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Monday, October 29, 2012

Mark Vigil, The Palest Rose

Surprises come in all sorts of ways. Today's came in the mail. The cover makes it seem like a new age album. It isn't. I am speaking of Oregon composer Mark Vigil's The Palest Rose (Ravello 7847). It's a compendium of his music for chamber aggregates and a couple for Gamelan orchestra.

I suppose you could say there's some of the impressionist in his music. There's a brightness, a lyricism, a refracted quality. It's mostly diatonic-modal, a music of tranquility yet not without vigor, quite accessible. There are three works for solo piano, the two "Fantasies for Solo Piano" have more adventurous harmonic-melodic content, a sort of modernism, than much of the other music on this disk. There are two "Trios for Flute, Viola and Harp," and a "Trio for Violin, Clarinet and Harp," all quite ravishing in a straightforward way.

The two Gamelan pieces have a Javanese sound to them. "Elizabeth" adds a woman's chorus that gives the work a more "east meets west" quality.

It's all very fetching music, skillfully crafted with an ear toward expressive simplicity, yet artful, like a Whitman's Sampler box. There are many that will find in this music a consolation for some rough days, with the touch of a genuinely talented composer. Relax and listen.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Tan Dun, Concerto for Orchestra

There is something about the work of Chinese-American composer Tan Dun. If you become familiar with one or more of his works, then hear a new one, you tend to recognize the style, and it's not that of anybody else. There is gift for orchestration. Brilliant. And sound color. There is often a traditional Chinese influence, yes, but also of the world, India, Asia in general, but truly the world. There is almost a ritual quality to his music. The listening to it a kind of rite. It's his use of space, almost ceremonial. The horizontal quality of the development. Like a turtle? Yes, except no, not that the music is especially slow to get someplace. It is the way he gets there, deliberate, movements, stops, a side turn, a pause, then movement forward again, like a turtle. And the music is always about something--about the sound, about the imagery it may evoke.

These are the thoughts I have listening to his new Naxos disk, Tan Dun conducting his Concerto for Orchestra (2012) (Naxos 8.570608) along with his "Symphonic Poem on Three Notes" (2012) and "Orchestral Theatre" (1990). The Hong Kong Philharmonic is well rehearsed and extremely sympatico with this music. These are state-of-the-art performances, certainly. And the music?

All of it stands out. There is excellent use of percussion color and a masterfully original brilliance to the orchestral presence. The music embraces often some non-Western, non-classical phrasings and tonal modes, along with a very original take on modernity. The sonic and harmonic-melodic advances in music syntax made in the past 100 years are not abandoned, nor are they simply aped. Instead they are transformed according to the inner voices of the muses that Tan Dun undoubtedly hears.

So on the "Symphonic Poems on Three Notes" we get all kinds of inventive twists and turns on a very simple three note motif. "Orchestral Theatre" is very dramatic and ritual-like, yet quite exceptional in its use of the orchestral palette.

The "Concerto for Orchestra" is in four movements, and in virtuostic fashion creates four vivid sound paintings, in Tan Duns words, a creation of his own personal "orchestra of the future" which directly engages roots as it expands outward into future horizons. The music is based in part on Tan Dun's opera Marco Polo, and manages to evoke skillfully and engagingly a journey to hitherto unknown lands in geographical and personal-experiential terms. . . the timeless markets of the East, desert India, China's Forbidden City.

In the end we have some exceptional orchestral music, brilliantly performed. Tan Dun is a marvel. He shows himself, his music well to us on this enchanted disk. Hear this one, by all means!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Paul Juon, Piano Quintet, Piano Sextet

Take a very competent composer who is also very eclectic, change one of his music parameters, and the results can be disarmingly original. That is the case with Paul Juon (1872-1940), at least with his Piano Sextet/Piano Quintet (CPO 777 507-2) in a recent recording by the Carmina Quartet and guests.

Born of German extraction, Juon grew up in Russia, showed early-on a talent for music, attended in due course the conservatory in Moscow, studying with among others Arensky, became a full professor at the Berlin College of Music some time after 1905, spent some time in prison camps during the first world war, and died in 1940 after an early retirement. Those are the biographical basics. During much of this time he composed, of course, and it is with that we are concerned today.

To return to the initial thought, Paul Juan's Piano Sextet, op. 22 and his Quintet, op. 44 are in many ways quite reminiscent of Brahm's chamber works: lushly harmonized, richly thematic, thickly scored, romantically impassioned. There is a touch now and then of a Russian flavor, especially in the themes that have a dance-like quality and are in a minor mode. If that's all there was to his music, he would be a competent, solidly craftsman-like romantic of his era, and that would be that.

But there is that important parameter alluded to above. In both these works Juon uses meter in unconventional ways. Odd meters and shifting meters are used a good deal in these works. When coupled with the sometimes stately, sometimes dance-like nature of his themes, the results are quite interesting.

The use of meters makes for a decisively novel effect upon the listener. This may be highly eclectic music in many ways, but it comes across as a music of difference.

Does that mean that Paul Juon is a forgotten master, worthy of placement on a pedestal, destined to be enshrined with the past great maters of music composition? No. Not on the basis of these compositions anyway. But with the energetic, enthusiastic treatment of the Carmina Quartet and guests Thomas Grossenbacher (cello) and Oliver Triendl (piano), we can while away 71 minutes now and then, listening to two works that manage to give pleasure and fill ones ears with music of an unusual, worthwhile sort.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

John Cage, Journeys in Sound, A Film By Allan Miller and Paul Smaczny, DVD

No artist is comprehensible in one dimension. In the case of composer John Cage this is especially so. Composer, musician, wordsmith, poet, musical philosopher, Zen Buddhist, collector of mushrooms. He has had an enormous impact on the concert music scene both during his lifetime and in the years following his death.

In celebration of Cage's 100th birthday year Accentus Music has released on DVD John Cage: Journeys in Sound (Accentus 20246), a film by Allan Miller and Paul Smaczny. It runs about an hour and is well supplemented by another 40 minutes of concert footage of 4'33'', Water Music, a Constructions percussion work, and a Sonata for Prepared Piano.

The film wisely does not attempt to be comprehensive but instead covers illustrative vignettes on his life experience, philosophy and music through interviews with Cage, his friends and associates, musicologists, fellow composers, musicians, along with excerpts from musical performances and miscellaneous archive footage.

A true-to-life picture emerges of the man and his music, the importance of chance and sheer sound to his compositions, his openess to the unexplored and his brilliant creativity, his huge impact on contemporary aesthetics and his controversial status even today.

It does all this with artistry and grace. It is a most fitting and sympathetic tribute to the man who changed the face of music in the last century.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

John Cage, Indeterminacy, Susanne Kessel

The original recording of John Cage's Indeterminacy came out as a two LP set on Folkways some time, I believe, in the late '50s. The piece, then and now, centers around a series of short, mostly autobiographical texts penned by Cage (and for that recording recited by him) describing his music, incidents in everyday life and Zen moments of one kind or another. It was performed simultaneously with "Solo for Piano" (1958), the solo part from his "Concerto for Piano and Orchestra" and his electronic work "Fontana Mix" (1958). David Tudor played the piano part for the recording.

Pianist Susanne Kessel and recitator Joachim Krol have created a new version of the work (Oehm Classics OC 855) as part of the celebration of John Cage's 100th birth year. The individual text vignettes have been translated into German by Martin Erdmann and Krol reads from them in an order dictated by chance.

Susanne Kessel realizes the piano part with imagination and sensitivity. The part itself calls for a good bit of musical decision-making on the part of the performer and Kessel creates a version that is stylistically exploratory and timbrally diverse, via playing conventionally and inside the piano in various ways. Both the piano part and the electronic score are present in the audio mix at various times according to a chance operation set in motion by Susanne Kessel.

In the end there are various moments in the performance where the recitation (in German) proceeds by itself, where it is joined by parts from either "Solo for Piano" or "Fontana Mix," or in some cases both.

The piano part is angular and abstract as is the electro-acoustical sound piece. They weave in and out of the recording against a constant wave of recitation.

I have become quite familiar with the original recording. This version rivals the original in every way. The piano realization is different enough, and entrance and exits of both it and "Fontana Mix" vary with the recitation as to make it a new variant of the work, and of course the text, well-performed in German by actor Joachim Krol, gives the aural experience a different dimension.

Those familiar with German will get all the gentle humor and irony contained in Cage's text. Those who are not will experience it as a third part of the abstract sound event.

In the end Indeterminacy well represents Cage's middle period, where he first confronts composing and performing according to the dictates of chance operations. It is not perhaps in the ranks of Cage's most essential works. The performance at hand has the advantage of a state-of-the-art digital sonic staging over the original recording. Susan Kessel's realization of the piano part is excellent, and certainly rivals that of David Tudor's.

After all these years, this is a work that is still as avant garde as it is stubbornly wayward. It still no doubt may perplex, frustrate, even anger unprepared listeners. But for those initiated into the Cagean philosophy and manner of presentation, it remains a piece to fascinate and intrigue.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Leo Ornstein, Piano Music Volume One

There were a handful of composers who at the turn of the century or so pushed late romantic piano music off the deep end through an extreme, edgy chromaticism, augmented-diminished intervals, fourths, and a music that touched the limits of tonality and went beyond. There was Scriabin, the Ives of the "Concord Sonata," Sorabji, Prokofiev, and there was Leo Ornstein. Funny thing about the latter though, is that he managed to live 109 years, passing away only in 2002, and was actively composing up until 1980! He lived to see modernism triumphant, and an era that followed where the time was ripe for his revival.

There were his years as the avant composer in the limelight, mostly the '20s, then the many years of relative obscurity, through to the day before yesterday. And here we are today of course, in a good position to hear his music again, to appreciate it anew.

Pianist Arsentiy Kharitonov and Toccata Classics look as if they are going to redress the years of relative neglect in a series of recordings dedicated to his work. We have the first installment, Piano Music, Volume One (Toccata Classics 0141).

Three of the works presented here are first recordings: the "Four Impromptus," s300A (1950s-76), "In the Country" s63 (1924) and "Cossack Impressions" s55 (c. 1912). There is also his "Piano Sonata No. 4," s360 (c.1918).

Not all of this is the "bad boy" modernism for which he became most known. All of it has an impressive pianism, a tempestuous quality, a conception of the piano as an orchestra unto itself and a heroic virtuosity. His Russian roots show through brightly as well.

There are some breathtaking moments and a consistently high level of musicianship on the first volume, thanks to Ornstein's brilliance and the very appropriate pianistic fireworks of Arsentiy Kharitonov. A great start! Bravo!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Harvey Sollberger, Spillville & Gilead, Red Cedar Chamber Music

Harvey Sollberger came out of Columbia with an MA in the heady days when New Music was as au courant as the space race. He co-founded the acclaimed Group for Contemporary Music with Charles Wuorinen and recorded prolifically with them. He went on to direct the La Jolla Symphony for many years. His time spent as conductor, flautist and teacher left a little room for work as a composer. His earlier works came out on CRI and I remember liking them, but I have not heard anything of his recent music. That is until now.

There's a new release by Red Cedar Chamber Music (58016) of two of Sollberger's recent works that's getting my attention. Spillville & Gilead present two somewhat lengthy chamber compositions that celebrate his love of the Midwest, "Spillville" (2006) for flute, viola and guitar, and "Perhaps Gilead" (2010) for flute, guitar, and string quartet.

The two pieces relate well to each other, both in subject matter and sonance, and are well played by the Red Cedar musicians. Both present a kind of Americana pastoralism, with reworkings of folk dance and traditional fiddle tune sounds coming into the musical picture at important points.

It's music that addresses elemental intervalic relationships, modalities and homespun melodic material in very effective ways. This Sollberger manages to do without sounding like Aaron Copland, which of course is who one first thinks of with music of this sort.

More modern tonalities weave their way in and out of "Perhaps Gilead," less so for "Spillville," but most importantly all elements come together in these compositions as an organic whole, in ways that leave a distinct impression.

This is music of high local color with a singleness of intent that shows originality and great evocative power. The two works stand together as very agreeable examples of a thoroughgoing post-modernism that Charles Ives would certainly recognize and appreciate. I think you will too.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Paul Lewis, Schubert, Works for Piano, Vol. 2

When Paul Lewis played the concluding notes to this project, a collection of the significant later Schubert piano works, he must have known that he had nailed it. Because in the second, concluding installment, Schubert, Works for Piano, Vol.2 (Harmonia Mundi), that is exactly what he has done.

It's a phenomenal performance, with Maestro Lewis driving down to the core, the essence of these pieces, in a series of penetrating interpretations, some of the best ever. His abundant technique enables him to take some pieces at a rollicking clip, tackling the rapid passagework when it comes with an exciting exuberance, and always with the joy of bringing out the special quality of each piece, with deep understanding of and affection for the music.

That's the impression I got listening to these fine performances. It's some of Schubert's most compelling piano music: including the Wandererfantasie, 4 Impromptus D.935, Sonata no.16, and the 6 Moments Musicaux Op.94.

This is landmark Schubert pianism. Lewis triumphs with the passion and insight of a poet. These are performances to stir the senses and warm the heart. Schubert himself would be proud, I think. Can you tell I like this one?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Paradigms: New Sounds for the Modern Orchestra

We live in a time in the arts that cannot yet be captured by one word. It is most certainly "the period after" what came before, but what is that? It is only to say that it is today, not yesterday. Is that necessarily a bad thing? In the field of new music one thing positive about it is that there is no "cultural police" dictating what one must create, no special "out" or "in" group. Oh I suppose you could single out loosely grouped coteries with certain stylistic affinities: high modernists, post-modernists, minimalists, those that create music that could be termed neo-early, neo-classical, or neo-romantic, and of course the avant garde lives on, and so forth, but no one group dominates. What it means to the listener is that there is a wide variety of styles in play in the music being created right now. That's probably healthy and it certainly gives the music lover much to choose from.

With that in mind we look at the new anthology Paradigms: New Sounds for the Modern Orchestra (Navona 5880). Here we have six recent compositions, convincingly played by the Slovak Radio Symphony under Robert Black, and the Moravian Philharmonic under Petr Vronsky, respectively.

There are composers attached to these works that you might not have heard of: Warren Gooch, Rain Worthington, Howard Quilling, Allen Brings, Paula Diehl, and Joseph Koykkar. Yet they are a talented bunch, each providing a work that shows mastery of craft and creative spark.

If you were to try and label the music, it is primarily post- and neo- with some shades of modernism thrown in for good measure. All of the works make convincing statements, make good use of the orchestra as an instrument of color and contrast, and sound contemporary.

The musical as a whole typifies an aspect of the contemporary orchestral scene and does it with some very good, very listenable new music.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Valentin Silvestrov, Sacred Songs

Sacred Songs (ECM New Series B0017359-02) looks at Ukranian composer Valentin Silvestrov's very original choral work while celebrating his 75th birthday year.

It is music that retains something of the sonic world of Russian Orthodox liturgical chant but remakes it all for today with pedal tone suspensions underpinning elaborate, sequential melody lines that have a decidedly modern harmonic-mystical tang to them.

The music unfolds with an internal logical and yet explores sacred ambiances with a kind of passion that nods to tradition while making brilliant use of contemporary melodic-harmonic possibilities in a directly communicating way.

Like Arvo Part, Silvestrov references early music without hearkening back to it, creating in the process his own unmistakably original, engaging music.

The Kiev Chamber Choir under Mykola Hobdych sound angelic. The reverberant cathedral space that serves as the setting for the recording adds atmosphere and sets off the aurally striking music perfectly. A ravishing recording!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Barber: An American Romantic, Conpirare and Craig Hella Johnson

Romanticism in music never had just one form. Beethoven was very different from Schubert. Both were different from Franck. So to call Samuel Barber a romantic is not to say that he was a member of a one-dimensional stylistic coterie. His romanticism was not of the giganticist sort--no thousand member orchestras, no three hour operas. He thought in rather modest ways, with more or less modest resources. And his music was very much his own.

And that wholly original quality is most evident in the new collection of choral works at hand, Barber: An American Romantic (Harmonia Mundi) by Conspirare, directed by Craig Hella Johnson.

This is a wonderfully performed anthology of works well known and lesser known, from the haunting "Agnus Dei" to two world premieres: a new version for chamber chorus and orchestra of Barber's "The Lovers" with poetry by Pablo Neruda, and a new version of "Easter Chorale," both reworked by Robert Kyr especially for Conspirare.

All reflect the very individual sensibility of Samuel Barber at his best--a singing lyricism, a tenderness at times and a singularity of line and overall sound, not lush, a bit more restrained in its passion, but empassioned nonetheless, expansive in compact ways, paradoxically.

Conspirare does a beautiful job with the scores. This is a full disk of masterful Barber, something one should not miss.

Friday, October 12, 2012

David Kechley, Colliding Objects

Composer David Kechley presents four chamber works spanning the period 1982-2011 on Colliding Objects (Innova 829). It's angular, pulsating contemporary music with percussion often an integral part of the proceedings. Saw and pine boards enter the mix in "Design and Construction: Trialogues for Trumpet, Saxophone and Percussion" but mostly it's the more conventional barrage of instruments at hand.

"Dancing" is the only all-percussion work, for four players and forty-four instruments. "Available Light" is the only percussion-less work. It centers around flute and harp. In middle ground are "Untimely Passages" for marimba and flugelhorn, and the title piece, for piano and percussion.

Throughout Kechley shows how infectious rhythm and straightforward melodic arches can make for music that is both contemporary and accessible. It's music that gets attention without sacrificing musical substance.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Mozart, La Finta Giardiniera, René Jacobs and Freiburger Barockorchester

Never underestimate Mozart juvenilia. Take the full-blown opera La Finta Giardiniera, written in his teens. I found a version of excerpts at a thrift store years ago. To begin with, it was a budget disk in all the bad senses. Undistinguished cast with undistinguished orchestra in an undistinguished recording. In a word, it was crummy. I listen dutifully. My impression was that the opera was...pretty crummy. For years I listened now and again, but couldn't shake the impression that it wasn't up to snuff.

René Jacobs and Freiburger Barockorchester have released a full version (Harmonia Mundi) that I have had the pleasure of hearing several times. What a difference! It's given the full period treatment, right down to an early pianoforte for the recitatives and a harpsichord for the arias and other numbers.

This is music that is fully worth our attention. It may not have the profound depths of Don Giovanni, but few operas do. It is fully charming, fully Italianate, a little like listening to early Rossini.

The cast and orchestra do a worthy job of it from start to finish. This is a version that will make you take the opera seriously. It is like finding a lost Mozart work! All Mozart opera buffs will love it, I expect. It is a joy to hear.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Maurice Steger, Una Follia di Napoli

If you were a music lover in Naples in 1725, you no doubt would have been privy to the tremendous buzz created by the visit of J.J. Quantz, then the best known flute virtuoso of his time. The visit spurred on the composers in town to produce a spate of concertos and sonatas for flute, which were preserved in a Napolian collection from that date.

Maurice Steger, wonder of the recorder, directs an eminently authentic and exciting ensemble in a series of lovely compositions from that collection in Una Follia di Napoli (Harmonia Mundi) which is out this month.

There are works by Alessandro Scarlatti, Domenico Scarlatti, Leonardo Leo, Francesco Mancini, Francesco Barbella, Nicola Fiorenza and Domenico Sarro, perhaps not all familiar to us today, but solid baroque craftsmen-artists all, writing music of great verve.

In the hands of Maurice Steger and his ensemble, there is a period authenticity and tremendous vitality to the music. Steger is a master and the ensemble is superb. This is baroque come alive with all the charm and energy it can exude. Bravo!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Yvonne Troxler, Brouhaha

If you want your music performed regularly and with care, it's never a bad idea to form your own ensemble. That's what Yvonne Troxler did in 2000. Glass Farm, as named, is still going strong and both the ensemble and her work are well represented on their second Innova disk Brouhaha (Innova 835).

The CD gathers together five of her recent chamber compositions: "Penn 1," "Shergotty," "Brouhaha," "Susurrus," "Kaleidoskop." All occupy modern territory with their own integrity. Most importantly, Ms. Troxler has traveled along her own path and found her own voice, in music that doesn't lack passion but seeks to explore sound and note parameters with originality. Classical high modernity lurks in the background as the trunk from which she branches, and the growth is strong and healthy, so to speak (pardon the mixing of metaphors). I especially like the agitated excitement of "Kaleidoskop" and its well thought-out interplay between voices.

Troxler shows eloquence, memorability and inspired craftsmanship in this round of chamber works. Glass Farm is a superior performance vehicle that excels in realizing the music. That's a terrific combination and this album brings lots of pleasure!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Andrew Violette, Sonatas for Cello and Clarinet

Andrew Violette didn't make a pact with the devil before he produced his Sonatas for Cello and Clarinet (2011) (Innova 832), but he may have engaged in some extra-spiritual scrimmaging on the astral plane with Ives, Messiaen and Hindemith before he penned the sonatas.

It's not that he is imitating any of them. No. But his use of chromaticism, bi-tonality, atonality and juxtaposition of vernacular with avant garde elements owes something to the way they proceeded compositionally, all things considered.

That is not to take away from Andrew Violette's musical personality, which comes through with strength and originality on these pieces. It is only to suggest that he belongs in a lineage that has these three composers as forebears.

We get eight brief to relatively brief movements for the Sonata for Cello and Piano, played by Ben Capps on cello, one long movement for the Sonata for Clarinet and Piano, with Moran Katz on clarinet. The composer tackles the piano part on both sonatas. The performances are very lively and match the expressiveness of the music squarely and vividly. These are players at the top of their game, playing music that suits them well.

And the music is quite engaging. It is filled with a very individual quality, and has a presence and melodic dynamic that is unforgettable. Here we have two modern gems from a formidable composer of today. Those with contemporary ears, take heed!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Smetana, The Bartered Bride, Jiri Belohlavek, BBC Symphony

Like most kids of my generation, I first encountered Smetana through the Overture to The Bartered Bride. It seemed like exciting music to me and I eventually found my way to Ma vlast and the full operatic version of The Bartered Bride on an old Turnabout set. I still enjoy the music today and I perked up at getting the chance to hear a new version of the opera by Jiri Belohlavek and the BBC Orchestra (Harmonia Mundi).

It's a beautifully crafted version with orchestra, chorus and soloists in good form. The sound is excellent. It has great spirit. I haven't heard every version of the opera in recorded form, but this one seems all that it should be!

Now I wonder if the Overture is still a part of music appreciation classes for kids these days?

The set hits the States this Tuesday, October 9th. You can pre-order it at Amazon by copying the following URL and pasting into your browser:

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Aya Yoshida, Fantasy 1720: Bach Arranged and Completed by Thomas Meyer-Fiebig

Where Johann Sebastian Bach is concerned, it seems I can never quite get enough. No, I would not sit down and try and listen to all the cantatas back-to-back, but aside from that I am nearly insatiable.

For those of you like me who can't get enough Bach, we have Aya Yoshida at the organ, playing Fantasy 1720 (Zoho 201-207). It's a world premiere recording of two unaccompanied violin works arranged for organ, plus the completion of two excellent Bach organ fragments--by Thomas Meyer-Fiebig.

The result is convincingly Bachian. Aya Yoshida does a quite decent job with the music, the organ sounds resplendent and Meyer-Fiebig has done a marvelous service to Bach fanciers in reconstructing/re-composing the missing pieces and re-conceiving the solo violin parts for organ.

So we have more to appreciate. I suspect all Bach lovers will be happy that this recording has come about.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Paul Sperry, Open House, Song Cycles by Robert Beaser and William Bolcom

Two song cycles come our way on Open House (Innova 815), written by two American composers of stature, both with texts by contemporary poets, both sung by Paul Sperry.

Robert Beaser's "Songs from 'The Occasions' of Eugenio Montale" (1985) has an affinity with Samuel Barber's music, though it has its own original stamp. Nobel Laureate Montale's text deals poignantly with personal loss. The chamber group builds an enchanting edifice to support the tenor solo, and the result is vivid aural-imagery.

William Bolcom's "Open House" (1975) centers around seven poems by Theodore Roethke, with whom Bolcom took a class in his student years. Bolcom has an eclecticism all his own and in this case it comes out with tone painting of extraordinary depth. The Roethke poems express the experience of a life in poetic terms, and work well as the basis of the song cycle. And Bolcom is at his best.

In each case Paul Sperry is magnificent. Kenneth Klein conducts the New York Virtuosi (for the Beaser) with distinction; Dennis Russell Davies and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra provide definitive Bolcom.

This is excellent fare that will captivate anyone with an ear for modern music.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Viviana Sofronitsky, Franz Schubert, Wanderer Fantasy

Some of Schubert's most compelling solo piano compositions are represented on the disk at hand: the Wanderer Fantasia and the Impromptus opp. 90 & 142 (Avi-Music 8553250). Viviana Sofronitsky for this recording plays a contemporary copy of a piano made by Conrad Graf (1819), not unlike the one Schubert himself played.

The pianoforte of the era, as most know, sounded quite different than its modern counterpart. It had a more delicate sonority and the upper range of the instrument did not ring out as much because of the way it was made.

Since of course Schubert composed on such an instrument the way he balanced the voicings in the various ranges would have been effected by what sounded best to his ears on that instrument.

Hearing the music matched with the piano sound of the period, in Sofronitsky's sensitive and capable hands, is quite revealing. Upper range passages of thematic importance often get reinforced with octaves or are brought out by a less sonically dense accompaniment. Ornamental passage work in the upper range sounds less imposing than on a modern piano. And the balance of parts in all ranges somehow hangs together with a new clarity.

The music of course is beautiful. Ms. Sofronitsky gives us versions that sing out well within a different aural landscape. And the Graf sound puts it all in a new perspective.