Christopher Langdown

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Much too early in his life Polish pianist, teacher and composer Moritz Moszkowski retired from both playing and teaching, lamenting that his compositions students all wanted to write “like artistic madmen such as Scriabin, Schoenberg, Debussy and Satie.“

British pianist Christopher Longdown opened his 2009 Wigmore Hall debut recital with four moments musicaux from Moszkowski’s opus 84.

The performance is now released as a Live in London CD for Divine Art, and it is immensely rewarding to listen to the young and gifted Langdown journey from Moszkowski’s salon world to that of Claude Debussy, one of the Polish master’s ”madmen”, then on to Beethoven’s “Tempest” Sonata, and thence to a set of seven études by Alexander Scriabin, ending lastly with an all too brief Gnossiene by Eric Satie.

Langdown’s programming is both delightfully ironic and brilliant, and it keeps the listener interested during nearly two hour’s worth of lovely music making. Beyond that reading his insightful program notes further enhances the experience.

The engineer for the recording, Darius Weinberg did an excellent job by both faithfully capturing the warmth of the hall’s acoustics and keeping the sound of the piano at a realistic distance, thus avoiding the often claustrophobic intimacy of some recordings we hear these days.

Langdown plays the Moszkowski pieces with the same sobriety that he brings to his reading of Beethoven’s opus 31, no. 2, never condescending nor worshiping at the altar of The Great Composers, but merely playing with impeccable technique, while allowing the music plenty of room to do its thing. Never encumbering the selections with capricious interpretation the young pianist is all business, and the results are remarkable.

In the second CD of the set, we hear a very inventive and pleasantly surprising Dramatic Fantasia by the unjustly neglected (at least here in America) Frank Bridge, into which Langdown injects concentrated high-octane energy.

He follows it with his own composition Deo Omnis Gloria, a tripartite work infused with intense spirituality and emotion. It is an unabashedly romantic work worthy of attention and of its addition to the CD that validates Langdown as a composer of note.

Avoiding the catch all programming approach to so many debut recitals, Langdown ‘s program allows him to transition with assurance from the Romanticism of Moszkowski and Bridge to the transparency of Debussy and Scriabin and to the rigorous classicism of Beethoven, with never a technical misstep. Beyond the merely technical, Christopher Langdown’s immense musicality and unimpeachable musicianship places him in the mind of this listener as one of the finest pianists of Great Britain.

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

Leave it to the French…

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Leave it to the French to pull off Rossini’s Le Comte Ory in a production exuding class, panache, and style.

The ingredients that went into this perfection of a concoction are many. Start with Louis Langrée in the pit, helming the peerless Orchestre des Champs Elysées, and the splendid choral ensemble Les elements.

On the basis of this production Louis Langrée should be extended invitations from every company considering a staging or recording of this or any other Rossini opera. He reveals himself here for once and for all as a great opera conductor.

Then there is the cast, with French tenor Phillippe Talbot in the title role. From the moment he comes on stage and sails into the stratospheric aria Que les destins… we are in the good company of a bel canto singer with an endless top voice and all the markings of a great artist. Oh and he can act.

The principals are each and every one terrific singing actors.

The Countess, Julie Fuchs is a visual and vocal delight in a great role.

Gaëlle Arquez in the pants role of Ysolier is the ideal Rossinian mezzo: agile, bright-voiced, and very pretty.

Bass Patrick Bolleire is a hilarious Gouverneur and noble of voice.

Baritone Jean-Sebastien Boud is vocally and dramatically a perfect Rimbaud.

The production sports a great look, ranging from Eric Ruf’s classy wood-paneled unit set, to Christian Lacroix’s richly textured costumes, and Stephanie Daniel’s subtle lighting, all of which situate the action in the Paris of Rossini’s time.

Bringing it all together, stage director Denis Podalydes uses a keen eye for what works and what doesn’t with opera singers creating a show that never lags in comic drive, and neither lapses into hockey humor nor backs off from the randy poly-sexual overtones of the story.

The video and the sound are flawless, quite remarkable for a live recording.

Kudos to C Major!

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

Florence Price: The fortitude of the human spirit

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The limitations of space (even on my blog) prevent me from giving free reign to my mix of sadness and anger at the fate suffered by so many musicians of color, especially women, and among the many, Florence Beatrice Price.

Instead of giving the reader a blow by blow account of Price’s difficult life as a woman and artist of color living in the American south during the Jim Crow era, and in the less-obviously but still racist Chicago of the 1940’s I instead direct her or him to a simple search on the Internet.

Having done that, I chanced on a wonderful New Yorker article (February 5, 2018) titled The Rediscovery of Florence Price: How an African-American composer’s works were saved from destruction written by the thinking person’s critic Alex Ross, from whom I quote: “If she were not black and a woman, would she be played? If racism and misogyny had not so profoundly defined European and American culture, would as many white male composers have prospered?”

Then let’s give a loud shout out to John Jeter, music director of the finely-tuned Fort Smith (Arkansas) Symphony Orchestra, who last year recorded Florence Price’s symphonies nos. 1 and 4 with excellent results. Additionally here goes a great big thank you to the ever-pioneering Naxos Records for including this CD in its American Classics series.

Briefly and to the point Florence Price’s life is an example of the fortitude of the human spirit. So is her music: highly original, unpredictable in melody and harmonies, flawlessly and carefully orchestrated, carefully crafted whenever she could get to it while bringing up two daughters as a divorced negro woman in 1940’s America and making ends meet by playing the organ in movie palaces and writing radio jingles.

Every time I attend a classical music concert and see a stage peopled by a mass of white, mostly middle-aged men I cringe. Every time I sit at one of those concerts led by yet another white, white-haired male I cringe again. Every time I sit at one of those concerts and not having done so earlier I open the program to encounter yet another line up of more music by the white, male, European composers of the 19th century, aka. “The Great Composers” I cringe yet again.

We should ask our symphony orchestras and chamber music ensembles and soloists to include more of Price’s music in their programs. Here I am not talking just a once-a-year nod on March 8th but as an ongoing effort.

Here’s Alex Ross again: “The idea is not to replace all performances of the “New World” with renditions of Price’s symphonies and concertos. But her pieces warrant more attention than they are receiving now—especially from major orchestras.”

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

BORIS GILTBURG PLAYS LISZT

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After reading through the exhaustive notes provided by pianist Boris Giltburg to accompany his Naxos recording of Franz Liszt’s Twelve Studies (1852) coupled to the Rigoletto paraphrase (1859) and La Leggierezza, the second of the Concert Studies (1848), this listener is left with little to add to Giltburg’s encyclopedic liner notes even by way of an introductory paragraph.

All of these compositions are mature works written by the composer in his late thirties and forties. They are technically daunting, mostly large pieces, written by Liszt for himself, capitalizing on the Hungarian piano virtuoso’s legendary ability at the keyboard.

They were also conceived at the time as pièces d’occasion – the “occasions” often being any that called for an appearance by the keyboard superstar featuring highly descriptive music frequently meant to evoke a certain story or a natural phenomenon, and simultaneously wow the composer’s aristocratic audiences with his super-human technique.

These were short musical evocations that, excepting three – Mazeppa, Ricordanza and Harmonies du Soir, ran under five minutes and even as briefly as fifty-nine seconds. Replete with Lisztian gestures, glissandi, multi-octave arpeggios, and big climaxes back-to-back with delicate passages they are evocative of a perfumed, long lost, privileged era of music-making meant for the  enjoyment of the very few.

Boris Giltburg is the kind of pianist capable of taking on these challenging compositions and making them sound like Important Music, which they are and are not, depending on one’s mood and mindset. For me they belong to a world of salon music by the likes of Thalberg, Gottschalk, Sarasate, Carreño, and others who wrote perfectly beautiful compositions deserving of being preserved and played today by technical wizards like Giltburg, a musician who infuses his playing with deep sensitivity, reminding us that he is a superb artist, in addition to being a virtuoso of his instrument.

This recent Naxos release was perfectly engineered by Simon Eadon and elegantly produced by Andrew Keener.

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

GEORGE ANTHEIL RAISES CAIN

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Chandos Records has just released a collection of compositions by the neglected American composer George Antheil.

An iconoclast who lived and wrote in the Berlin and Paris of the 20’s and 30’s before returning to America in 1933, Antheil gradually and cleverly re-fashioned himself from his former self as a cutting-edge enfant terrible, into a working composer, journalist, inventor, and musical entrepreneur. Antheil wrote for Hollywood and eventually for television, enticing the likes of Monteux and Stokowski and Ormandy to validate and conduct his compositions.

Antheil’s music is terrific Pops material. It is also good movie music. His Archipelago is nothing but six minutes of fun that features a Cuban rumba on musical steroids – nothing that any of my extended family would have ever danced to, but more like a good-natured caricature of a sultry Havana night in a dance hall as seen and musically interpreted by a talented tourist with an ear and eye for syncopation and below-the-waist swaying.

The BBC Philharmonic musicians exuberantly dive into this music led by the Finn John Storgårds with splendid results. Hot-Time Dance is another short ditty, descriptive of a bunch of kids raising Cain and dancing around a campfire.

Both Antheil’s Symphony no. 3, “American” and his Symphony no. 6, “after Delacroix” are fertile grounds for inventiveness and resourceful orchestration. Antheil’s use of thematic material shuns the exposition-development-recapitulation of much of Western Classical Music, opting instead for a cumulative, more-is-more pileup  of melodic and rhythmic snippets that create a rich sonic landscape in which disorientation is put to effective use. Oh and he can spin a soulful melody anytime in the slow movements.

The Spectre of the Rose Waltz was written for a 1946 Ben Hecht film noir, and is given here an elegant reading by Storgårds and his Brits.

Storgårds, principal conductor of Finland’s Lapland Symphony Orchestra, and an artist whom we would like to see more in America, mines the music in this CD for all its worth, making Antheil’s works sing and dance and often careen madly while never losing control of the proceedings.

The BBC Philharmonic gets a bit of a workout throughout it, all the while evidencing what a fine orchestra it is.

As usual with Chandos the engineering by Mike George, Stephen Rinker, Carwyn Griffith and Pihilip Halliwell is first class, and the program notes by Mervyn Cooke are learned and apposite. Ralph Couzens is the Executive producer and the mastermind behind this wonderful addition to any collector’s library.

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

Allan Palacios Chan’s musical memories

Music-Academy-of-the-West-Hahn-Hall-2I’ve always been into the arts, as far as I can remember. I would always be drawing, painting, singing, or creating some sort of crafts all throughout my childhood. I always had good art teachers who would encourage me with my work. I remember being very young and listening to the music of Mozart, and it somehow always ‘made sense’ to me, in a way that is difficult to describe. He remains to this day my favorite composer.

If I were to pinpoint a particular moment, I would have to say my earliest memory of any sort of musical or artistic ‘awakening’ is at barely 4 years of age, sitting in the front seat of our 1984 hand-me-down, busted-old Caprice Classic next to my parents with my 3 older siblings in the back seat, singing with my mom along with the radio. I remember distinctly this warm feeling in the middle of my chest that I still get when I’m ‘in the zone’ with my music making.

Part of me wishes it were something fancier, but there was nothing fancy about my upbringing. It was not devoid of music, love, or laughter; I guess I had everything I needed.

Allan Palacios Chan, tenor

Furtwangler’s post-war Berlin recordings

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On January 30, 1944 the Berlin Philharmonie, home to the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra was completely destroyed during a bombing raid by the Allies. The orchestra then went on to play wherever a space with a surviving roof and walls was available.

In a matter of a few months its leader, Wilhelm Furtwängler decamped for self-imposed survival in Switzerland. After the surrender of Germany, he returned to what remained of Berlin and was quickly detained for questioning about his activities and possible allegiance to the Nazi regime during the years of the Third Reich. Once a protracted and uneasy process of denazification took place, the conductor was able to take up the baton to conduct what remained of the once great Berlin Philharmonic.

From May of 1947 through February of 1951, Furtwängler led the Berlin Philharmonic in a series of live radio recordings for the Berlin-based, American- operated broadcasting system. The recordings were made in the Titania Palast, an old movie house that had survived the war unscathed, and in the Schiller Theater, Berlin’s premier drama stage.

A number of producers and engineers made the project happen, and in 2009 the broadcasts formerly recorded on analog tapes were remastered by Ludger Boeckenhoff.

The German label audite has recently released a collection of a dozen CD’s. They come boxed, and accompanied by a bilingual set of thoroughly researched notes by Rüdiger Abrecht. The serious collector will be delighted to find a bonus CD as part of the collection, featuring an extended conversation between Furtwängler and a group of music students.

Among the works included in this collection, Beethoven’s symphonies no. 6 and no. 5 are featured twice, once in a 1947 performance, right after the fall of Germany, and another one from 1954, from one of Furtwangler’s last appearances.

There is a superb rendition of the Beethoven violin concerto, with Yehudi Menuhin as soloist, possibly the first Jewish musician to play in Berlin after the war. There is Bach and Handel played the way Baroque music was played before the concept of historic performance practice ever came into being. There are some surprising inclusions beyond the expected Beethoven/Schubert/Schumann/Brahms/Bruckner/Wagner/Strauss canon, among them a rare Hindemith, a fairly modern piece by Boris Blacher, and a violin concerto by an undeservedly neglected Wolfgang Fortner.

Throughout we get the vintage mid-century German orchestral sound: substantial, precise, technically beyond reproach. Furtwängler’s tempi tend to err on the side of caution, so that at times one is left hoping for more fire and less reverential gravitas. On the plus side, even with the inevitable compromise that re-mastering creates, there is much to admire, starting with the deep richness of the lower strings of the Berlin Philharmonic, the never-strident brilliance of the brass section, and the cohesiveness of the sound of the homogenous string section.

All in all, this is a formidable project worthy of attention. The release is available in the United States through Naxos.

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

No piano? No problem.

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It’s tricky to write about a friend. That friend is Roman Rudnytsky, whom soon I will have known for close to fifty years. Roman also happens to be a superb pianist, and that’s what makes it less difficult to write objectively about him.

It’s not surprising to hear Roman playing even better than he played when we first met and became friends in 1971. He is as modest, as brilliant, as resourceful as ever, playing his heart out, and speaking to his audiences from all corners of the world unpretentiously,  with the simple and single object to share great music with them.

Roman recently sent me a home-made copy of a CD that features live performances from several of his many concerts performed during his travels around the world. Visiting and playing in over 100 countries, Roman Rudnytsky has played with orchestras, in recital, in school auditoriums, and even in places that did not have a piano.  Roman travels with his own electronic Yamaha keyboard, just in case.

The sound quality of the recordings on this CD varies, and it is safe to assume that they were made in less than ideal technical and acoustical conditions. But the music making is first class: impassioned in the Chopin and Turina selections, disciplined and balanced in the Bach Prelude and Fugue in D, elegantly classical in the Mozart variations on a minuet theme, and dazzling in the Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody No. 4.

When it comes to the final selection, Mili Balakirev’s finger-breaking “Fantasie Orientale” Islamey Rudnytsky takes on the challenge and comes out triumphant and intact some eight minutes later, ready for the next tour of Australia, the Maldives, Samoa, Saipan or Guatemala.

Roman Rudnytsky may be contacted at musart03@aol.com.

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

Roman Rudnytsky will be playing an all-American program of music by Bernstein, Copland, Gottschalk and Gershwin in the Music for All Seasons at Peterloon on October 6 at 2 pm. For more information: https://musicseasonsincincinnati.com

 

A Brazilian Discovery

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If you have never heard of Alberto Nepomuceno (1864-1920) take a moment and read.

The Brazilian composer started studying music with his father, who was himself a professional musician in Fortaleza, Brazil. In 1872, the family moved to Recife where he started studying piano and violin, and where as a young adult he became very active in politics leading to the creation of the Republic of Brazil.

In 1888, while studying in Europe Nepomuceno met a Norwegian girl who had been a student of Edvard Grieg. They married and moved to Bergen, the Norwegian composer’s hometown, where Grieg, himself a proponent of nationalism in music took the younger Brazilian under his wing, convincing him to write music which reflected Brazil and its culture. The Nepomucenos then returned to Brazil, where he continued to write and teach – Heitor Villa-Lobos was a pupil – until his death in 1920.

Nepomuceno’s music is utterly Brazilian: exuberantly tinged with saudade in its harmonies and in its wafting hesitations from major to minor, yet joyful in melody and inexhaustibly inventive in orchestration. Mining the choros of the Brazilian north, the elegant maxixes of the south, the raucous marches, sad mornas and exciting sambas of the Rio Carnaval, and adding to all that the Afro-rhythms of the candomblé rites of Bahia, Nepomuceno melds and molds all the exotic threads and strains of the folkloric feast of South America’s largest country into music as original, as pleasing to the ear, and as emotionally charged as ever heard from the pen of a South American composer.

His prelude to the never-completed opera O Garatuja auspiciously opens the CD, played with contagious enthusiasm and flair by the excellent Philharmonic Orchestra of Minas Gerais, under the baton of Fabio Mechetti. It is a charming comic opera opening, more overture than prelude in both length and in its generous use of thematic material from an opera that never was.

The best offering of this CD is surprisingly not the 1893 Symphony in G minor that closes the CD: an accomplished, yet youthful work by an immensely gifted composer still finding his voice. More Brahms than Brazilian in sound, it is nevertheless a perfectly listenable work with hints of great things to come. The Minas Gerais musicians deliver a top of the line reading of the Nepomuceno score.

Interestingly, the earlier by two years Série Brazileira (Brazilian Suite), a four-part tone poem, is the heart and soul of the CD. The opening Alvorada na Serra (Sunrise in the Mountains) begins with a delicate duet for oboe and flute that gradually ascends melodically, evoking the ascent of the sun. Birdcalls from the woodwinds are added, underpinned by a hymn-like melody given to the strings. It is a perfect evocation of nature, and it alone would qualify Nepomuceno as a brilliant orchestrator.

The lively Intermédio serves as an outburst of energy between the bucolic opening movement and the following Sesta na Rede (A nap in a hammock), a somnolent oasis in the middle of an afternoon occasionally interrupted by the unwanted buzzing of insects, musically depicted here by playful snippets played by woodwinds kept busy by Nepomuceno.

The day that started so quietly with the rising of the sun ends with a rousingly syncopated Batuque imported to Brazil by the people of Cape Verde: a wonderful finish that gives the Minas Gerais musicians a hearty workout.

Naxos has embarked on an ambitious project, hand in hand with the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and this CD of music by Alberto Nepomuceno, recorded in Brazil last year bodes well for the projected Music of Brazil series. The engineering of Ulrich Schneider and the scholarly notes by Paulo Sergio Maleiros and Gustavo de Sa are peerless. Nothing short of stunning is the brilliantly luminous, completely cohesive sound that the Minas Gerais maestri produce under the inspired and supple leadership of Fabio Mechetti.

A Brazilian Discovery!

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

Music that made me love music

banner-1When I was about eight I remember hearing “Peter and the Wolf.” It must have been an assembly for the kids in my elementary school. When I was twelve I started singing in church and studying voice with a local woman who had her Master’s degree in piano performance from Ohio University. She had a lot of musical interests, and at each lesson, after the obligatory voice exercises and some language tutoring, she would play something unusual and say “Here’s some West Coast Jazz…take it home and listen … Here’s Don Shirley… ever heard of him?  Here’s a group of 16 trombones and rhythm section playing jazz… Here’s Stan Kenton …”

Geez I was 12! Then I had the great experience of going to Berklee in Boston when I was 16. Some of the older guys “snuck” us in the “Jazz Workshop.”

I remember walking down the stairs and hearing the Horace Silver Quintet live… That sound was something I had never heard before… it was so real!

Went to the Newport jazz festival for 2 days and heard Ellington and Stan Getz and Jobim and Gilberto. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be in music, but I was so active with High School choir and band (playing  cornet ) that it seemed somehow inevitable. So I applied to several schools and got into CCM.

Once in CCM… then it was a really very important first year… I felt so behind … but I was really good at theory and harmony and managed to survive … I also met David Matthews and began jazz piano with him and we became friends. He was very important in the jazz scene in Cincy and trusted me to proofread and help copying his charts… I got the writing bug!

Second year in CCM my wonderful theory teacher John Larkin introduced me to the very underrated composer Felix Labunski, who had a big career in Europe before having to escape and come to America. Felix was very encouraging about  my compositions… I was about 19 at that point… I’m getting exhausted…but I’ll pick up from here later!

Michael Patterson, composer