July 11, 2024

(++++) WORKS OF THEIR TIMES

Richard Strauss: Josephs Legende (complete ballet). Staatskapelle Halle conducted by Fabrice Bolton. Naxos. $19.99.

Alessandro Stradella: Mottetti. Concerto Italiano conducted by Rinaldo Alessandrini. Naïve. $16.99.

Bruckner: Mass No. 2; Motets—Ave Maria, Locus iste, Virga Jesse, Os justi, Christus factus est; Aequali Nos. 1 and 2. Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks and Münchner Rundfunkorchester conducted by Peter Dijkstra. BR Klassik. $20.99 (2 CDs).

Lukas Foss: Symphony No. 1; Ode; Renaissance Concerto; Three American Pieces. Amy Porter, flute; Nikki Chooi, violin; Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by JoAnn Falletta. Naxos. $19.99.

     Sumptuous in concept and elegant in execution, Richard Strauss’ ballet Josephs Legende dates to 1912-14 and speaks eloquently of a world in transition. It is flowingly Romantic in overall design despite harmonic hints of a changing sound world; it is also something of a throwback, in its story of the purity of its title character, to a time distinctly at odds with that of Strauss’ Salome (1905). Yet there is plenty of percussive drama in some sections, reminiscent of that in Salome and other Strauss works, and the very large orchestra is expertly managed to communicate the sensuality of the underlying material (Potiphar’s wife’s desire for Joseph), the exoticism of the setting (“a huge pillared hall in Palladian style”), and the contrasts between ensemble pieces and very delicately scored individual ones. In broad outline, the story of the ballet closely follows Genesis 39:7-20, but the ballet’s structure makes ample room for additional coloration with dances for boxers, an Oriental Witches’ Dance, and more. The performance on Naxos, featuring Staatskapelle Halle conducted by Fabrice Bolton, is a very fine one: ballet music is essentially accompaniment rather than standalone material (which is why so many ballets are less-than-effective in recorded form), so Bolton wisely focuses on the rhythmic elegance and aural beauties evoked by Strauss through his skillful orchestration and wonderfully flowing themes. Interestingly, Potiphar’s wife (unnamed in the Bible) does not really have a theme: she is almost a force of nature, identified through mood and sound and competing with the deus ex machina angel that eventually rescues Joseph. In contrast, Joseph and his thoughts and dreams receive music of utmost purity that unfolds at a mostly deliberate pace, as if it exists outside time and the driving insistence of Potiphar’s wife’s urges. The whole good-vs.-evil notion of the ballet and its underlying story is scarcely new, but in the context of a world approaching a devastating, empire-destroying war, Josephs Legende takes on additional meaning and significance – if only in retrospect. The music of Strauss did undergo changes after the war, but his stage works remained quite recognizable in their style and approach, including his postwar ballet, Schlagobers, whose staging is even more elaborate than that of Josephs Legende and regarding which Strauss directly stated, “I cannot bear the tragedy of the present time. I want to create joy.” That tragic time was not yet quite upon Strauss and his audience when Josephs Legende was created, but musically, stylistically, and thematically, the ballet, for all the pervasive beauty of its themes, has about it the feeling of the incipient end of an era.

     Like Richard Strauss, Alessandro Stradella (1643-1682) was more a composer of his own time than one who advanced music in significant ways – but Stradella’s operas and oratorios have retained their effectiveness and their attractiveness to listeners who enjoy works of the 17th century. What has never had much currency is the shorter sacred music of Stradella – in fact, of the five motets on a beautifully played Naïve CD featuring Concerto Italiano under Rinaldo Alessandrini, four are world première recordings. Stradella’s 17 motets that are known from manuscripts at the Biblioteca Estense in Modena, Italy, were generally conceived as occasional pieces – for the Nativity and designated date of the Immaculate Conception, for example – but in some cases were intended for more-general use. Exultate in Deo Fidelis, for which Stradella himself wrote the text, is the only motet here that has been previously recorded, and its sure-handed melding of solo voice with instruments shows Stradella’s high level of skill at putting across a sacred message through a gymnastic vocal line combined with some very effective instrumental material. In fact, Stradella was a skilled orchestrator, as Alessandrini clearly shows in the two sinfonias included here to complement the motets – each for two violins and basso continuo. Certainly these are works representative of their time (one lasts three minutes, the other less than 90 seconds), but their careful balance and well-controlled emotional expression make them engaging and effective. As for the never-before-recorded motets, Nascere Virgo Potens uses three voices; In Tribulationis, in Angustiis uses five; Convocamini, Congregamini calls for six; and Sistite Sidera, Coeli Motus Otiamini is for a solo singer. What Alessandrini’s presentation of all the works shows is close attention to period style and a suitable level of emotive expression, mixed with very carefully executed balance between the vocal and instrumental material: Stradella kept the words paramount throughout, as was expected for this sacred music, but he found ways to expand upon and underline the meaning of the texts through skillful employment of instruments. This CD offers a winning combination of scholarship – the playing and instrumental sound are certainly authentic – with genuine engagement: even listeners unfamiliar with the concepts and language of these motets can admire the skillful way Stradella assembles his material and the vivid way in which Alessandrini and Concerto Italiano bring it to life.

     The approach to motets and other sacred music had changed dramatically by the middle of the 19th century – although the changes were gradual and seem extensive only when Stradella’s motets and those of a composer such as Bruckner are heard in close proximity. The five Bruckner motets on a new BR Klassik release are all a cappella works, lacking the instrumental accompaniment that enriches Stradella’s motets but achieving richness of sound through Bruckner’s adept and sensitive handling of the chorus – and the excellence of Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks under Peter Dijkstra. Each of the motets heard here has its own salient characteristics, but all are clearly mid-19th-century works in their harmonies and their intense emotional expressiveness. Ave Maria, for seven-part mixed chorus, shows just how far motet writing had come since the Marian motets of Stradella. Bruckner’s expert separation and then joining of the male and female voices makes for a particularly effective presentation. Locus iste, like some of Stradella’s motets, is an occasional piece, written for a chapel consecration and using the key of C to affirm the solemnity of the circumstances. Os justi is more contemplative and deliberately affirms older forms of church music, being written in Lydian mode. Christus factus est retells the Passion story with considerable drama and a wide dynamic range. And Virga Jesse has some of the scope of Bruckner’s symphonies – plus a kind of tribute to Handel in its final “Hallelujah” section. Just as Alessandrini’s Stradella release mingles brief instrumental works with the vocal elements, Dijkstra’s Bruckner recording includes two short, early (1847) instrumental pieces. These are scored for three trombones – alto, tenor and bass – and are intended as solemn chorales that hark back to earlier times. All these pieces, vocal and instrumental, surround the major work here, the second of Bruckner’s three Mass settings. Mass No. 2 is in E minor and is quite unusual for its time – indeed, for any time. Bruckner wrote it for eight-part choir and wind instruments, using those instruments to produce clear Romantic-era harmony while keeping the vocal material deliberately archaic and psalm-like in sound. Dijkstra has clearly studied this work very carefully and figured out how to manage its many complexities – its slow tempo being one such, especially for the singers – with great skill. The Münchner Rundfunkorchester is as attuned to the subtleties of the work as is possible, and the chorus proclaims the familiar words of Mass No. 2 with fervor and emotion befitting the spiritual intensity of the belief underlying the texts. This Mass fits interestingly into Bruckner’s music taken as a whole, and for those who are fluent in German, BR Klassik includes with the recording a second CD called Wege zur Musik: Bruckners Welt (“Paths to Music: Bruckner’s World”) that contains extensive discussion of the material recorded here, with musical examples illustrating many points. Alas, no translation of anything on the bonus disc is available, so it is usable only by German speakers – but for them, it will certainly be a worthwhile expansion upon the purely musical presentation under Dijkstra’s direction.

     Chronologically, Stradella was of the Renaissance, living at a time that continues to interest composers and produce works intended as tributes, interpretations or rethinkings of the era. It is nevertheless a bit surprising to find out that certain specific composers looked back to Renaissance times: Lukas Foss (1922-2009) would scarcely seem to have been interested in that age. But Foss’ Renaissance Concerto, written for flute and orchestra as recently as 1985, does indeed hark back to Stradella’s time – albeit with harmonic twists that show the period in which it was actually composed. Foss does not specifically reference Stradella in this four-movement work, but he does include a movement “after Rameau” and another “after Monteverdi.” However, the very opening of the first movement, Intrada, immediately shows how far from Renaissance ideals of consonance and balance the piece will be; and as the work progresses, Foss is at pains to ensure that if there are rhythmic recollections of Baroque dance forms, the actual themes and their harmonizations are very much of the 20th century rather than the 17th or before. The fugue-like opening of the concluding Jouissance pays the most-direct tribute to an older time, although here too the music soon shows its true time period. Amy Porter handles the solo material for flute very ably on a new Naxos recording, with JoAnn Falletta and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra providing top-notch support – in very modern guise, to be sure, but that is clearly what Foss intended. The three other works on the disc are many decades older. Ode dates to 1944 (revised in 1958) and, unlike Richard Strauss’ somewhat anticipatory ballet from before World War I, connects directly with World War II: it is a well-made if rather obvious expression of grief for lives lost and the dismal realities of warfare. The style here is neo-Classical – an approach that Foss favored when in his 20s – and somewhat derivative, although the work is skillfully crafted and delivered by Falletta and the orchestra with appropriate seriousness. Three American Pieces dates to the same time period, specifically to 1945, although the work was not orchestrated until 1989. Here the influence of Copland is clear, and the use of a solo violin (amiably played by Nikki Chooi) adds to the feeling of spaciousness associated with a considerable amount of American geography. Again, the work is on the derivative side, pleasant enough in its own way but not particularly consequential – although the concluding Composer’s Holiday movement and its pervasive “fiddling” style are enjoyable and certainly worth re-hearing. The most-substantial piece on this CD is Foss’ Symphony No. 1 (1944), which is shorter than his three later symphonies and quite different in character. There is some Copland-esque material here as well, but the primary evident influence is that of Hindemith, with whom Foss studied. The straightforward neo-classical structure of the symphony is evident from its clear home key (G) and traditional four-movement arrangement. The piece is somewhat scattered in approach – notably, the second movement starts with an elegant horn theme but soon engages in a rather trivial central section. The third-movement Scherzo has the most originality in its treatment of dance rhythms and orchestration, although the bouncy main part of the finale has an attraction all its own. Falletta conducts the symphony with the same flair she brings to all the music here, and if the disc gets a (+++) rating for the less-than-top-level attractiveness of its content, that is certainly no criticism of the performers, who give the somewhat bland and not entirely original material all the dedication and excellence of presentation that an audience with a strong interest in Foss’ music could wish for.

(++++) STRINGS STRUCK AND STRUMMED

Beethoven: Piano Sonatas Nos. 28 and 29 (“Hammerklavier”). James Brawn, piano. MSR Classics. $14.95.

Bach: Harpsichord Concertos Nos. 1, 3, 4, and 5. Tianqi Du, piano; Academy of St. Martin in the Fields conducted by Jonathan Bloxham. Naïve. $16.99.

Live in Aspen. Sharon Isbin, guitar; Amjad Ali Khan, Amaan Ali Bangash, and Ayaan Ali Bangash, sarods; Amit Kavthekar, tabla. ZOHO Music. $16.99.

     It’s about time. More than a decade after James Brawn’s recordings of Beethoven’s piano sonatas began appearing on MSR Classics – with a first disc oddly including Nos. 1, 3 and 23 (“Appassionata”) – the ninth and last volume of the cycle is now available. And it caps the series with the same mixture of excellence and oddity that has been part of Brawn’s offerings throughout. The conclusion of Brawn’s so-titled “Beethoven Odyssey” includes the two sonatas that Beethoven designated “Hammerklavier,” although the title stuck only to the second and much larger of them. A strange way to end the sequence, this is nevertheless a most worthwhile disc for the opportunity it presents to hear these two very different works in juxtaposition (notwithstanding the reality that they were composed several years part). Brawn is above all a thoughtful pianist, using his excellent technique not for display purposes but to color in the nuances of Beethoven’s music and present its challenges as communicative opportunities. He is especially strong when contrasting movements that have very different characters: the gentle opening of Sonata No. 28 and the Marschmässig second movement are particularly telling here, after which the very short but lovely Langsam und sehnsuchtvoll third movement reinforces the underlying contrasts with which this sonata abounds – and the forthright strength of the start of the finale makes the differences clearer still, while providing a thoroughly engaging and unusually clearly played capstone for the entire work. The same approach stands Brawn in very good stead in the ever-challenging Sonata No. 29, which invites performers to display virtuosity first and foremost – an invitation that Brawn firmly declines. For example, after the suitably proclamatory opening of the first movement, Brawn emphasizes the foundational lyricism of the music and downplays (so to speak) the difficulty of performing it. His ability to harness his technique, making it subservient to his view of the composer’s expressive intentions, is what shines through here, and indeed permeates his entire Beethoven cycle. Brawn shows just how packed with material the very brief second movement of No. 29 is, and then – again providing excellence of contrast – he allows the Adagio sostenuto expansiveness that is so involving that it is hard to see where the music will go next. Where it does go, of course, is into the very complex concluding fugue, wherein Brawn does a fine job of allowing the contrapuntal material to show through while simultaneously emphasizing the drama and emotional heft of this extraordinary movement. There is very little to quibble about in any of Brawn’s recordings in his Beethoven sequence – except for the fact that the sonata mix on individual CDs is often decidedly peculiar, and the whole cycle has taken so devilishly long to emerge. A boxed set of the complete nine-disc series would be most welcome – although it would be even better (if less likely) for the completed sequence to be released, now that it is complete, in a rearrangement into the actual order in which the 32 sonatas are normally presented.

     Rearrangement of a different sort is entirely typical when it comes to Bach’s harpsichord concertos, which are regularly and incorrectly dubbed “keyboard concertos," as if that somehow justifies playing them on the piano. The fact is that these wonderful works were conceived for an instrument whose strings are plucked, not one whose strings are hammered – and the use of a modern piano, no matter how sensitively played, is fundamentally at odds with the sound that Bach explored and evoked in these pieces. Of course, none of this stops pianists from wanting to perform the concertos; nor should it. It is another matter for listeners, though, as is clear from Tianqi Du’s playing of four of the concertos on a Naïve CD. The forthright brightness of the playing of the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields under Jonathan Bloxham contrasts unsettlingly with the warmth and emotional evocativeness of Du’s piano playing, even though Du does not overuse the pedals or engage too greatly in effects of which the harpsichord is incapable. Still, the sustaining chords and somewhat murky trills of the finale of Concerto No. 1 are evidence, if any were needed, of the fact that this music was not intended for the (then-nonexistent) piano. The decorations in the first movement of Concerto No. 3, using the deep key travel of today’s piano effectively, pull the music toward the Romantic era, and the emotive Adagio e piano sempre that follows does so to an even greater extent. The bounciness of the solo part in the first movement of No. 4 fits the piano somewhat better, but the pietà sound of the Larghetto is overdone, and Du makes the concluding Allegro ma non tanto a bit too much about the soloist. The gloom of the first movement of Concerto No. 5 is also overdone here, thanks in large part to the mellow piano sound – this concerto is thoughtful but scarcely melancholy, a distinction that comes through somewhat better in the central Largo here. The back-and-forth exclamations and recurrent trills of the concluding Presto, however, never really establish a mood that blends or contrasts particularly well with the ensemble’s sound. This is a (+++) recording that is quite well played on its own terms – but its terms are not Bach’s and should not be confused with his.

     Strings can be used to evoke sound in ways other than plucking (harpsichord) or striking (piano), of course. And they are central to the music of multiple traditions. This can lead to some fascinating aural blendings for audiences inclined to find cross-genre music-making intriguing. An example is the Live from Aspen CD featuring guitarist Sharon Isbin with four performers on instruments from India – a disc resulting from the musicians’ playing together in the summer of 2022. The attractions of this (+++) disc are somewhat on the rarefied side – the sound of the individual and combined instruments matters more than the specific pieces performed – but audiences seeking less-common sonorities and sonic blends, and those favoring excellent guitar playing both in solos and in mixed instrumental company, will find much to enjoy here. Francisco Tárrega’s Capricho Árabe, the guitar solo that opens the disc, gives Isbin the chance to make a very fine impression with the coloristic effects of her instrument and the emotional variety of which it is capable. It is the remainder of the disc, though, that will especially appeal to the niche audience that will find it enjoyable. The lutelike Hindustani classical sarod is heard throughout the remainder of the CD, along with the paired hand drums known as tabla. The performers informally introduce and explain some of the material to a volubly enthusiastic audience at the Aspen Music Festival. An understanding of ragas, an enjoyment of improvisations, and a fascination with the differing sounds brought forth by stringed instruments from varying traditions go a long way toward making this disc enjoyable – it is, for example, important to know the symbolism underlying the various ragas used as the basis for Sacred Evening, By the Moon and the other pieces here. Of particular interest is Raga Bhatyali—Folk Music of Bengal, within which appears a folk song composed by Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), winner of the 1913 Nobel Prize in Literature. Strictly from the point of view of mingled sound, however, the most-engaging multi-instrument work here is the concluding Romancing Earth, in which the considerable contrast between Isbin’s guitar and the Indian instruments produces an emotionally affecting melding that seeks, with some success, to bridge the gap between the cultures that produced the differing means of making music. Nevertheless, to many Western ears, the Asian instruments’ qualities will likely share a sameness that leads the individual pieces on this disc to sound much like each other – even though they are derived from different elements of their own traditions. This is a CD for those of an exploratory bent who find the experience of cross-cultural outreach and cooperation more than enough reason to hear music generated by instruments that use strings in ways uncommonly heard outside the Indian subcontinent.

July 03, 2024

(+++) BOUNCING ABOUT

I Got This! By Julia Cook and Michele Borba, Ed.D. Illustrated by Dale Crawford. National Center for Youth Issues. $15.95.

     A teaching tool that is a touch too pedantic, despite being cast as an entertaining and charming story, I Got This! is supposed to be all about resilience and persistence – taking children through six “superpowers” to use when “life is full of challenges” that they need to overcome. So far, so good.

     As the framing story for the lessons, Julia Cook and Michele Borba create a Rescue Dog challenge requiring would-be Rescue Dog Charlie, accompanied by friendly squirrel Hazel and drawn with utter adorableness by Dale Crawford, to pull a sled to the top of a mountain. As a guide to the inevitable problems that Charlie and Hazel will encounter and need to overcome, a helpful eagle accompanies the pair, talks them through difficulties, and provides eagle feathers labeled with words describing each of the six “superpowers,” or rather “Bounce Back Superpowers,” as the authors style them. So far, so good – again.

     It is not in the elements but in their assemblage that matters become a bit overly earnest and the story creaks beneath the weight of the heavy importance the authors attach to every page. The teacher eagle – who, oddly, is never named – does not even offer Charlie the encouragement the pup asks for as he begins his climb, saying, “What I think isn’t important, Charlie. It’s what you believe about yourself that matters.” But how would it hurt or make Charlie less resilient for the eagle to say something along the lines of, “I have faith in you”?

     The eagle does promise to teach Charlie the Bounce Back Superpowers, and obligingly brings out two feathers with the words “breathe” and “brainstorm” for the first one, needed when Charlie and Hazel cannot get the sled between two trees. The lesson here is to breathe in a specific way “to clear your head,” give yourself positive reinforcement, then “flood your brain with lots of ideas.” Then, as the climb continues and the slope gets steeper, Charlie fears that “we can’t do this,” and the eagle obligingly takes away the “t” in “can’t” (the word is shown in huge letters in the snow) and tells Charlie to tell himself, “I GOT THIS!”

     And so the trek upward continues – with, again, some odd behavior by the eagle. A fallen tree completely blocks the path at one point, and the eagle says, “Don’t be afraid to ask for help,” but does not actually offer any help until Charlie specifically requests that the eagle do a flyover to find a way around the obstacle. How would it hurt if the eagle offered assistance, thus showing Charlie that people will help when you need it? The eagle even says, when the pup makes his request, “Sure, Charlie. I thought you’d never ask.” So the lesson is that help is available, but people who can assist you won’t do so unless you specifically request it? Perhaps that is not the intended lesson, but that is how it comes across here.

     Eventually, the exhausted dog and squirrel are ready to give up from sheer tiredness, so the eagle offers a “recharge” feather and the two take a nap – after which they finish their climb. So of course everything ends well, and Charlie even completes his first Rescue Dog mission on the way down the mountain, helping a baby bird back into the nest out of which it has fallen. A final page, for teachers and/or parents, condenses all the book’s lessons into an adult-focused narrative, explaining how to implement the authors’ recommendations in the real world. The entire book is very well-meaning and very clearly focused on teaching life skills, despite being couched in the form of a cute-animal adventure. Some of the emphasis does misfire a bit, though, as Cook and Borba double down on their insistence that children figure things out on their own, ask for assistance without expecting anyone to offer it unasked, and engage in specific activities in specific ways – such as a designated form of breath control and a nap. The underlying lessons taught here are valuable ones, but the teaching method is a bit too insistent – at times almost verging on hectoring – to encourage ready adoption of the techniques.

(++++) SOUNDS OF THE TIMES

Rachmaninoff: Trio élégiaque No. 1; Trio élégiaque No. 2; Romances, Op. 21, Nos. 5 and 7; Romances, Op. 38, Nos. 3 and 5; Tchaikovsky: The Seasons, Op. 37aNo. 10. Andrey Baranov, violin; Christoph Croisé, cello; Alexander Panfilov, cello. AVIE. $19.99.

Eduard Strauss: Waltzes and Polkas, Volume 3. Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra Pardubice conducted by Marek Štilec. Marco Polo. $19.99.

Music for Solo Clarinet by Jean Rivier, Eberhard Werdin, Karl Maria Kubizek, Daron Hagen, and James Lee III. Jeremy Reynolds, clarinet. MSR Classics. $14.95.

     The sounds of the Romantic era are instantly recognizable for their lushness and emotional fullness, and certain composers are particularly identified with the time period – including Rachmaninoff, who was actually post-Romantic based on his lifetime (1873-1943), but who was steeped from his earliest compositions in the Romantic ethos and never moved far from it. Just how thoroughly Romanticism permeated Rachmaninoff’s music is evident from his two piano trios, composed in 1892 and 1893 respectively and intended as tributes to Rachmaninoff’s mentor, Tchaikovsky, who is often thought of as the quintessential Romantic composer. First-rate performances of the trios featuring Andrey Baranov, Christoph Croisé and Alexander Panfilov, now available on the AVIE label, clearly show Rachmaninoff’s debt to Tchaikovsky as well as his thoroughgoing absorption of the compositional elements of the Romantic time period. For all their similarities of sound, the two trios are strikingly different in approach. No. 1 is a single-movement work, written while Tchaikovsky was alive and having some musical as well as emotional connections to the older composer’s Op. 50 trio – which, ironically, was subtitled “in memory of a great artist” and was Tchaikovsky’s tribute to the recently deceased Nikolai Rubinstein. Tchaikovsky repeatedly expressed his dislike of the aural combination of violin, piano and cello, but Rachmaninoff is clearly comfortable with the sonic mixture, and unsurprisingly gives the piano an especially strong role. Baranov, Croisé and Panfilov focus on the first trio’s very considerable warmth and funereal atmosphere, dwelling on its dark G minor home key and its pervasive melancholy. The second trio, written as an elegy for Tchaikovsky after his death, is more on the scale of Tchaikovsky’s own and is substantial in every way, lasting some 50 minutes. This trio bears the same “in memory of a great artist” dedication as Tchaikovsky’s for Rubinstein, strongly cementing the relationship between the two works. Indeed, Rachmaninoff’s trio, which is in D minor, is structured very similarly to Tchaikovsky’s in A minor. All the weight of Rachmaninoff’s work is in the first two movements, which together last more than 40 minutes. The solemnity of the first is complemented by the more-varied second, which is a set of variations on a theme from Rachmaninoff’s symphonic poem The Rock. In this trio, as in his first, Rachmaninoff makes many demands of the piano, and the opening of the finale looks ahead to the composer’s later forays into piano-centric composition. The expansiveness of this trio comes through exceptionally well in this performance, with the three players complementing each other skillfully and each buoying the sound of the other two. Listeners will certainly be interested more in the trios than in the remainder of this CD, which also offers very fine sound and playing but which is rather thin gruel in terms of musical content. The five items added to the two trios are, in effect, pleasant encores. Four are from Romances by Rachmaninoff, as arranged by Panfilov; all are pleasant and unassuming. The fifth offers a direct, if brief, connection to Tchaikovsky: it is Autumn Song from The Seasons, arranged by Louis Eaton, and it practically weeps with nostalgia and the quiet sadness so closely identified with Romanticism and with Tchaikovsky in particular. The sensitivity of all the performances on this disc is considerable, the playing is very fine throughout, and the emotional connections of the music come through strongly and effectively.

     The frequently heavy emotionality of the Romantic era, it should be noted, had its counterpart and contrast in music deliberately created to be much lighter in character – with composers such as the members of Vienna’s Strauss family specializing in just that sort of less-fraught material. Johann Strauss Jr. and Josef Strauss remain celebrated for their contributions to this lighter-side-of-Romanticism genre, and Johann Strauss Sr. is also well-regarded. But the elder Strauss’ third and longest-surviving son, Eduard (1835-1916), has received much less attention, often complimented as a conductor in his lifetime but generally being dismissed as a composer of lesser works than those of his brothers and father. Conductor John Georgiadis (1939-2021) was making an attempt to delve into Eduard’s music deeply enough to uncover more value than others have found in it: his two volumes on the Marco Polo label brought out some gems as well as a number of what might be called semi-precious stones. With Georgiadis’ death, the Eduard Strauss project went into abeyance; but now there is a third entry in it, conducted very ably by Marek Štilec and played with considerable verve and style by the members of the Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra Pardubice. Eduard Strauss is so underrepresented on disc that 14 of the 15 tracks on this CD are world première recordings in their original orchestrations; the 15th item, the brief fast polka Pegasus-Sprünge, is heard in an arrangement by Kurt Schmid. The earliest work on this disc dates to 1869, the latest to 1888, affirming that all this music was created at the height of the Romantic era and reflects elements of its sensibilities quite different from those in the music of composers of a much more serious orientation. Eduard Strauss, as this third entry in the Marco Polo series reaffirms, was especially adept in the shorter forms of dance music. There are seven examples here, one being Pegasus-Sprünge and the others called Herz und Welt (a polka-mazurka), Brausteufelchen (a combination fast polka and galop), In Lieb’ entbrannt (a polka française), Aus den schlesischen Bergen (a polka-mazurka), Ein Jahr freiwillig (a polka française), and Zeitvertreib (a fast polka). Each title refers to something specific at the time of the work’s composition, but what listeners will notice today is that these are not occasional pieces at all: Eduard Strauss imbues every one of them with style, bounce and melodic pleasantries that are at least at the same level as similar works by his elder brothers. The CD alternates the shorter pieces with waltzes: Wo Lust und Freude wohnen! is the first of these, followed by Glühlichter, Theorien, and Mit frohem Muth und heiterm Sinn! Then come Heitere Weisen, Stimmen aus dem Publikum, Widmungsblätter, and finally Denksprüche. These works also have many charms and are uniformly well-made, but they lack the thematic richness of waltzes by Johann Jr. and the near-symphonic developmental complexity of those by Josef. Falling short of those loftiest of accomplishments in three-quarter time, though, is scarcely justification for the longstanding neglect of Eduard Strauss’ waltzes, which sound fresh, melodically rich and very much danceable in these performances. There is a great deal more music by Eduard Strauss that has lain neglected for more than two centuries, and on the basis of this release and the two earlier ones, rediscovery of his music – and its place in the Romantic era – is long overdue, providing a much-needed balance for the serious emotional expressiveness with which Romantic music is more often associated.

     The post-Romantic sound world changed in many ways, some dramatic and others subtle, and the alterations are particularly interesting when it comes to music for a single instrument. The five solo-clarinet works on a new CD from MSR Classics offer listeners entry points to sounds that range from those of the post-Romantic time period to those of the 21st century. The earliest of these works dates to 1969 and is by Karl Maria Kubizek (1929-1995). Called Capriccio - 6 Stücke für klarinette solo, it offers half a dozen well-contrasted vignettes that include a very short and interestingly labeled Adagio sensibile, a bright and lively Allegretto capriccioso, a heartfelt Più lento e molto espressivo whose squeals show how far from Romantic sensibilities it lies, and a concluding Agitato filled with rhythmic and expressive changes – all of which Jeremy Reynolds handles with aplomb and a fine sense of tonal balance. From the same time period (1972) is a work by Jean Rivier (1896-1987) called Les Trois “S” pour clarinette solo. The overall title reflects three movements labeled Sillages (“wakes”), Soliloque (“soliloquy”), and Serpentins (“streamers”). This being a solo-clarinet piece, all three movements are really soliloquies, but Rivier is mainly interested in contrasting the moods as well as the techniques required for each of the three. The slow central movement here partakes rather more of the Romantic spirit than does anything in Kubizek’s work, but the dissonances and unexpected leaps created by Rivier – especially in the final movement – place the music firmly in the mid-to-late 20th century. Still more recent, dating to 1987, is a piece by Eberhard Werdin (1911-1991) called Impressionen für klarinette solo. It is in six very short movements – the longest just reaches two minutes – and gives the soloist plenty of opportunities to demonstrate a wide range of performance techniques, with all of which Reynolds appears to be totally comfortable. The minute-and-a-half Thema mit Variationen is a highlight here, as is the concluding Finale giocondo, which proves to be a touch lyrical as well as playful. The other pieces on this disc are from our current century. Icarus for Solo Clarinet is the shortest work on the CD, lasting just four minutes. It dates to 2007 and was written by Daron Hagen (born 1961). It explores and contrasts the instrument’s lowest and highest registers and, like several other pieces here, is a showcase for technique more than a listener-engaging experience. The disc concludes with the three-movement Principal Brothers No. 3 for Solo Clarinet (2020) by James Lee III (born 1975). This piece too gives the performer the chance to explore many techniques and to pull sounds of all sorts from the clarinet, not all of them reflective of the instrument’s usual warmth. smoothness and subtlety. All five works on this CD are world première recordings, and all five are much more likely to appeal to Reynolds’ fellow clarinetists than to a more-general audience – making this into a (+++) disc that, despite lasting just 49 minutes, packs in a considerable amount of exploration of woodwind sounds that go well beyond those of the Romantic era.