WHAT’S IN A NAME?

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is download-2.jpg

WHAT’S IN A NAME? Says Shakespeare’s Romeo: ‘What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet’. Good idea for Romeo, but not for a website. So, I am changing the name of my website on Word Press, while retaining the same address (www.rafaelmusicnotes.com) From now on, I will post my on-line reviews and commentary as ALL ABOUT THE ARTS. The new name will let readers new and long term know that I will start covering news and offering reviews and commentary about theatre, dance and the arts in general. Thanks for your support!

A treasure of Catalan songs

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 32551-isai-jess-munoz-364x364-1.jpg

In the recently released Bridge Records CD Visca l’amor, Mexican-American tenor Isai Jess Muñoz joins Israeli-American pianist Oksana Glouchko in a recital of Catalan songs by Eduard Toldrà, Ricard Lamote de Grignon, Narcís Bonet, Frederic Mompou, Elisenda Fábregas, and Joan Comellas.

Comprising three dozen songs by six Catalan composers, the selections include many gems representing the post-Romantic lyricism of Toldrà, Lamote, Mompou and Comellas, all four of which belong to the generation born during the last decade of the 19th century. The more declamatory-dramatic style of Elisenda Fábregas (b. 1955) brings the CD to an impressive close with her Imitació del foc

Except for that of the younger Fábregas, the creative and personal lives of five of the six composers represented on the Bridge Records CD were in one way or another deeply affected by the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco, a tyrant who ruled over Spain between 1939 and 1975. During those 36 years Franco systematically repressed the Nationalist movements in both the Basque Country and Catalonia. As a result the work of many Catalonian composers and performing artists was ignored or worse, censored so that to this day many musical compositions by Catalan musicians sit unpublished in a sort of cultural limbo in private libraries and estates.

Fortunately, the golden-voiced tenor Isai Jess Muñoz has set out to unearth many of these neglected gems not only by performing them but by collecting them and making them available to his students at the University of Delaware. This is a labor of love worthy of praise which one cannot stint on: Isai Jess Muñoz is a singing artist of the highest caliber, one who bestows his supple lyric tenor voice on this music obtaining by virtue of impeccable vocalism, sensitive musicianship, and a fine way with words a first class performance of songs from an unjustly ignored segment of the art song literature. Pianist Oksana Glouchko contributes to the impressive results of this one of kind recital with her superb accompanying.

We look forward to hearing more future offerings from Muñoz and Glouchko.

Rafael de Acha http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.com

THE SONGS:

Eduard Toldrà (1895–1962) – La rosa als llavis

Si anéssis tan lluny…Mocador d’olor…I el seu esguard …I el vent deixava dintre la rosella…Seré a ta cambra amiga…Visca l’amor

Ricard Lamote de Grignon I Ribas (1899–1962) – Cants Homèrics

A les Muses i a Apol…A Zeus…A Afrodita

Narcís Bonet (b. 1933) – Haidé

Com una flor …Ves qui t’ho havia de dir…Jo porto el teu pensament

Frederic Mompou Dencausse (1893–1987) – Combat del Somni

Damunt De Tu Només Les Flors…Aquesta Nit Un Mateix Vent…Jo Et Pressentia Com La Mar

Elisenda Fábregas (b. 1955) – Imitació del foc

Inici de campana…Escolto la secreta…Pluja brodada…Ardent hymne

Joan Comellas (1913–2000) – Les Paraules Sagrades

Four English Modernists

Earlier today I sat down to listen for the first time to Benjamin Britten’s Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge, Op. 10. Written in 1937 when the composer was 24 years old, this surprisingly mature work pays tribute to Frank Bridge, mentor to the younger composer. Scored for string orchestra, the music is playful and begs to be danced to, which it got to be after its Salzburg Festival premiere, having been choreographed most recently by Twyla Tharp and long before her by Frederick Ashton.

The principal theme is subtly stated once. Each of the ten variations that follow have a character of their own, which sometimes in the style of another composer portray in musical terms an aspect of the character of Britten’s beloved teacher:  his integrity, his energy, his charm, his sense of humor, his traditional values, his enthusiasm, his vitality, his sympathy, his respectfulness, his musical skills, and, in the final fugue, the loving relationship between pupil and esteemed mentor-teacher.

Britten makes superb use of the strings, writing with amazing maturity and gleeful humor, utilizing a couple of dance forms: a tongue-in-cheek Viennese waltz and a Bourrée, later contrasted with an aria, a march, and even a chant.

Lennox Berkeley composed his Serenade for Strings around the same time as Britten wrote his Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge. The music of this brief, four movement work is essentially lyrical, elegant, quintessentially English, ending after the first three of its four movements in an elegiac Lento that signals a radical change of mood. His having resided in the Paris of the  late 1920’s inevitably must have influenced Berkeley whose music owes much to the influence of Poulenc in its fluctuation from the giddy to the solemn in tone.

Frank Bridge’s heartfelt Lament is, as the other works in this CD a brief and interesting composition, predating stylistically and chronologically those of the other composers featured in English Music for Strings.

Arthur Bliss wrote Music for Strings, a colorful, vigorous composition that earned him wide recognition. At first a modernist influenced by Les Six, among others, Bliss found his place as a gifted traditionalist, one markedly different to that of his younger colleagues represented on this CD. He served in the Great War, wrote film music, operas, ballets and chamber music in which he gave voice to the emotions elicited by his terrible experiences in the British Army. The longest of the works on this CHANDOS CD, this composition attests to the musical gifts of this unfairly underestimated artist.    

John Wilson leads the invaluable Sinfonia of London throughout the CD’s 19 tracks summoning rapturous playing from his all-string orchestral forces.

Rafael de Acha   www.RafaelMusicNotes.com

AN ITALIAN MASTER THAT STRADLED THE TRANSITION FROM THE 19TH TO THE 20TH CENTURY

Ottorino Respighi (1879-1936) was almost single-handedly responsible for the rise in importance of Italian orchestral music in the early decades of the 1900’s after years during which the works of the great Opera composers reigned supreme.

In order for that to happen it had to take a genius of the caliber of Respighi to lay claim to a place in the orchestral repertory then largely occupied by the likes of Mahler and Strauss in Germany and Austria, Prokofiev and Rachmaninoff in Russia and Debussy and Ravel in France.

With the composition of his set of suites Ancient Airs and Dances and his Concerto all’antica, Respighi unconsciously embraced Decadentism, an artistic philosophy then much in vogue which sought to recover the traditional aesthetic ideology of Renaissance and Baroque arts. Famed for his Roman Trilogy, The Fountains of Rome and The Pines of Rome with their lush orchestrations, Respighi was also capable of brilliantly combining Baroque and Renaissance musical forms with post-Romantic harmony, as he did in the works featured on this CD.

The NAXOS CLASSICS CD features exquisite playing by violinist Davide Alogna and the Chamber Orchestra of New York led by Maestro Salvatore Di Vittorio.

Rafael de Acha http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.com

A Brothers Grimm gothic horror tale set to music

Mahler began to write the text of Das klagende Lied (The Song of Lamentation) at age 18, inspired by the Brothers Grimm gothic horror tale “Der singende Knochen” (“The Singing Bone”) during 1878 – his final year in the Conservatory in Vienna.

After graduation, Mahler composed the music, completing it in 1880. He then entered the competition for the Beethoven Prize of the Society of Friends of Music, hoping to win (he did not) the funds needed to produce the gigantic work: a huge undertaking calling for a massive orchestra, chorus, and soloists, the entire work taking over an hour to perform.

The first performance took place in 1901, with Mahler himself conducting, by which time the composer had subjected his original score to some significant downsizing.

This being a youthful work – notwithstanding the multiple revisions undertaken by Mahler – the composer’s trademark signatures are there, including the excesses that he outgrew by virtue of trial and error mid-career.

The orchestration is imaginative, massive, heavy on brass and percussion with plenty of late Romantic bombastic outbursts, the vocal writing calling for Wagnerian-sized voices capable of cutting through the thickness of the amassed orchestral forces of both the on-stage and off-stage ensembles. And yet the soloists’ music is expressive, with the high soprano Brigitte Poschner-Klebel getting the best singing morsels.

In the Orfeo label (ORF-C210021) CD released by NAXOS the late maestro Michael Gielen valiantly leads the Orff Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Wiener Singakademie chorus with an impressive group of artists: baritone Manfred Hemm, tenor David Rendall, David; mezzo-soprano Marjana Lipovšek, and soprano Brigitte Poschner-Klebel.

This is an exciting performance of a rarely performed work worthy of reexamination, as any Mahler should be.

Rafael de Acha    www.RafaelMusicNotes.com

Prelude to Dawn

In two previous releases for SONO LUMINUS, both of which I reviewed on this blog: one, Citizen, a CD of world premiere recordings of music by Nolan Gasser, David T. Little, Augusta Gross, C. Price Walden, and William Grant Still, and two, Windows, in which he combined Schumann’s Kinderszenen with David Bruce’s The Shadow of a Blackbird and James Matheson’s Windows, the protean American pianist Bruce Levingston proved both his uncanny ability to felicitously combine the old with the new and his impressive technical equipment and musicality.

Levingston’s new album about to be released by SONO LUMINUS and appositely titled Prelude to Dawn is a response – in the artist’s own words – “to the surreal existence of the past year.”

Impeccably planned and annotated by the artist, lovingly produced by Dan Merceruio and Collin J. Rae, and brought to sonic life by recording engineer Daniel Shores Prelude to Dawn is an invaluable addition to any listener’s collection of recorded piano music.

The prolific though lesser known German composer Wolfgang Rihm keeps elegant company to Bach and Brahms with two of his piano preludes. Vaguely tonal, now animated, now delicate, soberly minimalistic, his music is upon first hearing unpredictable and yet surprisingly accessible.

In the monumental Bach-Brahms Chaconne in D minor, BWV 1004, a work originally conceived for violin, Levingston mines for musical gold throughout the seventeen minutes duration of this longest of the nine compositions in the CD. Alternatively mournful, meditative, emotional, and elegiac in its sixty-four variations, this music, supposedly written by Bach following the death of his first wife, embraces both the wonders of life and the inevitability of death.

In the Prelude, Fugue and Allegro BWV 998 in Eb – allotted three tracks of the CD – seemingly simple moments alternate with the startling: an unpredictable chord progression here and there, passages of such chromatic complexity that they anticipate the Classicism of Haydn and even that of Mozart by decades, emotionally charged moments alternating with serene passages, singing melodies in the right hand juxtaposed to formidable chords in the bass, a majestic closing Allegro expressing sheer joie de vivre… Here Levingston and in the Bach-Busoni Chorale Prelude BWV 645 – Sleepers Awake! adopts reasonable tempi that allow breathing space and noble elegance to his playing.

Brahms – Chorale Prelude in A minor, Op. 122, no. 10 – I wholeheartedly long for a blessed end one of the composer’s last works, and the Theme and Variations in D minor, Op. 18b – both typical Brahms in their grandeur offer music in which the composer seems to be making peace with the inevitable onset of old age, the Op. 18b six variations range from the lovingly delicate to the intensely emotional, gradually progressing from intricacy to the serenity of the final variation.

Bruce Levingston’s magisterial playing of this music reaffirms his position as one of America’s great pianists.

Rafael de Acha    www.RafaelMusicNotes.com

An introduction to an immensely talented composer

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is oip-2.jpg

In Ondine’s new release Saudade the listener is taken over the course of an hour on an intense sensorial journey of music by the immensely talented New York-based Lithuanian composer Žibuokle Martinaityte.

The CD includes several works by Martinaityte composed by her within a span of the past seven years. They are given here superb performances by both the Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra and the Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra each conducted by Giedre Slekyte, with Gabrielius Alekna as the piano soloist.

The most recent of the works, the 2019 Saudade (so-ˈdädə ) takes for its title a Portuguese word that describes a bittersweet emotional state that mixes nostalgia and longing for something or someone no longer there. Martinaityte conveys her very personal emotional journey from loss to redemption into music of depth and import.

Millefleur (mēl-ˈflər) (2018) is a French word literally meaning thousand flowers that describes a perfume distilled from several different kinds of flowers, or an ornamental pattern depicting a large variety of flowers. In this work Martinaityte creates a gorgeous musical effect of splintering musical kernels into myriads of tiny pieces.

Martinaityte’s Chiaroscuro trilogy (2017) is a 3-movement work for piano and strings. Chiaroscuro (kyä-rəˈskoo-rō) the Italian word literally meaning light-dark describes the treatment of light and shade in drawing and painting that creates an effect of contrasted light and shadow on a subject.

Chiaroscuro is used by the composer to depict in musical terms contrasts of the obscured and the fully seen. Divided into Tunnel, Meteor and Darkness of Light and making little observance as in much of her music of traditional compositional notions of melody, harmony, rhythm, and counterpoint, the composer instead uses changes in the density and the texture of the instrumentation to create a full palette of orchestral colors that sustain the interest of the listener.

At times the piano in the Chiaroscuro Trilogy is called upon to sound like a celesta playing an insistent figuration in its highest octave, at others it is asked to plummet to the nether regions of its range. Oftentimes it uses repetitiveness and ostinato gestures to convey in musical terms inexpressible poetic notions of the intangible or of physical changes and mutations, as in Tunnel, where the regular “bumps” in the instrumentation remind us with dry humor of times traversing interminable railroad journeys through long tunnels that cut through mountains until at last coming out at the other end to encounter once more the longed-for light.

Rafael de Acha http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.com

Hidden Treasure

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is oip-1.jpg

Hidden Treasure is the title of an BIS CD featuring thirty-one unpublished songs by the lesser known Austrian composer Hans Gal, performed in this album by baritone Christian Immler accompanied by Helmut Deutsch.

The settings of poetry by Mörike, Hesse, Heine, Tagore, Demmel, and Walther von de Vogelweide offer the pairing of Immler and Deutsch the opportunity to mine for variety and contrast among songs that range from the quietly lyrical to the slyly humorous to the dramatic.

Gal’s compositional skills are unimpeachable even though the composer negated the value of these delightful miniatures time and again, dismissing them as negligible efforts written during the first two and a half decades of the 20th century.

On listening to the variety and quality of these songs one discerns hints of the influence of the Lieder of Hugo Wolf, whose works Gal helped curate and catalogue. But Gal’s gift for providing the singer with plenty of opportunities to spin a nice melodic line and giving the collaborative pianist rich through never obstructive accompaniments ranks this unjustly neglected composer with the finest Lieder composers of the early 20th century, Wolf included.

The BIS CD is accompanied by a nice booklet containing translations of the songs in three languages.

Rafael de Acha http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.com

Beethoven’s 1806 Leonore

Opera Lafayette has released an interesting video of Beethoven’s 1806 Leonore which made one think of how advantageous it is for painters to use the technique known as pentimento to literally repent over something already finished and paint over the previous work. Unfortunately Beethoven could only take his 1806 Leonore and start over again and rewrite what he had already penned. Thus he gave us an early and a final version of his one and only opera, the ultimately titled Fidelio.

Much to our delight Opera Lafayette has meticulously researched and brought back the 1806 Leonore in a fine production filmed in March of 2020 at the Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College. The results are very good, starting with a dramatically and vocally capable cast that brings to vivid life characters that in lesser hands often come off as woodenly uninteresting. The seven principal roles are filled with young singers with essentially lyric, mid-weight voices that heard in the confines of a 600 -plus seat house more than suffice to serve the demands of their assignments.

As Florestan Canadian tenor Jean Michel Richer acquits himself well in the earlier and less brutally taxing version of the Gott! Welch Dunkel hier! scena that opens the third act of the opera. Bass-baritone Stephen Hegedus is vocally just right for the part of the fatherly Rocco, and Keven Geddes is comically ingratiating as Jacquino. Equipped with just the right amount of stamina and biting snarl Matthew Scollin is a maleficent Pizarro, delivering a riveting Ha! Welch ein Augenblick! Bass Alexandre Sylvestre is a sonorous and dignified Don Fernando.

Lyric soprano Pascale Boudin is visually pretty and vocally splendid in the usually easy to ignore part of Marzelline. In an unpredictable bit of casting Nathalie Paulin, a soprano whose repertoire encompasses mostly lighter soprano roles is here the very fine Leonore, bringing the right mix of vocal heft, pathos and nobility to the part of the heroic wife in male disguise. She sings the just as difficult if not more so 1806 version of the iconic act I aria with commitment and suppleness, then to return in act III with impressive results in the five numbers that lead to the moving duet with Florestan and the triumphant finale.

Nathalie Paulin

Opera Lafayette’s Artistic Director Ryan Brown leads the company’s excellent orchestra and 16 member chorus with complete authority and sensitive awareness of the musical and vocal needs of his singers. The physically uncomplicated production is well directed by Oriol Tomas, who keeps his talented cast from indulging in any operatic posturing.

Rafael de Acha