Berlioz’ Romances for Voice and Guitar Recorded

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BERLIOZ: Romance de Florian, “Amour, on doit bénir.” + Romance de Bédard.* Objet charmant.+ Romance de “Guinare ou l’esclave Persanne.” * Romance de Plantade.+ Romance de Florian, “A Toulouse il fut une belle Clémence.” *+ La Trompette appelle aux alarmes.+ Romance.* Romance de Florian, “Vous qui loin.” + Le Sentiment d’amour.* Romance de l’opéra du “Chaperon rouge.” + Faut l’oublier.* Air du “Petit Jokey.” + Couplets de l’opéra de “La Romance.” * Fleuve du Tage.+ Romance de “L’Opéra Comique,” Que d’établissements nouveaux.+ Romance de l’opéra de “Blaise et Babet.” * Romance de Naderman, “Je pense à vous.” + Romance favorite de Henri IV. + Couplets de l’opéra de “La Romance.” * Air de “Philippe et Georgette.” + Romance de “L’Opéra Comique,” Ah! pour l’amant de plus discret.* “La Sympathie,” Romance de l’opéra “Felicie.” + Minverne ou tombeau de Ryno.* Le Rivage de Valcluse [Romance d. A. Boieldieu]+ / *Magali Simard-Galdés, sop; +Antonio Figueroa, ten; David Jacques, gtr / Atma Classique ACD2 2800

When I wrote my review of Warner Classics’ “complete” Berlioz set, one reader posted a comment that this was not all of Berlioz’ music. I replied that I knew there was more music from his unfinished opera than what was recorded for that set, but I wasn’t aware that there were 25 more songs, written with guitar accompaniment, still to be recorded.

Well, here they are, and this is the first-ever recording of the complete set.

And there’s a backstory to these pieces. In David Cairns’ superb, two-volume biography of the composer, he noted that at one point early in his Parisian life, when his father had once again cut back on his allowance (while still forking out hundreds of francs to pay off the gambling debts of his brother-in-law, Felix Marmion, which by rights he didn’t have to do), Berlioz took a job as a chorister in the theater where they performed second- and third-rate comic operettas. This is where he got some of the material that he wrote for this collection. So it’s not as though these were “serious” works meant to be heard, and probably not at all for publication, but just little ditties that he tossed off for a quick buck while he was living on fruit and air.

But of course, when you’re recording songs it still comes down to voice, and bitter experience has shown me that a great many projects such as this have suffered from poor or mediocre singing. Happily, tenor Antonio Figueroa has a simply lovely light tenor voice perfectly suited to this material, and despite his Latin-sounding name he is French Canadian, so his French diction is flawless. He is also an artist who can color and shade the voice, making him just perfect for these light airs. Soprano Magali Simard-Galdés is also a Quebecoise, and although her voice is not quite as steady as Figueroa’s—it has a bit of a flutter that at times sounds a shade uneven—she, too, has a pretty timbre, superb diction and a fine grasp of style. Thus between them, they made this project an enjoyable as well as an artistic experience.

Naturally, the music presented here is not of the highest order in the Berlioz canon. These really are just light ditties that he arranged for voice and guitar, nothing more. The only reason I might be able to guess Berlioz as the “composer” (arranger, really) if I were played these songs without knowing who wrote them is due to the guitar accompaniment. A poor pianist, Berlioz wrote much of his music on the guitar, an instrument on which he was quite expert. Unfortunately, there were no such things in Paris of his time as strolling minstrels playing the guitar and singing serenades, otherwise he might have picked up some money that way as well.

Because the music is not really pure Berlioz, the question is whether or not you need to have this disc in your Berlioz collection. The answer is, it all depends. If you are, like me, a Berlioz completist—he’s one of five composers I try to own everything they wrote, the others being Beethoven, Mahler, Debussy and Szymanowski—the answer is yes. The answer is also yes if you enjoy light music of this type. For me, it’s a bit borderline, but to be honest I’d rather hear these songs than most of Rossini’s and Donizetti’s operas. The simplicity and unpretentiousness of this music made me smile; to be honest, I was a bit sorry that there was only one duet on the entire album, because Simard-Galdés and Figueroa blend together beautifully. I’d love to hear them sing duets by Mozart or the one from Bizet’s Pêcheurs de Perles someday; their voices are perfect for that kind of material.

A word on the guitar accompaniment, however. David Jacques plays his instrument in the accepted post-Andrés Segovia style of most classical guitarists today, meaning with a light touch, so light that it sounds as if he were barely stroking the strings with the tips of his fingers. For those of you who are into the Historically-Informed Performance thing, this is wrong. Guitarists of Berlioz’ day played the instrument with strong plectrum strokes and used dynamics. It was Segovia who ruined the instrument for the simple reason that he detested and looked down on Gypsy and Flamenco guitarists and thought them scum. Which is nice for him, but he softened the entire concept of guitar playing. So there’s one more real historically-informed tidbit for your files.

Since this was produced by Atma Classique, a French Canadian label, the song texts are in French only, but at least you get the texts. Otherwise, this is a really lovely album and a good addition to your Berlioz library.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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Martino Traversa Pays “Hommage”

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WP 2019 - 2HOMMAGE / TRAVERSA: Quasi una sonata…1,3 Red 2.1,4 Oiseaux Tristes.3 3 Poems of Stéphane Mallarmé.2,3,6 Di altri cieli for soprano & 6 instruments2,4,5 / 1Hae-sun Kang, vln; 2Livia Rado, sop; 3Ciro Longobardi, pno; 4Ensemble Prometeo; 5Marco Angius, cond; 6Michele Marelli, cl; 6Claude Hari, cello / Kairos 0015054KAI

Martino Traversa (b. 1960) was largely self-taught as a musician from the age of seven, later studying piano, composition, electronic music and jazz. In addition, he studied with Luigi Nono and has a degree in Information Technology. Quite a background! But of course, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, not in the information imparted or its technology, so here we go with a review.

Although Traversa’s music is clearly quite abstract, I also found it oddly moving emotionally and far less “gimmicky” than in the case of so many other modern composers. On the contrary, I felt very engaged emotionally with his Quasi una sonata… for violin and piano, which scores the violin part almost consistently in harsh two-note chords and the piano playing somewhat brusque, atonal figures. This certainly doesn’t sound like a recipe for enjoyment, particularly to all of you Schubert and Brahms lovers out there, but both the contour of the music itself, with its interesting use of dynamics which constantly change and morph, plus the fact that there is a legato feel here, held my interest long after another composer’s echt-metallic sturm und drang would have turned me off. To put it into a single phrase, other modernists hit you over the head with their edginess but Traversa entices and cajoles. To me, that’s quite a difference.

Red 2, written for violin and chamber orchestra, does have a certain edginess to it, but unlike other such composers he lets up on the pressure, introduces some lyrical (albeit atonal) themes, and actually takes the music somewhere rather than letting it stay in the same groove. Even when the tempo picks up again, the music is entirely different; it has moved on. I also found it extremely interesting how Traversa used the French horn here to simulate the sound of a human voice within the ensemble.

The piano solo Oiseaux Tristes is resolutely abstract and atonal, but once again, it is in a different style from either of the first two pieces. It is also a very dramatic piece, with strong chord interjections that break up the musical flow but also contribute to musical development. A very interesting piece!

With the 3 Poems of Stéphane Mallarmé we finally do reach a vocal piece, which I was curious to hear how he treats a human soprano. Not too surprisingly, the music, though atonal, is lyrical; in fact, if one were to take the vocal line by itself and set it to a tonal chord pattern, it would sound perfectly “normal” to most ears, but by keeping the accompanying trio of clarinet, cello and piano in a constant state of harmonic flux, using what jazz musicians call “rootless chords,” Traversa makes the music sound very modern indeed.

And yet again, Di altri cieli is entirely different: a completely abstract work that almost sounds as if it is using electronics, but it’s not—just a very edgy-sounding chamber ensemble. The vocal line is mostly syllables and not words; it is, here, just another instrument.

My sole complaint about this CD is that it is quite short, a little less than 40 minutes long. I can’t wait to hear what other surprises Martino Traversa has in store for us!

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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Marlis Petersen Seeks Dimensions

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DIMENSIONEN INNER WELT / WEIGL: Seele. STRAUSS: Die Nacht. Ruhe, meine Seele. BRAHMS: Nachtwandler. Der Tod, das ist die kühle Nacht. Nachtigall. WOLF: Die Nacht. Mörike-Lieder: Gebet. SOMMER: Seliges Vergessen. SCHUBERT: Nacht und Träume. REGER: Schmied Schmerz. Abend. LISZT: Lasst mich ruhen. Hohe liebe. WAGNER: Wesendonck Lieder: Träume. FAURE: Après un rêve. Notre amour. HAHN: A Chloris. L’Enamourée. DUPARC: Chanson triste. RÖSSLER: Läuterung. STRAUSS-HÜBNER: Beim Schlafengehen (arr. for soprano, violin & piano). FÜRSTENTHAL: Einsang / Marlis Petersen, sop; Stephan Matthias Ladermann, pno; *Gregor Hübner, vln / Solo Musica-Sony SM316

It makes sense that here, in the 21st century, artists often have to group their sung or played recitals of old-timey classical music in packages such as this, in which soprano Marlis Peterson, a pupil of the fine Hungarian coloratura Sylvia Geszty, programs an entire recital of “dream world” lieder and chanson. I did the same thing myself once when I wanted a CD of music that would calm out my mind after a stressful day in order to get to sleep. So did Barbra Streisand in the 1970s when she produced her Classical Barbra album.

Unlike Streisand, who pretty much just sang the songs and lieder in a straightforward style, Petersen actually interprets the words of the songs in this album. That is a point in her favor. Another, which would easily have been taken for granted 20 years ago but can no longer, is that she has an extraordinarily beautiful voice.

Yet although both singer and pianist are recorded in a pleasant natural reverberation, her voice is closely miked. This certainly helps us appreciate her extraordinary beauty of tone, but it does not help to create the kind of ambience that “dream world” music would ideally have. That was the one thing that Streisand did very well, recording herself in a pop music acoustic of the time (mid-1970s) to create the illusion of a voice swimming overhead in the ether.

The impression given by this CD, then, is of the listener attending a live concert in which Petersen and her accompanist sing a program of soft, ethereal lieder and chanson. There is nothing wrong with this in and of itself, and as I say, her voice is extraordinary, but it doesn’t quite create the kind of ambience that she describes in the booklet:

We humans live and move in dimensions. In the here and now on our earth, in a WORLD we have made for ourselves. It is a place we know, where we feel at home…We let our souls soar and fly through the dark spaces of the INNER WORLD, a new, yet mysteriously familiar dimension.

The music and words may indeed be portraying an inner world, and she does her utmost to create this illusion, but the ambience is just a bit too clear. It lacks an element of opaqueness. This is by no means the artist’s fault, but that of the engineer who made the decisions.

Taken on its own merits as a vocal recital, however, it is superb. My sole complaint is that her accompanist, Stephan Mathias Ladermann, is just a bit too monochromatic in his approach. He does a fine job of playing softly so as to create a dream-like ambience, but his touch lacks a dream quality. A bit more of a rich, deep-in-the-keys feel, even at a quiet volume, would have done wonders, but alas we no longer have any Alfred Cortots among us. Just an FYI, I thought that some of the songs were just a shade too fast and too glib, such as Brahms’ Nachtigall, Wagner’s Träume and especially Schubert’ Nacht und Träume. And it wasn’t just a matter of speed; Petersen’s soft high notes weren’t quite soft enough to convey a dream image. (If you want to hear absolute perfection in Nacht und Träume, check out tenor Leo Slezak’s 1927 recording of it. It will being you to tears, I swear it will.) And then there is Max Reger’s Schmied Schmerz, a song so loud and rhythmically strong that it completely wakes you out of a dream state. What’s up with that?

Indeed, as the recital went on, I began to feel one very specific lack in Petersen’s art: the ability to color the voice and bring out shades of meaning  And it’s not just because her voice is inherently high and light; Elisabeth Schumann, who clearly had less sheer voice than Petersen, could convey color in every tone. Yes, Schumann occasionally distorted the musical line, although not to the extent that many of her peer did, but you always got a sense of what the song was about from her always-shifting timbres in addition to her lively sense of what the words meant and not what she thought they meant, if you know what I mean. Even with her faults, Schumann was an artist. Even with her virtues, Petersen is just a voice. A gorgeous voice, no question about it, but…just a voice.

And that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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Eric Wyatt Returns to Celebrate Sonny

For Sonny - Eric Wyatt

WP 2019 - 2THE GOLDEN RULE: FOR SONNY / WYATT: The Golden Rule (for Sonny Rollins).1,6,9 In the Spirit of Arthur (for Arthur Rhames).1,6,9 BACHARACH-DAVID: What the World Needs Now.2,5,10 ROLLINS: Grand Street.1,6,11 Don’t Stop the Carnival.4,6,,9 Best Wishes.1,6,11 Azalea.1,6,9 The Bridge. 1,6,8,9 LERNER-LOEWE: If Ever I Would Leave You.5,10 COREA: Bud Powell.2,3,5,,10 HICKS: After the Morning (for Roy Hargrove).3,5,7,10 TYNER: Nubia1,6,9 / Eric Wyatt, t-sax/fl/voc/bells/perc; 3Giveton Gelon, tpt; 4Clifton Anderson, tb; 8J.D. Allen, t-sax; 1Benito Gonzales, 2Anthony Wonsey, 7Sullivan Fortner, pno; Russell Malone, gtr; 5Tyler Mitchell, bs; 6Eric Wheeler, el-bs; 9Charles Goold, 10Willie Jones III, 11Chris Beck, dm / Whaling City Sound WCS117

I last encountered tenor saxist Eric Wyatt in October of 2017, when I reviewed his CD Look to the Sky, and was very impressed by what I heard. To refresh the reader’s memory, Wyatt’s father was also a tenor saxist and a friend of Sonny Rollins; he called his son Eric “the Godson of Sonny Rollins.” But Wyatt was a close friend of Arthur Rhames, who introduced him to John Coltrane, thus he has always felt the dual pull of these two great tenor saxists of the 1950s and ‘60s.

This release is unashamedly dedicated to Rollins, and as a result features five of the famous saxophonist’s pieces—yet there is also an original piece written as a tribute to Rhames as well as McCoy Tyner’s Nubia, written for Coltrane.

The opener, Wyatt’s The Golden Rule (for Sonny) is very much in the older saxist’s 1950s post-Bop style, a charming piece in which Wyatt does indeed channel the feeling of his early idol. I particularly love Wyatt’s full, rich tone and (pardon the expression) no-nonsense approach to improvising; he doesn’t resort to tricks, squeals or other non-musical ephemera in order to make his points. Piano Benito Gonzales is a good, straightahead bop pianist who also doesn’t resort to tricks, and his playing is lively if not quite on the same high level as the leader. We then hear a three-way chase chorus between Wyatt, Gonzales and drummer Charles Goold that is utterly delightful. The band’s rendition of What the World Needs Now completely transforms this banal tune into something noble and unsentimental; in this track, we switch pianists, and I personally found Anthony Wonsey a more interesting improviser than Gonzales.

Rollins’ Grand Street is up next, a fairly straightahead bop swinger except that there seems to be an extra beat per bar in the introductory theme before switching to a straight 4 when Wyatt begins his solo. I apologize for the game of musical chairs played here by the band, but it’s always a little confusing for the reviewer when a bandleader uses three different pianists, two different bassists and three different drummers on the same set of recordings. Gonzales is back on piano here, and I found his playing more interesting and inventive than in the first. Trumpeter Giveton Gelon also makes his first appearance in this piece, playing crisp lines within a fairly narrow range of notes but making a telling statement nonetheless.

Wyatt opens If Ever I Would Leave You playing very low down in his tenor range, producing a darker, almost “square” tone with his instrument, and he turns this sappy Lerner and Loewe ballad into a Latin swinger. This cut, too, gives us our first glimpse of guitarist Russell Malone, and thank God he is a real JAZZ guitarist, not a rock screamer, yet he plays with guts and excellent improvisatory skills. Tyler Mitchell, on acoustic bass, turns in an excellent solo as guitar and tenor sax play lightly behind him. Wyatt’s own solo follows, now higher in his range and using more rhythmic than harmonic devices, although he does toss in some nice chromatic changes and, at one point, a Coltrane-like lick.

On Chick Corea’s Bud Powell, we hear pianist Anthony Wonsey play a slow, almost rhapsodic introduction before tenor sax and trumpet play the attractive theme in unison. The latter’s solo, which sounds either muted or played on a flugelhorn, is very fluent and somewhat resembles the earlier-bop-styled Miles Davis. Interestingly, it is on this track that Wyatt sounds his most Coltrane-like, emulating the earlier saxist’s tubular sound and unusual use of rhythm in his solo. Wonsey follows with a fine if somewhat less intense solo than the sort that Powell was known for. Trumpet and tenor sax then return to play the theme in the rideout.

Rollins’ Don’t Stop the Carnival is a fun piece, played with brio by Wyatt and trombonist Clifton Anderson, with fine support from the rhythm section (here including Russell Malone’s guitar). Anderson’s solo is the rough-and-ready kind of playing that descends from such earlier players as J.C. Higginbotham, but with some fancy triple-tonguing thrown in. Tenor and trombone then engage in a nice chase chorus. John Hicks’ After the Morning starts out as a fairly quiet duet between Wyatt and pianist Sullivan Fortner before Gelon enters, playing a very Roy Hargrove-ish solo. Following this is Rollins’ Best Wishes, another fine bop piece, again with Anderson on trombone and, here, Gonzalez playing a fluid and fluent piano solo of great imagination. Wyatt’s solo on this one contains elements of both of his idols, Rollins and Coltrane.

Not surprisingly, In the Spirit of Arthur, dedicated to the man who introduced him to Coltrane, is is Trane’s style all the way, and quite a good imitation it is, too. He continues in this vein in McCoy Tyner’s Nubia as well. Gonzales turns in another fine solo on the latter. Rollins’ Azalea is a rousing performance, full of energy and good cheer, with Wyatt and Anderson playing the opening chorus together before the leader takes off on tenor.

We wrap up this outstanding set with a rousing version of Rollins’ The Bridge, on which Wyatt is joined by fellow-tenor saxist J.D. Allen. The two of them really tear it up here while the rhythm section (Gonzales, Wheeler and Goold) cook behind them. Gonzales’ solo is truly on fire here, too!

This is a truly excellent set by Eric Wyatt and his multi-personnel band(s), highly recommended!

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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Rahbari Celebrates “My Mother Persia”

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RAHBARI: My Mother Persia: Symphonic Poems Nos. 4-8 / Mohammed Mohatmedi, ten; Antalya State Symphony Orch.; Alexander Rahbari, cond . Naxos 8.574065

As an American, it’s a bit hard for me to “celebrate” Persia which is now Iran, the largest center of state-sponsored terrorism in the world, the country that has publicly announced that it will attempt to take out both the United States of America and Israel, plus (I am sure) whatever ancient enemies are within its scope such as Iraq. On the other hand, I know that the Iranian, or Persian, populace as a whole does not support its terrorist government. That was shown by the massive demonstrations in that country about a year ago, which were systematically squelched by the Jihadist thugs in charge, so we have to take Alexander Rahbari’s sentiments at face value.

The symphonic or orchestral tone poems contained within comprise Part 2 of his series of eight. Vol. 1 came out previously, but I was not at that time persuaded to review it. After listening to some of the music here, however, I decided to take the plunge.

In his description for Symphonic Poem No. 4, “The World Without Wars,” the annotator Barbad Bayat states that “All the elements of Iranian music have been used in this movement, such as different scales and modes used in traditional Iranian music as well as rhythms and authentic singing. The piece is based on a magnificent poem by Mohamad Farid Nasseri (b. 1982), and demonstrates how a simple popular rhythm can turn into a rhythm of war and hatred. The hymn of Ey Iran is used as motifs within the entire piece.” The music begins with an abrupt six-note brass motif, following which repeated rhythms played by a solo trumpet intertwine with some very complex writing for the lower strings and winds, eventually joined by rumbling tympani. The fast, pounding rhythm then lightens up and becomes slower as another repeated rhythmic motif enters the picture, now featuring smeared trombone figures. This is followed by a surprisingly lyrical oboe solo with slightly ominous trombone punctuations, then a French horn fanfare leads us into an entirely different section, now with the shrill, whining voice of tenor Mohammed Mohatmedi squalling out a text set to Masseri’s poem. This, I could have lived without, but fortunately it doesn’t last too long. Indeed, one of the things I found most interesting in Rahbari’s writing was its constantly shifting sounds, themes and rhythms; nothing gets bogged down because it keeps on moving and morphing. Of the five symphonic poems on this CD, this is clearly the longest at 27:14 (the others are 10 minutes long or less) and, as a result, the most complex. Indeed, the music continues to grow as Rahbari adds more thematic development to his web of sound, along the way shifting rhythms while still maintaining a lively discourse. The only problem was that, by the time I reached the 15:30 mark, I felt that he had played this string out. Our nasal tenor returns around the 16-minute mark to regale us with more “sung” poetry, set to a short repeated melody that isn’t developed. Eventually, however, things change once again as our tenor returns, now mercifully singing much softer.

Symphonic Poem No. 5, “In Love With the World,” is a relatively jolly piece “based on a poem by the famous poet Sa’adi Shirazi from the 13th century. It is the first time that the unusual time signature of 13/8 has been written in an Iranian piece of music. At the beginning you can hear a common Iranian santoor sound which can be heard throughout as a counterpoint influenced by the hymn, Ey Iran.” Unfortunately, our Arabian tenor returns. Yes, I know that different cultures have different concepts of beauty, but to my very Western ears this kind of singing, like that of Chinese singers, has a very limited appeal. The music is fascinating in and of itself, but the vocalization simply doesn’t appeal to me. Sorry about that. Eventually the music evolves into a sort of call-and-response between the tenor and one of the winds (either oboe or English horn; it’s rather recessed in the sound and difficult to hear).

The sixth poem, “The Hymn of My Mother Persia,” is the briefest of them at 5:18 and uses a rhythmic feel similar to that of Orff’s Carmina Burana, except that the meter continually shifts. Bright, Orff-like figures played by the glockenspiel and flute are heard against bass rumblings, all of which backs up our nasal tenor. In the seventh, Rahbari retreats from the sound barrier to produce a relatively quiet but still rhythmically lively piece that celebrates the “street music” of Iran, set in 7/8 time.

The last Symphonic poem, titled “Arabization,” features “brass instruments playing a fast rhythm evoking Arab folk dances. The interesting fact is that every time an addition is made to the number of brass instruments, increasing their power, the effect of Arabic rhythms and melodies gradually increase as well, until it reaches a fanfare battle climax.” For music that purportedly promotes peace and love, this is pretty aggressive, militaristic music to my ears, but I admit that it is fascinating to hear at least once. Rahbari is clearly a good composer who works in a very different aesthetic from that of most Western composers, and he clearly has a fine ear for development as well as rhythm and orchestral detail.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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Stein Plays Weinberg’s Flute Music

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WEINBERG: Flute Concerti Nos. 1 & 2.1 12 Pieces for Flute & Orchestra.1 5 Pieces for Flute & Piano2 / Claudia Stein, fl; 1Szczecin Philharmonic Orch., cond. David Robert Coleman; 2Elisaveta Blumina, pno / Naxos 8.573931

In this, the year of Mieczysław (“Moisey”) Weinberg’s centenary, recordings of his music have indeed been issued, but in a much more sporadic fashion than those honoring other composers’ anniversaries in other years. This is the most recent entry, and it’s a good one.

Weinberg’s music for flute were mainly conceived for Soviet flautist Alexander Korneyev, one of Russia’s great virtuosi on that instrument. What surprised me the most about the first flute concerto is that, although it was written in 1961, it has a very strong Prokofiev-like feel to it, with strong rhythms and harmonies (but not themes) based on Russian folk music. Perhaps this was one of those rare times in the post-Stalinist world when composers were still being forced into populist pigeonholes in order to avoid charges of elitism, but whatever the reason for his more conventional approach to composition, it is evident in this work.

But even so, Weinberg asserted his individuality in the pensive second movement. He was always at his most expressive in slow tempi, and this movement is no exception. The heavy, almost weary-sounding nudges by the basses and celli playing whole notes in 3/4 time underneath the flute’s long, soulful melody mark this immediately as one of Weinberg’s mature works. Of course, Prokofiev, too, wrote slow movements with similar but not identical moods. We know that Weinberg and Shostakovich were best friends, but I’ve always wondered if the older composer (Prokofiev) took any notice of this highly talented youngster when he came to the Soviet Union in 1939, fleeing persecution by the Nazis, and established himself fairly quickly as a major player in Soviet music of the period. Unusually for Weinberg, the third movement follows the second without a pause, changing the mood slightly with its livelier tempo. It does not, however, completely alleviate the bittersweet mood of the second; it is not an out-and-out jolly piece despite its somewhat bouncy rhythm, in part due to it leaning towards the minor even when it is not specifically in the minor.

Flautist Claudia Stein, who studied flute and piano at the Dresden Hochschule für Musik, is a very skilled performer who obviously enjoyed playing this music. Her liveliness is tempered by her close attention to such details as the constantly shifting rhythms and dynamics in Weinberg’s scores. I found her playing to be exceptional in every way; she is no cookie-cutter flute player.

The second flute concerto from 1987 is not nearly as chipper in the first movement as the earlier work, but rather surprisingly subdued in mood for an “Allegro.” Weinberg’s constantly shifting harmonies with their unusual and sometimes “rootless” chord sequences inform the underlying string texture accompanying the soloist, yet once again—i.e., at the 2:40 mark in this movement—one hears yet another allusion to Prokofiev’s style, followed by oddly stilted, almost choppy phrases played by soloist and orchestra. This is yet another way in which Weinberg asserted his individuality as a composer without unduly stressing that difference.

As in the first concerto, the second movement deepens the mood, with the flute playing short motifs (not even fully fledged themes) above the slow-moving strings. Eventually, the soloist plays a long melodic line over gently rocking figures in the violas and cellos. The last movement picks up in mood where the first left off, being both slightly chipper yet also somewhat subdued.

By and large, the 12 Pieces for Flute & Orchestra are light works, at least for Weinberg. Written in 1947 and revised in 1983, the string writing is lightly scored and played gently for the most part. Only in the second piece does the orchestra really dominate the proceedings; most of the time, it is the harp that leads the orchestra, not the other way round. Occasionally, stronger rhythms are heard, as in the very short “Capriccio.” The “Waltz” (No. 6) is surprisingly lively and upbeat. Much to my surprise, the “Ode” (No. 7) is played mostly by the strings in a heavy, almost Aaron Copland-like manner.

By contrast, the five pieces for flute and piano show Weinberg in a playful mood…he opens the first of them with the theme from Debussy’s The Girl With the Flaxen Hair and develops it in his own style. Interestingly, although this work was written in 1947 and supposedly published the following year, it wasn’t until recently that a copy of it was discovered. Written just before the Stalinist crackdown on “formalist” music, it, too, is rather playful for Weinberg, resembling in places the cheerful music he wrote for the Soviet TV series of Winnie the Pooh cartoons in the early 1970s.

This is an absolutely wonderful CD for those who love Weinberg as well as those who may be put off by some of his deeper and more forbidding music. It’s not all really “light” music, but most of it is clearly accessible and enjoyable.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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Edoardo Bruni’s Unusual Chamber Music

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BRUNI: Trio ricorsivo for Clarinet, Cello & Piano. Metatropes for Harp / Lorenzo Guzzoni, cl; Giuseppe Barutti, cel; Volha Karmyzava, pno; Francesca Tirale, harp / Tactus TC 970202

In a world where to be a modern composer generally means to create jagged, edgy works designed to shock the listener into submission, it’s nice to hear at least one composer whose music, though clearly and thoroughly modern, still adheres to basic principles of a melodic line, a forward rhythm and a legato style.

Welcome to the sound world of Edoardo Bruni, an Italian composer who is practically an enigma online—unless you happen to be able to read Italian, which I do not. Nothing in English exists to tell you when he was born, who he studied with, etc. The inlay for the present CD reveals that he was born in 1975, and the liner notes indicate that he started composing in 1992. Bruni tells us that he went through three stylistic changes, beginning as a “Romantic” composer, followed by a “surrealist” period from 1996-2005, and the “heroic” of 2000-2008. He drew the line in regards to his artistic “manifesto” in 2010 when he embarked on what he calls his “pan-modality technique.” Lots of modern composers, both jazz and classical, love to cling to “modality” as if it were a badge of honor when, in fact, a mode is just an older form of scale in which a couple of intervals are altered.

But to get back to the actual music, Bruni’s Trio ricorsivo is clearly a work built on classical models while using more modern harmonic language, and the latter, as mentioned above, merely alters a few notes in the “expected” scale sequence that one hears. I also liked the fact that this music has human warmth; it is not icy or forbidding, and in the slow movement of the Trio ricorsivo there is actually a bit of humor. Bruni, at least at this stage of his career, apparently likes to be the Italian Jean Françaix, which is perfectly all right in my book. I would hazard a guess that it is this way because he began as a neo-Romantic composer. There’s a strong undercurrent in his music of late 19th-century chamber works without their being obvious or pretentious about it.

Bruni likes bouncing and rocking rhythms, as there are several of them in this trio. In a way, he has—consciously or not—mirrored the artistic growth of Stravinsky, who began his composing career as a neo-Romantic under Rimsky-Korsakov’s tutelage, then became a “surrealist” with the advent of Le Scare du Printemps, and then moved into his neo-classical phase in the early 1920s. Stravinsky went so far as to borrow actual themes from the older composers in his work. Bruni doesn’t go that far but, as I say, his music is redolent of the past without directly quoting it.

And he clearly understands instrumental technique since so many passages in this trio call for certain technical devices, which he always puts to the service of the music rather than vice-versa. One of the principal differences between this piece and a similar one by Françaix is that Bruni’s rhythms and melodic lines sound as if they have their origin in Italian popular culture, which makes sense. At one point in the last movement of the trio, he uses the cello like a jazz bass, plucking its way through syncopated passages to support the top line played by the clarinet. The last movement is the most syncopated, and here quite clearly influenced by jazz rhythm.

Since the harp is a quieter instrument than any of the three preceding, the Metatropes are by their very nature quieter, gentler music. Some are more harmonically conventional than others; No. 2 sounds very Middle Eastern-influenced in harmony (or mode). Bruni also calls on the performer in these works to use a surprisingly wide dynamic range, which I didn’t even know the harp was capable of.

Not surprisingly, these pieces are much more atmospheric than the preceding trio, and at times the music tends to become more amorphic and less tightly structured—by design, I am sure. Some of it could get by being played on your local classical radio station, but I’m sure some listeners would be upset because it doesn’t develop in conventional directions or patterns. Sometimes, in fact, the pieces break up with pauses inserted where you least expect them. The composer gives us scenarios for each of the seven pieces here in the liner notes, but you can ignore them when listening since they are based on mythology (Pan and the satyrs) and therefore aren’t real to begin with.

Overall, a very interested and enjoyable CD.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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