PROKOFIEV VIOLIN MUSIC

In Tianwa Yang’s newest recording for Naxos (Naxos 8.574107) the Chinese violinist performs three Prokofiev works for violin: two violin concertos and a Sonata for Solo Violin.

Prokofiev wrote his Violin Concerto No. 1 early in life when he heard the playing of his composition teacher, Reinhold Glière. The Violin Concerto No. 2 premiered in 1935 in Madrid, Spain when the composer was on tour, while the much simpler to the point of naïveté Sonata for Solo Violin, Opus 115 was commissioned by the Soviet Union’s Committee of Arts Affairs as a pedagogical work for talented violin students, designed to be played not by one soloist but by multiple young performers in unison: three altogether diverse compositions, written under completely different circumstances, that sound at times as if coming from the pens of three different composers.

Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1963) lived in difficult times. Like his contemporary Igor Stravinsky he left his native Russia fairly soon after the 1917 Revolution. He toured. He lived in France for a while, in the States next. He married twice, after divorcing his Spanish wife for his Russian mistress. He was embraced by the Soviets, received numerous awards and commissions. He fell out of favor with the Soviets, much like his colleagues Khachaturian and Shostakovich did. At first he wrote decidedly dissonant music – termed “Modernist” back in the day, while later he shunned atonality and created his own brand of “Modernist” composition, flirting with polytonality, embracing a harmonic language chockfull of deceptive cadences – a kind of Russian post-Romanticism that more than once got him in hot waters with the Soviet cultural police.

While any neglected or just simply any rarely performed Prokofiev is better than no Prokofiev at all, repeated listening to all three of the works in this CD failed move me. Much of this music sounds cold, formulaic and academic. While there are plenty of flashes of brilliance in Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony, in his Peter and the Wolf, in his Alexander Nevsky score for Eisenstein film of the same title, in his rapturously beautiful score for the ballet Romeo and Juliet, and in his Lieutenant Kije suite, I find the twists and turns of Prokofiev’s personal journey infinitely more compelling than much of his music.

In this recording Tianwa Yang plays with fiery drive and determination, receiving strong support from the ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra led by Jun Märkl.

Rafael de Acha   ALL ABOUT THE ARTS

Violinist Ida Haendel

Violinist Ida Haendel (1928-2020) remains in the memory of those who heard her in person as one of the great violinists of the 20th century. The possessor of tremendous technique and an artist of passionate musicality she can be heard in a series of three compact discs (SWR CLASSIC 19427) that feature her playing under the baton of Hans Müller-Kray, chief conductor of the Radio-Sinfonieochester Stuttgart before 1967.

The collection includes: Brahms Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 77; Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op. 64; Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35; Dvořák Violin Concerto in A Minor, Op. 53; Khachaturian Violin Concerto in D Minor; Bartók Violin Concerto No. 2.

There is very little left to be said about the extraordinary Ida Haendel. Her music-making is injected with tremendous strength tempered with maturity and impeccable taste. In the Andante movements of the Brahms, Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky concertos she spins a seamless legato line as if her Stradivarius were a human voice. And her endurance in long movements, like the opening Allegro of the Brahms violin concerto is remarkable, even for a then young violinist in her early thirties and in the early stages of her career.

In the Allegretto of the Mendelssohn concerto and in the finale of the Tchaikovsky concerto she takes both tempi in coordination with Maestro Müller-Kray at a nice clip but not so fast as to distort articulation and clarity. There is not in her playing one iota of the sort of grandstanding in which many of today’s younger violinists like to indulge themselves, often at the expense of elegance and sobriety – two sterling qualities intrinsic to Ida Haendel’s playing.

In the great Romantic works – Brahms, Mendelssohn, Tchaikovsky – Ida Haendel had few peers,  yet she expanded her repertoire to include some of the off-the-beaten path works by Khachaturian and Bartók, both of  whose violin concertos are included here and  to both of which Ida Haendel gave the same attention as she bestowed on the staples of the violinist’s repertoire. Ever elegant, ever noble, ever a servant of the composer, Ida Haendel’s playing lives on in this excellent collection.

Rafael de Acha       ALL ABOUT THE ARTS

Bartók Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, and Concerto for Orchestra

Little did Bela Bartók suspect that his Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta would become perfect for accompanying spooky films by the creators of Being John Malkovich, Stanley Kubrick, and various American, Australian, dramatic and documentary flicks. Perhaps the Hungarian composer should have settled in Hollywood, where he could have had a fine career as a film score writer.

For the final disc in their Bartók trilogy on BIS, Susanna Mälkki and the Helsinki Philharmonic have recorded Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, and the Concerto for Orchestra. While their playing is unimpeachable, I still find Bartók’s music impenetrable.

The first movement of Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta is strange enough what with its antiphonal, atonal and somber structure. The second one- a nervous Allegro that puts the seven-player percussion section to work full time perseveres in the pervading strangeness. The third movement, still another Adagio is frenetically driven all for naught. The final Allegro Molto, with still not a melody within earshot, proves that Bela Bartók could set up two string orchestras seated on opposite sides of the stage, with percussion and keyboard instruments in the middle, and still not succeed in developing an audience for his brand of music.

In the case of Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra we are in somewhat similar terrain. Divided into four sections, the 1943 work commissioned for the Boston Symphony Orchestra still repeats  some of the same ideas the composer used in the 1936 Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta: moodily quiet sections followed by sudden outbursts of orchestral fortissimo with a sprinkling of Magyar modal folksiness, fugues that start and then go nowhere, a scarcity of true melodic inventiveness, quasi tonal passages that cannot quite decide what musical deity they worship: Second Viennese School, maybe? Not really.

If by now, dear reader, you have still not decided to stop reading my comments I encourage you to go ahead and cut me lose. For my next review I promise I am moving on to more Romantic terrain.

Rafael de Acha      ALL ABOUT THE ARTS

STEFANO MAIORANA CONNECTS TWO KINDRED MUSICAL SOULS

STEFANO MAIORANA CONNECTS TWO KINDRED MUSICAL SOULS

Out of the blue Italian multi-instrumentalist Stefano Maiorana (EN Stefano Maiorana) sent me several links to his superb album ENTRE DOS ALMAS for Outhere Music (outhere-music.com).

Primarily a guitarist who specializes in music of the Renaissance and Baroque eras, this extraordinary artist brings to life in this album the music of Santiago de Murcia, a Spanish guitarist and composer who lived between 1673 and 1739 and who during the 66 years of his life lived a hand-to-mouth existence notwithstanding having served the court of Maria Luisa de Savoy, Queen of Spain as Master of the Guitar.

Murcia’s wide ranging talent led him to explore Spanish, French and Italian musical styles and folklore dance forms, which he compiled in his Resumen de acompañar. In his album for Outhere Music, the resourceful Stefano Maiorana takes us on a lovely visit to the music of Santiago de Murcia along with a couple of Arcangelo Corelli sonatas, all with splendid results.

Murcia’s music coming already towards the end of the Baroque and not quite fully inhabiting the Classical era straddles both periods in a charming manner, injecting into it the quintessentially Spanish rhythms of the popular fandangos, jacaras and canaries then in vogue and raising them to the level of courtly music.

ENTRE DOS ALMAS evidences how the Spanish to the core music of Santiago de Murcia and the intrinsically Italian music of Arcangelo Corelli linked each to the other as profoundly connected art forms: two kindred souls enriching one another by way of Stefano Maiorana, an immensely accomplished artist conversant in all the performance practices of the period and in command of a perfect balance of technique, musicality and temperament.

A welcome return of Cincinnati’s Immaculata Chamber Music Series

The impressive Sunday September 26 concert that brought the long overdue return of Cincinnati’s Immaculata Chamber Music Series opened with Ernst von Dohnányi’s Serenade in C major, Op. 10, for string trio.

An early 20th century work written when its composer was in his mid-twenties, the five-movement suite is structured as a collection of five movements: an Allegro in the form of a lively March, a melodic Romanza, a Scherzo, a theme and variations, and a finale in the form of a Rondo.

Unlike those of his fellow Hungarians Bartók and Kodály, Dohnányi’s compositions do not find their inspiration in Hungarian folk songs, instead being closer to the post Romanticism much in vogue in Europe at the turn of the 20th century: still tonal, occasionally melodic, shunning any influence from the Second Viennese School, the Serenade in C major sounds at times like a chip off the old Brahms block, correctly structured, but more compositional perspiration than inspiration.

Violist Martin Hintz, cellist Jonathan Lee, and violinist KayCee Galano played with precision and boundless energy.

The second half of the concert featured the String Octet in E-flat major, Op. 20, written by Felix Mendelssohn at the age of 16.Conceived for a double quartet: four violins, two violas, and two cellos little did its young composer know that he was creating a new kind of work in the field of chamber music, a composition that set the name of Felix Mendelssohn on the musical map of 19th century Europe.

Structured in four continuous sections: a breathless Allegro moderato ma con fuoco in E-flat major, a lyrical C minor Andante, a G minor Scherzo that reminded one of the similar movement in the incidental music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and a race to the finish finale in Presto tempo that returns to the initial E-flat tonality, the Octet is a miraculously unpredictable composition, every bar filled with melodic and harmonic riches.

KayCee Galano, Maggie Niekamp, Kanako Shimasaki, Mwakudua waNgure, Martin Hintz, Judy Huang, Jonathan Lee, and Lucas Song were the eight players of the Mendelssohn, some of whom previously performed the Mendelssohn Octet in concert at the Immaculata Chamber Music series. With the peerless Kanako Shimasaki leading the ensemble, the eight musicians gave an exhilarating performance, marked by faultless intonation, technical accuracy, agility, and superb musicality. In short a great performance.

Information about upcoming concerts in the Immaculata Chamber Music series may be found on their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/ImmaculataCMS

Rafael de Acha        ALL ABOUT THE ARTS

Sir Thomas Beecham conducts Sibelius

Thomas Beecham conducts Sibelius

The ARIADNE 5013 release of a portion of SOMM’s ground-breaking The Beecham Collection which altogether spans 24 volumes, many of the compositions with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra is just now being released. It includes the only known live recording of Sir Thomas conducting Sibelius’s Symphony No.1 with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and Sibelius’ Scènes historiques. The disc has been meticulously curated by Jon Tolansky, the original founder of the Music Performance Research Centre, now renamed Music Preserved. The First Symphony heard here comes from a live performance in the 1952 Edinburgh International Festival.

Sibelius’s Fourth and Sixth Symphonies, and early recordings dating from 1946 featuring, among other major works, Mozart’s Symphony No.40, and Schumann’s Piano Concerto, with Moura Lympany  as soloist are also part of The Beecham Collection.

The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra was founded in 1946 by Beecham to inject new energy and new ideas into British orchestral life. Cantankerous, opinionated, self-righteous, prone to quarrels, capricious in his tastes, happily trading the whole of J.S. Bach for one act of Massenet’s Manon, disparaging of other conductors, Sir Thomas was also a passionate advocate of the music of some composers – Sibelius and Mozart, above many other – and a formidable technician at the podium. Both feared and yet deeply admired by many of his musicians- though not loved by any – Sir Thomas left a memorable legacy leading the Royal Philharmonic, the Hallé Orchestra and the Liverpool Philharmonic in Great Britain, and the Seattle Symphony Orchestra  in America.

The live performance faithfully caught here, is emotional, muscular, forceful, sparse in subtlety though abundant in bristling energy. In short, this is a must hear, must have recording.

Rafael de Acha      ALL ABOUT THE ARTS

French Pianist Claudette Sorel Rediscovered

Claudette Sorel Rediscovered

Claudette Sorel plays selected works for solo in a commemorative edition of two albums the pianist piano. 

Sorel (1932-1999) a French-American pianist and a committed advocate of equal rights for women in the arts, left France with her family in 1940 and migrated to the United States, where she studied at the Juilliard School of Music and at Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute.

While researching the piano music of composer Sergei Rachmaninoff, Sorel discovered two nocturnes by the composer that had been neither published nor performed before. She premiered these in 1973 at a recital celebrating the composer’s centenary, unfortunately her last public appearance, as soon thereafter she was injured in a fall and never performed again. 

This recording includes bravura pieces by Raff and Moszkowski, Fredric Chopin’s Sonata No. 3, and Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Nocturne in A Minor Op10, in addition to the three Nocturnes she unearthed.

Throughout this invaluable recording, available from Amazon Music, Sorel displays tremendous technical prowess, coupled to elegant musicality and acute sensitivity.

Rafael de Acha     ALL ABOUT THE ARTS

YSAŸE: VIOLIN DISCOVERIES

Sherban Lupu

YSAŸE: VIOLIN DISCOVERIES ( DDA 25222) a new release by Divine Art Recordings Group

Scènes Sentimentales; Trois Études-Poèmes; Petite fantaisie romantique; Violin Concerto in G minor

Sherban Lupu, violin, with Henri Bonamy, piano and the Liepāja Symphony Orchestra, Paul Mann conductor

Belgian violinist, conductor and composer Eugène Ysaÿe (1858–1931) was one of the great violin virtuosos of the 19th and early 20th centuries. After winning several competitions in the conservatory, he studied with Henryk Wieniawsky in Brussels and Henri Vieuxtemps in Paris, soon establishing an international reputation as a great virtuoso throughout Europe and the United States.

Maestri Lupu, Bonamy and Mann deliver stylish, elegant, and often virtuosic performances of Ysaÿe’s music.

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GLAZUNOV FOR STRING QUARTET

The Music of Glazunov played by the Shostakovich String Quartet in a new ALTO release (ALC1444) is delightful in every aspect, from the clean engineering to the informative accompanying booklet.

The Shostakovich Quartet plays music by Alexander Glazunov (1865-1936), a Russian composer, and conductor, director of the Saint Petersburg Conservatory between 1905 and 1928 and a key figure in Russian music during the last two decades of the 19th century and the first three of the 20th century, even after the onset of the Bolshevik Revolution and his leaving the Soviet Union in 1938. 

Glazunov’s music is profoundly Romantic and Russian at its core, melodic, harmonically traditional though rich and now and then inspired by the folk melodies of his native country. His String Quartet No.3, “Slavonic” is structured in four movements: an opening Allegro, a quiet Lento, an Allegretto, and a finale featuring a lively Mazurka.

The CD also includes the String Quartet, No. 5 and music from “The Fridays

The estimable Shostakovich String Quartet draws out the Russian flavor in every bar of the charming compositions of this neglected figure.

Rafael de Acha     ALL ABOUT THE ARTS

ALICIA de LARROCHA PLAYS FALLA

Manuel de Falla: Nights in the Gardens of Spain

With Orquesta de Conciertos de Madrid, Jesus Arambarri

Cuatro Piezas Españolas: Aragonesa; Cubana;  Montañesa; Andaluza

La Vida BreveDanza No.2

El Sombrero de Tres Picos – Danza de los vecinos; Danza de la molinera

El amor brujoDanza del terror; Danza ritual del fuego

Fantasía Bética

Noches en los Jardines de EspañaEn el Generalife; Danza Lejana; En los Jardines de la Sierra de Córdoba

Alicia de Larrocha (1923–2009) was the greatest Spanish pianist of all time. Her career began in her early twenties. She created for multiple labels many recordings of the music of Granados, Albéniz, Turina and Falla.

Manuel de Falla (1876–1946) was one of the iconic Spanish composers of the 20th century. Falla himself was also a virtuoso pianist, and arranged many of his works for solo piano. A selection of these is presented here, along with Noches en los jardines de España, his great work for orchestra and piano.

Originally released in 1958 and 1959 by Hispavox. Project co-ordinator: Robin Vaughan An ALTO release (https://altocd.com)

A superb re-release digitally restored by Gene Gaudette from high definition analog-to-digital transfers by Harold Tichenor, featuring the incomparable Alicia de Larocha playing both the familiar and the lesser known de Falla, including the Spanish composer’s masterpiece Noches en los jardines de España, with the superb participation of the Orquesta de Conciertos de Madrid, led by Jesus Arambarri.

Rafael de Acha ALL ABOUT THE ARTS