December 30, 2015
Much of the music of Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915) has been recorded and performed this year to acknowledge the 100th year anniversary of his death and this new live London Symphony Orchestra recording offers his 3rd and 4th symphonies written during the time frame when Alexander had become interested in mystical and occult ideas which had a direct influence upon his music.
Scriabin and Rachmaninov were born a year apart and for a time were linked together as both attended the Moscow Conservatory and both were concert pianists with some of the same teachers. However, while Scriabin was convivial and elegant Rachmaninov was taciturn and stoic. Scriabin tried to take music to a new level combining religion, arts, and color. Scriabin had chromesthesia, the ability to sense colors in musical notes. Rachmaninov followed in the footsteps of Tchaikovsky but his colors were traditional. Both were successful but in diverse directions.
Symphony No. 3 (“The Divine Poem”), op. 43 was written between 1902-1904 at a time in his life when ideas of the occult and mystical ideas began to absorb his life. The opening movement offers two themes which you’ll hear throughout the three movements. The movement is filled with feeling and strong emotion depicting human life with its trials and tribulations. The second movement titled “Delights” uses the theme from the first movement but this time Scriabin focuses on the use of individual solos within the orchestra which brings out the heart felt emotion. One can hear the chirping of birds in the springtime in this overall tranquil movement. The third movement “Divine Play” also uses the themes that you heard in the first movement only this time it seems that Scriabin goes all out in the ultimate grandiose manner attempting to bring out the maximum amount of feeling blended with a bit of humor.
Symphony No.4 (“The Poem of Ecstasy”), op. 54 was written in 1908 but Alexander was already thinking about it before he had completed his third. By now Scriabin had been completely absorbed in as he states”… An ocean of cosmic love encloses the world and in the the intoxicated waves of this ocean is bliss…” The opening melody with the solo trumpet offering the melody is quite reminiscent of parts of The Planets from Holst. One can also hear the strains of Debussy in some of the quieter moments. Scriabin appears to have broken this 20 minutes down and written the material in cells that somehow end up being quite cohesive when the work ends.
Having heard these works before the thing that sticks out in my mind most is the superb recording job done by the people at Classic Sound Ltd. This is a live recording but one can’t hear that to be the case. If you have multi channel 5.1 it will sound even better as these works from Scriabin are large grandeur pieces lend themselves to multi channel systems. This CD is nicely conducted by Valery Gergiev and would be a good choice if one wishes to have this in your collection.
December 27, 2015
RPO SP 050
As an encore to their two volume Hollywood Block Buster CD (RPO SP034) the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra plays some of the newer releases including some favorite composers of mine Williams and Desplat. The overall sound of this CD is on the easy listening side with tracks such as Lincoln leading the way. Written as much as a tribute to Copland as Lincoln the stirring music brings out the USA in the best who listen to the piece. Other John Williams compositions include The Book Thief, a very delicate, melancholy, theme that features the piano with counterpoint being provided by the harp. Another winner to the long list of successful film themes. War Horse is a third again quite melancholy but with one of those wonderful themes that you’ll be humming when you leave the theater. Along with the theme is harmony that Williams knows how to write so well. Dario Marianelli a very successful film composer of over 50 films is an Oscar winner for Atonement as well as a nominee for the picture Anna Karenina presented on this CD. It is a wonderful carousel dance number that reminds you of the finest balls from the kingdoms of the world. The King’s Speech, a Alexandre Desplat nominee, begins like many of his themes with a piano that is bouncy and full of vigor. That eventually changes into a funeral like theme. Having seen this film I can tell you that Desplat, who has done 100 films, writes for the situation on the screen nicely. The main theme from Skyfall, written by Adele is performed without lyrics although as is many times the case the Bond themes become pop hits. The Oscar nominated Thomas Newman score is something else that one may want to explore.
How To Train Your Dragon 2 is not a film I would normally see so this opening to the Blockbuster CD was quite a surprise to me with the toe tapping violin and ethnic instruments and choir. This is one track that isn’t laid back but bright, well orchestrated. It reminds me of a scherzo or two I’ve heard in my day. What modern day compilation would not be complete without a selection from The Hobbit and this one is no exception with its battle style music and ethnic instruments. A hats off go to Bradley and Williams. Also included is the main theme to the film Inception, written by Hans Zimmer, Not to my liking at all the colorless lifeless theme is typical of many films of today.
I like this CD for a number of reasons. The material selection, orchestra arranging, a superior sound quality, and most of all the playing of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra who are becoming the premier pops orchestra in the world today. I’m not into doing the star rating system as some reviewers do but if I made an exception I would give this one the highest possible rating.
December 24, 2015
This Naxos recording #8.573274 is volume 3 in the series of orchestral works of composer Eugene Zador (1894-1977) which include his “Festival Overture,”” Dance Symphony,” and “Variations on a Hungarian Folk Song” written between 1919 and 1963 written in Hungary, Vienna, and the United States. Zador was a truly unsung composer as he did the majority of his work for the film composer Miklos Rozsa with little credit being bestowed upon him.
The CD begins with his “Festival Overture” (1963) which was performed during the inaugural opening week of the Los Angeles Music Center in December of 1964. Whether this work was specifically written for this occasion was unknown other than Zubin Mehta had selected it. The work begins with a brass fanfare which is also the main theme for the work as it returns throughout the 10 minute work. If you’re a fan of the film music of Rozsa you’ll hear references to some of his films such as Ben Hur and The Lost Weekend. While it does have some periods of darkness it lives up to its title as a very bright and upbeat work. For me it will be added to my festival compilation CD which many composers have written.
“Variations on a Hungarian Folk Song” (1919) is given its world premiere of the complete version of all eleven variations. Zador chose to offer each one in a different style including fugato, serenade, scherzo, and eight others. This was written in 1919 while Zador was still in Hungary but first performed in Vienna when he was living there in 1927. It is a work that is easily digestible and will perk up your spirits. My favorite variation is also the longest, the serenade featuring a gypsy style violin solo before it settles into music of peace and tranquility. One is reminded of a spring morning by a lake with a gentle breeze. It is also a happy uplifting work.
“Dance Symphony” (1936) is given it’s world premiere recording by the Budapest Symphony Orchestra conducted by Mariusz Smolij. This was written by Zador after he had lived in Vienna for many years and while there was much turmoil afoot he wrote of much happier times in Austria. The first movement, an allegro could easily have been mistaken for something that Strauss could have written. The second movement is an andante cantabile with the opening theme performed softly by the clarinet. The strings take over and offer their romantic lushness. Again one can hear the strains of something that could be cinematic. The third movement is a scherzo without the benefit of a trio. Filled with counterpoint from both the horns and the strings we’re listening to three different things going on at the same time. The fourth and final movement opens with strings and a clarinet solo which reminds you of the second movement before the brass introduce the rondo theme. It concludes with a theme in the style of Korngold.
As I stated earlier this is a very welcome addition to the series and I look forward to more releases from Naxos in the future.