December 17, 2015
(+++) THE PLAYING’S THE THING
Haydn: Trumpet Concerto in E-flat—a comprehensive music lesson. Rolf Smedvig, trumpet; Eduard Laurel, piano. Learning from the Legends DVD. $32.99.
Hummel: Trumpet Concerto—a comprehensive music lesson. Rolf Smedwig, trumpet; Eduard Laurel, piano. Learning from the Legends DVD. $32.99.
Erwin Schulhoff: Violin Sonatas Nos. 1 and 2; Suite for Violin and Piano; Sonata for Solo Violin. Eka Gogichashvili, violin; Kae Hosoda-Ayer, piano. MSR Classics. $12.95.
Daniel Carr: Music for Flute—Sonatina for Yumi; Foliage; Song; Sonata; Still; Three Nocturnes; Wedding Song. François Minaux, flute; Mayumi Tayake, piano; Megan Gardner, soprano. MSR Classics. $12.95.
Reaching out strictly to a small core audience, two new Learning from the Legends DVDs continue to show distinctive and highly useful ways in which the DVD medium can be employed for high-quality instructional purposes. These recordings are, in effect, master classes for trumpet players with trumpeter Rolf Smedvig. Each offers a complete performance of an important trumpet concerto – both the concertos as edited by Smedvig – plus a play-along track of piano accompaniment featuring Edward Laurel. Smedvig is not only an accomplished trumpet soloist but also a fine teacher, providing trumpet students with his practice philosophy while actually showing them the ins and outs of two significant concertos. One of these, the Hummel, is quite difficult, especially in its final movement, and it is very helpful to have performance examples from Smedvig’s recording with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra to supplement the trumpet-and-piano arrangement. The examples with that orchestra help the Haydn, too, giving students a better sense of balance than they will get from the piano reduction. Some teaching elements like the ones here have previously been offered on CD by Naxos and were at one time available on vinyl from a company called Music Minus One. Naxos’ seven-disc set of “Suzuki Evergreens,” played by Takako Nishizaki, was an excellent example of a top-notch violinist performing music in an accessible manner that students could themselves follow and from which they could learn through repeated listenings. Music Minus One released vinyl LPs containing the orchestral accompaniments of a variety of works for soloist and orchestra – the idea being that students would play the solo parts and understand how it would feel to blend in with and perform in front of an orchestra. However, the two Smedvig releases, like others in this series, go beyond audio-only offerings by letting students see just what fingerings Smedvig uses and why. This is one case in which the DVD format, generally a mixed blessing in classical music, proves highly useful – and it is supplemented by the availability via download of both E-flat and B-flat solo trumpet parts with piano accompaniment. Defiantly limited in appeal despite what looks like a premium price – but really is not, given the value of the material here – these DVDs offer trumpet students measure-by-measure information on two staples of their concerto repertoire, courtesy of a highly knowledgeable soloist who shares not only the basics of performance but also some tricks of the trade. The audience for these DVDs is certainly a very limited one, but for that group, the releases hit the target beautifully: trumpeters will find both DVDs remarkably useful.
There are no play-along elements on two new MSR Classics CDs, but here too, a large part of the enjoyment comes simply from hearing how the performers play – how they handle some music that is likely to be unfamiliar to virtually all listeners. Erwin Schulhoff (1894-1942) is one of the musicians whose works are being rediscovered today along with those of others who died at the hands of the Nazis (Schulhoff perished of tuberculosis in a concentration camp). Schulhoff is a fascinating, even strange character, and some of his music is fascinatingly strange, too. But listeners will get little of that from the works played by Eka Gogichashvili and Kae Hosoda-Ayer, which are among the composer’s more-straightforward ones. Encouraged in early life by Dvořák, taught by Debussy and Reger (itself an odd combination), influenced by jazz and by Communist ideology (his last works were strong affirmations of Socialist Realism), Schulhoff stated directly that music was a revolutionary art, leading to “the climb to an ecstatic change for the better” – thus sounding in words (although never in his later music) somewhat like Scriabin. Frequently given to self-deprecating humor in his works, fond of dance rhythms and ragtime, almost always in touch with tonality despite involvement with the Second Viennese School (from which, however, he never picked up serialism), Schulhoff was most prolific in the decade of 1923-32, during which he wrote his Sonata for Solo Violin and Sonata No. 2 for Violin and Piano (both in 1927). Schulhoff was a pianist, not a violinist – he won the Mendelssohn Prize for piano in 1913 (and for composition five years later). But he writes well for violin, and both these works, each of them laid out in traditional four-movement form, show fine command of the violin’s capability and a good sense of partnering the two performers in a somewhat jazzed-up but essentially conventional approach to solid musical material. The third movement of the second sonata, marked Burlesca, is in some ways the most characteristic of Schulhoff’s temperament, although the Scherzo of the solo sonata has some interesting elements as well. Before the 1920s, Schulhoff showed a less- distinctive style, with elements of Debussy and Richard Strauss evident along with, from time to time, a Scriabinesque touch or two. Suite for Violin and Piano (1911) and Sonata No. 1 for Violin and Piano (1913) are from this earlier time, with the suite being Schulhoff’s Op. 1. These are solid works, well-constructed and with interesting touches here and there, including Schulhoff’s fondness for dance forms in the suite – which more or less follows Baroque form through its Präludium, Gavotte and Minuetto, but then deviates interestingly into Walzer and, finally, Scherzo. Very little of the music on this CD, though, is as distinctive as some of Schulhoff’s more-outlandish pieces: Suite for Chamber Orchestra includes car horns and slide whistles, Symphonia Germanica satirizes German militarism, Sonata Erotica features a singer’s extended feigned orgasm, Bassnachtigall has a contrabassoon trying to be soulful and birdlike, and on and on. Schulhoff was a highly unusual composer whose stranger output is barely hinted at on this CD, which instead gives the impression of a solid, well-schooled but ultimately not terribly original creative mind. A touch more bizarrerie would have been welcome.
As for Daniel Carr (born 1972), the second MSR Classics volume of his work features five pieces for flute and piano, one of which also includes a soprano (the piece is logically entitled Song), and one of which is for flute solo (Wedding Song, and no, no voice here). François Minaux and Mayumi Tayake do a fine job with these mostly mild, generally easy-to-listen-to works. Some are bright (Sonata for Yumi), others evocative (Foliage, Still, Three Nocturnes). The four-movement Sonata is somewhat overextended – Carr’s shorter works come across with greater effectiveness – but the flute writing is fine throughout, allowing Minaux plenty of places to breathe and numerous opportunities for expressiveness. The mostly tonal music has a certain background-ish quality to it: its pleasantries are clear from the start but tend soon to fade a bit, stopping short of being totally involving. These are all world première recordings, and it is nice to hear a disc on which a contemporary composer uses the flute with an understanding of its capabilities rather than a determination to force the instrument and its player beyond their respective comfort zones. This is music of no particular consequence – nicely conceived and nicely made, communicating on a rather superficial level but no less enjoyable for that. It is, in fact, all the more agreeable because it is not trying to make the flute sound like anything but a flute: the CD provides a very satisfying listening experience by inviting listeners to hear nicely tailored performances of some well-mannered contemporary music – engaging, convivial and aurally gratifying.