Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Vivace Christmas Special

This Friday, we'll broadcast the Vivace Christmas Show, a mixture of classical and Christmas music. 

We start with the Czech Christmas Eve Mass by Jan Ryba, a perennial favorite, followed by some piano music by Beethoven.

We'll devote the first part of the 7 o'clock hour to Suites 3 and 4 of The Many Moods of Christmas, the seminal 1963 work by Robert Russell Bennett. We have the 1983 recording by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus.  

After concertos by Albinoni and Vivaldi, we have the brand-new best-selling recording of Angels from the Realms of Glory by cellist Steven Sharp Nelson and The Piano Guys.

There's more Christmas music in the 8 o'clock hour, culminating, as usual with selections from Messiah by Handel.  

You're most welcome to sing along, but above all, I hope you'll join me here on WTJU-Charlottesville for Christmas Vivace, Friday morning, 6-9 am.  And finally, let me wish you and all those you love a peaceful, joyful Christmas and a very happy new year.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Deborah Murray's finale on Classical Sunrise

This Sunday, please remember to tune in to Classical Sunrise, 6-9 am, here on WTJU-Charlottesville.

After 15 years, Deborah Murray is bowing out as host of the program, and this will be her last show.

Deborah has been an outstanding station volunteer, not only hosting a program, but also serving as Classical Department Director. She has overseen the classical programming on WTJU, and helped guide it through difficult times. She's also organized the classical department's fund-raising marathons and has been personally responsible for bringing in generous contributions from her listeners.

Most important, though, is that Deborah has carefully and thoughtfully chosen every work she's aired over the last decade and a half. That care and attention to detail has made "Classical Sunrise" part of many listeners' Sunday morning routine.

We know she has a special show planned in appreciation of all of you who have enjoyed joining Deborah on Sunday mornings.  We hope you'll tune in. And please call in to wish her well!   


Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Berlin Wall falls - and a celebration of Dame Joan too!

This Friday, Vivace begins with a delightful piano quartet by Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia and a symphony by Antonio Rosetti. 

At 7:30 am, we'll do our part to mark the 25th Anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, which occurs next Sunday, including an excerpt from a rare recording of cellist Mstislav Rostropovich playing at the Berlin Wall as it was being hacked down.  (Incidentally, do join my colleague, John Delehanty who will also mark the occasion on Sunday morning 6-9 am)

Just after 8 am, we have another treat for you: a special feature on the great opera singer, Dame Joan Sutherland on the 88th anniversary of her birth. 

Of course, we'll hear Dame Joan singing for us, and my colleague, Tim Snider, host of the Sunday Opera Matinee, will also offer some insights into her magic. 

As ever, I hope you'll join me for an extra-special edition of Vivace, this Friday, 6-9 am, here on WTJU-Charlottesville.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Mercandante "I Briganti" anticipates Verdi

Saverio Mercandante: I Briganti
Maxim Mironov; Petya Ivanova; Vittorio Prato; Bruno Pratico; Camerata Bach Choir, Poznan; Virtuosi Brunensis; Antonio Fogliani, conductor

Saverio Mercandante has been characterized as the bridge between Rossini and Verdi -- and I Briganti demonstrates why. Completed in 1836, "I Briganti" was written partially in response to Bellini's "I Puritani."

This bel canto opera eschews self-contained arias for music that is more fully integrated into the drama. At the same time, it provides plenty of opportunities for singers to show what they're made of -- as is the case in this performance.

This world premier recordings captures the 2012 Rossini in Wildsad Festival production, with all pros and cons of live recording. The pros include the singing of the three principals, tenor Maxim Mironov (Ermano), baritone Vittorio Prato (Corrado), and soprano Petya Ivanova (Amelia). All three sing with confidence and energy, producing warm, rounded tones.

The cons include some occasional pitch problems in the chorus, and the overall recorded sound. The sound stage seems a little cramped, and the music sounded to my ears somewhat soft around the edges.

Nevertheless, Mercandante's music works its magic and I soon forgot my quibbles with the recording. Highly recommended for lovers of Italian opera. And if you can, listen to "I Briganti" and then Verdi's "I Masnadieri," a setting of the same story. Mercandante's opera compares quite favorably, particularly in dramatic structure and pacing.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Our New Classical Schedule

We're delighted to announce WTJU's new schedule for classical music.  Most of your favorite shows remain unchanged, but we have a few new goodies for you. 

Novitas has replaced The Listening Room as our Wednesday evening show devoted to 20th and 21st Century music.  John Delehanty, who has a great deal of knowledge about modern music, will be bringing his expertise as he moves from Monday mornings to be the new host of Novitas. 

Dawn’s Early Light will end on November 24, and after the Classical Marathon (December 1-7), it will be replaced by a new Monday morning show, Top Of The Morning, hosted by Andrew Morgan, which will begin on December 8.

On Friday evenings, Melodiya has ended and is being replaced with Fridays At Six, which is really two shows in one.  Starting on November 7, on alternate Fridays, Thom Pease brings his vast knowledge of the musical theater to present On With The Show, a program featuring music from Broadway musicals, operetta and anything else Thom finds to entertain us.  And on the other alternate Fridays, Julie Fowler presents Shaken, Not Stirred, a delightful mixture of joyful classics and film music to help you relax at the end of the week.  Francesca will be joining Deborah Murray to host Classical Sunrise on Sunday mornings.

Our Weekday Morning Hosts:
L-R: Andrew Morgan (Mondays), Allen Hench (Tuesdays), Ralph Graves (Wednesdays), Campbell Shiflett (Thursdays) and Steve Myers (Fridays)

We hope you'll enjoy the new program schedule. We always love to hear your comments and suggestions.  Here's the new classical lineup, as it will be after December 8: 

6-9 am Classical Sunrise: Deborah Murray and Francesca
2-6 pm The Sunday Opera Matinee: Ann Shaffer, Tim Snider & Allen Hench
6-7 pm The King of Instruments/Evensong: Michael Latsko
7-9 pm Just A Few Friends: Penelope Ward

5-6 am Classical Prelude
6-9 am Top Of The Morning: Andrew Morgan
6-8 pm The Early Music Show: Greg Cox

5-6 am Classical Prelude
6-9 am La Belle Musique: Allen Hench
6-8 pm A Time For Singing: Ann Shaffer

5-6 am Classical Prelude
6-9 am Gamut: Ralph Graves
6-8 pm Novitas: John Delehanty

5-6 am Classical Prelude
6-9 am Classical Cafe: Campbell Shiflett
6-8 pm Intermezzo: The Contessa and Andrew Pratt

5-6 am Classical Prelude
6-9 am Vivace: Steve Myers
6-8 pm Fridays At Six:
On With The Show: Thom Pease
Shaken, Not Stirred: Julie Fowler

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

October 31st: It's not just Halloween!

This Friday, there are three special days in one and we'll celebrate them all on Vivace.

Of course, it's Halloween, and we'll enjoy the Symphonie Fantastique in the first hour.  After that, we'll focus on the other two special days: All Saints' Eve and Reformation Day.

At about 7:15 am, we'll hear the beautiful Requiem Mass by Gabriel Faure, as we prepare to remember those who have gone before us.

And after 8 o'clock, we have two special works for Reformation Day.  First, we'll hear the Bach Cantata, Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott, BWV 80, based on the original hymn by Martin Luther, and we'll end with The Reformation Symphony by Mendelssohn.

I hope it will be a spectacular morning of music, something a little different for October 31st - just what you've come to expect from WTJU!  As ever I look forward to the pleasure of your company for Vivace, right here on WTJU-Charlottesville.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Paul Hindemith: Nobilissima Visione

Paul Hindemith: Nobilissima Visione
Seattle Symphony; Gerard Schwarz, conductor

The 1936 ballet "Nobilissima Visione" is the story of St. Francis. Hindemith crafted the music from folk songs, and combined them with the same rich spiritual language he used for his opera "Mathus der Maler" (completed just a year before). "Nobilissima Visione" paints each scene in vivid orchestral colors, and Hindemith effectively conjures up a quasi-medieval world with a distinctively modern orchestra.

Also included is the instructional work "Five Pieces for String Orchestra, Op. 44, No. 4" Hindemith wrote it for beginning and intermediate string players, but one would never know it just by listening to the work. While keeping the technical demands simple, Hindemith creates a varied collection of movements of truly substantial music.

The Seattle Symphony is in fine form on this album. Directed by Gerard Schwarz, the orchestra seems to relish the finely-wrought textures of the scores, sometimes seeming to linger over especially luscious passages. The ensemble is tight throughout both works, and the string sound is gorgeously expansive, especially in the "Five Pieces." If you like Hindemith's "Mathus der Maler" symphony, or "The Four Temperaments," you'll find much to enjoy in this release.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Your Friday Breakfast Buffet: Enchanting Music!

Nino Rota and Christoph Weyse
We have a superb buffet of Friday morning music for you on this week's Vivace.

We begin with music of Italian composer Nino Rota, his Symphony of Love Songs, followed by the delightful Morning Songs by Danish composer Christoph Weyse. 
At 7 am, we'll hear one of those splendid rondos by Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia, as well as an enchanting harp sonata by Krumpholz and a symphony by Jan Zach. 

Later in the hour, we'll have another tranquil tunes sequence, and a celebration of two anniversaries from the world of operetta.

Emmerich Kalman: one of our birthday celebrants
At 8 o'clock, we'll make a short visit to the world of opera and we'll end with music of Mozart and Ernst von Gemmingen Hornberg.  Who was he?  Well, tune in and you'll find out!

As ever, I hope you'll join me for Vivace, this Friday, 6-9 am, right here on WTJU-Charlottesville.

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.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Vivacious music and an interview with Jon Nakamatsu!

This Friday, on Vivace, we'll feature a new recording of Alessandro Rolla's Basset Horn Concerto, a work I played back in April.  This is a great recording and I know you'll enjoy it.

We celebrate the birthdays of pianist Evgeny Kissin and of composer Giuseppe Verdi.

Also, there's plenty of music for Mozart lovers!

At 8 o'clock, we have a short interview with pianist Jon Nakamatsu, who will be appearing in Charlottesville next Tuesday, as part of the Tuesday Evening Concert Series.

As ever, I hope you'll join me for Vivace, this Friday 6-9 am, here on WTJU-Charlottesville.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Lassus Musical Biography Maintains High Standards with Volume 3

Roland de Lassus: Musical Biography, Vol. 3
Egidus Quartet and College
Peter de Groot, director

You'll come for the music, but stay for the biography. The third volume of WEM's excellent series couples first-rate performances of Lassus' music with an in-depth biography that places that music in context.

This volume focuses on the year 1583, when Lassus' relationship with his sponsor,  Albrecht V Duke of Bavaria, was starting to unravel. The music from this time is mostly sacred, featuring the Missa O passi sparsi, along with several motets and the Magnificat supra Las je n'iray.

The Egidius Quartet wisely inserts several "sine textu" instrumental works throughout the program. It provides some tonal variety, and makes the disc enjoyable to listen to straight through. The Egidua Quartet and College perform with pure singing tones that give the selections a luminous transparency.

The release comes with a 62 page hard-bound CD book with color illustrations. It's as much a joy to read as the music is to listen to. Granted, this release will most likely appeal to only hardcore early music lovers. But if you're one of them, this -- and the rest of the series -- is worth the investment.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Andrew Manze Leads Lars-Erik Larsson Revival

Lars-Erik Larsson: Symphony No. 2
Orchestral Works, Vol. 1
Helsingborgs Symfonionkester
Andrew Manze, conductor

Swedish composer Lars-Erik Larsson is not well-known outside of his native country, but this new series from CPO may change that. Larsson is part of the generation immediately following Sibelius, and follows him stylistically as well.

Larsson's works are decidedly neo-romantic, with rich harmonies and expansive melodies. His Symphony No. 2, written in 1927, is the centerpiece of the album. This four-movement symphony is a youthful work, full of excitement and high spirits. And yet it's also tightly constructed, with clear-cut melodies and masterful (albeit straight-forward) orchestration. To my ears, the overall sound resembles the symphonies of Nielsen, with a more lyrical bent.

The other works help present a more rounded portrait of the composer. The Music for Orchestra, written two decades (and world war) after the Symphony, has a sparer, more somber sound. Larsson stretches the limits of tonality, and imbues a restless energy into the work. 

Four Vignettes to Shakespeare's "The Winter's Tale" is an attractive, tuneful work, reminding me Larsson's colleague, Dag Wiren,  in its beautiful simplicity.

Andrew Manze leads the Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra with authority. He's made a deep study of Larsson's music, and that understanding ensures that these works receive sympathetic readings. This is a strong start to what should prove to be an important series. Larsson's music deserves a place alongside that of his more famous Scandinavian colleagues.

Monday, September 22, 2014

George Crumb, Vol. 16 - Spanish and American Songbooks

George Crumb Edition, Vol. 16
Voices from the Heartland; Sun and Shadow
Ann Crumb, soprano; Marcantonio Barone, piano; Patrick Mason, baritone; Orchestra 2001; James Freeman, conductor
Bridge Records

Bridge Records' sixteenth(!) installment of George Crumb's compositions feature two works that are both similar and different. Sun and Shadow is another collection of songs based on the poetry of Federico García Lorca. Lorca's work has inspired several Crumb compositions, including the Ancient Voices of Children. This set, subtitled Spanish Songbook II is classic Crumb. In this case, he uses just an amplified piano to create his unique soundscapes, making this a somewhat intimate composition

Voices from the Heartland (American Songbook VII), presents Crumb's arrangements of some traditional American songs. Baritone Patrick Mason and soprano Ann Crumb perform, along with the James Freeman and the Orchestra 2001. Actually, these songs are more re-imaginings than arrangements.

While the melodies of such tunes as "Softly and Tenderly (Jesus is coming)" and "On Top of Old Smokey" are easy to pick out, they've been transformed by Crumb's imagination. Triadic harmonies are replaced with clouds of sound; phrases are broken up and folded back upon themselves; melody and accompaniment veer off in different directions. And yet, rather than obscuring these simple songs, Crumb brings out the deeper emotional themes that, in retrospect, were there all along.

Ann Crumb has extensive experience singing in Broadway shows. While she sings Sun and Shadow in a clear, classical tone, she lets her musical theater roots show in the American Songbook. Which somehow makes these transformed American folk songs sound even more authentic.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

George Perle Portrait in Eight Pieces

George Perle: Eight Pieces 1938-1997)
Michael Brown, piano
Bridge Records

Every composer should have a champion. For George Perle, that champion is pianist Michael Brown. As a teenaged virtuoso, Brown fell in love with Perle's music and had an opportunity to meet the composer. That developed into a close personal and professional relationship over the years, culminating in this release.

Brown collects not only Perle's published works for solo piano, but some earlier works still unperformed at the time of Perle's death. Brown has a deep understanding of Perle's music, and that makes this collection so exciting to listen to. The eight works span Perle's creative output. The earliest work, the 1938 "Classical Suite" receives it's world premier recording here.

In many ways, it's similar to Prokofiev's "Classical Symphony." While using traditional forms and mostly tonal harmonies, Perle continually plays against expectations as his melodies veer off into unexpected directions.

The "Six Celebratory Inventions" (1989-1997) is the collection that Brown played for Perle as a teenager. Each invention honors a different composer by imitating his style. And while one can hear the dedicatee in each movement -- Leonard Bernstein, Gunther Schuller, Ernst Krenek, et al -- it's all filtered through Perle's inventive imagination, giving this set an overarching sense of cohesion.

Michael Brown has lived with some of these works for a while, and he plays with authority and sensitivity. Perle isn't primarily known for his keyboard compositions. Brown's performances suggest they should be reassessed.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Poul Ruders, Vol. 9 - Amiable Chamber Music

Poul Ruders, Vol. 9
David Starobin, guitar; Daniel Druckman, percussion; David Holzman, piano; Amalia Hall, violin; Hsin-Yun Huang, viola, Sara Rothenberg, piano
Bridge Recrods

The two words that sprang to mind as I listened to this collection of Poul Ruder's chamber music was "amiable atonality." These chambers works move well beyond tonality, without a hint of academic dryness. Every work had real personality, often full of warmth and gentle humor.

Guitarist David Starobin and Poul Ruders have enjoyed a long and fruitful collaborative relationship, and Starobin brings his deep understanding of Ruders' music to two works. The "New Rochelle Suite" for guitar and percussion is a witty composition, and Starobin and percussionist Daniel Druckman perform it with a sometimes wink at the audience. Ruders scores imaginatively for percussion, making non-tonal instruments such as the castanets and tom-toms (among many other) add nuanced shading to the guitar's wide-ranging melodies.

"Schrödinger's Cat" is a set of 12 canons for violin and guitar that reflect the ambivalence of the title. In quantum mechanics, Schrödinger's cat is a thought experiment illustrating the paradoxical concept that particles can be in two states simultaneously until observed. So, too, these canons seem to shift back and forth until they suddenly collapse into a final cadence. Starobin and Amalia Hall perform these canons in an unadorned fashion, just presenting the facts -- which seem to change before our ears.

"Romances for viola and piano" is romantic in nature, but the expressive yearnings of the melody get their poignancy from decidedly post-tonal chromatic inflections. Violist Hsin-Yun Huang and pianist Sarah Rothenberg make a great team, though, bring out the emotion in the music without being too emotive.

David Holzman performs "Twinkle Bells - Piano Etude No. 2" with a light, deft touch. He makes the cascading thirds that make up the bulk of the etude shimmer and tinkle like tiny bells. He also brings the album to a close with Ruders' "13 Postludes." These are wonderfully-crafted short little works that evoke the spirit of Chopin -- in an amiably atonal way.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Lior Ronser: Awake and Dream

Awake and Dream
Works by Lior Rosner
Janai Brugger; soprano
Katia Popov, violin
The Hollywood Studio Symphony
Steven Vanhauwaert, piano
Lior Rosner, conductor, piano

Lior Rosner is best known for his film and TV scores, which show the wide range of styles he's mastered. This collection of his classical works betrays some of that background -- the music is mostly tonal, and is more about conveying atmosphere and emotion than being concerned about formal structure. And yet these works aren't just fleshed-out film cues. Rather, they're compositions of real substance -- post neo-romantic, if you will.

Rosner's featured soloists are real standouts. Katia Popov performs with a clean, slightly steely tone that's well-suited to these modernist works. Awake and Dream is an impressionistic work that seems to float between dream and reality. Popov spins forth the long, flowing melodies effortlessly, moving from motive to motive seamlessly. The solo violin work "G-Pull" lets Popov display some of her technical skills, but it's her shaping of phrases and subtle articulation that holds the piece together.

Soprano Janai Bugger has a rich, warm voice, with an upper register that sounds well-rounded and clear. She beautifully performs "In time of Silver Rain," a song cycle based on Langston Hughes' poetry. Rosner's settings sound more like Copland and Barber than Duke Ellington, giving these poems a universally American character, rather than African-American. Bugger performs them in a simple, straight-forward fashion, letting the words themselves deliver the emotional impact. By contrast, Bugger provides the emotion for "Three Poems by Sappho." Her singing communicates the full range of emotions this cycle expresses, from ecstatic love to deep mourning.

While the soloists shine, the ensemble could use some polishing. The Hollywood Studio Symphony is a pick-up ensemble, made up of session musicians contracted for the project. There's nothing wrong with that -- but sometimes the ensemble doesn't quite jell. Attacks are a little imprecise and some entrances seem a little tentative. It's not a horrible sound, just a little rough around the edges. I'd be interested in hearing these works performed by an orchestra that has lived together for a while. I expect it would really make the music come alive.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Meyerbeer Overtures and Entr'actes -- Light Entertainment from Grand Opera

Meyerbeer: Overtures and Entr'actes from the French Operas
New Zealand symphony Orchestra
Darrell Ang, conductor

When I mentioned I was reviewing this new Meyerbeer recording, I discovered just how low my colleagues held Meyerbeer's music. Robert Schumann didn't care much for it, but I think he -- and others -- miss the point. Giacomo Meyerbeer wasn't out to make pronouncements from God -- he wanted to write entertaining, successful operas. He achieved his goals, and the music in the collection demonstrates why.

Included are instrumental works from Meyerbeer's biggest hits -- "Robert le Diable," "Les  Huguenots," and "L'Africaine" -- along with selections from "Dianorah and Le Prophete. Meyerbeer wrote almost exclusively for the stage, and his works are unfailingly catchy and tuneful.

Darrell Ang conducts the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra with a certain amount of brio, never failing to bring out the drama of the music (without overplaying it). To me, this was a great collection of classical music for casual listening. I just need to be careful who I play it for.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Isserlis Energizes Martinu Cello Sonatas

Martinu: Cello Sonatas 1-3
Works by Sibelius and Mustonen
Steven Isserlis, cello
Olli Mostonen, piano

Steven Isserlis turns in an attractive program of cello music with this new SACD. Bohuslav Martinu wrote in a very distinctive style; one that was remarkably consistent throughout his long and prolific career. Martinu wrote tonal works, but they were his own version of tonality. Dancing syncopations and shimmering chords are Martinu trademarks, and they're here in abundance.

Playing two or more of Martinu compositions back-to-back -- especially ones using the same forces -- can have the effect of blurring them together. Isserlis avoids this by interspersing works by two composers whose styles complement Martinu's, simultaneously providing contrast and creating a coherent program.

Jean Sibelius' Malinconia, Op. 20 is a dark work, written after the death of the composer's infant daughter. Isserlis convincingly brings out the pathos of the work, while at the same time savoring the beauty of Sibelius' extended melodic lines.

Pianinst Olli Mustonen not only partners with Isserlis in these performances; he also provides a sonata as well. Mustonen's post-romantic composition fits in nicely with the Martinu and Sibelius works, with plenty of rich sonorities and juicy melodic tidbits.

Isserlis doesn't hold back in these performances. Martinu's music has a certain lightness to it, but Isserlis makes it more compelling by really digging into the notes. The urgent character his technique brings to these works makes them, in my opinion, some of the best recorded versions of Martinu's cello sonatas to date. And if you have an opportunity, listen to this release through an SACD player. The intimate nature of this chamber music becomes all the more vivid with the additional sonic details the format provides.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Mariann Shirinyan Takes Over Mozart Series

Mozart: Piano Concertos Volume 4
Concertos Nos. 12 and 23
Marianna Shirinyan, piano
Odense Symphony Orchestra
Scott Yoo, conductor
Bridge Records

Although this is the fourth volume of Bridge Records' survey of the Mozart piano concertos, it's actually the first to feature pianist Mariann Shirinyan. She replaces the previous soloist (who has since left the label) to continue the series with Scott Yoo and the Odense Symphony Orchestra.

Not to worry, though. Shirinyan is more than capable of continuing the series. She performs with a light touch, and subtle phrasing that sometimes is only apparent after repeated listening. The liner notes suggest that Shirinyan wrote her own cadenzas. Whether she did or not, Shirinyan seem to take the opportunity to delve deeper into the music rather than dazzle with fireworks, making them sound like organic parts of the movement, rather than the showstoppers they can sometimes become.

All in all, a pleasurable listening experience from start to finish. I look forward to volume five!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Gilbert Kalish Performs Old Favorites

Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert
Gilbert Kalish, piano
Bridge Records

In this recording, Gilbert Kalish presents an appealing program of works he knows well. The opening and closing works are the final piano sonatas of their respective composers -- Haydn and Schubert, with a selection of short works by Beethoven in the middle.

Haydn's Sonata No. 62 in E-flat (Hob.XVI:52)  was composed for a gifted performer, and is one of Haydn's more complex piano works. Nonetheless, Kalish keeps things light and elegant. His well-rounded phrasing and subtle emphasis captures Haydn's reserved elegance perfectly.

Kalish also plays Franz Schubert's Piano Sonata No. 21 in B-flat, D. 960 in a slightly reserved fashion -- but it works. Rather than overwhelming the listener with emotion, Kalish's performance reveals the beautiful construction of the work. One hears the intricate patterns and lines of the sonata, rather than a furious rush of notes.

The Bagatelles, Op. 119 of Beethoven balance nicely with the two sonatas. These are short, relatively simple works (by Beethoven standards). Each bagatelle is lovingly performed by Kalish, turned into miniature gems by his musicianship.

Kalish plays with the fluid assurance that comes from a lifetime of music-making. He isn't trying to prove anything, or even assert his personality. He just plays, and it sounds like he's enjoying every moment. As did I.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Early Vaughan Williams Chamber Works

Vaughan Williams: Piano Quintet; Quintet in D major; Six Studies in English folk Song; Romance for Viola and Piano
London Soloists Ensemble

Ralph Vaughan Williams withdrew many of the works he wrote before 1907. Based on this release, he was too modest. In this collection of early chamber music performed by the London Soloists Ensemble, one can tell RVW's compositional voice isn't fully formed, but there's a simple beauty in them, nevertheless.

The disc opens with the 1903 piano quintet in C minor. Although RVW would withdraw it a few years later, at the time he considered it one of his most important compositions.

There's a dramatic sweep and expansiveness that keeps things moving along. Sometimes it sounds as if Vaughan Williams is trying a little too hard to top Brahms (or perhaps Schubert -- the works shares the same instrumentation as the "Trout" quintet). On the whole, though, it's a solid work, looking forward to RVW's pre-war masterpieces.

The 1898 Quintet in D major for violin, cello clarinet, horn and piano is a thrilling, late romantic work. RVW employs a free-wheeling style, letting the evocative melodies unfold as they will. But while the work may follow Germanic romantic tradition, there's still a certain Englishness to the music. I heard it in the harmonic progressions that sometimes employ the false relationships of English renaissance music.

It was only after his death that RVW's "Romance for Viola and Piano was discovered. This short work features a sinuously weaving melody sounds like it could have been an early sketch for "The Lark Ascending" (although it wasn't). Violist Sarah-Jane Bradley gives an emotional reading to this welcome rediscovery.

"Six Studies in English Folk Song" (1926) has seen many incarnations. Originally written for cello and piano, Vaughan Williams arranged it for other instruments, including the clarinet version heard here. Anthony Pike players these small tunes in a quiet, straight-forward fashion in an utterly charming performance.

Of course this is a must-have for Vaughan Williams completists. But these (mostly) suppressed works are of sufficient quality that most anyone who enjoys chamber music would appreciate the music on this album.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Quiet contemplation on loss and war

Weinberg: Symphony No. 18; Trumpet Concerto
Andrew Balio, trumpet
St. Petersburg Chamber Choir
St. Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra
Vladimir Lande, conductor

Mieczyslaw Weinberg's 18th symphony is the final part of a symphonic trilogy, "On the Threshold of War." Symphony No. 18, subtitled "War -- there is no word more cruel" isn't so much an anti-war statement as it is an honest portrayal of the emotional depletion felt by the survivors of conflict -- even if their victors. Overall, the work is quiet, expressing deeply-felt sorrow and loss; elegiac rather than maudlin.

Mieczyslaw's symphony uses Russian poetry quite effectively. "He was buried in the Earth," the text of the third movement is set as a simple chorale, very Russian in character -- appropriate for this poem about the death of a common foot soldier. The third movement adapts a Russian folksong that carries an undertone of disquiet before splintering into  a kaleidoscopic fugue. In the final movement, the chorus sings the poem "War -- there is no word more cruel," and the work ends with not a bang, nor whimper, but rather a calm acceptance of war's cost.

The Trumpet Concerto provides welcome emotional balance to the album. To my ears, the work uses some of Prokofiev's "wrong-note" technique, with seemingly simple melodies and harmonies not going quite the direction one expects. Trumpet soloist Andrew Balio plays with clear, full sound. Attacks are consistently clean, and the phrasing smooth and expressive. This concerto imbues the trumpet with a little bit of attitude, and Balio delivers.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

This week's Vivace: Melody and Enchantment

One of the least-known 19th Century British composers must be Sir Frederic Hymen Cowen (right), who was born Hyman Cohen in Kingston, Jamaica.  We'll hear a symphony by him during the first hour of Vivace this Friday.

At 7 am, we have a delightful trio for guitar by Francois de Fossa, whose music was heard recently on Melodiya.  At 7:30, we have a Violin Sonata by Franz Xaver Mozart and then some tranquil music to keep you calm in a busy morning.

After 8 am, we have a harp sonata by Rosetti and then we head over to France.

We will have a birthday celebration for Cecile Chaminade and then we stay in France for music of François-Adrien Boieldieu. 

Cécile Chaminade and François-Adrien Boieldieu

We'll end by heading south to Spain for a delightful work by Joaquín Rodrigo, the 1st Marquis of the Gardens of Aranjuez. 

The focus is on melody and enchantment this week on Vivace.  As ever, I hope you'll join me, 6-9 am, here on WTJU-Charlottesville.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Pleyel Quartett Köln continue Pleyel's Prussian Quartet cycle

Ignaz Pleyel
Prussian Quartets 1-3
Pleyel Quartett Köln

When Frederick William II became King of Prussia in 1786, many German composers paid the cello-playing monarch tribute with dedicated compositions. One of the first gifts to arrive was a set of twelve quartets by Ignaz Pleyel. With this release, the Pleyel Quartett Köln continues their traversal of the "Prussian" quartets.

Although similar in style to his contemporaries Haydn and Mozart, in comparison Pleyel's quartets seem to have a stripped-down simplicity. The melodies have an elegant balance to them, moving in a logical fashion from cadence to cadence. Pleyel might not be breaking new ground with these works, but there's enough originality to make them worthy of repeated listening.

The Pleyel Quartett Köln continues the same high quality of performance they established with the previous releases in this series. Their period instruments give the works a somewhat soft sound, especially on the unison attacks. The players nicely balance classical reserve with expressive energy, which I think adds to the attractiveness of the works. My only complaint is that the ensemble seems to be recorded a little too distantly (with no room ambiance to compensate).

CPO began this series with quartets Nos. 7-9, then released Nos. 4-6. Perhaps Nos. 10-12 will follow shortly. I, for one, am looking forward to the completion of Pleyel's attractive coronation gift.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Di Vittorio masterfully inteprets Respighi

Respighi: The Birds; Trittico botticelliano
Chamber Orchestra of New York
Salvatore di Vittorio, conductor

Ottorino Respighi is known for his brilliant orchestrations -- but for most listeners, that knowledge is based on his Roman trilogy of tone poems. Salvatore Di Vittorio and the Chamber Orchestra of New York dig a little deeper into the composer's catalog. Their discoveries reaffirm Respighi's reputation, while providing an enjoyable listening experience.

The Suite in G for strings and organ is an early work, yet Respighi's genius for orchestration is already in place. This would be an excellent companion piece to Saint-Saën's Third Symphony, although Respighi's neo-classical work might sound a little understated in comparison.

The Seranta is a short, simple work that still manages to dazzle with its imaginative orchestration over the course of its five-minute playing time.

Gli uccelli (The Birds), like Respighi's more famous tone poems, show the composer's skill at painting with music. Respighi incorporates bird calls into the music, but in this performance their recognizable, but not overdone. Rather, the calls were fully integrated into the music presenting impressions -- rather than literal interpretations of -- the birds depicted in each movement.

The Trittico botticelliano is (in my opinion) the strongest work on the album. Maestro di Vittorio and his ensemble deliver a spirited performance of "Spring," the first movement. "The Adoration of the Magi," the middle movement is played with sensitivity and delicacy, and the finale, "The Birth of Venus" fairly shimmers in places.

The chamber orchestra is a group of young players, and sometimes that shows. Sometimes the strings lacked precision in more active passages, and there seemed to my ears to be some slight intonation problems in the Seranata. Still, they play with a very rich and warm sound, which is especially gorgeous in the slow movements. Performing these works with a chamber -- rather than full -- orchestra gives the music a feeling of transparency. It was a sound that seemed perfectly suited to these works.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Another vivacious double-dose!

Once again this week, I'll have the joy of presenting Classical Cafe, serving up some delicious music to start your Thursday on just the right note.

The first hour features a well-known work, which is not, perhaps, aired quite so often, the Piano Concerto No. 3 by Beethoven: we have a sparkling version from the Mozarteum Orchestra of Salzburg.
Haydn and Kozeluch

At 7 am, we'll have an oboe concerto that wasn't written by Joseph Haydn, though many people think it was. It was, in fact, the work of Johann Antonin Kozeluch.

We'll also enjoy a Piano Trio by Josef Rheinberger.

After 8 o'clock, we'll hear a musical parody by Dmitri Shostakovich all about the challenging housing conditions in the Soviet Union of the 1950s in the Cheryomushki Suite, and we'll end with the Concertone, which means big concert or concerto by Mozart.

There are plenty of delicious treats in store in the Classical Cafe, this Thursday morning.  I hope you'll join me.

On Vivace this Friday, the first hour features some peaceful music:  the String Octet by Mendelssohn and a  symphony by Vanhal.

At 7 am, I'd like to introduce you to the music of Giuseppe Antonio Capuzzi, a largely-forgotten Italian violinist and composer who was born on August 1, 1755.  We'll hear his delightful Concerto for double bass and orchestra in D-Major.

The Capuzzi concerto and Mr. Albrechtsberger
After that, we have another equally delightful work: the Partita in C-Major for harp, flute and cello by Johann-Georg Albrechtsberger, who was a classmate of Michael Haydn, and taught music theory to Johann Hummel, Ludwig van Beethoven and Franz Xaver Mozart. 

Austrian composer and organist Hans Rott also has a birthday this Friday and of course, we'll celebrate it, with his Pastoral Prelude in F Major.  We'll round out the hour with music of Gottfried Heinrich Stolzel.

The great horn player, Hermann Baumann (right), celebrates his 80th birthday this Friday.  Before the champagne is opened, he will join us to play the Mozart Horn Concerto No. 2.

And we'll end with one of those enchanting guitar and piano duos by Ferdinando Carulli.

I hope you'll join me Thursday and Friday mornings, 6-9 am, to start your days with that touch of je ne sais quoi, here on WTJU-Charlottesville.

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.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

This week's Vivace: An unusual pot-pourri

This week's Vivace will contain a really unusual pot-pourri.  In the first hour, we'll begin gently with a Sonata for Flute and Piano by Danish composer, Friedrich Kuhlau, followed by the last in our occasional series of the five symphonies of Sir Hubert Parry.

At 7 o'clock, we'll feature the symphony that inspired Samuel Smith to write the lyrics to "My Country 'Tis of Thee" in 1831: the Great National Symphony by Muzio Clementi. 

We'll celebrate the birthday of French composer, Marie Auguste Durand, and just before 8 o'clock, we have a very rare recording of the final work of Claude Debussy, a short piano piece he wrote to thank his coal supplier for keeping his house warm during his final illness, a work that was lost until discovered in a trunk in Paris in 2001.

At 8 o'clock, we'll celebrate the birthday of Czech composer Julius Fucik.

Then, we'll have a short tribute to the great conductor, Lorin Maazel, who passed away earlier this week, featuring two of his own compositions.  And finally, we'll hear one of Mozart's early piano concertos, No 9, which he wrote when he was 19.

As ever, I hope you'll join me for what promises to be a busy and, I hope, interesting edition of Vivace, Friday morning, 6-9 am, here on WTJU-Charlottesville.