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"New" Music Log

Discussion in 'classical' started by Todd A, Dec 27, 2008.

  1. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

    Morales


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    Until recently I’ve resisted the pull of early music, and in particular a cappella music, since my occasional exposure to it was usually, though not always, less than satisfying. (Of course there are more modern a cappella works, but I tend to associate the form with pre-Baroque works.) Well, last year I sampled a compelling modern a cappella work, and I decided to try something new, or rather something really old. I settled on a new disc of music by Cristóbal de Morales, a composer entirely new to me. This disc offers one of those ear-opening experiences that come along all too infrequently. The last time I stumbled across something similar is when I heard Wozzeck for the first time, and that launched me into a journey of the world of opera that has not yet ended.

    The works on this disc are unfailingly wonderful. The first thing I noticed was the sheer aural beauty of all of the works. All are “small,” in that only a few voices are used, but the sound is ravishing and the music at times spellbinding. All of the singers display what sounds to my ears like mastery of their parts. The individual melodies that one can pick out are all lovely and captivating, and the mastery of polyphony Morales displays is remarkable. I enjoy all of the works on the disc, with the Magnificat and Motets all perfectly scaled, but for some unexplainable reason, it is the three Lamentations that most capture my fancy. They are, in a word, glorious.

    I know essentially nothing about Renaissance music, and have heard very little of it, so perhaps this disc of Morales’ music is a fluke. (Given that I like Dowland as well, I don’t believe that to be the case.) Perhaps I wouldn’t like other music by him, or by other early composers, and maybe this is really the exception in terms of a cappella works. I know I’ll be finding out if that is the case going forward.

    SOTA sound.
     
  2. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

    Bingen


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    I decided to take my current exploration of early music as far back as I plan on going, right to Hildegard von Bingen. Medieval music is quite old enough for me, almost assuredly, as I have no real interest in listening to how people think the Romans may have listened to music. I’ve been aware of Bingen for years of course, but the thought of near-millennium old music didn’t get my blood racing. But my recent positive experiences with Dowland and Morales led me to take the plunge. I’m glad I did.

    The first thing I noticed about the music, particularly on the tracks where women sing, is the beauty of the music. It is somewhat delicate and light, with beautiful and seemingly simple melodies, and the use of only four voices brings a temptingly spare, comforting feel to the music. The female voices nearly float in the acoustic they were recorded in, and the soaring high parts, well, they soar. But not too high. The works performed by male singers fare quite well also, but the music seems better suited to female voices. (Not being an academic, I can’t say whether Bingen intended these to only ever be performed by fellow nuns or not, and frankly I don’t care.) Compared to the more advanced works by Morales, these pieces just don’t seem as compelling. Over 74 minutes of unison chant doesn’t offer the same excitement of the advanced polyphony on the Morales disc, and the melodies aren’t quite as striking. Bingen also seems to have suffered from an early, mild case of Wagneritis, in that her texts are long and rambling and indulgent. I can live with that.

    Jeremy Summerly and his Oxford Camerata do a quite fine job, at least to these ears, of bringing the music to life. Sound is very good, though here the Morales disc also wins. Still, a most enlightening purchase.
     
  3. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

    Buxtehude


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    Dietrich Buxtehude is another early baroque stalwart I hadn’t yet sampled. I suppose I should have tried (and should try) his organ music, but organ music ain’t my thing, so I opted for some chamber music, namely the seven opus 1 sonatas. As played here they appear to be a precursor to the modern piano trio, with a violin, cello, and harpsichord. Apparently there are divergent performance traditions, and the music can be played with a pair of violins instead, but I think for my purposes the current line up is sufficient.

    The music is nicely varied. There are plenty of nods to dance music, but there’s also more. There’s occasional fugal writing, and some music that practically seems to beg for improvisation, or at least colorful embellishment. There’s a sense of somewhat muted joy at times on this disc; the playing is generally lively, but it’s also quite proper. No one seems to really push any boundaries. That’s more an observation than a criticism, but one must wonder if a more vigorous approach would do these works some good. There’s also quite a bit of polish to the playing. Would a rougher approach make the works even better? Well, these works are quite fine, so it may be worth investigating alternative takes in the future, though I think I’ll absorb these performances a few more times before trying.

    The ensemble Convivium plays quite nicely, with the few “too good” reservations I mentioned, and the sound is generally quite good, with all three instruments generously represented – nothing sounds recessed here.
     
  4. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

    York Bowen


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    I believe I’ve seen York Bowen’s name mentioned a time or two in reviews or articles, and what not, but until now I’d never taken the time to listen to his music. Why I’m not sure; he was born in 1884 and there are quite a few great or at least extraordinary composers born within a matter of years either way of that particular one. So when I came across this two-disc set of works for viola and piano I figured I might enjoy what was captured on those little plastic and aluminum discs and took the plunge. What a delightful treat!

    The set opens with the first of two Viola Sonatas, written when Mr Bowen was a lad of 20. It’s a vibrant, energetic, and often just fun piece. It also displays a rich, romantic feel, aided no doubt by the rich sound of the viola. It’s conventional in form, but that doesn’t mean it ain’t fun to listen to. A short Romance in D Flat follows, and it’s quite similar. Next up is a sort of string quartet, though this one is a short Fantasia four violas! I was expecting a monotonous sound, but that’s not what composer and players deliver. The versatility of the instrument is brought out, with rich lower registers supporting some higher than often heard writing for the viola. The next work is a forgettable and somewhat lamentable retake of the slow movement of Beethoven’s Pathetique with viola obbligato. Next. The Phantasy in F Major closes the first disc, and this returns to the same sound world and approach of the first two works, though it’s generally slower and more languid. The second disc opens with the second Viola Sonata, and it is stylistically similar to the first, though if anything it’s even happier and brighter. Heck, it’s just plain old good fun. The next four works all offer much the same style of music, either plucky and fun (in the Allegro de Concert) or a bit more languid and overtly “romantic” (the Romance and two Melodies). Only the concluding Rhapsody in G minor from the late date of 1955 offers something a bit mote challenging, dense, and complex, though it never quite sheds the earlier traits. All told, with the exception of the LvB work, all of the pieces work very well.

    Sound is absolutely top-flight, and all artists involved acquit themselves most expertly. Lawrence Power is a heck of a violist, and Simon Crawford-Philips is a fine accompanist. Indeed, his playing shows that the accompaniment isn’t meant to be pushed to the background and that Bowen was a creative and intriguing author for 88 keys. A superb set.
     
  5. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

    Wuorinen


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    Thus far in my listening I’ve only made time for one work by Charles Wuorinen, and that was when I was fortunate enough to attend the world premiere of his Fourth String Quartet years ago. I enjoyed it and decided I should listen to more of his music, but I just never got around to it. Now I have, and I must say I waited a bit too long.

    This outstanding disc opens with a single movement string sextet that sounds unequivocally “modern,” no doubt unpleasantly so to some, but at the same time it is really rather accessible. Harsh dissonance and jagged rhythmic changes are kept somewhat at bay, and a smooth, appealing, at times attractive, almost traditional sound emerges. I mean this in relative terms; this is modern music, but one can almost hear the tradition of pre-war composers shining through. This isn’t radicalism for the sake of radicalism. It’s almost contemporary Brahms. Anyway the music unfolds nicely, is tightly constructed, and has interesting musical ideas popping out throughout, with some exciting, vigorous, rhythmically catchy portions.

    The Second String Quartet is similar in most ways, though it’s in four movements, labeled movements 1-4, and displays the same traditionally modern sound. The opening movement alternates between fast and slow, and has a nifty ticking sound at the start, and some infectious, vibrant, slashing playing throughout. The second movement is somewhat deceptive. It starts slow, much of the movement is quiet, with tasty tremolos and plucky pizzacatti, but it also continuously evolves. The third movement is more vigorous, and deliciously dissonant. The final movement starts slow but quickly evolves into a more striking, intense, satisfying conclusion.

    Next is the single movement Divertimento for string quartet, and it’s apparently the same music as Wourinen wrote for piano and saxophone. The overall tone and feel of the work is light and fun – a heavy divertimento would seem a bit unusual – but the music is nicely tense and propulsive.

    The disc ends with a Piano Quintet that sounds like a standard “modern” work, by which I mean it displays much of the difficult, knotty goodness of, say, some of Schoenberg’s works. It’s less accessible, perhaps, but it’s no less satisfying. There are some standard elements. The long second movement is the slow movement, and it offers a sonic and (perhaps also) an emotional element not present in the other movements. This first, by contrast, is a somewhat standard, nicely driven opener, the third movement is an intermezzo, and the fourth movement is swift, rapidly changing, and vigorous, with audience-pleasing elements.

    This is extraordinarily fine CD. I enjoy every work on the disc completely and have already played it a couple times and plan on doing so a couple more times in the next couple days. Charles Wuorinen writes some mighty fine music. I really need to investigate his output a bit more.

    Sound is excellent, and all of the players are far more than up to the challenge.
     
  6. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

    Alwyn


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    It’s been years since last I bought a disc of music by William Alwyn, so I decided to try his string quartets, a medium I often find composers give their best effort to. Perhaps that’s the case with Alwyn, perhaps not, but one thing’s for sure, this is a nice disc.

    The disc opens with the First String Quartet naturally enough, and it at once seems an anachronism. It was written in the 1950s but it sounds more like a work written a half-century to three-quarters of century earlier. It’s decidedly “romantic,” and it’s lush at times. It also sounds more than faintly Czech, though nowhere near as much as Bax’s First Quartet. There’s a bit more to it. Some of the music is perhaps a bit more acidic than works from the time frame it alludes to, and the more than occasional peppiness keeps one listening closely, as does the overtly old-fashion slow movement.

    The Second Quartet, subtitled Spring Waters, is from the mid-70s, and while it sounds much more modern, it’s still behind the times. That’s quite alright. More astringent, more challenging, it still sounds attractive, as though Alwyn didn’t want to write ugly music. The first movement is constantly changing with some nifty rhythmic changes; the second movement, a scherzo, sounds somewhat like a lighter and less serious Bartok; and the final movement is mostly slow, brooding, and serious. Not having read Turgenev’s novel of the same name, I can’t say that Spring Waters evokes any imagery from the book or even is supposed to.

    Next is the Third Quartet from 1984, and it’s both “modern” and “romantic” at the same time. In its two movements it manages to blend gentleness and contemplation, frisky dances, intensity, abstract harshness, and syrupy sentimentality into a cohesive whole. It seems somewhat personal, if you will, or at least more so than the prior two works, and it’s the most compelling work on the disc. The disc closes with a Novellette that’s fun and brisk and offers a nice contrast to the final string quartet.

    The Maggini play well, as always, and the sound is excellent. I don’t think I can say these are among the great string quartets of the last century, but they are very good and will receive future spins.
     
  7. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

    Morales [again]


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    I so enjoyed my first disc of Morales’ music that I decided to try another post-haste. Whilst browsing the local classical specialist I came upon this disc, with the Requiem a 5, or Missa Pro Defunctis, along with some shorter motets on the Spanish label Cantus. In short, it’s another stunner.

    The Requiem is the main work, and what a glorious one it is! Once again the melodies are stupefyingly gorgeous, and the polyphony beyond masterful. The entire work unfolds in a most, well, natural way. Everything fits perfectly, and nary an ugly sound or misplaced note can be heard. The liner notes state that the work evokes terror. I don’t really hear that, but mixed in with the astounding beauty is profound sorrow and solemnity. Is this not what a requiem should be? This work does have five voices, allowing for even more interesting interactions than on the Hyperion disc, and the soprano generally leads the melodies. In addition, there is an organ accompaniment. It’s quite effective; sometimes voices and instrument blend together in perfect harmony and produce a larger, more beautiful sound. The three, multi-part motets all occupy a similar sound-world and all depend to an extent on the organ. I’d say the Requiem is my favorite work on this disc, and probably my favorite work so far from the composer, but all of the works are simply marvelous.

    Sound and performance standards are extremely high. I’d probably give a slight edge in both instances to the Hyperion recording, but make no mistake, Raúl Mallavibarrena and the Musica Ficta do exceptionally well. I’ll definitely have to explore more music by Morales, and given my prior antipathy regarding these types of works, that’s quite something.
     
  8. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

    Rorem

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    Missing Ravel piano concerto discovered! That’s what I thought a few times while listening to Ned Rorem’s Second Piano Concerto from 1951. It’s a decidedly “French” sounding work, with a light, clear, at times almost delicate sound and feel. The work never becomes heavy or opaque, which allows some rather nifty wind writing to show up, and the piano writing is often dazzling and fun. The long opening movement seems like a concerto in itself, with some fast, vibrant sections and slow, (almost) contemplative ones. I guess that makes sense given that the movement is labeled “Somber and Steady.” I’ll leave it to the reader to guess what the second movement, labeled “Quiet and Sad” sounds like, but that Gallic flair is still there. Ditto the concluding “Real Fast!” movement. Okay, maybe I was too hard on Rorem for ripping off Ravel; it also sounds like he knew his Poulenc, too. But he also knows how to write some attractive, fun, creative orchestral music, even if it ain’t the Deepest Music Ever Written.

    The second work on the disc is his much more recent Cello Concerto, from 2002. This work strikes me as altogether more substantive and serious, but not a whole lot “heavier.” (This is definitely not DSCH’s third cello concerto.) It’s also more unabashedly “modern.” One thing I enjoy about Rorem is his ability to write nearly harsh, dissonant music that still sounds attractive, and this works offers up some of that. There’s also a sparser overall feel, using less to somehow evoke more. The work is more probing, more intense, yet it’s also a bit subtler. Rorem’s influences are also a bit less obvious – perhaps a bit of Liszt, maybe some Prokofiev, and almost certainly some Messiaen – and his writing more sophisticated. The multiple, brief movements also keeps the piece moving right along, not dwelling on anything. I really enjoy this work.

    As with much Rorem, I find much to admire. Perhaps these works aren’t the greatest in their respective genres, but they are by no means lightweight works, the Cello Concerto especially. The disc reminds me why I like to pick up a Rorem disc every now and again: he writes really good music. As to performers, Simon Mulligan does a fine job tickling the ivories and Wen-Sinn Yang does an excellent job on the ‘cello. José Serebrier and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra do some fine work as well. Superb sound rounds out an excellent disc.
     
  9. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

    Saygun symphonies


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    Having enjoyed all of the recordings of music by Ahmed Adnan Saygun, I figured I could go for another one, and I settled on a CPO disc devoted to his Third and Fifth Symphonies. It’s another winner.

    The disc opens with the Third, and it’s got all manner of Saygunian goodness in it. There’s the “exotic” writing, with novel orchestration creating ear-tickling effects. There’s an astringent, muscular sound to much of the music – no wimpy symphony this. There’s an affinity for low strings that regularly crops up. There are brilliant fanfares. There are attractive melodies intermingled with knottier fare. One can hear folk influences, but this ain’t no paean to folk music. There is some ever so slightly eerie quiet music; some cool, manly marches; some nice little parts for bassoon. It’s Big, it has a nice 38 minute length. It sounds swell.

    So does the Fifth. The work is both quite similar and quite a bit different. It occupies a similar overall soundworld as the Third, with comparatively exotic music and novel orchestration, but it is also more refined, less folk-inspired, and more ethereal. The work unfolds in an almost Sibelius-like way, and it’s sparser and more austere much of the time. It’s more “abstract,” as well, not that the Third can be described as a programmatic piece. It just seems more accomplished and more assured overall. And it’s better than the Third, too.

    Ari Rasilainen does an excellent job directing, and the Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz do an equally excellent job playing. Excellent sound, too.
     
  10. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

    Guerrero


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    I had a hankerin’ for some more Early Music, and given my success with Morales, I figured I might want to try another 16th Century Spanish polyphony master, so I turned to one of Morales’ students, Francisco Guerrero. Again, I knew nothing of the composer or his music going in (and barely more than nothing now), but once again I have to rate my exploration a success, if not quite as much a success as my forays into the music of Morales.

    At the core of the this disc is the Missa Super flumina Babylonis. It’s a large scale work, relatively speaking, and comprises all of the main elements of a mass – the Kyrie, Gloria, et al. Also thrown in are brief Aleluya and Ofrenda movements. Much like the works of Morales, beautiful melodies and masterful polyphony permeate the music, as does some masterful antiphony. The Aleluya and Ofrenda are plainchant interludes. Also thrown in is some fine music making by sagbutt and cornett players. Everything is very good, but I just never got as caught up in the music as I did (and do) with the works of Morales. The older Spaniard’s melodies are just more beautiful, his polyphony more bewitching. It’s just that simple, at least for me. Others may feel differently.

    The disc also contains other works, including a couple of nice, brief instrumental pieces performed by the sagbuttists and cornettists (?), and some more substantial pieces. The opening Ave virgo sanctissima is superb, for instance, and the moderately large-scaled In exitu Israel is also quite captivating.

    Given the nature of the works, two different choral ensembles were used for the different works, the British Ensemble Plus Ultra taking the mass and some other works, the Spanish Schola Antiqua taking some of the smaller works. Both perform admirably, if not quite to the same standards as the Brabant Ensemble on the Hyperion Morales disc. His Majesty’s Sagbutts and Cornetts play well enough, as well, but are there better ensembles out there? I don’t know. Michael Noone seems to have a firm grasp of the music and conducts well, and the sound is excellent.
     
  11. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

    Biber


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    Time to move forward in time a little, but not really too much. I’ve long enjoyed Heinrich Ignaz Biber’s Rosary Sonatas, so I though I ought to try something a bit bigger. I settled on his Missa Christ resurgentis in a recording by Andrew Manze and the English Concert and The Choir of the English Concert. What a splendid disc!

    The disc opens with a brief, snazzy, well played fanfare before moving into the mass itself. And the mass itself is really rather spiffy. Biber, or Manze and his band, or both, inject a rhythmic life into the music. It’s not like the music is jazzy, but it moves forward with inexorable drive, and I swear it sounds groovy at times. It’s also superbly orchestrated, with crisp cornets and trumpets cutting through ensemble from time to time, and sweet strings. The standard texts come to life as well. So far, so good, but then some additional instrumental music is thrown in, in the form of some sonatas, as well as one sonata attributed to Johann Heinrich Schmelzer. Why this was done, I don’t know, but it blends in nicely enough. To wrap up the work another snazzy fanfare is played. The cumulative effect of the mass is to perk the listener up – or this listener at any rate.

    Once the main work is done, the disc moves on to instrumental works, particularly four sonatas from Fidicinium sacro-profanum. These works not too surprisingly display many of the same traits as the instrumental pieces used within the mass, which means they are quite fine.

    Manze and his band play splendidly, and the chorus certainly sings well enough. No complaints about sound quality, either. A superb disc.
     
  12. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

    Morales yet again


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    So far I’ve tried two Morales discs, and so far I’ve had two big successes. This one makes it three for three. This is simply a marvel of a disc. The disc opens with a smaller but still substantial work by Morales, and ends with a short work by Alonso Lobo, but the core of the disc is the great Missa pro Defunctis, written for the funeral of Philip II. It’s just under an hour long as presented here, and is austere, serious, profoundly solemn and breathtakingly gorgeous. By ‘breathtakingly gorgeous’ I mean that this listener found himself breathing a bit shallower than normal so as not to sully the wonderful sounds falling on my ears. Gone is the almost dazzling, in a Renaissance sorta way, polyphony of the earlier Morales pieces, but in it’s place is something perhaps even better. Here is a blend of voices and sole instrument to create an otherworldly, dare I write heavenly, masterpiece. It’s the cumulative effect that matters. Throw in a truly marvelous setting of the ancient plainchant Dies irae (think the tune from Liszt’s Totentanz), and one can easily be transported to a different, better world. The work is, I believe, written for five voices and bajón, but it appears from the notes that eleven different singers are used during the mass. Perhaps they are alternated, but whatever the case, the spacious venue adds a certain heft to the singing, and the emphasis on lower voices adds a richness and seriousness that can never be accomplished with higher voices. The bajón accompaniment is discreet and effective.

    The opening Officium defunctorum: Invitatorium is another masterful work, more in line with some earlier Morales works, and the closing piece by Mr Lobo is quite fine as well.

    Sound is spacious, allowing for superb blending of voices, and suits the music perfectly.

    A great disc.
     
  13. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

    Palestrina


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    Exploring the Renaissance a bit more, I figured I should listen to Giovanni Pierluigi de Palestrina. I’ve read about him, of course, and seen reference to his works, and I even worked my way through Hans Pfitzner’s deadly dull opera Palestrina, but I’d never tried his music. Perhaps waiting was needed for me, I don’t know, but the music is worth the wait. This is music on pat with Morales, and no doubt many might say it is better than Morales. (They’d be wrong, but you get the idea.)

    In many ways, all the praise I’ve heaped upon the works of Morales applies here. The polyphony is masterful, the melodies gorgeous, the harmonies enthralling. But there are critical differences. Whereas Morales strikes me as more adventurous in some of his works, Palestrina strikes me as more conservative and concerned with mastery of existing forms. His works are also even clearer, and often lighter than the works of the Spanish master. Too, they sound even more devout, more spiritual, if that’s possible. They also have a more soothing effect, at least for me. All of the works in this two-disc set are wonderful, but special mention must be made of the Missa Papae Marcelli, which is a work of such quality that it surely ranks alongside the greatest liturgical works ever written.

    The Tallis Scholars sing splendidly, and sound is generally very good, though there is a slight digital glare at times in some of the recordings. More great stuff.
     
  14. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

    Even more Morales


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    Continuing on with yet more Cristóbal de Morales finds the first disc that if it doesn’t exactly disappoint, then it surely doesn’t live up to high expectations. But I think I know why. It’s not the music. The collection of works on the disc – five motets and the Missa Queramus cum pastoribus by Morales, and the brief Queramus cum pastoribus by Jean Mouton – are all quite nice, and all of those traits that I of Morales’ music that I so enjoy are still there: the beautiful melodies, the striking harmonies, the brilliant polyphony. It’s the performance. Two things stand out. First, the music is never taken too fast, yet it all seems to be pushed forward a bit too much. It doesn’t sound as controlled and smooth and relaxed as the other discs I’ve tried. This is because, second, the singers, as a whole, don’t sound quite as good as the singers I’ve heard thus far. They’re not bad, but compared to the Brabant Ensemble or Gabrieli Consort, they don’t have the degree of refinement and tonal grace I prefer. A somewhat glassy and hard recorded sound doesn’t help things, either. I’ll listen again, no doubt, but I need to look elsewhere for my ultimate Morales fix.
     
  15. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

    de Lassus


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    Continuining on with more Renaissance music, I decided to move north a bit and try some Orlande de Lassus. (Though not the recording recommended earlier in this thread.) Philippe Herreweghe has recorded enough music by Lassus to seem a safe bet, and so I grabbed his latest offering, the Cationes Sacrae for six voices. The recording is both spectacular and a bit disappointing. Let me ‘splain.

    To the spectacular parts: the sound is as close to perfect as can be imagined. Voices are ideally clear and still blend beautifully. If only all recordings could sound as good. The quality of the singing is also quite extraordinary. Collegium Vocale is an exceedingly talented ensemble, no doubt of that.

    But these two positives can’t make up for music that, while incredibly beautiful much of the time, isn’t quite as good as what I’ve heard from Palestrina and, especially, Morales. The fourteen works are mostly sacred, though the opener is not, and the polyphony is nearly as masterful as Morales’, and the melodies as beautiful as anything either Morales or Palestrina conjured. For reasons I just can’t explain adequately, it just doesn’t hit the spot. I will definitely give this disc several more listens on top of the ones it has already received, and I most certainly will explore more Lassus, but this disc just didn’t wow me.
     
  16. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

    Sandström & Lidholm


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    After listening to so much ancient liturgical music, it seemed time to move forward in time a bit. I decided to move all the way to the present – well, the early 90s at any rate – and sample Sven-David Sandström’s High Mass, with Herbert Blomstedt conducting the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. The work is a large scale, nearly 90 minute long work, with vocal parts for three sopranos and two mezzo sopranos, in addition to a massive chorus, orchestra and organ.

    Sandström’s work offers quite a contrast to the works I’ve been listening to. Gone is the beautiful polyphony, and in its place is a hardened, modern sensibility, though one informed by Romantic impulses. The Kyrie eleison erupts violently, with piercing percussion, and a foreboding and ominous feel, only to be followed by a calmer, dreamier Christe eleison where the ladies come to the fore. But that darkness never fully dissipates. In stark contrast, the long Gloria is ecstatic and celebratory in a Messiaen-meets-Glass sort of way. I wouldn’t have though I’d like such a mixture, but it ain’t half bad. The Credo, while maintaining its modernity, also infuses a bit more traditional beauty and solemnity into the mix. The Sanctus, with its bright opening fanfare, and jubilant chorus, is more in the celebratory vein. The Agnus Dei is solemn and devoutly respectful and possessed of not a little beauty. These summaries of course offer only the briefest description of what the work is like, but it seems that there is more life in the old mass, even after all these years. That written, I cannot say that this compares to, oh, say, Bach’s towering masterpiece, or to Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, or to the best of the ancient music I’ve been listening to lately.

    But that’s not the only work in this two-disc set. Ingvar Lidholm’s brief Kontakion is also included. Apparently inspired by an ancient Orthodox rite, and written for performance in the Soviet Union in the late 70s, the work opens with a screechy, decidedly “modern” sound before gradually and gently moving to a slower, sometimes quieter, and occasionally prettier sound world, though astringent strings are never far away. Delius this not, though; it could be tough going for those not enamored of post-war music. The work is a bit harder to get into, and while inspired by events of the day, is a bit more abstract. Overall, it’s quite good, but another half dozen listens are needed to really get into the piece.

    Blomstedt does a superb job leading the forces involved in these live recordings, and the forces themselves do a more than commendable job. Sound is excellent, though not the best that modern recording techniques can produce.
     
  17. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

    Amy Beach


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    I’ve been neglecting romantic music for a while, so I decided to try something new when a sale at a local retailer prompted me, for some unknown reason, to grab the Naxos disc of Amy Beach’s Gaelic Symphony and Piano Concerto. It’s a nice disc.

    It opens with the decidedly large-scale piano concerto. Over thirty-six minutes in length, and scored for a big ol’ band, this is a late-romantic work through and through. Cast in four movements, with lovely string writing, some beautiful melodies, dazzling cascades of piano notes from time to time, this work sounds quite Brahmsian in some ways, but also a bit anonymous in others. It seems rather interchangeable with a number of obscure works from Hyperion’s Romantic Piano Concerto series. Indeed, I wonder why Hyperion didn’t record it. That written, it’s better than a number of works I heard from that series, though it doesn’t come close to matching the great works of the genre.

    The same pretty much holds true for the so-called Gaelic Symphony. Informed by Irish folk-tunes in place, according to the notes, this grand symphony again possesses a simultaneously Brahmsian and anonymous sound. Once again, beautiful strings and beautiful melodies show up with some regularity, and once again it doesn’t compare to the great works in the genre. It’s an enjoyable work, though.

    Sound is a bit less than ideal, but Alan Feinberg plays the piano well, and Kenneth Schermerhorn leads his Nashville band more than ably. A good, if not perhaps overly distinguished disc.
     
  18. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

    Roussel

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    Albert Roussel is one of those composers I’ve routinely thought to myself I should investigate some more, but for some reason never did. Until now. Seeing that Christoph Eschenbach has recorded the symphonies for Ondine, all but guaranteeing wonderful sound for music that surely deserves it, I decided to try some more Roussel. It was about time.

    The disc opens with the gorgeous, wonderful First Symphony, subtitled Le Poème de la forêt (Poem of the Forest.) On more than one occasion I found myself thinking ‘this is what Debussy would have written had he penned a symphony.’ It’s got that “impressionist” thing going on. It’s got superb orchestration, ranging from gorgeous tuttis of ample strength to gorgeous passages scored for few instruments. It’s got plenty of time for the flute, and for the harp. It’s gorgeously languid, or languidly gorgeous, in many places. It’s sophisticated. It’s very Frenchness is undeniable and irresistible. It’s a plum of a piece.

    The much shorter, even more sophisticated Fourth is at least as good, and quite possibly better. It’s more serious, a bit darker, and more tightly constructed. But it’s also supremely beautiful, which seems to be something of a Roussel specialty. And the strings are sumptuous.

    Eschenbach leads the Orchestre de Paris in two fine performances. I have nothing to compare them to, but I can see trying another version or two of each work, and if even better recordings are available, all the better.

    Superb sound, as expected.
     
  19. PsB

    PsB Citizen of Nowhere™

    If you liked his symphonies, you might like his Festin de l'Araignée. Charming music, not over pretentious. There is also a suite for strings (chamber orchestra), first piece of his I ever heard, but have forgotten the exact name and it's buried on cassettes that I haven't listened to in 15-20 years.
    I like his music a lot. It is a bit lightweight compared to Debussy, WYSIWYG without the eccentricities and complexities of Satie (he was a Navy officer by trade after all). He was a bit addicted to the "motoric" style of music. Lovely nevertheless in small doses.
    All IMHO etc.
     
  20. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

    Roussel again


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    Where have you been all my life? I pondered this question, not exactly seriously, while listening to another disc of music by Roussel conducted by Mr Eschenbach. This disc, with the large-scale, serious symphony, and two suites from Bacchus et Ariane, made for a perfect follow-up to the prior disc of Roussel’s music. This is some great stuff.

    The disc opens with the two Bacchus suites, and what fine suites they are. The music conveys all manner of moods, from fun and playful, to wistful, to sad, to boisterous. More important, it’s inventive and fresh throughout, and just about everything is masterful. The orchestration, the melodies, the harmonies: everything is superbly crafted. There’s nary a weak spot. Now, this isn’t my first time hearing the second suite; I have Eugene Ormandy’s recording as well, but Eschenbach rather handily bests him here.

    But the raison d'être for this disc is surely the second symphony. With its extended, slow, mysterious open, its colorful orchestration, its beautiful and soaring and occasionally slightly searing strings, and its decidedly attractive oomph in places, it tickles the ear. And that’s the opening movement! The second movement is slower and generally “quieter,” but it’s possessed of a tension and nervous energy that’s quite appealing, and the string writing takes on a certain Mahlerian or Shostakovichian sound at times. Oh, and it stays resolutely attractive. The final movement is bold, at times almost cacophonous, and definitely is the most animated movement of the work, though it has moments of relative serenity. Again, the orchestration is inventive and appealing, and never can an ugly sound be heard. It seems to be the perfect combination of symphonic rigor and elegance. Perhaps it is, or perhaps it is not a masterpiece, but whatever the case, it’s a knockout, and I suspect I’ll have to explore other recordings.

    Eschenbach and his band play superbly, and sound is outstanding. A winner.





    Thanks
     

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