Sunday, December 4, 2016

Miloslav Kabeláč - Symphony No. 4 "Camerata" - Do Not Retreat! - Euphemias Mysterion - Reflections - Six Cradle-Songs - Prague Radio Chorus, Prague RSO, Prague Chamber Orchestra - Supraphon 1995

Miloslav Kabeláč, although unknown to many, was one of the greatest Czech composers of the 20th century and I am confident that this post will confirm and convince you of this if you are unfamiliar with his work. This disc is possibly my favorite recording of Kabeláč's music and his Symphony No. 4 would be worth the price of admission if it was the lone offering on this treasure chest release. Kabelác wrote a total of eight symphonies and just this year Supraphon released a set of all eight symphonies....I haven't the $$ to add it to my collection at the moment but hopefully soon. This is a an important and substantial survey by one of the great Czech symphonists. I cannot wait to listen to those fresh digital performances!!)

Miloslav Kabeláč (August 1st 1908 - September 17th 1979)  was badly shaken by the nazi occupation of Bohemia and Moravia in March of 1939. The young composer who had already won recognition for his originality, felt the urge to react to the tragic event in his own way. He contemplated the idea for some time and, later that year on October 27th, the eve of the anniversary of the creation of Czechoslovakia, completed the score for the cantata "Do Not Retreat!" which is his Opus 7. (He later recalled that he had hurried to finish it for that particular occasion) 

For his cantata, the composer selected  from Karel Jaromir Erben's (1811 - 1870) collection 'Bohemian Folk Songs and Nursery Rhymes', with which he was familiar, the texts of several folk songs from the time of the Prussian invasions of Bohemia in the mid-18th century.   The cantata closes with the trumpets playing the melody of the famous 15th century Hussite chorale "Ye Who are God's Warriors", with the male chorus singing in counterpoint the text of the second strophe of the chorale: "Do not be frightened by your enemies" (Kabeláč replaced the words "do not flee" which appear in the earliest version of the chorale as recorded in the Jistebnice Hymnbook with "do not retreat" which better suited his purpose). The male chorus is joined in the cantata by brass, winds and a large group of percussion instruments (which was to be of great importance later on for the composer). The cantata belongs to the most personal and most effective of Kabeláč's works, and is a genuine tour de force by the young composer.  "Do Not Retreat!" was first performed by with the composer conducting after the war, on the occasion of the presidential election of Edvard Beneš on October 28th of 1945. The autograph of the score is dedicated "To the Czech people". 

Kabeláč's eight symphonies hold a significant place among his oeuvre. The first, for strings and percussion, was completed in the spring of 1942, and the last (Symphony No. 8) during the summer of 1970. The fact that each is written for a different combination (No. 8 is scored for solo soprano, mixed chorus, percussion and organ for example) is somewhat unusual, even by 20th century standards. Symphony No. 4 in A major, "Camerata" his opus 36, was completed in 1958 and written for the Prague Chamber Orchestra who also perform it here. Symphony No. 4 is a major and powerful work that Shostakovich would surely have been fond of. The hardbitten determined first movement is a Grave with an indomitable Shostakovich-like forward pulse and a magnetic pull toward tragedy. This contrasts with a busy and antiphonally echoing Presto. After this effervescence we come to a depressive Lento from which vivid colours have been leached. Themes and colours conspire to achieve complete consistency of statement and atmosphere. The finale is a whirling dance but its Kodaly-style exuberance is shot through with a ruthless impulse and crushing energy. 

The symphony was recorded in 1960 and thus benefits from stereo sound unlike the slightly older mono recordings (still quite fine) of the cantata and the lovely, chromatically lush "Six Cradle-songs"(written during his younger years. Kabeláč was enchanted by folk songs, and like Dvorák or Martinů, he often composed to their lovely poetic texts).

Once again I will have to finish this post at another time, so as to get the actual music to you all :)

Mirolsav Kabeláč



Saturday, December 3, 2016

Historic Works for Percussion Ensemble (1931-1942) Edgard Varése, Ionisation - Johanna Beyer, "IV" - Henry Cowell, Ostinato Pianissimo - Carlos Chavez, Toccata Alan Hovhaness, October Mountain - Lou Harrison, Canticle No. 3 - Thomas Siwe, Conductor - Equilibrium 2002

Hello everyone. Since I am currently albeit briefly home I'm uploading this superb album in the background whilst doing other things - still my only option unless I'm visiting family (visiting their computers!).  So, I just might have to take a drive over to 'family headquarters' tonight or tomorrow in fact; I am really itching to share magnificent tunes. I miss the days of posting music regularly/several times a week so very very much :(   Needless to say I'd love to be posting for you my fellow musical explorers, every day, now that would be my (non-profit ;) dream job. Add to that an actual career in classical music broadcasting/programming etc. and I would probably be willing to confess bouts of happiness every once in a while! I dunnoo if I mentioned this but I was a candidate finalist for a full-time radio host job at WQXR New York just short of a year ago, which blew my mind; *this* has been one of my dream jobs (and top day dream, I should add) for over 20 years now! At least I still have a well-produced demo to attach to my CV in the future if I ever get the extremely unlikely opportunity.

What the above flapdoodle has to do with this 1 hour offering of exciting and important percussion music from the early 20th century.....I do not know. See if you all were here I'd tell you many a' dull and occasionally interesting things in person. Then again - have you ever seen the Marx Bros hilarious "A Night at the Opera"? The famous cabin/stateroom scene?? If I invited over say, the top commenting visitors here, we would have not music wine or cheese, but this:

Is that Mr. Driftwood falling for a dame, or is it scraps??

Another shot of my studio apartment-blogfriends-meetup gala.

So, on to the disc. In the booklet each composition lists the varied musicians involved yet it is unclear if they are all part of one unified group (my guess is the University of Michigan Percussion Ensemble?) 

So, change of plans. I just looked at the time. I shall add info on this release very late tonight or tomorrow - more likely. For now have fun exploring these percussion masterworks (likely unfamiliar to some will be the Beyer piece - it is a shame that the innovative composer Johanna Beyer < 1888-1944 > is not better known!)

*Sunday afternoon and I am now home.

Edgard Varèse began Ionisation in Paris in 1929 and completed it on November 13th, 1931. This landmark composition was written for 13 players utilizing 40 percussion instruments, including crash cymbal, bass drums, concerros (muffled cow bells struck with a drum stick), high and low tam-tams, gong, bongos, side drum, high and low sirens, slapstick, güiros, Chinese woodblocks, claves, triangles, snare drums, maracas, tarole (a high pitched drum), suspended cymbals, sleigh bells, tubular chimes, cymbals, castanets, celesta, tambourine, anvils, piano, glockenspiel (with resonators), and others that I am simply forgetting. As the very first of many all percussion scores written in this century, "Ionisation" is remarkably subtle in its use of those instruments. The form is articulated by changing sonorities - a passage scored only for metal instruments; a fleeting duet for drums and maracas; a hair-raising moment (the first sustained loud point in the score) when several players have the same triplet figure (a rhythmic unison); the first high, Morse-code clanging of the anvils, more than midway through. The grand and sonorous coda is marked by the entrance of the piano, celesta, and chimes--the three instruments of definite pitch. Varèse once defined his mission as the "liberation of sound" (just as Schoenberg promised the "emancipation of dissonance.") Ionisation is the purest demonstration of Varése's success, and his eventual influence. It is the work of both a pioneer and a

The life of Johanna Magdelena Meyer is somewhat of a mystery. She was born July 11th, 1888 in Leipzig, Germany, studied music and at the age of 35 immigrated to the States, making her home in New York City. She continued her studies with Dane Rudhyar, Ruth Crawford and Henry Cowell. She was enrolled in Cowell's percussion class at the New School in 1935 when she composed "IV", the only work published during her lifetime. To help support herself, she worked as Cowell's assistant at his publishing firm, New Music, doing office work and translations of German texts. Described as very shy, Beyer, it appears, was reluctant to promote her own works. However Cowell's wife, Sidney Robertson revealed in a phone interview that Beyer would would sometimes include her manuscripts with New Music scores to prominent conductors. Beyer died January 9th, 1944 after after a long illness from ALA - Lou Gehrig's Disease. Her music (over 50 songs, symphonies, and chamber works) has languished, largely ignored, in the American Music Center Library.  The first performance of "IV" was given on March 6th 1933, in Carnegie Hall.

"IV" is composed of 9 rhythmic lines. As with John Cage's 1935 quartet, no instrumentation is indicated. The conductor must select percussion instruments that blend well, yet insure that each voice can be recognized. Four of the lines enter as in a fugue, creating inverted pyramids across the manuscript. Their accents are reinforced by the other voices with a bottom note ostinato marking the start of each 7/8 measure. A sense of movement is created as tempo and intensity levels constantly  shift. The work ends in a great crescendo with seven final beats heard by a single voice.

New World Records has recorded a decent amount of her music thankfully, so when I can locate where I have some other discs of Beyer's music, they will most certainly make an appearance on here.  

"Ostinato Pianissimo" is an example of Henry Cowell evoking the sounds of Indonesian gamelan music without truly imitating its formal structures or utilizing normal orchestration. Elements of  both Indonesian and Indian classical music can be found within its pages. Composed in 1934 and dedicated to Nicholas Slominsky, it is scored for 3 gongs, 3 drums, bongos, tambourine, guiro, 2 woodblocks, xylophone, 8 rice bowls and 2 string pianos (Cowell wrote works that asked the pianist to pluck, scrape, mute, or strike the strings inside the piano with fingers and various objects. Later on John Cage who was Cowell's student took this further with the "prepared piano"). By muting selected piano strings at various points, Cowell altered the sound making it reminiscent of gamelan metallophones. The rice bowls, to be arranged in ascending scale, shocked early audiences (similar sets of bowls called jala tarang have origins in Indian folk music). The bowls, along with the xylophone and string pianos, perform repeated ostinatos of varying lengths creating a complex heterophonic texture. The woodblocks, tambourine, guiro, and drums act as another unit whose rhythmic pattern slowly repeats itself every 10 measures. The final group, 3 gongs performs a cycle five measures in length marked by striking one of the gongs with a wooden stick. "Ostinato Pianissimo" borrows from musical structures found in Asian music yet he transforms them into something original. Definitely the most intriguing 3 minutes one can experience through sound!

*More info on the other works I will add soon; I'd like to move on so I can share one more deliriously interesting recording before it gets too late :)



Saturday, November 26, 2016

Film Music of Toru Takemitsu - 7 CD Box Set - 武満徹映画音楽 - Various artists, Orchestras and Ensembles - Victor Entertainment Japan, 2006

These are probably the rarest Takemitsu recordings around. Toru Takemitsu composed music for at least 70 films (I have read that it's actually around 90 but I haven't researched this) and the music can be exceptionally wide-ranging: traditional Japanese soloists and ensembles, Western classical tradition, avant-garde and everything in between (jazzy lounge and space age music, anyone?) I feel that some of his best film scores are those which have his delicate Debussian touches combined with traditional Asian music and soloists. The employment of the koto, biwa and shakuhachi is particularly effective. I cannot think of any other composers who have explored so many genres within their film score discography. This boxed set is such a precious gem collection and an immense pleasure for any Takemitsu fan. A comprehensive boxed survey of the great Takemitsu's film music would be an ambitious undertaking to say the very least - and I'd guess that it would take the world record for the only recorded collection that would be physically impossible to lift in one go ;)    And yes, I know about the "complete" Bach recordings I came close to buying them once..

One film composition that I am especially fond of (unfortunately it's not included in this collection) is Takemitsu's delicate and ethereal score to Kihachiro Kawamoto's "House of Flame", which is a wondrous stop-motion animation work by the brilliant filmmaker and animator Kihachiro Kawamoto. Kawamoto uses three-dimensional puppets and flat paper figures in combination with various background effects, such as drawn animation and multi-plane layering and the effect is stunning. I urge anyone interested to get the dvd "The Exquisite Short Films of Kihachiro Kawamoto" which for me is magical viewing and one of my favorite animation dvds. 

I checked youtube to see if Takemitsu's score for House of Flame has been shared as a performance however it is the short film (19 mins) itself by Kawamoto that is posted. Unfortunately the video as uploaded here has Russian subtitles which will make it impossible to follow the story for most audiences. The "original" has English subtitles and thus one would have to save the file and hope to locate a .srt subtitle file on the 'net someplace. If you don't mind the titles, needless to say the score and visuals make up for it. The audio quality is ok. If you care to check it out:

Disc 7 is unnumbered

The actual boxed set:

Disc(s)/Tracks info (almost all of the texts in this set are in Japanese):

Disc one: Directed by Masaki Kobayashi

1-1 Kwaidan/Ghost Stories
1-2 Harakiri
1-3 Glowing Autumn
1-4 The Inheritance
1-5 Hymn to a Tired Man
1-6 The Fossil

Dusc 2: Directed by Masahiro Shinoda

2-1 The Petrified Forest
2-2 Silence
2-3 With Beauty & Sorrow
2-4 The Assassin
2-5 Samurai Spy
2-6 Ballad of Orin
2-7 Clouds at Sunset

Disc 3: Directed by Nagisa Oshima/Susumu Hani

3-1 Empire of Passion
3-2 The Man Who Left His Will on Film
3-3 Dear Summer Sister
3-4 The Ceremony
3-5 Bad Boys
3-6 A Full Life

Disc 4: Directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara

4-1 The Face of Another
4-2 Summer Soliders
4-3 Pitfall
4-4 Shiroi asa
4-5 Woman in the Dunes
4-6 Jose Torres
4-7 The Ruined Map
4-8 Rikyu

Disc 5: Directed by Akira Kurosawa, Toichiro Narushima, Shiro Toyoda, Mikio Naruse, Shohei Imamura

5-1 Dodesukaden
5-2 Time Within Memory
5-3 Illusion of Blood
5-4 Scattered Clouds
5-5 Black Rain

Disc 6: Directed by Kon Ichikawa, Noboru Nakamura, Hideo Onchi

6-1 Kyoto
6-2 Alone on the Pacific
6-3 Twin Sisters of Kyoto
6-4 Nijuissai no chichi
6-5 The Kii River
6-6 Once a Rainy Day
6-7 The Call of Flesh
6-8 Wonderful Bad Woman
6-9 Shiawase

Disc 7: Bonus Disc

7-1 Beast Alley (Eizo Sugawa)
7-2 Saigo no shinpan (Hiromichi Horikawa)
7-3 Sabita en (Masahisa Sadanaga)
7-4 Under the Blossoming Cherry Trees (Masahiro Shinoda)
7-5 to 7-17 Conversation with Toru Takemitsu  -Entirely in Japanese :(

Booklet notes (majority is in Japanese):

Enjoy everyone!!

Raven: Works by Mikis Theodorakis & Harald Genzmer Theodorakis, "Raven" for Mezzo-Soprano, Flute, Two Harps and String Orchestra - Adagio - Genzmer, Harp Concerto - Fantasia for Harp - Carolin Masur, Mezzo-Soprano - Kirsten Ecke, Harp - Mitteldeutsche Kammerphilharmonie, Stefanos Tsialis - Genuin 2004

Greetings to all. It has been quiet around here (yet again) due partly to my general emotional state concerning the sudden and unfathomable direction the country is now taking and the potential (imo imminent) deterioration of our democracy out here. Of course the other half s still my upload speeds.
As I am visiting my parents I have a real treasure for you now - and then something ultra-rare later tonight when I can get back online.

Mikis Theodorakis's "Raven" for Mezzo-Soprano, Flute, 2 Harps and Strings is one of the *most* strikingly beautiful works composed during the 20th century. Truly it is breathtaking. Carolin Masur is simply heavenly here, her voice both soars and meshes with the sublime orchestral writing to perfection. While I cannot imagine a better performance, I have wondered what the great Dawn Upshaw could or would do in this role.. 

I am also very fond of other composer featured here, Harald Genzmer. He is one of the most underrated composers and it's really tragic as he has composed a vast body of exceptional music - everything that I have heard confirms this (ermm for me). I think I once mentioned the rare and out-of-print survey of Genzmer's works on the Thorofon label - it is a 10 disc box set that I missed when it came out and I am still without it :(  On this Genuin release from 2004 he is represented by his sweet and spicey (he was a pupil of Hindemith) Harp Concerto as well as the three-movement "Fantasia for Harp".

Mikis Theodorakis is one of the most productive composers of the 20th century. His oeuvre spans more than 1,000 songs and over 100 major works, including symphonies, dramatic works, film scores, operas, oratorios, chamber music and sacred and choral works. Of his song output, in addition to his well-known  large song-cycles, he has also composed seven chanson fleuve (never-ending songs or "songstreams"). Among them is the gorgeous "Raven" from 1970, with a text by Yorgos Seferis based on Edgar Alan Poe's ballad "The Raven".

Theodorakis during the 1980s.

Since I'm with family I'm not going to spend the time writing about Harald Genzmer and his music on this splendid disc at this time, however please visit this old post for information about him:

Unfortunately I am told that the link to that album is dead (for those who missed it..). I promise you all that I shall update EVERY dead link on my blog whenever I can afford a "real" internet connection once again.

Harald Genzmer

Enjoy this sublime release!!

Part 1

Raven-Mikis_Theodorakis &_Harald_Genzmer(1)

Part 2  (Genzmer's Fantasia for Harp, last work on the disc)


**I have not had the time to look at any comments in a long time so thank you all in advance, I will read and respond to you when I can!

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Ferenc Farkas - Orchestral Music Vol. 1 - Divertimento - Concertino all'antica for Cello & String Orchestra Lavotta Suite for Chamber Orchestra - Maschere for Chamber Orchestra - Trittico concertato for Cello & String Orchestra - March Suite - MÁV Symphony Orchestra, Péter Csaba - Toccata Classics 2014

The music of the Hungarian composer Ferenc Farkas is a real delight to listen to, as this disc will illustrate for those of you who are new to the composer. Stylistically his music can be 'all over the map' in the very best of ways. Be it Mozartian charm or rustic Hungarian folksongs and dances (Kodaly comes to mind especially in the "Lavotta Suite"), Farkas's music as heard here is as cheerful as it is well-written. This is the first volume from an ongoing series exploring Farkas's varied oeuvre, and along with the orchestral volumes there is now also a series dedicated to his chamber music.

I have added the booklet notes within this post as everything that needs to be said is there. Toccata's program notes are I think some of the most informative. I believe I've included the pdf file as well but who needs it when it's clearly that much more exciting to read it all right here - yes the happiest place on earth  =;0D


Ferenc Farkas (1905–2000) was one of the most popular figures in twentieth-century Hungarian music. His popularity was due in equal measure to his relaxed manner and balanced personality, to his unique pedagogical abilities and to his music, which found its way to the hearts of a broad range of music-lovers. He was active throughout his exceptionally long life, and constantly in contact with people: teachers and students, amateur and professional musicians, writers, painters, sculptors and film-directors. He was not one to shut himself away in the ivory tower of the privileged, and only towards his ninetieth year did he retire from public life, though he continued composing to the last day of his life. He taught several generations, as a legendary professor of composition at the Budapest Music Academy, his students including almost all the important Hungarian composers of the second half of the twentieth century, including György Kurtág and György Ligeti, who formed part of the international avant-garde.

His music, though, reflects the same accord he realised in his own everyday life: ever the optimist, he always concentrated on beauty and harmony, and loved every second of his 95 years. This approach, at least, is indicated by his works and his relationship with the outside world: he concealed, resolved and transfigured suffering and tragedy through music, as Mozart and Mendelssohn had done before him. He was drawn not only towards art and the beauties of nature: he was famed also for his expert knowledge of food and drink. Among the countless constraints of his century, he attempted to resolve what was perhaps the biggest contradiction of the art of his era: to be new, individual and modern and yet not to abandon the public to whom he addressed his works. And Farkas’ public is extremely diverse, because his music is incredibly varied. He composed in almost every genre and style, from arrangements of folk-music and historical music evoking the distant past, to Neoclassical and dodecaphonic compositions; from simple pieces for amateur choirs, children studying music or youth orchestras, through light Singspiele, radio plays and operettas to demanding chamber works, modern cantatas and operas.

The works on this disc paint a characteristic portrait of Ferenc Farkas, although it is necessarily only one side of this multifaceted master. He was barely 25 when at the beginning of 1930 he composed the Divertimento, during two academic years he spent in Rome, from autumn 1929, in Ottorino Respighi’s master-class at the Academy of Santa Cecilia. His lodgings were in Palazzo Falconieri, the property of the Hungarian state, which as part of the Collegium Hungaricum network provided accommodation for young Hungarian artists. Farkas wrote of his study years:

The Roman environment made a life-long impression on me. It was particularly the artist residents of the Hungarian Academy in Rome who drew my attention to the early arts [...]. I have them to thank for my discoveries in sculpture and architecture as well as painting. For several months I visited museums and sites in a frenzy, then I set firmly to work composing, following what was known as the ‘novecento’ style, which was close to me.

To the end of his life he made frequent mention of his Italian maestro; he was captured less by his music than by his character:

Respighi’s extraordinary personality captivated his students: he was a genuine man of the world, he spoke many languages, he loved telling anecdotes and funny stories. He was very well-informed and erudite, and had wide-ranging knowledge of a whole host of topics.

The lightness of mood and Mediterranean sunshine of the Divertimento show the influence of his time in Rome, but the work already bears the typical traits of Farkas’ music. The five movements are clearly and transparently formed. They are built on brief, logically structured sections, like most of Farkas’ compositions, and the instrumentation bears witness to an outstanding sensitivity to tone colour. The light first movement, Allegro leggiero 1, cast in something akin to traditional sonata form, has a main theme which is passed around all the parts several times; the gracefully bowing second subject conjures up a Rococo mood. The playful and cheery second movement, Allegro giocoso 2, is an outstanding compositional achievement, born of a moment when the composer uses the simplest and most ordinary means to state boldly something that is common knowledge to all. Yet the effect it has is that of novelty, as if nobody had said it before him. A lyrical middle section provides contrast, as happens in the Tempo di Minuetto, too 3. The fourth movement, Intermezzo 4, lasts hardly a minute, and fits into this alternating pattern of fast and slow as if it were nothing but a bridge to the rondo-structured final Allegro 5. Farkas dedicated the piece to Respighi, who suggested holding the premiere in the vast hall of the Augusteo in Rome. For some unknown reason this performance never took place, and the young composer returned to Budapest, where he submitted the Divertimento to the Ferenc Liszt competition, in which it was ranked among the top three works. The prize-winning works were conducted by Ernő Dohnányi on 11 February 1933 in the Műcsarnok (‘Art Hall’), at the opening of an exhibition held in memory of the Minister of Culture, Kuno Klebelsberg. By strange coincidence, Klebelsberg, who had died in 1932, created the Collegium Hungaricum network and scholarship that had enabled Farkas to write the work, and the exhibition commemorating him gave occasion for the premiere.

Respighi influenced Farkas not only in the adoption of a Neoclassical style, but in the rediscovery of
earlier eras, as is evident in the Concertino all’antica, the title of which refers to Respighi’s series of Antiche danze ed arie; a similar composition on this disc is the Lavotta Suite. When a twentieth-century composer of the order of Farkas or even Respighi writes new works in the guise of an old master, it becomes far more than a simple game or stylistic exercise. The work never fits into the style of any particular earlier composer, or even into the style of any one period; only some of its traits and the artistic creed of the creators are reminiscent of the music of several centuries ago. Farkas was particularly fond of donning a mask adorned with archaic elements, but his own individuality always shines through whatever mask he happens to be wearing, and his ‘all’antica’ pieces can never be mistaken for the work of any Baroque, Classical or Romantic composer.

In the form heard here, the Concertino all’antica is a three-movement cello concerto for string orchestra, with the mood conjuring up earlier times. It was originally written for a special Baroque instrument now almost forgotten, the baryton gamba, with harpsichord accompaniment, and entitled All’antica. In 1962 the cellist János Liebner commissioned Ferenc Farkas to write a piece for the instrument, for which Joseph Haydn had written over a hundred works in the 1760s and ’70s. Haydn’s employer, Prince Nicolaus Esterházy, himself played this instrument, which is slightly smaller than a cello; in addition to seven bowed strings, it also had eleven resonating strings running behind the fingerboard, which could be plucked with the thumb. Farkas wrote archaic music suitable for the instrument, and tried to exploit the possibilities afforded by the baryton: for instance, instead of quadruple stops written for the four strings of the cello, he could write chords of up to seven notes. He said:
When János Liebner commissioned me to write a piece for the revived, or reborn, baryton, I began to study the instrument. [...] While composing I noticed that the new piece was becoming an old piece;
I had immersed myself in the character of the instrument so completely that in my composition I had conjured up the olden times.

But in order that more people might play and hear the piece, Farkas made three alterations in 1964. He tailored the baryton part, with minimal changes, to the cello, orchestrated the accompaniment and added some new orchestral sections. This concerto version was premiered on 19 January 1966 in Marseilles, again with János Liebner as soloist.

With its rocking rhythms and lyrical melody, the first movement, Pastorale 6, differs from the de rigueur opening movement of a concerto focussing on the soloist. The main protagonist has no virtuoso cadenza either here or in the third movement; indeed, a cadenza would be out of place in this light and intimate mood, and the composer gives no opportunity for one to be improvised. Formally speaking, it resembles a concerto only in the alternation of solo and tutti passages, which the composer effected by adding an orchestral introduction and interlude to the original chamber work. The slow second movement, an Aria con variazioni 7, is more lyrical in character. Its song-like melody is first sounded not by the soloist, but by the principal violist accompanied by pizzicati from the soloist, and the harmonic background is closer to Impressionist music than to the Baroque. If it were not for the reference to the form in the title, it might not be noticed that the movement is a theme and variations, so refined are the means by which the composer has loosened the rigid traditional formal framework. The soloist does not have the main melody of the movement until the third and final variation. The fast closing movement, Giga 8, is full of stylistic elements of the Baroque, with voices answering one another in imitation and various rhythmic games.

While he was crafting the cello-concerto version in 1964, Farkas also wrote another cello concerto, entitled Trittico concertato. The latter work is the opposite of the former in both character and sound: a brilliant virtuoso piece, in a true twentieth-century style. Although it, too, is shot through with Baroque motion and rhythmic figures, its melodies and entire motivic system are built on the supple elements so typical of Farkas, which in each small section uses the entire chromatic scale. The Trittico concertato was also written to commission. In October 1963 the Pablo Casals cello competition was held in Budapest, and Ferenc Farkas was asked to chair the jury. In the international jury, the composer later recalled, I met the excellent Spanish cellist Gaspar Cassadó. He invited me to lunch, and told me that he would like to commission a concerto from me, to be premiered with the Zurich Chamber Orchestra. At first I protested that I didn’t know the wiles and stratagems of extended virtuoso cello technique. He answered that the composer’s job was to write, and the performer’s to figure out how to perform it.

The work was completed the following year, and premiered on 11 September 1965 in the Teatro La Fenice as part of the Venice Biennale. The soloist at the Hungarian premiere in 1967 was Vera Dénes, whom Farkas had already consulted for advice on the cello part while the work was being written.
The first movement, Allegro moderato, is broadly a sonata form, and the third, Allegro vivace, a rondo. The second, slow movement, Passacaglia con Dedica, is unusual. The first half is a Baroque variation, in which the bass theme of eleven notes, repeated throughout, derives from the name of Gaspar Cassadó. Under the notes the composer wrote: ‘G-As-p-A-R C-As-S-A-D-ó’ (‘As’ being A flat), indicating the ‘musical’ letters with a capital (R was interpreted as D as in absolute solmisation, p was replaced by C sharp, and ó by F sharp). The second half of the movement, the ‘dedication’, is linked to the dedicatee’s name only by the starting notes (G, A flat).

The Lavotta Suite is, as mentioned, another piece that draws on older music; it has its genesis in the incidental music Farkas wrote in 1950 for András Dékány’s radio play Kóbor hegedűs (‘The Stray Violinist’), which presented the life of János Lavotta (1764–1820), a famous figure in Hungarian verbunkos music, once used in recruiting soldiers. As he worked, Farkas studied Lavotta’s extant works, both in manuscript and contemporary publications, intending to use them as authentic sources. But because only short excerpts could be inserted in the radio play, in 1951 he made an independent orchestral suite from the compositions he had discovered and arranged. He said of his intentions:

Already in earlier works I tried to popularise the extant notated works of nameless Hungarian composers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, with modern art-music arrangements, attempting to create a non-existent ‘Hungarian Baroque’. Continuing in this vein, I discovered the fiddler-composer János Lavotta, whose themes, motifs and fragmentary ideas I considered suitable to use to develop an image of the Hungarian ‘early Biedermeier’. I am not the only composer of our time to be fond of hiding behind masks of the past. In this ‘pasticcio’ there is no irony, no grimace; I have attempted to place the simple but inventive motifs in the type of formal frame Lavotta would have done, if he had mastered the most developed compositional techniques of his time.
The five movements of the Lavotta Suite bear programme-like titles. The first 9 and fourth are verbunkos dances, merely entitled ‘Magyar’ (‘Hungarian Dance’, labelled ‘Ungarisch’ in the orchestral score), the third is a ‘March to Pannonia’6 which may refer to Lavotta’s return from Vienna to Hungary. The second movement, a Menuet, is an ‘alien’ courtly dance, but altered to Hungarian tastes: in spite of its non-Hungarian 3/4 time, it abounds with Hungarian accents and motifs, and the anacrusis typical of the minuet is omitted. The final rondo, ‘Merrymaking in the Tavern’, is based on motifs from Lavotta’s most famous work, a programme suite written to commemorate the nobles’ uprising of 1797.

Allusions to earlier periods also characterise Maschere, though its style is utterly individual and twentieth-century. It was originally written for wind trio (oboe, clarinet and bassoon), because Farkas felt these instruments would best be able to conjure up the rather abstract, ‘masked’ world of the ‘actors’ of the movements. These three instruments also have an important role in the version for chamber orchestra on this disc. The genesis of the work was a meeting of past and present: while he was still a student in Rome, Farkas’ attention was caught by a book in which included illustrations of the Pierrot figures by Gino Severini (1883–1966), and in 1983 Severini’s centenary provided an opportunity for composing:

I wrote my piece Maschere (Masks) in memory of and for the centenary of the Italian Futurist and later Neoclassical painter. Severini was fond of painting the figures Pulcinella and Arlecchino with masks. The movements of Maschere conjure up the traditional figures of the Commedia dell’arte: the pugnacious captain, the disgruntled old Pantalone with his affectations, the flirtatious Colombina, Pulcinella and his poor family, and the crafty Harlequin.

The composition of the March Suite is also linked to a centenary. Written in December 1947 to celebrate the revolution and war that broke out in March 1848, it won a prize in a music competition advertised for the occasion. The political mood of the years after the Second World War did not look favourably on musical experimentation: the closure of the borders and the real and intellectual ‘iron curtain’ sealed Hungary off from new international trends. In the 1940s Farkas was one of the first in Hungary to experiment with a unique application of dodecaphonic music, but even without the changes around him, he would probably have returned to his own former path by the end of the decade. Under Soviet pressure, composition of ‘easily understandable’ music and a constantly optimistic mood was soon made compulsory, but Farkas had already moved, or rather returned, to this path. The liberated cheerfulness of this work is sincere and heartfelt, as apparent from the first hearing. According to the composer’s analysis, Pannonia was originally a province of the Roman empire, occupying part of present-day western Hungary, eastern Austria and the top of the former Yugoslavia.

The first movement (Allegro moderato, ma con slancio; small sonata form) is characterised by the sound of enthusiasm, the second (Elegy; quasi lento, ternary form) is a lament for fallen heroes, the third (Allegro vivace; rondo) is a bustling battle scene, with horn and trumpet calls.

Enjoy everyone!

Conlon Nancarrow, String Quartet No. 1 - Steve Reich, Triple Quartet - Different Trains - The Smith Quartet (Live UK Performance)


What makes these performances special for me are two works: George Crumb's "Black Angels" (no surprise there, that section was my halloween post) and Conlon Nancarrow's early and imo fantastic String Quartet No. 1. Reich's Triple Quartet (for two pre-recorded string quartets and one live quartet) is quite listenable but doesn't really do much for me. Then there is "Different Trains". To put it mildly - I am *not* a fan whatsoever. And to put it plainly, I find the whole work extremely annoying and tedious - start to finish. Borderline torture. There are plenty of works that employ recorded tape, looping and vocal snippets that I like; this is just not one of them. I'm sure many of you feel differently, and that's not only fine, that's wonderful! That's what makes an individual listening experience so glorious. The global language and dance indeed.

So, please die-hard Reich fans - no hate comments directed at me ;)

An exuberant Conlon Nancarrow

-For George Crumb's "Black Angels" which is part of this live program, please scroll down three posts to October 31st.

It's on its way, folks----> The Smith Quartet plays Conlon Nancarrow (String Quartet No. 1) and Reich (Triple Quartet and Different Trains) live 2001

After posting George Crumb's Black Angels as performed live by the Smith Quartet, someone asked if I have the rest of the program - indeed I do, and for those of you wondering when the hell I plan to post again the answer is now....the upload is going to take 43 minutes though lol so this is simply a "heads up", not unlike hearing what's coming up in the next hour on your favorite (those that still exist anyhow!) radio show.. 

I hate to complain each time I post these days - but I hate the speeds even more so. I get so aggravated that I cannot help myself. Sorry everyone! Perhaps I should go with my modem for couples therapy..