Various Pianists Play Stecher & Horowitz Commissions

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L. LIEBERMANN: 2 Impromptus / Aristo Sham, pn / TORKE: Bays of Huatulco (Blue Pacific) / Charlie Albright, pn / G.L. FRANK: Nocturno Nazqueño / Daniel Kim, pn / DORMAN: 3 Études / Mackenzie Melemed, pn / MUSTO: Improvisation & Fugue / Leann Osterkamp, pn / M. BROWN: Suite for Piano / Anna Han, pn / PISTON: Concerto for 2 Solo Pianos / Matthew Graybil, Larry Weng, pn / Steinway & Sons STNS30079

From the booklet for this CD:

Melvin Stecher and Norman Horowitz, Executive Directors of the Stecher & Horowitz Foundation, have devoted a lifetime to the musical education of young people. Internationally recognized as one of the most distinguished duo-piano teams of their generation, Stecher and Horowitz are equally renowned for their multi-faceted activities as performers, teachers, composers and educational consultants…The Foundation’s New York International Piano Competition, held every two years, is dedicated to providing artistic development, educational enhancement, seminars, master classes, and performance opportunities. The competition has also commissioned original works from important composers of our day. These works are presented on this album, some for the first time, performed by some of the notable prize-winners of the competition. Also included is the premiere recording of the two-piano version of Walter Piston’s Concerto for 2 Pianos, written for Stecher & Horowitz.

So there you have it. An album of complete discovery for those who don’t know these pianists or works. The only three composers whose names I recognized were Gabriela Lena Frank, John Musto and Piston, so it was as much an adventure of discovery for me as it might well be for you. And of course, since I’ve not heard any of these pianists before, they were as much a discovery for me as the music itself.

First up is Lowell Liebermann’s 2 Impromptus, written in 2016. This is tonal music with bitonal twists and turns that pique interest and force you to listen. In the notes, Liebermann stats that this was his intention, to create music that required musicality, phrasing and a wide range of dynamics, not the usual “knuckle-busting” pieces that young keyboardists love to use to show off. I found this music very engaging, and would say that pianist Aristo Sham is a real and sensitive artist, not just another “little robot.”

Michael Torke’s Bays of Huatulco, which has since undergone a name change to Blue Pacific, was written in 2006 to commemorate his memories of that scenario in Mexico where “The sun shines without fail…and an ever-present breeze blows off the water.” This has a sort of pop-music rhythm reminiscent of Carole King, although with a busier and more complex top line that includes rapid, swirling triplets. It’s a nice piece, however, nicely played by Charlie Albright.

Gabriela Lena Frank’s Nocturno Nazqueño is described by the composer as evoking “one of the ancient cultures of South America, the Nazcas,” who “left behind gigantic geoglyphs on the coast of modern Peru sometime between 500 BC and 500 AD”—quite a range to choose from, a thousand years! The music is quintessential Frank, moody and evocative, drawing one’s attention via her use of shifting moods and figures which keeps the music in a state of flux. It is well played by Daniel Kim although, to my ears, without much in the way of subtlety.

Avner Dorman chose Ligeti as his musical model, and his 3 Études of 2012 are described as “precisely fashioned and fantastical, as well as technically demanding.” The titles of the three pieces are “Snakes and Ladders,” “Funeral March” and “Sundrops Over Windy Walters.” The first of these is utterly fantastic, the “ladders” being scales that run in a wobbling motion and the “snakes” being lopsided chord changes. The performer here is Mackenzie Melemed, who won the 2012 prize for best performance of a commissioned work. Somehow I get the impression that this is the work that wowed the judges. Melemed’s coordination of both hands in this frighteningly difficult work is beyond description; you simply have to hear it to believe it. The music is impressive as études, to be sure; I’d have been lost trying to coordinate this bad boy! In “Funeral March,” the music is comprised of a series of dense but clear chords…challenging to play but to my ears less impressive as music. The finale, however, is a piece in a blistering tempo that calls for such a rapid switching and overlay of hands that it becomes a challenge just to keep the notes from becoming blurred. I was deeply impressed by Melemed’s articulation in this piece. No wonder he won a prize!

Musto’s Improvisation and Fugue is played by Leann Osterkamp. The improvisation section is described as being blues-influenced, but alas Osterkamp has no feeling for blues or jazz rhythm, though she plays it very well otherwise. Musto doesn’t indicate in the notes whether any part of the score is actually improvised by the performer, but I’d assume not; it doesn’t really sound it to me. A shame, because in the hands of, say, Aruán Ortiz, this could be a very interesting piece. As for the fugue, it, too has elements of syncopation in it, played just as mechanically as the opening piece (although Musto says the fugue was written first).

Michael Brown’s Suite is played by Anna Han, first prize winner of the 2012 competition. The music also contains a lot of syncopation, but more in a classical than a jazz vein. It’s pretty interesting rhythmically, but in terms of development fairly predictable; the last movement, simply titled “Finale,” is the most concisely written. It is, however, a pleasant piece to hear, and Han plays it with both sensitivity and a brilliant technique.

The album ends with Walter Piston’s rearrangement for two pianos of his 1967 2-piano concerto. This is clearly great music, written by one of America’s best composers of the past century. It is played brilliantly here by Matthew Graybil and Larry Weng, with intermittent moments of sensitive phrasing. I thoroughly enjoyed it, the last movement in particular.

A mixed bag, then, both in terms of the music and its interpretation, but still worth hearing for its more interesting moments.

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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Bernard’s Stunning New “Rite of Spring” & “Firebird Suite”

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STRAVINSKY: The Rite of Spring (Le sacre du printemps). Firebird Suite (first version, 1919) / Park Avenue Chamber Symphony; David Bernard, cond / Recursive Classics RC2058479

This CD came to me via the direct intercession of conductor David Bernard, who has said his recording contained no less that “thousands” of corrections and emendations that deviate from the published scores. And apparently, The Rite of Spring suffered from this problem much more than others.

I wrote to David Bernard asking him if Stravinsky himself had used the corrupted score or the original manuscript when he made his own first recording of the Rite in 1929. Here’s what he wrote me:

After its premiere in 1913 (performed from manuscript), the score was published in 1921 and a full set of orchestra materials was published in 1929, which is likely the edition that was used by Stravinsky and Monteux in their recordings.  After this, Boosey & Hawkes corrected The Rite twice—in 1947 and again in 1967. Yet despite all this attention, the 1967 materials for The Rite still contained a considerable number of errors.

In 2000, Kalmus published a new edition based on the 1929 edition that was used by Stravinsky and Monteux in their recordings, referencing the manuscript score and eight other sources.  This edition corrected over 21,000 errors in the score an parts of the 1929 edition, and became the primary source for orchestras at that time.  In preparation for our recording, I worked on the new 2015 edition with Clinton Nieweg and Kalmus, correcting thousands of additional errors and inconsistencies related to articulation, pitch, dynamics and doubling. The resulting edition the best current source for performing the work.

The Firebird Suite from 1919 has similar challenges.  In creating the 1919 suite for a smaller orchestra than the original ballet, Stravinsky was forced to re-orchestrate portions of the ballet quickly, leaving considerable errors in the materials.  Kalmus published a corrected edition in 1989, but this only went so far in correcting the errors and did not re-engrave the materials, leaving the parts with the difficult to read original “manuscript” engraving.  Following my work on The Rite, I worked with Kalmus on the 2016 edition of The Firebird 1919 Suite which corrected over 5,000 errors and re-engraved all materials—both the score and the parts. 

The proof, of course, is in the listening, and even within the first two minutes of this new performance of The Rite of Spring even I could hear at least a dozen things different in the score. Very often, it seemed to me that the texture was much sparser than usual, whereas in other places it was just different-sounding.

One of the things that kept going through my mind was, With this sparser original scoring, most of the music must really have been inaudible at the world premiere in 1913, when the Parisian audience booed loudly through the whole performance. Why does this matter? Because it probably explains why Stravinsky, and his original conductor of the work, Monteux, were willing to use a “corrupted” edition for their own performances and recordings.

Another thing that kept coming into my mind as the performance progressed was that the music sounded weirder and more dissonant than even the somewhat weird and dissonant version we are used to. And I don’t think you have to be an expert on Sacre to hear these differences, just someone who has heard two or three other recordings of it. I have four: the first Stravinsky version cited above, with the Orchestre Symphonique de Paris in 1929; Monteux’s remake with the Boston Symphony from 1945 (his own 1929 recording is just too messy and wrongly-played for my taste), Kent Nagano’s wonderful recording with the London Philharmonic, and Robert Craft’s version of the 1967 score with the Philharmonia Orchestra. I still wonder why, in his later years, Stravinsky himself didn’t intercede when the 1967 edition, reportedly “based on the original score,” was being put together, but he didn’t. An odd inconsistency for a man who was normally a stickler for having his music performed exactly as written, but there you are.

Despite using a full orchestra of 100 musicians (see the photo below of the live performance, and don’t let the moniker “Chamber Symphony” fool you…as Bernard has told me, his orchestra varies in size from 40 to 100 musicians depending on the demands of the scores), the edgy sound of the music and the basically “thin” orchestral texture kept leaping out at me. Even Valery Gergiev’s performance of this score with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra about a decade ago sounded richer in texture than this, as do the recordings of Nagano and Craft. Particularly in the scurrying background winds and strings, this Rite of Spring sounds much like an invasion of giant crawling insects. I know that’s not a pleasant image to conjure up, but that’s what it sounds like.

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An interesting side note: not only in the rehearsals for the world premiere (excellently recreated in the otherwise dreadful film on Vaclav Nijinsky made back in the 1990s) but also in rehearsals with orchestras throughout the 1920s, Stravinsky was forever reading from the score and shouting out the numerous tempo and rhythm changes to his dancers and orchestras. If you’ve ever seen a score of Rite, even the standard 1989 Kalmus edition, you’ll know why. These changes occur once every bar or every other bar in the score, almost continuously. This was one reason why Arturo Toscanini, who greatly admired Rite of Spring but felt himself unable to memorize and conduct the score, became skeptical of Stravinsky’s musical skills since even he, the composer, couldn’t memorize it. Considering how amazingly different so many sections of this new score sound—in note choices and rhythm as well as in texture—there’s a distinct possibility that Stravinsky just let the “corrupted” score be because, crazy as this sounds, it’s easier to play than this original manuscript edition. I take Bernard at his word regarding the 21,000 errors in the score. I could hear hundreds myself with the naked ear, and I admit not knowing the score as intimately as a professional orchestral musician would. The difficulty factor in performing this edition just increased by tenfold in my estimation. As tricky as the corrupted version is to play, this one is far trickier, largely because the sounds you hear dot not line up or synchronize in the mind as well as the standard performing editions did.

There are, then, two conclusions one can draw from this recording. The first is that, as of right now, this is THE preferred recording of Rite because of its authenticity as well as the almost startling boldness of approach. The second is that, from this point on, all future performances of this score should follow Bernard’s lead and use this version. Even in his very polished and well-rehearsed performance, the almost brutal rawness of the music comes across like a menacing steamroller. Absolutely none of it reaches your comfort level, as some sections of the corrupt edition do. You’re always on the edge of your seat because the music is always on edge.

With the Firebird Suite, I have an older performance of the standard score conducted by Bernard to compare to it. This one also has sparser textures: note even in the opening, the strings seem (to my ears, at least) less richly scored. Why do I believe this is authentic? Because this comes very close to the kind of scoring Stravinsky used in 1911 with Petrouchka, or even in his early opera The Nightingale. Early Stravinsky was a clean break with the lush orchestral sounds created by his teacher, Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov, even in the somewhat Rimsky-influenced Fireworks. Stravinsky moved towards what I would almost call a “metallic” sound in his orchestras, emphasizing the brightness of winds and brass and de-emphasizing a warm string sound.

Do I miss the warmth of the standard edition? In this case, yes, a little. Although it is authentic I am not fully satisfied by the sound here, simply because Firebird is a more melodic work, and in the most melodic passages my mind is constantly filling in the lusher string sound of the standard edition. Not that I like, or want, a Hollywood-style orchestra playing this (or, to be more precise, a Leopold Stokowski-style orchestra), but since the music itself is tuneful it just seems to cry out for a less “cool” sound than it receives here. Just my personal aesthetic speaking.

On the other hand, once the music leaves the Romantic early section and moves into the more aggressive tempos of the later music, I liked some of these sparser textures a bit more. They give more “bite” to the music, and once again, you’ll notice all kinds of little changes, although in this case more in the accompanying figures than in the lead line. The best solution, for me, would be to used a bit more of the older scoring in the opening section but stick closer to the corrected edition here for the later sections. As a sidelight, I also felt that the orchestra had a little more difficulty getting into the spirit of this score than they did in The Rite of Spring. The performance does not lack forward momentum or crisp attacks, but just misses the oomph that Artur Rodziński, André Cluytens (in a GREAT live radio performance from the 1950s) and even earlier David Bernard gave it.

Still, you need to hear this version if only for interest’s sake. As a whole, this is clearly the standout version of Rite to own but at present just an alternate edition of Firebird. Perhaps, as the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony becomes more comfortable with it, their future performances will have all the gusto you desire.

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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20th Century “Jewels” Featured on New CD

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EARLY 20th CENTURY JEWELS / DEBUSSY: Sonata for Flute, Viola & Harp. ROUSSEL: Trio for Flute, Viola & Cello. HUYBRECHTS: Sonatine for Flute & Viola. SCHULHOFF: Concertino for Flute/Piccolo, Viola & Double Bass / Nozomi Kanda, fl/pic; Daniel Rubenstein, vla; Ingrid Procureur, harp; Didier Poskin, cel; Koenraad Hofman, bs / Dux 1340

Here is one of those albums that could only exist in today’s wide-open recording field, and not in the days when the Big Corporate Conglomerates ran everything: a clutch of little-known but superb musicians playing a group of mostly French chamber music of the early 20th century, of which only the Debussy Sonata is familiar to many concertgoers.

I have two other recordings of the Debussy piece, including an equally superb reading by members of the Nash Ensemble on a Virgin Classics CD that, though recorded many years ago, has since become a classic. The things that strike you about this recording are its warmth and superb clarity of sound: the three instruments are miked in perfect equipoise, which particularly helps the harp to be heard much more forward in the soundspace. Flautist Kanda, violist Rubenstein and harpist Procureur have exactly the combination of relaxation and forward momentum to make the piece work.

Roussel’s Trio is much more rhythmic in nature and not quite as concerned with impressionist feelings or opaque textures. It lies somewhere between the old French tradition of the early 20th century and, say Françaix or Poulenc from the later generation. As in the performance of the Debussy, I was particularly struck by the warm sound as well as by the way these musicians match their styles and approaches to create a unified approach. There are no superegos here trying to outdo one another, but genuine musicians who evidently enjoy playing with one another. Every note and phrase is imbued with life and feeling; even the more technical passages are not used for showing off technique but rather for displaying their well-thought-out interplay. Thanks to the exceptional clarity of sound, every nuance and note is as clear as if you were sitting in the midst of them while they were playing, yet the sounds of bow on strings, though discernible, is never so clear that it is irritating.

I was particularly impressed by the unusual yet cogent music of Alert Huybrechts, who died at the age of 39 in 1938. This almost sounds like Baroque music filtered through the mind of a Stravinsky-ite, using motor rhythms in a much more energetic way than even Roussel. Moreover, he seemed able to write disparate lines for the two instruments that sometimes ran counter to each other without sounding disjointed or just done for cheap effect.

Schulhoff’s very strange-sounding Concertino for Flute/Piccolo, Viola & Double Bass, though composed in the 1920s (1925), is not one of his ragtime-influenced pieces of the sort that made him famous in the early 2000s. It is, however, typically adventurous, in this case not just harmonically (note the edgy extended chords he used) but also in the way he spreads those chords out among the three instruments. The bass often plays chorded passages underneath the other two instruments, and the viola often plays chorded as well, which gives an unusually rich sound to the music. Occasionally both viola and bass play atonal lines in unison, two octaves or so apart, as counter figures to the flute’s (or, in the second and fourth movement, piccolo’s) top line. This is the only music on the CD that is not rooted in French impressionism but more closely related to the German-Hungarian aesthetic of the period. I’ve mentioned on several occasions how interesting and innovative a composer Schulhoff was, despite my personal distaste for his Communist politics, and this is certainly on display here. The second movement, marked “Furiant,” is an odd bitonal sort of scherzo with the piccolo cheerfully chirping on high while the viola and bass grumble on down below, sometimes echoing the piccolo’s phrases but more often going on their own way. In my view this is the newly-discovered gem of the set, even finer than the Huybrechts piece. In the last movement the three instruments often bounce off each other like ping-pong balls in counterpoint.

All of the musicians on this recording play extremely well, not just in and of themselves but in terms of understanding their roles in the ensemble passages. A great album, well worth exploring.

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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Fantastic Recording of Szymanowski’s “Krol Roger”

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SZYMANOWSKI: Krol Roger / Wojtek Drabowicz, bar (Roger II, King of Sicily); Olga Pasichnyk, sop (Queen Roxana); Piotr Beczala, ten (Shepherd); Krzystof Szmyt, ten (Arabian sage); Romuald Tesarowicz, bass (Archbishop); Stefania Toczyska, mezzo (Deaconess); “Alla Polacca” Youth Choir; Chorus & Orchestra of Polish National Opera, Warsaw; Jacek Kaspszyk, cond / CD Accord ACD 131-2

Karol Szymanowski’s Krol Roger (King Roger), written over six years and premiering in 1924, is surely an opera for our time. With all of the rabid fanaticism one sees in radical Islam, the hateful Iranian mullahs and rabid conservative Christians worldwide, one wonders more than ever before why people living in the 21at century continue to believe in outdated and scientifically false belief systems regarding the creation of our world and the supposed spiritual animus of the humans living here.

As a child, Szymanowski was lured and fascinated by the religious music of the Orthodox Church without being a member or a believer, thus he wanted to write an opera dealing with the mesmeric trappings of religion. Rather than insult any specific religion, however, he created an allegorical tale of a King and Queen whose lives intersected with a strange form of supernatural beliefs. King Roger is told by his court advisors of a strange shepherd who is being followed by hundreds of people and warn him to banish this shepherd from his kingdom, but his queen, Roxana, begs him to invite the shepherd to court and question him. Despite his humble clothing and staff, when the shepherd arrives at court he has the bearing and demeanor of a royal figure, telling Roger and Roxana that he represents a religion of peace, love and sensuality. Roger is skeptical, but Roxana is intrigued. When the shepherd next comes to court he is dressed in splendid raiments, accompanied by a group of followers bearing strange musical instruments. As they play, Roxana falls for the shepherd and his message of love hook, line and sinker. Eventually the shepherd reveals himself as the god Dionysus and leads Roxana far away with him. Roger, however, is able to stay grounded in reality and resist his siren call, realizing that he was able to observe and hear what was going on around him without being sucked into Dionysus’ orbit.

The music that Szymanowski wrote for this opera is not only sensuous but some of his most powerful; indeed, the score almost sounds like one of his symphonies, only set to words. There are four principal roles, Roger (baritone), Roxana (soprano), the shepherd (tenor) and an Arabian sage who is one of Roger’s advisors (tenor). Only the last-named features a weak singer in this cast, which is otherwise surprisingly strong. Even the smaller roles are well cast here, the Archbishop sung by the splendid Polish bass Romuald Tesarowicz and the Deaconess performed by the famed Polish mezzo, Stefania Toczyska.

Several years ago, when I was still writing for Fanfare, I reviewed a Naxos recording of this opera. Having never heard it before, I was knocked out by the quality and power of the music but had reservations about the singing. At the time, however, I did not have access to this recording, which was made much earlier (2001). Having heard it now, I can’t even consider the Naxos recording much competition. With the sole exception of the second tenor, everyone here is absolutely first-rate in all respects, voice, diction and interpretation. I was especially impressed by the young Piotr Beczala, who in pursuing an international career pushed his beautiful voice out of shape, forcing to sing larger roles than he was suited for and yelling out high Cs and the like. He should have stayed within the lyric sphere; his shepherd is not only meticulously sung but shows a pliant lyric instrument that may, alas, be gone forever now.

Pasichnyk, whose name I’ve seen before, had an absolutely gorgeous soprano voice, creamy and bright at the same time. She is perfect for Roxana, whose tessitura lies very high to begin with and whose rapturous, hypnotic lines when under the spell of the shepherd are rendered with perfect breath control and a gorgeous tone. Baritone Drabowicz, as Roger, has a bit of a hefty sound with a dark timbre, but the voice is steady and manly-sounding without becoming hard or spreading under pressure, as his countryman Mariusz Kwecien’s voice always seems to do. He is thus a dominating figure as the King, able to modulate his volume and sing sensitively when called for but also to sound like a regal figure, not one who would be easily dominated by the figure of the shepherd.

One of the more fascinating aspects of the score is how Szymanowski wrote tonal music with actual melodic lines (but no real arias except, perhaps, for Roxana’s solo in Act II) for the singers while maintaining a tonally ambiguous backdrop in the orchestral writing. This mixture holds the listener’s interest even in a sound recording such as this, without visuals to go by.

I’m sure there are several people who will read this review and decide that, for aesthetic or religious reasons, Krol Roger is not for them. That is their loss. The Age of Reason was more than 200 years ago, and, sadly enough, the superstitious backsliding of the world’s population has done nothing positive to advance humankind.

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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Discovering Simon Pilbrow’s Jazz

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COLOURS OF SOUND / PILBROW: Australia. A New Beginning.3 Studio City.4 Remembering Woody Shaw. Autumn Breeze.3,5 Fast Fingers.2 A Fischer’s Line.4 Surprise.1 Joyful. Try for Ages.2 September.4 Blue Six1 / The Brent Fischer Orchestra: Assa Drori, Alex Gorlovsky, Raphael Rishik, Susan Rishik, vln; Elizabeth Wilson, Lynn Grants, vla; Maurice Grants, Kevan Torfeh, cel; Oscar Hidalgo, contrabass; Rob Schaer, Mike Stever, Kye Palmer, Jell Bunnell, Ron Stout, Carl Saunders, 1Bobby Shew, tpt; Charlie Loper, Andy Martin, Bob McChesney, Scott Whitfield, tb; Craig Gosnell, Steve Hughes, bs-tb; Bob Sheppard, Alex Budman, Brian Clancy, cl/bs-cl/s-sax/a-sax/t-sax/fl/a-fl; Sean Franz, 2Ken Peplowski, cl; Kirsten Edkins, a-sax/al-fl; Gene Cipriano, bs-cl; Bob Carr, bar-sax; Lee Callet, bar-sax/bs-cl; Simon Pilbrow, pn; Brent Fischer, cond/vib/marimba/4e-bs; 3Larry Koonse, gtr; Chuck Berghofer, bs; Ray Brinker, dm / Clavo Records CR201709

Simon Pilbrow, a well-known veteran in Australian jazz circles, wrote a letter expressing his admiration of the late Clare Fischer’s website in 2011. Clare’s health was already declining, but that email started a friendship between Pilbrow and Brent Fischer, which eventually resulted in this CD, recorded and issued last year.

The publicity blurb accompanying the disc gives all kinds of stories and reasons for the titles of the pieces on this disc, but except for those which are obvious tributes, such as Remembering Woody Shaw, A Fischer’s Line and A New Beginning, which Pilbrow wrote for his wife Jean, many of the titles are just that. Australia, for instance, is more closely related to Rhythm Changes than any song or anthem relating to Pilbeow’s native land. Sometimes I think that jazz critics and publicists overthink these things. Even such renowned jazz composers as Charles Mingus, George Russell, Eddie Sauter, Benny Golson, Johnny Richards and Clare Fischer often titled their works on a whim. Unless geared towards a specific scenario, i.e. film or theater music (ballet, oratorio, opera), music is its own expression. Titles are merely a way for listeners to identify a tune. Interestingly, Brent Fischer wrote all of the arrangements. Even more interestingly, on this recording his orchestra includes a body of strings (9 in all, including a bowed string bass in addition to the usual acoustic or electric jazz bass) on two tracks.

The opener, Australia, is straightahead jazz in form and swing, reminiscent of the kind of music that Woody Herman, Shorty Rogers and Stan Kenton played in the early-to-mid 1950s, but it has a wonderfully loose feel to it and the chord changes are very conducive to looseness of swing. The strings do not play on this one, and Brent’s arrangement has the kind of bright sound (trumpet- and trombone-oriented in terms of scoring) that this music calls for. A New Beginning, as it turns out, is a jazz waltz, scored here for only a quintet. It opens with Alex Budman’s soprano sax over Chuck Berghofer’s bass, Larry Koonse’s swinging guitar and drums. Budman then launches into a solo in 4 over the same rhythm combination, which in turn leads to Koonse himself in a very imaginative solo of his own before Budman, again in 3/4, plays the final two choruses. A really lovely piece!

Studio City is a more complex piece in Latin rhythm with unusual harmonic movement beneath an attractive theme. The high reeds again get a workout, particularly Budman as soloist and Brent Fischer on marimba. Fischer added some nice muted bass figures behind his own solo to add interest, and the swirling reeds that follow lead nicely into Budman’s alto solo. There are also some nice piano fills from the composer. Remembering Woody Shaw pays tribute to the superb and sometimes overlooked trumpet great. Pilbrow describes the piece as being in three sections, the A theme (beginning with a trumpet lick that sounds eerily like Shaw himself) “being a statement,” the B theme “a question, and the musical tension resolving in the C answer.” Ron Stout, it turns out, is our Shaw sound-alike, and his solo turn is magnificent. Scott Whitfield’s trombone and Bob Sheppard’s soprano also have wonderful solos, including a brief duet.

Autumn Breeze is a bossa nova tune admittedly based on the music of Jobim. Here, at last, we hear the string section along with Budman on alto flute. Koonse is also on this track, and Pilbrow again takes a piano solo. This one is closer in style to a pop tune than the rest of the set. It is followed by one of Pilbrow’s jazziest pieces, the uptempo bop number Fast Fingers. The soloists here are Sheppard on alto sax, Stever on trumpet, guest clarinetist Ken Peplowski, Bob McChesney on trombone and Pilbrow himself, later trading licks with drummer Ray Brinker. This score almost has a Toshiko Akiyoshi feel to it…I half-expected to hear Lew Tabackin come roaring in on tenor sax in the spot given to Sheppard. Stever’s solo sounded much like the kind of astounding trumpet spots one heard on Toshiko’s records, too. There’s a nice polyphonic section where two reeds play off each other, with Stever’s trumpet dropping in for a third line—undoubtedly Brent’s work.

Pilbrow wrote A Fischer’s Line as a tribute to Clare in, naturally, a Latin rhythm. Originally conceived for four clarinets playing in harmony, Brent Fischer expanded it to a five-voice line. On this one we hear not only Budman’s soprano sax, Whitfield’s trombone and Pilbrow’s piano, but also the bass clarinet of 89-year-old Gene Cipriano, reportedly the most-recorded reed player in history. Surprise is another straightahead swinger, scored for full orchestra (soprano & baritone saxes, 2 trumpets, trombone and bass trombone), and featuring the tenor sax of Bob Sheppard, Bobby Shew as guest trumpet and Andy Martin on trombone.

Brent told Pilbrow that his 2005 tune Joyful reminded him of Vince Guaraldi’s wonderful music for the Peanuts cartoons of the 1960s and ‘70s. Fischer added a 16-bar chord sequence as an interlude at the end of each solo which the band incorporated into the original score. This one features alto flute over rhythm section playing the opening theme, after which the rhythm becomes looser and more swinging as Budman moves into his improvised solo. Pilbrow’s solo is indeed reminiscent of Guaraldi (everybody in the jazz world liked Vince, don’t kid yourself), after which the 16-bar interlude recurs, leading to the tune’s finish. Try for Ages uses an anagram of Gary Foster, long-time member of the Clare Fischer bands, It’s a jolly swinger, again scored primarily for clarinets. Budman solos on bass clarinet, followed in turn by Peplowski in the higher register, then by the duo trading fours for two choruses before the rideout.

The strings return for September, another Latin-based tune, this time in 5/4 and not quite as melodic as Autumn Breeze. The solos, however, are wonderful, particularly Pilbrow himself on piano, and the piece swings with a nice, loping rhythm. We wrap up the album with another bop tune, Blue Six, again featuring guest trumpeter Shew as soloist along with Sheppard, Whitfield, Pilbrow and Brinker. This one is scored more for the brass than the reeds, although brass is present (2 trumpets, trombone and bass trombone), opening up with a neat polyphonic intro played by trumpet, trombone and bass trombone before the trumpet section leads the band in the melody. Sheppard’s soprano solo comes flying out of the ensemble as if shooting for the moon! This is followed by another polyphonic chorus for trumpets and trombones, strongly reminiscent of the kind of writing Shorty Rogers did, before Shew makes his statement. This interlude is orchestrated somewhat differently each tone. Muted trumpets over bass trombone lead into the final chorus, which includes one more statement from Sheppard. A wonderful close to a fun album!

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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Rosenberger’s Powerful Szymanowski Recordings

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SZYMANOWSKI: Masques. Études, Opp. 4 & 33. Mazurkas, Opp. 62 & 50 / Carol Rosenberger, pn / Delos DE 1635

In the 1970s, two amazing American women pianists made recordings of then-offbeat repertoire that would stand the test of time: Ruth Laredo’s Scriabin Sonatas (and small pieces) and Carol Rosenberger’s performances of Szymanowski’s Masques, Études and Mazurkas. In the case of the Op. 62 Mazurkas they were really unusual, since the music was long out of print by the time she recorded them (the composer’s nephew gave her a copy of the score).

But of course, high bars and alpine mountains are meant to be reached for and at least conquered if not surpassed, and both of these intrepid women have had their work seriously challenged in the last two decades. I now turn to Garrick Ohlsson for my Scriabin Sonatas and Martin Roscoe for most of my Szymanowski. Both have captured the sheer excitement of their forebears’ discovery of this repertoire while providing further refinements to their performance practice. But whereas Laredo’s Scriabin has remained in print more or less consistently over the past half-century, Rosenberger’s Szymanowski has been maddeningly elusive…until now. Delos has done us the favor of combining both of her albums of this composer’s work, made in Los Angeles in 1973 and 1976, into a neat double-CD package.

Listening to her performance of Masques, one is struck by the wide-awake approach of her playing. This is very different from the way most pianists perform Szymanowski nowadays, alluding to the French impressionist school which clearly inspired him. Rosenberger obviously wanted to make his Polish roots more evident in her interpretations, and she does so with surprising strength and wide-awake dynamics and phrasing. Nor was she alone in this view; the great Sviatoslav Richter played Szymanowski’s Mythes in concert with a similarly strong approach. The difference is that while others make the constant dissonances of his music sound diffuse and somewhat ethereal, Rosenberger made them sound like Stravinskian grotesqueries.

This is especially evident in the first CD, where Rosenberger attacks Masques with gusto and vigor. One almost envisions a weird sort of surreal puppet play in which marionettes are jerked around on strings, doing a bizarre dance to them. If you’re familiar with the recordings of others—particularly that of Roscoe—you may well be taken aback by this approach. But I have to say that I like it, despite its being different. These readings have a rich, redolent, deep-in-the-keys approach, bringing Szymanowski’s aesthetic closer to that of, say, Schumann or Medtner than to that of Chopin or Debussy, which is the modern approach.

I was startled, in the liner notes, to read of Rosenberger’s long and painful journey to a professional career. I hadn’t realized that at age 21, ready to start playing concerts, she was suddenly and cruelly struck down with polio. It took her ten years to even begin playing again and another five to build up the physical stamina needed for a career. Jay Joslyn, writing in the Milwaukee Sentinel, put it this way: “Polio destroyed every tool a pianist must have except heart and mind. With legendary dedication, Ms. Rosenberger overcame her musical death sentence. The insight and understanding she gained through this ordeal is apparent in the high quality of her musicianship.” Thus, though born in 1933, it was not until 1969 that she began her career in earnest, giving her first big concert tour in 1970. I was startled to discover that she is not only still with us but, happily, the present artistic director of Delos Records, having taken over that slot following the death of her long-time friend and patron, Amelia Haygood, in 2007.

Rosenberger carries the approach shown in Masques into the early (Op. 4) Études, which I admit I was not familiar with before hearing her performances. As a sidelight, her pianistic energy and enthusiasm here is not dissimilar from the way Ruth Laredo played Scriabin. Having never heard any of the early Polish recordings of Szymanowski’s music cited in the booklet, I can’t say how much her playing resembles theirs, but taken on its own merits it is clearly startling and makes a very strong impression. She doesn’t so much seduce you with the music’s delicacy as grab you with its strength. Being of Polish descent, I can tell you that this is how the mazurka rhythm is supposed to go. A mazurka is not a dainty dance by any means if you’ve seen native dancers perform it! It’s active, foot-stomping and energy-inducing; Think of it as a 3/4 cousin of the polka. Even Chopin, the wispiest and most Romantic of Polish composers, wrote pretty lively mazurkas.

But then again, you can’t escape the fact that Szymanowski was attempting to completely change the mazurka, so a slightly softer approach, such as that of Martin Roscoe, is certainly viable as well. But when I think of the mazurka and remember how it is danced, Rosenberger’s performances sounds more authentic to me.

Bottom line: if you already have Roscoe’s complete recordings of Szymanowski’s piano music, you may not need this release, but if you particularly want to hear the Mazurkas played with a bit more gusto Rosenberger’s set is a must.

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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Janowski Livens Up Hindemith

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HINDEMITH: Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber. Noblissima Visione. Concert Music for Strings and Brass (“Boston Symphony”) / WDR Symphony Orchestra; Marek Janowski, cond / Pentatone PTC5186672

It wouldn’t be quite correct to say that Marek Janowski is an overlooked or neglected conductor, but he is surely greater than his overall profile within the classical world would suggest. One of the reasons why he is sometimes neglected is that, many years ago, he decided that he would never again conduct opera in live performance because he was—like myself—utterly disgusted and repulsed by what we are pleased to call “Regietheater.” Yet his Pentatone recordings of Wagner’s operas have, despite some iffy cast choices, received high marks from critics because of his superb conducting skills. Thus I was particularly interested in hearing his take on these Hindemith works.

Interestingly, each of the works on this CD present Hindemith in his most congenial and populist vein. The Concert Music for Strings and Brass, written in 1931, was commissioned by Serge Koussevitzky for the Boston Symphony, then celebrating its 50th anniversary; Noblissima Visione was commissioned by Leonide Massine in 1937 for a ballet based on, of all things, St. Francis of Assisi. The Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber began as a Massine commission in 1940, failed to gel as a ballet, and ended up being a concert piece finished in 1944, based on, as Hindemith put it, “natty pieces for piano duet.” It ended up being one of his most popular works, almost sounding like the then-modern American classical music of Walter Piston, Paul Creston and even Aaron Copland.

Many years ago, in the latter days of his long career, Eugene Ormandy startled the musical world with a very good recording of the Symphonic Metamorphosis with the Philadelphia Orchestra. Janowski does him one better. His performance is more clearly etched, with outstanding orchestral detail and great drive and “lift” to the score. He also seems to revel more in Hindemith’s unusual harmonies: though the piece was based on Weber’s melodic line the underlying chords were not. In the third section, marked “Andantino,” Janowski really moves the music well despite the slower pace, and in the last movement the buzz of the bassoon underlying the winds is startlingly clear. The whole performance almost has the kind of drive and energy one associated with the late George Szell, but in comparing Janowski’s recording to Szell’s I still prefer this one. It’s less stiff and has far greater sound.

By contrast, the music of Noblissima Visione is warm and rich, with softer orchestral colors and a more lyrical profile. In this work, too, Hindemith moves the harmony with the melodic line so that the two are organically connected. Each piece in this suite thus has its own specific feel and flow, the first (“Introduction and Rondo”) having an almost pastoral feel to it. In the second, “March and Pastorale,” Hindemith wrote a rather relaxed and jolly tune for the opening, which makes it seem an odd choice to represent the soldiers who purportedly attacked and wounded the young St. Francis, torturing him brutally. I really expected something closer to the kind of march that opens the Mahler Sixth Symphony. This one has a peppy double-time coda before the music slows down for the “Pastorale,” which actually sounds more unsettled and edgy tonally than the opening piece. The final “Passacaglia” moves at a nice medium-brisk pace; this represented St. Francis’ “canticle of the sun,” and contains 21 variations on a six-bar theme, ending with a tightly-written coda that crescendos to a blaze of glory.

We end with the earliest piece composed of those here, the Concert Music for Strings and Brass. Personally, I have a hard time conceiving Koussevitzky, who was a pretty mediocre musician, conducting something this rhythmically modern and complex without messing it up (his recording of the Mussorgsky-Ravel Pictures at an Exhibition, which he also commissioned, is a real mess). Hindemith’s tight pacing, which incorporates many neoclassical rhythms, unsettled tonality and interesting counter-figures played by the high strings against the lower, would surely have taxed Koussevitzky beyond his pay grade. To be honest, I also have a hard time envisioning the typical Boston Symphony audience of 1931 sitting through this. Philadelphia, maybe; Stokowski conducted a lot of modern music there; but certainly not ultra-conservative Boston.

Still, the music is excellent. Hindemith was able to avoid the trap of writing “celebratory” music that ended up being pompous or conceded too much to popular tastes. There are many highly creative moments in this score and its two long sections (nine and eight minutes, respectively) really jell into something quite meaty. Oddly, the music ends on a sort of Gershwin-like blues lick. Again Janowski finds a way of playing the music in as brisk a tempo as possible without ignoring the salient details in the score. In way, his conducting reminds me more of Czech conductors than Polish ones; there’s a high degree of similarity between this disc and the one of Karel Ančerl conducting Josef Suk’s Asrael, which I reviewed last month. Janowski captures the mood of the music as well as its textural profile, combining these elements here as deftly as he has done in Wagner.

These are clearly among the finest readings of these scores extant. A great disc!

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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Bethea Makes a Comeback with “Suite Theory”

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SUITE THEORY / BETHEA: Crystal Clear. Destiny’s Boat (2 tks). Meniscus. Guardian of Forever / The Mica Bethea Big Band: GregBalut, Dave Champagne, Daniel Rollan, Ray Callender, tpt; Michael Dease, Diego Herrada “de la Vega” Ventura, Lance Reed, tb; Gina “Badeeduh” Benelcazar, bs-tb; Todd Delguidice, a-sax/t-sax/sop-sax/fl; Daniel Dickinson, a-sax/sop-sax/fl; Juan Carlos Rollan, t-sax/a-sax/fl; José Rojas, t-sax/a-sax/cl; Seth Ebersole, bar-sax/bs-cl; Josh Bowlus, pn/Rhodes; James Hogan, gtr; Dennis Marks, bs; John Lumpkin Jr., dm; Terry “Doc” Handy, perc / self-produced CD, available at http://www.MicaBethea.com

How can you not root for a guy who was hit by a semi going 85 MPH while he was stopped in traffic, leaving him a quadriplegic, making a comeback through jazz music? This is the startling but true story of Mica Bethea, whose music and band this is. This CD, due out March 1, is his comeback disc.

Bethea’s music is quintessential West Coast big band style (omitting, of course, such atypical groups as the old Toshiko Akiyoshi-Lew Tabackin Big Band, which had its own unique aesthetic): soft brass textures, heavy use of flutes and alto saxes, Fender Rhodes piano and a percussion section that is laid back and understated. That said, his musical conceptions are entirely his own, well constructed and varied in rhythm and feel. After the swinging opener Crystal Clear, which features a series of well-thought-out solos, we move into more retrospective territory with Destiny’s Boat. Here, Bethea shows his individuality in a piece that is full of interesting lines and even more interesting harmonic structure. The music represents the mood Bethea was in when he woke up from his accident to discover that he was a quadriplegic. It’s a very moving piece with excellent solos.

The next number, Meniscus, is a peppy Latin tune representing Bethea’s re-entry into music and socializing. The problem here is that, after the promising opening theme, the music doesn’t really develop very much and the solos are just sort of “there.” Happily, Bethea makes up for this with the brilliant Guardian of Forever, a truly outstanding piece with some brilliant ensemble writing. I was particularly unhappy with the rambling, rock-music-sounding guitar solo, but the background figures are nicely written and the brass licks following the guitar solo are really outstanding. So too is the final chorus, which makes up for some of the earlier themes.

The album concludes with an alternate take of Destiny’s Boat. Interestingly, the “feel” in this take is less amorphous and somewhat more chipper than the original. I also liked the solos in this one; they seemed to make more sense in the context of the ensemble writing.

All in all, a good CD that shows promise for both Bethea and the band. I hope to hear them develop further in the future.

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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Neubauer & Garrett’s Lost Bloch Recordings

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BLOCH: Suite for Viola & Piano. Suite for Solo Viola. Suite Hébraïque. Meditation & Processional / Paul Neubauer, vla; Margo Garrett, pn / Delos DE 3498

Here’s a bizarre story if there ever was one. Violist Paul Neubauer and pianist Margo Garrett recorded this album back in 2001. So far, so good. But then, we are told in the publicity sheet accompanying this album, the tapes were lost for fifteen years, and when they were rediscovered Neubauer and Garrett were utterly delighted by them and wanted them issued.

Whoa, wait a minute. Who the hell, nowadays, loses tapes of classical music for 15 years? What storage shed, basement, attic, garage or closet shelf did they go to? Normally, upon leaving the recording studio, the artists are either given the tapes or told where they can get them in the future. Who was handling this project? The FBI? George Papadopoulos? Hillary Clinton? And who found them? Hey, at this point, what difference does it make?

As it turns out, they are indeed splendid performances of some of Bloch’s most interesting works: atmospheric yet well-written with meaty themes and interesting development. The music engages both the mind and the heart, and the duo did indeed find just the right tone and mood for each piece. You really feel these performances; they’re not just professional read-throughs but emotionally engaged, even gripping in places. You’d almost think they wrote this music themselves.

Moreover, even the earliest work on this disc, the 1919 Suite for Viola & Piano, is harmonically adventurous and interesting. Already Bloch was being influenced by some of the modern French and Russian school that was in the air at the time. Neubauer and Garrett catch each and every nuance in these scores, feeling each others’ pulse, so to speak, as they wend their way along through the music. Listen, for instance, to how well they catch the feeling of mystery in the “Lento” movement of the opening Suite…pure magic.

In the solo Suite, Neubauer has to carry the load on his own, but this is no deterrent for him. I was struck throughout this recital by how bright his viola tone was, sounding much closer to that of a violin than such famed violists of the past as Lionel Tertis, Paul Hindemith or William Primrose. The music here, written much later than the Suite with piano (1958), is even more modern, particularly the finale which ends in the middle of a phrase. Very strange indeed!

In the Suite Hébraïque (1951), Bloch’s style is more advanced than his famous Schelomo, denser in structure and tonal expression. Once again, Neubauer and Garrett go straight to the heart of the music but, more importantly, keep it flowing and make the structure intelligible. The program closes with the Meditation and Processional, the former so deeply played that it almost breaks your heart. The latter, less emotional and more ceremonial, makes a fine finale to this disc.

This is surely one of the finest albums of Bloch’s chamber music I’ve heard, outstanding performances of both the earlier and later material. Neubauer and Garrett uncover the relationships between these scores and make the program sound as gripping as a live performance.

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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Medtner’s Songs Brilliantly Performed on New CD

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MEDTNER: 3 Romances, Op. 3 Nos. 1 & 2. 5 9 Goethe-Lieder, Op. 6 Nos. 1-6.6, 4, 2, 5 Winter Evening.5 Epitaph.2 12 Goethe-Lieder, Op. 15 Nos. 1, 3, 6-8.6, 2, 4 6 Gedichte von Goethe, Op. 18 Nos. 4-6.2, 4, 6 8 Gedichte, Op. 24 Nos. 1, 2, 4, 5, 7.5, 1, 2, 3 7 Gedichte, Op. 28 Nos. 1-3, 6.5, 2, 6 7 Songs after Pushkin, Op. 29 Nos. 2, 3, 6, 7.1, 6 6 Pushkin Poems, Op. 32 Nos. 1, 4, 5.5, 3 6 Songs after Pushkin, Op. 36 Nos. 1-4, 6.3, 1 Sleeplessness.2 5 Poems of Tyutchev, Op. 37 Nos. 2 & 4.1 4 Lieder, Op. 45 Nos. 1, 2, 4. 3, 2 7 Lieder, Op. 46 Nos. 2, 4, 5.1, 6, 4 7 Songs after Pushkin, Op. 52 Nos. 2 & 6.1, 3 8 Hinterland Lieder, Op. 61 Nos. 1, 3, 4, 6.4, 3, 3, 5 / 1Ekatarina Siurina, sop; 2Justina Gringyte, mezzo; 3Oleksiy Palchykov, 4Robin Tritschler, ten; 5Rodion Pogossov, bar; 6Nikolay Didenko, bass; Iain Burnside, pn / Delphian DCD 34177

It’s funny how certain composers of the past seem to creep up on you out of nowhere to suddenly become known and respected after years of neglect. True, there are still some who haven’t been so lucky, among them Karol Rathaus, Szymon Laks and Julián Carrillo, but in the past decade we’ve suddenly come to think of such formerly ignored composers as Miecyzław Weinberg, Nikolai Kapustin, Florent Schmitt, Erwin Schulhoff and Charles Koechlin as part of the repertoire whereas previously they were “niche” composers only known to a handful of cognoscenti. Lately Kaikhosru Sorabji and Nikolai Medtner have made large strides in that direction as well, thus we have here a collection of more than half of his song output in a handy 2-CD set.

This collection was the brainchild of pianist Iain Burnside, who according to the brief notes I’ve seen selected both the repertoire and the specific singers for this set. I’ve tried as much as possible to indicate the singers of each song in the header above by listing the footnote to their names in the order in which they appear. None of these singers were known to me, and I doubt that many people besides their parents, friends and personal managers may actually know who they are. The first voice up, and in fact the one that gets the most material on this set, is that of baritone Rodion Pogossov. Like so many of our modern singers, he has a noticeable flutter to his voice that borders on a wobble or judder, but he has many assets, among them a voice that is strong in every register, excellent control of dynamics, great emotion in his interpretations and, bless his heart, perfect diction—all necessary qualities to bring out the depth of feeling that Medtner put into his songs. And the music itself is terrific: somewhat reminiscent of the songs of Tchaikovsky or Rachmaninov, but with more unusual melodic lines tailored more specifically to the flow of the words and, for those who pay attention to such things, far more complex accompaniments. Thus when performing Medtner, you need a really virtuosic pianist, and Burnside fills that role splendidly.

Didenko, Nikolay

Nikolay Didenko

In the second group of songs we hear three more singers, basso Nikolay Didenko, tenor Robin Tritschler and mezzo Justina Gringyte. The latter has a bit of a squally voice but is, again, a superb technician and interpreter. Didenko is absolutely terrific, a Russian bass with good notes on both ends of the scale; he might make a terrific Boris Godunov someday. And Irish tenor Robin Tritschler has a light but beautiful voice with, again, good control and clear diction. He might make an excellent Simpleton in Boris some day (among other roles).

Robin Tritschler

Robin Tritschler

Since this album came to me via download, I had no booklet with texts or translations of any of these songs, but fortunately I was able to find most of them on Emily Ezust’s outstanding “LiederNet Archive” (http://www.lieder.net/lieder/get_settings.html?ComposerId=5021). If you ever use this site, PLEASE donate a little money to her. She has been running it as a labor of love for more than 20 years and does the fine music public a great service by providing texts and, in most cases, translations of songs by hundreds of composers.

It’s difficult to put Medtner’s style into words because as I say, though melodic (although he was a contemporary of Scriabin and, though a few years older, of Stravinsky, he consciously stayed away from modernism), his musical thinking was far more advanced than Tchaikovsky’s and even Rachmaninov’s. He was, in fact, a highly individual composer who worked not in pastels but in bold colors with equally bold harmonies. Sadly, he fled the USSR in 1921 to live in the West where he was shrugged off and ignored, thus he died in abject poverty in 1951 at age 71. Sviatoslav Richter was one of his few champions who played in the West, but even his occasional inclusion of Medtner’s music in his recitals did not awaken interest in him until much later. There is occasional harmonic movement in his musical line but also extended chords played in the left hand that also move the harmony out of center. The effect is like listening to Rachmaninov with occasional touches of Scriabin or Stravinsky. It’s startling but Medtner was such a good composer that nothing he did sounds out of place. It kind of makes you cry to realize what truly great but unusual composers like Medtner, Koechlin and Szymanowski went through in their lifetimes, starving and struggling for years because their music, though great, was so unusual, while nowadays all these supposedly “great young composers” who write formulaic bullshit get grants and performances of their music all over the place.

In 1945, the Maharajah of Mysore, India, an honorary fellow at the Trinity College of Music and president of the Philharmonia Society of London, put up his own money to allow Medtner to record as many of his works as he could between 1945 and 1950 despite his failing health. Medtner recorded all three of his piano concerti (dedicating the last of them to the Maharajah), two sonatas, several smaller pieces (including the Russian Round Dance as a piano duet with Benno Moisevitch) and many of his songs with soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf. The recordings sold poorly and did nothing to sustain Medtner or revive his once high reputation.

In the 8 Gedichte, Op. 24 we finally get to hear soprano Ekaterina Siurina, and she has a wonderfully pure and beautiful voice—and, again, great diction. We also get to hear our second tenor, Oleksiy Palchykov, and he is also a bright-voiced singer with good diction, albeit with a more “Russian” sound. He could be a splendid Dmitry in Boris some day.

Indeed, as you go through this set, you come to realize how much more varied and interesting Medtner’s songs were than, say, those of Rachmaninov, who wrote some very good songs but all in a lyrical vein based on Russian folk music. Medtner is consistently more intense, sort of like comparing Carl Loewe to Franz Schubert.

If you buy this album, even as a download, from Delphian you will have access to the booklet which I did not. I strongly recommend this set if you have an interest in 20th century Russian music.

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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