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 May edition, we have a review of the Hong Kong Philharmonic's recording of Siegfried, conducted by Jaap van Zweden, just in time for JVZ to conduct Wagner's Die Walküre at the Dallas Symphony; University of North Texas student Jacob Nydegger plays piano music by Hendrik Andriessen; and Dallas native Kyle Gann plays his microtonal compositions.
If you have a recent or upcoming recording to suggest, email editor Mark Lowry at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Richard Wagner, Siegfried
Simon O'Neill, Matthias Goerne, Heidi Melton, David Cangelosi, Deborah Humble; Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, Jaap Van Zweden, conductor
Release date: Nov. 10, 2017
I'm a sucker for any opera that sports a bird as a singing character. My eyes start to tear up at the mere thought of the Falcon in Strauss's Die Frau ohne Schatten, and they behave similarly for the Forest-bird in Wagner's Siegfried. So anytime a new recording shows up of either of those two works (and why is it that we haven't had a new Frau since...when, 1996? Never mind, I know why...), I'm all in.
I would have been all in for the recent Naxos release of Siegfried (available here), even if it hadn't represented a continuation of a cycle that we're about to hear this month with the Dallas Symphony's concert presentation of Die Walküre. It's a cycle that has, if not scaled new heights, has at least maintained a consistently high level of quality; and for me, that translates directly to a high level of interest. I have long been a fan of the Siegfried Jerusalem recordings (on several different labels, if I recall correctly; my copy of Levine's recording with him as the title character in Siegfried was stolen some years back by some burglars with especially good taste) and they're frequently my reference point for whatever Ring chapter we're considering. But this new Naxos recording comes as a sequel to 2016's Die Walküre (available here), which itself was a sequel to 2015's Rheingold (available here), and I like what I've heard from those two, so this Siegfried is an automatic listen.
It's compiled from live performances, and—as I've mentioned before—that often scares me. Or used to scare me, but I'm starting not to care. The quality level of live recordings has been so consistently good in recent years that I think I should stop even mentioning it as a factor.
The singers are familiar names, at least if you're familiar with this Van Zweden/Hong Kong Philharmonic cycle: Simon O'Neill as the primary tenor (Siegmund in this weekend’s DSO Walküre, Siegfried on this recording), Matthias Goerne as whomever Wotan pretends to be according to the current chapter (DSO and this recording, both), and Heidi Melton as at least one of the prominent sopranos (Brünnhilde in both this Siegfried and this weekend with the DSO).
There are issues with the way Wagner put together sections of the Ring. In Act I of Siegfried, for instance, you have two tenors singing at each other; if their voices are not sufficiently differentiated, it's difficult to tell who's calling whom a jerk, at least in an audio-only format. In this Naxos recording, I didn't have that problem except when listening to Act I in my car. On better equipment—my CD player, or even my desktop iMac--I was able to follow things much better. So I can't charge this recording with giving me a couple of tenors too similar in timbre for Siegfried and his foster father Mime. And in the Siegfried/Mime exchanges in Act II, I had no trouble differentiating them even in my car.
Matthias Goerne, our Wotan/Wanderer in this recording of Siegfried, sounds a bit different in his first act appearance (vs. Mime) as opposed to his third act appearance (vs. Siegfried and Erda). This difference may have something to do with the takes used to compile the recording, but I think it more likely stems from the circumstances in which the characters find themselves; that is, I think it's part of Van Zweden's interpretation of Siegfried that Goerne's character sounds more dismissive and impatient when dealing with Mime than he does with...well, his peers and relatives.
As for the instrumentalists, the Hong Kong Philharmonic does a great job with Wagner's long, complicated and sometimes problematic score. At no point in the course of listening to their Siegfried did I wish I could hear something better or that someone would back off. Van Zweden obviously knows exactly what he wants at every turn (I've heard several musicians say as much), and the orchestra accommodates him beautifully.
A word of warning: the recording doesn't come with a libretto in the box. You can, however, download one from the Naxos website, but it only gives you the German text. If you want side-by-side German and—I don't know, English? French? Pig-Latin?—you may have to look for it at your local library.
And while I'm thinking of it, let's synchronize watches so that we meet here this November for the Van Zweden/Hong Kong Philharmonic Götterdämmerung, shall we?
Hendrik Andriessen, Piano Music
Jacob Nydegger, Piano
Toccata Classics TOCC0436
Release date: May 1, 2018
The first things you see when you look at the cover of this album (available here) are the almost impossibly genial face of the composer and the name (all capitals) Andriessen. You're sort of correct if the first Andriessen you think of is Louis, even though this one ain't he. This time you have his father, Hendrik (1892-1981), a Dutch composer, church musician and teacher, and you have a disc of his solo piano music spanning 50 years of his compositional life.
A check of the track list reveals a composer unapologetic, even enthusiastic, over his debt to the past. Setting aside the two fugues, which according to the notes were probably exercises, there are three antique dances (written in the 1930s and '40s), an early Ballade, a Serenade, and two sonatas (one from the mid '30s and another from the mid '60s, which is the latest of Andriessen's compositions to appear on the disc). The one wild card is 1954's brief The Convex Looking-Glass, whose title seems to imply a compositional approach.
Indeed, it refers both to the treatment of its 12-tone theme and its depiction of an episode from Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass. There are other works in the composer's catalog that might lead us momentarily to believe that he had bought into the Schoenbergian 12-tone system, but apparently his interest in such melodies did not extend to their exclusive systematic manipulation. He doesn't mine the chromatic theme of Looking-Glass for its dissonant potential—Andriessen is clearly more interested in the perpetually inquisitive harmonic profile of the tune. Thus, from a compositional system that was already well-known by 1954, the Dutch composer used only a few aspects, and on his own terms, while foregoing the rest. Considering this fact and the variety of works on this disc, it isn't difficult to construct a picture of him (with the help of the highly informative and well-written booklet that accompanies the disc): a confident composer who has a predilection for unity, quiet endings, and chromatic melody and harmony with firm diatonic roots.
He does use the occasion of the Ballade (1914) to show off a little, I suppose. The earliest work on the disc, it was composed for Andriessen's older brother Willem; Hendrik himself performed it as part of his university entrance exam, however, possibly since that kind of situation invites a certain amount of technical display. Leo Samama's notes also mention the possible influence of Franck, but it sounds to me more like something Brahms would have written, had he lived another 20 years.
The pianist responsible for bringing us this overview of Andriessen's work is Jacob Nydegger, a San Antonio native who, from the looks of things, has been winning competitions ever since he started trying to. And listening to this, his debut disc, makes it clear why: he's a gifted performer with formidable technical skill tempered with restraint and good taste. As such, he's the perfect performer to take on a program like this. He excels especially in the quieter moments of many of these works and manages to keep things moving even in drawn-out, introverted moments, like the closing measures of the 1950 Serenade (I'd like to hear him handle some late Morton Feldman; Palais de Mari, anyone?).
The pianist seems to share Andriessen's character to a great extent. I don't know if he comes by it naturally or if it's something that he put on for this recording, so to speak. It really doesn't matter, I guess. In any case, you won't hear him breaking a sweat over the demands of the Ballade (yes, you can hear it when performers sweat). You will hear him, however, managing its contrapuntal textures beautifully and differentiating lines that could easily be lost in the complex texture (even more true of the two early fugues).
Nydegger is currently studying at the University of North Texas, and I hope that means we'll soon have opportunities to hear some of his live performances. This disc is a superb introduction to him as a performer, and it's always exciting to get acquainted with music I didn't already know—even if I should have.
Kyle Gann, Hyperchromatica
Kyle Gann, composer and disklavier
Other Minds OM 1025-2
Release date: March 23, 2018
For a long time, my experience with microtonal music was limited to the score for Wait Until Dark and the YMCA Locker Room Orchestra recording of The Stars and Stripes Forever that I grew up with. My background thus persuaded me that microtones were around to make me uncomfortable. Then, in an uncharacteristically open-minded moment, I listened to Easley Blackwood's NEA-backed album of microtonal music, I learned that music based on intervals other than those you can get from the 12 equally-spaced notes on the piano needn't be problematic. It could even be beautiful.
Now—or, as of March 23—there's an album of over two hours of microtonal music by Kyle Gann that reveals how parochial my "could even be" has been. The two-disc set (available here) presents Hyperchromatica, a 17-movement virtuoso suite for three pianos. But these are pianos with a difference: they're disklaviers, modern computer-driven equivalents of the player piano, and all three retuned to produce a rigorously overtone-based 33-note-per-octave scale.
Being rigorously overtone-based, the scale is different from the one you find on most pianos. On practically every other, the 12-note scale is rigged so that you can play in any key equally well. This versatility comes at a cost: most intervals are just a little off, even when properly tuned; thus a properly tuned normal piano works according to a bunch of minute compromises. And if, as Eric Liddell's father may have said, "compromise is the language of the devil," then Gann's Hyperchromatica may be as close to divine as we get.
The 17 movements make me think of an inflated Carnaval, which was my favorite piano cycle until now. Like Schumann's collection, the individual movements' titles are often descriptive: some obliquely ("Reverse Gravity"), some mysteriously ("Dark Forces Signify"), and some directly so ("Orbital Resonance"); and some seem a little too cute at first, ("Spacecat"—Gann's defense of that title is unassailable, though). Furthermore, the music of any movement with a title like "Galactic Jamboree" had better be rowdier than Copland's "Hoe Down," and it had better be flawless.
I think it may be just that. Intended as "the exciting finale of the whole set"—a gross understatement—it's a wild seven-minute ride that shows off Gann's facility with the harmonic and melodic possibilities of his scale as well as his complementary virtuosity in managing simultaneous different tempos. In fact, there's so much going on all the time, it's a wonder it doesn't sound like an unearthly mess.
Unearthly it may be, but, like the other 16 movements, it's no mess. Each of the 17 explores one or more musical problems, each is tightly organized, and each is great fun in its own idiosyncratic way. Plus, by virtue of its acoustically derived scale, the set probably has more right to claim organicism than anything else I've ever heard. Still, all that organization, and all the explanation in the world, would be meaningless if the music were not compelling, and it most certainly is—in all 17 cases. Even as apparently cerebral a movement as the eleven-minute "Orbital Resonance" is, it proceeds with a logic that leads listeners instead of ignoring them.
With reference to the also apparently cerebral "Pulsars," the composer recommends listening with good headphones or speakers in order to get the movement's acoustic point. I'll testify, however, that the speakers on a desktop iMac are good enough to pick up what he's doing (unless my wife is running the washing machine). Nevertheless, there's no penalty for using better equipment; like most great art, this suite gets better the closer you get to it.
As to complaints.... Oh, I don't know—maybe some of the movements are too short? On top of that, why have I started to hear those compromised intervals on my "real" piano for what they are: out of tune, even at their best? Oh well, at least the octaves are OK. And why—apart from being a really great prime number—are there only 17 movements to Hyperchromatica? Never mind, I'll take what I can get.
Gann teaches at Bard College in New York, but he grew up in Dallas (his uncle ran the venerable Prince of Hamburgers on Lemmon Avenue). Like his music, his prose is always a model of audience-oriented organization; no kidding, his book on John Cage's 4'33" may be the only substantial book I have ever read in one sitting, and his now-dormant blog was one of only two that I used to read regularly. It's too bad that he gave it up almost two years ago, but perhaps doing without any more blog posts is the price I pay for more of his music. If that's the case, I'll pay, I'll pay!
» 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.
- January 2018: A themed album from pianist Emanuele Arciuli; recordings of Haydn works for the baryton, and the early orchestral works of Bohuslav Martinů
- February 2018: Anderson listens to the live recording from the Dallas Opera's world premiere of Great Scott, a recording of early orchestral works by Martinů, and Morton Feldman's For John Cage (1982).
- March 2018: Menahem Pressler plays works by Debussy, Fauré and Ravel; The Dallas Chamber Choir has a new album out; and Dallas Symphony Principal Bassoon Ted Soluri has recorded transcriptions of opera arias, with help from pianist Valerie M. Trujillo.
- April 2018: No column