Friday, September 29, 2017

Rostropovich & Shostakovich

No. 260 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages can be found in our archives at

This week’s Blog and podcast considers a pair of works by Dimitri Shostakovich featuring fellow-Russian artist Mstislav Rostropovich – in one instance as cello soloist and in the other as conductor.

Mstislav Rostropovich is internationally acclaimed and acknowledged as one of the world's greatest cellists of his generation. His repertoire includes more than 50 concertos, ranging from the baroque, through the classical and romantic periods, to the avant-garde. As a cellist, Rostropovich is noted for his commanding technique and intense, visionary playing.

Rostropovich was one of the world's most outspoken defenders of human and artistic freedoms. In 1974, after a period of four years during which the writer Solzhenitsyn resided in their home, Rostropovich and his wife, soprano Galina Vishnevskaya left the Soviet Union at their own request.
Rostropovich has also won outstanding acclaim as a conductor, appearing with most of the world's leading orchestras, including his long tenure as Music Director of the National Symphony Orchestra of Washington. Both on the cello and on the podium, Rostropovich is considered one of the leading interpreters of the music of Shostakovich (with whom he studied composition), Britten, and Prokofiev.

Opening the montage is the first western performance of Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 2, composed in the spring of 1966 in the Crimea. It was written for Mstislav Rostropovich, who gave the premiere in Moscow at the composer's 60th birthday concert. On the montage, Coplin Davis conducts the BBC Symphony in a live broadcast..

In an interview by Tim Janof, Rostropovich talks about Shostakovich and Prokofiev:

Shostakovich was very shy and sensitive and he had a rich inner life that he kept to himself. He avoided confrontation and would fib to spare somebody's feelings. I remember him going up to somebody after a concert and praising their performance and predicting a great future career even though the performance was actually pretty bad. He generally kept his true thoughts and feelings to himself, though he did tend to open up a bit at parties.

While Prokofiev did a lot of his composing at the piano, Shostakovich worked out a lot of ideas in his head. [,,,] I took many walks with Shostakovich during which he would suddenly raise his head and become very quiet, which I understood to mean that he was composing. […]  Shostakovich liked the combination of cello and celeste in Prokofiev's Sinfonia Concertante [for cello and orchestra, a work dedicated to and premiered by Rostropovich], so that instrumentation appeared in Shostakovich's next work.

Today’s montage features Shostakovich’s Fifth symphony, which Rostropovich brings up in anecdote:

Prokofiev […] didn't seem to have an unexpressed thought. If he didn't like something, he never considered another person's feelings before he shared his opinion. As an example, Prokofiev once asked Shostakovich why he used so much tremolo in his Fifth Symphony, telling him that it sounded like Aida, which I gather was a bad thing. He could be quite acidic.

After the symphony had been performed in Moscow, Heinrich Neuhaus called the work "deep, meaningful, gripping music, classical in the integrity of its conception, perfect in form and the mastery of orchestral writing—music striking for its novelty and originality, but at the same time somehow hauntingly familiar, so truly and sincerely does it recount human feelings."

I think you will love this music too.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Vivaldi: Trio Sonatas Op. 1

This is my post from this week's Tuesday Blog.

Brilliant Classics Cover 2 Cover
As I’m sure many of you do, I receive my fair share of YouTube “Spam” mailings. Though some can be irksome and annoying, I’m glad I received a notice about the Brilliant Classics YouTube channel, where the label posts many of its releases integrally. I find that, for the most part, interpretations are generally pretty good. I have slated a few of these albums – starting with this week’s share – for some upcoming Tuesday Blogs.

Vivaldi’s Chamber sonatas for two violins and continuo
Accoirding to an excellent review I found as I was doing my background research for this week’s post, in 1681 Arcangelo Corelli published his first collection of trio sonatas which were to be followed by three further sets of twelve sonatas each. They were enthusiastically embraced by the music lovers and amateur performers at the time. The influence of Corelli's sonatas was such that almost any composer of later generations felt obliged to show his skills in trio sonatas of his own. A set of trio sonatas was often a composer's first publication of music from his pen. Examples are the trio sonatas by AlbinoniBonporti and Caldara.

Vivaldi was another who decided that he should show the music world what he was capable of by publishing a collection of trio sonatas, publishing twelve trio sonatas his opus one in 1705. This edition has only partly survived; today's performers rely on a reprint by Estienne Roger of Amsterdam which dates from around 1715. However, it is assumed that the 1705 edition was in fact a reprint as well and that the first edition could have been from 1703 and may have been published shortly before Vivaldi had been appointed in his post at La Pieta in September of that year. Today’s share is a World premiere recording authorised and based on the Critical Edition of these 12 sonatas by Fabrizio Ammetto, Istituto Italiano Antonio Vivaldi, Fondazione Giorgio Cini, Venice.

Scholars have noted that Vivaldi's trio sonatas show some immaturity. That could be the reason that in our time they are not that often performed and recorded. It seems that in Vivaldi's time they didn't find a wide dissemination. It has also been suggested that the composer himself didn't rate them very highly as he hardly ever borrowed from them. Maybe he even didn't like the very form of the trio sonata as after 1710 he seldom returned to it.

Whatever one may think of these trio sonatas they make for good listening for about 90 minutes or so, certainly if they are played so well as here by L'Arte dell'Arco. One of the features of L'Arte del'Arco's playing is a great rhythmic precision; if you love baroque string music and/or Vivaldi you should add this fine performance of the corpus to your collection.

Happy Listening

Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
12 Sonate da camera a tre, Op. 1
(Order on the recording)
No. 1 in G Minor, RV 73
No. 8 in D Minor, RV 64
No. 5 in F Major, RV 69
No. 10 in B-Flat Major, RV 78
No. 6 in D Major, RV 62
No. 12 in D Minor RV 63 “Follia”
No. 9 in A Major, RV 75
No. 7 in E-Flat Major, RV 65
No. 3 in C Major, RV 61
No. 4 in E Major, RV 66
No. 11 in B Minor, RV 79
No. 2 in E Minor, RV 67

L'Arte dell'Arco [Federico Guglielmo, Glauco Bertagnin, violin; Francesco Galligioni, cello; Ivano Zanenghi, theorbo; Roberto Loreggian, harpsichord, organ]

rec: March 12 -16, 2012, Carceri (PD), Abbazia di Santa Maria
Brilliant Classics - 94784BR
More info:

Internet Archive URL -

Saturday, September 23, 2017

The Old switch-a-roo

This is my post from this week's Once or Twice a Fortnight.

Many years ago, the CBC broadcasted an Edmonton Opera performance of the Marriage of Figaro sung in English.


That what I thought, exactly!

I won’t call it a cottage industry, but there are many operas that have had their libretti adapted or translated in other languages. Some of them by design – Dialogues des Carmélites was first performed in an Italian translation at its La Scala première before its Paris debut in the original French libretto by the composer.

In my record collection I have a fine version of Pagliacci sung in German (A Munich performance conducted by Wolfgang Sawallisch) It takes some getting used to, but it kind of works.

All this to say that there’s something to be said for opera sung in the local language for local audiences. Maybe some of the “big staples” (like my example of Mozart’s Figaro) are harder to warm up to, but less traveled repertoire, and especially light opera or operetta work well. This is why this vintage performance I found on LiberMusica of Auber’s Fra Diavolo I think is worthwhile.

The opera was Auber's greatest success, one of the most popular works of the 19th century and was in the standard repertory in its original French as well as German and Italian versions. It is loosely based on the life of the Itrani guerrilla leader Michele Pezza, active in southern Italy in the period 1800-1806, who went under the name of Fra Diavolo ("Brother Devil").

Expanding and renaming the roles of Beppo and Giacomo (two accomplices of Fra Diavolo) Laurel and Hardy starred as "Stanlio" and "Ollio" in the 1933 feature film Fra Diavolo (sometimes titled as The Devil's Brother or Bogus Bandits) based on Auber's opera. There is not a great deal of singing in the film. Much of the chorus material is intact, and Diavolo has three numbers; however, Zerline gets to sing only the small bit necessary to the plot (singing when she undresses), Stanlio and Ollio only repeat songs heard by others, and no one else sings.

For comparison, a YouTube performance of the original French version can be found here.

The audio quality here is at times suspect, but once you get used to the sound, you'll like this!

Daniel François Esprit AUBER (1782 - 1871)
Fra Diavolo, ou L'hôtellerie de Terracine, opéra comique in three acts (1830)
Original French libretto by Eugène Scribe; Italian translation by Manfredo Maggioni

Fra Diavolo - Giuseppe Campora,
Zerline - Alda Noni,
Lord Cockburn - Gino Orlandini,
Lady Pamela - Mitì Truccato Pace,
Lorenzo - Nino Adami,
Giacomo - Fernando Corena,
Beppo - Giuseppe Nessi,
Mathéo - Pier Luigi Latinucci,

Coro della RAI di Milano (Roberto Benaglio, chorus master)
Orchestra sinfonica della RAI di Milano
Alfredo Simonetto, conducting
HOPE 237
Recorded : 5/3/1952

Synopsis -
Libretto -
LiberMusica URL -

Friday, September 22, 2017

Jewish Inspirations

No. 259 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages can be found in our archives at

We often talk of musical traditions in the context of national music, or national schools. Think of the great German, French, Italian and Russian traditions. Each of these traditions have a distinct “sound”, and even a distinct aesthetic.

We also sometimes talk of music as either sacred or secular. Again, there are sounds and aesthetics at play when considering music meant to be played in churches or as part of religious rites and ceremonies as opposed to music intended to be played in a concert or a recital.

I’m not quite sure where to place music of Hebraic or Jewish inspiration in those contexts – are we talking about a tradition, or a form of religious music? I remember once somebody discussing how Mendelssohn’s E Minor violin concerto is probably the best example of Jewish music ever composed (Mendelssohn’s grandfather is recognized as an eminent Jewish thinker  yet his immediate family converted from Judaism to of the Reformist Church!)

None of the pieces I selected for this montage of music of Jewish inspiration are in my view religious in nature, but they do share the common distinctive sound, at times “schmaltzy” we associate with Jewish folk music.

All of the works are contemporary (written in the 20th century). Sergei Prokofiev wrote the Overture on Hebrew Themes in 1919, during a trip to the United States. It is written for a relatively uncommon instrumentation of clarinet, string quartet, and piano. Prokofiev received the commission from a Russian sextet called the Zimro Ensemble, whose members played the instruments in this work's instrumentation. They gave Prokofiev a notebook of Jewish folksongs, though the melodies Prokofiev chose have never been traced to any authentic sources.

Ravel composed three songs in Yiddish and Hebrew - Mejerke, main Suhn (From Chants populaires, MR A17, no. 4) and Deux mélodies hébraiques (MR A22), sung here by Pierre Bernac accompanied at the piano by Francis Poulenc who we siometimes forget was an outstanding pianist in his own right.

Bernstein’s elegy Halil and two “Suites Hébraïques” – one by Canadian composer Srul Irving Glick and the other by Ernest Bloch are fine examples of the Jewish sound. Bloch settled in the US where he taught composition in New-York, Cleveland and San Francisco, but his legacy as a composer revolves around many works reflective of his faith –Bloch’s “Jewish Cycle.” refers to a series of compositions in which he was trying to find his musical identity. This was Bloch’s way of expressing his personal conception and interpretation of what he thought Jewish music should be, since the Jewish nation did not exist, in the strictest sense, at the time these biblically-inspired works were written. Schelomo, which concludes the montage, is the fourth work of this cycle.

I think you will love this music too.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Project 366 - Pick Your Poison

To mark the fifth anniversary of ITYWLTMT, we are undertaking a long-term project that will introduce - and re-introduce - musical selections in the context of a larger thematic arc I am calling "A Journey of Musical Discovery". Read more here.

Piano… Violin… Again?!?

Today’s chapter serves as a modest attempt at veering away from the same old, same old. After all, in principle, any object that produces sound can be considered a musical instrument—early musical instruments may have been used for ritual, such as a trumpet to signal success on the hunt, or a drum in a religious ceremony. Cultures eventually developed composition and performance of melodies for entertainment. Musical instruments evolved in step with changing applications.

I could point to many Listener Guides in our series that feature instruments other than the piano and the violin: for example, we dedicated entire chapters to the organ and to voice. Peppered here and there I featured the trumpet, the Moog Synthesizer and even the dill piccolo.

To add to our “featured instruments”, we will add today the horn, the oboe and the guitar. The cello and viola are also added to the mix, though they are after all part of the violin family. Ditto for the harpsichord and tangent piano, which are after all ancestors of the modern piano.

Finally, you will find a pair of listener guides that feature the piano and the violin – after all, the repertoire is dominated by pages upon pages dedicated to those two stallworths!

Your Musical Guides

Listener Guide #109 – “Narciso Yepes (1927-1997)”: Considered one of the finest virtuoso classical guitarists of the twentieth century, Spain’s Narciso Yepes is featured as recitalist, soloist and arranger in this montage of guitar favourites. (ITYWLTMT Montage #254 – 28 July 2017)

Listener Guide #110 – “Ye olde keyboards”: Before the piano, there was the harpsichord, the fortepiano and the tangent piano. Listen to concerti featuring these old keyboard instruments. (ITYWLTMT Montage #242 - 10 Mar, 2017)

Listener Guide #111 – “Oboe Concertos”: The oboe produces a beautiful, sweet, haunting sound. When used as solo instruments the sound is sometimes described as a 'pastoral' sound. Different composers approached the oboe differently – as a violin substitute or as its own voice. (ITYWLTMT Montage #256 – 25 Aug 2017)

Listener Guide #112 – “Viola & Orchestra”: The viola has a rich tone, subtly deeper than its first cousin, the violin. Here we have a trio of works for viola soloist and orchestra by Hindemith, Hummel and Berlioz. (ITYWLTMT Montage #240 - 10 Feb 2017)

Listener Guide #113 – “Frédéric Chopin , Piaano sonatas no. 2 & 3”: A vintage vinyl recording from 1966, featuring Tamás Vásáry (Vinyl’s Revenge #9 – Sep 2015)

Listener Guide #114 – “Dimitry Markevitch on MP3.COM”: French-Russian cellist Dimitry Markevitch performs solo suites by J. S. Bach and a pair of cello sonatas by Beethoven. (Once Upon the Internet #31 – 18 Nov 2014)

Listener Guide #115 – “Violin and Cello”: Brahms’ Double concerto pairs the violin and cello. Completing our program are the Tragic Overture and Ravel's sonata for violin and cello. (ITYWLTMT Podcast #53 - 27 Apr, 2012)

Listener Guide #116 – “Mozart and the Horn”: Some horn and piano or orchestra music by Mozart, Czerny and Schumann. (ITYWLTMT Podcast # 73 - 28 Sep, 2012 )

Listener Guide #117 – “Wolfgang Schneiderhan (1915 –2002)”: The main work features Schneiderhan in a 1952 performance of the BrahmsViolin Concerto in D, plus a pair of Beethoven sonatas from the 1952 set recorded with Wihelm Kempff. (Once Upon the Internet #48 – 12 July 2016)

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Vladimir Ashkenazy (*1937)

This is my post from this week's Tuesday Blog.

Today’s edition of Vinyl’s Revenge contributes to a few ongoing threads – first, it continues a mini-series on the Tuesday Blog exploring Mozart’s Piano Concertos – in fact, it launches a look at an old Time-Life5-LP compilation of hiss “Late” Piano Concertos and, second, it features another pianist who “Moonlights” as a conductor.

In preparing for this post, I realized that Vladimir Ashkenazy turned 80 this past Summer. This Russian born and trained pianist came into prominence in the mid- to late 1950’s, following in the tradition of the great Soviet-era musicians such as Gilels, Richter, Oistrakh and Rostropovich. The latter three managed to develop an international career whilst remaining based out of the USSR, and it appeared that he would do the same; however, Ashkenazy left his homeland in 1963 not for the “artistic reasons” cited by most émigrés but for a woman—a stately blonde from Iceland named Thorunn Johannsdottir, who studied piano at the Moscow Conservatoire. To marry Ashkenazy, Johannsdottir was forced to give up her Icelandic citizenship and declare that she wanted to live in the USSR.

In his memoirs, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev recollects that on a visit to London Ashkenazy refused to go back to the Soviet Union. Khrushchev mentions that Ashkenazy then went to the Soviet Embassy in London and asked what to do, who in turn referred the matter to Moscow. Khrushchev claims to have been of the opinion that to require Ashkenazy to return to the USSR would have made him an 'Anti-Soviet'.

In 1963 Ashkenazy decided to leave the USSR permanently, establishing residence in London where his wife's parents lived. The couple moved to Iceland in 1968 where, in 1972, Ashkenazy became a citizen. Later the family moved to Lucerne, Switzerland.

Ashkenazy has recorded a wide range of piano repertoire, solo, chamber and concerti. His discography is varied and in many cases authoritative – ChopinBeethoven, Mozart and the late-Romantic Russians (notably Rachmaninov and Prokofiev). Midway through his pianistic career, Ashkenazy branched into conducting. One of his earliest conducting endeavours was a solid complete Mozart piano concerto cycle (conducting from the keyboard with the Philharmonia Orchestra). Our first selection in today’s playlist is from that cycle, re-issued in the Time-Life collection I referred to up front.

Today, he performs almost exclusively as a conductor, with long-standing associations with the Royal Philharmonic, NHK and Sydney Symphonies. The complete album I retained to complete today’s playlist is an early digital recording with the English Chamber Orchestra.

Happy Listening!

Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto no.21 in C Major, K.467 ('Elvira Madigan')
Philharmonia Orchestra
Vladimir Ashkenazy, piano & conducting
Label: Time Life Records ‎– STL M01 (Disk 2, Side 2)
Format: 5 × Vinyl, LP, Compilation
Issued in 1973

Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Siegfried Idyll, for small orchestra in E Major, WWV 103

Arnold SCHOENBERG (1874-1951)
Verklärte Nacht for string orchestra (1917; arr. from String Sextet, Op.4)
English Chamber Orchestra
Vladimir Ashkenazy, conducting
Label: Decca ‎– 410 111-1
Format: Vinyl, LP, Album (DDA)
Issued in 1984

YouTube playlist -

Friday, September 8, 2017

Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778-1837)

No. 258 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages can be found in our archives at


Today’s Blog and Podcast consider three piano trios and a piano rondo by Johann Nepomuk Hummel, considered today as somewhat of a secondary figure of his time, yet he clearly rubbed elbows with and gained the respect of the elite of the Classical period.

According to his Wikipedia page, Hummel was born in Pressburg, now Bratislava in Slovakia. His father, Johannes Hummel, was the director of the Imperial School of Military Music in Vienna and the conductor of the orchestra at the Theater auf der Wieden.

As a child prodigy in the 1780s he was Mozart’s favourite pupil. Hummel later studied in London with Muzio Clementi and befriended Joseph Haydn, who was in London at the same. Upon his return to Vienna in the late 1780’s, he was taught by Johann Georg Albrechtsberger, Joseph Haydn, and Antonio Salieri. At about this time, young Ludwig van Beethoven arrived in Vienna and also took lessons from Haydn and Albrechtsberger, thus becoming a fellow student and a friend – a friendship that has its ups and downs though at Beethoven's wish, Hummel improvised at the great man's memorial concert. It was at this event that he made friends with Franz Schubert, who dedicated his last three piano sonatas to Hummel

Hummel is known to many as the man who succeeded Haydn at the court of Prince Esterházy. In 1804, Hummel became Konzertmeister to Prince Esterházy's establishment at Eisenstadt. Although he had taken over many of the duties of Kapellmeister because Haydn's health did not permit him to perform them himself, he continued to be known simply as the Concertmeister out of respect to Haydn, receiving the title of Kapellmeister, or music director, to the Eisenstadt court only after the older composer died in May 1809. He remained in the service of Prince Esterházy for seven years altogether before being dismissed in May 1811 for apparently neglecting his duties.

Hummel’s output as a composer includes seven concertos and numerous sonatas and solo pieces for the piano, to say nothing of works for various instrumental combinations, operas, masses, and other vocal music. His output of chamber music includes duo sonatas, piano trios, string quartets, a piano quintet (scored like Schubert’s ‘Trout’) and two septets with piano. He wrote no fewer than eight piano trios including the three we retained as the core of today’s montage; the first and earliest, a youthful essay published in London in 1792, the other two mature works composed between 1799 and about 1820.

In 1828,  Hummel published A Complete Theoretical and Practical Course of Instruction on the Art of Playing the Piano Forte, which sold thousands of copies within days of its publication and brought about a new style of fingering and of playing ornaments. Later 19th century pianistic technique was influenced by Hummel, through his instruction of Carl Czerny who later taught Franz Liszt. Hummel's influence can also be seen in the early works of Frédéric Chopin and Robert Schumann. The Hungarian-style rondo that completes today’s montage, contemporaneous to the earlier piano trio, might be described as a sonata-rondo since it has two main themes, the first playful and the second more lyrical.

I think you will love this music too