Paul Schoenfield et al in New Trio CD

cover ACD-71334

ROTA: Trio for Flute, Violin & Piano. CUI: Five Pieces. SCHOENFIELD: 4 Souvenirs for Violin & Piano. Last Silence for Flute, Violin & Piano. IBERT: Deux Interludes / Martha Aarons, fl; Lev Polyakin, vln; Frances Renzi, pno / Azica ACD-71334

As you can see from the cover for this CD, it is being marketed on Paul Schoenfield’s name—not because he is the only composer on the disc (which you’d be led to believe) or even the most famous composer (all in all, I’d think that Jacques Ibert is probably the biggest name here, though Nino Rota and Cesar Cui are also well known), but because Last Silence is the sequel to his biggest hit as a chamber music composer, Café Music. Although this is true, it’s a bit of deception.

Nonetheless, the music is all good and, more importantly, played well by our three intrepid soloists. Since all of them are named individually on the cover and inlay, they apparently don’t have a name as a working group, but as the tight ensemble in the opening of the Rota Trio will show you, they are certainly as good as any name trio out there. The music of this trio is generally of a light nature, much of it using fast, repeated 16th-note figures in the piano part around which the flute and violin revolve like spinning tops.

The Cesar Cui pieces are also of a light nature, almost sounding like Russian children’s music. I’m sure that Cui must have written these as a gift for a child; they are not terribly difficult to play, and have a lot of charm.

But the atmosphere changes in a heartbeat as Polyakin and Renzi launch into Schoenfield’s 4 Souvenirs for Violin & Piano. This jazz and klezmer-influenced music seems to awaken something different and even more vital in their artistic juices; they attack the music with so much gusto that you might almost think they were different musicians from the ones who had just plated Rota and Cui. The second movement is a tango reminiscent of 1920s and early ‘30s music (think of Gade’s Jalousie) but for the harmonic twists that Schoenfield puts into it.

Between the two Schoenfield pieces, we get the two Interludes of Jacques Ibert: elegant but also somewhat light music, evoking sunny mornings on the boulevards de Paris and played here with exquisite lightness and charm.

Then it’s back to Schoenfield, but in this case I’d have to say that Last Silence is an even more complex piece than either 4 Souvenirs or the more famous Café Music. Here, Schoenfield creates a much more atmospheric environment, opening with a surprisingly complex “Overture” that, for all its jazz or klezmer influences, is more bitonal, reminding one of French music of the 1920s mixed with a touch of Antheil or William Grant Still. It has rhythmic buoyancy, but also an atmosphere about it that is tangible; a brief violin spot during this overture almost put me in mind of Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du Soldat. Moreover, the “Berceuse” that follows is likewise more somber than the average piece with that title, played mostly by violin and piano without the flute. Even the succeeding “Polka” is a surprisingly slower piece in that style, and written in a minor key which is something polkas are never in. “Andalusia” is primarily a violin solo, again a somewhat doleful piece. Only the finale, “Serbia,” is really lively in the Schoenfield style that characterized Café Music.

Yet this talented trio plays it extremely well, though in this piece pianist Frances Renzi doesn’t catch the syncopations as well as she did in the 4 Souvenirs. All in all, a lightweight but very enjoyable album that will brighten up a dark day except for some of the pieces in Last Silence.

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

Follow me on Twitter (@Artmusiclounge) or Facebook (as Monique Musique)

Return to homepage OR

Read The Penguin’s Girlfriend’s Guide to Classical Music

Standard

Agranovich Plays Beethoven

cover

BEETHOVEN: Fantasia in G min./B maj. Piano Sonatas Nos. 8, 14 & 17 / Sophia Agranovich, pno / Centaur CRC 3828

This is the sort of CD that I normally do not review simply because the material has been done to death by hundreds of other pianists over the years, but since I know from past experience that Sophia Agranovich is an artist who brings intense commitment and a fresh “take” on music to her performances, I decided to include it.

And indeed, she is different—quite different, in fact—in her performance of the Fantasia (less recorded than the sonatas but not as rare as one might think). Her take on it is that it is the closest we can probably come to the way Beethoven improvised in his concerts, that it is an improvisation which he wrote out and published, and that is how she plays it.

The result is indeed quite different from other pianists, almost startling in fact. For one thing, she uses less legato and less pedal than Alfred Brendel or Jenő Jandó as well as introducing moments of rubato and “spacing” the music differently. In the quiet section around 3:40, she almost makes it sound as if she herself were “thinking the music through” as if improvising it into being herself. This is a performance that has the same odd but invigorating effect as her recording of Schumann’s Carnaval, which I consider to be both a unique and a masterful interpretation unlike any other.

Agranovich plays a Steinway D model piano, yet the way she plays it closer resembles the Steinway CD 318. the model Glenn Gould used. This approach lends a sort of “halfway historically informed practice” feeling to her playing here, using a bright, focused tone without the lushness one normally hears from a Steinway D. If I have any issue with this performance, it is that dryness of tone does not always “bind” the phrases as one is used to, but the utter spontaneity with which she plays makes up for this.

Another good example of what I mean can be heard in the first movement of the “Pathétique” Sonata, where Beethoven quite explicitly instructs that the sustain pedal should be used for the forte chords in the slow introduction. Agranovich does indeed use the Steinway’s sustain pedal, but once again the sound is quite different from what one hears from larger-framed instruments. There is also a certain amount of détache  used in her playing of the remainder of the first movement, a way of articulating the notes that took me by surprise. I’m not sure that it’s stylistically correct, but it’s certainly different. She also plays much of the first movement somewhat slower than Beethoven’s written tempo. This puzzled me a bit since she has a sterling technique and could easily have taken it at the quicker pace. In the famous second movement, her pace is Beethoven’s and the phrasing more conventional, and it is played with great lyricism. The finale is closer to score tempo than the first.

Agranovich’s reading of the first movement of the “Moonlight” sonata bears a striking resemblance to the famous recording left us by Cutner Solomon, only not quite as slow as his. Here, the feeling of détache in her playing fits the mood perfectly. The second movement, however, is taken a bit slowly, but you know what? It sounds good this way. I’ve long felt that writing such a fast, jaunty second movement in triple time after the moodiness of the first was not really such a great idea. Interestingly, Paderewski also played it at this tempo, at least on one of his recordings. The third movement, also a bit slower than normal, closes out the performance.

Agranovich’s idiosyncratic phrasing can also be heard in the “Tempest” sonata. By this point, most listeners will have adjusted their ears to her very personal sense of phrasing. One thing you have to say about her, she is no mere cookie-cutter interpreter. She has her own way of hearing and presenting the music she plays, and sounds like no one else in the world, thus her Beethoven is entirely unique. Would that all modern-day pianists had a personal style as she does!

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

Follow me on Twitter (@Artmusiclounge) or Facebook (as Monique Musique)

Return to homepage OR

Read The Penguin’s Girlfriend’s Guide to Classical Music

Standard

Armaroli & Hauser at Angelica

img20210121_11124997

ARMAROLI-HAUSER: Structuring the Silence. Angelica / Sergio Armaroli, mar; Fritz Hauser, dm / Leo Records LR 895 (live: Bologna, January 30, 2019)

This CD, recorded live at the Angelica music festival in Bologna, Italy, is similar to that of Brandon Seabrook and Simon Nabatov’s disc which I just reviewed, but not identical. Here we have two master percussionists, one of whom plays marimba rather than his usual drums, involved in creating percussion patterns.

I specifically used that term rather than “music” in the strict sense because percussion is only a part of music, and when the tempo and meter are as amorphous and fluctuating as in this strange set it does not start the toes tapping or gladden the heart of the average listener.

Oh, no. This is a collection of challenging sounds spontaneously improvised. One of its challenges is simply to try to follow the “bouncing ball” as the rhythm morphs and changes, because little or nothing that Armaroli plays on the marimba is melodic. Had he chosen that route, this set may have been more appealing to the average jazz listener, but he did not.

Yet by choosing to play marimba and not another drum set, Armaroli has created a foil for Hauser in terms of sonority if nothing else. The sounds they produce do not move along at a steady pace, whatever the meter might be at any given moment; rather, they shift and change their shapes. Some of Armaroli’s drum patterns, such as those beginning around the 9:15 mark in the first selection, are quite virtuosic, but for the most part he is less concerned with showing off his technique than he is with simply creating an interesting environment.

And interestingly, it is Armaroli who for the most part follows Hauser’s lead. I say this is interesting  because, as the one playing the “melodic” instrument, you would think that he’s be the one to lead. Sometimes he does, but not often; generally, he is happy to let Hauser set the pace (whatever it is at any given moment) and just tag along. The one thing that Armaroli does do with his instrument is to raise or lower the general pitch of the performance without actually playing anything resembling a melodic line. True, there are a few moments in which he plays a note sequence that moves up and down, but nothing that resembles a melody; they are just motifs. At around the 14:20 mark in the first piece, Hauser somehow makes legato sounds that resemble whale sounds. Without being able to see him, I’m not sure what he’s doing. Playing a musical saw?

The performance goes on and on, yet never becomes dull because the duo is constantly changing tempo and mood. For me, this disc was not a keeper, but I certainly found it fascinating.

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

Follow me on Twitter (@artmusiclounge) or Facebook (as Monique Musique)

Return to homepage OR

Read my book, From Baroque to Bop and Beyond: An extended and detailed guide to the intersection of classical music and jazz

Standard

Seabrook’s & Nabatov’s “Voluptuaries”

img20210121_11095434

SEABROOK-NABATOV: Daggers. Who Never Dies. Dust Storms. Fresnel Lenses. Squalid Simplicities. Foam. Grosbeak. Spirit of the Staircase. Diamonds and Dust. Vex Me. La Femme Makita. Voluptuaries / Brandon Seabrook, gtr; Simon Nabatov, pno / Leo Records LR 894

This is clearly not an album for everyone. Guitarist Brandon Seabrook and pianist Simon Nabatov play here in a continuous sequence of “scratchy stabs, often offset vy the equally unexpected lyricism,” as the promo sheet tells us.

This is not normally the kind of music I enjoy listening to. It is abstract in the extreme. Yet it creates a weird sort of fascination, a complex web of pointillistic sound which is the aural equivalent of a Jackson Pollock painting. It doesn’t make sense, but it’s not trying to. The sounds simply exist for their own purpose. Very often, Nabatov plays the sort of circular figures that Nicolas Slonimsky created in his Thesaurus of Scales, though he also moves into creating mysterious low chords now and then. Since the nature of Seabrook’s instrument is the production of single notes, that is where he stays most of the time.

Much of the time, the music on this CD resembles the sound of mice or squirrels scatching inside the walls of your home, only amplified 100 times. Both musicians have outstanding technique and use it to try to confound one another, but both are up to the challenge. One could easily describe this album as background music for neurotics, and that would be appropriate. The patterns created here are essentially rhythmic and not melodic or harmonic. Indeed, I would say that for the most part, harmony has been thrown out the window.

And yet, as I said earlier, there is a certain hypnotic fascination about this recording. In Who Never Dies, Nabatov appears to be playing the inside strings of his piano but with some sort of dampers on. Then, in Dust Storms, we suddenly hear a slow, lyrical melody emerge from the piano, to which the guitar responds with a few complementary touches of its own. In Fresnel Lenses, we slow down even further as both guitar and piano create strange, slow, ambient sounds that almost sound like electronics, only more attractive and less abrasive. Then, in Squalid Simplicities, it’s back to the frenetic abstraction.

On Grosbeak, the guitar plays mostly in its lower range, using amp distortion while the piano plays a series of menacing atonal chords. This one sounds more like a war than a partnership. Eventually, the guitar leaves its distorted sound for a short spell to play a series of single notes, but it always returns to its menacing sound environment. Vox Me opens with the guitar somehow playing high-pitched squeals (I’m not sure how he does it) while the piano romps atonally and menacingly.

Yet a complete “description” of the sounds heard here would surely confuse rather than enlighten the reader. These are sounds meant to be experienced aurally, not through words. As I say, the album is strange yet fascinating. Buckle up your seat belts before taking a ride on this one!

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

Follow me on Twitter (@artmusiclounge) or Facebook (as Monique Musique)

Return to homepage OR

Read my book, From Baroque to Bop and Beyond: An extended and detailed guide to the intersection of classical music and jazz

Standard

Ira B. Liss’ Mazel Tov Kocktail

Mazel Tov Cocktail

NEU: Gimme That. COREA: High Wire.* RADLAUER: Keys to the City. Bass: The Final Frontier. Mazel Tov Kocktail. ELLINGTON: Love You Madly.* GRAY: You’d Better Love Me While You May.+ TRENET-BEACH: I Wish You Love.+ ANONYMOUS: Springtime. HERBOLZHEIMER: Springtime. BROWN-HENDRICKS: Joy Spring.* STONE: West Wings. RODHERS-HART: Where or When+ / Ira B. Liss Big Band Jazz Machine; *Carly Ines, +Janet Hammond, voc / Tall Man Records, no number

All I could really find online about Ira B. Liss is that he’s 6 foot 7 and leads this hot big band from San Diego. One’s first impression is of a good, tightly-knit organization that plays with fire but no really discernible style, but if a generic “Tonight Show Band” type of group is good enough for you, you’ll clearly enjoy this disc.

And make no mistake, this band can really cook, as they say. Despite my comparison to the old Tonight Show band under Doc Severinsen, they’re tremendous fun to listen to. All of the soloists play good, professional choruses that fit into the concept of whatever piece they’re currently doing without standing out as interesting or innovative.

What makes the CD intriguing is the varied material chosen for this set. The opener, Gimme That by guest tenor saxophonist Andrew Neu, is a real butt-kicker, and it’s interesting to hear big band arrangements of tunes by Chick Corea and Clifford Brown…I don’t think I’ve ever heard an orchestration of Joy Spring before. Three of the numbers here were written by guest accordionist Dan Radlauer, and at least in the first of these, Keys to the City, one hears some interesting touches in the orchestration and an unusual theme. It also has a truly interesting flute solo by Greg Armstrong, who also doubles on tenor sax in the band.

Carly Ines

Carly Ines

Singer Carly Ines, who also plays trombone in the band(!), sings High Wire in the soft, generic-sounding style so popular nowadays, but on Duke Ellington’s Love You Madly she’s much more interesting and more swinging—she even scats a little. On this track, too, tenor saxist Armstrong plays two really good choruses. Guest musician Nathan East plays the funky solos on Bass: The Final Frontier. He’s good, but will not erase memories of Jamaaladeen Tecuma or Jaco Pastorius.

The second singer on this record, Janet Hammond, doesn’t quite have as good a voice as Ines, but she too can swing and also sing “out.” Tyler Richardson plays a good alto chorus here as well. The title tune of this CD (Mazel Tov Cocktail) is a klezmer-styled piece that’s fun to listen to and features the composer, Dan Radlauer, on accordion. The arrangement isn’t quite as loose as the old Klezmer Conservatory Band, but the combination of a tight ensemble and klezmer touches is interesting, and the piece contains a couple of unexpected changes in meter. April Leslie plays the ubiquitous clarinet solo.

Hammond also sings on Charles Trenet’s I Wish You Love, which she and the band lift up rhythmically. It’s far better than Trenet’s original version, that’s for sure. The composer of Springtime is not identified, but the arranger, Peter Herbolzheimer, is. It’s not a particularly interesting piece though the arrangement is very clever and lifts it up a bit. Carly Ines returns to sing Jon Hendricks’ lyrics to Joy Spring, along with Jeff Beck’s trumpet solo. Although good, it’s just not in a class with Clifford. Sorry.

After George Stone’s blistering-hot West Wings, the CD concludes with Rodgers and Hart’s famous tune Where or When, which again features Hammond on vocal. I have no idea why so many jazz records nowadays end with a ballad instead of an uptempo number, but that’s the case here.

Nonetheless, Liss’ Big Band Jazz Machine is worth investigating. It’s nice to hear a jazz orchestra that can really swing nowadays!

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

Follow me on Twitter (@artmusiclounge) or Facebook (as Monique Musique)

Return to homepage OR

Read my book, From Baroque to Bop and Beyond: An extended and detailed guide to the intersection of classical music and jazz

Standard

Benjamin Koppel’s “Art of the Quartet”

Cowbell_TheArt_CD_Cover_3000x3000

KOPPEL: Free I. Bells of Beliefs. Night Seeing. Ahmad the Terrible. Follow. Free II. Iago. Ballad for Trane. ROBIN-RAINGER:  If I Should Lose You. KOPPEL: Americana. One on One. Sada / Benjamin Koppel, a-sax; Kenny Werner, pno; Scott Colley, bs; Jack DeJohnette, dm / Unit Records. no number

Benjamin Koppel, the jazz-playing son of Danish classical composer Anders Koppel, has put together two new releases on the Swiss-based Unit Records Label, but since the second one focuses on R&B and funk, which I enjoy about as much as drinking sour milk, I decided to pass on that one.

In addition to the fact that this 2-CD set is pure jazz, another attraction for me was the inclusion of Jack DeJohnette, one of my favorite jazz drummers from the 1960s. (He played with Bill Evans at Ronnie Scott’s club in 1968 in the album I reviewed late last year.) The opening selection, Free I, is his approach to free jazz: less edgy and hysterical than the majority of free jazz you hear on other labels, this is a softer, more lyrical piece that sort of meanders along in a relaxed style but is still interesting and full of nice little moments. I was particularly impressed by bassist Scott Colley’s musical imagination in coming up with nice counter-figures in addition to his rich, full tone and excellent technique. By the 3:47 mark, the tempo has increased and the quartet is really cooking, particularly DeJohnette whose drum patterns remain as energetic and enticing as ever at the youthful age of 78. Eventually pianist Kenny Werner lays down a repeated rhythmic pattern in which Koppel joins him while DeJohnette breaks things up behind them. I must admit, however, that eventually things become repetitive and really don’t go anywhere towards the end.

Bells of Beliefs opens with DeJohnette playing some sort of very resonant bells, apparently with a sustain pedal since the sounds keep reverberating even after other tones are struck. About a minute and 40 seconds into it, the piano enters, softly, playing slow, repeated rhythmic figures before the bass enters, followed by the leader very softly on sustained alto notes. Bowed bass and chime chords on the piano then follow, with Koppel softly joining the bass along with cymbal washes to create a nice ambience that is also musically interesting. By the 6:10 mark, however, all hell breaks loose: the tempo and volume increase and Koppel plays mad, flying figures on his alto as DeJohnette works out behind him and the other two feed into the melee. Things quiet down again, however, in the final chorus.

Indeed, by the time one gets into the third track, Night Seeing, one is aware that this is in its own unique way a free jazz album in which the four musicians play not only with notes and musical motifs but also with color and space. It’s the kind of music I would categorize as a “late night set,” when darkness covers the sky and one is winding down after a long, hard day. It doesn’t quite lull you into a sleep state because there is a lot going on and neither the pace nor the volume stays at a relaxed level, but it never quite reaches a full musical explosion either. And each piece is built around simple but attractive blocks of sound that somehow coalesce into a complete musical thought. Sometimes they take turns improvising, but much of the time they try to complement what each other is doing.

On Ahmad the Terrible, the quartet opens with what appears to be a promising jazz beat, which then moves into a nice groove swing—a rare instance of them playing a bit more straightahead and less ambient jazz—but Koppel and his quartet keep slowing down, altering and breaking up the beat as they go along, with interesting results. Eventually they explode in a “free” passage which then takes off like a rocket.

Although Werner is clearly a fine jazz pianist, he ironically almost takes a back seat to the other three, in the order of Koppel-DeJohnette-Colley. These three musicians are just so incredibly creative in the way they approach this music that they hold your interest, singly and collectively. Or, to put it another way, Werner feeds into the stream but he does not lead or create the stream.

Follow has a strange feel to it, somewhat related to Coltrane’s Giant Steps, while Free II opens with some really strange, muted percussion sounds played by the masterful DeJohnette while Colley twangs his bass like a Country guitarist. Eventually, pianist and saxist move into the picture as things start to develop. Eventually, they play to a sort of Middle Eastern belly-dance rhythm.

CD 2 opens with Iago, which again has a somewhat regular beat, this time in a medium 6/8. set to a pleasant melodic line initially played by Koppel with the rhythm section supporting him. On this track, Werner really gets into it, playing an outstanding solo that increases in intensity as DeJohnette works out behind him. Eventually they get into a sort of soul groove, not leaning too much towards funk, and work it out. Ballad for Trane, too, has a regular pulse, and though it only has some traces of Coltrane’s style in it, it is an attractive piece. And once again, Werner sounds very good in his solo. I think perhaps that he, of all the members of the quartet, needs a regular pulse to blossom as a soloist.

The old Robin-Rainger tune If I Should Lose You is the one standard in this album, and Koppel and company really swing it, again with Werner really flourishing in the steady pulse. But no matter which track you listen to, or in what order, this quartet is full of surprises. I highly recommend it, particularly to DeJohnette’s millions of fans; they’ll be thrilled to hear that he’s as creative as ever.

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

Follow me on Twitter (@artmusiclounge) or Facebook (as Monique Musique)

Return to homepage OR

Read my book, From Baroque to Bop and Beyond: An extended and detailed guide to the intersection of classical music and jazz

Standard

Petrenko Conducts Prokofiev & Myaskovsky

Petrenko cover

PROKOFIEV: Symphony No. 5 in Bb. MYASKOVSKY: Symphony No. 21 in F# min. / Oslo Philharmonic Orch.; Vasily Petrenko, cond / Lawo LWC1207

This is exactly the kind of CD that I welcome and treasure: an outstanding performance of a famous Russian work, Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony, paired with a relatively obscure one, Nikolai Myaskovsky’s 21st Symphony. Both were written in the 1940s, the Myaskovsky in 1940 as a commission from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (then under Frederick Stock) to celebrate that orchestra’s 50th anniversary, the Prokofiev in 1944. There is a connection between the two composers since the decade-older Myaskovsky was a good friend of Prokofiev, and they died only three years apart, Myaskovsky in 1950 and Prokofiev in 1953.

And what a great performance of the Prokofiev this is! I would place it on a level with the great rendition left us by Artur Rodziński with the New York Philharmonic-Symphony, one of the first recordings made of this work. It is lyrical and powerful in turn, giving full weight to Prokofiev’s score, which the composer considered his finest of his symphonies. The Oslo Philharmonic plays their hearts out for him, giving it all they’ve got.

The Myaskovsky symphony is considerably shorter than Prokofiev’s…in fact, at 15:13 it is just one minute longer than the first movement of the Prokofiev Fifth. It opens with a very Romantic-sounding melodic line, very much in the tradition of his composition teacher, Rimsky-Korsakov, but before long one hears a touch of modern harmonic movement, possibly influenced by his younger colleague. Then, at the 4:18 mark, it suddenly moves into a brisk Allegro theme which is surprisingly long, and which then moves back to the Andante feel of the opening for yet another theme.

Though there are some nice harmonic touches, it is clearly not as modern sounding as the music of his younger colleague, but I’m sure it pleased the musically conservative Stock. The mood thus goes back and forth between quiet-reflective and louder-energetic, but Myaskovsky manages to tie these two moods together with great skill. The development section, also taken at a quick tempo, is interesting and shows a well-grounded composer who knows what he is about.

This is a very fine CD, and if the Myaskovsky doesn’t impress you much, you simply must hear Petrenko’s reading of the Prokofiev. It’s a sizzler!

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

Follow me on Twitter (@Artmusiclounge) or Facebook (as Monique Musique)

Return to homepage OR

Read The Penguin’s Girlfriend’s Guide to Classical Music

Standard

Diepenbrock’s Complete Songs Reissued

Diepenbrock cover

DIEPENBROCK: Drie Ballades, Op. 1.4 Zwei Gesänge nach Dichtungen von Goethe.2 Die Liebende schreibt.1 Hinüber wall’ich.1 Es war ein alter König.5 Lied der Spinnerin.1 Der Abend.1 Kann ich im Busen heisse Wünsche tragen?2 Liebesklage.2 Celebrität.5 Receuillement.5 Les chats.5 L’invitation au voyage.3 En sourdine.2 Clair de lune.1 Mandoline.1 Écoutez la chanson bien douce.1 Puisque l’aube grandit.3 La Chanson de l’Hyprttrophique.1 Incantation.3 Berceuse.2,6 Ave Maria.3 Simeon’s Lofzang.5 Preghiera alla Madonna.4 Come raggio di sol.1 De klare dag.4 Maanlicht.4 Meinacht.2 Ik ben eenzaamheid niet meer alleen.1 Avondzang.4 Zij sluiment.4 Bejaard3 / 1Roberta Alexander, sop; 2Jard van Nes, 3Christa Pfeiler, mezzo; 4Christoph Prégardien, ten; 5Robert Holl, bs-bar; 6Daniël Esser, cel; Rudolf Jansen, pno / Brilliant Classics 96103

Here’s another “new old” composer that I, and thousands of other music lovers, have never heard of, Alphons Diepenbrock. Though born in 1862, he was by no means another stodgy Romantic music sound-alike but a lively composer with an open mind who fully embraced the musical revolution of Wagner and, later on, the major French composer whose work was inspired by Parsifal, Claude Debussy.

Although primarily a composer of vocal music, there are at least three orchestral suites available on YouTube that show you how original and powerful his musical mind worked: Im grossen Schweigen (1905-06, revised 1918), which includes a vocal part for bass (sung by Robert Hell); the Marsyas Suite (1910); and the symphonic suite from Elektra (1920). The second of these strongly reflects the influence of Debussy, the other two the influence of Wagner, Strauss, and Mahler, who admired several of his songs, particularly Hinüber wall’ich.

This 3-CD set, recorded between February 1994 and April 1995, was originally issued by NM Classics, but Brilliant Classics has fortunately obtained the permission to re-release it here. The one drawback is that the booklet contains no song texts or translations. Although Brilliant Classics states that these are available at their website, I went there and found the cupboard bare. I do hope that they correct this in the future.

Because of his own work as an organist and pianist, in addition to his love affair with Wagner, Diepenbrock’s piano accompaniments to his songs are far more complex than those of almost any composer before Sorabji; indeed, it often sounds as if they were piano compositions first with the vocal line added later. One could easily just play the piano parts in a recital and have listeners assume they were written as such without vocal lines. Yet in these vocal lines, Diepenbrock shows a great talent for lyricism in addition to drama. Even without knowing the words to these songs—and happily, one can find the original texts and many translations at Emily Ezust’s magnificent LiederNet Archive website—one can sense the dramatic thrust of the music.

The first group of four songs is sung by tenor Christoph Prégardien, and excellently so, but as it turns out this is a bit misleading, as neither he nor bass-baritone Robert Holl have the lion’s share of this material. Most of the songs are performed by the ladies, and an outstanding group they are though only the name of soprano Roberta Alexander was previously known to me. These are his Op. 1, and along with the 2 Songs of Goethe Op. 2 his most conventional pieces in this collection, but that doesn’t make them uninteresting, merely not as adventurous as the rest of his output, yet his setting of Goethe’s poem on The King of Thule is almost overwhelmingly dramatic. Goethe, whose musical taste was very reactionary (he even argued with Beethoven about that composer’s settings of his texts), would probably have hated it.

With CD 2 we move from the musical world of Wagner to the French school, whose music—and song settings of such French poets as Baudelaire and Verlaine—impressed him deeply. But you know the Frenchies: no one but THEIR composers “did it right.” As stated in Eduard Reeser’s excellent liner notes, when his French songs were performed

French critics were on the whole not unsympathetic, although some complained that the composer had placed the caesura after the second word in the first tercet, rather than having the two quatrains form an integral musical unit.

To which I will only say, foutrez vous, French critics. These songs are all quite good and, though you may not think they were by Debussy, you might indeed think they were by Duparc, Debussy’s most distinguished predecessor. The problem is that hearing all of them in succession, something the composer probably never intended, produces an impression of sameness which I did not get from his songs in German.

The third CD, which contains his songs set to Latin, Italian and Dutch lyrics, opens with a very strange setting of the Ave Maria in which the harmony suddenly shifts sideways in a manner reminiscent of composers to come. Diepenbrock found the “pivot points” within chords to change the harmony while still appearing to respect the basic tonality, but not really. There are also some subtle harmonic shifts in the next song, Simeon’s Lofzang, and in the Italian song Preghiera alla Madonna he might almost have been channeling Pizzetti, with a bit of whole-tone chords thrown in for color.

My verdict on Diepenbrock is that he was an interesting composer, original in some ways, whose music deserves to be heard and should not have fallen through the cracks of time if not one of the great musical geniuses of his day. Nonetheless, this set is well worth your hearing. All of the performances are excellent, all of the singers are first-rate, and thus they present to you the best possible picture of his talent.

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

Follow me on Twitter (@Artmusiclounge) or Facebook (as Monique Musique)

Return to homepage OR

Read The Penguin’s Girlfriend’s Guide to Classical Music

Standard

The Pangaea Players Present 3 Perspectives

cover

ROREM: Trio. LOCKLAIR: Reynolda Reflections. HIGDON: American Canvas / Pangaea Chamber Players: Virginia Broffitt Kunzer, fl; Meredich Blecha-Wells, cel; Jeffrey Brown, pno / Navona NV6279

This is another of those albums which, like Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, aspires to reflect the visual world of art in music. One would be prudent to point out that, for better or worse, Mussorgsky himself did not succeed in this: the line drawings and paintings of Viktor Hartmann on which his piano suite is based are but nice little sketches compared to the vast cathedral of sound created by Mussorgsky, and I have yet to hear a piece of music that truly reflects a picture, but by golly they just keep on trying!

Fortunately, the music itself is good, and since I already knew the work of two of the three composers (Ned Rorem and Jennifer Higdon), I took the plunge on reviewing it.

The album cover shows reduced images of three paintings that the Pangaea Players were particularly fond of by Hallie Sands, Olivia Floyd and Taylor Morriss. Ned Rorem, reclusive old curmudgeon that he is, provided no program notes for his Trio, the movements of which bear the usual tempo directions, but Dan Locklair’s essay on his website reveals his inspirations as being Worthington Whittredge’s 18664 painting The Old Hunting Grounds, Thomas Hart Benton’s 1927 painting Bootleggers, Georgia O’Keeffe’s Pool in the Woods, Charles Sheeler’s 1952 Conversation Piece and Elliott Daingerfield’s 1912 The Spirit of the Storm. Jennifer Higdon based her music on Georgia O’Keeffe, Jackson Pollock and Andrew Wyeth.

pictures

Though noted mostly for his songs, Rorem has composed several instrumental works, and this one is as excellent as many of his previous pieces. It opens with the piano playing a bitonal chord while the cello joins it in its low register, with the flute playing a sort of fantasia above them. Then, at the 2:10 mark, the trio suddenly erupts in a somewhat menacing minor-key melee of sound. But the second movement, believe it or not, is even edgier than the first, a spooky “Largo” in which the flute and cello slither through their lines like ominous, monstrous worms looking to devour someone. The last two movements, though a bit less eerie, are also very creative.

Benton Bootleggers

Thomas Hart Benton, “Bootleggers”

Dan Locklair was a composer new to me, and I was pleasantly surprised by his very creative and individual style: tonal but not sweetsy or cloying, with real themes developed in an interesting manner. In a way, he harks back to certain American composers of the mid-20th century, before they all discovered serial and electronic music (or, worse yet, minimalism). Moreover, there is real variety in his writing as he moves from piece to piece; “Grounded in Machines,” which is based on the Benton painting mentioned above, has a touch of George Antheil in it along with a bit of Jazz Age rhythm, while “Arias to a Flower” contain glissando effects that almost make it sound as if Kunzer was playing a Chinese flute. “Songs to the Wind,” the last piece in this cycle, is in an entirely different style from the others, with the piano playing a series of upward—rising arpeggios while the flute in its mid-range and cello near the upper range play a strong melodic line, the harmony of which is then expanded in the piano solo. This is, quite simply, excellent music, well crafted and superbly played. I was very impressed. Incidentally, the title of his suite is a tribute to the Reynolda House Museum of Modern Art in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Jennifer Higdon’s American Canvas is in her usual pleasant, lyrical style, just modern enough in harmony to be interesting. “Georgia O’Keeffe” is very florid music, with the flute swirling around in the upper register while the cello plays a rapid countermelody below. In the second half of this piece, the tempo becomes much more relaxed, almost pastoral. “Pollock,” on the other hand, is almost minimalist in the beginning with a strong motor rhythm before Higdon expands the music and takes it further.

But “Wyeth” was, to me, the most surprising and original piece of the three, based on a stiffish, ostinato rhythm around which all three instruments engage, each in his or her own particular musical space and rhythm. At times, in fact, the rhythmic byplay becomes extremely complex. This is clearly something new for Higdon, and I was utterly fascinated by it.

No question about it, this is a surprisingly creative and interesting CD that I consider essential for fans of Rorem and/or Higdon (and, of course, for those of you who also know Locklair’s work.

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

Follow me on Twitter (@Artmusiclounge) or Facebook (as Monique Musique)

Return to homepage OR

Read The Penguin’s Girlfriend’s Guide to Classical Music

Standard

Judith Farmer Loves Her Bassoon

cover VSIP Records 001

FASCH: Sonata in C.1 WOLFGANG: Duo for Flute & Bassoon No. 1.2 BOUTRY: Interférences. POULENC: Sonata for Clarinet & Bassoon / Judith Farmer, bsn; 1Patricia Mabee, hpsd; 1Andrew Shulman, cel; 2Susan Greenberg, fl; 3Vicki Ray, pno; 4Wenzel Fuchs, cl / VSIP Records 001

It’s not often that you run across female bassoon players, and rarer still that you find a female bassoonist who is absolutely thrilled with her instrument. Judith Farmer, the wife of jazz-classical hybrid composer Gernot Wolfgang, however, appears (from the photo on this album cover) to be both. She not only plays the bassoon, she can’t wait to have you hear her!

Like many active musicians, however, she apparently started to record this album at one point (specifically, in this case, October 2001), put it aside, but then “life happened” and it was several years before she got back to it. So enthusiastic she may be, but able to focus on tasks may just be a wee bit of a problem for her. Procrastination, thy name is Judith Farmer!

We begin in old-timey land with the Baroque sonata in C by Johann Friedrich Fasch (1688-1758), a name I’ve never encountered before. The first movement, in particular, is slow and rather lugubrious, but the second is an “Allegro” and so less so. Farmer plays with an excellent tone although, like all bassoonists I’ve heard, with very little dynamics contrasts. (I’d have to assume that changing volume on a bassoon is extremely difficult.) The harpsichord and cello continuo are just sort of there, the latter playing with historically incorrect straight tone.

Things pick up considerably with Wolfgang’s Duo for Flute & Bassoon, a lively piece in bitonal harmony with a jazzy rhythm and his typically humorous, slightly quirky construction and development. Here, Wolfgang uses pauses as a sort of tongue-in-cheek device to capture one’s attention and hold it throughout the piece. Flautist Susan Greenberg is a lively player who also captures the mood well, although I have to admit that it is Farmer who understands the jazz-influenced syncopations a bit better.

Next up is Interférences by Roger Boutry, a composer I’d not heard of previously. This work, which according to the notes he considered his most inspired for bassoon, is a lively modern work, again using bitonality and also strong syncopations which Farmer and her pianist, Vicki Ray, play with gusto and élan. This is a wonderful piece, both original and unpredictable. Though a continuous piece, it has three sections (the usual fast-slow-fast), the last being particularly tricky in its complex cross-rhythms.

We end our journey with the Sonata for Clarinet & Bassoon by Poulenc, a wonderful piece also recorded by Calogero Palmero and Andrea Zucco on the Brilliant Classics set of that composer’s complete chamber works. Once again Farmer has a lively partner to play with, in this case Wenzel Fuchs, and the two of them romp through the music with energy and humor.

In all, then, a very fine outing for Farmer and a treat for all bassoon-fanciers.

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

Follow me on Twitter (@artmusiclounge) or Facebook (as Monique Musique)

Return to homepage OR

Read my book, From Baroque to Bop and Beyond: An extended and detailed guide to the intersection of classical music and jazz

Standard