01 Andante – Allegro con anima 14:48
02 Andante cantabile, con alcuna licenza –
Moderato con anima 12:25
03 Valse. Allegro moderato 5:43
04 Finale. Andante maestoso –
Allegro vivace (Alla breve) 12:03

Total time 45:38
Bavarian Radio Symphony
Mariss Jansons / conductor


In celebration of ten years, BR Klassik’s (radio station founded in 1980) label is offering this CD for $4.99 with a catalog of their releases. This Mariss Jansons recording was released in 2009, a live recording in Munich. It was re-released for this anniversary without the “Francesca Da Rimini” selection.

The initial idea for a new symphony came to Tchaikovsky in April 1888 about the time he was also working on the overture to Hamlet while staying in Frolovskoye, a town outside of Moscow, to get away to compose. There was a doubt as he wrote to his younger brother Modest, “Now I am gradually and with some difficulty, squeezing a symphony out of my addled brain.” He expressed doubt to his patroness Nadezhda von Meck saying “Am I really written out?” The rough draft was completed by the end of June and the orchestration was done by the middle of August with the composer being relatively pleased with the work.

The orchestral premiere took place in St. Petersburg in November of 1888 with the composer conducting. While friends of Tchaikovsky were enthusiastic about the performance critics were very harsh towards it. Alfred Einstein accused the neurotic  Tchaikovsky of exhibitionism of emotion claiming the composer had succumbed to spasms of melancholia. This lead Tchaikovsky to further bouts of depression and failure as a composition.

Today it stands out as a work of great orchestration, harmony, and filled with many melodies and takes its place as one of the great symphonies which are listened to and performed often.

The main theme is introduced and darkly played by a clarinet which is a cyclical one in all four movements, where Tchaikovsky made some program notes about it but discarded it. In it, he said of the first movement “… a complete resignation before fate which is the same as the inscrutable predestination of fate…” It is a sonata, taking the form of many classical symphonies as the first movement. It offers five themes switching from major to minor keys and returning at the end to the recurring main theme.

The second movement or andante cantabile is one of the more recognizable tunes having been performed in films and as a single called “Moon Love” by Glenn Miller and Frank Sinatra among others with lyrics by Mack David, Mack Davis, and Andre Kostelanetz. The five-note melody on the horn going gently upwards is introduced by the strings. There is a theme by the oboe and the horn a return to the main theme and finally, the clarinet which remains in a dream-like state.

The third and shortest of the movements is a waltz which has three melodies from the violin, oboe, and bassoon, and bassoon including a scherzo and finally back to the main theme.

The fourth movement returns to the recurring main theme before the violins take-over with an allegro. There are two additional themes from the woodwinds, strings, and flute. The brass and the trumpets finish off the movement with a return to the main theme.

There are over 100 recordings of the Fifth Symphony in a single form, the last three symphonies, or a set of six symphonies with or without the Manfred. All of the major conductors have recorded some or all of the Tchaikovsky symphonies. Included in this mix is Mariss Jansons who also recorded the set in 1984 with the Oslo Philharmonic for Chandos as well as this release for BR Klassik’s in 2009. Both recordings are very similar in tempo and style which is straight from the score, perhaps a little bit on the quick side but certainly not pushed in any way. It is far from the almost frantic pace of the Mravinsky 1960 DG stereo recording, the most recommended performance. To get this recording you have to purchase 4, 5, and 6 as opposed to getting a good quality Symphony No. 5 at a reduced price by a conductor who has Russian Soul and an orchestra, Bavarian Radio Symphony who understands Russian music.

One thing that I didn’t like was the humming in the background of the conductor. The first time I heard it I had to go back and re-listen to it to make sure I had not made a mistake. I heard it on my higher end Grado headphones and not my Bose speakers so the sound is very soft. I wouldn’t let this prevent me from purchasing this recording.

I found the wave download file from Naxos to be perfectly acceptable for my listening needs. It was free of any glitches that sometimes occur.

This is a good buy and I would recommend it if you don’t have it or as a gift to someone.




Track Listing

  1.   Mars, the Bringer of War  7:41
  2.   Venus, the Bringer of Peace  8:19
  3.   Mercury, the Winged Messenger  3:54
  4.   Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity  8:23
  5.   Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age  9:26
  6.   Uranus, the Magician  5:52
  7.   Neptune, the Mystic  7:08
  8.   The Perfect Fool Ballet Music  10:39

TOTAL TIME,  61:22        RR-146

How many recordings can one have of “The Planets” and why would you buy this one over 100 other ones and available for free on Google, Spotify, and YouTube at a lower quality. Reference Recordings set the standard for the very best in recording and engineering offering Dolby Surround 5.1, SACD, and stereo with HDCD. The superior recording, along with the fine reading of the Kansas City Symphony directed by Michael Stern, makes this the must-have recording. Did I say that the download was available in high resolution?

Gustav Holst (1874-1934) was born to three generations of musicians and Gustav continued the tradition although neuritis in his right hand prevented him from playing the piano. He did supplement his income by playing trombone in concert bands and churches as well as an organ in church.

Joining the Hammersmith Socialists Holst met and fell in love with Isobelle Harrison, a young blue-eyed soprano who he married in 1901. They had one child Imogen Holst (1907-1984) who went on to champion her father and was a composer and author among other accomplishments

The working title for “The Planets” was “Seven Large Pieces For Orchestra” and each movement was a tone poem, fashioned after Franz Liszt and Schoenberg’s “Five Pieces For Orchestra.” It was written between 1914-16 and first performed by Sir Adrian Boult in September of 1918. As an aside, he was to record the work sixty years later.

It should be noted that Holst wasn’t an astronomer but an astrologer thus the mixing up of the order of the planets (Mars, Venus, Mercury, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune) according to the astrological characters. The music has to do with the descriptions of war, peace, messenger, jollity, old age, magician, and mystic. Originally it was written with the descriptions only with the planets being added later. Extremely popular, parts of the works have appeared in nearly 100 films including Hans Zimmer’s “The Gladiator” which resulted in copyright infringement. “The Planets,” was studied by composer John Williams for his soundtrack “Star Wars.”

Mars, the bringer of war is a militant piece that features a ferocious five-note pounding rhythm that like a war machine is relentless. There are two themes the first of which has no harmonic development. The second theme comes from the tenor tuba which is replied to by the trumpets. What makes this music so unique is that it’s entirely inhuman even to death. This movement has been the subject of many uses in television, films, and advertising.

Venus, the bringer of peace is quite a complex movement in terms of harmony and texture for a very serene work. It features solo violin and oboe passages along with passages of a heavenly nature from the harp, celeste, and glockenspiel. This is the complete opposite of Mars.

Mercury, the winged messenger features two simultaneous rhythms in two different keys, from the shortest of the seven movements, something which Holst used in some of his other works. It is definitely a bouncy upbeat composition that is again completely different from the two previous movements.

Jupiter, the bringer of jollity. The middle movement which the others rotate around is a high spirited movement in tempo and rhythm. There are six themes that Holst managed to include in eight-plus minutes. This movement has also been used to stand alone in many different genres. The overall texture is one of English folk themes, something that Holst was greatly influenced by. The final theme was adapted by Holst in the early twenties “I Vow to Thee My Country” an English Patriotic hymn with words by Spring Rice.

Saturn, the bringer of old age begins with great despair from the double basses behind the steady rhythm of the clock sounding the end. The second theme by the trombones is a voice of wisdom and the movement ends on a note of acceptance and tranquility. This movement is unique as it takes you through events as opposed to one single moment in time.

Uranus, the magician. Picture the cone hat and garbs of material and a pompous person loud and full of energy and he shows his tricks right away. For an encore, he surrounds himself in flames and disappears,

Neptune, the mystic is without melody and harmony, only parts. It is barren and empty in effect. A chorus of women offers a wordless passage that slowly ends in nothing along with the end of the movement. The choir sang in an adjoining room and the door very quietly closed to end their soprano/alto singing.

When one listens to this keep in mind that it was written over 100 years ago and it still has that fresh sound of a modern-day composition. Not a fan of lists this is one composition that belongs in the top ten must-have classical works. Why not get the latest in a noise-free background and Dolby surround for your sound system. The pace of the work while slightly faster than most is a very pleasant listening experience


Ballet Music (10:39)

Andante (invocation)

Dance of Spirits of Earth

Dance of Spirits of Water

Dance of Spirits of Fire

“Perfect Fool” is a one-act opera written as a parody of Richard Wagner opera’s between 1918-1922 that is seldom performed if ever but the opening ten-minute overture has turned out to be one of Holst’s more popular works as it performs like his Uranus which plays out like “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.” The work begins with the spirits of earth performed by a trombone that rises in energy and descends in deliberate purpose. The double basses depict the nature of the earth.  When the awkward dance ends the earth spirit runs underground leaving a solo viola to conjure up the spirits of the water love theme. The third theme of fire needs no visual lighting as the music crackles the noise of the flames. Written closely in time to “The Planets” there are some similar sounds in the orchestrations and harmony especially at the beginning of the overture.



mark snow 001

Many of you know Mark Snow only for his work on X-Files and little else. Did you know that he has 237 credits to his list of television and movie credits and is still going strong with 3 series and no indications of slowing down! He is likely the most prolific composer of the last 3 decades. When Mark Banning and Ford Thaxton get done recording his orchestral material who knows how many volumes will evolve. He started in 1975-76 with a television show The Rookies doing 5 episodes and hasn’t stopped. Take away the baseball cap and the glasses and you have someone who resembles a young John Williams. What a talent he is! Having said that he has been nominated 15 times for an Emmy without winning, a crying shame.

One of 11 films he did in 1990 The Little Kidnappers is a feel good film starring Charlton Heston as a bitter Scotsman who hasn’t been able to forgive the Dutch in the Boer War. He is sent his two grandchildren to raise in Novia Scotia, something he does with an iron fist. When  the two boys find a baby they decide to raise it on their own. The story begins and as it progresses grandpa softens making it a fun movie to watch with your kids. The music matches the small screen with no hint of supernatural writing. “Prologue and Main Title” offer a sweeping main theme provided by strings, piano, flute and harp.

The score doesn’t offer only this theme but it is used throughout the the score in recognizable variations with a Scottish flavor to the music which the flute plays a prominent role. “Falling Down the Cliff/Trouble on the Hill” offers a bit of tnsion with the introduction of the brass in a brief motif. “The Kiss” begins with a piano solo and followed by romantic strings and a wonderful soft melody again, perfect for a kiss. Tremolo strings and piano. And as it should “Happy Ending” will bring a tear to your eye. This is a marvelous feel good movie. The solo flute and then the strings play the main title melody again.

Smoke Jumpers was a 1996 television film that dealt with the story of the 1994  Colorado mountain fire. It starred Adam Baldwin and Lindsay Frost. In real life Mrs. Mackey participated in the production of the film as an adviser. The film has a strong bold main theme with brass and snare drum accenting the theme performed by an orchestra of 60 players, large for  television film. It was a real hero theme and is used throughout the score to depict the firefighters male and female.

While I prefer The Little Kidnappers to the Smokejumpers both provide an interesting listen and contrast to each other. And both are on a very limited CD of 500 which will sell quickly given the popularity of Mark Snow. Act quickly or you’ll miss out. Recommended.




Schmitt Orchestral Works

March 23, 2018

CHSA 5200.20180130102908


Florent Schmitt (1870-1958) is best known for his suites to the ballet Antoine et Cleopatre and Chandos doesn’t disappoint with a SACD (sounds great on dolby surround) 24 bit/ 96Khz lively recording replacing in my mind the Leif Segerstam recording. Applause also must go to Oramo and the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

Written under one opus #69 the work is divided into six parts and is very much a program work filled with the sounds of Egypt as well as sweeping melodic lines that capture your attention. In fact the whole work does and the 50 minutes fly by rather quickly with only one or two spots where the eyelids close. One is reminded of something that Rimsky-Korsakov might do with similar flare, brashness, and mystery. Track no. 5 will remind you of Debussy more than anyone. My description contains compoers to gie you an idea of the sound, not copying.

His second symphony is an example of an atonal piece that occasionally becomes melodic. Written in three movements the first movement is birght and upbeat, the second dark and tranquil again with no melodic line. The last movement is dissonant and scattered. I listened to it three times and didn’t like it but maybe you will.

Written nearly 40 years apart you get two sides of the prolific composer.




Christian Lindberg and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra have come up with a fine recording of the Bernstein film/Broadway works of Bernstein. They’ve made in my opinion a jazz sound from a symphony orchestra, something I’ve not heard before. The percussion section must be given thumbs up for a special performance. I knew this would be a good one when I heard the opening strains of Candide.

The five works that makeup this recording were were all done in the 40’s and 50’s. He turned his works to the classical side and spent his time teaching, conducting, and writing religious classical music during the last thirty years of his life. For all of those reasons he is a true icon in the classical world.

Candide (1956) is likely Bernstein’s most popular piece. The short four minute piece consists of three different themes nicely blended together in a wonderful overture. The tune you’ll remember most is the middle tune “The Best of All Possible Worlds” but listen carefully for the other two.

West Side Story (1957) began on the Broadway stage and went on to become a movie in 1961 winning 10 Oscars. The nine dances encompass nearly 22 minutes of different styles including ballet, mambo, jazz, cha-cha, and a fugue. This is the place where “Maria,” “To and “Somewhere” came from. This is one of the more popular Broadway plays as well as the movie.

Fancy Free” (1944) was Bernstein’s first major work which served as the inspiration for the popular film/broadway  On the Town. It didn’t share the music, however. It consists of three dances Galop, Waltz, and Danzon, he shared with Aaron Copland who used it as “Danzon Cubano.”

On the Waterfront (1954) was the only film that Bernstein did for Hollywood and his friend Elia Kazan. It  is a gritty somewhat dissonant score except for the main theme which was also used in Chinatown. We can say that the style was something like Alex North and the two films he did for Kazan Streetcar Named Desire and Viva Zapapta.

On the Town (1946) also became a movie with Sinatra and Kelly with different music of course. We hear three dances from the play. The first two are ballet and the last a showy Gershwin type music.

While not classical it certainly deserves a place in your Bernstein section of your CD’s. It shows the versatility of this very talented man.

cowen marco polo 001

A newly discovered composer I quickly found that Cowen was a bright spot in my day with his light and tonal material. He was born in Jamaica in 1852 and he proved very early on that he was a child prodigy having done an operetta at the age of 8. At 14 he wrote an Overture in D Minor performed by the Alfred Mellon Promenade Orchestra. It was the 3rd Symphony ‘Scandinavian’ premiered in 1880, performed on this CD that vaulted him into prominence for well over a decade. He married in 1905 to a woman 30 years younger than he but it proved to be no problem although she outlived him by 36 years. During the next 25 years is when he did the majority of his works including the other two works on this CD The Butterfly’s Ball and  Indian Rhapsody. 

The Butterfly’s Ball (1901), a concert overture, tells a lovely little story about butterflies and there flitting and waltzing to the music. This a bright cheery overture for the first part , switching to some sort of danger music until it segues back to a passage of urgency. This continues until the romantic strings call for no danger of predators and a calming of the wind only a fast allegro leading to a rousing conclusion. A well done piece as is the second overture Indian Rhapsody (1903). The flavor of India is apparent early in the score with fast urgent passages until a solo andante violin emerges followed by a continuing of the non Indian melody. It is quiet and romantic. A very quiet melody emerges from the bassoon followed by reeds with soft harp in the background for harmony. The strings emerge quietly and then become more forceful until they become tranquil. A pause and then the strings are off again on another staccato type melody. It is first exchanged by the woodwinds until the strings become front and center singing brightly. If one listens carefully one can hear a similarity to some passages in the The Butterfly’s Ball. The work ends on a sense of driving playing from the strings and the rest of the orchestra. A well played piece that was somewhat difficult from the Czechoslovak Orchestra conducted by Adrian Leaper.

Symphony No. 3 in C Minor ‘Scandinavian’ (1880) begins with a powerful melody that dominates the first movement and it is shared by all sections of the orchestra, the prevailing section being the strings followed by the woodwinds. The timpani signals the end of the movement and the mood of the second movement completely changes. It is the only movement with a title ” A Summer Evening on the Fjord.” As the title indicates this is a quiet and tranquil movement with no dominate melody. This is  followed by a Scherzo with the primary work being done by the strings.  There is a melody but nothing like the tune in the first movement. The fourth movement returns to the first movement with it’s infectious melody, passed around from section to section until it  settles with the strings.

As I previously mentioned the CD case was broken (crushed), no liner notes, and poor copying of the artwork. However, the sound of the CD, the conducting of Adrian Leaper, the playing of the Czech Orchestra, and the selection of the works for the CD were all outstanding. I was introduced to Cowen and am looking forward to hearing more, although this recording is pretty much it. While he was extremely popular during his lifetime he is pretty obscure. Let Naxos that you want more. He has written other symphonies and many concert overture pieces.



573839 rr Wagner EU

As many of you know in addition to classical music I also have quite a fondness for film music which in my opinion is some of your modern classical music. How can you not listen to “Lord of the Rings” or “Star Trek” and not conjure up thoughts of Rimsky-Korsakov or Wagner. These two composers of the 19th century were the template of material that started 20th century film music. Both of them would have made fine Hollywood composers as they could write the type of music necessary for the wide range of emotions necessary. While there were others these two seem to standout as excellent examples.

The 64 minutes of material is the orchestral material to the 16 hours of opera, something that few people have ever listened to in it’s entirety. It shows the mastery that Wagner had. His ear was tuned to pick up the small nuances that were way over my head such as the use of a bass clarinet and a sax at a critical moment. He wrote as liner note writer Edward Yadzinski described as ‘small tuneful fragments as thematic material for individual characters’ (Leitmotifs). He pioneered the way for Strauss, Mahler, and Stravinsky and influenced Hollywood writers such as Korngold, Horner, and Williams.

All of this talk of theory, harmony, and orchestration took a second seat to his #1 love a lyricist. He built a special theater in Bayreuth to control the sound of the orchestra. It had levels to control the volume like a modern day equalizer. Pure genius!

I’m not very smart about Wagner so I can’t tell you how this recording is compared to the Maazel as an example. I can tell you I have nearly all the Buffalo Philharmonic recordings and like them very much. If you’re not familiar with Wagner give this a try and perhaps it will encourage you to try one of his operas.