Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Sir Edward Elgar (1857-1934)

This is my po st from this week's Tuesday Blog.

No. 294 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT 
series of audio montages, which can be found in our archives at https://archive.org/details/pcast294


This week’s Blog and Podcast – our quarterly “Fifth Tuesday” post - features two of Sir Edward Elgar’s three concertos – his concerto for violin and his more famous cello concerto.

According to the Elgar Society’s website, two concertos for the cello are performed more often than any others. One is by Antonin Dvorak, an epic work brimming with melodies and embracing a wide range of emotion. The other is Elgar's: intimate, highly-concentrated and unlike any other ever written for the instrument.

Elgar wrote the concerto in 1919, just after the Great War. Appalled and disillusioned by the suffering caused by the war, he realized that life in Europe would never be the same after such destruction. His first reaction had been to withdraw from composition, and he wrote very little music during the war's first four years. Then, over a period of twelve months - from August of 1918 to the following August - Elgar poured his feelings into four works that rank among the finest he ever composed. Among that set was the Cello Concerto, Elgar's lament for a lost world. The performance I chose is by Canadian cellist Shauna Rolston.

Elgar was at the height of his fame when the Philharmonic Society commissioned a violin concerto in 1909. The work was dedicated to Fritz Kreisler, the internationally famous violinist who was the soloist at its first performance.

The work is long for a violin concerto and expansive in mood but nevertheless compelling and not overblown. It contains none of the pomposity and swagger found in many of Elgar's works which some commentators find disturbing and rather distasteful. The work is firmly established in the classical repertoire although not performed frequently. The performance on the montage is one by Nigel Kennedy during the early stages of his career.

It is easy to dismiss Salut d'Amour as an insignificant trifle, salon music not deserving a wider audience. However, for the work to establish itself so forcefully in what was a fiercely competitive field says much for its charm and quality. The version of the piece I chose to complete the podcast is a setting for violin and small ensemble, featuring Gil Shaham and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra.

I think you will love this music too.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Project 366 - Modern Time Capsules

Project 366 continues in 2017-18 with "Time capsules through the Musical Eras - A Continued journey through the Western Classical Music Repertoire". Read more here.

As we near the end of our series of Time Capsules, we now focus on the music of the last 100-plus years and some of its main currents forming what we collegially call “Modern” or “contemporary” music.

1913 is an important uear in music, and for many people it marks a clear inflexion point in Western Classical Music – the Skandalkonzert of March that year and the infamous evening of ballet in Paris a few months later represent significant events – to quote Don McLean “the day the music died”, or certainly Romantic traditions and approaches. Harmonies and rhythms that were the norm for centuries now were displaced by serialism, 12-tone and miminalism.

Listener Guide # 228 – Alban Berg (1885-1935)
A pillar of the Second Viennese School, Berg wrote atonal and 12-tone compositions that remained true to late 19th-century Romanticism, strongly influenced by the young composer’s musical gods, Gustav Mahler and Richard Wagner. (ITYWLTMT #281 – 1 June 2018)

Modern music trends aren’t limited to atonal construcycts. Mush music of the 20th century, especially that composed in Europe, relied on motifs inspired by local folk music, or even nature. The next set of time capsules illustrates some of these currents.

Listener Guide # 229 – Messiaen, the Spiritual Composer
It is quite an understatement to say that Messaien's music is rhythmically complex. Messiaen chose to make use of rhythms from ancient Greek and from Hindu sources, and the musical language (and sometimes even the titles of his works) have a strong Mid- and Far-Eastern flavour Many of his compositions depict what he termed "the marvellous aspects of the faith", and drew on his deeply held Roman Catholicism. (ITYWLTMT Montage # 45 – 2 March 2012)

Listener Guide # 230 – Jewish Inspirations
We also sometimes talk of music as either sacred or secular. 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? None of the pieces I selected for this Time Capsule are in my view religious in nature, but they do share the common distinctive sound, at times “schmaltzy” we associate with Jewish folk music. (ITYWLTMT Montage # 259 – 22 Sept. 2017)

Listener Guide # 231 – Bela Bartok: The Three Violin Sonatas
Commemorating the 50th anniversary of Béla Bartók's death, violinist Gullermo Figueroa was featured at the first complete New York performance of the composer's violin sonatas. These three works represent two different stages of Bartók's creative life: the Two Sonatas for Violin and Piano, from his most radical and experimental early period, and the Sonata for Solo Violin, one of the four last great works written shortly before his death. (Once Upon the Internet #2 – 24 July 2014

Across the pond, music composed in the-Americas developed its own specific sound, mainly inspired by the Blues and Jazz and latin rhythms South of the Equator; though, some composers such as Charles Ives merely extended the overall exploration of his European contemporaries.

Listener Guide # 232 – Bernstein Conducts Ives
I loath to pigeon-hole Charles Ives as an “American:” composer, as his work transcends the ill-defined notion of “American Music”. His music is a blend of late-Romantic and modern music, more akin to, say, Scriabin than to Schoenberg or Stravinsky in that sense (save for the mysticism). His later works can be challenging to listen to at times, but the set assembled by Bernstein is quite accessible, and some of the pieces have become American classical music “standards”. (Vinyl’s Revenge #37 – 24 April 2018)

Listener Guide # 233 - Due South
The theme for this Time Capsule has to do with “going South”. South can be both a relative and an absoluter term. It includes two 20th century works: one by Ralph Vaughan-Williams, the other by the Argentinian King of the Tango, Ástor Piazzolla. (ITYWLTMT #284 – 13 July 2018)

Listener Guide # 234 - Ragtime: Original piano rolls (1896-1917)
Scott Joplin never made an audio recording as a pianist; however his playing is preserved on seven piano rolls. All seven were made between April and June 1916: six released under the Connorized label and the other roll, a recording of "Maple Leaf Rag" was recorded on the Uni-Record label in June 1916. (Once Upon the Internet #53 - 29 Nov. 2016)

Listener Guide # 235 - King Of The Delta Blues Singers
The Robert Johnson legend rests predominantly on a pair of recording sessions. The first session was held on November 23, 1936, in room 414 of the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio, which Brunswick Records had set up to be a temporary recording studio. In the ensuing three-day session, Johnson reportedly performed facing the wall, which has been cited as evidence he was a shy man and reserved performer. The slide guitarist Ry Cooder speculates that Johnson played facing a corner to enhance the sound of the guitar, a technique he calls "corner loading". (Vinyl’s Revenge #28 - 16 May 2017)

Listener Guide # 236 - The Blues
What is the Blues? Some would say it’s a form of musical expression, others a musical genre, and I think both are right in their own way. It’s about worry, broken hearts, despair and it’s also a musical genre with its own “code” and “patterns”. A key ingredient is the Blue Note – or the worried note - sung or played at a slightly different pitch (typically between a quartertone and a semitone). Like the blues in general, the blue notes can mean many things. One quality that they all have in common, however, is that they are lower than one would expect, classically speaking. (ITYWLTLT Montage # 211 – 27 Nov. 2015)

Listener Guide # 237 - Threatre of the Mind
Our last Time Capsule for this chapter presents speculative works – that is to say, works written (one could think) in anticipation of a stage work. All of the pieces I chose are intended either to depict stage music, or suggest stage music, whilst not necessarily designed to accompany any specific stage work – other, maybe, than the type of stage performance, be it a theatrical play, a ballet or an opera. (ITYWLTMT Montage #282 – 15 June 2018)


Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Gidon Kremer, Riccardo Muti, Philharmonia Orchestra / Sibelius & Schumann ‎– Violin Concertos

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

This week’s installment of Vinyl’s Revenge is a mid-1980’s coupling of violin concertos featuring Latvian violinist Gidon Kremer and the Philharmonia Orchestra under Riccardo Muti.

If we were to create a pie chart of all the concerti for solo instrument and orchestra, I’d hazard to guess at least 2/3 of the pie would be occupied by concertos for either keyboard or violin. The violin concerto repertoire is huge, mostly composed of baroque and classical-era works – Vivaldi contributed probably 500 – but the workhorses among violin concertos are late Romantic works – TchaikovskyBrahmsMendelssohn (in E-minor) and Sibelius are prominent among those, and are most often used in the “final event” of so many competitions.

Originally composed in 1904 and extensively revised the following year, the Sibelius violin concerto was premiered in January 1905 in Berlin under the baton of Richard Strauss, no less. It is the only concerto that Sibelius wrote, though he composed several other smaller-scale pieces for solo instrument and orchestra. One noteworthy feature of the work is the way in which an extended cadenza for the soloist takes on the role of the development section in the sonata form first movement.

The initial version was noticeably more demanding but still the revised version requires a high level of technical facility on the part of the soloist; some of the most striking changes, particularly in the first movement, are in orchestration, with some rhythms played twice as slow. The original is somewhat longer than the revised, including themes that did not survive the revision. Certain parts, like the very beginning, most of the third movement, and parts of the second, have not changed at all. The cadenza in the first movement is exactly the same.

In a large corpus such as that for violin and orchestra, we are bound to find some “curiosities”. Without wanting to be unkind to Robert Schumann’s ability as a composer, we’d have to attribute that moniker to his Violin Concerto in D minor, one of his last significant compositions, and one that remained unknown to all but a very small circle for more than 80 years after it was written.

Schumann wrote it in the Fall of 1853 for violinist Joseph Joachim. He had just previously completed another work for Joachim, the Fantasie, op. 131. Though Joachim performed Schumann’s Fantasie, he never performed the Violin Concerto. After playing it through with the Hannover Court Orchestra for Schumann in October 1853, Joachim retained the manuscript for the rest of his life. After Schumann’s attempted suicide the following February and ended up in a mental facility hereafter, Joachim evidently suspected the Concerto was a product of Schumann’s madness and thought of the music as morbid.

Now, there are a few disparate facts that add to this “morbid” idea; in a supplement to the Schumann Complete Edition, Johannes Brahms makes reference to a theme that would have been dictated to Schumann by the spirits of Mendelssohn and Schubert, no longer recognizing that it was a melody he had used in the slow movement of the Violin Concerto. Much later, in 1933, during a spiritualist séance in London attended by Joachim's two grand-nieces (the sister violinists Jelly d'Arányi and Adila Fachiri) a spirit-voice identifying himself as Robert Schumann requested Miss d'Aranyi to recover an unpublished work of his (of which she claimed to have no knowledge) and to perform it. In a second message, this time from the spirit of Joachim, they were directed to the Prussian State Library where the manuscript had been deposited for safe keeping.

Clearly less travelled than other Romantic concerti, I thought the work stands well in this particular pairing, and Kremer’s clean lines and impeccable technique add to the experience.

Happy listening

Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Violin Concerto In D Minor, A 23

Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Violin Concerto In D Minor, op. 47

Gidon Kremer, violin
Philharmonia Orchestra
Riccardo Muti, conducting

Angel Records ‎– DS-37957
Format: Vinyl (ADD), LP
Released: 1983
Discogs - https://www.discogs.com/Gidon-Kremer...elease/6264780

Internet Archive URL - https://archive.org/details/04ViolinConcertoInDMinorOp.47

Friday, October 19, 2018

Il cimento dell'armonia e dell'inventione

No. 293 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages, which can be found in our archives at https://archive.org/details/pcast293


This week’s Blog and Podcast are dedicated to eight concertos by Antonio Vivaldi that are part of his opus 8 “The Contest between Harmony and Invention”.

James Mannheim writes in AllMusic.com that it was common in Vivaldi's time to gather up a set of six or 12 works in similar form and for the same forces and publish them under an umbrella title. The collective title of the opus 8 set does suggest something of the particular tension between form and fantasy in his works in general and in these concertos in particular.

This set contains the most famous of all Baroque solo concertos, the ubiquitous Four Seasons, "Spring," "Summer," "Fall," and "Winter." These are not featured in today’s podcast, as I wanted to showcase the remaining eight concerti; several of the other concertos in the set are like the Four Seasons programmatic in nature, which might have suggested to Vivaldi or another compiler that the works belonged together. Anyone who enjoys the Four Seasons will find the "La caccia" (The Hunt) or "La tempesta di mare" (The Storm at Sea) concertos to be cut from the same cloth, equally rewarding, and much less familiar.

The American violinist Louis Kaufman was undoubtedly among the most recorded violinists of the 20th century. In a career that spanned nearly seven decades, he made over 150 major recordings of his classical repertoire, and was heard as concertmaster in over five hundred movie soundtracks between 1934 and 1948, including Gone With The Wind (1939), Show Boat (1936), Modern Times (1936),, Wuthering Heights (1939) and The Treasure of Sierra Madre (1948).

Kaufman’s mid-century, première recording of The Four Seasons, singlehandedly re-kindled interest in the music of Vivaldi. Those of you who have been following this blog since our earliest days will remember that in a set of four season-themes posts in 2011-12, I featured Kaufman’s performances either in the podcast or as a YouTube addition. Kaufman recorded the balance of Opus 8 for Concert Hall Records in Switzerland in 1950. Some of these are featured in today’s podcast. The recordings show their age and limitations in technology, yet the clear violin lines and interpretation (albeit tinged with romanticism that may make baroque purists cringe), stand the test of time and are testimonies of Kaufman’s artistry.

For the HIP crowd, I chose to complete the set with performances by a period ensemble and soloist of renown. In my personal collection, Simon Standage’s performance of The Four Seasons remains my favourite. It should be no surprise that I chose to complete Il Cimento with his concerto renditions, accompanied as always by the English Concert and Trevor Pinnock.

I think you will love this music too

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Guitar Selections, Once Upon the Internet

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

This week's musical share is a series of tracks downloaded mainly off the old MP3.COM between 2001 and 2003. They feature three guitarists.

The English-born guitarist, Tomo Iwakura, began to learn the guitar with Iwao Suzuki when he was 12 years old. After his completion of a faculty of law at "Gakusuin Univaersity" in Tokyo, he studied the guitar with Michael Koch at the "Peter-Cornelius Konservatorium" in Mainz, Germany. Also he took lessons of Narciso Yepes, Julian Bream, A. Pierri and David Russell. He won the first prize and a special prize at "Gakusei Guitar Competition" in Tokyo and is also a prize winner of "Concours International de Guitare" in Ile de Re, France.

The first few selections from today's playlist are from one of his albums titled Recuerdos de la Alhambra: Romantic Spanish Guitar Music, which is available in its entirety on YouTube.

Scott Morris gave his New York recital debut at Carnegie Hall in 1998. He has since appeared as a soloist and chamber musician throughout North America, Central America, Europe and Asia. In 2005 he gave solo concerts in both Beijing and Shanghai to great critical review. A 2008 solo performance in Beijing was given at the famous 1,800-seat National Opera House and broadcast on Chinese Central Television (CCTV). Currently, he is the Supervisor of Guitar Studies at California State University, Dominguez Hills and the CSU Summer Arts Guitar Course Coordinator in Monterey, CA. His selections are from his album Invocation.

Finally, "One of the most reknown and admired Italian guitarists" (Il Fronimo), Flavio Cucchi has given hundreds of recitals in Europe, America, Asia and Australia in addition to participating in radio and TV shows for the some of the biggest world-wide broadcasting corporations (the BBC, RAI, ZDF, Bayerischer Rundfunk, Televisa Mexico, Television Corporation of Singapore, Radio Praga, and others). The fine Sonata concertata by Paganini is a great reminder that the Itaian master was both an excellent guitarist and violinist.

Happy Listening!

Isaac Manuel Francisco ALBÉNIZ Y PASCUAL (1860 – 1909)
Suite española No. 1 (fa majeur) "Granada" op. 47, no. 1
Piezas características, Torre Bermeja, serenata (mi majeur), op. 92, no. 12

Antonio Jiménez MANJÓN (1866 –1919)
Leyenda , WoO

Fernando SOR (c. 1778 –1839)
Fantaisie et variations brillantes, op. 30
Tomo Iwakura

Introduction et variations sur “ Malbrough s`en-va-t-en guerre”, op. 28

Juan Leovigildo BROUWER MEZQUIDA (* 1939)
Alogio de la danza (1964)

Niccolò PAGANINI (1782 – 1840) 
Guitar Sonatas, MS 84
No. 1 in A Major,
No. 2 in A Major
No. 8 in G Major
No. 10 in D Major
Scott Morris

Sonata concertata in A for Violin and Guitar, Op.61 [MS 2]
Flavio Cucchi, guitar
Myra Lin, violin 

Friday, October 5, 2018

Chopin Showcase

No. 292 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages, which can be found in our archives at https://archive.org/details/pcast292


Two major works are featured in today’s all-Chopin program: his second Piano Concerto and his sonata for cello and piano (the last of Chopin's works to be published in his lifetime.)

Chopin composed four sonatas, the others being piano sonatas. This Cello Sonata in G minor was written for and dedicated to Auguste Franchomme in 1846 - the last three movements of the sonata were first publicly performed by Franchomme and Chopin at the composer's last public concert, at the Salle Pleyel on 16 February 1848. It is one of only nine works of Chopin published during his lifetime that was written for instruments other than piano (although the piano still appears in every work he wrote).

Chopin wrote six works for piano and orchestra, including two concertos. The Piano Concerto in F minor dates from 1829. Chopin wrote the piece before he had finished his formal education, at around 20 years of age. It was first performed on 17 March 1830, in Warsaw, Poland, with the composer as soloist. It was the second of his piano concertos to be published and so was designated as "No. 2", even though it was written first. The performance I retained is from an old vinyl in my collection featuring a young Cecile Licad.

The Fantasia on Polish Airs was written in 1828 and published in Paris in 1834, with a dedication to the Mannheim virtuoso pianist Johann Peter Pixis and was first performed in Warsaw on 17th March, 1830, at a National Theatre concert that included the F minor Piano Concerto. The first theme, the air Juz Miesiac Zaszedi (The moon had set, the dogs were asleep), is a Polish folk song that was a favorite of Chopin's mother. The second theme chosen is by Karol Kurpinski, principal conductor at the Warsaw Opera and conductor of Chopin's first public concerts, and is thoroughly Polish in form and inspiration. A Kujawiak (a theme typical of the Kujawy region, to the north-west of Warsaw) "Jedzie Jasio od Torunia (Johnny Goes from Torun)" completes the work.

To complete the montage, I chose a pair of nocturnes, performed by the late great Alexis Weissenberg.

I think you will love this music too.