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Highly Reviewed Recordings

September 5 - September 18, 2012

DUSSEK, F.X.: Sinfonias, Altner G4, A3, Bb2, Bb3 (Helsinki Baroque Orchestra, Hakkinen)
(Naxos: 8.572683)

DUSSEK, F.X.: Sinfonias, Altner G4, A3, Bb2, Bb3 (Helsinki Baroque Orchestra, Hakkinen)

…cleverly scored, tuneful…

The performances by the Helsinki Baroque Orchestra under Häkkinen are what might be termed “generic period instrument,” but of high quality. The wind players—oboes, horns, and bassoon—have an attractive timbre and maintain good intonation throughout. The strings are typically dry and thin-toned, but rhythmically precise and alert…

Certainly the music is of fine enough quality that it should appeal to anyone who enjoys the products of the First Viennese School. And who doesn’t? Excellent sonics flatter the players, and the decision not to use an obtrusive harpsichord continuo was very smart…this is a very recommendable release.

© 2012

SCHOENBERG, A.: Songs (Complete) (Jarnot, Barainsky, Diener, Mayer, Schafer, Vondung)
(Capriccio: C7120)

SCHOENBERG, A.: Songs (Complete) (Jarnot, Barainsky, Diener, Mayer, Schafer, Vondung)

There are over 90 songs here, all but seven dating from the first 15 years of Schoenberg’s composing life. Seven of the first 15 works to which he gave opus numbers were collections of songs with piano, and the greatest of them, the 15 settings of Stefan George that make up The Book of the Hanging Gardens Op 15, effectively signalled the end of his career as a song composer. He returned to the medium only briefly in his serial years for the Four German Folksongs of 1929 and the Three Songs Op 48, composed four years later. Taken together with the songs from the 1890s that were only published after Schoenberg’s death, they offer a minutely detailed guide to the evolution of his early musical language, from its beginnings in the blameless world of German romanticism to the more heavily chromatic, post-Wagnerian collections of the early opus numbers, and on to the freely atonal world that The Book of the Hanging Gardens inhabits so compellingly.

This meticulously compiled and documented collection, which also takes in the set of Brettl Lieder, the cabaret songs that Schoenberg composed in Vienna in 1901, also includes one real curiosity. The settings of Jens Peters Jakobsen that make up Gurrelieder are perhaps the most sumptuous of all 20th-century choral works, but they began life in the first years of the 20th century as a song cycle for soprano and tenor, with the mezzo setting of the Song of the Wood Dove added soon afterwards. Schoenberg completed this version in 1903, eight years before he began work on the orchestral score that we know today. Lasting just under an hour, it’s a very different work from the later one, of course, but the pressurised vocal writing constantly suggests something larger-scale and more grandiose bursting to express itself, as Schoenberg obviously realised.

The performances throughout the set, all of them accompanied by pianist Urs Liska, vary from the thoroughly effective to the very fine indeed, with the baritone Konrad Jarnot particularly impressive. Jarnot gets to sing The Book of the Hanging Gardens, and his performance is by no means outclassed by the superb recent version from Christian Gerhaher on Sony. But it’s the sheer comprehensiveness of this set that makes it so fascinating; many of the songs in it would be hard to source elsewhere.

© 2012 The Guardian

DENNEHY, D.: Stainless Staining / Reservoir (Moore)
(Cantaloupe Music: CA-21062)

DENNEHY, D.: Stainless Staining / Reservoir (Moore) The final entry of pianist Lisa Moore’s three-part EP series may be its most listenable. It’s certainly its most mesmerizing. Each EP has approached the piano in a wildly different fashion, offering Moore the opportunity to display every angle of her versatile chops.

2009’s “Seven” features the jazz and gospel-tinged compositions of Bronx-based clarinetist and composer Don Byron. 2011’s “Lighting Slingers and Dead Ringers,” by composer Annie Gosfield, colors pinging prepared piano with gauzy synth distortion and digital blips.

With “Stainless Staining,” Moore takes on two works by Irish composer Donnacha Dennehy that pull the pianist into uncharted waters. Equal parts texture and pulse, and built on hypnotic rhythmic repetitions, the music pendulums between active and passive listening. The title track, written specifically for Moore, pairs solo piano with a soundtrack of recorded and (sometimes) manipulated samples taken from a piano retuned so that it produces 100 overtones based on a low G# fundamental (the struck pitch). A seamless, propulsive blend of (wo)man and machine, the piece reflects Dennehy’s newfound fascination with the rhythmic pulsing of the overtone series.

The second piece on the EP is Dennehy’s 2007 work Reservoir. In the liner notes, the composer compares the piece to a Bill Morrison video in which a naked man is gradually submerged in water. The similarity was unintentional, but it’s easy to hear in the first half of the composition, which begins with high staccato piano notes that mimic incessant droplets of water. As the music progresses, the single notes become clustered double-stops as gentle, minimalist chords pool beneath. The piece becomes even more water-like in its second half with dissonances and rhythms blurring together over a depressed sustain pedal, climbing in register over fortissimo explosions of low-end clusters.

Headiness and allegory aside, the music on “Stainless Staining” constitutes an accessible and compelling EP. Packed with subtleties that become increasingly apparent with each repeated listen, it’s a fitting and memorable close to a trilogy that illuminates the multidimensional virtuosity of Moore’s playing.

© 2012 WQXR (New York)

GESUALDO, C.: Madrigals, Book 4 (Madrigali libro quarto, 1596) (Delitiae Musicae, Longhini)
(Naxos: 8.572137)

GESUALDO, C.: Madrigals, Book 4 (Madrigali libro quarto, 1596) (Delitiae Musicae, Longhini)

Just listen to the variations in tempi and dynamic of Luci serene e chiare. It’s the first track of this fourth volume in the excellent series of Gesualdo’s madrigals from Delitiæ Musicæ under Marco Longhini on Naxos. To hear this is to appreciate how effective care and attention to every nuance should be when singing what is often seen as a dark corner of the Renaissance vocal repertoire.

It goes on that way: the six singers and keyboard player (Carmen Leoni) treat every piece by the usually only anthologised Gesualdo as its own gem. They approach each madrigal almost as if it were Gesualdo’s only one. This could, admittedly, lead to a laboured and self-conscious style. It doesn’t. The Italian group’s familiarity with and obvious love of Gesualdo’s world sees to that.

Instead, our response is anticipation for each next madrigal while thoroughly savouring the particularities of the one we’re listening to. In a way this helps to create an understanding of the corpus of this aspect of Gesualdo’s output … two more CDs from Naxos—to whom Delitiæ Musicæ is under exclusive contract—and the cycle will be complete.

The composer’s Fourth Book of madrigals was published in Ferrara in 1596 and quickly achieved several further printings—including one in 1613 in Genova in partitura—a rare occurrence enabling singers to experience the music ‘horizontally’, line by musical line.

This Fourth Book was intended as a kind of atonement for the composer’s (conviction for the) murder of his first wife, Donna Maria d’Avalos in 1590. In the Kingdom of Naples a husband had such a legal right in the case of infidelity. But, although Gesualdo faced no punishment from the legal system, he was ostracised and marginalised by his own community. What Longhini—who also produced the ‘Urtext Edition’ for these recordings—and his singers have achieved so well is a convincing set of performances. This graciously and genuinely blurs any distinction that we might make four hundred years later between heartfelt remorse on Gesualdo’s part and what the Renaissance poet, playwright and composer was able to make using events from life as material for art.

In a way the tone, the weeping, the dourness, the (self-)deploring, above all the self-doubt must be taken as starting points for this beautiful and affecting music—not as something to be expressed in and by it. The creativity, the tight and effective matching of texts (mostly anonymous and by Guarini) to tonality and texture are what matter. They stand on their own. That’s the approach which these performers so successfully take.

At the heart of the set is what at first sight appears a misfit: Sparge la morte al mio Signor [tr.12], the longest piece here at almost seven and a half minutes. In fact to transfer the remorse to images of the unjustly (with ambivalences) murdered Christ illuminates the complexity of Gesualdo’s thinking in these works. The suggestion is clear … alongside remorse and torment should come forgiveness and some sort of ‘settlement’. Indeed by the time we get to Arde il mio cor [tr.19], the darkness has lifted somewhat, though Delitiæ Musicæ’s tempi are still slow, if a little less deliberate. Although those resounding bass notes of Walter Testolin are held for just as long and are as chilling, there is a sense of hope. Certainly the remaining three pieces look upward and let light in.

Nevertheless, overall we’re not allowed to forget the trauma, the potential for trauma, the torment represented by (secular) love, and the totality of a soul so affected when subjected to such searing and unrelenting self-examination. Not once do the singers lay the mud or paste on too thickly. Nor do they overlook the innovative nature of the sonic impact of the poetry … dissonance, distortion, a little interruption of the metrical line and much expressive, more easily-flowing consonance between text, harpsichord and song. You can hear this in the fittingly final Il sol qual or piu splende [tr.22]. While the phrase ‘tour de force’ would be wrong because it would suggest the need for a more mighty and strenuous push than is necessary here, the achievement of Longhini with Delitiæ Musicæ is a considerable one.

Their tone is just right from first to last, their articulation, emphases and sense of seriousness yet neither drab nor spuriously sparkling are indeed delightful. There is, to be sure, little of the lighthearted and springing qualities which we often associate with some madrigals. The purpose and drive behind these interpretations makes them hugely successful.

The booklet that comes with the CD has useful background—particularly to the killing and its subsequent effect on Gesualdo. It contains all the texts in Italian with English translation. The acoustic is clear and not too resonant, though full of intensity in atmosphere. If you’ve already been attracted to this excellent series, don’t hesitate to add this to the collection. It’s also a convincing and sensitive enough set of performances to encourage you to start and explore the lot. The Fifth Book is eagerly awaited.

© 2012 MusicWeb International

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