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The Classical Explorer

September 2008 Archives

Virtuoso Spanish Dances

Naxos 8.557767

Pablo Sarasate

Spanish Dance, Op. 21 #1 "Malagueña"
Spanish Dance, Op. 21 #2 "Habañera"
Spanish Dance, Op. 22 #1 "Romanza andaluza"
Spanish Dance, Op. 22 #2 "Jóta Navarra"
Spanish Dance, Op. 23 #1 "Playera"
Spanish Dance, Op. 23 #2 "Zapateado"
Spanish Dance, Op. 26 #1
Spanish Dance, Op. 26 #2
Balada, Op. 31
Caprice basque, Op. 24
Jota aragonesa, Op. 27
Sérénade andalouse, Op. 28

Tian-wa Yang, violin
Markus Hadulla, piano
Naxos 8.557767

This disc is an explosion of virtuosity. The very young Tian-wa Yang, prize-winning violinist, plays with total control, assurance, beautiful tone, and rhythmic clarity. The Sarasate pieces call for almost every type of fancy violin playing: they are like a catalog of spectacular effects for both left hand and right. But these pieces are more than just rapid displays of technical skill. They present a true musical experience – they lift the spirits and make the listener feel like dancing.

[ Available on CD: Amazon - UK - Germany - Canada - France - Japan - ArkivMusic - CD Universe ]

[ Sheet music by Sarasate: Sheet Music Plus - ]

Neilsen's Pupil

Danacord 417

Poul Schierbeck

Symphony #1, Op. 15 (1921) 46:12
Radio-Rhapsody, Op. 49 (1938) 16:45

Artur Rubinstein Philharmonic Orchestra/Ilya Stupel
Danacord DACOCD417 62:57

If you think this symphony sounds as if it were written by Carl Nielsen, you would not be far off. Schierbeck arrived at his style honestly; Nielsen was one of his composition teachers, and also conducted the premier performance of this fine symphony in 1922.

The little jewel of a third movement, Allegro molto comodo e quasi indolente (Dolce far niente), lasts slightly under four minutes, employs almost all of the colors of the full orchestra, and presents a very cheerful interlude in this spacious symphony. On the whole, it is a work of many moods and rich orchestration, and it deserves a wide audience. Schierbeck wrote that this symphony is not program music, but it was inspired by fireworks – the sparks and the glow in the sky.

[ Available on CD: Amazon - UK - Germany - Canada - France - Japan - ArkivMusic - CD Universe ]

Recreating the Orchestral Score

Warner Classics 2564-60865

Ludwig Van Beethoven

The Nine Symphonies arranged for
Solo Piano by Franz Liszt (1811-1886)

Cyprien Katsaris, piano
Warner Classics 2564-60865-2

This collection is a triple treat. Not only are the Beethoven Symphonies and the Liszt transcriptions superb, but they are performed superbly. Here is a brief quotation from the excellent liner notes by Liszt scholar Wolfgang Döming:

"Liszt made it quite clear right from the start that he was not concerned with the writing of piano reductions; he insisted on the idea of a 'partition de piano' as he called it, a 'piano score'. In other words a recreation of the orchestral score for the piano... a representation of the whole. The piano reduction is and always has been a makeshift, but Liszt raised the piano score to the level of a form of composition."

Katsaris's nuanced interpretations are totally satisfying. His control of the piano is amazing. His virtuosity is always in the good service of the music. Even if you are a purist and have insisted upon hearing only the orchestral versions of Beethoven's symphonies, it is almost guaranteed that you will discover new things to appreciate if you listen to these Liszt transcriptions.

[ Available on CD: Amazon - UK - Germany - Canada - France - Japan - ArkivMusic - CD Universe ]

[ Sheet music for these works: Sheet Music Plus - ]

Hindemith's String Quartets

CPO 999287

Paul Hindemith

String Quartet in C Major, Op. 2 (1915)
String Quartet in F minor, Op. 10 (1918)
String Quartet in C Major, Op. 16 (1920)
String Quartet, Op. 22 (1921)
String Quartet, Op. 32 (1923)
String Quartet in E Flat Major (1943)
String Quartet in E Flat Major (1945)

The Danish Quartet
CPO 999287-2 3CDs

The first string quartet quartet, Opus 2, 1915 was written while Hindemith was still a student. It is full of the lush string writing most characteristic of the Late Romantic period. This quartet was long believed lost and was only published for the first time in 1994. The style is unique among Hindemith's string quartets.

After writing that quartet, Hindemith quickly developed his own individual sound which is energetic and often quite busy. Although his style sounds nothing at all like Baroque music, he frequently utilizes forms and contrapuntal devices of that period, and he displays much rhythmic vitality. Since Hindemith was also a string player, his compositions are all especially full of interest for the players, and generous to inner voices.

The excellent performers on this three-disc set are Tim Frederiksen and Arne Balk-Møller, violins; Gert-Inge Andersson, viola; and Henrik Brendstrup, cello – forming The Danish Quartet.

For much more information about the numbering of the quartets (old and new) as well as as interesting material about this prolific and fascinating composer, visit the Hindemith Foundation

[ Available on CD: Amazon - UK - Germany - Canada - France - Japan - ArkivMusic - CD Universe ]

[ Sheet music for these works: Sheet Music Plus - ]

Beethoven's Early Rival

CPO 777374

Joseph Wölfl

Piano Concerto #1, Op. 20 (after 1801)
Piano Concerto #5 "Grand Military", Op. 43 (1799)
Piano Concerto #6 "The Cuckoo", Op. 49 (before 1810)
Piano Concerto #4 "The Calm", Op. 36, (before 1807): Andante

Yorck Kronenberg, piano
SWR Rundfunkorchester Kaiserslautern/Johannes Moesus
CPO 777374-2 76:06

Sounding much like late Mozart and, occasionally, early Beethoven, these exuberant concertos are immediately attractive. What makes them different from their apparent models is much greater use of trumpets and drums, thus giving an air of celebration to the music. Yet again CPO has recorded, apparently for the first time, music that did not deserve its long neglect.

[ Available on CD: Amazon - UK - Germany - Canada - France - Japan - ArkivMusic - CD Universe ]

Pinnacle of a Composer's Style

Northern Flowers 9954

Nikolai Yakovlievich Myaskovsky

Complete String Quartets, Volume 5
String Quartet #12 in G Major, Op. 77
String Quartet #13 in A minor, Op. 86

Taneyev Quartet
Northern Flowers 9954 54:40

Russian Disc, in the early 1980's released all 13 of the Myaskovsky string quartets performed by the Taneyev Quartet (Vladamir Ovcharek, violin; Grigory Lutzky, violin; Vissarion Solovyev, viola and Josef Levinzon, cello). They have been unavailable for some time. Now Northern Flowers and the Saint Petersburg Musical Alliance have re-released these fine discs. It is cause for celebration!

The Quartets #12 and #13 are perhaps the most accessible of the quartets. The style is rich and the part writing is splendid – something interesting is always going on in each voice. There is Russian flavor, but it is atmospheric, not in a direct quotation of folk material. If you enjoy the quartets of Prokofiev and Shostakovich, you will most certainly find much to please you in this disc of Myaskovsky's quartets.

[ Available on CD: Amazon - UK - Germany - Canada - France - Japan - ArkivMusic - CD Universe ]

[ Sheet music by this composer: Sheet Music Plus -
  Sheet Music Parts for Quartet #8 can be found at Editions Silvertrust ]

A Youthful Czech Ballet

Supraphon 3303

Bohuslav Martinů

Who Is the Most Powerful in the World? (1923)

Prague Symphony Orchestra/Jirí Belohlávek
Supraphon SU3303-2 55:46

Who Is the Most Powerful in the World? is, to use Martinů's description, a comedy ballet. It concerns a mouse couple's search for the best suitor for their daughter, who must be "the most powerful in the world". The Mouse Prince proves unsuitable. A variety of others are tried and found wanting before the prince and the daughter eventually find true love. This is a delightful score. It pre-dates Martinů's Paris years but already the piano, so much a part of many of his later scores, is prominent. Some collections of the composer's music have included snippets from this ballet, but this CD appears to be its only complete recording.

[ Available on CD: Amazon - UK - Germany - Canada - France - Japan - ArkivMusic ]

[ Sheet music by this composer: Sheet Music Plus - ]

In the Austro-German Tradition

Chandos CHAN9357

Franz Schmidt

Symphony #1 in E Major (1896-9)

Richard Strauss

Four Symphonic Interludes from Intermezzo (1924)

Detroit Symphony Orchestra/Neeme Järvi
Chandos CHAN9357 68:20

The Austrian, Franz Schmidt, wrote four symphonies, all of which are available on Chandos and conducted by Neeme Järvi. The shades of Schumann, Brahms and Richard Strauss are in varying degrees of evidence in his first, a work running about 45 minutes. If any of these three composers appeals, then Schmidt is someone to consider. The interludes from the Strauss opera have much the same feel as the suite from Der Rosenkavalier.

[ Available on CD: Amazon - UK - Germany - Canada - France - Japan ]

[ Sheet music by Schmidt: Sheet Music Plus - ]

Twilight of the Romantics

Çedille CDR90000088

Walter Rabl

Quartet in E Flat Major for Clarinet, Violin, Cello & Piano (1896) 24:20

Josef Labor

Quintet in D major for Clarinet, Violin, Viola, Cello & Piano, Op. 11 (1900) 33:13

Orion Ensemble
Çedille CDR90000088

Ever since Wolfgang Mozart's Kegelstadt Trio (K498), the musical combination of clarinet, strings and piano has been known to be a most felicitous chamber music sound. One is tempted to compare the works on this CD to Brahms' own Clarinet Quintet. That would be a mistake. These works can be judged on their own merits and will richly reward the listener. However it wouldn't be wrong to notice that there must have been strong Brahmsian inspiration.

I am most partial to Labor's quintet, especially the variations in the fourth movement. The entire quintet flows along gracefully, wistfully, and with the greatest charm.

The Orion Ensemble, (Jennifer Marias, Viola; Kathryne Pirtle, Clarinet; Florentina Ramniceanu, Violin; Diana Schmück, Piano; Judy Stone, Cello), have given us excellent performances of both works.

[ Available on CD: Amazon - UK - Germany - Canada - France - Japan - ArkivMusic - CD Universe ]

Master of the Wind Quintet

Naxos 8.554228

Antonín Rejcha

Wind Quintet in C minor, Op. 91 #6
Wind Quintet in F Major, Op. 88 #6

Michael Thompson Wind Quintet
Naxos 8.554228 68:41

Variously known as Antonín, Antoine or Anton Rejcha or Reicha, this Bohemian composer is probably best known for his works for wind quintet. They are unfailingly tuneful and genial, and give each of the instruments its place in the spotlight. The above CD is but one of a number of Rejcha CDs on Naxos by this ensemble, and all are worthy of investigation. There are also quintets available on CPO.

Rejcha wrote in a number of genres including a number of symphonies that have been released on several Czech labels such as Panton, concertos, choral works and operas: you may need to work harder than usual to track these down, but the rewards are worth it.

[ Available on CD: Amazon - UK - Germany - Canada - France - Japan - ArkivMusic ]

[ Sheet music by this composer: Sheet Music Plus - ]

Battle Scenes and Orgies

Timpani 1133

Florent Schmitt

Antoine et Cléopâtre, Op. 69 (1920)
Mirages, Op. 70 (1920-21)

Orchestre National de Lorraine/Jacques Mercier
Timpani 1C1133 58:13

Some of Schmitt's orchestral works are inspired by the femme fatale: La Tragédie de Salomé, recorded by Paray, de Almeida and others, Salâmmbo, recorded by Mercier for RCA and re-released by Arkiv Music, and Antoine et Cléopâtre, written for a translation by André Gide of the Shakespeare play. This six-part suite is lushly orchestrated with some exciting sequences and, fortunately, only slight attempt at evoking Egypt. Mirages comprises two separate piano pieces which were later orchestrated and combined: the first, a sort of tombeau de Debussy, has more than a trace of La Mer.

You might also be interested in an inexpensive Apex CD of La Tragédie de Salomé and the choral Psaume 47, conducted by Marek Janowski.

[ Available on CD: Amazon - UK - Germany - Canada - France - Japan - ArkivMusic - CD Universe ]

Chamber Works by Weingartner

CPO 777049

Felix Weingartner

Sextet Op. 33 in E minor (41:04)
Octet Op. 73 in G Major (35:35)

Oliver Triendl, pianist
Ensemble Acht
CPO 777049-2

Felix Weingartner, known to recorded classical music fans until now only as a conductor, (and perhaps also as the orchestrator of the Beethoven Hammerklavier Sonata, Op. 106) had nevertheless written an impressive number of compositions. Among his works are seven symphonies, overtures, operas, tone poems, five string quartets and other chamber music. It is almost unbelievable that these works have been so long neglected!

This Sextet, scored for piano, two violins, viola, cello and double bass, is performed by the Ensemble Acht members – Christoph Schickendanz, Annette Fehrmann, Antonia Siegers, Ingo Zander, and Stephan Schäfer, plus pianist Oliver Triendl.

The first movement is an exciting and voluptuous waltz with a second theme reminiscent of a very tender melody from Richard Strauss' Death and Transfiguration. The scherzo-like second movement is delightfully mysterious. The more somber third movement "in the style of an improvisation" and the "funeral dance" of the last movement round out this impressive, richly scored, melodious, expressive, and dramatic work.

Also not to be missed on this disc: the Octet Op. 73 for clarinet, horn, bassoon, two violins, viola, cello and piano. Especially recommended are the variations in the second movement.

I am very grateful to CPO for bringing so many of Weingartner's previously neglected compositions to us. His is a very important Late Romantic voice.

[ Available on CD: Amazon - UK - Germany - Canada - France - Japan - ArkivMusic ]

[ Sheet music by this composer: Sheet Music Plus - ]

Orchestral Works by Cliffe

Sterling 1055

Frederic Cliffe

Symphony #1 in C Minor, Op. 1 (1889)
Orchestral Picture "Cloud and Sunshine" (1890)

Malmö Opera Orchestra/Christopher Fifield
Sterling CDS-1055-2 57:51

Asked to guess the identity of the composer of these works, you might consider a minor nineteenth-century German composer who knew his Brahms and Wagner very well: to take just one example, a lot of Stanford's music sounds like Brahms, but is none the worse for that.

Although born in the same year as Elgar, the English composer Cliffe followed a different path and although there are hints of later music, in the music presented here he never strays far from the norm of the period. The symphony, running about 43 minutes, is a welcome addition to the recorded repertoire. At its centre is a stately and quite emotional slow movement. Cloud and Sunshine is much what you'd expect. The somewhat reverberant acoustic – a church in Malmö – suits the music and Fifield, who has made other first recordings for Sterling, makes the best case for it.

[ Available on CD: Amazon - UK - Germany - Canada - France - Japan - ArkivMusic - CD Universe ]