Day 312: Hungarian Dances

BrahmsCD6I like this CD.

Often, Brahms seems to take a while to get something going. He eases into his compositions.

But Hungarian Dances is like a thoroughbred lunging out of the chute from the get-go.

I’m willing to bet all of the Hungarian music you’ve heard over the years is right here. I’ve heard bits and pieces of this music most of my life, usually in movie soundtracks. Maybe TV shows.

It’s beautiful, lush music that evokes tremendous emotions.

There are 21 tracks on Brahms CD 6. Every one is well played, well recorded, and worth listening to.

The musicians on today’s CD are:

London Symphony Orchestra
Neeme Jarvi, conductor

According to its entry on Wikipedia:

The Hungarian Dances (German: Ungarische Tänze) by Johannes Brahms (WoO 1), are a set of 21 lively dance tunes based mostly on Hungarian themes, completed in 1869.

They vary from about a minute to four minutes in length. They are among Brahms’s most popular works, and were certainly the most profitable for him. Each dance has been arranged for a wide variety of instruments and ensembles. Brahms originally wrote the version for piano four-hands and later arranged the first 10 dances for solo piano.

Only numbers 11, 14 and 16 are entirely original compositions. The most famous Hungarian Dance is No. 5 in F♯ minor, but even this dance was based on the csárdás by Béla Kéler titled “Bártfai emlék” which Brahms mistakenly thought was a traditional folksong.

Brahms was 36 when these dance songs were completed.

Day 310: Overtures, Variations, and Serenades (Oh, My!)

BrahmsCD4I liked this CD from the get-go.

The music is interesting, varied, and bold.

These overtures and variations seem to be better composed than Brahms’ symphonies. At least, to my ears, they’re infinitely more compelling.

The musicians on today’s CD are:


London Symphony Orchestra
Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos, conductor

Berliner Sinfonie-Orchester
Gunter Herbig, conductor

Dresdner Philharmonie
Heniz Bongartz, conductor

The compositions on today’s CD are broken down into four main sections, covering some 17 tracks:

1. Academic Festival Overture Op. 80
2. Tragic Overture Op. 81
3. Variations on a theme by Haydn Op. 56 “St. Anthony Variations”
4. Serenade No. 2 in A Op. 16

According to its entry on Wikipedia:

Academic Festival Overture (German: Akademische Festouvertüre), Op. 80, by Johannes Brahms, was one of a pair of contrasting concert overtures — the other being the Tragic Overture, Op. 81, written to balance it as its pair. Brahms composed the Academic Festival Overture during the summer of 1880 as a musical “thank you” to the University of Breslau, which had awarded him an honorary doctorate the previous year.

Initially, Brahms had contented himself with sending a simple handwritten note of acknowledgment to the University, since he loathed the public fanfare of celebrity. However, the conductor Bernard Scholz, who had nominated him for the degree, convinced him that protocol required him to make a grander gesture of gratitude. The University expected nothing less than a musical offering from the composer. “Compose a fine symphony for us!” he wrote to Brahms. “But well orchestrated, old boy, not too uniformly thick!”

Brahms, who was known to be a curmudgeonly joker, filled his quota by creating a “very boisterous potpourri of student drinking songs à la Suppé” in an intricately designed structure made to appear loose and episodic, thus drawing on the “academic” for both his sources and their treatment.

The work sparkles with some of the finest virtues of Brahms’s orchestral technique…

According to Continue reading

Day 259: Fidelio, Beginning

BeethovenCD64Fidelio is, essentially, another version of Leonore. Or vice versa.

According to its entry on Wikipedia:

Fidelio (Leonore, oder Der Triumph der ehelichen Liebe: Leonore, or The Triumph of Married Love) (Op. 72) is a German opera with spoken dialogue in two acts by Ludwig van Beethoven. It is his only opera. The German libretto was prepared by Joseph Sonnleithner from the French of Jean-Nicolas Bouilly, which had been used for the 1798 opera Léonore, ou L’amour conjugal by Pierre Gaveaux, and the 1804 opera Leonora by Ferdinando Paer (a score of which was owned by Beethoven).

The opera tells how Leonore, disguised as a prison guard named “Fidelio”, rescues her husband Florestan from death in a political prison.

Oddly enough, even though Fidelio and Leonore are essentially the same opera they are worlds apart in presentation. In other words, Fidelio is nothing I’d ever listen to on my own. The voices are like fingernails on a chalk board. The music is bland.

Yet, Leonore I could listen to multiple times because I was drawn in from the start…and captivated to the end.

And this night-and-day difference between the two has nothing to do with the performers or the musicians. They are absolutely top notch on today’s CD, with Sir Colin Davis directing the London Symphony Orchestra and a host of world-class singers to give life to Beethoven’s story. It doesn’t get much better than that.

But Fidelio is cringe worthy.

Go figure.

And to think I have to endure part two tomorrow.


Day 207: Orchestral and Organ Works

BeethovenCD12I love Beethoven’s use of dynamics.

Most of what I’ve heard so far is bold, brash, and dramatic. Beethoven’s music is almost forceful in its expressiveness.

Today’s CD consists of Orchestral Works and Organ Works, the former performed by the Minnesota Orchestra, conducted by Stanislav Skrowaczewski, and most of the latter performed by the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos. In between are organ works performed by Christian Schmitt.

Anyone who says only orchestras in Europe should be taken seriously haven’t heard the Minnesota Symphony. Their performances of these Beethoven works is spectacular, as is the recording itself. Rich and clear.

Here’s what’s on Beethoven CD 12:

Orchestral Works
1. Coriolan – Overture Op. 62 (composed 1807)
2. Namensfeier – Overture Op 115 (composed 1815)
3. Gratulationsmenuett Wo03
4. Triumphal March from Tarpeja Wo02

Organ Works
5. Fugue in D Wo031

5 Stucke Fur Flotenuhr Wo033
5. Allegro non piu molto
6. Allegretto
7. Adagio assai
8. Scherzo: Allegro
11. Grenadiermarsch Hess 107

Wellington’s Victory or The Battle of Vittoria Op. 91 (Composed 1813)
12. British Entrance
13. French Entrance
14. Battle: Allegro
15. March: Allegro assai
16. Victory: Allegro con brio

There’s something about organ works that immediately reminds me of three things: Continue reading