Pt. 2 of 2 

  July-August 2002

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Transcriptions of music first of Soler and then of Vivaldi by composers on these two CDs:

RODRIGO Complete Orchestral Works Vol. 1 - Soleriana, Zarabanda lejana y Villancico, Cinco Piezas Infantiles - Asturias Sym. Orch./Maximiano Valdes - Naxos 8.555844:

The blind composer Rodrigo, who just passed away in l999, had a amazing talent for writing music that almost visually evoked places, monuments and terrain of his native Spain. His guitar Concierto de Aranjuez and Fantasia para un gentilhombre are his famous works but he wrote 26 pieces for guitar, as well as for many other instrumentations. Here is a trio of probably unknown Rodrigo orchestral works. As its title suggests, Soleriana is a suite of orchestral arrangements of the harpsichord works of Antonio Soler, successor to Domenico Scarlatti and very similar to that keyboard master's style. Eighteen-century Spain is evoked in these works, full of the melodies and angular rhythms of its gypsy and other folk cultures. The five "youthful" pieces of the third suite are overflowing with good tunes and danceable rhythms.

GIAN FRANCESCO MALIPIERO: Il finto Arlecchino, Vivaldiana, Sette invenzioni, Quattro invenzioni - Veneto Philharmonic/Peter Maag - Naxos 8.5555l5:

Malipiero was a very productive Italian composer active in the first 70 years of the last century. Though varying in quality, his Italian lyricism comes thru in most of his works, and many of them harked back to earlier musical periods - especially the 18th century. The Four Inventions resemble in portions a Baroque suite, the opera Il finto Arlecchino - from which a few symphonic fragments are heard here - was a combination of 18th century homages and dissonance in the style of neo-classical Stravinsky. The Vivaldi suite is the most colorful and informal of the Baroque-flavored works here; it was transcribed from six actual Vivaldi concertos.

- John Sunier

Two contrasting CDs of the music of Cuba's guitar-centered composer...

LEO BROUWER: Guitar Music Vol. 2 - El Decameron negro, Preludios Epigramaticos, Canticum, Variations on a Theme of Django Reinhardt, 4 other works - Elena Papandreou, guitar - Naxos 8.554553:

LEO BROUWER: Guitar Concerto No. 5 "Helsinki," ALBENIZ BROUWER: Iberia Suite, LENNON-McCARTNEY-BROUWER: From Yesterday to Penny Lane - Timo Korhonen, guitar/Tampere Philharmonic/Tuomas Ollila - Ondine ODE 979-2:

Brouwer is one of the major composers of Cuba and his works for guitar are part of the repertory of most classical guitarists. He has written over 300 works in very genre, and passed through several compositional styles, including self-taught early works, a period of serial-leaning works, and his present style which he characterizes as National Hyper-Romanticism. Bela Bartok has been a major influence on the composer. The solo guitar works on the Naxos CD are mostly from the middle phase and attempt to widen the expressive possibilities of the guitar, but the variations on a theme of Django's and the concluding Paisaje Cubano show his new emphasis on melody, color and fun.

The Afro-Cuban cultural influence is heard in Brouwer's Fifth Guitar Concerto, which owes its subtitle to having been commissioned by the Helsinki Festival. Having the strongly Spanish-Moorish solo voice of the guitar at the forefront of Albeniz' familiar evocative three-movement suite adds a whole new depth to the music. After all, when Arbos transcribed the original Spanish piano suite of Albeniz for orchestra he left out the most Spanish guitar. Now it's back and the piece sounds more complete. I have two earlier versions of Brouwer's marvelous transcriptions for guitar and orchestra of seven Beatles' tunes, but this is by far the best in both playing and sonics. Highly recommended.

- John Sunier

GRETCHANINOV: Piano Trios Nos. 1 & 2, Cello Sonata in E Minor - The Moscow Rachmaninoff Trio - Hyperion CDA67295:

Russian composer Gretchaninov lived until l956 and died in the U.S., but aside from some Orthodox sacred music his works are little known in the West. His ten major chamber works should be much better known. Tchaikovsky may be heard in the background of the first piano trio's first movements, with a hint of Rachmaninoff in the finale. The shorter Second Trio is more original and shares with the Cello Sonata a varying modal feeling. All three are lovely and fresh-sounding tonal works full of emotional tune-spinning. And though recorded in Moscow the fidelity is superb.

Peacock Pie - JACOB: Concertino; GIBBS: Peacock Pie, Concertino; ROOTHAM: Miniature Suite; MILFORD: Concertino in E; DRING: Festival Scherzo - Martin Roscoe, piano/Guildhall Strings/Robert Salter - Hyperion CDA67316:

What a delightful veddy British collection! The combo of piano and strings seems to be a very English genre, and these five composers' works have a noticeable connection with one another - though without sounding at all repetitious. They have a rather neo-classical feeling to them and with their sprightly tempi and bouncy tunes also sound something like very high quality British "light" music (which is a cut above, say, Boston Pops encores). Armstrong Gibbs wrote much vocal music and was greatly influenced by the children's poetry of Walter de la Mare. The poet's collection Peacock Pie inspired both a song and the title suite for piano and string orchestra. The concluding short scherzo by actress-entertainer Madeleine Dring makes it clear why she was referred to at the time as a female Gershwin. If this track entices you, pick up her Shades of Dring CD from Campion.

- John Sunier

Le Quintette Moraguès fait la fête - A festive moment with the Moragues Quintet - Le Chant du Monde LDC 2781137:

Basically, this is a collection of 22 very short encores by a fun-loving but very talented wind quintet, recorded live. The group started with three brothers, two of them twins. They recruited the other two players and this is the their 20th anniversary album. From their highly original selection of material, rollicking good humor and expert playing I wanted to experience these five guys in the flesh - perhaps they should do a video! Anyway, for now we have this kick of a CD. Some of the unexpected selections are four ingenious arrangements of tunes from Bizet's Carmen, Falla's Ritual Fire Dance, the Polka from The Age of Gold and a waltz from Jazz Suite No. 2 - both by Shostakovich, and a Norwegian Dance by Grieg. Also some surprises you've never heard before. In a few of the selections they are joined by a pianist.

TELEMANN: La Bizarre = Suite in D Major, Overture "Les Nations," Concerto for violin "Les Rainettes," Overture "La Bizarre" - Academy for Old Music, Berlin/Midori Seiler, violin - Harmonia mundi HMC 901744:

Telemann was considered the greatest composer of his day, way ahead of J.S. Bach. One characteristic of much of his music that set him apart was a general light-heartedness and sense of wit and humor that was sorely lacking in most Germanic music of the period and in Bach especially. Perhaps that explains his greater public acceptance at the time. Telemann might even be thought of as an audiophile-oriented composer - he also had an ear for new sounds, ranging from the natural to the exotic and found ways to subtly incorporate them into his music (as did Haydn). In this he was worlds different from Bach, Handel and most German composers.

So what's bizarre about the 17-minute overture in G Major? In the first movement it is the generally over-the-top writing for the strings, which give them inner voices that go against the standard overture pattern, creating melodic and harmonic contradictions - that may not sound outrageous to our modern ears, but certainly must have in the 18th century. The Overture "Les Nations" is a sort of light musical travelogue, with movements intended evoke common characteristics of the Swiss, Portuguese, Turks and so on. The underpinnings of standard dance forms here add to the gaiety. All four works are given precise and enthusiastic treatments by this early music ensemble which was originally founded in East Berlin.

- John Sunier

Twentieth Century Contrasts = MICHAEL DAUGHERTY: Strut; LUKAS FOSS: For Toru; WM. BOLCOM: Concerto-Serenade; JAMES HANNA: Downs; ALEC WILDER: Five Love Songs; QUINCY PORTER: Music for Strings; PIAZZOLLA-ADAMS: Todo Buenos Aires; HENRI PENSIS; Fantasy on Two Christmas Carols - Miramar Sinfonietta/Henri Pensis - Albany Records TROY509:

This is the sort of music discovery adventure - especially when it comes to American music - that all classical labels should be doing but clearly are not. The majors endlessly reissue from back catalog, and even if one did a themed collection of short pieces by different composers, they would all be well-known ones they have been recorded before. While there are contrasts among these eight American composers, they also share a similar quality of quirkiness - each one following his own muse without giving in to what "sells" in concert music at the moment.

Daugherty is a very successful young creator of such pop culture-oriented works as Jackie O, Sing Sing, and Elvis Everywhere. Strut was inspired by the Harlem Renaissance. Bolcom is known for works oscillating between serial atonality and quotations of 19th century sentimental melodies. His concerto begins with the feel of a Mozart divertimento and later actually quotes Wagner. Alec Wilder was a true American original. Though known for his lovely popular songs, his work here is entirely instrumental, with a French horn doing the singing against the chamber orchestra. Each of the three movements of Porter's Music for Strings imparts a contrasting mood, and John Adams' sensitive orchestration of a Piazzolla tango turns it into a mini-violin concerto. The Milwaukee-area ensemble gives all eight works their full due, as do Albany's sonics. Bully for contrasts and bully for similarities.

ANTHONY IANNACCONE: Waiting for the Sunrise - Waiting for the Sunrise on the Sound, West End Express, Night Rivers (Sym. No. 3), From Time to Time (Fantasias on Two Appalachian Folksongs), Divertimento - Janacek Philharmonic (and in the Divertimento: Bohuslav Martinu Philharmonic)/Anthony Iannaccone - Albany TROY486:

Another praiseworthy effort from Albany on behalf of an American composer. It's actually their third CD of works by conductor-composer Iannaccone, and it starts with abstract, atonal works - moving into more tonal and accessible pieces as the CD progresses. The composer refers to these separate genres as his "small-audience" vs. "large-audience" works. The title work is really quite accessible, and its atonal sections communicate well the image of the power of a storm at sea threatening a small fishing boat. The single-movement Symphony No. 3 - which the composer says is a work about motion - uses some Mahlerian structural organization. Both late-19th century and modern music seem balanced in Iannaccone's works. The Fantasias are lighter and more tuneful fare, though it takes the folk melodies thru some harsh and discordant passages signifying war, disease and famine. At the end a July Fourth musical fireworks displays the folk song Shenandoah in brilliant attire.

- John Sunier

OSVALDO GOLIJOV: Yiddishbbbuk - Last Round, Lullaby and Doina, Yiddishbbuk, The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind - St. Lawrence String Quartewt/Todd Palmer, clarinets; Tara Helen O'Connor, flute; Mark Dresser, doublebass; The Ying Quartet - EMI Classics 5 57356 2:

Composer Golijov spent his childhood in Argentina and late lived in Jerusalem. The opening work in this collection comes from the connections with Piazzolla and Gardel, and was stimulated by hearing of the father of the New Tango's death in l992. Golijov's writing for the double string quartet and bass brings about an imaginary bandoneon. Lullaby and Doina was written for the soundtrack of a Sally Potter film about the plight of the Jews and Gypsies 50 years ago. It combines variations on a Yiddish lullaby with a theme taken from the current gypsy band Taraf de Haidouks. The title work - for string quartet - is an attempt to reconstruct the music of some apocryphal psalms mentioned by Kafka. The three movements commemorate children interned at the Terezin concentration camp, writer Isaac Bashevis Singer and Leonard Bernstein. The composer's included notes about getting the quartet to understand how to play this work are both moving and humorous.

CYRIL SCOTT: Quartet for Violin, Viola, Cello & Piano; Quintet for Piano, 2 Violins, Viola & Cello - The London Piano Quartet - Dutton CDLX 7116:

Scott, composer of the evocative little piano encore Lotus Land, was an Englishman of very wide interests - and not all in music. He started as a flamboyant pianist and composer of songs and works for piano. He studied in Germany, wrote and translated German poetry, wrote books on various subjects, and was regarded as one of the most important avantgarde musicians of the teens and twenties. He knew Percy Grainger, Debussy, Ravel and Alma Mahler. Later he became interested in theosophy and occultism and after WW II embarked on a new dense and complex musical style of which nothing has so far been recorded. (Scott almost sounds like an English counterpart of Alexander Scriabin). These are the first recordings of his Quartet and Quintet - both full of great energy and exhuberance. They present quite original modern harmonies and rhythms - the Quintet first movement emulates Stravinsky in changing the time signature almost from bar to bar. Some of his music recalled Percy Grainger to me, but more quirky and exotic. Let's have more undiscovered Scott soon!

- John Sunier

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