Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Vladimir Ashkenazy & Beethoven

No. 318  of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages is this week's Tuesday BlogIt can be found in our archives at https://archive.org/details/pcast318


I’m surfacing from my summer hiatus with our “Firfth Tuesday” quarterly montage.

For this third montage for July, we conclude a three-part survey of soviet composers and performers with a set of Beethoven piano sonatas performed by Vladimir Ashkenazy, who left the Soviet Uniuon for the West in 1963.

Ashkenazy’s family moved to Iceland in 1968 where, in 1972, he became an Icelandic citizen. In 1978 the couple and their (then) four children (Vladimir Stefan, Nadia Liza, Dimitri Thor, and Sonia Edda) moved to Lucerne, Switzerland. Their fifth child, Alexandra Inga, was born in 1979. As of 1989, Ashkenazy resides in Meggen.

The set of sonatas featured today are part of a larger arc where we explore the entire corpus of Beethoven piano sonatas, so there is no specific or ulterior motive in selecting these in particular.

This is not our first post proposing Ashkenazy – we noted in a Tuesday Blog from a few years back that he is heard today mainly as a conductor and not as a pianist. However, his discography as a piano soloist is immense, from J.S. Bach to Shostakovich with major incursions into Beethoven, Mozart and Chopin.

I own a 10-CD collection of the complete Beethoven sonatas by Ashkenazy; I believe these are from the mid- to late 1970’s so these are analogue recordings, digitally remastered and re-issued by London/Decca in the early 2000’s.

Ashkenazy revisited some of these sonatas in the digital age, with mixed critical reaction. At the top of his game, as an Amazon review states, Ashkenazy brings a passion into the playing (as well as a technical mastery) that brings these sonatas alive. I don’t mind Glenn Gould, but Beethoven needs not be played in a passionless, mathematical manner.

I think you will love this music too

Friday, July 26, 2019

Emil Gilels Plays Piano Sonatas

No. 317 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT  series of audio montages, which can be found in our archives at https://archive.org/details/pcast317


Today’s blog and podcast features Soviet (Ukrainian) pianist Emil Gilels, one of the leading Soviet soloisys of his generation who had opportunities to travel to the West during the post-World War II/Iron Curtain era.

Indeed, Gilels was one of the first Soviet artists, along with David Oistrakh, allowed to travel and give concerts in the West. His American debut was in October 1955, with the Philadelphia Orchestra and Eugene Ormandy. His British debut was in 1952 at the Royal Albert Hall. Gilels made his Salzburg Festival debut in 1969 with a piano recital of Weber, Prokofiev and Beethoven at the Mozarteum, followed by a performance of Beethoven's Third Piano Concerto with George Szell and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.

Gilels had an extensive repertoire, from baroque to late Romantic and 20th century classical composers. His interpretations of the central German-Austrian classics formed the core of his repertoire, in particular Beethoven, Brahms, and Schumann; but he was equally illuminative with Scarlatti and 20th-century composers such as Debussy, Rachmaninoff, and Prokofiev.

Today’s podcast opens with a set of Scarlatti sonatas of varied tones and textures, captured live from a recital recorded by the BBC and issued under their Legends series.

Gilels was in the midst of completing a recording cycle of Beethoven's piano sonatas for the German record company Deutsche Grammophon when he died unexpectedly in a hospital in Moscow. He did, however, leave several recordings of many of these sonatas, and two are featured thios week – one from the same BBC disc, the other from an early Melodiya recording.

The remaining selections thuis week are both from late 19th-early 20th century Russian composers; Alexander Scriabin’s Fourth piano sonata is one of his shortest. Written in a post-Romantic style, similar to Scriabin's other works of the time, its mood could be described as erotic.

A younger contemporary of Rachmaninoff and Scriabin, Nikolai Medtner wrote a substantial number of compositions, all of which include the piano. His works include fourteen piano sonatas, three violin sonatas, three piano concerti, a piano quintet, two works for two pianos, many shorter piano pieces. His Tenth "Sonata-reminiscenza" in A minor, Op. 38, No. 1, commences a set of eight pieces entitled "Forgotten Melodies (First Cycle)". This single movement is one of Medtner's most poetic creations; as the title indicates, its character is nostalgic and wistful. This sonata closes this week’s podcast.

I  think you will love this music too

Friday, July 12, 2019

Kabalevsky & Khachaturian

No. 316 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages, which can be found in our archives at https://archive.org/details/pcast316


This month’s three podcasts (two on Friday and our quarterly Tuesday podcast) happen to share a common thread: Soviet-era composers and performers: Vladimir Ashkenazy (who left the Soviet Union for the West permanently in 1968), Emil Gilels and this week’s composers and performer who share the letter “K”: Kirill Kondrashin, and two contemporary compsers in Dmitry Kabalevsky and Aram Khachaturian.

In 1918 Kabalevsky moved with his family to Moscow, where he studied at the Scriabin Music School from 1919 to 1925, and in 1925 he entered the Moscow Conservatory. Appointed to the conservatory’s faculty in 1932, he began to develop an excellent reputation as a music teacher. Kabalevsky began writing music at age 18, at first mostly works for the piano. He made several European tours after World War II, playing his own music, and he won numerous awards in the Soviet Union, for his music and teaching as well as his loyal service to the government.
He is perhaps best known for the overture to his opera Colas Breugnon (1936; rev. 1953, 1969) and for his suite The Comedians (1940). Also included in this week’s podcast is the first of his two cello concertos.

Better known to western listeners, Khachaturian was trained at the Gnesin State Musical and Pedagogical Institute in Moscow and at the Moscow Conservatory and was a professor at both schools from 1951. As a young composer, he was influenced by contemporary Western music, particularly that of Maurice Ravel. In later works, this influence was supplanted by a growing appreciation of folk traditions, not only those of his Armenian forebears but also those of Georgia, Russia, Turkey, and Azerbaijan. Best known for his ballet Gayane (1942 - which includes the popular, rhythmically stirring Sabre Dance), his other works include a symphonic suite, Masquerade (1944); the ballets Happiness (1939) and Spartak (1953; “Spartacus”); he also composed the music for the Armenian national anthem, as well as film scores and incidental music.

To balance out with the Kabalevsky selections, I included a performance of his Concerto-Rhapsody for cello and orchestra (1963) by yet another Soviet-era performer, cellist Mstislav Rostropovich.

After a tenure with the Bolshoi Theatre (1943-56), Kirill Kondrashin concentrated on orchestral conducting, becoming sought after as a concerto accompanist and working with the country’s leading instrumentalists, such as Emil Gilels, Leonid Kogan, David Oistrakh, Sviatoslav Richter and Rostropovich. In the first International Tchaikovsky Competition in 1958, Kondrashin was the conductor for Van Cliburn, who won the first prize. After the competition he toured the USA with Cliburn, being the first Russian conductor to visit America since the Cold War began. They performed and recorded the Sergei Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 3 and Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, which they had played in the competition. The recordings easily sold millions of copies in America, and their Tchaikovsky recording for RCA Victor was the first classical LP to go platinum. The performances and recordings with Van Cliburn helped to establish an international reputation for Kondrashin. He held numerous subsequent engagements in the America, the last being a concert at the Hollywood Bowl in February 1981.

The two suites (Comedians and Masquerade) are taken from the same October 20, 1958 Manhattan Center recording by the RCA Symphony Orchestra (the likely remnants of the NBC Symphony/Symphony of the Air) under Kondrashin, a few months after the Cliburn sessions at Carnegie Hall.

I think you will love This Music Too.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Programming Notes – Summer/Fall 2019

Summers are typically busy at home, and work has been busier than usual for this time of year, so I’ve not been on top of things on the Blog and other platforms. As summer is usually a time when I put some of my Forum activities on hiatus, I’m hoping I can catch up on some housekeeping.

Project 366
I need to clean up some links and I need to publish the “Yellow Pages” for Part 3 of the Project (which concluded in June). I should wrap up all of that by the end of August, if not sooner.
The programming for Part 4 is generally done, and the series will resume in September for the final 66 Listener Guides. The tentative title of Part 4 is “Dates on the Musical Calendar”.

Upcoming Changes to our Pod-O-Matic Channel
Near the end of the summer, I plan to recast the channel – in large part to support Part 4 of Project 366 – and this calls for renaming and rebranding. I don’t want to spoil things by doing any pre-emptive announcements, but when things get more serious, I will issue a post with details. Suffice it to say we will be doing a lot more podcasts, and many of these will include past shares edited to be more “P-O-M-friendly”.

Fall Programming
Our summer programming will feature six new podcasts (as both July and August provide “Fifth week” opportunities), and I expect to have one OTF opera share.

In the fall, we will resume with our bi-monthly Tuesday Blogs, and there should be at least monthly OTF’s. Friday podcasts, however, may be more sparse, in part due to the (still unannounced) recasting of the Podcast channel, and in part to dovetail into our long-term programing objective of reaching Podcast # 365 in 2021, which will be our 10th anniversary year. (The number 365 isn’t a coincidence, and our long-term programming arc will explain that – all in due course).

Our year-long look at piano sonatas will continue in the Fall, with a distinct focus on Beethoven sonatas – you will see them “coupled” in some instances with piano concertos; I know we’ve already done the complete set early in our ITYWLTMT series, but revisiting them isn’t totally unpleasant…
Speaking of revisiting works already considered in past shares, Vinyl’s Revenge will complete sharing the “Late Mozart Piano Concertos” from the TIME-LIFE 5-LP set (which I began sgharing a couple years ago). More Tuesday shares in the works will complete our look at the Berlioz year, and take a nostalgic look at pianist Jörg Demus.

Have a great summer!