Adam Schoenberg: “Finding Rothko” and other orchestral works

Adam Schoenberg: Finding Rothko, American Symphony, and Picture Studies.
Kansas City Symphony, Michael Stern, conductor.
Reference Recordings RR-139 Hybrid+MCH SACD and Downloads

David Frost, producer; Keith O. Johnson, engineer and mastering engineer.

My recent entry on the Morton Feldman musical work inspired by Houston’s Rothko Chapel noted that Rothko’s huge canvasses displayed there had also inspired Peter Gabriel’s song “Fourteen Paintings.” Four different Mark Rothko paintings that span the years 1949 to 1959 more recently inspired American composer Adam Schoenberg (b.1980) to write Finding Rothko, an orchestral work in four movements identified by the colors Orange, Yellow, Red, and Wine. Finding Rothko is concise, tonal, melodic, and accessible, with brilliant orchestration.

The obvious parallel is to Arthur Bliss’ A Colour Symphony of 1922 (which perhaps was an un-acknowledged inspiration). A Colour Symphony‘s movements are also named after colors; in Bliss’ case, the heraldic colors Purple, Red, Blue, and Green.

More ponderings and generous sound samples after the jump. Continue Reading →

Brahms: The Four Symphonies; Boston Symphony Orchestra, Andris Nelsons

 

Brahms: The Four Symphonies
Boston Symphony Orchestra, Andris Nelsons
3-CD set and Downloads from BSO Classics
(Downloads are: 320 Kbs mp3; 24/96 AIFF; and 24/96 and 24/192 FLAC.)

Shawn Murphy, Producer and Engineer; Nick Squire, Recording Engineer; Robert Wolff, Editing Engineer; Tim Martyn, Editing Engineer and Mastering Engineer; Joel Watts and John Morin, Assistant Engineers; Brian Losch and Silas Brown, Production Assistants.

This review will be brief—but imperative. The official (so to speak) start of Andris Nelsons’ tenure as Music Director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra was a performance of the Overture to Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser. The first CD I reviewed on this blog included that live recording, made the evening of September 27, 2014. (The other work on that CD is Sibelius’ second symphony, recorded later in Nelsons’ first season.) Furthermore, I named my blog after a Tannhäuser reference in the movie Blade Runner. So, all the breadcrumbs have been in plain sight; you should not be surprised that I am predisposed to be well-disposed to any and all new recordings from Andris Nelsons.

And it is not just this particular Humble Ink-Stained Wretch of the Fourth Estate who thinks the world of young Maestro Nelsons, either. Two CDs from Nelsons’ and the BSO’s ongoing Shostakovich series have won back-to-back Grammy awards in the category of Best Orchestral Performance. The BSO’s new 3-CD Brahms set is of that caliber.

By all means, you should click on the jump link for more detail, sound bytes, and some measure of justification. But the bottom line is: If the symphonies of Brahms are important to you, you should buy these CDs (or downloads), immediately. Taking into account interpretation, playing, and recorded sound, this set shoots right up into the top tier of recommendations in this music. Continue Reading →

Camilla Tilling: “loves me… loves me not…” (Gluck and Mozart opera arias)

Camilla Tilling: “loves me… loves me not…”
Opera arias by Gluck and Mozart.
Musica Saeculorum,
Philipp von Steinaecker, conductor
SACD BIS-2234

Camilla Tilling grew up on a farm in a rural part of Sweden. Her parents sang in the local church choir. Hearing her parents sing with the choir when she was about six years of age, she later recalled thinking, “Well, this isn’t difficult. I could do the same.” There you go!

I have to confess that Ms. Tilling had not been on my radar screen before I saw a listing for her new SACD from BIS. But one can infer from the stratospheric level of her appearances over the past few years that she has a marvelous voice. From her management’s website: “Fresh from performances of Mendelssohn’s Elijah with the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig and Thomas Hengelbrock, Tilling has a busy concert diary ahead including returns to Teatro alla Scala for Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis under Bernard Haitink, the Berliner Philharmoniker for Mahler’s Symphony No.4 under Sir Simon Rattle, and the New York Philharmonic for Beethoven’s Symphony No.9 under Alan Gilbert.” Also: Brahms’ German Requiem with Andris Nelsons (Boston Symphony), Christoph von Dohnányi (New York Philharmonic), and Bernard Haitink (Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich); Bach’s Matthew Passion with Sir Simon Rattle (Berlin Philharmonic); and Bach’s B-minor Mass with Philippe Jordan (Vienna Philharmonic). Whew!

More, and sound samples, after the jump. Continue Reading →

Wise Men From the East, Bearing Gifts! (Part 1)

web-grabLetterpress art print © and courtesy of Zeichen Press.

The Gospel narrative doesn’t say that the number of wise men (or astrologers) from the East was three; that’s just an inference based upon the report that the Magis (however many of them there were) brought three gifts of gold, Frankincense, and myrrh.

Be that as it may, what has come down is a piously embellished story of three wise men, complete with names and capsule biographies.

So, to start my suggestions for Christmas (or other seasonal) gift-giving, here are three gifts: two boxed sets and one single recording, all of especial musical and sonic merit.

Details and sound samples after the jump! Continue Reading →

Trondheim Soloists: Vaughan Williams, Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis, etc.

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Trondheim Solistene: Reflections
(Music of Britten, Vaughan Williams, and Stravinsky)
SACD/CD +Blu-ray 2-disc set, 2L 125
CDQ; high-resolution stereo including MQA and DSD; and surround-sound downloads available from www.2L.no
Streaming available from various services linked to here.

Recorded June and August 2015, Selbu Church, Norway. Recording producer and balance engineer Morten Lindberg; recording technician Beatrice Johannessen.

Certain pieces of music just catch the ear. Some of those pieces even enter into the collective repository of culture—they become part of the sonic landscape (or the musical memories) of nearly everybody’s life.

A prime candidate for the title of “The Most Well-Known Piece of ‘Classical’ Music That Was Not Composed by Vivaldi, Beethoven, or Gershwin” is Samuel Barber’s Adagio, in its string-orchestra version. Barber’s Adagio for Strings combines striving with yearning (and grief with resignation) in a completely arresting and inescapably memorable way.

Most music lovers don’t realize that the version they know so well is a transcription—that the “Adagio” of movie and pop-culture renown started out life as the slow movement of Barber’s Op. 11 string quartet.

The point of this blog entry then, is to tell as many people as possible that if you love Barber’s Adagio, you will love Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis. The Tallis Fantasia has the same sweeping grandeur and emotional intensity as Barber’s Adagio, but I think it is even more rewarding to engage with over repeated hearings.

More background, a making-of video, and sound bytes, after the jump. Continue Reading →

Parker Quartet: Felix Mendelssohn, Opus 44 String Quartets 1 & 3

ni6327-cover-400-pic-highThe Parker String Quartet: Felix Mendelssohn, Opus 44 String Quartets 1 & 3
CD Nimbus NI6327
(No high-resolution download available at present, apparently.)

Except for his few “Greatest Hits” (those being the “Wedding March” from A Midsummer Night’s Dream; the Violin Concerto; and the Italian Symphony), I think that Felix Mendelssohn is an often-overlooked or often-underrated composer. Further, given the rarely-equaled felicity (I should be re-programmed) of his solo-piano music, perhaps then it is not surprising that Mendelssohn’s string quartets remain, for many music lovers, undiscovered gems.

The Boston-based Parker Quartet has a name that is new to me, but, it should not have been. Their recording of Ligeti’s first and second quartets received the 2011 Grammy award for Best Chamber Music Performance, and they are the Blodgett Artists in Residence of Harvard University’s Department Of Music. UK’s legendary Nimbus imprint has just released the Parker Quartet’s CD of two of Mendelssohn’s Op. 44 quartets, the first and third. What lovely music making! (I also love that the cover image is of four of Charles and Ray Eames’ fiberglass “scoop” chairs, which are icons of Mid-Century Modern design.)

More, and sound samples, after the jump.

Continue Reading →

Q&A with Sergey Schepkin

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Sergey Schepkin’s Steinway & Sons recording of Bach’s Six Partitas impressed me so much that I asked him to answer a few questions. Run-on questions, in fact. He coped rather well!

It seems I am not the only person who was impressed; Schepkin’s Steinway Partitas has broken into the Top 100 in one category on Amazon’s sales charts.

Here goes!

Q1: One thing that caught my eye was that your web site’s press-blurb list contained a rave from The Listener magazine about your Partitas recording on the Ongaku label, 20 or so years ago. Listener was founded and edited by Art Dudley. Art’s magazine was acquired, but then the new owners folded it. Art then moved over the Stereophile, and so was my colleague until recently.

Therefore, one thing that audiophile readers with long memories will want to know about (and I see that the Ongaku Partita recording is still available from your website) is (apart from the fact that Steinway and Sons’ CD label is an enviable place to be) is (a) why you decided to re-record your Bach repertory…

More run-on questions—and even some answers(!)—after the jump. Klicken Sie hier, bitte. Continue Reading →

Sergey Schepkin: J. S. Bach: The Six Partitas

Schepkin small

Sergey Schepkin: J. S. Bach: The Six Partitas, BWV 825-830
2-CD set Steinway & Sons 30069
(No high-resolution download available at present)

Recorded September 2014 and September 2015, Jordan Hall, New England Conservatory, Boston, Massachusetts; Sergey Schepkin, producer; Patrick Keating, engineer.

Even if your only exposure to Bach’s great keyboard works played on the modern piano is one or another of Glenn Gould’s recordings of the Goldberg Variations (there are three, you know), you really should consider buying this new set of the Partitas on Steinway & Sons’ CD label. Don’t be scared off by the technical term “Partita.” All that means is that these are multi-movement works made up of parts; specifically, sections that usually were named after dances. Bach’s contemporaries would have understood the dance names such as “Sarabande” as giving an idea as to the tempo and feeling of each segment. The liner notes make the important point that this is not music to dance to; it is music for its own sake, about the idea or the ideal of dancing.

Sergey Schepkin’s playing is technically as good as anyone else’s out there, and his interpretations are a moveable feast—by turns fleet, witty, and playful; or, delicate, subtle, and pensive (or even serious or solemn). This music can mind its own business in the background at Campari time, but it is also worth your undivided attention late at night.

Just order the set!

Backstory, details, and elaboration after the jump; and with generous sound samples, of course. Continue Reading →

Catalina Vicens: “Parthenia,” Keyboard Music from 1613

CD-16298_cover_web_small

Catalina Vicens: Parthenia
Harpsichord & Virginal Music From 1613
CD Carpe Diem 16298
24/96 + 24/192 FLAC downloads from Carpe Diem

Recorded January 22-26, 2013, Schloss Bad Krozingen, Germany; Jonas Niederstadt, producer.

What a wonderful project and what a wonderful recording! Catalina Vicens is an immensely talented and very hard-working Curtis Institute graduate, originally from Chile. She won an international early-keyboard competition hosted by the Bad Krozingen Castle. As a result, the Cultural Office of the City of Bad Krozingen and the the Fritz Neumeyer Historical Keyboards Collection made possible this, her début recording.

This is one of the most impressive and engaging keyboard recordings I have heard in years. The recorded sound is pristine and very dynamic and satisfyingly reverberant—even better, the recording was made to audiophile standards using DPA 4006 microphones, and there are 24/96 and 24/192 FLAC downloads available. Just go for it!

More, and generous sound bytes, after the jump. Continue Reading →

Vladimir Feltsman: J.S. Bach, The French Suites

Feltsman Bach French Suites

Vladimir Feltsman: J. S. Bach, The French Suites BWV 812-817; Overture in the French Style BWV 831.
Nimbus 2-CD set NI 6314
(No high-resolution download available, apparently.)

This wonderful 2-CD set will make a great gift for a friend who does not listen to a lot of classical music. That’s largely because the music is as accessible as it is beautiful. And while these recordings could serve as background music for other activities, they will also reward close attention during repeated hearings.

Vladimir Feltsman was born in the Soviet Union in 1952. He made his début with the Moscow Philharmonic at age 11. (Interestingly enough, his father Oscar was a composer of popular songs and musical comedies.) Unhappy with political interference in the arts, in 1979 Feltsman applied for an exit visa, the result being eight years of virtual artistic non-person-hood.

Arriving in the US in 1987, he was widely feted, starting at the White House. Today, Feltsman might be verging perilously close to “Elder Statesman” status, except that his playing exhibits youthful vitality and genuine enthusiasm, all without a trace of self-importance. Continue Reading →