Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Hoffmeister and Hummel, Mozart and Salieri

This Friday on Vivace, we'll have some melodic treasures to share with you.

In the first hour, there will be a rare broadcast of Hubert Parry's Symphony No. 1 in G-Major which has not been played on WTJU since we started keeping records  And after that, we'll hear a short work by Anton Bruckner - really!  Such things do exist!

After 7 am, the emphasis is on sweet, melodious music.  We have a superb clarinet concerto by Franz Anton Hoffmeister, an Impromptu by Vorisek and a remarkable serenade by Johann Hummel. 

And after 8 o'clock, we'll hear some exquisite music by two composers wrongly thought to be fierce rivals who were in fact friends: Mozart and Salieri.

In reality, Antonio Salieri was one of the few mourners who attended Mozart's sparse funeral and later trained Mozart's son, Franz Xaver, as a musician.  We'll hear music by both of them as well as a violin concerto by Johann Stamitz and a piano sonata by Haydn. 

So do join me, as ever, for Vivace, Friday morning, 6-9 am, on WTJU-Charlottesville, 91.1 FM for three hours of Vivacious fun!

You can also replay the program anytime from the WTJU archives. The program will be available for replay through 9/12/13

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Rautavaara: Sacred Choral Works - Beautiful music beautifully recorded

Rautavaara: Missa a Cappella
Sacred Choral Works
Latvian Radio Choir
Sigvards Klava, director

There's a consistency about Einojuhani Rautavaara's writing that gives his music a timeless quality. After auditioning this new release, I revisited the earliest recording I owned of his music, "Angels and Visitations" (1997). The style was virtually identical.

That's not to say Rautavaara hasn't grown creatively. Rather, to me it shows that once he hit upon the best way to express himself musically, he's simply continued in that vein, creating works that continue to be deeply spiritual and thought-provoking.

This new release is no exception. The major work on the album, Missa a cappella, is a floating, ever-changing cloud of sound that benefits from the resonant echoes of the cathedral it was recorded in. This is not music for the concert hall, but truly music for the church. Rautavaara writes masterfully for choir, creating a work that is ethereal and spiritual, yet rooted in human emotion.

The release is filled out with several shorter a cappella selections that compliment the Missa perfectly. The Latvian Radio Choir under Sigvards Klava has a warm, blended sound ideally suited to Rautavaara's music. Beautiful music beautifully recorded.

Monday, August 26, 2013


Wagnerians could be nowhere else this summer of the bicentennial of Wagner’s birth but in Bayreuth for the new production of the Ring. This writer was one of the privileged few to have a ticket for one of the three Ring cycles presented at the Festival this summer (the second cycle, August 14-19). The brutal heat, topping 95 degrees in Central Europe, had finally abated, leaving cool evening air in its wake, making the atmosphere of the Festspielhaus at least tolerable.

Much critical commentary has already been written about the staging by Berlin director Frank Castorf. To characterize it as "Eurotrash" is almost a compliment. Rarely has such egotistical, willfully ugly, vulgar, and patently condescending staging been seen on any operatic stage, let alone one as exalted as Bayreuth's. The staging was especially unfortunate in that Castorf has a virtuoso director’s facility for using props and movement on the stage for visual effect. Yet his staging reflected his contempt for the audience in the house. This production seemed to say "I want to see just how much crudity served up by my ego you can tolerate in the guise of service to great art." That said, it speaks to Wagner's genius and the commitment of the artists for this Ring that somehow Wagner's mighty vision survived the offense visited on his creation by Castorf's production.

To pick just a few examples, what kind of imagination could conceive of the Rhinemaidens as voluptuous floozies turning tricks in a rundown second-rate motel run by Wotan? This is, after all, Der Ring des Nibelungen, but where are the Nibelungs? Nowhere to be found, rendering the chorus of clanging anvils that accompanies the voyage of Wotan and Loge to Nibelheim completely pointless. In Siegfried the purpose of the forging of the great sword Notung is to give Siegfried a weapon with which to dispatch Fafner and seize the gold. Fafner is done in by a burst of fire from Siegfried’s Kalashnikov assault rifle! Thereafter Notung becomes nothing more than a pointless prop. To a red Berliner of Castorf's generation, knee-jerk anti-Americanism comes with the territory, even though it has nothing to do with Castorf's narrative, assuming that there is a narrative. wake, making the atmosphere of the Festspielhaus at least tolerable.

Fortunately, this Ring was saved from disaster by the performing artists. The singing, with few exceptions, was of a high order. Wolfgang Koch's Wotan, while the voice is a bit light for the role, was lyrically sung. Sorin Coliban's Fafner, while well sung, was eclipsed by the Fasolt of Günther Groissböck. He has a resonant bass voice and an appropriately menacing stage presence. Nadine Weissmann's Erda was sung with a rich contralto voice, even though Castorf asked her to engage in stage behavior that was often unspeakably vulgar. Of the Rhinemaidens, Julia Rutigliano's Wellgunde was especially well-sung.

Die Walküre was the only one of Castorf’s creations that had any coherence. His visualization of Hunding's hut was convincing, as was the way in which the scenery and props were used by the characters to impart the action. The most consistently fine singing in this Ring was by Johan Botha and Anja Kampe, as Siegmund and Sieglinde. Botha's acting can be stiff and with little nuance, but what singing! He has a large tenor voice which he employs with just the kind of bel canto sensitivity and warmth that Wagner, who admired Bellini's operas, intended. If anything, Kampe was even better. She captured the fear and hatred she had for her husband, the brute Hunding (Franz-Joseph Selig), utterly convincingly. Her voice soared over the orchestra with a sweet tone and fine phrasing. Weissmann and Rutigliano distinguished themselves as Valkyries Schwertleite and Siegrune. Winterstürm and Wotan's Abscheid, were high points of this Ring, and Castorf actually made the magic fire believable.

Castorf’s Siegfried was almost unbearably vulgar, even given his low standards. The conclusion of Act III, with the arrival of two mechanical crocodiles to see the lovers off, is probably the stupidest bit of staging I have seen in over 40 years of opera-going. But Koch’s Wanderer and Burkhard Ulrich’s slippery Mime were nicely realized, not to mention well-sung. Catherine Foster’s Brünnhilde hit her stride in Siegfried. But Siegfried ultimately belongs to Siegfried, and Lance Ryan disappointed in the title role. He has great upper extension to his voice, and it has the bright edge needed for this role, but his voice has a leathery quality with little nuance. Everything he sang sounded pretty much the same.

Die Götterdämmerung, of course, is probably impossible to stage–how to stage the end of the world? Castorf’s effort, though, was particularly feeble. Having been given the Ring by Brünnhilde, the Rhinemaidens simply cast it into a charcoal brazier, while Hagen looks on helplessly, as the object of his affection goes up in smoke. At least Attila Jun looked and acted the part of the consummate villain Hagen, and he sang the music with conviction and a big, dark voice. Foster was at her best in the Immolation Scene, even though she was given no help by the staging.

I have saved the best for last. Conductor Kirill Petrenko and the orchestra covered themselves with glory. They were rewarded at the end of each opera with huge ovations, each one of which was richly deserved. Under his leadership the orchestra phrased with the singers, and despite a massive sound, rarely drowned them out, aided immeasurably by the unique acoustics of the Festspielhaus. The brasses had a rich, dark sound that is so characteristic of the brass in the best of German orchestras. The sound of the lower strings was fat and lush, and the woodwinds played to perfection, especially the bass clarinetist, whose plaintive recurring solo lines so often signify a change in the mood throughout the Ring.

As bad as Castorf's production was, this Ring was redeemed by the singers, Petrenko’s conducting, and the magnificent playing of the orchestra. As a concert performance, it would have been a first-class Ring, but even despite the production, it was well worth the trip to the beautiful city of Bayreuth in the summertime to honor the bicentennial of the birth of Wagner, Germany's greatest opera composer.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Dmitri Tymoczko: Crackpot Hymnal - Great music, great fun

Dmitri Tymoczko: Crackpot Hymnal
Corigliano Quartet
Amernet Quartet
Illinois Modern Ensemble, Stephen Taylor, conductor
Bridge Records

If I had to sum up Dmitri Tymoczko's music in a phrase, I'd say it's serious music that doesn't take itself seriously. At least, that's the impression this new release of Tymoczko's chamber music left with me.

All the works on Crackpot Hymnal are carefully constructed, with plenty of substance and depth. But the basic building blocks borrowed from rock, jazz, blues, gospel, and even movie soundtracks. It's all blended together in a heady mixture of high-energy gravitas that I found irresistible.

And then there are the titles: "Crackpot Hymnal," "This One was Supposed to be Atonal.. "(from Typecase Treasury), "A Roiling Worm of Sound" (from Eggman Variations)... Great stuff!

Each of the four works are musical gems. Another Fantastic Voyage, for chamber orchestra and piano, captures the essence of 50's sci-fi movie scores without resorting to either parody or quotations. Typecase Treasury, written for string quartet plus bass, is a compendium of styles, each movement exploring a different subgenre of music. The piano quintet Eggman Variations begins with a simple diatonic pattern and ends in, well, a roiling worm of sound.

Crackpot Hymnal is serious fun.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Guitalian Quartet: Contemporary Italian Music for Guitar Quartet

Guitalian Quartet
Contemporary Italian Music for Guitar Quartet
Bridge Records

The Guitalian Quartet is comprised of four top-flight classical guitarists who perform together with seamless precision. This new release ffrom Bridge presents a wonderful program of contemporary Italian guitar quartet music. Included are major compositions by Giovanni Sollima and Bruno Maderna.

Bruino Sollima's "Beastiario di Leonardo" depicts the exotic beasts of Da Vinci's imagination with equally imaginative writing for the ensemble. Sollima conjures up swirling wraiths of sound for the shining Lumerpa, undulating melodies for the Alep (fish), busy, bustling chords for the horned Ceresta, and so on.

Bruno Maderna wrote Serenata per un satellite in 1969 with an unusual score that can be combined and interpreted many different ways. The work has a metallic quality to it soft, slow sections with sudden bursts of energy. The Guitalian Quartet captures the essence of this aleatoric work in a performance that sounds both spontaneous and inspired.

The quartet rounds out the album with short but well-crafted works by Carmelo Nicotra, Mauro Shiavone, Nicola Jappelli, and Paolo Arca. An enjoyable and engaging album from start to finish.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Tranquility, harps and relaxation ... then Vivacious fun!

This Friday on Vivace, we'll devote the first hour to two tranquil works, the Violin Concerto by Ignaz Pleyel and a quintet for clarinet and strings by a Finnish composer you may never have heard about.

The vivacious fun begins at 7 am, when we'll have a delightful harp concerto of Jean-Baptist Krumpholtz -- who knew a thing or two about harps because he taught several harp manufacturers how to improve their products. 

We'll also listen to a splendid Mozart sonata for violin and piano -- and just before 8 o'clock, we'll have one of those catchy tunes that may well stay in your head all day!        

After 8 o'clock, we'll have Beethoven's Violin Concerto -- but not the one you're thinking of!  But surely, you ask, isn't there only one?  All will be revealed!  And, as well as works by Jacob Rosenhain and Louis Spohr, we'll play one of Felix Mendelssohn's early teenage symphonies.

As ever, I hope you'll join me for Vivace on WTJU, for three hours of terrific music this Friday, 6-9 am.

You can also replay the program anytime from the WTJU archives. The program will be available for replay through 9/5/13

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Friedrich Gernsheim - Forgotten Genius

Friedrich Gernsheim, 1836-1916
A pretty good composer once you get
to know him.
Beginning this Wednesday, "Gamut" (6-9am Wednesday mornings) will be featuring a cycle of symphonies by German composer Friedrich Gernsheim.


Although Gernsheim's reputation has lapsed into relative obscurity, it wasn't always the case.

Friedrich Gernsheim (1838-1916) was a well-respected composer, conductor, and teacher in the latter half of the 19th century. Like Mendelssohn, Gernsheim was born into a wealthy Jewish family that valued the arts and supported his efforts.

Young Friedrich had a natural talent for the piano and studied with virtuoso Ignaz Molscheles. But rather than pursue a career as a performer, he chose to concentrate on composition and conducting.

In the late 1850's he lived in Paris, where he associated professionally with Rossini, Lalo, and Saint-Saens. Returning to Germany, he joined the faculty of Conservatory of Cologne, where he taught (among others), Engelbert Humperdink. He was a great friend of Brahms, whose style closely resembled Gernsheim's own. Gernsheim championed Brahms' music, and often programmed and conducted it.

And no wonder. Gernsheim and Brahms had very similar views about music, and wrote in similar styles. Gernsheim's First Symphony (1875) follows the same structure as Brahms' First Symphony (premiered 1876), although the two men worked independently. Gernsheim, like his friend, would write just four symphonies. He also composed a piano concerto, two violin concertos, a cello concertos, as well as an extensive amount of chamber music -- 5 string quartets, 3 piano quintets, 2 string quintets, and more.

But as good as it was (and most of his works were premiered to critical acclaim and widely performed), Gernsheim's music was still overshadowed by that of Brahms.

While I'm not suggesting we should stop playing Brahms and play Gernsheim instead, I do think the latter's music is of a quality that's worthy of the time investment to listen to it -- at least once. Which is why I'll be presenting it to you over the next month or so.

And if I can track down some recordings of Gernsheim's chamber works, I'll share them as well. But for now, between 8 and 9 AM, we can enjoy the symphonies of a perhaps unjustly neglected master. You be the judge.

8/14/13 - Symphony no. 1 in G minor, op. 32 (1875)
8/21/13 - Symphony no. 2 in E-flat major, op. 46 (1882)
8/28/13 - Symphony no. 3 in C minor 'Miriam', op. 54 (1887)
9/4/13 - Symphony no. 4 in B♭ major, op. 62 (1895)

Here's a sample:


You can also replay the program anytime from the WTJU archives. The program will be available for replay up to seven days after the original broadcast.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Carlos Chavez Piano Concerto: Muscular Music from Mexico

Carlos Chavez: Piano Concerto
Jorge Federico Osorio, piano
Sinfonica National de Mexico
Carlos Miguel Prietro, conductor

Cedille presents pianist Jorge Federico Osorio in an exciting program of Mexican composers. The centerpiece is Carlos Chavez's sole piano concerto. This massive work presents serious challenges to both soloist and ensemble, but the rewards are well worth the effort.

The work fairly crackles with energy, with mercurial changes in moods and timbres. Chavez had a unique compositional voice, one that doesn't neatly fit into the pigeonholes of 20th Century schools. So there are some spiky, atonal sections as well as some modernist tonality -- and running throughout (very subtly) the rhythm and pulse of Mexican traditional music.

This is a live performance by Osorio and the Sinfonica National de Mexico, and an extraordinarily clean one at that. The ensemble plays with pin-point accuracy, a must given the sudden changes and the percussive nature of the score. Osorio is in full command of the material. His phrasing gives logic and shape to the sea of notes before him, Osorio's restrained but heartfelt expressiveness in the slow movement is particularly moving.

The albums is filled out with solo piano works. Meditacion, an early work by Chavez, shows surprising maturity for such a young composer. Jose Pablo Moncayo's Muros Verdes is a spacious-sounding work that blends Mexican musical traditions with a Hindemith-like neo-classicism. Samuel Zyman's 16-minute Variations on an Original Theme is most contemporary work on the album -- both by creation date and sound.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

An hour of Mozart and some heavenly voices!

This Friday on Vivace!, we have several special treats for you.

The first hour is devoted to a magnificent performance of a single Mozart piece: his Divertimento No. 17 in D Major. If you'd enjoy over 51 minutes of uninterrupted Mozart, you'll find it at 6 am on Vivace this week!

At 7 am, we have a remarkable piece of music for you: the Suite du Triomphe de la République by Francois Gossec, a leading royalist, who quickly switched sides and became the favored composer of the French revolution.

Just after 7:30 am, be prepared with a nice refreshing drink and some agreeable munchies for half an hour of heavenly choral music. No more details now, as it's something of a surprise!

And after 8 o'clock, as well as a sonata by Rossini and a Haydn symphony, we'll hear from my co-host, Andrew O'Shanick, who has been wowing the audiences in Austria this summer with his singing.  He'll be singing songs from Mozart's Don Giovanni and from the musical Camelot. Here's a sample of Andrew in action a few days ago in Graz, Austria:

All in all, this week's Vivace is a program you won't want to miss!  I hope you'll join me on Friday, 6-9 am, right here on WTJU-Charlottesville.

You can also replay the program anytime from the WTJU archives. The program will be available for replay through 8/22/13

Tasmin Little: British Violin Sonatas, Vol. 1

British Violin Sonatas, Vol. 1
Britten, Ferguson, Walton
Tasmin Little, violin
Piers Lane, piano

Tasmin Little's off to a great start with her survey of British violin sonatas. Volume One features Howard Ferguson's quintessentially British Violin Sonata No. 2, Benjamin Britten's cosmopolitan Suite for Violin and Piano, and three works by William Walton that fall stylistically somewhere between. Tasmin Little plays them all with an expressive yet precise manner, letting the merits of the compositions speak for themselves.

Howard Ferguson was a somewhat conservative composer, writing in the English pastoral style after it had passed out of favor. His Violin Sonata No. 2, Op. 10 is an elegantly crafted piece of music, sounding akin to Vaughan Williams' early string works.

The Suite for Violin and Piano, Op. 6 is an early work by Benjamin Britten. Written two years before his Variations on a Theme by Frank Bridge, the suite shares the same sophisticated musical language. The angular melodic leaps, complex harmonies and sometimes frantic energy give the suite an international flavor.

William Walton's 1947 Sonata for Violin and Piano begins lyrically, seeming at times to look back to the English pastoral school that Ferguson never left. In the second movement, Walton shows he was quite familiar with atonality and serialism -- even if he didn't fully embrace them. Two short violin pieces by Walton round out the album, each a delightful vignette.

While each of the three major works has its own character, they compliment each other with their differences, and make a coherent program with their similarities. The result is a listening experience that is a pleasure from first to last. I look forward to volume two!

Monday, August 5, 2013

Zephyrus in Scotland

Zephyrus, Central Virginia's Early Music Vocal Ensemble™™ recently returned from an exciting experience. The ensemble -- which includes WTJU's own volunteer announcer Sandy Snyder -- sang as the choir in residence at St. Mary's Cathedral in Edinburgh, Scotland, July 8 - 14, 2013.

Below is a video clip of a few of the pieces the group performed. As you can see, their repertoire is quite extensive.

Missa Io son ferito ahi lasso by Orlando di Lasso
Magnificat in G minor by Henry Purcell
Beati quorum via by Charles Stanford
Psalm 42, setting by Wesley
And I Saw a New Heaven by Malcolm Archer
Sanctus from the Missa Brevis by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina
Psalm 47, setting by Davy
Nunc Dimittis in G Minor by Henry Purcell

Our announcers aren't just music lovers. Some of them, like Sandy, are top-notch performers as well!