Sunday, November 05, 2006

Rameau-Haydn-Schumann-Brahms-Walton And Symphonies For Wind Ensemble

This week Joshua and I are listening to six discs, and these varied discs are providing us with a splendid musical experience.

Rameau's Les Grands Motets, performed by Les Arts Florrisants under William Christie, on the Erato label

Haydn piano sonatas, performed by Gilbert Kalish, on the Nonesuch label

Schumann songs, performed by Nathalie Stutzmann and Inger Sodergren, on the RCA label

The Brahms Sonatas For Viola and Piano, performed by Lars Anders Tomter and Leif Ove Andsnes, on the Virgin label

Walton's Symphony No. 1 and his 1937 and 1953 coronation marches, performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under Andre Previn, on the Telarc label

Symphonies For Wind Ensemble by Gould, Giannini and Hovhaness, performed by the Eastman Wind Ensemble under Frederick Fennell, on the Mercury Living Presence label

The Rameau Motets are of unearthly beauty, and Josh loves listening to them as much as I do. I picked up this disc three or four years ago, and was immediately captivated by these works.

Kalish's Haydn is the best I have ever heard, much more insightful than pianists with bigger names. Stutzmann is a wonderful singer, always interesting and always individual and always careful about text and musical phrasing, and it is disappointing that she seldom appears in the U.S. The Tomter/Andsnes viola version of the Brahms Opus 120 is the finest, I think, since the very old mono recording by William Primrose and Rudolf Firkusny.

Walton always stirs me, and I have always loved this particular disc. Josh likes it, too. Walton is very much out of fashion right now, even in Britain, but his manipulation of musical materials is masterly and he has an individual voice and his range of expression is wide, so it is inevitable that his time will come. Is he not the most underrated of 20th Century masters right now?

The wind ensemble disc is fun. The Morton Gould work is forgettable, but the Vittorio Giannini symphony is a splendid work, enjoyable to play and enjoyable to hear. Josh played it in high school (he played the trumpet) and it is easy to understand why this composition remains so popular with wind ensembles everywhere. The Hovhaness Symphony No. 4 is the only Alan Hovhaness composition I have ever heard that I actually like--he expertly exploits the wind ensemble (and lots of percussion) to create a short, diverting, stimulating and satisfying work. I didn't know that the too-prolific Hovhaness had it in him!

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