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Highly Reviewed Recordings

October 17 - October 30, 2012

HOLMBOE, V.: Chamber Symphonies (Lapland Chamber Orchestra, Storgards)
(Dacapo: 6.220621)

HOLMBOE, V.: Chamber Symphonies (Lapland Chamber Orchestra, Storgards) Most would agree that Vagn Holmboe (1909-1996) was Denmark's greatest symphonist after Carl Nielsen and Rued Langgaard. So it's something of an occasion that the three chamber symphonies from the latter half of his career finally see the light of day on this new release on the Dacapo label.

Without a wasted note, this is rigorously compact, sinewy music that grows on you with each listening. The composer's principle of thematic metamorphosis is evident throughout these world premiere recordings.

The First Chamber Symphony, from 1951, is a four-movement neoclassical gem that opens with a threatening timpani roll. This heralds an austere utilitarian motif that becomes the DNA for the whole work. A brief, anguished development follows and then the movement ends quietly.

Next up, a fleeting Animato and ruminative Adagio, which are both reminiscent of Nielsen's last three symphonies. The final Allegro has a scampering idea that's a metamorphosis of previous motifs. It brings the symphony full circle, again demonstrating Holmboe's structural mastery.

The Second Chamber Symphony, from 1968 and subtitled "Elegy," is considerably more complex. The icy opening Andante has vibraphone accents, mocking horn calls and moments reminiscent of Bartók's Concerto for Orchestra.

An explosive Presto and pensive Adagio follow, with the latter again bringing Bartók to mind. Turmoil breaks out once more in the final Allegro but eventually dissipates, ending the symphony in medias res. More of the head than heart, this music has intellectual rather than emotional appeal.

Holmboe would write his third chamber symphony over the next two years. Composed in association with a sculptor friend's creation of a frieze for a school building, the six-movement work is accordingly subtitled "Frise" (Frieze). Its informality makes it more of a suite of tone pictures than one of the composer's rigorously structured symphonies.

Yet metamorphic processes are again much in evidence, and there's a harmonic austerity reminiscent of Paul Hindemith. Many may find the driving finale this album's high point.

Recorded in Rovaniemi, Finland, bordering the frigid wastelands of the Arctic Circle, these performances by the Lapland Chamber Orchestra under John Storgårds are white hot. The playing is technically as well as artistically of the highest order.

Bob McQuiston revels in under-the-radar repertoire at his website Classical Lost and Found.

-NPR Deceptive Cadence Blog

PROKOFIEV, S.: Year 1941 (The) / Symphony No. 5 (Sao Paulo Symphony, Alsop)
(Naxos: 8.573029)

PROKOFIEV, S.: Year 1941 (The) / Symphony No. 5 (Sao Paulo Symphony, Alsop) This stunning new release of Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony stands out from an overcrowded catalogue of recordings. From the unlikely source of Brazil’s Sao Paulo Symphony with its recently appointed American conductor, Marin Alsop, it can easily challenge Europe’s greatest orchestras. Bristling with virtuosity, the many solos are superbly played and it has a brass and percussion section that adds tremendous impact. Less well known, The Year 1941 was written to please Prokofiev’s Soviet overlords. Fabulous sound quality.

© 2012 Yorkshire Post

DALLAPICCOLA, L.: Orchestral Works, Vol. 1 (BBC Philharmonic, Noseda) - Tartiniana / 2 pezzi / Frammenti sinfonici / Variazioni
(Chandos: CHAN10258)

Magnificent Dallapiccola Collection

These pieces from Luigi Dallapiccola’s prime have a glittering, caressing beauty that masks an extraordinary musical mind. Dallapiccola (1904-75) arguably was the most remarkable of an important group of 20th-century Italian composers (Malipiero, Casella, Rieti, Petrassi, Ghedini, among others) who emphasized instrumental rather than operatic work. Ironically, in Dallapiccola’s case he was to become most famous for his moving opera, Il Prigioniero, written after he had escaped the Nazis by hiding in the woods; but it may be that free of the demands and limits of the theater, his instrumental and choral pieces have more individuality and power. He was the first Italian to master the 12-tone technique of Schoenberg, with some notions of his own. But like Alban Berg, Dallapiccola often wrote in a lyrical style that seemed to suggest a more songful quality than many other serialists wanted in their work. Though he is careful and rigorous technically, the overall sound of his work is gorgeous, and he is an inventor of fugitive but haunting melody.

The most imposing work here is the Variations for Orchestra (1952). Dallapiccola is quite strict in using serial techniques, starting with a carefully managed tone row. However, now and then he breaks the row to spell out the name B-A-C-H, in honor of J.S. Bach, one of the greatest masters of variation technique. Dallapiccola’s counterpoint is breathtaking in its effortless complexity, yet the segments have a wide expressive range. In both the Variations and Piccola Musica Notturna (from 1954, the title is a tribute to Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik) Dallapiccola is paying homage to his friend, Anton Webern. His sound world, however, is his own, and the ability to allow sighing, sweet melodies to arise and subside into a beautiful well of soft but fascinating harmonic and instrumental gestures is hypnotic.

In Due Pezzi (1947), Dallapiccola demonstrates that serial music can be utterly alluring, but, as is often true in his music, there is a subtle glance backward at the late Renaissance—Carlo Gesualdo with his spiky chromatic harmonies haunts this piece. The Fragments from the ballet Marsia (1947) are reminiscent of a much younger Dallapiccola’s adulation of Debussy. The five movements are almost a lexicon of expressive choices, from caressing to ferocious, that a 20th-century composer can make, held together by subtle motifs, varied, juggled, turned upside down.

Tartiniana (1951) superficially seems to be in the style of Stravinsky’s Pulcinella. (Dallapiccola’s older contemporary, Casella, in his Paganiniana and Scarlattiana uses a more obviously Stravinskian style). This is a “freely” tonal work—the actual key of a given section is mysterious right up until the final, sometimes unexpected chord. From that tension, Dallapiccola derives a piece that combines the melodic sweetness of the selected Tartini tunes for violin (made more fascinating through artful fragmentation) with arresting, sometimes thorny, sometimes lovely harmonic procedures. It is evocatively scored for chamber orchestra without violins for maximum contrast with the solo violin line, skillfully played here by James Ehnes.

The BBC Philharmonic plays with virtuosity, and although Gianandrea Noseda is rather careful, his work is admirable for detail and harmonic insight. The sound is spectacular.

© 2012

Piano Recital: Conti, Mirian - PIGNONI, R. / BALCARCE, E. / GUASTAVINO, C. / SAENZ, P. / GILARDI, G. / PLAZA, J. (Nostalgias Argentinas)
(Steinway and Sons: Steinway30010)

Piano Recital: Conti, Mirian - PIGNONI, R. / BALCARCE, E. / GUASTAVINO, C. / SAENZ, P. / GILARDI, G. / PLAZA, J. (Nostalgias Argentinas)

This highly enjoyable collection presents Argentinian piano works…Exemplifying the disc’s title, Carlos Guastavino’s wistful and reflective 10 Cantos populares evokes nostalgia for the Old World of Europe, while the playful tangos of Pedro Saenz’s Aquel Buenos Aires evokes the vibrant spirit of the new continent.

The program ends in a virtuoso flourish with Julian Plaza’s scintillating Nocturna.

Virtuoso also describes the work of pianist Mirian Conti, who performs the wide range of musical styles here with infectious verve and impeccable musicianship. The recording is an object lesson in how to capture the sound of a grand piano and then to convincingly, realistically reproduce it. If all you know of Argentinian music is Astor Piazzolla…you’re in for a real treat with this generously filled…disc. Highly recommended.

© 2012

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