July 03, 2008


Rued Langgaard: Symphony No. 1 in B minor. Danish National Symphony Orchestra/DR conducted by Thomas Dausgaard. Dacapo. $16.99 (SACD).

Haydn: Cello Concerto in C; Tchaikovsky: Pezzo capriccioso; Vaja Azarashvili: Concerto for Cello and Chamber Orchestra; Ginastera: Glosses of Themes of Pau Casals for String Orchestra and String Quintet; Chick Corea: “La Fiesta.” Marie-Elisabeth Hecker and Giorgi Kharadze, cellos; Kremerata Baltica. Profil. $16.99.

20th Century Guitar—Ulrich Wedlich: Sonata for Guitar; Leo Brouwer: Concerto Elegiaco for Guitar and Orchestra; Carlo Domeniconi: Koyunbaba for Guitar. Friedemann Wuttke, guitar; New Moscow Chamber Orchestra conducted by Igor Zhukov. Profil. $16.99.

      Here are quite a few excellent performances of works that even sophisticated listeners may never seek out, simply because they are unfamiliar with the composers. Rued Langgaard (1893-1952) was a major figure in Danish composing in the early to middle 20th century. Although he wrote a number of experimental works, he was a very conservative voice through much of his career. His frequent adherence to Romantic tonality and the orchestral approaches of Brahms, Bruckner and Wagner kept him out of step with the times for much of his life; but his works are well-wrought and often quite unusual – the shortest of his 16 numbered symphonies, No. 11, lasts only six minutes. The longest of those numbered symphonies is his first, which runs a full hour and was completed when the composer was just 17. Subtitled “Klippepastoraler” (“Mountain Pastorals”), it feels in part like an extended tone poem (think of Richard Strauss’ slightly later “Alpine Symphony”) and in part like a series of five interconnected tone poems. Thomas Dausgaard and the Danish National Symphony Orchestra/DR give it a strong and forthright performance that cannot conceal the fact that it is somewhat overinflated and overlong. The first and longest movement, subtitled “Surf and Glimpses of Sun,” would stand well on its own as a Lisztian portrait in music, but the symphony as a whole is really quite a lot to absorb, and with all its Sturm und Drang (more Sturm than Drang, actually), it is an impressive but not particularly involving work.

      To get listeners involved in a CD entitled Cello Fiesta! by the orchestra-in-residence of the Kronberg Academy and two young cellists from the academy’s Masters course, there are a couple of well-known pieces – which balance some less-known ones. Haydn’s familiar Cello Concerto and Tchaikovsky’s short and pleasant Pezzo capriccioso both get bright and upbeat readings before this CD moves on to its primary purpose of showcasing 20th-century cello works. These include Georgian composer Vaja Azarashvili’s one-movement Concerto for Cello and Chamber Orchestra; Argentinian composer Alberto Ginastera’s Glosses of Themes of Pau Casals, written in 1976 in memory of the great cellist (and Ginastera’s good friend) Pablo Casals, and filled with striking contrasts and very unusual sonorities; and an arrangement for two cellos, strings and percussion of La Fiesta by jazz pianist and composer Chick Corea. There is no question that Marie-Elisabeth Hecker (winner of the 2005 International Rostropovich Cello Competition and soloist in the Haydn) and Giorgi Kharadze (the first student offered a Kronberg Academy scholarship, the soloist in the Tchaikovsky and Azarashvili, and cellist in the quintet for the Ginastera) are significant up-and-coming cello talents from whom we are likely to hear a great deal more over the years. Everything here is played very well, if not always very idiomatically: Hecker’s technique is a bit Romantic for the Haydn, and Kharadze has some rough spots as well as considerable eloquence.

      The CD called 20th Century Guitar does not make any attempt to lure in casual listeners with works that they may already know. All three pieces here are likely to be unfamiliar to most listeners, although their techniques and sounds are not especially out of the ordinary for works of their time. Ulrich Wedlich and Carlo Domeniconi offer pieces that partake both of classical music and of other forms. Wedlich’s sonata is one of those pieces that hover and meditate rather than moving toward any definite destination. Domeniconi’s Koyunbaba, named for a sainted hermit who lived in the south of Turkey, also sounds evanescent and intermittently magical. In contrast, Leo Brouwer’s Concerto Elegiaco, the only work here that uses an orchestra, offers strong and often fascinating sonic and rhythmic contrasts, with guitarist Friedemann Wuttke weaving in and out of a full string section and a large battery of percussion that includes kettle drums, tom tom, marimba and glockenspiel. Wuttke plays all these pieces with knowing style and an imaginative approach, but that does not necessarily mean that these works will be attractive additions to the collections of listeners who are not already enamored of classical guitar music.

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