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Monday, January 9, 2012

Just Opened, January 6, 2012

Our first JUST OPENED of the New Year we focused on music from around the world, both old and new.



Hans Rott
Symphony & Pastorales Vorspeil
Vienna Radio Symphony Orch.
Dennis Russell Davis, cond.
CPO 999 854
ISBN# 7 61203 98542
German composer Hans Rott, a student of Bruckner, is another of the romantic era composers who showed great promise in his youth, went insane, and died young. The Symphony here was written at the age of 20, and he was dead by 26. Here is an instance where he was truly insane by the "danger to himself and others" standard - in his paranoia he believed that Brahms had loaded the train he was on with dynamite, and when a fellow passenger began to light a cigarette, Rott drew a gun on him. (Brahms had previously passed Rott over for a musical award.) Brahms may have been right in assessing Rotts work to combine brilliance with triviality; but the Pastorale on this recording gives us a real insight to Rott's lyrical brilliance.


VALSES MEXICANOS 1900
Cuarteto Latinoamericano
DORIAN 93224
Salon music from 1900s mexico, played by an excellent quartet, teamed with a double bass, a "historically" plinky sounding piano, and -of all things - a psaltery, give this music a distinct, unique sound that picks you up and places you at a high-toned Mexican resort at the turn of the 1900s. A combination of Waltzes and dance melodies that are sure to get your toes tapping. I personally adore historically informed recordings that give us an added sense of the sonorities that were present and popular in a particular time period, although I admit: for some, this will be excessively odd. My delight of the week.


NEVER FAR AWAY
Music of Bright Sheng
Yolanda Kondonassis, harp
San Diego Symphony Orch.
Jahja Ling, cond.
TELARC 80719
ISBN#0 89408 07192 8
Bright Sheng's work straddles some interesting tonalities. For my money, at his best, his work is an eastern equivalent of Gershwin and Bernstein. His Shanghai Overture, which opens this CD, takes traditional eastern melodies, sets them on western instruments, and juxtoposes them with modern rhythms and clashes, creating a cityscape of modern Shanghai, in much the same way Gershwin did in his "American in Paris" for Paris, and Bernstein did for New York with music for "West Side Story." If you use this as a framework for approaching Sheng's work, it is a useful entre. I personally like traditional Eastern music on traditional instruments, but many westerners find these tonalities too foreign and odd. So, this, too, is another entre... getting your ears used to the traditional sound can help you as you approach this modern take on the folk music. (Sheng is in line with the great Romantic tradition of composers who took their folk music and turned it into the basis of concert works... but composer Ma Sicong has a much more accessible blend for most western ears.) The title work is dedicated to harpist Yolanda Kondonassis, who plays it here. The first two movements are reminiscent of airy new age works... and had me wondering why a harpist of the stature and talent of Kondanassis was really needed... until I heard the 3rd movement - "Doctored Pentatonics" which gives even her a real workout... a pentatonic fugue. This is challenging music, but definitely has its rewards.


ROBIN MILFORD
Piano Songs & Music
Rapahel Terroni, piano
Phillida Bannister, contralto
TOCCATA CLASSICS 0009
ISBN# 5 060113 440099
"Lying on a continuum between the owrk of his friends Gerald Finzi & Ralph Vaughan Williams, Milford's voice is nonetheless distinctive: lyrical, gentle, unemphatic - quietly individual." Milford's songs tap into the "English vein of pastoral melancholy," but even with their darkness, the voice of Bannister adds warmth and richness. Her contralto register lends a nice quality to these songs, which might sound more traditionally "northern isles" with a higher voice. The piano works are not as melancholy as the songs, and add a nice contrast within the program of this CD. Terroni is marvelous, and these piano works range the countryside and town in taking their inspiration.


RECITAL FAVORITES
Volume VI
Barbara Nissman, piano
PIERIAN 0043
Having now heard several of Nissman's "Recital Favorites" CDs, I feel comfortable saying that these are simply reliable collections of varied piano works, and you can safely pick any of them up and have music that is enjoiable and excellently performed. On this, Volume VI she leans abit more toward the modern composers, Ravel's "Gaspard de la Nuit," and Scriabin's Sonata No. 5, but adds Chopin and Schumann for more traditional grounding. She is an artist that has left her exceptional, rarified, world-class touring schedule behind, and now simply graces us with these excellent recordings. Aren't we lucky?!


Join me next Friday for more new releases, Just Opened.
Kara Dahl Russell

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