightly morosely) plucking away.  Jakob Lindberg plays splendidly, and his three instruments all sound exquisite.  I do confess a preference for the all gut-stringed instruments, though the wire stringed instrument is necessary for some works.  For some reason this set reminded me of the distinctly dissimilar “jazz” disc Beyond the Missouri Sky by Charlie Haden and Pat Metheny; there’s a simplicity and unaffected directness to the music that cuts through labels and genres and time and just sounds comfortable and right.  It’s as though I’ve heard this music forever, and yet the joy of discovery remains.  A superb set – I may have to investigate more Dowland.



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Offline Todd

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Re: "New" Music Log
« Reply #90 on: November 28, 2008, 12:10:23 PM »



It’s been a while since I picked up the Danel Quartet’s excellent traversal of Ahmed Adnan Saygun’s string quartets, and it’s been years since I picked up the Koch recording of Saygun’s piano concertos, so I figured another dose of the Turk’s music was due.  CPO appears to be in the midst of releasing a good number of his works, so I opted for a mixed program disc – the Fourth Symphony combined with the Violin Concerto and an orchestral suite. 

The disc opens with the symphony, and in many respects it’s a conservative work for its time – 1976.  Hardly an avant-garde or even advanced fusion style work like, say, works from Ligeti or Rautavaara, it instead looks back to the inter-war era.  Saygun, as is his wont generally based on my listening, seems to mix in some “folk” influences, though not directly, and a traditional, fast-slow-fast overall structure.  The robust Deciso opening movement seems almost overstuffed at times.  Hordes of instruments blaring out, occasionally thick orchestration, vibrant and intense rhythmic drive, and grand scale all mix together effectively enough, and Saygun even allows for some lighter moments and some individual instruments to take center stage.  The Poco Largo is a melancholy movement, but again its orchestration at times is a bit thick, and the overall forward momentum never really lets up here, either.  (That’s a nice trick in slow movements.)  The concluding Con anima e molto deciso offers even more vibrant music than the opener, with blatting brass and more overtly eastern influences.  (And one simply cannot escape the influence of Bartok and other inter-war era composers.)  There’s much to enjoy here, but this does not enter the canon alongside Beethoven’s Fourth.  That written, it’s even better the second time around.

The Violin Concerto is next, and it, too, harks back in time from its 1967 provenance.  (Many people will find this a good thing, of course.)  Again using a moderately-fast-slow-fast approach, the piece opens with a large-scaled, long Moderato.  Flexible, inventive orchestration, and a generally lighter feel than with the symphony, makes this a smoother, gentler (though not gentle) work.  Brief dreaminess is brought on by some expertly deployed harps, and various instruments again come to the fore.  Most to the fore is the violin, of course, and Saygun offers something a bit unexpected.  Nary an overtly virtuosic flourish occurs; rather, the soloist plays more slowly, serving up some rich, thoughtful music, and near the last part of the movement, an extended, careful, searching cadenza of no little attractiveness.  The Adagio is an attractive but notably mournful movement, sort of an extended, rich dirge.  Not too thick and heavy, though some brass shows up, it is quite fine.  The concluding Allegro is brief, quicker, again rhythmically incisive, and massive.  It also possesses stereo-testing bass.  Not Gee-Whiz!, chest pounding bass, but bass drum filling the hall from the ground up and out type bass.  (Saygun also makes sure to offer some bass drum thwacks in the symphony.)  There’s a “chunky” feel to some of the music, but that’s quite alright with me.

The disc closes with brief, three movement suite.  This is unabashedly folk-music influenced, the composer’s Turkishness not subsumed by anything.  Yes, he blends these influences with Occidental devices, but the attractive thematic material is as distinctive as any I’ve heard.  The opening Meseli, in particular, offers a rhythmically arrhythmic (in a PVC sorta way) theme.  The slow second and faster, bolder third movement likewise tickles one’s ears with new, bold ideas.

I enjoyed this disc quite a bit, though I can’t really say that the two main works will enter the standard repertoire.  Enjoyable as they are, they aren’t quite inventive or catchy enough to become concert or recording mainstays.  That written, I do believe I need to investigate yet more music by Mr Saygun.  As to sound, well, it’s extremely good, though a minor, slightly glassy sheen is present in the loudest passages.  Ari Rasilainen and his Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz handle the music extremely well.  Of particular interest to me is the violinist Mirjam Tschopp.  She plays the concerto extremely well and possesses a rich, always attractive tone.  She never really gets to display her chops in a flashy sort of way, but I want to hear more from her. 


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Offline Todd

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Re: "New" Music Log
« Reply #91 on: December 02, 2008, 05:38:40 PM »



Joseph Canteloube was not a composer I was looking to explore.  But I noticed that one of my favorite singers, Véronique Gens, recorded a disc of his music for Naxos a few years back.  So I figured why not?  Canteloube is a “modern” composer in that he lived from 1879 to 1957, but the works for voice and orchestra presented in these excerpts from Chants d’Auvergne sound decidedly old-fashion.  All of the works are influenced by folk-music, but all are original.  Apparently, in the north of France, there were still a lot of stories about sheppards and, especially, sheppardesses early in the 20th Century, and there was a lot of focus on love songs (which I’d buy), as well as frequent use of words like la and lo. 

Okay, so the song texts aren’t necessarily Profound, but they don’t necessarily need to be.  And indeed, when one listens to the music, profundity would be out of place.  The music is generally light, bright, and clean, with delicious wind writing.  Indeed, the flute, oboe, and clarinet all get their chance to shine in different songs, and the overall orchestration is usually breezy and always beautiful.  Also always beautiful is Ms Gens’ singing.  Her command of French is absolute, of course, and she knows just how to deliver the words, whether strongly or with a tantalizing breathiness.  I just can’t get enough of her voice.  Jean-Claude Casadesus and the Orchestre National de Lille lend a satisfying Gallic touch to the music, and sound is good, but a bit brighter and glassier than Ms Gens gets from Virgin engineers.  A delightful disc.


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Online Brian

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Re: "New" Music Log
« Reply #92 on: December 02, 2008, 05:56:07 PM »
Be sure to check out CD 2 in Gens' series of Canteloube songs, which came out a couple of months ago. (Serge Baudo takes over conducting duties.)
I feel bad about not reading this thread more often - had a chance to buy the Dowland today but missed it.

Offline Bunny

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Re: "New" Music Log
« Reply #93 on: December 04, 2008, 06:31:01 PM »



Joseph Canteloube was not a composer I was looking to explore.  But I noticed that one of my favorite singers, Véronique Gens, recorded a disc of his music for Naxos a few years back.  So I figured why not?  Canteloube is a “modern” composer in that he lived from 1879 to 1957, but the works for voice and orchestra presented in these excerpts from Chants d’Auvergne sound decidedly old-fashion.  All of the works are influenced by folk-music, but all are original.  Apparently, in the north of France, there were still a lot of stories about sheppards and, especially, sheppardesses early in the 20th Century, and there was a lot of focus on love songs (which I’d buy), as well as frequent use of words like la and lo. 

Okay, so the song texts aren’t necessarily Profound, but they don’t necessarily need to be.  And indeed, when one listens to the music, profundity would be out of place.  The music is generally light, bright, and clean, with delicious wind writing.  Indeed, the flute, oboe, and clarinet all get their chance to shine in different songs, and the overall orchestration is usually breezy and always beautiful.  Also always beautiful is Ms Gens’ singing.  Her command of French is absolute, of course, and she knows just how to deliver the words, whether strongly or with a tantalizing breathiness.  I just can’t get enough of her voice.  Jean-Claude Casadesus and the Orchestre National de Lille lend a satisfying Gallic touch to the music, and sound is good, but a bit brighter and glassier than Ms Gens gets from Virgin engineers.  A delightful disc.




Did you know that Gens is a native of the Auvergne so the dialect flows so naturally when she sings; there are no awkward phrasings nor pronunciations. 

The only other recording of the songs that I turn to is by Netania Davrath, whose voice had the most wonderful quicksilver quality.  She worked very hard to master the pronunciations so that the singing would be as natural as possible, and I believe, succeeded very well.

Offline Todd

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Re: "New" Music Log
« Reply #94 on: December 06, 2008, 08:17:07 AM »



I’ve only tried a few works by Ernest Bloch to this point, and they’ve all been quite good.  So it was with high expectations that I bought this disc of his Violin Concerto coupled with Baal Shem and the Suite Hébraïque.  In many ways I enjoy this disc quite a bit, but something is also just a bit askew, if you will.

The disc opens with the concerto, from 1938, and there’s much to enjoy, but also some things that detract from enjoyment.  The opening Allegro deciso kicks off with music purportedly inspired by Native American music.  (Not being an ethnomusicologist, I cannot say for sure if that’s the case, but it sure sounds like it superficially.)  It’s really quite nice, but the music quickly transforms into an epic, music equivalent of Cinemascope®, with religious elements more obviously thrown in.  It blends the sacred and profane, in other words; sure, it’s serious and perhaps even devout, but it also has a movie soundtrack quality to it.  The violin writing is big, bold, and soaring, and the orchestral writing is very rich and colorful.  It rather reminds me of the music of Korngold, though it’s not quite as lyrical or catchy.  Bloch throws some “mystical” elements in, though those didn’t really work for me.  The Andante is more mystical yet!  The sound is certainly “exotic,” with perhaps hints of Scheherezade, or maybe something older tossed in.  The music is leisurely, relaxed, and beautiful.  It may even conjure images of lazing around in the Aegean sun.  A plain old Deciso closes the work, and it’s back to soundtrack territory, though pious overtones become more evident.  It manages to sound subdued yet immediately striking.  There are many fine elements to this concerto, but I’m not sure how well the whole thing jells.  It has something of an episodic quality, and it simply doesn’t sound as compelling as other, standard repertoire 20th Century concertos, or even some undeservedly lesser known concertos like Walter Piston’s 1st.

The next work, Baal Shem, from 1923, is more overtly religious in nature, and as such it seems a more purposeful, coherent work.  The three pieces are all strongly written.  Vidui is devout and very beautiful, especially the violin part.  It’s a powerful, very human prayer and lament.  Nigun is firm, more energetic, and almost ecstatic at times.  Simhat Torah is bright cheery, yet also very formal and respectful.  Taken together, the three pieces seem to fit extremely well.

The Suite Hébraïque, from 1952, again has more overt religious elements, but it also has more of that movie soundtrack quality to it, including some melodramatic sappiness in the final movement.  I find the version for piano and violin to be far more satisfying.  The larger forces here turn it into something too garish for my taste.

So I’m not exactly bowled over by this disc.  Zina Schiff violin playing and José Serebrier’s conducting and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra’s playing is all very good, but the music is not what I had hoped for.  I’ll give the disc a few more spins, but frankly I can see this one disappearing from my collection before too long. 


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Offline Todd

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Re: "New" Music Log
« Reply #95 on: December 12, 2008, 07:52:15 AM »



I rather enjoy Vincenzo Bellini’s opera Norma, but until now I’ve never tried anything else written by him.  I figured it was time to give another work a shot, so I settled on I Capuleti E I Montecchi, here in the recording conducted by Donald Runnicles from the late ‘90s.  I mean, come on, if ever a Shakespeare play screamed to be recast as an opera, Romeo and Juliet is it.  Except that this version isn’t the Shakespeare version.  There are a number of differences, though the same basic thrust of the story is the same, and of course both young lovers buy the farm at the end.

I’m not sure exactly what I expected, but perhaps after years of listening to Tristan, I wanted something extremely dramatic with a searing, emotional ending.  Well, I didn’t exactly get that.  The opera is in two acts, the first establishing the conflict of the two families and the complicated plot to marry the young heroine to the wrong dude.  The second act leads inexorably to their demise.  Should be pretty conflict ridden and intense, and so forth.  Well, the first act is kind of weak.  It’s got lots of choral singing, martial music, and remains reasonably clear.  What’s lacking, to my ears, is sufficient drama.  It is an early 19th Century, Italian opera, so it doesn’t quite pack the wallop of later, predominantly Germanic works, so it never achieves what later works achieve.  I can’t hold that against the work, but it just seems too crisp, too vigorous, too upbeat at times for me.  The second act, though, is good.  Here is a sort of prototype for what Wagner wrote, though without the harmonic daring, sweeping scale, or perfect orchestration.  (Also absent is the sometimes bloated text.)  The entire mood of the work darkens as the final tragedy approaches.  Bellini’s music seems to belong to a slightly later period, and it effectively communicates the action.

I can’t say that I’m particularly enamored with this work, at least as presented in this recording.  Oh, sure, Jennifer Larmore and Hei-Kyung Hong are fine in the leads, and the rest of the cast seems acceptable or better, and the orchestral playing is fine, and the sound is excellent.  This just never really clicked with me, even in the superior second act.  Maybe a better recording would bring the score to life better, but then again maybe not.  I’ll probably give this opera another go in the future, but not for a while. 


The universe is change; life is opinion. - Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

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Offline Todd

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Re: "New" Music Log
« Reply #96 on: December 14, 2008, 09:35:12 AM »



Recently, I’ve been slowly expanding my exposure to early Baroque music, and now even earlier eras, and in that vein I decided to finally try some music by Claudio Monteverdi.  I didn’t feel like an ancient opera, but an ancient liturgical work, well, that’s something different.  So I opted for his Vespro Della Beata Vergine from 1610.  This is apparently another of those works where a lot of academic questions exist.  How many voices should be in the choir – one per part, something more like a chamber choir, etc – and, more importantly, should all of the music be presented at once?  There is chant mixed in, a couple magnificats, and so on.  What all should be included in a performance, and in what order?  I can’t say because I don’t study any music academically, let alone four hundred year old music, but I can listen to what others have decided to do.  Since I’ve had uniformly positive experiences with Paul McCreesh’s recordings thus far, I decided to rely on his approach for my first outing.

Once again I’m very pleased with the results.  McCreesh uses a small, light ensemble, and single voices for the choral parts, and he seems to adopt relatively quick tempi a lot of the time, though I can’t make comparisons at the current time.  Whatever the merits or demerits of his approach, everything works well.  I’ve never been a big fan of chant, but the passages in this work come off quite well, don’t last especially long, and are part of the work and not the only aspect of it.  The choral singing is very attractive, as are the solo parts.  The light, discreet continuo parts supporting the singers are all attractively ascetic, and when multiple instruments and singers all join forces, the sound they generate and the effect they create are mesmerizing.  This work does sound somewhat like a hodge-podge, everything plus the kitchen sink type of work at times, but it always captivates.  “What’s next?” One wonders while listening.  Chant, organ, soloist with harpsichord continuo, some choral music – Monteverdi mixes things up constantly, and while obviously ancient music, the sounds one hears are surprisingly rich and varied.  It’s a big work, an ambitious work, and a beautiful work.

I have but one complaint about the recording: the sound.  The church used in the recording lends some authenticity to the proceedings, I suppose, but it also adds quite a bit of reverberation, which may or may not have been aided by the engineers.  There’s a great sense of depth in the recording, with some voices close and some far away, but clarity suffers.  On the plus side, when “large” forces play, the sound blends together fantastically, creating aural soundscapes I’ve not yet experienced.  I think I need to explore some more early Baroque (and earlier music). 





The universe is change; life is opinion. - Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

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Offline Todd

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Re: "New" Music Log
« Reply #97 on: December 19, 2008, 08:15:34 AM »



I figured it was about time that I took a listen to DG’s latest wunderkind conductor Gustavo Dudamel.  There are a few choices, but I decided to pass on his Beethoven and Mahler recordings and instead focus on works by, or inspired by, Latin American composers.  I did this not so much because I wanted to stereotype the conductor, but more because I have very serious doubts that a twenty-something conductor, however gifted, could possibly deliver readings of core rep that rivals, say, Bruno Walter or the Kleibers or, well, you get the idea.  That and the program on the Fiesta disc looked tempting: a host of short works by composers I’ve not even heard of for the most part. 

The disc opens with a work that I actually am familiar with, Sensemayá, by Silvestre Revueltas.  I’ll just note here that this is the best work on the disc and that Dudamel leads a very fine, colorful, and vibrant reading of this Latin Rite of Spring.  Esa-Pekka Salonen’s recording, due partly to how it was recorded, is more ominous and thunderous, but I’ll gladly welcome this newcomer.

Now to new works.  Inocente Carreńo’s Margariteña is next, and as played here it’s a vibrant, generally upbeat dance, with some nearly pensive parts and an almost tone poem feel.  Antonio Estévez’s Mediodia en el Llano is a musical evocation of Venezuela’s high plains.  It’s somewhat spare and brooding, and suitably arid in some parts, and mercurial in others.  It’s almost a neo-impressionist piece, if such a thing exists, and sort of has hints of Debussy in it.  Arturo Márquez’s Danzón no. 2 has a slow, rich opening, but then erupts into an intensely vibrant, bright dance.  Some almost obligatory introspective and sentimental music offers some contrast a few times, but this is, rightly, mostly about the dance.  Aldemaro Romero’s Fuga con Pajarillo is up next, and it combines dance and fugue with a modern sensibility to create an energetic, sunny, fun, but also formal and rigorous work.  It’s one of the best works on the disc.  It’s not quite as good as Alberto Ginastera’s dances from the ballet Estancia, though.  These four brief works are all crafted in a masterly fashion, and, along with the Revueltas work, just seem to represent a slightly higher level of composition than the others on the disc.  (A few more listens may very well add Romero’s work to this list.)  I’m familiar with other Ginastera works – piano concertos and string quartets – and as with them, his music just works for me.  Anyhoo, the dances are fast, intense, and vibrant; slow, lilting, laid-back and lovely; fast, fiery, and potent; and vivacious and fun, in that order.  The last new work for me is Evencio Castellanos’ Santa Cruz de Pacairigua, which blends “folk” elements and more elegant, formal music into a rich celebration.  Both musical approaches – signifying the common folk and the rich, apparently – eventually combine into a somewhat raucous, everyone-is-welcome shindig.  Some slower, more nostalgic music also makes itself known.  All of the works contain instrumentation and musical styles that are identifiably “Latin,” or at least not French or German, so the music on offer is potentially refreshing to ears accustomed to nothing but Old World writing.

(Oh, the disc closes with Bernstein’s Mambo.  It’s quite energetic, but I think Lenny does it better.)

The Simón Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela (whew, that’s a name) play extremely well – this is one well-drilled group of pampered, upper class Venezuelan kids – and DG engineers deliver some fine sonics.  Dudamel seems to know what he’s doing, so I look forward to hearing more from him.  I probably still won’t try his LvB or Mahler, but I’d like to hear him lead some other music.  Perhaps some Carter (doubtful) or, since next year is a Haydn year, some Papa Haydn.  Will the A&R folks at UMG see the synergy?  I hope so. 


The universe is change; life is opinion. - Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Everything dies - Alien Bounty Hunter, The X-Files

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Offline Todd

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Re: "New" Music Log
« Reply #98 on: December 27, 2008, 08:59:55 AM »



Sergey Tanayev isn’t a new composer for me.  I’d heard one work by him before – the Suite de concert for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 28 from the Oistrakh Edition a few months ago.  So this is something of a Tanayev year for me.  Anyway, this star-studded disc from DG, anchored by Mikhail Pletnev at the piano, seemed like a nice enough disc to sample.  After listening to the Suite and these two works, one word comes immediately to mind: Brahms.  The liner notes go to great lengths to point out how Tanayev isn’t merely a “Russian Brahms,” but that is in fact how the music often sounds.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Both the Piano Quintet and Piano Trio are cut from the same musical cloth.  The quintet is the bigger, longer work, and the opening Adagio mesto hints at all the music to come.  It’s grand in scale – it’s reminiscent of some Brahms chamber music if you will – and rich and luxuriant, and rigorous and formal, too.  The Scherzo is appropriately clever and fun, and displays some sparkling piano writing which Pletnev delivers quite nicely.  The grand Largo is powerful, and perhaps just a tad overly emotive (which is taste-dependent, of course), yet retains rigorous formality.  The Finale is somewhat predictable in that it is large, lush, romantic and rigorous.  If this all reads like faint praise, it isn’t meant to.  Much the same can be written about the trio, though here there’s a variation movement thrown in, and some of the playing sounds almost schmaltzy at times.

I really did enjoy this disc, though I can’t say that Tanayev emerges as quite the major figure the notes try to portray.  Between this and the Suite, I think it makes sense to slowly sample a few other works from this composer, though I’m not sure I’ll ever start buying multiple versions of his works.  Of course, doing so may point out even greater strengths in the music.  Sound is fine, and playing is generally very good, though one must wonder if chamber music specialists might make even more of these works.


The universe is change; life is opinion. - Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Everything dies - Alien Bounty Hunter, The X-Files

Everyone dies - William Barr, United States Attorney General

Bulldog

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Re: "New" Music Log
« Reply #99 on: December 27, 2008, 01:13:09 PM »



Sergey Tanayev isn’t a new composer for me.  I’d heard one work by him before – the Suite de concert for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 28 from the Oistrakh Edition a few months ago.  So this is something of a Tanayev year for me.  Anyway, this star-studded disc from DG, anchored by Mikhail Pletnev at the piano, seemed like a nice enough disc to sample.  After listening to the Suite and these two works, one word comes immediately to mind: Brahms.  The liner notes go to great lengths to point out how Tanayev isn’t merely a “Russian Brahms,” but that is in fact how the music often sounds.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Both the Piano Quintet and Piano Trio are cut from the same musical cloth.  The quintet is the bigger, longer work, and the opening Adagio mesto hints at all the music to come.  It’s grand in scale – it’s reminiscent of some Brahms chamber music if you will – and rich and luxuriant, and rigorous and formal, too.  The Scherzo is appropriately clever and fun, and displays some sparkling piano writing which Pletnev delivers quite nicely.  The grand Largo is powerful, and perhaps just a tad overly emotive (which is taste-dependent, of course), yet retains rigorous formality.  The Finale is somewhat predictable in that it is large, lush, romantic and rigorous.  If this all reads like faint praise, it isn’t meant to.  Much the same can be written about the trio, though here there’s a variation movement thrown in, and some of the playing sounds almost schmaltzy at times.



The performers are responsible for that "schmaltzy" playing.  I'm not a big fan of the Pletnev & All-Stars recording.