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The Classical Explorer

March 2009 Archives

Danish Romantic

Danacord DACOCD436-437

Victor Bendix

Symphony #1 "Mountain Climbing" in C Major, Op. 16 (1882)
Symphony #2 "Sounds of Summer from South Russia" in D Major, Op. 20 (1888)
Symphony #3 in A minor, Op. 25, (1895)
Symphony #4 in D minor, Op. 30 (1906)

Omsk Philharmonic Orchestra/Evgenyi Shestakov
Danacord DACOCD436-437 133:27

The Danish composer Bendix's music is difficult to compare to that of others. It's extremely approachable music but its influences are elusive: you might hear a couple of bars that sound like Schumann, a phrase might remind you of Saint-Saëns, a tutti sounds vaguely like Bruckner, and maybe Schubert or Dvořák or Brahms will make a brief appearance, only to be replaced by someone else. All of this is not meant to suggest that Bendix is wildly derivative, but if Romantic orchestral music is among your passions, this will appeal. And no, I'd never heard of the Omsk Philharmonic nor its conductor either, but they acquit themselves very well. There is also a piano concerto by Bendix available ().

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

Fantastique Liszt

Naxos 8.550725

Hector Berlioz

Symphonie Fantastique (1830)
Transcription by Franz Liszt

Idil Biret, piano
Naxos 8.550725 55:54

Franz Liszt was a frequent transcriber and arranger of his own and other composers' music, and apart from Berlioz's best-known work, also did piano versions of several of the overtures and of Harold in Italy. Some see the recording of such arrangements as superfluous as there are any number of versions of the orchestral original available, but listening to a transcription can be useful in directing attention to a number of details that may be glossed over in an orchestral recording, and thus has considerable value. The Turkish pianist Idil Biret's Brahms series for Naxos is well-regarded, and her work on this CD is every bit as impressive.

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

The Brothers Kreisler

OK Mozart 692863136929

Fritz Kreisler

String Quartet in A minor
Transcriptions & Arrangements for Quartet & Piano Trio

OK Mozart Chamber Music Ensemble
OK Mozart ISBN 692863136929

Fritz Kreisler, the legendary Austrian violinist, was also a great arranger. His virtuoso transcriptions, often still played as encores, are well known to lovers of violin music. And Kreisler's original works for violin in the styles of other composers were sophisticated enough to fool experts (he was also a phenomenal imitator). However his chamber music, much of it conceived as vehicles for him to perform with his cellist-brother Hugo, is less often played.

The highlight here is the substantial string quartet (28min) composed in 1919, just prior to the relaunch of Kreisler's solo career in the U.S. following World War I. One might expect this to be a virtuoso showpiece for the first violin, but that is not the case. Kreisler's quartet is a fully integrated and balanced work, with complex interplay between the parts. Though his violin technique was progressive, his compositional language is firmly rooted in the Viennese romantic tradition.

These are live recordings from the OK MOZART Festival in Bartlesville, Oklahoma in 2001 and feature outstanding chamber music performances by talented musicians including Nai-Yuan Hu (violin), Ani Kavafian (violin), Paul Neubauer (viola), Ronald Thomas (cello), Anne-Marie McDermott (piano).

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

[ Sheet music by Kreisler: Sheet Music Plus - ]

Orchestral Tour de Force

Albany TROY1017

Lee Actor
(b. 1952)

Violin Concerto (2005)
Symphony #2 (2006)
Timpani Concerto (2005)

Pip Clarke, violin
Stuart Chafetz, timpani
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra/Kirk Trevor
Albany TROY1017 67:11

One of the advantages of the internet is the ability to be able to sample music before buying it: for many, perhaps, the recent dates of the works on this CD would be an immediate turn-off. Although timpani concertos are not for everyone – and this one is the shortest of the three pieces – the other two works have much to recommend them. The symphony has a variety of moods ranging from the bleak to the jovial as in Shostakovich's 9th symphony. The violin concerto in many ways reminds me of Britten's. Actor is yet another American composer to watch.

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

Dramatic Atmosphere

BIS CD-618

Vagn Holmboe

Symphony #8 "Sinfonia Boreale", Op. 56 (1951)
Symphony #9, Op. 95 (1969)

Aarhus Symphony Orchestra/Owain Arwel Hughes
BIS CD-618 65:25

The Danish composer Holmboe wrote thirteen numbered symphonies and Sinfonia in Memoriam, all of which have been recorded by BIS. The eighth is the best known of these. In the symphonies generally, there are the expected influence of Nielsen and a very dramatic atmosphere with more than a hint of menace. Those with a taste for such composers as Shostakovich will find Holmboe to their liking. He was a prolific composer and there are a number of other orchestral works and concertos to explore, not to mention twenty-one string quartets!

Read the Classical Net Review

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

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

A New Nationalism

Naxos 8.554315

Karol Szymanowski

String Quartet #1 in C Major, Op. 37 (1917)
String Quartet #2, Op. 56 (1927)

Igor Stravinsky

Concertino (1920)
Three Pieces (1914)
Double Canon (1959)

Goldner String Quartet
Naxos 8.554315 54:27

The Polish composer Szymanowski's string quartets are difficult to place in context with others, possibly very late Romantic with more than a touch of Ravel and Debussy, and with quite a lot of the powerful atmosphere of his two violin concertos. There is some dissonance but not enough to bother those listeners who avoid it. The smaller Stravinsky pieces are more austere listening, but the main attraction here is the Szymanowski.

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

[ Sheet music by Szymanowski: Sheet Music Plus - ]

Austrian in America

CPO 777329-2

Franz Mittler

String Quartet #1 in F Major (1909)
String Quartet #3 in D minor (1915-1918)

Hugo Wolf Quartet
CPO 777329-2 55:38

Franz Mittler, poet, humorist, composer, pianist, concert accompanist was born in Vienna, and came to America in 1939. He studied composition with Joseph Labor, Richard Heuberger and and he performed with the Rosé quartet and as a concert song accompanist.

This recording of string quartets is performed with great spirit and humor by the Hugo Wolf String Quartet (Sebastian Gürtler and Régis Bringolf, violins; Gertrud Weinmeister, viola; Florian Berner, violoncello).

The First Quartet is a poignant, melodic, Late Romantic and mature-sounding work by a sixteen year old boy! There are nods to Schumann and Mendelssohn (especially the Scherzo).

The Third Quartet is a musical wartime walking-tour of the waning Austro-Hungarian Empire written while the composer was a soldier. The four movements depict four of the many different nationalities that formed the Empire: Wolhynien, (now in Ukraine), a Serbian scherzo, a Styrian andante and a dashing Hungarian Rhapsody finale.

This CPO quartet disc sent me scurrying to find more pieces by Franz Mittler. I discovered a privately recorded disc with several wonderful selections performed by the Con Brio Ensemble, among them, the beautiful Piano Trio op. 3. Further examination revealed that the pianist in this recording is Diana Mittler, daughter of the composer. Furthermore, there is a Preiser (PR90567) disc with songs, performed by Wolfgang Holzmair and Russell Ryan, the same performance of the Piano Trio, and three charming piano pieces. The disc has been discontinued, but a bit of sleuthing could turn it up.

The sheet music for Mittler's First String Quartet has just been published by Edition Silvertrust in a beautiful edition, and there are plans to publish the Second Quartet and the Piano Trio later this year.

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

Piano Music From Argentina

Albany TROY837

Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983)
   Tres Piezas, Op. 6
   Suite de Danzas Criollas, Op. 15
Carlos Guastavino (1912-2000)
   El Ceibo
Constantino Gaito (1878-1945)
   Gato Correntino
Juan Jose Castro (1895-1968)
Juan Jose Ramos (1930-1995)
   Gato, La mayor
   Milonga Sureña
Julian Aguirre (1868-1924)
Luis Gianneo (1867-1968)
Mario Broeders (b.1931)
   Tangos a Los Maestros #23

Mirian Conti, piano
Albany TROY837 60min

This disc is a lovely collection of exciting and melodic short pieces, very easy on the ears. They are arranged in a good listening order and played with enchanting style. All are tonal, although Gianneo flirts a little with gentle polytonality. The two pieces by Ramos, the sprightly and catchy "Gato, La Major" and the slow and sensuous "Milonga Sureña" are especially seductive, and the pieces by Juan Jose Castro are edgy and pleasantly modern-sounding. The most famous composer on this disc, Alberto Ginastera, is represented with several selections: Three Pieces, Op. 6 composed in 1940, and the slightly more modern-sounding Suite de Danzas Criollas, Op. 15 from 1946.

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

Musical Odyssey

CPO 999875-2

Ernst Boehe

Tragic Overture, Op. 10
Symphonic Poem "Odysseus' Voyages", Op. 6
    Departure & Shipwreck
    The Island of Circe
    The Lament of Nausicaa

Rheinland-Pfalz State Philharmonic Orchestra/Werner Andreas Albert
CPO 999875-2 74:29

CPO 999908-2

Symphonic Poem "Odysseus' Voyages", Op. 6
    Odysseus' Homecoming
Symphonic Poem "Taormina"
Symphonic Epilogue to a Tragedy, Op. 11

Rheinland-Pfalz State Philharmonic Orchestra/Werner Andreas Albert
CPO 999908-2 77:52

Boehe was a native of Munich and a friend of Richard Strauss, whose influence and that of Wagner are apparent in what seems to be most of his orchestral output on these two CDs: the only biographical information I could find comes from the liner notes. The four long symphonic poems which comprise From Odysseus' Voyages last a few minutes too long to be accommodated on one CD. Boehe was better known as a conductor, mainly with the forerunner of the present Rheinland orchestra. All the music is scored for a very large orchestra and apart from the influences above, often sounds more than a little like Suk. The CDs are available separately but buying only one means you miss part of the Odysseus cycle.

[ Volume 1 available on CD: Amazon - UK - Germany - Canada - France - Japan - ArkivMusic - CD Universe ]

[ Volume 2 available on CD: Amazon - UK - Germany - Canada - France - Japan - ArkivMusic - CD Universe ]

Director of the Peabody Institute

Marco Polo dacapo 8.224088

Asger Hamerik

Symphony #3 "Symphonie lyrique" in E Major, Op. 33 (1883-84)
Symphony #4 "Symphonie majestueuse" in C Major, Op. 35 (1888-89)

Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra/Thomas Dausgaard
Marco Polo dacapo 8.224088 72:58

The Danish composer Hamerik is the best-known of a family of composers and among other achievements, was for many years a leading light in the musical life of Baltimore. Some of his training was with Berlioz and although his music does not sound like that of the French master, he does make some use of the idée fixe as in the fourth symphony. Dausgaard leads very spirited performances which show the music in its best light. Da Capo has recorded Hamerik's other five symphonies, the last of them a choral work. (Symphonies #1 & 2 8.224076; Symphonies #5 & 6 8.224161; Symphony #7 & Requiem 8.226033)

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

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

Romantic Piano Concertos Vol. 37

Hyperion CDA67511

Eduard Nápravník

Concerto Symphonique in A minor, Op. 27 (1877)
Fantaisie russe in B minor, Op. 39 (1881)

Felix Blumenfeld

Allegro de Concert in A Major, Op. 7 (1889)

Evgeny Soifertis, piano
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra/Alexander Titov
Hyperion CDA67511 57:42

After training in his homeland, the Czech Nápravník spent almost his entire career in Russia, where he made a name for himself as a pianist, organist and conductor. The Ukrainian Blumenfeld also spent his career in Russia. These examples of their work are immediately attractive with interesting melodic content and sparkling but not flashy piano writing. Anyone with a taste for Romantic piano writing will find much to enjoy.

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

[ Sheet music by Nápravník: Sheet Music Plus -
   Sheet music by Blumenfeld: Sheet Music Plus -]

An American Pioneer

New World NW350-2

John Knowles Paine

Symphony #2 "In Springtime" in A Major, Op. 34 (1880)

New York Philharmonic Orchestra/Zubin Mehta
New World NW350-2 (Reissued as 80350) 50:26

Much of Paine's musical training occurred in Germany and thus it was the musical thought of that country which influenced his composition. During his long teaching career, Paine taught composition to such diverse composers as Arthur Foote, John Alden Carpenter and Carl Ruggles.

The second of his two symphonies, regarded as the first significant works in that form by an American composer, is somewhat longer than the first and was premiered in Boston. Its most noticeable influence is Schumann. The first symphony was recorded for New World by the same forces. His symphonies do not sound American but as trailblazers they deserve to be better known.

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

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

Poulenc's Chamber Music

Naxos 8.553612

Francis Poulenc

Sonata for Violin & Piano (18:26)
Sonata for Piano & Cello (21:51)
Sonata in B Flat Major for Clarinet & Piano (13:24)
Bagatelle "Le bal masqué" in D minor for Violin & Piano (2:17)

Graf Mourja, violin
Ronald van Spaendonck, clarinet
Françoise Groben, cello
Alexandre Tharaud, piano
Naxos 8.553612

The Sonata for Clarinet and Piano was one of the last works composed by the prolific Poulenc, as part of a set of three wind sonatas never completed. The characteristics of Poulenc's style are all here – great wit, kaleidoscopic moods, shifting harmonies that skitter around but do not disturb the impression of tonality, discords that skip by so quickly that they are hardly noticeable, and in the slower movements, nostalgia, longing, and sweet melody.

The other pieces on this disc, as well as the other volumes in this series, are all highly recommended.

Volume I - Naxos 8.553611
Volume III - Naxos 8.553613
Volume IV - Naxos 8.553614
Volume V - Naxos 8.553615
[ Available on CD: Amazon - UK - Germany - Canada - France - Japan - ArkivMusic - CD Universe ]

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