CPO diaries

Started by Brian, March 06, 2024, 01:07:52 PM

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The record label CPO has a catalog so vast, it sometimes seems to have built its own repertoire. You can work your way through the whole history of music with CPO - but a very different history from the conventional one, way down the side roads of music history.

I thought it would be fun to embark on a listening project of discovery through the CPO catalog, for four reasons. First, I've noticed in my mid-30s now that I'm getting a little more "set" in my listening ways and less interested in totally new material, so it is probably healthy to listen to some completely unfamiliar music. Second, CPO's repertoire contains some really nice music. Third, it also contains a lot of music that is...uh...perfectly suited to put on in the background while working, and only half-pay attention to. Fourth, I recently saw a CPO sale, looked at the new releases, and discovered I hadn't listened to a new CPO album for almost two full years. So much to discover!

Please feel free to fill this thread with CPO chat, discussion, recommendations, speculation, etc. Especially for composers who are not thoroughly discussed elsewhere (e.g. Atterberg).  :)


The story behind Natanael Berg's Symphony No. 4 is immediately appealing. He was friends with Kurt Atterberg, and they challenged each other to write a 20-minute symphony with a light-hearted mood, each of them to contain a tuba solo somewhere. (Apparently they did this because a critic had called them humorless.) Atterberg's result was also his Symphony No. 4. Both were pleased with each other's work, but Berg had to pay Atterberg a "fine" (the equivalent of 35 euros today, per the booklet) because his symphony was a little bit too long!

This symphony is mostly calm, tranquil, and intimate in scale. It's effortlessly pretty and old-fashioned, without being sentimental. The finale is the only exception, a celebration that builds to a big full-orchestra climax complete with cymbals and triangle. (The cue for the revelry to really kick into high gear is a very, very short tuba solo.) As light symphonic music goes, this is quite fun, and the playing is quite good except for one brief moment of exposed high trumpet. It is an interesting pairing with the Atterberg Fourth, which mostly presents its humor in "tempest in a teapot" form by going for a rather ridiculous, tongue-in-cheek Sturm und Drang. (Atterberg's finale ends with a really ridiculous bit of physical comedy, but I still love it.)

Berg's Fourth is also the opposite of his Fifth, his final symphony, written in the 1920s but sounding like if Schumann had written his symphonies after a trip to Wagner's Bayreuth. This is a very conservative idiom (even the Richard Strauss-like bits stick out as surprising) and also rather generically "tragic." Overall, I found this 40-minute-long work pleasant enough background music, but not very interesting or rewarding, and so conservative that I wonder what Atterberg would have thought.

Living with a former oboist has helped get me into romantic woodwind ensembles. There's more than just Dvorak! This trio of works by Joachim Raff, Gustav "Ogre" Schreck, and Salomon Jadassohn is full of sunny, congenial, outdoorsy music well-suited to the instruments. There's not a lot of intellectual depth or ambition to this disc. Just charming background fluff. The Jadassohn's first movement march does have a tune that borders on 20th century "marching band" music. (Think college fight songs.) The work as a whole is more chipper and outgoing than the other two. Not full-on Sousa, but not exactly Raff, either.

This is more of a vanity production than the usual CPO disc. Violinist Ewelina Nowicka arranged the orchestral version of two of these works and composed a third. The only canonical "original" is Symphony for Strings by Szymon Laks. Nowicka has reduced Laks' Poème for violin and full orchestra down to violin and string orchestra and seems to have helped arrange (the booklet is unclear) at least some of the parts for Weinberg's very early Three Pieces.

Those Three Pieces are elusive and haunted in tone, often obsessing repeatedly over only a handful of notes. It's the work of someone locked in a room late at night, afraid of who's going to knock on their door. But the interesting thing is that it's not very late Weinberg: it dates from when he was just 15 years old. Already his life experience had given him uncomfortable knowledge of the kind of bleakness he'd face for 50+ more years.

There is more hope in the Laks Poème, which also dates from the 1930s. Both this and Nowicka's own composition, Kaddish 1944, which follows it directly, are in a very similar style: episodic, sparsely scored, lyrical but mournful, with gentle allusions to Jewish traditional music. The Laks Symphony for Strings is in the kind of angular, chilly, neoclassical style that Bacewicz also used to write her music for string orchestra. I'd definitely recommend this disc if you like that or late Weinberg.

Archaic Torso of Apollo

I applaud the idea behind this thread. Two great things about CPO:

1. They have some of the coolest, most aesthetic cover art in the business.
2. They've done a great job making the work of obscure but deserving composers accessible (sort of like Naxos and BIS).

Anyway, a few notables:

Krenek: Symphony #2 - They did a whole series of his symphonies; this is a great one (I suspect it was the inspiration for DSCH #4)

Pettersson: Symphonies - Rather uneven and using something like 6 orchestras and 5 conductors, but I've enjoyed a few of them (especially the 10/11)

Sallinen: Symphony #8 etc. - Excellent contribution to their Sallinen cycle

Atterberg: Symphonies 3 & 6 - Again, a whole symphonic cycle, and this disc is a great one

Volkmann: String quartets - Years ago, forum guru Steve Molino said this was a great cycle, the quartets Brahms should have written, something like that. Maybe not that great, but they're worth hearing

Berg & Sibelius quartets (Lyric Suite, Voces Intimae) by the Oslo SQ - A rare example of CPO recording already famous composers, and a good way to get these two "name" quartets on one disc
formerly VELIMIR (before that, Spitvalve)

"Who knows not strict counterpoint, lives and dies an ignoramus" - CPE Bach


The Telemann and JC Bach series are great and extensive.

And off the top of my head here are a couple of one offs that I like:


Oh yeah how could I forget Weinberg's String Quartets performed by Danel??

And my favorite Haydn Op 50:


Richard Wetz's Requiem, Schnabel's chamber music and lieder. And echoing the Weinberg String Quartets, some Pettersson performances, plus the Krenek symphony cycle.


Endorse the Telemann and Atterberg series.
There's also the Röntgen series and loads of Onslow, Gade, and Wolf-Ferrari to enjoy.
(And that's just off the top of my head.)

Hollywood Beach Broadwalk


I've been very gradually picking up some of their complete symphonies boxes. In the last few years I've got those by Ernst Toch, Egon Wellesz, Kurt Atterberg and Isang Yun. I also have some of the Pettersson cycle.


I bought some years ago probably 70% of their catalogue, and made for this a special deal with them. So to many CD'S, to give recommendations, but with CPO you do not often err on the wrong side, most of their recordings are superb, and their choice to record many unknown composers is to be applauded.
Quote from Manuel, born in Spain, currently working at Fawlty Towers.

" I am from Barcelona, I know nothing.............."

Pat B

I like this album of Anton Steck playing Biber with one piece by Muffat. (I got it when I was learning the Chaconne, if anyone cares.) Steck's performance is musical, energetic, and sometimes dazzling. The Chaconne is abridged in this recording, not necessarily a bad thing, but I do miss a few of the omitted variations. AFAIK the only other recording is by Acronym on the Olde Focus label, which is complete and not quite as flashy, which may or may not be to your taste. Both are excellent in their own ways, along with their respective couplings.


These are good:

Anything conducted by Borowicz is generally worth a listen e.g. Bacewicz. :)


There is no theory. You have only to listen. Pleasure is the law. — Claude Debussy


Some gems not mentioned previously

There is no theory. You have only to listen. Pleasure is the law. — Claude Debussy


Watching - and probably listening - with interest. Nice thread, great listening project. Go big or go home, as they say :)
"A quiet secluded life in the country, with the possibility of being useful to people ... then work which one hopes may be of some use; then rest, nature, books, music, love for one's neighbour — such is my idea of happiness"



Quote from: foxandpeng on March 07, 2024, 06:41:27 AMWatching - and probably listening - with interest. Nice thread, great listening project. Go big or go home, as they say :)

Absolutely, I did go big on CPO, and got hem all home in 16 large boxes. ;D  ;D  ;D
Quote from Manuel, born in Spain, currently working at Fawlty Towers.

" I am from Barcelona, I know nothing.............."


Quote from: Harry on March 07, 2024, 06:47:16 AMAbsolutely, I did go big on CPO, and got hem all home in 16 large boxes. ;D  ;D  ;D
Here is another thread idea...what record label would cause each of our members to click the "buy one of everything" button!

Spotted Horses

Two recent discoveries on cpo have been the Hindemith string quartets and the Toch string quartets. Both superb!

There are simply two kinds of music, good music and the other kind. - Duke Ellington


Quote from: Brian on March 07, 2024, 06:59:08 AMHere is another thread idea...what record label would cause each of our members to click the "buy one of everything" button!

Okay I will come clean. ;D 
20 years ago I bought the complete Naxos catalogue, shortly afterwards about 40% of Hyperion, and around 50% of Chandos. I did more on less the same with the labels Claves, BIS, Audite, and a couple of others. I simply wanted to get all the CD'S, as quickly as possible. I still have a framed picture on which I was congratulated by the female owners on keeping a CD shop afloat just by my ordering. They manufactured sort of a Degree of most excellent customer. Every time I see that, I have to grin. When I met one of the owners, many years later, her partner died unfortunately, she looked at me with a big smile, and said, ohhh or most esteemed customer. ;D  ;D  ;D
Quote from Manuel, born in Spain, currently working at Fawlty Towers.

" I am from Barcelona, I know nothing.............."


Quote from: Brian on March 07, 2024, 06:59:08 AMHere is another thread idea...what record label would cause each of our members to click the "buy one of everything" button!

Hmm... Éditions de l'Oiseau-Lyre and Pentatone, perhaps. I can't think of any other label with " one of each " attractiveness.
Mit Flügeln, die ich mir errungen...


So much discussion already! This is excellent  :)  it also speaks volumes about the diversity of the CPO discography. I was inspired to start this chat over the weekend, when I listened to the album of Röntgen cello concertos and was flipping through some other CPO albums in my collection (like the Krommer symphonies and Haydn-influenced music by Westerhoff). Also wholeheartedly agree with the comment that their cover art aesthetic - almost totally unchanged for 20 years - remains one of the cleanest and most attractive in the business.


Today's dose:

This is NOT the Walter Kaufmann who became a philosophy professor in the United States and translated an authoritative edition of Nietzsche. This Walter Kaufmann was also a German Jew who was forced to flee the Nazis - but this one sold the rights to one of his early operettas and used the cash to flee to...India! He became a musicology professor in India, wrote some of the earliest Bollywood movie scores, and was music director for All India Radio. Kaufmann spent 12 years in India, then tried to return to Europe but failed, instead assuming the conducting job at the Winnipeg Symphony. (Where's Ray??) After 10 years there, he moved on to Indiana University, becoming an American citizen and living there until his death at age 77.

Two of Kaufmann's symphonies date from his European days, three (!) from his time in India, and the last from his years in Bloomington. This disc contains Symphony No. 3 and "An Indian Symphony," plus a suite, Six Indian Miniatures, and a piano concerto written for Canadian audiences (expanded from a smaller work he'd written years before).

This disc is totally intoxicating. It's 70 minutes perfectly calculated to make me happy. For one thing, there is the Indian influence, which does not come through as Westernized cliches. It doesn't sound like Rimsky-Korsakov "Song of India" type stuff. It also (as the booklet points out) does not surrender itself wholly over to the folk style, as later pioneers like Lou Harrison might do. Instead, Kaufmann incorporates local scales, melodies, and repetitive raga-like cells without ever resorting to cliche or obvious instrumental effects. An Indian Symphony is 15 short minutes and pursues its title trait rather subtly. The Six Indian Miniatures are more obviously and strongly influenced, but you can also compare them to orchestral pieces like Janacek's Lachian Dances or the various Bartok dance suites. These are hits.

Piano Concerto No. 3 - featuring CPO's house superstar Elisaveta Blumina - is a more trans-Atlantic operation with hints of jazziness, neoclassicism that sounds like the light side of Hindemith, and some piquant Czech-sounding woodwind melodies. (There's a clarinet bit in the first movement around 4' and 5' that will remind you that Kaufmann wrote his thesis on Mahler. He withdrew the thesis from university when the music school's dean joined the Nazi Party.) The concerto takes a common 20th century form: two short, fast, lively, fun outer movements surrounding a long slow movement of great emotional depth. Here the slow movement's form appears to be searching, questing - it gives the mood of someone who does not know how to get home. The piano sometimes is used as a percussive instrument or a tolling bell, then is left alone without orchestral support, then goes back to tolling-bell stuff again. After a fade out to silence, the finale's jovial, almost carol-like tunefulness comes as a shock. Certainly, anybody who likes the highly contrasted, neoclassical, and folk-colored CPO discs dedicated to Boris Papandopulo should listen to this.

Symphony No. 3 starts out with a series of motives that suggest Kaufmann's influences: a four-note motto familiar from 1700s classical music (it sounds like the beginning of a Haydn symphony), followed by Indian-type repeated phrases that dissolve into a trance. The booklet suggests a third motive is reminiscent of Hindemith. Kaufmann works these out carefully, if a bit colorlessly at times. The first movement's ending and the second movement's constant exotic color (at 5' the bass line reminds me of Stravinsky) are definitely memorable. But to my surprise given the rather stern tenor of the first half of the symphony, the finale gives into some of the "exotic" cliche melodies and effects that Kaufmann so carefully avoided in the Indian Symphony and Miniatures. (Wind solo doubled on piccolo, triangle, etc.) This is the weakest movement on a very, very, VERY interesting CD.

If 1 out of every 10 new CPO CDs delights me as much as this one does, I'll keep doing this survey forever!  :) By the way, the booklet notes are truly excellent, and include an essay from the conductor, who seems to promise that this will be a series of Kaufmann's complete orchestral music. The only other recording of this music is a chamber album on Chandos, which the notes praise highly.

Pat B

Quote from: Brian on March 07, 2024, 06:59:08 AMHere is another thread idea...what record label would cause each of our members to click the "buy one of everything" button!
If money and time are no object, probably either Harmonia Mundi or BIS.

Within hearing distance of sanity: Globe.

One I actually have (via big box): Seon.