PATRICK ZIMMERLI: Trios Nos. 1 & 2 for Violin, Cello and Piano - Scott Yoo, violin/Michael Mermagen, cello/John Novacek, piano - Arabesque Z6785, 62:29 ****:
NYC-based Zimmerli, whose degrees in composition are from Columbia University, is one of a new breed of composers with one foot in the classical world and the other firmly planted in the jazz milieu. He won a 2003 Gil Evans Fellowship Commission, wrote an hour-long suite for the Belgian jazz ensemble Octurn, and has performed on sax on four CDs of his own music, among other achievements. He has also performed contemporary classical works of Milton Babbitt, Elliott Carter and others for new music concerts.
The two piano trios are in the traditional four-movement conservative classical form, but contain a very individual mix of traditional classical, jazz and contemporary styles. Zimmerli seeks to embody European sensibility and American energy in these works. His intention is to write chamber music that shares recognized features of the genre, but shakes up the primacy of the standard chamber repertory with some wholly contemporary but accessible music. Thats a perfect description of what he achieves in these expressive and very original trios. Some fairly avantgarde techniques show up here and there, but couched in a safe context that makes them more palatable to all. And Im automatically attracted to any concert music works that display a jazz influence, so am primed for Zimmerlis approach in these trios. The three performers, from the Seattle Chamber Music Festival, are highly skilled and the sonics are transparent with attractive string tone.
- John Sunier
Fast & Odd: Neo-Balkan Jazz and Concert Music - Compositions of DAVID EVAN JONES performed by the composer and ensembles, featuring Paul Hanson, bassoon - Centaur CRC 2655, 48:09 ****:
Speaking of jazz and other influences on concert music...There are no specific notes on these works of Jones in the note booklets, just short bios of the performers. It appears the force behind the performances is bassoonist Hanson, who is described by Darol Anger, co-founder of the Turtle Island String Quartet as someone [who] takes na instrument you thought you knew and tilts it just so, dazzling us with new reflections. The bassoonist plays physically impossible stuff on one of the weirdest instruments of the orchestra. The recordings were made at the University of California Santa Cruz campus. There are four selections by the Neo-Balkan Ensemble, which includes doumec and tambourine, one - a wedding waltz - for piano solo and another for piano and clarinet in 9/8 time. The closing piece is for piano and frame drum. The influences of both folk music and dances of the Balkans as well as modern jazz are heard in this quirky works - some as short as two minutes and others nearly ten. For the sonically experimental but by no means hard on the ears.
- John Sunier
Now for two very different keyboard duos...
Dialogue for Two Organs - Sonatas by CHERUBINI, GALUPPI, ITALIANO, CLEMENTI, BONAZZI, BUSI & CANNETI - Luigi Celeghin & Bianka Pezic, organs - Naxos 8.557131, 67:35 ****:
Anyone whose shares my delight in works featuring two keyboards will want to snap up this bargain disc recorded at a church in Ascoli Piceno, Italy, that has a name of about ten words I wont even attempt to list. It has two small organs that were perfect for these organ duos. By the early 1800s opera had become the big musical form in Italy and works for two organs were influenced by this. Some composers even wrote transcriptions for organ of selections from the operas, such as the closing Finale by Canneti, which quotes themes from Verdis Aida, closing with the Triumphal March for a grand finish. The Clementi Sonata is the lengthiest work at nearly 11 minutes and sounds much like one of his fortepiano sonatas transcribed for the two organs. The four short sonatas by Giuseppe Busi alternate fast and slow tempi, and the second of Bonazzis works is the only one called not a sonata but a Pastorale for two organs. Sonics are fine, but this is another disc that cries out for multichannel reproduction to appreciate the spatial qualities of the organ pipes in different areas of the church interior.
- John Sunier
French Concertos for Two Pianos = POULENC: Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra in D minor; MILHAUD: Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra; ROBERT CASADESUS: Concerto for Two Pianos and orchestra Op. 17 - Piano Duo Genova & Dimitrov/SWR Radio Orchestra Kaiserslautern/Alun Francis - CPO 999 992-2, 54:14 ****:
I had the Poulenc and Milhaud concertos in my collection but the attraction for me here was the Casadesus concerto, although there is no indication that this is its first recording. The two better-known concertos use the classical three-movement structure and represent the light and lively sound of French music after Debussy and Ravel. Neoclassicism is the element that binds together all three concertos. Poulencs work has a typically witty sound and in the second movement shows his love of Mozart. The Milhaud is more experimental, playing around with this composers penchant for polytonalism. Its final movement gets into the Latin sounds of the composers rollicking Scaramouche or some of his Nothing-Doing Bar ballet. Casadesus was of course known primarily as a pianist and member of the highly musical Casadesus family. In fact he premiere the work with his sister Gaby at the other piano. He was a great proponent of the piano music of Ravel and Debussy and his concerto shows the strong influence of the first of those composers. The main distinction of his concerto from the other two is a greater seriousness of purpose without displays of wit or parody. Performers and sonics are tops.
- John Sunier
Two very different approaches to the symphonic form from composers who yet share a certain affection for repetition ...
ANTON BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 7 in E major - Orchestre des Champs-Elysées/Philippe Herreweghe - Harmonia mundi HMC 901857, 59:54 ****:
The primary attraction (or distraction perhaps for some) is that this is the first recording of the Seventh on period instruments. The first thought that came to mind was that the Symphony was first performed in 1884, and had orchestral instruments changed that much since then to do a period instrument version now? Well, it turns out some had - mostly the wind instruments. Modern Wagner tubas and a contrabass tuba are used because these brass instruments hardly changed at all over the more than a century. Another aspect of the more accurate performance practice is that a smaller number of string performers are used, in sync with the makeup of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra in the 1880s. Herreweghe uses the Novak Edition in this performance, and this is one of the Bruckner symphonies which remains pretty much as it was originally written, without the multitude of changes some of the other symphonies were subject to. The orchestration of the Seventh is gentle, without extra percussion, but the strong buildup of forward motion in Bruckners wavelike crescendos and repetitive series of phrases still holds plenty of power. The secret is not to make them sound like 19th century Philip Glass, and Herreweghe is completely successful in this endeavor. The sonics are terrific, though I expect this will be available on SACD eventually for even more skillfully-resolving reproduction.
- John Sunier
PHILIP GLASS: Symphony No. 2; Symphony No. 3 - Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/Marin Alsop - Naxos American Classics series 8.559202, 67:07 ****:
The two works date from l994 and 95 respectively, and were recorded in Britain with the leading American female conductor Ms. Alsop, who is now Principal Conductor of the Bournemouth. In the Second Symphony Glass explores polytonality, but in a different manner from its use by Milhaud and Poulenc. He is interested in the aural ambiguity it creates - the equivalent of looking at an Escher print. The first three movements are rather dark and somber but the finale turns on the lights and adds bells to the noisy finish. The Third is on a smaller scale, for chamber orchestra. Glass concentrates on solo playing by various orchestra members. Its second movement mixes various meters and the third movement is in the form of a chaconne. Glass returns to true extended symphonic form in these two works.
- John Sunier
We close out with three most interesting solo piano excursions...
JOAQUIN TURINA: Women of Spain, Op. 17, Op. 73 & Op. 89; Danzas Andaluzas; Suite de Danzas del Siglo XIX, Op. 79 - Sara Davis Buechner, piano - Koch International KIC-CD-7590, ****:
This is a really a reissue of a l990 disc issued on the Connoisseur Society label but doesnt sound dated in the least. Turina created a very picturesque style of thoroughly Spanish piano music. Some of his influences were Debussy, the cyclical structure of the Franck school, the opulent piano style of his teacher Moskowski, and the dance and folk songs of his native Andalusia. The five piano suites presented here cover all periods of Turinas life, from youthful show-off qualities to the seasoned miniaturist. The three colorful suites about women of Spain dont refer to specific women but to general characteristics of the Andalusian female. The third track, La Morena coqueta, is a breathtaking virtuoso display of rapid octaves, chords and glissandos. Excellent piano reproduction.
SCRIABIN: The Poem of Ecstasy (Transcribed for Two Pianos); Morceaux Op. 57, Op. 59, Op. 45; Preludes Op. 67, Op. 74, Op. 37, Op. 39; Feullet dalbum Op. 58; Vers la flamme; Etude in D-sharp minor Op. 8 No. 12 - Chitose Okashiro, piano - Pro Piano Records PPR224519, 70:04 ****:
Japanese pianist Okashiro has made several recordings for this label and also functions as a recording producer of other albums. The piece de resistance here is the two-piano transcription of Scriabins most popular work, The Poem of Ecstasy, which he had spent three years composing. The transcription was made at the time by a fellow Russian concert pianist, Leon Conus. Okashiro recorded both parts on multitrack tape and then mixed them to create one harmoniously-forged grand instrument of expression - that sounds exactly like some of the composers own intense descriptions of his music. But the result is thrilling listening - just as ecstatic as the orchestral version but in a different way. This is echt mystical Scriabin personified. (Makes my scalp crawl - in a good way.) The solo piano pieces that follow come from various points in the composers colorful life, the early ones sounding like Chopin imitations and the later ones beginning to show the strong mystical leanings with wild dissonances that were cast more solidly in his last few piano sonatas. Ms. Okashiro sounds totally in tune with Scriabins most extreme musical/philosophical ecstasies.
BACH: Piano Transcriptions Vol. 4 (Complete Transcriptions of FEINBERG) - Martin Roscoe, piano - Hyperion CDA67468, (2 discs priced as one), 90:43 ****:
Samuil Feinberg, who lived until l962, was a celebrated pianist in the Soviet Union and made many recordings late in life. He became interested in transcriptions for the piano and at one point tried unsuccessfully to visit Busoni in Berlin, who did the best-known Bach transcriptions. Originally Feinberg made his Bach transcriptions for his own personal use, but eventually they were revised and published. One of the their very functional uses was in services at Russian Orthodox Churches, since few of them had pipe organs but some did have pianos. His first try is thought to be the harpsichord Concerto in A minor after Vivaldi, which is the 13-minute work on the short second CD included in this album. It is extremely ornamented and colorful, venturing rather far from Bachs original, but great fun to hear and well worth getting up to play what amounts to a single. Most of the other 16 short transcriptions on Disc 1 hew closer to the originals. Feinberg wanted to make the listener aware of the original ebb and flow of the music, but this was all well before the recent musicological research that has established a new generation of more authentic interpretations of music of the Baroque as it was heard at that time. Most of the pieces are Chorale-Preludes, and Feinberg attempted to mirror in his arrangements the sense of the scripture or words of the original chorale. I find them more enjoyable listening than the organ originals. The album notes make some interesting comparisons of Feinbergs transcriptions with some of the earlier ones by Liszt and Busoni. Recording fidelity - the work of Tony Faulkner - is top rate as usual.
- John Sunier