girl-penguinLaks, Szymon

LAKS: L’Hirondelle Inattendue / Kevin Amiel, tenor (Journalist); Patrick Agard, baritone (Pilot); Eduarda Meto, soprano (Dove of Noah’s Ark); Sandrine Eygler, soprano (Prochne); Ute Gfrerer, mezzo (The Swallow); Eugènie Danglade, alto (Aeschylus’ Tortoise); Grzegorz Pazik, baritone (Snake of Eden); Daniel Borowski, basso buffo (Bear of Bern); Cyril Rovery, bass (The Voice of Heaven); Agnieszka Makówa, mezzo (Swallow 2/Goose 2); Anna Karasińska, soprano (Goose 1); Katarzyna Trylnik, mezzo (Goose 3); Polish Radio Choir, Krakow; Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra Warsaw; Łukasz Borowicz, conductor / EDA 35

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Polish-born Szymon Laks was extremely talented and, more to the point, individual and interesting. L’Hirondelle Inattendue or The Secret Swallow is his only opera, a 37-minute bit of wildly creative music built around a surrealist plot by Claude Aveline (an early surrealist and friend of Anatole France). A journalist and the pilot of a space ship make an emergency landing on a strange planet that turns out to be inhabited by famous animals and birds (see role descriptions above), but are puzzled by the arrival of a young human woman who claims to be a swallow but can only sing two lines. After a half-hour’s confusion, the journalist informs them all that the “secret swallow” is really a song. Yes, the plot is silly but the music is glorious, witty and fascinating! Only 4 1/2 fish, however, because a few of the lead voices are somewhat infirm.

LAKS: String Quartet No. 4. Divertimento for Violin, Clarinet, Bassoon & Piano. Sonatina. Concertino for Oboe, Clarinet & Bassoon. Passacaille, arr. of Vocalise for Clarinet & Piano. Piano Quintet / ARC Ensemble with Sarah Jeffrey, oboist; Frank Morelli, bassoonist / Chandos CHAN 10983

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His String Quartet No. 4 begins with quirky atonal counterpoint, above which one of the solo violins comes in to play a similarly quirky melody. Throughout the brief (4:27) first movement, Laks continues to play this cat-and-mouse game, and in the slow movement he shows us his own method of writing moody music with a harmonic “edge” to it. This is truly innovative stuff. The third movement seems to be in an irregular meter, albeit an edgy one with a ferocious forward drive to it. The liner notes call the music “jazz-inflected” but as a lifelong student of jazz I can assure you it most certainly is not. Nevertheless, this is a CD well worth seeking out.

Lalo, Edouard

LALO: Symphonie Espagnole (complete) / Henry Merckel, violinist; Orchestre de Concerts Pasdeloup; Piero Coppola, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube: 1st mvt, 2nd mvt, 3rd mvt, 4th mvt, 5th mvt

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LALO: Symphonie Espagnole (3rd mvt omitted) / Bronislaw Huberman, violinist; Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra; George Szell, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube: part 1, part 2

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Lalo was a minor composer who wrote one great work, and this is it. Forget most modern recordings; they’re dull and lifeless compared to these. I prefer Huberman to everyone else, but since his was one of several recording that omitted the third movement I also recommend Merckel, who is virtually forgotten today.

Larsen, Libby

LARSEN: Deep Summer Music. Solo Symphony: 1, 2, 3, 4. Marimba Concerto: After Hampton*1st, 2nd, 3rd / *John Kinzie, marimbist; Colorado Symphony Orchestra; Marin Alsop, conductor / Koch 7520 or available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on individual titles above

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LARSEN: Overture: Parachute Dancing. Symphony: Water Music. Symphony No. 3, “Lyric.” Symphony No. 4, String Symphony* / London Symphony Orchestra, *Scottish Chamber Orchestra; Joel Revzen, conductor / Koch 7481

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LARSEN: Sonnets from the Portuguese / Arleen Augér, soprano; Members of St. Paul Chamber Orchestra; Joel Revzen, conductor / part of Koch 7248, also available for free streaming on YouTube in individual bits

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The music of Libby Larsen, while not emotionally deep, is exquisitely well crafted, interesting and highly entertaining without pandering to po music tastes. The pieces listed above are among my favorites of her output, and all of the performances are of a very high order.

Lassus, Orlando de

LASSUS: Adoramus te. Resonet in Laudibus. Salve Regina / New York Pro Musica; Noah Greenberg, director / look for them in reissues

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LASSUS: Gallans qui par terre in mer. Je l’aime bien. Mon cœur se recommande à vous / Vocal Arts Ensemble; Richard Levitt, countertenor/director / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on individual titles

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LASSUS: Meslanges: Bon jour, mon coeur. Quand mon mary vient de dehors / Nadia Boulanger Vocal & Instrumental Ensemble / part of Pristine Classical PACO 22

 

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You may find some performances of de Lassus’ music as good as these, but somehow I doubt it. These older groups just had a certain fondness and warmth for this music that today’s historically-informed performers usually lack. I was pleasantly surprised to find the Richard Levitt-Vocal Arts Ensemble tracks available on YouTube!

Le Jeune, Claude

LE JEUNE: Le Printemps: Revecy venir du Printemps. Second livre des Meslanges: Psalm. Tu ne l’enten pas, c’est latin / Nadia Boulanger Vocal & Instrumental Ensemble / part of Pristine Classical PACO 22

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How fortunate that three of the better pieces by Claude Le Jeune are also on the same CD with the Lassus pieces! These are by far the best performances of them.

Lekeu, Guillaume

LEKEU: Piano Trio: 1st mvmt; 2nd mvmt; 3rd mvmt; 4th mvmt. Quartet for Piano & Strings*: part 1; part 2 / Trio Hochelaga; *Teng Li, violist / Atma Classique 2651 or available for streaming on YouTube by clicking on movements above

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The tragically short-lived French composer Lekeu (1870-1894) is largely known for his very romantic Violin Sonata, but these works are far meatier and show him in a better light. Trio Hochelaga’s performances are also meaty, with strong attacks and penetrating insight into the music.

Leoncavallo, Ruggiero

LEONCAVALLO: Pagliacci / Rosetta Pampanini, soprano (Nedda); Francesco Merli, tenor (Canio); Carlo Galeffi, baritone (Tonio); Gino Vanelli, baritone (Silvio); Giuseppe Nessi, tenor (Beppe); Teatro alla Scala Orchestra & Chorus; Cav. Lorenzo Molajoli, conductor / Preiser 20060 or available for free streaming on YouTube

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LEONCAVALLO: Pagliacci / Raina Kabaivanska, soprano (Nedda); Jon Vickers, tenor (Canio); Peter Glossop, baritone (Tonio); Rolando Panerai, baritone (Silvio); Sergio Lorenzi, tenor (Beppe); Teatro alla Scala Orchestra & Chorus; Herbert von Karajan, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

 

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Absolutely the two greatest performances you’ll ever hear (or, in the case of the Karajan also see) of this overworked operatic warhorse. It’s become so easy to ruin Pagliacci with overacting and so-so singing that it’s almost become a caricature of itself, but when performed by a cast and conductor fully committed to the drama, as it is in these two recordings, you’ll find yourself pinned to the wall. Pampanini is the most intense of Neddas, though Kabaivanska comes close, while Vickers is so deep in the character he may even scare you when he starts his “No, Pagliacco non son.” The only other performance that comes close is the aged Met broadcast with Ramon Vinay as Canio, Leonard Warren as Tonio and the sadly forgotten Florence Quarteraro as Nedda, but the orchestra playing is so absolutely miserable that it pushes it aside as a curiosity for hardcore collectors only. Karajan’s tempos are slower than Molajoli’s, but he does a better job at knitting the score together as a cohesive whole, and Glossop, whose singing is a bit on the rough side, is absolutely the most intense Tonio you’ll ever experience.

Ligeti, György

LIGETI: Apparitions / Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra; Jonathan Nott, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

LIGETI: Atmospheres / Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra; Claudio Abbado, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

LIGETI: Aventures / Sarah Leonard, soprano; Linda Hirst, mezzo-soprano; Omar Ebrahim, baritone; Players of the Schoenberg Ensemble / available for free streaming on YouTube

LIGETI: Lux Aeterna / Cappella Amsterdam; Daniel Reuss, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

LIGETI: Ramifications / Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra; Bruno Maderna, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

LIGETI: Requiem / Liliana Poli, soprano; Barbro Ericson, mezzo-soprano; Bavarian Radio Chorus; Hessian Radio Symphony Orchestra Frankfurt; Michael Gielen, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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György Ligeti’s music occupies a unique place in the world of music. Seemingly made up of several parallel streams of sound, each on a different but closely related key, it strikes the ear like the buzzing of hornets or, as some have described it, like the sound of the universe. This was one reason why some of his pieces made such a good fit in Stanley Kubrick’s groundbreaking 1968 film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, which pretty much introduced Ligeti to a large and unsuspecting audience. It’s also the reason why so many of his works have titles related to spirits or space. Aventures shows the other side of Ligeti, a surprisingly wild and humorous undercurrent that suck works as Atmospheres or the Requiem would not lead you to suspect. These are all the finest performances I have heard of each of these works

Liszt, Ferenc

LISZT: Orpheus, Symphonic Poem. Von der Wiege bis zum Grabe / NBC Symphony Orchestra; Arturo Toscanini, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking links above

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Two of Liszt’s more underrated orchestral works, brought to vivid life in Toscanini’s lively performances.

LISZT: Années de Pélérinage, Book III: No. 3, Les jeux d’eaux. Concert Etudes: No. 1, “La leggierezza;” No. 3, “Un sospiro;” “Ronde des Lutins” First Valse oubliée, R. 37. Grand galop chromatique, R. 41. Hungarian Rhapsodies: No. 2 in c# min; No. 6 in Db; No. 9 in Eb; No. 10, “Preludio;No. 11; No. 13; No. 15, “Rakoczy March.” Liebestraum. Mephisto Waltz No. 1. Fantasy on Hungarian Folk Themes, S123.* Piano Concerto No. 1 in E-flat, S. 124* Polonaise No. 2. / György Cziffra, pianist; *Orchestre National de l’ORTF; *André Cluytens, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on individual links above

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The Hungarian Gypsy pianist György Cziffra was not very well known in America, partly because he was so closely identified with the music of Liszt above all others (though he also played very good Beethoven and Scarlatti, and sometimes excellent Chopin) and partly because the American “king of the piano,” Vladimir Horowitz, was insanely jealous of him. And well he should be, because Cziffa was one of the few super-virtuosos who also had superb phrasing and sensitivity in his playing. American pianist William Kapell also played very fine Liszt, particularly the Mephisto Waltz, but I think you will find in Cziffra’s performances everything you ever wanted out of this composer’s solo piano works.

LISZT: Nuages Gris / Martin Tchiba, pianist / part of Challenge 72562 or available for free streaming on YouTube

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Liszt’s atypically atmospheric piano piece, a forerunner of Debussy and Ravel, in a stunning modern recording.

LISZT: Piano Sonata in b min. / Annie Fischer, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube

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Of the various recordings of this masterpiece, Fischer has, for me, the best combination of technique, power and musical sensitivity.

LISZT: Les Preludes / Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra; Willem Mengelberg, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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This is absolutely the greatest performance of this Liszt tone poem you will ever hear, or hope to hear, despite the severely limited 1929 sound quality.

LISZT: 3 Petratch Sonnets: I. Pace non trovo; II. Benedetto sia’l giorno; III. I’ vidi in terra Angelici / Francesco Meli, tenor; Matteo Pais, pianist . part of Opus Arte 9019, or available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on individual titles above

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LISZT: Songs: Áldjon ég! Angiolin dal biondo crin. “Comment,” disaient-ils. Do not rebuke me, my friend. Die drei Ziguener. Einst. Enfant, si j’étais roi. Es muß ein Wunderbares sein. Es war ein König in Thule. Ein Fichtenbaum steht einsam. Go not, happy day. Ich liebe dich. Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher. J’ai perdu ma force et ma vie. Mignons Lied (Kennst du das land). O Meer im Abendstrahl. La perla. S’il est un charmant gazon. Tombe et la rose. Über allen Gipfeln ist Ruh. Vergiftet sind meiner Lieder. Verlassen. Was Liebe sei? / Elisabeth Kulman, mezzo-soprano; Eduard Kutrowatz, pianist / Preiser 91197 or available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking individual titles above

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LISZT: Songs: Es muß ein Wunderbares sein. Es rauschen die Winde. Go not, happy day. Ihr Auge. Im Rhein, im schönen Strome. O quand je dors. Tombe et la rose. Die Vätergruft. Über allen Gipfeln ist Ruh (Wanderers Nachtlied) / Thomas Hampson, baritone; Geoffrey Parsons, pianist / part of EMI 55047

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Liszt’s vocal music is among the very best ever written, and unlike so many song composers he wrote songs in a number of languages: German (of course), French, Italian, Russian and English. O quand je dors may be his all-time best-known song, but as the above recordings will prove, he had an endless fund of melodic lines at his disposal to spin around almost any sort of lyric. Tenor Meli is quite good, baritone Hampson is excellent but mezzo Kulman is absolutely phenomenal. This may be the finest album of Liszt songs ever recorded by anyone at any time in recording history.

Little, Jonathan

LITTLE: Duo Sonata for Percussion Soloists / Graham Bradley, Andrea McLaren, percussionists / Kyrie, Op. 5 / Thomas Tallis Chamber Choir; Philip Simms, director / Sacred Prelude for String Quartet / String Soloists of Czech Philharmonic Orchestra / Fanfare for Brass and Percussion. Terpsichore: “The Whirler” or Muse of Dance, Op. 7 / Kiev Philharmonic Orchestra; Robert Ian Winstin, conductor / That Time of Year, Op. 2 / Vox Moderne; Robert Ian Winstin, conductor / Dilute 002

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The music of Jonathan Little is tonal but extraordinarily interesting and moving, among the most creative modern music being written today—yet he remains little know and under-appreciated. This CD, and the works on it, are a splendid introduction to his art.

Loewe, Carl

LOEWE: Edward / Lawrence Tibbett, baritone; Stewart Wille, pianist / Das Erkennen / Kurt Moll, bass; Cord Garben, pianist / Heinrich der Vögler / Hermann Prey, baritone; Karl Engel, pianist / Herr Oluf. Hochzeitlied. Der Mohrenfürst auf der Messe / Johann Martin Kränzle, baritone; Hilko Dumno, pianist / Findlay / Thomas Hampson, baritone; Geoffrey Parsons, pianist / Der Mummelsee / Wilhelm Strienz, bass; Michael Raucheisen, pianist / Tom der Reimer / Leo Slezak, tenor; Heinrich Schacker, pianist / Erlkönig / Thomas Quasthoff, baritone; Norman Shetler, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on individual titles above

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LOEWE: Piano Concerto No. 2 / Eva Kupiec, pianist; Orchestre National de Lorraine; Jacques Hartmann, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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LOEWE: Symphony No. 1 in D min. / Philharmonie de Lorraine; Jacques Hartmann, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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LOEWE: Symphony No. 2 in E min. / Anhaltische Philharmonie, Dessau; Golo Berg, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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Though mostly known for his marvelous songs, generally longer and more dramatic than Schubert’s and with tempo shifts to portray changes of mood, Carl Loewe also wrote some superb instrumental works as well that remind one of Schubert crossed with mid-period Beethoven. These are the three most interesting of them, the first two in superb, electrifying performances.

Lourié, Arthur

LOURIÉ: Berceuse de la Chevrette. Daily Pattern. Death’s Mistake.* Formes en l’Air. Gigue. Intermezzo. Marche. Minuet in the Manner of Gluck. Nocturne. Our March.* Petite Suite in F. Phoenix Park Nocturne. The Piano in the Nursery. Piano Sonatina No. 3. Synthèses. Toccata. Upmann, a Smoking Sketch. Valse / Moritz Ernst, pianist; *Oskar Ansuli, speaker / Capriccio C5281

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LOURIÉ: Dialogue. 2 Estampes, Op. 2. Formes en l’Air. Masques. Mazurkas, Op. 7. Petite Suite in F. 4 Poèmes. 5 Preludes Fragiles. Upmann, a Smoking Sketch / Giorgio Koukl, pianist / Grand Piano GP737

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LOURIÉ: Symphony No. 1, “Sinfonia Dialectica” (1930) / Residentie-Orchestre of the Hague; Lucas Vis, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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LOURIÉ: Symphony No. 2, “Kormtchaia” (1939) / Orchestra de la Suisse Romance; Ernest Ansermet, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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To a certain extent, Arthur Lourié—the enigmatic, eccentric Russian-turned-French, Jewish-turned-Catholic composer—was a descendant of both Mussorgsky and Alkan. He wrote strange, oddly-rhythmed piano pieces that both puzzle and delight the ear yet sound like no other composer on earth. These two albums are a perfect introduction to his sound-world. The two symphonies, though not as densely packed or as surprising in structure, are still excellent works that are in desperate need of rediscovery. The two performances listed above are from early 1950s radio broadcasts and, unfortunately, suffer from cramped sound, but the performances are quite good.

Loussier, Jacques

LOUSSIER: Concerto No. 1 for Violin & Percussion. Concerto No. 2 for Violin & Tabla / Adam Kostecki, violinist/conductor; Piotr Iwicki, percussionist/tabla; Polish Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra / Naxos 8.573200

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Jacques Loussier, the highly gifted French pianist who has devoted most of his life to combining his two musical loves, Bach and jazz, also wrote these two extraordinary violin concertos. This music is not to be missed; they are extraordinary, and extraordinarily underrated, works, superbly played and conducted by Kostecki.

Lyapunov, Sergei

LYAPUNOV: 12 Études d’Exécution Transendante, Op. 11: I. Berceuse; Complete performance. Also see Mili Balakirev / Louis Kentner, pianist / APR 6020

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Although there is a good chance that a modern recording of this extraordinary set of etudes may appear soon, there was a reason why Kentner’s 1949 (the one presented here) and 1962  recordings have been the only commercial performance of this music, at least up through October 30, 2016. There’s a reason for this. In terms of both technical adroitness and interpretive acumen, this is the performance that will likely stand for all eternity.

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