Symphony No. 3 “Simfoniya-poema”; Triumphal Poem / Caucasian Sketches (1994) by BBC Philharmonic conducted by Fedor Glushchenko

Categories: 1894, 1947, 1950, 1994, and Music.

This is a bizarre pairing of a Khachaturian symphony, one of his symphonic poems and an orchestral suite from another Russian composer from the 1890s. The fact that they don’t sound so out of place suggests how conservative Khachaturian was as a composer. I have hear the Triumphal Poem before, though I’m not sure where. (In a movie?) It’s big and bombastic like much of Khachaturian’s music, and generally lacking in subtlety. It is catchy, though. I remember it from whenever I heard it before. Catchy, obvious, easy. The first Caucasian Sketches is a moody late Romantic piece with strong Read More

Vox Humana? / Finale / Fürst Igor Strawinsky (1991) by Mauricio Kagel, performed by Ensemble 2e2m, Lyon National Opera Chorus conducted by Paul Méfano

Categories: 1979, 1981, 1982, and Music.

This record collects three of Kagel’s longish “choral” pieces. Kagel was a weirdo is the best ways. Listening to Kagel’s work, rather than watching it, is a bit of a problem, because Kagel’s work is often “theatrical” not just in the sense of being influenced by the theatre, but of having the musicians act out parts. Listening to the music online you miss that aspect. (Something big definitely happens 10 minutes in, when there is a giant scream.) That being said… This piece sure reminds me of Berio at his most theatrical (in a good way). It is about a Read More

Sinfonietta; Taras Bulba (1983) by Leos Janacek, performed by Philarmonia Orchestra conducted by Simon Rattle

Categories: 1918, 1926, 1983, and Music.

This disc collects two of Janacek’s most famous symphonic compositions, both of which were dedicated to the military. So there’s a theme here, often lacking from programs. The Sinfonietta instantly strikes a chord with me because Emerson, Lake and Palmer covered the opening Allegretto on their debut album. So, right away, all attempts to objectively judge it fly out the window. It’s certainly not one of Janacek’s most daring works but it is engaging and energetic and certainly demonstrative of his ability to pack lots into relatively short pieces. Taras Bulba I’ve heard before. I think I like it more Read More

Janacek: Suites/Idyll (1993) by London Jupiter Orchestra conducted by Gregory Rose

Categories: 1887, 1888, 1993, and Music.

This disc collects two of Janacek’s pieces for string orchestra with an orchestrated (and abridged) version of his cycle, On an Overgrown Path. The ‘Suite for Strings’ is quite pleasant; a pretty typical Romantic tone poem to my ears. Though it’s certainly not as interesting as his later music, it’s extremely pretty. The suite based on On an Overgrown Path is entirely unnecessary. It’s one of numerous string versions of Romantic piano cycles/suites, and I’ve rarely heard one that adds to the original. This is no different, especially given that it’s abridged so we don’t even get the full set. Read More

Janacek: Taras Bulba, The Fiddler’s Child, Jealousy (Overture), The Cunning Little Vixen Suite (1992) by Czech Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Jiri Belohlavek

Categories: 1894, 1912, 1915, 1918, 1921, 1923, 1992, and Music.

This is a collection of orchestra works by Janacek; two standalone works, one overture extracted from an opera, and a suite of instrumental pieces from one of his operas. Taras Bulba is an extended symphonic poem that is a little more programmatic than most of the ones I’m used to. (In this way, I believe it reminds me of Elgar…) It’s a full blown Romantic piece, with echoes of folk melodies and oodles of feeling. It’s a nice piece and enjoyable music, but I find it a tad too traditional to rave about it. “Fiddler” is a pleasant and engaging Read More

Ives: Symphonies Nos 2 and 3; The Unanswered Question (1966) by the New York Philharmonic conducted by Leonard Berstein

Categories: 1901, 1902, 1910, 1911, 1935, 1958, 1960, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1987, and Music.

This is a compilation of the New York Philharmonic and Leonard Berstein’s performances of the middle symphonies and The Unanswered Question, originally a piece paired with another but one that has found a lot of attention as a standalone. Bernstein was one of the great champions of Ives once he was “discovered,” but these performances are actually significantly later than the premieres, which were handled by other conductors in the ’40s. Apparently Bernstein made some somewhat radical changes to some of the tempi and these changes have entered the repertoire. That’s not something that necessarily bothers me, though I understand Read More

Ives: The Symphonies; Orchestral Sets 1 and 2 (2000) by Various Artists

Categories: 1901, 1902, 1910, 1911, 1916, 1919, 1929, 1973, 1976, 1994, 1995, 2000, and Music.

This is one of those Decca compilations that takes recordings from all over its catalogue (in this case from the mid ’70s and the mid ’90s) to create an ostensibly “complete” collection of a composer’s works in a given field, in this case Ives’ work for large orchestra. Of course it’s not complete, as it’s only the first four symphonies (Ives wrote 5 plus an unfinished one) and only two of the three” orchestral sets” (sort of American tone poems, though that description isn’t entirely  accurate…). And, to fit on the disks, the sequencing is totally out of whack as Read More

Hindemith: Kammermusik (2012) by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Claudio Abbado, et al.

Categories: 1917, 1922, 1927, 2012, and Music.

This set collects Hindemith’s Kammermusik compositions (two are actual chamber music pieces, seven are concertos) and for reasons I may not ever understand, pairs them with a violin sonata and an incomplete work. The first Kammermusik is a crazy, vibrant piece that manages to combine fairly strong melodies (relatively speaking) with the kind of aggressively discordant changes and percussion punctuations modernism is known for. One of my favourite Hindemith pieces. The third movement stands out because it is so peaceful, but it’s practically impressionist. The second Kammermusik begins with some of Hindemith’s brilliant writing for piano – which always threatens Read More

Symphony No. 9 (2009) by Hans Werner Henze, performed by Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin, Rundfunkchor Berlin, conducted by Marek Janowski

Categories: 1997, 2009, and Music.

Like Beethoven’s 9th and Mahler’s 8th, Henze’s 9th symphony is a choral symphony. And much like his eighth, it’s highly programmic (even more so this time). I am, at this stage of my life, a real sucker for choral symphonies, for reasons I cannot quite articulate. Henze’s 9th remains in the more traditional mode of his other later symphonies, and I cannot help but wonder if he adopted the choral mode in part of a conscious tribute to Beethoven, perhaps thinking his 9th would be his last. (It wasn’t, but there’s that infamous theory that composers always die after completing Read More