Pt. 2 of 2 
November 2002

It’s Shostakovich X 3 via our next pair of CDs...

SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphony No. 1 in F Major; Symphony No. 12 in D Minor “The Year 1917” - Russian Federal Orchestra (1)/German Symphony Orchestra, Berlin (12)/ Vakhtang Jordania - Angelok Classics ANG-CD-9916:

Georgian conductor Jordania lives just outside Washington D.C. But was assistant to the legendary Mravinsky until defecting to the U.S. in l983. He recorded extensively for the Russian Melodiya label. Shostakovich’ First is one of his most popular symphonies, lighter in mood than his others and full of Rimsky-Korsakovian orchestral color. The Russian players turn in a snappy version. The Twelfth was inspired by Lenin and the Revolution. The first movement sets the scene in Revolutionary Petrograd (St. Petersburg), the second - Razliv - is named for an area outside the city where Lenin and a band of followers hid out, Aurora is the third movement and the name of the battleship moored at St. Petersburg, which fired the first shot in the Revolution. The finale suggests that the Revolution provided a new beginning for all people: Dawn of Humanity. This section is less militaristic sounding, expressing some of Shostakovich’ own emotions. Sonics are good but this disc failed to play on one of my players.

SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphony No. 11 “The Year 1905” - London Symphony Orchestra/Mstislav Rostropovich - LSO Live LSO0030:

More Russian revolutionary history in music with this 72-minute epic work from the Soviet composer. This one honors the first revolution, which was unsuccessful, but also slips in some subtle suggestions on the brutality of the later Soviet regime, as Shostakovich was apt to do to maintain his sanity working in his most difficult conditions. Recorded live by Tony Faulkner before an extremely silent London audience, this CD has the super-wide dynamic range of the best SACDs - those big military climaxes can really pin your proletarian ears back! The composer used a number of revolutionary songs in this work - songs that date from the second revolution, not the first - but no matter. Their emotional content is superbly conveyed by Rostropovich and you don’t need to be familiar with their tunes or words beforehand.

- John Sunier

Two very contrasting collections of music for piano...
SCHUBERT: Piano Sonata in E flat major D568; Moments musicaux D780 - Mitsuko Uchida, piano - Philips 289 470 164-2:

Schubert experimented greatly with the piano sonata, trying to create a piano style all his own. Only his C minor Sonata owes any debt to Beethoven. The E Flat was originally in D Flat Major but it is thought someone convinced Schubert a publisher would have little interest in a sonata in five flats, so he transposed it to E Flat. This one is at the full-bodied end of the Schubertian sonata styles, often sounding as though it’s a piano transcription of one of his string quartets. The slow movement has a wonderful theme and the finale really boasts four separate voices. Uchida handles its intricacies gracefully and Philips engineers handling its sonics skillfully. The Musical Moments are more than filler; they are like little songs without words - each different from the rest and with its own special mood.

JOHN CAGE = Complete Piano Music, Vol. 8 “Hommage to Satie”- Perpetual Tango, In a Landscape, Suite for Toy Piano, Cheap Imitation, Dream, Swinging, Perpetual Tango - Steffen Schleiermacher, piano - D&G MDG 613 0794-2:

I have several of Cage’s piano works on disc and normally wouldn’t be attracted to another all-Cage CD, but the Hommage to Satie subtitle here caught my fancy. It turns out Cage thought the eccentric Parisian was one of the most important composers bar none. What interested him was Satie’s generally anti-romantic stance and the concept of static and development-less music. Another element that appealed to Cage was Satie’s integration of already existing materials into his music - folk songs, pop hits, national anthems, etc. Four of these compositional commentaries on Satie were premiered at a concert in l948. One is the child-like little Suite for Toy Piano, which has been recorded several times on toy piano, but Schleiermacher here uses a grand piano, as Cage did at its premiere. It shows the simple rhythms and modest melodic expression characteristic of Satie. (Couldn’t you imagine Satie himself announcing a piano recital and then appearing on the stage playing a toy piano? Just like his enthusiastic nose-thumbing. ) Cheap Imitation is the main work here at over a half hour length. It is a transcription of the first section of Satie’s Socrate, and originally used for a Merce Cunningham dance work. Perpetual Tango also uses a Satie original - this one of his Sports et divertissements, which Cage put thru various “chance” processes. That explains the two versions of the work which open and then close this CD.

- John Sunier

A Brace of Busonis are next, exposing his interesting mixture of Germanic and Italian influences...

BUSONI: Tanzwalzer, Clarinet Concertino, Berceuse elegiaque, Geharnischte Suite, Sarabande and Cortege - BBC Philharmonic/Neeme Järvi - Chandos CHAN 9920:
BUSONI: Turandot Suite, Berceuse elegiaque, Sarabande and Cortege - Hong Kong Philharmonic Orch./Samuel Wong - Naxos 8l.555373:

The style of pianist-composer Busoni’s works is difficult to pin down because he wrote in so many different styles during his life (he died in l924). Somewhat like Wagner and Scriabin he attempted to formulate a grandiose world of arts and philosophy related to music. The idea of linking together music and architecture probably began with Busoni. In his written musical theories he espoused exotic modes, scales and subchromatic intervals. His pianism, along the lines of coaxing orchestral sonorities out of the keyboard, was acclaimed during his life but his few recordings don’t serve his case well. The amazingly ornate piano transfiguration of Bach’s Chaconne for solo violin is probably most music lovers’ best-known Busoni work.

Geharnischte is translated as “armor plated,” and this suite portrays a military hero. An early work - and with a movement titled War Dance - it later distressed the composer as he became opposed to militarism. But it’s interesting programmatic music anyway. Three of the other works on the Chandos disc are connected with Busoni’s major opera Doktor Faust. Even the light orchestral showpiece, the Tanzwaltzer - dedicated to Johann Strauss - ended up being purloined later for a scene in the opera.

On the Naxos disc the major Busoni work is the music he wrote after reading a theatrical play titled Turandot (two decades prior to Puccini). The play had both comic and fantastic elements which are aptly conveyed by Busoni’s eight cues of between-scenes music. It’s somehow appropriate that this work set in ancient Peking and employing some Chinese melodies (as well as Arabian, Persian, and even Greensleeves!) be recorded by a Chinese orchestra and conductor. Their performance beautifully conveys the strong Rimsky-Korsakovian orchestral colors and pomp of the score. Then we come to the three works duplicated on the two CDs: The Berceuse came out of a dream the composer had following the death of his mother. The Sarabande and Cortege also come from Doktor Faust, the first a meditative work of limited color and the second a brilliant bit of processional music. Wong takes the Berceuse at an extremely slow pace vs. Jarvi, but the Saraband and Cortege are not only more exciting in the Hong Kong version, but the sound is also more closeup and resolving of orchestral details missing in the almost muffled sounding Chandos version (in spite of being recorded with a 96K sampling rate which in other instances has provided an improvement in transparency even when bit-map reduced to 44.1K). The Hong Kong players need not bow to any of the more famous world orchestras. Plus the price is right.

- John Sunier

Let’s venture quite a bit further out with our next pair of CDs...

ROGER KLEIER - Deep Night, Deep Autumn - Kleier, all guitars/Annie Gosfield, all keyboards - Starkland ST-211:

Guitarist and composer Kleier began playing guitar at 13 inspired by Jimi Hendrix and Captain Beefheart. His unique avant style draws on new music, improvisation, and the guitar traditions of jazz, blues and rock. Through extended playing techniques and digital technology he seeks to give the electric guitar a place in new music and a broader vocabulary. The best way to approach the nine works on this disc is as electronic music continuing the path-breaking innovations of the person regarded by some as the quintessential 20th century composer of electronic music - Jimi Hendrix. Don’t be afraid of blasted eardrums, however. These works abound in intense timbres and wall-of-guitars blocks of sound, but with muted colors and reflective moods, as bespeaks the album title’s repetition of the word “deep.” Feed it thru ProLogic II or a similar processor for an enveloping surround sound new music experience. This Colorado label specializes in high quality cutting-edge music from such as Tod Dockstader, Paul Dresher, Wm. Duckworth, Somei Satoh and others.

CAGE: Harmonies (12); GIROLAMO FRESCOBALDI: Canzoni (6) - Stefan Hussong, accordion/Mike Svoboda, trombone - Wergo WER 6655-2:

Most music lovers would probably be taken aback by this strange combination of both two composers and two instruments. And seeing that Cage is one of the two composers they might start running right off! But wait. Give this a chance and you may find a new and very enjoyable sound-world that you never would have imagined. Frescobaldi’s Canzoni are instrumental works that grew out of vocal models. Instrumentation was very loose in that period and the works could be played by several different solo instruments, usually accompanied by figured bass. One of the Canzoni is written for the trombone but it was quite a different instrument from the modern trombone heard here. Cage’s Harmonies resulted from another situation very similar to that of his deconstruction of the music from Satie’s Socrate, mentioned in my other Cage CD review above. In this case it was music by American Moravian composers that he could not get permission to arrange. He turned to his favorite oracle, the I Ching as he worked his way thru each chord of the Moravian originals - choosing “the least interesting” of several tries of each.

So what does this sound like? The short works - some under a minute - are spaced with three or four Harmonies, then one Canzona, the more Harmonies, etc. The two seemingly disparate instruments actually fit together most happily - it sounds like a duo of wind instruments, which in a way it is. If the brass canzonas of Gabrieli and Pezel constitute some of your favorite baroque music, you’ll love this disc. Cage’s pieces begin to sound like Baroque music stripped down to its essentials. Both instruments breath, even though one is not played with the mouth but has mechanical breath. It is almost like two vocalists doing a wordless duet. Absolutely fascinating listening!

- John Sunier

Winding up now with a couple discs of some concertos featuring some unexpected solo instruments...

Alphorn Concertos = LEOPOLD MOZART: Sinfonia Pastorella for Alphorn and String Orchestra; JEAN DAETWYLER: Dialog with Nature for Alphorn, Piccolo and Orchestra; Concerto for Alphorn and Orchestra; FERENCE FARKAS: Concertino Rustico for Alphorn and String Orchestra - Jozsef Molnar, Alphorn/Capella Istropolitana/Slovak Philharmonic Orch./Urs Schneider (Miroslav Kral, piccolo) - Naxos 8.555978:

This is a reissue on Naxos from a l988 release on their associated full price label Marco Polo. I recall airing one of these works on my national radio series of AUDIOPHILE AUDITION back then, on a program titled “Unexpected Instruments.” And it was; and is. Who would think that several serious composers actually have written concertos spotlighting this very long, very outdoor, very ethnic instrument with an extremely limited range? Was the concerto by Mozart’s father the result of a commission from a wealthy Swiss farmer who wanted to tootle more than just a few long notes in connection with some Swiss mountain pageant? Who knows. Except that Leopold also wrote concertos featuring the bagpipes, hurdy gurdy, dulcimer, and a variety of rude sound effects in his Hunting Symphony.

The other three concertos are from 20th century composers. Daetwyler is, as expected, Swiss. His hilarious pairing of the huge alphorn with the minuscule piccolo. He wrote a lengthy description for his work, in which he compares the alphorn to the shepherd lost in the mountains and the piccolo to the birds on perch on the last trees at the tree line and live happily at these great heights. They have a spontaneous and contrasting dialog. I guess it is. The composer writes of the difficult composing for the alphorn, which has only five notes, and thus “requires the greatest simplicity.” I guess so. Hungarian composer Farkas was a pupil of Respighi and wrote works for another rare instrument, the baryton - once favored by Haydn. His short three-movement concerto makes clever use of those five notes.

Marimba Concerto = ANDERS KOPPEL: Concerto No. 1; ECKHARD KOPETZKI: Concerto for Marimba & Strings; KARL-HEINZ KOPER: Samba classique; KEIKO ABE: Prism Rapsody II for Two Marimbas and Orchestra - Katarzyna Mycka & Franz Bach, marimbas/Saarbruckne Radio Symphony Orchestra/Dominique Fanal - Audite 97.478:

In her third CD for this label, young Polish marimba virtuoso Katarzyna Mycka brings her astonishing skills with four mallets to bear on three concertos written for the instrument. The composer of one of them, Anders Koppel, reports being captivated by her playing of his work at an International Percussion Competition, and not only by her flawless technique but also her Charleston dance steps footwork during an appropriate section of the concerto. This performer sounds like another Evelyn Glennie. The Kopetzki concerto is actually dedicated to Katarzyna and provides two cadenzas to allow her to do her stuff. Both of these concertos have a playful and joyous air about them. Keiko Abe is another female marimbist who has made several recordings and in her works seeks to expand the musical possibilities of the instrument. This CD provides an unusual and first-class musical experience.

- John Sunier

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