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October 2008 Archives

To Give Pleasure

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Hyperion CDA67036

Jean Françaix
(1912-1997)

"A huit" - Octet for Winds & Strings (20:35)
Divertissement for Bassoon & String Quintet (9:40)
Clarinet Quintet (1977) (24:32)
L'heure du Berger (1947) for Winds & Piano (7:28)

The Gaudier Ensemble
Susan Tomes, piano
Hyperion CDA67036

The clarinet quintet is a very witty work with a toe-tapping first-movement allegro, a clever scherzando a "serious" and dreamy slow third movement followed by a good-humored rondo. The entire clarinet quintet certainly does give much pleasure, and that was Françaix's stated goal for all of his compositions. This is luscious, elegant French music at its very best.

For comical works, however, L'heure du berger (Musique de Brasserie) for winds and piano takes the prize! It is vigorous and laugh-out-loud humorous. Liner notes go on to explain more of the programmatic elements, however, this short work is a stand-alone treat. The opening is guaranteed to make you smile.

The performances on this disc are crisp and clean, and the sound is excellent. Very highly recommended.

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

[ Sheet music by this composer: Sheet Music Plus - Musicnotes.com ]

Marxian Piano Works

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Chandos CHAN10479

Joseph Marx
(1882-1964)

Six Pieces for Piano (1916)
Herbst-Legende (Adagio)
Carneval (Nachtstück)
Die Flur der Engel

Tonya Lemoh, piano
Chandos CHAN10479 54:38

Most of this CD is taken up with the Six Pieces. If you've investigated any of Marx's other works – e.g., the orchestral songs, concertos, and string quartets are reviewed here at Classical Net – the style here is essentially similar, with recollections of Rachmaninov's and Scriabin's piano music to the fore. A very useful resource is the Joseph Marx web site with a wealth of information including a discography, recording projects, and a great deal else.

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

[ Sheet music by this composer: Sheet Music Plus - Musicnotes.com ]

Composer of the Great Plains

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Naxos 8.559225

George Frederick McKay
(1899-1970)

Violin Concerto (1940) 26:01
Sinfonietta #4 (1942) 17:46
Song Over The Great Plains (1953) 13:59
Suite on Sixteenth Century Hymn Tunes (1962) 20:32

Brian Reagin, Violin
National Radio Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine/John McLaughlin Williams
Naxos 8.559225

In a non-pejorative sense, the movie music we associate with "cowboy," travel and nature films of Western America owe much to this composer. His expansive style and evocative musical picture-painting can be heard most clearly in the "Song Over The Great Plains", an orchestral piece with solo piano commissioned by the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. Although McKay wrote programs to accompany some of his music, and noted that the song of a meadow-lark inspired this particular piece, the music can be enjoyed fully even without explanations.

Naxos has released three other CDs of the music of McKay in their American Classics series: 8.559143, 8.559052, 8.559330. All are well worth exploring.

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

[ Sheet music by this composer: Sheet Music Plus - Musicnotes.com ]

An Acquired Taste

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Hyperion CDA66280

Robert Simpson
(1921-1997)

Symphony #6 (1977)
Symphony #7 (1977)

Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Vernon Handley
Hyperion CDA66280 59:00

It has to be said that Simpson's symphonies are something of an acquired taste, so it's a case of try before you buy. It's difficult to provide any signposts, other than perhaps the slightest traces of such composers as Sibelius, Nielsen and Hindemith. The two symphonies presented here, each running about half an hour, are continuous with recognisable sections. Each develops considerable tension which Simpson resolves in different ways. I was immediately hooked when I heard this music but have not always persuaded others. This CD was the first of the series of recordings of Simpson's eleven symphonies, all of which remain available.

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

[ Sheet music by this composer: Sheet Music Plus - Musicnotes.com ]

A Pagan Symphony

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Hyperion CDA66630

Granville Bantock
(1868-1946)

Pagan Symphony (1923-8)
Fifine at the Fair (1911)
Two Heroic Ballads (1944)

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Vernon Handley
Hyperion CDA66630 79:38

The late Vernon Handley, dedicated champion of British music, made a number of CDs of Bantock's output for Hyperion. The music presented here is extrovert with memorable tunes and frequently thrilling orchestration. Add to that wonderful playing, superb recording and an unusually well-filled CD. I also recommend the Celtic Symphony, the Hebridean Symphony, The Cyprian Goddess, and Thalaba the Destroyer.

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

[ Sheet music by this composer: Sheet Music Plus - Musicnotes.com ]

Bloch's Symphony

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BIS 576

Ernest Bloch
(1880-1959)

Symphony in C Sharp minor (1901-2)
Schelomo (1917) 1

1 Torleif Thedéen, cello
Malmö Symphony Orchestra/Lev Markiz
BIS BIS-CD-576 78:25

The early Symphony in C Sharp minor, running nearly 54 minutes, is a remarkable accomplishment. Bloch's influences, as heard here, include Richard Strauss and Mahler. Although he may go a little over the top occasionally, the symphony is full of memorable ideas. Schelomo is probably his best-known work and receives a fine performance. As you'd expect from this source, the recording is excellent.

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

[ Sheet music by this composer: Sheet Music Plus - Musicnotes.com ]

Zemlinsky's Early Symphonies

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EMI 341446

Alexander von Zemlinsky
(1871-1942)

Symphony #1 in D Minor (1892)
Symphony #2 in B Flat Major (1897)

Gürzenich Orchestra/James Conlon
Köln Philharmonic Orchestra/James Conlon
EMI Encore 341446-2 75:36

These two early symphonies by a composer in his twenties show a wide range of influences including Brahms, Dvořák, and Bruckner. They are clearly products of their time, the second appearing in the year of Brahms' death. Zemlinsky's style was to undergo significant change and so the listener familiar with such works as the Lyric Symphony or A Florentine Tragedy will not find many points of similarity. The American conductor James Conlon has recorded much of Zemlinsky's music and makes a persuasive case for this music. These performances are also available in a 3-CD set of Zemlinsky's orchestral works.

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

[ Sheet music by this composer: Sheet Music Plus - Musicnotes.com ]

Admired by Schumann & Mendelssohn

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Dynamic 418/1-3

Antonio Bazzini
(1818-1897)

String Quartet #1 in C Major (1864)
String Quartet #2 in D minor, Op. 75 (1877)
String Quartet #3 in E Flat, Op. 76 (1878)
String Quartet #4 in C Major, Op. 79 (1888)
String Quartet #5 in C Major, Op. 80 (1892)
String Quartet #6 in C Major, Op. 82 (1892)

Quartetto D'Archi Di Venezia
Dynamic CD418/1-3 3CDs 2:41

Bazzini, violin virtuoso, teacher, composer, conductor is hardly remembered today except for La Ronde des Lutins (Dance of the Goblins), Op. 25. These six fine string quartets would be a very happy addition to anyone's listening collection of Romantic chamber works. In addition, string players should take note: The four quartets in print are of the playing difficulty of Beethoven Op. 18 #1, and bear not the remotest resemblance to the famous (and technically frightening) virtuoso encore piece "La Ronde des Lutins". The first two quartets sound as if they were inspired by a sunny Mendelssohn, and the later quartets are more in the tradition of Schumann. These are a blend of tuneful, singing, Italian melodies and traditional German string quartet writing.

Watch: Perlman playing La Ronde des Lutins

Sheet music for string quartets #1, 2, 3 & 5 available from Edition Silvertrust and Merton Music.

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

[ More sheet music by Bazzini: Sheet Music Plus - Musicnotes.com ]

Brahms, but Not for Purists!

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Naxos 8.554817

Johannes Brahms
(1833-1897)

String Sextet #1 in B Flat Major, Op. 18 (1860)
String Sextet #2 in G Major, Op. 36 (1865)

Silke-Thora Matthies & Christian Köhn, piano four-hands
Naxos 8.554817 74:35

This is Volume 13 of the Naxos series of releases of Brahms' arrangements for either piano four-hands or for two pianos. So far the traversal has covered many of his works including the symphonies, the concertos, the chamber music for four or more players, and the German Requiem, and a few works by other composers, notably Schumann's Piano Quintet. All are performed by these two fine players: there are 17 CDs in all, of which this is a representative sample.

There are some music lovers who find arrangements of any kind something to avoid, usually citing the composer's intentions. The difference in this case is that the arrangements are by the composer, for the usual reason, to make them accessible to a wider audience. Hearing these familiar works in this guise points up details not always noticed from the originals and refreshes one's interest in the works generally. The whole series is very recommendable indeed.

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

Danish Desserts

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Chandos CHAN9609

Johannes Frederik Frøhlich
(1806-1860)

Symphony in E Flat, Op. 33 (1830)

Niels Gade
(1817-1890)

Symphony #4, Op. 20 (1849-50)

Danish National Radio Symphony Orchestra/Christopher Hogwood
Chandos CHAN9609 55:38

The Danish Frøhlich, not to be confused with an Austrian and a Swiss with a similar name, wrote but one symphony, thought to be the first Romantic symphony by a Dane. It's a very cheerful work, reminiscent in orchestration and mood to similar works by Berwald. The Gade work is similarly lacking in gloom and, like most of Gade's eight symphonies, owes more than a little to Mendelssohn.

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

Americana

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Deutshe Grammophon 429860

Carl Ruggles
(1876-1971)

Sun-treader (1926-31)

William Schuman
(1910-1992)

Violin Concerto (1959) 1

Walter Piston
(1894-1976)

Symphony #2 (1943)

1 Paul Zukofsky, violin
Boston Symphony Orchestra/Michael Tilson Thomas
Deutshe Grammophon 429860-2 74:43

Ruggles' music is not easy to love but even if you find it not to your taste, the rest of the CD will more than make up for it. The Schuman Violin Concerto is variously anguished, calm, strident, lyrical, violent, and similar in many ways to the first Shostakovich Violin Concerto. There are other recordings if you can't find this one. Less often recorded is the Piston symphony, in three movements, at whose heart is an adagio which is unmistakably American. For my money, it's Piston's best symphony. The performances are exemplary.

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

20th-Century Czechs

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Supraphon SU3700-2

Jarmil Burghauser
(1921-1997)

Seven Reliefs for Large Orchestra (1962)

Václav Dobiáš
(1900-1978)

Symphony #2 (1956-57)

Czech Philharmonic Orchestra/Karel Ancerl
Supraphon SU3700-2 67:48

The Burghauser work is a series of short movements which include nothing dissonant enough to upset your maiden aunt. The main event is the 50+ minute symphony by Dobiáš: it might remind you of Khachaturian, Shostakovich, or even Janácek. This is another from Supraphon's extensive back catalog of Ancerl recordings which make one wish for more recordings of music by some of the unfamiliar names among them.

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

Dyson's Concerto for Violin

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Chandos CHAN9369

George Dyson
(1883-1964)

Violin Concerto
Children's Suite after Walter De La Mare

Lydia Mordkovich, violin
City of London Sinfonia/Richard Hickox
Chandos CHAN9369 62:23

Although written in 1942, this beautiful violin concerto would make lovers of Elgar and Stanford very happy with its lyrical style and noble spirit. Dyson's concerto has four movements, instead of the usual three. It opens with a very introspective first movement that seems initially like a symphony with violin accompaniment. The second movement is a jolly jig, followed by a very somber third movement, song-like in its orchestral introduction and carried through in the solo part. The last movement is a joyous, lighthearted dance. It leaves the listener in good spirits.

[ Available on CD: Amazon - UK - Germany - Canada - France - Japan
  Reissued as part of CHAN10337: Amazon - UK - Germany - Canada - France - Japan - ArkivMusic - CD Universe ]

[ Sheet music by Dyson: Sheet Music Plus - Musicnotes.com ]

Conductor of the Royal Ballet

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Hyperion CDA67049

Constant Lambert
(1905-1951)

Pomona: Ballet in One Act (1927)
Tiresias: Ballet in Three Acts (1950)

Michael Cleaver, piano
English Northern Philharmonia/David Lloyd-Jones
Hyperion CDA67049 74:02

Tiresias is an exciting and strange work that is sometimes jazzy and always full of orchestral color . It sounds at times like Stravinsky and at other times it has different contemporaneous flavors, mostly French, but is always engaging. There are passages with bitonality, polytonality, crackling and varied percussion sounds, rude brass choirs, dark strings (absent violins and violas), and sometimes tender meandering winds and extended piano parts. The Greek myth of Tiresias is the inspiration, of course, but it also stands alone as a musical work of interest. It sounds as if it were written during the musically explosive nineteen-twenties, but it was really written shortly before the too-early death of Lambert.

Read the full Classical Net review.

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

[ Sheet music by this composer: Sheet Music Plus - Musicnotes.com ]
Trumpet