Classical CD Reviews
Classical CD Reviews, Part 1 of 3
Published on May 1, 2004
DANIELPOUR: In the Land of the Beloved. Trio for Violin, Violincello and Piano (A Child’s Reliquary). Double Concerto for Violin, Violincello and Orchestra (In the Arms of the Beloved). The Kalichstein/Laredo/Robinson Trio (in the Trio). Joseph Kalichstein, piano; Jaime Laredo, violin; Sharon Robinson, cello. The Iris Chamber Orchestra/Michael Stern. Laredo/ Robinson in the Double Concerto – Arabesque Z6767:
Both works on this disc end with slow movements of haunting and resplendent beauty; each contain scherzos that are clever, rhythmically vibrant and suffused with a joyous energy. And both were written within the last five years. What happened to the modernism of the early 20th century?
Richard Danielpour is an American composer of Iranian heritage that has crafted a prestigious career writing music that is expressive, tonal and intellectually stimulating. He acknowledges the influences of many composers including Bartok, Stravinsky, Copland, Shostakovich, the Beatles and John Adams. The Piano Trio “A Child’s Reliquary” was written in 1999 in tribute to the tragic death of the 18 month old son of Carl and Susan St. Clair. Carl Sinclair is the conductor of the Pacific Symphony Orchestra and Danielpour was its composer in residence at the time. It was “intended as a kind of Kindertotenlieder without words, and everything in the piece – including references to the Brahms Cradle Song – relates to its initial inspiration,” the composer wrote. A haunting, sad and very beautiful first movement is followed by a delightful, childlike romp, innocent in spirit. The final movement reprises the first movement’s theme and quotes the well known Brahms lullaby, fading into a quiet, grievous ending.
In the Arms of the Beloved was written to commemorate the 25 years of marriage between Jaime Laredo and Sharon Robinson. Danielpour uses a Rumi poem as his source of inspiration:
If you want to know God,
Then turn your face toward your friend,
And don’t look away.
The Double Concerto starts in an air of mystery, almost Hermannesque but quickly modulates into a colorful middle eastern orchestral statement. The somewhat macabre and energetic Ritual Dances are followed by a stunningly beautiful adagio. The recording is appropriately striking and the performances brilliant, yet heartfelt. A wonderful CD for those who value music that is original, emotionally expressive, and richly romantic. This is an example of the ‘new romanticism’ of the 21st century that seems to be emerging.
- Robert Moon
ALAN BUSH (1900-95). Quartet for Piano and Strings, op. 5. Phantasy for Violin & Piano, op. 3. Sonata for Cello & Piano, op 120. Three Contrapuntal Studies for Violin and Viola, op 13. London Piano Quartet. Nona Liddel, violin; Elizabeth Turnbull, viola; David Kenedy; cello; Phillip Fowke, piano – Dutton CDLX 7130:
As often happens with creators, British composer Alan Bush’s political views – he joined the Communist Party in 1935 – became an albatross that limited the exposure of his music to the public. Although the BBC banned his music in 1941, Vaughan Williams persuaded them to lift the ban. In the 1920’s and 30’s his compositions won awards and performances. He studied with John Ireland and influenced his younger colleague Michael Tippett. Although his public profile slipped into unconsciousness, he kept writing throughout his lifetime.
If the unpublished compositions on this CD are any indication, we have much to look forward in hearing more of his music. All these works display a rich contrapuntal lyricism, modal harmonies, and a warmth of expression that is convincing and often moving. High points include the beautiful middle section of the Allegro Vivace of the Quartet for Piano and Strings, the heartfelt Larghetto of the Sonata for Cello and Piano, and the Fugue of the Three Contrapuntal Studies for Violin and Viola.
Program annotator Timothy Bowers states of Bush that “He believed that music should raise the level of human consciousness and stir people to change the world for the better and cited Beethoven as a key influence.” Beethoven he’s not, yet there is a sense of deep belief in the faith of music’s powers to uplift that is present in Alan Bush’s music. The performers of the London Piano Quartet communicate the music with accuracy and authority and the recording is ideal. This is a CD well worth discovering.
- Robert Moon
SCHUBERT: Piano Sonata in A Major, D. 959; Sonata for Arpeggione and Piano in A Minor., D. 821 – Wu Han,piano/ David Finckel, cello. Artistled 10401-2:
Bay Chamber Concerts is among the least heralded premier chamber music series in the U.S. Held at the acoustically fine Rockport Opera House in coastal Rockport, Maine, BCC features regular performances by the Vermeer and St. Lawrence Quartets and, for the last few years, has scheduled a “First Chair” set of concerts featuring principals from major symphony orchestras of North America. Young American pianists who have shown outstanding prowess in chamber music receive the Andrew Wolf Chamber Music Award, so named for one of the founders of BCC. Among these recipients is Wu Han. I was fortunate to see Wu Han perform at The Rockport Opera House and was dazzled by the clarity, elegance and power of her pianism. This recording, on the performers’ own Artisled label, enhances my initial impressions of her artistry.
The last three piano sonatas (D.958, D.959, D.960) of Frantz Schubert are an achievement comparable to the final three sonatas of Beethoven (Op.109, Op.110, Op.111). The Sonata in A (D.959) reveals Schubert’s ever-present simplicity and melodic beauty. Within each of the four movements melodies and counter melodies are developed utilizing shifting harmonies, rising chromatic lines and powerfully arpeggiated chords to achieve a grace and power unique to the late works of Schubert.
Wu Han performs the A major Sonata magnificently, a reading of great beauty, insight and cohesion. Her mastery of the Schubert idiom is striking . This performance far exceeds a mere technical tour de force, presenting the sonata rightfully as one of the landmarks of the piano literature.
David Finckel is the cellist of The Emerson String Quartet and the husband of Wu Han. Together they present an elegant, passionate Arpeggione. The arpeggione was a six stringed bowed guitar with a wider range than the modern cello. Mr. Finckel’s playing illuminates the lyricism of this great work and is complemented by the elegant accompaniment of Wu Han.
The recording was made in June, 2003, at the auditorium of the American Academy of Arts and Letters in New York City. Da-Hoong Seetoo is its most successful recording engineer. The soundstage presented is within the first 5 rows center of a small auditorium with “medium” reverberation. The unusually comprehensive booklet notes are by Patrick Castillo, accompanied by nicely rendered drawings of Schubert and his surroundings. The production is by Wu Han/David Finckel. It is a great success on all counts.
- Ronald Legum
AULIS SALLINEN: A Solemn Overture “King Lear” op.75; Symphony No. 1 op.24; Chorali; Symphony No. 7 op.71 – Staataphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz / Ari Rasilainen. – CPO 999 918-2:
This CD presents samples of the orchestral oeuvre of Aulis Sallinen – early (1970) to recent (1997). The selections are performed with great commitment and panache by the Rhineland-Palatinate State Philharmonic of Ludwigschafen an Rhein under its principal conductor, Sallinen’s countryman, Ari Rasilainen. They are magnificiently recorded with moderate auditorium perspective by CPO, supervised by Stephan Reh.
This is distinctively Northern music. It is as if the current pride of Finnish composers, exemplified by Rautavaara and Sallinen, carry the ring forged by Sibelius to capture the mystic essence of the North. Sallinen’s music depicts vast sonic canvasses with primal forces at work. There is a grand sweep to the music. Long-lined, lean Brucknerian string melodies, punctuated by massed ff open brass chorales reinforced by violent percussion attacks, identify its Sibelius lineage.
Sallinen is expert in his use of the orchestra and thematic development. Tone clusters become thematic fragments, which become melodies. Archaic tunes played pipe-like appear, followed by brass fanfare. In the Symphony #7, titled “The Dreams of Gandalf,” mythic quest and heroic confrontation pervade this exciting and often demanding music.
Chorali enlists only the brass and percussion sections to explore twelve tone clusters begetting brief interwoven melodic themes. It is expertly constructed, maintaining steady focus throughout its eleven minutes. If you fancy well crafted, heroic, BIG orchestral works with some challenge, you will enjoy this disc. Recommended.
- Ronald Legum
DVORÁK, JANÁCEK, SMETANA: Romantic Pieces.– James Ehnes, violin; Eduard Laurel, piano – Analekta, CD FL 2 3191:
This CD is a great example of the best talent our conservatories are turning out lately. The young violinist James Ehnes seems to have been working the past few years in the vineyards of notoriety just across the river from Chateau Lafitte Dudious and somehow I’ve missed him. His list of credits takes a whole page in the booklet that comes in the little jewel box with this CD, yet this is the first I’ve heard of him. His accompanist, pianist Eduard Laurel, has nearly as long a pedigree of his own. Together they make a quite dynamic duo, like Batman and Robin. You, too, might enjoying hearing, via this collection, from the cerebral Laurel and hearty Ehnes.
The album title they have selected comes from Antonin Dvoràk’s Romantic Pieces, Op.75 for Violin and Piano, played in its entirety; but it also includes from Bedrich Smetana’s From the Homeland, Two Pieces for Violin and Piano; Leos Janàcek’s Sonata for Violin and Piano; as well as Dvoràk’s Sonatina in G major for Violin and Piano, Op.100 B183, and Humoresque, Op.101 No. 8. These pieces range over seventy-five years from the mid-nineteenth to the early twentieth century, from the lovely to the fierce.
Some of Dvorak’s music has been seen by the critics as “childlike” or “music for children,” especially the Dumka Trio, and to a somewhat lesser extent the Humoresque. This strain in his music has rich melodic lines stated in a deceptively simple fashion. Some of the music in this collection has that sort of appeal. Some of the Janàcek, on the other hand, seems obviously influenced by the modern influences of his day, like Stravinsky and Bartok, and uses tropes that bring out “primitive” or “folk” elements. The rest of the music is fairly standard.
How it is played is what makes this album worth its salt. Both the musicians have an uncanny ability to go from the languorous to the hyper-kinetic in an eyeblink. James Ehnes’ tone is quite lovely, brought out by the 1715 “Ex Marsick” Stradivarius he plays. And yet he can saw away in the most Bartokian manner when called upon. His fleet and nimble fingering matches the best of his contemporaries, and his tone ranges from robust to tender and sweet. Eduard Laurel is equally facile and plays his part of accompanist with self effacing tact, showing rare restraint on his brief solo, the Humoresque. Ehnes has previously recorded the Bach Six Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Viiolin (also for Analekta), and it is clear his career (he was born in 1976) is something to watch. With the Bach, this recording demonstrates his mastery of at least two of the major period styles and techniques of violin playing.
The Analekta label is a relatively young Canadian venture and is trying to generate a following of its own. To this end they have put together a 2nd CD of musicians and ensembles under contract with them as a promotional extra. The list of works included on the sampler is too long to go into in detail, but there are pieces for symphony orchestra, chamber orchestra, on down to trios and solo instruments covering three or four centuries. Most of the artists seem to be Canadian. Either of these discs alone would seem a bargain, and together they verge on irresistible. These are not CDs for everyone. They are more for the music lover with well-developed tastes, already well enough versed in the period, and with a taste for piano/violin sonatas, to appreciate what is offered. That said, highly recommended. James Ehnes is someone worth watching.
– Max Dudious
MONTEVERDI: Sacred Music Vol. 1 = Dixit Dominus I; Confitebor tibi Domine I; Deatus vir I; Laudate Dominum omnes gentes, etc. – Soloists/Choir of the King’s Consort/The King’s Consort/Robert King – Hyperion CDA67428:
Robert King’s vocal ensemble has recorded two previous series of sacred music discs for this same label – one devoted to Purcell and the other to Vivaldi. Now they have launched this new series on Monteverdi which is planned to eventually amount to about a dozen discs. Polyphonic works for the Christmas season in Venice are the focus of this first volume. King substitutes high tenors for the altos in the composer’s colorful Dixit Dominus. The last pair of works on the disc are the longest: The Magnificat has almost shouted chords from the choir punctuated by the sackbuts of the orchestra. The Mass for 4 Voices is a lovely closing work, running nearly 20 minutes.
King has carefully replicated some of the performance practices used in 17th century Venice, such as how many singers or instruments are used on a particular part in the music and even to the spatial distribution of the performers around the “virtual” St. Marks of Venice Cathedral. Thus, can we hope this might eventually come out on a multichannel SACD? After all, that 17th century venue was the birthplace of SSfM = surround sound for music! Those wealthy merchants had the extra dough to stage such musically extravagant layouts of singers and players. Ah, how little things change really – we still need some extra dough to have a really good matched-speakers surround sound system for our music…
- John Sunier
Bells for Stokowski = SUSATO: Selections from The Danserye (Arr. by Patrick Dunnigan); VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: English Folk Song Suite; DAVID DEL TREDICI: In Wartime; MICHAEL DAUGHERTY: Bells for Stokowski – The Universaity of Texas Wind Ensemble/Jerry Junkin – Reference Recordings HDCD RR-104:
All the works here (except for the Vaughan Williams suite made famous by the Eastman Wind Ensemble’s Mercury recording) are recording premieres. The “title tune” is a movement from a recent work commissioned by the Philadelphia Orchestra, heard here in a version for symphonic band. Daugherty is known for his Metropolis Symphony and other works involving Elvis, Jackie O and other celebrities. In this movement the celebrity is the conductor Stokowski and Daugherty imagines him visiting the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia at sunrise and hearing all the bells in the city ring. Work piece features a sax quartet playing an original theme in the style of Bach, alluding to the Bach transcriptions Stokowski did with the orchestra. The nine sections of the Susato suite dress up in modern gear some of the most attractive simple songs and dances of the 16th century. Del Tredici is one of the leading tonal composers working today in the U.S. and has evidently shifted from his obsession with Alice in Wonderland to an interest in American poetry. The two movements of his wind symphony are Hymn & Battlemarch and the work was written about a year ago. This disc will appeal strongly to all those partial to the sound of the symphonic band; they will discover a balance of completely new but tonal sounds plus some very familiar tunes in new outfits along the way.
- John Sunier
BERLINSKI, Herman: Avodat Shabbat. – Berlin Radio Symphony orchestra/ Gerard Schwarz, cond./R. Brubaker, ten./ C. Hauman, sop./ E. Shammash, mez./ Ernst Senff, Chor – Naxos CD 8.559430:
This album (Service for the Sabath Eve) is a series of liturgical compositions for the Reformed Jewish Friday Evening Services, a song cycle or cantata (if you will), putting ancient prayers to modern music. Though I’m not conversant with the liturgical music of all sects in contemporary Jewish life, the traditional music accompanying these prayers has long been in need of overhaul. With all the Jewish composers of recent centuries, few brought their talent to the liturgy. Hats off, at least momentarily, to the late Herman Berlinski and his effort in this direction, with which he joins only Ernest Bloch and Darius Milhaud. Like the other recordings in the Milken Archive series, this one is well recorded; has very good sonics; uses the latest techniques to capture the performance in great detail, with its life-like sound-staging – and is a better than average effort even for Naxos. The music is written for a trained cantor, trained soloists, and a trained choir – make no mistake about it. Though the Hebrew words of the prayers are familiar, they are definitely not for the congregation to sing, with much too-difficult vocal terrain to cover. As such, the cantata has become a performance piece to be sung and played by professionals in synagogue, or concert setting. In this light it is very interesting music, some say organist Berlinski’s magnum opus.
Herman Berlinski (1910-2001) came of age before, during, and immediately after World War II. Everything he experienced was filtered by his Jewish consciousness. It was so important to him he came to loggerheads over it with one of his most famous teachers, Nadia Boulanger. She couldn’t relate to his preoccupation with things Jewish, and he left her prestigious Ecole Normal de Musique as a consequence. He soon began consorting with the mystical Catholic composer, Olivier Messiaen, and other Parisian avant guard musicians. A little later he left Paris for New York where he met many prominent American musicians. About then World War II officially broke out. Berlinski’s biographical information is not contained in either The New Columbia Encyclopedia (1975), or in a recent Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians, though there is a brief paragraph on him in The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music (1980). Surprisingly, the best source I’ve found on Berlinski is the album notes to this CD, which speaks well for Milken Archive’s scholarship. To know more about his fascinating life alone might justify the (small) cost of the album.
About the music there is much to say, more than space allows to do adequately here. The music relies largely on Ashkenazi prayer style, and the harmonies of the “Hungarian” (or “Jewish”) modal scale. The biblical cantillation motifs, or stylistic trills and adornments favored by cantors, are called upon – but not slavishly adhered to. Blending these musical influences with 20th century French, International, and American idioms, the cantata offers a range of musical expression quite unexpected in the usually tradition-laden realm of liturgical writing. As a composition it is free and easy-going, quite unburdened by generations of a culture clinging to its past to preserve its present. It is a subtle testament to the security international Jewry has enjoyed since World War II.
Of the Milken Archive recordings I know, this cantata (and I use this word stubbornly to suggest its connection to Bach’s cantatas and the religious impulse from which both spring) is the most moving and successful. I hope you will share in its musical ecumenicism. I know it will please the Conservative, Reformed, and Revisionist sects: I hope, all others.
– Max Dudious