Classical Music Thread -

Positron

Wearing the same blue mask since 2004
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So much talk has been wasted over "the future of classical music": record companies and concertizers want easy stuff, crowd-pleasers. Academics want works they can take apart and discuss in articles and books. And seasoned listeners, like myself, want something that isn't the same-old same-old. The talk has been wasted, because it remains just talk: when it comes to the rare modern masterpieces that can potentially satisfy all three crowds, we are not embracing them with any enthusiasm.

The piece I'm thinking about now is John Corigliano's Pied Piper Fantasy, for flute soloist (doubling as tin whistle) and orchestra. This is a work that I think should now pair with Peter and The Wolf in any CD "for children". It is a long work, almost 40 minutes, but even people with zero background in classical music will not be bored, the composer being so adept at the evocation of scenes and moods that the listener will be naturally drawn in the story. But the fact the music is easy to listen to doesn't mean it is unsophisticated, or that the composer lacks ambition. The opening movement, "Sunrise and the Piper's Song", makes it immediately obvious that Corigliano has no intention to condescend.


"Sunrise". You think Richard Strauss, Grieg and Beethoven, perhaps Nielsen (Helios Overture), Britten (Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes), and D'Indy (Jour d'été à la montagne) too. But Corigliano's sunrise is completely different: it is a dirty, suffocating miasma, musically an extremely dissonant, rhythmically irregular sound mass. You don't expect to hear such sound in music "for children", but of course it is exactly what the story orders -- this is exactly what one would feel walking in a rat-infested village, filled with rot and disease.

The piper himself, represented by the flute soloist, has music that is extremely dramatic. In the cadenza, for example, when the orchestra ("the Rats", which by the way are blessed with a wealth of unusual timbres, all the more notable because it isn't really a big orchestra) falls silence, you can almost hear his mental monologue, "Phew! That was hard but at least they're gone at last. I can finally catch a breath... but... something doesn't feel right.... everything is too quiet....."

Indeed, you can almost shake your head at Corigliano for being too blatant and picturesque, as in his use of faux-renaissance pomp and circumstance in depicting the haughty Burghers who deny the piper's reward, but it is all done with skill and is good fun. Something even more theatrical follows: watch the video to find out what it is.

What is, to me, another masterstroke is that the composer gives the work a very long coda. You would expect the music can end when the Piper has the kids under his spell and they go merrily backstage. But no, Corigliano wants you to feel the sadness of the despondent village. The gloomy mood of the opening "Sunrise" returns, but now as a mostly consonant dirge as the stage goes dark.

I guarantee it will be quite a while before someone writes another work that will give so much pleasure to such different groups of audience. And it is very disspiriting to see Amazon only lists two recordings of the work -- one by the original dedicatee James Galway, and one by the Kiwi flautist Alexa Still (which is the one I have). Can anyone interest Naxos (which is developing its Corigliano discog) in it?
 

Positron

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You may know Albert Einstein was an okay amateur violinist, but do you know that a composer, Bohuslav Martinů, actually wrote something for him?


Martinů is fascinated by the English (rather than the Italian) madrigals and gave many of his chamber works this title. What he saw in madrigals was not so much its formal structure as the freedom and independence of each vocal lines, and this is very evidence in the Five Madrigal Stanzas for violin and piano. The critic in Gramophone was very dismissive of this composition ("This rather mindless work, saved only by the charm of its strong Czech accent"). I don't find it mindless. It may be "salon music" but it is full of charm and life.

(BTW I just hit upon a trove of about 10 old Martinů CDs in the flea market! Which added to the other half-dozen Supraphon reissues I got a few months ago which I haven't yet unwrapped.)
 

Strine

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"Sunrise". You think Richard Strauss, Grieg and Beethoven, perhaps Nielsen (Helios Overture), Britten (Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes), and D'Indy (Jour d'été à la montagne) too.
For sunrises, I think of the Lever du Jour from Daphnis and Chloe, and although it's not explicitly a sunrise, the end of Gurrelieder (Sieht die Sonne).

I did like the eerie sunrise though. It was reminiscent of the opening of Mahler 1; evoking the impersonal, unsentimental hugeness of the natural world. The Rats is a great section; the crowing of the oboe reed is an underutilised sound effect that I'm always pleased to hear. This is definitely a large orchestra though; it's not a Strauss-sized one, but five percussionists, and five horns (with bell raises) are staggeringly heavy scoring decisions in a flute concerto.

The physical acting by the soloist would definitely create interest for the kids, too. I think as a piece for the young, though, there is a concision problem. It's not that it necessarily doesn't justify its length, it's just the narrative development is quite explicit and articulated, instead of symbolic and elliptical. None of the sections in Peter and the Wolf are more than a few minutes long, and they're quite heavily contrasted and broken up by narration. I would also have loved some alto flute by the soloist: I can't think of a more haunting instrument, and it would have suited this perfectly, but obviously that's just my personal taste. It seems conspicuously absent considering the varied and deft orchestration. Then again, it has very bad problems with projection, and in a big orchestra you'd struggle.

What I like most of all is the treatment of the flute. Flute has a great deal of repertoire, which is nice, if you're a flautist. But in American writing it's typecast very often as an eyelash-fluttering molto vibrato sugar stick. Seeing an earthy, evocative use of it like this is refreshing, and I frankly think it suits it more than Romantic-style expressive writing.
 

Positron

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Daniel Varsano's playing Satie's "Gnossienne #1" leads me on an autistic adventure of version comparison:


Listening to this I exclaimed, "Hey what the fuck are you doing with those fortissimos! Why do so many young pianists bang on the keyboard? Terrible: how come Sony reissue this so many times?" So when I look for reviews, I was quite surprised to see Varsano's Satie to be quite highly regarded. I don't have that much Satie in my collection; I have loads of Ravel and Debussy but I really don't have that much Satie. My go-to version has always been Ciccolini's digital cycle. And guess what? He also bangs; I just somehow never noticed it!

Turning to the much-maligned traversal by Reinbert de Leeuw. People rightly find his slow speed problematic, but he doesn't bang:
Though compared with the "bangers", this sounds positively elevator music.

Bill Quist's version was the one I grew up with. Listening to it after all these years, the quick tempo sounds almost comical. The speed has the benefit of keeping the melodic line taut, but the lack of timbal variety makes his version uninteresting.

Pascal Rogé -- I actually had the pleasure of listening to him play this music in concert -- does most thing right. Isn't that half-veiled piano tone fabulous? Yet, this time, what disturbes me is his pianissmo (1:45)!

Jean-Yves Thibaudet's cycle was met with a lukewarm reception. I'd say it is middle-of-the-road, more reticent than Rogé or Ciccolini, but the sonority is quite beautiful.

So what should I make of Varsano at the end? Well, when I take the disc for another spin, I'm stuck by the beautiful sonority and an almost Bach-like stateliness in his playing. Makes me wonder what would this music sound like under Angela Hewitt. So this disc is a keeper after all, but I think I'll always skip "Gnossienne #1".
 
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Positron

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From Russia with love. For July 4th this year I bring you Shostakovich's setting of "When Johnny Comes Marching Home", from his Eight British and American Folk Songs of 1944. The bass soloist is Segei Yakovenko. This is taken from Gennady Rozhdestvensky's 14-CD Shostakovich box, which apart from the complete symphonies is packed full with rarely-recorded stuff like this.

 

Positron

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Just unwrapped a 2-CD set of songs by the 19/20 century English composer Roger Quilter, sung by baritone Mark Stone and accompanied by pianist Stephen Barlow. I'm very impressed by Stone's voice: strong, lyrical, responsive to the text and with impeccably clear diction. Here is Quilter's setting of Shakesperes's "Come Away Death".


A multitude of composers have set this verse to music; indeed mezzo-soprano has built a CD program on it. Quilter's is neither the most impressive nor the most famous, but when sung by Stone, with natural, unforced pathos, it is very affecting. My favorite song in this 2-CD set is another death-related song: "Autumn Evening", with the poem of Arthur Macquarie. Here Stone uses a slightly more overtly emotional tone to great effect. Unfortunately his version is not on Youtube, so here's another interpretation:


The 2-CD set was released by Sony BMG, in a sumptuous, William Morris-inspired package. There was to be another volume of 2 CDs, but in the end the accounting department got in the way. No matter, Mark Stone set up his own record label to record and release the sequels.
 

Dolphin Lundgren

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People call them new age, but I love Secret Garden. Their music is calming and takes me to another place when I listen to them.


It's also good to play while I'm writing.
 

cuÞbert

kiwifarms.net
Orchestral would be my favorite genre of music, especially Baroque and early Classical. Can't stand Modernist classical music outside of a few exceptions like Orff and some Gershwin (stresses me out too much and isn't pleasant to listen to). Thank goodness contemporary music is an improvement.

April is in my Mistress' Face by Thomas Morley ( 1594 )

Dances from Terpsichore by Michael Praetorius ( 1612 )

Le Triomphe De L'Amour by Jean-Baptiste Lully ( 1681 )

Sheep May Safely Graze by JS Bach ( 1713 )

Nimrod from Enigma Variations by Edward Elgar ( 1898-1899 )

from Carmina Burana by Carl Orff ( 1937 )

Jazz Waltz Suite #2 by Dmitri Shostakovich ( 1938 )
 

Positron

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I don't realize Marc-Andre Hamelin has a Fazioli at home. Truly an instrument for the royalty.
 

Positron

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Ondine is offering free album download (Until 17 Sept 2020) if you join their mailing list. They don't include the booklet in pdf.
ODE1270-2.jpg

I'm not familiar with this composer or his music. First impression reminds me of a bigger-scale Grieg, very tuneful and folksy, but with rather more perfumed orchestration as might be expected from the first decades of the 20-th century.
 

Strine

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I don't realize Marc-Andre Hamelin has a Fazioli at home. Truly an instrument for the royalty.
Hamelin might be a Canuck, but no greater interpreter of the (Australian) Percy Grainger exists. I'm not a big piano person, but I go back to his Grainger time and time again: he just "gets" the idiom of the music, and also manages maximalism without becoming grotesque (very difficult!).

I come bearing weird music: here's a tune written by Anne Boleyn rendered on a (very coldly played) Celtic harp and a bassoon entirely in its contratenor register. The effect is arresting:

With respect to Satie fortissimi, I'm going to powerlevel here as a C20th-French-music nerd and say that Satie was "alternative": he had an absurdist, kind of proto-Dadaist vibe to him that isn't readily apparent because it's dwarfed by the decadent "Impressionist" stylings of Debussy, whose planing 5ths and impersonal aesthetics made Satie look comparatively conservative. Besides, flashy, dramatic playing was more common in the Germanophile sturm-und-drang late c19th French scene; if you think of the surprising testosterone in Saint-Saëns' 3rd you'll know what I mean. It wasn't really until Debussy hit the scene that the French style began to define itself with that style of mannered beauty that climaxed with Ravel (but which was later dismantled with Les Six, especially Milhaud [although his buddy Poulenc kind of did it as an affectation]). Ironically, it wasn't until French music became decadent and liberal that the playing became delicate and conservative.
 
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Positron

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Hmm I can't quite place the type of harp he uses and I consider myself quite knowledgeable about Celtic harps.

Talking about Celtic harps makes me think about Francesco Germiniani, who during his visit to Ireland must have met the legendary harper Turlough O'Carolan.
 

alreadyhome

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These are my favorite movements from different symphonies in Boyce's "8 Symphonies," all of which are among the most beautiful pieces I've ever heard. William Boyce is not well known for some reason.
This one is so beautiful it pains me lol
 

Positron

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These are my favorite movements from different symphonies in Boyce's "8 Symphonies," all of which are among the most beautiful pieces I've ever heard. William Boyce is not well known for some reason.
Boyce's symphonies are frequently recorded, but his non-symphonic music, such as the anthems, deserve more attention:

 

Strine

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As long as we're posting Baroque oboe concertos...
This middle movement is pretty spectacular.
 
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Positron

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There aren't many calling cards for concert guitarists; Rodrigo's three concertos, Giuliani's first, and perhaps Castelnuovo-Tedesco's first. I've just discovered the Concerto in A minor by the Spanish composer Salvador Bacarisse, written for the ten-stringed guitar developed by Narciso Yepes. It is not exactly a neglected masterpiece; It is much less melodic or demonstrative than Rodrigo, and I doubt it will make a strong impression in the concert hall. But the middle slow movement "Romanza" is quite pretty:


Many Youtubers have submitted the "Romanza" on its own rather than the whole concerto, so I presume they agree with me.
 
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