posted by James Reel
As of today, I am officially Arizona Public Media’s Classical Music Director. That means I’m basically getting a title, an office and a raise for doing just a little more than the work I’ve been doing for the past several months, when our music coordinator (that was the title of a job that no longer exists) was laid off.
So besides being on the air live from 6 a.m. to noon and recorded from 4 to 7 p.m. on weekdays, and continuing to host the recorded Community Concerts series aired Thursday nights at 9 and Sunday afternoons at 3, I’m also the sole person (since the recent departure of Bill Luckhardt) to evaluate CDs for the library, catalog them, and schedule the music using a program called Music Master. In theory, you press a button and Music Master does all the programming for you, but it is hardly that simple.
First, you have to tell the software how you want it to do things. First, each item in the database has been assigned to a specific category—“gems” for small, popular pieces; “core chamber and solo”; “uncategorized long” (the home of Glazunov symphonies, for example; and so forth. Then, a grid has been established for each hour of the day. For example, the grid that’s used at 6 a.m. on Mondays and Fridays, 7 a.m. on Tuesdays and 8 a.m. on Thursdays starts with a “gem,” moves on to a core medium-length work, continues with a “hit melody” (like a gem, only a little longer), shifts to an uncategorized short piece, and ends with something from the Classical era. When I press the magic button, Music Master is supposed to plug an appropriate piece into each of those positions, following a certain set of complicated rules.
I didn’t like a lot of the rules that were in place, because they resulted in certain obscure pieces getting programmed a lot more often than many more popular items; furthermore, some compositions found their way onto the schedule again and again, while certain others rarely or never got scheduled. In the past few years, for example, Bach’s Second Brandenburg Concerto went four or five months between airings, while the First Brandenburg was on every month.
Also, Music Master frequently couldn’t find a piece to fit a certain slot, because it would have to break too many rules, and also because it was programmed to give up after sifting through only half the items in many of the categories. So Bill and I would have to go in and edit the schedules, filling the blanks, moving inappropriate things out of the early hours, and so on.
Last week, I spent a lot of my time adjusting the grids, tweaking the rules, liberalizing some restrictions and tightening others, moving pieces from one category to another, even creating an entirely new category and plugging it into the grid.
If all goes well when I launch the scheduler for January (we’re already programmed through the end of December), a better variety of pieces will fill the schedule, and I’ll have to to a lot less editing. On the other hand, Music Master may just give up in despair and leave most of the dirty work to me. We’ll see. As for you, I doubt that you’ll notice significant differences, other than perhaps the overture to Paderewski’s obscure opera Manru will no longer be played more often than Dukas’ popular The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. I’ll let you know how it’s going about a month from now.
posted by James Reel
The Canadian guitarist Liona Boyd was hot stuff, in more ways than one, back in the 1980s, but perhaps she suffered from over-exposure (quite literally, in the case of the translucent toga she wore on one album cover). Gradually she drifted out of the public consciousness, and stopped performing altogether in 2003. Partly that was due to an incurable case of focal dystonia, and partly it was caused by issues in her private life. Well, she’s back, but not as a classical guitarist; she has reinvented herself as a singer-songwriter. You can read all about her here. We have exactly one old Liona Boyd CD in the KUAT-FM library, which we sample with some regularity, but it doesn’t sound like we’ll be adding her new work to the classical collection.
posted by James Reel
I’ve been hanging on to a small batch of SACDs on the Caro Mitis label for something like two years, intending but never getting around to writing reviews for this blog. Let me begin to rectify that, starting with two very attractive Telemann discs.
TELEMANN IN MINOR * Pratum Integrum Orchestra * CARO MITIS 0042004 (hybrid multichannel SACD: 57:20)
TELEMANN IN MAJOR * Pratum Integrum Orchestra * CARO MITIS 0032005 (hybrid multichannel SACD: 67:52)
If you’re still trying to build a collection of Super Audio Compact Discs—extremely high-resolution surround-sound recordings, a format that has taken hold more strongly in Europe than in America, but one that nevertheless seems to have crowded DVD-Audio out of the classical audiophile market—you’d be well advised to track down releases from Caro Mitis, a company that focuses on Russian performers, tending to use production teams associated with PentaTone, an outstanding Dutch audiophile label. These are hybrid discs, with a layer that’s readable on conventional two-channel CD players, but for the full effect you need an SACD player, preferably one hooked up to surround speakers.
Pratum Integrum (Latin for “unmown meadow”) is Russia’s only full period-instrument orchestra, founded in 2003. The conductorless ensemble has recorded two discs for Caro Mitis devoted to Georg Philip Telemann, a Baroque composer who, like Vivaldi, was too prolific for the good of his posthumous reputation. Surely a man who wrote hundreds upon hundreds of suites and sonatas couldn’t sustain his inspiration across his catalog? Well, in reality, Telemann at his worst remained a fine craftsman who may occasionally have relied too much on the musical formulas of his time, yet was apparently incapable of producing a true dud. Each work on these two discs is, indeed, quite winning.
Let’s begin with the Telemann in Minor collection; minor-mode music from the Baroque era is likely to strike nonspecialists as more expressive, less formulaic than major-mode works, so this disc presents Telemann to best advantage. It leads off with what’s billed as the world premiere recording of a Suite in A minor for two oboes, bassoon and strings, a sequence of dances and character pieces, the most notable of which is “Furies,” full of nervous energy. Large-scale works alternate with chamber pieces, two often plaintive sonatas for strings and continuo. The remaining big-ensemble compositions are a concerto for flute, violin and strings (including a lovely, serene exchange for the soloists over pizzicato accompaniment) and a concerto for two flutes, violin and strings. This is all music of great refinement and some pathos, and connoisseurs of Baroque music will also enjoy watching Telemann switch back and forth between French and Italian influences.
Telemann in Major offers four world premieres out of its six works. The emphasis here is on orchestral suites, solo concertos and concerti grossi, with a chamber sonata tacked on at the end. Highlights include the third movement of an Orchestral Suite in B-flat, dubbed “Les Cornes de Visbad”; with its strong rhythms and unexpected turns, it has a touch of Rameau. In contrast, the concerto grosso that follows is in the slightly older, more measured style of Corelli. The disc’s other delights include a flute concerto that’s both elegant and lively, and a violin concerto that calls Vivaldi to mind.
Oddly, the Major disc is topped off with a minor-key string sonata, and the Minor disc includes a major-key violin concerto. It would have been more logical to switch them around.
The Pratum Integrum performances aren’t in the now fashionable hot-blooded Franco-Italian style, but then, this is German music, not French or Italian. That said, the playing has plenty of spirit in proportion to the music’s expressive needs, with a graceful approach to the dance rhythms. The recorded sound, as usual from this label, is superb. These two Telemann discs would be a fine foundation for an audiophile Baroque collection, even a small one.