Friday, March 29, 2019

Piano & Orchestra

No. 307 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages, which can be found in our archives at


This week’s “bonus” podcast for the fifth Friday of March features a series of works for piano and orchestra in a single movement – not quite concertos, but in the concertante form.

One of the first works on the playlist, Albeniz’s Rapsodia Española, is actually in five movements played without pause. Albéniz was never entirely confident when writing for orchestra, and it is known from surviving correspondence that he asked his friend Tomás Bretón to help with the orchestration of the Rapsodia; it has sometimes been performed using orchestrations made after Albéniz’s death, by George Enescu (1911) and Cristóbal Halffter (1960). According to my research, the version retained today has the Enescu orchestration.

From the same CD, Canadian pianist Angela Cheng and the Calgary Philharmonic perform another one-movement piece of Spanish origin, Turina’s Rapsodia Sinfonica. The orchestra is limited to strings and the piano sometimes falls back into an accompaniment role; yet it's full of Iberian atmosphere, particularly in the second half, and like Falla's Nights in the Gardens of Spain, it sensitively evokes a nocturnal scene in Andalusia, the gypsy-dominated area of southern Spain.

From Spain, we now go to Poland, and one of the few pieces for piano and orchestra by Chopin. Rondo à la Krakowiak (subtitled “Grand Rondeau de Concert”) was written in 1828 and dedicated to Princess Anna Zofia Sapieha, whose mother, Izabela Czartoryska, was influential in shaping the burgeoning Romantic aesthetic in Poland. Its title derives from a Renaissance-era Polish dance, said to be associated with courtship practices. Chopin, always showing an interest in native dances, as demonstrated by his numerous mazurkas and polonaises, was well-suited to adapting folk-like music to the concert hall.

It was Liszt who found Fauré’s Ballade pour piano seul (1879) ‘too difficult’, referring to the version for solo piano before its later transformation in a more popular and lucid version for piano and orchestra. Presumably he meant that the writing was intricate without being virtuosic, that the material was too fragile and exquisite for public consumption. Even Liszt, a dazzlingly perceptive and generous critic, must have been baffled by the presence of so many difficulties in a piece unlikely to win prolonged plaudits.

Speaking of Liszt, the montage closes with his Fantasia on Hungarian Folk Melodies, commonly known in short form simply as the Hungarian Fantasy – an arrangement for piano and orchestra of his Hungarian Rhapsody No. 14. During Liszt's lifetime, his Hungarian Rhapsodies were among his most popular works. Because of this popularity, he may have been under pressure to produce versions of them for piano and orchestra. The present work is the only such work that Liszt is known to have produced.

I think you will love this music too.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Mozart Organ Music

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

To launch our Lenten programming, we are returning to our tradition of sharing organ works – I have a Friday post in a few weeks and this one, in our Cover 2 Cover series featuring a complete disk from Brilliant Classics.

Described by the composer himself as ‘the king of instruments’, the organ and its music form a small but not insignificant part of Mozart’s vast catalog of compositions. Mozart's renowned skill as an improviser at the organ combined with the very limited scope for original organ composition in eighteenth-century Austria meant that he actually wrote down very little music specifically for the instrument.

The two best-known 'organ' works, K594 and K608, together with the delightful Andante in F, were composed for a mechanical organ in a museum owned by a Bohemian nobleman, Count Joseph Deym. At the same time as he composed these three pieces, Mozart wrote an Adagio and Rondo for glass harmonica, flute, oboe, viola and cello (K617) which, along with the Adagio in C for glass harmonica (K356/617a), was also arranged for Deym's mechanical organ. The remainder of Mozart's organ music consists of Fugal compositions mostly written for other instruments (but clearly with the organ in mind).

Ivan Ronda is an organist particularly renowned for his authoritative interpretations, and is acknowledged for his fine technique. He was the first Italian organist to record an album on the historic Baroque organ of the Johanniskirche in Lüneburg, an instrument known to J. S. Bach.

Happy Listening!

Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 –1791)
Suite in C Major, K. 399: I. Overture
Andante in F Major, K. 616
Adagio and Allegro in F Minor, K. 594
Adagio in C Major, K. 356
Church Sonata in C Major, K. 336
Piece in F Major, K. 33b
The London Sketchbook:
Rondo in F Major, K. 15hh
Allegro in F Major, K. 15a
Rondo in D Major, K. 15d
Adagio and Rondo in C Minor, K. 617
Fantasia in F Minor, K. 608

Ivan Ronda, organ
INSTRUMENT - Sandri organ, Church of Maria Vergine Immacolata, Gallo di Grinzane Cavour, Cuneo, Italy

Recorded 24 April 2014
Brilliant Classics 95099
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Friday, March 22, 2019

Sviatoslav Richter & Beethoven

No. 306 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages, which can be found in our archives at

One of my objectives for 2019 on the Friday Blog and Podcast is to complete the cycle of Beethoven piano sonatas I began a couple of years ago with the final three sonatas (with Stephen Kovacevich), Serkin (the Hammerklavier coupled with Concerto no. 4) and a pair of sonatas in another Beethoven Concerto and sonata coupling that included the Emperor Concerto, the Moonlight and Pastoral sonatas. In the Fall, I plan to revisit the remaining Beethoven piano concertos coupled with more of the sonatas. In the meantime, as a bit of a teaser, today’s montage starts us off towards our survey of the remaining 26 sonatas.

Sviatoslav Richter (1915-1997) was one of the greatest and most recorded pianists of the 20th century. He played with virtuosic technique, beautiful tone, and great imagination. Richter was largely self-taught which may account for the personal, idiosyncratic character of many of his performances, including some aspects of the performances I retained today, from the “Great Pianists of the Twentieth Century” anthology.

Today’s montage opens with the sonata in A-flat major, opus 26 which dates from about 1800. It is a four-movement work of an improvisatory character (none of the movements are in sonata form) in which Beethoven expanded the scope of writing for the piano. Richter plays this great sonata with a light, clean touch. He takes the final movement at an unusually fast pace.

The "Tempest" sonata, opus 31 no. 2, written in 1802, is in three movements and features an opening movement which integrates sections of widely varying tempos and emotional characters. The middle portion of this movement features two piano recitifs played pianissimo in a distant voice of unearthly sorrow. Richter plays them beautifully. The final movement of this work is a rondo on a rolling theme in the minor full of smoldering passion.

The last sonata in the montage is the "Appassionata", opus 57, written in 1803, a major work of Beethoven's "heroic" period. This is a work for piano virtuosity and Richter plays it to the hilt. It is also a work of deep sorrow combined with an angry determination. Richter captures the force and fury of this great music.

Some of the sonatas are recorded in live performance, but the last piece - the short Andante Favori - is a studio filler I forst discovered on another Richter recording in my vinyl collection (which I plan to share in a Tuesday Blog some time in 2020, Beethoven’s 250th anniversary year). The Andante is contemporaneous to the other three works, written between 1803 and 1804, and published in 1805. It was originally intended to be the second of the three movements of Beethoven's "Waldstein" piano sonata.

I think you will love this music too

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Le docteur Miracle (Bizet)

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

This time on OTF I’m sharing a recording I acquired a few years back, that was a bit of a mystery, turning out to be a pleasant surprise.

For a few years, I subscribed to eMusic, an online provider of “99-cent tracks”, and downloaded what I thought was an album of Beethoven stage music - including the Ah, Perfido! aria, only to discover that the music was not at all from Mr. Ludwig. I understood the music was sung in French, but couldn’t for the life of me identify the pieces. After I got over my disappointment, I paid close attention to the dialog, and tried to google some of it and finally established I had a recording of Bizet’s one-act opera Le docteur Miracle, with selections from other Bizet stage works.

The libretto of the opera (or operetta, depending on your sources) by Léon Battu and Ludovic Halévy, is based on R.B. Sheridan's play Saint Patrick's Day. Bizet wrote the work when he was just 18 years old for a competition organized by Jacques Offenbach. He shared first prize with Charles Lecocq. His reward was to have the piece performed 11 times at Offenbach's Bouffes-Parisiennes.

The general plot revolves around a common premise, that of forbidden love. Silvio, a young officer, courts the mayor’s daughter Laurette, with whom he has fallen in love. The mayor, who has an aversion to the military, has got wind of their relationship and had forbidden Laurette to have anything to do with soldiers. The plot twists and turns: Silvio poses as hired help, concocts a disgusting omelette – which is later claimed to be poisoned. The mayor is terrified, and in comes Doctor Miracle to the rescue with an antidote; he (Silvio in disguise) offers to cure the mayor in return for Laurette’s hand in marriage. As you probably guessed, the omelette wasn’t poisoned after all. Thoroughly outwitted, the mayor offers Laurette to Silvio and the opera ends in an ensemble in which they all agree that the phony doctor did after all have the cure for everything, which is Love.

Based on my research, the discography of this youthful work is quite sparse; in my opinion, this recording provides an honest performance of this rarely heard operetta.

Happy Listening

Georges BIZET (1838-1875)
Le docteur Miracle (1856-57)
Operetta in one act, French libretto by L. Battu and L. Halévy based on R.B. Sheridan

Olga Pasichnyk (Laurette)
Yannis Christopoulos (Silvio / Pasquin / Docuteur)
Hjördis Thébault (Véronique)
Pierre-Yves Pruvot (Le podestat)
Filharmonia Lubelska
Didier Talpain, conducting

(No on-line libretto found)

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Project 366 - The Mahler Symphonies

Project 366 continues in 2019 with "The Classical Collectionss - A Continued journey through the Western Classical Music Repertoire". Read more here.

This month’s installment of the Classical Collections looks at the symphonies of Gustav Mahler – nine numbered symphonies, plus The song of the Earth and fragments of an unfinished tenth symphony.

Analysts have divided Mahler's composing life into three distinct phases: a long "first period," from 1880 to roughly 1901; a "middle period" of more concentrated composition ending with Mahler's departure for New York in 1907; and a brief "late period" of elegiac works before his death in 1911.

The main works of the first period are the first four symphonies, the Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen song cycle and various song collections in which Des Knaben Wunderhorn stands out.  In this period songs and symphonies are closely related and the symphonic works are programmatic. Mahler initially gave the first three symphonies full descriptive programmes (all of which he later repudiated).

The middle period comprises a triptych of purely instrumental symphonies (the Fifth, Sixth and Seventh), the Rückert and Kindertotenlieder, two final Wunderhorn settings and, in some reckonings, Mahler's last great affirmative statement, the choral Eighth Symphony. Mahler had by now abandoned all explicit programmes and descriptive titles; he wanted to write "absolute" music that spoke for itself.

The three works of the brief final period—Das Lied von der Erde, the Ninth and (incomplete) Tenth Symphonies—are expressions of personal experience, as Mahler faced death. All of the pieces end quietly, signifying that aspiration has now given way to resignation.

The list of symphonies, in chronological order, with associated musical guides:

Symphony No. 1 in D Major “Titan” (1888–96) [Guide # 264]
Symphony No. 2 “Resurrection” (1888–94) [Guide # 203]
Symphony No. 3 (1894–96) [Guide # 99]
Symphony No. 4 (1899–1901) [Guide # 262]
Symphony No. 5 (1901–02) [Guide # 265]
Symphony No. 6 in A minor “Tragic” (1903–04) [Guide # 266]
Symphony No. 7 “Lied der Nacht” (1904–05) [Guide # 267]
Symphony No. 8 in E-flat (1906–07) [Guide # 268]
Das Lied von der Erde (1908–09) [Guide # 269]
Symphony No. 9 (1909–10) [Guide # 270]
Symphony No. 10 in F sharp (unfinished; 1910) [Guide # 108]

Your Listener Guides

Listener Guide # 264 – Mahler in Boston
[Symphony #1] The title Titan, after the name of a novel by Jean Paul, for the Symphony No 1 was used once for the Hamburg performance on October 27, 1893 of an incomplete version which Mahler considered his symphonic poem, or a piece of program music. When Mahler turned it into a symphony, he dropped the title, never to use it again. (ITYWLTMT Montage #290 – 7 Sept. 2018)

Listener Guide # 265 – Fifth Symphony
[Symphony #5] Structurally, the work is in five movements, though Mahler liked to think of it in three parts, with the scherzo (third movement) sandwiched between two parts (formed by the first two and final two movements, respectfully). The fourth movement Adagietto may be Mahler's most famous composition and is the most frequently performed of his works; It is said to represent Mahler's love song to his wife Alma. (Vinyl’s Revenge # 39 - 19 June 2018)

Listener Guide # 266 – Sixth Symphony
[Symphony #6] The program for the first Vienna performance in 1907 of the Symphony No 6 refers to the work as Sechste Sinfonie (Tragische), but Mahler did not use this title in any of the other programs, or in any of the scores published in his lifetime. Mahler’s protégé, however, conductor Bruno Walter, claims Mahler referred to the Sixth Symphony in conversation as the Tragic. (Cover 2 Cover # 12 – 25 Sept. 2018)

Listener Guide # 267 – Lied Der Nacht
[Symphony #7] The Lied Der Nacht (Song of the Night) moniker given to the Symphony No 7 derives from its two Nachtmusik movements, the second movement having been apparently inspired by Rembrandt’s Night Watch, which Mahler had admired in the Amsterdam Rijksmuseum. Again, this nickname was not endorsed by the composer. (ITYWLTMT Montage #291 – 21 Sept. 2018)

Listener Guide # 267 – Eighth Symphony
[Symphony #8] The denotation of the Symphony No 8 as the Symphony of a Thousand comes from the number of musicians supposedly required to play it. Not only does it not originate from Mahler, he reportedly loathed the title. (Vinyl’s Revenge # 42 – 11 Sept. 2018)

Listener Guide # 268 – Earth Day
[Das Lied von der Erde] Gustav Mahler’s Song of the Earth is a work that has symphonic proportions, and chronologically sits between his 9th and 9th symphonies. In fact, some have theorized that Das Lied was meant to be his ninth symphony – but well aware of the so-called “curse of the Ninth”, Mahler was reluctant to call it a symphony… Maybe he was right, since Mahler did complete a ninth, and dies while still composing his tenth. (ITYWLTMT Montage #220 – 22 Apr. 2016)

Listener Guide # 269 – Mahler Dressed to the Nines
[Symphony #9] Alban Berg called the Ninth "the most marvellous thing that Mahler ever wrote."[129] None of these final works were performed in Mahler's lifetime. (ITYWLTMT Montage # 163 – 5 Sept. 2014)

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Richard Strauss – Don Quixote Viktor Simon / Gennady Rozhdestvensky

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

This week’s installment of Vinyl’s Revenge proposes a vintage Melodiya recording (re-issued by ABC Classics in North America) of Richard Strauss’ Don Quixote.

According to an article from NPR, the conductor Gennady Rozhdestvensky was an immense presence in Russian musical life during much of the Soviet era and an artist who championed the likes of composers Dmitri ShostakovichAlfred Schnittke and Sofia Gubaidulina.

Rozhdestvensky seemed predestined for a life in music. His mother, Natalya Rozhdestvenskaya, was a soprano; his father, Nikolai Anosov, was a noted conductor and teacher. Unusually for that time and place, Rozhdestvensky took on his mother's surname rather than use Anosov — possibly simply to distinguish himself from his father, but it was a tactic that also helped him to dodge accusations of nepotism as he rose in his career.

Rozhdestvensky was the former principal conductor of the USSR Ministry of Culture Symphony Orchestra, the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the Vienna Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra. In 2000, he was named general artistic director of the Bolshoi Theatre. In addition, he was a guest conductor at several other prominent podiums, including at the Berlin Philharmonic, the London Symphony Orchestra, the Cleveland Orchestra and Amsterdam's Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra.

Although he was best known internationally for his work within the Russian repertoire, and most especially with the living Russian composers of his prime, Rozhdestvensky also brought foreign works to his home audience, including the first performance in Russia of Benjamin Britten's opera A Midsummer Night's Dream and the first complete cycle of Ralph Vaughan Williams' symphonies. With the Soviet orchestra, he recorded the complete symphonies of Shostakovich, Alexander Glazunov and Alfred Schnittke — and also Anton Bruckner and Arthur Honegger — for Melodiya, the Soviet state-owned record label for which he was one of the earliest and most prolific recording artists.

Rather than digging out a recording of his from his core repertoire, I chose an eloquent and elegant version of Strauss’ tine poem/concertante variations inspired by Cervantes’ characters; the solo cello representing Don Quixote, and the solo viola, tenor tuba, and bass clarinet depicting his squire Sancho Panza.

Initially founded in 1930, the Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra was sometimes known as the USSR State Radio and Television Symphony Orchestra, the USSR State Radio Symphony Orchestra, or the USSR All-Union National Radio and Central Television Symphony Orchestra. Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the orchestra was renamed in 1993 by the Russian Ministry of Culture in recognition of the central role the music of Tchaikovsky plays in its repertoire.

Happy Listening

Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949) 
Don Quixote, "Phantastische Variationen über ein Thema ritterlichen Charakters", op. 35 [TrV 184]

Viktor Simon (cello) with I Boguslavsky (viola) and M Chernyakhovsky (violin)
Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra of Moscow Radio
Genady Rozhdestvensky , conducting

Place and date of recording: Moscow, 7. 2. 1973
Label: ABC Classics ‎– AB-67023
(Reissue of Мелодия ‎– 33СМ 04061-2)
Format: Vinyl, LP, Album, Stereo
Country: USSR
Released: 1973

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Friday, March 8, 2019

Karajan Conducts Tchaikovsky

No. 305 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages, which can be found in our archives at


Today’s podcast fits as part of a larger series of upcoming listener guides that explore eminent conductors of the 20th Century, either in or possibly outside of the repertoire they are associated with. As part of that series, we will consider Gennady Rozhdestvensky, Arturo Toscanini, Ernest Ansermet and Herbert von Karajan.

Karajan’s repertoire of predilection is German post-classical and romantic, but he also excels in late romantic Italian opera (Verdi), Scandinavian (Sibelius) and Russian/Soviet repertoire (Prokofiev, Shostakovich and Tchaikovsky).

Indeed, as stated in the Gramophone review of the Karajan-Tchaikovsky anthology from which I selected today’s tracks, Karajan was unquestionably a great Tchaikovsky conductor. Yet although he recorded the last three symphonies many times, he did not turn to the first three until the end of the 1970s, and then proved an outstanding advocate. Notice, at the opening of the Little Russian symphony, horn and bassoon capture that special Russian colouring, as they do in the engaging Andantino marziale, and the crisp articulation in the first-movement Allegro is bracing. The sheer refinement of the orchestral playing in the scherzo is a delight, and the finale has great zest with splendid bite and precision in the fugato passages and a convincing closing peroration.

The anthology includes the triptych of ballet suites – two were shared in my Vinyl’s Revenge series, and the third – that of the Nutcracker – is part of today’s montage. Unlike the ballet which has so many seasonal undertones, the suite to me cab be enjoyed year-round without any reservations.

Acting as bookends, we open with the polonaise from the opera Eugene Onegin and a wonderful rendition of Marche slave, ideally paced, closes the montage.

I think you will love this music too