Day 363: Female Choruses II

BrahmsCD57Instant Favorite!

This morning’s CD (Brahms CD 57) is not much different from yesterday’s.

Well, that’s not true. It’s similar in that it’s another CD of female choruses performed by Chamber Choir of Europe, conducted by Nicol Matt. But something about this music grabs me by the lapels, right from the get-go.

There are 19 tracks on today’s CD, all designated Wo038 posth.

Track 1 (“No.1 Die Entfuhrung”) is absolutely beautiful. The melody is stunning. The soaring soprano voice that rises above gives me chills.

Listen for yourself. This is the exact same music to which I’m listening this morning:

There’s something about that first song…

Even though it’s in German, its arrangement is so perfect that I’m not even hearing the language. I’m mesmerized by the angelic sound of the voices.

To give you an idea of how impressed I am with today’s music, I’ve heard it 2-3 times through. Just let Repeat take me away to another time and place.

I love finding music that does that for me.

I only have one more day of listening to Brahms’ music. Tomorrow is Brahms CD 58, the end of the Brahms Complete Edition box set by Brilliant Classics.

I had no idea Brahmns was this into vocal music. Seems like 1/5 to 1/4 of his output was vocal music – and all of it in German. No Scottish folk songs. No English folk songs. Just a bunch of German-language vocal music that seemed written to please himself more than others. Or maybe he didn’t see his audience as being broader than Germany/Austria or other nearby countries that spoke and/or understood German.

I’ll reflect in greater depth tomorrow on my last day of listening to Johannes Brahms.

Day 358: Songs X

BrahmsCD52A year ago, if someone had told me I’d be listening to 10 CDs in a row of Classical music songs sung in German I’d have laughed in her face.

But here I am, listening to 10 CDs in a row of Classical music songs sung in German.

But I’m not laughing.

Frankly, if I wanted to listen to this many CDs in a row that feature songs, I’d have picked The Eagles (granted, they only released seven studio albums; but I’m including their live albums and compilations) or The Beatles or Yes or even Grand Funk Railroad. (Okay. Now I’m laughing. Thinking about Grand Funk Railroad juxtaposed against Brahms’ songs gave me a hearty huckle.)

At least, the brilliant folks at Brilliant Classics have seen fit to alternate the CDs between male and female vocalists, even between vocal ranges, from CD to CD. That helps.

Today’s CD features 29 songs performed by baritone Michael Nagy and pianist Helmut Deutsch.

Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of both, 29 songs – over an hour! – of roughly the same tone and tempo can be tiring. It almost seems like I’ve been listening to the same track on repeat.

Again, that is not a reflection on Brilliant Classics, Mr. Nagy, or Mr. Deutsch. The recording is superb. The performances are remarkable. But I don’t speak German, and I’m not a fan of Classical vocal music.

Your mileage may vary.

Day 333: Piano Sonatas 2 & 3

BrahmsCD27More piano sonatas, this time performed by a different pianist from the previous CD.

Alan Weiss, is the pianist’s name.

Here are the sonatas he plays on today’s CD:

Piano Sonata No. 2 in F sharp minor Op. 2

Right out of the chute, Piano Sonata No. 2 is a barn burner. It’s bold, confident, showy.

According to its entry on Wikipedia:

The Piano Sonata No. 2 in F-sharp minor, Op. 2 of Johannes Brahms was written in Hamburg, Germany in 1853, and published the year after. Despite being his second published work, it was actually composed before his first piano sonata, but was published later because Brahms recognized the importance of an inaugural publication and felt that the C major sonata was of higher quality. It was sent along with his first sonata to Breitkopf und Härtel with a letter of recommendation from Robert Schumann. Schumann had already praised Brahms enthusiastically, and the sonata shows signs of an effort to impress, with its technical demands and highly dramatic nature. It was dedicated to Clara Schumann.

If this is true, Brahms was 20 years old.

Incidentally, it’s worth nothing who Clara Schumann was. According to Continue reading

Day 324: Piano Quartet No. 2

BrahmsCD18I do so love the sound of Classical piano and stringed instruments playing together.

Today’s CD – Piano Quartet No. 2 in A Op. 26 - does an adequate job of filling my ears with what I love most about Classical music.

Almost.

This composition is oddly incongruous with itself. The piano sounds like it was recorded in another era while the stringed instruments sound modern.

Or, to put it another way, this recording (or maybe it’s the composition itself) sounds like the piano is playing either in a different room, or a different time (even a different piece of music!) and the stringed instruments are laid over the piano track.

I know that’s not the case. Brilliant Classics is my favorite music label. Everything they do is first-rate, top-notch, and with the highest regard for quality in mind. So the problem is not the recording. The problem is the composition itself.

The worst offender of this is Movement I (“Allegro non troppo”) which starts out with piano and strings relatively together. But then, very shortly, the piano starts to meander off by itself and the strings play their parts almost incongruously. Almost like Jazz music. The different instruments peal off on their own for awhile, then return to play the main melody.

But it sounds odd in this composition because the piano is not as prominent as the strings. The volume level. They don’t mesh well. The piano is quiet and relegated to the background. The strings are right up front.

According to its entry on Wikipedia:

Piano Quartet in A major, Op. 26, by Johannes Brahms is scored for piano, violin, viola and cello. It was completed in 1861 and received its premiere in November 1863 by the Hellmesberger Quartet with the composer playing the piano part. It has been especially noted for drawing influence from composer Franz Schubert. Lasting approximately 50 minutes, this quartet is the longest of Brahms’s chamber works to perform.

Not even the pizzicato can save this piece for me.

Speaking of pizzicato, Brahms seems to use it a lot. Yet, it doesn’t have the same effect on me that it does in the music of other composers.

Anyway, Brahms was 28 when he composed this piece for piano and strings.

Today’s music was performed by:

Derek Han piano
Isabell Faust violin (Stradivari, 1704)
Bruno Giuranna viola
Alain Meunier cello

I really wish I could hear some Brahms that blew me away the way Beethoven’s music did. So far, though, not so much.

That’s not to say Brahms was a hack. It just says that his music doesn’t resonate with me the way Beethoven’s did.

Day 307: Johannes Brahms, Symphony No. 1

BrahmsCD1Today begins a new chapter in my three-year journey, and another exploration of the complete works of a Classical composer.

This time, I will listen to everything Johannes Brahams composed.

Once again, I turn to the wonderful label Brilliant Classics and their Johannes Brahams Complete Edition, which you can buy from Amazon.

I also turn to Wikipedia to tell me more about Johannes Brahms:

Johannes Brahms (7 May 1833 – 3 April 1897) was a German composer and pianist.

Born in Hamburg into a Lutheran family, Brahms spent much of his professional life in Vienna, Austria. In his lifetime, Brahms’s popularity and influence were considerable; following a comment by the nineteenth-century conductor Hans von Bülow, he is sometimes grouped with Johann Sebastian Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven as one of the “Three Bs”.

Brahms composed for piano, chamber ensembles, symphony orchestra, and for voice and chorus. A virtuoso pianist, he premiered many of his own works; he worked with some of the leading performers of his time, including the pianist Clara Schumann and the violinist Joseph Joachim. Many of his works have become staples of the modern concert repertoire. Brahms, an uncompromising perfectionist, destroyed some of his works and left others unpublished.

Brahms is often considered both a traditionalist and an innovator. His music is firmly rooted in the structures and compositional techniques of the Baroque and Classical masters. He was a master of counterpoint, the complex and highly disciplined art for which Johann Sebastian Bach is famous, and of development, a compositional ethos pioneered by Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, and other composers.

The musicians on Brahms CD 1 are:

Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra
Jaap van Zweden, conductor

The composition is Symphony No. 1 in C minor Op. 68 and it consists of four movements:

I. Un poco sostenuto – Allegro – Meno allegro
II. Andante sostenuto
III. Un poco allegretto e grazioso
IV. Adagio – Piu andante – Allegro non troppo ma con brio – Piu allegro

I had no idea what to expect with Brahms.

I’m sure I heard something he’s composed at some point in my life, quite possibly on the local Classic music radio station. But Continue reading

Day 273: Songs III

BeethovenCD78What a difference a voice makes!

Today’s CD (“Songs III”) features new performers all round:

Florian Prey baritone

Anna Haase mezzo-soprano

Norbert Groh piano

Baritone and mezzo-soprano are two of my least favorite vocal ranges.

I’m a tenor and soprano man.

That doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the talents of a gifted baritone and mezzo-soprano. On the contrary, I can tell Florian Prey is an exceptional singer, powerful and controlled. Anna Haase is also quite pleasant. There’s just something about her vocal range that reminds me of church ladies singing in a choir, circa 1962. (Although I will admit Track 12 – “Gretels Warnung Op. 75″ – is lively and fun.)

So I mean no disrespect to these performers. I can hear they’re gifted and accomplished. Their ranges are just not in my sweet spot.

The 16 tracks on Songs III all seem to sound the same. Plus, I notice that most of them at of the Wo0? designation, which means Beethoven considered them Without Opus (WoO) number. Whenever I see a Wo0 composition, I immediately think it’s lesser somehow.

NOTE: I’m in the home stretch listening to Beethoven’s music. There remains just eight CDs in the Beethoven Complete Edition published by Brilliant Classics. I’m looking forward to the next phase of my three-year journey. But I’m going to be sad to see Beethoven go.

Day 258: Leonore, Conclusion

BeethovenCD63For an opera, this is really quite good.

And I say that as an unabashed opera basher.

It’s a rare opera that I can truly say I enjoy.

Beethoven’s Leonore is a rare opera.

Composed in 1805 (Beethoven was 35), Leonore (also known as Fidelio) is his only opera.

Leonore features compelling, dynamic music, a believable story, and – on this edition by Brilliant Classics – superb performances from some of the world’s most famous opera stars.

Part of what I like about Leonore is the music. Usually, operas focus less on the music than they do on the performers’ voices. Not this one. The music is genuinely compelling on its own.

Plus, Leonore is not as talky as some opera. The balance between dialogue and music and singing is just about right. And the voices are superb.

Superb, I tell’s ya!

This is one of my favorite operas. Everything about it is top-notch.

Day 241: Piano Sonatas Op. 106 “Hammerklavier” & Op. 111

BeethovenCD46Very nice!

It’s hard to believe how fresh and crystal-clear this sounds. The piano sontas, performed by the incomparable Alfred Brendel, were recorded in 1962-64, when Brendel was in his early thirties. Yet, they sound like they were recorded yesterday.

Another masterful job by Brilliant Classics, the best label in the world for affordable, high-quality Classical music.

These piano sontas have the qualities that, say, Artur Rubinstein‘s The Chopin Collection does. Most of those recordings were made in the 1950s and 60s. Yet, they sound beautiful. Rich, resonate, and warm.

Beethoven Piano Sonata No. 29 in B Flat Op. 106 “Hammerklavier”

According to its entry on Wikipedia,

Ludwig van Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 29 in B-flat major, Op. 106 (known as the Große Sonate für das Hammerklavier, or more simply as the Hammerklavier) is a piano sonata widely considered to be one of the most important works of the composer’s third period and among the greatest piano sonatas. It is widely considered to be Beethoven’s technically most challenging piano composition and one of the most challenging solo works in the classical piano repertoire.

Dedicated to his patron, the Archduke Rudolf, the sonata was written primarily from the summer of 1817 to the late autumn of 1818, towards the end of a fallow period in Beethoven’s compositional career. It represents the spectacular emergence of many of the themes that were to recur in Beethoven’s late period: the reinvention of traditional forms, such as sonata form; a brusque humour; and a return to pre-classical compositional traditions, including an exploration of modal harmony and reinventions of the fugue within classical forms.

The Hammerklavier also set a precedent for the length of solo compositions (performances typically take about 45 minutes). While orchestral works such as symphonies and concerti had often contained movements of 15 or even 20 minutes for many years, few single movements in solo literature had a span such as the Hammerklavier’s Adagio sostenuto.

The sonata’s name comes from Beethoven’s later practice of using German rather than Italian words for musical terminology. (Hammerklavier literally means “hammer-keyboard”, and is still today the German name for the fortepiano, the predecessor of the modern pianoforte.)

Indeed. “One of the most challenging solo works in the Classical piano repertoire” required Alfred Brendel to pull it off.

And he did.

Beautifully.

As the Wiki article notes, Hammerklavier was Continue reading

Day 234: String Quartets Op. 59 “Rasumovsky” Nos. 1 & 2

BeethovenCD39Delightful music!

And, for a recording made in 1967 and 1968, surprisingly vibrant – as fresh as anything recorded today.

Such is the care Brilliant Classics extends to its music.

This record label is truly one of the finest in the world. (No, I do not get paid by them. I just really appreciate the quality and price of the music on the Brilliant Classics label.)

On today’s CD I am treated to:

String Quartet No. 7 in F Op. 59 No. 1 “Rasumovsky”
String Quartet No. 8 in E minor Op. 59 No. 2 “Rasumovsky”

There are three string quartets named “Rasumovsky,” the third being String Quartet No. 9 in C major, Op. 59, No. 3, which is likely on the next CD.

All three were written in 1806. Beethoven was 36, and well on his way to being deaf.

Both of these string quartets were performed by the Suske Quartett:

Karl Suske violin I
Klaus Peters violin II
Karl-Heinze Dommus viola
Matthias Pfaender cello

There’s a profound depth and complexity and – unless I am totally clueless – a kind of melancholy to this music. Some of it, like Movement III (“Adagio molto e mesto”) from No. 7 in F, exudes wistfulness.

Yet, that mood is wiped away with the fourth movement – “Allego (Theme russe)” – which, as its name suggests, offers a hint of Russian music, played more briskly than the Adagio of Movement III.

Of the two compositions on today’s CD, I think I prefer the second: No. 8 in E Minor Op. 59 No. 2.

It seems even sadder than No. 1, if that’s possible. Yet, it’s eerily compelling.

The two string quartets on this CD, as well as the third on the next CD, were commissioned by the Russian ambassador in Vienna, Count Andreas Razumovsky.

Day 227: Violin Sonatas II

BeethovenCD32Two violin sonatas await the lucky listener on today’s CD:

Violin Sonata No. 4 in A Minor Op. 23 (composed 1800-1801; Beethoven was 30-31)

Violin Sonata No. 5 in F Op. 24 “Spring” (composed 1801; Beethoven was 31)

Both are performed eloquently by Kristof Barati on violin and Klara Wurtz on piano.

I should have looked up Klara Wurtz sooner because what I found out about her is interesting:

Klára Würtz (Budapest, 1965) is a Hungarian pianist. She is married to the Dutch label manager Pieter Shop Brilliant Classics, and since 1996 living in Amsterdam. Würtz teaches at the Utrecht Conservatory.

Her career has ups and downs; periods of action are interspersed with silences. After the birth of her daughter (2004), it may not play because of tendinitis in her hands for a year. But according to her is not her ambition to “a toppianiste” to be., As they say themselves,

Her many musical recordings covering mainly the Classical and Romantic period: Mozart , Beethoven , Brahms , Schubert, Schumann, Tchaikovsky.

That was translated using Google translations for the Wikipedia article. So it’s not precise in its wording. But I think we get the gist of it.

What I found most interesting is that she’s married to the man who manages Brilliant Classics, the record label on which this recording resides.

In the Classical music world, two labels used to rule Continue reading