Monday, July 28, 2014

Armonia Ensemble Excels with Strauss Sonatinas

Richard Strauss: Wind Sonatinas
Armonia Ensemble
Berlin Classics


Wind music from one of the greatest orchestrators of all time played by the wind players of one of the greatest orchestras of all time. How could the results be anything less than satisfying?

Towards the end of his life, Richard Strauss ceded his role as an innovator and began writing works that unabashedly embraced the past -- which turned out to be just as innovative in their way. The 1943 Sonatina for 16 wind instruments was written during Strauss' recovery from influenza, hence the subtitle "From an Invalid's Workshop."

Strauss embraces a Mozartian ideal in this work, creating a composition of clarity and balance. He revisited the form the following year. The second wind sonatina "Happy workshop" is full of energy and good spirits.

Although  written only for winds, Strauss' orchestration genius dazzles the ear with imaginative instrumental combinations throughout these two sonatinas.

The Armonia Ensemble is basically the Gewandaus Orchestra of Leipzig's wind players. And that's a plus. Because they make these works sound orchestral. Wind ensembles can sometimes sound a little wanting, but not with the Armonia. This ensemble doesn't need strings to give it a rich, full sound. Attacks are clean, the blend is seamless, and the playing is inspired. A perfect match of music and musicians.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Your usual Friday fun ... on Thursday as well!

If you will honor us with your company on WTJU-91.1 FM, this week and next week, you'll have to put up with me for two morning shows.

Thursday Morning


On Thursday, I'll be hosting Classical Cafe, and to celebrate the birthday of French composer, Adolphe Adam, the first hour will be filled with ballet music: two suites from Giselle.


A short sample of the music you'll be hearing!

After 7 am, we'll hear a Boccherini Symphony and a Bassoon Concerto by Johann Christian Bach, and we'll mark the birthday of the inventive 20th Century Canadian/British composer, Robert Farnon.

Our third birthday of the morning is that of Swiss composer, Ernest Bloch:  we'll listen to his Jewish Poem No. 1, Dancing just after 8 am.  A Quartet by Devienne and a Quintet by Mozart will bring Classical Cafe to a delicious and satisfying conclusion.

 Friday Morning

If you'd like to come back for more vivacious music on Friday, Vivace will feature a flute and clarinet work by Franz Danzi and a harp concerto by the rarely-heard English composer, Elias Parish Alvars, whom Hector Berlioz called "the Franz Liszt of the harp".


At 7 am, we have some delightful music for lute by Haydn, a waltz by Carl Ziehrer and an oboe concerto by Franz Krommer.

After 8 am, we'll hear a concerto by Albinoni and music from two of the Mozart family, a Serenade by Wolfgang and a piano concerto by his son, Franz Xaver Mozart.


I hope you'll join us as you start your day.   I look forward to the pleasure of your company, on Thursday and Friday mornings, here on WTJU-Charlottesville.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Seattle Symphony Debuts Label with Faure

Gabriel Fauré: Masques et Bergamasques; Pelléas et Mélisande; Dolly; Pavane; Fantaisie; Berceuse; Élégie
Seattle Symphony
Seattle Symphony Chorale
Ludovic Morlot, conductor
Seattle Symphony Media


I received a package with three discs to review. When I asked a colleague which one to begin with, he said, "Start with the Fauré." It was good advice. The Seattle Symphony has started their own record label, and this inaugural release is a strong start.

The plush romanticism of Fauré's music seems a perfect match for the Seattle Symphony's ensemble sound. Pelléas et Mélisande was recorded before a particularly well-behaved live audience, and the entire program was recorded in installments over a two year period. Yet the album has a surprisingly uniform sound.

And what a sound! The recorded ensemble has an expansive, warm sound that serves the music well. A real standout is the Pavane, which includes the Seattle Symphony Chorale singing with the intimate delicacy of a chamber choir.

Ludovich Morlot brings out the personality of each work; the light-heartedness of Masques et Bergamasques, the charming innocence of Dolly. the dark beauty of Pelléas et Méllisande. And the featured soloists from within the orchestra are worthy of note, too. Flutist Demarre McGill (Fantaisie for Flute), violinist Alexander Velinzon (Berceuse), and cellist Efe Baltacigil (Élégie) effectively communicate the emotions of their respective works, making them much more substantial than mere showpieces.

My colleague was right. If you have a choice of what to listen to, start with the Fauré.