Lets start off this section with some classical squeeze-box CDs...
Poem Harmonica - Joe Sakimoto, chromatic harmonica/Mie Miki, accordion - BACH: Jesu Joy of Mans Desiring, Sonata in G Minor; HANDEL: Sonata in G Major Op. 1-5; IBERT: 4 sel. From Histoires; MIYAKE: Poem Harmonica, Ichimen Nanohana; SOEGAHARAT: Meditazione; MIYAMAE: Poelegie II; PIAZZOLLA: Oblivion; La Cumparsita; Camptown Races - Camarata 28CM-674:
Neither of these reed instruments has much of a standing in the world of classical music. There have been some amazing virtuosos on the harmonica, including Larry Adler and John Sebastian Sr. Villa-Lobos even composed a harmonica concerto for Adler and Sebastians wonderful Bach LPs should really be reissued on CD. Eastern Europe seems to be more open to the possibilities of classical music on the accordion, and the instrument has added some ethnic color to a number of symphonic works. It may come as a surprise that these two Japanese performers have been playing as a duo for more than 30 years now, so their expertise at blending the unique yet similar reedy timbres of their two looked-down-upon instruments has been honed to a very high degree of art. You will see from the above listing of selection that their program can range from original music for their duo (such as the discs title) to arrangements of other works, to lighter numbers such as the closing Stephen Foster melody. This is a lovely sound of great appeal, and very well recorded. Would be a kick to see these performers in person. Perhaps they could hook up with a virtuoso harmonium player for a unique reedy trio! Purchase here
Cascade - David Venitucci, chromatic accordion - Hyacinta; Cascade; Ballade pour marie; Chorro; Au fil de leau; La tendresse; Clownesque; Zig Zag; A laube du crepuscule; Avec le temps - Le Chant du Monde 2741183 (Distr. By Harmonia mundi):
One of the very positive attributes of the lowly accordion is its ability to fit in with every sort of music and style - ethnic, popular, dance, jazz, classical, avantgarde. Ventitucci makes full use of this versatility - but not by backing, say, a polka against variations on How Hight the Moon. Instead he has assimilated a wide variety of genres into these ten tracks - seven of them his originals. I was hard put whether to include this CD in the jazz or classical sections - it really doesnt fit either one. The Cavagnolo accordion played by this Italian virtuoso is also much more versatile than most - it has two keyboards! The familiar bass chord buttons have given way to a complete chromatic keyboard for the left hand - which makes it more like playing the piano than ever. Some of the tunes have titles that remind one of the French harpsichord composers, but their sound is much more contemporary - a meld of chanson, swing, new music and improvisation. An ear-opening experience (but not a bit atonal) thats a far wheeze from Lady of Spain! Purchase here
- John Sunier
TCHAIKOVSKY: Fatum--Symphonic Fantasia, Op. 77; Elegie for String Orchestra; Marche Slav, Op. 31; Andante cantabile for String Orchestra, Op. 11; Capriccio italien, Op. 45; 1812--Festive Overture in E-flat, Op. 49
- Jose Serebrier conducts Bamberg Symphony Orchestra - BIS CD-1283 74:01:
Jose Serebrier continues his survey of Tchaikovsky's orchestral works with this third installment for BIS; its big selling point is the quality of the playing and the inclusion of the 1884 Elegie for Strings, written as a testimonial for the actor Ivan Samarin. The piece opens with what sounds like a variation on Wagner's Tristan chord, and then sings in an A-B-A form most eloquently, making us want to hear Serebrier's version of the Op. 48 Serenade for Strings. The opening work, Fatum, is one of the several early works of Tchaikovsky (1968) given a late opus number posthumously. Written under the guidance of Nicholas Rubinstein and dedicated to Mily Balakirev, the piece has the "fate" motives that obsessed the composer in the last three symphonies. The structure is pure Liszt, a series of meditations and upheavals in the manner of a rhapsody.
The rest of the program is standard Tchaikovsky, played for fervor and effect, as it should be. Marche Slav is an old favorite of mine, going back to my Rodzinski 78-rpm shellacs and then on to Mitropoulos and Stokowski. Serebrier whips up the winds, brass and percussion full throttle. Wonderful string work, quite singing tone here and in the bewitching rendition of Capriccio italien, whose tarantella urges us to Mediterranean vistas. After the Bouketoof 1812 for RCA a generation ago (and Fricsay prior to that), I really prefer the choral chant that opens the piece to be sung, a plea to God to keep Napoleon away. The rest of the sound and fury comes off well. Finally, Serebrier's own orchestration of the Andante cantabile from the D Major Quartet, Op. 11, a version that incorporates the bass choir most effectively. The liner notes, by Serebrier himself, are illuminating on several levels, making the whole production a first-class experience. Purchase here
Some exotic piano music on our next rather obscure pair of CDs...
KAIKHOSRU SHAPURJI SORABJI: Toccata No. 1 - Jonathan Powell, piano - Altarus AIR-CD-9068:
Powell made his debut in London at the age of 20 and he has performed extensively in Russia, specialising in the the works of Scriabin and Szymanowski. So it follows naturally that the piano music of another borderline-crazed composer would be of interest to him. Sorabji liked to spread his creativity over immense canvases, and since music is time based art that means over amazingly long lengths of time. His First Organ Symphony started the tendency - it ran over two hours. Transcriptions of the themes of others as well as the form of the nocturne fascinated him. The First Toccata, which dates from the late l920s, has six sections but the basic structure was the same as the Organ Symphony: prelude/passacaglia/fugue. The Fuga (of up to six active lines) is bracketed by a Cadenza and a Coda at the conclusion. Like Scriabin, Sorabji Thought Big - this is heady concoction in a different sort of sound-world. But it is basically tonal under everything - in G sharp minor. The Toccata was sort of his rehearsal for his Really Big piano piece - the Opus Clavicembaltisticum. Purchase here
Këngë - Albanian Piano Music = Works of IBRAHIMI, LARA, VORPSI, PAPADHIMITRI, KOMINO, PAPARISTO, GJONI, SOKOLI, ZADEJA, HARAPI & AVRAZI - Kirsten Johnson, piano - Guild GMCD 7257:
Its when coming across composer or performer names such as these that I give thanks for not being an on-air voice anymore. Kenge is translated as song and establishes that most of these short pieces and suites are lyrical, though with a strongly exotic turn of melody and harmonies coming from the age-old Albanian cultures mix of elements from East and West. There are waltzes, marches, humoresques, romances and nocturnes. Some of the pieces are just a bit over a minute length while Zadejas Four Pieces for Piano runs 11. Complete notes on each piece are enclosed. A very pleasant keyboard tour of an exotic land. Purchase here
- John Sunier
Baroque Transcriptions - Works for Trumpet and Organ by BACH, PURCELL, HANDEL, STOLZEL & ALBINONI - Paul Merkelo, trumpet/Luc Beausejour, organ & harpsichord/Amanda Keesmaat, Baroque cello - Analekta AN 2 9812:
A well-balanced and superbly-performed concert of music for the stirring combination of trumpet and pipe organ. About half of the program (8 tracks) are Chorale Preludes and Trio Sonatas of Bach. The trumpet pickup is back a ways and blends well with the pipe organ, rather than being in your face as on many solo trumpet recordings. The closing version of the Albinoni Adagio (my vote for greatest tune of the Baroque) is especially lovely and I think I may prefer to the usual version for strings. Purchase here
- John Sunier
A pair of American symphonies, new and old...
GEORGE ROCHBERG: Symphony No. 5; Black Sounds; Transcendental Variations - Saarbrucken Radio Sym. Orch./Christopher Lyndon Gee - Naxos American Classics 8.559115:
Rochberg is regarded as one of the most important of living composers, so it is surprising that it is mostly his chamber works and not such full scale compositions such as these have been recorded. In fact these are the recording premieres for both the Symphony and Variations. He seems to share with Berg and only a few other serialists an ability to imbue his scores with real emotion and feelings. The nearly half-hour-length Symphony in one movement is a very exciting work that should have been recorded long ago and should be on concert programs frequently. The medium of the string orchestras brings out the melodic and lyrical side of most composers for it, and the Transcendental Variations of l975 is a thrillingly gorgeous work full of rich melody, and merely chromatic rather than serialized.Purchase here
JOHN POWELL: Symphony in A Major Virginia Symphony; Shenandoah - Virginia Symphony/JoAnn Falletta - Albany TROY589:
It is not likely that Powells Virginia Symphony was so-named for the Virginia Symphony, since the composer was active in the first half of the 20th century and the works actual titled is Symphony on Virginian Folk Themes and in the Folk Modes. But the match is good one, and although the work was included in the Karl Kreuger series it is worthwhile to have an up-to-date recording of it. Powell collected rural songs of the South much as Bartok and Kodaly had done in Hungary. But he also was a supporter of eugenics and founded the Anglo-Saxon Club of America - which tended to decrease his acceptance in the later part of the century. Like most composers of the time, Powell was trained in the late Romantic German tradition, but his heavy use of British, Scottish and American folk material recalls the Celtic-themes symphonies of Bax and Bantock. The works third movement is the longest - slow-paced and dramatic, it is almost Wagnerian. The lovely arrangement of one of Americans favorite folk songs, Shenandoah, was by conductor/composer/arranger Carmen Dragon, with whom I worked at one time in production of an educational radio series. The gorgeous melody is thought to incorporate both Irish and African-American elements. Purchase here
- John Sunier
Music displaying the longtime French penchant for the flute on our next pair of discs....
In the French Style = FAURE: Sonata in A Major; WALTER GIESEKING: Sonatine; FRANCK: Sonata in A Major - Trudy Kane, flute; George Darden, piano - Connoisseur Society CD 4251:
A fine trio of works for flute and piano - two transcribed from originals for violin and piano, as is frequently done, and one created especially for the flute. The Faure and Franck Violin Sonatas are mainstays of violin repertory, and the latter has also been re-arranged for such diverse alternatives as viola, doublebass, organ and mixed choir. As with most Bach, it seems impervious to damage to its lovely melodies and harmonies from such transcriptions. Pianist Gieseking is not known as a composer but he did write many works for the piano and chamber ensembles. In spite of his German background he was a renowned interpreter of Ravel and Debussys piano music and his flute work follows a similar French style. The second movement even reminds one of some of Poulenc or Ibert in its high-kicking music hall exhuberance. Purchase here
The Flute Collection - Romantic Flute Concertos = by MOSCHELES, DONIZETTI, MOUQUET, ST.-SAENS, FAURE, RAVEL, DAMARE - Marc Grauwels, flute & piccolo/Sym. Orch. Of the Belgian Radio & TV/Andre Vandernoot - Naxos 8.555977:
The French have had a special interest in wind instruments for centuries, and there is a definite French flute school which has produced many wonderful compositions for the instrument. Virtuoso flutist Gauwels has assembled a varied program of ten selections showing various treatments of the flute and orchestra form. He even dug up some rarities such as the rousing Le merle blanc polka for piccolo and orchestra which closes the CD. There are four short pieces by Faure and a major concerto by piano virtuoso and composer Moscheles. The expressive qualities of the flute are recognized by all these composers, and the instruments special timbre enables it to stand out in bold relief from the accompanying orchestra - just the ticket for the concerto structure. Purchase here
- John Sunier
We explore the Japanese influence in music via these two discs...
HOWARD L. RICHARDS: Baishu and OUme Suite; Romance for Violin and orchestra; Fiesta for Piano and Orchestra; Rumba Tumbao for Piano and Orchestra; A Frenchman in New York; Give Me the Splendid Silent Sun - Antonin Hradil, violin/Vit Micka, piano/Moravian Philharmonic Orch./Vit Micka & Robert Tomaro, conductors - MMC Recordings MMC2115 (Distr. By Albany):
If it isnt hinted by the titles of some of these works, composer Richards prefaces his notes on the music with this: It should be noted here that I purposely avoid in my compositions very modern techniques, preferring easy-to-understand melodies, harmonies and rhythms. More power to him. He studied at Tokyo University as well as at schools in the U.S., and he also worked for both the Columbia Record Club and RCA Victor. His composition teachers include Dohnanyi and a pupil of Roy Harris. Richards wanted to write a Japanese opera based on the famous novel The Tale of Genji. The opera was never finished, but the opening five-movement suite on this disc is some of the instrumental music from it, with descriptions of each scene. A Frenchman in New York is obviously a takeoff on An American in Paris. It features trumpet solos and a jazzy upbeat style. The final selection is sung by the Moravian Philharmonic Chorus, and uses a Whitman poem about the simplicity of rural life. Purchase here
QUNIHICO HASHIMOTO: Symphony No. 1 in D Major; Symphonic Suite: Heavenly Maiden and Fisherman - Tokyo Metropolitan Sym. Orch./Ryusuke Numajairi - Naxos 8.555881:
His name will surely be new to most of us, but it turns out Hashimoto was one of the top Japanese composers during the first half of the 20th century. He studied in Europe with Haba and Krenek and in Los Angeles with Schoenberg, but listening to his wildly varied works on this CD suggests that at least in these two he didnt buy into the strictures of quarter-tone, atonalism and serialism he learned at the side of those composers. Romanticism, impressionism, nationalism and even jazz are part of his cornucopia of musical styles.
Hashimotos First Symphony was written in l940 to celebrate the 2600th year of the Emperor. His work had to meet certain requirements of the government much as Soviet composers were controlled. Since he was comfortable working in so many different styles, Hashimoto had no trouble filling his symphony with plenty of good melodies and making it extremely accessible. There are elements of Gagaku court music and the familiar pentatonic scale, but mixed with very Western material, including even a Ravel Bolero-like repetition ending with a big bam on a giant Taiko drum. Fascinating music in excellent sonics (recorded by Tony Faulkner). Purchase here
- John Sunier
Lets wrap up with a couple more Christmas recordings that missed our last issue...
BERLIOZ: LEnfance du Christ (Sacred Trilogy) - Ensemble Carpe Diem with Francoise Masset, soprano; Lionel Peintre, baritone; Christian Fromont, narrator - Ambroisie AMB9939:
This tender Christmas-oriented Berlioz work with narrator is normally performed in a bigtime setting with chorus and full orchestra. The oboist in the Carpe Diem Ensemble, Jean-Pierre Arnaud, has transcribed and adapted the work for a chamber ensemble and in the process made it I feel a more honest and affecting experience. The piece evolved out of a sort of musical joke in which Berlioz had passed off some of his own music as something he recently discovered by an Old Master. He wanted to show that he could compose in a pure and simple style when he wanted to, and the entire work retains that feeling. The ensemble is only an octet plus the two vocalists as Joseph and Mary. Some might feel there is overmuch of the French penchant for spoken narration with music (as also with so many French films), but there is a translation of everything included and the story differs enough from the usual Christmas story that it retains ones interest. As for example the scene in which the child Jesus turns some dust into flies and mosquitos and some clay into bees and wasps, which pests attack everyone. And Mary and Joseph complain: What shall we do with him? He causes us such embarrassment. Recorded during a live performance in the famous church atop Montmartre in Paris, the sonics are excellent. Purchase here
A Carol Symphony and other Christmas Orchestral Favorites - works of BRYAN KELLY, VICTOR HELY-HUTCHINSON, PETER WARLOCK, PHILIP LANE, & PATRIC STANDFORD - City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra/Gavin Sutherland - Naxos 8.557099:
I would say this not a collection of Christmas orchestral favorites at all; if it were I would never have deigned to review it. Look at the list of composers - ever heard of any except Peter Warlock? Instead it is a rare and worthwhile compilation of symphonic music with Christmas themes by British and South African composers (perhaps some are orchestral favorites in those countries). Each movement of Hely-Hutchinsons 25 minute Carol Symphony is based on a familiar Christmas carol, and the Christmas Carol Symphony of Standford was created from seasonal tunes in the style of an 18th century symphony. These are not the usual corny MOR Christmas music arrangements but some thoughtful variations that use mostly carols as their main themes. The City of Prague orchestra has recorded many albums of movie soundtrack music as well as performing on actual film soundtracks. They present a bracing delivery of these fresh sounding Christmas music options. Purchase here
- John Sunier
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