Wednesday, May 28, 2014

A gentle end to May

This week's Vivace begins with one of the real classics, the Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor by Chopin, composed in 1830 and first performed in Warsaw, with the composer as soloist, during one of his "farewell" concerts before leaving Poland.

At 7 am, we'll enjoy one of those fine oboe concertos of Antonio Rosetti, after which we have an all-star quartet for a Mozart Quartet for flute and strings. 

At 8 o'clock, we'll have an enjoyable, dramatic work by French baroque composer, Jean-Philippe Rameau, and to conclude the program, a very rarely heard piano work by the Russian conductor, Evgeny Svetlanov.

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

Monday, May 26, 2014

John Cage: Works for Two Keyboards 2 - A Mixed Bag

John Cage
Works for Two Keyboards 2
Pestova/Meyer Piano Duo

John Cage's music can be difficult to listen to. And many times, that's the point. Cage wanted audiences to be aware of the unspoken assumptions about what music was and how it should be listened to -- or viewed. There's often a strong visual element in his work. Which, I think, is the problem I had with "Music for Two."

It's part of his "Music for ___" series. Cage wrote a part for every instrument, and the composition/performance becomes whatever the combination of instruments are at the time. In this case, it's two prepared pianos. The problem for me is that there's just not a lot going on aurally. I suspect seeing the performances interact and the visual cues provided by them moving from one part of the piano to the other would give me a much richer experience. Musically, it sounds like about five minutes of material spread over a 29-minute track.

By contrast, "Three Dances" more than justified the price of admission. This is Cage at his finest. The prepared pianos sound like sophisticated electronics or exotic percussion instruments, which make these 1945 works seem as if they could have been written yesterday. And Cage's complex rhythmic patterns keep things hopping. This isn't the metronomic regularity of minimalism. Rather, these dances crackle and explode unpredictably, yet all the while simmering with energy that can only sometimes be contained.

Xenia Pestova and Pascal Meyer perform these works with amazing precision and obvious relish, even if they couldn't quite sell me on the "Music for Two." That track, I'd recommend only to Cage completists. "Three Dances," though, are for everyone. Those pieces (and the Pestova/Meyer Piano Duo's performance) rock.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Fidelio turns 200 .. among other birthdays!

This Friday on Vivace, we have some special birthdays and anniversaries to celebrate.  We'll start at 6 am with the Piano Concerto No.2 by Ignaz Moscheles, whose 220th birthday it is.  A Clarinet Concerto by Carl Stamitz rounds out the first hour.

In the second hour, we'll enjoy a cello concerto by Italian composer, Giovanni Viotti, another birthday celebrant. and a harp concerto by Georg Wagenseil, among other works.

At 8 am, the big birthday of the day will be celebrated. Beethoven's Fidelio turns 200.  We'll have the overture.  The full opera can be heard this Sunday on WTJU's Sunday Opera Matinee.

We'll also hear a world premiere recording of a recorder concerto by Johann Fasch, and a string quartet by Brahms which had its premiere on this day in 1876.

There will be much to enjoy and as ever, I hope you'll join me, Friday morning, 6-9 am, for Vivace, right here on WTJU-Charlottesville.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Mary Kathleen Ernst: Keeping Time

Mary Kathleen Ernst
Keeping Time
Fung, Higdon, Hoover, Shatin, de Kenessey, Deussen

Pianist Mary Kathleen Ernst turns in a strong program of solo piano works with equally strong performances. Yes, all the works were written by women, but that's about the only thing they have in common.

Vivan Fung's "Keeping Time" uses the piano as a percussion instrument. This work is all about rhythm, and Ernst delivers an energetic and (in my opinion) very cool performance.

By contrast, Jennifer Higdon's "Secret And Glass Gardens" sounds shimmering and ethereal, almost suspended in time and space. It's almost a companion piece to Debussy's "La cathédrale engloutie"

The "Dream Dances" of Katherine Hoover is a somewhat mysterious-sounding work, with slow-moving passages suddenly bursting forth with up-tempo angular melodies.

Judith Shatin used the I Ching to guide her compositional process, and the resulting music is fasciniating. This 26-minute work is comprised of very short sections, sounding almost like aphorisims. Shatin sometimes has the piano sound very mechanistic, almost like an electronic instrument.

I somethimes think Stefania de Kenessey writes the music others wish they had the courage to. "Spontaneous D-Combustion" has catchy, tonal melodies, supported by full, rich chords and a rhythmic pulse that has more than hint of pop sensibilities.

Nancy Bloomer Deussen's "A Recollection" is a wistful and quiet little work that calms down the listener and makes a peaceful close to the program.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Music for Spring ...for children, and to remember a fine cellist

This week's Vivace offers a wide variety of music. The first hour is filled with guitar music by Scottish composer, James Oswald.

This delightful season is well-represented too: we'll enjoy Beethoven's Spring Sonata at 7 am and the Grand Pastoral Symphony by Justin Knecht at 8 am.

At 7:30 am, we'll offer a mini-concert to remember Staunton-based cellist Dmitry Volkov who died last weekend at the age of 26. And at about 8:30 am, we'll have some special music for the children in the University of Virginia Children's Hospital here in Charlottesville.

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

Monday, May 12, 2014

Judith Shatin: Time to Burn

Judith Shatin: Time to Burn
James Dunham, viola
The Cassatt String Quartet

Margaret Kampmeier, piano
Arron Hill, oboe
I-Jen Fang, Mike Shutz, percussion
F. Gerard Errent, D. Gause, clarinet
Innova Records

"Time to Burn" provides an extensive overview of this innovative composer's output. Head collectively, the works brings to light several themes which Shatin revisits and reinterprets in differing ways; her Judaic heritage; using sound (not just musical notes) to create art; and the interface between technology and humanity.

One of the highlights is "Glyph," for viola, string quartet and piano. The music has a very open sound, giving the solo viola plenty of room to maneuver in. The work's elegiac opening gives way to more animated and thickly textured movements. The solo viola remains always at the forefront, sometimes interacting with the ensemble, other times floating serenely above the busyness, and occasionally commenting on the action.

The title track "Time to Burn" is an engaging work for oboe and two percussionists. Extended techniques make the oboe sound almost like an electronic instrument in places. The interplay between the three instruments, and the imaginative way in which they're used gives the music a sense of energy and even urgency.

To me, "Sic Transit" was the least successful work on the album. The piece is for percussionist and computer-assisted drum machine, which the soloist interacts with. I suspect "Sic Transit" works well as a theater piece, where the audience can see the performer react to the drum machine. Without visual cues, I found the music somewhat aimless.

"Elijah's Chariot" was commissioned by the Kronos Quartet, and was written for string quartet and electronics from processed shofar sounds. The shofar is a traditional Jewish instrument made from a horn and used in religious services. Shatin uses the shofar to represent the heavenly chariot that comes for Elijah. The composition is a heady blend of acoustic and electronic, spiritual and secular, emotional and intellectual.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Glenn Kotche: Adventureland

Glenn Kotche
Cantaloupe Music

Glenn Kotche's latest effort is indeed an audio adventure. The major  work -- Anomaly -- was written for the Kronos Quartet, who perform in this recording. The concept is intriguing -- treat acoustic instruments (a string quartet) as an extension of a drum kit, shading the drums' indefinite pitches with specific notes played by the paired stringed instrument.

Each of Anomaly's seven movements examines this interface from a different perspective, using the building blocks of minimalism to create tension and motion -- with just a touch of rock n' roll.

Interspersed throughout Anomaly are short solo works by Kotche. These are mostly electronic, with so much packed into each piece that they actually seem much larger than they are.

I recommend listening to this album two ways -- first, as the composer intended with all the tracks in order. The moving back and forth from Anomoly to the other pieces creates an organic and compelling meta-composition. The second way is to just listen to the Anomaly movements. The interconnections between the movements become much clearer, and almost assumes a different character when heard as an integrated whole.