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.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Violist Antoine Tamestit Performs Hindemith

Antoine Tamestit, viola
Markus Hadulla, piano
Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra
Paavo Jarvi, conductor

This release spans the breadth of Paul Hindemith's writings for the viola, from solo sonata  through music for viola and orchestra. Hindemith was a violist himself, and his compositions fully realize the instrument's potential. Violist Antoine Tamestit fully understands these works and their creator, as his interview printed in the booklet shows -- as do his performances.

Tamestit notes that there is a lot of humor in Hindemith's music, and he brings it out in all of these works. Still, I'd have to characterize the orchestral works here as ones of mournful beauty. "Der Schwanendreher" is a reworking of folk songs relating to isolation and loss, composed when Hindemith was being force out of musical life by the Nazis. Tamestit subtly brings out those emotions, making the music sound wistful rather than maudlin.

"Trauermusik" explores similar themes. Hindemith's thickly-textured harmonies provide a melancholy accompaniment to the yearning melody of the viola. Paavo Jarvi and the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra perform with a warm, blended sound that's ideally suited to these works.

Tamestit's performance of the solo sonata Op. 25, No. 1 is a wonderful balance of emotional expression and tasteful restraint. The structural elements are all clearly delineated, and the motives are carefully phrased to help the listener connect them as the work goes along. And yet there's a fiery passion continually roiling under the music, straining to break free.

Hindemith's sonata for viola and piano, Op. 11, No. 4 is a beautiful collaboration between Tamestit and pianist Markus Hadulla. At times the music seems to have a sweetness to it that's quite charming. As with the best chamber music performances, one has a sense of eavesdropping on a conversation. In this case, one between two good friends.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Susan Rotholz's Tapestry of American Flute Duos

American Tapestry
Duos for Flute and Piano
Susan Rotholz, flute; 

Margaret Kampmeier, piano
Bridge Records

The album is titled "American Tapestry," but it's no crazy quilt. The four duos for flute and piano Susan Rotholz and Margaret Kampmeier perform fit nicely together. All are tonal after a fashion, giving the program coherence; and yet each differ in character to give the listener real variety.

Robert Beaser takes a simple theme and lets it logically unfold with his "Variations for flute and Piano." Some of the harmonies have an open quality to them, which makes the Variations a nice lead-in to Aaron Copland's "Duo for Flute and Piano." This 1971 work has the wide open sound of Copland's Americana works.

Robert Muczynski's "Sonata for Flute and Piano" also fits well. to my ears, the work has a Ravel/Debussy quality to it, with a hint of Samuel Barber. That's not a bad combination, and one that makes for an attractive and enjoyable work. The album concludes with Lowell Liebermann's "Sonata for Flute and Piano," and almost seems like a further development of Muczynski's work. Liebermann's work is just as artfully constructed, with melodies that can only be described as beautiful.

Rotholz plays with a clear tone that's never out of control. Even when the music takes the flute into the extreme upper register, the sound gets brighter but never shrill. The recording is also well-balanced. Both flute and piano are on par with each other and sitting comfortably in the soundfield; close enough to hear all the detail, without capturing any harshness.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

FSU Symphony Orchestra revive Dohnanyi works

Ernö Dohnányi
Symphony No. 2; Two Songs, Op. 22
Evan Thomas Jones; baritone
Florida State University Symphony Orchestra
Alexander Jimenez, conductor

This is a Florida State University project from start to finish, and that makes perfect sense. Ernö Dohnányi finished his career on the faculty of FSU, and conducted the FSU Symphony Orchestra (albeit a half century before they made this recording). The performing editions for the Symphony No.2 and the Two songs were prepared from manuscripts in FSU's Dohnányi collection, by one of the leading authorities on Dohnányi who received his doctorate at -- FSU. The ensemble, and conductor, Alexander Jimenez come to the music with not only a deep understanding of the music, but something of a personal connection to the composer as well. And for the most part, that holds them in good stead.

Two Songs, Op. 22, written in 1922 features lush, post-romantic harmonies, similar to those in the orchestral songs of Richard Strauss or Alexander Zemlinsky. Unfortunately, the booklet doesn't include the song texts for these world premier recordings, but Naxos makes them available online. Wilhelm Conrad Gomoll's poetry provided the dramatic framework for the work, and the words are effectively illuminated by Dohnányi's music.

As a pure listening experience, the songs are thrilling. Baritone Evan thomas Jones sings expressively, and sometimes with gravitas. The FSU ensemble performs with a supple responsiveness that adds to the beauty of the work. Dohnányi's massive Symphony No. 2 was completed in 1945, and revised in 1957. The revision (heard here), tightened the structure, and made Dohnányi's vision of conflict and hope more focused in the process. Dohnányi never abandoned tonality, but the textures are more austere than those of the Two Songs. Nevertheless, the work is quite lyrical throughout, especially in the second movement. The FSU Symphony Orchestra is an amazingly talented student ensemble, with only a few slips to betray their lack of professional experience. Some of the string attacks sounded a little soft to me, and occasionally soloists seemed a little weak in exposed passages.

Still, Maestro Jimenez and the FSU Symphony Orchestra deliver committed and authoritative performances of these works. And in the process they do a great service to further the reputation of their former professor.

The Rare and the Familiar

When you start your Friday with Vivace, as we hope you always do, it sometimes means hearing music by rarely-heard composers, and that will certainly be true this week.  We'll start with a symphony by Carl Loewe and a flute quintet by Andreas Romberg. At 7 o'clock, we have a delightful harpsichord concerto by Simon Mayr and a piano fantasy by Franz Schubert ... 


... and we'll find out if you know which famous composer wrote the music for the US Marine Corps hymn as we celebrate the 216th anniversary of the US Marine Band, which was established by an act of Congress on July 11, 1798.

After 8 o'clock, we'll have music of Hummel and Mozart and we'll celebrate the 153rd birthday of Russian composer Anton Arensky.

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

Monday, July 7, 2014

Nadjia Salerno-Sonnenberg's Fresh Batch of Concertos

From A to Z
21st Century Concertos
New Century Chamber Orchestra
Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg

This new release presents four violin concertos written in the 21st Century from Clarice Assad, William Bolcom, Michale Daugherty, and Ellen Taaffe Zwlich. Two of them -- the Bolcom and Dougherty -- were commissioned by the ensemble. All benefit from the outstanding musicianship of the group and their talented music director, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg.

Clarice Assad's "Dreamscapes" is meant to evoke the ethereal half-conscious world of dreams, and does so effectively. This isn't a violin showcase type of concerto. Rather, the solo instrument seems to travel through soundscapes conjured up by the ensemble."Romanza," by William Bolcom is more straight-forward work. Bolcom's fascination with American musical forms manafests itself in the finale's cakewalk. "Romanza's" post-romantic construction allows for plenty of expression, and Salerno-Sonneberg rises to the occasion. Her violin practically sings, wresting every bit of emotion out of Bolcom's music.

Michael Daugherty treats the ensemble as a large string quartet in "Fallingwater." The work divides the ensemble into four parts, similar in structure to a string quartet. Daugherty's music often has pop inflections, and "Fallingwater" is no exeption. But those influences are understated, providing a freshness and energy to the score without being obvious.

The final work on the album, "Commedia dell"Arte" by Ellen Taaffe Zwilich is in many ways the most traditional (if one can use that term for 21st Century music). As the title suggests, Zwilich uses the characters of commedia dell'arte as her point of inspiration. Each movement presents a musical portrait of one of the stock characters. There's an Italinate light-heartedness about this score, and Salerno-Sonnenberg's bow fairly dances across the strings.

These concertos aren't necessarily about virtuosity; but they are about musicianship. Each one is a partnership between the soloist and the ensemble. Both halves need to be fully committed to deliver successful performances of these works; and there's no question that Nadja Salerno-Sonneberg and the New Century Chamber Orchestra delivers.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Honeck's Mahler Ninth

Performing and recording the cycle of the Mahler’s nine symphonies (plus the unfinished 10th) is irresistible to conductors of major orchestras who can persuade a record label to accept the project. No exception is Manfred Honeck, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra’s Austrian music director. The Pittsburgh has a long and distinguished record of exceptional principal conductors, from Fritz Reiner and William Steinberg to Andre Previn and Mariss Jansons. Honeck has music in his genes. He was a violinist in the Vienna Philharmonic, and his brother Rainer is the leader of that distinguished orchestra. Before coming to Pittsburgh he conducted both orchestral concerts and opera in Europe. After a guest appearance with the Pittsburgh in 2006 that was ecstatically received, he was offered and accepted the post of music director of the orchestra in 2007. His contract was recently renewed through the 2019-20 season.

The matinee performance of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony in the orchestra’s Pittsburgh home, Heinz Hall, was heard on June 8, 2014, and what a fine performance it was. Heinz Hall, opened in 1927 as the Penn Theater movie palace, and after extensive renovation it became the orchestra’s home in 1971. With a seating capacity of about 2,600, it is large by European standards, but about average by American standards. The sound is warm and rich, and in the balconies the bass is especially resonant. The sound is not as articulate as some concert halls, but the fullness and richness of the sound compensates generously for any subtle absence of detail.

Since Honeck was preparing the Ninth for recording, the orchestra was well rehearsed. The PSO has no weak sections, but the brasses are particularly distinguished, sounding dark and warm like the brass in a German or Austrian orchestra, and there is no higher praise than that. The level of virtuosity in the playing of contemporary orchestras is often astonishing, but even taking the higher standard of today’s orchestras into account, the playing of the orchestra, particularly the principal players, was exceptional. At times, for example in the Second Movement, the lyricism of the strings, even playing pianissimo, was simply wonderful. But it was the last movement that marked Honeck as a great Mahler conductor. The anguish that Mahler felt as his health deteriorated and death approached was reflected in the performance. The Ninth is the summation of all Mahler created as an artist, from the lovely lyricism of his slow movements, the massive climaxes, and the sometimes crude use of Austrian ländler themes.

I have heard only Honeck’s recording of the Mahler Third Symphony with the PSO, released in hybrid SACD format on the independent Japanese Exton label. The sound is brilliant, clear, and articulate with a huge sound stage. It is one of the best recordings of the Third I have heard. But if you want to hear the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, one of America’s finest, at its best, take a trip to Heinz Hall in Pittsburgh. It will be well worth the effort.
 - WTJU Opera

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Stars and Stripes Forever! Independence from Boring Music!

You know what this Friday is, don't you? Yes of course you do.

While some unfortunate, inward-looking souls in my former home country may prefer to celebrate "Getting Rid of the Troublesome Colonies Day", on Vivace, we know how to give you the best start to your Independence Day! So naturally, we'll have a very special program for the occasion. Of course, we'll feature great American music.

After 7 am, we'll have a work about America that we're pretty sure you've never heard before, a couple of songs from 1776 written by two of the Founding Fathers, and an 1816 version of the National Anthem. You may be surprised by how different it sounds.
We'll also celebrate the birthday of the great American songwriter, Stephen Foster, born on July 4th, 1826.

At 8 o'clock, we'll tell you the story of "My Country 'Tis of Thee" and we'll hear some unusual arrangements of familiar classics.

All in all, we'll prepare you for our live broadcast from Monticello at 9 am and we'll try to start your Independence Day as you probably hope to end it: with a musical bang!

You don't have to wear your red, white and blue, but if you would like to do that, please feel free!

Whatever you're wearing, as ever, I hope you'll join me for a sparkling, all-American edition of Vivace, 6-9 am this Friday.

Three Cheers for the Red, White and Blue!