Tuesday, 19 November 2019

Study Music - November 20

I once heard a radio presenter say she suspected Dmitri Shostakovich always had his tongue firmly planted in his cheek when composing. I was gobsmacked. I can think of no other composer capable of presenting such unrelenting pain, anger and suffering than Shostakovich. That can make him hard to listen to at times, I don't listen to his string quartets regularly, but it also makes for some amazing music.

His second piano trio is one of my favourite pieces. It delivers pain absolutely, there is great sorrow in it, especially in the haunting violin refrain in the opening and closing movements, but it is always moving. Some of the string quartets become whirlpools of sadness that drag you into the dark, this piano trio gives you no time for such morbidity. It is more like a cold river, pulling you on, sometimes slower sometimes faster, even bouncing you over rapids, but always forwards. It is not a happy river, but it is beautiful.

I discovered it years ago on an old Naxos album, but I was very excited today when I found it's included in the Seraphim Trio's monumental new release Trio Through Time on the ABC Classic label. Their playing is superb, lending just the right amount of energy to each phase of the river with the crystal clarity of clear, flowing water - hats off to the sound engineer as well. I look forward to listening to more of this extensive recording.

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Study Music 17 October

Through a range of links I clicked on Spotify to follow random curiosities I landed on an album of music for clarinet performed by Evgeni Petrov. Before getting to the music, I have to say it was not his album alone; every piece features Tatiana Tarasevich on piano. I know there's a view that the piano part is "accompaniment" but the works do not work without it. I've seen albums that acknowledge the "accompanist" on the cover and frame them as duos, and I think that is a more accurate representation than this -

The album was bookended by Bizet's Carmen, which sounds strange but really isn't. The first piece is Fantasie Brilliant on the themes of the opera Carmen by Bizet, a long title, and was arranged by Francois Borne. It's a lovely trip through all the themes, as it says, and reminds me of Liszt rewriting whole operas and symphonies for solo piano concert pieces. At the other end is Alexander Rosenblatt's version with the slightly shorter title Fantasie on the themes from the opera Carmen by Bizet. It's short and livelier too and a great way to round off the album.

Camille Saint-Saens' clarinet sonata is the meat in the sandwich. I don't know that it's going to become a favourite of mine but it does demonstrate the highs and lows of the clarinet as it goes through most, if not all, of its register. The slow movement didn't quite do it for me, but the two allegros were fun.

As condiments there were also some other pieces. Debussy's Premiere rhaspsodie which was indeed rhapsodic and a good listen; and Ravel's Pavane pour une infante defunte, arranged by Petrov himself it was still a ho-hum number for me, it's either too maudlin or just lack-lustre in my mind, although I think there are some exceptional performances of it about. Maybe it's just the typical translation of the title that puts me off: Pavane for a Dead Infant.

A final dash of spice came in the form of a miniature by Alexander Ilyinsky called Butterfly. It does indeed float and flap and dance along and, together with Rosenblatt's Carmen fantasy, was the real highlights of what is a solid, nice album, if not a humdinger.

Tuesday, 8 October 2019

Study Music 9 October

Apologies for not posting for a couple of months, I'm sure you've all missed me :)

Today I decided I wanted to listen to Ferde Grofe's Grand Canyon Suite. I didn't realise how many recordings there are of it but I went for the one I know and own the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra's 1999 album under the baton of William Stromberg. This album also includes the Mississippi and Niagra Falls suites.

Grofe's suites are a collection of orchestral pictures or musical postcards from each place. The music is highly evocative and uses unusual instrumentation to capture the listener's imagination. There are butterflies dancing to the rising sun in the first movement of the Grand Canyon suite. The third movement is my favourite, On the Trail, and you can clearly hear and see the donkey clomping along, taking its own sweet time and generally enjoying life.

Perhaps the most dramatic image is, understandably, The Power of Niagra, which brings that suite and this album to a close. The music is powerful and loud, featuring almost discordant alarm sirens. The beauty of nature brings a force to bear we must be wary of or we'll be swept away.

I followed this with Grofe's Piano Concerto, which I'd never heard before, performed by Jesus Maria Sanroma and the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra and conducted by Grofe himself. In parts it is a typical early 20th century Romantic piano concerto with the sweeping sweetness of Rachmaninoff's second, but against that it has the competing melodies Grofe employs. I found these distracting and I'm a bit over the polished grandeur of late Romantic concertos, so while I found it nice, it's not a piece I'll be returning to.

Wednesday, 31 July 2019

Study Music 31 July

On a recommendation from the Shadow Sister*, I looked up Vasily Kalinnikov on Spotify. The name rang a vague bell which I managed to trace in my mind to a free sample track I received a few years back from Naxos. I recalled it was from a symphony so I wanted to find it. As it turns out, most of the albums of Kalinnikov, on Spotify at least, are of his first two symphonies. Unsure which to choose I went with the most recent, a 2011 recording by the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Kees Bakels.

From the opening few bars I knew I was in for something special. The opening movement of Symphony No 1 is amazing, drama-galore in the best late Romantic/Russian style. It sweeps you up and leaves you wanting more, then you're given an andante second movement which does not disappoint, swoon-worthy without being overly slow or saccharine. The third movement regains the momentum, but ends awkwardly, it was the only downside to the whole piece. I'll have to listen to some of the other versions to see if it's a tricky bit in the score or just a weird bit in the score. Either way, the moment of "what was that?" is very brief as the fourth movement launches you back into the world of the first, giving the symphony a lovely circular structure. I already have a lot of favourite symphonies and now I have another one.

The second symphony is really good too but didn't catch me up the way the first one did. I'm sure Kalinnikov wrote more, I shall have to find it. Thank you Shadow Sister :)

* So named because she's my sister and she represents shadows the way I do the Giant Squid, which I suppose makes me the Squid Brother but that's not so catchy - the Krakenite Sibling perhaps, yes that has a ring to it.

Tuesday, 23 July 2019

Study Music 24 July

Speaking yesterday of people who deserve more recognition, today I decided to listen to Louise Farrenc who is becoming one of my firm favourite composers. She was a French pianist and composer in the 19th century and had a good reputation in her lifetime, mostly for piano works. I love her larger works though. Her symphonies are grand and so is her chamber music. Today I went with her Piano Quintets No 1 and 2 performed by Quintetto Bottesini. Her mastery and love of the piano is clear, it dances around and drives the rest of the instruments along beautifully. The others are not forgotten however and all have their moments to shine.

The Romantic period is probably my favourite, and this music captures its very essence, on the brighter side. It is optimistic and dramatic, bubbly without being airy, strong but not demanding. Farrenc's music is full of energy and I encourage everyone to listen to it more often.

Study Music 23 July

Deciding somewhat at random, I started this week's study music with a set of Orchestral Suites by J.F. Fasch, a German composer from the Baroque period, performed by Capella Savaria under the baton of Pal Nemeth. It's a 1999 recording you can find on Spotify. I can't fault the music, it was pleasant and well played, but it didn't really stand out either. One Air was delightful and there was a fun Gavotte but generally I found it a good album of background music - ideal for studying really.

Following that I had a look at the "Fans also like" page on Fasch's Spotify and selected Alessandro Marcello who I know of because of his famous Oboe Concerto in D minor. The adagio from that is one of the constants on classical music compilations, you may not realise you know it, but you probably do. So I wanted to hear something else of his. Being Spotify, there were limited options, seriously, don't ever think it has everything, but there were several recordings of his 'La Cetra' concertos so I decided to listen to one of them. They're a set of six violin concertos so I chose the recording that added another violin concerto on the end instead of the famous oboe one.

It's an older recording, 1995, with Simon Standage as soloist and director of the Collegium Musicum 90. Again, there was little to distinguish any of the concertos from each other - fair enough in a set - however, the music overall was lively and sparkling. I think Marcello deserves a bit more recognition, but then, so do a lot of people.

So today was a Baroque heading to Classical kind of day, no major stand-outs but plenty of good music.

Sunday, 2 June 2019

Study Music 27 May

I caught a bit of a symphony by Franz Berwald on the radio last week and decided to listen to some in full, so I started this week's listening with a 2013 recording of his third and fourth symphonies performed by the Berliner Philharmoniker conducted by Igor Markevitch. The fourth is first on the album, it's known as the Sinfonie naive, and is a joyous piece that felt like some mix of classical and romantic, which makes sense since that's when he was writing. The third, the Sinfonie singuliere, is a more dramatic work but just as good. Berwald makes full use of the orchestra, with blazing brass rising above the strings at times and the woodwind working away to build the glorious sound. He also goes against expectation, having phrases build then denying the typical climax, to put the listener back into the depths of the music again before lifting them back to the heights.