Aspects of America: Pulitzer Edition. Walter Piston: Symphony No. 7; Morton Gould: Stringmusic; Howard Hanson: Symphony No. 4 “Requiem.” Carlos Kalmar: Oregon Symphony. Pentatone PTC 5186 763.
The title of this release stems from the fact that this is an album of Pulitzer Prize-winning compositions by American composers. The program opens with Symphony No. 7 by Walter Piston (1894-1976), a three-movement work that was completed in 1960 and awarded the Pulitzer in 1961. The first movement is bold and dramatic, well-captured by the Pentatone engineering team in dynamic sound. The second movement is more lyrical, very moving, and the finale brings on renewed energy. I was not familiar with this work before, but am certainly pleased to have made its acquaintance through this excellent recording. The second piece is by Morton Gould (1913-1996). His five-movement Stringmusic was completed in 1993 and was awarded the Pulitzer in 1995. Gould composed the work for the legendary Russian cellist and conductor Mstsislav Rostropovich. It is lyrical and lively, but because it is for strings only, it can seem a bit of a sonic letdown after the boldness of the Piston. Still, it is an involving work in its own right, even if it seems a bit out of place when sandwiched between two colorful symphonies. The final work on the program is the one that most listeners are more likely to be familiar with, as the symphonies of Howard Hanson (1896-1981) have been recorded several times. His Symphony No. 4 was completed in 1943 and awarded the Pulitzer in 1944. It has an intensity about it that is quite involving, its four movements being titled Kyrie, Requiescat, Dies Irae, and Lux Aeterna, after the Catholic Mass for the Dead. However, this is not music that sounds religious in any formal sense. Like most of Hanson’s work, much of it sounds something like film music. Good film music. Colorful, listenable, dramatic, and entertaining.
All three of the works presented on this fine Pentatone release are a bit out of the mainstream but all are well worth an audition, especially when presented in such excellent sound quality as they are here. Times are indeed tough out there right now, but thank goodness for music to help sustain our minds and spirits.
Sigfúsdóttir: Kom vinur. Horous Askelsson, Schola Cantorum. Sono Luminus SLE-70019.
I don’t have access at the moment to the poems, but the choral music on this EP is so beautiful and moving that I feel inspired to see whether I can find the poems somewhere on the interweb. Meanwhile, I know that Sigfúsdóttir has composed other music; the 10 transcendent minutes contained on this brief gem have been more than enough to make me seek out more. This is a wonderful release, brief (but inexpensive) as it might be.
No Time for Chamber Music: Collectif9.
The liner notes explain the unusual album title and concept thusly: “‘No time for chamber music… you are nothing but an academic exercise’; these are two lines taken from the 3rd movement of Luciano Berio’s Sinfonia, built on the scherzo of Gustav Mahler’s 2nd symphony… The composers on this recording use quotations to create depth in storytelling… Gustav Mahler quoted his own works with intent and delicacy, with layers and layers of intricate detail and deeper meaning… Creating these arrangements allowed us to see the breadth of colors he was imagining and generated the space to find this diversity ourselves. While we might have the impression that Gustav Mahler, with his symphonies and Lieder, had no time for chamber music, this was not at all the case. Reflecting our daily life, our interactions, and our intimacies, chamber music is human communication itself.”
The eight selections on this CD include two taken from Mahler’s Symphony No. 1, two from Symphony No.2, and one each from Songs of a Wayfarer and The Song of the Earth. The final selection, by composer Philippe Hersant, is a fantasy based on musical themes by Mahler. This is a truly stimulating collection that really digs into the heart of Mahler’s inspirations. If you are a fan of Mahler, you really ought to hear it; however, you need not be a Mahler fan to enjoy some truly fascinating chamber music. Assuming you have the time, of course…
La traversée: Matthieu Bordenave, tenor saxophone; Patrice Moret, double bass; Florian Weber, piano. ECM 2683 088 2928.
The sound produced by the trio is spare and haunting, recorded in typical ECM style with both clarity and ambience. This is music born out of reflection that invites further reflection on the part of the listener. Even if you are not really all that much of a jazz fan, unless you are someone who is pathologically opposed to the sound of a saxophone you might well find this to be a fascinating take on the idea of chamber music.
Lontano: Anja Lechner, cello; François Couturier, piano. ECM 2682 085 7705.
Järvlepp: Concerto 2000 and Other Works. Pascale Margely, flute; Ivan Josip Skender, Zagreb Festival Orchestra; Petr Vronsky, Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra. Navona Records NV6291.
Other than the solo flute being a bit overpowering in Concerto 2000, the sound quality is just fine. All in all, this is an entertaining album that should appeal to a wide variety of musical tastes.
Some Food for Thought: “Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo did not know where their amazement began… Something similar happened with the cylinder phonographs that the merry matrons from France brought with them as a substitute for the antiquated hand organs and that for a time had serious effects on the livelihood of the band of musicians. At first curiosity increased the clientele on the forbidden street and there was even word of respectable ladies who disguised themselves as workers to observe the novelty of the phonograph from first hand, but from so much and such close observation they soon reached the conclusion that it was not an enchanted mill as everyone had thought and as the matrons had said, but a mechanical trick that could not be compared with something so moving, so human, and so full of everyday truth as a band of musicians. It was such a serious disappointment that when phonographs became so popular that there was one in every house they were not considered objects for amusement for adults but as something good for children to take apart.” (from One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Márquez).