Friday, January 12, 2018

#ClassicsaDay #Opus1 Annotated List Week 2

I'm a regular contributor to the #ClassicsaDay Twitter feed. For January 2018, I decided to mark the first month of the new year with firsts. Each post features the first published work of a different composer.

Emphasis on the word "published," In some cases, the Opus 1 is the first mature work of the composer. Sometimes the work was written mid-career. A few are spurious, and a few were written quite late and simply assigned the Opus 1 designation.

Each work seems to have a story that's a little long for the typical tweet. So here they are. This is week two of the #ClassicsaDay #Opus1.

Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953) - Piano Sonata No. 1 in F minor, Op. 1

Prokofiev's first published work seems not to be liked by anyone. Premiered by the composer in 1910, it was coldly received by critics. Prokofiev's style isn't fully formed in the work. His influences -- Tchaikovsky, Busoni, Rachmaninov -- lie close to the surface, making the piece at times sound derivative. Even Prokofiev wasn't entirely happy with the sonata. He dropped the second and third movements before publication, leaving the single somewhat formal first movement sonata-allegro.

Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) - Trio Sonatas for two violins and basso continuo, Op. 1

Vivaldi's first published works were hardly his earliest compositions. His Opus 1 Trio Sonatas were published in 1705 when he was 27. In the Baroque period, publication was often reserved for those works that might have broad appeal (and generate sales). The twelve trio sonatas of the Opus 1 set could be performed with two violins, flutes, oboes, or any combination thereof.

Franz Schubert (1797-1828) - Der Erlkönig

Der Erlkönig is a poem by Gothe, set to music by Schubert in 1815. The poem tells the story of a man riding furiously through the night with his ailing son. The boy succumbs to the call of the Erlkönig (Elf King) that pursues them. The father reaches safety, but not before the boy dies. Schubert published this lied in 1815 as his Opus 1. He had already completed over 300 compositions. Though very demanding, the work is often performed and is considered one of Schubert's best lieder.

Lowell Liebermann (1961 - ) - Piano sonata No. 1, Op. 1

Like Brahms, Lowell Liebermann is both a talented pianist and composer. And also like Brahms, his first published work was a piano sonata. Liebermann premiered his Piano Sonata No. 1 in a Carnegie Hall performance. He was sixteen at the time. Liebermann's gone on to have a highly successful career. His flute concerto is considered a standard of the repertoire.

Frederic Chopin (1810-1849)- Rondeau in C minor, Op. 1

Chopin's first published work was originally titled "Adieu à Varsovie" ("Farewell to Warsaw"). It was published when he was fifteen. Although it isn't the first piece he composed, the rondeau is often seen as a lesser work. Schumann wrote that "there is plenty of spirit in it and few difficulties."

Annotated List Week 1

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Vittoria Vittoria - beautiful restoration of 17th Century song

"Vittoria - Vittoria" is a DVD-Audio reissue of a 1997 release. Both the performances and sound quality are first-rate.

Richard Wistreich is a well-established performer of 16th and 17th Century repertoire. This release presents a selection of Italian and English songs from approximately the same time period.

Wistreich's bass voice has an extraordinary range. Some selections, such as Sigismondo d'India's "Che farai" plumb the depths of his register. Wistreich maintains control, even when his voice is in the basement.

Overall, Wistreich's performances are relatively straight-forward. His expressiveness is always in service of the text. It's never overly dramatic, though.

The ensemble is beautifully balanced against the voice. Great care was taken in the recording of this release. The current reissue is a transfer from the original master tapes to 192kHz/24 bit high-resolution audio.

If you have a choice, opt for the DVD-A disc. With a high-end audio system, you should hear all the subtleties of Witreeich's performances.

Vittoria Vittoria
A Recital of Seventeenth-Century Italian and English Songs
Richard Wistreich, voice; Robin Jeffrye, lute and chitarrone; Celia Harper, chamber organ; Erin Headley, lirone
Claudio CR3710-2

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Julius Beliczay, Composer and Railroad Man

This disc was originally released by the Hungarian State Railroad in 1995 and for good reason. It marked the 150th anniversary of the service, and the recording was by the railroad's own orchestra.

Yes, the Budapest Concerto Orchestra MÁV is an arm of the state railroad. And the choice of composer for this special release makes sense as well.

In addition to being a composer and teacher, Julius Beliczay was also a railroad engineer. Despite his day job, Beliczay was one of the most prominent composers in Hungary in the late 1800s.

Beliczay's First Symphony premiered in 1888. Beliczay was an admirer of Wagner and Bruckner, but this work leans more towards Brahms. Beliczay's orchestrations are well-crafted if a little conservative. In many ways, it reminded me of Dvorak's first symphony, in that it never colors outside the lines. But within those lines, Beliczay's written an attractive work.

I particularly like the slow movement, which spins out a simple and beautiful melody. It's here that the Hungarian folk influence is strongest.

The companion piece shows has an even stronger nationalist flavor. The 1875 Serenade is more relaxed, with some clear borrowings from Hungarian folk music. At no time, though, does it go as far as Brahms' Hungarian Rhapsodies. Beliczay's style is mostly cosmopolitan. There are some interesting chord progressions toward the end, though, that hint of Wagner.

Beliczay is cited as paving the way for the next generation of Eastern European composers, such as Antonin Dvorak. And that also is fitting. Dvorak was an avid trainspotter.

I found these works well-written and appealing. Even if you're not a train buff, there's plenty of reasons to give Beliczay an audition.

Julius Beliczay 
Symphony No. 1 in D minor, Op. 45 Serenade in D minor, Op. 16
Budapest Concert Orchestra MÁV; Tamál Gál, conductor