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Cue Sheet – August 2011

SACD REVIEWS: BEN JACKS AND MICHALA PETRI

Worthy horn and recorder SACDs I reviewed for Fanfare a year or more ago ...

RHAPSODIE – FANTASIE – POÈME * Ben Jacks (hn); Barry Tuckwell, cond; O Victoria; Queensland O * MELBA MR 301117 (hybrid multichannel SACD: 71:11)

DAMASE Horn Concerto; Rhapsodie. KOECHLIN: Poème. DUKAS Villanelle. SAINT-SAËNS Morceau de concert. MARSHALL-HALL Phantasy

Ben Jacks, principal horn with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, seems poised to become the next big thing in the horn world. Or so this new disc suggests; not only does Jacks implicitly bear the seal of approval of a celebrated predecessor, Barry Tuckwell, who serves as this program’s conductor, but Jacks’s playing stands on its own: lithe, technically impeccable, and displaying the varied coloring you’d be more likely to expect from a vocalist.

Nearly half this disc is devoted to works by Jean-Michel Damase (b. 1928), a composer who may be familiar to aficionados of woodwinds and harp, but perhaps to few other listeners. If you know his sonata for flute and harp, which has been recorded several times (most notably in the 1960s by Rampal and Laskine), you’ll know what to expect from the two horn scores here, dating from 1987 and 1995: a blend of angularity and French lyricism, comfortable for Poulenc fans, and often demonstrating melodic roots in Fauré. Damase wrote the Rhapsodie in 1987 upon a suggestion from Barry Humphries, best known for his comedic alter ego Dame Edna. There’s nothing funny about this music, though; Humphries requested something “inspired by the ocean and the atmosphere of the coast” to be performed by Barrry Tuckwell. Like Debussy’s La Mer, it recounts the passing of a day at the seaside, and its great technical demands pose no apparent problems for soloist Jacks. Damase’s more abstract and traditionally structured Horn Concerto from 1995 features some of Jacks’s loveliest playing on this disc.

Charles Koechlin’s Poème, from 1927, is as substantial as either Damase work (each lasts roughly a quarter of an hour). This is Koechlin’s orchestration of his Horn Sonata, intended to be played by an orchestra’s principal hornist from his or her usual seat rather than next to the conductor. The soloist weaves through a woodwind-rich texture rather than dominating the stage, giving Jacks several opportunities to display his fine legato, with soloist and conductor maintaining careful balances throughout.

The remaining items are more modest in duration, though not necessarily in technical demands. Jacks may lack a distinctively French tone, but he has just the right Gallic aplomb in the familiar and viciously difficult Villanelle of Paul Dukas, presented here in a sparkling and colorful new orchestration by Paul Terracini. The same can be said for the other standard-rep piece here, the Morceau de concert of Saint-Saëns. There’s one last novelty to mention, a lovely but relatively unfocused Phantasy (as the Brit-oriented spell it) written in 1905 by George William Lewis Marshall-Hall, a London-born contemporary of Dukas who became a major musical figure in Australia during the first decade and a half of the 20th century.

Melba’s DSD surround sound is spacious and full, and the packaging, as usual for this Australian label, is elegant but not overdone. In every respect, this is a fine release. James Reel

DIALOGUE: EAST MEETS WEST * Michala Petri (rec); Chen Yue (xiao, dizi) * OUR RECORDINGS 6.220600 (hybrid multichannel SACD: 67:46)

YAO HU Rong (Fusion) M NIELSEN Stream RUI LI Peng Zhuang (Sparkling-Collision) SEJLUND Butterfly-Rain GANG CHEN Greeting from Afar MONRAD EastWest-project 16 SIQIN CHAOKETU Yan Gui (The Wild Goose Returns Home) ROFELT Circonflexe RUOMEI CHEN Jue (Very Rare and Fine Jade) MURASHKIN Cascades

Contemporary Chinese pieces alternate with works by young Danes on this recording teaming the European recorder family with its Chinese analogs, the xiao and dizi. All of these pieces were written, mostly by composers under 30, in 2007 especially for this project spearheaded by the two performers. Most of the Chinese pieces sound distinctly Chinese, through the composers’ choice of scales and use of note-bending and other Asian playing techniques. A couple of them quote Chinese melodies, but none of this is travelogue music. Peng Zhuang, for instance, sounds like an extract from Orff’s Schulwerk. The Danish pieces, I suppose, are also typical of their culture, yet the greatest interest here is not hearing who uses a pentatonic scale and who does not, but how the various composers cause the two wind instruments to interact. Rong, for example, has Michala Petri and Chen Yue engage in independent but parallel play, whereas Stream establishes a closer, more interdependent relationship between the two lines. The Greeting from Afar by Chen Gang (not the composer by the same name responsible for the “Butterfly Lovers” Violin Concerto) is a playful piece calling for the highest instruments from the dizi and recorder families, while Circonflex requires the players to switch among the full range of their instruments. Some of the pieces, like Cascades, are lovely, rippling, and fluid, while others are a bit more thorny. This is certainly not New Age meditation music, but neither is it strenuously avant-garde. Both artists play superbly, and the audio quality is notable for what it lacks—there’s no high-frequency distortion, no extraneous noise, no strange coloration, nothing but the natural sounds of the instruments recorded in the flattering acoustics of a Danish church. James Reel

Classical Music,

ORDINARY WOMEN AND ONE BAD GIRL

Since 1971, Aug. 26 has been designated Women's Equality Day. There are so many "special" days that people tend to ignore most of them, so in case you haven't heard of it, this is the day that marks the 1920 passage of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote in the United States. It's also intended to call attention to women's continuing efforts toward full equality. It's going to be a very long time before there's a 50-50 mix of music by male and female composers on KUAT-FM, mainly because of the problem of history: We draw our music programming from the past 600 years or so, and until the current generation very few women had careers as composers. Still, there are scattered talented figures from the past, and a great many women active today, and we're sampling their work through the day. We'll have miniatures and major works alike from Amy Beach, Jacquelyn Sellers, Valerie Coleman, Marion Bauer, Elinor Remick Warren, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, Pamela Decker, Jennifer Higdon, Ursula Mamlok, Joan Tower, Victoria Bond, Jocelyn Swigger, Libby Larsen, Roshanne Etezady and Katherine Hoover ... along with the usual material by dead white males.

Aug. 27 is the 125th anniversary of the birth of violist and composer Rebecca Clarke, so on that day we'll play a few of her works to celebrate the occasion, alongside those of her fellow birthday celebrant, Eric Coates.

And I happened to notice that Monday, Aug. 29 is the feast day of the beheading of John the Baptist; note that his "regular" feast day is June 24. So this seemed like a perfect opportunity to ... well, not exactly celebrate, but mark the occasion with as much music as I could find about that instrument of his demise, Salome. Between about 10:20 a.m. and noon on Monday, you'll hear some of Richard Strauss's music for that anti-heroine (including a piano-roll recording of Strauss himself playing the "Dance of the Seven Veils"), plus items by Archibald Joyce, Alexander Glazunov, Paul Bowles and Henry Hadley. And, just so it doesn't all seem too disrespectful, we'll begin with Healey Willan's Missa Brevis No. 11, "Missa Sancti Johannis Baptistae."

Classical Music,

POST-REVOLUTIONARY MEXICAN ARTS

My life does not go into suspension when I'm off the air, although occasionally I wish it did. Here's the lowdown on a course I'll be teaching for Arizona Senior Academy over the next five Wednesdays.

quodlibet,

LITTLE ORANGE DRESS

Pianist Yuja Wang provoked a lot of silly controversy recently when she soloed with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl in a short, tight orange dress and stiletto heels. The more conservative observers were shocked that she would dare to appear in an outfit resembling what the majority of today's fit young women in L.A. wear for special occasions. Here's a fairly level-headed analysis of the non-situation.

Classical Music,

DEPARTMENT OF REDUNDANCY DEPARTMENT

On three newscasts this morning, I've heard two different people say "small in size." Well, yes ... the concept of size is built into the word "small," so all they need to say is "small." People have a natural tendency, it seems, to inflate every possible element of language. I'm finding this especially tiresome in the print copy that I edit. One writer I work with is particularly fond of stating that something was begun, say, in 1885, and completed "two years later, in 1887." That's redundant. If you've established that the first year is 1885, everybody with basic math skills knows that 1887 is two years later, and it's unnecessary to burden them with both elements. One thing that's really driving me nuts these days is punctuation inflation; many writers I edit use colons when they need semicolons, semicolons when they need commas, commas when they need nothing at all. I suppose people think they seem more serious if they beef up their sentences with as much punctuation and verbiage as possible. To me, they just seem either pompous, or inattentive to the elements of a lean and limber style.

quodlibet,

REVIEW: SAVALL AND LE CONCERT SPIRITUEL

A review I wrote some time ago for Fanfare:

CORELLI Concerto Grosso in D, op. 6/4. TELEMANN Suite in D for Gamba and Strings, TWV 55:D6. Concerto in a for Flute, Gamba, and Strings, TWV 52:a1. Suite in e for 2 Flutes and Strings, TWV 55:e1. RAMEAU Les Indes galantes: Suite  Jordi Savall, vdg (cond); Concert des Nations  ALIA VOX AVSA 9877 (SACD: 78:29)

Most classical-music lovers know Le Concert Spirituel if for nothing else as the oddly named concert series for which Mozart and Haydn wrote their “Paris” symphonies. On this new SACD, Jordi Savall and his chamber orchestra Le Concert des Nations (one of several Savall ensembles with somewhat overlapping personnel) explore Le Concert Spirituel via works of some of the most notable composers presented earlier in the series’ existence, whose fortunes rose and fell from 1725 to 1790. The series was a scheme to present concerts during Lent and other religious periods when opera and theater performances were banned. The “spiritual” element of the concerts varied from performance to performance; often there were motets or other sacred works on the program, but usually instrumental pieces also infiltrated the proceedings. The early years focused on French music, but Italians and Germans eventually made some headway. On this disc, Savall presents music by one significant representative of each major nationality.

The extensive notes in the accompanying, well-illustrated booklet (a typical Alia Vox touch) state, “The repertoire of the present project is inspired in the instrumental works for orchestra by some of the favourite composers of the organizers of the Concert Spirituel during the reign of Louis XVI (1722–74), and especially from 1728 to 1768.” The notes never, however, come right out and claim that these particular works ever figured in any particular concerts. No matter; a Corelli concerto grosso (the “Christmas” Concerto) was featured in the very first concert; Telemann’s music is documented as present in 1738, 1745, and 1751; and Rameau was an almost constant presence between 1728 and 1768.

Savall has long been known not only for his smart thematic programming but more importantly for his emphasis on sensual tone while giving free rein to a score’s dance rhythms. Take the Corelli, with its highly lyrical, Italianate opening passage succeeded by the quick, nimble interplay of the concertino violins. In the Telemann Suite for Gamba and Strings, even the ouverture feels like part of a dance suite rather than a pompous introduction set apart from than dances that follow, and Savall is a rollicking soloist. And so on all the way through to the end of the Rameau suite, which enjoys a particularly vibrant performance. Overall, Savall and company provide intricate ornamentation and their customary Mediterranean warmth and vivacity without resorting to the mania increasingly common among Italian and some French ensembles.

This generously filled disc, in the label’s typically gorgeous high-resolution audio, is a perfect introduction to Baroque orchestral music beyond Bach, Handel, and Vivaldi, and a highly desirable acquisition for more seasoned collectors. After hearing this, many music lovers will surely call for Savall to record all the Corelli concerti, and make a more comprehensive survey of Rameau’s opera-ballet suites. And who knows what further Telemann treasures they could turn up? James Reel

Classical Music,

About Cue Sheet

James Reel's cranky consideration of the fine arts and public radio in Tucson and beyond.