Chicago’s Leo Sowerby (1895-1968) is mainly remembered as a prolific composer of sacred scores, a Pullitzer Prize-winning composer, famous for his church cantatas, organ solos and songs. A self-taught prodigy, Sowerby had included populist elements in his scores for a decade before being contacted by conductor Paul Whiteman (who commissioned Gershwin’s famous album Rhapsody in blue) in 1924, asking him for a piece of symphonic jazz to play in one of his âRevolutionary Concertsâ. 12 minutes from Sowerby Syncona is a blast, and unlike anything you’ll hear this year. Jazz influences are mostly textural, with brilliant writing for the reeds and brass. At least one contemporary critic thought it was better than Rhapsody in blue, and it’s good to know that Gershwin and Sowerby were friends, Sowerby revealing that Gershwin taught him how to drink martinis. Much of it sounds like silent movie soundtrack, the disparate sections neatly knitted together. Even more cinematic is the Tramping music, heard here in a version for solo piano and strings, a tribute to Sowerby’s mentor and teacher, Percy Grainger.
The big job here is another Whiteman, Sowerby’s Symphony for jazz orchestra, subtitle Monotony. Not that there is anything tedious about the music, inspired by a Sinclair Lewis novel and meant to accompany a presentation on stage with the protagonist attending a theater, cocktail party, church service and concert. Sowerby doesn’t do big Gershwin tunes, and there’s a pleasant bite to much of the score, the more chaotic stacks suggesting Charles Ives. Fascinating, and you can’t imagine it being better played or recorded than here, suitably fruity baritone saxophones and banjo. None of the orchestral works have been left in a proper edition, but Andy Baker’s new reconstructions appear to be quite genuine. We also get Sowerby’s String Quartet in D minor, assembled from the composer’s pencil score, meaning members of the Avalon String Quartet had to provide bows, dynamics and expressive marks from scratch. . It is a glorious work, more lyrical than the pieces of Whiteman. A fabulous record, beautifully recorded. Great cover notes too, and a fun cover photo – take a look at Whiteman’s bass drum.
Christopher Serrone: The path of the arches Timo AndrÃ©s (piano) (Outburst Inburst Musics)
The arched path is an engaging meditation on travel and landscape, several of the pieces on this record of music by Christopher Cerrone are obliquely inspired by specific places. The title work was inspired by Sergio Musmeci’s concrete bridge in the Italian town of Potenza, an awe-inspiring structure from 1967 that I’m now determined to visit. “Musmeci’s Concrete” is a sonorous mixture of blows and echoes, both serene and surprising, Cerrone’s second movement takes us briefly below the surface of the river before an ecstatic ascent towards the light of day and an introspective journey towards the House. Not that you need to know it when you listen; played here by his fellow composer Timo Andres, The arched path is instantly distinctive and attractive. The album closer, Hoyt-Schermerhorn, takes its name from a New York subway station. It’s music of sweet resignation, Cerrone using electronics to overlay a shimmering, high-pitched film of tinkling piano notes, reminiscent of the ringing one gets in the ears after a noisy night.
Double happinessThe five movements make effective use of field recordings made by Cerrone in Umbria, carefully combined with Andres’ piano and the subtle percussions of Ian Rosenbaum. Distant rain and bells are discreetly mixed, as well as live electronics from Cerrone. The song cycle I will learn to love a person features the poetry of Taiwanese-American writer Tao Lin, pondering the challenges of building relationships in the digital age. Soprano Lindsay Kesselman is spellbinding, the sweet intensity of her singing is quite appropriate. Lin’s call to get rid of the “endless crap” that can clutter our emotional and physical lives is answered by Cerrone’s settings, and the cycle ends in a mood of temporary optimism. It’s smart and engaging new music, wonderfully performed and designed.
Mozart and Beethoven: Septets Soloists of the Lucerne Festival Orchestra (emphasis)
Mozart’s K251 Divertimento in D, dedicated to his sister Maria Anna, is not heard enough. This live performance from the Lucerne Festival 2020 is very enjoyable: nothing is overplayed, and there is a rustic and appealing touch to the sound of the ensemble. It’s a star-studded cast, musicians including horn player Stefan Dohr and legendary violist Wolfram Christ, but there is no showboating. I like the sweetness they bring to the little âAndantinoâ, Lucas Macias Navarro, who offers magnificent oboe solos. The rondo of Mozart’s fifth movement seems to be the finale; the little “Marcia alla francese” which closes the work looks like an afterthought. This is very fun.
More ambitious is Op. 20 Septet, a work whose popularity angered its composer, believing that listeners appreciated it for the tunes rather than for its musical sophistication. So many passages sound like orchestral music, and the mix of solemnity and boldness will delight anyone who particularly enjoys Beethoven’s early symphonies. Highlights include an unusually touching ‘Adagio cantabile’ and an irresistibly bouncy scherzo that features an iconic Beethoven tune. A disc of well-being; two unbuttoned works, nicely played.
Mozart: String Quartets Vol 2 EngegÃ¥rd Quartet (Lawo Classics)
Three successive major key quartets may seem too good on paper, but listening to the second disc by the Norwegian Quartet EngegÃ¥rd dedicated to Mozart’s âHaydnâ quartets is a rich and satisfying experience. Each of the three works here is a compact and mature masterpiece, building on the model of the senior composer and pushing the form in entertaining new directions. These players really tap into the spirit and gravity of music. The opening of the minuet of No. 14 is suitably disconcerting, and the bass lines of cellist Jan Clemens Carlsen in âAndante cantabileâ are discreet but sonorous. The abrupt end of the final is well done. The 6/8 gallop of Quartet No. 17 sounds like a fall from an abandoned horn concerto, the tempo is relaxed but lively, and the âAdagioâ is incredibly touching. There is a real warmth in the tone of the EngegÃ¥rds, the impeccable mix.
The lower semitone Quartet No. 18 is even deeper and richer, a superficially relaxed three-beat first movement, full of quirks and surprises. The long sequence of variations of the third movement is the longest on this record, each variation being brilliantly characterized. The finale has another throwaway ending, so surprisingly you feel compelled to listen to the whole thing again. Good performances, in short, and the close and sound recording is perfect for these quartets.
Purcell: Birthday Odes for Queen Mary The Kings Consort / Robert King, with Carolyn Sampson, Iestyn Davies (Long live)
Listening to a large-scale record recorded as recently as April 2021 is a joyous reason in itself, and Robert King’s latest Purcell collection is also beautifully produced – a callback that Fairfield Halls, still underrated and largely ignored. from Croydon, is a wonderful recording. place. Purcell composed six odes between 1689 and 1694 to celebrate the successive birthdays of Queen Mary. Large pieces in several movements, each starting with a spectacular instrumental number, they contain incredibly entertaining music. Get up, my muse dates from 1690, its overture “Symphony” is an explosion of catchy and deceptive energy. Then tenor David de Winter negotiates the title number with disarming freshness and ease, and you’re hooked. The cast is opulent; sample countertenors Hugh Cutting and Iestyn Davies in “Hail Gloriana, hail” and it’s hard not to smile.
Carolyn Sampson plays a leading role in the other two odes, but it seems unfair to single out any particular singer; they are all excellent. The squeaky libretto by Thomas D’Urfey, Charles Sedley and Nahum Tate sound like works of genius in the hands of Purcell, and every word is audible. “Long may she reign on this island”, softly sung by Sampson, is a highlight of the 1692s The goddess of love was blind, this ode ending with a surprisingly introspective chorus. Celebrate this festival (1693) features spectacular trumpet writing, Sampson and a choir at one point urging trumpeter Neil Brough to stop playing. It bounces, especially in a formidable duet with bass Matthew Brook. They are extremely entertaining and uplifting pieces. The instrumental accompaniments of The King’s Consort are lively and colorful. The documentation is excellent, with scholarly notes and full texts included.
A summer day Susanna Anderson (soprano), Little Venice Ensemble (Stone records)
I loved the Little Venice Ensemble Christmas record a few years ago, and here is the delayed sequel. Mainly recorded in Sweden last winter, this anthology is another euphonic selection of Anglo-Swedish music, reflecting the composition of the group. I had never met the one of Vaughan Williams Three preludes to Welsh hymn tunes before. They are unassumingly beautiful, first performed in 1941 by a string quartet but designed to be performed by “combinations of all kinds of instruments”. A floating scherzo separates the exterior movements, the flattened sevenths in the very characteristic last bars. Another rarity is the delicious little one Serenade for guitar and strings from 1955, losing nothing in this five-string soloist performance. Written, like Arnold’s Guitar Concerto, for Julian Bream, the idiomatic and non-flashy solo writing is typical of Arnold and a nice mix of pastoral Spanish and English influences. Guitarist Martin Fogel is excellent; you would buy the CD for that part alone.
Violinist BjÃ¶rn Kleiman’s arrangements of four piano pieces by Wilhelm Peterson-Berger are charms: folkloric, earthy miniatures that do what they do wonderfully. The third, “Vest I fjellom” is the most remarkable; suggesting a Swedish Vaughan Williams. Kleiman’s “Lady’s Mantle” is a small but perfectly proportioned waltz written for flute and string quartet. The remaining numbers feature soprano Susanna Andersson, whose crisp, crisp sound matches the mood of the album perfectly. There’s a song by ABBA’s Benny Andersson, of which “Efter regnet” is a charmer. Equally attractive are the Five quiet songs by British jazz guitarist and composer John Duarte, and the record ends with Monica Dominique’s adorable “TillÃ¤gnan”, an ode to nature in a new arrangement with the ensemble. A small but perfectly formed album.