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Robert Xavier Rodriguez

Auxiliary Input: July 2018

Reviews of a new recording of music by North Texas composer Robert Xavier Rodriguez; a look at composers Frank Martin and William Grant Still; and more.



published Wednesday, July 18, 2018

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 July edition, a new recording of works by North Texas composer Robert Xavier Rodriguez, featuring local musicians; a nearly decade-old recording of works by Frank Martin  and William Grant Still in anticipation of new Dallas Symphony music director Fabio Luisi's choice to program those composers in his April 2019 concert here; and the London Symphony's recordings of symphonies by American composers Walter Piston, Samuel Jones and Stephen Albert.

If you have a recent or upcoming recording to suggest, email editor Mark Lowry at marklowry@theaterjones.com.

 

 

Above All, Women: Chamber Music of Robert Xavier Rodríguez

Amernet Quartet, Chloé Trevor and Jeff Lankov

Albany Records TROYU1724

Release date: 2019

 

NO CAPTION

Unless you're new here—and probably even if you've never been near here—I doubt that you need an introduction to composer Robert Xavier Rodríguez. An internationally prominent voice, this native Texan has spent much of his life in and around Dallas, teaching at the University of Texas at Dallas and composing like mad.

I first encountered his music at a Voices of Change concert that featured his Sonatina d'Estate, a 1982 work for flute and piano. The rest of the concert has passed into that oblivion reserved for all those things I probably should remember but don't, whereas the Sonatina, as engaging a 12-tone work (if I recall correctly) as I've ever heard, has remained with me.

Rodríguez's music has never lost its appeal for me, so I was particularly delighted to receive the latest recording of his chamber works. The Albany Records release of Above All, Women: Chamber Music of Robert Xavier Rodríguez (available here) provides an opportunity to spend some with three recent works: Above All, Women: Four Images of Gustav Klimt for string quartet (2016), Xochiquetzal for violin and piano (2015—an arrangement of the previous year's original version for violin and percussion sextet), and Meta 4 (1993) for string quartet.

Like so much of his output, these are evocative, colorful works that—like the 1982 Sonatina—seem to be in constant motion, even at their slowest. Each movement has its own kind of vitality, regardless of tempo and regardless of the rhythmic surface. This vitality is undoubtedly a product of the composer's neoromantic harmonic vocabulary and its influence on his melody (or is it the other way around, or perhaps neither exclusively?).

For example, fire up this disc and listen to the beginning of the first track, "Sea Nymphs" from the Four Klimt Images. The surface shimmers—the string figuration is built for that--and the vaulting tendency of the opening melody seems to propel each measure on into the next. But slow the melody down to a crawl and remove the figuration from the accompaniment so that all that's left is harmonic blocks; even this stripped-down version, free of obvious energy-inducing elements, still moves forward. But don't spend too much time stripping things down. Rodríguez's musical surface is too engaging, too skillfully put together, and too much fun to subject it to that kind of scrutiny for long.

Each of the Klimt pieces has a similar inner energy that is sometimes everywhere, sometimes all over the place, sometimes subtly under control, but always in motion. It's therefore instructive to compare the Klimt Images, scored for string quartet (with a consequent homogeneity of tone color) with the transcription of Xochiquetzal that follows it on the recording, with its built-in timbre contrast.

Pianist Jeff Lankov and violinist Chloé Trevor are clearly in close communication in their performance of this duo which was originally scored for a septet (recordings can be merciless in their documenting an absence of communication). The result of their collaboration is 20 minutes of flawless kaleidoscopic give-and-take, with Rodríguez's charming melodic and rhythmic invention squarely at the center, including what he refers to in the notes as "imaginary folk music."

The third work on the disc is another for string quartet, Meta 4, and it is perhaps the most abstract of the three, at least insofar as it is not based on folklore or imagery. Still, it's every bit as lively, interesting and fun to listen to as the others. That should come as no surprise, though, since the work was originally intended to be danced. And evocative music is no less so when we listeners don't have a checklist of what's being evoked.

This apparent non-reliance on what might be considered outside support—paintings, story material—doesn't hamper the composer one bit; in fact, the Amernet Quartet, which performs both string quartet works on the recording, conveys every note as if it were pictorially induced. Furthermore, as much as I like the 2009 recording of Meta 4 by the Colorado Quartet, Amernet's breakneck performance of the concluding Toccata is even more exhilarating than theirs. It's 33 percent faster, if you're keeping score, but there's more to the difference than that; and, to my ear, Michael Klotz's viola has a lot to do with the distinctive character of Amernet's performance.

My only complaint about this recording is that the label isn't calling it "Volume [whatever]." I think I'd enjoy it even more if I knew there was another disc of Rodríguez chamber works in the...works.

 

 

Still, William Grant: Symphonies Nos. 4, "Autochthonous" and 5, "Western Hemisphere"; Poem for Orchestra

Fort Smith Symphony, John Jeter conducting

Naxos Records 8.559603

Release date: October 2009

 

NO CAPTION

The April 2019 program that conductor and perfumer Fabio Luisi has chosen for his first concert as the Dallas Symphony's Music Director Designate has been announced, and I hope it indicates some of his programming predilections. If you've not heard, the program features one work from the standard repertoire—they don't come any more standard than Beethoven's Seventh Symphony—along with two emphatically un-well-known works by two of the best-known obscure composers available. Allow me to explain.

Both the Swiss composer Frank Martin (pronounced mar-TANH) and the American William Grant Still are fairly well-known to musicians, but that's about it. Both pursued degrees outside of music before finding their compositional voice, both were fairly prolific, both wrote in a generally tonal idiom in a wide variety of genres, and both were born in the 1890's and lived far into the 20th century. Even musicians would be hard-pressed to name a composition by Martin; while Still (known in his day as the Dean of African-American Composers) is best known for his Afro-American Symphony and the Suite for Violin and Piano. If you can name another work by Still, and any work—any work at all—by Martin, you're unusual. And that's unfortunate, because both deserve to have more of their music heard—a lot more.

Both selections on the April program date from the 1940's. Perhaps I'll take a look at Martin and his Concerto for Seven Winds, Timpani, Percussion, and Strings (1949) on another occasion; for now, I'll focus on Still and his 1944 Poem for Orchestra.

We're fortunate to have any recording of the Poem and, as good as his Afro-American Symphony is, it's a pity that it has overshadowed his later four essays in the genre, two of which are on the same Naxos disc (available here) as the Poem: the Fourth, from 1947 and subtitled "Autochthonous," and the Fifth, from 1945 (revised in 1970), subtitled "Western Hemisphere." Both show off Still's orchestration skills (which grew out of his arranging music for 1930's radio and film) as well as his preference for the dramatic beginning and the big finish. Both are written in a fluent and distinctive neoromantic harmonic/melodic language that has thoroughly assimilates their vernacular influences.

The urgent opening of the Poem—it almost sounds as if the first few pages of the score are missing, like Nielsen's "Inextinguishable"—presents unsettled material that will return in various guises over its 10-minute course. Overall it leaves me with an impression similar to that I get from Richard Strauss's early works, such as Macbeth: it may lack the polish of some of the composer's other works, but it shows formal ingenuity and no little audacity (I'd be attending in April even if it were only to see the audience's reaction to the Poem's final seconds, coming as they do on the heels of the idyllic music of the four minutes that precede it).

The Ft. Smith Symphony and their conductor John Jeter provide excellent performances of all three works: the solo playing is top-notch, and the strong ensemble work could have come from any number of better-known orchestras. Maybe I'm running behind the pack, but Ft. Smith is now prominently on my radar.

For Maestro Luisi's April lineup, I was expecting something more in line with his recordings of obscure Verdi—Aroldo! Jerusalem!—and some Grammy-winning Wagner. As little problem as I would have had with something like that, what he has scheduled I find exciting and extremely satisfying. Even more exciting than that will be watching his future programming choices to see how far afield he'll go. It's a mighty big field.

 

 

American Symphonies: Walter Piston, Symphony No. 6; Samuel Jones, Symphony No. 3 "Palo Duro Canyon"; Stephen Albert, Symphony No. 2

London Symphony Orchestra, Lance Friedel conducting

BIS Records BIS-2118 SACD

Release date: June 2018

 

NO CAPTION

It's a pity the name Samuel Jones doesn't sound much like it belongs to a composer. On the other hand, the names Walter Piston and Stephen Albert don't sound particularly composerly either, yet all three of them appear on the London Symphony Orchestra's recent release of  American Symphonies (available here), a recording that features Piston's Sixth, Jones's Third and Albert's Second in performances conducted by Lance Friedel.

This is a delightful disc. It presents one of Piston's most enjoyable symphonic efforts, alongside the only one of Albert's that was not awarded a Pulitzer Prize (he only wrote two, the second of which Sebastian Currier completed in 1992 after the 51-year-old Albert's fatal automobile accident).

But most exciting of all, the disc features the Symphony No. 3 (“Palo Duro Canyon”), a work by Samuel Jones, former conductor of the Rochester Philharmonic and first Dean of Rice University's Shepherd School of Music. To have a second skillfully produced recording of this work composed for the Amarillo Symphony provides a second look (the first, a Naxos release, appeared in 2009 paired with Jones's 2005 tuba concerto) at a major work by a composer who, a few years ago, I might have considered the disc’s wild card. Let's be fair—I probably would have said "Samuel Who?"

Not anymore. I must admit the "Palo Duro Canyon" angle scared me—I'm not a fan of Grofé's beloved Grand Canyon Suite, though there is indeed some astoundingly great music in there. Even Jones's use of recorded wind sounds at the beginning of the first section (it's a one-movement work, but with distinct subsections) carries the symphony out of reach of epithets like "naive pictorialism," since his music is not at all naïve. Come to think of it, it's not terribly pictorial either.

When Jones says he wants to capture the initial experience of seeing the Canyon take over one's field of vision, he's talking about something at once more basic yet more complicated than simply seeing a canyon for the first time. That you do with a tremolo in the high register of the violins, then cut in with loud low brass chords. Just about anyone with an elementary knowledge of instrumentation can write that. Jones achieves the effect that he’s after with a long crescendo in scorrevole strings culminating in a subject in the French horns (yes, brass—maybe there’s no dodging that), for me at least, does a great job of doing musically what the rock formations of the canyon do geologically and architecturally.

Jones' own musical architecture for the work involves many interesting touches that sidestep charges of being there for their own sake. Take, for example, the divided double basses in the middle of the first section, a timbre that needs careful management if it's going to carry any musical weight. Chiefly because he's a master orchestrator, Jones is able to move fluidly from one instrumental configuration to another, unconventional though some of those configurations may be.

I like Friedel's interpretation of the symphony better than the earlier Schwartz/Seattle recording. Under Schwartz, some of the tempo changes strike me as being a little too abrupt—they evidently require more time to settle than in this London recording, and the symphony’s often complex textures require the utmost coordination.  Finally, Friedel’s work with the closing two minutes of the symphony are breathtaking.

The performances of Piston's Symphony No. 6 (1955) and the Currier realization of Albert's Symphony No. 2 make this disc an especially attractive offering, and it's great to have Samuel Jones representing the sub-genre "American Symphony" alongside works by these better-known composers. Correction: formerly better-known.

 

 

» 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 

 

2017

  • February: 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: 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: Releases from pianist/composer Marc-André Hamelin
  • May: Jaap van Zweden with the Hong Kong Philharmonic; and the DVD release of Philip Glass and Robert Wilson's Einstein on the Beach
  • JuneHouston 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: 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.
  • AugustCliburn Gold Medalist Yekwon Sunwoo; pianist Marc-André Hamelin performing Feldman's For Bunita Marcus; and the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra on Strauss's Ein Heldenleben.
  • SeptemberA 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.
  • OctoberA 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: 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.
  • DecemberA 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.

2018

  • January: A themed album from pianist Emanuele Arciuli; recordings of Haydn works for the baryton, and the early orchestral works of Bohuslav Martinů
  • February: 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).
  • MarchMenahem 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: No column
  • May: The Hong Kong Philharmonic's Siegfried, conducted by Jaap van Zweden; Jacob Nydegger plays Hendrik Andriessen; and Kyle Gann's microtonal compositions.
  • June: Two UNT music professors perform Anton Eberl; the JACK Quartet playing John Luther Adams
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Auxiliary Input: July 2018
Reviews of a new recording of music by North Texas composer Robert Xavier Rodriguez; a look at composers Frank Martin and William Grant Still; and more.
by Andrew Anderson

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