In Auxiliary Input, Andrew Anderson, a Fine Arts Librarian at the Dallas Public Library, reviews classical and opera recordings, including by local organizations. We hope to tie them to local performances by guest artists with various orchestras and chamber music organizations.
For the January edition, a themed album from pianist Emanuele Arciuli; recordings of Haydn works for the baryton, and the early orchestral works of Bohuslav Martinů.
If you have a recent or upcoming recording to suggest, email editor Mark Lowry at email@example.com.
Bohuslav Martinů: Early Orchestral Works, Volumes 1 and 2
Sinfonia Varsovia, Ian Hobson
Toccata Classics TOCC0156 (v. 1) and TOCC0249 (v. 2)
Release date: April 30, 2013 (v. 1) and June 3, 2016 (v. 2)
It wasn't until I learned of Texas Ballet Theater's upcoming world premiere Martinů Pieces that I also learned that everything I had ever heard by Czech composer Bohuslav Martinů—everything, and I've heard quite a bit—had been composed relatively late in his career.
Yes, I thought I knew Martinů. I knew he was ridiculously prolific—he was closing in on the 400 mark before he died in 1959—but I had listened to so many of them those 400 works that...well, there must have been a little of everything, right? Early, late, middle, late middle, late early middle? I had listened to all six of his symphonies, for instance, and I guess I just figured that the first was an early work and the sixth was a late one. And I never bothered to investigate, but if I had, I'm sure I would have noticed that recordings of early works by Martinů are as scarce as the scores for them.
I guess I should have said they were as scarce, because Toccata Classics is gearing up to issue a third volume of the Czech composer's early stuff. I haven't heard that one yet—maybe by next month I will have—but this time last month, I hadn't yet heard the first two (available here and here). Some Martinů fan I am; I didn't even know about the first two. I do now, though, and so do you. And, as preparation for the Texas Ballet Theater's show in late March—you are preparing for that, aren't you?—allow me to recommend these two volumes of early orchestral works by Martinů.
Certainly, you should listen to his later works, as well. The three movements on the TBT program all qualify as late or late-ish: they're the composer's Symphony No. 5, the Overture for Orchestra and the Concerto Grosso, and they all date from the late 1930s and ’40s. Not surprisingly, then, they all share the late Martinů neoclassic fingerprints: heavy syncopation, angular melodies, and shifting key centers in which every harmony is blurred slightly—or, as a friend of mine once said, "it's like every chord has a beard."
With these two volumes of early Martinů, you can hear those fingerprints developing. The harmonies are a little more clear-cut, say, in the first volume's Orchestral Movement, which dates from 1913-14, than in the fifth Symphony; but even in 1913, Martinů sounds like Martinů. Part of the reason for the audible consistency is undoubtedly the orchestration (the piano, for example, is virtually always there as a standard component of the Martinů orchestra). What you can actually hear developing, though, is the way his increasing mastery of orchestration affected his harmony: you can hear where all those beards come from.
You can also hear what the composer's early interest in ballet produced: volume 2 is entirely devoted to 1916's The Shadow (1916), a work that features, among other delightful peculiarities, a wordless offstage soprano voice at the beginning and the end. The effect is chilling, in spite of the major key of the folk-like melody she sings. Most importantly, though, after listening to this hour-long work, I've come to realize that everything I've ever heard from Martinů has a balletic feel. Every work dances, not just the 15 works (Fifteen! Some have cool titles like Who Is the Most Powerful in the World? and The Strangler) that he intended for the ballet stage.
I'd like to be able to say that the performance tempos are perfect on every track of both volumes. But with so little to compare them to—several tracks on volume 1 represent first recordings, as does volume 2 in its entirety—I'm obliged to trust the conductor and orchestra, Ian Hobson and the Sinfonia Varsovia. Everything sounds right. If I wish the Nocturno (v. 1, track 4, dating from 1915) had been taken more slowly, it's because it's so gorgeous that I want it to last longer ("so listen to it twice," you say). Also, I'm a sucker for a piece that ends with an unsettled feeling the way this one does. But it's so hushed and delicate that I might have missed it if it hadn't been called to my attention, and I'm indebted to Michael Crump, author of the booklets for the two volumes, for pointing the fact out. If my information is correct, he also will be on hand to help us through the works on volume 3, which is due for release on Jan. 19, and I'm glad. His notes for the first two discs have been indispensable; he's a great guide in this unfamiliar territory of early Martinů.
Walk in Beauty
Emanuele Arciuli, Piano
Innova Recordings 255
Release date: July 28, 2017
Themed albums, like recitals (themed or not) often fall somewhere between hodge-podge and inspired gathering. I suppose I prefer albums that stick to one or two composers, possibly because that gives me more of a musical context in which to locate the works on a recording. Occasionally, though, a themed effort shows up that vaults over inspired gathering and enters the realms of...I don't know, sublime collocation? Perhaps Olympian treasure-trove? You realize, of course, that I'm making these categories up, but sometimes I'm so grateful for a themed offering that I feel whatever category I invent won’t be adequate. And that’s the case with Italian pianist Emanuele Arciuli's latest album, Walk in Beauty (available here).
Actually, the pianist declares two themes, or "topics," to be at work on this effort: Native American culture and the evocation of nature—to which I would add the clarification (because Arciuli does) "New Mexico and the Southwest." So, broadly observed, anything relating to these geographical or cultural concepts is apt to be included on this album. A brace of themes like that, carelessly managed, could lead to an album landing somewhere in tiresome hodge-podge territory, but this album is anything but carelessly managed.
Composers represented include two Pulitzer Prize winners (Jennifer Higdon and John Luther Adams), one acknowledged first-rank maverick (Carl Ruggles), two locals (Dallas-born Kyle Gann and UNT-educated Michael Daugherty), at least three full-blooded Native Americans (Louis Ballard, Connor Chee and Raven Chacon), and some that, through no fault of theirs, I haven't classified (the great Martin Bresnick and Peter Garland, Peter Gilbert, Brent Michael Davids, and Talib Rasul Hakim). And several of these probably belong in more than one category.
Stylistically, the album represents minimalists, postminimalists, neoromantics, post-neoromantics, and post-neoclassicists, as well as some unclean genre-jumpers. That's quite a variety, but the album is best regarded as a tribute to Emanuele Arciuli's broad tastes, interpretive talents, and use of those talents and tastes to promote American compositions that, as he says, "deserve more attention."
For me, the big attraction of this album is, first of all, Arciuli. He's a fantastic pianist, and he can do just about anything. Running a close second, though, is his offering recordings of works that have been recorded at least once before. Heck, the fact that John Luther Adams's Tulikiit has been recorded twice in the last two years makes me hopeful that one fine day we'll get a second recording of his masterpiece, For Lou Harrison. And what a treat it is to have a second recording of the work that provides the title for this album, Peter Garland's six-movement Walk in Beauty (the first, as far as I know, was the 1992 New Albion Records recording by the work's dedicatee, Aki Takahashi).
The works range from the absolutely charming (Connor Chee's Navajo Vocable No. 9, Kyle Gann's Earth-preserving Chant, Martin Bresnick's Ishi's Song), to those that seem to be carved out of stone (like Ruggles' Evocations, or Adams's Tulikiit—which seems to have been carved out of the piano itself), to the more traditionally conceived (Jennifer Higdon's Secret and Glass Gardens, Michael Daugherty's Buffalo Dance), to the downright inscrutable. In this last case, I must single out Raven Chacon's Nichi' Shada'ji Nalaghali (Winds That Turn On the Side From Sun), which almost doesn’t even qualify as a "piano piece"; it's more like the work is in flight from becoming a piano piece, since the piano's hammers never strike the strings. I'm dying to hear this work performed again, because—if I correctly understand the way it works—the circumstances of the performance (such as how the electronics were configured, and how the pianist proceeds) might make it all but unrecognizable from performance to performance. That strikes me as an exciting prospect.
Arciuli's love for these works and for the cultural environment—the "themes," as I have somewhat condescendingly called them—that ties them together comes out on every track. And the accompanying booklet offers verbal introductions to each work, in most cases in the words of the composer her- or himself. I recommend reading with special care Bresnick's introduction to his popular Ishi's Song (popular? It has been recorded three times that I know of). His description may break your heart, and the work itself will almost certainly cheer you out of that heartbreak.
I hope this album finds its way into a lot of ears—as many as possible, and the sooner, the better.
Franz Josef Haydn, Baryton Divertimenti, Volume 2
The Esterházy Machine (Kenneth Slowik, Steven Dann, Myron Lutzke)
Friends of Music Records FoM 36-812
Release date: Oct. 2, 2017
Had I known of this album (available for download here) more than a month ago, I might have included it in my year-end roundup. It would have received the award for Best Recording That Keeps a Promise I Didn't Know About Performed by a Group With A Steampunk-sounding Name Involving an Instrument That Is Spelled Correctly, I Swear. As a second volume, it keeps the implicit promise made by the group when they released the first, a disc that somehow eluded me. The group, The Esterházy Machine, takes its name from cellist Anner Bylsma's nickname for the ensemble's signature instrument, the (correctly-spelled!) baryton, a bowed string instrument invented in the 1600's that looks like a viol with way too many tuning pegs.
The reason for all those pegs is the reason for the instrument's peculiar sound: there's a bunch of extra wire strings behind the fingerboard that resonate sympathetically in varying degrees, depending on what notes are being bowed on the six or seven gut strings above the fingerboard. These sympathetic vibrations, transmitted partly through the body of the instrument, lend a metallic brightness to certain pitches that distinguishes them from those produced by the viola or cello, the other two components of the ensemble.
So it's a gimmicky instrument, and most gimmicky instruments never really catch on (when was the last time you saw a tromba marina or a cimbasso?). But because Franz Joseph Haydn was cooped up for a while with Prince Nikolaus Esterházy, his patron who had learned to play the baryton, he was more or less obliged to write pieces for it. And man, did he ever.
Of Haydn's 175 works for the baryton, more than 120 are trios that also involve viola and cello, and all were written in the 1760s and ’70s. This was relatively early in Haydn's career, around the same time he was writing symphonies now numbered in the 20's through 60's; and if you'll check his symphony scorecard, you'll find these are hardly his most sophisticated works.
That's not to say these trios are dull. Far from it. The odd sound of the baryton might be reason enough to listen to them—and on this recording, you'll hear the metal strings ringing more with some notes than others, which is the way it's supposed to work. But the individual movements are themselves are always interesting in some way—sometimes on account of a melodic obsession, such as the "do-re-mi-fa" figure at the beginning of every phrase of the A major trio (Hob. XI:3); Sometimes because of a movement's unusually compact form, such as the last movement of the same trio, a brief sonata that makes Domenico Scarlatti seem positively prolix. Sometimes it's on account of the baryton's acoustical behavior in keys like F major, as in Hob. XI:100 (those sympathetic vibrations, again).
And the sympathetic strings give the ensemble another gimmick: in the course of some of these works—in fact, on the first note of the first track—you may swear you hear a harpsichord. That's the baryton again, because those metal strings in the back of the fingerboard can be plucked by the player's thumb (Haydn marked these notes in the score with a plus sign).
But even discounting the distinctive tone colors and tricks available to the baryton player, the expert playing by barytonist Kenneth Slowik, violist Steven Dann, and cellist Myron Lutzke, and the recording quality are all superb. We have no warrant to say that this second volume promises a third, but with more than a hundred Baryton Divertimenti yet to be recorded by this group, we certainly have reason to look for more.
Incidentally, during my first listening to this second volume, I kept asking myself how I managed to miss the first. Having looked it up on Amazon (the ensemble was billed there as "Joseph Haydn and the Esterházy Machine," which sounds like a warm-up group touring with Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch), I saw it was issued eight years ago. So I wasn't surprised I had missed it.
But I guess I should have been. Look where I found it....
» Andrew Anderson is a Fine Arts Librarian at the Dallas Public Library. He holds a bachelor's degree in music composition from Baylor University, a Master's degree in music composition, and a Ph. D in music theory from the University of North Texas, and an MLS from Texas Woman's University.
» Auxiliary Input appears on the third Wednesday of the month in TheaterJones.
PREVIOUSLY IN AUXILIARY INPUT
- February 2017: A recording by composer Adam Schoenberg; and a Fort Worth Symphony recording from 2016 of works by Lutoslawski and Brahms, the latter arranged by the other Schoenberg
- March 2017: Two volumes of a set of Wagner music transcribed for solo piano by Peruvian pianist Juan Guillermo Vizcarra; and two albums of songs by Fauré and Flegíer, both featuring bass Jared Schwartz
- April 2017: Releases from pianist/composer Marc-André Hamelin
- May 2017: Jaap van Zweden with the Hong Kong Philharmonic; and the DVD release of Philip Glass and Robert Wilson's Einstein on the Beach
- June 2017: Houston Symphony's March release of works by Dvořák; the Fort Worth Symphony's 2016 recording with pianist Vadym Kholodenko on Prokofiev's Concerto Nos. 2 and 5; and two 2015 recordings of pianist Alessandro Deljavan on works by Chopin
- July 2017: A 2015 recording from Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal featuring a piece by composer Sam Moussa, which the Dallas Symphony will perform in September; the second volume of Alexandre Tansman piano music played by Danny Zelibor; and the much-talked about The Lost Songs of St. Kilda.
- August 2017: Cliburn Gold Medalist Yekwon Sunwoo; pianist Marc-André Hamelin performing Feldman's For Bunita Marcus; and the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra on Strauss's Ein Heldenleben.
- September 2017: A release by local outfit Ensemble75; a 2015 release of early music called Love & Lust; and a new recording by the North Texas Wind Ensemble of the University of North Texas in Denton.
- October 2017: A recording of Liszt songs featuring Jared Schwartz, bass, and Mary Dibbern, piano; harp music by Emily Levin of the Dallas Symphony; and a Finnish recording of works by Sibelius, featuring conductor Hannu Lintu
- November 2017: A DVD recording of Mark Adamo's Becoming Santa Claus at the Dallas Opera in 2015; Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer's It's a Wonderful Life at Houston Grand Opera in 2016; and the 2016 performance of Du Yun's Pulitzer Prize-winning Angel's Bone.
- December 2017: A Lithuanian recording of Verdi's Rigoletto featuring the late Dmitri Hvorostovsky and Nadine Sierra; a stellar recording of Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring; and pianist Peter Froundjian's Christmas Piano Music.