Monday, October 20, 2014

Norgard Symphonies Nordic Masterworks

Pers Norgard: Symphonies Nos. 1 & 8
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Sakari Oramo, conductor
Dacapo SACD

Sakari Oramo has paired Pers Nørgard's first symphony (1953) and his most recent symphony (2011) together, creating an interesting study in contrasts. To my ears, there's a certain Nordic quality to both works. Although the 8th is more dissonant and not as tonal in structure, neither work falls neatly into the post-romantic or atonal categories. Like Sibelius, Norgard has charted his own path and created his own musical language that draws somewhat from both camps.

Nørgard greatly admired Sibelius. He corresponded with the older composer, shared some scores with him, and dedicated his first quintet to Sibelius (with permission). The Symphony No. 1 suggests that Nørgard is indeed one of the heirs of Sibelius' ascetic.

The work has an icy coolness to it, mostly due to Nørgard's orchestration. His string writing, particularly, seems to favor the treble, giving it somewhat of an edge. The subtitle, "Sinfonia Austera," puts the listener on notice, and Nørgard indeed delivers an austere work that nonetheless is quite moving in parts (particularly the slow movement).

Nørgard's 8th Symphony is the work of a mature composer thoroughly in command of his materials. Like the first, it doesn't necessarily fit into the current compositional schools. Instead, Norgard constructs his own sonic world that sounds contemporary without being trendy. The glittering chromaticism and unusual instrumentation make it a work both in and out of its time. If you purchase the SACD of this release, be sure to play it through an SACD player -- the greater detail I heard made a significant difference in the impact this symphony had on me.

Pers Nørgard is well-regarded throughout Scandinavia. Perhaps this recording will help spread his reputation even further.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A Morning of Marvelous Musical Treats!

This Friday on Vivace, we have some special musical treats for you. 

We start gently at 6 am with a Sonata for Flute and Piano by Danish composer Friedrich Kuhlau and, for viola fans, a viola concerto by Carl Stamitz. We will also salute British composer Herbert Howells on his 122nd birthday - appropriately with his arrangement of Psalm 122.

Herbert Howells and Domenico Zipoli

At 7, we find Franz Schubert in lively mood as we listen to his Five German Dances, and we'll also have a short work by Domenico Zipoli, whose 326th birthday will be on Friday.

      Felix Mendelssohn at 22

On October 17, 1831, the 22 year-old Felix Mendelssohn gave the first performance of his Piano Concerto No. 1 in G, Op. 25 in In Munich. To commemorate the occasion we'll hear it at about 7:30 am, in a sparkling performance by Sir Andras Schiff, who returned to the same hall in Munich to perform it with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. 

The real star of this week's show may well turn out to be the Cello Concerto No.6 by Jean Balthasar Tricklir, which we'll hear just after 8 am. We're anticipating a good audience reaction, so here's a photo of the CD cover, just in case you want to buy it.

We'll round out the show with music of Hummel and Mozart. As ever, I hope you'll join me for Vivace, 6-9 am Friday, right here on WTJU-Charlottesville.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Tudors at Prayer

The Tudors at Prayer
Byrd, Tallis, White, Munday, Tavener
Magnificat; Philip Cave, director

Though the theme is somewhat narrowly defined, (English sacred music 1560-1590), there's a surprising amount of variety in this program. Henry VII created the Anglican church, though it had very little change on the sacred music John Tavener and Thomas Tallis composed.

His daughter, Mary I, reinstated the Catholic church, and the music of her time by William Munday and Robert White, reflect that return to tradition. Elizabeth I, like her father an ardent music-lover, brought back the Anglican church, and the sacred music of her time seems more cosmopolitan, somehow. The sacred works of William Byrd don't follow quite follow tradition as closely.

Magnificat performs all these works with appropriate interpretation, making it easier to hear the subtle differences between works written for monarchs with conflicting agendas.The sound is spacious, as befitting the chapels and cathedrals for which these works were written, with just enough ambiance to make the ensemble sound full, without obscuring the contrapuntal lines within.