Kuyper: Violin Concerto in B minor (CD review)

Also, Sonata for Piano and Violin. Aleksandra Maslovaric, violin; Tamara Rumiantsev, piano; Mikel Toms, Brno Philharmonic. Feminae Records CD1401.

Serbian violinist Aleksandra Maslovaric continues her recordings of classical works by female composers, and again the decision comes as a welcome change of pace for the record industry, which seems predominately populated by male composers. Certainly, the main reason for so many males in the recording marketplace is that male composers dominate the classical repertoire; and perhaps another reason is that I've read males tend to buy more classical recordings than females. Nevertheless, Ms. Maslovaric's recordings make a welcome addition to the classical music catalogue, especially when they are recordings of composers who seldom get much attention.

Having never heard anything from the Dutch Romantic composer and conductor Elisabeth Kuyper (1877-1953) before, I wasn't sure what to expect from the concerto and sonata on the program. I'm happy to say they live up to the high standards of composer's Kuyper's professional career and violinist Maslovaric's prodigious talents.

In 1901 Kuyper was the first woman to study composition at the Meisterschule für Komposition, led by Max Bruch, where she proved quite a productive composer. In 1905 she became the first woman composer awarded the Mendelssohn Prize, after which she composed what is probably her best-known work, the Violin Concerto in B Minor we hear on the present disc. In 1908 she became the first woman appointed as a professor of Composition and Theory at the Hochschule für Musik. Unfortunately, in those days there was very little opportunity for women musicians, so she made her own way. In 1908 she formed a women's choir at the Lyceum Club, and in 1910 she formed and conducted the Berlin Women Musicians' Orchestra. In 1923, she founded the London Women's Symphony Orchestra, and in 1924 she founded the American Women's Symphony Orchestra in New York.

The album begins with the Sonata for Violin and Piano, Op. 1 from 1902, Ms. Kuyper's very first published work. Like the concerto that follows, the sonata is clearly in the late-Romantic mold, filled with lovely melodies and sweet harmonies. The sonata comprises four movements: Allegro ma no troppo, Bolero, Andante con espressione, and Allegro energico e con fuoco. These descriptions are pretty self-explanatory, and Ms. Maslovaric plays them with great expression. She clearly has strong feelings about the music and isn't afraid to reveal them through her performance. It seems odd that people should neglect Kuyper's music these days, but I suppose her style, coming as it did at the very doorstep of the modern era, even early on sounded quaintly old-fashioned to a lot of ears. To my ears, however, the music appears attractively refreshing in its purity, simplicity, and innocence. Or maybe that's just the way Ms. Maslovaric plays it; in any case, it's quite charming.

The program continues with the Violin Concerto in B minor, Op. 10, premiered in 1908. The concerto comes from the big, grand tradition of piano concertos by Bruch and Saint-Saens, yet it, too, finds little but neglect, lost perhaps in a musical world of transition. Nevertheless, powerful, personal musical statements never fully go out of style, and maybe Romanticism is making a comeback after all. (Not that it's ever been out of favor with the general public, the music of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries still dominating the record-sales charts.)

Anyway, the concerto follows the traditional concerto form of fast-slow-fast movements, in this case an Allegro con fuoco, Adagio, and Prestissimo. While there is little that is absolutely memorable about the concerto, the writing is so felicitous and Ms. Maslovaric's musicianship so enthusiastic, it's easy to like, even when the score seems more than a little derivative. The broad sweep of the first movement, the touching melancholy of the second movement, and the cheerful jauntiness of the final movement seem to me hard to resist.

Jakko van der Heijden recorded the sonata at Zeeuwse Concertzaal, Middelburg, the Netherlands; Jaroslav Zouhar recorded the concerto at Besedni Dum, Brno, Czech Republic; and Scott Levitin mastered the album at Warner Elektra Atlantic Studios, Burbank, CA. Feminae Records released the disc in June 2014. The sound is big and warm, in the sonata the violin and piano occupying mostly the same space, one just ahead of the other. The concerto is actually a touch more transparent, the orchestra revealing a pleasant breadth, air, openness, and depth of field, the violin placed in front of but not too far in front of the orchestra in a most-realistic manner.

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:


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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor ofThe $ensible Soundmagazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio StreamLine preamplifier, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my LG G7 ThinQ cell phone, which features surprisingly sophisticated audio circuitry. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

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It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa