The WSCL Blog

News and information about WSCL's Classical Music Programming

Monday, August 1, 2011

JUST OPENED, Friday July 29, 2011


Music for Violin & Piano I
Hsiao-Mei Ku, violin
Ning Lu, piano
The life of composer Ma Sicong is ripe for being made into a movie. As a young, rising Chinese violinist, he traveled to France and was influenced by the movement of the great romantic composers: to use traditional rural folk songs to create legitimate concert repertoire. Ma took this idea back with him to China, wanting to create a “new Chinese music.” A young girl, a talented violinist, Hsiao-Mei Ku played for him as a child, and was taken on as one of his students. Shortly thereafter, the repressive “cultural revolution” began a punishment of many artists, with a special emphasis on those influcenced by the west. Not only were Ma and his students forced into manual labor at a work camp, Ku and the other students were forced to watch as the Red Guards beat and humiliated their teacher. In the late 1960s, Ma and his family emigrated to the United States, where his goal of creating this new Chinese music came to fruition as he switched his focus from performance to composition. Ku intentionally uses the sliding “erhu” technique in recording these works to emphasize the Chinese traditional sound within these very romantic-era sounding works. While Asian music can sound very foreign to western ears, these works are particularly accessible. If you are especially interested in the romantic-nationalist-folksong movement, this would be a necessaryaddition to your collection.

Les Quatre Saisons

L’Ensemble Arion
w/ singers: Isabelle Desrochers

Herve Lamy & Max Van Egmond
Joseph Bodin de Boismortier was the rare musician who held very few known positions, but made a very good living almost exclusively on his publications – at a time when the right to publish was only allowed with the permission of the King. By 1747 he had published over 100 works – mostly instrumental (his music for the recorder is especially well regarded). He was the first composer in France to compose for the cello (a concerto which also can be performed on bassoon). His “The Four Seasons” cycle came out in 1724 at the outset of his publishing career. The myth9lo9gical references and pastoral setting may seem mannered and artificial today, but this is what was popular at the time, typical of the era and the growing fondness for the “rustic life” which reached its zenith in Marie Antoinette having a “shepherd’s village” built on the grounds of Versailles. This cycle of cantatas is a perfect example of the popular culture and musical sound of the day, beautifully realized here by excellent musicians. The musicians of L’Ensemble Arion are prestigious, and include Claire Guimond playing baroque flute, and Chantal Remillard playing baroque violin.

I have a particular interest and affinity for this period of music, so the fully realized excellence of the performance & rarity of recording of this work make it my delight of the week.

Kremerata Baltica

Gidon Kremer, cond.
ISBN# 0 7559 19803 2
This CD includes two full works commissioned by modern Russian composers to pay homage to Tchaikovsky’s “Four Seasons.” Leonid Desyatnikov (1955-) has composed “The Russian Seasons” (2000) for violin solo, soprano solo and string orchestra. While both works are definitely modern and melodically and tonally challenging, this is less accessible of the two. Each season is broken down into 3 “songs.” Autumn Song, which we aired on Just Opened, is the most melodic, and perhaps, the only real melodic piece in the entire group. “The Seasons Digest” (2001) by Alexander Raskatov (1953-) , while still often dissonant and melodically obtuse, is more accessible for several reasons. It was written for solo violin, strings, percussion, and “prepared piano” (a piano with changed tunings). The work is broken down into one piece for each month of the year, each piece is VERY brief… the longest being only 2 min and 39 seconds. Not only does the month breakdown and time brevity help make each work accessible, each piece fairly clearly has two elements: nature, and human life. Often, nature is evoked by sonorities, while the human life is represented by melodies and themes in fairly classical forms, which are dissonant only in relation to nature. Moreover, Raskatov has some obvious, if dark, humor in his work. The only vocals in the piece is the seedling choir in “July’s Song of the Reaper” the voices build until we hear the unexpected slice of the reaper’s scythe… one can only assume these are the voices of the heads of wheat! I quite like Raskatov’s work, which still requires some attention, but overall, I would say this CD is for those who like their music dissonant and challenging.

Alfonso & Estrella

Linos Ensemble
CPO 999 807
ISBN# 7 61203 98072
Andreas N. Tarkmann has arranged this reduction of the entire Alfonso & Estrella score for wind octet with double bass. This kind of reduction was popular even in Schubert’s time, and was termed “Harmoniemusik.” It allowed groups of amateur players to gather and play the works in their home, or in parks or small venues – for the music to be enjoied in a different version or format. This can well be said to be especially useful for works like this, that was not considered to be very strong as an opera. Liszt, who was a proponent of most of Schubert’s work, felt that he had no sense of cohesion within the piece, and no character development demonstrated within the the character’s arias… but that it was more just a grouping of songs than an opera. In that case, this type of arrangement makes the most of the good bits, allowing the melodies and charm to sing out for the sheer joy of making music. This music sparkles forth, and with its unity of instrumentation, it is the kind of CD that can easily be utilized as “background music” for a dinner or event, in addition to being listened to with more focus for musical enjoyment.

Steven Mauk, Sop. Saxophone
Mary Ann Covert, Piano

A variety of substantial “classical” works are interpreted on this CD as a recital presentation of soprano saxophone and piano. Mauk manages to bring a whisper softness to the sometimes shrill and squeaky soprano sax, making his entrance a consistently pleasant surprise. This CD presents a good cross-section, as any well planned recital, and includes a fairly atonal work by Villa Lobos, and the mixed modernity of Charles Rochester-Young’s Sonata (with its anti-melodic recitative followed by a creamy then spicy Nocturne and Tarentella). These two add texture to the works of Mozart and Bach, in this well-planned CD. Works like Mozart’s Concerto for Oboe are a obvious natural fit for another woodwind, as is Ravel’s Habanera, and the works like Platti’s Sonata are enjoyable surprises. Enjoyable, “classical” easy-listening!

Tune in next Friday for more new releases, JUST OPENED!
Kara Dahl Russell

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