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The Classical Explorer

November 2008 Archives

Champion of Italian Instrumental Music

Albany TROY191

Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco

Piano Trio #1, Op. 49 (1928)
Piano Quintet No 1, Op. 69 (1934)

The Arman Ensemble
Albany Records TROY191

These chamber works are like a big box of imported chocolates. Every movement seems different in character yet each of the works are perfectly integrated. There is clear influence of the fertile 1920's with strong suggestions of French and Spanish color. Each work is a fine example of chamber music that is both accessible immediately and worth many repeated hearings.

Castelnuovo-Tedesco studied with Pizzetti, who with several other Italian composers (Martucci, Casella, Malipiero, Respighi and others) founded societies for the propagation of modern Italian instrumental music. In Italy, Castelnuovo-Tedesco was in demand as a composer and as a critic and essayist. However, when the situation for Jews got much too dangerous, Italy's loss was America's gain. Castelnuovo-Tedesco left Italy in 1939 and became an American Citizen in 1946. He wrote over 200 film music projects, and for many years taught some of the brightest film composers including Henry Mancini, André Previn, Nelson Riddle and John Williams.

The Arman Ensemble members performing the trio are: Deniz Arman Gelenbe, piano; Fritz Gearhart, violin; Brian Manker, cello. The Quintet personnel are Deniz Arman Gelenbe, piano; Eric Prichard, violin; Hsiao-mei Ku, violin; Jonathan Bagg, viola; Fred Raimi, cello.

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

[ Sheet music by this composer: Sheet Music Plus -
   Score for the trio at Eastman School of Music, Sibley Library
   Score for the quintet at Michigan State University Library ]

Delightful Late Romantic String Quartets

Pavane ADW7483

Joseph Jongen

String Quartet #1 in C minor, Op. 3 (1894)
String Quartet #2 in A Major, Op. 50 (1916)

The Gong Quartet
Pavane Records ADW7483 69:24

Think of the most delightful late Romantic string quartets you have ever heard, and then listen to Jongen's First String Quartet. You will not be disappointed. This prize-winning youthful work was very popular until the post-WWI rejection of lovely Mendelssohnian Romanticism. The Second String Quartet, also a very beautiful composition, but quite different from the first, will thrill listeners and performers alike. It sounds like an extension of Debussy's string quartet, voluptuous, mysterious, exciting and colorful.

These quartets are performed by the splendid Gong Quartet: Hanxiang Gong, Yinlai Chen, violins; Jean Christophe Michallek, viola; and Martin Hesselbein, cello.

Sheet music for both quartets can be found at Edition Silvertrust

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

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

Legendary Song Transcriptions

Ivory Classics 74001

Sergei Rachmaninoff

Earl Wild's Legendary Rachmaninoff Song Transcriptions

Earl Wild, pianist
Ivory Classics 74001 77:55

These song transcriptions are perfect for people who love Rachmaninoff's melodies but don't want to hear the singing.

Transcriptions for piano solo are a tradition of the greatest pianists, including Rachmaninoff himself. Earl Wild is a formidable pianist, and he has taken these beautiful vocal settings and made complete piano solo pieces. Rachmaninoff songs are excellent material for this... I have often wished to hear more of the accompaniment and less of the vocal lines because the music Rachmaninoff wrote for the piano part is so complicated and gorgeous.

Earl Wild brings his superb technique and emotional power to these recordings. You will still hear with clarity the song-lines, but you will also hear the equal weight of the original piano lines. This is perfection.

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

[ Sheet music available at Ivory Classics ]

American Original

Naxos 8.559022

Virgil Thomson

Symphony on a Hymn Tune (1928)
Symphony #2 in C Major (1931-1941)
Symphony #3 (1972)
Pilgrims and Pioneers (1964) (from film score "Journey to America")

New Zealand Symphony Orchestra/James Sedares
Naxos 8.559022 64:21

Virgil Thomson, highly respected (often controversial) music critic, teacher and composer, was educated at Harvard and studied in France with Nadia Boulanger, one of the most influential teachers of some of the finest composers from several generations.

Paris in the 1920's was incredibly fertile ground for all of the arts, especially music. It was host to many ex-patriots from Stravinsky to Hemingway. It was in Paris where Thomson met Gertrude Stein with whom he would collaborate on two operas, "Four Saints In Three Acts", and "The Mother Of Us All". Thomson wrote music in all genres, from chamber music to film scores, from choral works to ballet.

The works in this fine Naxos "American Classics" disc are an excellent introduction to the symphonic music of Virgil Thomson. Hymn tunes, folk tunes, fanfares, popular melodies all appear in his early orchestral works. In the Symphony on a Hymn Tune, last movement, the bear even went over the mountain! The harmonies are wide open with intervals of fourths and fifths, and the orchestrations are exciting and colorful. Thomson's melodies are sweet and his treatments are witty. Not to be missed: the charming waltz from the much darker and more introspective Third Symphony. The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra does a very fine job with these American pieces.

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

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

Chamber Music from Italy

Chandos CHAN9962

Ottorino Respighi

Quintet for Piano & Strings in F minor, P. 35*
String Quartet in D minor "Ernst is das Leben heiter ist de Kunst", P. 91*
Six Pieces for Violin & Piano P. 31*

Ambache Ensemble
Chandos CHAN9962 76:42

Respighi was a part of the generation of Italian composers who wanted to show the world that Italy could produce not only great opera, but other serious classical instrumental music. His teacher, Martucci, was at the forefront of that movement. Respighi was not only a composer, but also a professional violinist and violist. While playing for two years with the Imperial orchestra in St. Petersburg, he also was a student of Rimsky-Korsakov and learned valuable orchestration techniques.

In Cobbett's Cyclopedic Survey of Chambermusic, Guido Gatti writes that in Respighi's early music, "echoes of heard music reverberated in his inner consciousness as in a seashell, and he reproduced them with the felicity of youth." There are loving nods towards Brahms in the Piano Quintet, not so much in the melodic material, but in the connective tissue. The String Quartet (in its premier recording!) bends more towards Ravel and Debussy. The mood of the string quartet is true to its Schiller sub-title: Life is serious, art is joyful. The beautiful Quartet's second movement could represent life, but the last movement is most certainly art.

The six violin pieces (1901-1905) are melodious, delicate pieces, with instant appeal. Altogether, this disc is a delight.

* Respighi Catalog by Potito Pedarra
[ Available on CD: Amazon - UK - Germany - Canada - France - Japan - ArkivMusic - CD Universe ]

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

On the Other Hand...

Querstand VKJK0611

Franz Schmidt

Concertante Variations on a Theme of Beethoven for Piano Left Hand & Orchestra (1923)
Concerto in E Flat Major for Piano Left Hand & Orchestra (1934)

Carlo Grante, piano
Middle German Radio Symphony Orchestra/Fabio Luisi
Querstand VKJK0611 79:01

The Austrian-American pianist Paul Wittgenstein, who lost his right arm in World War I, commissioned a number of works for piano left hand of which the best known are the Ravel concerto, Prokofiev's 4th piano concerto, and Britten's Diversions. The two works on this CD are far less known and are said to have been more to Wittgenstein's liking. The variations are on the little scherzo from the Spring Violin Sonata. The concerto runs about 48 minutes and contains what seems to be difficult writing for the piano. Both works are Romanticism writ large and are commended especially to those with a taste for the music of this period.

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

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

Orchestral Music from Down Under

ABC Classics 476226-7

Carl Vine
(b. 1954)

Oboe Concerto (1996) 1
Canzona (1985)
Suite from The Tempest (1990)
Smith's Alchemy (1994)

1 Diana Doherty, oboe
Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra/Ola Rudner
ABC Classics 476226-7 70:16

The Australian composer Carl Vine has a number of CDs to his credit including a set of the six symphonies, also on ABC Classics, and one of piano music on Tall Poppies which includes the first two sonatas and the Anne Landa Preludes. This CD offers different facets of his work. The concerto is by turns dramatic and lyrical, while the Canzona for strings and Smith's Alchemy are somewhat grittier. The Tempest, which has some affinity with the Copland of Appalachian Spring, has its climax in a memorable theme for the horns.

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

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

A Minor Swedish Symphonist

Marco Polo 8.225105

Adolf Fredrik Lindblad

Symphony #1 in C, Op. 19 (1831)
Symphony #2 in D (1855)

Uppsala Chamber Orchestra/Gérard Korsten
Marco Polo 8.225105 70:29

Like a number of Scandinavian composers of the nineteenth century, Lindblad studied in Germany where he became friendly with Mendelssohn. Lindblad's later work is mainly chamber music, partly as a result of his change of direction following what he saw as unwarranted criticism. These two symphonies have traces of Berwald and although less adventurous than that composer's work, they are highly attractive works full of good tunes, fine orchestration and general good humor: a pity they are the only symphonies he left us.

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

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

An American Romantic

Naxos 8.559117

George Whitefield Chadwick

Euterpe (1903)
Angel of Death (1918)
Aphrodite (1911)
Melpomene (1887)
Thalia (1883)

Nashville Symphony Orchestra/Kenneth Schermerhorn
Naxos 8.559117 79:26

My first encounter with Chadwick's music was his Symphonic Sketches which for years was about the only work available on record. Although things have improved considerably, much of this program is not otherwise available. The titles show Chadwick's interest in antiquity and although the music shows the influence of his studies in Germany, there are elements of later American music showing through. The major piece is Aphrodite running about half an hour: it has an exquisite earworm tune that foreshadows the slow movement of Barber's first symphony.

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

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

Mendelssohnian from Denmark

BIS CD-356

Niels Wilhelm Gade

Symphony #5 in D minor, Op. 25 (25:46)
Symphony #6 in G minor, Op. 32 (24:02)

Roland Pöntinen, piano
Stockholm Sinfonietta/Neeme Järvi
BIS CD-356

Can this be a lost Schumann piano concerto? Is it really a concerto? No, it is a fine Romantic symphony with a very prominent piano part. Gade, one of the most important Danish composers of the 19th century, was greatly influenced by Mendelssohn and, of course, Schumann. In this collection of Gade's symphonies, Symphony #5 stands out not only for its unusual inclusion of the piano, but also as a very fine example of Schumann-era composition.

Gade, wrote in almost all genres, and fortunately BIS and more recently Chandos have recorded all of his eight symphonies. Gade's string quartets are also recommended, as are his overtures.

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

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

Melodious, Energetic and Emotionally Stirring

CPO 999352-2

Ethel Mary Smyth

String Quartet in E minor (41:40)
String Quintet Op. 1 in E Major (26:28)

Joachim Griesheimer, cello
Mannheimer String Quartet
CPO 999352-2

This difficult-to-find disc is certainly worth searching for. Dame Ethyl Smyth was a very outspoken champion of women's rights and women composers. She studied with Herzogenberg and received encouragement from Brahms and Clara Schumann.

Smyth composed this powerful, mature and captivating string quartet in two time periods, the first two movements in 1902 and the rest in 1912. The form is classical; the sound is very Late Romantic, melodious, energetic and emotionally stirring. It is performed with excellence by the members of the Mannheimer String Quartet: Andreas Krecher and Claudia Hohorst, violins; Niklas Schwarz, viola; and Armin Fromm, violoncello.

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

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

String Quartets from the Master Violinist

Dynamic CDS134

Niccolò Paganini

String Quartet #1 in D minor
String Quartet #2 in E Flat Major
String Quartet #3 in A minor

Quartetto d'archi Paganini
Dynamic CDS134 64:55

These string quartets would be perfect candidates for "stump the listener" contests. They don't sound like what you'd expect to hear from Paganini. These pieces are not show pieces for violin with strange effects like bird trills, harmonics, left-hand pizzicato, and various spectacular fingering and bowing effects that are found in other works of Paganini. Instead, these quartets, dedicated to King Vittorio Emanuele I (c. 1815) could be mistaken for lost early Haydn quartets. They are charming, delicate, and would be perfect for the amusement of amateur chamber musicians and informal audiences. They are performed beautifully by the Quartetto d'archi Paganini (Bruno Pignata, violin; Gian Luca Allocco, violin; Ernest Braucher, viola; Dario De Stefano, cello.) The sound quality is excellent. (Also available as part of a 10CD set of "Complete Chamber Music" - Dynamic CDS553/1-10. You will also find guitar quartets, violin and cello duets, and even three duets for violin and bassoon in the ten-disc boxed set.)

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

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