Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

For the past five years or so I've posted reviews of classical music CDs, DVDs and Blu-rays, in various places on the web: Amazon.com, iTunes and other sites. I'll collect those earlier reviews, and add four or five new ones every month.

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Strong performances of sometimes great music


Little Erich Wolfgang Korngold must have been excited when his first work was published by the distinguished firm Universal Editions of Vienna. Though his father was an important critic, the thirteen year old composer reached this Opus 1 milestone on his own merits, for this is an astonishingly accomplished work for one so young. Korngold's music came with raves from important people like Richard Strauss and Gustav Mahler, but the quality of the music is really self-evident. The piece is a perfect picture of one facet of Viennese music in 1910: it's full of sentiment and emotion, of gaiety and seriousness all mixed together in a delicious pastry. It steers clear of the modernism that Korngold's conservative father railed against, but there's enough harmonic and rhythmic sophistication to keep things interesting. The adolescent boy was even then building solid musical arcs, never dawdling or over-indulging when he comes across a good, big tune. These were all good traits for his future career in Hollywood. The young musicians of the Neave Trio put across this music in just the right way, with enough warmth but not too much schmaltz.

Leonard Bernstein was also a teenager when he wrote his Trio in 1937, though he was a good six years older than Korngold. This piece is nowhere near as proficient as Korngold's, with its academic roots evident, and its European modernist influences unevenly integrated. But there is considerable interest in thinking about where Bernstein will take certain aspects of this music later in his career. The jazzy second movement has its moments, and the marvellously atmospheric but simple opening of the final movement, which doesn't really move on to anything in this work, nevertheless points ahead to the great music to come. The performers keep things light and keep things moving, and provide as strong a case for this Trio as its slight frame can bear.

Arthur Foote's 2nd Trio is a mature work, and the Neave Trio have quite rightly placed it last on the program, since it has real weight and serious purpose. I think I prefer the new version by just a hair to the very good Arden Trio disc on Naxos, which is a bit breathless at times.  The depth of feeling in the gorgeous slow movement is a tribute to the abilities of these fine musicians, as well as Foote's as a composer. Watch this outstanding music making:



I have a bit of a problem with the title of the disc: American Moments. The Korngold is as Viennese as Schlosserbuben; America was decades in the future, and the young Erich Wolfgang was blissfully unaware of the horrors that would take him there. The Bernstein is trans-Atlantic at best, with as much Stravinsky as jazz, though his authentic American voice would come soon under the tutelage of Aaron Copland. And Foote's music lives cheek-by-jowl with Faure, Franck and Brahms, though underneath he's a real Yankee Transcendentalist. But this is a small matter, considering the excellent presentation of two special works, and one less special but still of real interest. The Chandos disc drops November 18, 2016.

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