Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Fuchs: Atlantic Riband - Rousing American Music

Fuchs: Atlantic Riband; American Rhapsody; Divinum Mysterium
Michael Ludwig, violin
Paul Silverthorne, viola
Carmine Lauri and David Alberman, violin; Paul Silverthorne, viola; Timothy Hugh, cello
London Symphony Orchestra
JoAnn Falletta, conductor

Kenneth Fuchs is a composer who's star is on the rise, and no wonder. His music is fresh, exciting, original -- and accessible. This latest release in Naxos' ongoing series of Fuchs recordings. The disc opens with  Atlantic Riband, a short, festive work that has some of the big, open feel of Copland.

The American Rhapsody for violin and orchestra is a more substantial work. It's elegiac, unabashedly beautiful music. The solo violin part's not that difficult technically, but it requires real musicianship to pull it off. Michael Ludwig plays with a great deal of sensitivity and authentic expression, really bringing across the lyrical nature of the work to come across.

Also included is the Divinum Mysterium, an excellent showcase for the viola. Fuchs takes advantage of the lower register of the viola (as compared to the violin) and supports it with very warm harmonies. It's based on a hymn tune, and while Divinum Mysterium is a deeply spiritual work, it's not always serious. There's a mild hoedown section in the middle that give the work an American flavor.

The Concerto Grosso for string quartet and string orchestra has an intersting dynamic to it. The music goes back and forth between the string quartet, and it's larger counterpart, the string orchestra. Discover the Wild wraps up the program. It's a short travelogue style overture full of good-natured energy.

Strong performances by the London Symphony Orchestra and JoAnne Falletta. This isn't the first time Fuch and Falletta have collaborated, and the depth of understanding Falletta brings to this music benefits both he composer, and the listener. Thoroughly enjoyable for first note to last.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Wolf-Ferrari Wind Concertinos: Light and Delightful

Wolf-Ferarri: Wind Concertos for Oboe, Cor Anglais, Bassoon
Andrea Tenaglia, oboe
William Moriconi, cor angalis
Giuseppe Ciabocchi, bassoon
Orcestra Sinfonic di Roman Franchesco La Vecchia, conductor

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari is best known for his operas, particularly his comic operas. The same vein of light-hearted music with appealing, lyrical melodies run through this collection of his wind concertinos. The three works -- Idillio-concertino in A for oboe; Concertino in A-flat for Cor angles and Suite-concertino in F for bassoon -- feature a solo wind instrument backed by a small string orchestra. And all three share have the feeling of airiness and transparency.

Wolf-Ferrari composed these works between 1932 and 1947, but there's no trace of German dodecophonic ideology here! Instead, Wolf-Ferrari music firmly rooted in neo-classical tradition without a whiff of 20th century angst or atonality.

The melodies given to the solo instruments are quite vocal in nature; not surprising, perhaps coming from an opera composer. The oboe, cor anglais, and bassoon are instruments that can use breath to articulate phrasing just like a singer. Like an opera singer, each instrument lingers lovingly over long notes, letting the sheer beauty of the sound carry the music. And for the particularly warm sound of the cor anglais and bassoon, those are welcome pauses, indeed.

Great music? Perhaps not. Great listening experience? Absolutely. This is accessible, good-natured music that can easily brighten one's day. I know it brightened mine.

Nielsen Symphonies Shine in New SACD

Nielsen: Symphony No. 2, The Four Temperaments; Symphony No. 3,  Sinfonia Espansiva
New York Philharmonic
Alan Gilbert, conductor

Carl Nielsen was one of the great symphonists of the 20th century, as this live recording readily demonstrates. His second symphony, "The Four Temperaments" features four movements, each depicting a different mood. Four different modes of expression. Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic take full advantage of the score, and offer up an exciting reading that not only shows the contrasts between the movements, but highlights the overarching continuity between them.

Nielsen's Symphony No. 3 is subtitled the "Sinfonia Espansiva" for good reason. Gilbert and the Philharmonic deliver on the bigness of the work, without making it sound bloated. Rather, Nielsen's music seems to just open up and build in a natural and unhurried manner.

Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic perform these symphonies in an organic fashion. Conductor and orchestra work together as one to create a unified artistic vision (not surprising, given Gilbert's strong ties to the ensemble). The lyrical passages sing, and the climaxes arrive with power and authority. These are dramatic readings, but not overly dramatic. The music is dynamic and flowing, but never overwrought.

Although you can play this on a regular CD player, I highly recommend listening to it on an SACD player. The expanded detail and presence makes the performances even more engaging. I gained new appreciation for the precision for the Philharmonic's bass section, particularly during the third symphony. And for a live recording, the sound is amazingly clean and free of audience noise.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Music Animation Machine: seeing the structure of music

I ran across this amazing music program the other day. The Music Animation Machine does exactly what the name says -- it takes music and converts it to animated graphics. But it does more than that. Those graphics show pitch, duration and convergence.

You don't have to read music to see what the Music Animation Machine illustrating. And that's great. Because it's now possible for someone to see what musicians hear -- the organization and structure of music.

It's particularly effective for contrapuntal music, where independent lines weave in and out of each other to create the harmony. Watch this example of a Gabrieli Canzon. Converted to animated graphics, the structure of the music retains its beauty.

Technology in the arts? Sometimes its a great thing.