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"New" Music Log

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

  1. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member


    Whilst browsing a local used LP hut, I stumbled upon a CBS recording by Robert Casadesus that I didn’t have, which meant that I simply had to have it. The LP, a low-price CBS Odyssey reissue of a late 50s recording of Vincent D’Indy’s Symphony on a French Mountain Air for Piano and Orchestra, finds Casadesus partnered with Eugene Ormandy and his Philadelphia Orchestra. I’m not sure why this recording didn’t make it into the complete Casadesus Edition, because it is well played, sounds superb, and is an enjoyable piece.

    How is it enjoyable? Well, it has some decidedly French traits that tickle the ear. Much of the time it’s light and swift. The wind writing, especially for flute and oboe, is fun and piquant. There’s a somewhat breezy feel to much of the music. And it usually sounds elegant and beautiful. The crescendos are sufficiently weighty and grand, given the mountain motif, and the piece never tips into orchestral excess. The only real weakness for me is the somewhat trite ending. The piano part is largely integrated into the music rather than being front and center as in a concerto, but even so there some fine moments for the soloist to shine. Given the soloist involved, the shine is bright indeed. In some ways the music of Joseph Canteloube came to mind, meaning, I assume, that Canteloube knew his D’Indy. I can’t quite say that this long titled work is a relatively forgotten major masterpiece, but it is a very enjoyable work, and one I’ll spin every once in a while.

    Though the LP is 20-30 years old, sound is superb. Casadesus sounds fuller and richer than he does on CD, while retaining his litheness and elegance. The Philadelphia strings sound absolutely gorgeous. Only the sound of the brass is somewhat disappointing.

    The other work on the LP is Cesar Franck’s Symphonic Variations for Piano and Orchestra. Since I have that work on CD, I decided to do an A-B comparison to hear which one sounds better. The LP does, and rather handily. Ironically, the CD is noisier than the LP. This is due to the analog hiss, which is muffled on LP. I suppose this means that the CD is more accurate, but what it translates to is a harder-edged, sharp, and at times unpleasant sound. Casadesus’ piano playing sounds more metallic, and the orchestral strings harsher. The brass is cleaner, and the low bass is tighter on the CD, but the overall effect is much less pleasant to listen to, and certainly sounds no more like real music. The only clear advantage the CD has is in dynamic range. And this is comparing the sound to a LP budget pressing. I wonder what an original pressing might sound like. Perhaps better, perhaps the same, perhaps worse, who knows? Anyway, the $3 and change I paid for the LP was money well spent.
  2. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

    Even more Roussel


    I figured I might as well finish off Christoph Eschenbach’s Roussel cycle, so I grabbed the disc devoted to the Third Symphony and the ballet Le Festin de l’araignée (The Spider’s Feast). Not too surprisingly, at least for me, it’s quite a nice disc.

    The symphony opens the disc, and it’s got all of those attributes I like about Roussel’s music. It’s masterfully orchestrated, and at times plenty of fun, but it’s got more to it than that. First, it’s nicely varied. Imposing tuttis, a bit of 20s jazz influence, some searing strings, serene calmness, mildly violent outbursts, intriguing small solo turns, it’s a grab bag of musical goodies. Second, it’s compact and economic in its means. No idea wears out its welcome, as it were. I can’t say it’s the best of the four symphonies, but it’s certainly on of the four best out of four superb works.

    The ballet offers more luxurious, beautiful, at times languid and at times energetic music. String writing, yep, it’s quite good. Fun, yep, that’s there, too. In general terms, it like the other pieces I’ve described. I guess I can just say it Rousselian at this point.

    Excellent sound and performances. Eschenbach’s Roussel cycle is most enjoyable.
  3. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member



    Once again I thought I’d try some music by Michael Tippett, to hear if there’s something in his output that really got me going. String quartets seemed a good bet, so I went for the Naxos recording of Tippett’s string quartets 1, 2, and 4 played by The Tippett Quartet. Meh.

    I didn’t find anything wrong with the music, but I didn’t find anything especially compelling, either. The first quartet from the 30s and 40s has a nice enough combination of romantic and slightly “modern” elements, but it’s just kind of there musically. Nothing particularly interesting happens. The second quartet, from the 40s, is perhaps a bit more “modern,” but it’s likewise a bit dull. The fourth quartet, from the late 70s is a bit more interesting. It’s more avant-garde, which isn’t necessarily good or bad, but it has more interesting ideas. Alas, it strikes me as a bit too long; my attention wandered frequently.

    The Tippett Quartet play very well, and sound is very good, but the music just doesn’t work for me. Others may find it more interesting, though.
  4. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member



    In my listening experience, Michael Endres has demonstrated himself to be a fine player of Germanic piano music. His Mozart and Schubert sonatas are among the best I’ve heard, and his Schumann, while not of the same caliber, is still very good. So I decided that Endres would offer a good introduction to assorted piano works of Carl Maria von Weber. While I do have a few versions of the Perpetuum Mobile ending of the first sonata, and possibly a version of the entire first sonata (I honestly can’t keep track), it’s been a long time since I listened to the recordings, and this is the first time I purposely bought some Weber piano music.

    As I expected, Endres delivers. Endres’ style is generally understated, but here it’s hard to be understated. Weber’s music is filled with gobs of notes obviously meant to be played in virtuosic fashion. Endres clearly has the technique to play the music with a glittering, easy sound when needed, and he can play the slower parts equally well. His tone and style seem to work extremely well.

    The music itself is very entertaining, but it sounds a bit shallow. Compared to the great works of Beethoven and Schubert, there’s an empty slickness and banal playing-to-the-gallery feel to some of the music. The fast movements are fast and dazzling, designed to draw applause. The slow movements, while often very beautiful, don’t offer much depth. That written, the music is definitely attractive. And it’s fun. It is also undeniably of its age; it almost screams out early Romanticism. It’s hard to hate fun, early romantic piano music. As to specific works, the Second Sonata and Seven Variations on the Aria Vien’qua dorina bella are my favorites at this point, but the Fourth Sonata and Grand Polonaise also have a strong appeal. While I can’t say that this music matches up to the best music of the age, this is still a very enjoyable set for not too serious listening.

    Sound is a bit bright and a bit bass-shy, but otherwise is very good.
  5. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member



    I so enjoyed my first disc of Véronique Gens singing songs of Joseph Canteloube that I decided to try the second volume on Naxos. Everything I wrote about the first volume applies here. The music is generally light, bright, and clean, with delicious wind writing, and it’s always beautiful. Likewise, Ms Gens sounds wonderful, as expected.

    The disc finishes up Chants d’Auvergne and adds the Tryptyque and Chants de France. There’s an obvious similarity among all the works, but the Tryptyque is special. It’s more languid ‘n’ lush than the other works, and closer in spirit to Ravel’s great Scheherazade. That’s a good thing. For some inexplicable reason, Naxos didn’t include texts of any kind with the disc. Go figure.

    Sound is good, but the orchestra is a bit muddy at times, and Ms Gens sounds more prominent than she would in person, not that I’m complaining about that. The Orchestre National de Lille plays well again, but this time Serge Baudo takes up the baton and does a fine job. Another delightful disc.
  6. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member


    [I figured I might as well resurrect this thread. I've continued to pick up entirely new music from time to time, and I will probably continue to do so.]

    Hans Rott went bonkers and died of consumption in his 20s. His life is a perfect romantic tragedy. How could one not want to at least sample his big ol’ honkin’ Symphony in E Major? With a recording from Paavo Järvi and the Frankfurt RSO out, I figured I should give it a shot.

    As I listened to the first two movements, one word came to mind: Wagner. As I listened a bit more, another word popped into my head: Bruckner. Finally, the word Mahler joined them, though for a different reason. But it is Wagner who permeates the work. At times it’s like listening to discarded excerpts from Lohengrin, or early sketches for Das Rheingold. The way the brass is (excessively) deployed, the string figurations, the huge, bombastic tuttis – the influence of old Dick is omnipresent. Bruckner’s influence is also obvious in some of the writing, but not the same extent. And Mahler, well, Mahler is not an influence; rather, one can hear where Mahler got some of his ideas. The third movement here – Frisch und lebhaft – sounds like a veritable sketchbook for Mahler’s Second. In short, this is a large scale, bombastic, hefty, but quite derivative work. It’s not bad, but I’d rather listen to the other three composers listed, or to other late romantics, than to Rott’s First. The two movements from the B major Suite for Orchestra leave a similar impression.

    Järvi and his band acquit themselves quite nicely, and the sound is generally good, though it seems to lack low frequency heft.

    Amazon UK link
  7. gustavm

    gustavm pfm Member

    I certainly hear a lot of embryonic Mahler in this symphony. A fascinating sound-world which one can hear how influential it must have been for Mahler, but for me it lacks the cohesiveness and structure that make for a satisfying whole.

    I've always thought it would be good to produce a set of all his music, and call it "Complete Rott".
  8. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member


    This is my first exposure to the piano music of Gian Francesco Malipiero, and I believe it's also my first exposure to any of his music. This disc contains six works, three of which receive world premiere recordings here, and one of which is a really big surprise.

    Living between 1882 and 1973, and composing the works recorded here between 1908 and 1959, Malipiero lived and worked in a time of fairly notable changes in music, and some new and exciting possibilities. The piano music he produced is unique in that it largely seems to eschew many compositional trends and more than occasionally looks back. One can hear some baroque and impressionistic influences. Much of the music is fairly simple and at times austere. At first, it sounds strikingly old-fashioned and conservative, but as the disc spins, the music's at times fantasy-like sound grows on the listener. The best shorthand way to describe is as a blend of Mompou and Bartok. One can also hear pre-echoes of Messiaen in the repetition and harmonics here and there, too. But it's not really derivative. It's not easy listening music, but it's not especially challenging. It's not very exciting most of the time, the more vibrant Hortus Conclusus often excepted, but nor does one's attention wander. I'm going to need some more time and listening sessions with this one. If the music's appeal fades, that's fine, but if it does not, there are a handful of other discs of the composer's piano music to explore.

    Now to that big surprise. The last track on the disc is not what it is supposed to be. It is supposed to be the 1959 work Variazione sulla pantomima dell'Amor brujo di Manuel de Falla. It is Vladimir Ashkenazy's Decca recording of Chopin's Barcarolle. I've never experienced anything like this before. How such an error occurred in the pressing is beyond me. I guess I could request a replacement item, but I picked it up as an Add-On for a few bucks, so I'm not going to sweat it. (I spot checked the other works on YouTube and confirmed that they are all Malipiero, and the missing piece is also available.)

    Pianist Sabrina Alberti plays well. Sonics are not up to modern snuff. The sound is close and dry, lacks edge and bite in all but the loudest passages, when it almost sounds overloaded, and sounds dominated by the middle registers. This is odd for a contemporary recording touting 24 bit recording technology.

    Amazon UK link
  9. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member


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

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

    So, the music and the disc are pretty good, the Akhmatova Songs especially. However, if I go for modern Eastern Orthodox-inspired music, I have to say that Sofia Guibadulina is much more my speed, with a more satisfying and daring musical language. Tavener strikes me as too artistically conservative, though his music is better than anticipated. Still, when I don my Helmet of Prognostication, I do not see myself building a large Tavener collection.

    Amazon UK link
  10. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member


    [This will be cross-posted in The Asian Invasion]

    This disc is the first I've imported from mainland China. I spotted this disc of Chinese compositions whilst hunting for new and exotic things to listen to, albeit only on a very expensive JVC disc at first. Fortunately, I found the disc for a very reasonable $7 on eBay, as opposed to $37+ on Amazon. While I would not be surprised if I bought a gray market disc, especially given the price, I don't know for sure, and I don't care. The seller from Shunde got it to me in just over a week, for about $10 all-in. The copy I received advertises the XRCD2 pedigree as opposed to the K2 mastering on the front of its cardboard cover, though the inner cover shows the full (advertising) flow chart of the remastering process, which includes the K2 Rubidium Master Clock, so you just know it's some heavy-duty, ultra-serious stuff. This is the same flow chart as found in the JVC reissue of the Paul Badura-Skoda Beethoven piano sonata cycle previously on Astrée. This leads me to believe it is a Japanese market release. Did I mention the remastering process uses Rubidium in the master clock? The recording was made in China in the year 2000, with some DG A-list producers and engineers.

    The disc includes eight short works by ten composers - two of the works are collaborations or reworkings. The works all rely on Western instrumentation - no pipas, erhus, or liuqins here - though from time to time, the percussion section sounds like it could be augmented by a non-standard instrument. Most of the music is also generally Western in conception in that it usually sounds conventionally tonal, but some more "exotic" approaches (eg, pentatonic scales) are used as folk music is an influence. There is certainly nothing that comes across as especially alien to Western ears nowadays to people who listen to classical music, pop music, or soundtracks. Much of the music has very rough Western analogs, and those will be included in the descriptions as a sort of shorthand. This is not meant to imply that the music is all derivative, but to communicate a sense of what is on the disc.

    The disc opens with He Luting's under three minute Senjidema, from 1945. Based on Mongolian folk tunes, it starts slowly and then picks up the pace. It's generically "Eastern", and one can imagine Aaron Copland having written something similar.

    Next up is Bao Yuankai's Five Orchestral Pieces. The first piece, Zouxikou, based on a popular provincial ballad is mostly Western sounding, but has an identifiably Chinese sound in part, especially in the violins. Green Willow, the second piece, sounds more or less like a missing Tchaikovsky piece reliant on pizzicato throughout. Lady Lan Huahua follows, and it is based on an ancient ballad as well, and sounds lush and romantic and what one might wish Puccini could have worked into his Eastern themed works, and given it's tragic theme, it seems like a prelude or interlude from an opera. The Murmuring Brook follows, and it sounds something like a leisurely, gorgeous mash-up of Debussy, Vaughn Williams, and something vaguely Eastern. Duihua ends the suite, inspired by a folk song. Alternating between boisterous, rhythmically alert tuttis and gentler, Griegian music, it ends the work beautifully.

    Next up is Wang Ming's Haixia Suite, where the composer includes three movements called Childhood, Weaving Fishnets, and Harvest, and she blends her own experience and idealized experiences. One can hear whiffs of Debussy and Sibelius and Dvorak, and other Western influences, along with more obvious Eastern influences, with traditional Western orchestration used to evoke a more concrete Eastern sound. The different elements blend together to make something new and beautiful, and if perhaps a bit too sentimental, that's quite alright.

    Li Huanhzi's Spring Festival Overture, from 1955-56 follows, and once again, folk music serves as a foundation, and the music is robust yet light and festive (duh). It sounds like Chinese Dvorak, which I definitely mean as a compliment.

    Beijing Tidings by Zheng Lu and Ma Hongye, is up next, is folk music based, and here one can hear Borodin in Polovtsian Dances mode, or perhaps Enescu at his most rhapsodic, with dashes of Copland and DSCH (the Ninth), in a brief, colorful, vibrant, buoyant, and maybe slightly garish piece. This would make for a good surprise concert opener.

    Liu Tieshan and Mao Yuan's Yao Dance from the 1950s follows. Formalized folk music - a dance, as it happens - starts slowly and unfolds somewhat episodically, with wonderful rhythmic flair and expert orchestration. This almost sounds like what Bartok himself might have written had he ventured farther East in his exploration of folk music. It is expertly done, and is possibly the best work on the disc.

    Next is Liu Tingyu's Susan Suite. (Should it be Su-San?) At just shy of thirteen minutes, it's the second longest work, though it is contained in a single track since it unfolds more or less continuously. The suite is drawn from the composer's ballet Escorted Lady Convict, which itself is based on the Peking opera The Escorted Susan. The tale is suitably operatic, to be sure, and the music brings five names to mind: Mahler, Tchaikovsky, Strauss, Janacek, and Bright Sheng. The use of percussion falls outside the norm for Western compositions at times (and happily so), but it blends in with the music well, and the composer demonstrates an ability to transition between some starkly different music basically seamlessly, with the orchestra executing it superbly. Liu really seems to have a grasp of theatrical material on the basis of this piece, and he might be worth more exploration in the future.

    The disc closes with Lu Qiming's Ode to the Red Flag, from 1965. An ode to revolutionary success, with fanfares and bombast and a generally too much feeling, it might just be enough to make a dyed in the wool commie tear up. The DSCH-like march married to music that foreshadows John Williams' Superman soundtrack elicited something of a chuckle. (Yes, I know this was composed before the film soundtrack was written, but the aural connection is there.) I've yet to hear Erwin Schulhoff's musical setting of The Communist Manifesto (I'm not sure it has been recorded), and I think this not quite brief enough piece - it's over nine minutes long - will have to do.

    Most of the music is really quite lovely and entertaining, and I can easily see enjoying one or two of the pieces in a well-mixed concert. That written, it is hard to see these specific works becoming either core rep in the West, or oft listened to by me. YMMV. One thing strikes me as certain: composers in the East are creating some fine music, and they are blending different traditions in new ways, and the probability of great works existing now is quite high, and will only grow with time.

    Playing is excellent throughout. Sound is likewise excellent, but it sounds a bit bright some of the time. How much of that is the recording itself, and how much the remastering and potential re-EQing, I can't say. I can say that the sonics are not worth any premium price.

    Amazon UK link. Under no circumstances should anyone pay the listed price for this recording. That would be nuts.
  11. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member


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

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

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

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

    Sound is excellent and rich, if not completely SOTA.

    Amazon UK link
  12. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member


    What a delightful disc! Here are fifty short tracks combined into eighteen sonatas, the longest of which is just six-and-a-half minutes. Some of the individual movements are less than a minute. All of them are fun, most of them are fast, light, and slight. They basically sound like Scarlatti shorn of pesky ornamentation and too-thoughtful invention. Every work is over too soon, leading to a sort a avaricious desire to listen to the next. Victor Sangiorgio plays splendidly and sound is superb. I may very well have to buy the second volume, and at the very least I will find a way to hear it. It looks like there are a couple other sets of Cimarosa's keyboard music floating around, too.

    Amazon UK link
  13. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member


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

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

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

    Superb sonics, but St Andreas Church in Hannover is not sound-proof.

    Amazon UK link
  14. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member


    I enjoy Sofia Gubaidulina's music from time to time, and I have sampled her work in a variety of genres - orchestral, choral, chamber, even accordion - but until now, I had never tried her piano music. Marcela Roggeri recorded all of Gubaidulina's piano music, written in the 60s and 70s, in 2007 for Transart. There's a Chaconne, Musical Toys, the Sonata, a Toccata-Troncata, and the Invention. One can hear bits of Shostakovich and Ligeti in her writing, along with a healthy dollop of Bartok (especially in the Sonata), and an even healthier dollop of Prokofiev (in Musical Toys). The mysticism and uncentered nature of some of her bigger works is not as evident here; the music tends to be more pointed. The Chaconne and collection of miniatures Musical Toys are compact and Roggeri plays with great vigor and force, while never sounding unduly harsh. The more substantial Sonata, complete with strings damped on the fly by hand and a bamboo stick dragged across the piano pegs, mixes quasi- or pseudo-folk elements, Prokofievian modernism, and jazz to good effect. The short Toccata-Troncata, and especially the Invention, are tossed off with aplomb, the latter sounding somewhat improvisational in nature.

    Roggeri acquits herself quite nicely here, and though I doubt these works ever achieve core rep listening frequency for me, I will be returning to this disc. I may even opt to try another of the handful of discs out there devoted to the music.

    Sound is close and clear, as usual with Transart, but there is a bit more weight here.

    Amazon UK link
  15. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

    [​IMG] [​IMG]

    I’ve never really listened to too much Luigi Boccherini. The little I’d heard always struck me as a lightweight alternative to Mozart and Haydn. Then about a month ago or so, for no particular reason, I picked up an early ‘90s recording of some string quartets and quintets played by the Petersen Quartet. This particular ensemble, long a fave of mine, always plays with high energy. Music and musicians get along well. The pieces display verve, polish, and eminent good taste. Nothing strikes me as daring or formally perfect as similar works by Haydn or Mozart, but then I didn’t expect that to be the case. (Really, who could?) No, this well played and generally well recorded set is good for just sitting back and listening to, just because.

    The Jordi Savall-led disc is an altogether different animal. He and his forces deliver on Boccherini’s formidable charm and polish, but they take it one further and imbue some of the music with more gravitas than one might expect. It still comes across as Haydn-lite in some regards, but the supremely masterful playing and dedication shine through. These are more serious and more significant pieces. The two sinfonias are just dandy, but the Fandango that opens the disc and La Musica Notturna di Madrid which end it are more sophisticated and inventive. On top of all of that is some of the finest recorded sound I’ve ever heard. Possibly the finest. The opening Fandango comes as close to sounding like live music as I have heard in a long time.

    I don’t think I’ll be going on a Boccherini binge, or anything, but these two sets make welcome additions to my collection.

    Amazon UK link - Petersen Quartet

    Amazon UK link - Savall
  16. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member


    Luise Adolpha Le Beau is a rarity in my collection: A female composer from the 19th Century. (Well, 19th and 20th.) To be sure, I have more than a few discs by women composers, and have heard a decent number of works by women composers, but most are 20th and 21st artists. Ms Le Beau was born in 1850 in the Grand Duchy of Baden, appears to have received a bourgeois education, became a well known pianist and teacher, and hobnobbed with various musical personages of the late 19th Century. She composed a wide array of works in most genres, so this disc contains only the tip of the iceberg.

    The disc opens with Three Piano Pieces, Op 1. The pieces are light and tuneful and attractive, and they sound like Mendelssohn study pieces. Next up is a set of Variations on an Original Theme, Op 3. Mendelssohn again pops into one's mind, and it is an OK piece, filled with a lot of chords at the end. The Op 8 Piano Sonata follows, and at around fourteen minutes, it's the largest scale work on the disc. Here one can hear some Schumann and early Brahms. There's plenty of energy and drive. Arpeggio lovers will likely adore the somewhat rushed sounding Andante, which in some sections is just one arpeggio after another. The concluding Allegretto, perhaps too rushed by Markovina, sounds too dense and opaque and, well, uninteresting, and at the same time not worked out enough. Next are Eight Preludes, Op 12. All are very brief, and in the context of sets of Preludes, not musically challenging. They make for comfortable listening. The Improvista Op 30 follows, and sounds like the composer lifted some discarded passages from Mendelssohn, though the piece is OK+. Of the remaining pieces on the disc, all sound like pleasant romantic era character pieces, the Three Old Dances, Op 48 aside, which sound like romantic miniatures inspired by the baroque.

    But wait, there's more! Purchasers of the disc receive a super-secret user name and password to login and download three additional tracks in MP3 format from Genuin, bringing the total music available to just shy of ninety minutes. Of course I downloaded the extras. They include the Op 2 Concert Etude, the one missing Op 57 piano piece not included on the disc, and Im Walde, Op 63. The Concert Etude is bold and extroverted and mostly forgettable, and the other two works blend in with the rest of the disc.

    The disc and extras make for a decent introduction to the composer, but the disc contains no hidden gems. It seems very unlikely that any of the works ever become core rep. The music was conservative for its time. Maybe one or two pieces would make for a nice surprise work in a recital here or there, though. There's nothing here to indicate that Le Beau had musical ideas on par with Clara Schumann or Fanny Mendelssohn - and not to take anything away from those two, I have to think that being around actual geniuses must have inspired them to up their games, bringing out more of their innate talent and exploiting the benefits of the upscale upbringings they experienced.

    Ana-Marija Markovina plays very well, displaying fine fingerwork, an ability to project, and high levels of energy. Somewhat like in her CPE Bach, she seems to be somewhat assertive, not displaying a great deal of tonal or dynamic nuance or delicacy, though the music may not call for it. Here she plays a Steinway, yet her sonority is closer than anticipated to that found in her CPE Bach set, which used a Bösendorfer.

    The liner notes start off with an insufferable, academic-ish mini-essay on women in music and interpretation. I got through some of the writing.

    Sound is superb, as per normal with Genuin releases. The disc is cleaner, with less glare, but the MP3 tracks sound fully acceptable.

    Amazon UK link
  17. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member


    My first full disc devoted solely to the music of Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel, and my first disc played entirely by Lauma Skride, regular accompanist of her more famous sister. The work was composed after a trip through Italy, rather like Liszt was inspired to write his second year of his Annees, and her music and style is very much of the time and place. To be sure, the music is not of the same caliber of Liszt's masterpiece, but then I had no expectation that it would be. It is generally a bit more intimate in scale, though it is not limited to being a set of salon pieces. There are some sunny, vibrant passages, but there are also some darker, more introspective passages. It is not surprising that one can hear the influence of her younger brother from time to time, with A Midsummer's Night Dream making an appearance a couple times, and a few passages sound rather like some Lieder Ohne Worte. Mendelssohn-Hensel does have her own voice, and it is in that introspection mentioned before that one hears it most. This is some fine music, and I wouldn't be averse to hearing another version of, especially from a very interventionist pianist.

    Skride does an excellent job. Her style is often very straight-forward, and her tone is generally pleasant, but she does not go in for histrionics.

    Sound is excellent, as what one would expect from a major label release ca 2007.

    Amazon UK link
  18. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member


    My first major (to me) Amazon Add-on related discovery. Gustave Samazeuilh is a name I don't recall having seen before, and I may very well have gone on for the rest of my life without hearing him had it not been for Olivier Chauzu's discounted Schumann disc I snapped up. Whilst browsing the pianist's discography, I found a few enticing items, including this ditty. My curiosity piqued, I moseyed on over to YouTube, did a search, found some tracks from the disc, and proceeded to listen to one. About ten or so seconds in, my mind was made up: I had to buy this disc, pronto. I'm always on the lookout for some new or obscure piano music that for some reason is neglected, and this is a perfect example of such music. Here is piano music of the Frenchest variety, at times merging Debussy and Ravel into one enormously satisfying whole. But let me back up a second. The extensive liner notes offer clear indications as to why and how this is. Samazeuilh's mother was a pianist, and the family counted among its friends such people as Chausson, Duparc, Faure, and Ysaye. Samazeuilh studied under d'Indy and later Dukas, and was friends with Ravel. He attended various musical goings-on in Paris, and was selected by a variety of composers, including Debussy, to write piano transcriptions of other various works. He was also a notable critic, and one with an ear to the future, as he identified young Messiaen as a talent to watch. Samazeuilh was veritably steeped in the music and culture of the early decades of 20th Century France. In this context, it is not surprising that he might write some decent music.

    This disc contains eight works spanning the time period 1902 to 1947, and one of the works, the Nocturne, from 1938, receives its premiere recording here. The disc opens with the Nocturne, and it sort of sounds like a mashup of Debussy and Ravel, with older, slightly lesser French composers in the mix - Chausson, perhaps. It's lovely and atmospheric yet possessed of clean melodic lines; it's unique yet immediately accessible. This was the piece I sampled on YouTube that convinced me almost immediately to buy the disc. The six movement Piano Suite in G from 1911 follows. Each short piece is distinctive and nicely characterized, but they flow one to the other in a logical procession. As played by Chauzu, they mostly sound like charming, modern salon pieces, and one might be able to detect hints of Chabrier, though Samazeuilh may or may not have been influenced by him. The direct yet strangely effective playing in Prelude alone makes me think that Chauzu's recording of Iberia might be worth buying. The Chanson à ma poupée (1904) is a bon-bon and Naïades au soir (1910) a brief, more impressionistic work that never quite abandons a cleaner, more Ravelian sound. The 3 Petites Inventions from 1904 doesn't even bother hiding its inspiration, here Bach's BWV784, updated and Gallicized. Rhythmically alert and subtle, tuneful and breezy, and infused with a bit of fugal Franckism, the five minutes of music fly by. The Quatre Esquisses (1944) opens with the Dédicace that at first recalls the opening to Estampes, but transcribed down, before moving to a very Engulfed Cathedral like piece. The Luciole is the Frech Bumblee flying about, the Sérénade for left hand only evokes Spanish music (again making me think I should try Chauzu's Iberia), while Souvenir for right hand only sort of blends Ravel, Liszt, and Messiaen into a lovely little piece. The Evocation (1947) is a solo piano transcription of a work originally written for violin and piano for Georges Enescu. Very much an impressionistic, hazy, and gentle piece, never seeming to rise above mezzo forte, if even that far, it falls beautifully on the ear.

    The big work closes the disc: Le Chant de la Mer from 1918-19. At twenty minutes and change, it's a proper recital-scaled work. It also blends together a wide array of influences, always to superb effect. The first movement, Prelude, is relatively calm and simple, with repeated chords used as a nice hypnotic, expressive device. The second movement, Clair du lune au large, starts off tenderly and beautifully, and builds up gradually, exposing a passionate core, and one that blends late Liszt, perhaps some Scriabin, and an amalgam of French influences into a heady, sensuous fantasy. It works better through headphones than speakers, strangely enough, unlike the rest of the disc. The piece closes with Tempête et lever du jour sur les flots, and here one hears the Debussy of the Preludes, the Liszt of the Harmonies, and the Ravel of Gaspard. Swelling climaxes, challenging and uneven rhythm, forceful forward movement, cutting melodies, it's a veritable musical maelstrom. While Chauzu plays the piece splendidly, this is a work that I would very much like to hear one of today's lions of the piano play: Chamayou would be splendid. Grosvenor, Lifits, Abduraimov, and Trifonov, too. But this has Herbert Schuch's name written all over it. (Of course, one can imagine what Arcadi Volodos might be able to do with it, but that seems less likely than winning the lottery.)

    The music on the disc is all immensely enjoyable, and a few pieces are borderline or actual masterpieces, Le Chant de la Mer, in particular. That written, it's easy enough to hear why these works have not become repertoire staples. They do not hide their influences well or at all, and while not simply derivative, they seem to rely on knowledge of other piano composers and works for their success. The music strikes me as music for connoisseurs, meaning pianophiles who listen to too much piano music. Even given that this will likely remain permanently obscure music, there is one other disc of most of the piano music by Stéphane Lemelin out on Atma, so I may end up giving that disc a try at some point, and the smattering of recordings of other Samazeuilh pieces may end up finding their way to my ears.

    Sound for the 2014 recording is very close and exceedingly clear. The drawback to the closeness is that Chauzu's pedaling is often way too obvious and damper mechanism noise is audible throughout. Both of these traits are worse through speakers, the former in particular, as it produces palpable low frequency thuds.

    Amazon UK link
  19. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member


    Here's fresh evidence of why I continue to collect recordings of both core rep and more obscure works. Now, I've got me a bit of Telemann, namely some Tafelmusik and the Paris Quartets. That music is very nice, extremely well crafted, and makes for enjoyable enough listening, though perhaps more of the background type. It did not prepare me for the Ino Cantata. Here's a work by the elderly, mid-80s Telemann, that sounds fresher, more vibrant, and groundbreaking than the earlier fare. Written in the 1760s, it sounds more forward-looking, pointing the way to Mozart, rather than merely retreading Baroque era conventions. Brisk, crisp, nicely dramatic but not overdone, everything clicks for me. The setting of the text relates to the whole Zeus/Semele/Dionysus thingy and is specifically set as Ino tranforms into a sea goddess. That matters far less than the absolutely captivating quality of the music and the vocal writing. This recording purportedly is the first that accurately reflects Telemann's autograph score. Whatever the case may be, it is an astoundingly good work. It may just be my early enthusiasm, but this strikes me a straight-up masterpiece. All of the artists involved with the recording are new to me. Ana Maria Labin sings superbly in the cantata, bringing home the drama. I suppose some could consider her style better suited to classical era proper pieces, but I have no reservations about her singing. This is a dramatic cantata, after all. Michael Schneider and La Stagione Frankufurt deliver superb playing, pristinely and vibrantly executed. The disc also includes the Orchestral Suite in D and a Fanfare to close the disc, both also from later in Telemann's career. While not as gobsmackingly great as the cantata, they are quite good and maybe a cut above at least some of the Tafelmusik. I really didn't need to find another musical rabbit hole to go down, but maybe late Telemann is worth further exploration. I mean, just a bit, not a lot. La Stagione Frankfurt is definitely worth another listen, and as luck would have it, they have recorded other Telemann works for CPO. Hmmm.

    SOTA sound.

    Amazon UK link (the physical disc is not released in the UK until November)
  20. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member


    Got a couple listens to this under my belt, and well, it is a different type of disc.

    The first work, a piano concerto entitled Echoing Curves, is played here by Andrea Lucchesini, a master of Berio’s idiom, and conducted by the composer himself. This is the reason I bought the disc: I wanted to hear how Lucchesini handled the concerto given how well he does in the solo stuff. Well, as expected, he doesn’t seem to have any problems navigating the music, but truthfully, I find the music less compelling than the solo stuff. The piano part is given over to lots of trills and ostinato underpinning occasional flourishes, and the orchestral music is very modern, in a disappointingly generic way. Sure, it’s well crafted, etc, but it just doesn’t work for me. I don’t dislike it, but I don’t like it, either. Meh.

    Turns out the next work was the real reason to get the disc, because haven’t you asked yourself what Schubert’s Tenth Symphony might have sounded like? You see, Berio took the sketches for D936a and, in his word, set out to “restore” it. (Restoration, completion; po-tay-to, po-tah-to.) The work is called Rendering. For the most part this sounds just like a missing Schubert work, and a very substantial one, hinting at what might have been. It is grand, larger in scope and ambition than even the Great C Major, lovely, and filled with tunes aplenty. It also starts moving toward a Mendelssohnian and, dare I say it, even (early) Wagnerian type soundworld. There are obviously gaps, which Berio backfills with his own music, and surprisingly enough, it works well. When it comes to the outright Schubertian music, I can’t say how much is Schubert and how much is Berio, but I can say that I like it.

    The concluding work is a mushing together of four transcriptions of Ritirata notturna di Madrid by Boccherini. Brief and a bit gaudy, it’s not bad at all. In fact, it’s pretty good.

    But the Schubert is the reason for me to keep this disc.

    The LSO play very well, and Tony Faulkner’s recorded sound is what one expects it to be.

    Amazon UK link (way too spendy)

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