March 11, 2016
RCA has been releasing many of their Living Stereo albums from the 60’s many of which I still have on lp. The two released on this CD are both good ones and should be added to your collection, especially the Franck which in my opinion is the recording that all others should be judged. Ted Libbey, who writes musical guides for NPR, agrees with me 100% as well as conductor Adriano.
January 6, 2016
PENTATONE PTC5186514 SACD [78:00]
Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915) is to be classified in the second wave of Russian composers who wrote material in the early 20th century that had an impact on Russian classical music. He had the same piano teacher Nikolai Zverev as Rachmaninoff in their early teenage years and both went to the Moscow Conservatory studying counterpoint from Taneiev and composition with Alexander Arensky. Both went on to have extraordinary careers in completely different directions. While Rachmaninoff continued in the tradition of Tchaikovsky Scriabin at first wrote wonderful small pieces Chopin like for the piano and then wrote in a traditional sonata form which Copland praised Scriabin’s thematic material as “truly individual, truly inspired”, but criticized Scriabin for putting “this really new body of feeling into the strait-jacket of the old classical sonata-form, recapitulation and all”, calling this “one of the most extraordinary mistakes in all music.” His first symphony falls into this category having been written during the time period of 1899-1900. In 1903 Scriabin moved to Switzerland and this was when he composed his 4th Symphony “Poem of Ecstasy” which I reviewed https://sdtom.wordpress.com/2015/12/30/scriabin-symphonies-nos-3-4/ for LSO.
Symphony No. 1 in E major, op. 26 begins with a Lento a clarinet offering the theme until the strings takeover. One can hear the fluttering of flutes in harmony with the orchestra and a solo violin and clarinet with the orchestra in the background. Scriabin was a believer that the musical notes were tied into color and e major was red-purple which ties into the mood of the movement. The second movement allegro drammatico certainly lives up to it’s name with a melodrama rising up and down. One can very easily picture this in an opera as I’m reminded of Wagner. The third movement another lento is slowly played and quite moving offering a yearning feeling of hopelessness. The fourth movement, only four minutes, is titled vivace and it doesn’t disappoint. It is a lively dance of sorts that reminds you of something that Glazunov might have written. The fifth movement is titled allegro as Scriabin returns to the tempo of the third movement with less of an emphasis on the dramatic. The sixth and final movement begins with the flute, clarinet, and oboe offering the theme until the singing (mezzo-soprano and tenor) talks about the divine being and art coming together. It is quite moving.
Symphony No. 4 (The Poem of Ecstasy), op. 67 was written in 1908 in Brussels just before his return to Moscow. By now he was moving toward atonality and his color code of fifths played a prominent role. I’m reminded of Gustav Holst and his work “The Planets.” It is written in a sonata form the there are smaller melodic cells and it definitely has a feeling of not of this world. I prefer the trumpet of this recording to the one offered by the LSO.
This newly recorded work is in my opinion far superior to my previous CD recorded on the Naxos label with the Moscow Symphony conducted by Igor Golovschin. The sound is much brighter with excellent instrument separation. The Russian National Orchestra under the direction of Mikhail Pletnev do an extraordinary job on this CD.
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 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.
November 26, 2015
Mahler said he wanted to express the entire content of his life through his symphonies. His final symphony #10 had only one movement completed, the adagio, but sketches were started for the other four movements, completed later by musicologist Deryck Cooke. It was written during a turbulent time in his life. He had diseased arteries which took away most of his moving around and he discovered that his wife was having an affair. All of this contributed to the general sound and flavor of this work which is one of the saddest Adagio that I’ve ever heard. There is such emotion that Mahler was going through with what must have been more than he could bear that he turned to music to express himself. What an incredible piece of music and this unsung orchestra performs it so well under the baton of a conductor who I’m not familiar with.
The remaining four movements were arranged and orchestrated by Cooke in a manner he thought that Mahler might have done. When one listens multiple times there is an obvious difference between the completed Mahler movement and the completed material of Cooke. That is not in anyway to criticize what he did but to point out that it is an interpretation of what might have happened. This reviewer for one would like to see what he could have done with the sketches from the first movement if there were any.
November 1, 2015
Born in St. Petersburg on August 10, 1865 Alexander Konstantinovitch Glazunov was born to a well known publisher and bookseller. It was because of this background that Glazunov was able to progress musically as rapidly as he did. Who better to teach him harmony, counterpoint, and orchestration than Rimsky-Korsakov and he was not yet a teenager. In 1881 at the age of 16 he composed his first symphony and had it performed by the School of Free Music under the direction of Balakirev. He was so advanced at such an early age he was nicknamed “Little Glinka” by Rimsky-Korsakov and their relationship changed from a teacher student relationship to one of friends.
The two piano concertos were written during his tenure as the head of the St. Petersburg Conservatory 1911 and 1917. They are not written in the standard 3 movement concerto form. The first is two movements and the second is a single movement. The structure of the first is a melody with lots of chromaticism, reminding one of Rachmaninoff, followed 8 variations in the second forming the slow movement. It concludes with a ninth variation which picks up material from the first melody. The orchestral is nicely written and blends well with the showmanship of the piano. The second concerto is but a single movement but upon careful listening one will hear the movements within the movement. While written during the October Revolution of 1917 the work sounds nothing like material that was being written by the likes of Stravinsky, Shostakovich and other avant-garde material. This is material that sounds as if it came from the pen of Franz Lizst or others from the mid to late 19th century. The final piece Carnival Overture was written in 1893 and was originally published by the composer for 4 hands. This recording with orchestra takes one through all of the sights and sounds of a festive occasion. I found the use of the organ a welcome addition to the instrumentation Glazunov chose. It adds a touch of seriousness and serenity which quickly returns to the majestic sound of brass chords and swirling violins. It is filled with wonderful colors in the orchestration and overall an easy to listen to work that concludes this CD.
I found that the overall sound of the recording superior to many releases I’ve reviewed. There is no distant sound on this recording at all. The highs were clean and crisp and the bass exhibited no signs of booming at all. The two blended nicely together. The miking of the piano kept it at the forefront without drowning out the orchestra. I found both the Slovak Orchestra, conductor Griffiths, and pianist Karl-Andreas Kolly to be more than adequate and would welcome hearing additional material from them in the future. These are works that might be out of your comfort zone but should be included in your collection. The recording is available as an MP3 or CD.
October 30, 2015
Praeludium for Jazz Band
When the MDR Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra performed Harlem Suite (1950) by a favorite of mine Duke Ellington, my initial thought was these Germans really know how to play this. All of the feeling is there and the sound from Naive is there crystal clear, a wide db range that revived my speaker system, and a fine sound engineer that knew exactly what he was doing. I had to compare it with the recent recording that Naxos (8.559737) released of Ellington material performed by the Buffalo Philharmonic conducted by JoAnn Falletta, a fine CD of the other Ellington who wasn’t just a big band leader. The Naive recording wins hands down and I can highly recommend it even if there is no interest in Sinfonia Domestica (1904). By the way I think you should have both because there is a lot of exciting material awaiting you on the rest of the CD. A very short but important piece that I’ve included as an audio clip, lower quality but good enough to give you an idea is Stravinsky’s Praeludium for Jazz Band (1937) written after his arrival to the United States and his introduction to jazz in Harlem. His comment was “jazz is done for.” He also didn’t think much of Disney’s use of Rite of Spring in the film Fantasia. So much for his opinions. The tie in with Sinfonia Domestica is Strauss brought this piece to America in 1904 as part of the composition featured four saxophones a new sound that America as well as other countries were beginning to use. While it was written as a sequel to his autobiographical work A Hero’s Life it did have a unique flavor and one can hear in parts the beginning of the jazz sound. Little did Strauss or anyone else know that Hollywood through composers like Korngold and Gershwin would be influenced by his sound and one can extend the Jarvi lines further west. Ellington also went west to Hollywood and contributed Anatomy of a Murder (1959) and Paris Blues (1962) both award winners. Parallel Tones, the third release in a four part series, is one not to be missed. Jarvi is a young exciting conductor with lots of new ideas.
- sinfonia domestica (44:00)
- a tone parallel to harlem (15:05)
- praeludium for jazz band (1:51)
Baltic Sea Voyage, the second release in a four part or more series, extends it’s territory around which separates the ten countries it represents from Russia in the east to Norway in the west. It is performed by the Baltic Sea Youth Symphony who sound as good as the Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra. I hope to hear more from this orchestra in the future. Perhaps it will evolve into the Baltic Sea Orchestra. The 66 minute program is filled with all different kinds of styles of material including works from two living composers as well as traditional material from Nielsen, Grieg, and Sibelius. On first listen the material seemed quite tame with a festive overture, a selection Mellanspel from Stenhammar, and the almost over the top wedding material from Peer Gynt, written by Grieg, and finally the Karelia Suite from Sibelius. These were all works that I had heard before and enjoyed. As the CD continued I began to hear new and exciting sounds such as a selection from the Rock Symphony written by Kalnins which had an addicting beat over and over which not only drew me into the music but made me want to play the material over and over again. The same was true of the Kilar piece who I was introduced to in one of the dracula films. Liking what I heard I went on to purchase additional material on Naxos. The CD ends with a nice arrangement of Wagner material by Henk De Flieger. The ten countries were represented nicely and I certainly will put this on the shelf of listen to again, keeping in mind that I listen to a lot of material. This is one that I’ll return to on a regular basis.
- Overture to Maskarade
- At The Wedding
- Karelia Suite
- Never Ignore the Cosmic Ocean
- Cantus in Memoriam to Benjamin Britten
- Rock Symphony
- Sacrificial Dance
- Brunhildes Opfertat